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Trump Targets FISA Provision Up for Renewal; House Conservatives Push Hardline Immigration Bill; At Least 48 Missing in Deadly California Mudslides; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 11, 2018 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:16] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman. New this morning the president sows new doubt in the Russia investigation and then raises new confusion about where he stands on a key national security issue.

This morning, the president writes, "Disproven and paid for by Democrats, dossier used to spy on Trump campaign. Did FBI use intel tool to influence election?" "FOX and Friends" is where he may have seen this. "Did Dems or Clinton also pay Russians? Where are hidden and smashed DNC servers? Where are crooked Hillary Clinton e-mails? What a mess."

So that statement from the president, one thing. The bigger might be that all of a sudden he raised doubts about where he stands on foreign surveillance and then just as suddenly he seemed to backtrack.

Our Kaitlan Collins at the White House this morning where it is a bit of a confusing morning, to say the least.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right, John. A lot of contradictions and cleanups going on this morning and it's only 10:00 a.m. here at the White House because the president seemed to come out against the bill less than 12 hours after the White House issued a statement endorsing the exact legislation that's going to a vote in the House today.

It all got started when the president tweeted this morning about 7:30 saying, "House votes on controversial FISA Act today. This is the act that may have been used with the help of the discredited and phony dossier to so badly surveil and abuse the Trump campaign by the previous administration and others."

Now that comes less than 12 hours after the Press Secretary Sarah Sanders issued a statement endorsing no changes to this amendment, to this bill saying in a statement that they urged the House to, quote, "preserve the useful role FISA Section 702 authority plays in protection of American lives."

Now those things would seem to completely contradict each other, a statement from the White House on the administration's position on this and then a statement from the president on what the president thinks of this. So then about 90 or so minutes later give or take, the president issues another tweet, essentially cleaning up what he had said earlier saying, "With that being said, I have personally directed the fix to the unmasking process since taking office and today's vote is about foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land. We need it. Get smart."

So, John, this just goes to show this is another day in the Trump White House where he often contradicts things that his own press secretaries have said, his own spokesmen have said on his behalf. And we've reached out to the White House to see what it was that happened in between these two tweets, who went and spoke to the president, how he came to issue this cleanup, this correction, and we have not heard back but we will let you know as soon as we do -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Kaitlan, I would appreciate that. Thank you very much. We will let you get to your reporting.

Joining us now CNN national security and legal analyst Susan Hennessey.

Now, Susan, I know you were flat-out alarmed this morning. This is what you wrote. You said, "This was the single most dangerous and irresponsible thing the president has ever tweeted, and you added, "without hyperbole." That was to his first initial statement.

Why did you say that and did he clean it up after?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: So look, Section 702 is a critical national security authority. It is the most critical national security authority and our intelligence agencies have come forward to say it comprises the single biggest contributor to things like the presidential daily brief. This really is a crucial mechanism by which we get information about foreign intelligence, terrorists. It's set to lapse soon.

The politics around the reauthorization whether clean or with some reforms have been extremely delicate. What President Trump did this morning was essentially threw a grenade into that process. The House was set to vote on potential amendments and changes to that bill today. And it essentially blew that up. We are now in a position which this authority is potentially might actually lapse. That would have dramatic consequences on U.S. national security.

BERMAN: Now, Susan, also here, he's a little bit wrong on the facts in his tweet. He is suggesting that the dossiers were used to get warrants to surveil Paul Manafort and Carter Page, and even if that is true, that's not the part of the act that's up for reauthorization today, correct?

HENNESSEY: Right. So the dossier essentially has nothing to do with FISA. So the president is just sort of confused on its face. You know, 702 is used to target foreigners, reasonably believed to be outside the United States for foreign intelligence purposes. So even if it was true that, you know, this old tweet that -- where he accused the Obama administration of wire tapping him at Trump Tower, even if that was true, and there's no evidence to actually support that claim, the notion that 702 had anything to do with it.

[10:05:02] Just -- it would be sort of absurd to think that that's the authority that was in any way connected either to the dossier or the type of FISA surveillance that might apply to an individual within the United States.

BERMAN: All right. Susan Hennessey, for us. Susan, thank you very much for being with us. I know you rushed in because you were so concerned about what you were reading this morning.

All right. Joining me now to talk about this, CNN political commentators Amanda Carpenter and Robby Mook, of course ran Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Amanda, first to you, as the communications expert here, just also on a communications basis, this is really fascinating. The president made one statement that contradicted his own White House last night and then minutes later cleaned it up himself on Twitter. You know, if you're Sarah Sanders in the White House this morning or other communications people or the National Security Adviser McMaster who I assume cares deeply about this, what are you thinking this morning?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You're thinking oh, no, I have to clean up this mess again. Here's the thing with Trump. He often acts in his own self-interest without thinking about the policies or the consequence so any Republican on Capitol Hill now looking for this vote would be crazy to be seeking policy advice from the president or direction because he changes his mind based on how it suits him.

He saw something, probably on "FOX and Friends," we know he likes to live tweet the cable morning show, that was probably deemed as threatening to the investigation, to him, and said, you know what, I don't like this FISA court thing, without knowing much about it.

You know, at one point or another we're going to know the information that was presented to authorities to start investigating members of the Trump campaign. We will know that information at some point in time. Right now we don't. And I think Donald Trump is doing all that he can to cast aspersions on what that could be and the motives for why authorities started looking at that.

That's what's really going on here. And if he messes up really important policies to national security along the way, he doesn't really care. That's for Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway and those other people to figure out.

BERMAN: Look, this is I think what so upset Susan Hennessey who used to work in the National Security Agency about this. You know, you could argue about the Russia investigation which the president has and there's political views on each side of it, but what he did there was to meddle or as Susan was suggesting throw a bomb into a debate over an area where people think is a key national security issue. People disagree on whether they should -- you know, they should extend it or not. But that's what happened this morning.

And Robby, there's just no doubt that you're seeing sort of the breath of how far the Russia investigation affects the president's thinking because again it is now seeping into this area that deals directly with national security. And we saw it yesterday once again when he was at this news conference where in that period of like a minute and a half, he was talking about collusion and he just kept on repeating that it didn't happen. I think we have that sound. Let's play that right now.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There has been no collusion, no collusion. They all say there's no collusion and there is no collusion. I can only say this, there was absolutely no collusion. It has been determined that there is no collusion. When they have no collusion and nobody's found any collusion.


BERMAN: He's pinning a lot on the idea of no collusion here. He doesn't talk about obstruction right there, Rob. But he's clearly trying to send that message, you know.

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, absolutely. I mean, look, the irony of this entire situation is that what the president should be doing, what he's literally in his own interest is to not talk about this at all. There's legal reasons for that, but from a message standpoint he just passed a massive tax bill.

I think it was terrible policy, but it's very popular. I assume, you know, with Republicans it's something -- it's a way for him to try to take credit for the economy. Again I don't agree with that, but he -- the last thing he should be talking about is this investigation, but this is his core weakness. You know. He's a narcissist. He can't take criticism.

And to me, I'm not a psychologist, but I think it reveals that he is scared about something and, you know, as you just pointed out I think he keeps pointing to collusion because I assume he is vulnerable on the question of obstruction of justice. I think he is vulnerable on the question of some of his financial dealings.

But what is -- what just boggles my mind is, I think this would get way less attention. We -- we almost certainly wouldn't be talking about this on television right now if he would just keep his mouth shut about it.


CARPENTER: Yes, I would just say, there's a reason --

BERMAN: Go ahead.

CARPENTER: -- why Donald Trump is very careful to keep using the word collusion, because he will never be charged of collusion because collusion is not a federal crime in anti-trust cases which don't apply here. What he and his associates potentially face are things like perjury, obstruction of justice, cyber crimes, illicit campaign coordination, among other things. And so what he is actively trying to do is give people the idea that

there is a crime of collusion. He won't be found guilty of that. So therefore he and his allies will say things like obstruction of justice are process crimes.

[10:10:03] That's the new phrase that's coming into the lingo. And that the feds are just trying to catch him on something. And so if he can convince the public that he is innocent of something that he's never going to be charged with, for some people that will be viewed as a victory.

BERMAN: So Ron Brownstein, CNN political analyst, I believe has swooped in to rescue us from ourselves right now.


BERMAN: You know, Ron, it was noted in the last hour, and I think this is an important point to make, is that his statement about whether or not he will testify to Robert Mueller, to the special counsel, where he sort of was dodgy, won't commit to one thing or another, while it's a reversal of what he has said in the past, he said 100 percent he would, it may be a smart legal strategy.

He shouldn't be committing at a press conference to do any one thing or another. He should leave that to the lawyers, Ron.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. But on the other hand, it is one step along a road of what could be a slow motion political crisis, which is, various -- all of the continuum of ways in which he could resist this investigation and ultimately potentially terminate the investigation and what congressional Republicans will do in response to that.

Yes, you know, lawyers will advise you not to make blanket commitments at a press conference but certainly if Donald Trump refuses to meet with the special counsel, there is an element of a constitutional tension if not crisis there. It is refusing to provide the information and then the issue of how do House Republicans and Senate Republicans respond to that.

And by the way, on the previous point about no collusion, I think it's more than messaging. There is a clear policy implication to this because his insistence that there was no Russian engagement or involvement in the election contributes to their refusal to take seriously the prospect of further Russian interference in elections in America and elsewhere as we saw in that report yesterday from Senate Democrats.

The extent of the Russian campaign not only in the U.S. but Europe is pretty breathtaking and getting the administration to take that seriously has been made much more complicated by his repeated insistence that they in effect were not a factor in 2016.

BERMAN: I want to read you one thing the president wrote on the economy this morning because it is very interesting and happens to be true. The new Quinnipiac Poll, 66 percent of people feel the economy is excellent or good, and the president says that's the highest number ever recorded in this poll.

Now, Robby, I should note in this same poll, voters give President Obama more credit for the economy than they do President Trump and in this same poll President Trump has an approval rating of 36 percent, which is not good.

But, Robby, people like the economy right now. Wal-Mart today just made an announcement that they're raising its minimum -- it is raising its minimum wage and they're giving a one-time bonus to people. There are -- there is good news every day we are hearing on the economic front.

Between now and November, as a Democrat, do you anticipate that it's inevitable that the president starts to get more credit than he has for it?

MOOK: Well, this is a really important question. This is the one leg that that the president is standing on politically right now. If the economy wasn't in the position it's in, and I think the entire bottom would fall out on this, the key imperative for Democrats right now and we're seeing this happen, is focusing on this tax bill, focusing on how the president took a good economy that was created under President Obama, voters believe that, and how he is now giving away so much to corporations and the wealthiest people in the country.

Voters believe this was a bad tax deal today. The Republicans are going to try to make them like it. Democrats need to make sure that people understand the facts and understand what a bad deal it was. It's a very similar situation with Obamacare when we were, you know, in the middle of the 2010 election, as Democrats we were trying to prove that this was really good policy, it took years for people to understand that. The Republicans are making the same bet. I think it's going to be a really hard sell.

BERMAN: We'll see. Because the one thing politicians can't do is tell people how they feel. People feel, you know, how they feel, I think largely. So we'll see if they feel like things are getting better for them or not and if they feel like it's because of the tax cut or not next November.

You know, Amanda, Kellyanne Conway says that no one at the White House talks about Hillary Clinton. Last hour we went to great ends to show how that might not be true like at all. But, you know, Republicans going after Hillary Clinton is popular. It's fertile ground, but how much is too much?

CARPENTER: Well, here, I remember two things that were said earlier this year towards the end of last year when things started to look bad about the Russia investigation. Sarah Palin went and told Breitbart listeners, listen, remember your ABCs, anybody but Clinton, and then another Breitbart editor said something to the effect, remember, even the worst day of Donald Trump's presidency will be better than any day of Hillary Clinton's.

So this is kind of the mindset among the base, that yes, you know, Trump may say some stupid stuff, we may get in hot water but we're still better off than we were with Hillary. And I think Donald Trump knows that. So he takes care to remind people that, yes, you might be uncomfortable with my tweets but you could have Hillary Clinton. And that does reassure the Republican base.

[10:15:05] BERMAN: Ron, 20-second last word because you came in late and I don't want to leave you hanging here.

BROWNSTEIN: No, look, I think this -- this is a critical question. The economy is improving. Normally that raises presidential approval rates which would raise the party's prospects and his party's prospects in the midterm elections. But Donald Trump is facing mostly a personal judgment from the voters who don't like him. In that poll 57 percent said he was not fit to be president. Doesn't have the emotional stability. He's too volatile, he's too mean, he's too belligerent. And 80 -- over 80 percent of the people who say he isn't fit to be president say they want Democrats to control the House as a check on Trump.

Republicans have made a big bet. They have moved closer to Trump even as doubts about him have grown and they have passed an agenda that is aimed almost entirely at Republican interests hoping to mobilize the base on both fronts but the challenge they face is that as the doubts are growing about Trump the desire I think for a check on him has also grown and it's not clear whether an improving economy erases that verdict.

BERMAN: Amanda Carpenter, Robby Mook, Ron Brownstein, thanks all for being with us.

House Republicans unveil a new immigration plan at least some of them do. Will others back it? Plus, scandal allegations of blackmail and audiotapes. This is the craziest story you will hear today. Controversy right now rocking the governor's office in Missouri. The stunning details ahead.

And breaking news out of California the frantic search for survivors under way after the deadly mudslides. We're live with the latest on rescue efforts.


[10:20:39] BERMAN: All right. So new video just in to CNN, an intriguing moment on Capitol Hill. Retiring Utah Senator Orrin Hatch was asked about one of the people who may, may seek to replace him, former Republican presidential nominee -- excuse me, Mitt Romney. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Have you spoken to Mitt Romney since you announced your impending retirement?