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Trump Slams "Little Adam Schiff" as Dems Urge Memo Vote; GOP Lawmakers Distance Themselves from Trump on Memo; Democrats Push To Release Rebuttal To GOP Memo; Memo Controversy Overshadows Spending Immigration. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 5, 2018 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:16] ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Erica Hill in for John Berman and Poppy Harlow.

This morning a president who claims he's, quote, "totally vindicated" in the Russia investigation, is demanding the leading Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee be stopped. In a scalding attack President Trump called Adam Schiff, and I'm quoting here, "one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington," and claims Schiff, quote, "leaves closed committee hearings to illegally leak confidential information. Must be stopped."

Well, this afternoon the Intel panel is expected to vote on whether to release Schiff's 10-page rebuttal to the memo, authored by the panel's Republican chairman alleging the FBI misled a judge to wiretap a Trump campaign aide. And that is where it begins.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is on Capitol Hill.

Sunlen, good morning.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Erica. Yes, the House Intelligence Committee meets tonight at 5:00 p.m. where top on the agenda will be whether to release that Democratic memo, this rebuttal memo that you referenced, that 10-page memo. Democrats on the committee have been arguing since last week since the release of that Republican memo from Devin Nunes that it mischaracterized everything, took too much out of context, was too partisan in nature, and they want this Democratic memo to in essence correct the record, give a fuller picture with context.

The chair -- the ranking member, excuse me, on the committee, Adam Schiff, the author of this Democratic memo, really blasting that Republican memo over the weekend.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The interest wasn't oversight. The interest was a political hit job on the FBI in the service of the president.


SERFATY: The committee will be voting tonight to release the Democrats' memo if they do -- if that motion passes then it goes to President Trump where he gets to make the decision on what happens to the memo next.

We heard from Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer over the weekend. He sent a letter to President Trump demanding him in essence to release this memo saying, in part, quote, "A refusal to release the Schiff memo in light of the fact that Chairman Devin Nunes's memo was released and is based on the same underlying documents will confirm the American peoples' worst fears that the release of Chairman Nunes's memo was only intended to undermine Special Counsel Bob Mueller's investigation."

And when and if that vote comes tonight, when and if it is approved, again it goes to President Trump where he will have five days, Erica, to approve or deny it.

HILL: Sunlen Serfaty. Sunlen, thank you.

Of course even before the president's attack on Schiff, quite a few Republicans were pushing back on his total vindication assertion.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House with more on that.

Kaitlan, good morning.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Erica. And though the president and the first lady are traveling to Cincinnati, Ohio, later this afternoon where the president is going to speak to a manufacturing plant this memo and the fallout over it is continuing to loom over the White House as we enter another week of this memo drama with the president spending his weekend insisting that the Republican memo actually vindicated him in the Russia investigation when he tweeted, "This memo totally vindicates Trump in probe but the Russian witch hunt goes on and on. There was no collusion and there was no obstruction. The word now used because after one year of looking endlessly and finding nothing, collusion is dead. This is an American disgrace."

Now that's certainly not the thinking echoed by some members of the president's own party over on Capitol Hill who spent the weekend insisting that that memo actually did not undermine the special counsel's investigation.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC'S "THIS WEEK": So you don't agree with President Trump when he says this vindicates him in the entire Russia investigation?


REP. CHRIS STEWART (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: This memo has frankly nothing at all to do with the special counsel.

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The dossier has nothing to do with the meeting at Trump Tower. The dossier has nothing to do with an e-mail sent by Cambridge Analytica. The dossier really has nothing to do with George Papadopoulos' meeting in Great Britain. It also doesn't have anything to do with obstruction of justice. So there's going to be a Russia probe even without a dossier.


COLLINS: Now it's worth noting that Trey Gowdy actually helped draft that Republican memo, but like someone said the president has five days once the House Intelligence Committee decides what to do with this Democratic memo and we'll be watching to see, Erica, if he decides to block it or let it be released to the public.

HILL: That of course one of the -- the big question. Kaitlan, thank you.

Joining me now CNN chief legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Toobin and CNN contributor Garrett Graff, who wrote "The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller's FBI and the War on Global Terror."

As we listen to all the back and forth here, Jeffrey, you said that the president has succeeded in Memo-gate. How?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Because this issue is now a largely partisan issue that, you know, whether Robert Mueller is doing a decent investigation, whether it's -- whether it was begun in an appropriate way, whether the FBI behaved appropriately in obtaining surveillance on Carter Page.

[09:05:18] That is something now that if you're casually following politics as most people do they think is something Democrats and Republicans just disagree on like so many other things. When, in fact, if you look at the actual facts there is no evidence that the FBI did anything wrong. There is no evidence that the FBI behaved improperly.

The Nunes memo I think was a total farce. I think as -- even these Republican congressmen think it doesn't prove what the president thinks, but, you know, when you are the president, when you have an ally in the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, you get to muddy the waters and the waters are now sufficiently muddying that I think the president's 2supporters can say, well, it's all just politics.

HILL: Well, it's interesting, though, the -- I mean, you mentioned other people coming out. We just heard from Trey Gowdy, of course. But also even just listening to Reince Priebus yesterday who was -- let's listen to what he has to say and then I just want to get your take on this, Garrett.


REINCE PRIEBUS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I never felt of all the things that we went through in the West Wing, I never felt that the president was going to fire the special counsel.


2HILL: So, Garrett, when we're listening to this, in some ways you have to wonder because we're talking about the messaging of the president and how successful that's been, right, in terms of Memo- gate. But what about the message that we're hearing from Reince Priebus? Is this once again someone trying to directly message the president without maybe talking to him but going on television?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think that's possible, but it is dubious at this point to even believe Reince Priebus as he's saying that because we now know through reporting that actually the president did try to fire Robert Mueller last summer and that it was actually only the sort of -- the blockage by White House counsel Don McGahn that stopped the firing of Mueller.

And so this is something that has cropped up in the past and that we should be concerned about going forward, although certainly there is continued to be comments from the White House saying that they don't intend to fire him. You saw comments on Friday that even though the president was leaving it ambiguous, that the president doesn't intend to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein either.

But it's just -- it's really hard to know with this White House and this president in particular, given what we have seen of his relative level of impulsiveness based on whatever the last data input he has is.

TOOBIN: Erica, you know, it was -- I think what Reince Priebus said was very interesting. He said I never felt that the president was going to fire Robert Mueller. He didn't say the president didn't say he was going to fire Robert Mueller.

HILL: Right.

TOOBIN: I think a lot of people now are thinking, well, you know, the president says a lot of things. He gets angry, he says I'm going to do something and he doesn't really do it. It certainly seems based on the reporting we've seen with Michael Wolff's book and the "New York Times" that the president wanted to fire Robert Mueller. It certainly seems from his demeanor from his tweets that he still wants to fire Robert Mueller.

Whether his staff can prevail upon him, including his ex-staff like Reince Priebus, not to fire him, well, I think that's an open question. But whether the president wanted and wants to fire Robert Mueller, I don't think there's any doubt.

HILL: You don't think there's any question there.

I do want to -- we talked at the top of this hour obviously about the latest tweet from the president about Adam Schiff. Well, he has now responded also on Twitter, writing, "Mr. President, I see you've had a busy morning of executive time. Instead of tweeting false smears, the American people would appreciate it if you turned off the TV and helped solve the funding crisis, protect the Dreamers or really anything else." When we look at what's happening, we also have Dick Durbin over the

weekend telling Jake Tapper that Republicans are essentially setting the stage for constitutional crisis. Here's that.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: To say that that's the end of the investigation, that this is all that Donald Trump needs to fire Rosenstein or to fire Bob Mueller, I'll just tell you, this could precipitate a constitutional crisis.


HILL: Is this, Jeffrey, Democrats stoking that partisan flame that we're all looking that you just referenced or is there legitimate concern here about some sort of constitutional crisis moving forward?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, I think it is legitimately a very serious thing if the president were to fire either Rosenstein or Robert Mueller. However, I think we have a -- almost united Republican Party behind the president, so, you know, I don't think there's anything this president could do that would move the House of Representatives as it's currently constituted to impeachment.

[09:10:09] So I don't think there will be a constitutional crisis. I think there would be a lot of upset, there'd would be a lot of people talking on television, but this House of Representatives is behind the president and he can fire anyone he wants without consequence, I think.

HILL: When we also look at the messaging, what the president can and can't do, and just public perception of what's happening there, Garrett, in terms of the investigation, the messaging is so convoluted, the messaging is so partisan, the waters so muddied as we've all talked about, ad nauseam at this point, when we finally do see the ultimate finding, how much is it going to matter? How much are people going to believe what they read in that report or is everyone's minds in terms of the American public, is it made up?

GRAFF: Well, so it's hard to say of course because we don't know what's going to be in that final report. I will say, and I think that Jeffrey Toobin made this point very smartly that what the Republican Party has managed to do, what the president has managed to do particularly with this memo controversy is try to sort of boil this down to, oh, it's just another fight between Democrats and Republicans, whereas it's really not.

And that there are incredibly important rule of law questions wrapped up in this. There are separation of power questions wrapped up in this. There are congressional oversight questions wrapped up in this, and that this is something that goes really to the heart of American democracy in a way that, like, the fight over the budget which we are also going to live through this week doesn't. And I think we need to stay focused on that. That we are living through something that is not normal and what the Republican Party particularly around this Devin Nunes memo has managed to do is to sort of make it seem like it's normal.

I don't think that that memo fundamentally changed a single mind on Friday. Sort of people read it with whatever they're preconceived notion and saw the confirmation bias that they wanted to see in it.

TOOBIN: I'd like to offer a little bit of hope that facts matter.

HILL: Mm-hmm.

TOOBIN: And that, you know, the Mueller investigation, I do think Mueller still has a lot of credibility and whatever he concludes will -- will matter, and that may wind up helping the president, it may wind up hurting him, but, you know, yes, we respond to things in partisan ways but not entirely to the exclusion of facts.

HILL: I liked a bit of hope. I'm a fan of hope.

TOOBIN: Hope, yes.

HILL: Really quickly before we get in trouble with timing, but to call on what you're both saying here, yes, it's important and yes, the findings, and we don't know what they are yet, yes, the findings will be important but by the time we get them, will it be difficult to make the American public care about that because all of this partisan messaging has in its own way been successful of derailing?

TOOBIN: Well, maybe. I'm not prepared to say that. I mean, I do think that the Mueller investigation is now perceived differently by Democrats and Republicans. There's no question about that.

HILL: Right.

TOOBIN: But the results of that investigation will still matter. There will be facts in this report, whatever format it comes out in and I think that's not clear. There will be e-mails quoted. There will be intercepts quoted. There'll be interviews quoted. And I think, you know, the facts will have some impact, though certainly the partisan framing will be a big part of it.

HILL: Right. Well, and we're all used to that, aren't we? On all sides.

Jeffrey Toobin, Garrett Graff, appreciate it. Thank you both.

It is of course not just the president taking on Democrats and the House Intel Committee, they are actually turning on each other. They're supposed to be heading up this Russia investigation. How can they, though, with all the infighting?

Plus investors bracing for more turmoil on Wall Street. Dow futures now down triple digits. Could it be another ugly day?

And the Eagles soar. Coy Wire is in Minneapolis after that thrilling Super Bowl win.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: It was a thrilling victory last night for Philadelphia in the stadium behind me, Erica. Coming up we'll tell you about the Eagles player taking grad school seminary classes who answered all the prayers of Philly fans around the world. That's coming up on NEWSROOM.



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Before he departs with Ohio with the first lady the president taking on the top Democrat on the House Intel Committee calling him, "Little Adam Schiff, one of the biggest liars and leakers in Washington."

You see the tweet there. Schiff shooting back, "The American people would be better served if Trump turned off the tv and did anything else with his time." So, it's clear, where they both stand.

Joining us CNN contributors, Salena Zito and Bianna Golodryga, and CNN political analyst, Alex Burns.

As we look at all of this, and all of the words, we'll call them, that have been flying back and forth on both sides, Alex, you said that really Trump and Republicans should be careful here because this is a Pandora's box that has just been opened. What do you mean by that?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think there are sort of two levels where this is risky for the president and frustrating to basically everybody else in his party short of maybe members of the House Intelligence Committee who are Republicans.

That on the one hand by releasing this memo on Friday, Devin Nunes and the House have sort of opened the door for Democrats to make all kinds of demands about releasing additional information. We know there's the competing memo that Adam Schiff has written. They'll be under pressure to release over the next week.

They're already calls to release the full FISA application that's under scrutiny in the Nunes memo and there is just a question of can they actually control the information flow in a way that works to their advantage, which was the whole idea here.

But Erica, the second track of this is if we weren't talking about the memo and if we weren't talking about Carter Page and FISA warrants, Republicans would have a pretty free field to talk about the economy and to talk about the tax bill and to sort of lean into the 2018 message that they have been wanting to deliver for a year.

And instead they're not doing that, and Instead we're in the middle of that sort of ping-pong match that you just described.

[09:20:09] HILL: Well, you bring such a great point and Bianna, these are all the things that are getting ignored. So, while, yes, there was a rough day on the markets on Friday. The jobs numbers were not. That was a good thing.

It is a terrible tragedy that we have seen once again dealing with obviously the trains in this country and yet this also sets up an important conversation on both sides of the aisle about infrastructure. So, there are so many easy -- I mean, easy balls to hit, frankly, here for the president. Why is it so tough to make that happen?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's less surprising to see the president reacting to this memo in the Russia investigation overall the way he has. I mean, he clearly does not want this Russia investigation, the Mueller investigation to go forward.

The Republican reaction is a bit more questionable. They could be talking about new approval ratings for the tax cuts and how more and more Americans seem to be embracing that as well.

Instead we saw Republicans really doubling down supporting the Nunes memo being released. Paul Ryan two times last week speaking out saying that it should be released. One has to question what is their long-term end game?

This is the party of law and order, right, and to go after the Justice Department this way you've got Jeff Sessions who's been muted this entire time. You've got Chris Wray sending out memos of encouragement within his own party and administration the FBI, and to see Republicans reacting the way they have, I don't understand what they envision for a long-term gain, what their ultimate gain is out of all of this.

HILL: You bring up a good point about Jeff Sessions. He has been MIA on all of this and we did see a very strong reaction from Christopher Wray. I mean, should it be a surprise to folks that Sessions has been this quiet?

SALENA ZITO, CNN COMMENTATOR: No. Just based on the relationship that he and the president sort of have developed or eroded between the two of them since Sessions recused himself last year from the Russia investigation.

I interviewed Jeff Sessions last week in Pittsburgh, he did talk about -- it was the day that McCabe decided to retire early and to his point, he said, look, we need to have a fresh start and a new start in the Justice Department and within the FBI, but this happened before, you know, the memo came out.

But to Alex's point, I think you're dead on. This is a conversation you shouldn't be having if you're the Republicans or the Democrats. If I were the Democrats I'd be talking about, like, you know, how we would be the better party to lead and this is why you should vote for us in November.

If I were the Republicans I'd be talking about look at your paychecks. You've got more money there. Look at the economy. Look at our infrastructure bill, which is going to create not only just create new jobs in smaller towns, but it's going to create new opportunities for more businesses to come to your town because your sewer systems are better and because your roads and bridges are better. HILL: It is remarkable in terms of the messaging that there are certain messages that seem so easy and even some of those lawmakers can't get right and I bring up just in terms the of the economy.

As we're looking at the messaging here, Alex, why is it so difficult? Let's take the president out of the equation. Why is it so difficult for lawmakers to try to hammer those points home?

BURNS: The president is a huge piece of it, right, because even if as Paul Ryan or Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer you want to talk about kitchen table issues, if the president is out there doing what he's doing every day he does have a way of commanding the news cycle.

But I do think separate from that, the bases in the two parties are already pretty fixated on the same issue that the president is. Republican primary voters do want to talk about the Nunes memo, they do want to go after Robert Mueller.

Democratic based primary voters want to talk about the Russian investigation and impeachment and crimes they believe the president is committing. I do think there is actually an enormous space on both sides to talk about issues like taxes and the economy and wages and health care.

But for whatever reason, I think whenever members of Congress are in Washington, it's a little different when they go home to their districts, but in Washington it's just tough for them to stay focused.

GOLODRYGA: Also easier during a crisis mode, right, to be focused on the issue at hand, when we were going through the recession that was the topic of day because that's what Americans cared about from the moment they woke up until they went to bed at night.

Now when you have an economy that's adding jobs, unemployment at record lows, there's only so much that you can tout that every single doubt without a president's tweet sort of getting in the way and for a while Paul Ryan would say, I didn't pay attention to that.

I'm focused on my constituents and then people thought he looked toned deaf. So, he's having to address like Alex said a lot of the issues that the president's bringing to the forefront if no one else.

HILL: And you're hearing more about those issues when you're going home because that's when you're seeing your constituents and that's when they're bringing you their concerns.

[09:25:04] When we look at, though, all of the -- we're told there are more memos to come and it's not just the Democratic response, obviously. When all of the ingredients for the sausage making is laid out there ahead of time, how damaging is that potentially on the end product?

GOLODRYGA: You've had intelligence heads formers and currents saying that this has long-term repercussions that no one is really considering right now. It's funny because over the weekend you saw Republicans speaking out saying that this memo has nothing to do with the Russia investigation and while they may say that, it was clear that's not what the president's intent was.

He said he was going to be releasing this memo prior to even reading it following the state of the union in the tape that we heard. So, it doesn't necessarily bode well when you have heads of organizations, these heads appointed by the president having to go internally to boost up morale and tell people like Chris Wray did that your work is great, and I still support you.

And I'm quite surprised that other intelligence heads haven't come out now defending the FBI because, of course, the FBI isn't the only intelligence organization that uses the FISA courts and the FISA system.

HILL: Bianna Golodryga, Alex Burns, Salena Zito, thank you all.

The opening bell now just moments away and it is not going to be pretty. Dow futures down triple digits right now. So, what's behind that drop and when will it stop?