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WH: Nunes Memo Undergoing Review "Process"; Trump Lawyers: Mueller hasn't Met Threshold for Interview; CDC Director Resigns over "Complex Financial Interests"; Trump Pushes Unity Agenda in Address. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired January 31, 2018 - 10:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.


The big speech is over. And this morning, all eyes are on the White House and what seems to be the imminent release of a very controversial memo alleging FBI surveillance abuses all tied to the Trump/Russia dossier. So the White House says it's pouring over this memo from Devin Nunes, the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

BERMAN: And the White House chief of staff John Kelly moments ago said the memo will be released - and this is a quote, "pretty quick, I think" or as the president put it overnight, 100 percent.


REP. DUNCAN HUNTER (R), CALIFORNIA: Let's release the memo.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't worry, 100 percent. Can you imagine?


BERMAN: All right. Let's go to the White House now. Kaitlan Collins is there for a sense of what is going on. This is the morning after the speech, but we are on the eve of maybe minutes before the release of the big memo.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, that's right, John and Poppy. It's a good question of what is going on because the big question here the White House today is has the president seen this memo yet and right now no one seems poised to answer that question. Now we know that according to the White House as of the State of the Union Address last night, the president had not laid eyes on this memo yet and I'm told by a White House official that after the speech was over the president came back to the White House, but he didn't go into the West Wing. Instead he went straight into the residence. And I'm told by someone who spoke with the president last night as he was calling his allies and his friends to see how they thought the speech went that he didn't even bring up the memo to them and was more interested in their reviews of his big speech. Now fast forward to this morning when the press secretary Sarah Sanders was on CNN and she said a final decision has still not been made regarding the release of this memo.


SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I do know that we're going through that process. I know that it will be part of what's taking place at the White House today. And we'll certainly keep you guys posted as I know you'll continue to ask until you hear the final answer on that.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Has the president seen the memo yet?

SANDERS: Not that I'm aware of. I know he hadn't as of last night prior to and immediately after the State of the Union.


COLLINS: Now John and Poppy, regardless of what the press secretary says, we heard from the president himself last night when he said 100 percent, don't worry he's going to release this memo. But we know the top aides have advised the president to wait a few days of releasing the memo, so it seems like he's giving the Justice Department's concerns about releasing this memo due weight. And he does have five days to decide about the release, but those closest to the president just don't see how he waits that long, John and Poppy.

HARLOW: Yes and I think his chief of staff made it very clear it just now. I mean it could be any minute. Kaitlan at the White House. Thank you very much.

So, "The Daily Beast" has some important new reporting about what Nunes, the author of the memo will and won't say when he was pressed by, you know, fellow member of his committee, Democrat, Congressman Quigley about whether he worked with the White House on this memo or not. He would not answer.

BERMAN: Yes. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, she won't answer either. Listen.


SANDERS: Not that I know of.

CUOMO: He wouldn't answer that question.

SANDERS: Right. And I just don't know the answer. I don't know of anyone that he did and I haven't had a chance -

CUOMO: He has worked with the White House before when it comes to intelligence and the Russia investigation.

SANDERS: Look, we have certainly coordinated with members of Congress as is appropriate. As to specifics on this, I just don't know the answer. I'm not aware of any conversations or coordination with Congressman Nunes.


BERMAN: "I am not aware." That is not a denial. And it should be a fairly easy question to answer. Shimon Prokupecz in Washington for us this morning. Shimon, what more can you tell us about this?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. So, in terms of what's going to happen with the memo, you know, we're still trying to work through that and try to find out. Now, we're also learning this morning that the former spokesman for the president's legal team, Mark Corallo, is scheduled to provide an interview with the special counsel in the next two weeks or so.

[10:05:00] Now he was a member of the initial legal team that was brought in. This is Marc Kasowitz who is also a personal attorney to the lawyer. And we expect that Mueller and the FBI agents on the special counsel team are going to ask Corallo questions about the Air Force One episode when the president and his aides crafted that statement about Donald Trump Jr. meeting at Trump Tower in 2016 with the Russians, with that Russian lawyer.

Now also today we've learned that the Department of Justice has turned over documents to the special counsel regarding Sessions' resignation letter. Remember there was indications that Jeff Sessions had planned to resign. He had even written a resignation letter but that the president did not accept. That letter we're told is now in the hands of the special counsel.

HARLOW: OK. There's also a new argument being put forward by the president's lawyers and that is new reporting that your team has on whether or not they think sort of the legal bar has been met for the president to sit down for an interview with Mueller and his team, right?

PROKUPECZ: Yes, that's right, Poppy and there appears to be some pushback now from the president's lawyers. And this is from sources familiar with the ongoing negotiations between the special counsel and the president's lawyer. And they've been given some indications that they intend to push back and argue that the special counsel has not met the threshold they believe is needed to interview a president. The president himself has said he wants to meet with Mueller but has indicated that he's going to wait for his lawyers to tell him what to do.

Now, all of this is ongoing and these are negotiations that we're told are still in the works. It could be possible that the president ultimately does sit down with the special counsel. But the question is if the lawyers say no, you can't do this, what will Mueller do? What will be his next course of action? What can he do? And that's still unclear. BERMAN: Subpoena. He can subpoena the president. And ultimately that will be, you know, a judge to decide.

HARLOW: The president can plea the Fifth.

BERMAN: The president can plea the Fifth. All these things could theoretically happen and then subpoena put a political battle. Shimon Prokupecz, thanks so much.

HARLOW: Thanks.

BERMAN: I want to bring in legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa and Bob Baer CNN intelligence and security analyst. Asha, let's start where we just finished right there, with the president's lawyers now saying that the special counsel hasn't met the legal standard for the president to sit down for an interview. That's the ST test. We won't go into the history here, but it basically requires prosecutors to prove that they have an important reason to talk to the president, important to the ongoing grand jury investigation and they must demonstrate why the evidence is not available from another source. That seems like a low bar here for the special prosecutor to meet.

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It is and particularly for the case that he's investigating. If he is looking at obstruction of justice, then really what was going through the president's mind when he fired James Comey, what he knew about what was happening with Michael Flynn and the transition team is directly relevant to that case. It could even you know exonerate him. So, Mueller absolutely has to talk to the president. He cannot get what was happening in his mind from anyone else.

And I'll just note that you know Kenneth Starr was able to issue a grand jury subpoena for Bill Clinton. Now, in that case the -- President Clinton did comply with that subpoena so it was never challenged, you know what kind of standard or what Kenneth Starr would have had to do to force him to comply, but there is that precedent and that was for a much lower bar in my opinion. That was about whether he committed perjury in a separate civil sexual harassment case. So, I think Mueller has met his burden very clearly here.

HARLOW: So, Bob Baer, switching gears here to the memo, right? Which could be released any moment, the Nunes memo on alleged FBI malpractice if you will when it comes to the use of surveillance laws. You had two Republicans very high up in these agencies, right, Rod Rosenstein, the deputy AG and Christopher Wray, the head of the FBI, both appointed by the president going to the White House this week according to Josh Dawsey's reporting in "The Washington Post" and pleading with chief of staff John Kelly, do not release this memo. What does it tell you that they went that far and pleaded with the president's team on this?

ROBERT BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Well, Poppy, we don't know what's in this memo so far, but it's almost certain there's very highly classified intelligence in that from the National Security Agency, from the Central Intelligence Agency. And the people that control that declassification are those agencies. And not a committee on the hill. Not by the Republican Party. Not by the president.

And if the Department of Justice said that is highly classified information, should not be put out in public, it shouldn't be. They put that on paper and Rosenstein is going to tell the president that.

[10:10:11] HARLOW: Well, they haven't seen it, right? So that's the thing. They want to see it first.

BERMAN: You know, Asha, you've written extensively on Nunes memo. You're skeptical of this release to say the least and you've raised a lot of questions. But let me ask you about a specific point here because it has been reported that one of the things it focuses on is that to get the FISA warrant from the judge, prosecutors presented, you know, the memo.

HARLOW: The Steele dossier.

BERMAN: The Steele dossier and did not explain that the Steele dossier was funded by Democrats. At a minimum, that in and of itself, should the prosecutors have told the judge, hey, this memo by the way was funded by Democrats?

RANGAPPA: If it's relevant, if it's corroborated information, you know, the FBI gets information from a variety of sources. They could have human informants that you know have checkered pasts, for example. What they do is they will list a source based on their credibility. You know a credible source, a highly reliable source. That's how they categorize the basis of the information that they're getting and the judge will question the basis. If there is something that's asserted that is really coming down to one source, they'll say how do you know this? Have you corroborated this? And that's the part of the FISA process that really needs to be beefed up.

So, I think this is really an attack, I think, on the judge suggesting that this judge wouldn't know how to vet and ask questions of the Justice Department to ensure that this FISA application met the burden, the probable cause burden that they were required to meet. So I think they're playing with fire here and really implicating even another branch of government.

HARLOW: Bob, before we let you guys go, "The Washington Post" reporting that Andy McCabe up until a few days ago, deputy director of the FBI, was apparently told look, there might be more Hillary Clinton e-mails on this Anthony Weiner computer because his wife Huma Abedin, you know, weeks before the election finds this out. Late September, early October. Sits on that information for three weeks before he does or instructs anyone on his team to do anything with that. Does it smell fishy to you?

BAER: No, not at all. McCabe wanted to see what was in those e-mails, whether it was new evidence. As it turned out it wasn't. They were duplicates of older e-mails that were investigated. And the FBI hates to get into political elections to influence them one way or another. And by sitting on this stuff and seeing what it was, no, not at all. You can't blame him.

HARLOW: You know, the point is, "The Washington Post" reporting is that he sat on it -

BERMAN: There are questions. I think the - is asking questions about why it took three weeks and was that -- were those three weeks essential to learn what was in them.

BAER: Yes, they're essential, John. The FBI takes its time on all of this stuff. They seek advice. They get other agents in and the rest in the government investigations work very slowly. And to go back with 2020 hindsight and claim that the FBI is somehow part of the secret state is just preposterous.

BERMAN: Asha Rangappa, Bob Baer, thanks so much for being with us.

HARLOW: Thank you, guys, nice to have you both.

So, we just got some news in out of Washington. The director of the CDC, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, has just resigned.

BERMAN: Yes. A statement from Department of Health and Human Services cites what it calls "complex financial interests" that limit her ability to do the job. A job by the way that she's held for less than seven months. Reportedly, the complex interests it includes the purchase of stock in tobacco companies while heading up the CDC, the agency that is very involved, of course, with fighting smoking.

HARLOW: That would be a conflict of interest. Of course, we'll let you know more as soon as we get it.

Next the president gives a message of unity. That's what the White House was selling it as in the State of the Union last night. Are Democrats buying it?

BERMAN: And first, the White House, now the Pentagon. Why the military says a major security risk could lead to a ban on cell phones.

And the president's chief of staff says that he thinks the Republican memo on alleged FBI abuses will be released what he calls very quickly. We're following all the developments.



[10:18:27] TRUMP: This in fact is our new American moment. There has never been a better time to start living the American Dream.


HARLOW: All right. So, the president giving his State of the Union last night. The White House said he was reaching across the aisle. In that address, most Democrats slow to cheer if they did at all and quick to criticize the president's comments.

Let's break it all down. Our senior political analyst Mark Preston is here, senior political commentator Jennifer Granholm and CNN political commentator Bryan Lanza, he used to work former deputy communications director for the Trump team. Nice to have you all here.

Mark, let me begin with you. I mean, Van Jones, one of the first things we heard in the analysis on CNN last night from Van Jones was that in his words this was selling sweet tasting candy with poison in it. Was it that or was it a unity speech?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: You know I don't think I can go as far as Van, but I don't think it was a unity speech for a couple reasons. One is every president during the State of the Union as we've all watched over the years talks about unity at the beginning, but it really, you know, gets into the crutch of the speech to find out if there are actually any bridges that can be built between the two political parties.

Now he did talk about prison reform, prescription drugs, sure they can get compromise on that. But you know, the fact is, that there is an incredible mistrust right now on Capitol Hill. The release of this memo now or the expected release of this memo from Devin Nunes is only going to make things worse.

In immigration is really very far away from being resolved. So I don't think that the president was unifying necessarily last night.

[10:20:03] And I do think it's interesting and I'll leave it on this is that he noted that nobody gets everything that they want. Specifically to Democrats on the immigration proposal. Well, does that mean that the president is willing to not get everything he wants? And I suspect he wants everything.

BERMAN: Governor to you, in my ear just now, we just heard that Nancy Pelosi, the House Minority Leader, is ripping this speech calling it a new low for the president. You're looking at live pictures of her right now. Look, I doubt you like the speech. I'm projecting what I think you might feel, but do you really feel it was a new low for the president?

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, the president has gone so low in so many places that I don't know that this is below some of the other things that have happened. But I do think that the president tried to project unity by using all of the people that he brought to make his points because their stories were so compelling. But underneath it all when he equated or linked the horrors of MS 13 with Dreamers, that was shocking to many people. That he would suggest that Dreamers are all, you know, gang members, not all, but I mean, he was making that link. When he referred again to the disaster that was Obamacare, that was not a unifying gesture.

Now, did he talk about some things that Democrats and Republicans could come together on? Infrastructure, some forms of immigration reform, some small narrow thing, certainly the prison reform, there are aspects that could come together. But it was not, you know, it was not underneath it, a unifying speech. It was a partisan speech.

HARLOW: You know, Bryan, the president after he had laid out this pathway to citizenship, almost two million Dreamers would be Dreamers in this country. You know, look, there are a lot of members of his base that say wait, you said you wouldn't do this when you were running, but why do you think he felt the need to say Americans are Dreamers too?

BRYAN LANZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Because I think that gets forgotten. We put a lot of energy on Dreamers. You know, that sort of illegal immigrants who were brought here by their parents. We put a lot of emphasis on that. And I think that sort of supersedes that you know we also have other Americans here who are part of the American dream and they should also be prioritized.

And I think that's why you looked at when he talked about immigration reform or DACA reform, he talked about you know adding two million people to citizenship. I mean, that's the biggest act of compassion I've ever seen out of any president. Obama never talked about -


BERMAN: The juxtaposition, though, you're putting Americans as he puts it in opposition to these Dreamers by saying Americans are Dreamers too. That sets up aspirations as somehow different.

LANZA: I disagree.

BERMAN: Who ever said that Americans aren't Dreamers?


LANZA: The Democrats. It's not that they don't say they're not Dreamers -- hold on. It's not to say they're not Dreamers. They never focus on the American dreams for the people -- young people.

HARLOW: Who doesn't?

LANZA: The Democrats.

HARLOW: You're saying all Democrats don't focus on -

LANZA: I'm saying a good number of them have only talked about these Dreamers in the past year. There's 350 million Americans and they're only focused on Dreamers? I'm focused on Dreamers. I'm glad that the president is addressing this. I'm disappointed that Barack Obama created this whole Dreamer dynamic where he is able to segregate a community from everyone else.

This is the result of bad policy that took place just before an election and the president is stuck fixing it. And all the Democrats just want to talk about Dreamers. Why don't we talk about the African- American communities that are suffering? Why not talk about my Latino communities where the graduation rates are falling? These are large problems, when the president says Americans are Dreamers too, he's saying that as well. That's being ignored.

BERMAN: Governor, do you want to respond to that?

GRANHOLM: Yes, I do. I do because - I mean, this is the difference between the president's speech and Joe Kennedy speech that followed it. He was talking about all. The president tries to pit one group against another. This is not a zero sum game. If Dreamers win that doesn't mean America loses. It means we all win. This is the point is that the Democrats really want us to focus on all. When you say that he wasn't -- that the Democrats don't talk about young people and their aspirations, well Joe Kennedy was standing out of vocational technical center to talk about how we can lift everybody up to be able to gain the jobs of the future. It's - you know that kind of rhetoric is just wrong. The Democrats are about everyone. We choose both he said. And that's the difference.

HARLOW: All right, guys, we want to move on to this because we just heard from chief of staff John Kelly just gave a radio interview with Brian Kilmeade and was asked about this controversial memo from Devin Nunes about alleged abuses within the FBI. Just listen to what the chief of staff just said.


JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: It will be released here pretty quick, I think and the whole world can see it.

BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX NEWS RADIO: Do you think that -- what changes the next day?

[10:25:00] KELLY: Again, I'll let all the experts decide that when it's released. But I -- this president - again, it's so unique, Brian, that he wants everything out, so the American people can make up their own minds. And if there is - people will be held accountable, then so be it.


HARLOW: So, Mark Preston, there's concern over is there classified information in here, which the president cannot declassify. There's big concern from two of his, you know, Republican appointees, the head of the FBI, the deputy AG about releasing this. Clearly the White House is going to do this any minute.

PRESTON: Yes, listen. We heard President Trump saying it on the House floor as he was exiting last night. You know, when pressed about it from a Republican member of Congress and he said 100 percent we're going to release it. Here is the issue with the memo. The issue with the memo is it was drafted by the Republicans in the House without any input from the Democrats. At the same time, the Republicans decided to release it and voted on it out of committee but didn't allow the Democratic rebuttal memo to be released. Now they'll talk about logistics and a process that you need to go through, but the fact of the matter is if you can release one, how can you not release the other as well. That's the biggest problem I see with this memo.

BERMAN: Guys and Bryan and I guess governor, I want you both on something that happened last night also just before the State of the Union. Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State, she put out this long Facebook message saying that she was wrong not to fire this adviser from her 2008 campaign when allegations of sexual harassment came out during the campaign. She reassigned him to another post. She now says she wished she had basically. She wished she had done it differently. Quick takes from each of you. Governor, is that enough now?

GRANHOLM: Yes. And good. I'm glad she did that. There was a lot of questions swirling about this now ten-year-old incident. So now what? That's over. Let's talk about what the president has got in his background. I mean, it's just -

HARLOW: Well, our question is not about the president, Governor.


GRANHOLM: I know. I understand that. I understand that. And so she's accepted responsibility. She said she was wrong. That's a good thing. But she's not the issue. She's not the president. That's what drives me crazy about that as though something 10 years ago that she did that she now admits she was wrong.

HARLOW: Except it is an issue when you reassign the victim and you let the perpetrator stay on your campaign despite the advice of your two top officials and then this weekend you don't say you were wrong and you get slammed for your Twitter statement and then you come out with it.

LANZA: She was tone deaf.


LANZA: I mean, she's always been tone deaf with this issue of victims coming forward. She was tone deaf when the victims came forward with her husband. She is tone deaf when the victims came forward on her campaign. This is her blind spot.

BERMAN: But do you agree that the statement that came out last night is the appropriate response?

LANZA: The statement last night is a better statement than Saturday's and a better statement than her action eight years ago or nine years ago.

BERMAN: All right. Bryan, Mark, Governor, thank you all very, very much. Appreciate it.

HARLOW: Thank you, guys.

BERMAN: All right, President Trump trying to get Democrats on board with his plan for Dreamers, but does he risk losing Republicans in the process? Stay with us.