Return to Transcripts main page


Decision on Nunes Memo Today; Special Counsel Interested in Hicks; Trump Furious about FBI Statement; Memo Discredits Russia Probe; FBI Doesn't Want Memo Released; Trump Opts Out of Pregame Interview. Aired 9:30-10:00a

Aired February 1, 2018 - 09:30   ET



[09:30:19] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, the FBI versus the White House. This is really an unprecedented standoff right now. It's all over the release of this controversial memo alleging FBI abuses.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And an extraordinary statement from the FBI on this. Joining us now, CNN contributor Salena Zito, our political analyst Molly Ball, and CNN's senior political analyst Ron Brownstein.

Nice to have you all here.

You know, look, it is, as John said, the FBI versus the White House and the FBI pleading with the White House, do not release this memo. It is not accurate. Do not do it.

We will learn what the White House is going to do today. That's new reporting from Abby Phillip.

So the president has made every indication this memo is coming out. If he does that, despite this FBI warning, Ron Brownstein, to you, how does this end? I mean does Christopher Wray stay? Where does this go?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you do wonder about that. That statement that he put out. The hand-picked FBI director of the president was so strongly worded. You do wonder if he would stay.

I would only say that the real meaning of this is broader than the initial framing that you just put. It's the FBI against the White House and the House Republican majority, which is the key here. I mean Republicans would like the 2018 election to be about the good news on many fronts in the economy. But the actions of Mitch McConnell and especially Paul Ryan in encouraging this kind of second front assault on the DOJ and the FBI, I think, moved to the center of the 2018 election, the overriding question of whether the Republican -- a Republican majority in Congress can be trusted to exert any kind of restraint or oversight on the president. A president about which half of the American public at least has ambivalence to outright hostility.

So they are -- the actions of Paul Ryan in particular are just striking. Just remember what a critic he was of Donald Trump in 2016. We know from the great reporting of Tim Alberta (ph) that he had a speech prepared on Election Day to declare Trump isn't a dead-end for the party and he has turned -- he has allowed Devin Nunes and other Republicans to turn the House GOP majority into a blocking back for the president on this most sensitive kind of conflict with the law enforcement and intelligence agencies of the United States.

BERMAN: You know, it is interesting here, Molly. You have the deep state, right, which is the intelligence community, you know, career government officials, and you have what seems to be an attempt at maybe creating a deeper state, which is -- which is the White House allied with a majority here to try to make an end run around what exists there. And I don't know. I don't know where this ends up. I do know that there are twists and turns every ten minutes, including last night with Adam Schiff and Devin Nunes in this, you know, shouting match, let's call it, over whether or not Nunes changed the memo at the last minute here. This just seems to end badly every which way you look.

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It does. I mean we still don't know, as you've pointed out, whether this is going to be released. But it is clearly part of a consistent pattern over the entire last year of Trump pushing at the institutional restraints that are there to hold him in check, whether it's the separation of powers, whether it's, you know, the rules about law enforcement and contacts and so on. And here you have the president taking on the entire FBI. As you mentioned, his -- the director who he appointed after firing the last one now saying, please, don't do this. We don't approve of this. We think this is a political document. This isn't -- this isn't something that we think -- we think it's dangerous for this information to get out. That's a really strong statement from an agency that doesn't necessarily like that kind of confrontation with the executive branch.

So it will be interesting to see. You know, Trump has sometimes been held in check by his legal counsel, for example, when he wanted to fire Bob Mueller. So does he actually look at all these red flags and decide to back off? He's not someone who often backs down. But we will see.

HARLOW: You know, Salena, as someone who covers the president's base so extensively and so well, answer this for us. Release the memo has become a battle cry for many in the president's base and for many in the right wing. Is there any way that the president does not, cannot release the memo at this point in time, despite the pleas of his own handpicked FBI chief not to do so? Is he stuck?

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, I don't -- I -- because he's such a different kind of president and he navigates the presidency in a way, you know, that's not always predictable, I mean I could see a scenario where, you know, he says, OK, Wray, let's sit down and talk about this. You know, what's he -- what are the things that you find that are dangerous or could put people in jeopardy? What should we redact? Then I'll release the memo. I mean there is the possibility that that happens.

[09:35:11] I don't think there's any political -- not any. There's always some, right? But I don't think there's a large political problem if the -- if the president doesn't -- doesn't do that because -- because we're drinking out of a fire hose every day and there's always -- there's going to be another crisis one day later, and we're going to forget that this even happened. I don't think that's -- I don't think that's right or normal, but that's the times that we operate in right now.

BROWNSTEIN: You know, but -- but -- can I just add, I think the politics here are more about the house than they are about the president in the long term. I mean I -- Imagine for a moment if the president did, in fact, do what you were saying and say, yes, I -- the FBI has convinced me this is too irresponsible or, you know, it's too inflammatory to release. Where would that leave Devin Nunes and Paul Ryan, who had made the judgment that it was OK to put this out, despite the clear objections of the FBI?

And I think either way, whether they release it or not, what this has done is accelerate what was an existing storyline, which is this sort of pivotal question in the 2018 election becoming, can you trust the Republicans in the House to exert any kind of meaningful oversight or restraint on the president. And they have gone from -- you know, from a certain dissidents and distance at the beginning of his presidency, they have gone all in, in wrapping themselves around him, even as the waves have gotten higher on this issue. So it is -- I think this is a defining gamble and this -- and this is probably -- this may not be the apex, but it's certainly a new peak in the way in which they have kind of enlisted in this crusade on his behalf.

BERMAN: You know, meanwhile, the special counsel's investigation ticks on. I say meanwhile. Look, I think these two things are all tied together. I don't think these things are happening in their own universes here. I think largely the memo is tied to the special counsel's investigation.

But, Molly, this development in "The New York Times" overnight, the special counsel seems very, very interested in Hope Hicks and this meeting on Air Force One, this drafting of a response to the Trump Tower meeting where Donald Trump Junior was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. You know, the idea that you're focusing now on that moment, right, shows you what? Shows you that the special counsel is very interested now on the narrative that the White House tried to create over time. How much of a problem is this for them and how much of a problem is this for Hope Hicks?

BALL: Well, we don't follow is the answer that I have to preface any kind of speculation about this with because, you know, most of the leaks that we're getting so far have not been from Mueller's team. So we really only have tea leaves to -- about what he seems to be going, what he seems to be interested in. And this may be a focus, but not the sole focus. We know that this is an investigation that's touched on all kinds of things, including, you know, money laundering decades ago on the part of Paul Manafort allegedly.

So -- but that -- all that being said, what is interesting to me about this is not just the Hope Hicks piece. But given that she is so close to the president, so loyal to him, and given that this conversation seems to be about the president's personal involvement in the drafts of this statement. You know, one of the big defenses of him all along has been, there's a lot of people around him who seem to be involved in various kinds of monkey business, but none of it really touched him. And what if he was just this sort of out to lunch chief executive who delegated everything. The president, if this reporting is to be believed, was personally involved in this. And so it appears to be someone is looking at, you know, what did the president know, when did he know it, and that becomes about him directly.

HARLOW: A famously important question.

Thank you very, very much, guys.

We have to jump because we have some big breaking news to get to on the Russia probe. Our Abby Phillip has the details, this is her reporting, at the White House. Incredibly significant.

What can you tell us?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, John and Poppy.

We're hearing that the president is furious about this statement that the FBI put out last night calling that -- for that memo to not be released. He also believes that the memo, according to our sources, will help discredit the Mueller probe. That ultimately what this is about, from the president's perspective, is casting more doubt on the objectivity of this probe and whether or not it will be fair, whether or not it is biased against him.

Now, one of the thing about this memo is that it does sort of zero in on Rod Rosenstein, the deputy director -- attorney general, who is a centerpiece of this probe, and also the source of a lot of the president's anger recently. Now, the question is, did Mueller approve a FISA application, a surveillance application, that -- that was based on this Steele dossier? Now, we have a source saying that it could very well be that Mueller extended an application that already pre- existed. And if that's the case, it may not be enough for the president to act against him.

[09:40:04] But that is the undercurrent of all of this reporting. What is the reason this -- the president wants this memo to be released? Our sources say it is because of the Mueller investigation, because he believes that it will help undermine the credibility of the investigation essentially that -- that he will be treated fairly at the end of the day.

BERMAN: Abby Phillip, important reporting from the White House. The president wants this memo released because he thinks it discredits the Mueller investigation.

HARLOW: And helps him.

BERMAN: There's a legal argument here. There is a political argument here. And they are merging now with this information.

What do key Democrats think about this? Key Democrats investigating all this on the Intelligence Committee. One will join us, next.


HARLOW: All right, breaking news. Sources tell CNN the president sees the Nunes memo as a way to discredit the Russia investigation.

BERMAN: It's one of the reasons he wants it released.

[09:45:00] Joining us now by phone is a member of the House Intelligence Committee Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois.

Congressman, thank you so much for being with us.

This breaking news just in. Abby Phillip, our reporter at the White House reporting the president wants this out there. One of the reasons is he thinks this discredits the Mueller investigation, which is something he wants to do. Your reaction?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS (via telephone): That's exactly what we assumed. It was our assumption all along that their path here was to discredit the Mueller investigation. Obviously the four indictments have them concerned. The fact that one of those indictments involve General Flynn, who is cooperating, has them concerned to the point where I think they feel like their only course is to attack their investigators, the integrity of Mr. Mueller, a war hero with impeccable bipartisan credentials. I guess I see this in their mind as their only path out of the concerns they have.

HARLOW: All right, so this does not surprise you.

Let me ask you about something else. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on your committee, on the House Intelligence Committee, says that the memo was changed in a material way, not just a cosmetic way, not just grammatically, but in a material way from when you guys last saw it to when it went to the White House. Is that true?

QUIGLEY: It is my understanding that that is correct. I have not seen the memo the White House has. I assume that what they did was finally realize, that is the majority, that at some point the cat's going to be out of the bag. The White House would release a memo and it would be different than the one that the House approved on its release and that members of the House were able to observe. So they have weaved a tangled web in cooperation with the White House.

I mean I've said all along that the chairman of the Intel Committee, Mr. Nunes, is an agent of the White House instead of an into dent investigator. And the things that we've learned, you know, from his midnight ride to the White House, to releasing this memo over the objections of the FBI and the Justice Department, refusing to release the minority memo, clearly indicates a consistent pattern.

BERMAN: The chairman said he had no reason to think that there was any coordination between the White House and his staff on the release of this memo. Didn't deny it to you, we've all read the transcript, but said there was no reason -- he had no knowledge of coordination there. OK, so this -- if this is all as you paint it, right, a coordinated

effort to discredit Robert Mueller here, what do you think Christopher Wray, the FBI director, should do about it? He put out this memo -- this extraordinary memo saying he has grave concerns about it, that there are inaccuracies. So if the White House goes ahead and releases this anyway, every reason to expect they will, what should Christopher Wray do? Do you think he should quit?

QUIGLEY: Well, I can't speak for Christopher Wray. We're reminded that that is the White House appointment for the FBI. I think he needs to do -- continue to do what he's doing, which is spell out the inaccuracies of the memo. I can tell you from my knowledge of the testimony that's taken place over the last year, that there are inaccuracies in the memo. When you compare their four-page memo to the minority's ten-page memo, it's clear that this was fast and loose with little regard for the facts. It's a desperate attempt. It is illustrative of the fact that the president is far more concerned with his political and legal security, and he's got help from Congress. He's far more concerned about that than he is about our national security.

It wasn't just the FBI. The Justice Department said that this is extraordinarily reckless to release the majority's document. So apparently none of that matters to him. The only thing that matters is protecting the president.

HARLOW: All right, we do know that the White House has said it is considering redactions. So will there be? What will they be? Will they be for the national security interest or to benefit the president? A lot of outstanding questions.

Congressman Mike Quigley, we appreciate your time. Thank you.

QUIGLEY: Thank you so much.

HARLOW: Turning the page of it here, the president has taken on the NFL, the players, all of the kneeling during the national anthem. Well, now he's taken himself out of the pregame Super Bowl show. Why?


[09:53:57] BERMAN: All right, new this morning, the president hiding from the press, avoiding a televised interview that would air Super Bowl Sunday.

HARLOW: So this move breaks with many years now of tradition, first started under President George W. Bush. President Obama continued it. Last year Trump, President Trump, sat down with Bill O'Reilly before the Super Bowl. Our CNN media analyst Bill Carter is with me now.

The difference is, Fox was carrying the Super Bowl last year.


HARLOW: NBC carries it this year and the president says no pre- interview. CARTER: Right. And I think you can obviously note that he doesn't want

to do an interview that isn't with a favorable reporter. I mean Bill O'Reilly and Trump -- and Fox are Trump TV. They're going to support him. And I think last time he talked to Lester Holt, who would likely do it for NBC, he kind of messed up and talked about how he got rid of Comey because of the Russia investigation.

BERMAN: He -- the last time he talked to Lester Holt, he may have given the special counsel, you know, a week's worth of work to look into right there.

CARTER: Exactly.

BERMAN: All right, another big development this morning. The president making comments about the State of the Union Address and how many people watched.


BERMAN: Let me do a dramatic reading for you.

Thank you for all the nice compliments and reviews on the State of the Union speech. 45.6 million people watched. The highest number in history.

[09:55:03] Bill, there's just one problem with that.

CARTER: It's not even close to the highest number in history. There's five or six that are higher. President Obama's first State of the Union was higher by 2.4 million, which is actually, I guess, he's closer than he was in the popular vote. But he's still pretty far behind on that. So it is another case of his, what he calls truthful hyperbole. It was a good number. It's a good number.

BERMAN: Another way to look at it is the lowest first State of the Union for any president in more than a quarter century.

CARTER: That's another way. That's another way to look at it.

BERMAN: Right?



CARTER: But, look, I mean, he's a marketer and he likes to say things are the biggest, the best. And his people listen to that and I think they probably believe it. It just isn't true. It's just another one of those things he says that is flat wrong.

BERMAN: There's a word for when you say something that's not true and you know it.

CARTER: Yes. Exactly.

HARLOW: There is, right? CARTER: Yes.

BERMAN: It's called a lie.



BERMAN: Bill Carter, thanks for being with us, very much.

HARLOW: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, a lot of breaking news this morning. CNN with new information about just why the president wants this White House -- this Republican memo released so badly. We'll get that news right after this.


[10:00:12] BERMAN: All right, good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

HARLOW: And I'm Poppy Harlow.