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Mitt Romney Teases Possible Senate Run in Utah; White Worried FBI Chief Could Quit Over Memo Release; Trump Falsely Says Speech Ratings Where Highest in History. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired February 1, 2018 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Just in to CNN, former presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, teasing a possible Senate run in Utah. Here's what he just tweeted. Looking forward to making an announcement on February 15th about the Utah Senate race.

CNN national political reporter, Maeve Reston, joins me with more. Is this what we think it is?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: It is what we think it is, Brooke. It's over 99 percent sure. This is sort of like the worst kept secret in Utah right now that Mitt Romney is going to run for senate there and has been actively exploring that. He's been talking to potential hires, aides. But this will allow him to do some of that work kind of more openly now. He has actually kind of a long path to winning the party's nomination.

He can take two routes. He'll either have to collect 28,000 signatures from registered Republicans to get on the Utah ballot, or he can go to his party's nominating convention. And that could get a little wild because some of the delegates who control that process have not liked favored candidates in the past. So, he has two paths to pursue. There's a lot of leg work to do. But clearly, he's been going around talking to voters about what his agenda should be. Very much primed for taking on this new role which will be very interesting to watch in D.C.

BALDWIN: Right, so maybe February 15th everyone can act surprise but we all know. We all know what's going on. Maeve Reston with the scope, thank you so much.

RESTON: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, more on our breaking news that the FBI director could resign if the president releases this controversial Republican memo as early as tomorrow. That's what we're hearing and the new memo from FBI agents backing Christopher Wray.

Also, it's deja vu over the debate over the inauguration crowd size. This time President Trump making a false claim about the ratings for his State of the Union speech.


BALDWIN: If you are just joining us today we've got breaking news. CNN is reporting that the White House is now officially concerned that the FBI director Christopher Wray could actually resign if they do decide to go forward with this Republican memo release, which this memo allegedly attacks the law enforcement agency. An administration official says the White House will tell Congress that the release is probably tomorrow.

The president of the FBI Agents Association just released this statement that says in part, 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. As Director Wray noted, FBI special agents have remained steadfast in their dedication to professionalism and we remain focused on our important work to protect the country from terrorists and criminals both domestic and international.

With me now Evan McMullin. He's a former CIA officer. He also ran for president as an independent in last year's election. Evan, try as best you can, put yourself in Christopher Wray's shoes, if this memo comes out tomorrow, what do you do?

EVAN MCMULLIN, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Well, I think it's tough, but he's drawn a clear line and he's a man of honor. I don't know him personally, but I imagine that he is a man of honor. I'm told that he is like others at the FBI who I do know, like Director Comey, like Deputy Director McCabe and others. And they're trying to stand up for the integrity of not only the FBI but for the rule of law in this country. And what they're -- you know, when Wray says -- Wray's drawing this line and I think it will be difficult for him to stay where he is leading the FBI if the president makes this move. And the president is somebody who I assess not to be an honorable man.

[15:40:00] And he probably doesn't understand that people have principles and draw lines sometimes. And sometimes that's necessary and Wray has done that. I don't know what he'll do in the end, but I think it is very difficult for him to stay having drawn this line if the president ignores it.

BALDWIN: I just read that statement from the FBI Agents Association, but you know what's missing, because I had an FBI insider tell me that what's missing is other intelligence agency voices. Right? I mean, this is all about FISA processes and all these intel agencies all depend on that, right? You're one big community. So, where is the CIA? Where's Mike Pompeo on this, standing behind Director Wray? Where's Dan Coats? What do you make of that point?

MCMULLIN: You make a good point. It would be great if those other leaders would step forward and defend --

BALDWIN: Why do you think they haven't?

MCMULLIN: I think it's politics. And I also think the president is a really hard individual to get along with if you're in the law enforcement or national security community. And I'm sure these men and women are trying to protect their relationships with him. They have priorities that they're trying to achieve. I understand that. I don't think it's a good enough excuse. I think they should speak with one voice.

But you do have the leadership at the DOJ, at least Rosenstein. And then you also have the leadership of the FBI speaking with one voice. Obviously, it's part of the same -- part of the same organization, the DOJ. But you do have that. I wish there were more, but it's significant that president Trump's DOJ and FBI leadership are stepping forward and saying that this would be a bad decision to release this memo.

BALDWIN: Isn't this -- doesn't this just exemplify why FBI directors are given these ten-year terms just to be sort of impervious to politics and pressures from a president, i.e., what's happening right now?

MCMULLIN: Absolutely. So, they're expected to serve no more than ten years. Some have served more, some have served less. But the idea is for them to serve longer terms so that they're not -- so they're less vulnerable to political pressures. And by virtue of their longer service then they also get to choose their teams, obviously, so that's parts of it too.

But we're seeing right now why it's just so important that our law enforcement leadership has independence. Because there are situations like the one we're in now in which even the chief executive officer of the country, the president himself needs to be investigated. And for that to happen in the way that it needs to happen, there must be independence in the process. So, we see now why FBI directors are supposed to serve these longer terms.

But I'll say that it's quite interesting to me that the president continues to ask for loyalty or to test the loyalty of senior law enforcement officers in the country and then turn around and say that those who maintain their independence are illicitly or unlawfully biased against him. I mean, it's a certain irony that I think belies the president's true motives here. He's not motivated by the best interest of the country, he's thinking about himself and himself alone. And we as Americans need to understand that our rule of law is critical to ensuring our basic rights and that's what's at stake here.

BALDWIN: Yes. Evan, one more quick topic here. This is on CIA Director Mike Pompeo. He recently met with the Russian spy chief behind the 2016 election interference. This mystery meeting, it's raising some eyebrows. Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, questioned the meeting to which Pompeo responded today. It was a way, to quote, keep Americans safe. Of course, this is coming the same week the White House decides not to push new sanctions on Russia. Should dots be connected here?

MCMULLIN: Look, I have to say, I saw that report and even though I want to believe that these are just -- that these are the kinds of meetings that do happen. It is true that we meet -- we always meet with Russian intelligence at a variety of levels. That is important to do, even in the toughest of times, even when relations are bad. Even when with they're attacking our democracy, perhaps especially when they're attacking our democracy. But I have to say I don't know of another time when all -- when the leaders of all three of Russia's main intelligence organizations the FSB and the GRU, all came to the United States at a time when the administration is refusing to implement new sanctions on Russia that are absolutely critical for deterring this continued attack on our country. And so -- I have to say that I share some concern there. I'd like to know more.

[15:45:00] I'm also concerned, Brooke, one last thing about this. I always get concerned when meetings like this happen between the United States government -- between this administration specifically -- and the Russians. And the U.S. government claims that the whole purpose of the meeting was counterterrorism. You hear that from corrupt regimes and governments all over the world when they do things they shouldn't be doing. They often blame security. They often put it on counterterrorism. And that concerns me that that's what that Pompeo's explanation leans heavily upon that there wasn't more there. There's certainly more to discuss. I understand they probably wouldn't want to disclose everything, but it makes me nervous when they blame counterterrorism or when they put it on counterterrorism alone.

BALDWIN: It's what he said. It's up to everyone else I guess, to take him at his word. Evan McMullin, thank you so much.

Coming up next the president tells a blatant lie about the ratings for the State of the Union. It turns out it was not the most watched ever as he tweeted.


BALDWIN: President Trump logged into Twitter today to share with the world this, quote, thank you for all of the nice compliments and reviews on the State of the Union speech. 45.6 million people watched, the highest number in history.

And while we know the president has, shall we call it a tension for the grandiose hyperbole. You know what, facts matter. And according to Nielsen the most-watched State of the Union was actually from President George W. Bush back in 2003. Which taking me back to this moment almost exactly one year ago.


SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period. Both in person and around the globe.


BALDWIN: Let's talk it over with CNN senior media correspondent, host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brain Stelter. And Hadas Gold, she is a media and business reporter for CNN politics. So, he got the number right, but, dude, what's up? Why does he keep doing this?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: His numbers were exactly right about the ratings for the State of the Union. He was wrong about saying it was the highest rated ever. Here are the actual five highest rated state of the unions in history. You mentioned George W. Bush, Bill Clinton number two there on the list and so on and so on. President Trump had a high rated speech on Tuesday night. It was well-received. It was watched by a lot of people, but it was not a record setter. And what I think this raises is that kind of question we come back to with President Trump. When he exaggerates, when goes too far, is he just engaging in hyperbole or is he lying? And I think the answer to that question is, it depends what you believe about the president more generally.

BALDWIN: If he does this, Hadas, with itty-bitty things like, OK, this is, you know, not really -- it's a lot of numbers, a lot of people tuned in, but not the most watched ever. What's it mean about the stuff that really, really matters?

HADAS GOLD, CNN POLITICS, MEDIA AND BUSINESS REPORTER: Well, I mean, he's said himself in his books that, you know, it's OK to exaggerate a little bit to play around with the truth if it benefits your business, and it just helps you get more attention. Now, actually, he beat himself even last year when he gave his speech to the joint session of Congress. It's not a state of the union, but he even had more viewers then. Than he did for this one. Now, granted, there were records, especially looking at cable, Fox News had a lot of viewers. But it's just not true, especially when you're President making a statement like that on Twitter. Everybody is going to take it, everybody's going to runs with it. You really think, like, why aren't you just fact checking it? Do a quick review of a tweet. And we've seen this happen again and again before, and it just creates sort of an unnecessary distractions.

STELTER: Yes, it only matters because of the part of the pattern, right? The White House is trying to spin me this afternoon saying, you know, he meant a record for cable news. But that's not what he wrote in the tweet, and this person won't even go on the record and put their name attached. Listen, I always feel for the people in the White House who are trying to explain Trump's tweets because, obviously, when it's wrong, it's wrong. There's no way to really explain it. I remember, Brooke, when I covered Trump on the "Apprentice," he would brag about being number one in the ratings when he actually number 10 or 20 in the ratings. It's one thing to do that when you're a reality TV star, it's different now --

BALDWIN: But when your president of the United States is just a roll the dice.


BALDWIN: Guys, thank you so very much.

STELTER: Thanks.

BALDWIN: Next here, forget what they say in Washington. This message from former first lady, Michelle Obama and her first televised interview since leaving the White House.


BALDWIN: Former first lady, Michelle Obama sending this first message in her first TV interview since leaving the White House. The former first lady telling talk show host Ellen DeGeneres, and said, forget what they say in Washington and all we have is hope. Here she was.


MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY: We have to be an open-hearted nation, and that's who we are, and that's the truth of who we are. Can't lose sight of that. So, let's just keep living our lives like that every single day and forget what they are saying in Washington. That's not necessarily who we are. We know who we are. And I know who this country is.


BALDWIN: She also opened up talking about -- remember that sort of awkward moment, the box, the give, the gift. This was inauguration day last year, and finally revealing the mystery gift inside that blue box that she received from the current first lady, Melania Trump.


OBAMA: Well, there's all this protocol. I mean, this is like a state visit. So, they tell you that you're going to do this, they're going to stand here, never before do you get this gift. So, I'm, sort of like, OK -- where -- what am I supposed to do with this gift? Everyone cleared out, and no one would come and take the box. And I'm thinking, do we take the picture? And then my husband sees it. So, he grabbed the box and took it back inside.


BALDWIN: Husband saved the day with the grab on the former first lady appearing on the Ellen DeGeneres show. All is part of the hosts 60th birthday celebration.

That is it for me here in New York. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We're of course going to continue our breaking coverage as to what happens with this memo. As we're hearing it could be released as early as tomorrow. This contentious classified Republican memo, and what those ramifications could be as far as it's concerned for the FBI chief, Christopher Wray. Coming up next. "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper starts right now.