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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Republicans Set to Release Nunes Memo?; Deputy FBI Director Leaving Job Early; Source: McCabe Was "Removed" as #2 at FBI; House Intel Committee Could Vote Soon on Nunes Memo. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired January 29, 2018 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:08]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Leading the Russia investigation could be hazardous to your career.

THE LEAD starts now.

President Trump fired James Comey. He ordered the firing of Robert Mueller. And sources say he has contemplated getting rid of the deputy attorney general. Now the deputy director of the FBI is stepping down two months early. What is driving all the apparent pressure to clean house?

Then, at any moment, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee could vote to release a controversial memo alleging the FBI abused surveillance laws in the Russia investigation. The Justice Department said releasing it would be extraordinarily reckless and the FBI director went to check it out himself this weekend. Will the memo reveal FBI bias or simply expose a ham-fisted political stunt?

And fact-checking the president's bizarre claims about climate change.

Mr. President, despite what you may believe, the polar icecaps are not in fact growing to new records.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Stunning even his colleagues, FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe resigned today after a series of presidential public attacks on him as compromised dating back to last summer and President Trump last May asking McCabe point blank who he voted for, according to "The Washington Post."

By noon today, McCabe had exited the J. Edgar Hoover Building in downtown Washington. Sources say tell CNN that McCabe, who had been at the FBI for almost 22 years and was set to retire in March, had no plans to leave today as of last Friday.

One source telling CNN that McCabe was "removed" by the Trump administration after public pressure by the president. That is a charge White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders denied this afternoon, saying the White House was not involved in the decision- making process on McCabe. Adding to the mystery of this all is the controversial memo written by

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, Republican of California, and his staff which alleges surveillance abuses by the FBI of the Trump team.

In all the back and forth between the Justice Department and Republicans in Congress over this memo and between Republicans who say the public needs to see the Nunes memo and Democrats who say the Nunes memo is misleading, the FBI director, Christopher Wray, went to Capitol Hill yesterday to read the memo.

The big question, of course, did that have anything to do with McCabe's departure today?

President Trump has for years expressed concern in speeches and on Twitter saying that McCabe could not be fair given his wife ran for state legislature in Virginia as a Democrat and took money from then Governor Terry McAuliffe, a close friend of the Clinton's, though McCabe, of course, was not appointed deputy director of the FBI, where he supervised investigations, until after his wife, Dr. Lisa McCabe, lost that race.

That was not enough for President Trump, who publicly questioned why McCabe had not yet been fired, last month tweeted -- quote -- "FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire full benefits, 90 days to go."

Democrats are saying this is all part of the president's undermining institutions trying to hold him accountable. Republicans say the American people need to see the Nunes memo.

We have reporters here to cover every angle of this developing story from the Russia investigation to the Justice Department to the White House.

But one thing seems to be clear one way or the other. If you are in any way investigating President Trump and his team for possible collusion with the Russians or possible obstruction of justice, whether you're James Comey or Robert Mueller or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein or now former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, it is pretty clear your job might be on the line.

My panel joins me now for more.

Congressman Rogers, I want to start with you as a former FBI agent and the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Your response to Andrew McCabe today?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the plot thickens, for sure.

A couple of things could have happened. McCabe is under an I.G. investigation into his visit down to Richmond to visit with the governor and those things. So all that is happening.

TAPPER: Having to do with his wife's legislative race.

ROGERS: Yes, and to if there was any improper behavior there.

So is Strzok and Page, the two e-mail sensations, are also under investigation by the I.G. for inappropriate behavior, by the way. And so no one really knows. Those 50,000 are now being recovered. You will have a pretty good idea. I think the I.G. will be able to go through those previously missing text messages, 50,000, and come to a better conclusion.

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS: So, a lot of people are making the stretch that those e-mails are directly related to what may be in the memo, which might be related to the FISA warrant request. That's what this is all about.

Somewhere in the campaign, the FBI, the Department of Justice decided they had enough information to go to a judge in the FISA court and say that Page was -- could have been either witting or unwitting an agent of...

(CROSSTALK)

[16:05:06]

TAPPER: Carter Page, the former Trump campaign aide.

ROGERS: Yes. Yes. So there are a lot of things swirling around, a lot of sticks on plates -- or plates on sticks.

Not necessarily they are all going to tie together at the end of the day. Now, someone said, why today? Why all the mystery? Somebody could have had a long conversation and say this is distracting and you still have to deal with an I.G. investigation. You're taking away from the bureau's work.

Today, you have enough leave to cover you until the day you retire.

TAPPER: So just take your vacation.

ROGERS: Take your vacation and call it a day.

TAPPER: How do you see this all, Neera?

NEERA TANDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it is really disturbing that the president attacks people who are investigating him or part of investigation, and then they're resigning. I think we should be concerned about that.

We can have all these discussions, but Andrew McCabe had a 30-year career at the FBI. He has spanned Democratic and Republican administrations. Everyone seemed to think he was doing a good job until he is part of an investigation of the president. And then he is full fodder for Republican attacks.

And just to say a word about this Nunes memo, you know, just people might be surprised. Nunes is supposed to be recused from this because people thought he was a biased source, couldn't run this investigation. And now he's running what seems to me to be interference from the Trump administration by discussing a memo that has yet to become public.

TAPPER: It does seem, Amanda, when you just look at who has headed the investigations, you had Comey, director of the FBI, he's been fired. Andrew McCabe, I'm not sure what happened with him, but he's gone too.

Robert Mueller, the president gave an order for him to be fired, although it wasn't carried out. We keep hearing the president wants to get rid of the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who has supervised, who is in charge of the Mueller investigation.

We also keep hearing that President Trump is frustrated and at different points in his career has clearly wanted Jeff Sessions, the thing, to quit because he's so frustrated that Sessions recused himself. It really does all spell out a very -- spells out a very clear scene.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

And I think it is important that we take a bottom line approach to what has happened. Right now, Donald Trump has two scalps. He has Comey. He has McCabe. You can disagree with his tactics. You can think they're shameful. You can think they're disturbing.

But they're working in his favor. And full disclosure. I have a book coming up where I look at Donald Trump's tactics and why this bullying does work.

TAPPER: When is it coming out?

CARPENTER: It's coming out May 1. It is called "Gaslighting America," because that's what keeps happening to us.

And all the charade and circus we see with the release of the memo is a perfect example. One of the things Donald Trump is very effective at is floating out a narrative or a rumor and making everyone else speculate what it could be. And release the memo is the perfect example of this.

This time, it is even bigger than anything that happened in the campaign, because he has the entire Congress almost helping him and assisting him in floating out these rumors against the FBI.

What I think will happen in the next few weeks is that this memo will come out at some point in time, but they are probably get a week to a week-and-a-half lead on the minority memo, where this thing they are going to have the full version out, because they have the procedural steps to get their story out and to tar and feather anyone else in the FBI that they like.

And people need to pay attention, because it is working.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

I want to go to just to the White House very quickly, where we will find CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, the administration tried to avoid even acknowledging the president played this very active public role in pressuring the Justice Department to get rid of McCabe.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Jake.

The president has talked so much about Andrew McCabe in recent months, but nothing about him at all today. The White House insisted that he was not involved in his decision to resign. But when asked about this pressure campaign for months, this is what White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The only thing that the president has applied pressure to is to make sure we get this resolved, so that you guys and everyone else can focus on the things that Americans actually care about.

And that is making sure everybody gets the Russia fever out of their system once and for all, that you are all reminded once again there was no collusion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: The Russia fever out of the system is actually being investigated.

We don't know yet if there was collusion or there wasn't. That's of course the point of the investigation. But, Jake, just to get a flavor of the president's growing ire and anger at Andrew McCabe, just simply look at his social media feed on Twitter.

So many to go through. But look at this one in particular that shows you his feelings exactly about Andrew McCabe. The president said this earlier, actually last year.

He said: "How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge, along with leakin' James Comey, of the phony Hillary Clinton investigation, including her 33,000 illegally deleted e-mails, be given $700,000 for wife's campaign by Clinton puppets during investigation?"

So, Jake, again just a flavor here of what the president thought about Andrew McCabe. No secret, of course. But again so far the White House is saying the president was not involved in this, was not pushed at all. Jake, it seems hard to believe that.

[16:10:10]

But that's what they're saying, at least this afternoon.

TAPPER: All right, Jeff Zeleny at the White House for us.

Let's be clear also when Sarah Sanders refers to Russia fever. First of all, according to the intelligence community, the Russians interfered in the 2016 election full stop, fact. The intelligence community, including the Trump administration officials, are seriously concerned that they will do it in 2018, 2020 and they continue to do it around the world.

So, in terms of Russia fever. Now, in terms of what we know about President Trump and his team being involved in that, we have no evidence that they were specifically involved, but we do have evidence that the Russians reached out and we do have evidence that people, including Donald Trump Jr. and George Papadopoulos, expressed an interest, and we also have two charges, indictments of Trump campaign officials and two individuals what have pleaded guilty and are cooperating, including the president's national security adviser.

TANDEN: I would argue we have another thing, which is we see Donald Trump every day, or seemingly every day, attack the investigation.

And we hear report after report of how he would like to fire the person who is leading the investigation. I mean...

TAPPER: Mueller or Comey or McCabe or Rosenstein or whoever.

(CROSSTALK)

TANDEN: He's fired Comey. He has apparently indicated several times he would like to fire Mueller. They are targeting Rosenstein.

I think from a normal person's perspective, if you are innocent of all charges, why are you attacking the prosecutors? Another response a normal person might have is, let's resolve this and let's go quickly, because I have nothing to hide. I will speak to them. I will have my people speak to them why.

Why are you attacking an institution like the FBI and the Department of Justice? Republican after Republican after Republican is attacking the law enforcement apparatus of the United States in order to cover for Donald Trump. It is bizarre.

TAPPER: Chairman Rogers, as a former FBI agent, this must bother you. There is this tarring of the institution. It is not just, look, obviously, some of those text messages are really bothersome and would suggest that the FBI official, the right move was taken when he was removed, Peter Strzok, because you can't be saying things like that when you're investigating somebody.

But to just assail the entire FBI, that must bother you.

ROGERS: Oh, completely.

And it undermines the work that they do, not only nationally, but internationally. The FBI is in numerous countries. They're called legats. They help liaison with law enforcement. They help foster a connection of terrorism information, espionage information, drug information, everything that we want to stop. Slave trading.

All of that comes under the purview of the FBI. And they do that. And when you start degrading the FBI's credibility, both domestically and internationally, it does start to have an effect.

I'm not saying that they might not have some information about some bad behavior. Clearly, the two agents in the texts exhibited very poor behavior and should be punished for it, absolutely. Then we should go after those individuals who did something wrong, and they deserve due process as well.

This notion that every investigation is now a campaign to me is really harmful. Now, the Democrats aren't exactly innocent. They are going to release their own secret memo, they just said.

And none of this is good. What happens is whatever comes out of these investigations, Republican or Democrat, the American public is going to be more skeptical about the outcome. And that's just not fair to the investigation and to the agents who have done it.

TAPPER: We have to take a break, but very different from when you were chairman of the committee and the committee worked in a bipartisan way.

But, everyone ,stick around. We have lots more to talk about.

What legal impact might McCabe stepping early down have on the Russia investigation? We will talk about that next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:50] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We're back with breaking news.

Andrew McCabe, the number two at the FBI, out. And there are conflicting stories about McCabe's exit.

I want to bring in CNN's Shimon Prokupecz.

Shimon, McCabe's departure may not have been his own decision?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, certainly, he has tried to portray that this was his decision and that's certainly how the FBI has been portraying this. But as our Jim Acosta and others have heard, there are indications that he was forced out.

We just don't know the entire story, Jake. It's clear to us, something happened. Perhaps over the weekend or something this morning, that brought McCabe to this decision. But we don't believe we have the entire story right now.

You know, this suddenly came this morning in a meeting that McCabe had with his executives and he told them basically that today was his last day and that he was going to be leaving by 12:00. He turned off his computer, left the building and hasn't been heard from since.

And this really was not something that the FBI was even prepared for today. We've had he no official statement from the FBI on this. Usually, when someone retired, there is some fanfare and none of that has happened today either. So, we still have a lot of questions here as to exactly that what went on. TAPPER: All right. Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much. I want to

get back to my panel.

Amanda, let me start with you. I don't know the reason why McCabe left today. Donald Trump Jr. on Twitter today was suggesting very aggressively that the reason has to do with the Nunes memo. Now, Donald Trump Jr. is supposed to have recused himself from anything to do with government because he is running his father's company but obviously he hears things.

Again, I don't know if it's true or not. What do you think happened?

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, I think it's telling that Don Jr. that this memo would work out in his favor. But here's the thing -- there is a big campaign by Republicans and people in the White House to cast dirt on anything that surveillance may have turned up. And so, they're question go the methods for the surveillance. That's what everybody suspect that's the memo would say.

The big lead-up is that the dossier had dirty information that probably shouldn't have been used to get the FISA application to wiretap Carter Page.

[16:20:01] And so, my question is, are Republicans really prepared to take a strong line stance defending essentially Carter Page based on a memo written by Devin Nunes staff who in the past has don't proven to be a reliable actor when it comes to intelligence matters.

So I think this the extraordinarily shaky ground for Republicans to put themselves on but that's what we keep seeing happen.

NEERA TANDEN, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I mean, just to refresh everyone's memory, when Carter Page's name was announced, all these Republicans, including the White House, said, who is that guy? Who is he? And now, everything is resting on a defense of Carter Page.

Now, we have statement after statement, we have story after story saying that the FBI -- the dossier had nothing to do with the beginning of this investigation. It actually came from intelligence allies. I think what we're really seeing is a broad effort to run interference with the prosecution, or the investigation related to Russia. And I find it just bizarre that Republicans are less interested in that than getting to the facts.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We've got lots more to discuss.

All eyes on Capitol Hill, where Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee could vote at any moment to release that controversial Nunes memo about the Russia investigation. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:25:26] TAPPER: Any moment, House Republicans could vote on whether to release that controversial memo on the Russia investigation. The memo is pitting members of the president's own administration against each other.

CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider now taking a look on why President Trump wants to release a memo the Justice Department does not.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, tension between the White House and Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee. CNN has learned that FBI Director Christopher Wray was on Capitol Hill this weekend to review a classified and controversial memo spearheaded by Chairman Devin Nunes, which his committee is now whether to publicly release.

This comes just days after Trump's own Justice Department issued a stern warning it would be extraordinarily reckless for the committee to make the memo public without such a review. The four-page highly politicized report drafted by Republican staffers alleges the FBI abused surveillance laws when it used the steel dossier as part of its case to obtain a secret surveillance warrant on the former Trump campaign policy adviser Carter Page, amid concerns Page was acting as an agent for Russia.

According to sources, the Nunes memo concludes the FISA judge who signed off on the warrant wasn't told the dossier was paid for in part by Democrats. The push to release the classified memo has ignited a firestorm of resistance from Democrats and some Republicans.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: My concern is whether it would compromise classified information. And that is a really serious matter.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: I think before releasing something like this, it should be carefully and thoroughly reviewed and the DOJ given the opportunity to respond in a classified setting.

SCHNEIDER: The president is inclined to release the report after the House vote, a person familiar with the matter tells CNN, but the White House spokesman stressed the president will be advised before making a decision that could implicate national security.

RAJ SHAH, PRINCIPAL DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He has the ability to object and say, I want to release or I don't want to release it. That's a five-day review period. If that happens, we're going to have a whole national security review and look at this document and then make a determination. The president will make a determination.

SCHNEIDER: House Speaker Paul Ryan isn't taking a side, deferring instead to any vote that comes out of Nunes' committee. But House Majority Leader McCarthy is taking a strong stance.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Having read this memo, I think it would be appropriate that the public has full view of it. SCHNEIDER: The president has repeatedly vented his frustration with the Justice Department focusing his fury on Attorney General Jeff Sessions over the past year and now, its Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in the president's crosshairs. Rosenstein oversees the special counsel's Russia probe. The president has been venting about Rosenstein in recent weeks and has even floated the idea of firing him, four sources tell CNN, and the Nunes memo which discusses the Carter Page warrant cites Rosenstein for his role overseeing part of the probe.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And Democrats are pushing back against this Nunes memo, saying it skews the underlying intelligence and it's just an effort to detract from the special counsel's probe. Now, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, he has drafted his own competing memo and the committee could also consider releasing that memo when and if its members vote tonight -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

One of the loudest voices in favor of releasing the memo is Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida. The Republican joins us next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)