Return to Transcripts main page


White House Briefs Reporters Amid Departure of FBI Deputy Director; Surprise As FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe Steps Down Immediately. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired January 29, 2018 - 14:00   ET


REPORTER: -- he has any cause to object to its public release.

[14:00:04] Has the -- what's the current thinking, the current level of White House involvement in this decision? Can you shed light on the process between this White House and Capitol Hill with this question?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Look, no one at the White House has actually seen the memo. So, it would be hard to make a decision or to speak about it before that would take place. Right now, we are letting the House process play out.

And if and when it's time for the White House to weigh in, we'll do that through the proper protocol, making sure we follow legal process. But again, we're not to that point in the process yet.


REPORTER: Sarah, two questions. Just following up on that. Is the White House -- I know you said you have to wait and see. But is the White House open to the idea of a release of this memo to the public? And can you say in the State of the Union Address whether the president will mention at all this ongoing Russia probe which you said, you know, is really Russia fever that the country needs to get out of its system. Will he address it in any way?

SANDERS: To answer your question we want full transparency. So, that's what we have said all along. And we'll make a decision when and if that time becomes necessary.

In terms of the State of the Union, I'm not getting ahead of the president's address. It's tomorrow night. I know you are all excited and will eagerly tune in and can see at that time exactly what is going to be included.


REPORTER: Is there a need to address it?

SANDERS: I think we've addressed it every single day that we've been here. It's one of the questions you guys ask over and over and over again. In fact, we spend more time on that than we do any other topic despite the fact that time and time again, poll after poll says that, frankly, no one cares about the issue and it's certainly not the thing that keeps people up at night. We'd love to talk about all of the things that do. And my guess is that will be the focus of the president's State of the Union tomorrow.


REPORTER: Two topics. Back on the State of the Union. Typically when the presidents give the State of the Union Address, particularly his first, presidents are normally optimistic when they say the State of our Union is -- what is the State of our Union today?

SANDERS: I think it's incredible and I think that you'll hear that in the president's words tomorrow night. Look, we've got an economy that is booming. ISIS is on the run. We are remaking the judiciary in a way that actually believes in upholding the Constitution.

There are some great things happening in this country. And I think you can expect to hear the president talk about a lot of those, not only what we've been able to do in the first year, but all of the great things that we're going to do in the next seven years after this.

REPORTER: I want to go on the second topic. I want to go to this issue of black unemployment. One, is the president going to start targeting black unemployment as he's saying that unemployment has gone down over his watch? I have never heard of a targeted approach from this administration.

And is the administration aware that the black unemployment rate from December, 6.8 percent. The white unemployment rate is 3.7 percent. The Asian unemployment rate is 2.5 percent and the Hispanic unemployment rate is 4.9 percent.

The black unemployment rate continues to be higher and is actually more than two times that of the white unemployment rate. So, is that something this administration is touting or trying to fix, make an active effort to fix in 2018?

SANDERS: Look, you can see from the steps we have taken already we are trying to fix unemployment for all Americans. That's the point the president has made time and time again, is that he wants it to be better for everybody. And we've made significant progress in that both through the number of regulations that have been cut to make this a more job-friendly market, a more job-friendly environment, and certainly adding to that the tax cuts and tax reform legislation that the president led on has been historic in what's happened and in the way it's helped our economy and certainly helped create jobs across the country.

REPORTER: Why did he take issue with jay-z then when he was talking in terms of black America? He took issue. Have you seen -- he screamed in all caps, have you seen my black unemployment numbers?

SANDERS: Because they are better than they have been and we are certainly making progress. And we want to continue to do that.

Look, we want every day to be better than the day before. And again, certainly for black Americans, Hispanic Americans, across the board this is a president who wants life to be better for all Americans. And he's going to keep fighting and pushing for that. And I think you'll hear him talk about that again tomorrow night.


REPORTER: Thank you, Sarah. The former attorney general of the United States, Eric Holder, described Andrew McCabe as a dedicated public servant who has served the country well. Would the president, would you describe him in that same manner?

SANDERS: Look, I don't have a personal relationship with him, so I'm not going to describe him. I think we have talked about the concerns that we have with some of the actions that he's taken. But in terms of anything specific regarding the deputy director, particularly the news reports of today, I would refer you to the FBI.


REPORTER: The president based upon past tweets the president put out regarding Mr. McCabe does not seem to be a big fan of Mr. McCabe.

[14:05:05] Is he disappointed that he's leaving his post as the deputy FBI director?

SANDERS: I haven't asked him if he was disappointed. I can tell you he didn't play a role in any of that process. And again I would refer you to the FBI for specifics.

REPORTER: Thank you, Sarah.

In one of the president's tweets in December, though, he did say that Andrew McCabe is, quote, racing the clock to retire with full benefits, 90 days to go. So, does the president believe Andrew McCabe should be allowed to retire with full benefits?

SANDERS: Again, I would refer you to the FBI for any specifics around the news of today of his stepping down.

REPORTER: I have a question about the State of the Union. You mentioned who was going to be in the first lady's box of the State of the Union. You talked about the guests but I can't hear about the president's family. Can you say which of the president's family members will be there and can you also potentially preview for us some of the travel that the president might take? Usually, the president takes travel to push his agenda afterwards.

SANDERS: In terms of family, all of the president's children, along with the first lady, will be at the State of the Union, with the exclusion of Barron. I don't believe he'll be attending as of right now. In terms of travel, we will keep you posted on any scheduling announcements we have over the week.


REPORTER: Thanks, Sarah. I want to ask you a question about the (INAUDIBLE) at work and also the treasury, I believe the deadline is today (INAUDIBLE) can you tell us whether that's going to happen and whether the names of the oligarchs will be public and on the impact on sanctioning? Will portions of that be public?

SANDERS: We expect the reports today. I would refer you to the Department of Treasury for specifics on that.

REPORTER: If that's something you could coordinate that would be helpful. On 5G --

SANDERS: We are coordinating and I'm telling you that they are taking the lead. And for questions specific to it, you should reach out to the Department of Treasury in terms of timing.

REPORTER: I will let them know you said they can tell us.

On 5G, I know there is a lot of speculation about what might happen and whether there is a security case to make for one secure network, but some experts including the Republican FCC chair, I guess, are concerned about the idea of one nationalized network. Can you bring us up to speed on whether the idea is dead or alive, where that stands?

SANDERS: Look, as we outlined in our national security strategy, I believe it was on page 19, a few people will be proud of me for memorizing that, we discussed the need for a secure network. Right now, we are in the earliest stages of the conversation. There are no decisions made on what it would look like, what role anyone would play in it, simply the need for a secure network. And that is the only part of this conversation we are up to now.

REPORTER: Just one network or multiple possible networks?

SANDERS: Look, there are a lot of things on the table. Again, these are the earliest stages of the discussion period. And there's been absolutely no decision made other than the fact, the need for a secure network.


REPORTER: Thanks, Sarah. Tomorrow night, will the president talk about an urban revitalization plan?

SANDERS: As I said before, I'm not getting into the details beyond what was already discussed last week on the State of the Union. But I think it is something worth tuning in to for all the stakes (ph).

I think one last question. Hunter?

REPORTER: Thank you, Sarah. So, the president has repeatedly touted black unemployment when faced with allegations of racism. Given those numbers, for low black unemployment, why do you think so many in the African-American community are still so uncomfortable with the president?

SANDERS: That's a question you would have to ask them. But we hope and pray and expect to spend every day working to build a greater relationship within that community. As I said before, with all Americans this is a president who wants to lead for everybody. He's not looking to lead for any one person, any one group. But he wants to be the president of the United States.

And I think that if you look at the policies that he's enacted over the first year, you can see that he's doing exactly that. He's building an economy that helps every American. He's cutting regulations that help every American. He's helping put ISIS on the run which helps on the safety and security of all Americans. He's helping secure the border. He's helping to put an end to loopholes in our failed immigration system.

All of those things benefit all Americans. That's what this president has focused, and that's what we have done in our first year. And that's what we look forward to doing in the next seven years.

Thanks, guys.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: All right. Let's take it. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You are watching CNN here on this Monday afternoon.

Watching Sarah Sanders in that White House briefing as major breaking news is hitting the FBI here. She was answering all these questions about this man by the name of Andrew McCabe. Andrew McCabe has already left the building. That is the FBI's second in charge stepping down effective today.

He's been the deputy director. He was expected to retire in March. In his 20-plus years with the agency, McCabe was there for the Clinton e-mail investigation, for obviously the current Russia investigation and has been a frequent target of President Trump.

[14:10:09] The president even seized on the fact that McCabe's wife was a Democrat who ran for state office in Virginia. And amidst myriad tweets coming out against him from the president, let me just read one for you. Why didn't Attorney General Sessions replace acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe? A Comey friend who was in charge of the Clinton investigation but got big dollars, for emphasis, $700,000, for his wife's political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the swamp.

Let's head back over to the White House. Jim Acosta is our chief White House correspondent who asked an excellent question which was, Jim Acosta, which was -- you know, you were asking the question all this pressure that's been fact, been put on multiple people, as you pointed out, multiple levels of government on DOJ, FBI and folks central to the investigation, because she's saying that, you know, all the questions about McCabe, don't ask us, ask the FBI.

What did she say about the pressure?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, I was just looking at this quote. It's pretty remarkable what Sarah Sanders said. She did essentially say, yes, the president has been applying pressure. She said the only thing the president has applied pressure to is to get it resolved so you guys and everyone else can focus on things Americans actually care about -- making sure everybody gets the Russia fever out of their system once and for all.

I mean, that was an acknowledgment that the president has at times put pressure on officials at the Justice Department and the FBI. She did not say, no, there's never been any pressure from the president there. I mean, that would be denying reality to say that there hasn't been pressure from the president when he's tweeted about the attorney general. He's tweeted about the deputy FBI director.

We know there are reports including from CNN that he wanted to fire special counsel Robert Mueller and so on. And so, I think that's a pretty interesting acknowledgment from Sarah Sanders, although what she was trying to say and the way she was spinning was that, well, this is -- the reason why the president has been doing this is because there is nothing to see here with the Russia investigation, and that we wanted to get it done as soon as possible.

That's not how law enforcement investigations work. That's not how special counsel investigations work. There isn't really much you can do as the president of the United States to expedite that kind of investigation. You can try to do what Richard Nixon did during the Watergate era and have a Saturday Night Massacre of that sort. But as Lindsey Graham and other top Republicans have set up on Capitol Hill and the speaker of the House has said this at the Russia investigation that the Mueller investigation should go on. That would cause something of a constitutional crisis.

And so, what we have seen from this president, I think it's pretty clear all along, is just sort of pushing the envelope as far as he thinks it can go. And now, I think one of the final questions of this Russia investigation that Mueller is going to have to get to the bottom up is whether or not any of those efforts crossed the line into illegality that would fall under the heading of obstruction of justice.

Now, when I asked Sarah Sanders about that during the briefing, anything improper, anything illegal, any obstruction of justice, she said no on all of those accounts. But, of course, that is what you would expect to hear from a White House press secretary. But it hardly puts the matter to rest -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Right, right. Jim Acosta, thank you for your excellent questions and excellent reporting there at the White House.

For more on Andrew McCabe's sudden exit, let's go to our CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz.

And just -- for people who are just tuning in and learning that this guy after 20-plus years, supposed to retire two months from now and then now has already left the building. Why?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, that is a very good question, Brooke. And, you know, we are getting different answers depending on who we talk to. Certainly people at the FBI are telling us that this was his decision, this was Andrew McCabe's decision, that today was going to be the day that he leaves.

We don't know why. We don't know what sparked this decision. It is Monday. Did something happen over the weekend?

One person said to me, you know, perhaps may be he was just fed up with everything and just came in, thought about it over the weekend and decided that today was going to be the day.

We have Jim Acosta's reporting where there are basically people are basically saying he was forced out. So, there are different stories here. People are perceiving it differently. But essentially just to give you some color about what happened today, there is a Monday morning meeting with executives and Andrew McCabe walks in to the meeting, and he tells the staff he will be leaving, he's stepping down today.

And that he portrayed it as his decision, that he ultimately made his decision. That's essentially what we are told happened. He left the building, signed out sometime around noon and left the building. And, you know, we'll see what happens.

He's technically still kind of an employee of the FBI.

[14:15:01] So, we don't expect to hear from him anytime soon. He's going to be on terminal leave through probably mid-March, March 18th, which is the date he was expected to retire.

And the other thing, Brooke, I want to say here, and this is an important point, what this means to the men and women of the FBI and that how they found out about this. How they found that Andrew McCabe was no longer the deputy director was through news accounts, through the media.

And so, again, they're not happy about that because they feel they should be told by their leadership what's going on.

BALDWIN: Of course.

PROKUPECZ: So, we do expect that the director, Christopher Wray, the FBI director, we'll have an internal phone conference he's going to call the leaders across the FBI and brief them on what happened today. And maybe after that, we'll get a better answer as to exactly why today. It does come as a surprise in the sense that this happened today. It's not a surprise that he was leaving the FBI, but why today? And we don't exactly know why that is.

BALDWIN: Don't know yet. Shimon, thank you so much. Keep digging and stay with us here on CNN.

More on this breaking news. The FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe now stepping down effective immediately. Sources describing the move as a surprise. We're going to talk to our panel next.

Also ahead, Hillary Clinton under fire for letting a former campaign aide keep his job after he was accused of repeatedly sexually harassing a young woman. Hillary Clinton's former campaign manager who actually called for his firing is now speaking out to CNN, saying that it was a mistake and that she was over ruled, blasting Hillary Clinton's newest response.

More on that coming up here on this busy Monday afternoon. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:21:06] BALDWIN: We are back with breaking news here.

The FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is now out. He has essentially sped up his retirement which was supposed to happen mid-March. And now, it's effective as of today. The reason why today, we don't entirely know.

So, I've got a lot of great voices to have this conversation. Solomon Wisenberg was the deputy independent counsel in the investigation of President Bill Clinton and his affair with Monica Lewinsky. Also with me, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and Chris Cillizza, CNN politics reporter and editor at large.

So, welcome to you all. I know there is a lot we don't know. There's a lot of head-scratching at the moment.

Gloria, just beginning with you and, you know, almost piggybacking off of Jim's question at the briefing. You know, given all the pressure on the FBI and the DOJ, given the fact that McCabe is mentioned in this Nunes memo and has been in crosshairs of Republicans and certainly the president for months, alarm bells for you over this one or not?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. We knew he was going to retire. We know he wants to get his entire pension and this may well have been the first moment he could do this and still get his pension. We also know from Jim's reporting that he was told by Wray, I'm starting my new management team. Clearly, you are not part of it for this limited period of time.

But if you look at -- if you look at the big picture here, you have a president who was upset with McCabe, publicly tweeting about it. Jeff Sessions, his attorney general went to Wray, Chris Wray, the head of the FBI and said you have to get rid of that guy. Chris Wray was upset enough about it to go to Don McGahn, the White House counsel, and complain.

But we do know that this game of telephone from the Oval Office all the way down has been going on for quite some time regarding McCabe. And so, the way in which this was done was completely surprising to people, a bit disorderly, which leads me to believe there was more to it than just, okay, I'm leaving because I can.


BORGER: And that gives a notion to the fact -- to the possibility that he really was pushed. BALDWIN: Right. Chris, I want your two cents. But just again, to

illustrate to people watching along all these different tweets. This drum beat from Republicans and the president, suggesting that, you know, he couldn't do his job since his wife ran as a Democrat and raced in the state of Virginia.

Here is just one of them that will pull out. FBI -- this is from the president, FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits, 90 days to go.

What are you thinking? I mean, did the pressure get to him or --

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: Well, look, I mean, Sarah Sanders saying that the White House wasn't involved, that might be true --

BALDWIN: Over and over and over she said.

CILLIZA: -- President Trump didn't say I want him gone to Chris Wray today. But my guess is the FBI senior officials are aware that the president has a Twitter feed.

BALDWIN: Do you think?

CILLIZZA: Yes, maybe. If not, they should be.

They clearly know his feelings. Let's get to the root of this, Brooke. What -- this is based on why Donald Trump thinks Andrew McCabe had to go, which we know he does, is because Andrew McCabe's wife ran as a Democrat for state Senate in Virginia in 2015 and Terry McAuliffe who was then the governor of Virginia's PAC donated almost a half a million dollars to her campaign. Now, she lost, but in Trump's mind, Terry McAuliffe basically equals the Clintons.

And therefore because his wife got money from someone affiliated with the Clintons who, by the way, was also governor of Virginia, therefore, Andrew McCabe was against him in some way. And remember, this is a president who has openly in Twitter talked about a deep state conspiracy within the Justice Department to undermine him that he clearly thinks Andrew McCabe was part of.

BALDWIN: You summed it up perfectly with everything in Virginia.

[14:25:00] CILLIZZA: I do what I can.

BALDWIN: Well done.

Solomon, let me just read one more tweet. This is from former A.G. Eric Holder. And this is what he said today, FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is and has been a dedicated public servant who has served the country well. Bogus attacks on the FBI and DOJ to distract attention from a legitimate criminal inquiry does long-term unnecessary damage to these foundations of our government.

So, you know, whether we find out, Solomon, whether, you know, he stepped down early, was pushed out, Gloria mentioned this, it was, you know, the story last week, when Wray resisted pressure from Sessions and really Trump to fire McCabe, what's the message here?

SOLOMON WISENBERG, QUESTIONED PRESIDENT CLINTON BEFORE FEDERAL GRAND JURY: Well, let me just say first of all, you can be a dedicated public servant and screw up. Jim Comey was a dedicated public servant for a long time and he screwed up in the way that he handled the e- mail investigation and the way that he decided to go public with it. And Andrew McCabe -- I hate not to join the party, but Andrew McCabe should have definitely recused himself from the e-mail investigation and the Clinton Foundation investigation.

And I believe -- the idea that he should not get his pension benefits is ridiculous and illegal. But I think Chris Wray should have been reassigned him the minute he became head of the FBI.

You can hold two ideas in your head at the same time. You can believe that somebody was a dedicated public servant but he was in FBI leadership. He made a couple of mistakes.

One, he definitely should have recused himself. Terry McAuliffe is not a normal, everyday Clinton supporter. He's a long-time, deeply tied crony who's responsible for $700,000 in campaign loans that Mr. McCabe's wife didn't have to pay back.

And secondly, something that has to be understood, the FBI and DOJ investigation of Mrs. Clinton's e-mail server was deeply flawed. You talk to anybody who is in federal law enforcement, the way the investigation was handled, the side deals, the immunity deals is deeply, deeply disturbing. And he was part of that.

Now, you notice I said that. I don't believe that Mueller is tainted by that. I'm not attacking the FBI in order to taint Mueller. You can have two ideas in your head at the same time. One, Mueller is an honorable guy who should go forward. Two, the FBI screwed up big time on the Clinton e-mail investigation and may have screwed up in the FISA warrant investigation.

CILIZZA: Brooke, can I just one quick clarification.

BALDWIN: Please? What do you think of that?

CILLIZZA: Terry McAuliffe's PAC did give a significant amount of money. You heard me say half a million dollars to Andrew McCabe's wife. But it wasn't a loan. It was contributions, which I mean, you can -- if that's an issue, it's fine. It wasn't a loan. I mean, that would be illegal.

WISENBERG: I didn't mean to say it was a loan. No, I think it's worse -- I mean, it's contributions. It's $700,000 --

CILLIZZA: You said she didn't pay back. We don't pay back contributions.

WISENBERG: Oh, no, what I mean is -- yes. She didn't have to pay it back is my point. That's the whole point. It's $700,000 -- it's $500,000 from McAuliffe, $200,000 from people that wouldn't have contributed without McAuliffe. And, look, this is a view of a number of people, he should have

recused himself. And, by the way, he made decisions -- he made decisions in the Clinton Foundation investigation that limited what agents can do. He should have recused himself. I think it's a no- brainer. He's not immune from criticism. Yes.

BALDWIN: On McCabe, on McCabe, you know, he's mentioned, Gloria, with Rod Rosenstein in the secret Republican memo being floated around today. And again, Sarah Sanders said no one at the White House has seen the memo although it's clear that they are fine with declassifying the memo which would be defying their own DOJ. But ultimately you have the last two men standing, Wray and Rod Rosenstein.

So, what would all of this swirling mean for them?

BORGER: Well, look, I mean, we reported last Friday, my colleagues and I reported last Friday that the president has been griping about Rod Rosenstein and that he'd like him to go, too. So, we know that that is -- we know that that is the case. And I think when you look a McCabe and you look everything that's gone on here, the question has to be asked about, was there an order and was it inappropriate?

I mean, we have seen the president grouse publicly about how he's frustrated by the fact that he really doesn't control the purse strings or any strings, I should say, at the FBI. That the FBI and the Justice Department behave independently. And he is frustrated by that. But that hasn't stopped him from letting the attorney general and letting Chris Wray and Sessions letting Wray know how he feels about McCabe.