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Rep. Trey Gowdy Will Not Seek Re-Election; Trump Approval Rating Rises; FBI Gives White House Stern Warning Against Releasing Memo. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired January 31, 2018 - 13:30   ET



[13:33:30] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: There's more breaking news on Capitol Hill this hour. It's a busy day. Congressman Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, says he will not seek re-election. The South Carolina Republican published a lengthy statement online saying, in part, 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."

My panel back with me here, Kaitlan Collins, April, A.B.

A.B., if I could begin with you. This is part of a string of Republican retirements here. I've lost track now, but it's probably three dozen now or so. That always happens in a lot of cycles. But in this particular cycle, it's been notable.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR & COLUMNIST, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Yes, it's really a record going back many, many, many decades. So it's disconcerting to the Republican leadership, facing headwinds going into the midterms to lose anybody. He's not in a swing seat, but he's sort of a leader in the Republican Party. He's been a great spokesman on these issues. Republican voters know who he is. He led the Benghazi investigation. He's interesting, because of what we talked about today, tried to straddle an interesting line in the last few weeks.

SCIUTTO: Interesting, No question. During the Obama administration, all over Benghazi. In recent weeks, his statements a bit more on the fence.

STODDARD: He's trying to make it clear he doesn't want to malign the entire DOJ or FBI. He's tried to warn his colleagues that you can ask questions and be skeptical without being accusatory.

SCIUTTO: What's your read of why he --


[13:35:03] STODDARD: Well, there's speculation in the Twitterverse there might be an opening on the Fourth Circuit that he's interested in. He made it clear that he prefers the judicial landscape to the political arena. I don't blame him. He made it clear in a statement. So he might be looking for a judgeship. SCIUTTO: April, is there anything information that the Trump

administration is considering him for a court appointment?

APRIL RYAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's a powerful seat. That is a very powerful seat. He stood with the administration, but the administration -- we don't know. We never know what they do. A lot of times people are qualified and sometimes people are not. But one thing I will say, those who know Trey Gowdy very well and those who work with Trey Gowdy, both Dem and Republican, say he has higher aspirations. Those higher aspirations one day could wind up being 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

SCIUTTO: But you're saying there are political ambitions in Congress?


RYAN: So he may realize that right now to save himself for later on, for his aspirations, he may need to leave now and possibly move somewhere else and be appointed to a seat, but he wants to make sure he's clean for something else. He doesn't want to fight with this president, being a high-ranking Republican that he is.

I just want to say one thing, too. Congressman Elijah Cummings has outlived Darrell Issa and Trey Gowdy. Isn't that crazy?


SCIUTTO: Kaitlan, you wanted to -

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Not totally surprising he made this decision. He had expressed interest in becoming a judge. I think he filed for re-election at the deadline last time around and threw people off a little bit. I don't think it's that surprising, but it is significant because it's another Republican who's not running and a prominent chairman at that. It does make a change.

SCIUTTO: No question.

There's other political news. There's a new poll from Monmouth where the president's approval rating has ticked up to 42 percent, 50 percent disapproving. This is out of the 30s, where President Trump has wallowed, one might say, for most of the time since his inauguration.

A.B., why? Why do we think?

STODDARD: I think it's probably related to two things. I mean, they did pass tax reform by a Christmas deadline after a year of failing to repeal and replace Obamacare and fighting with each other.


SCIUTTO: I know that the tax reform plan at least in many polls is viewed by a majority of Americans negatively.

STODDARD: The polling on tax reform was really bad in December. It's actually rising. It's becoming more popular. And either people are responding to their own personal data or they're responding to these stories of corporations feeling a boost and sharing it with their workers. And that is a positive for him. It's a legislative success, and it's an economic success.

SCIUTTO: Kaitlan, I wonder, because you're still seeing this wave of Republican departures and part of that is based on a calculation it's going to be a tough year in 2018. It always is. A midterm year always is. It certainly was for Obama in 2010. But as this number rises, if it continues to, does that better improve -- does that improve the chances of Republicans in the midterms?

COLLINS: It certainly raises some questions. The president has created a lot of problems for people who are running for re-election. At times, he's sparred with some of those people who would typically need a president's support. But the question now and in 2018 will be, does the president's support actually help pull people over the line who are in those hotly contested primaries. Does his support help them? So far, we've seen it not really help, in Alabama with Luther Strange and Roy Moore. With those races, it hasn't helped them at all. It is a question for the White House. It will be a question of what they can accomplish for the rest of his term in office, depending on who they have over on the Hill.

SCIUTTO: April, we know this president likes to celebrate good news, or his perception of good news. Do you sense in the White House an increasing confidence or optimism?

RYAN: Oh, most definitely. This president will definitely tout, "My numbers are great." We saw that not long ago on Twitter when his numbers were moving. The negative piece was that the vast majority still do not approve of you. You have the vast majority disapproving. This president takes any positive step up and he says this is a building block. But the question is, how long will he be able to build? Let's see what happens in the next couple days when it comes to issues of having to deal with the budget or C.R. and having to deal with DACA again. Those sensitive issues are what brings it back down, when you deal with the issues of the race, or did he say this, or did he say that, or did he tweet this or tweet that. Those are the things. Right now, this is a moment. But let's what happens in the next couple of days.


COLLINS: And to add to that, the president insists to his allies and friends all the time that approval rating it not his actual approval rating.


COLLINS: He insists to people it's much higher than what it is.



[13:40:50] SCIUTTO: Yes, hates polls, except for the polls he likes, right?

Kaitlan, A.B., April, thanks very much.

More on our other breaking news. The FBI issuing a stern public warning directly to the White House saying it has grave concerns about the accuracy of the Republican memo that attacks law enforcement agencies. This puts the FBI director, Christopher Wray, at odds with the man who selected him, the president. Stand by.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back. More now on our breaking news. The FBI sounding an alarm over a secret Republican memo accusing the FBI of abusing its surveillance powers. The FBI issued a defiant statement saying, quote, "The FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy."

Here with me now is a former director of the CIA, James Woolsey. He also served as an adviser during President Trump's campaign.

Thanks for joining us, Director Woolsey.


SCIUTTO: This is a rare moment where you have an FBI director here, appointed by this president, this is not a holdover, Christopher Wray, openly telling the president and Republican leadership, one, that this is inaccurate, and, two, that it would be a mistake to release it. Would it be a mistake for the president to ignore that warning?

WOOLSEY: I don't know. It depends on what's in the memo and how they proceed with respect to redacting and the like. If there's one thing in it that might endanger a source and method, then redacting that one thing could resolve the issue.

I thought the CIA, before, was the most creative with respect to tangles it could get in, in the government. But boy, the FBI is really running a rival operation.

SCIUTTO: The argument you seem to be hearing from the FBI here -- and I've heard similar from intelligence officials -- is that this memo does not show the full picture, it doesn't show the underlying intelligence that would have been behind the applications for these FISA memos to surveil, in this case, a former member of the Trump administration, Carter Page. You've looked at a lot of intelligence as director of the CIA. I imagine -- I know that FISA came after your day, but you know how these kinds of requests are made. Why does that argument make sense, do you think?


SCIUTTO: That you would need to see the full picture to understand why this application was made. [13:45:08] WOOLSEY: Well, it's true of just about any intelligence

document and really a lot of other documents, too, where you see things better if you've got the full picture. I think what looks to me is what's occurring is a conflict that could probably only get resolved by some kind of agreed-upon redaction. They have to get together and say, look, I want 99 percent of this cleared, but I could give up on this part. There's ways to work these things out.

It really is remarkable, though, the degree to which the disagreement has broken out into public. There are arguments about classified materials all the time and what you're going to put out, what you're not going to put out. What's different about this is it's done out there in front of everybody.

SCIUTTO: Did you ever see in your own experience such open, public fighting and disagreement between 1600 Pennsylvania and the intelligence and law enforcement agencies? Because, keep in mind, this is not the first time you've had disagreements like this. You've had it with the Justice Department. You've had it with the intelligence agencies.

WOOLSEY: This is up there in the top quadrant of disagreements. But I want to point out that Madison set things up this way, with checks and balances. We're always going to be arguing with one another. What we don't have is coups in the United States. That's good. We have arguments. Some of them are pretty intense, some of them are pretty angry. But we've been going now for well over two centuries arguing and having our government function, and that's good.

SCIUTTO: What about the quality of this argument here, though? From the president's side, often the attacks are not substantive. They don't say, I disagree on this issue of policy or this piece of intelligence, whether it's classified or not, but he's firing broadsides at the FBI here. The FBI's in tatters, going after the integrity, in effect, of senior FBI officials, similar to what we heard -- attacks at the intelligence agencies, comparing them to Nazi Germany, right, with charges of surveillance. Is that quality of attack, in your view, acceptable for a president?

WOOLSEY: What's new here is not that people are arguing and arguing intensively. It's that they're arguing intensively publicly because of the technology, in terms of Twitter in this case. It's just as if, for example, these days and times, the Russians are interfering all over the place with elections, in Europe, here, all over the world. They've been doing it since the 1930s. What's new is not that the Russians are interfering. What's new is they're doing it in front of everybody because of cyber and technology. So they don't have to get a spy in to influence something. They can do it from Moscow sitting with their headsets on in front of a computer.

So I think what's new is that technology has opened up a lot of things to public disagreement that we really are not used to seeing. It's been occurring, but most of the time, something like it, anyway, it's always been private. This is new.

SCIUTTO: Final question, is it a mistake for a sitting president to pick a fight with his intelligence and law enforcement agencies?

WOOLSEY: Well, it's not customary. Again, if it were being done privately, and there was a leak here and a leak there, it probably would not be something that people spent a lot of time focusing on. They're arguing, so what. But to have it be in front of everybody is new. That's hard to deal with. So far, they're dealing with it, but it's not easy.

SCIUTTO: Director Woolsey, thank you for taking the time.

WOOLSEY: Great to be with you.

[13:49:07] SCIUTTO: More on our other breaking news story. We now know that two lawmakers were actually injured when that train carrying them to a GOP retreat collided with a garbage truck. We're going to have more on those injuries with more live coverage coming right up.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back. More on our breaking news. The FBI openly defying the White House and the president on the release of this GOP memo alleging abuse of surveillance by the FBI.

Here with me now, the former counsel to the U.S. assistant attorney general for national security. She's Carrie Cordero.

This is a remarkable public spat between the FBI and the White House. I might just add again, this FBI director, Christopher Wray, was not a holdover. He was appointed by the president. I imagine they would not go forward with a warning like this unless it's very serious. He is saying this memo is inaccurate and misleading.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: He is. And the FBI hasn't had a chance to review it and do an actual declassification review. The information that would have supported the writing of this memo, the underlying applications would have been FBI information and potentially other Intelligence Community information. And so normally, the way -- if Congress wants to release something publicly, the way this would work is they would go through a process. The FBI director, Department of Justice, perhaps the director of National Intelligence would have a voice as to whether national security would be harmed by the release of this information.

By the House taking the extraordinary vote, the House Intelligence Committee taking the extraordinary vote that they did and then the president saying it's going to be released has bypassed that entire process. Chris Wray, as FBI director, has an obligation to protect national security information. That is part of the duty that he has in his role. So, it really is quite astounding, this early into his tenure, that he had to take this step, break from the Justice Department perhaps, break from the White House, and go public in terms of saying how damaging this could be.

[13:55:35] SCIUTTO: Two issues here. The FBI statement goes right to the accuracy, saying that this is fundamentally inaccurate. But you also raise an issue, and I've heard the same from current and former intelligence officials, that by exposing this process of how the FBI and the U.S. Intelligence Community picks targets to be surveilled, you are exposing what is intentionally a secret process.

CORDERO: Sure. This is a classified document based on classified information. We don't know the level of it, whether it's secret or top secret, meaning it's disclosure publicly without proper review could cause grave or serious damage to U.S. national security. That's the standard. And so that's a part of the standard. And so he has a responsibility to do this. And FBI would be concerned about a misrepresentation, particularly about their appearance before the FISA court. Any allegations they were not truthful or forthcoming is a really serious, professional responsibility and integrity issue for them.

SCIUTTO: For sure. To be clear, this is part of a broader campaign. You're hearing from Republicans and the president himself against the entire FBI on a number of fronts. But the Mueller investigation as well. Do you see this as part of an effort to undermine Mueller investigation?

CORDERO: It absolutely is. It's hard to see this in any other way than of intelligence information and the national security bureaucracy. Remember, the Mueller investigation was originally an FBI investigation. It's only under Special Counsel Mueller now because the president fired FBI Director Comey. But this was an FBI investigation. FBI agents are detailed to it. Christopher Wray, as FBI director, still would have knowledge of what's going on. Clearly, unfortunately, there's a concerted political effort to damage their credibility, both as an institution and in terms of the Russian investigation.

SCIUTTO: Final brief question, the president, his spokespeople have been back and forth, his lawyers, as to whether he would sit down with the special counsel. You've heard the president say, yes, I would be delighted to do it, but I'll listen to my lawyers. His lawyers seem to say -- and by CNN's own reporting -- that the special counsel hasn't met the standard to require the president to sit down. For our viewers and myself as well, is the president required to sit down with special counsel by law?

CORDERO: There are arguments that his lawyers are making to perhaps delay his being interview by the special counsel's the special counsel, but the special counsel can interview the president. There is precedent, legal precedent of a president, while they're in office, being interviewed by other special counsels or independent counsels.

SCIUTTO: Carrie Cordero, thank you very much for clearing that up for us.

More on other breaking news. We now know that, in fact, two lawmakers were injured when that train carrying them to a GOP retreat collided with a garbage truck at a crossing. There is more live coverage coming up right after this.