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Sources: Mueller wants to Question Trump on Comey, Flynn; New Signs Gates may be Negotiating with Mueller's Team; Source: Trump Inclined to Allow Release of Nunes Memo. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired January 24, 2018 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[10:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: It seems like another significant development drops. We now know what Special Counsel Bob Mueller wants to talk about and focus on with the president.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Sources tell CNN that the special counsel is interested in learning why, why the president decided to fire FBI director James Comey and also national security adviser Michael Flynn.
Also, overnight, new reporting that the president asked then acting FBI director Andrew McCabe whom he voted for in the 2016 election. You know, eerily similar to other questions about loyalty, a conversation that left Andy McCabe we're told disturbed.
Joining us now is CNN political analyst and a "Washington Post" reporter who broke like 18 different stories overnight, Josh Dawsey joins us right now. Josh, you know first to you, you were the first to report the areas where the special counsel wants to speak with the president about the firing of James Comey, the firing of Michael Flynn. Explain.
JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We did some digging to try to figure out when this interview with the president is going to happen. And we've learned that the negotiations with Bob Mueller's team are expected to begin soon. And what they want to know are two kind of pivotal points here. Why did President Trump fire Mike Flynn? What did he know before he fired Mike Flynn? How did he explain the firing? And why did he fire Jim Comey? What were the precipitating factors around that? Who was involved in the decision? How did the president explain it privately?
We've also been able to discern is that investigators are interested in the numerous repeated efforts to oust Jeff Sessions as attorney general. On at least two different occasions the president asked for his resignation. There was a campaign to shame him on the president's Twitter and from some of his allies. And then why did he do that?
It seems to us that the investigators are looking for, you know, a pattern of behavior to try to figure out what was the president thinking at all of these times and you know, before he will consent to an interview, the president's lawyer is going to talk to Mueller's team. And they want to set conditions on the interview including, what are you going to ask him? Can some of the questions be done in writing? Will it be videotaped? And where they're going so far are the two main pivotal points they once talked about are Flynn and Comey and a lot of the other terms are still to be determined.
HARLOW: First of all, welcome to CNN, you're going to get even less sleep now than you already do breaking all this news. We're glad to have you.
Another story you broke yesterday is Andy McCabe, formerly, you know for a period of time running the FBI after Comey was ousted. Now the deputy there, being questioned by the president, hey by the way, who did you vote for in the 2016 election? Of course that made him uncomfortable but there's also more. What can you tell us?
DAWSEY: Right, so the president summoned Andy McCabe to the Oval Office for kind of a get to know you meeting, after James Comey was abruptly dismissed. And what he wanted to know, who Andy McCabe voted for. He also criticized the acting FBI director for donations. That is why through a state Senate campaign candidate in Virginia took from a pack that was tied to a top Clinton ally.
He then again talked to Andy McCabe and it was kind of a presumptive interview for the FBI, permanent job and Andy McCabe did not get that job. What were you able to learn is that conversation created some reverberations at the FBI because it was unusual for the president to ask a civil servant and investigator officer, his political leanings, his political affiliations. My colleagues, Ellen Nakashima and Devlin Barrett who cover this, you know, more intimately than I do, I cover the White House, you know, really were able to discern and in this case that, you know, these are not questions that a president normally asks to a sitting FBI director - acting FBI director.
BERMAN: All right, Josh Dawsey, stick around for us a little bit, if you will. As for the president's reaction to all this, what we're hearing from the White House. CNN's Kaitlan Collins is there. Kaitlan, what has the reaction been?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, John, the White House has asked pointblank yesterday that asked if the president would be willing to sit down with Special Counsel Robert Mueller and though the president himself has said in the past that he would definitely be willing to sit down with him and happy to tell him what he's telling us of us in the media, the White House has since backtracked on that and they will no longer definitively say that he would be willing to sit down with him. They're only saying that they are fully cooperating with the special counsel's investigation.
And then on another front, the White House is also asked if the president does truly believe that this is a hoax, created by Democrats, that it's a waste of taxpayer money, why not just fire the guy and the White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said that it is in part because they know what the reaction in the media would be, essentially saying that it would create this PR headache. An interesting comment from a White House that is used to dealing with a scandal nearly every other day. And with all those bombshells that dropped yesterday, safe to say that the White House press shop is drinking from a fire hose right now. John and Poppy? BERMAN: All right, Kaitlan Collins for us at the White House. Thanks so much.
Joining us now -
[10:05:02] BERMAN: This fire hose by the way doesn't stop day by day here. Phil Mudd is with us, you know, formerly with the FBI and CIA and CNN counterterrorism analyst and Asha Rangappa, CNN legal and national security analyst, Josh Dawsey is back with us as well. Asha, first, the legal side of this, Josh is reporting. He broke, you know, what the special counsel wants to ask the president about, apparently has to do with the firing of James Comey and the circumstances surrounding the firing of Michael Flynn. So, how will the special counsel's team approach that when they get the president in the room?
ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, the special counsel is going to have a series of questions to which they'll already know the answer but they are going to want to get the president's account in his own world. This is a really bad situation for the president. It's essentially could be a perjury trap for him because again, Mueller has more information on his side than the president has. So it's an unknown situation.
I do think you can look out for two things. One is that -- he says he's not going to have the interview and forces Mueller to issue a grand jury subpoena. I think that's a real responsibility. The other is that I think he could legitimately assert executive privilege with regard to those conversations because they did involve essentially decisions that were made -- presidential decisions that were made about his staff. Not that that privilege couldn't be pierced but I think he could make that claim.
HARLOW: You know, Ty Cobb has said the president is very eager to sit down with Mueller. The president, Phil Mudd, has been all over the board on whether he thinks Mueller will be fair, whether this is a witch hunt or what have you, but you think that the team would want to do anything that it could to prevent the subpoena and testifying in front of a grand jury, no?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: You would think so. I mean, look, the White House has been saying along they want to cooperate. Now you're saying -- you don't want to have a conversation, you want to force a grand jury subpoena? They are talking out of both sides of their mouth here. I agree with Asha. This is really interesting in terms of what gaps the president can fill in because as she said, the team, the Mueller team knows a lot more than we know.
For example, one thing we haven't talked about, Flynn evidently is cooperating. So he will have told the special counsel what White House conversations there were about dealing with the Russians about maybe some sort of deal with the Russians on sanctions, which is what he got fired for. So, that team is going to have a theory of the case. They are going to walk in with an incredibly detailed timeline about what happened through the campaign and into the first month in the Oval Office and beyond.
And they are going to ask the president questions where they already know the answer. If he slips up in a couple of hours and given his lack of discipline, I think that's a high probability. He's got a problem on his hands.
BERMAN: Well you just brought up lack of discipline, Phil. And I wanted to get you -- both of you on this because you both worked for the FBI. But Phil, we learned overnight through Josh's reporting among others -
BERMAN: -- that Andy m McCabe was an acting director at the FBI, meeting with the president and the president asked him, hey Andy, who did you vote for in the 2016 election, Phil? You know, is that appropriate?
MUDD: Appropriate? Look, any time you join government, I joined in 1985. I worked for everybody from Reagan on through Obama, that's Republicans, that's Democrats, whether you go to war, whether you conduct intelligence against al Qaeda and try to dismantle that network, I don't care who the Americans work for. They can vote for a Republican, a Democrat, an independent.
Once you leave that polling booth as a citizen, you go into the office as a professional and you serve whoever gets elected, completely inappropriate for the president. He should assume that the people who work for him once he gets elected will do what he asked them to do as long as it's legal and ethical. I can't believe he did that. Andy McCabe whom I know personally will take the president's orders and try to execute them. You don't have to try to ask him who he voted for.
HARLOW: Josh, just digging into your reporting a little bit more, what can you tell us about the folks that would be questioning the president in all of this, the team that Mueller has assembled?
DAWSEY: Well, Mueller has a high powered team of about 16, 17 lawyers, focusing on different parts of the case, some of them are focusing on the Paul Manafort part of the case. Some of them are focusing on the Mike Flynn part of the case. And others have been kind of honing in on the White House, asking for e-mails and documents, often when folks go into interview, it's led by prosecutors and investigators but Bob Mueller will sit along the wall. He'll introduce himself to the witnesses. He's kind of things like presence in the room.
So, you can imagine from what we've been reporting on, on these different interviews with Bob Mueller, it's kind of a rotating cast of prosecutors, investigators who come in, ask a series of different questions about different episodes and Mueller will sometimes interject as well.
BERMAN: You know, Asha, another interesting development overnight, in addition to what Josh reported, you know, between what Mueller wants and the McCabe stuff, is that Rick Gates who's been indicted, you know, in this whole case right now, may have brought on this new lawyer who has been meeting with the special counsel in our reporting is potentially maybe trying to work out some kind of a plea deal here. Remember, Rick Gates also indicted along with Paul Manafort, his longtime business partner. What does that mean for the investigation?
[10:10:05] RANGAPPA: Well, you know, prosecutors always want people lower down the totem pole to flip and cooperate and that helps them get information on people higher up the totem pole. Gates is relatively speaking lower down. He potentially has information that he could give on Manafort which could increase the pressure on Manafort to flip, though it doesn't look like he's inclined to do that right now.
But Gates as Manafort's close colleague may also have a lot of information about other aspects of the campaign that could be very useful to Mueller in going after higher targets. And he's facing 12 counts and that's a lot of time in jail. So I can totally see that he may be reconsidering his position right now.
HARLOW: Thank you all very much. We appreciate it. Phil Mudd, Asha Rangappa, Josh Dawsey, go break some more news and bring to us. Thank you, guys.
All right, so Congress trying to hammer out a deal, trying on immigration. Can they nail down the president though on what he even wants let alone what he would sign?
BERMAN: Plus, after being confronted by dozens and dozens and dozens of survivors of his sexual abuse, ex-USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar about to be sentenced. We will bring you this moment live. You're looking at live pictures right now.
And hours from now, the president heads to Davos, the glitz, the glamour, how will he be received up in those hills?
[10:15:47] HARLOW: Overnight, President Trump lashed out after Senator Chuck Schumer withdrew money offered for the wall. The president wrote in response, "Crying Chuck Schumer fully understands, especially after the humiliating defeat, that if there is no wall, there is no DACA." So, where does this leave us?
BERMAN: Joining us now, Jackie Kucinich CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast," Salena Zito, CNN contributor and national political reporter for the "Washington Examiner" and also with us, Jamie Gangel, CNN special correspondent. Jamie, this is hardly special this morning, you know, not to make light of this. This feels like you say, Deja Vu all over again.
JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Have you been looking at my notes? That's exactly - look, pick your cliche, back to square one, going to get worse before it gets better. I think there's no question that we're in a mess right now. And it's going to take a while.
Lindsey Graham, yes, the gang of six is now the gang of 25. And they are sitting in Senator Collins office trying to work it out. That group is not really talking to President Trump and he wants a lot of money for his big beautiful wall and the hard liners like Senator Tom Cotton and Senator Perdue, they expect they want some movement on immigration and until these people start talking to each other, as someone said to me when the shutdown ended, we're right back where we started.
HARLOW: You know the definition of insanity?
GANGEL: Doing the same thing -
HARLOW: -- they do the same thing and you expected a different result.
BERMAN: Even with the talking stick.
HARLOW: And broken glass elephant. That's another story. I mean, how is this not just insanity playing out?
GANGEL: One person said -- a member of Congress said to me this morning nothing is going to happen in February. The March 5th DACA deadline, let's wait and see. Maybe that gets extended. I think we could see this going out not just weeks but months.
BERMAN: You know, Salena Zito, it's interesting, you studied this president for a long time, covered extensively and talked to him as well. You know he's getting pressure from different sides here to come out and do more, say more. Particularly from Lindsey Graham is you know temporary golfing buddy, one time political foe here. When Lindsey Graham basically says to the president repeatedly, you've got to tell us what you're for, not just what you're against. Do you think it has any impact? Do you think it reaches the president? How do you think he would receive that message?
SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I mean, I think he has shown that he consumes news vicariously, like he takes it all in. And so, yes, I'm definitely sure that message got to him. But you know, how it impacts him, I think a lot of people impact him and the person that has sort of the most influence at times is the last person that talks to him.
You know I had an interesting conversation with the voter on my way down here today. A woman, she voted for Hillary Clinton and I asked her, what do you think of what's going on? She says honestly, I think what's going on in Washington is the new normal. And you can't cure normal. This is who we are. The country is polarized and there's a level of expectation from voters that they look at this and say, this is what they do. At some point they are going to get it figured out.
HARLOW: You know, it's not just, Jackie, that you know the gang of 25 as Jamie puts it is up against Senator Perdue and Cotton and President Trump. They are up against the House and Steve Scalise in the House said, look, whatever you guys decide in the Senate, basically, has no bearing on what we do in the House. His words, there were no commitments made in the House. They said nothing is going to make it through that allows any sort of amnesty, which is what he calls the path to citizenship for Dreamers and it doesn't include funding for border wall. So even if you get through the Senate, then what?
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Mitch McConnell's promises are nontransferable when it comes to the House. So, in terms of what happens, I mean, it really -- it's a tough spot for Dreamers. The fact that Republicans have decided to tie this and call them illegal immigrants and really change the tone of the debate is problematic.
[10:20:00] And we're seeing that turn. We're also seeing Democrats turn on each other, which is even more problematic for the Democrats, where you know, they are angry -- the House is angry at the Senate for caving, activists are angry at Democrats in both chambers for what they think is not pushing hard enough, not going far enough. I would keep your eye on the State of the Union and see if there are any sorts of demonstrations, frankly, as a result of what's going on in the House and Senate right now.
At Salena's point, one of the things "The Daily Beast" reported today is that the White House is actively trying to keep the president away from Chuck Schumer for that very reason that he tends to agree with the last person he spoke to. Since Chuck Schumer is pro-DACA and definitely different point of view from say, General Kelly and Steven Miller. They are trying to keep him away from the Senate minority leader right now.
BERMAN: Taking him all the way to Switzerland to take him away from Chuck Schumer.
HARLOW: Neutral zone.
KUCINICH: Not messing around, John.
BERMAN: You know, Jamie, in addition to what we've been talking all morning about the dizzying number of developments in the Russia investigation overnight, you know whether it be that he asked Andy McCabe who you voted for in the election, whether it be we now know Jeff Sessions has talked to the special counsel and maybe most importantly of all, we know the areas where the special counsel wants to speak to President Trump when they sit down. Where do you see things standing this morning at 10:21 a.m. knowing they could change by 10:23 a.m.?
GANGEL: Right. I think the number one thing that we have to think about is this. Look at the time line. It's almost a year since the president fired James Comey. That was February 14th. Then in May, he said 100 percent he was going to talk to the special counsel if asked. The special counsel is knocking on the Oval Office door right now. And he doesn't know what the special counsel knows. I think they are very nervous. I think this is a big cloud. And all of these pieces that you just said and whatever happens at 10:23 a.m. now, is adding to that anxiety.
BERMAN: It was one year ago today where Michael Flynn spoke to the FBI, February 14th. February is when Michael Flynn was let go was May right, when James Comey was ultimately pushed out. But you know we're in that time frame now where it's boom, boom, boom in terms of developments.
HARLOW: Salena, you speak to interview not only the president in the Oval Office but so many of his supporters. You know, we have this new CNN poll and what it shows us, eight in 10 Americans -- eight in 10 Americans want this president to testify under oath in the Russia probe. This is not just, you know, along party lines. Yes, more Democrats than Republicans want it but this is America saying hey, do this, Mr. President.
ZITO: Yes and this might shock some people, but Trump supporters are voters or people who voted for Clinton or people who didn't vote at all. I mean as I talk to a variety of different types of political persuasions, almost every single one of them say we want him to talk. We want to get this behind us. Whatever it is, whatever they find out, we want that conversation to happen because we're sort of tired of this cloud behind all of our politics and we want to see some sort of sense of normalcy in Washington. You know and see how he is as president without this.
They have not had that opportunity, literally this Russian thing that's been a cloud over him since the day after he was elected. And if you like him, you want this to be behind him, if you don't like him, you want to see what happens and sort of what the findings are by Mueller so everyone sort of believes -- get this conversation over with so we can get on with some normal politics in Washington. That probably will not happen but we might.
BERMAN: You know, Jackie, I want you to listen, speaking of normal politics, to the chair of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel who was on "New Day" this morning answering questions about was it appropriate that the president asked Andy McCabe the acting FBI director who he voted for in 2016. Listen to her response here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RONNA MCDANIEL, RNC CHAIRWOMAN: It's just a conversation. I don't think it intends you know all of these terrible things that people are trying to put forward.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Was it inappropriate?
MCDANIEL: I don't know. I ask people who they vote for sometimes. I think it's trying to get to know somebody. I don't think the intentions are as bad as being put out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So Jackie, is it as obnoxious as getting to know somebody or not? Jackie? KUCINICH: You know that is an inappropriate question to - I mean, to talk to -- don't take it from me, take it to pretty much every intelligence there, FBI expert that's been on this and other CNN programs, it's not inappropriate question to ask the acting director of the FBI. Also, he started railing against him according to the "Washington Post" about his wife running for office as a Democrat and the money she received, I think it was from Terry McAuliffe. So that conversation in and of itself, it's very indicative of this president. And it shows again, which we've seen, I think it used to be a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the Justice Department.
[10:25:03] And now, it just doesn't seem like the president cares that the Justice Department and the FBI are supposed to be completely separate entity from the White House. And it -- you're seeing this kind of play out in the Mueller investigation. You have to imagine that he's either knew about this or he's watching it with great interest.
HARLOW: I mean, Ronna McDaniel saying I asked people who you vote for, the difference is you weren't one of those people that they could have been voting for.
BERMAN: And you're also not the president and you're not talking to the FBI director.
HARLOW: To the guy coming in to run the FBI, so many differences. Thank you, guys.
BERMAN: Great discussion, appreciate it. Jackie, Salena, Jamie.
Any moment now we're expecting a sentence to be handed down in the trial of Larry Nassar. This is the ex-USA gymnastics doctor, accused of sexually assaulting - really convicted of sexually assaulting dozens and dozens and dozens of women. You're watching still more of the survivors of his assault speaking heroically this morning. Stick around we'll take you there.
BERMAN: All right. We want to show you live pictures right now outside Lansing, Michigan there. This is about to be the sentencing of Larry Nassar, the ex-USA gymnastics team doctor convicted of multiple counts of sexual abuse. You're looking at one more of the survivors of his assault testify and confronting him over what he did. And in any minute he will be sentenced and we will bring that to you live when it happens.
In the meantime, we're following all of the new breaking developments in the Russia investigation, not only in Special Counsel Mueller's team gearing up to question the president, a source tells CNN that the president is inclined now to release - trying to release the controversial memo drafted by the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes.
HARLOW: Right. So, what this memo is, the allegations of FBI abuses of surveillance laws tied to the Trump Russia dossier. Here to discuss that and a lot more, member of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. It's nice to have you here and we'll get to that - Devin Nunes memo in a moment, which you've called full of baloney.