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New FBI Texts Released; Nunes Refuses to Reveal Memo; Trump Talking with McConnell and Democrats; White House Staff Makes Negotiations Difficult; Smithsonian Open Today; Abuse Victims Face Doctor. Aired 9:30-10:00a

Aired January 22, 2018 - 09:30   ET



[09:30:37] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, new developments this morning, not so much in the Russia probe as surrounding the Russia probe. A second batch of text messages between FBI officials who briefly worked on Special Counsel's Robert Mueller's team now in the hands of Congress.

Let us discuss what this is all about. Joining me is CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider.


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, these texts, they keep trickling out. So this latest batch is 400 pages of text messages between FBI Agent Peter Strzok, who worked on the Clinton e- mail server investigation, as well as the Russia probe until he was pulled off for the anti-Trump text this summer. They are between him and an FBI lawyer Lisa Page.

So, this weekend, Republican Senator Ron Johnson, he's chair of the Homeland Security Committee, he released a handful of these texts. So let me take you through a few pertinent ones.

There was one February 2016 exchange. And in it, Lisa Page, the attorney, calls it unbelievable that the presidential race would come down to Trump and Clinton. Well, that's when this text comes in. Agent Strzok relied, now the pressure really starts to finish MYE.

Now that's an apparent reference to the mid-year exam. That was the FBI's internal case name for the Clinton investigation. So, once again, raising this issue for Republicans, was FBI Agent Strzok biased or influencing that investigation at all?

And then there's another text, this one about then Attorney General Loretta Lynch's decision to accept the FBI's decision on the Clinton matter, essentially recusing herself after she met privately onboard her plane during the election with former President Bill Clinton. So during the election, Peter Strzok texts this. He says, timing looks like hell, will appear to be choreographed. Well, that's when Page eventually texts back, she says, and, yes, it's a real profile in courage since she knows that no charges will be brought. So Senator Johnson actually wrote to the DOJ that it appears by those

text messages that Attorney General Loretta Lynch knew that no charges would be brought when she made that announcement to leave the FBI to handle the investigation, that she would step out of it.

So, in the meantime, despite these texts that have come out, Senator Ron Johnson, he's also requested that the FBI hand over messages that were exchanged between Strzok and Page on their personal devices because all of these texts are from their FBI devices. Senator Johnson says that some of those might contain official business.

And one more thing here, John. Senator Ron Johnson, he says he wants more info on what was a technical glitch that actually prevented texts that were sent between these two between December 2016, so right after the election, and then May 17, 2017. That was the day that Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel. There's a glitch that's preventing those from being turned over.

So really this text message issue not going away. It continues to be a flash point for Republicans.


BERMAN: And there's another big development as well here. Congressman Devin Nunes, the Republican who's the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, he has this memo that every Republican is talking about right now which alleges all kinds of abuse by the FBI in the investigation, in the FISA process as well. What more do we know about that?

SCHNEIDER: Yes. So this has really become an issue because Chairman Nunes and several other Republicans, they want to release what is a classified memo authorized mostly by Nunes, and it accuses the FBI of abusing surveillance laws. So, of course, being a classified memo, there's now pushback from both lawmakers, as well as the intelligence communities, who worry that this memo could really compromise sources and methods.

So, so far we've heard from the FBI. We got a statement from them. And they have asked for a copy of the memo. But the FBI does say that so far that request has been declined. So the memo really focuses on the FBI's use of that dossier from ex-British spy Christopher Steele. It alleges in the memo that the FISA judge, who signed off on the surveillance warrants for members of the Trump team, they argue that the judge wasn't given full information about the dossier, which, of course, John, we've reported the dossier was paid in part in the beginning by a Republican donor but then, during the election, by Democrats, including the Clinton campaign and the DNC.


BERMAN: All right, Jessica Schneider for us in Washington. Jessica, thanks so much.

Joining me to discuss now, CNN legal analyst Paul Callan. Paul, let's start with the issue of the Nunes memo first. They won't let the FBI see it right now. What does that tell you? It's filled with alleged allegation that the FBI abused the FISA process, but they won't let the FBI see it.

[09:35:04] PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, it's very, very strange that there's not more cooperation going on between these two committees. Now, I've heard actually statements by some Republican congressmen saying that the document may include references to the Obama administration doing things that resulted in the wiretapping of the Trump Tower. Now, we don't see any confirmation of it because we don't have the information in front of us. But whatever's in that memo, a lot of people think it's very important.

BERMAN: And the FBI, in theory, would be able to respond or explain or shed light on some of the issues in that memo if given the chance to look at it.

CALLAN: Exactly.

BERMAN: Any legal reason to keep it from them?

CALLAN: I -- except, as Jessica mentioned, there may be source materials that the FBI doesn't want to disclose publically and they want to keep it secret.

BERMAN: OK, but they're the ones who are asking to see it. So if it's their material, you know, that's what makes that whole exchange odd.

Now, Paul, you think the matter of the text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page is pertinent, at least for Congress to look into in their oversight role, correct?

CALLAN: Yes, I do. I think it's very important, John, because you have to remember, Strzok was the number two counterintelligence agent in the FBI, and he was involved heavily in the investigation of Hillary Clinton's e-mails and then subsequently he's put on the Mueller investigation team. He was removed though.

In these e-mails, the initial batch, 350 text messages were released, both he and Lisa Page, his paramour, who -- his girlfriend, mistress, whatever you want to call her, was -- who was working for the number two guy in the FBI, exchanged descriptions of the president as a loathsome human being, an idiot, someone who -- it would be terrifying if he was elected president. And this individual, both of these individuals, were involved in the Mueller investigation.

So I think there is some legitimate questions to be asked about them and I think we have to look at their other e-mails and text messages as well.

BERMAN: So just to be clear, the texts (ph) also reveal they have plenty of not nice things to say about a whole range of people, including Hillary Clinton and Loretta Lynch, Bernie Sanders, everyone. They seem to not like a whole lot of people right there.

CALLAN: Absolutely.

BERMAN: And there is nothing inherently illegal about expressing political opinions as an investigator.

CALLAN: No, there isn't. But I think the critics of putting them on the investigation say that, you know, if you have somebody who was that strongly opposed to either Hillary Clinton or the president, maybe they wouldn't be appropriate people to be investigating.

BERMAN: And Robert Mueller did remove Peter Strzok, you know, from that essentially --

CALLAN: When he found out about it he did. He did.

BERMAN: He did immediately.

All right, and there is an internal affairs investigation. We may find out much more about it in the coming months.

Paul Callan, great to have you with us. Thank you so much.

CALLAN: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, a Republican senator says a deal could be done between President Trump and the Democrats, but White House staffers are blocking the way. Can that last? Stay with us.


[09:41:51] BERMAN: All right, brand-new this morning. Top White House aide Marc Short tells CNN that the president, he's very, very busy, talking to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, also the Democrats, very active in all the negotiations.

Why are they saying this? Well, perhaps because of reports including from "The Washington Post" that the president is playing a game of what's called hide and tweet. Taking a low profile in these negotiations despite the fact that he's itching to get in the fray.

One of the reporters who broke this story for "The Washington Post," Josh Dawsey, joins us now.

Josh, thank you so much for being with us.

Explain to me why you're hearing that the president, up until this morning, if you believe that he's very active, has taken a lower profile?

JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": So the president's natural inclination is to make a deal. As we saw on Friday, he had Chuck Schumer over to the White House over cheeseburgers and he essentially tried to hammer out a major compromise on immigration, on budget spending, on defense spending. That was later walked back by his aides.

You know it's a number of kind of restrictionist, harder line aides like John Kelly, his chief of staff, Steven Million, his top immigration adviser, who really want the president to be careful on what he gives Democrats in these negotiations. Still, you have a number of calls from people like Mitch McConnell, from Marc Short, Mick Mulvaney, his budget director, this weekend telling the president, hold still. You know, Mitch -- I mean Chuck Schumer's in a bad spot and you need to make him capitulate and don't capitulate yourself.

BERMAN: It sounds like they're worried that if he gets involved, they'll blow -- that he'll blow it.

DAWSEY: Right.

BERMAN: Is that what they're saying?

DAWSEY: Right. Well, we've chronicled this, and others have too, but the president's a bit of an erratic deal maker. He will, you know, suddenly agree to something that he hasn't discussed with others. He will, you know, say he wants one thing and then he will say he wants another. He's a very unpredictable force when he gets involved. So I think they're happy that he's tweeting. He's largely staying out of public view. He's letting everyone else do the sausage making right now, at least over the weekend, and they want that because they can control more. When he gets involved, he's uncontrollable for the people around him and that's a tough dynamic.

BERMAN: The more he sees, though, these stories about him being muzzled or controlled --

DAWSEY: Right.

BERMAN: The less likely one would think it is to continue. And that's just (INAUDIBLE).

Now, you didn't have one, you had two fascinating stories in the paper all at once. As the president is being muzzled or sidelined here, there is a key White House aide who is rising to the forefront, Steven Miller, 32 years old. Lindsey Graham says Steven Miller's a problem. He's why there isn't a deal right now. Explain.

DAWSEY: Well, I don't know if that's exactly true. Miller's viewed as a puppeteer on immigration, somewhat unfairly White House aides would argue, because he hues very strictly to the restrictionist policies that the president pitched on the campaign trail. The president, you know, as we saw propose a wall, proposed a Muslim ban, proposed lots of tough immigration policies and then in office he's been a bit more flexible.

Steven Miller is not more flexible. So Steven Miller is telling people on The Hill that the president has to get a lot of these tough criteria that the president himself is not expressing quite as explicitly.

What he is seen as in the White House is someone who is unbending, who firmly believes for years in these tighter immigration policies, who thinks, you know, the more free flowing immigration has been a detriment to the country and he's willing to do whatever it takes to push those policies.

[09:45:10] BERMAN: He's not alone, though. He's not on some island in the White House, because it seems like the chief of staff, John Kelly, at least when it comes to policy, may be more or less where Steven Miller is.

DAWSEY: Right. But when John Kelly was the Homeland Security secretary, Steven Miller wanted John Kelly to have more control, particularly over refugees, on some immigration issues, because he trusted him. They were allies in some ways. And he said, I would prefer for John Kelly to have more control than Rex Tillerson or other secretaries.

John Kelly and Steven Miller are both pushing the president to hold firm and make a tougher deal and really try to get -- get parts of a deal that are tough on immigration. But the president himself is more flexible.

BERMAN: Josh Dawsey, thank you so much for joining us. You probably published three stories while you were on TV with us these last three and a half minutes. Thank you so much.

DAWSEY: Thanks for having me.

BERMAN: All right, well, thousands of federal employees will not be going to work this morning. The government shutdown has not closed every federal program and agency. After first announcing it was not sure how long it would stay open, the Smithsonian found a way to serve the public using prior year funds to keep it operating.

Joining me now from the newest Smithsonian Museum, the National Museum of African American Art and Culture, Rene Marsh.

Rene, what are you hearing?

RENE MARCH, CNN AVIATION AND GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: So, you know, this could be very confusing for people who live in and around the nation's capital, as well as people who are visiting as far as what's open and what's not open. And the bottom line is the shutdown in 2018 looks a whole lot different than it looked in 2013. So some agencies, as you mentioned, the Smithsonian, that organization, as well as other government agencies, have actually scoured their budgets to see if there's money they can pull from other places so that they can remain open.

We know the Smithsonian Museums say that they have enough money to at least stay open through today. But I want to just break it down for people who really are confused about -- so what is the deal, what is open, what's not?

As far as what is open, John, Social Security Services, it's still available for people. Medicare, Medicaid also still available. The U.S. Postal Office or Postal Service, I should say, is still up and running. Local parks and schools still open. Airports, federal prisons, federal courts are all still open. Congress, obviously they're working as well. As far as what is closed, the IRS customer service. They are not going

to be able to operate. Most of the federal office buildings will not be open. I mean if you do see federal workers who are showing up to work today, it's only for a matter of a few hours simply to shut down their stations and head back home.

Again, a dramatic difference, though, between what it looks like this time around when you saw all those closed due to shut down and barriers being erected at monuments and national parks. The optics slightly different in 2018. And some people believe perhaps that's the way Republicans or the administration wants it to look. So it doesn't look as bad. We are in day three.

BERMAN: Rene Marsh, thanks so much for being with us.

Happening now, two dozen survivors join a long list of women coming face-to-face with a former gymnastics doctor convicted of multiple counts of sexual abuse. We're live outside the court, next.


[09:53:00] BERMAN: Happening now, a new group of sexual abuse survivors facing their abuser, former USA Gymnastics Dr. Larry Nassar. At least two dozen survivors expected to speak today as the hearing enters its second remarkable week. More than 90 accusers have already addressed the court. This comes as Nassar's former boss, the Michigan State University president, is now facing calls to resign.

CNN's Jean Casarez live for us in Lansing, Michigan, with the very latest.


JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, John, more and more victims are coming forward. We even just heard that some had come forward over the weekend.

But we're hearing new comments, new territory they're veering into today. Some of these victims are saying that Dr. Nassar's medical treatment didn't work. The 95th victim that just spoke said that she's had seven back surgeries because what he did just didn't help.

One of the victims, and the only one, was not an athlete. And she -- her parents are medical professionals and they were friends with Larry Nassar and his wife. She was first sexually assaulted when she was in kindergarten at his house while her parents were there, her siblings, and also his wife and his children. It all happened in the basement.

I want you to listen to the strength of Kyle Stephens.


KYLE STEPHENS, SAYS NASSAR BEGAN SEXUALLY ABUSING HER AT AGE SIX: Just to have the opportunity to look your abuser in the face and tell him what he did to your life, but that you're moving on and you're going to be stronger from it, that's one of the most empowering things I've had the opportunity to do.


CASAREZ: Now, a victim that just spoke is a student at MSU and she said she wants to go back to school with a new president. The outcry is becoming very strong that the president of this university needs to resign. The board of trustees supports her, but one board of trustee member, Mitch Lions, is saying, no, she needs to go. He says, quote, I do not agree with our statement of support for President Simon, as I expressed repeatedly to fellow board members during our discussion Friday. I don't feel that President Simon can survive the public outcry that has been generated by the tragedy of even less so after hearing the testimony of these brave survivors of Larry Nassar's abuse.


[09:55:15] BERMAN: I have to say, the courage, the bravery in this testimony is remarkable. And it is inspiring in so many ways to see.

Jean Casarez, thank you so much for staying on this story for us. Appreciate it.

All right, we were just told to expect to hear from the senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell. He will take to the Senate floor any minute. We will get an update. Is there progress in this quest to end the government shutdown? Stay with us.


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