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FBI Has "Grave Concerns" About Accuracy of GOP Memo; One Dead After Train Carrying GOP Lawmakers Hits Truck; Interview with Congressman Greg Walden of Oregon. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired January 31, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:04] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi, there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me on this Wednesday afternoon here on CNN.
We're going to begin with the mounting pressure that President Trump is receiving from his own intelligence community to not release this classified memo alleging FBI misconduct. So, here is the big news. The FBI has now released this rare public statement, writing that they have, quote, grave concerns about the memo's accuracy.
And now, we're learning a second group of individuals from the Department of Justice and the FBI went to the White House, urging the president keep it classified. The first group made their case Monday night and included FBI Director Christopher Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. They spoke to the White House chief of staff, John Kelly.
However, after those meetings, the president was overheard saying this at his State of the Union speech.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JEFF DUNCAN (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Let's release the memo.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Oh, yes, don't worry. A hundred percent. Can you imagine that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: One hundred percent, you hear from the president there.
I have with me CNN's Shimon Prokupecz, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, and CNN legal and national security analyst, Asha Rangappa.
So, Shimon, just first to you on the reporting, this public statement from the FBI over the grave concerns over not just accuracy, several issues. Can you talk to me about that?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, certainly, very rare public statement. I mean, we don't often from the FBI on these kinds of issues, certainly not from the FBI director.
Their issue here right now is the accuracy of this memo. And that it appears, at least from what they have seen and really, the only person who has seen this memo has been the FBI director, Christopher Wray, clearly at odds with the president's decision here to release this memo. And from what he saw in this memo has given him concern in that they have sort of picked information, they have put information into this memo that favors sort of what their message, what people like Devin Nunes, Congressman Nunes wants to say, and picked this information and placed it in this memo, which is inaccurate.
They say that a lot of this information in the memo is not -- does not give a full picture of what was going on at the time that the intelligence officials, that the FBI was gathering this information, putting it together for FISA applications. So, there is a concern that s going to misrepresent the picture, the full intelligence picture of what was going on. And while privately, certainly, FBI officials, I've been talking to others here at CNN have been talking to, have expressed this concern.
It's so rare that the FBI and the FBI director to issue this kind of statement because of the concern. It really was an all day thing. I think they had been thinking about this for some time. We know that the Department of Justice, there were people there who did not want the FBI to put out this statement out of concern of what might happen, how perhaps the president might react to it, because right now, what you have a situation where the FBI publicly is going against a decision that the president has clearly made.
PROKUPECZ: So, now, what happens, you know, we just wait. We wait and see if this memo gets released, when it gets released. We've been told it could happen at any minute. But we just don't have any word on exactly when.
But this is a big deal, certainly for the FBI to take this step, to put out this kind of a statement. Trust me, it took some time and it was a big decision on their part.
BALDWIN: So all of that said, Jeff Zeleny, what's the response from the White House, A, and B, we overheard the president saying I will 100 percent release, do we even know if he has read it yet.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, all good questions and for such a dramatic statement from the president's own FBI director -- remember, this is someone who he appointed to that position. It is the first public fight or feud between the FBI director and president on this. For all of that, the White House is saying absolutely nothing.
ZELENY: They have not yet responded to that statement saying grave concerns. Now, behind the scenes, we are told that the lawyers and other advisers are still working through the substance of this memo. I'm told that they believe, yes, it's more complicated than what the president simply said, 100 percent, I'll release it. They're going through all of this. The only window we've gotten so far on this was White House Chief of
Staff John Kelly was doing a radio interview on the grounds of the White House. A lot of radio stations from across the country are here, doing interviews in the wake of the State of the Union Address.
And this is what John Kelly said this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Our national security lawyers in the White House that work for me, work for the president, they're slicing it, dicing it, looking at that time so that we know what it means, and what it understands.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you see it?
KELLY: I did.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think?
KELLY: It will be released here pretty quick I think and the whole world can see it.
[14:05:03] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think -- what changes the next day after? Do you think things change the next day after you think?
KELLY: Again, I'll let all the experts decide that when it's released. But I -- this president -- and it's so unique, Brian. He wants everything out so that the American people can make up their own minds. If there are people to be held accountable, so be it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: But I think listening there to the chief of staff, as well as the words from the president, as well as all the other advisers we're talking to, this will be released, Brooke. It's just a question of at what point that will be. They do want to go through the process here, if not the motions of making due diligence here, despite, you know, the grave objections from the FBI.
But when the chief of staff says it will be released quickly, that is the best indication of what will happen. So, the White House is saying that, don't look for any type of event here. The president is not expected to talk about it, although we are expected to hear from him later this hour on tax reform. We'll see if he answers questions on this.
But they say it's a House of Representatives document. So, any release of it will come from there. But no question at all, the White House is essentially putting its stamp of approval on this and if they were to not release it, Brooke, at this point, that would be the news and surprising -- Brooke.
OK, Asha, perspective. You have the, you know, FBI chief Monday night rolling over to the White House, last ditch effort, please don't release this memo for myriad reasons. Now, you have the FBI doubling down, releasing a public statement, grave concerns over accuracy, et cetera.
Why do that? What do you make of this?
ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I take the director at its face value and that he has grave concerns. Remember, Brooke, that this is an ongoing investigation into Russia's interference. So, what is disclosed may help the Russians. What's revealed, you know, whatever this political game is ultimately might reveal some state of the investigation, what the FBI has gathered, what they've shown a court of law about particular people involved in the Russia investigation and it might reveal sources and methods.
So, I believe the director is legitimately concerned. The president should be doing a serious balancing test, looking at the interest -- the public interest against what the danger is to national security. This isn't, you know, releasing the assassination files for JFK from 50 years ago. This is something that's ongoing right now.
BALDWIN: Yes. And putting Chris Wray directly in the crosshairs of Trump, with Trump saying, well, we believe he'll release it, right, Jeff, saying it will make news if he doesn't, and Christopher Wray saying please don't.
RANGAPPA: Yes, I mean, this is extraordinary, Brooke. This is a Trump appointee, his own FBI director, his own Justice Department going against him.
And I will point this out, I looked at the director's statement. It says, you know, very clearly that they have followed all the procedures in FISA. I've gotten FISA warrants. I know that those procedures are intensive. They involve a large number of people, they involve a court review and importantly, there is a clear paper trail.
You can go back and, you know, look to see the steps it took to get to its final destination. So, if this goes to an OIG review and I suspect it will, I think that it will end up validating the director's statement and then you're going to have a situation where you essentially have an independent review also contradicting the president. So, it's going to be interesting to see if he chooses to hang his hat on a memo which as I understand, the chairman himself, Nunes, did not even look at the underlying information on which this memo is based.
BALDWIN: Yes. I think Jeff Zeleny put it correctly, it will be news if the White House doesn't release this thing.
Asha, thank you so much for your just voice and experience, of course, with the FBI.
We're going to get back to this top story in just a second. But the other breaking story this Wednesday afternoon out of rural Virginia where this train carrying members of Congress on to their legislative retreat in West Virginia hit this garbage truck as it was rolling along and the impact, we're told, tossed lawmakers out of their seats, left one person dead.
Let's go live to Senator Jeff Flake, speaking right now.
SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I don't know, I don't know, but it seems to have been just a horrible, horrible accident. It was Brad Wenstrup there, all too reminiscent of the Scalise incident where two of us were there as Brad was cutting away the jacket so they could attach some of the life-saving equipment.
[14:10:09] It just -- my mind went back to the same thing, cutting away Steve's uniform so we could apply a tourniquet. So, anyway, too reminiscent.
REPORTER: Remind all of us what's Mr. Wenstrup's background and what's your background and training and dealing with situations like this.
FLAKE: I have no training, no medical training at all. But Brad Wenstrup was in Iraq, I believe, and, obviously, trauma type guy. So, he has the skills, as did certainly Dr. Cassidy was right there the whole time, giving some instruction to others who were assisting this individual. So, those two, if this man survives it played a big role in it, obviously.
He was, as I said, breathing but having a hard time clearing his windpipe. There was a lot going on at that time.
REPORTER: Do you have a sense of where the truck was?
FLAKE: No, not at all. The road came in almost parallel to the tracks and then turned across. It wasn't clear which way the truck was turned at that point. There was an eyewitness. As soon as I got off the train, who was telling me the truck was right on the track.
There was no way the train could have stopped at that time. Look like it came it just come out of, I don't know if it was over a hill or whatever, but there certainly wasn't time. We were moving at a pretty rapid pace and it didn't seem there was any time for the train to slow down at all. I didn't feel any slowing before the impact.
REPORTER: There was no braking before?
FLAKE: If there was, I didn't feel it. It certainly wasn't much.
REPORTER: Was there a sense the truck was trying to beat the train?
FLAKE: Perhaps or maybe it's got halfway across and kind of malfunctioned, some type, we just don't know. It seemed the impact was behind the cab, it seemed, separating the back part from the chassis and the cab. I think the one of the three who survived best was probably in the cab. If you looked in the cab, you can see you could probably survive there but if you're back on the truck, typically as people who are assisting with garbage yard, then that was a full impact there.
REPORTER: How close to the front of the train were you? FLAKE: Just three or four cars. I think the closer you were, more of
an impact there was. It did derail the engine car. It still took us a while to stop.
It probably, like I said, I moved back about 10 cars. It took about that long to stop the train, even with the front car derailed. So we were moving at a pretty high rate. So, I don't think it was dangerous or above any limit that was there, just couldn't stop.
REPORTER: Senator, you talk about (INAUDIBLE)
FLAKE: Well, it certainly is a somber mood, obviously concerned about those who were seriously injured and the deceased and then some who were pretty bruised up. Somebody just walked back and had a cut on their hand. I think Labrador. Others who were up at that time, it was quite a jolt. Water right in front of us, flying all over. It took me ten minutes to find my phone, which was thrown somewhere. So, it was quite an impact.
REPORTER: Were there helicopters following --
BALDWIN: All right. That was Senator Jeff Flake.
With me now, another lawmaker on the train actually tweeted out images of the deadly crash. He's Oregon Congressman Greg Walden joining me by phone.
Congressman, my goodness, are you OK?
REP. GREG WALDEN (R), OREGON (via telephone): Yes, I'm fine. I think most people on the train were fine. As you heard from Senator Flake, if you were standing up or not holding on to something, you ran the risk because it was a sharp impact. Fortunately, the train remained upright, came to a stop as soon as it could.
For all those involved on the garbage truck itself, it was ripped apart, garbage strewn around the grassy area between the tracks and the road and just the major impact. Ten-car train with an engine on either end, disconnected the locomotive on the front and taking us back to Charlottesville where we're now just boarding buses, literally, right now to continue on to our planning retreat.
BALDWIN: Got it. So, you're heading off on busses to the green briar.
[14:15:01] Taking me back, though, a little bit this morning, Congressman. How far into the train trip did this happen and what did it feel like, what did it sound like?
WALDEN: It was a sharp enough impact that you realize something had happened. But I'll tell you, I've never been in one of these.
I've been in public train derailments before when they've gone off the tracks. This one remained on the tracks. There was a sharp hit.
You look around and what happened? You knew you hit something or something is broken. We were coming to a controlled stop.
And then I looked out the window to my left in this field next to the tracks, down probably 20 feet or so you saw garbage all over and then as you scanned to look forward, you could see the tractor part of the truck that separated. There was a pole there that I think it got blown, whipped around as well. It's just a horrible, horrible tragedy.
It was a gated crossing, I might add.
WALDEN: And the gates appeared to be in use and were not damaged, based on what I saw. It's a terrible tragedy for the families involved.
BALDWIN: We'll talk about the truck in just a second. But can you just describe -- I mean, from what I understand, you know, folks from Congress, for the most part, no serious damage. Can you describe the worst that you've seen?
WALDEN: Well, I -- you know, I know one of my colleagues hit his head but with a little ice, he's fine. A couple other just out of extreme caution were taken to the hospital with neck and head injuries.
You know how it is if you've ridden in one of these trains. You need to hold on to something when everything is going right and when you get a sharp impact and a jolt, it sent members and whoever else was happening to be walking around, or just standing and talking, it sent them into a nearby table or chair or whatever, those kinds of bumps and bruises I would say, and hopefully nothing more than that.
BALDWIN: One more quick one, Congressman, Walden, and that is we heard Congressman Sean Duffy, his wife and kids were on the train. So, my thought immediately went to my goodness were there children involved and are they OK?
WALDEN: Yes. And that's a really important point because families can come on this trip and so there are little kids and family members, spouses. And that's why I think especially for the kids, it made sense to try to get back to normal sooner and proceed. I think for them, you know, a lot of young kids. In some cases even a baby or two came with the family.
BALDWIN: Oh, wow.
WALDEN: So I think it's important while we keep in our thoughts and prayers, those who have been injured or loss of life, that we also need to think about these kids and make sure that, you know, we get back to normal for them.
BALDWIN: Our thoughts and prayers here as well. Congressman Greg Walden, thank you for jumping on the phone and just safe travels in that bus on to West Virginia. Thank you so much, sir. We appreciate you.
WALDEN: Thank you.
BALDWIN: You got it.
Back to our other breaking news this afternoon, we are getting word that the FBI director clashed with President Trump over the release of this controversial Republican memo apparently attacking law enforcement agencies. Stand by. Huge standoff unfolding as the president gets ready to release it.
[14:22:58] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BALDWIN: Back to our breaking news. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
The FBI makes a rare public statement to stop the release of this classified memo the president wants to go public. FBI officials have put out this very public statement, writing that they have grave concerns about the accuracy of this memo.
Here's more on the memo. Republican Congressman Devin Nunes who heads up the House Intelligence Committee wrote it. So, in this memo, it asserts that the FBI abused its surveillance warrants in order to monitor specific members of the Trump campaign.
Now, Democrats will tell you that this whole thing is an effort to undermine Robert Mueller, the special counsel, and his Russia investigation. And here is what happened when a fellow lawmaker asked Chairman Nunes if he coordinated with the White House in writing it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: So I asked the chairman, did he work with, and I asked all the preliminaries, coordinate, discuss, and he said not to my knowledge. I asked him, did your staff? And then it became quite agitated and said, I'm not answering that.
He began this investigation as a subsidiary of the White House, as someone who was coordinating with them rather than being an independent investigator. And the sad part is, he is the chairman of the committee.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Let's talk to Lisa Monaco, CNN senior national security analyst, who served for three years as counsel to and then chief of staff at the FBI helping then-Director Robert Mueller.
So, Lisa Monaco, pleasure. Welcome.
LISA MONACO, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Good to be with you, Brooke.
BALDWIN: OK. So first things first, you know, you have the FBI warning the White House this memo will expose intel methods if it's made public. Meantime, you have the Chief of Staff John Kelly essentially saying that the memo will be released pretty quickly. So, despite these private and now public warnings from the FBI it seems that the president has made up his mind without even seeing it first. Yes?
MONACO: Well, if the reports -- as you lay out, the airports are that it's not a question of if but just a question of when the White House will release this memo.
[14:25:06] I think the question I would have, Brooke, and that we all should have about the process that is being undertaken here is, are the experts and career intelligence professionals being allowed to look at this memo to determine what should be declassified, what should stay classified what, if it is released in the public, will have an impact and damage to our national security and really be able to take a look at that and put this information in context?
BALDWIN: I mean, Chris Wray, right, who heads up the FBI, and he's someone who's at the White House. He had seen it and he's the one saying, please don't. You trust him?
MONACO: Look, that's right. Look, this is -- Chris Wray is somebody who served in the Justice Department, was an assistant U.S. attorney and has now taken on the role of a 10-year term. People should understand the FBI director has a 10-year term precisely so the FBI and the director himself is not subject to political whims.
MONACO: He's supposed to straddle multiple administrations. So, I think he probably has several audiences here, Brooke. One is the rank-and-file FBI agents who have to go in and swear to a court, the FISA court, in this instance, that what they're saying is true. So, they have to maintain their credibility before that court in order to protect our national security, in order to conduct their investigations.
The other audience, Chris Wray, probably has in this instance is the international partners who helped the United States, who help the FBI, who help our national security community by providing us intelligence. If they see that there is not a rigorous analysis being conducted, there is not real care being taken in how to disclose this information, well, they maybe reluctant in the future to share information with us, and that is a problem, and that could really hurt our efforts and the FBI's efforts going forward to protect this country.
BALDWIN: OK. So, two potential audiences for Christopher Wray. We know that Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, gone to the White House, it's being, you know, his last ditch effort Monday night to try to get the chief of staff, you know, not to release this. That, of course, is a private meeting, Lisa.
But then, now, we're reporting on the FBI, putting out this public statement, this pretty rare move from what I'm understanding, expressing these grave concerns about the memo's accuracy, which now puts Christopher Wray, the head of the FBI, directly at odds with the president of the United States.
MONACO: Well, look, the FBI director is somebody who needs to be able to withstand exactly that type of situation. The responsibility is to be an independent investigator, not buffeted by political wins and not sticking their finger near to determine which way a particular decision is gong to go, but to follow the facts, follow the law and do so independent of any politics.
You know, I think what's important for folks to remember about this is the FISA process, the process to get a FISA warrant -- I used to be the assistant attorney general in charge of the national security division. That's the part of the Justice Department that represents the FBI before the FISA court. These are professional career dedicated lawyers. They review, and I ultimately signed thousands of these FISA applications, which are 50, 60, sometimes 100 pages in length.
I suspect Chris Wray is very concerned that a 3-1/2 page memorandum does not do justice to what that full FISA application package looked like and he wants to make sure it is put in context, that it is not misleading and, thereby, hurts the FBI's efforts in the future to appear before the FISA court.
BALDWIN: So, taking your point, what would be the worst-case scenario if this is released and those methods are exposed, who are you worried about the most?
MONACO: Well, there's several things to be worried about. I mentioned our international partners who may be reluctant to share sensitive intelligence with us in the future. That's one.
Two, the ongoing investigation. I think Asha Rangappa mentioned this earlier. There's an ongoing investigation that this -- the exposure of these sources and methods may be relevant to and may have an impact on.
BALDWIN: She mentioned it might help the Russians, is what Asha also said.
MONACO: That's exactly right. The sources and methods that may have an impact on what the Russians do in the future, right, and our ability to detect their moves in the future. So, you've got a series of things that could really be impacted by a rush to disclose this information without context, without a careful process.
Transparency is very important to the legitimacy of our national security activities but it also needs to be done with care to enable us to use those sources and methods in the future.
BALDWIN: Yes. All right. So, let's talk Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general, because this memo apparently, you know, targets him, his role, and overseeing aspects of the Russia probe that led to, you know, as you mentioned, FISA, surveillance on Trump campaign officials.