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President Trump Comments on Memo Released by House Intelligence Committee Republicans on FBI Russia Investigation; Attorney General Jeff Sessions Comments on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's Future on Justice Department; Flu Kills Healthy Adult Woman in Oregon. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired February 3, 2018 - 14:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: -- no obstruction, the word not used because after one year of looking endlessly and finding nothing collusion is dead. This is an American disgrace." That's the president via tweet.

The White House declassified the controversial three-and-a-half page document, allowing the memo to go public despite strong objections from the FBI and the Justice Department calling the memo misleading. The Republican document alleges leaders of the FBI and the DOJ abused surveillance laws to spy on former Trump campaign official Carter Page. Democrats that the memo is incomplete and partisan. Critics of the memo worry the White House will use it to discredit the Russian investigation and use it as an excuse to fire deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.

CNN's Boris Sanchez is live for us now in West Palm Beach near the president's Mar-a-Lago estate. So Boris, Democrats are warning the president may face a constitutional crisis if he uses that memo as a reason to fire Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. So what is the White House saying from Mar-a-Lago?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, there, Fred. Well, the president yesterday only did more to fuel speculation about the future of his deputy attorney general. He was asked by reporters if he had confidence in Rod Rosenstein, and his response was, quote, "You figure that one out."

He also spoke about the Nunes memo saying that it is a disgrace and a lot of people should be ashamed of themselves. That lent to questions of who the president was the speaking about because Rod Rosenstein is mentioned in the memo by name. Now deputy press secretary Raj Shah was on CNN being asked about this, whether the president was planning to fire Rosenstein, and he kind of walked back the president's comments. Listen to more from Raj Shah.


RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: I am saying it on behalf of the White House, and that's that no changes are going to be made at the Department of Justice. We fully expect Rod Rosenstein to continue on as the deputy attorney general.


SANCHEZ: Now, Fred, sources familiar with the president's thinking tell CNN that this time that there is no consideration of firing the deputy attorney general. We should note, though, that several time we've heard from this administration votes of confidence in a number of officials only for them to be shown the door shortly after. Those sources close to the president tell us that part of the reason he is hesitant to fire Rod Rosenstein is because he fears that taking that step may prolong the Russian investigation.

And from what we have seen from the president's a actions previously, whether it is firing James Comey or his reported frustration about Jeff Sessions recusing himself from that investigation, or just last week reports that he was planning to fire Robert Mueller before being talked out of it by his attorneys, is that the president is frustrated by his inability to influence the Russia investigation and he wants it over immediately in part because it casts a shadow over everything this administration does.

Despite that, the president's approval numbers are ticking upward. He tweeted about that this morning, mentioning in part certain sacred cows. I asked a White House official what he meant by that sacred cow's comment. I have yet to hear back, though, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Boris Sanchez, thanks so much.

This Republican memo is very critical of the leadership of the FBI and the Justice Department, and in an effort to boost morale, leaders at both of those agencies are now speaking out. FBI Director Christopher Wray strongly objecting to the release of the memo. And now that that the memo has gone public, Wray is telling the staff to stay focused and not to be swayed by the political fallout.

CNN Crime and Justice Reporter Shimon Prokupecz is covering this for us. So Shimon, what more can you tell us about the effectiveness of Wray's words.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, so certainly this for Christopher Wray, the FBI director, has been a week of where he has been fighting on behalf of the FBI both internally and externally. And yesterday after the memo was released, a short time after that the FBI director put together about an eight minute video where he addressed the troops, where he addressed the workforce of the FBI knowing full well what a week this has been for them.

And he told them to keep doing what they are doing, keep moving forward. One of the things he said, and let me read that to you, in this video is that, quote, "the American people read the newspapers and watch TV. But your work is all that matters." And then he said actions speak louder than words.

Quite a week here for the FBI director issuing the statement against the White House, against the president's choice to release, to declassify this memo and release it. And then also, yesterday, during a scheduled event that really had nothing to do with this, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, speaking at a human trafficking symposium at an event at the Department of Justice also spoke about the effect that this is having internally at the Department of Justice, showing support for Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who a lot of questions now whether or not he is going to remain the deputy attorney general. And also the woman who would succeed Rod Rosenstein, Rachel Brand, if he was fired. Take a listen to this.


JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Rod has had 27 years in the department. Rachel has had a number of years in the department previously, and so they both represent the kind of quality and leadership that we want in the department.


PROKUPECZ: So certainly this came off script. This was not expected by the attorney generals who himself has had his own issues with the president. And really, Fred, as Boris there said, the big question is does Rod Rosenstein remain the deputy attorney general and the person who is overseeing this Russian investigation?

WHITFIELD: All right, Shimon Prokupecz, thanks so much.

All right, straight ahead, the partisan divide growing wider after the release of that memo, so what does it means for the Russian investigation? That's next.


WHITFIELD: The controversial Nunes memo is out, Devin Nunes. President Trump says it totally vindicates him in the Russian probe, but many Republicans are outraged and many Democrats are dismayed, worried what the claims made by a few could do to undermine the entire Russian investigation.

Here to discuss, the former south regional director for President Obama's 2012 campaign Tharon Johnson, Republican strategist Kevin Paul Scott, and CNN law enforcement analyst Jay Gagliano. Good to see you all. Let's begin here in Atlanta, Tharon, you first. Does this promote some real clarity as the Republicans say, this is about transparency, or does it offer more confusion? Democrats say the complete picture was not revealed.

THARON JOHNSON, FORMER SOUTH REGIONAL DIRECTOR, OBAMA 2012: It is tainted by total confusion and total chaos. The Republican messaging leading up to the release of the memo was this is not to muddy the waters around the Mueller investigation, is to show transparency, to make sure that FISA followed the correct process. And then once it is released, Donald Trump changes the entire narrative, making it about him being vindicated, making it about trying to really discredit one of the most trusted federal agencies in the FBI in saying that they tampered with evidence and there was an illegal wiretap in the Department of Justice. And so Democrats are saying we are dismayed, but then Republicans are saying, oh, my God, this is not what we want the American people to see. WHITFIELD: And so in the Democratic memo if that is ever released,

how do you suppose that will offer some clarity or clear things up, or won't it also be a cherry-picking of information in a memo, and now it is up for people to decide which one to give more credence to, the Republican summation or the Democratic summation?

JOHNSON: Lets' go through the process. This information was classified information that's being declassified and so yes, Democrats are going to release their version, their memo, and they are going to be on the offense, and then Donald Trump is going to be on the defense trying to discredit this memo.

And what is really happening, Fred, it that it's really making the country retreat to their corners. If you are a Democrat, you are going to believe the Democratic version of the memo. If you are a Republican, you're going to believe the Republican version. But the true loser is all this is the American people and the winner is really Russia, because they are looking at us saying, oh, my God, look at them battling each other as we are discussing this investigation. And we know that there was some coordination, there was definitely communication with Russia. How much of that, was it collusion, was it obstruction, that is yet to be determined, but it is really, really bad for us as a democracy.

WHITFIELD: So then Kevin, what to that, with Russians saying this is exactly what we wanted. We wanted to sow some distrust within the democratic process, and now everybody is fighting with one other. At the same time, and then at the same time the president who says I am all about the law enforcement, I'm a big proponent of it. But then lately, he is saying a lot that is very disparaging of the law enforcement branch of the FBI. FBI is all about securing the borders and the president is also saying on the other side of his mouth, I'm about securing the border. So can you have it both ways. Can you have it, I guess it's not even both ways, a lot of ways here?

KEVIN PAUL SCOTT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think Tharon is right on this one. This has really become really a politicization of the process. People are going into their corners. Earlier this week, Democrats were all up in arms, don't release the memo, don't release it. Now that it is released, they're saying it is not that bad, it's not that bad. It proves this, Republican are trying to prove it counts.

Here is the challenge. One, this is very complicated. It is tough to talk about it. Number two, we like talking about this. I think most people in America, when we discuss this they have kind of tuned out, and they are most interested in the fact that they got a little bit more money in the paycheck this week because tax effects took effect February 1st. And I believe even Donald Trump tweeting this morning his approval rating is up not just because people like what he doing, but they are seeing the effects of the policies and they're almost saying even if we don't like him, we like the results of what is happening.

And I really believe outside of the people around here that are really into this process, most people aren't paying attention the memo and that, the nitty-gritty of these details.

WHITFIELD: OK, so also it is being disputed the whole goal of this whole GOP memo, there are some believe that the release of this memo might be a prelude to the potential removal of the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein because he is in the memo, he is part of the FISA warrant renewal process as signing off on a FISA warrant as it pertained to Carter Page. But this is what Congressman Adam Schiff had to say about all of this.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA: But his statements today are very concerning about Rod Rosenstein, the fact that he is sort of dangling Rod Rosenstein's job, and the firing of Rod Rosenstein in my view would be an act of obstruction of justice just as firing Bob Mueller would be. It is further evidence that what happened with James Comey was not an isolated act. So to me that would be a very definite part of a pattern of obstruction of justice.


WHITFIELD: So James, would you agree if there were the removal of Rod Rosenstein by way of the president firing him, is that tantamount to obstruction of justice or a constitutional crisis?

JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Fred, I'm a cautious skeptic in these things because for 25 years I served in the FBI, and the thing that is paramount in the FBI is it is not always what you know or what you think that you know. It's what you can prove. And in this instance, obviously of justice is such a difficult, there is a high bar for it, because you have got to be able to prove intent. The president has the right to fire an FBI director. The president has the right to fire an attorney general, and if the president sees fit to have the deputy attorney general fired, he can do it.

WHITFIELD: But perhaps it becomes problematic if it is an effort to obstruct justice in an ongoing investigation where the president or at least people in his orbit are centerpieces of that investigation. So given that, then what?

GAGLIANO: Yes, you have got to make the tie. And Fred, that is fair, but that would be very difficult to prove, and especially with somebody like Donald Trump who we all sit back and we look at and you kind of sometimes feel you are in bizarre world because he's an unconventional president, and he does things unconventionally, and I think a lot of times he says things, and you jump out and you say that means this. And then a day later he says, no, no, no, it means this.

I look at this, and I think you can have two mutually exclusive positions here. I believe the Russian collusion investigation should continue unimpeded and unobstructed. I also believe that there were some things done at the FBI, my former agency, at the senior levels that should be investigated by the OIG, and it is. I think both of those things should be left alone. I think if the president does elect to fire somebody like Rod Rosenstein which he can do, I think it would be a colossal mistake. WHITFIELD: So Tharon, the inspector general would be the body to help

investigate any potential wrongdoing. The president interjecting the thoughts, opinions about whether there is merit to memo, or vindication, does it undermine that role?

JOHNSON: I think it does. Let's look at the pattern here. President Trump has sent out tweets criticizing a lot of the people in his cabinet. He started with the FBI Director Comey and then he will come back and his people say there's no intent to fire this person, and then weeks later we will see this person fired.

So this is all about the public trust in the system that has been working for hundreds and hundreds of years to the protect the American people. And I think that when you start to meddling on whether someone should be fired you are undermining the I.G.'s role to really fully investigate this.

And then here's the bottom line. If you really want full transparency, then let's be fully transparent. Let's release all the memos and put all the information out there. But it is Donald Trump who is muddying the waters right now in not allowing the transparency of the facts to actually play out, and I think therein lies the problems.

WHITFIELD: So Kevin, is it the pillars of democracy that are in trouble here?

SCOTT: I don't think on this issue. The reality is these people in the administration serve at the pleasure of the president. And I would agree with James. I hope that he does not fire Rosenstein. I think it would cast more doubt than is necessary on this investigation, but the reality is they serve at his pleasure and it is his call, and this is what democracy is all about.

WHITFIELD: All right, we'll leave it there, gentlemen. Thank you so much. Tharon Johnson, Kevin Scott, and James Gagliano, appreciate it. We'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back. Health officials are warning the flu epidemic in the U.S. is getting worse and deadlier, and it could be many more weeks before the worst of it is over. More than 126,000 people have been officially diagnosed with the infection so far, and it may be hitting kids especially hard. A dozen states have reported school closures because of the outbreaks, and 53 children have died from the flu this season.

CNN's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has the story of one woman, a mom who died even after going to the hospital for treatment.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: A workplace in mourning after the sudden death of one of their own, Tandy Harmon. So Tandy, this is where she worked?

BRAD FOUTS, TANDY HARMON'S MANAGER: Yes, for the last four year, an amazing gal. We're going to miss her.

COHEN: Her death shows just how much we don't know about the flu and how much it is hurting us this year. The worst flu season in years, tents set up for extra patients, schools closed across the country. Tandy was young, just 36 and healthy.

STEVEN LUNDIN, TANDY HARMON'S BOYFRIEND: She posted on Facebook, dang, caught the flu, that darn flu.

COHEN: Tandy's boyfriend says that when her chest started hurting she went to the emergency room where she was diagnosed with the flu and sent home. She got worse and went back just hours later.

Do you remember the last thing that Tandy said to you?

LUNDIN: I'm scared. I don't know what is going on, I am scared. In between all of the breaths she got that out.

COHEN: Tandy died, leaving her family mystified why didn't doctors keep her in the hospital the first time. She is not he only one. Six-year-old Emily Muth died in North Carolina hours after a paramedic said she could stay home.

LUNDIN: Who is to blame? Do you blame God? Do you blame the world? The doctors?


COHEN: Dr. William Schaffner says when it comes to the flu, there is no crystal ball.

SCHAFFNER: We have thousands upon thousands of patients who come in, are evaluated, are sent home and do wonderfully well. And trying to pick out who among them is going to take a turn for the worse is something that we can't do. It's a gap in our knowledge.

COHEN: But could medicine be doing more?

SCHAFFNER: We need better diagnostic tests so we can predict who is going to have a bad result.

COHEN: One of the ways flu kills the young and healthy is by turning their own immune systems against them. Some researchers have been trying to stop that response and they have had some success with animal studies.

FOUTS: There has to be something more that they can do. I mean, the flu is not going to go away.

COHEN: Now Tandy's boss has lost a friend and waitress, her boyfriend, the woman he loved, and Tandy's two children their mother, all because medicine wasn't advanced enough to save her.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, Portland, Oregon.



WHITFIELD: All right, the countdown is on. Tomorrow is Super Bowl Sunday. It's the New England Patriots taking on the Philadelphia Eagles in Minnesota, and CNN will have you covered top to bottom.

DAVID BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: This is a picture of super bowl coverage coming up.

WHITFIELD: Minutes away CNN Bleacher Report special kickoff in Minnesota straight ahead. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Thanks for being with me today. See you again tomorrow. More newsroom at the top of the hour.