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Trump Treasury Refuses to Carry Out Russia Sanctions; Rep. David Cicilline Talks Russia Sanctions; Ryan Defends Release of Nunes Memo, Pelosi Calls Memo a Cover-up; Melania Trump Expected to Return to Spotlight Tonight. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired January 30, 2018 - 11:30   ET



[11:32:38] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: A stunning new development in the Trump administration's apparent unwillingness to punish Russia for meddling in the 2016 election. Trump's Treasury Department is not imposing new sanctions on Russia at the moment, despite the fact that President Trump signed the sanctions bill in August of last year. This was a bill that passed overwhelmingly by the Republican- controlled House and Senate. That required the administration to identify which Russian persons or entities should be punished. The administration actually missed their first deadline to act on the sanctions bill. That was on October 1st. The second deadline was midnight last night. The Treasury Department just before the stroke of midnight released something, but it was not sanctions.

Joining me to discuss is CNN's senior diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski.

It seems there may not be sanctions. But what did we see?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: We don't know. What we know is that the State Department and treasury have done the minimum and they have done it quite late. They have dragged their feet on this for a very long time. Remember the president signed this into law, begrudgingly, six months ago. So now we are seeing them just barely meeting these deadlines, but they haven't gone hard on this, they haven't said here's more sanctions against Russia, which they theoretically could have done. What they did was provide to Congress -- some of this was made public, not all of it, some of this is still in a classified setting -- entities that are still doing business, a list of oligarchs, billionaires close to Vladimir Putin. These are people and entities that could be sanctioned down the road. But the administration is not doing it just yet.

In fact, something that really raised eyebrows within the statement that the State Department put out on this with some very rosy language that they're already seeing some governments not doing deals with Russia. And, listen to this quote. They said that, "If the law is working, and they're seeing some evidence that it is, then sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent."

So that may well be true. If somebody is not going to do a deal with Russia, you wouldn't sanction them, but there are many lawmakers who see this as still continuing to be weak on Russia as regards its meddling in the U.S. election. And that language wasn't mentioned at all in what the State Department put out. It didn't -- it didn't address the fact that this was because Russia meddled in the U.S. election. Just pointed to Russia's interference in other nations' domestic affairs.

But that kind of meddling is still a major concern and including to the CIA director. Here's what he said.


[11:35:34] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have concerns they might try and interfere in the U.S. midterms which are coming up?

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: Of course. I have every expectation that they will continue to try to do that. But I'm confident that America will be able to have a free and fair election, that will push back in a way that is sufficiently robust that the impact they have on our election won't be great.


KOSINSKI: So lots of questions. Where is the pushback? What are we going to see after there was such bipartisan support of this very law that they're only now acting on?

Well, today, the treasury secretary says there will be sanctions. Make no mistake about it, down the road, they are going to sanction some of the people and companies, and even outside companies that are doing business with Russia. We just haven't seen it yet. And the question is when -- Brianna?

KEILAR: All right, Michelle Kosinski, at the State Department, thank you so much.

My next guest is one of several people asking why President Trump refuses to take any action against Russia. We have Democratic Congressman David Cicilline, of Rhode Island, with us. He's a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Sir, thank you for joining us.


KEILAR: You had a response last night, a very strong response to this decision not to impose new sanctions by this deadline. You said via Twitter, "What does Vladimir Putin have on" -- you were saying President Trump. Is the administration in your estimation, sir, within its rights to do this, though?

CICILLINE: Well, let's remember what your last guest just said. This was a bipartisan piece of legislation. Only five people voted against it in the House and the Senate. So overwhelmingly bipartisan. It directed the president to impose sanctions. And it also removed the president's ability to relax any existing sanctions because I think people had very little confidence that the president would take this responsibility seriously. Despite the passage of that, the president signing this in July, no implementation has happened. You have to ask why is it? Why is it that the president is so reluctant to hold the Russians accountable, the Russian government, for their interference in our presidential election?

And it is important to say, you know, this idea that, well, maybe it is already working, the passage of the bill is enough to deter them, the purpose of passing the sanction bill was also to punish the Russians, to let them know and any other country, you cannot interfere with our elections. The CIA director said he expects they will try again in 2018. And the president is failing his responsibility to send a very strong message by implementing these sanctions to tell Russia or any other adversary, you will not be permitted to interfere in our elections, period. I think the American people have a right to ask what is going on here. Why is this president unwilling to hold the Russians accountable?

KEILAR: But what do you think? Is it just a question you're asking? Do you have an answer to that question --

CICILLINE: Well, look, I think --


BASH: -- or thought on what the answer is?

CICILLINE: I think we have a lot of information that has been made available publicly about the Russian interference in the campaign, that it was for the purpose of assisting Donald Trump and undermining the election of the Democratic nominee. We have --


KEILAR: But you said this. I'm just curious, you put it out in, certainly, at least innuendo, what does Vladimir Putin have on President Trump? Do you really -


BASH: -- are you sort of joking or do you really think he has something on President Trump?

CICILLINE: I think there is no question that this president is strongly opposed to holding the Russians accountable, to allowing an investigation of their interference in the election to go forward, to try to prevent the American people from learning the truth. And you have to ask what is he hiding? I don't think we know the answer to that completely. Robert Mueller will get to it. But it raises a real question, what is the motivation, what is he hiding what does Vladimir Putin have on him, what is the reason he's so unwilling to let the investigation proceed and to impose real sanctions in a real punishment on a foreign adversary who interfered with our elections? It shouldn't be a Republican or Democratic issue. This should be about preserving American democracy. We should all agree that no government, no foreign government should be allowed to interfere. We would expect our president to be a strong leader in that fight, to hold a foreign adversary accountable, to be sure they're punished, to protect our elections, and our president isn't doing that, and you have to ask why. What is the reason? What is he afraid of?

[11:39:55] KEILAR: I want to ask you while I have you about this Nunes memo, the Nunes memo, which is by the chairman of the House Intel Committee, alleging FBI abuses. Seen by Democrats as very political, an attempt to give President Trump cover as he's investigated by the special counsel. But you know, your Republican colleagues are saying Democrats haven't read this, even though they had the opportunity. Have you -- you have the opportunity to read it? Have you been able to read this memo?

CICILLINE: I have an appointment at 2:00 today to read both --


CICILLINE: -- the Nunes memo and the other. But, look, here's what we do know --


KEILAR: And the --


BASH: The Nunes memo and what else?

CICILLINE: And the Democratic memo --

KEILAR: And the rebuttal. OK.

CICILLINE: -- that the Republicans would not allow to be released. But, look, let's be clear about this, this is not an intelligence document. This is a document prepared by a partisan Republican, a person who was so partisan, in fact, he was removed from leading the investigation. This is his summary of documents that he has never even read. So I'm certainly going to read it, so I understand the debate. But let's not make any mistake about it, this is a partisan document, not an intelligence document, and part of a larger effort I've seen with my own eyes by the Republicans in Congress to undermine the Mueller investigation, to set the predicate for the firing of Rod Rosenstein and Robert Mueller. This is part of an effort coordinated with the White House to undermine an ongoing investigation, to continue to attack the FBI, attack the Department of Justice, really, I think to set the ground work for what they ultimately want to do is stop this investigation and prevent the American people from learning the truth.

KEILAR: Speaker Ryan is instructing his members, some of which clearly have not heeded this advice, to keep this separate from the Russia investigation. What do you think about that?

CICILLINE: Well, look, I don't think it is separate. I think we have seen -- I've seen it in the Judiciary Committee. We have seen it on the House floor -- this ongoing drumbeat, this effort to really attack the professionals at the FBI, men and women who risk their lives to keep us safe all over the country, to protect us from terrorism, incredible professionals at the Department of Justice who are doing their job. We saw the recent departure of the deputy director who felt pressured to lead the FBI. I think this is an ongoing effort. Again, they don't like the direction, they're afraid what this investigation is going to finally conclude, and this is an effort to shut it down, to prevent the American people from learning the truth, and to really destroy the findings of the investigation by undermining the investigators. This is dangerous to our rule of law, it is dangerous to our democratic institutions, and we cannot allow this to happen.

KEILAR: Congressman David Cicilline, thank you so much for joining us on a very busy day there on Capitol Hill. We appreciate it.

CICILLINE: My pleasure.

KEILAR: Still ahead, Paul Ryan says he wants to release the Nunes memo, but the controversial decision comes with some skeptics. Why House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi calls the whole thing a cover-up.


[11:45:55] KEILAR: Just a short time ago, House Speaker Paul Ryan defended the release of the controversial Nunes memo. But he's also coming under criticism from Democrats for his role in the congressional Russia probe leading up to this point. Listen to what Nancy Pelosi told CNN's Chris Cuomo.



CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST, NEW DAY: Do you blame Paul Ryan for what's going on?

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: I think that he has a major responsibility and what I call a cover-up of what they are doing. It is really very sad. But, again, it is a cover-up.


KEILAR: Joining me now, we have CNN politics reporter and editor-at- large, Chris Cillizza.

Chris, we knew the speaker was going to give the go ahead to the release of this memo. But it was interesting to hear some of his thinking on this and how he's telling his members to keep the memo that targets the FBI separate from the Russia investigation, from the Mueller investigation. But can he even do -- no one -- I guess I'm baffled because so many Republicans have already -- they already have done that. You can't undo that.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER & CNN EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: Yes. How about -- I'll name you a Republican who has already done that. Donald Trump. I mean, Donald Trump has worked to conflate what is the FBI doing, why aren't they investigating this, why aren't they investigating that.

KEILAR: Is Paul Ryan trying to keep himself clean?

CILLIZZA: Yes, absolutely.


CILLIZZA: I think, look, I think there is a reasonable sort of through-line from Donald Trump's emergence to now with Paul Ryan in which Paul Ryan is trying -- he's not going to come out, I don't think, anymore and sort of directly condemn the president. He did that multiple times and is now where he is. But I think what he's trying to do is preserve a Republican Party post-Donald Trump. And I think that's what this is aimed at. Well, I came out at the time, I said we need to not denigrate law enforcement as it relates to the Russia investigation. But I supported the release of the memo. He knows there is a big constituency, both in the Republican Party, but also in the Republican Congress, who believes and conflates these two things. He can watch cable news any day and see it. So he has to bow to that. But he also wants to preserve the ability to go back to your point and say, well, at the time, I warned that we should be careful not of -- I mean, of course, people are going to connect the two. He has --


KEILAR: He's a writ large revisionist if he does that, right?

CILLIZZA: I think he wants to -- I think he wants to be on the record as trying to hold both of those ideas in his mind. The reality, Brianna, is far different than that. The president of the United States, who last time I checked, is a Republican, has been time and time and time again suggesting that there are links between all of these things. So to say, hey, just FYI, I'm pro releasing the memo, but I want to make clear, it is a distinction without a difference. Except to Ryan.

KEILAR: So, listen to Chris Christie because he is talking about what this of these attacks that we have seen on the FBI, what impact they may have had.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: It does. And I also think that it is a long-term problem for our party if we continue this. Not only for our party, but for the country. Listen, mistakes are made at the FBI, made over the years, we have documented them over time, and they need to be held to account for that, but in a way that is not so political.


KEILAR: It is a long-term problem for our party.

CILLIZZA: This is what I'm saying with Ryan attempting to sort of preserve what the Republican Party is and stands for. I think Chris Christie is standing on that same point, which is you can't attack the rule of law and those who enforce it and have that be a principle of the Republican Party, that there is a deep state conspiracy embedded within the FBI that is out to get Donald Trump as evidenced by the lack of Hillary Clinton being charged, as evidenced by the lack of investigation to -- that's not a stance by which a major national party can exist. Is it a stance by which a fringe can exist? Without question. It is what they're not telling us. But as a major national party, you can't really be that group. I think you see Chris Christie and Paul Ryan recognizing it. Christie can be more honest because he's not the governor of anything anymore. He's not in office. Ryan still has to be aware of the constituencies that exist within his caucus and within the Republican Party writ large that he still has to sort of pay some homage to. And that's why I think you see the difference.

[11:50:19] KEILAR: Chris Cillizza, thank you, sir --

CILLIZZA: Thank you.

BASH: -- for being with us today.


CILLIZZA: It's exciting.

BASH: I said this morning, I'm just happy to be on television.

CILLIZZA: That's so true. Story of my life.

BASH: Thank you.

Still ahead, she's been out of sight for almost a month, but the first lady is expected to return to the spotlight at tonight's State of the Union address. This, as "The New York Times" says Melania Trump was furious at recent reports involving her husband's lawyer and an alleged porn star payoff.


KEILAR: Melania Trump is expected to make what has become rare for her this month, right, an appearance when she attends tonight's State of the Union address. If she does, it will be the first time we have seen her publicly in a week. She canceled plans to escort the president to Davos last week. Instead, she visited the Holocaust Memorial Museum and she took a trip to Florida. Mrs. Trump has been silent since reports that the president's lawyer paid off a porn star to keep an affair quiet.

Joining me ow, we have CNN White House reporter, Kate Bennett.

We have not seen her in public for about a month. That's a long time for a first lady. It's caused speculation. What can you tell us?

KATE BENNETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: It is a long time for a first lady. I will say we haven't -- we haven't heard from her on the Stormy Daniels topic, but we have heard from her in her own way. We heard from her on inauguration when she had that weird tweet that didn't mention the president. We've heard from her --


KEILAR: I think one-year anniversary.

BENNETT: On his one-year anniversary of the inauguration. We've heard from her in her subtle sort of Melania Trump way. You know, it is curious. She's been relatively under wraps since then, sort of mysteriously going to Florida last week for a 24-hour period, flying down to Mar-a-Lago unannounced, unplanned, and then flying back, which is unusual. Of course, there are rumors that she is upset about the Stormy Daniels issue and all the headlines. And no matter what she's feeling or what happens in that marriage or what she's perhaps used to or the tumult, that this is a difficult time to have those headlines. You're first lady of the United States. There's a porn star, there's payoff and those sorts of things. Tonight, she has to be show up and sort of be graceful and act like the first lady in public, which she hasn't done in a while.

[11:55:34] KEILAR: She hasn't. She's pretty good at doing that. So we will see tonight, Melania Trump at the State of the Union.

BENNETT: All eyes on her.

KEILAR: That's right.

Kate Bennett, thank you so much.

As the president prepares for his first State of the Union address, take a look at the stock market right now. It's actually down triple digits. The losses so far for this week, more than 400 points. This, as the president is expected to tout a strong economy tonight. He's used the stock market to demonstrate that claim.

We have much more on his upcoming address. Dana Bash picking up after a quick break.