Return to Transcripts main page


Republicans Release Controversial Memo on FBI; Dow Plummets. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired February 2, 2018 - 15:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Jake Tapper.

This is CNN's special coverage of the explosive memo that sources say President Trump sees as a way to discredit and undermine special counsel Robert Mueller and the Russia probe.

The memo has now been released after the president approved its release today, against the wishes of his own appointees running the Justice Department and the FBI.

The memo alleges that the FBI abused its use of surveillance powers to monitor then Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. A short time ago, President Trump said this about the memo, which was written and authorized for release by Republicans.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's terrible, you want to know the truth. I think it's a disgrace. What's going on in this country, I think it's a disgrace.

The memo was sent to Congress. It was declassified. Congress will do whatever they're going to do, but I think it's a disgrace what's happening in our country. And when you look at that, and you see that and so many other things, what is going on, a lot of people should be ashamed of themselves, and much worse than that.

So I sent it over to Congress. They will do what they're going to do. Whatever they do is fine. It was declassified, and let's see what happens. But a lot of people should be ashamed.


TAPPER: CNN senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown joins me now.

Pamela, what specifically does the memo allege?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: There are a few things in this Republican memo. First off, it alleges that Andy McCabe, the deputy FBI director who

essentially quit this week, that he told the House Intelligence Committee that without the dossier, without the Steele dossier that was funded by the DNC and Hillary Clinton, that the FBI would never have applied for this FISA warrant for Carter Page.

Now, Democrats are disputing that today. Adam Schiff came out and said that's not exactly what he said. The memo goes on to say, and this is new as well, there was the initial application in October and then it was renewed three times. This FISA surveillance was renewed for Carter Page three times, which is significant, because under FISA rules, you have to show each time you go to the judge that the surveillance has elicited important information to show that this person is an agent of a foreign power.

That information is not included in here, what exactly came of the surveillance so that the judge continued to renew the FISA. It goes on to say that critical information was not in the application to the judge, the fact that it says that Christopher Steele had anti-Trump bias that he conveyed to Bruce Ohr, who was a Justice Department official, that the fact that the dossier was funded by the Democrats, that that was not in the initial application to the judge.

Basically making the case that the judge didn't have all of the pieces of the puzzle to show that there was bias there. And it goes on in the last page, Jake, this is interesting. It mentions George Papadopoulos, who was a Trump campaign aide who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in the Russia probe.

Now, it's making the case in the memo that his name was included in the application, but there was no evidence of a conspiracy or a communication with Carter Page.

But what is interesting here is that it sort of undercuts the argument that the dossier was really the only thing that the FBI used to get this FISA warrant, because it also says that George Papadopoulos was the reason the whole Russia probe started in the first place.

TAPPER: In July 2016.

BROWN: In July in 2016, he -- our reporting is that he told the Australian ambassador that the Russians had incriminating evidence on Hillary Clinton, thousands of e-mails. The ambassador told the FBI.

That kicked this whole thing off. Clearly, that information was included in the FISA application. But I will say it's hard to really make a judgment based on this memo, Jake. It certainly raises some questions about the FBI, some concerning questions.

But you can't make a judgment, because it doesn't include the other information that the FBI included in the application.

TAPPER: Right.

BROWN: And for the renewals. There is critical information missing here that the FBI director himself said in that public statement. TAPPER: Right. The FBI said that this memo is misleading because it

leaves out a lot of information.

I want to ask you just a couple of questions about Carter Page. First of all, this FISA warrant to surveil, to spy on Carter Page, is in October 2016, a few weeks before the presidential election.

If there is a bias against then candidate, now President Trump, why would beginning to surveil Carter Page -- surveillance, of course, takes months, if not years. It's not like you just spy on somebody once. It's a whole long, drawn-out process.

Why would doing something just a few weeks before the presidential election reveal some horrific political bias against Donald Trump? Do you see what I'm saying? It would not have an impact on the presidential election.


BROWN: Right, exactly.


And the argument is made is that, look, if there was really bias, that James Comey would have talked about this before the election. He would have raised concerns about the Trump campaign ties to Russia.

As we know, he reopened the Hillary Clinton investigation, but he didn't talk about this until March, after the election. And so it sort of raises the question of, well, if there really was political bias, then why didn't he mention it before the election?

Also, it's interesting that, you know, this whole memo is based on Carter Page. The argument is made that the FBI was biased against the Trump campaign by going after Carter Page without credible information.

But up until this point, Jake, the Trump administration has basically said they didn't even know who Carter Page is, that he was a nobody, that he really wasn't part of the campaign. That doesn't really square.

And let's not forget that Carter Page was under surveillance by the FBI.

TAPPER: In 2013.

BROWN: In -- yes, 2013, '14, for his ties to a Russian mob.

They previously had thought he could be acting as a spy on behalf of the Russians. This isn't the first time that they were asking to surveil Carter Page.

TAPPER: I'm not sure that this memo answers questions more than it asks and poses more questions.

Pamela, stand by.

The release of the memo is sending off a conflict that even Washington has not seen before to this degree. It's the president and most of his party's lawmakers vs. the top law enforcers in the nation, many of them appointed by President Trump, who strongly opposed the memo being released, saying it was inaccurate.

The officials include Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who obviously supervises the Mueller investigation. Rosenstein is mentioned in the memo as one of the officials who signed one of the applications or renewals, rather, for a warrant targeting Carter Page. Here was President Trump's response when Rosenstein's name came up earlier.


QUESTION: Are you likely to fire Rod Rosenstein? Do you still have confidence in (OFF-MIKE)

TRUMP: You figure that one out.


TAPPER: So the question was, are you likely to fire Rod Rosenstein? And the answer, "You figure that one out" from President Trump.

Let's go to the White House and CNN's Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, the White House just gave a statement right now about the memo being released?


They just published a statement shortly after the president left the White House, departed on the South Lawn, boarded Marine One, didn't take questions from reporters. But just minutes after that, the White House put out a statement on why they authorized the release of this memo.

I'm going to read you a little bit of it. In one graphic, "This decision was made with input from the president's national security team, including law enforcement officials and members of the intelligence community, for whom he has great respect. He is especially grateful to the hardworking rank and file of public servants who work every day to keep America safe and uphold our laws while protecting the constitutional rights of all Americans."

The statement goes on to reference that Democratic memo, saying that they -- quote -- "stand ready to work with Congress to accommodate oversight requests," Jake.

But, regardless, the last two questions that many people are left with here today is, one, what is going to happen to the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, and his future? Because as you just showed, the president's comment earlier was not exactly a vote in confidence in his future at the Department of Justice.

And, secondly, what happens to the president's relationship with the FBI director, Christopher Wray, who pleaded with the president to not release this memo, not to authorize the release of it? And the president ignored that advice and released the memo anyway.

Those are the two questions we're left with here at the White House today.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

Joining me now on the phone is CNN political analyst Carl Bernstein, who, as you likely know, he won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting about Watergate.

Carl, first of all, your reaction to the release of this memo and the claims in it about potential abuses of FISA by the FBI in order to spy on a Trump campaign advises.

CARL BERNSTEIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: We don't know enough because we haven't seen the whole underlying picture, as the Democrats have pointed out.

But there's a much more important historical point to be made here. And that is we may well have not seen such dark days for American democracy and its institutions since the days of Joe McCarthy.

And in the case of McCarthy, it was a senator, not the president of the United States, who was a demagogic authoritarian. What we are seeing here is a demagogic, authoritarian president who is using this red herring to contend that there is a witch-hunt going on, when, in fact, there is a legitimate investigation into what the Russians did and whether or not the president of the United States and his cohort and aides and families may or may not have been involved in helping the Russians.

And if, indeed, there is exonerating evidence there, the president of the United States ought to have enough confidence in our institutions, including inspectors general of the FBI, including Oversight Committee.


There are plenty of times to go back and look at the investigators of the investigation. But, right now, we need to know what the Russians did, whether or not the Trump Organization, the president of the United States, his family and aides were involved in some way.

On top of which, the overriding question, it is so dispiriting and demoralizing is, in the whole Cold War, the Russians were not able to do what Putin has done through Donald Trump, to destabilize the United States and its democratic institutions.

It's stunning. It's ruinous. Hopefully, the Republican Party, which has gone along with him in lockstep, will get hold of their senses. And, remember, it's the Republican Party who was always toughest on the Russians and what they were doing. And if they cannot see how Donald Trump has been manipulated and how Donald Trump is using this to avoid legitimate investigation and to poison the institutions of American democracy, then the Republican Party is taking us somewhere where we haven't been before.

And they were the heroes of Watergate because they were open to the truth.

TAPPER: Carl, one of the things that's interesting is even if one is prepared to be open-minded about the potential misdeed here, that the FBI should have been more forthright with the FISA court about the fact that political opposition research against President Trump written by Christopher Steele and paid for by Fusion GPS through -- conducted by Fusion GPS, but paid for by the Democrats and the Hillary Clinton campaign, even if you're willing to believe that possibly the FBI cooked the books and shouldn't have done what they did, this memo still acknowledges that before Carter Page started being spied on in October -- or at least that's when the FISA court application happened.

In July of 2016, the George Papadopoulos counterintelligence investigation by the FBI began. And, as Pamela pointed out, Carter Page, prior to October 2016, had already been spied upon by the FBI because of his relations with Russians in 2013-2014.

So there already -- even according to this own memo, which is being used by the president's allies and President Trump to exonerate him, to undermine the Mueller investigation, this memo doesn't actually fully accomplish that if you look at some of the underlying facts here.

A, Carter Page had already been spied upon for suspected contacts with Russians. B, this spying was just a few days before the election. I don't know how it would have affected the election, since James Comey, unlike the Hillary Clinton investigation, did not announce the Trump investigation.

And the third point, of course, is that the George Papadopoulos investigation had started months before.

BERNSTEIN: All your points are correct. This is a disingenuous partisan document.

And what we need to remember about applications for surveillance of Americans before the FISA courts are is that there is usually information brought before those judges that comes from good people, bad people, reliable people, unreliable people, that the whole point of getting the warrant is that there's some reason to believe -- even if it were a partisan whistle-blower or someone with an axe to grind, that doesn't negate the information underlying or the fact that it might be cause, particularly with the other factors that you have mentioned, plus perhaps -- and I believe is the case -- some surveillance by other foreign powers in which Carter Page may have been is your surveilled and picked up in his conversations with the Russians. The idea that this is wholly based on the Steele seems both spurious

-- but even so, Christopher Steele was someone who had helped the FBI break and world police organizations break the conspiracy in the soccer leagues of the world through his skill. There was reason to believe that he had good sources.

So, this is all a red herring by the president of the United States and his allies in Congress, which is sort of unfathomable, if you think that the Republican Party is going to hitch its future to the kind of demagoguery, authoritarianism represented in what we're seeing here.


It is very clear that the president of the United States, that Donald Trump wants to get rid of this investigation, wants to get rid of Rod Rosenstein, wants to get rid of any legitimate inquiry into his conduct or even the conduct of the Russians, members of his family, members of his coterie, members of his business organizations.

We are at a crossroads in this country. Watergate established in the United States vs. Nixon that no one in this country is above the law, including the president of the United States. Right now, we have the unprecedented situation of one of the major political parties essentially asserting and backing the president in showing and believing that he is above the law and that he can suppress legitimate investigation.

TAPPER: Carl Bernstein, thank you so much.

Let's get to the panel now.

I'm going to start with CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin. He's a former federal prosecutor who worked with Robert Mueller. We obviously have many other people as well.

Is there not reason, if you look at this memo, Michael, to wonder if it is possible that there was an abuse of the civil liberties of Carter Page, that a political document was used for the obtaining of a FISA warrant for the purpose of investigation and counterintelligence, and that that was not disclosed as much as it should have been, to the degree that it was at all, and that that's improper?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: The short answer to that is, no. And my longer answer is absolutely not.

The way the FISA court is structured, you receive, as agents in the field, lots of different sources of information. Those sources of information in the Steele dossier case, that was raw intelligence, it was not intelligence that was in and of itself sufficient to support a probable cause finding by the FISA court.

So, they receive all sorts of information. They verify and corroborate and they put together a package of information that they believe rises to the level of probable cause. It goes through the hierarchy of the FBI. It goes through the hierarchy of the Justice Department. When they feel there's sufficient probable cause, they submit it to the FISA court, and then the FISA court makes determination as to whether there's probable cause.

For Carter Page's sort of civil rights, if you will, to have been violated, it would mean that there really wasn't a truly legitimate finding of probable cause. And that's not tenable,in my estimation.

The fact that they didn't -- perhaps didn't, because we don't know for sure, because we only have the Nunes memo to this point. The fact that they didn't more fulsomely, if this is correct, relay to the court that the source of information, one of the sources of information may have been paid-for intelligence is besides the point, because even if it was paid-for intelligence, it has to be verified and corroborated to support probable cause.

It's not as if the Steele dossier has raw intelligence in any way, shape or form, was that which was the decisive factor in the court finding probable cause. And these judges are appointed by Chief Justice Roberts of the Supreme Court. They are among the most experienced judges in the country.

They make warrant determinations in their Title III jobs all the time and they make FISA warrant decisions all the time here. For this to be credible, you have to almost assume that the FISA judge was either so inexperienced that he didn't realize what was true and what was not true, or he was somehow in on some conspiracy with the higher echelons of the FBI and the Justice Department to damage Donald Trump.

I still stick with no and absolutely not as to your question, Jake.

TAPPER: Asha Rangappa, former FBI, let me ask you.

My father always used to say don't argue facts. Argue opinions. Facts are just -- they live unto themselves.

But this memo asserts facts that Democrats and the FBI say are not facts.

Just to cite one example, the memo says that Deputy -- former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe asserted in an interview with the House Committee on Intelligence that the first FISA warrant would not have been obtained without the Steele dossier, that dossier paid for by Democrats.

Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat, says, that's not true, he didn't say that. Some of the items in this memo, it would seem, we are going to get to the bottom of sooner or later. Don't you agree?


I mean, everything in there is verifiable. And to be honest with you, Jake, if this memo was intended to actually help the president, whoever wrote it needs to be fired, because I think it actually makes the opposite points.

[15:20:06] As Michael just said, if the dossier actually played any role in getting the FISA, it means that there were parts of it that were actually verified or corroborated.

And beyond that, I just want to point out that the memo discloses that this FISA was renewed three times. And NBC has reported that that was done by different judges each time, which means that this passed over -- passed in front of the eyes of four different judges over the course of one year.

And just to your earlier point, let's remember that this controversy over the dossier was in the new every single day. The Republicans were the ones who were making sure that this was discussed and trying to be discredited, et cetera.

Judges live in the world, like anyone else. If they were basing this FISA only on the dossier, at some point at one of these renewals, they might have said, what is this that you're showing me?

So, it's just implausible that this is what was the basis of it, that no judge would have questioned it, if the FBI tried to do this. And all of these things that are in the memo are verifiable.

And, frankly, I think they quite cut against the points that Nunes is trying to make and suggests that there was actually suspicious activity going on.


ZELDIN: May I just add one thing to Asha's point, which I agree with?


ZELDIN: Which is, over the course of the renewals, not only do you have different judges, but you have three different acting or deputy attorneys general signing off on this.

You have Sally Yates, who was a prosecutor who was the United States attorney in Georgia. You have Dana Boente, who was the United States attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia and a career person. And you have Rosenstein, a former United States attorney from Maryland and a career guy. And then you have Comey and then you have McCabe on the bureau side.

So, you have five people with probably 100 years of law enforcement experience among them. And somehow we're to believe that they were all involved in some massive overarching conspiracy to defraud the FISA court by not telling them that some aspects of the Steele dossier came from a source that was paid for?

It defies logic from a law enforcement organizational standpoint, leaving aside any politics.

TAPPER: Phil Mudd, let me bring you in, former FBI and CIA official.

President Trump earlier today was asked if he was considering getting rid of Rod Rosenstein, Rosenstein, his deputy attorney general, who supervises the Mueller investigation, because Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself after he gave that misleading statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing.

So, Rosenstein, who supervises the Russian investigation, his job is on the line already, because the president thinks that the Russia investigation is out of control. Then this memo comes out and, as Michael just pointed out, Rosenstein is one of the Justice Department officials who signs off on a renewal of this FISA application.

President Trump has already now fired the FBI director, James Comey. If you believe his son, Andrew McCabe was fired as well because of potential abuses having to do with things in the Nunes memo. That's not what the FBI says, but that is what Donald Trump Jr. says.

It now appears, based on President Trump's comments, that Rod Rosenstein's job is on the line.

This -- people talk about the Saturday night massacre under Nixon, but this seems to be a months-long Saturday Night Massacre that we're watching.

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Yes. I think the president should have learned from the Comey firing about the law of unintended consequences. What did he get as a result of the Comey firing? A more aggressive investigation, supported by his deputy attorney general, Rosenstein, now obviously led by Robert Mueller.

If you start going down this path, assuming that you can come up with somebody as a new deputy attorney general who will somehow be the lapdog of the White House, I would say, watch out. Obviously, that person would have to go through confirmation hearings.

And I think a lot of people on the Hill, including Republicans, would be very leery of accepting someone who didn't clearly say, I think the Mueller investigation has to go on.

If he thinks that -- if the president can undercut this by replacing Rosenstein, I think we will get the opposite.

One quick point on the memo, by the way. I can't believe this. I think the Democrats were just given a gift. And I'm surprised. Eighteen hours ago, I argued on CNN multiple times that the Democrat memo should be released to help the American people understand this. I agree with Asha.


This is so amateurish. That's my biggest surprise, that I think it's an advantage to have it stand on its own, because it's going to die like a lead balloon. From a practitioner's perspective, if you're in a bar with a colleague, you laugh about this.

This is -- it's just not even to the level of fifth grade.

(CROSSTALK) TAPPER: I have got to take a quick break. But we're going to come

back, everyone. Don't go anywhere. I'm going to bring you back in after this quick break.

We're also following the Dow having its worst day under the Trump presidency.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: I'm Jake Tapper.

Another breaking story. The Dow is taking a major hit, the worst day for the markets in the Trump presidency.

Let's get right to Alison Kosik in New York and Rich Lowry, who is the editor of "The National Review."

Alison, what's behind the drop?


We're looking at the Dow right now. Jake, it's on tap to have its worst -- its worst point drop since June of 2016. That's when Brexit happened.

And, you know, a lot of this, you have to kind of put in perspective, because we have kind of been lulled into this sense of calm.