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WH Officials Expect Decision on Nunes Memo Today; Hicks' Layer Denies NYT e-mail Report; CNN: Trump Asked Rosenstein if he was "On My Team". Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 1, 2018 - 10:00   ET



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

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We expect to see the president minutes from now. He will be departing the White House, heading for a Republican retreat in West Virginia.

BERMAN: And we do have breaking news. He is expected at some point to make the decision on releasing that Republican memo, which alleges abuses by the FBI and the Russia investigation. And now we know why. New reporting that the president believes this memo will discredit the entire Russia investigation.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House with this breaking development. Kaitlan?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, that's right, John and Poppy. The CNN White House team has learned that the president believes the release of this highly controversial Republican memo could serve to further discredit the entire Russia investigation and he spent the past few days calling his allies and his friends telling them that he believes the release of this memo will serve to expose bias at the top ranks of the FBI and therefore show that these investigations have been biased against the president. Now, this is very revealing because it explains why the president has been so fervent, -- had such a sense of urgency to get this memo released, just saying the other day after his State of the Union Address that he 100 percent wants this memo released, even though the White House was saying he hadn't even seen the memo yet. So he does believe this memo would discredit the Russia investigation.

And then we're also learning that the president was very upset yesterday after the FBI released a statement condemning the release of this memo, saying that it shouldn't be released, it was filled with misleading statements in it and it left out some valuable information, which is also what Democrats and critics of the release of this memo have said. And that's interesting because the FBI is led by someone who is handpicked by the president last year after he fired the other FBI director James Comey. That, of course, is Christopher Wray.

We that Christopher Wray was at the White House earlier this week urging them not to release this memo, but the president has made clear he wants this memo released, John and Poppy, and we believe also that this memo could be released as early as today. So we'll be waiting to watch for that, when the president leaves the White House here shortly, you can bet he'll be asked about this.

HARLOW: What will the FBI -- what will the FBI director do if that happens? Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you.

CNN has also learned that at the White House meeting a few weeks ago, the president asked Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, whether he was on the president's team.

BERMAN: All right. Our Shimon Prokupecz has much more on this reporting. Shimon, what have you learned?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes and we're told the conversation occurred when Rod Rosenstein, who as we know is the deputy attorney general, the top Justice Department official in the Russia investigation. He went to the White House to talk to the president and wanted his support, wanted Trump's support in fighting off the document demands from Devin Nunes, that is now part of this memo that we're all talking about.

And during that conversation, there were these two questions from the president, posed to Rod Rosenstein. And he wanted - the president want to know where the special counsel's Russia investigation was heading and he wanted to know whether Rosenstein was, quote, "on my team." We're told Rosenstein was surprised by the questions, and didn't directly respond to the president.

And now keep in mind that this is the latest episode to come to light where questions from the president potentially cross the line. And these could further raise questions about whether Trump was seeking to interfere in the Russia and the obstruction of justice investigation being headed by the special counsel and Bob Mueller and his team.

HARLOW: And Shimon, some more reporting on something that appears to be really significant to the Special Counsel Bob Mueller. "New York Times" reporting that he has keen interest in Hope Hicks, the communications director's role in crafting the statement, the initially misleading statement about the Trump Tower meeting between Don Jr., Paul Manafort, et cetera, and the Russian lawyer. What can you tell us?

PROKUPECZ: Yes. This has to do with Mark Corallo, who used to be - who was the spokesperson for the legal team -- this was the initial legal team before in the beginning of the investigation. And we're told that Mark Corallo, who we expect to go before Bob Mueller in the next two weeks, that he had concerns over Hope Hicks' conversations on a conference call where he seemed to think -- this is according to "The New York Times" that he seemed to think she was considering obstruction of justice after a comment she made about e-mails between Donald Trump Jr. and the Russians. Hicks, according to "The New York Times," told the president - President Donald Trump on this conference call that Trump Jr. e-mails will never get out. Now, we're -- according to "The New York Times," Corallo plans to share this conversation with the Special Counsel Bob Mueller. It is important to note that Hicks' lawyer in a statement to CNN clearly denies this story, says that Hope Hicks, that the suggestion that Hope Hicks ever suggested that e-mails or other documents would be concealed or destroyed is completely false.

[10:05:12] HARLOW: OK.

BERMAN: All right. Shimon Prokupecz thanks very, very much.

Joining us now to try to digest some of this at least, Mary Ellen O'Toole, former senior FBI profiler and Steve Vladeck, a CNN contributor and professor of Law at the University of Texas School of Law.

And Steve, I want to start with you here with the biggest of big pictures in this new report out of our White House team. The president wants this Republican memo discrediting the FBI, released because he thinks -- he thinks it discredits the Mueller investigation there are short-term implications for this and long term as well. Short term, he may be doing this because he wants some excuse to push out Rod Rosenstein or Bob Mueller, you know. Short term he may be doing this as an excuse not to testify before the special counsel's investigators. And then longer term, Steve, it may just be that if the Mueller team puts out its report as we all expect them to do, lays out the facts as they see it, it would give the president and his allies a chance to say, you know what, we don't believe any of this anyway because this investigation was tainted from the start.

STEVE VLADECK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I mean, I think that's the plan here. I think the question is whether it is going to work. We have to keep in mind the Nunes memo or at least whichever version is ultimately going to be released, is just a four page cliff notes version of what is probably a 50, 60, 70-page application by the Justice Department to the FISA court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court. I think one of the real questions here is how much of the Steele dossier, how much of the you know controversial part of the Nunes memo was actually relevant to the FISA court. Was there corroborated information? Was there loss of additional material that led to the court deciding that it had probable cause to believe Carter Page was an agent of a foreign power? That's why release of a memo, I think, is such a fraught proposition because it is only going to paint one very small slice of a larger and more complicated picture.

HARLOW: Well, we know from CNN reporting that it was not just the dossier that was used to get the FISA court. We know from our reporting that it was other information that was substantial and validated. So we do know that.

Mary Ellen, to you, extraordinary statement, public statement that the FBI felt it needed to put out last night to basically publicly plead with the White House to not release the memo. Quote, "We have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy." This is the president's hand selected FBI director Christopher Wray saying do not do this. So what happens? I mean, what kind of impasse does this set up? Because all of our reporting is that the White House very much intends to release this memo.

MARY ELLEN O'TOOLE, FORMER SENIOR FBI PROFILER: Well, it is very problematic and I can tell you as an agent for 28 years, even though that's a short statement that has been put out by the director, people labored over that statement to make sure that it said and that it communicated exactly what the situation was. And so when you hear something like that, people need to understand that that was a very collaborative, very thoughtful communication. And they exactly mean what they say. This could be really calamitous if this information is revealed.

So the hope is that when people hear that, they will -- they will honor that, but at this standoff, it very much sounds like that won't be honored. But I can simply tell you that the FBI does not have a sense of humor when they're talking about national security. So this statement is extremely serious from the director.

BERMAN: In FBI speak you know in their lexicon, this is a stirring rebuke. This is as stern as it gets in legally speaking in connecting the dots here, Steve. There is so much going on. Rod Rosenstein, of course we know, we believe, is mentioned in this memo, targeted for some decisions he made later on about FISA warrants and CNN has reported that Rod Rosenstein had this fascinating and in some ways perplexing meeting with the president a few weeks ago, in December, when the president wanted details apparently about the Russia probe, which Rosenstein oversees and also asked him are you on my team. This is in December of 2017. Implications of this, Steve.

VLADECK: I think the real implications are, you know, Rosenstein has become target number one within the president's camp for who to discredit to try to basically undermine the broader investigation. This all, I think, could be building to some excuse to fire Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. At which point the president could bring in somebody perhaps more loyal to him, more willing to do his bidding, which could include trying to fire Special Counsel Mueller. So I think all these pieces tie together as an attempt to derail Special Counsel Mueller's investigation even as we see other stories, the Hope Hicks story suggesting that that investigation is getting closer and closer to the president's inner circle.

[10:10:01] HARLOW: And, Mary, I mean remember that Rosenstein testified he sees no reason for Bob Mueller to have to go, et cetera, et cetera. So if the president wants Mueller out, it would have to be through that route, through Rosenstein or whoever his replacement would be. What about the pattern we're seeing - if we can pull up the shot guys, the full screen of all these different folks in high, high positions in the Intelligence Community that have been essentially asked for their loyalty in one way or another by the president. Rod Rosenstein, we went through that, are you on my team, head of DNI, Dan Coats, you know president says, please announce publicly there is no collusion here, Mike Rogers, NSA director, no collusion request from the president, Jeff Sessions, push not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation, he did it anyways, former deputy director of the FBI Andy McCabe, how did you vote in the 2016 election, and then Comey, the former FBI director, asked for his loyalty, Comey pushes back and says that's not you know what I'm supposed to give you, I'm loyal to the Constitution and the American people and he's out.

So Mary, what is this all telling us?

O'TOOLE: Well, the pattern of behavior is really important here because they can argue it is not a one-time incident. But I think what is really important here, the question I think a lot of people have, you see the pattern and I see the pattern. People that start to assume a bunker mentality that are suspending their critical thinking may be naive, may be extremely loyal to the cause or to the group, but the fact that they don't see it and they don't realize the jeopardy that they are in to show such loyalty to a situation that will at the end be very damaging to them. And I've seen this in other cases, and I see this in some of the people that are kind of in this situation right now. At the end of the day, they, by themselves, are going to say I did see that, but I suspended my critical thinking and in a lot of cases that they feel like their life is over because they didn't pull out and use critical, analytical thinking to say that's a pattern of behavior. And that's very serious.

HARLOW: We appreciate your expertise, both of you. Mary Ellen O'Toole, Steve Vladeck, thank you very much.

BERMAN: From an FBI profiler, by the way -

HARLOW: There you go. She would know. She would know.

So also this morning, even more revelations in the Russia investigation, e-mails obtained exclusively by CNN show that the FBI agent who sent those anti-Trump text messages and therefore became the target of a lot of Republican accusation, being sympathetic to Hillary Clinton, it also turns out that this agent was crucial in reopening the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails.

BERMAN: Manu Raju is behind this reporting, joins us now from Capitol Hill. Manu, what have you learned?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. That's the FBI agent Peter Strzok, who has come under enormous criticism from Republicans because of anti-Trump text messages that he exchanged with an FBI attorney during the election season when he was part of the Clinton investigation as well as the Russia investigation. Well, it turns out he played a key role in the Clinton investigation as well. He wrote the first draft of the letter that was sent by James Comey, then FBI director, to Congress, announcing the re-opening of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation, just days before the election. You'll recall that that letter was explosive. It roiled the Clinton campaign. Afterwards, Clinton herself blamed the letter for costing her the election.

Now, Peter Strzok wrote that first draft, sent it to some colleagues, some changes were made and that formed the basis of the Comey letter. Now, we are told separately that he supported reopening the investigation, but he did harbor some private reservations about going public. Nevertheless, he did play this key role in moving forward with this investigation, according to the documents that we have obtained, and really paints a more complicated picture of Peter Strzok's role and maybe some Democrats see this as a way to undercut the Republican narrative that Peter Strzok was out to get Hillary Clinton, out to get Donald Trump, was going easy on Hillary Clinton and that this is suggestive that the Mueller investigation too tainted with bias, all shows there are a lot more that these investigators are digging through to try to understand his role and others' role as part of this investigation, guys.

BERMAN: All right. Manu Raju for us on Capitol Hill. Manu thank you so much.

The president set to leave the White House very shortly.

HARLOW: Any moment.

BERMAN: Reporters will be there to ask him questions. Will he answer them? The breaking news, CNN reporting that the president wants this Republican memo released because he thinks it discredits the Mueller investigation. Will he say that out loud? Stay with us.


[10:18:40] BERMAN: All right. The breaking news this morning, CNN has learned that the president wants the Republican memo which alleges FBI abuses. He wants it released because he thinks it discredits Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. A decision on releasing that memo could come any minute.

HARLOW: Right. So, here to discuss and debate, CNN political analyst, Jackie Kucinich, CNN political commentators, Alice Stewart and Robby Mook. So, Jackie, let me just begin with you on what John just outlined, I mean that is extraordinary, right? A highly controversial memo from one party, partisan memo that your own FBI director says has inaccuracies that are so grave that you shouldn't put it out there. Not only is the president planning to put it out there, but now we know why, and that's to discredit the Russia investigation and the investigation into him, significance.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It directly contradicts Paul Ryan who said that this memo had nothing to do with the Mueller investigation, that it was a completely different thing. So that in and of itself, that was just a couple of days ago, you talk to Republicans, they say similar things. And now we know the president's thinking. This memo could sew public confusion about the Mueller probe and how that's different from the House probe especially when Democrats potentially release their memo. This muddies the waters is what it does. And gives the president probably what he thinks more wiggle room to discredit Mueller.

[10:20:03] BERMAN: That's the long game here, though, right? I mean, Alice, when you look at this, the long game here is that the Russia investigation, everyone says, will the special counsel indict the president or press charges, that's not how it works. You know he puts out a memo or a report at the end with the facts as he sees them, and then Congress and the public really decide what to do at this point. So it seems to me, looks very much like the president with Republican help on Capitol Hill now playing the long game to throw shade on this whole thing.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right and John, I think the important thing is here looking at the big picture is -- we all need to not jump to conclusions. We all need to let Mueller conclude its investigation. And let him announce the findings of this. Look, it has been no secret that the president has always had a problem with the Russia investigation, and his mind, he views that as undermining his victory and undermining his winning the presidency. And that's not the case.

There is a real valid reason for this investigation and it has to do with Russia interference in our election, possible Russian influence in our election, and possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians. And I think the key here, if we're going to release this document, the Nunes memo, we also need to put out the Democrats view of this information. I think it is critical.

This is a situation where you can't put this FISA information toothpaste back in the tube, once it is out there, you can't put it back. So if the Dems have one view of it and the Republicans have another, they need to get together in a room and hash it out and put together a complete comprehensive finding about this information and not piecemeal it out and certainly not make it partisan.

HARLOW: And for people that don't know, Alice is a Republican conservative, was a communications director for Ted Cruz, saying, look, you got to put them both out there. And also heading to the 2018 midterms, I mean Russia is a threat once again in those. This isn't just backward looking what happened. This is about what threat does Russia pose moving forward.

So Robby what about Christopher Wray? I mean he thought it was important enough to put out this rare FBI statement last night, pleading with the White House not to do this. He's Trump's hand selected guy to lead the agency. Someone in the White House just a week ago called him a man of true character and integrity. How does this end if the White House puts it out there?

ROBBY MOOK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I don't know. Trump obviously has a record of trying to intimidate and then eventually push out people who he does not believe are loyal, and so one wonders what he might do to Wray. I also -- I am surprised that Paul Ryan is allowing this to happen, this memo to be, you know, floated around and so on. This is a very dangerous game because the other thing we're hearing from the Intelligence Community is not just that this memo may be inaccurate, either through omission or, you know, or exaggeration of certain, you know, quote unquote facts. But also that it may expose sources, you know. This could actually create a headache for the Intelligence Community or expose sources they have.

So this thing is just spinning deeper and deeper. On the one hand, the president is looking guilty or guiltier every day and the Republicans, particularly Devin Nunes, are getting -- wrapping themselves in these layers of complicated, you know, scandal and national -- and raising real questions of national security that they might actually be harming or impeding our ability to protect our national security. So I don't know. If I were Ryan, I would just try to press the button on that elevator and get the heck out. I think this is going to get really, really messy.

BERMAN: Paul Ryan actually has said that there may be FBI malfeasance here. He says that he believes there is evidence that someone's civil liberties were violated here. He's not halfway in here. He's all in.

HARLOW: And Mike Quigley who we had on the show earlier said last night that this is Ryan, Ryan needs to -- jump in here and hold Nunes accountable for this stuff -


BERMAN: But he shows his sides. I mean, he's --

MOOK: This doesn't add up for a lot of reasons. What I think we're continuing to learn particularly last night is that Hillary Clinton's civil liberties were violated. You know that they knew for a month that they had this information. They waited until the last minute to let it out. I just -- I don't think that good is going to come of this for them politically. I just think they're reinforcing problems, both in the election and then also today with Donald Trump.

BERMAN: I was waiting to hear what Hillary Clinton person would say about the Peter Strzok news and Andy McCabe news. You know some people think it shines a bad light, good light, for the Hillary Clinton people, upset that they waited this long and they did to get something out there.

Jackie, Robbie said something else that the president has a history of pressuring and removing people who aren't loyal. He's actually only removed one, right? It's James Comey. He's got a history of talking about getting rid of a lot of other people. Sessions, Mueller, Rosenstein. There is a CNN reporting about the standoff with Rod Rosenstein where he asks - he asked Rosenstein, are you on my team, and what gets me about this. Well, number one, apparently he also asked about details about the Russia investigation, which doesn't seem a good idea.

[10:25:04] But this was in December, right? This is in December after -

HARLOW: This December.

BERMAN: -- there are already questions about his relationship with Comey and his relationship with everyone else.

KUCINICH: Yes. So initially you can chalk this up to the president not understanding the divisions between the Department of Justice and the White House. It is becoming increasingly clear that the president doesn't care -- about those historic bright lines. He has looked at this investigation. I think Alice said this from the very beginning as an indictment of his own presidency, not about the Russian interfering in the election. And I believe CIA director Pompeo said a couple of days ago that the -- that Russians are looking into or, you know, actively trying to undermine the 2018 midterms. This is crucial, this is -- these are just a couple of months away. So while they're playing games, the Russians aren't stopping.

HARLOW: Robbie, just finally, we have to go in a second, but have you heard anything from Hillary Clinton on the "Washington Post" reporting on McCabe and the laptop or the Peter Strzok texts stuff?

MOOK: I haven't talked to her about this issue. You know, when we talk, we try to stay focused on the future. But, you know, -- I don't like to dwell in the past. I do think it is unfortunate that the more we learn about what happened there, you know, that there were investigations on both candidates, the FBI chose to only talk about one of those candidates. And now it looks like they were doing it at the last minute because they were afraid it was going to leak. And they clearly were aware that it could have impact on the election. It is really tragic. I just hope somebody at the FBI is thinking about this, and putting new rules and guardrails in place so that this doesn't ever happen to another candidate again.

BERMAN: All right, Jackie, Alice, Robby, thank you all very, very much.

Another powerful Republican chairman of a key committee, leaving Congress. Why? What's going on here? I will note by the way, that some of the poll numbers for Republicans and the president are actually improving.