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House Intel Could Vote on Releasing Nunes Memo Today; Trump to Release Nunes Memo, Breaks with DOJ; Hillary Clinton's Cameo at the Grammys Draws Both Laughter and Criticism; Clinton Trolls Trump, Reads "Fire And Fury" In Cameo; Haley Slams Grammys Over "Fire And Fury" Segment; Trump Prepares For First State Of The Union Address; House Intel Could Vote On Releasing Nunes Memo. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired January 29, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:06] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. John Berman here.

So who else connected to the Russia investigation does the president want fired this morning?

This is no idle question. In the last 72 hours there have been reports he either tried to or mused about firing the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, the special counsel and the deputy FBI director. He did fire the former FBI director and the current FBI director threatened to quit.

So this roster would not only make for a decent Justice Department basketball team with a couple of subs included but it also has some in Congress saying they need to pass legislative protections for Robert Mueller.

Now some Republican allies of the president see no urgency. Some of these same folks are pushing for the release of a memo from Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee detailing alleged partisan abuses in the Russia investigation. And there is new word this morning that this memo specifically targets Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in its analysis.

Now a key vote on whether this memo goes public comes in just a few hours. The president wants it out there. So there is a good bet we could see this all very soon.

Our Kaitlan Collins at the White House this morning following the very latest developments.

Good morning, Kaitlan.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Yes, this memo alleges serious misconduct on behalf of the Department of Justice and the FBI towards the Trump campaign and according to this latest reporting from the "The New York Times" it specifically says that the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is the one who approved that extension of surveillance for the former Trump campaign aide and foreign policy adviser Carter Page. Now this is noteworthy because Rosenstein is the one overseeing the

Russia investigation after the Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from it.

Now releasing this memo has been a point of contention here in Washington for the last several weeks and here's what the White House's latest thinking on releasing it is.


RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: It could shed light on allegations that have existed for some time. Again nobody has seen the memo at the White House. I certainly haven't seen it. We will see what's in it if the House of Representatives votes it out and then the president will make a decision.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Has the president seen it?

SHAH: No, the president hasn't seen it.


COLLINS: Now the White House says that the president has not seen it, no one in the White House has seen it as you just heard from the deputy press secretary. But we know that the president has been venting about Rosenstein in recent weeks saying let's get him out of here, let's get this guy fired, and saying that he's just another government official who is out to get him -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Kaitlan Collins for us at the White House.

As we mentioned, the House Intelligence Committee could vote very shortly within the next few hours about whether to release this memo which alleges abuses by the FBI and those investigating the president on the Russia matter.

CNN political analyst Josh Dawsey of the "Washington Post" has some new reporting on this.

And Josh, one of the things that jumped out to me, not only does the president want this released but your reporting has the Chief of Staff John Kelly going to Jeff Sessions to make this case. Explain.

JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Right. We have on Wednesday night John Kelly called Attorney General Sessions and said essentially the president wants this memo out and the Department of Justice had put out a letter that day objecting to the release of the memo saying that there's classified material in it, saying they would be comfortable without a thorough review. And I do not think the president liked that.

The president had his chief of staff called the attorney general and say DOJ should not be standing in the way of releasing this memo. DOJ should be supporting its release or at the least staying out of it all together. BERMAN: So there's a reporting from CNN that over the last week or so

he started to talk more publicly within the White House about Rod Rosenstein, complaining about Rod Rosenstein. Your report in "The Post" that came out over the weekend talks once again about the president's demands for loyalty. Their theory -- this is the questioning that you guys are reporting that people are telling you the special counsel is doing.

Their theory appears to be that it goes -- the special counsel goes after people who are not loyal, this person said. The president says that. He wants in place people who are loyal to make sure he doesn't get in trouble with the investigation. Tell us more about what you're hearing.

DAWSEY: Right. Well, remember the timeline of events. In May he fires James Comey, the head of the FBI. He then asked Andrew McCabe who's stepping in who he voted for. Then in June as the "The New York Times" reported and we matched and others there was an effort to fire Bob Mueller. His chief counsel said I won't be here for that and they were able to stop him but there was an effort to fire Bob Mueller.

Then there've been several repeated efforts to oust Jeff Sessions including asking the chief of staff at the time, Reince Priebus, go get his resignation letter. So you have time after time after time where the president -- folks who have been investigating him, he's grown uncomfortable with, he rants about them, and he either fires them or threatens to fire them.

And I guess what Bob Mueller's team is trying to discern based on our reporting is why is he behaving this way? Is this a pattern of behavior that has a reason? What is he saying when he makes these decisions? When with he's explaining to his advisers I want this guy gone, I want that guy gone, why is he doing that? Is it because he actually thinks they're not serving the country well or is it because he thinks they have damaging information on him?

[09:05:05] And I think that's what the investigators are trying to figure 2out and we're trying to figure out as well.

BERMAN: I'm glad you brought up the Jeff Sessions matter with Reince Priebus. That was new at least to me that Reince Priebus was sent over by the president at one point to fire Robert Mueller but didn't do it. He found a way to sort of get out of that just like the White House counsel found a way not to dismiss the special prosecutor. There's a pattern here where things don't happen.

DAWSEY: Right. Well, Barry Bennett, who was a former campaign adviser to the Trump campaign, told us on a story, he said we were all fired on the campaign at least once. Everyone -- Trump wants to fire everyone. And what Reince Priebus would often tell people when he was in the White House is if the president was mad about something and wanted something done, you would say, let's wait until next week, we'll take care of that next week, Mr. President. And kind of hoped he'd calm down over the issue.

And that's kind of what happened with Jeff Sessions. He would repeatedly asked for Jeff Sessions' resignations. He would rage and fume about his recusal from the Russia probe and then the folks around him would just try to calm him down for a bit, for a day or two, and hoping he moved on to something else. But so far Jeff Sessions has been able to survive because of that. But it still seems he's in a delicate spot.

BERMAN: So, Josh, the president wants this memo, the Nunes memo, released. Our Chris Cuomo heard this morning that the president has not actually seen the memo.

Do you have any sense what he hopes to get out of this?

DAWSEY: Well, he thinks that it shows that DOJ did improper things to the Trump campaign. He's spoken with Mark Meadows, the head of the Freedom Caucus and one of the Republican agitators, to release the memo. He has a general sense from watching television. Trey Gowdy has been on TV talking about the memo. Other Republicans that, you know, he has admiration for have been on talking about the memo.

And he's really frustrated with this investigation. He continues to bring up the lost text messages from the two FBI agents involved in the probe. He continues to say that Mueller's being unfair to him and that Rosenstein isn't supervising him, and he hopes this memo is ammunition to make a case that hey, this probe is biased against me.

One thing that we've really heard, now reporting, is the hopes this memo allows him to make some changes at the DOJ particularly a chance to possibly push out Rod Rosenstein who's supervising the investigation because he thinks it shows misconduct on his behalf.

BERMAN: Josh Dawsey from the "Washington Post," CNN analyst, thanks so much for being with us.

Joining me now is Robert Ray, former federal prosecutor, former Whitewater independent counsel.

Robert, you've been listening to these discussions this morning. Let's look at the newest part of it. Rod Rosenstein, the president, CNN's reporting, apparently once again talking, maybe just musing out loud about if he can get rid of Rod Rosenstein. This memo that may be released as soon as this week apparently details alleged abuses or things that Rod Rosenstein did that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee didn't like.

This gets to the issue of loyalty which apparently Robert Mueller is probing inside. The president wants loyalty, he wants people who are loyal, the "Washington Post" reports, to make sure he doesn't get in trouble with the investigation.

That loyalty is one thing. We all want people loyal to us.


BERMAN: When does it cross a line? RAY: Well, people are concerned about, you know, the issue of abuse

of power if it crosses the line into really a concerted effort inside the executive branch to obstruct a criminal investigation. I think, look -- and I know Rod Rosenstein very well. He's a professional on the order of magnitude of Robert Mueller. Presidents want to in frustration get rid of people all the time. They understand and quickly learn in the political process, while you have the power to do those things, if you start firing people as he found out in firing Jim Comey it has political consequence.

BERMAN: He apparently has been calling Rod Rosenstein the Democrat from Baltimore.

RAY: Well, you know what, but I believe that Rod Rosenstein is insulated from being fired during the course of this investigation. It would be a huge mistake for that to happen and I think there are well-meaning people within the White House who have the president's best interests at heart who are advising him, you know, go slow. You'll survive this investigation.

I think that's what Ty Cobb's advice is and I think any effort to be seen as a personnel decision that would further interfere with the investigation would be something that you can lose a presidency over and that's why it hasn't been done.

BERMAN: Let's just put a button on this right now. You do think he has the power, the authority.

RAY: Of course.

BERMAN: He could fire Rod Rosenstein if he wanted to.

RAY: Of course.

BERMAN: Would firing him be a problem beyond just politically? Would it be something the special counsel would be able to look at then?

RAY: Well, I think there's been enough question raised about that that one would be concerned about that as well. You wouldn't want to feed the narrative. I mean, look, that's both a political decision and a legal decision.

BERMAN: And I want to talk about that in just a second. The political aspect to this. First, though, I want to hear from Ken Starr who was also a Whitewater independent counsel who you worked with. He was asked about the fact that the president seems to have lied to the American people when he said, I never thought about firing Robert Mueller. Of course these stories came out last week that he basically ordered him to be fired and Don McGahn, the White House counsel, refused to do it, said he would quit if -- you know, rather than do that.

RAY: Right.

BERMAN: Listen to what Ken Starr says. Ken Starr says he thinks that this should be looked into. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[09:10:03] KEN STARR, WHITEWATER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: I think lying to the American people is a serious issue that has to be explored. I take lying to the American people very, very seriously. So absolutely, I think what Dan was talking about was this effort to get rid of the investigation. You're now talking something called lying to the American people and I think that is something that Bob Mueller should look at.


BERMAN: Should Bob Mueller be looking at the fact that the president apparently lied to the American people?

RAY: Respectively to you and respectfully to Ken Starr I didn't like that aspect of the referral during the Whitewater era and I don't like it any more now. I do not think that that is a job for a prosecutor. A prosecutor's job is to decide whether or not there's a case in the criminal process to be brought and in the process of uncovering facts in that regard to deliver those facts to other decision-makers including the Congress.

I do not think it is a special counsel's role and I didn't think it then and I don't think it now to be the arbiter of whether or not a president lies to the American people. That's for the American people to decide.


RAY: That's not my job.

BERMAN: You got me to what I think is such an important discussion that I think we miss often that I'm not sure people fully understand here. People say oh, Special Counsel Robert Mueller, he'll never charge the president with obstruction, he'll never charge him with collusion. Well, the fact of the matter is, it's incredibly unlikely that the special counsel himself charges the president with anything.

RAY: I think that would be a huge constitutional event. I think it -- well, first though, it's never been done before.

BERMAN: Well, what's he's more likely --

RAY: That would be why it would be huge.

BERMAN: But what he's most likely to do even if he thinks the president committed a crime is to present the facts to Congress basically.

RAY: Which seems to be what the founders intended. In other words, you present those facts to Congress, Congress would make its political judgment about whether or not there's been an abuse of trust, in Alexander Hamilton's words, in the modern language we would refer to that as abuse of power. They would make that judgment. I would imagine that that only could occur in the event in the midterm

elections that the Congress was in the hands of the Democratic Party. They would proceed and the only way the president could be removed from office is if Republicans went along with it. And only thereafter would you address the question once a president was removed from office about whether or not a president could be charged with a crime.


BERMAN: It's going to be -- it's going to come down, one way, a political judgment --

RAY: Inevitably the public needs to understand that's where we would be headed. We're not headed in any other direction.

BERMAN: Robert Ray, great to have you here with us to help us understand what's going on.

RAY: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: I really appreciate it.

Overnight the cameo that launched a mixture of laughs and outrage. Hillary Clinton at the Grammys reading from the controversial account of the Trump presidency, "Fire and Fury."


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: "He had a longtime fear of being poisoned. One reason why he liked to eat at McDonald's. Nobody knew he was coming and the food was safely premade."

JAMES CORDEN, HOST, THE 60TH ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARDS: That's it. We've got it. That's the one.

CLINTON: You think so?

CORDEN: Oh yes.

CLINTON: The Grammys is in the bag?

CORDEN: In the bag.


BERMAN: All right. Joining me now CNN senior media correspondent Brian Stelter. A big splash at the Grammys. The book, "Fire and Fury," sure has explosive quotes from Steve Bannon that no one is denying he said but it also has a lot of thing that have been proven false and a lot of things that are just been flat-out rumors. So appropriate or not for the former secretary of state to be reading from it aloud at the Grammys?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Well, she sure thought so. This is a sign that the election will never ever end. We will never get past 2016. A couple of weeks ago the Grammy producers called up Clinton, asked her to participate. This ended up being one of the highlights of the Grammys for a lot of people to see her, and a bunch of Hollywood celebrities reading aloud from the book.

But it was criticized by some, including U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley. Why? Well, maybe that's because Haley, there was an allusion in the book to a possible relationship between Haley and President Trump. Haley came out last week and absolutely denied that rumor and criticized author Michael Wolff for ever implying such a thing could ever happen.

Here's what Haley wrote on Twitter about the Clinton cameo. She responded right away because she was watching the Grammys live. She said, "I've always loved this show but to have artists read the 'Fire and Fury' book killed it. Don't ruin great music with trash. Some of us love music without the politics thrown in it."

John, I think the reaction to that tweet, there's been a lot of reactions, some people agreeing with her as saying this book, this best-selling book should not get a Grammy stage. On the other hand, politics, music, they've always been fused together. So her comment about wanting to separate the two seemed a little off to me.

BERMAN: So she may be the only politician we saw at the Grammys but politics was all over it last night, correct, Brian?

STELTER: Exactly. These kind of pro-immigration, pro-immigrant messages from stars like U2. This was anything but subtle. You had U2, you had Bono out there on a barge floating on the Hudson River something taped a couple of days ahead of time right in front of the Statue of Liberty. U2, the band was even holding up at one point American flag, a bullhorn to perform.

And this was a really interesting moment right before then as well. A Mexican Cuban immigrant singer Camila Cabello, she had a message about Dreamers. Watch.


CAMILA CABELLO, AMERICAN-CUBAN SINGER/SONGWRITER: I'm here on this stage tonight because just like the Dreamers, my parents brought me to this country with nothing in their pockets but hope. I'm a proud Cuban-Mexican immigrant born in Eastern Havana, standing in front of you on the Grammy stage in New York City --


STELTER: There weren't a lot of direct mentions of President Trump, but there were a couple of references to his shit hole comments in the oval office. There was even a suggestion that maybe, I don't know, Jay-z should run for president. There was that Twitter spat Jay-z and Trump over the weekend. So, a shout-out to Jay-z over the weekend -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Brian Stelter for us, thank you so much. We'll be talking about Jay-z in just a little bit. In the meantime, a disgruntled White House senior adviser about to go public very, very, very public. How worried is the Trump administration? How worried should they be about this new reality tv.

Plus, the deadline looms for the Trump administration on a new round of Russia sanctions? Will the president implement tough sanctions against the kremlin or any sanctions at all?

And a key meeting on immigration, we'll bring you that just ahead.



BERMAN: Hillary Clinton's Grammy cameo sparking fire and fury among conservatives. I hope you appreciate what we just did there. Joining me now, CNN political analysts, Patrick Healy and Amie Parnes, and also Amber Phillips, political reporter for the "Washington Post's" political blog, "The Fix."

And Amie, I want to start with you, as author of the book shattered which details Hillary Clinton's campaign as an expert on this subject. This appearance at the Grammy's, a great moment of political humor, a horrendous moment of bad taste, political trolling of the highest order or all of the above?

AMIE PARNES, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: All of the above. I think Democrats kind of liked it. You've heard in recent weeks and months that they kind of want her to take a seat -- a passenger seat. They don't want her to play a major role in driving the party.

But I think they appreciate her in these moments, conservatives always want her to go away, although they look at these moments as sort of a rallying call. This is the one -- she's the one person who unifies the party.

So, I feel like it's good for them and good for Democrats, and she's more likeable in these moments. People often forget, they remember the very packaged Hillary Clinton, but she's also everyone says she's very funny behind the scenes and this was a moment for her to showcase that.

BERMAN: You know, Amber, you can understand why Nikki Haley may not like passages from "Fire and Fury" being read aloud. They are completely unsubstantiated, either implied or flat-out stated about her by the author or in the book, right. For Democrats either you can say you support facts, you support truth, or you can say, hey, promoting "Fire and Fury" is OK. You can't do both. Where do you come down on this?

AMBER PHILLIPS, POLITICAL REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST" POLITICAL BLOG "THE FIX": Yes. I think that's exactly right. I think from the Trump administration and his allies' perspective, this was needlessly inflammatory. Nikki Haley seemed to be getting at the fact that there's a difference between being political in your music like the opening act in Kendrick Lamar was I thought extremely political. And then doing a skit that seemed to be political for the sake of being political and using the two things that really frustrate the Trump administration more than anything else, Hillary Clinton and "Fire and Fury," which as you've exactly said, John has a lot of facts in question about it.

BERMAN: So, Patrick Healy, our friend, Rod Brownstein, looks beyond Hillary Clinton to an extent about the overall message of the Grammys were sending. Let me read you what Ron wrote about this, "Easy to scorn celebrities including Hillary Clinton, but Republicans are kidding themselves if they believe it doesn't reflect a broader problem with rising generations that Grammy artists voice in a nearly universal conviction that the president is racist or nativist. He is stamping the party." Ron saying here look at the bigger picture of what this message is.

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And the cultural left has been very angry at Trump since he got in office and you've seen this particularly at award show after award show. You have a movement of women who are calling out men who have abused or mistreated or sexualized in unfair ways women and they see frankly Donald Trump as enemy number one in this.

But John, here's the thing, with Hillary Clinton, I mean, this is a pretty thin-skinned reaction by Republicans. I mean, Donald Trump understands good tv. He knows good tv. Having Hillary Clinton up there reading from "Fire and Fury," if you have a sense of humor and you can go with it, it's a pretty funny moment.

But instead they've decided to attack her. It's interesting, of all the passages she could have chosen we all know how much he loves his McDonald's. He eats Big Macs and Fillet-O-Fish, and this is, you know, something that again -- it's just a very kind of thin-skinned.

BERMAN: Do you think Sean Spicer was funny?

HEALY: Sean Spicer had way too much baggage and he was going -- he was going to the Emmys to try to launder his baggage. Hillary Clinton was doing a pre-taped skit that was about 5 seconds long talking about McDonald's.

BERMAN: I can some people saying it's a double standard if you thought Sean Spicer was out of line, but the Hillary Clinton thing was OK. But I want to move to another speech beyond the Hillary Clinton speech, the state of the union, and I guess, it gets to this issue of perception, Amy.

Because there's an enormous push that I'm feeling now from the left saying that when you watch this speech, if he talks like he did at Davos and talks about the economy doing well and stock market doing well, if you analyze the words and say, hey, this is a positive message.

People on the left are saying you're going to commit some act of treason practically here, that you have to make note of the fact that this is the man who called African nations blank hole countries, you have to make note of the fact that both people on sides of the debate on Charlottesville, there were good people on both sides of that. How is there a right way to look at this speech?

[09:25:13] PARNES: I don't think he's going to win over many progressives in this speech. I think what he's trying to do is probably win over independence. People who didn't really maybe vote for him last time, but could give him a second chance, are looking for a more optimistic tone from the president.

And he's pretty good in -- you know, when he is teleprompter Trump, when he can stay on message and deliver what the White House wants to do in terms of message and policy. I think he can do well. The problem is if he veers off and goes the other way, but I think he is looking to kind of bring in a few more people I think into the fold.

BERMAN: I will note the president has not put out any of his official statements on the social media he loves so much on Twitter today and it makes me wonder if he's trying to build up to the state of the union to have this speech deliver a message sort of unfettered from, I guess, himself in a way.

Amber, though, not unfettered from himself is this vote that's going to happen later today in the House Intelligence Committee to make the memo, the Devin Nunes memo public. It seems like it will pass this committee.

It seems like it's inevitable at least to me that this will go public. In the news today from the "New York Times," seems to be that Rod Rosenstein directly in the crosshairs trying to discredit him somehow.

What's going on here? How far do you think Republicans will push this, and it's all happening when the president might testify soon before the special counsel?

PHILLIPS: Exactly. With every day it looks like there is indeed an effort, concerted effort among Republicans in Congress and the White House to discredit this Russia investigation, and as the "The New York Times" reported and "The Washington Post" reported over the weekend, it is going to the highest levels of the Department of Justice.

We already know that the president has been extremely frustrated with his Attorney General Jeff Sessions for stepping aside. He believes this created this whole investigation, and then he's now tried to find every which way to undermine it and/or completely end it.

Firing Rosenstein or at least even talking about that I think would be on the level of firing Mueller in the sense that Rosenstein is the one who appointed Mueller and he's the one who whenever Mueller's done with his investigation can decide what to do with it.

Pair that with House Republicans, many of these members on the House Intelligence Committee, who are known to be Trump allies and tried to support him during a wiretapping drama last year that was unsubstantiated, and it does look like there's a concerted effort being headed by the White House to undermine this investigation. BERMAN: All right. Patrick Healy, I'll let you weigh in on this. One other thing, the incredible development with Omarosa, the former senior adviser to the president. We just learned -- we're all laughing at this, but I do think --

HEALY: Are we shocked, John?

BERMAN: This person was a senior adviser to the president is going on "Big Brother." She's going to be part of an actual reality show. (Inaudible) going from "Apprentice" to the White House to "Big Brother" here. You could talk about the cultural moment. If I'm in the White House and Omarosa has said things that concern me. She said she saw things and heard things about race that upset her. How worried are you about this platform that she's now taking?

HEALY: I think you're absolutely right. But Omarosa is very mindful about her cashing in opportunities. She has made a decision to go to CBS and go to "Big Brother" to do it there. She could have tried to get a book deal and could have done stayed media appearances.

She's going into a world, you know, where, you know, she could be flippant. She can make offhand comments about Donald Trump, and it just -- and make money doing it, but as sort of a -- it is just -- it sets you back a little bit.

Going from one reality tv show that is essentially the presidency, you know, going into a "Big Brother" house, I can't tell if it's a step up or down.

BERMAN: All right. Patrick Healy, Amie Parnes, Amber Phillips, great to have you with us today. Tune in I guess next week to the episode of some reality show out there.

All right. What will the House Intelligence Committee decide to do on the memo? This memo that alleges abuses within the investigation into the Russia matter. We'll speak with someone who has seen this memo next.