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Nunes Memo Alleges Abuses; Russian Sanctions Not Imposed; Trump Delivers First State of Union; Remarks on North Korea; Wray Hints. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired January 30, 2018 - 13:00   ET


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Jim Sciutto in for Wolf Blitzer. It is 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. Wherever you are watching from around the world, thanks so much for joining us.

As the president prepares to address the nation, we begin with new developments within the Russia probe. The House Intelligence Committee will release a controversial memo, accusing the FBI of abusing surveillance rules.

Meanwhile, the president ignoring legislation that he signed into law to impose new sanctions on Russia for interfering in the 2016 election. The GOP-controlled Senate approved the sanctions by a vote of 98 to two. The GOP-controlled House by 419 to three.

Plus, more questions about the sudden action of deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe. Our all-star team is ready to unpack all these developments, and we will preview the president's first official State of the Union address which promises to be a, quote, "message of unity."

First, though, Republicans saying that it shows FBI abuse of surveillance powers. Democrats say it is false, a total misrepresentation, they say.

Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill with more on a GOP memo that critics say could actually undermine the Russia investigation.

Manu, House Speaker Paul Ryan weighing in on the memo this morning. I know you were there. What did he have to say?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he defended the release of his memo, Jim, saying that there were several things in there that he believes the public needs to see.

He said that there may have been, quote, "malfeasance within the Justice Department and the FBI." He said that there's a possible -- real possibility that American civil liberties may have been violated.

And he said that there is a reason why they did not release the Democratic memo at the same time as the Republican memo. He chalked it up to the process that the White House is undergoing to release the memo. I tried to press him on that to explain why not hold back the Republican memo and release the Democratic memo at the same time to give the American public both sides of the argument.

This was his response.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN, HOUSE SPEAKER: This memo that we've just -- got popped on us yesterday is now going through that process.

And I would just tell you, unlike the Democrats on the Intelligence Committee who denied access to this memo to the broader members, Republicans supported them still.

And so, now -- and they haven't actually made the motion. So, now, it will go through that 11-G process just like this other memo did.

RAJU: Why not hold back? Why not hold that back and release at the same time, then?

RYAN: Yes. As Kevin was mentioning, the chairman went to the FBI to go through the memo to make sure that we were protecting any sources and methods. And we are confident that we are.

None of that work has been done on this new memo that no one has yet read. But the Republicans voted to allow the rest of the members to read it so that it can go through that process.

RAJU: But why not hold back?

RYAN: You've asked enough.


RAJU: So, Jim, the process in which he's referring to is one that has actually never, really, been used before in the 40-year history of the House Intelligence Committee in which the committee votes to be classified information. Send it to the president. Give the president five days to decide whether or not to object to its release.

So, there is nothing common about this process that's being used. And not a real clear answer about why not hold back the Republican memo until the second Democratic memo is ready to be released.

That memo, Jim, the Democratic memo, has been released to the full House. But they can only read it in a classified setting. It has -- it argues pretty much the complete opposite of what the Republican memo says.

But we don't know the contents of that yet, because those contents are still secret. The question is, when will that be released? And whether the president will agree to release the Democratic contents just as he appears to be willing to allow the Republican contents to be released in just a matter of days -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, perhaps it has something to do with the Republican majority on the House Intelligence Committee.

Manu Raju on Capitol Hill covering it for us.

The decision on that intelligence memo came just a short time after a surprise at the FBI. The decision by the deputy director, Andrew McCabe, to leave immediately and earlier than expected.

CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider joining me now.

When the news broke right around this time yesterday, we didn't have any details on what was behind McCabe's departure. What more have we learned since then?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: We have more details now, Jim. A source telling us that McCabe's early exit is what was prompted by the FBI director, Christopher Wray.

Wray had informed McCabe that he was bringing in his own team, which McCabe would not be a part of, and that it would be McCabe's decision whether to stay at the FBI or to lease.

And, of course, we know McCabe chose to leave more than a month before he was set to retire. And what we're also learning is that the upcoming inspector general's report. That may have also prompted McCabe's departure.

Director Wray, we know, yesterday, sent out an all-employee e-mail hinting that the I.G.'s investigation did play a part.

Of course, the I.G. has been looking into the FBI's handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation.

[13:05:00] In his e-mail, though, Director Wray, he noted that he couldn't comment on the I.G.'s report. The expected release is in March.

And in the e-mail as well, Director Wray also defended himself as not being swayed by politics.

So, really, two-fold here, Jim. First of all, McCabe wanting to bring in some of his own team. And then, hinting there could be some information in this upcoming I.G. report that may have prompted McCabe's departure as well -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: But to be clear, Jessica, we don't know what the alleged wrongdoing is that might be in the I.G. report or how serious it is. We don't -- we just don't know yet.

SCHNEIDER: Right, we don't know anything here. And, of course, the inspector general has been conducting this investigation for many months. They're not commenting on it.

We do know, however, that the I.G. has been focused in on how the FBI handled the high-profile Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation all through 2016. And, of course, it will come out at a crucial time since, in recent weeks and months, Republicans and President Trump, they have railed against the FBI about the handling of political matters. They've pointed to James Comey's announcement about no charges in Hillary Clinton.

Of course, those anti-Trump text messages, that is a big crux of the I.G.'s investigation as well -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: No question. Quite some broad sides from the president against the FBI lately.

Jessica Schneider, thanks very much.

An apparent complete, or some say about-face by the Trump administration on Russian. The president deciding not to impose new sanctions on Russia, even though there was a law passed last year that he signed to further punish Russia for election meddling. And a near unanimous vote in both Houses of Congress that set up new measures.

Now, the head of the CIA says that even as the administration makes this decision, he fully expects Russia to meddle in upcoming elections as well.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have concerns that they might try and interfere in the U.S. Midterms which are coming up?

MIKE POMPEO, DIRECTOR, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Of course. I have every expectation that they will continue to try and do that.

But I'm confident that America will be able to have a free and fair election. They will push back in a way that is sufficiently robust, that the impact they have on our election won't be great.


SCIUTTO: The administration says that current sanctions are already doing the job. That more aren't necessary. And they even make the argument that they're not required by law today.

It did release, and this is required by law, a long list of oligarchs and top-Russian politicians linked to Vladimir Putin. The administration required by that law to name those individuals, companies and to consider whether to sanction them going forward.

Russia not happy with that step by itself. President Vladimir Putin calling it, quote, "an unfriendly act" and warning that it is further complicating the relationship between Russia and the U.S.

I want to bring in now Sam Vinograd. She's a CNN National Security Analyst, the former national security adviser in the Obama administration.

So, Sam Vinograd, just moments before we went to air, I spoke with a senior administration official who made this case to me about why the Trump White House did not impose new sanctions by this deadline.

The official made a case that there was actually no statutory deadline to impose new sanctions just to release that report. And that they may, at any time, impose new sanctions of, perhaps, some of those individuals that now have been named in that report.

I want to -- based on what you know about the law that passed Congress so overwhelmingly last year, does that explanation stand up?

SAMANTHA VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I don't think it does. I think that it completely misses the point. The point is that, at face value, the president directly undermining Congressional authority.

It looks like he's cherry picking when he wants respect what Congress says, as well as pass with major bipartisan support. And he's now picking and choosing when he wants to meet Congressional requirements, just like the administration has picked and chose when it's listened to the FBI or the intelligence community.

I also think that the failure to disclose the names of entities and individuals that are working with designated Russian entities is just another example of the administration appeasing Vladimir Putin.

They knew that releasing these names publicly would anger Vladimir Putin. And I wonder if that's part of the motivation for why they didn't do so.

Now, Jim, there was classified discussions that occurred yesterday. And it's entirely possible that names of individuals in countries that have divested from business with Russia were released to members of Congress.

But I think that the American people deserve to know who those entities are, rather than being asked to take the administration at their word.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. Because we noted that the director of the CIA, a Trump appointee, Mike Pompeo, former Republican Congressman, said in an interview, as we said earlier today, that Russia, in fact, continues to meddle in U.S. election systems, et cetera. And that he expects that they will do so again in the 2018 midterms.

And yet, the State Department is making the argument that there's no need to implement new sanctions now because this law is working as a deterrent.

How can both those things be true? That it's deterring activity, but the CIA director says that, in fact, Russian meddling activity continues.

VINOGRAD: I think it's very clear, just from looking at any social media platform, that Russian meddling has not stopped.

[13:10:02] There is an ongoing Russian digital psy-ops, or psychological operations campaign, against the United States. We see evidence every day of Russian bots and Russian trolls, retweeting -- even this release the memo hash tag that's been circulating, because Russia is trying to confuse and demoralize the American people. That's the I.T. assessment.

So, at this point, we know that the information work of our campaign is ongoing. And we also know, from Pompeo's statements, that the intelligence community supports those assertions.

And, frankly, we have yet to hear what this administration is doing, whether via Department of Homeland Security or coordination with state election officials, to protect our infrastructure and to deter Russia from that information with our campaign.

SCIUTTO: And we know that there have been probing attacks, too, on elections systems, voter rolls, et cetera.


SCIUTTO: Sam Vinograd, thanks very much for helping explain it to us.


SCIUTTO: More now on that Republican memo alleging FBI abuse of surveillance powers. We have Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff. He is the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman Schiff, thanks very much for taking the time today.


SCIUTTO: So, you've been in the middle of this memo battle here. You heard House Speaker Paul Ryan say to Manu Raju there that he supports making the Devin Nunes memo public. But not the Democratic memo, arguing, in fact, the other side here.

What's your reaction to that?

SCHIFF: Well, when the Republicans moved to make their memo public yesterday, they did so because they said it was in the interest of full transparency. Apparently full transparency only goes only so far and doesn't include any minority views.

Look, it makes very clear what this is all about. It's a political exercise by the Republicans designed to attack the FBI and attack the Department of Justice, undermine Bob Mueller's work. It's part of the defense strategy that when the facts are really bad against your client, put the government on trial.

And here is, sadly, the speaker and the chairman, they all view their client as being the president, not the American people. And this is the product of that point of view.

SCIUTTO: Now, I know the contents of this memo -- many -- are classified. You were one of the few, I understand, who's been able to read it.

Without going into classified material, did you see anything in there that would alarm or concern the American people?

SCHIFF: Well, the memo, itself, the House members have had access to now. And I think it's a deeply misleading document. It's based on underlying materials that the chairman, himself, didn't even bother to read.

Now, I have read the underlying materials. And I think that what we see in the Republican memo is a terrible mischaracterization of the events.

So, we sent out the proper events in their context in our own memoranda, which we will, again, force the Republicans to vote on next week. I think it's going to be unsustainable for them to take the position that they want the country only to see this very biased account.

But we are hand strung, at the moment, because we can't discuss the underlying materials. And even when their memo is made public, we can point out, OK, this is wrong. And this is misleading. And this is distorting.

But we can't tell the public why. And that's precisely the position the Republicans want us in but want the country to be in, not being able to vet the information, indeed.

They wouldn't even let the FBI and the Department of Justice vet the information.

SCIUTTO: You know the point that the Justice Department letter to Nunes last week noted as well that the -- that the memo includes allegations.

And Nunes, himself, the chairman, in fact, of the House Intelligence Committee, did not -- says the Justice Department run by a Trump appointee.

And Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the DOJ says he didn't read the underlying intelligence. So, you're saying you've read the underlying intelligence. And when you look at that, it colors these allegations differently.

SCHIFF: Absolutely. Absolutely. And that's what we set out, in the document that we prepared is what the Republican members don't want, at this point, the public to see. Because it pokes holes in this memorandum. They don't want the country to know how misleading their document is.

But, you know, at the end of the day, this is a continuation of what we have seen from the chairman from the very beginning. And that is when he went on that midnight run to the White House and purported to present them with the information he obtained about this conspiracy of unmasking in the Obama administration, it was revealed, actually, he had gotten that information from the administration. And when one of our members, Mike Quigley, asked the chairman, yesterday, whether he or his staff had been in communication and contact and coordination with the White House in the preparation of this memo, he wouldn't answer the questions.

And that, I think, is also quite telling.

SCIUTTO: I do wonder, though, bigger picture. You look at the FISA court, just for folks back home who are watching. This special court set up, by law, to approve particularly sensitive warrants, to monitor for intelligence targets, et cetera. This court -- and you're a former prosecutor -- has a really high success rate, 99 percent -- I forget how many decimal points -- when they apply for these warrants. But they very -- thousands of warrants approved. I think the number was only 12 that had ever been denied by the court. Do you think there is a worthwhile conversation about the freedom the FISA court has or how open it is to issuing these warrants to monitor and surveil people?


SCHIFF: You know certainly we need to do vigorous oversight of the FISA court process. And, in fact, one of the amendments that I offered to the reform bill we had a couple of years ago was to provide for a special advocate for the FISA court. I had some strong language that we wanted to see that would allow an independent advocate essentially argue for privacy interests. That strong language was opposed by many of the Republican members. We had some language ultimately adopted that wasn't as strong as what we would like, but it's a bit ironic for them now to take the position that, well, there aren't sufficient checks and balances in place when they oppose some of those checks and balances.

But it's one thing to say we should be doing oversight. It's another thing to say that this court is a rubber stamp or even another thing you have to say that the FBI or the DOJ was acting in bad faith. And -- and so while I can't get into the contents or even acknowledge what the underlying documents are about, I can say that the FBI director wanted the opportunity for the bureau to come before a committee, explain its concerns with this document and the Republicans said, we don't want to hear from them. I made a motion to bring the Department of Justice in and talk to the entire House about these memoranda and they said, no, we don't want that either. We just want to put out our narrative and we don't want to be encumbered by the facts. And, sadly, that's where we are.

SCIUTTO: If I could just ask you very quickly before I let you go on Russia sanctions. The administration deciding not to impose new sanctions as required by a law passed overwhelmingly by Democrats and Republicans in both houses of Congress, new sanctions for election meddling. I spoke to a senior administration official just before air who make the argument to me that actually the law did not require the White House to impose new sanctions now. Just to release a list of potential targets and then apply those sanctions when they decide. Is it -- do you accept that argument or did the White House, in your view, miss an important deadline here? SCHIFF: I don't accept that argument. And, indeed, what the White House has done is stonewall and slow walk this as much as they possibly could. Even the list they put out at 10 minutes till midnight and apparently they got by cribbing (ph) for Forbes (ph). They read this list off of Forbes (ph).

The basic underlying problem, Jim, is that anyone who takes action to sanction Russia, even though it's compelled by congressional legislation, or to criticize Russia is in the president's view being disloyal to him, raising questions about the legitimacy of his election. So it's a dead end for people in the administration to pursue this, which is why only when they're forced, only when they're pushed, only at 10 minutes to midnight when this deadline comes up do they do anything. And then, of course, what they do is hopelessly inadequate.

SCIUTTO: And they did miss the deadline, or they were late for the last deadline as well.

Congressman Adam Schiff, thanks very much.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, the divided state of America. The United -- the White House, rather, promises a message of unity in tonight's State of the Union speech. We'll talk more about that when we're back.


[13:22:51] SCIUTTO: Welcome back.

And a live look now at the Dow Jones, down, as you can see there, more than 400 points. About a percent and a half. The biggest drop in recent memory there. If things stay that way, it will be the biggest loss in points since Trump took office. Top health insurance and drugstores, the main drag on the market today after Amazon, JP Morgan Chase and Berkshire Hathaway all said that they were getting into the insurance business. More competition there.

Tonight, President Trump laying out his priorities in his first official State of the Union Address. But hanging over his speech, developments in the ongoing Russia investigations, allegations of surveillance abuse and the sudden departure of the deputy director of the FBI.

CNN White House reporter Kaitlan Collins over at the White House today.

Kaitlan, what are we expecting in the speech as the White House released bullet point details at this point?


And we can expect the president to do two things tonight. First, he's going to tout what he sees as the success of his first year in office, that sweeping tax bill, his Supreme Court appointment. And then he's going to lay out what he hopes to get done his second year in office, immigration, infrastructure, we can see him touch on trade, national security.

But, overall, he's going to try to project this sense of bipartisanship and unity here in Washington, which is an interesting dynamic because it comes at a time when Washington is anything but unified because not only do we have recent developments in the Russia investigation really hanging over as a cloud over this White House, we've also seen this fight between some conservatives in the intelligence community really escalate over that controversial memo that we're told the president is advocating for its release. And this comes as Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on an immigration solution. And the government is scheduled to run out of money again a week from Thursday, just shortly after it just recently shut down.

So we'll certainly be seeing a message of unity from the president tonight. But it doesn't seem to be reflecting here in Washington right now, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Kaitlan Collins at the White House. Thanks very much.

Here with me now, CNN political commentators Maria Cardona and Steve Cortes, Shannon Pettypiece, White House reporter for "Bloomberg," as well as Chris Cillizza, CNN politics reporter and editor at large.

We have, as we begin the panel, some news just coming into CNN, and that is another highlight expected in the president's State of the Union speech tonight. We are told by administration officials he's going to make, quote, eye-opening comments on North Korea. Digest that for a moment. North Korea, a very dangerous place right now.

[13:25:14] Chris Cillizza, the president has a history of making eye- opening comments.


SCIUTTO: Remember, fire and fury being one of them.

CILLIZZA: Yes. I mean fire and fury, little rocket man. I mean I'm interested to see how -- what --

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG NEWS": More eye- opening things we could get.

CILLIZZA: Eye-opening would mean in that context.

Look, he is -- I think he is taken as sort of a -- a mandate of his presidency, Jim, that he be more aggressive --


CILLIZZA: And tougher as it relates to North Korea.

So, again, I'm sort of interested -- it feels like you've already gotten the rhetoric at -- throughout this year towards North Korea from President Trump on a 10. Maybe this one goes to 11. SCIUTTO: Right.

CILLIZZA: But I just don't see how you up it from sort of taunting him and saying, we're going to bring fire and fury down on you. I mean that -- and, again, rhetoric and eye-opening is not -- just -- it's not a policy, necessarily.

SCIUTTO: Well, right. Well, we'll see -- we'll see if it's a proposal as opposed to just words.


SCIUTTO: But to you, Steve.

STEVE CORTES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think it very well could be, though. I think what this president has done, which previous presidents and Republicans as well didn't do, is use the leverage that we do have over North Korea, and that's via China. And I think this president has been pretty explicit in the past that we're willing to get far tougher with China.

And, by the way, when it comes to China, we hold the cards. China needs us desperately for trade. If we get tough with them on trade, as a threat to get tough with North Korea, that's great leverage.

SCIUTTO: But do we really? Because, I mean, the issue with China is that China has different priorities, right? And you talk to U.S. military officials. And they say, as much as China doesn't love a nuclear North Korea --

CORTES: Right.

SCIUTTO: Their greater fear, frankly, is a unified North Korea or a collapsed North Korean state.


SCIUTTO: They're willing to trade with little rocket man in effect for some status quo.

CORTES: And they have many interests but nothing -- the Chinese communist party cares about nothing more than keeping prosperity. It's effectively bribed the people, right, to maintain their power.


CORTES: That can't last, the prosperity and growth in China, without shipping goods to the United States, without filling Walmart with Chinese goods.

SCIUTTO: Maria. Maria, and then Shannon, please.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's interesting -- it's interesting because for me when -- when the White House says expect some eye-opening comments, I'm sorry, that is really scary because before when he's had some major, aggressive comments, they didn't give us a heads up. They're giving us a heads up on eye-opening comments?

And this is in a year where we are as close to nuclear war as we have been in a generation. So for that to be a strong America, I think a lot of people would disagree.

And just one other thing on China. Economically, the world is not saying we have the cards on China because China has now beat us in terms of global leadership. We are being beat by China and being beat by Germany.


PETTYPIECE: Yes, I think it's an interesting decision, though, to be emphasizing North Korea right now. And I wonder if there's something else going on that we don't know about. Because up until this point the administration's really been talking about how this was going to be about the economy --


PETTYPIECE: About security, safety, immigration, bipartisanship, looking forward.

SCIUTTO: Unifying message.

PETTYPIECE: And not -- and wanting to focus on the domestic agenda and the successes this administration has had. So throwing in something that could be, quote/unquote eye opening, little rocket man style at this point, it does make me wonder, has there been some shift or some reason they feel like the need to add a mention --

SCIUTTO: Something going on, meaning what? Meaning what?

CARDONA: Yes, it's called the Russia investigation.


SCIUTTO: Sorry, just quickly, is that what you were referring to, the need for a distraction? Is that what you're hinting or --

PETTYPIECE: No. I mean I -- and I will say, this is just my perception. I have no reporting to back this up. But is there something on a foreign policy end --


PETTYPIECE: That's going on that means they want to change their message.


PETTYPIECE: Because there are plenty of distractions going on, the Nunes memo and whatever (INAUDIBLE) --


SCIUTTO: Before -- before we go there, because I do -- I do want to move on to -- I mean same speech but different topic.

You heard from Kaitlan Collins, this is a consistent talking point from the White House about this speech. The president's going to give a unified speech.

Chris Cillizza, can the president give a unifying speech?

CILLIZZA: Well, yes, I mean, yes, in a vacuum. Can he give voice to we should all come together? Sure. I mean any of us can say, we should all come together. Will it work?

SCIUTTO: Can it be received? Can it be received?

CILLIZZA: No. And I think, look, I do think there's a tendency to look at big speeches, particularly State of the Unions, as a blueprint or an outline or an indicator of where this White House is -- where any White House is going, right, over the next year or even three years.

I think that would be a mistake with Trump. And the reason that I cite that is -- I don't mean that in a pejorative way, I just mean it as a fact.

The past year has suggested no one day is terrible indicative of any next day.


CILLIZZA: So I'm not convinced that --


CILLIZZA: I'm not convinced that we should see this as a -- this is a day-to-day presidency.

SCIUTTO: Well, let him finish this, Steven, and then Maria.

CORTES: You know what is unifying is economic growth. Millions of Americans right now are benefiting from an accelerating economy, are seeing bonuses only because of the tax cuts, which were just passed.

CARDONA: Oh, come on.

CORTES: And, by the way, those bonuses aren't paid according to your party affiliation. About half of those people voted against Donald Trump. The check still clears in their account. Economic growth is -- it's truly the tide that lifts all Americans.

CILLIZZA: Well, I think if he -- so if he did that, if he did that, if he did it -- if you used an economic message -- right. If he used an economic message --

SCIUTTO: Quickly, though.

CILLIZZA: If he used an economic message and only did that and from now for the next 280 days until the election, that's the only thing he talked about, fine. (CROSS TALK)

PETTYPIECE: We're really one --

SCIUTTO: OK, one at a time. One at a time. And we're going to come back to you, Chris, but a quick final word from Maria before we come back.