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President Trump to Give State of the Union Address; President's Comments on FBI and Russia Investigation Examined; Trump Prepares For His First State Of The Union Address; Trump Wants To Release Nunes Memo, Breaks With Justice Department; Does President Trump Trust The FBI?; Graham: Firing Mueller Would Be End Of Trump's Presidency. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired January 29, 2018 - 8:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- was her response in 2008 appropriate? Do you believe she should have said, OK, advisers, I trust you, this guy's out of my team?

REP. FREDERICA WILSON, (D) FLORIDA: Well, that's a lot. I think so. Are you sure Hillary Clinton was aware of all of that?

HARLOW: She said she was aware. She said she was aware of it. She was, in her words, dismayed at the time. This is the "The New York Times" breaking this reporting according to multiple sources. And, yes, over the weekend she did not deny it. She said she called the woman up recently, was glad the woman was heard, but she did not apologize for not firing this man. Should she have?

WILSON: On the spot.

HARLOW: On the spot.

WILSON: On the spot.

HARLOW: So we have to leave it there. We've got a big interview ahead and we so appreciate the time you've given us this morning. Congresswoman, thank you.

WILSON: Thank you.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right, important questions. Good morning to you and welcome to your New Day. It is Monday, January 29th, 8:00 in the east. Alisyn is off. Poppy Harlow -- you're pregnant? Who knew? Poppy Harlow, breaking news. No, just days away from the big event. Thank you for toughing it out. You're the best, Poppy.

HARLOW: You got it.

CUOMO: The cloud of the Russia investigation hangs over the Trump White House even on the eve of the president's first state of the union address. Lawmakers on both sides doubling down on their support for the special counsel Bob Mueller, but Republicans are split over the need for legislation to protect him after reports the president attempted to fire him last June. HARLOW: So the White House also faces a really important deadline

today. Today is the day it must implement the sanctions against Russia, sanctions that were passed practically unanimously by Congress last summer. Why? Sanctions because of Russia's interference in the 2016 election. This comes ahead of the president's first state of the union address tomorrow night. He is expected we hear to call for unity while touting the country's economic success and calling on Americans to support his immigration and infrastructure plans.

CUOMO: All right, let's get after it. Joining us now, White House principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah. Good to see you, Raj.

RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Good morning, guys. Thanks for having me on.

CUOMO: Pleasure. Appreciate it. Big day. Not just the eve of the state of the union but today is the deadline to effectuate these sanctions that were passed 98-2 against Russia for election interference back in the summer. Will you act today?

SHAH: The Department of Treasury does plan to act today to issue a report and take this process the next step forward. I've been aching your show for the last few minutes. I just want to challenge the premise that you're going about here, which is to state that this president has somehow not been tough on Russia. It was just last month that the president authorized the sale of offensive weapons to Ukraine, which is something the previous administration was not willing to do in its fight against Russian separatists. So this administration has been tough on Russia. We're going to forward on the sanctions legislation and meet our statutory obligations. And we're always going to fight for American interests.

CUOMO: Raj I have to question your premise of questioning the premise. You don't think that a pretty clear case not just by how long it took to effectuate these recent sanctions, but that that the president's talk about Russia is so consistently mild compared to what he says about other foreign countries let alone inimical actors, you think it's a close call?

SHAH: I certainly don't agree with your premise at all. I think the president unlike members of Congress or people screaming from the peanut gallery is actually responsible for America's foreign policy. We have to work with Russia in some areas. We have to work with them in the Middle East, we have to work with them on the issue of Ukraine and others, but this president has been tough. He has been forceful, and he's pursued America's interests around the globe. He is exporting energy to eastern Europe. He is in the interest of Ukraine giving them offensive weapons. This is something that President Obama refused to do. And he is on a lot of fronts challenging Russian interests.

In Syria he authorized military strikes, again, something that President Obama promised to do, he laid out a red line, and then he blinked. So this president doesn't just talk the talk. He walks the walk. He has been tough, and he's been pursuing American interests around the world. CUOMO: But there's so many counter facts, Raj, that paint a picture

of leniency, and just the absence of invective from the president. I'm not arguing whether or not when he says ugly things about other people --

SHAH: Hang on, Chris, Chris, Chris, again, yes. We can't win. Either we're being --

CUOMO: I don't think you're having it both ways --

SHAH: I think you're trying to have it both ways.

CUOMO: He calls North Korea's leader rocket man, he accuses China of rape and creating global warming, but Russia he says nothing. In Syria Russia has been a known malefactor. He never has called them out to the degree that he calls anybody else out, including our allies.

SHAH: He just ordered military air strikes in Syria.

CUOMO: Not on Russian troops.

SHAH: Hang on, hang on. Yes, because we've been deconflicting in that area and some of his diplomacy has worked and we haven't had to escalate the situation. I would certainly defend his actions. Look, North Korea is threatening to annihilate portions of the United States. Of course, if Vladimir Putin went in that direction, the United States and this president would respond forcefully.

CUOMO: But that's not the line of action, Raj, that if they attack us then he'll be strong. Gee, I'd hope so.

SHAH: Or if they issued threats.

CUOMO: He won't even acknowledge that they interfered in the election.

SHAH: He did. He has done it multiple of times.

CUOMO: He says it's a hoax --

SHAH: Chris, you need to check the transcript. In his recent trip to Asia he stated that while Vladimir Putin has denied that he meddled --

CUOMO: He says he believes him.

SHAH: He says he believes that he believes what he's saying.

CUOMO: What does that mean?

SHAH: Hang on. What he said specifically -- check the transcript. Please pull the tape. I beg of you, give all your viewers the opportunity to hear what he actually said verbatim from his own mouth. He said he trust the many intelligence agencies in the United States that told him otherwise that Russia did meddle in the election.

CUOMO: Now he trusts them, because he was just asked -- I'll give you a transcript.

SHAH: Please read the transcript. I beg you.

CUOMO: He was just asked whether or not he trusts the FBI and he wouldn't even answer the question. Don't beg, Raj, just answer your question, because you're not lying to me. It's not being your spinning.

SHAH: What is your question? You went from Russia to the FBI.

CUOMO: It's the viewers. You say he trusts the intelligence community. He was just asked if he trusts the FBI and he said, I don't know. We'll have to see. I got a lot of concerns about these missing texts and secret organization. There is no secret organization. There are no missing texts. Did he come out and say I was wrong, the FBI is great. I should have never said that? Nope. So don't tell me that he trusts the intelligence community. He does it when it suits him. He says this investigation is a hoax and a witch hunt. That's what he calls it. That's not being tough on Russia, Raj.

SHAH: First of all, you're conflating separate things.

CUOMO: I'm just following your strain of thought.

SHAH: Hang on, hang on. I think the FBI -- I think you need to show your viewers the tape of what the president said in Asia about the intelligence community talking about Russia meddling in the previous election --

CUOMO: Has it called it a witch hunt?

SHAH: He's called investigations into collusion a witch hunt, which there have been millions of dollars spent over the last year, not a shred of evidence has been exposed that actually links this president or his campaign to any collusion.

CUOMO: Why would it have been exposed when the investigation is not over?

SHAH: Chris, I think that there have been millions of dollars spent. There have been dozens of witnesses. You've had the full cooperation of the White House and this president, and yet not a shred of evidence. I think the president is free to speak his mind on this matter.

CUOMO: Nobody says he doesn't have the right to speak. It's about whether he says -- what he says is right. It's not about his right to say it. Nobody questions that.

SHAH: You just talked about the FBI. I think that's an important matter. I think we can discuss it. This president has been clear for months now that there are certain factions within the FBI, there are certain folks in the political leadership who have shown political bias. We all want justice that is free of any kind of political influence, that is completely blind and completely, you know, in pursuit of the truth and of justice.

CUOMO: And you're once again questioning whether or not our Justice Department acts with justice on its mind without any proof.

SHAH: And, by the way, and I know you're going to get to this, this memo that's been outlined by members of Congress, look, a lot of people have made allegations, there have been allegations in the press, by members of Congress, and by the administration. We want justice that's aboveboard. We know that there was political influence that impacted the decisions of James Comey, the last FBI director.

CUOMO: How do you know?

SHAH: He said so under oath. He said so under oath. He said that he changed the way in which he called the Hillary Clinton investigation, what he publicly called it, rather than a criminal probe, which is what it was. He changed the nature of what he called it because the attorney general, a political appointee of the Obama administration, told him to.

CUOMO: James Comey never said that he was under undue influence or duress but making those decisions. He was explaining a process.

SHAH: But he was influenced politically.

CUOMO: But don't say Jim Comey admitted that he was getting hostile influence from anybody there. He never said it, Raj. Why paint the FBI as a nefarious organization? You guys sound like the Clinton folks did during the email investigation.

SHAH: Hang on. Chris, Chris, no one is painting the FBI -- Chris, Chris, quit putting words in my mouth. The president and this administration loves the thousands of rank and file FBI agents throughout the country. They do a tremendous job and they are the backbone of the greatest law enforcement agency this world has ever seen. What we are talking about is a few bad apples in the senior levels of the FBI that have allowed politics to take place -- to influence decisions that should be exclusively about justice and law enforcement.

CUOMO: You have proof of that?

SHAH: Excuse me?

CUOMO: You have proof of that other than this Comey thing, which is not substantial?

SHAH: I have the fact that the lead agent in this Russia investigation was removed from the case specifically for political bias, Peter Strzok.

CUOMO: He was removed because he was practicing communications on government equipment that he shouldn't have been.

SHAH: He was showing political bias, Chris, which is something you refuse to admit. Show the viewers exactly those text messages which led to his removal. He said -- he specifically stated anti-Donald Trump bias and pro Hillary Clinton bias. He was in charge of the Clinton investigation, or rather the lead agent in the Clinton investigation.

CUOMO: He was one of them, yes.

SHAH: He was in the room interviewing her in an interview in which they did not put her on the record.

CUOMO: It wasn't that she wasn't on the record. She was on the record. She wasn't under oath.

SHAH: They didn't even take a transcript.

CUOMO: It doesn't matter, because they're all federal agents. You're wrong. You're putting something out there because it suits you.

SHAH: Chris, I'm not wrong. The man was removed from the case. And you can scream from the rooftop at CNN but the facts are the facts. The man was removed from the case for political bias.

CUOMO: I'll deal with that in a second, but you just said something that's not true. She wasn't put under oath. It doesn't matter, 18- USC-1001, you lie to a federal agent you're busted. It doesn't matter whether you're under oath or not. And there was a transcript of the proceeding.

SHAH: There wasn't.

CUOMO: Of course she was on the record when they did it. They preserved the testimony.

SHAH: Show me the transcript.

CUOMO: You find it. You're in the government. You should show us all these things instead of playing cat and mouse with this memo. Put it out. Let us judge it.

Strzok was removed by Mueller. You guys often ignore that fact because you make it sound like Nunes discovered all of this for you guys. No, he didn't. The inspector general did this investigation. It was internal. It was an exercise of accountability by our Justice Department, not its weakness. It's strength. And then you allow people, because you didn't check him not once, I've checked everything you've said about this and there's nothing. There was a secret agency on the basis of those texts, they said there was a conspiracy afoot because of the missing texts, you never corrected it. It was b.s., and none of you came out when it was exposed as b.s. to say they shouldn't have said it. How is that OK, Raj?

SHAH: Let me just step back and say we're happy that certain text messages are found. Now we want to see what's in those text because we think they may reveal further political unbiased.

CUOMO: Are you unhappy that they said there is a secret organization when there is none? Are you unhappy about that? SHAH: When you say they said this are that, there are allegations made and the Department of Justice's inspector general investigated those matters.

CUOMO: Gates, Gowdy, Senator Johnson. Why didn't you call those guys out and say don't do that, don't malign the FBI when you don't have proof?

SHAH: They're raising very legitimate questions, Chris.

CUOMO: They said there was a secret agency on the basis of one text that they didn't understand the context of. They're saying that the missing --

SHAH: Because everything around it was deleted, Chris.

CUOMO: You then got the texts. They never corrected the assertion. You don't think that's unfair, Raj?

SHAH: I think Ron Johnson has spoken to it. And I'm going to let members of Congress speak to their own words and defend their own actions. What we are saying is that we want a Department of Justice and we want an FBI that's above political bias.

CUOMO: Of course.

SHAH: We believe that the thousands of FBI agents who risked their lives and worked tirelessly for the greatest law enforcement agency in the history of this world --

CUOMO: Do you trust the FBI?

SHAH: -- enjoys a leadership that's above questioning for political impropriety.

CUOMO: Do you trust the FBI?

SHAH: Yes.

CUOMO: Why didn't the president say that?

SHAH: Hang on. You can't interrupt me every time. The president has strong faith and belief in Chris Wray, the new FBI director. He's a man of integrity who we believe can clean up the upper ranks of the FBI and ensure that any questions about impropriety are resolved and there are no questions about taint or integrity when it comes to the FBI.

CUOMO: Does he regret pushing on Wray to get rid of Andrew McCabe?

SHAH: Let's just step back for a second and say the president has spoken at length, and so have members of Congress, about political influence at the higher ranks of the FBI. Remember, the president promoted Andrew McCabe and made him the acting director when James Comey was removed.

CUOMO: He then asked him who he voted for in the Oval Office. Do you think that was right, Raj?

SHAH: I talked to two individuals who were in the room and they told me that that report was false and that was not -- those were not the words of the president.

CUOMO: But was it the intention of the president?

SHAH: The intention?

CUOMO: Maybe it wasn't the exact words, but it takes us back to the s-hole thing.

SHAH: Chris, this is a -- hang on. I wasn't in the room but two individuals who were in the room told me that he didn't. The president --

[09:15:06] CUOMO: Hold on. I just want to be clear, Raj. He says I don't think I asked him, and if I did, it's not a big deal. Do you agree with that, Raj?

SHAH: He was promoting him in the meeting, Chris, to become the acting director of the FBI in that very same meeting.

CUOMO: I'm told him he was interviewing him to see if he would be the permanent director and there was no chance of that.

SHAH: The president did promote Andrew McCabe to become the acting director and Andrew McCabe said under oath that there was no effort to influence his investigation, there's no efforts from the White House or the Department of Justice to influence things that he did.

So, you know, the president has confidence in the FBI. He has confidence in the new director, Chris Wray. We want an FBI that's above taint, above questions, above political malfeasance.

CUOMO: Don't you want the proof of these types of suggestions before you qualify your belief in the FBI?

SHAH: When the lead investigator of this highly politically charged investigation is removed for political bias that is a strong piece of evidence to suggest that there's a lot going on there that raises questions. It's being investigated currently by the Department of Justice inspector general. We support that investigation and want to see what it finds.

CUOMO: Do you think Bob Mueller can be trusted?

SHAH: Sure. Look, the president spoke to this in an interview with the "The New York Times," Bob Mueller has a role. We respect the special counsel's process. We've been fully cooperative. Remember, the last president to be hit with a special counsel subpoena was Bill Clinton and not this president.

CUOMO: There has been no subpoena, is that your way of saying that he will if asked to meet with the special counsel he will say yes? SHAH: Well, the president spoken to that. I know he and his attorneys are working on that. They would be the ones to contact about the specifics.

CUOMO: Is that a chance that he might say no, are you saying?

SHAH: I'm saying I'm just not qualified to speak to whether or not --

CUOMO: You're the deputy White House press secretary. Who's qualified if you're not, Raj?

SHAH: Sure and that's a fair point. He surely intends to. I'm saying the details are being worked out between his legal team and the special counsel.

CUOMO: Tomorrow night, what might we expect, Mr. Shah?

SHAH: Well, the president is going to lay out optimistic vision for our country. It's going to be a unifying address. It doesn't just talk to the individuals who voted for this president, but for the entire country.

He's going to talk about five key issues, the economy and the great successes we've had over the last year. We have a record stock market. We've created over 2.5 million jobs. He's also going to talk about trade, international trade.

We just returned from Davos. He's going to talk about the need for free, fair and reciprocal trade among nations. But in global economy where the United States is leading and the whole world is growing, he's also going to talk about the issue of infrastructure, the need to rebuild the United States.

We have $1 trillion plan that involves state and local investment, public/private partnerships, very excited about. We think it's something Democrats can get behind as well. There's also going to talk about immigration and his plan to move forward on immigration, a permanent solution for the DACA population, real border security, ending the visa lottery, reforming the chain migration system.

And he's going to talk about national security and what we're doing to keep America safe to ensure that the individuals coming into this country are properly vetted, to ensure we're putting the maximum pressure on North Korea and confronting that regime, and you know, dealing with threats across the world including Russia as you just mentioned.

CUOMO: All right. And while I have you, if the president wants to release that memo that you have so much concern about, you know he can do it, right?

SHAH: Sure.

CUOMO: He has the power and classify and declassify whatever he wants. SHAH: The president certainly has the authority. Look, there's a process, a constitutional process that's in place. The House of Representatives may vote out for release this memo and then it goes in the president's hands.

And then he has the ability to object to it and just 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.

CUOMO: It's hard to look at it and review it if you don't let the Department of Justice have eyes on it. Do you think that's the right call? Right now, Nunes and some of his affiliates are saying that they shouldn't see it.

SHAH: Well, I'll say this, the constitutional process as laid out involves the House of Representatives, the House Intelligence Committee and the White House and the president of the United States. The Department of Justice doesn't have a role in this process.

CUOMO: Right. But the intelligence community including the Department of Justice, they're always part of this and forget about just the optics, Raj. You're saying you guys can't see it because you're the ones who are suspect within it, sends a very ugly message about the level of confidence in the Department of Justice once again?

SHAH: When you say it sends an ugly message, I'd say it could send a message of accountability. 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 --

CUOMO: Has the president seen it?

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

CUOMO: Why not? I mean, this has been going on for a week. He's at the top of the totem pole, why hasn't he even seen it?

[08:20:10] SHAH: He's got a state of the union to prepare for. He just got back from international travel. There's a lot on the president's agenda and if the House of Representatives votes this memo out, we'll consider it.

CUOMO: All right. Raj Shah, I appreciate you coming on the show. You're always welcome here to make the case to the American people.

SHAH: Thanks for having me on, Chris.

CUOMO: All right. Be well -- Poppy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Such an important conversation and we did exactly what Raj just asked many, many times to let our viewers listen to what the president himself said in his own words on that Asia trip. This was in Hanoi last November about Putin and Russia and who he believes and what he believes so here it is. You judge.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I believe that he feels that he and Russia did not meddle in the election. As to whether I believe it or not, I'm with our agencies especially as currently constituted with their leadership. I believe in our intel agencies, our intelligence agencies.

I've worked with them very strongly. There weren't 17 as was previously reported. There were actually four, but there were saying there were 17, there were actually four but as currently led by fine people I believe very much in our intelligence agencies.


HARLOW: OK. Let's bring in CNN political analyst, John Avlon. Now I believe that was him sort of cleaning up what he had said on Air Force One, you remember?


HARLOW: This is him cleaning it up after all the brouhaha after that.

AVLON: That's right. I think what's key is it's important to play that clip. The White House is hanging their hat on it to say the president doesn't have this adversarial relationship, but that's against the preponderance of statements and tweets he has made over a period of months.

CUOMO: So let's tie it all together. Even that was qualified. What does that mean? The people he has in the top now so now it's OK but before -- he was just asked do you trust the FBI and he said -- here it is --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you trust the FBI? Do you trust the FBI?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, we're going to see. I am very disturbed as is everybody else that is intelligent. When you look at five months, this is the late great Rosemary Woods with a step, right, this is a large-scale version.


CUOMO: Was Rosemary was her middle name. If there's any analogy to Watergate, Rosemarie Woods was Nixon's -- but for the grace of McGahn goes the President Trump down the same line of firing that Nixon did trying to get rid of the special counsel. But you heard the question and the answer. Do you trust the FBI? We'll have to see. That's not a yes. The White House can say he trusts them all he wants. When he's asked, he said, no, John.

AVLON: That's right. Look, you take the president at his word, you view everything in the context of everything he said. He didn't answer a simple yes or no question. The president of the United States should answer with an unequivocal yes. There's a lot of dodging. There's a lot of substance on both sides.

He cannot even -- the question whether he'll fire Mueller, whether that's entirely off the table. The president said it is, but his deputy White House press secretary referred it to counsel's office. So, they're dealing with uncomfortable facts and they're trying to pick examples to distract from --

HARLOW: Why dodge on that? I mean, that struck me. Chris said you're the deputy press secretary who's qualified then. The president has said it in his own words it was only his attorney that walked it back. Why the run around from the White House press corps on this?

AVLON: I think that's actually significant because the easy thing for the deputy press secretary to say is, the president's already spoken to this. He said he's going to testify under oath. But instead that was a punt to his counsel, Dowd.

And I think that indicates where the decision making is right now, the Dowd statement's may be more strategic state of play than the president's statements on this issue according to the White House.

HARLOW: OK. Thank you very much.

All right. So, should lawmakers do more to protect Special Counsel Bob Mueller? It's a key question this morning. We'll ask a Republican congressman next.




SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I've got legislation protecting Mr. Mueller and I'll be glad to pass it tomorrow. I see no evidence of President Trump wants to fire Mr. Mueller now. I don't know what happened back last year, but it's pretty clear to me that everybody in the White House knows it would be the end of President Trump's presidency if he fired Mr. Mueller. So, I think we're in a good spot with Mr. Mueller.


CUOMO: Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican, warning of the stark consequence for President Trump to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller. This comes after reports revealing President Trump did want to fire Mueller last summer, obviously, he didn't act on that.

Now, some bipartisan lawmakers do want to pass this bill to protect Mueller from being terminated. Will that happen, should?

Joining us now Republican Congressman Pete Sessions of Texas. First of all, I know you were working very late and you were traveling. Thank you for doing this. I really want to talk to you about immigration, but I need you on the record about this, Congressman, do you think this is a law you would back because it is necessary?

REPRESENTATIVE PETE SESSIONS (R), TEXAS: What I would say to you, Chris, is the entire process is still unfolding unfortunately in front of us rather than where it needs to take place as a full investigation. What happened originally was the president saw the team that Mr. Mueller assembled, and that team did not appear to be completely fair.

There appeared to be some bias with them. Now, what should we do with the bill? I have no reason to believe that we need to pass any bill that tells the president how he should or should not conduct himself as it relates to Mr. Mueller.

I think that you have already heard that the president has appropriately listened to counsel, appropriately allowing this to take place and move forward and I believe -- it's in the best interest of Americans if we do allow former Director Mueller who is honorable and good man to not only complete his investigation but to report to the nation all the findings and facts that he's got.

We're jumping out on things that Congress sees or jumping out on things that the president said. Let's let Bob Mueller do his job.

CUOMO: All right. Congressman, thank you for weighing in on that. Immigration, the give on the part of the president if he would allow that characterization --