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Trump Set to Defy FBI and DOJ by Approving Memo Release. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 2, 2018 - 10:00   ET

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


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[10:00:51]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, 10:00 a.m. Eastern. I'm Poppy Harlow in New York.

The big question this morning, when will that memo drop and will the FBI chief quit and what impact will it all have on the Intelligence Community and the Russia probe? There is a lot going on as you can tell. This morning, top law enforcement officials are warning against the release of the memo, which alleges FBI surveillance abuses, but instead of listening to those concerns from his FBI chief, the head of the DOJ, acting in the Russia investigation, the president is attacking those leaders.

Here's what he writes. "The top leadership and investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans -- something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago. Rank and File are great people!"

Let's go to the White House, that's where we find our Kaitlan Collins. And look, it is pretty much a foregone conclusion that this is going to be released. The question is just when. And there is still a lot of unknowns about this memo. Will there be any redactions? Has anything been changed? But the FBI still very concerned.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Poppy. There are a lot of unknowns about the details of this memo, when it is going to be released finally, the redactions as well. But the larger question is what will the repercussions be once this memo is out there and publicly available. And the president with that tweet that you just read really gave us more insight into what he's thinking, his reasoning behind okaying the release of this memo, which we're told by the White House he's totally on board with. And the president going after the leadership there, saying they have become politicized and we should really point out that all the leadership at the FBI and the DOJ are people who were picked by the president and are also life-long Republicans.

And back when the president fired James Comey last May, the White House initially hung their reasoning on Rod Rosenstein's point that James Comey had mishandled the investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server, but back to this, the repercussions, what will this actually come out to be? Will Rod Rosenstein be fired as a result of this memo, because the reporting shows that this memo points a finger at him saying he was the one that signed off on the extension of the surveillance of that former Trump aide, Carter Page, and will it result in the loss of another FBI director just in the second year of the Trump presidency, because Chris Wray has only been there since August, when he was sworn in. So those are the big questions we're waiting on today. And we are expecting this memo as of this point, Poppy, to be released today.

HARLOW: OK, Kaitlan Collins at the White House. Thank you for that reporting.

We do know that the FBI still has grave concerns over the release of this GOP memo. Shimon Prokupecz from our justice team is following all of that from Washington. What are we hearing from those closest to the decision makers at the FBI on this one?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, nothing has changed, Poppy, certainly by the decision makers. And really goes all the way to the top, and that's Christopher Wray. His position on this has not changed, and doesn't appear likely to change. They like the rest of us are waiting to see what happens. The FBI does not anticipate getting any heads up on when is going to be released. So they will probably learn about it the way we all learn and that's when it is published and put out.

Just a little context here, in terms of the president's tweet, I think, thinking about this, I think it is important to note, what he's referring to here and when he slams the FBI and the DOJ leaders, I think it goes to Rod Rosenstein, who as we know, took over this Russia investigation for the Department of Justice, and as it has been reported approved the FISAs that we believe the memo will likely refer to. So this issue that the president, his tweet and his issues with what the FBI was doing holds central, goes centrally to Rod Rosenstein, to deputy attorney general who really is overseeing this Russia investigation, Bob Mueller the special counsel reports to him. So it would appear, at least for now, when the president is talking about these DOJ leaders, that's who he's talking about. But I guess we have to wait and see exactly once the memo is published.

HARLOW: You bring up an important chain of command there. Rod Rosenstein is the only person who can fire Bob Mueller, by the way. Shimon, before you go, we have some great reporting out of our team in D.C., Dana Bash, et cetera, that the White House itself is actually worried that Christopher Wray, the head of the FBI might quit, if this memo is released. What you to know about his mind set right now?

[10:05:14] PROKUPECZ: Well, you know, talking to people who have been in meetings with him, who have seen him in the hallways of the seventh floor at the FBI, certainly there is no indication from him or his staff that he plans to go anywhere. He has made his feelings known about this. We know that statement that the FBI published directed by him, they went ahead and published it, they wrote it. That was a pretty big deal for them. They went ahead and did it. Then last night, also, continued support for the FBI, including the former FBI director James Comey, so all of this continues. There is full support here from many people towards the FBI.

HARLOW: Shimon, we appreciate the reporting in D.C., thank you, my friend.

Let's dig into all of this. With me now is Sam Buell, former federal prosecutor, professor at law at Duke University, Bobby Chacon, retired FBI special agent and Tom Dupree, former principal deputy assistant attorney general at the Justice Department. We've got it all covered, the legal side, the FBI, the DOJ.

So, gentlemen, this morning, Tom, let me begin with you because you were at DOJ. What do you make of the president's tweet this morning, a clear attack on what looks to be Wray and Rosenstein, saying they politicized this investigation to help Democrats and Republicans and these are two Republicans appointed by the president?

TOM DUPREE, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Poppy, I agree with that. I think the president's tweet this morning was extraordinary, to be sure it is consistent with similar tweets he's sent before. But I think you put your finger on it, that from my perspective what is extraordinary about this is that he's going after his own people. The president installed Chris Wray as the director of the FBI precisely because he trusted the judgment and discretion of Christopher Wray. And so in a situation like this, where your handpicked FBI director comes to you and says I have grave concerns about this memo, it seems to me fairly remarkable and frankly a slap in the face to Chris Wray for the president to disregard that and order the release of the memo, with apparently -- without assuaging the concerns of his law enforcement officials.

HARLOW: Bobby, you tweeted something interesting that certainly caught my attention this morning as well. And you said, you know, what has happened to the FBI, dedicated my life to, please, I know you don't know much about our organization, Director Wray, but take the high road and keep quiet. What do you mean?

BOBBY CHACON, RETIRED FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Right. Yes, I don't think that it serves the FBI's mission to get dragged into a public debate about this memo. I think that this is a political memo. The conclusions drawn in are a person's opinion or a group of people's opinion. So to have the FBI director dragged into a public debate now that could last weeks -

HARLOW: What do you mean dragged in? Are you saying he shouldn't have gone to the White House to plead with Kelly on Monday like he did about not releasing the memo?

CHACON: He absolutely should -- that's the route to take.

HARLOW: OK.

CHACON: The statement that the FBI put out to me was a little puzzling because he did not in there mention sources and methods or impacting negatively an ongoing investigation, which are the two avenues that I think the FBI should stand against if that memo does impact those. It actually mentioned the conclusions drawn would be inaccurate. That's not the FBI's place to judge. I think that if they have concerns that there are sources and methods that would be compromised or if it would negatively impact an ongoing investigation, those are legitimate concerns, but the FBI statement earlier this week did not mention those. And I wish they would have.

HARLOW: Got it. So you mean don't go at it as far as putting this statement out, et cetera, just keep it within the confines of the agency and the White House. Hold on. Let me get the professor in here. Professor, to you, legally speaking, there is no recourse, is there? Is there any legal recourse for the departments if this memo is released?

SAMUEL BUELL, LAW PROFESSOR, DUKE UNIVERSITY: I don't think so. I mean, the House is doing something that is completely unprecedented. But at least technically following their rules, they did get White House signoff. So I actually think, you know, the bureau and the Justice Department are probably just going to have to live with what happens here and then the question becomes if this thing is entirely misleading as we have been told, are there any avenues to try to complete the record to get the other facts out there, that may clear that what I think is overwhelmingly likely, which is that nothing improper was done here.

We have a FISA warrant that went all the way to the level of the deputy attorney general, the deputy attorney general who is appointed by this president, who is as by the book kind of DOJ career guy as anybody ever met. It is just incredibly implausible that Rod Rosenstein signed off on a flagrantly bad warrant application. So I'm quite sure that didn't happen, but the memo is apparently going to suggest that it did. And then the questions is -- are the other facts going to come out that shows that's not the case? And, you know -- yes, go ahead, Poppy.

HARLOW: I was going to say, looks like the Democratic, you know, the Democrats' memo, the counterargument here will come out, just a question of when, because they're going through a bunch of checks as well.

[10:10:05] But to you, Bobby, as a retired FBI special agent, what I wonder this morning is if this memo is released, regardless of the warnings of the head of the FBI, do you think this has an impact and an important impact on the trust between the president and the FBI and issues totally unrelated to this? I mean national security issues. I mean terrorism cases, et cetera. What does this do to that going forward?

CHACON: Well, you know, I hope it has no impact. I mean, the FBI is traditionally our mission has been carried out without prejudice, you know with these things. We usually are able to take the high road and move on and carry out our mission without allowing these types of things to kind of -- you know that's why I implore Director Wray to kind of stay quiet and keep plodding on.

These are serious allegations that are being made. And there are, you know, the president in his tweet this morning talked about sacred institutions, or sacred processes in public. Well, there are also sacred processes to address the concerns that are supposedly laid out in this memo and they're not to make a public memo about it. We have the OIG process. Wes we have the OPR process within the FBI.

We have ways to address if you think that FBI personnel acted improperly. There are long-standing traditions and processes. In fact, the OIG is doing just that right now with maybe possible FBI personnel how they carried out the Hillary Clinton investigation. So we need to let those processes play out.

HARLOW: Tom, you -

BUELL: Poppy, can I just -

HARLOW: Yes, of course, then I'll go to Tom.

BUELL: So, right, my great friend Bobby Chacon with whom I've been in the trenches, have enormous respect for him, but I have to say, this goes to a higher level. This isn't ordinary procedure. Christopher Wray has to realize that we're at an existential point here with the respect to the integrity of federal law enforcement. And I agree he should not resign over the release of this memo.

But if the memo has been used as a pretext to remove Rod Rosenstein and put in place somebody who has the capacity to shut down Robert Mueller's investigation, then I think Christopher Wray has to consider resigning over that, because that is an existential threat to the integrity of an FBI investigation that must be protected. And at some point he's one of the two or three most senior people in law enforcement in the federal government in this country and he's only got one bullet to fire, but he's got to be willing to fire it at a certain point.

HARLOW: Tom, to you, I mean, you were at the Department of Justice, you were in one of these top roles. Does Rosenstein survive this?

DUPREE: I really hope he does, Poppy. In my opinion, Rod is a man of integrity. I think he is nonpartisan and I think he's operating in the highest traditions the Department of Justice. I hope he stays on. That said, I got to say, he's certainly in the crosshairs right now and I think what we see unfold in the next 48 or 72 hours is going to be very telling.

In my view, I think the White House would be best advised to follow what the president established as legal strategy of cooperation with the Mueller investigators in hopes of bringing this to a quick resolution. If the president is right, that there is no collusion, let's let Bob Mueller reach that conclusion and vindicate the president, rather than try to use this memo as a way to tarnish the investigation itself.

HARLOW: You know we have seen other folks in the crosshairs who survived, like Jeff Sessions, Rosenstein's boss. So we'll see what happens. Gentlemen, have a great weekend, thank you, all.

President Trump set to approve the release of this Republican memo by all our reporting. The question is really when. My next guest says if it is released, the Department of Justice and the FBI should take legal action. She should know. She's a lawyer and a member of Congress. We'll ask her what that would be, though, ahead.

And the breaking news in the mark of the Dow is down 300 points nearly right now. Why, because we just got a very strong job report. We're going to dive into all of that ahead.

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[10:18:11] HARLOW: Back to our lead story this morning, President Trump is by all accounts set to approve the release of this controversial GOP memo at any moment, so House Republicans can put it out there as soon as he gives the green light.

Joining me now is Democratic Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas. It's nice to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Good morning, Poppy. Thank you for having me.

HARLOW: Good morning. Have you read the Nunes memo?

LEE: I have. And I've read the Democratic response as well. And it is clear that, first of all, this is as characterized by the DOJ. It is misleading by the FBI, severe omissions that may impact on its credibility and truth. And I believe it is done purposefully to discredit as has been reported law enforcement. And I think that's tragic.

HARLOW: Let me ask you about that then. And I want to get your response on the Democratic memo in a moment. But you said something really interesting, because not only are you a member of Congress, you're an attorney, you're a lawyer as well. And you said that if this memo is released, you think the DOJ and the FBI should take legal action against the White House. All the other lawyers have asked about that don't know if what sort of legal recourse there could be here. What do you see?

LEE: No, my point was that if Director Wray felt so strongly about the overall impact of the Nunes memo, written in such a short order, as it has been by staff, with the influence of Republican members and no input by Democratic members and the Intelligence Committee should not be partisan, it should be nonpartisan. I indicated that the Department of Justice, the FBI should seek to enjoin the release of that document.

[10:20:02] And I believe they should be heard in court because of the severity of the ultimate impact and it is tragic that it would come to that because the FBI and the DOJ are part of the executive. They are part of the president's cabinet and should be working closely to protect the American people. Now we have a schism, a crisis, that I don't know, Poppy, how it will heal as we go forward for the president and the FBI and the DOJ to work together. And that's an important collaboration.

HARLOW: Congresswoman, here's what your Republican counterpart in the House, who we just had on, last hour, Representative Hice of Georgia. Here is how he described the memo from the Democrats that both of you have read as well. Listen to this.

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REP. JODY HICE (R), GEORGIA: From what I understand, the Democrat memo is going through the exact same process that the Republican one went through. I'm all for it coming out. I do think it is damage control type thing.

I think it is damage control. It is kind of barking up a whole different tree that -- so that in itself is not dealing with the issue, the Fourth Amendment. And I think, to me, that's what the issue is all about here that we have got to get to the bottom line on.

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HARLOW: He says it doesn't deal with the issue of the Fourth Amendment, it is barking up the wrong tree, it is damage control. What say you?

LEE: Poppy, I couldn't hear you clearly, but let me just say that I cannot characterize both memos specifically. But what I can say is that all of the characterizations by the FBI, by other members of the Intelligence Committee, I believe, are accurate. There are major omissions. There are attributions to individuals that are not correct. And it was a hastily put together document. I believe its only purpose is to give credibility to the false accusations by the president of the United States that the FBI apparatus is biased toward him, and to discredit the Mueller investigation.

There is no other reason. Because, first of all, I think Senator Thune has made a very valid point, why hasn't the Senate Intelligence Committee been allowed minimally the chairman and ranking member to review this memo? Why couldn't Chairman Nunes as a leader of the Intelligence Committee answer truthfully whether or not he engaged with the White House, whether or not his staff engaged with the White House, whether he had another midnight trip to the White House, and what is the purpose of this memo? There are other members who are involved in this. Yes.

HARLOW: So, Congresswoman, just to be clear, Nunes did say when Quigley asked him on the committee if he had worked at the White House on this memo, he said, no, but he wouldn't answer when it was asked if his staff worked with the White House on this memo. Very quickly, I have 30 seconds left. -- House Speaker Paul Ryan, leadership, came out and said he is supportive this morning of the Democrats' memo coming out. Does that give you some encouragement?

LEE: Who did you say?

HARLOW: Speaker Paul Ryan said this morning that he supports the Democratic memo coming out. Are you encouraged by that?

LEE: Well, Poppy if that is the case, the Democratic memo should come out right now. I think it was an insult to suggest that there had to be another committee vote when the vote of last Monday could have also approved the distribution of the Democratic memo.

But here's my take on this. I don't think any of the memos should be released, frankly, if the FBI feels that this is a challenge to national security. And as a member of the Homeland Security Committee, realizing that we deal with terrorist attacks every single day, potential -- excuse me, potential attacks every single day, and that is the task of the FBI, the DOJ, member of the Judiciary Committee, then I frankly believe that we should pause, assess these memos, and to listen to the FBI and other intelligence leaders as to whether or not this has a negative impact on national security. It is not a personal agenda of the president to allow him to defend himself and fight back against the Russian investigation by Special Counsel Mueller and we should protect Special Counsel Mueller as well with legislation that I've introduced.

HARLOW: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, appreciate your time this morning. Sorry about the trouble hearing us, but I appreciate you sticking with it. Thank you so much.

LEE: Thank you. I apologize as well. Thank you.

HARLOW: That's all right.

So, government funding deadline rapidly approaching as in next week, a deal for Dreamers looking increasingly slimmer, all of this as Republicans are facing questions around the Russia probe, a live report from the GOP retreat next.

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[10:29:08] HARLOW: Any moment, President Trump could approve the release of this controversial Republican memo, alleging FBI surveillance abuses. Republican members of Congress are at this retreat in West Virginia. And, you know what, they want to talk about a lot of other things, but they're being bombarded with questions about the memo.

Our congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly joins me now from there. It really is overshadowing everything else they want to talk about.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy. If you think about what is on the agenda for 2018 for Republicans just in the near term, you have to fund the government beyond Thursday. That's a major issue. You obviously have the DACA issue that's sitting out there, which the party certainly doesn't have consensus on now and doesn't look like a deal is in the offing in any near future. You have a disaster relief bill that everybody acknowledges has to be done.

All of these issues, not just the 2018 agenda, Poppy, these are things they need to get done in the next couple of weeks. And yet all of the talk here has been about the memo. Members that have come into this conference room from the retreat to meet with reporters to give press conferences to give interviews. It is all about the memo. They want to know about the memo, where they stand on the memo, what the reaction is to the memo. I can tell you, in talking to some Republican aides, there is frustration about it. They want to talk about what they did in the end of 2017. They want to talk about what they want to do.