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CNN: White House Worried FBI Chief May Quit Over Memo Release; Schumer: CIA Chief Clash Over Meeting With Russia Spy Chief; NYT: Mueller Zeroes in On Trump Tower Cover-Up Story. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired February 1, 2018 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:00:16] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Hi, everyone. I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN here on this Thursday afternoon.
And here we go, another hour, another bombshell on this Russia investigation right now. Here's what we've got for you. Sources say top White House aides are worried that the director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, could quit if this highly controversial Republican memo is actually released. Chris Wray, a man who the president hailed as having, quote, impeccable credentials not too long ago has said through an official statement that the FBI has, quote/unquote, grave concerns about the memo's accuracy.
The memo alleges that the FBI abused its surveillance warrant powers to monitor a Trump campaign member.
So, let's go straight to the man breaking the news here, Evan Perez, our justice correspondent, and Jeff Zeleny there, our senior White House correspondent there.
Evan Perez, beginning with you, tell me everything you know.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, I think what is happening is that the White House folks are getting a sense of the frustration from Chris Wray, the FBI director. He certainly made that abundantly clear in his meetings with White House officials and certainly with the Justice Department because he believes that he obviously was picked by the president and yet his advice to the president to not release this memo certainly not in the version that Devin Nunes has prepared shouldn't be done and he believes that that is -- that his advice is being disregarded. In fact, the Republicans are sort of casting this as some kind of partisan fight, including sort of tarring the reputation of Christopher Wray.
So, he has not threatened to resign I'm told from talking to people familiar with those conversations. He's not directly threatened to resign but he certainly let people know that he is very frustrated and I think that is what's causing people -- some people at the White House to be very concerned that if this memo comes out and we expect that it might come out in the next day or so, that Chris Wray could say that he's had enough.
So, again, the White House doesn't want this. They do not want another vacancy of such a high level. And certainly after the firing of Comey, they know this will be politically disastrous, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Let's go over to the White House then.
Jeff Zeleny, what are you hearing?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, we do know that there is frustration as Evan was saying and the FBI director has indeed voiced that frustration directly to White House Chief of Staff John Kelly who we are told is trying to foster, if not some type of compromise, trying to soften the edges on this a bit, and there's still a discussion about potentially redacting parts of the memo or changing parts of the declassified memo. But it is clear, we do know now the president has read the memo. He's been in several conversations with his advisers about the memo and he is planning on going ahead to release the memo, at least that is the understanding here.
So, all of these objections that his own FBI director have -- has raised have not been enough to persuade the president differently. So, we are looking for the timing of this, likely in the next 24 hours or so. Officials here do not believe it will be later today. Likely tomorrow, but again this is all somewhat fluid.
But it is the sense of the White House here that they do not want the FBI director to leave over this and as Evan said, there are no reports of him threatening that directly but he is making his displeasure pretty loud and clear to the White House chief of staff. And the White House chief of staff, again, he knows how difficult it would be to confirm a new FBI director.
Imagine, Brooke, in this climate, trying to get a new FBI director on board. So, that is what they do not want to have happen. But as this is scheduled to be or likely to be released in the next day or so, anything on this could happen, Brooke.
BALDWIN: I mean, here we are in this post-Comey world where, let's remind everyone, Chris Wray is someone who President Trump picked to head up the FBI. These FBI directors, Evan, have this ten year -- to keep them -- I don't know in their own sort of bubble away from politics and day-to-day pressures from the president, which I suppose got thrown out the window once Jim Comey got fired.
PEREZ: Right, exactly, Brooke. I think you're pointing to exactly what the frustration here is. Chris Wray was brought in to help, again, turn the page at the FBI, the complaints from Republicans and from the president was that Jim Comey and the leadership there had turned the agency, the bureau, into something that it wasn't supposed to be.
So, Chris Wray is the guy who's supposed to help change this and he is telling them that this memo is inaccurate, that it has omissions that make it inaccurate, and he's not being listened to and that is what the frustration is here.
[14:05:01] Jeff just mentioned that there's some redactions being made to this memo. The problem for the FBI is that, again, the problem is that they're omissions in what the story that Devin Nunes has crafted in this memo according to the FBI. They believe that redactions probably will not cure all of the problems that they have with this, so the big question is, how does this work? What kind of compromise, perhaps, can the White House figure out to reach in the next 24 hours?
BALDWIN: OK. Evan Perez and Jeff Zeleny, both breaking that news on the frustration on behalf of this current FBI director -- gentlemen, thank you so much.
You know, add to this bitter fight over the memo, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, the House Intelligence Committee says that Congressman Devin Nunes altered it before actually sending it to the White House, and after their committee voted along party lines to reveal it publicly.
Congressman Adam Schiff tweeted Wednesday, quote: Discovered late tonight that Chairman Nunes made material changes to the memo he sent to the White House, changes not approved by the committee. White House therefore reviewing a document the committee has not approved for release.
Chairman Nunes calls the complaint strange saying the changes were, quote, minor edits including grammatical fixes and to edits requested by the FBI and by the minority themselves.
OK. Let's just dive in. I have with me Chris Cillizza, our CNN politics reporter and editor at large, and Shawn Turner, CNN contributor. He was lead communication for the director of national intelligence.
And, gentlemen, Chris Cillizza, first to you, from what Evan Perez just told us, are we potentially functioning in a reality where this administration may be saying good-bye, whether it's they're on their own volition to not to not just one but two heads of the FBI?
CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS REPORTER AND EDITOR AT LARGE: I think we could be, Brooke, because I just don't -- knowing what I know about Donald Trump over the last, you know, two and a half years of covering him, I don't see how he reverses from his public 100 percent promise that this memo is going to be released. The reason why he doesn't is simple, because it affirms what he believes to be true, whether it's true or not. It bolsters his case that there is some sort of deep state conspiracy going on within the FBI to undermine him, that people within the FBI at high levels aren't doing their jobs well, are not following the rules and need to be called out for it.
So he -- he takes information that he likes and makes it true in his mind and damn the torpedoes. That's always been his approach. I think it would be stunning -- remember, James Comey was the FBI director he inherited. Chris Wray is the FBI director he picked.
BALDWIN: He picked.
CILLIZZA: So, you know, whatever you thinking of the firing of James Comey and the circumstances surrounding it, a Chris Wray resignation based on his -- the FBI's desire not to have this memo released, I don't know how you spin that one if you're Donald Trump.
BALDWIN: You can understand, though, Shawn, the frustrations -- I can't begin to imagine on behalf of the FBI, they released this public statement, grave concerns over the memo's accuracies, Evan making the point misleading information despite any kind of redactions that they agree upon, if you're Chris Wray and you're ahead of the FBI and the president goes ahead and says, sorry, I'm releasing it, how do you not resign?
SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, you know, that's a good question. If it is the case that the information in this memo is so egregious and if Chris Wray finds it to be so misleading that he thinks that it's worth quitting, worth walking away from, you know, I think that any objective person whether you are a supporter of the president or not, you have to take a step back and you have to look at this process and you have to look at the purpose, the motivation for wanting to put this memo out.
But, you know, it's also the case that, you know, I hope that the president is listening because, you know, look you have more than 30,000 people who work in the FBI who are committed to doing this work and supporting the president and his efforts, and for Chris Wray to walk away from the FBI, you know, really would put the organization in turmoil having two directors gone in such a short period of time. So, I think it's a good sign that this memo has not come out yet despite the fact that we've been hearing for days that it could come any minute and my hope is that that's because cooler heads are prevailing and people are getting to the president and he's giving this serious thought.
BALDWIN: Maybe of the people getting to the president, you have the third ranking in the Senate, Chris Cillizza. Now, he's warning his friends over in the House, you know, listen to these warnings coming in from the intelligence community.
[14:10:06] You know, the number of people against this release seems to be quickly outweighing folks in the White House.
CILLIZZA: Well, yes and I think it's important to note too that we have a tendency to create everything as a Democrats say one thing, Republicans say another partisan battle, frankly, because most things are at this point, but this really isn't. This is sort of an institutional FBI, law enforcement clump that Democrats are aligned with and then Donald Trump, Devin Nunes -- you know, that group. This is not a strict D/R split.
The reason I think he's going to go forward with it is because he has repeatedly trampled in his first year in office on the idea or the tradition of the FBI and sort of the broader law enforcement community within the Justice Department operating independently. He views it as a corporation. Everybody reports to him. He's everybody's boss.
It's why you ask Andrew McCabe who he voted for, it's why you ask Rod Rosenstein whether you're, quote, on my team, right? These are not things that presidents typically ask but he -- whether unknowingly or knowingly, he has sort of not just blurred, he's taken those lines, those lines between president and Justice Department and just totally wiped them out. Given that, if past his prologue, I just don't see how he reverses course on this.
BALDWIN: On the whole, on my team thing, Shawn, I mean, does the president still not understand the line a year in between the executive and justice?
TURNER: If you'd ask me that question six months ago I would have said, well, perhaps he's still learning but after more than a year I just -- I don't think there's any way that we can reasonably believe that the president does not understand this distinction.
You know, one of the things that makes the FBI the best law enforcement agency in the world is because the vast majority of the people who work at the FBI, you know, without regard to their personal politics, they don't care what team the president's on. They do their job, they workday in and day out and they just want to make sure that they're doing their part to protect the country.
So, I think when the president asks someone like Rod Rosenstein if he's on his team, first of all, that's a reflection of the president. This president does not like the idea that you have people -- this government construct where you have people who are loyal to the mission but not necessarily loyal to a person or to a team and for this president that's unusual. That's not the kind of thing that's he's accustomed to. In asking that question it's clear to him now that Rod Rosenstein say man loyal to the mission and I don't know that set well with him.
CILLIZZA: By the way, just to add quickly to his point, James Comey Donald Trump asked James Comey or said to James Comey I need your loyalty pledge. Gone. He asked Andrew McCabe who did you vote for, gone. He asked Rod Rosenstein, are you on my team, rumors that he may be gone.
BALDWIN: I feel you.
CILLIZZA: At some point you have to say, wait a minute, one plus one definitely adds up to two all the time.
BALDWIN: Yes, Chris and Shawn, thank you guys.
CILLIZZA: Thank you.
BALDWIN: We have more breaking news this afternoon. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is firing back at CIA Director Mike Pompeo after Pompeo defended agency officials meeting with Russian intelligence counterparts as a way to keep Americans safe.
CNN's senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill.
Manu, what do you know?
MANU RAJUI, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this actually started earlier this week when the Russia embassy tweeted that Sergey Naryshkin who is the head of the Russian intelligence service, someone who's under sanctions here in the U.S. was in the U.S. and they tweeted that he was having meetings with his American counterparts. Well, Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader at the time, raised some serious concerns saying why did this happen and also raising concerns about the lack of implementation of those sanctions on Russia that were approved overwhelmingly by Congress last year that the president reluctantly signed into law.
Well, Pompeo today wrote back to Schumer saying that it's normal for him to have these meetings. He said that this is what predecessors have done in the past and he's doing it to keep the country safe and it would be a bad idea to ignore these opportunities to work together in the name of terrorism.
Well, Chuck Schumer just moments ago firing back saying, if this administration is ignoring sanctions, that's very serious. Director Pompeo's refusal to answer that question is deeply troubling and, Brooke, no real response yet about whether or not the issue of sanctions themselves were a topic of that discussion, but Democrats suspect that could be one reason why these have not been fully implemented. That's one thing Democrats will continue to push on. So, that letter from Pompeo not satisfying concerns from the top Democrat on Capitol Hill, perhaps not surprisingly, Brooke.
BALDWIN: It's what I heard from one Democrat senator who we talked to early in the week.
Manu Raju, thank you so much.
Also, just a heads up, moments from now, we're going to hear remarks from House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from that Republican retreat in West Virginia expected to weigh in on this memo controversy. We're going to monitor that for you.
Also ahead was she obstructing justice, the Trump teams former legal spokesman is ready to talk and address concerns he has surrounding White House communications director Hope Hicks.
And new developments involving HUD Secretary Ben Carson and questions surrounding a possible federal ethics violation. We have those details ahead.
I'm Brooke Baldwin. You're watching CNN.
[14:20:15] BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is reportedly zeroing in on this possible cover up of that Trump Tower meeting between Russians and the Trump campaign. "The New York Times" is reporting that White House communications director Hope Hicks, here she is, told the president that e-mails written by the president's son, Don Jr., about that meeting will, quote/unquote, never get out.
Of course, she was wrong and that phrase could be an admission that the Trump team new what they were doing and knew what was wrong and that Hope Hicks is guilty of obstructing justice. And now, a former spokesman for the Trump legal team is expected to tell the special counsel all about that conversation. Hicks' attorney though has strongly pushed back and deny the accusation altogether.
So, with me, Seth Berenzweig.
And so, Seth, the bottom line is what this could potentially show here that both Trump and Hicks had knowledge of these, you know, get some dirt on Hillary Clinton e-mails and wanted to cover-up?
SETH BERENZWEIG, BUSINESS AND COMPLIANCE ATTORNEY: Exactly. This all came about when there was an indication that Mark Corallo, as you are noting, is going to be speaking to Bob Mueller and there was an indication also that there's going to be an allegation that Hope Hicks made the statement that the e-mails were not going to come out.
If that statement was made, of course it does raise a potential obstruction of justice issue. It would not be a defense under the law of obstruction as to whether she was young, inexperienced or naive. The statute really cares about whether she was aware of an ongoing pending criminal investigation and whether there was an attempt to have some kind of an impact to inhibit or cover something up. So, that's going to be a part of what those conversations will be taking place when Mr. Corallo speaking with Bob Mueller.
BALDWIN: But isn't this, I mean, at least service value today, Corallo's word versus Hope Hicks's word, I guess, unless Corallo somehow magically has tapes of this.
BERENZWEIG: Right. The only way I think Hope Hicks has a lot of exposure here is if there is multiple corroboration, if there is and she failed to disclose that during her interview with Robert Mueller, then she could be looking at for example, not only obstruction issue but also a false statements issue. But I think that what Robert Mueller is looking at in this regard is that Hope Hicks fits into a broader portrait of obstruction by the president. This is a piece of a larger puzzle, of what was happening on Air Force One relative to what could have been an obstruction to mischaracterize the meeting in Trump Tower.
And at the point that the statement was prepared by the president it was demonstratively false. It was way off base. His own son's e- mails demonstrate that it was not for adoption.
BALDWIN: Right, right.
BERENZWEIG: So, there's a lot that goes on there.
BALDWIN: Also, Corallo up and quit right around the time we're talking about, he ups and says, see you, maybe demonstrating an actionable response. Would that give him an upper hand at all in terms of credibility? BERENZWEIG: Absolutely. I guarantee you that -- absolutely. One of
the questions -- well, there's two things that would bolster his credibility. One, contemporaneous statements to other witnesses in real time and, two, the immediate departure. He left within a day or two of that incident that happened on Air Force One.
I guarantee you that one of the questions that Robert Mueller's going to be asking Mark Corallo in the interview is why did you abruptly resign within the couple of days of what happened on Air Force One, what did you see that led you to be so disturb that you would have an abrupt departure? That witness has a story to tell.
BALDWIN: Also -- yes. Also, Hope Hicks was apparently texting with Don Jr., this is according to the report today out of "The Times", if she said that she was using a government phone, are those texts on record?
BERENZWEIG: Oh, absolutely. They're on record and they have to be preserved as a matter of federal law and I guarantee you that the special prosecutor's office already has those, and that they probably reviewed those before they interviewed her. So, now, we have a situation where we have a piling on of a lot of evidence and now, Bob Mueller is going to have an additional unique perspective when he interviews Mark Corallo.
He's going to be able to add further context to both the conversation that happened on Air Force One and also what that meant to how the president was mischaracterizing that relative to the obstruction investigation. The only other point I would add s that it's ironic we're talking about this issue of obstruction today with the Nunes memo, impending release, because one of the things prosecutors look at in trying to get to state of mind is a pattern and practice. When you start to put these things together they tell a story too.
BALDWIN: Right. Seth Berenzweig, thank you so much. Good to see you.
BERENZWEIG: Thanks, Brooke.
BALDWIN: Ahead here on CNN, back to our breaking news this hour.
[14:29:01] Sources tell us that top White House aides are worried that FBI Director Christopher Wray could quit if this highly controversial Republican memo becomes public.
Stay with us.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BALDWIN: All right. We're back with the breaking news on this Thursday afternoon. Its concerns are growing over whether the Trump administration will release this Republican memo, this classified memo attacking the FBI. CNN is now reporting that the White House is concerned that FBI Director Christopher Wray could just up and resign over all of this.
In fact, we now have a new statement in, this is the president from the FBI Agents Association releasing this. Let me just read it for you. The FBI Agents Association appreciates FBI Director Chris Wray standing shoulder to shoulder with the men and women of the FBI as we work together to protect our country from criminal and national security threats.