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House Intel Panel Votes to Release Nunes Memo; Andrew McCabe Steps Down as Deputy FBI Director; Trump Prepares for First State of the Union Address; White House Says No New Russia Sanctions for Now; Aired 4-4:30a ET
Aired January 30, 2018 - 04:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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[04:00:12] REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: When you have a deeply flawed person in the Oval Office, that flaw can infect the whole of government.
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DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: The conservative campaign to block the Russia probe is picking up steam. The president can now release classified GOP memo critics say could do lasting damage to the FBI and DOJ.
CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And did the Clinton e-mail investigation cause Andrew McCabe his job at the FBI? New details this morning on what the FBI director told colleagues after his deputy abruptly left.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Speaker, the president of the United States.
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BRIGGS: President Trump delivers his first State of the Union tonight, spreading a message of unity. Can he keep that promise, though, once he walks off the House floor?
Yes, it's 2018. It matters more what you tweet than what you say.
BRIGGS: Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Dave Briggs.
ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans.
BRIGGS: Good morning.
ROMANS: It's nice to see you all this morning, bright and early on a Tuesday morning. It is 4:00 a.m. in the East. And the clock is ticking for President Trump to decide whether to allow the release of a classified Republican memo alleging surveillance abuses by the FBI. The House Intelligence Committee voting along party lines to release
the memo drafted by its chairman, Congressman Devin Nunes. The memo was delivered to the White House starting a five-day period for the president to decide whether to release it.
BRIGGS: The memo release would bolster this Republican effort to undercut Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and escalate the battle with the Justice Department. The potential disclosure of classified material, a serious concern of two former National Security officials.
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JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It is just bad all the way around. This is a -- I think, a very negative development for lots of reasons. It represents I think an assault on our institutions. And certainly bad for the FBI and the Department of Justice. And I shudder to think of the morale of those organization is right now.
MICHAEL HAYDEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I actually didn't think it was going to happen because of the effects that Jim described. This crosses a threshold that I don't think that we've crossed before.
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ROMANS: Before the House Intel vote, FBI Director Chris Wray was allowed to review the memo and raise any concerns. As we've reported, the president is inclined to release the memo which could pit him against his own Justice Department.
BRIGGS: One source telling CNN the president erupted last week when he learned of Justice Department efforts to stop the memo's release. Justice officials warned it would be extraordinarily reckless to public this.
For more, we turn to Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave. A sharply divided House Intelligence Committee voting along party lines to move forward with the release of a Republican staff memo that details allegations of FBI and Justice Department abuse over its Russia investigation suggesting that warrants were obtained during the campaign season over the Trump adviser Carter Page were improperly obtained the information given to the FISA judge who approved those warrants.
The judge not given the full picture of exactly why the Justice Department was seeking this information. Now this is according to the allegations in this memo drafted by staff from the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, according to people, who have reviewed this document.
Now that the committee has voted along party lines, the president will have to decide whether or not to object or approve its release. And we have been told by sources in the White House that we expect the president to approve its release. Something that Democrats yesterday were saying could cause grave harm to national security.
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SCHIFF: The White House has made it abundantly clear that they want the memo published even though they haven't read it. That should tell you all you need to know about the president's priorities. Even without reading it, even without hearing from the intelligence agencies or the FBI what damage it might do in terms of public release.
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RAJU: Now the Republicans running the Russia investigation, Mike Conaway, pushed back on Schiff's assertions last night saying that in fact they are prepared to release the Democratic memo that was drafted by Adam Schiff that actually comes to different conclusions than the Nunes memo. But they want to follow the same procedure that the Nunes memo followed, that the full House can now get access to this classified memo in a classified setting, read it, and then later the committee can decide whether or not to allow for its public release.
But Democrats wanted the Schiff memo and the Nunes memo released at the same time. And they also wanted the Justice Department and the FBI to brief the full House about the memo before agreeing to its release.
A lot of questions about the future of the Russia investigation, and whether or not it can proceed amid this fury over this two competing memos, and an apparent new focus of this investigation looking into the Justice Department and the FBI actions in 2016 -- Christine and Dave.
[04:05:07] ROMANS: All right, Manu, thank you so much for that.
Among other things the Nunes memo cites the role of Deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe overseeing aspects of the Russia investigation. Now McCabe will watch the rest of the Russia probe unfold from the sidelines. McCabe has left the FBI ahead of his planned retirement in March.
BRIGGS: McCabe has been one of the president's favorite punching bags as he lashes out at the Russia investigation. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says the president was not behind McCabe's departure but she was asked if these months of pressure contributed.
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SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The only thing that the president has applied pressure to is to make sure we get this resolved so that you guys and everyone else can focus on the things that Americans actually care about. And that is making sure everybody gets the Russia fever out of their system once and for all.
(END VIDEO CLIP) ROMANS: Former FBI director James Comey, McCabe's one-time boss, responded to the early departure with a tweet. "Special Agent Andrew McCabe stood tall over the last eight months when small people were trying to tear down an institution we all depend on. He served with distinction for two decades. I wish Andy well. I also wish continued strength for the rest of the FBI. America needs you."
BRIGGS: Overnight we learned FBI director Chris Wray hinted to FBI staff an upcoming government watchdog report on the Clinton e-mail investigation played a role in McCabe's departure. Other sources paint the move as entirely McCabe's call.
CNN's Jessica Schneider with more from Washington.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Dave, Andrew McCabe is out of a job more than a month before his expected retirement. And we're told that his sudden departure was surprising for colleagues at the FBI headquarters especially since the exact reason for his early exit wasn't entirely known. So the deputy director of the FBI, he announced his decision to leave in the meeting of senior executives Monday morning.
McCabe said at that meeting that it was his choice, but other sources that we learned here at CNN, they've suggested to us that McCabe was pushed out. Basically told by the relatively new FBI director Chris Wray that he would no longer need him as a deputy director.
Of course President Trump has repeatedly attacked Andrew McCabe. Notably because McCabe's wife Jill ran as a Democrat in a Virginia Senate race in 2015. And the president in particular is taking issue with Jill McCabe taking money from a group that was affiliated with then Governor Terry McAuliffe who is a close friend of Hillary Clinton.
So McCabe's departure in this manner is yet another shakeup at the FBI. For the past year the FBI has really come under withering attacks from the president and many Republicans who are saying that its agents are biased against Trump. So this McCabe early and sudden retirement, it does have some Republicans applauding, but of course other lawmakers very concerned that the president is trying to exert his influence over what is supposed to be an independent law enforcement agency -- Dave and Christine.
ROMANS: All right, Jessica. Thank you.
Safe to say the FBI story is overshadowing the president's State of the Union address tonight. Immigration reform expected to be one of the Central theme.. On Monday, the president hosted some of his most loyal supporters at the White House. A source tells CNN he expressed uncertainty about whether Democrats are willing or politically able to reach a deal on immigration.
BRIGGS: We're told the president is planning to deliver a unified speech. Expected in attendance tonight, First Lady Melania Trump. She's mostly been off the radar since reports broke of her husband's alleged affair with a porn star and six-figure payoff for her silence. More on the State of the Union from Jeff Zeleny.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine and Dave. President Trump will deliver his first State of the Union address tonight on Capitol Hill. It's the first time as president he will take account of his first year of office. He will deliver that address tonight at 9:00 Eastern Time.
Now the theme of the address here at the White House, it's called "Building a Safe, Strong and Proud America." Of course, the president is going to talk about the economy as he often does, about the stock market, about low unemployment. He's also going to tick off about five different themed areas. From immigration to infrastructure, to trade, to national security as well as the economy.
Now briefly Monday, the president said this about how he's been working on his speech.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We worked on it hard. Covered a lot of territory including our great success with the markets and with the tax cuts. It's a big speech and a wonderful speech.
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ZELENY: Now I'm told the president practiced that speech in the map room of the White House on Monday giving a full length rehearsal of that address. Of course, he will deliver it to the nation tonight from the House of Representative chambers.
Now the president of course is entering this moment at the lowest approval rating of any president since modern polling began. At some 38 percent approval rating. So clearly the White House believes this is an opportunity for him to reach out to a broader audience.
Every official I talked to here says it will be an uplifting speech. It will be a bipartisan speech. It will be an optimistic speech.
[04:10:03] I'm told the president will also not address the Russia investigation, at least that is the hope of advisers here -- Dave and Christine.
BRIGGS: Jeff Zeleny, thank you.
Some of the tickets for tonight's State of the Union address got a bit of a typo. Inviting people to the "State of the Uniom." It's unclear how many of the tickets had typos but the Office of the Sergeant-at- Arms which issues them has reprinted all the affected tickets. Those that have not yet been picked up by members have been swapped out. Tickets already distributed are in the process of being changed for the reprinted ones. With an N.
ROMANS: All right. Spell check. Senate Republicans failing to pass a bill that would criminalize
abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It came up short of the 60 votes needed to advance. The opposition was mostly from Democrats, although a few supported the measure. The bill passed the House back in October. It includes exceptions in cases of rape and incest, and when the life of the mother is at risk. President Trump called the Senate vote disappointing.
BRIGGS: All right. Breaking overnight. The U.S. puts more than 200 Russian political figures and oligarchs on notice. Why Russia is concerned even though no new sanctions were leveled. We're live in Moscow.
[04:15:22] BRIGGS: The Trump administration missing another deadline to impose sanctions on Russia. The administration taking a different approach. Just before midnight Eastern the Treasury Department did release a Russia oligarch list. It names more than 200 politicians and businessmen, many with Kremlin ties. For now the White House is only putting those on the list on notice.
Let's go live to Moscow and bring in CNN's Fred Pleitgen.
Good morning to you, Fred. Any reaction from Moscow this morning?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, actually a lot of reaction, Dave. A lot of these oligarchs are quite afraid of this list. Because while it doesn't put sanctions on them immediately, they fear that it could hurt them banking internationally, doing business internationally and also land them on a U.S. sanctions list in the future.
So this is causing a lot of anxiety not just among business people, but also some anger among politicians. One senior politician here in Russia coming forward earlier today and saying all this could jeopardize relations between the United States and Russia, which, of course, are at a low point anyway.
And if we look at this list, the government side of it is pretty straightforward. It's almost all members of the Russian government. The oligarch list does have a lot of remarkable names on it that a lot of people will be familiar with who are familiar with the Trump Russia investigation. Oleg Deripaska, for instance. Aras Agalarov. Also one notable name is Eugene Kaspersky of Kaspersky Lab. We've been reporting about them a lot as well.
Now this new list is of course in reaction to Russia's alleged meddling in the U.S. election in 2016. At least the director of the CIA seems to believe that that was not something that's a one-off. He believes the Russians are at it again.
I want you to listen really quick to an excerpt from an interview that Mike Pompeo did with the BBC last night. Let's listen in.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: The Russians have a long history of these information campaigns. That part of it is not new. The technology that enables it is now cheap and plentiful and the capability of transferring information around the world is much simpler than it was in World War II or decades ago. This threat is not going to go away. The Russians have been at this a long time and I fully expect they'll continue to be at it.
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PLEITGEN: So while President Trump continues to say that he hopes for better relations with Russia, certainly this list doing not very much to help that cause. In general, it doesn't seem at this point in time that the relations are in any way on the mend -- Dave.
BRIGGS: Certainly yet to see that warming.
Frederik Pleitgen live for us in Moscow. Thank you.
ROMANS: All right. 17 minutes past the hour. Pentagon officials tell CNN a Russian military jet performed an unsafe intercept of the U.S. Navy surveillance plane in international airspace over the Black Sea. The American pilots claiming the jet came within five feet of their aircraft. The intercept forced the Navy plane to end its mission prematurely.
You know, this is just the latest in a series of unsafe interactions between Russian and U.S. aircraft in the region. Russia's Defense Ministry said its crew flew strictly in accordance with international rules.
All right. The Trump economy is booming, a fact I'm sure the president will highlight during his first State of the Union tonight.
BRIGGS: You think?
ROMANS: So how much credit does he deserve? Answer is next.
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[04:22:54] RONALD REAGAN, 40TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm urging the American people. Seize these new opportunities to produce, to save, to invest and together we'll make this economy a mighty engine of freedom, hope and prosperity again.
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BRIGGS: Good stuff there. The economy has been a primary focus in States of the Union dating back decades. Expect more of the same tonight from President Trump who's used the economy to justify success in his first year in office.
We were very fortunate to be able to book our chief business correspondent at 4:23 in the morning. (LAUGHTER)
ROMANS: Here I am.
BRIGGS: You're available always at this time of the morning, Christine.
Now what can and what cannot the president brag about when it comes to this economy?
ROMANS: The economy is booming. And he has been in office for a full year now.
ROMANS: So I think there's no chance he's not going to mention this tonight. You know, the very first State of the Union address.
Look, there is a lot to go on here. There's plenty to brag about. Jobs, corporate profits. Those have been great all-game busters. Those measures were already strong when Trump took over. But, you know, his pro-business attitude has helped flipped a switch. Consumer confidence, investor optimism at all time highs.
The cheerleader-in-chief, as I call him, bragging his way into an economic boom. There are some weak spots in this otherwise strong economy. Take the unemployment rate. It is at a 17-year low. However, that rate doesn't include Americans not in the labor force. The total, 95 million people not working.
It's a little bit misleading. The majority are retired, they are in school, they are caretakers. Still that leaves about six million workers unaccounted for, Dave, in this boom.
Now what about jobs? Jobs added here. More than two million were created during President Trump's first year. 2.4 million created since he was elected. That's a great number. But let's have some context there. It's the slowest pace in six years. Not unusual, though, after years of expansion. And while jobs are growing, wages are not. Things like globalization and more part-time workers are keeping wages in check.
Now this is the favorite Trump measure. A fizzling stock market. The Dow has hit multiple milestones. The major indices are up 30 percent or more since the election.
[04:25:03] That is great for 401(k) accounts. But that's only about half of Americans have 401(k). And the wealthy you are, the more likely you are to benefit. Only about a third of families in the bottom half of earners own stocks.
But look, the economy is great. It has been a year. And the president has really been a master brander.
ROMANS: Right? He has branded this. All of his doing.
BRIGGS: All his life.
ROMANS: And he has sort of given companies and even workers their mojo back in a way, many economists say.
BRIGGS: Many of these companies have jumped up after the tax cut plan and said we're going to give raises, we're going to raise wages.
BRIGGS: And yesterday ExxonMobil said we're going to boost spending because of the tax cut plan. How much of that is actually because of the tax cut?
ROMANS: They are getting a lot of money from those lower tax rates. They have the money to spend in the American economy. One of the criticisms, Dave, is that some of the spending was already in the pipeline. That some of these companies are just advertising what they would have been spending otherwise. Maybe enhancing some of that spending.
But again it's that branding. They're branding the tax cut as something that's good for the regular guy. But it's really good for shareholders, too.
ROMANS: And I think that those tax cuts will be -- they will be like a stimulus in the economy in the near term. I mean, that's what a lot of people are counting on for this year. That the economy is still going to keep moving because of all that stimulus.
Now will the Fed have to start raising interest rates to make sure the economy doesn't overheat? That's a story --
BRIGGS: That's for another day.
ROMANS: That's a story for another day.
BRIGGS: All right. Christine Romans, great information. Looking forward to the speech tonight.
The president delivers his first State of the Union tonight 9:00 Eastern Time but instead this morning Washington talking about the FBI, Andrew McCabe, Russia and growing efforts to blunt the investigation.