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Texts from FBI Agents About Trump; Rosenstein To Testify on Capitol Hill; Democrats Win Alabama Senate Race; Agent Removed from Russia Probe; Omarosa Resigns from White House. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired December 13, 2017 - 09:30   ET


[09:30:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: He called the president an idiot, among other things.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, a quick check of the markets as they open this morning. Futures point to a flat opening following record highs for the Dow and S&P yesterday. The dollar took a hit amid the Alabama upset. And Democrat's big win could spell trouble investors think for the president's economic agenda.


[09:35:04] HARLOW: New this morning, the FBI agent who was booted off Bob Mueller's Russia investigation apparently called President Trump an idiot in a series of hundreds of text messages with a colleague. This was before the election.

BERMAN: Yes, hundreds of texts between Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer (ph) Lisa Page, mocking the president are now in the hands of congressional investigators. And they come to light as we have a big, big morning on Capitol Hill. The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, will testify very shortly. This is certain to come up before that committee today.

Joining us now, CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett.

Laura, talk to us more about these texts.


Well, lawmakers on Capitol Hill now have their hands on this thick stack of text messages between these two top FBI officials, formerly on Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team, that show a clear fear that Donald Trump would become president. Having reviewed the messages myself, it appears that the two were regularly texting during and after presidential debates and in one FBI Lawyer Lisa Page writes, God, Trump is a loathsome human, to which Strzok replies, yet he may win.

They go on to discuss whether Trump would be worse than Senator Ted Cruz as president, called Trump an idiot and awful, and then Strzok says, America will get what the voting public deserves.

Now, the reason that all of this matters and we're even talking about it is that Strzok helped lead the Clinton e-mail server investigation, its closing and then he went on to help open the FBI's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and Trump campaign connections to Russia.

And the timing of this release, as you guys mentioned, is critical here as the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, is set to appear before the House Judiciary Committee later this morning. So you can be sure these messages are going to be front and center and may provide further fodder or ammunition for those who already planned to press Rosenstein on claims of political bias at the Justice Department.

HARLOW: You know, not just that, Laura Jarrett, right, he's also going to be asked about this guy who works in his department, for the deputy attorney general's office, this man by the name of Mr. Orr. He was removed from his job because of these ties of him and his wife to the Trump dossier that was so controversial, a meeting he apparently had with Christopher Steele, the agent on that one. What happened?

JARRETT: Yes, the whole story surrounding the removal of Bruce Orr from the deputy attorney general, his office, he has kept his title on the organized drug crime and task force, but he was stripped of that more prestigious title within the DAG's office. And we know that he had a meeting with Glenn Simpson and Steele, the author of the Trump dossier. But we do not know exactly what was discussed and we do not know all of the circumstances surrounding his wife's work at Fusion GPS. So you can imagine, again, Rod Rosenstein will be pressed on this at length today at the hearing.


BERMAN: All right, Laura Jarrett, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

Democrats still glowing after the big win in Alabama, but can they keep the momentum growing and are their lessons for them in this?


[09:42:37] BERMAN: All right, a Democrat is going to the Senate from the state of Alabama. This has national Democrats naturally looking to 2018. Is this a sign of things to come?

Joining us now, Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas.

Thank you so much for being with us, sir.

Your reaction to the election last night.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Well, it was a big and energizing win for Democrats across the country. And just as importantly, I think, it was a rejection by the people of Alabama of most of the bad things, obviously, that Roy Moore stood for and also for the very divisive and raw politics of Donald Trump and Steve Bannon.

And I think that it's a shot in the arm for Democrats who are running for the Senate in places like Nevada and Arizona, but also for somebody like Beth O'Rourke running against Ted Cruz in Texas and our candidate in Tennessee. So I think that we've got a good chance of taking back the House and also being very competitive for the Senate.

HARLOW: Maybe, or this is an anomaly, right? Or this is an anomaly, because if you look at the presidential election, not that long ago, Hillary Clinton could not beat Donald Trump despite all of the allegations against him and the controversy around him as a candidate.

CASTRO: No, that's right. I mean it's still -- look, it's still an uphill battle. But I think that it puts us in a much better position. It energizes Democratic voters. It also -- you know, the fact is that the president every day I think becomes less and less popular with the American people because of the substance of what he does, because people disagree with what he's doing, like the tax bill, but also because of things he does, like the tweets, against Senator Gillibrand.

So you're right, there will be -- still be very tough races, but I also think that they're winnable.

BERMAN: One of the more interesting analyses that I heard came from the political pundit Charles Barkley last night, who actually said that Democrats need to pay attention to the message here. Listen to what Charles said.


CHARLES BARKLEY, FORMER NBA PLAYER: This is a wake-up call for Democrats. You're Democrats -- and I told Mr. Jones this, and I love Doug, they've taken the black vote and the poor vote for granted for a long time. It's time for them to get off their ass and start making life better for black folks and people who are poor. They've always had our votes and they have abused our votes and this is a wake-up call.


BERMAN: Is he right, congressman?

[09:45:01] CASTRO: I agree with Charles. Look, I think that we have to focus on forgotten communities, communities that have been an important part of the Democratic base. But also they're the same communities that, because sometimes people don't vote consistently, they're basically ignored by campaigns.

The fundamental problem in traditional American politics is that the campaigns target people who are already voting, and so they ignore people who have not availed themselves of the political process, and that includes a lot of poor people, a lot of African-Americans, Latinos and others, and poor whites.

HARLOW: Just look at the African-American turnout.

BERMAN: Right.

HARLOW: I mean, yesterday. It's bigger than the share of the population there percentage wise.

So let's turn to your role on the House Intelligence Committee, OK, because we now are just less than, you know, 15 minutes away from Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, coming before Senate Judiciary to testify. He's going to be asked a lot about the really high-ranking FBI Agent Peter Strzok and those text messages, very anti-Trump text messages, while he was leading the Hillary Clinton e- mail probe and a very high-ranking official on Bob Mueller's Russia probe, using words like calling the president an idiot, talking about a potential victory, a terrifying thing. I'm afraid we can't take that risk of him becoming president.

Does this give you pause, at least, congressman, about the independence of this investigation?

CASTRO: It doesn't give me pause about the entire investigation, no, because it's much larger than one single person. And also because Bob Mueller took the right steps when he found this out. He moved the person from his place in the investigation. If he had seen this, that this was going on from this person and others and continued to leave them there, then I think that President Trump's claim would have more merit. But the fact is that he removed him from his position in the investigation.

And also, you know, folks who are in law enforcement, FBI agents and others, are going to have political opinions. There were two major candidates in last year's political election, presidential election, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. So it's safe to say that all of those agents who went out and voted, voted either for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton. So it's not a surprise that somebody's going to have a preference.

BERMAN: Well, the devil's advocate here, you have these people, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, sending these text messages back and forth and they are both involved. You now have this guy Orr from the Justice Department who was demoted because he was involved somehow with the Steele dossier. And Republican critics will say you have people who work in this investigation, the Mueller investigation, who donated to various political causes.

Again, does it give the investigation the appearance of a political slant?

CASTRO: I don't think so. I don't think so at all. Again, the investigation is much bigger than one or a few people and as long as Bob Mueller is taking the right steps to make sure that the investigation remains fair and objective, then I believe it's valid.

HARLOW: But can I just say, Peter Strzok, the FBI agent we talked about first, was not taken off the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation.

BERMAN: He wasn't, yes.

HARLOW: He was taken off the Bob Mueller Russia probe, but he wasn't -- CASTRO: Right.

HARLOW: He was there for the full time. And he actually, we now know, changed the language in Comey's very now famous statement from, you know --

BERMAN: Grossly negligent.

HARLOW: Grossly negligent, which has legal implications for Clinton, to extremely careless, right? And so now you have the White House saying we need a second special counsel to look at this stuff. No merit there?

CASTRO: Well, I think that, look, the president is trying to do everything that he can to discredit Bob Mueller and the investigation that's going on. So a request for a second special council, I think at this point, is absurd. I just -- I don't think it has any merit.

HARLOW: We have to leave it there. We do have some breaking news.

Congressman, appreciate you being here.

CASTRO: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, the breaking news is from the White House. News maybe of some kind of an internal shake-up. Much more when we come back.


[09:53:18] HARLOW: All right, we do have breaking news about a staff shakeup at the White House.

Let's go straight to our Joe Johns, who joins us from the White House.

What are you learning?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Omarosa Manigault Newman, better known as Omarosa to people who liked to watch "The Apprentice" when Donald Trump was on the show, came here to the White House to work communications for the Office of Public Liaison. We are told by Sarah Sanders, the press secretary, that she will be leaving the White House effective January 20th of 2018. That will be one year after the president was inaugurated. It is said that she is going to pursue other opportunities.

We do know, among other things, that Omarosa, essentially, got married not too long ago. Her husband, of course, works in the southern United States. He's a minister. And it was very clear that she was doing a lot of traveling, for one thing.

So she, we are told, has turned in her resignation. The circumstances of that resignation are not clear. We do know that she was close to the president and got his ear wherever she needed to, though there were some issues, of course, with the chief of staff, who -- John Kelly, who has spent a lot of time trying to limit the ability of people to go and sit down and talk to the president at every given turn.

So we know Omarosa is leaving the White House January 20th. Trying to get a little bit more detail on the circumstances of her departure. Probably the key question is whether it had anything at all to do with the election and the defeat of the Republican in the state of Alabama. One of her duties, as a matter of fact, was outreach to various groups, including minority groups in the country. Just not clear whether any of this had to do with the election last night.

Back to you.

[09:55:29] BERMAN: All right, Joe Johns, thank you very much. Stand by.

Joining us now is CNN analyst April Ryan, who works for American Urban Radio Networks.

April, you sort of got first wind of this move about an hour ago. Do you have any idea what happened here? And also, explain to us some of the tensions that have existed surrounding Omarosa over the last months.

APRIL RYAN, CNN ANALYST (via telephone): Well, it's been more than a month, the tensions. I think it's from the time when she was in the campaign. And I did get -- my first e-mail was around 6:00 a.m. this morning, actually. And then I continued to get -- well, it was text messages. And I asked, who are you talking about and what? And the first text came in from a Republican saying they got a text late last night saying, mission accomplished. And I'm like, what do you mean? They said, something's going on. And I said, was the person fired? They said, I'm not sure, let me find out. And they continued to get information saying that there was high drama last night.

I got another text. And I'm like, you know, and it just kept coming and kept coming. I mean people on The Hill were hearing it. I mean this was huge. Apparently something happened last night. And from what I'm hearing from my sources -- and then there was drama. And I'm just going to say this. We have seen publicly, public outbursts, particularly at the NABJ, the National Association of Black Journalists Convention over the summer in August, when she and Ed Gordon had an exchange on the stage. So, you know, she's known to have these outbursts. We've seen them also on "The Apprentice."

Some of the problem was that you have a lot of black establishment Republicans who were never in favor of her being in the party. They felt that she was a Democrat. Now that she's saying she's a conservative, they felt that she did not understand the pillars and the principles of the party.

And then, you know, she came in, she -- she -- February was her month when she came in. You know, they came in January 20th. February was her month, Black History Month. You know, there was a lot of controversy about, you know, that diversity meeting that she had with the president and where he said things about Frederick Douglas. That did not bode well for her. Then later in the month, the optics of that picture with the HBCU

president, who were looking for tangible goods to come back. I mean it just -- the issues just kept piling and piling up and it didn't help that she acted out at the NABJ. I mean, and then, you know, also, people were wondering, what was she doing in that office making $180,000 a year. It's just a lot going on.

They say it's not one thing, it's a multiplicity of things. But I hear it's not -- it was not an easy out. I hear that it was high drama last night.

BERMAN: OK. All right, April Ryan for us on the phone.

April, thank you so much.

Omarosa Manigault Newman gone from the White House this morning.

HARLOW: Any minute, a big, big hearing on Capitol Hill. The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who, of course, is the one in charge of keeping Bob Mueller in his job, will testify before lawmakers. A lot of questions about the independence of these investigations. He'll be facing some tough ones in just minutes.

Stay with us.