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President Trump On Sitting Down With Mueller; President Trump Lawyers Urging POTUS To Refuse Interview Request From Robert Mueller's Team; POTUS Slams Dem Rep Adam Schiff; FBI Agent Quits Over Political Attacks On the Bureau; Trump's Lawyer Advise Him To Refuse Interview Request From Robert Mueller; White House Trying To Undermine Mueller's Investigation; Trump Claims Nunes Vindicated Him, While Suggesting It Catches FBI In The Act. Aired 11-12a ET
Aired February 5, 2018 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[23:00:41] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN DON LEMON SHOW: This is "CNN tonight." Jim Sciutto in tonight for don lemon. It is 11:00 on the east coast, we are live with new developments tonight and a lot of breaking news.
Lawyers for President Trump urging that he not sit down for an interview with special counsel Robert Mueller's team. Also breaking tonight, a source telling CNN that Steve Bannon, the President's former chief strategist, will not appear tomorrow before the House Intelligence Committee, defying a subpoena from that committee. And that same committee voting unanimously to release the Democratic memo which rebuts allegations in that Republican memo from Friday that the FBI and Justice Department officials abused surveillance laws in the Russia investigation. The White House only saying that that memo will be reviewed. It did not say it will be released. Let's begin the hour with CNN senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown. Also political analyst Molly Ball for National Political Correspondent for "Time magazine," political analyst Karoun Demirjian, she is a congressional reporter for "the Washington Post," and political commentator Matt Lewis, the senior columnist for "the Daily Beast." Let us begin with you Pamela, "The New York Times" reporting tonight that the President's lawyers urging him in effect to steer clear of the - special counsel. An interview with him, similar to reporting you and Gloria Borger had a few days ago. Tell us exactly what they're telling the President.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN NEWSROOM SHOW HOST: That is right, as Gloria and I have reported, the President's lawyers have been telling him for quite some time that he should not testify. That it's not a good idea. In fact, Ty Cobb, the President's lawyer, said on the record it would be a perjury trap, essentially saying he didn't want his client to do an interview, because he was worried he'd be caught in a lie. I mean this is what the President's lawyers have been saying behind the scenes. To Mueller's team, they have argued that they have not shown enough evidence to prove why they need to sit down with the President of the United States. They're making the argument that it's not normal, it's not the same when you interview an ordinary person versus the President of the United States and that they haven't shown enough evidence to prove that they need to sit down and interview him for the obstruction of justice.
SCIUTTO: That is really just a defense argument, is it not? Other Presidents have been required to sit down. Clinton volunteered but under threat of a subpoena. If the President turns down the offer in effect of an interview, that could be followed up by a subpoena requiring him.
BROWN: Which is of course what I always bring up. That ultimately, Robert Mueller has the jurisdiction, the authority, to come back and say, ok, here's a subpoena we're going to compel you to testify. You remember Bill Clinton's case, the subpoena was issued, and then it was worked out where he did testify not grand jury with his lawyer present. Someone I spoke to tonight close to the President's legal team said to me flat out, the President will not testify, period. When I brought up the subpoena this person said, I don't think they're going to do that. Basically the argument from the White House is going to be from an institutional standpoint, the precedent of having the President sit down and do an interview like this. They seem convinced it's not going to end up in a court battle.
SCIUTTO: They might want to look back to Nixon and Clinton, I suppose.
BROWN: Those are questions.
SCIUTTO: He did have to release the tapes, which the Supreme Court eventually ruled against him. Molly Ball, the President has been somewhat back and forth on this question in his public comments. Let's play to our viewers his various comments on whether he would volunteer to sit for an interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Would you be willing to speak under oath to give your version of --
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 100 percent. We'll see what happens. I mean, certainly I will see what happens, but when they have no collusion and nobody's found any collusion at any level, it seems unlikely you'd even have an interview.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to talk to Mueller?
TRUMP: I'm looking forward to it, actually. There's been no collusion whatsoever. There's no obstruction whatsoever. And I'm looking forward to it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you have a date set?
TRUMP: I don't know. No, I guess they're talking about two or three weeks. I would love to do it. Again, I have to say, subject to my lawyers and all of that, but I would love to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Funny, I wonder if it's that kind of bravado that his lawyers are worried about, that he might be overconfident sitting down in an interview with the special counsel.
MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, I mean, it seems like a classic case, and not the only one, of Trump's instincts pushing him a certain direction and all the cooler heads around him trying frantically to push him back the other direction. Trump it seems clear when he is off the top of his head he has this confidence, this proviso, this why not, like everything else, blaze into it and push through.
[23:05:05] And all the people around him are saying, Mr. President, we see the potential consequences here, we see how could this go horribly go off the rails, they are trying to insulate him, they are trying to protect him as they see it. But it's clear that in his less-guarded moments, the President would just as soon charge right in. It reminds me very much of left to his own devices, I think the President would have ripped up NAFTA by now. But he is got people around him protecting him, insulating him, seeing potential consequences down the road that he maybe doesn't see.
BROWN: He could also sort of be the good guy in this. Look, I've got nothing to hide. I will sit down for an interview and let his lawyers be the bad guy, I can't, my lawyers are telling me not to, and it's an out for him.
SCIUTTO: Talking about some of the President's allies trying to protect him, to some degree. We heard from Chris Christie on "Good morning America" just last week, listen to what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could the President sit down with him face-to- face?
REP CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: No.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why not?
CHRISTIE: I don't believe so. Listen, I don't think there's been any allegations, credible allegations, against the President of the United States. I don't think the President of the United States, unless there are credible allegations, which I don't believe there are, should be sitting across from a special counsel. The presidency is different. I don't think they should do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Do you agree with that argument? In effect, he is playing his defense lawyer here. Experienced prosecutor. But making an argument that 2other lawyers have made, that without an underlying crime, you don't -- the President cannot be forced to sit down?
MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it's a compelling argument. Nixon didn't do it. Reagan I think did, interrogatories, the written statements. I would never advise anybody to voluntarily submit themselves, whether they're the President or not, to any sort of a case where you could be in -- they call it a trap. I think it actually is. For anybody --
SCIUTTO: But perjury trap's a nice phrase for a defense lawyer to say. But as Jeffrey Toobin has said on our air oftentimes, the way to avoid a perjury trap is to tell the truth.
SCIUTTO: Are they worried the President just can't force himself to tell the truth?
LEWIS: I would say two things. First of all, I would advise anybody not to voluntarily ever engage in any sort of discussion where you are, I'm going to go talk to the FBI. I would never, if you could at all avoid it. You could accidentally commit perjury. It's totally possible. The other thing I would say is, I think Donald Trump is uniquely incapable of telling the truth. If I were advising him, I would say, no way would I let you do this.
SCIUTTO: Would his lawyers say that to him point blank?
LEWIS: They should.
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, THE WASHINGTON POST: He does have a tendency to tell the story that is in his head at that moment and that is dangerous instinct to go on, when you're in a room with Bob Mueller his team.
SCIUTTO: So we have other news coming tonight. A typical night. In this year, in this news cycle. Steve Bannon, who was meant to appear before the House Intelligence Committee tomorrow under a committee subpoena, is now no longer going to appear. This Pamela, appears to be another product of this question as to how far executive privilege will extend to him. What questions he is going to actually answer when facing that committee.
BROWN: Yes, because you'll recall just recently he wouldn't give any information to the committee when he went up to the hill. He basically made the argument that this was because of the White House, the White House says I'm protected by executive privilege, I'll talk to Mueller's team and give them all this information. So in some ways it's not a surprise, but it certainly sets up this battle between Steve Bannon and the committee.
SCIUTTO: And he is not the only one who's been claiming this. Again, this is another executive privilege extending to another adviser. Quite a liberal definition of this legal issue.
DEMIRJIAN: Yes, it's rankling the people on the hill, including Republicans quite a bit for a few reasons. It's not the President invoking the executive privilege, it's his advisers saying he may want to.
SCIUTTO: The possibility it might be invoked.
DEMIRJIAN: Also they're really upset because he is trying to invoke it for not discussing things that happened in the transition period. How can you invoke executive privilege is the argument from congress when you were not actually in the White House being in the executive? There was another guy that was there still in HANKS: period. They're very upset about this, they've been trying to work it out with Bannon so they can schedule a date that is mutually agreeable, so there can be discussions between the house counsel and White House to really work out what the terms would be of the discussion. This is the third time they've tried to reschedule this discussion. This interview that is going to be behind closed doors. And you're starting to hear people lose their patience with this. And it's really going to come down to when do Republicans decide they've had enough? And today you were seeing people like Tom Lehi saying we have to mean something with these subpoenas. If people think we don't, they don't show up, then nobody's going to interview with the House Intel Committee again. We can't let that happen. The next step is issuing a contempt resolution or citation and that is a big step that they may or may not be willing to take yet. But that is the point at which we're playing chicken at some point.
[23:10:00] SCIUTTO: Molly, do you see something -- of course we had the drama on Friday of the Nunes memo and that came out, partisan lines. But now today, unanimous vote in the House Intel Committee to release the Democratic rebuttal, in effect, attempt to rebut those points. Is that an attempt by the committee to be more, not just magnanimous, but try to regain some of that bipartisanship as they continue this investigation?
BALL: It means so much trust in the intelligence community was fractured by what happened with the Nunes memo. This is a committee that had traditionally been pretty able, uniquely almost in congress, to work together across Party lines. There was a concern that if that trust was fractured forever, it would really impede the ability of the intelligence community to function. So I do think this was some attempt in a goodwill gesture to say, here's something we can all agree on, here's something the Republicans particularly on the committee can sort of extend an olive branch to the Democrats saying, we did this thing that fractured so much trust, here's a way that maybe we can get it back. Of course we don't know where this is headed, we don't know what the White House is going to do and that is all where it stands.
SCIUTTO: We had a little sign of where the White House is today based on the President's twitter feed. This was the President, what the President tweeted at the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee today. Little Adam Schiff. That is a new one. Who is desperate to run for higher office is one of the businesses liars and leakers in Washington, right up there with Comey, Warner, and Brenan, and Clapper, exclamation point. Adam leaves closed hearings to illegally leak confidential information, must be stopped, exclamation point. I have a privilege in speaking to Adam Schiff's earlier today and his response was, I think it's time for General Kelley to give the President a time-out again. It's not new, this kind of hyperbole from the President. Is it helping his case?
LEWIS: No, not at all. Look, I think Adam Schiff probably does leak a lot. At least certainly has close sources in the media. Or he is a source of a lot of media folks. The thing that bothered me much more than this, this is just Donald Trump being Donald Trump. And engaging in the sort of little Marco sort of thing. I think much more troubling was Donald Trump claiming that the Nunes memo exonerated him of the Mueller probe, which I thought was patently absurd, even Republicans are saying that it has nothing to do with Mueller.
SCIUTTO: Trey Gowdy went on the air, he ticked off all the reasons why the memo did not exonerate him, because he was in effect ticking off the other bits of evidence that led the FBI down to path.
DEMIRJIAN: Right. And this is a tug of war that is happening right now between the Republicans, who do not want to have this snowball into some sort of verdict on what they think about the Mueller probe, and the President, who's trying to take every bit that he can and declare victory. The fact that this happened today, though, is telling. Everybody knew that the House Intelligence Committee was going to vote on the Dems memo this evening. It's now in the President's hands. He is got five days to make a decision whether or not to block that move.
SCIUTTO: Does he have the guts to declassify the Republican one and not to declassify the Democrat one?
DEMIRJIAN: I was asking that question of the Republicans on the committee today and they think that no. They think he is going to have to let it go. He just may heavily redact it. I think that is the question. Even if -- that is another thing, if it's heavily redacted, Democrats want to see what the FBI ordered redacted and what comes out of the White House redact.
SCIUTTO: 47 black lines and two names?
DEMIRJIAN: To see if it's political or sources and if there's a difference. They're going to try to potentially have a next round of pushing to get this out there more than comes --
DEMIRJIAN: That is a possibility.
SCIUTTO: Thanks so much to the panel. I always appreciate it when you come in late tonight to join us.
Just ahead. President Trump repeatedly attacks the Russia investigation as a hoax once again and slams the FBI's role in it. Up next, we're going to ask an FBI agent who just quit the bureau how political attacks are wearing on the bureau's rank and file.
[23:17:20] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. With all the focus now on the Democrats' memo on the FBI and surveillance, you can be forgiven for forgetting just on Friday all the talk was of Devin Nunes' Republican version. Nunes' memo was billed as a bombshell set to upend the Russia investigation, proof, he and his allies claimed that the FBI had it in for Trump. Just 72 hours later, even Republicans say there isn't much to Nunes' claims. To be fair, his memo didn't quite meet Democrats' dire predictions of revealing deep, dark national security secrets either. Perhaps these dealing memos reveal something about both parties. That is, a possible tendency to love the FBI when it's on their side, not so much when the bureau isn't.
Remember, many Democrats still blame James Comey for single-handedly, they say, losing the election for Hillary Clinton. That was way back in 2016 when Donald Trump was wholeheartedly praising him. Of course since then Trump fired Comey and is now attacking his successor, Christopher Wray. What does this all mean to the men and women of the FBI? A politically motivated accusation led one special agent to resign so that he could speak out in defense of the bureau. He quit on Friday saying such attacks "Make our nation less safe." Josh Campbell is with me now. Thanks very much for taking the time. Thanks for telling your story to us and to the American people.
JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Thanks, Jim.
SCIUTTO: As I read this piece, it's clearly a heartfelt piece. I want for the sake of the audience who might not have read it, I'll quote one of the lines. "FBI agents are dogged people who do not care about the direction of political winds, but to succeed in their work they need public backing. Scorched earth attacks from politicians with partisan goals now threaten that support, raising corrosive doubts about the integrity of the FBI that could last for generations." that is remarkable. You're talking about shaking the core of the American people's confidence, really, in the FBI.
CAMPBELL: It is. And it's something that even if there isn't immediate result that we're seeing right in front of our face, it is something that threatens our ability to do our job in the long-term. What I mean by that is the FBI cannot do its job without public trust. Whether it's an agent knocking on someone's door, whether it's recruiting, whatever the case may be. Rising in a courtroom and trying to convince a jury what we are about to say must be believed, the FBI requires that public trust. I think what we're seeing now is regardless of Party, I'm not talking about politics, and I am not here to talk politics. But the political attacks on the bureau, which are different from criticism, have that potential to impede our work for the future.
SCIUTTO: Are you and your colleagues noticing that already? Are you noticing questions being asked in the course of your work that were not asked before?
CAMPBELL: The one big question being ask, whether it's an FBI agent talking to a subject or someone that they're trying to get information from in the course of their job, even frankly our family and friends when we go home, is, what happened to the FBI? That is a tough question to answer.
[23:20:10] Because the reality is, nothing's happened to the FBI, it's the same FBI that we've had for 40 years. It's the same FBI with oversight that ensures our accountability. What I have seen and what many of my colleagues assess is that politics has intersected with the FBI in a way we haven't seen before. Where now critical institutions like law enforcement are now fair game for political attacks. SCIUTTO: It's interesting. Because that question, what happened to
the FBI that seems to indicate that people buy the partisan attacks. That you are now, you or the bureau writ large, is behaving in a biased way.
CAMPBELL: You're right. And that is why I think the potential ramifications could be long-term. Because as this corrosive doubt starts to seep in as far as our ability to be believed, it's hard to get that undone once it's already baked in. I think the time is now. Again it wasn't easy to leave the FBI, an organization that I love. I loved going to work every single day, working with the best people that you would ever meet. And it was tough to leave. But I think it's too important to speak out and say these attacks must stop, because the ramifications are so grave.
SCIUTTO: It's a loss. A loss to the bureau. You were there, you were present with James Comey, when he was fired by the President. And some e-mails from the FBI have been released that show the initial reaction to that from people inside. One reading, our hearts are heavy, I hope this is an instance of fake news, kind of dark humor. Tell us what it was like in that moment.
CAMPBELL: So I had the pleasure of serving as Jim Comey's special assistant. I will say at the outset, I've spent my professional life telling the truth, gathering the truth. That is what FBI agents do. Even in this bureau here I'm not going to change that. I'm biased in the sense that I had a front row seat to an incredible leader, someone who was not without fault, none of us are, we're human beings, and we are not perfect. What I saw was a leader who was well liked throughout the organization. I know there were some criticisms and accusations that maybe that wasn't the case. I can tell you, it was the case. Because I saw it. I can give you three examples. The first being, I spent a lot of time with the Director while he was traveling. You knew it was a deployed organization. He had to visit the troops. I watched him interact with thousands of FBI employees. Literally thousands. And seeing their faces as they interacted with him. As I've said before, not all of them agreed with him. We had a segment of the population that had some issues with the handling of the Hillary Clinton investigation. That is fine, people can disagree. But even those who disagreed with his actions still respected him.
The second thing, in the FBI, we have something that he actually championed, we call it the climate survey, where employees can unanimously every year fill out surveys to tell us how are our leaders doing? Our ability to hold them accountable. It's anonymous, employees fill it out, and they rate the officials. His ratings across all levels were always high. Which tells you it's not someone who just being nice to them because they're in the moment with the Director.
SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. Even in his testimony on the hill, he referred to -- I think he use the phrase, nauseous. When he was asked if he was concerned when he came out with that reopening of the investigation several days before the election, whether he might affect the election. There was criticism of Director Comey during the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. I imagine from both sides. But being very public when he first said he was not issuing charges, but being very critical. From some, and some with axes to grind. Is it your sense that he or others in the FBI thought he was too involved politically in 2016?
CAMPBELL: I think what we saw with Director Comey is something that may be unique in Washington, that is someone who had no regard for the political ramifications what was he was about to do, but as we want our leaders to, do he worked his end box, what's this front of me, what are the hard decisions that I have to make? He didn't sit there and say, this may be a political hot potato, I'm going to kick this across the street, let someone else do it. He worked the cases that were in front of him. He made the tough decisions. If you go back and look at the series of events that happened, again, I don't work for Jim Comey, I don't work with the FBI anymore, and my job is to tell facts. If you go back and look at the last year and a half and what's happened to him, some of the most critical decisions that he made where he took a lot of heat, there was always an option for him to do something that would have gotten him off the hook. I think at each turn what he did is determined what's best for the institution, for the Department of Justice, for the rule of law. I think that is to be lauded.
SCIUTTO: Do you look at -- you said in so many words that it makes the country less safe. Why is that? These attacks?
CAMPBELL: I do, because again, it goes back to the FBI cannot do its job without public trust. In our business, now my former business, we rely on the public to provide us information. So whether that is the FBI top ten program, seeking information for the public, whether it was you're trying to recruit an informant who's going to help you stop the next terrorist plot. I'm not being an alarmist, I think these are real issues we're going to face. If the public sees us as, ok, they're just like everyone else, they're political, they can't be trusted. I think that is going to impact our ability to build that trust, to do our jobs, to gather information we need to protect the country.
[23:25:12] SCIUTTO: Josh Campbell, thanks for speaking out and thanks for your service in the bureau.
CAMPBELL: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Coming up next, the President saying many times that he is eager to talk to special counsel Robert Mueller. His lawyers however trying to steer him clear of that. Who will win that legal showdown? We are going to break the risks of either strategy and that is next.
SCIUTTO: Welcome back. President Trump's lawyers advising him to refuse an interview request from Robert Mueller. How will that square with the President who has said many, many times that he is eager to speak to the special counsel? Let's break it all down with Michael Zeldin, CNN legal analyst and Robert Mueller's former special assistant at Department of Justice. John Dean, CNN contributor and former counsel in the Nixon White House. John if I can begin with you, Trump's attorneys don't want him to speak to special counsel Robert Mueller, but do they have the right to say no?
JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: It's not clear, actually. While you mentioned U.S. versus Nixon earlier, that was a question of whether a President had the privilege, executive privilege, to withhold evidence and documents. And Nixon's case, tapes. And 8-0 they decided against him. As to his being called to testify, Nixon never was, until after he left the office. He did so voluntarily.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN DON LEMON TONIGHT SHOW: Michael Zeldin, you worked for Robert Mueller. Bill Clinton did, was required to testify.
MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, three times.
SCIUTTO: So what was the difference there legally?
ZELDIN: There is no difference. It was just a different set of circumstances. In Nixon's case, to John's point, they wanted the tapes which was essentially testimony. It wasn't physical evidence they wanted, they wanted the words out of Richard Nixon's mouth, which ultimately convicted him in the court of public opinion and caused him to resign his office. In the case of Trump and the case of Clinton, they wanted the words out of his mouth live. And they got it because the grand jury's right to receive evidence, generally speaking, under all the cases that have analyzed this, overcomes executive privilege. And of course remember one thing about executive privilege is, it's a privilege that results from the President and his senior advisers talking about policy. That is what Nixon tried to assert. But it was not about policy. In this case also, these are not policy conversations between Trump and his senior advisers. In fact, much of this occurs before he is even President. So I don't see in the end how he prevails.
SCIUTTO: Michael makes a good point there, John Dean. It gets to that issue. Nixon was beaten on that point, because the court effectively ruled, if I understand it correctly, that if he was dealing with state secrets, yes, matters of national security, yes, those conversations, executive privilege. If he is speaking in that case about a crime at the Watergate hotel, not covered by executive privilege. Might the special counsel or even the Supreme Court, if it goes there, rule similarly here that, say, a conversation on air force one about a meeting with Russians, that that does not fall under the umbrella of issues of national security that are covered by executive privilege?
DEAN: Michael always makes good points. I'd start with that. And add that here's a situation where they'd have to -- may have to litigate it. The other thing is, they could litigate it and prevail, that the grand jury had the right to the testimony, and Trump could be the first President to take the Fifth Amendment. That they're not going to be able to get around. So there is still always that option. But I think it would be a powerfully unpleasant situation for a sitting President to have taken the Fifth Amendment.
SCIUTTO: Michael, I want you to help us with this issue. The phrase that I try to hesitate to say, perjury trap, right that makes it seem like there's some kind of nefarious purposes going on here. At the end of the day, if you tell the truth, right, you're not going to get charged with lying to the special counsel. Because that is a point that you'll often hear from the President's defenders here that well, the special counsel kind of maneuvered the President into a position where he tells a falsehood.
ZELDIN: Let's be clear what is a perjury trap? A perjury trap is a defined sort of concept in law. It's a form of entrapment where the prosecutor -- and it's inappropriate -- where the prosecutor is bringing the witness in for the sole purpose of getting him to commit a perjury that he can charge him with that perjury. That is a perjury trap. When there's an ongoing, legitimate investigation and you bring a witness in to testify, and that witness doesn't tell the truth, that is just perjury. Plain old, plain old perjury. This isn't a trap. This is a legitimate investigation. If the President chooses to not tell the truth, then he is chargeable with perjury.
SCIUTTO: John Dean, I imagine the special counsel has -- I don't want to say advantage, but an arrow in his quiver, that he has cooperating witnesses now and the primary one with regard to the President would be Michael Flynn.
DEAN: Yes, indeed. And Trump has no idea what Flynn has said, what Flynn has recorded, his own set of self-corroboration in his e-mails what he is told others. So, yes. And we have something -- I've described earlier, a natural-born liar in the President. And so he has difficulty. He is often truth-challenged. So I understand why his attorneys are doing it and I think I understand if it's pushed by the special counsel why he is pushing it.
SCIUTTO: The other issue, of course, today that the House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously to release the Democratic rebuttal to the Nunes memo, sending it to President Trump. The President Michael Zeldin as you know from our experience from Friday and last week has five days to decide whether to declassify this document. Ultimately that is a judgment call by the President and there are political implications. Is there any legal requirement for the President to put this out there now that the house has voted, or rather the committee, has voted unanimously to put it out there?
[23:35:04] ZELDIN: No, my understanding is that classification issues reside solely in the executive branch. And they're a prerogative of the President. The President can, if he is prepared to withstand the political conflicts that he is created for himself, he has --
SCIUTTO: Are you saying politics might enter into this decision? Is that what you're suggesting?
ZELDIN: Far be it for me to understand politics. From a legal matter, I think it's his prerogative. I think he is hard pressed to not release it. The question will be, I think, that which Congressman Schiff raised, which is, will he neuter it by excising things from it through redaction? And that is his greatest weapon, I think.
SCIUTTO: John Dean, do you see the President standing in the way of this at this point? Or is the political pressure is just too great? DEAN: I think the greatest likelihood is some sort of heavy redaction
where he won't explain the redactions. But I also understand that there is a rule in the house that the house can indeed release so- called classified information. Michael's absolutely right, this is something the President's power has clearly been defined to be the supreme and ultimate power, yet here's this house rule.
SCIUTTO: That is right. I believe it would be a majority in the house could overrule the President, which would be a political calculation on the part of the Republican Party as well. John Dean, Michael Zeldin, you know a thing or two about decisions, thanks very much. When we come back, the President's lawyers don't want him to speak to Mueller as we had said. Is this part of a strategy to further undermine the Mueller investigation? We'll talk about that question right after this.
[23:40:35] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Let's bring in CNN legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa, she is a former FBI special agent. CNN global affairs analyst David Rohde, and Julia Ioffe, she is a staff writer at the Atlantic. There are a lot of headlines tonight but I want to zero in on Steve Bannon kid of lost in the mix here. A lot of anticipation Asha to him coming to the House Intelligence Committee after his confusing experience last time where he wouldn't answer any questions, but now he is just not showing up. It seems that those issues on what questions he is going to answer have not been settled. Where is this going? Who's going to settle this question so that the House Intelligence Committee can interview him as it's interviewed so many other people?
ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, we're having a game of congressional "who's on first." we've seen this with Jeff Sessions. Preemptively invoking executive privilege and going around and around. You know, ultimately it's up to the members of congress to enforce a subpoena and essentially make him answer those questions. And if they choose not to do that, then, you know, then these people can get away with it. We've seen this pattern go on. But if they do choose to try to enforce it, and the White House actually tries to actually invoke executive privilege, that could potentially get litigated as it has in previous circumstances.
SCIUTTO: David, this White House would be stretching that veneer of executive privilege, if my history is right, just doing some research tonight that Ronald Reagan even in the Iran contra affair, which involved a whole host of national security questions, did not invoke executive privilege there. What would the case that this administration would make that executive privilege covers Steve Bannon's discussions with the President, for instance, about this Trump tower meeting in 2016? How could they make that argument?
DAVID ROHDE, GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST, CNN: It's more -- it's not a very strong legal argument, it's more a political argument. It is part of this campaign to kind of belittle this investigation, declare it a witch hunt. I don't think it will stand legally. But I think there's a very clear strategy to say, this doesn't matter, you hear it I think more and more consistently from the President, the President's son, that this is just an unfair process and they don't take it seriously and they're saying to their Republican base, you shouldn't take it seriously either.
SCIUTTO: Right. Part of a coordinated effort with a lot of targets. You mentioned the President's son over the past few days, we've heard from other members of the Trump family indicating they feel the same as the President certainly on the investigation, also that the Nunes memo somehow was a vindication of the entire Russia investigation, an interview this weekend with Fox News, Donald Trump Jr. had this to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP JR., OLDEST SON OF DONALD TRUMP: There is a little bit of sweet revenge in it for me and certainly probably the family in the sense that if they wouldn't have done this, this stuff would be going on. This would be going on at the highest levels of government. They'd be continuing to do it to my father, trying to undermine his actions. Imagine how effective he can be given the year he is had without this cloud over his head.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: So some outrage there. What is he basing that on?
JULIA IOFFE, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Well, a very selective, cherry-picked reading of a very selective and cherry-picked memo, right? Because I think a lot of the same people who read that memo saw that it confirmed that the Russia investigation was triggered not by the dossier, not by the fact that the DNC had paid for it, but by George Papadopoulos meeting with the Russians and running his mouth to an Australian ambassador, which we already knew.
SCIUTTO: To the degree the Australian ambassador was concerned enough he reported it back to his country's intelligence services which shared it with their U.S. partners.
IOFFE: Exactly. I mean it's just -- again, this is what has worried me since 2016. And I'm sorry to be a Debbie Downer here, but the extent to which we're coming to resemble Russia in the sense that there's two populations that live in completely parallel informational spaces. Where the set of facts don't intersect at all. The narratives don't intersect at all. And at this point, it doesn't really matter what Mueller investigation reveals or the senate or god is forbid the house investigation reveals. Everybody's going to take it and run with it in their separate political directions at you know based on where they were going into it.
[23:45:04] SCIUTTO: Asha, because it is part of really a series of attacks we've seen on the investigation, individuals, institutions, we spoke to a former colleague of yours, Josh Campbell, who left the bureau, because of the nature of these attacks and what it's doing to the agencies here. I'm curious how serious your experience is of this. And do you feel that it is eating at -- corrosive was the word that Josh Campbell used in his editorial. Do you share that view? RANGAPPA: Yes, I do. I think it is corrosive when the public's trust
in the FBI is undermined. Mainly because it really affects the ability of agents to do their jobs, of them to be able to get the information to solve their cases, to investigate terrorism, and counter intelligence. And as I mentioned earlier today, you know, agents go and testify in court when prosecutors are prosecuting cases. Juries have to believe them. They have to understand that they have integrity in the way that they conducted their investigations. All of this gets undermined. And it's very difficult to repair, Jim. So once you lose that, once it's eroded, it's not something that can be fixed overnight. So it is a long-term problem when the FBI's continually attacked like this.
SCIUTTO: David Rohde, before we go, final thought to you.
ROHDE: I think this is a bad sign for foreign intelligence agencies. They're not going to want to give information to the U.S. They fear it will be released for political purposes. And that is what's happening. These congressional oversight committees were supposed to stop this kind of process, keep the intelligence profession professional, instead they're using all this for political gain.
SCIUTTO: Listen, stay with us. We're going to have more time on the other side of the break. What happens if you say something nasty about your future boss and then it comes to light after you start working for him? That is exactly what happened with someone in Trump's cabinet now. We'll tell you exactly what he said.
[23:50:58] SCIUTTO: One Trump cabinet secretary did not always have choice words for his boss. CNN discovering that EPA administrator Scott Pruitt called Donald Trump a, quote, empty vessel on the constitution and the rule of law. This coming during an interview with an Oklahoma radio show in 2016. Pruitt was supporting the candidacy of Jeb Bush at the time. We're back now with Asha Rangappa, David Rohde, and Julia Ioffe. David if I can begin with you, a number of Trump aides have been caught saying less than flattering things about the President. Today we learned about the EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. Let's have a listen to that interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he is an empty vessel when it comes to thinks like the constitution and rule of law. And I'm very concerned that perhaps even the White House that there may be a very blunt instrument as the voice of the execution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: I mean, goodness gracious where we are right now with all these legal questions. I just wonder, we know that his boss watches some cable television. When he finds out about this, is Scott Pruitt -- are his day's numbers?
ROHDE: Could be, I mean he put out a forceful today calling Scott Pruitt put out a statement today saying President Trump is the most consequential leader of our time. He is clearly hoping the President hears that. This is politics. This is during the primaries. Pruitt was backing Jeb Bush at the time, as you said, it is embarrassing, but not unusual. But what is unusual is President Trump and his patience for this kind of disloyalty. The question is how does Trump react? This can blow over, not be a big thing, but you just don't know whether the President will tolerate this or not.
SCIUTTO: Julia, how significant when you hear comments like that? What's interesting about it too, beyond it being very critical, it's very topical with the kinds of issues we as the country are facing now, the special counsel in the investigation and so on.
IOFFE: Wasn't he the law and order candidate? Let me just connect it to the memo, right? We had this -- like the fact that Carter Page and George Papadopoulos were in any way involved with the campaign that ended up winning the White House is telling, right, because there were so many other candidates. They took all the potential advisers and everything and the Trump campaign got stuck with the Carter Pages and the George Papadopoulos's. And the Scott Pruitt's of the world were saying, this guy is not really all that much. Now that he is President, they have to, you know, kiss dear leader's ring. But it looks -- there are so many -- you know, you could disqualify all of Washington if this were disqualifying.
SCIUTTO: Asha, it's not like they are reluctantly carrying out the President's issues here. Scott Pruitt, one of the most aggressive cabinet secretaries here in terms of environmental policy, really dismantling the entire EPA and its functions here. I mean they're showing ability to change their stripes.
RANGAPPA: I think that is the most disturbing thing, Jim, is that these are folks who recognize early on that there were potential issues that would be coming particularly on the legal and constitutional front, as you said, exactly as we are facing right now. And then are yet willing to enable a lot of the policies that he is promoting. And we've seen this in a number of different fronts, with the travel ban, with the Nunes memo to undermine the Mueller investigation. It's kind of happening across the board, and it just goes back to, you know, the long-term consequences of not really standing up for the rule of law and other Democratic values that, you know, both parties have always championed. And they're all going out the window right now.
SCIUTTO: You might say that Scott Pruitt was prescient in his comments on the constitution and --
RANGAPPA: Well, Scott Pruitt was always a true believer in terms of denying climate change, right? There's a lot of people like this who are manning kind of the various ships of the Trump administration.
[23:55:00] The true believers, the ideologues for whom Trump was really an empty vessel. But for their ideology, I don't know that Trump cared one way or another about a lot of these issues, but he is been appointing people like Scott Pruitt, who go in there and while Trump is distracted tweeting about Nunes, et cetera, they're busy dismantling the EPA.
SCIUTTO: With great effect, are they not? Making real progress on what has been longtime conservative agenda?
ROHDE: Major progress. If you look at what's happened on immigration, Stephen Miller a hard liner on that issue. Trump came into office as this sort of deal maker. No one knew where he was politically, and he was essentially captured by the far right of the Republican Party. That is their deal with the devil if you will. They can get these things they've wanted carried out, many of them extreme right proposals, by working with this President. You know, will it haunt them? We'll have to see in the midterms elections in November.
SCIUTTO: David, Asha, Julia, thanks so much for sticking around with us. Thanks to you as well for joining us tonight. I'm Jim Sciutto in for Don Lemon. That is it for us tonight. Thanks so much for watching. Hope to see you tomorrow.