Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Set to Defy FBI & DOJ By Approving Memo Release. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 2, 2018 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump expected to defy the FBI and release the Nunes memo today.

[05:59:18] REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: This memo seeks to torch every floor of the FBI to protect the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's very important that the American people have access to the information contained in this memo.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: Devin Nunes neutered the confidence that people could ever have in the House Intelligence Committee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This memo is going to be a gigantic belly flop.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This memo exposes crimes. I want prosecutions.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: White House aides are worried FBI Director Christopher Wray could quit in protest.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This memo is not an indictment of the FBI. It does not impugn the Mueller investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is an ongoing effort by this president to completely discredit this critical investigation.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday, February 2, 6 a.m. here in New York. Chris is off. John Berman joins me. Hi.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Memo day and Groundhog Day. Can't be a coincidence.

CAMEROTA: Yes, you're right. We'll get into both of those. Here's our starting line.

President Trump is set to approve the release of that controversial GOP memo alleging surveillance abuses, despite the strong objections from the FBI and Justice Department. Sources tell CNN that the president believes the memo could discredit the Russia investigation by exposing bias in the top ranks of the FBI.

And a new report in "The Washington Post" says President Trump never had any hesitation about the need for the memo to go public, even before he had read it for the first time two days ago. We'll tell you about the role that cable news played in shaping the president's decision.

BERMAN: A source tells CNN the FBI still has grave concerns about this memo being released. It is unclear what changes, if any, the House Intelligence Committee will make to the memo before it goes public. But the FBI insists the document has material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact its accuracy. In other words, it's misleading or just not right.

White House aides are now worried that the new FBI director, Christopher Wray, could resign over this. An even bigger question might be what it means for the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. Will this be used as a justification to fire him?

And amid all of this, a new concern this morning. Some folks in the West Wing are now worried that, after all the Republican hyperbole, the memo really isn't all that.

We have it all covered for you. Let's begin with CNN's Abby Phillip, live at the White House.

Good morning, Abby.


Well, after a week of anticipation, President Trump is expected to go against the advice of his top law enforcement officials and pave the way for the House Intelligence Committee to release this controversial GOP memo alleging FBI surveillance abuses.


PHILLIP (voice-over): President Trump expected to ignore the warnings of his FBI chief and Justice Department officials, approving the release of the GOP memo alleging FBI surveillance abuses today.

CNN has learned that President Trump has told friends in recent phone conversations that the memo may help him discredit Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. House Speaker Paul Ryan insisting otherwise.

RYAN: The more transparency the better. This memo is not an indictment of the FBI, of the Department of Justice. It does not impugn the Mueller investigation or the deputy attorney general.

PHILLIP: "The Washington Post" reporting that Mr. Trump never had any hesitation about releasing the memo and made the decision before even reading the document on Wednesday after two conservative congressmen brought the memo to his attention just two weeks ago. REP. TREY GOWDY (R-SC), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I have concerns about

the process, about representations that may be made in court pleadings.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I think it's up to the American people to judge for themselves.

PHILLIP: "The Post" also reporting that President Trump thinks releasing the memo will help him build a public argument against Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's handling of the case.

CNN has reported that President Trump has recently vented about wanting to fire Rosenstein. A senior administration official tells CNN the memo is likely to be returned to Congress today with no redactions. But the House Intelligence Committee may still make changes to accommodate intelligence concerns before releasing the memo to the public.

Despite this, a source familiar with the FBI's stance says the bureau continues to have grave concerns, remarking that edits will not change the overall false narrative of the memo.

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: This memo is of such low quality that when it is out there, people will very rapidly see that this is just the latest installment of second-rate efforts to -- to impugn the FBI.

PHILLIP: CNN has learned the top White House aides are worried that FBI Director Christopher Wray could quit in protest if the memo is released. Others downplaying the memo's significance, wondering if it is worth the showdown between the president and his hand-picked FBI chief.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, are you worried the FBI director may quit over this decision?

PHILLIP: Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by the president last May, tweeting that he appreciates the FBI speaking up, noting "American history shows that, in the long run, weasels and liars never hold the field so long as good people stand up."


PHILLIP: Alisyn and John, we have yet to hear directly from the president about his rationale for releasing this memo. And it looks like, based on his schedule today, we may not. He plans to meet with North Korean defectors in the Oval Office today before heading to Sterling, Virginia, to push an immigration plan. And then he's going to Mar-a-Lago for the weekend, where he's going to spend Super Bowl weekend at his resort down there. We'll keep you posted if we hear anything more from them, Alisyn and John.

CAMEROTA: Please do, Abby, because anything could happen in the next hour. So thank you very much for that reporting.

Let's bring in CNN political analyst John Avlon and CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin, who worked with special counsel Robert Mueller. Great to have both of you here on this important day.

Let's start with the president's mindset, so the reporting is that he has always been gung ho about releasing this memo, even before reading it. And that he thinks that this could give him the justification to fire Rod Rosenstein.

[07:05:14] JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Let's just take a second to recognize how insane that is. The president is talking to friends on the phone, saying this memo, which has been hyped up by his, you know, present supporters at FOX News and the conservatagentsia media is -- is going to give him the pretext he needs to further obstruct justice and fire people in the Justice Department investigating him and his campaign over questions of obstruction of justice and collusion.

That is almost a tsunami of terrible judgment. But it also shows we have coordination between the House Intelligence Committee and the White House and the president, which itself is incredibly troubling. And for Paul Ryan to pretend it's got nothing to do with...

CAMEROTA: I want to stop you. Is it coordination between the White House and the committee, what do you mean? What's the evidence of that?

AVLON: Look, I mean, we've seen that Devin Nunes earlier this year earlier than 2017 had to, you know, effectively be sidelined from the Russia investigation, because he was working with people in the National Security Council.

CAMEROTA: You think it's still going on?

AVLON: I think those patterns are hard to break. And when you have Nunes not sharing information with the FBI, with the Justice Department but having a close relationship and comparing talking points with the White House, I think that's a troubling fact pattern, and we're going to find out more about it. I would not be surprised at all if we find there have been conversations. Certainly has not been denied under oath. In fact, just the opposite.

AVLON: Let me do this. Paul Ryan, who swears this is not about the Mueller investigation. Let's listen to what he says.


RYAN: This memo is not an indictment of the FBI, of the Department of Justice. It does not impugn the Mueller investigation or the deputy attorney general. What it is, is the Congress's legitimate function of oversight to make sure that the FISA process is being used correctly and that if it wasn't being used correctly, that needs to come to light and people need to be held accountable so that we do not have problems again. But this does affect our civil liberties.


BERMAN: This is 100 percent at odds with what CNN is reporting now, which is the president is telling his friends that this memo specifically discredits the Mueller investigation, which is why he's so excited about it.

Both things cannot be true here, Michael Zeldin. This just gets to the bigger picture here which is that you see the White House and its allies building a case. Not necessarily a legal case but a political case of how it's going to handle the Mueller investigation. A justification maybe not to testify. To have the president not sit down with Robert Mueller. Why sit down if this investigation has been muddied from the start. A justification after the Mueller report comes out to say, "Why should we believe this?" This investigation has been muddied from the start.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, and that is their prerogative. What Ryan said is untrue. This is not about oversight. Oversight would involve Christopher Wray coming and testifying before the committee, as he offered to do and was rejected.

He said this is not an assault on the FBI. Christopher Wray, the FBI director, thinks otherwise. And he said this is not an attempt to bloody up Mueller's investigation, but he's telling the president on the phone this is exactly what it is. There's no credibility that's coming out of -- of the Hill on this topic.

With respect to Mueller and his team, they're following the Clinton playbook in part, which is to shoot the messenger, because they have problems with the facts that are being investigated. That's fine. But in the end, it didn't help Bill Clinton, you know, all that much. He protected him from being overwhelmed in the Senate, but he got impeached and tried and his presidency was impacted by it.

CAMEROTA: It's fascinating to road all of the reporting into the people who have tried to stop this from coming out. So Chris Wray has talked to John Kelly to try to stop this from coming out. "The Washington Post" is reporting about this, director of national intelligence Dan Coats also met with John Kelly at the White House this week to express his reservations.

Security officials said the discussions between Kelly and national security officials largely focused on the need to protect sources and methods of intelligence gathering, as well as concerns about setting a dangerous precedent.

AVLON: This isn't subtle, folks. You've got the head, the director of national intelligence, the head of the FBI, both Trump appointees, and members of his own Justice Department saying, "Don't do this. This is reckless. This could set a dangerous precedent." And the White House seems determined to do it anyways. The president said, walking out of the State of the Union, you know, assuring, you know, one of the congressman, "Don't worry. One hundred percent, we're going to release it before we ever read it."

That is one of the many things about this that's troubling. That's why yesterday there were concerns, some reporting that, should Chris Wray, the new FBI director, resign if the, what, president release this outside his own recommendations.

FBI agents realizing that he's got their back, but how far can he go? So this is -- this is a unified field of intelligence services and law enforcement telling the president not to go ahead with this step.

[06:10:03] BERMAN: We'll get to who may stay and who may go over this memo, because it's fascinating. Maybe people who get fired and/or quit over this. We just don't know yet.

But the issue of transparency you brought up was fascinating, right? Transparency would be allowing us to see the data, which you can't do because that's classified. More transparency would be to have not just the Republican analysis of that data, which is not data itself, as the Republican view of it, and give us the Democratic view, as well. Show us both things at once. Short of that, it's not transparent.

ZELDIN: There is no transparency here. There's no transparency. If you step back and you listen to what the justification for the release of the memo is, Congressman Nunes believes that there have been abuses in the FISA application around the Carter Page warrant.

And so he is determined somehow to figure out whether that's true or not. Well, if we take him at his word and that's what he's really out to get information with respect to, then you call up the I.G. and you say, "Investigate this."

Or you call in all the relevant people to a closed-door classified oversight hearing and you say, "I want to know about this." But neither of those things have happened. And in fact, more or less, they have both been rejected.

So you know now this is a political narrative that they want to put out into the -- into the field to set the cement of this view that there were abuses in the Carter Page warrant process and, as a consequence, everything from it, it's the fruit of the poisonous tree. Everything else is tainted. And therefore, we can't believe anything.

AVLON: And if the issue really wasn't a commitment of civil liberties, there are a lot of different ways the speaker of the House could show his concern about this. But this is clearly partisan. And what's particularly sad is to see the head of the House Intelligence Committee, a member of Congress, act like an errand boy for the White House and diminish and set his own legacy on fire.

CAMEROTA: Here's what some of the reporting says that was inspiring, that inspired the president to feel that the memo should become public before he had read it. It was CNN. It was Trey Gowdy, Congressman Trey Gowdy who was on Erin Burnett's show. So it was this moment that the president watched on Air Force One while coming back from Davos. Watch this.


GOWDY: About the process, about representations that may be made in court pleadings. I have concerns about the duty of government to provide complete, full, accurate information. You know, FBI agents and prosecutors are not advocates at this stage. We are -- we are representatives to the court. So there is an obligation to present accurate, full, complete

information. And that's true in every criminal case or every counterintelligence case. They just don't get the scrutiny that this one does.


CAMEROTA: That moment, I guess, gave it heft in the president's mind? What do you hear there?

ZELDIN: I don't know that it gave it heft. But what it did tell you was that he is misrepresenting the process.

CAMEROTA: Trey Gowdy is?

ZELDIN: Trey Gowdy is. The way this works, this is again, about the FISA warrant that was obtained. What they're all upset about politically is that the dossier, the intelligence in the dossier was part of the process. We don't know what part of it.

CAMEROTA: But they make it sound like a lot.

ZELDIN: So to understand the process, this is an application where executive branch officials, DOJ and FBI, go before a judge who has to make a determination of whether it's probable cause to believe a warrant is worth implementing. And these are judges who, when you listen to the hearings on the reauthorization of FISA, the majority said these are -- I have the language.

These are highly-respected judges approved, appointed by the Supreme Court justice -- the chief justice of the Supreme Court. So these were touting these judges' great capabilities. So we didn't have anything to worry about. Warrantless FISA acquisition, these are the best of the best.

But now of course, when they're making a routine probable cause determination, they're going to be somehow snowed by an FBI agent who is going to rely on raw data to make -- it's laughable.

BERMAN: OK. Stand by. We're going to discuss a lot more of this coming up.

One thing, Trey Gowdy is the one Republican on the committee who has seen the underlying data and intelligence. Not Devin Nunes who is putting the memo out under his name. But Gowdy has seen it.

AVLON: Running out the door.

BERMAN: Right. He has seen it. So if this memo becomes public today, could it force the FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign? Is that something that's possible? We'll discuss next.


[06:18:14] BERMAN: President Trump expected to defy his FBI director, the director of national intelligence, and several Justice Department officials today by approving the release of this controversial Republican memo.

So could this lead to the president's new FBI director, Christopher Wray, quitting, resigning over the release? Bring back John Avlon and Michael Zeldin.

Guys, let's just you know, restate what the reporting is here. CNN is reporting on this, that there are people inside the White House concerned that Christopher Wray might quit over this. The other side of this, is all kinds of reports that not the Kremlinology (ph) of how the FBI put out a statement.

Christopher Wray didn't sign it so that he wouldn't have to personally own it. Without his name there, he won't have to resign. And other folks saying...

AVLON: It is Kremlinology, because it's really arcane.

Look, the fact the White House is concerned that Wray might resign shows, I mean, look, the devastating effect of a double resignation within the first 18 months of a presidency, no confidence from law enforcement.

On the other hand, in some way, the president is trying to pressure people in his cabinet to resign all the time. For all the rhetoric of "you're fired," the president actually doesn't like that form of particular conflict. He likes to bully and force people out.

If Wray steps aside for reasons of honor around this memo issue, then the president gets to appoint someone else. And the whole point is we see the center of gravity in the Trump administration towards more loyalists, more apparatchiks in positions of power. That doesn't help the pursuit of truth.

BERMAN: Two Democrats I spoke to yesterday said they don't want to see this happen.


BERMAN: Members of Congress saying, yes, that wouldn't be a good thing.


CAMEROTA: Possibly the bigger question is what it does to Rod Rosenstein. So if there's been reporting that this memo will somehow impugn Rod Rosenstein. And he, of course, oversees Mueller's investigation.

So is this the predicate for getting rid of Rod Rosenstein?

[06:20:07] ZELDIN: Well, factually, there's no predicate here. There's nothing in this FISA authorization and then reauthorization that apparently signed off on that gives anyone cause to believe that he needs to be fired.

CAMEROTA: But politically, it's like look at this memo. This shows that something has gone terribly wrong.

ZELDIN: Right. But that's what I'm saying to you. You cannot make that argument based on the facts of the case. This was an authorization for a warrant back in the summer. Then they have 90 days. During that 90 days they have to acquire additional evidence to re-up the warrant. It's not -- you can't rely on the original intelligence. You've got to keep, reiteratively (ph), gaining new intelligence.

CAMEROTA: So it can't be the dossier in the reauthorization.

ZELDIN: That's right. So Rosenstein, as I understand the facts, signed off on the reauthorization. So it goes through all the FBI. Then it goes to the DOJ. It goes up to the line, people and it finally gets to Rosenstein. They say to him, "Boss, everybody has vetted this. Can you sign off on it?"

He reads it, which is 6,500 pages, these things, and then he says, "All right. I think we have probable cause. Let's reauthorize."

So there's nothing in that -- that continuum that says this is the basis to fire. And if they want to fire, they can fire, because he has the constitutional right to do so.

BERMAN: You're living in the -- you're living in this world where he needs factual reasons to fire Rod Rosenstein, not political reasons. What he's looking for, one would think is political justification. And this might give him the political justification for that.

Let's put up the -- sort of the rap sheet of folks who had been involved with the Russia investigation. Who's still around and who's gone. Obviously, James Comey gone, former FBI director. Deputy Director Andrew McCabe left, as well. Now everyone except Donald Trump Jr. thinks this is over the Russia investigation, per se. Donald Trump, you're suggesting it has to do with the memo as a whole other issue. But then there's Rod Rosenstein and Bob Mueller still around here. Rod Rosenstein is central, central.


BERMAN: Because he is the Justice Department official overseeing the special counsel's investigation. Not just that. He's the Justice Department official who keeps it within certain barriers.

AVLON: Right. And if you've got basically, the White House trying to pull a slow-motion Saturday night massacre, force people out over a period of months as opposed to all one night to remove the oversight, undercut the ongoing investigation. That's a real threat, and that may be strategically what they're trying to do. And of course, now, if there is a degree of coordination with partisan media which is building this drum beat to create, in effect, a separate reality so it doesn't actually matter what the memo says. It's the narrative that's been created around it that folks will believe. And that itself is a separate form of political...

ZELDIN: I guess the point I was going to make is this. That in respect of the firing of Comey, there was a plausible argument. He didn't do a good job on the e-mails with Hillary Clinton. He testified about a counterintelligence investigation, which is not normal. And so that's behavior that's not acceptable.

And the same thing is true with the other that he fired, McCabe. His wife was running for office. She was receiving money. He's biased. He didn't remove Strzok. It was -- it was a laughable but arguable argument, politically, for their removal. There is no credible or even laughable argument to get rid of Rosenstein based on this FISA warrant. So they're going to really fire him if they want to, because they don't like the fact that he's allowing Mueller to proceed with his investigation.

AVLON: And the point there is that that is an obvious step towards firing Mueller himself.

ZELDIN: Well, he doesn't even need to fire Mueller. If he could get the right guy, his guy, his loyalist friend in that position...

CAMEROTA: Which position, the FBI or Rod Rosenstein?

ZELDIN: Rosenstein. Rosenstein. Then Rosenstein more or less controls Mueller's budget. And if he controls the purse strings, then he can capitate the investigation. Then Mueller has to go to the Hill essentially and say you're not allowing -- the Justice Department is not allowing me to proceed. That's interference. Then you have a political nightmare.

CAMEROTA: Oh, my goodness. All right. Well, you've all laid out the interesting scenarios that we will see, possibly beginning today. John Avlon, Michael Zeldin, thank you very much.

ZELDIN: Happy Groundhog Day.

CAMEROTA: And to you.

All right. So we have some new details to tell you about. The 12- year-old girl who's accused of firing a gun at her Los Angeles middle school. Police now say it may have been an accident. This is another in a long series of school shootings.


[06:28:46] CAMEROTA: Police say a shooting at a Los Angeles middle school was, quote, "unintentional." A 12-year-old girl is in juvenile custody for, quote, "negligent discharge of a firearm." Four students and a staff member were injured Thursday. One of the injured was a 15-year-old boy. He was shot in the head, but he is expected to recover. Few other details have been released.

BERMAN: At least 18 people injured, three seriously, after a minivan plowed into pedestrians on a busy street in Shanghai. Police say the vehicle was carrying gas canisters and ignited because the driver was smoking. That driver is among the most seriously hurt here. Authorities say the driver has no criminal record and appears to be ruling out any kind of attack. CAMEROTA: All right. Spoiler alert. No matter what Punxsutawney

Phil sees today, the East Coast is bracing for another powerful winter storm. CNN meteorologist Chad Myers has our forecast. Can't the groundhog turn this one around somehow?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: No, no. It's coming on Sunday. It's not going to be a big deal. But yes -- no, winter is not over. Punxsutawney Phil is freezing out there at 11 degrees in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

What's coming down now from Boston, Rhode Island, will be over, probably, in an hour or two. But it's the cold air behind it that is really going to get your attention. Right now in Chicago it feels like 7 below zero. Minneapolis, about the same. Super Bowl is going to be cold, no matter what. Good news, it's inside.

Here comes the next storm system that you're talking about, Alisyn. It is coming up the East Coast, making rain, and then changing over to snow by Sunday night into Monday morning. Really chancing of ruining the morning -- Monday morning commute. We'll have to take a look at that.