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House Intel Committee Votes to Release GOP Memo Alleging FBI Bias; White House Fails to Enforce Russia Sanctions; Trump to Deliver State of the Union Tonight. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired January 30, 2018 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: They have crossed from dangerously dealing with intelligence to a coverup.
[05:58:59] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you read the memo, it's going to be pretty clear why Democrats did not want it to come into the public light.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We had votes today to politicize the intelligence process.
REP. TED LIEU (D), CALIFORNIA: If they're going to release that memo, then they have to release the Democratic memo.
REP. MIKE CONAWAY (R-TX), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, the House hasn't had a chance to look at the minority report.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: You have not seen the intelligence that it's based on?
REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: No. We're not permitted to see that.
CUOMO: Doesn't that concern you?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The latest turmoil in the Russia probe comes as the president is about to deliver his first State of the Union speech.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Donald Trump has two skeletons (ph). He has Comey; he has McCabe.
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: None of this decision was made by that of the White House.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: To say they had no influence on the departure of the deputy director is a little bit disingenuous.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome your viewers in the United States and around the world. You are watching NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, January 30, 6 a.m. here in Washington, D.C., for our special coverage of tonight's speech.
So, here's our story line. President Trump will deliver his first State of the Union address this evening. He is expected to tout his tax cuts and the strength of the U.S. economy while calling for bipartisan action on immigration and infrastructure.
But a political firestorm is also consuming the nation's capital. President Trump and his allies escalating their campaign against the Russia investigation. Last night the House Intelligence Committee voted to release the much-debated classified memo written by Republicans alleging surveillance abuses at the FBI. The president is now in a showdown with his own Justice Department over releasing that memo to the public.
CUOMO: The efforts to counter the Russia investigation could not be more obvious. In fact, the leading Democrat on the House Intel Committee says Republicans may be opening a probe into the Department of Justice.
This comes as yet another top official overseeing the Russia investigation is out. FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe abruptly resigning after repeated personal attacks by President Trump. The FBI director hinting McCabe's departure may be connected to an inspector general report about FBI actions during the 2016 campaign.
So, for all the robust moves on our own Department of Justice, in no small irony, the Trump administration is going easy on Russia again, declining to impose new sanctions on that country. Why is the U.S. government refusing to punish the Kremlin for interfering in the U.S. election?
We have it all covered. Let's begin with CNN's Abby Phillip, live at the White House.
Good morning, Abby.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris.
Well, the president is about to do his first State of the Union address before both houses of Congress, but that's already been overshadowed by this escalating campaign by the president and his Republican allies to undermine the Russia investigation.
Now, all of this is happening as the controversy over the release of a Republican-written memo is brewing right now. That memo alleges FBI misdoings on surveillance. And the president now has five days to decide whether he is going to allow that memo to be released to the public.
PHILLIP (voice-over): The House Intelligence Committee voting along party lines to publicly release a secret partisan memo spearheaded by Trump ally Devin Nunes, accusing the nation's top law enforcement agency of abusing its surveillance authority. Committee Republicans ignoring the Justice Department's stern warning that releasing the memo without agency review could be extraordinarily reckless. Criticism that CNN has learned enraged President Trump aboard Air Force One last week.
The four-page memo is based on classified intelligence from the Justice Department that Nunes and the majority of the committee have reportedly not even seen.
CUOMO: You've seen the memo.
JORDAN: I have.
CUOMO: You have not seen the intelligence that it's based on?
JORDAN: No, we're not permitted to see that.
CUOMO: Doesn't that concern you that something with so heady, that is so provocative and you don't get a chance to see where this...?
JORDAN: That's why I say it should be footnoted inside it, but that's not the choice the committee made. I do think the memo will speak for itself.
PHILLIP: The House Intelligence Committee also voting against releasing the Democratic memo rebutting the allegations, insisting they are following protocol.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why not release them both at the same time?
CONAWAY: Well, the House hasn't had a chance to look at the minority report, nor have we. We voted to send it to the House, and we need to read it, as well.
PHILLIP: The decision prompting scathing criticism from Democrats.
PELOSI: They have crossed from dangerously and recklessly dealing with intelligence to a coverup of an investigation that they don't want the American people to see come to fruition.
SCHIFF: This is a continuation of the effort to protect the president's hide, push out a misleading narrative, selectively declassify information.
PHILLIP: Ranking Member Adam Schiff telling reporters that Republicans refused an invitation from the FBI director, Christopher Wray to brief the committee and express his concerns about the memo. The extraordinary move coming after hours after the abrupt resignation of FBI Director [SIC] Andrew McCabe. It comes after months of withering criticism from the president and his allies over McCabe's handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation and political donations his wife received from a super PAC associated with a Clinton ally.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should McCabe go?
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: McCabe got more than $500,000 from, essentially, Hillary Clinton, and is he investigating Hillary Clinton?
PHILLIP: Last week, CNN learned that Attorney General Jeff Sessions pressured Director Wray to fire McCabe at the president's urging, a charge Mr. Trump denies. A sources tells CNN that Wray recently told McCabe he's bringing in his own team that McCabe would not be a part of, prompting McCabe to leave ahead of his expected retirement in March. Wray suggesting in an e-mail to FBI staff that an upcoming inspector general report played a role in McCabe's decision.
SANDERS: The president wasn't part of this decision making process, and we would refer you to the FBI.
[06:05:04] PHILLIP: Now, Chris and Alisyn, all of this is happening as the White House has actually declined to impose sanctions demanded by Congress last year on Russians, in response to the meddling in the 2016 election. The White House says they are putting Russia on notice.
Meanwhile, a senior White House official tells us that the president is actually not expected to address the Russia investigation in his State of the Union address tonight.
CAMEROTA: OK, Abby, thank you very much for all of that background. Let's discuss it. We want to bring in political analyst David Gregory and CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin, who was Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the DOJ.
OK, we have a lot to talk about. Let's start with this mystery memo that the Republicans wrote that they voted last night to release. There's so much that's objectively strange about this situation. So they're going to release the Republican memo but not the Democrat rebuttal. The White House now has to decide if it's going to release it, though we understand that the president is inclined in that way. But the Department of Justice and the FBI has not had a chance to vet it. So where are we?
DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The Justice Department very pointedly criticized what the committee was doing for releasing this classified information, which is at odds with the Trump Justice Department.
I think a couple of observations that I have. One, why is it that the administration is launching this assault on the investigation, on the FBI? Why do they keep looking like they've got so much to hide? Why does the president reportedly threaten to fire Mueller? He looks like he's hiding something. I don't know how you escape that.
The other piece, which may fight my first observation is this investigation ought to be able to withstand scrutiny and criticism. That includes Mueller. That includes the FBI. That includes the dossier. It ought to be able to withstand all of that and still get to the truth.
What's -- what's disconcerting to me is that I think some Republicans in all of this are using the same intellectual rigor they used in the Benghazi conspiracy mindset, which is not a lot of intellectual rigor; and it's hurting the process, and it's seeming unfair, and I think it makes the president look worse.
CUOMO: And look, you're no stranger, Michael, to people having questions about how the DOJ does its work. I mean, it's been a big part of my career as a journalist, questioning different tactics of law enforcement. But one of the things that just sticks out here, to David's point about rigor, Devin Nunes, these reports that his name is on this memo and he didn't even look at the classified information it's based on, lawmaker, after lawmaker either hasn't read the memo; they have read the memo but they haven't read the supporting documents. And they're in this rush to getting it out. How unusual?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's not unusual if you're making something a political effort, as opposed to a law enforcement effort. This is a political effort here. These guys really don't care about the underlying intelligence. They want to make a report that says the Steele dossier is not to be credited, because they are afraid of it being proven to be true. Because that sets out a relationship between the Russians and the Trumps that goes back a decade and sets the predicate for the relationship that forms the basis of the collusion theory.
So I think this is much about, you know, sort of discrediting the Steele memorandum as anything else. And that's why I don't think they really care about the facts. They don't really need to read the facts. They know what they want to say. They know what their narrative is, and they're pushing it out.
And the reason they withheld the Democrat counter report is because they want their narrative out there first so they can sort of -- so they can set it with cement, they want it to set and have a counternarrative, but by then they're hoping that there's already stuck.
GREGORY: Anything that Congress does is a political process including impeachment. This whole business about the dossier is not as relevant to what the special prosecutor is looking at, which is why it's useful to have a special prosecutor. While there are some leaks, just like there were in the Starr investigation, the Republicans were quite happy about that then. That, you know, you have a process that's under way that we'll get to the bottom of it.
And there's so many questions about that, not just on substance, but why it is that the president makes the investigation worse and more intense around him because of actions he takes, which comes back to the original point. Just forget all of this nonsense with the politics over the memos. Why is the president acting this way? I get that he feels it's unfair, but he acts in a way that makes it seem like he's done something wrong.
ZELDIN: So to my point, I think if you really distill what they're focused on, it is so much about the dossier. And the dossier is--
CAMEROTA: The Republicans are focused on. ZELDIN: The Republicans and the president.
ZELDIN: Because there's so much about the president's prior financial dealings with the Russians.
ZELDIN: And that is the heart of the money-laundering allegations, and that is the heart of the theory that gave rise to how did the Trumps come to have relationships with the Russians that might provide them dirt that will, in the end -- and this is maybe a segue to the next section -- in the end, what do the Russians want out of this relationship? Sanctions relief. And that's where we find ourselves now, in a sanctions-relief environment. That's the quid pro quo. And maybe we're seeing it play out.
CAMEROTA: That's the thing that's confusing about the dossier, is that was all -- we've been told many times that was -- and our reporting bares out, only part of the predicate.
CUOMO: There's no question about that. We have it from so many different sources. They want to trash the dossier. That's fine. There's a lot of stuff in there, because they started with that -- you know, the really salacious stuff.
CUOMO: There was a reason to doubt it.
But their theory is pretty simple. Jim Jordan, congressman from Ohio, Republican, is really one of -- the Paul Revere of this movement. And he says, David, "Listen we know that the Russians were paid to interfere, but it was done by the Democrats when they paid for this dossier.
And one of the dangerous things in politics, and it's usually rare, but it's in abundance right now, is belief. These men mostly -- I don't know how many women on the Republican side are advancing it -- they believe that the Democrats cooked this all up to malign this president. They believe it.
And that belief is motivating a Jim Jordan to sit next to me and say, "You know, I haven't read the stuff that's in the memo. But that's OK, it speaks for itself. That is a nonsensical statement. But we're hearing it echoed at all levels of the party.
GREGORY: Well, again, and it's just -- it's so reckless, you know, to have elected members doing this. But you know what? Let the memo come out. Let's perhaps supporting intelligence come out.
CUOMO: But what if we don't get the supporting stuff?
GREGORY: Well, we may not get it.
CUOMO: You get the memo with conclusions, but you don't know what it's based on.
GREGORY: The other stuff will be leaked out on the other side. We'll have to see this, and we're not going to be perfect because we're not getting to the truth of the matter. But there's a special prosecutor at work looking at these issues. There's an inspector general with the FBI.
And by the way, it's also OK if Christopher Wray wants to come into the FBI and clean some house and wants to criticize part of what his predecessor did or how the Clinton e-mail thing was handled. That was a fiasco on a lot of levels, but it is not just one way or the other.
And you can't say it's a fiasco because she wasn't charged criminally. That's just not helpful, and it's reckless on the part of Republicans who are advancing that.
But right now, you have a president and his allies who are leading the charge on this, but you have an FBI director, and you have a deputy attorney general who are holding the line on the all-important independence of the institution of the Justice Department and of our state police of the FBI. That's what has to be respected. And boy, would I be shocked if the Grand Old Party wants to lead the way to undermine our law enforcement institutions. That would really turn my head upside-down about what I thought they stood for.
ZELDIN: But they are already doing that, because the effort to have Congress declassify something, which classification is an executive branch function. So they are already sort of on a separation of powers basis interfering with that.
And then releasing classified information, which they've now declassified and the president goes along with it, because it's in his personal interest, not necessarily the national interests, at the expense of what the intelligence agencies want, what the FBI wants and what the DOJ wants is just unacceptable. No one should accept that the legislative branch can impose its will on the executive branch against the national interests of the United States. It's just not acceptable for political purposes.
GREGORY: Can I just say one other thing. I think we also, in the full context of this discussion, have to assign some blame at some of the genesis. President Obama's attorney general, Loretta Lynch, who ceded all of this ground to the FBI in this investigation, did it -- that was a big mistake, that she did that. The Obama administration had a lot of this information but chose not to act, because they didn't want to interfere.
Jim Comey was trying to finesse this so the FBI seemed clean in the whole thing. So there were a lot of mistakes made.
CUOMO: She was in a box when she met with Hillary Clinton.
GREGORY: Absolutely. But I mean, so there's a lot of mistakes made that made all of these issues politicized and incendiary, and we're still kind of moving through that. CAMEROTA: And so yesterday, Andrew McCabe, deputy director of the
FBI, is one of the casualties or whatever. He leaves. His expected -- departure was expected, but it was earlier than anyone thought, so he follows in the footsteps of James Comey, who also, as we remember, was fired so now Rod Rosenstein and Robert Mueller are leading up the investigation.
So Michael, maybe, you know, the inspector general will find something incriminating or concerning about Andrew McCabe. We just don't know. That was what Christopher Wray seemed to suggest to the FBI rank and file of why Andrew McCabe had to leave so suddenly.
[06:15:00] ZELDIN: Right except the week before, we heard through the news outlets that he was going to quit, Wray, if they moved on McCabe. So...
CUOMO: That was before he saw the report.
ZELDIN: Maybe. But I still think two things. One is Christopher Wray has the right to bring in his team, as David said.
However, this was a hostile work environment. There's no question but that he was pressured out of this position. If you look at the classic employment law definitions of constructive firing, this was that, creating an environment where it was untenable for the person to stay. So, any allegations by Sanders Huckabee, Huckabee Sanders that the pressure wasn't imposed on the White House is unavailable. It's just not acceptable.
GREGORY: But Jim Comey did a lot to create that work environment by deciding to put his thumb on the scale in an election with this Clinton investigation. Now I don't think that justifies him being fired. He got fired because the president didn't like how close he was getting on the Russia investigation, but you know, he did that in a way that created a political firestorm, and McCabe got caught up in that.
ZELDIN: Maybe. But the point is, if you look at it since the election and you see what the president, his allies have been doing, which is anyone who makes an allegation against the president seems to be in jeopardy in a purge-like sense. And from a law enforcement standpoint, that is very chilling. If I'm a special agent in charge of New York or Florida or California and I'm going to now look at the president?
GREGORY: Right. Well, that's why Chris Wray and Rosenstein are the keepers of the gate, if there's anything--
ZELDIN: Do I think my career is now in jeopardy if I make a move like this?
CUOMO: Stephen Boyd, who's a Trump appointee, he put into the DOJ, he's the one who sent the message saying...
GREGORY: Yes. CUOMO: -- it would be extremely reckless to release this. But the timing the same day that they vote to release this memo, the White House decides not to sanction Russia after Congress voted 98-2 to do so.
CAMEROTA: Michael Zeldin, thank you. We have a lot more to talk about. Luckily...
CAMEROTA: -- we have many more hours. Exactly. We have a very big program for you today. So we will speak with the counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway will be in our 8 a.m. hour, and we have lawmakers from both sides of the aisle throughout the show to talk about all of these issues.
CUOMO: It's much easier to get them when you go where they live, it turns out.
President Trump, determined to deliver a unifying State of the Union address, but will he stick to the script? We discuss.
[06:21:24] CUOMO: Big night, big night. The president giving his first State of the Union address tonight. Remember, last year he was just at a joint session of Congress. This is really the real deal.
He's expected to stick to the script. That will be the easy part. The hard part will be for this president to sell a unifying message to America on the heels of some of the ugliest politics we have seen surrounding efforts to undermine the FBI and the Russia investigation.
As for topics, all the obvious are expected: economy, trade, infrastructure, immigration reform. So, let's bring back David Gregory and bring in CNN politics reporter, editor at large Chris Cillizza.
So stick to the prompter. That would ordinarily be seen as perfunctory, easy to do. But for whatever reason, if the president is able to just read what is there, he's got an 80 percent chance of people saying he comported himself in a decent way.
GREGORY: It's unique. I mean, the president gets unbelievably high ratings for doing what is kind of Presidential 101, which is just acting normal and reading from his script and putting out some policy prescriptions, but I think it's -- it's actually a bigger deal in this case.
I mean, the president has two very different sides of his brains, two different sides of his presidency. And I think tonight is about saying, "Here's what we've done. We've had real accomplishments. The economy is doing well. We got this tax reform through. This is why you put me here. So we're actually achieving something, and we have the prospect to achieve a lot more." You know, the idea that America is back. America is winning. This is
what he does and wants to do and argues very well and very persuasively. It's not going to reach everybody. And I think that's the challenge, which is how does he reach out to people who are making a determination about him that they don't like him and say, "You know what? Maybe there's a shot here with this guy. I still think that people are open in that way."
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: So, I'll be the more cynical view on that, which is I think that the speech he gave last year, not called the State of the Union but effectively the same thing, addressed to bipartisan -- you know, both House of Congress, that speech was certainly good by his standards. Again, it's a low bar. I mean, he reads it off the teleprompter. It's not bad, because he's not doing all this freelancing.
I think the issue is fast forward to this year. If nothing that had happened in the past year had happened, I think that sale of, "Lok, the economy is doing better. We're more respected around the world," subjective measure, but I think that could work.
The problem is Charlottesville, NFL, attack on the FBI, attack on our institutions. And I mean, that's the issue, is that I already think there's probably too much water under the bridge. Democrats were never probably going to give him a chance, given our polarized times. They're kind of -- in the middle, independents, moderates I think they might have. Because I think to David's point, the country is economically -- looks like we're more robust, stock market--
CAMEROTA: I mean, he won't talk about the other things that you're talking about.
CILLIZZA: You're right.
CAMEROTA: So the speech on its own contained will be about what we just said, the economy, which is doing well, infrastructure, all that stuff. So if you just dissect the speech, you won't get into all that.
CILLIZZA: I just think -- I just don't think that you can't -- I think that he is -- I don't know you could ever take it -- there's too much. It's -- but the context. That's the issue.
GREGORY: You have to also admit that there's another part of that backdrop, that there are enough people watching who may not be tuned into what we're tuned into every day, and they'll say, "You know what? Boy, this guy is getting a rough ride. And that media is obsessive, and they overdo it. And they're biased, and he's got to deal with all of that. I know he does some stuff I don't like, but he's got all these enemies. It's unfair."
[06:25:06] I'm just saying that's part of what's baked in in his favor.
CUOMO: It is. But he's got two other things going for him, slash against him. One is the last 24 hours. OK? This is really ugly stuff that's going on down there. And nobody believes that Trump doesn't love it.
This memo, the idea that he doesn't release this memo, you owe me a henna tattoo on the head. I will put a real tattoo on my head of anything you want...
CAMEROTA: I'm not taking that bet.
CUOMO: -- if he says, "I'm not going to release this memo, because it might be reckless and hurtful to our intelligence agency." This man has himself on his brain. This memo is all about that.
And a big part of the message tonight, we're told -- now I could be wrong -- is the unifying message. Who is going to believe that somebody who has succeeded through division all of a sudden wants to be a unifier when he just refused to sanction Russia and these memos?
CAMEROTA: And not only that. You have to look at the stagecraft of who they're bringing as guests. And you know, when you're bringing sort of victims of illegal immigrants to sit in, you know, with you, that -- that's not a unifying message, necessarily.
CILLIZZA: No. I mean, look, David is right. He is capable of -- we have seen at times Donald Trump give the sort of salesman in chief, cheerleader in chief speech that I -- the sort of "I'm not partisan." We've seen that moment in that immigration public forum. Sort of "Hey, look, I want to make a deal that's good for America."
CUOMO: Once. Then he had his people go out and say, "I'll be as nice to the DREAMers as you are to my wall."
CILLIZZA: Whatever he says and does tonight do not assume it's indicative of what he will say and do tomorrow.
GREGORY: The DREAMers, right.
CILLIZZA: Because it just isn't.
GREGORY: But the DREAMers are a perfect example of an issue. He's not going to change minds. He might work to take an issue off the table that the left will use against him. I think if he can get to that place and not be so self-destructive, he's thinking, "Gosh, can I just win on that?"
CAMEROTA: All right. Trish (ph), David, thank you both very much for all of that. CNN's Prime Time...
CILLIZZA: My name is Chris.
CAMEROTA: You said "Trish."
GREGORY: I heard you say...
CILLIZZA: I'm just happy to be on television.
GREGORY: She's never once called me "Katrina."
CILLIZZA: Thanks, David.
CUOMO: She calls me Stacy. So it is what it is.
CAMEROTA: Thank you, ladies.
CNN's primetime coverage of the State of the Union begins at 5 p.m. Eastern. Stick around.
CUOMO: All right. Probably shouldn't be laughing. I don't even know what I'm about to say, but it probably won't be funny.
President Trump is expected to tout progress in the war on terror in tonight's address, but what about the deadly violence raging right now in Afghanistan? Why aren't we hearing about it? Next.