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FBI Gives White House Stern Warning Against Releasing Memo; Rep. Trey Gowdy Will Not Seek Re-election; Trump Approval Rating Rises; Victor Cha Op-Ed Warns Against U.S. Attack on North Korea; Rosenzweig: Mueller Won't Indict Sitting President. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired January 31, 2018 - 14:30   ET


[14:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: All right. Let's talk Rod Rosenstein, deputy attorney general. This memo targets him, his role, aspects of the Russia probe that led to, as you mention, FISA, surveillance on Trump campaign officials. It is worth reminding everyone, whatever Bob Mueller finds, Rosenstein is the gatekeeper to decide who does he take it to, how does he make it public? Is this the president's way of really, you know, sticking it to putting the pressure on without actually having to fire Bob Mueller?

LISA MONACO, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Look, I'm not going to speculate on what the motives are here. What is clear from what we've seen thus far is that this memo, if it's 3.5 pages derived from 100-page FISA application that the committee has not permitted the professionals who are responsible for that information and who gathered that information to actually look at it and determine whether it will have an impact on our national security to release it. It seems to me that priorities are not in the right order. We ought to be focused on what is going to do damage to our national security and what do the professionals and the intelligence experts say about that?

BALDWIN: If you're Rod Rosenstein, would you be nervous?

MONACO: Rod Rosenstein is a professional who has served multiple administrations. I think, hopefully, he's keeping his head down and doing his job.

BALDWIN: Lisa Monaco, appreciate it. Thank you very much for all that analysis.

We're going to come back to this. But also, more breaking news from Capitol Hill. Republican Congressman Trey Gowdy is announcing today he will not seek re-election this fall, becoming the 36th Republican set to leave Congress. Why he is calling it quits.


[14:36:22] BALDWIN: Another House Republican joining the growing list of lawmakers leaving office. Republican Congress Trey Gowdy just announced he will not seek re-election come the fall of 2018. The House Oversight Committee Chairman is a former federal prosecutor and says, quote, "Whatever skills I may have are better utilized in a courtroom than in Congress. And I enjoy our justice system more than our political system." Congressman Gowdy made a name for himself, running the House Benghazi

investigation. Remember this?


REP. TREY GOWDY, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Madam Secretary, I understand there are people, frankly, in both parties who have suggested that this investigation is about you. Let me assure you, it is not.

Madam Secretary, not a single member of this committee signed up to investigate you or your e-mail. We signed up to investigate and, therefore, honor the lives of four people that we sent into a dangerous country.

My question is, how did you decide when to invoke a people-in-process, and who just got to come straight to you? Because it looked like certain things got straight to your inbox and the request for more security did not.

HILLARY CLINTON, (D), FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE & FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes. Personal e-mail came to my personal account. Work- related e-mail did as well.


BALDWIN: Go to David Chalian, our CNN political director.

Counting now, Gowdy has been the 36th House Republican to announce he's leaving. Why, do you think?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: I consider him a wise man to say that the justice system is more fun than the political system.


But I think he made clear from the outset of his career that he was not going to be a lifer in Washington. A lot of Republicans who came to Washington on the wave of the tea party 2010 and beyond sort of made those similar kinds of remarks that they didn't want to be a lifer in Washington, D.C.

What's interesting, Brooke, we're seeing a lot of senior Republicans are heading for the Hills now. By no means was Trey Gowdy in danger of not winning re-election. It's a deep-red district. A Republican is likely to win it. It doesn't affect the balance of power in the House at all, most likely. But here is a chairman, who had a committee. We've seen several of those, so the institutional knowledge walking out the door, irrespective of how the balance of power shakes out, because a lot of these senior Republicans are leaving, is going to make a mark on the next Congress.

BALDWIN: Courtroom and Congress, I agree. That part of his statement totally jumped out.

Let's talk about the president's approval ratings. A new Monmouth poll is out. The president's approval rating has climbed from 42 percent, up from that low of 32 percent. It's his best mark in the polls since March of last year. What do you attribute that to?

CHALIAN: This is a really good poll, and going to be really welcomed numbers in the White House. It's one of the best polls they've seen in a long time.

You see that 10-point jump there just from last month you noted since that low of 32. What's behind it? The passage of the tax cut. Definitely now the numbers have completely flipped when asked in that poll. Now 55 percent of Americans say Donald Trump is getting something accomplished in Congress. It used to be a majority of Americans just last month thought that he was not. You also see that the tax bill itself, Brooke, is getting more popular. Remember at the time it passed, these Republicans were a little concerned because they were passing what was largely seen as an unpopular bill. In this poll today, that tax bill is evenly split amongst Americans, and 44 percent are in favor of it and approve of it, 44 percent disapprove.

Just last month, only 26 percent approved of that bill. So, their key legislative accomplishment is getting more popular. The economy is doing well. Stock market is doing well. So, President Trump is actually starting to benefit a bit in that the way we traditionally see a president benefit from economic news, despite the concerns that people still have about his behavior, his actions, tweets, and all that.

[14:40:24] BALDWIN: You have the president feeling the wind in his sails, standing up there last night, gives his first State of the Union. The best part, at moments, was the cutaways, right, of the different people in the audience, the Republicans cheering and the shade from Democrats, even over something like infrastructure. So, let me play -- we played first the Democrats, withholding their applause with Republicans giving a standing ovation.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight, I'm calling on Congress to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment.

Modern infrastructure that our economy needs and our people deserve.



BALDWIN: But, but, it was all reversed back when Obama, President Obama was talking about infrastructure. Roll it.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight, I propose a fix-it-first program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country.


(END VIDEO CLIP) BALDWIN: Just wanted to point that out.

The question --


BALDWIN: The question, though, bringing it up to last night, in what alternate universe are we living in that you have Democrats sitting there like, when the president is talking infrastructure, and the presidents, the deficit hawks, the savers are giving applause to the notion of this $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan.

CHALIAN: Yes. I think what you see on display more than anything else is the massive trust deficit that exists for Democrats. There is almost nothing President Trump could have said last night to really unify the people in that room. I know he used some unifying language, and perhaps that will work out in the country, but for the members in that room, they are not eager to get onboard, the Democrats, with anything the president is proposing right now. They're more inclined to demand to see action first from him rather than words. That's just the state of relations in Washington right now.

BALDWIN: And we continue.

David Chalian, thank you so much.

We're going to get you back to our other breaking news here. This train carrying Republican members of Congress to this retreat hits a garbage truck, killing its driver. Now we are getting word at least two lawmakers are in the hospital. Stand by for an update on that.

Also an eerie warning. The man who just lost out on being ambassador to South Korea, about why this current administration did not select him. It involves what he describes as the "bloody nose military option" against North Korea.


[14:47:37] BALDWIN: The man who almost became U.S. ambassador to South Korea just warned of the Trump administration's plan for North Korea. Victor Cha, penning an op-ed in the "Washington Post" a couple of days after learning he was no longer being considered for the ambassadorship. In this op-ed, Cha stressed the dangers of a preemptive military strike on Pyongyang.

And he writes, "The so-called 'bloody nose strike' would not stem the threat of proliferation but rather exacerbate it." And goes on to write, "The president would be putting at risk the American population the size of a medium-sized city, Pittsburgh, say, or Cincinnati, on the assumption that a crazy and undeterred dictator will irrationally cowed by a demonstration of U.S. kinetic power."

Let's talk about that with Bruce Klingner, from the Heritage Foundation. He's the former CIA deputy division chief of the CIA's Korea branch.

Bruce, nice to have you back.

The fact that Victor Cha published this just as news broke that he didn't get the ambassadorship, does it tell you that the Trump administration is seriously considering this option?

BRUCE KLINGNER, SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW ON NORTHEAST ASIA, ASIA STUDIES CENTER, HERITAGE FOUNDATION & FORMER CIA DEPUTY DIVISION CHIEF, KOREA BRANCH: Yes. Internal discussions with U.S. and South Korean officials, as well as public statements by Trump administration officials certainly make it seem that it is being considered as an option. But there are divisions within the administration. Mr. Cha and many others of us have been writing that this is not a good option. It's not one that the U.S. should be considering. That, instead, we should be pursuing the maximum pressure and engagement policy. There's still more we can do on sanctions and pressure. And also, we also have to have sufficient military forces for deterrents for both ourselves and our allies.

BALDWIN: What's the biggest risk of this sort of strike?

KLINGNER: There's a list of things. We haven't seen the identifiable objectives. How big of a strike? Is it so small that it wouldn't likely trigger a North Korean response but then would be ineffective in removing the ICBM threat to the United States? Or at the other end, it would be an extensive bombing campaign to cripple or undermine the ICBM program, but then that's likely to cause a large North Korean response. Also, one of the reasons that are given is that Kim Jong-Un is crazy and not deterrable. When you ask the proponents of such a strike, how would North Korea respond, they would say, he would, in essence, sanely, rationally realize that he can't respond, it would mean the end of his regime and, therefore, he's deterrable.

[14:50:14] BALDWIN: You mentioned people are split on this. Do you know how many people in Trump's inner orbit support the idea?

KLINGNER: In talking with people, it seems there are divisions within the administration. And I would prefer to not get into who is on what side.

BALDWIN: Mattis, Tillerson, do you know?

KLINGNER: If you look, there's been differences even by individual officials on whether the administration is pursuing diplomacy or whether that would be considered a waste of time. There have been statements about really just North Korea completing a technological level would be considered a threat and, therefore, that would be intolerable, and perhaps the cause or catalyst for a nuclear -- I'm sorry, a military attack.

BALDWIN: Bruce Klingner, thank you.

More on our other breaking news. 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 is getting ready to release it. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:55:46] BALDWIN: If you're just joining us, the FBI declares, quote, "grave concerns" about the release of this Republican memo that alleges agents abused their surveillance authority to monitor certain members of the Trump campaign. The Democrats say the memo is an effort to undermine Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Russia investigation.

But my next guest thinks the president should likely not worry about an indictment from the Russian investigation because there's no way that Mueller would take that step.

So let's talk to Paul Rosenzweig, who wrote this great piece for "The Atlantic," making the case that there will be no indictment.

Paul was the senior counsel to independent counsel, Ken Starr, in the Whitewater investigation of President Clinton.

So, Paul, a pleasure.

You know, you write in your piece, "Color me skeptical." Why do you think he wouldn't be indicted?

PAUL ROSENZWEIG, FOUNDER, RED BRANCH CONSULTING & SENIOR FELLOW, R STREET INSTITUTE: The main reason is that the Department of Justice policy has been against the indictment of a president since 1973. The Office of Legal Counsel, which is the Department of Justice's lawyer, has issued that opinion was issued in '73 and again in 2000. And Robert Mueller is an employee of the Department of Justice. He has to follow Department of Justice rules and regulations, one of which is: Don't indict sitting presidents. That's a pretty good reason. Even if he wanted to.

BALDWIN: Let's flash forward to the man whose shoulders will be bearing this, and someone you know, Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. You point out in your piece that it will be up to him to take Mueller's findings and determine what to do with them. He, along with Christopher Wray, visited the White House Monday night to try to convince the White House not to release this memo. He would be caught in the crosshairs if this memo goes public. Do you think the Republicans, do you think Trump are trying to undermine him publicly before he has big decisions to make down the road? What do you think?

ROSENZWEIG: I think it's pretty clear, the Department of Justice regulations say that if Mueller can't indict the president, he's supposed to file a report with the attorney general -- in this case, it's the acting attorney general, Rod Rosenstein -- who gets to decide whether or not the public interest requires that to be made public. That makes the deputy attorney general, Mr. Rosenstein, the central key actor in the drama that is about to unfold. And it seems to me reasonably clear that much of the effort to besmirch his reputation in advance of that decision making is intended to try to color it and push Mr. Rosenstein in a particular direction. I don't think it will work, but I do think that that's rather transparently what's happening.

BALDWIN: Besmirch his reputation. That's a perfect way to put it.

I don't know if you heard Adam Schiff here. I want to play this for everyone. This is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Here is what he told Axios about Rod Rosenstein.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D), CALIFORNIA: What I'm more worried about at the moment is that he fires Rod Rosenstein, that he knows the blowback that would accompany firing special counsel, so he fires Rod Rosenstein, puts in his own person, who then becomes Bob Mueller's boss, who can say to Bob Mueller, you can't look into this or into that, you need to end your investigation here.


BALDWIN: Paul, I don't need to list out the number of people the president fired or is reported to have wanted to fire. But if Rod Rosenstein goes -- do you think that's a valid worry, that he would fire him?

ROSENZWEIG: I think it's a highly valid worry, according to what we've been seeing in the press, reports about his dissatisfaction with the deputy attorney general. In my experience, the deputy attorney general is a stand-up guy. He makes mistakes sometimes, like we all do, but always acts in what he thinks is the best for the American people at heart. It is imminently plausible that the president would seek to replace him with somebody who might have President Trump's best interest at heart instead. And that would be an assault on the rule of law and the idea of impartial adjudication of justice.

BALDWIN: Paul Rosenzweig, thank you.

ROSENZWEIG: Thank you.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

[15:00:03] BALDWIN: We continue on. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Let's get to the breaking news.