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Memo Discredits Probe; Redactions over FBI Concerns; Nunes Worked with White House; Wray Objects to Release; Corallo to Talk to Mueller. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 1, 2018 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:00:06] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King is off.

An unprecedented public rift between the White House and the FBI over making a controversial GOP Russia memo public and the implications for President Trump's new FBI director.

plus, one of the president's closest aides is under new scrutiny in the Mueller probe. And all of this drama is unfolding while President Trump is heading to West Virginia speaking this hour at the Republican retreat on selling the agenda going into this year's midterm elections. His vice president feels good about their chances.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Elections are about choices. If we frame that choice, I think we're going to reelect majorities in the House and the Senate. And I actually think -- I actually think we're going to -- we're going to -- and when all the dust settles after 2018, I think we're going to have more Republicans in Congress in Washington, D.C. than when we started.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BASH: We begin this hour in suspense on when the president will make the final decision on authorizing the release of that controversial House GOP memo on Russia. CNN has learned that the president has now read the memo, and not just that, CNN is also now reporting jaw- dropping news about phone calls the president is making to his friends and his allies, admitting to them that he believes releasing this memo will help undermine the Russia investigation.

And then there's the question of the FBI director, the one President Trump himself picked after he fired James Comey. He has made clear that he does not want this memo released. So the question is, could Christopher Wray resign in protest?

CNN is working all angles of this story. And with me first are CNN's Sara Murray and Shimon Prokupecz.

I want to start, Sara, with you.

And as I'm doing this, I'm just going to let you know that the pictures we're looking at is of the president shaking hands as he arrives in West Virginia.

But, Sara, let's get straight to what you are learning, along with our team here, that the president is telling people that releasing this memo will discredit the Mueller probe.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And our reporting, along with some of my colleagues, Kevin Liptec (ph), Kaitlan Collins, Dan Merica, we're hearing that the president is having these conversations, is telling his associates he believes that releasing this memo will help discredit the Russia probe. And, obviously, there was this debate raging and real questions about whether this memo is misleading, whether classified information like this should be made public at all. And this gives you a window into sort of the political calculus the president is playing and what we expect will ultimately be a decision to make this memo public. He feels like this memo is going to reveal that some of the top brass was out to get him from the beginning at the FBI, at some of these intel agencies, and could give him further fodder to push for an early end to this Russia investigation.

Obviously, Dana, as you know from your reporting, too, this is something the president has been preoccupied with day to say. We are a year into his presidency, and it still seems that this is the top of his mind over and over again. And certainly sort of the political backdrop of this has been very important to the president as he makes his very controversial decision to make this memo public.

BASH: Such great reporting.

Sara, stand by.

I want to bring in Shimon right now.

And, Shimon, I mentioned that I was told that the White House is feverishly trying to figure out how they can thread the needle here on this memo. Give us the latest reporting on the status of this memo, when it's going to be released and, much more importantly, the to-ing and fro-ing about how to do it and not really get to the precipice of making the FBI director that the president chose so angry that he might calls it quits.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. So, you know, the latest indications are that perhaps maybe tomorrow that this memo gets released and that it's undergoing its review in the National Security Council with the intelligence folks there.

The issue here is really the FBI. This is the FBI's information. This is their material that was brought over to Congress. They then put this memo together. They continue to object. The FBI, their statement has not changed. Their stance on this has not changed. And that is the real issue.

And what's really taken -- what's really gone on here, and what's really taking hold, is that you have this public statement from the FBI, from the FBI director, certainly challenging the president's decision, weighing in saying, you should not do this and that it's going to cause problems for the FBI. And mostly it goes to the agents and the analysts and the people who do this kind of work day to day. It hurts them in the end. And that is the position of the FBI director and that is the position of the FBI. And nothing simply has changed.

[12:05:00] Whether it's redactions or something else, it's just that the release of this memo itself is going to create problems. It discredits a whole host of people within the FBI that do this work. It brings issues to the Russia investigation. And their -- their positions is that they still do not want this released.

BASH: Right.

And then, Sara, the flip side of that is, you have the FBI, you know, obviously under scrutiny in this memo. And an open question is whether or not, at the White House, they can find a way -- I know we've been hearing about some redactions, whether or not that can happen and go far enough in calming things at the FBI, or whether taking things out of a memo that the FBI says is problematic because it was already too cherry picked because there's not enough in there to give proper context is really going to make a difference.

MURRAY: Well, right. And that was one of the key concerns from the FBI is not just the notion that things could be wrong, but that things are misleading, that you're not getting a full picture of what went on here. And when you see sort of the reaction from some in the White House and certainly from Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, their view is, of course the FBI and the Department of Justice don't want this memo out there because it makes them look bad. But this is the entire point of oversight that we need to draw attention to these things when there are -- when there are errors, when there are biases and there are things that go wrong in the process.

I think the problem with this memo and the reason we're seeing so much controversy is the very partisan way that it's been done. Certainly we saw this partisan ranker with the committee, with Devin Nunes pushing this memo through there. And then also there are questions about how closely his staffers may have worked with White House staff on this memo. There are a lot of people who just don't really trust that this was a fair and transparent process, that it's actually being done in an honest oversight role as opposed to just a document that the president can point to and say, you know, see this Russia investigation has been biased against me from the start.

BASH: Absolutely.

Sara, thank you so much.

Shimon, thank you as well.

And here at the table to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Karen Tumulty of "The Washington Post," "Bloomberg's" Sahil Kapur, and Mary Katharine Ham with "The Federalist."

Thanks, everybody. And, Jeff, we have been talking to each other and talking to sources, along with our team here that has been working on this. I want to start with one of the things that Sara just talked about, which is questions about Devin Nunes, who is the intel chair, and whether or not he can even be trusted to have done this independent of the White House, which, again, we're reporting this morning, politically the president himself has made very clear he thinks releasing this is a good thing. It helps undermine the Russia investigation.

I just want to read part of a transcript from the internal deliberations inside the House Intel Committee about releasing this memo. Democrat Mike Quigley said, when you, as the majority, conceived of doing this memo for release to the body and to the public, in preparation, and thought of doing it, the consultation of it, was any of this done after/during conversations or consultations with anyone in the White House?

I -- Nunes, I would just answer, as far as I know, no.

And then Quigley picks up, but, Mr. Chairman, does that mean that none of the staffers that work for the majority had any consultation, communication at all with the White House?

Nunes, the chair is not going to entertain a question by another member.

So the answer is, he's not saying no.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: He's not saying no and the White House isn't saying no either. I mean I think knowing what we know about the relationship between the chairman and the White House, it would be pretty unusual or unlikely if there wasn't some coordination. And you don't have to sort of divine much thought to know what the president is thinking about this. As he said, he has made the argument quite publically that the wants this to be released.

So I think, at a staff level, at the very least, it would be very surprising if there was not coordination. The White House will not say either.

One thing they are coordinating on, though, I'm told, is the release of the memo, if the president decides that, which, you know, we believe he will, that they will coordinate the release of the memo. But it's hard, again, to imagine that there wasn't some coordination here, whether they say there was or not.

BASH: Especially against the backdrop of the --

ZELENY: Sure.

BASH: Very unusual drama that happened last year with Nunes saying he had new information he needed to get to the White House, when it turns out he got it from White House staffers in the first place. But that's another discussion.

ZELENY: Right. BASH: I want to drill down on CNN's new reporting this morning. I called it jaw-dropping. There's no other way for me to look at it. That the president is calling people and saying, I think it's good to release this memo because it will undermine the Russia investigation.

Again, I feel like this is one of those moments where we're so desensitized to the president doing things that are so against protocol, forget about the law, which is another question. What do you make of that?

[12:10:04] KAREN TUMULTY, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think it is yet another indication that the way the personal -- the president views everything in personal terms, not in institutional terms, not in, you know, terms of setting precedence. It -- he believes it will undermine the investigation because it will undermine the FBI.

BASH: And I just want to say, as you're talking, we see on the screen, this is -- just kind of gives you a sense of another thing that Sara was talking about, which is maybe obvious, about how very important players kind of stand on whether or not this should be released. You see on the left, the president, his chief of staff, the Republican -- if you can put it back up -- the Republican chair of the Intelligence Committee, and now, as of this week, the House Speaker. The ones who don't want it released, the Democratic head of the Intelligence Committee and the FBI and the Justice Department.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG": Right. I mean the whole irony of this is that if there is evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the DOJ and the FBI in this memo -- and, of course, nobody should be above reproach if that is the case. The process by which this has come out has raised a lot of very serious questions about the motive and about whether this memo can be trusted. It's being done by one party, in one committee, in one chamber of Congress over the objection of Democrats, over the objections of the DOJ and the FBI, and without consultation, without approval from Senate Republicans on the Intelligence Committee.

So this is what -- the sort of thing that has led to a firestorm on Capitol Hill where you have, I believe just today, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi asking Speaker Ryan to remove Devin Nunes, accusing him of disgracing the rule of law, engaging in a dangerous an unethical cover-up on behalf of the White House. Senator Schumer is also weighing in, accusing Nunes of carrying the White House's water on this investigation. All of this as we don't even know if an indictment is coming or what the impact of all of this is going to be.

The thing I would be keeping my eye on in this memo or what the allegations end up being from Devin Nunes is what it says about Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who is now the lynch pin of this investigation. Attorney General Sessions above him is recused. If there is evidence of criminality, Mueller is going to have to file a report for him and Rosenstein's going to have to decide what to do from there. If he is removed, the whole investigation is going to be (INAUDIBLE). BASH: And the question is -- and you mentioned that because he is said to be mentioned either directly or indirectly in the whole -- in the memo as part of the whole question of whether or not a FISA warrant or warrants were done improperly.

BASH: Stand by, because on this very note we have some new information from the White House. A senior administration official is telling CNN that the White House has approved several redactions to this memo. The Republican House Intelligence Committee memo. This is according, again, to a senior administration official. But the White House has so far rejected the FBI and Justice Department's request for redactions that the White House says they think it is meant to conceal information that might be embarrassing to the agency. And the inner agency review of the memo is ongoing. According to this official, the White House likely would not send the memo, though, back to the House until tomorrow. Meaning, this is all very much influx and it's not ready -- not ready today.

First of all, your reaction to that.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, "THE FEDERALIST": Well, I want to note the Trump thing. I think it's a perfectly Trumpian, stupid move to just say that you think it will discredit all of this. I mean it's a classic -- like he's being himself and he's just putting out there what his actual desire is.

Look, this memo may actually discredit parts of the intelligence community because they did things wrong.

BASH: Right.

HAM: Many civil libertarians in this town have suddenly forgotten that the FBI can go wrong and has a history, as many federal agencies do, of being -- indulging abuses of power. So I do want to look at that.

The other thing I don't understand about this story is that for a year we've been in this situation where we don't have full contexts, where we are getting leaks that are selective, that are not the full context of the story, that are sometimes politically motivated and we attempt to put context to that. We know exactly what the motivation of the people releasing this memo are. I'm happy we're having the conversation about it and I don't mind having more information that gives context to the story that we have not yet had full context to the entire time.

BASH: Right. But -- right. But the problem is, we don't' have full context, you're exactly right, and that it is appropriate and necessary for the U.S. Congress, which has oversight on these agencies for this very reason --

HAM: Right.

BASH: To make sure that they don't take their very important rules that they have over our civil liberties and don't, you know, let it run amok. The problem here is, we can't trust that because it's so partisan. We can't trust the investigation. And -- HAM: Well, I would argue, I would like all the leaks that have happened for the past year, plus this Republican version, plus the Democratic version --

BASH: Right.

HAM: And just let the leak war and the narrative war --

BASH: Or, God forbid, the Democrats and Republicans should work together, as they are supposed to on the Intelligence Committee, and comes up with a narrative that the American people can trust.

ZELENY: And it's also just the House, though. I mean that's a key issue here.

BASH: (INAUDIBLE).

[12:14:57] ZELENY: Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota, said this morning that he has concerns. He believes the Senate should weigh in before this is released. I think that's a very important point. The distinction between the House investigation and the Senate investigation has been dramatic. Senator Burr, the chairman of the Senate committee, you know, has conducted a bipartisan vote (ph). So this is only one-half of the Republican --

BASH: Right.

ZELENY: Congress of government leading this charge.

BASH: Karen, let's talk about Chris Wray. He was put in by the president after he fired James Comey. And he won, you know, wide bipartisan praise, wide bipartisan confirmation for this very reason, because he is -- was not a political hack. He's someone who is a careerist, who likes to follow the law. How do you think that this plays -- that that plays into this very real rub between the agency and the White House?

TUMULTY: Well, the real question is whether this pushes it to the point where Christopher Wray feels that he has to resign to stand up for his agency. And the question is not just whether the FBI screwed up, which can happen, which does happen. The question is whether you can take an out-of-text memo and use that to say, and these were their motivations. And that is the truly corrosive aspect of this. It goes to the FBI's motivations. And if you don't have a full case to make on that score, it is a very reckless thing to do.

KAPUR: The FBI put out an unusual statement I think yesterday saying it has grave concerns about this memo. I think the wording they used was, material omissions of fact and that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy.

I think FBI Director Wray and I think Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein are thinking about the institutional impact of one party launching an attack on law enforcement without the bipartisan approval, you know, of their colleagues on the other side and what it could do down the road if something would happen, especially when this is wrapped up in such an politically explosive issue.

BASH: Exactly. But, you know what, I -- we put up on the screen kind of the political divide on whether to release this memo. The think that we have to underscore time and time again is that Christopher Wray is the president's own pick for the FBI. He should be --

KAPUR: Rosenstein too.

BASH: Rosenstein, too. He's more -- that's true, Rosenstein too. But Chris Wray was somebody who was, you know -- Rosenstein came up and was basically picked by Jeff Sessions. Wray was very much a President Trump pick.

OK, everybody stand by.

Up next, Donald Trump Junior's meeting with Russians back in 2016 is back in the spotlight after "The New York Times" reports one person is ready to tell the special counsel exactly what he saw.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:21:54] BASH: Welcome back to INSIDE POLITICS.

We were talking about this controversial memo written by House Republicans on the Intelligence Committee.

I want to report that the top Democrat in the House, along with the top Democrat in the Senate, have sent a letter, obtained by CNN, asking the House speaker please not to release this memo. We're going to talk more about that in a little while.

But we also want to turn to the special counsel investigation, which amid all of this is still going full steam ahead. And a former Trump aide, who dealt with the Russia probe but abruptly quit last year, is about to tell investigators what he saw firsthand. "The New York Times" is reporting that the president's former legal spokesman, Mark Corallo, is ready to tell the special counsel that long time communications aide and Trump confidant Hope Hicks knew about e-mails between President Trump's son and an intermediary to a Russian government lawyer.

In case you forgot, Trump Junior responded in those e-mails, I love it, when he told the lawyer -- when he was told that the lawyer would bring him political dirt on Hillary Clinton. This was in June of 2016 and it led to a Trump Tower meeting at that time.

Now, according to accounts shared with "The Times," Hicks, on a never before disclosed conference call, told Corallo and the president that the e-mails will never get out because only a few people had access to them.

She, of course, was wrong. Someone did have access and leaked them, which prompted Donald Trump Junior to release them himself.

Now, an attorney for Hicks denies his client ever suggested any e- mails would be concealed and Corallo will reportedly tell Mueller that Hicks, quote, said it in front of the president without a lawyer on the phone and that the conversation could not be protected by attorney-client privilege.

We're back around the table.

And, Karen, this could be, as we kind of wait for Mark Corallo to actually testify and we get more information -- this could be about the most dangerous and explosive bit of information, development that we have seen so far.

TUMULTY: I think so. Mike Corallo is known -- I mean he's got a lot of experience. He is a pro. He has been a Justice Department spokesman.

And this goes to the question of obstruction of justice, which lawyers will tell you is a state of mind crime. It is all about, you know, what your calculation is in doing certain actions.

So one question will be whether there is any record of this conference call. Whether anybody has anything that you can point to that is concrete as to what exactly was said.

BASH: And you mentioned Mark Corallo. You know, people out there are hearing all of these names that they've never heard before. But just by way of context, this is somebody who way preceded the Trump world. He was not a natural person in the Trump orbit. Not a long time Trump person.

And, in fact, let me just read what "The National Review" said about Mark Corallo. Mark Corallo is a pro's pro who went to work for the Trump legal team completely on board. If Corallo ends up offering sort of critical testimony, it's because he saw stuff that genuinely struck him as either illegal or unethical or both and he's not the kind of person who's willing to lie under oath about it.

[12:25:15] ZELENY: Well, it certainly reminds us and takes us back to the moment of, he quit so abruptly. He left that job so abruptly shortly after the Air Force One flight home from Hamburg, Germany, where the president was at that G-20 Summit when "The New York Times" was first reporting that meeting in Trump Tower. You know, initially it was about Russian adoptions. It quickly turned out that was not true. But the fact that Mark Corallo abruptly left just weeks after that and now he is saying this. I think it is certainly an indication of -- of explosive right next to the president. You do not get any closer to the president than Hope Hicks.

BASH: You don't.

ZELENY: She literally sits outside his office and travels with him. Has been with him from the beginning, as we know. So this is a big development.

BASH: And on that note, I was told this morning by somebody who -- who knows them not to lose sight of the fact that her lawyer spoke on the record to "The Times," which he doesn't do. And here's what he said. She never said that, talking about Hicks, and the idea that Hope Hicks ever suggested that e-mails or other documents would be concealed or destroyed is completely false.

HAM: Yes, I mean, I sympathize with Corallo, because if I were a traditional actor within the Trump White House doing things by the rules, I think I would have hightailed it as well. I think the fact that he contemporaneously reported it add to the seriousness of this, that he felt that he needed to tell other people around him and documented it quite dramatically by leaving the White House. And I've sort of been surprised that Hope Hicks has not been involved in more of this. So the fact that it's going to -- it was Bannon we heard about initially who was creeping close the president. Now we've got Hope Hicks. And, as you say, it doesn't get closer than that.

BASH: And she -- and we have reported, she's already spoken to the special counsel. The question is whether she's asked to come back.

HAM: Just so little of the leaking and so little of the story thus far has named her specifically, that I've been surprised and --

BASH: Totally. No, you're absolutely -- you're absolutely right. And on that, she is not somebody, I'm sure you would agree, that the president would have to ask for a loyalty test.

HAM: Right.

ZELENY: No.

BASH: It is definitely assumed with Hope Hicks.

However, Sahil, the president has, in some way, shape or form, asked that of many people who work for him. CNN was first to report yesterday he asked that of Rod Rosenstein. Obviously we know he asked that of James Comey, his DNI director, who's a long-time senator from Indiana, Dan Coats, NSA Director Mike Rogers and the list goes on. And, again, most of these people are not sort of in the traditional political world. They are people who take an oath, really, to do the job to protect the institution that they run, which are traditionally apolitical, or at least try to be.

KAPUR: Right. The government officials, the longtime -- people who have serve in government for a while, are obviously caught between a president who demands personal loyalty in a way that I think his predecessors have not, and knowing that they first serve an oath -- and they serve the institutions and the American public before any particular president.

As to Special Counsel Mueller looking into this, I think it's intriguing because, as part of any obstruction of justice case, this could be another bread crumb in that trail given the fact that President Trump was involved in the crafting of, you know, the statement that described this.

But I also want to be the voice of skepticism about where this is all going because legal experts have said -- and I can't stress this enough, that indicting anybody, especially a president, for obstruction of justice is a really, really high bar. And we don't have evidence of -- clear evidence of criminality on the part of the president. So we don't know if this is going to end up being a -- you know, this is going to end up in a court of law, this is going to end up being a legal issue, or this is going to be decided by a court of public opinion though the election of representatives (ph) of Congress.

BASH: That is a very important, cautionary note. Thank you for bringing that up.

Everybody stand by, because we are just moments from President Trump speaking to Republican lawmakers at their annual retreat in West Virginia. We're going to bring you that as soon as it happens.

Stand by.