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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
White House Says Trump Takes Domestic Violence Seriously; White House Blames Security Clearance Delay On FBI And Intel; White House Denies It's Playing Politics with Democrats' Memo; Interview with Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Aired 7-8p ET
Aired February 12, 2018 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:12] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: OutFront next. The White House says President Trump supports victims of domestic violence above all so why can't he say it. Plus the White House passing blame for why at least 30 administration officials still have not been approved for full security clearance. Should these staffers have access to highly classified information?
And Steve Bannon set to sit down with Robert Mueller's team in the coming days. How worried should this president be?
Let's go OutFront.
And good evening, I'm Jim Sciutto in tonight for Erin Burnett. And OutFront, tonight, speaking for the president. The White House insisting that President Trump takes domestic violence "very seriously" and then he supports the victims of domestic violence. Words however that the president has not said himself.
Today's press briefing almost exclusively devoted to the allegations of domestic abuse against former staff secretary Rob Porter. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders asked about Porter some 20 times in the 90- minute briefing repeatedly, turning to a prepared statement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president and the entire administration take domestic violence very seriously and believe all allegations need to be investigated thoroughly above all the president supports victims of domestic violence and believes everyone should be treated fairly and with due process.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: But if that is true that the president supports victims of domestic violence "above all", then why did Trump tweet this over the weekend, "People lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation. Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There's no recovery for someone falsely accused. Life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as due process."
Now Porter's second wife, Jennifer Willoughby, responded to that tweet in a Time magazine interview saying, "The words' mere allegation and falsely accused meant to imply that I am a liar. That Colbie Holderness is liar. That the work Rob was doing in the White House was of higher value than our mental emotional and physical wellbeing."
Sanders was also questioned about why Trump hasn't expressed his own concern for women publicly and even as he praised Porter's work and repeated Porters' claim of innocence.
(BEGIN VIEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why haven't we heard the President say exactly what you just said right there, that he takes domestic violence very seriously?
SANDERS: I spoke with the president. Those are actually directly his words that he gave me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But why hasn't he said that? He had the opportunity.
SANDERS: It's my job to speak on behalf of the President. I spoke to him, and he relayed that message directly to me, and I'm relaying it directly to you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Trump has faced cameras at least three times since the Porter story broke last Tuesday night. He has fired off at least 30 tweets since then and with all those chances to show his support for the women, the only thing Trump has voiced publicly is praise and concern for Porter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As you probably know, he says he's innocent. And I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he's innocent. So you'll have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: And why not? Remember this is a president with a long history of siding with the men accused whether it's Roy Moore or Roger Ailes or in fact, himself.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: He totally denies it. He said it didn't happen. And, you know, you have to listen to him also.
I can tell you that some of the women that are complaining, I know how much he's helped them.
These vicious claims about me of inappropriate conduct with women are totally and absolutely false.
(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: Jeff Zeleny is out front tonight at the White House. Jeff, so we hear that contrast there. What re the chances that will ever hear those words that Sarah Sanders spoke today come directly from the president himself?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jim, great question. And when we certainly did not hear that from the president today. Talk about a president who knows how he can get a message across it. He can tweet it. He can talk it. He can do, you know, summon the cameras whenever he would like. He is not done that. And of course is a patterness (ph) you just seeing right there about his view in these types of situations.
The reality here is though, Jim, nearly a week after this story was first breaking, the White House has still not yet handled all the questions about it. You almost wonder talking to aides here as I have all day, they are still, you know, not all clear on the time frame. There are still divisions here. This whole matter has divided and sort of open up, you know, the divisions that they thought had gone away. It's, you know, shown the discipline in the West Wing even under Chief of Staff John Kelly is not what he hoped it would be. So you almost wonder can this go away without the president speaking about it again.
[19:00:05] Of course he'll be question on it tomorrow. We'll see if he actually answers that and says that. But so far his press secretary, his other aides have gone so much farther Jim than he has.
SCIUTTO: You would think those would be easy words for him to utter. Jeff Zeleny at the White House. OutFront tonight, Margaret Talev, she's senior White House correspondent for Bloomberg News, Tim Naftali, former director of the Nixon Presidential Library, and Alice Stewart, she's a Republican strategist.
Margaret, if I can begin with you, you were at the White House today. You've heard the President's press secretary say that she was speaking for Trump when she said we take domestic violence very seriously. Why won't the President himself utter those words?
MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG NEWS: I think a lot of Americans are asking that question tonight. And it's impossible for us to get inside the President's mind. All we can do is look at what he's saying or doing or not saying and doing and try to make some assessments about that. But, certainly, he understands by now, if he didn't earlier today, that tweeting this himself or saying it on camera would be the most direct way to get that message out.
So, is this a base messaging effort? Is this an effort to try to stop putting himself in the center of it? Does he not really feel that way? All we have is what he has or hasn't said. And he certainly, if there's any modern American president who understands messaging in the modern media world is this President. This is a deliberate choice by the President.
SCIUTTO: Sure, and not a President shy about expressing his views certainly. Alice, Sarah Sanders, she said the President today literally in her words dictated those words of support for abuse victims. But I want to remind everyone what the President has said about the 15 women who have accused him of sexual assault and harassment. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: These vicious claims about me of inappropriate conduct with women are totally and absolutely false. These claims are all fabricated. They're pure fiction and they're outright lies. These events never, ever happened.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: And you've heard earlier we played the sound of Trump responding really dismissing allegations against Rob Porter, Roy Moore, Roger Ailes as well even though there was evidence supporting women in all these cases. Yet again, Trump had not voiced that support publically. You know, I wonder, can you explain that, Alice?
ALICE STEWART, REPUBLICAN STRATEGSIT: There's no explanation for it, Jim. As you've outlined, there was a pattern by this President and this White House in situations, whether we're talking about domestic violence, whether we're talking about sexual harassment or sexual inappropriate activities. This White House continues to downplay that kind of activity for people that he wants to downplay it with. Defend the man and denigrate the women and that is absolutely her points.
And look, it took nearly week to get at least something in defense of these women and that's uncalled for. I'm glad that Sarah finally came out and said that he takes these allegations seriously and domestic violence is something that they take seriously but it shouldn't take a week. His knee-jerk instant reaction should have been in defense of these women and standing up for domestic violence.
One thing -- I mean, how much more example do we need? Just this week you had two Ohio police officers killed responding to domestic violence. One in four women in this country are victims of domestic violence, one in seven men, not to mention the countless children who are growing up in these homes. And if nothing else -- if you cannot say the words, act appropriately. Come on, Mr. President, we owe these people and victims much more than this.
SCIUTTO: So, Sarah today was asked directly whether the President's Twitter response was tone deaf. That, of course, his tweet over the weekend talking, again, about due process, et cetera. Have a listen to what Sarah Sanders said today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLILP)
SANDERS: Supporting due process for any allegation is not tone deaf. I think it is allowing things to be investigated and a mere allegation not being the determining factor.
(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: Sarah Sanders there implying that these allegations were not investigated, when in fact we know they were because the FBI investigated them as part of the background clearance process and found them credible enough to delay giving him of perhaps refuse to give him a permanent security clearance. And just to remind folks at home, these are two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend all telling similar stories. You have photos of one of those ex-wives and I'm sure you remember. Here it is with a black eye that she said he gave her.
There was a temporary restraining order from the other ex-wife. So, legal action here and of course the trouble of getting that security clearance. How can the White House credibly describe these as mere allegations?
TIM NAFTALI, FORMER DIRECTOR, NIXON PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY: Well, I think at this point we shouldn't expect leadership from Donald Trump on this issue. I don't know whether he feels compromised himself, whether he's so defensive he doesn't want to open the door to more criticism
[19:10:07] I don't know what he thinks about this issue at all. But he's made the decision not to show leadership.
I want to know where Congress is. Where are the Republicans in Congress who are saying my, god, we're going to lose every women's vote in this country and many men's votes on this issue. This is outrageous. Where is ethical leadership? Where is that? I'm not hearing that.
Donald Trump is AWOL on this issue. It's not enough to hear from Sarah Sanders. He should say it. But where are the Republican leaders who are saying Mr. President, you're letting down the American people.
The MeToo Movement matters. And there's enough of pattern with regards to Mr. Porter that he should have left far earlier. This is not all about Donald Trump. This is about American women and about domestic violence and our need to respond to it.
NAFTALI: There's no leadership in the White House but there should be some from Congress.
SCIUTTO: Alice, I wonder beyond the politics here, why aren't Republican fathers in Congress, right, or husbands to wives or brothers to sisters who may face similar risk, why aren't they speaking up in the absence of a public condemnation of this by the President?
STEWART: That's a good question. I talked with many of them today just to get a pulse of the feeling, and many of them have told me that they do take domestic violence seriously. And they do think that it would have been appropriate for the President to initially come out and speak on this, and many of them have said that they think to this response has been a communications failure on the part -- 2 SCIUTTO: But it's more -- let's be frank that in communication failure is enough --
STEWART: It is. It is a character issue that they can't understand the significance of this. And as I've said, for them to automatically defend a pretty boy with a pedigree because he's someone that the President likes not believe and support these victims that's uncalled for. And many Republicans, you ask any of them they will say that they certainly would have handled it much differently. And they hope, look, we haven't handled this well to date.
Let's hope moving forward that something is done to call more attention to this serious, serious problem and make sure that the next response is the appropriate one which is in support of these women.
SCIUTTO: Margaret, one of the issues here beyond the lack of a presidential statement is when the White House knew about this. And it seems for the more we've learned that they knew about it longer than we realized or longer certainly than the Chief of Staff John Kelly has been willing to say publicly. What have we been learning in the last day about this and even with Don McGann as well because it appears that the White House counsel knew months before this was exposed publically?
TALEV: Yes, we don't -- we still don't have a complete picture of this timeline, partly, because the White House communications team has been less than completely forthcoming. But I think it's important to ask why that is, is it because they know more and are not authorized to say it, or because they themselves also don't know?
John Kelly's own timeline or account as we understand it, doesn't 100 percent add up, you know, this idea that the sort of near instantaneous forced removal of Porter doesn't completely match the timeline we have. But don't forget John Kelly didn't arrive until the summer. And we still don't have a full and official picture of what the FBI knew, when they knew it, how it got to the White House, in which order, when did it landed at the White House counsel's office and what did the White House counsel's office do next.
I do think we will get more clarity on that in the days to come one way or another, one method or another. But it is important to understand whether this was a failure of information being passed up the chain or whether in fact information was passed up the chain. And until we have a little bit more firm clarity on those questions, I think it's difficult to know precisely who's to blame in what degree. 2 SCIUTTO: Tim, if it's established that this was known for some time, and it appears there's a lot of evidence there. You can have staff of Chief of Staff Kelly contradicting his public statements here. Have you seen a White House with credible allegations of just horrendous behavior? I don't want to say handled it worse because it's not a communications thing, but allowed something like this to go on.
NAFTALI: Well, I mean, I've seen -- I mean, I've study White Houses that have allowed very bad things to happen for a while. The difference is that this has happened under a microscope. Here's the problem, if this were a normal White House, the chief of staff would be gone. General Kelly would be on his way out.
The issue though is that this is a White House with very few competent people. That's not an argument for keeping people.
[19:15:02] But it may be the reason that many folks still want Kelly around because he may be one of those trying to prevent the President from doing something stupid in North Korea. I don't know if that's the fact -- the case. But what you do need is a team around the President to contain him in foreign policy. And I don't know what role Kelly is playing.
Normally, you'd be -- he'd be on his way out. I mean, he is a complete mess. He -- what he did was he undermined the office of the president. He didn't protect the President, and by the way, in this instance, that would mean getting rid of Porter fast.
SCIUTTO: Tim, Margaret, Alice, thanks very much. It's a difficult topic to discuss.
OutFront next, don't blame us, the White House says the FBI is responsible for dozens of White House staffers without full security clearance. Why is Trump passing the buck when national security could be at stake?
Plus Democrats accuse Trump of plying politics with their answer to the Nunes memo but will they be forced to work with the White House on it?
And the Obama's uncovered. Their official portraits unveiled today amid pomp and some laughs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I tried to negotiate smaller ears, struck out on that as well.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Breaking news, the White House today directing blame at the FBI for the dozen of White House staffers working without full security clearances. CNN has reported that some 30 to 40 administration officials are still operating under interim security clearances despite having access to some of the most highly classified intelligence, among them the President senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner. White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders saying today, don't blame us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: That's the same process that has been used for decades for other and previous administrations and we're relying on that process at this point. I do think that it's up to those same law enforcement and intelligent agencies to determine if changes need to be made to their process. (END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: OutFront now, national affairs correspondent for The Nation, Joan Walsh and Former Trump Campaign Adviser Steve Cortes. Thanks for both of you for joining tonight.
Joan, the White House says it's the FBI fault.
[19:20:09] JOAN WALSH, NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT, THE NATION: Well, they say that a lot, don't they, Jim? That's their new scapegoat. It's not the FBI's fault but it is the fault of -- and a couple of these cases it is the fault of John Kelly for not going and figuring out why can't my staff secretary get clearance. Why can't Jared Kushner get clearance?
I mean, Jared Kushner has time, and again, had to update his disclosure forms, had to add new financial disclosures, as well as foreign entanglement disclosures. It's on the White House to go to the FBI and to say what's the hold up, should this person be, you know, kicked to the curve or does this person need help because they actually should have a clearance. Obviously, Rob Porter did not deserve a clearance. We know that know. We don't know about the rest of the 30 to 40.
SCIUTTO: Steve, if I can, I just want to read the FBI statement responding to the White House. This is a couple of days ago --
STEVE CORTES, FMR. TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: Sure.
SCIUTTO: -- to the claim that this is all on the FBI have says, "After the FBI has completed a background information, it provides the information to the agency judicator authority, in this case the White House, who determines whether to grant or deny the security clearance." So the FBI 2saying, actually the process doesn't work that it's all on us. We do the background check and you make the decision on the clearance. How can the White House claim otherwise?
CORTES: Sure. I'll tell you this, Jim. First of all, as a disclaimer, I've never been through this process so I don't know it first hand. But I would tell you this too, the FBI and the White House, for that matter, no one has been through this process in the way we're going through it now. And what I mean by that is we have the first citizen president of the United States, somebody who came outside of government. He was neither a politician nor a general when he was elected. He was an entrepreneur. And likewise, we have a White House staff which is very much the same.
So we haven't had this kind of a crop of candidates in a very long time. If do you look at the Obama White House, many were retreads from the Clinton White House. If you look at the Bush 43 White House, many of them retreads from the Bush 41 White House. What we have now is a much more complicated scenario. I think far better for the country by the way. Look, my favorite book in grade school was "The Outsiders." And I said this often during 2016.
The race in 2016 was largely the socials (ph) which is the Washington establishment against the greasers. We on team Trump were the greasers. We won. The greasers are now trying to get security clearance. It's difficult. It's different. It's a process that the FBI and the establishment are not used to. But we will get clearance.
WALSH: But --
SCIUTTO: Joan, your response.
WALSH: But, Steve, really, are we supposed to lower the bar for security clearance to let in the outsiders or the greasers. OK, it's a different administration. There's less experience. I will grant you that, but still the jobs are the same. The responsibility of the president is the same. He's supposed to protect us. He's supposed to protect national security so he doesn't get to say, hey I'm a greaser and my team, my gang, they're just not up to snuff. He's got to have people who are good enough --
CORTES: No, no.
WALSH: -- and who passed who get or security clearance or he has got a rate he or his staff should be raising hell with the FBI and saying, hey these guys, these gals, they deserve clearance, what are you dong holding it up.
WALSH: But instead, we got folks languishing in the interim and I don't believe that you Steve Cortes would argue that we should lower the bar for these outsiders, would you?
CORTES: Of course not. Joan, you're completely right. Don't lower the bar. But I'm just saying it's a different process. In other words, you're having people who are not coming from traditional roles who is has spent the last 25 years in government, which is what we've had for decades in Washington D.C. and that's a good thing for the country, but it's a different thing in terms of the vetting process. We have people coming from industry. We have entrepreneurs, we have doers. I think it's one of the reasons by the way, that regulation has fallen so fast. The taxes have been cut, that the economy is soaring. It's a new model. We're smashing the crone (ph) system in Washington.
CORTES: So there also hiccups along the way. And one of those hiccups I think is, they don't know exactly how to deal with people who don't come from their cookie cutter --
CORTES: -- mind set of. I worked for the last 20 years at State Department.
SCIUTTO: Steve let me raise an issue there though, because it is true that for some of these folks they don't have a pass, right, it's much easier to get a security clearance if you one in the past like, I grant you that. But we're talking about CNN's reporting 30 to 40 people and we know for a fact Rob Porter being an example. And that the reason he didn't get a security clearance is because he had credible accusations of beating two of his spouses. On Jared Kushner, we know the fact he didn't disclose many of his business investments was an issue here. That's not just that he was a greaser, right, it's that he did not follow the rules of the process.
CORTES: You know, I stand -- I can't speak to Jared because I just don't know the specifics there. But regarding Rob Porter, you're 100% right. It was clearly systemic failure here, because even a cursory examination of his background would have reveal that he was told to be unfit to serve the president of the United States. And he's gone and I'm glad he's gone.
[19:25:07] And I'd like the President the message quite frankly, more explicitly on the fact that he deserves to be gone and that we are always on the side of victims and not on the side of perpetrators. You're right, there was a failure there. I don't know whose fault that was, the president, or the chief of staff Kelly. I might implicitly trust both of them. They should figured out whose fault it is and I believe whose ever fault it is should be gone.
SCIUTTO: Joan, you got the final word.
WALSH: Just am concerned about the president's statement about this. I really respect Steve for saying that he should have said something different. When he came out and said mere accusations are ending careers.
Jim, that isn't true. We have two ex-wives, we have girl -- an ex- girlfriend. We have police reports, we have a court that stepped in with a protective order and we have the FBI and we have the media. These women are not anonymous. They have used their names with the media. So the notion that he is trying to dismiss all of this evidence it's a very bad look for this White House, this president.
SCIUTTO: Joan, Steve, tough issues here. Thanks for taking the time with us tonight.
And OutFront next, Democrats being told to remove sensitive information from their rebuttal to the Nunes memo before Trump will release it. So what's their next move?
And a surprising admission from some Trump supporters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you don't want to see Mueller fired?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Let it run the course.
SCIUTTO: Welcome back. New tonight the White House is denying it is playing politics with the Democratic memo that rebutts Republican claims of surveillance abuse by the FBI. Legislative affairs director mark short saying the President Trump is ready and willing to release the memo as soon as Democrats remove information that the White House claims puts American lives at risk.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARC SHORT, WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS: I think the president made the right decision to say, look, if that's the game you're going to play, I'm going to send it back to you. You clean it up, you work with the FBI, send it back to us and we'll be happy to release it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Manu Raju is OUTFRONT tonight.
Manu, what are you hearing from Democrats on Capitol Hill? Are they willing to work with the White House to remove whatever the White House is concerned with and then release the memo?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Adam Schiff, a top Democrat on the committee, has made very clear, Jim, that he's willing to work with FBI, the justice department to hear their concerns to determine whether or not certain elements of memo need to be redacted. He seemed willing -- very willing to redact areas of concerns of national security, but not willing to redact what he viewed as political redactions.
Now, what we don't know, Jim, are the extent of the redactions right now, what we -- whether or not these -- whether or not the White House has sought extensive revisions, extensive reductions and whether or not there are minor and whether they can be done in a surgical manner, in a way that its committee could send this memo back to the president, to decide whether or not to allow its release. That's a question we still do not have the answer to, because Adam Schiff right now is having private conversations with the FBI to determine the next steps.
At that point, Jim, we will know whether or not there's going to be a confrontation between the Democrats on this committee and the White House about moving forward and whether or not the Democrats will try to have the House to vote to override the White House's desire to redact some of the key elements of this memo. But for right now, those discussions are happening between Schiff and the FBI to see if they can work together and come to some sort of consensus before providing the other side of the argument, the Nunes memo, released the other day, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Right. That Nunes memo came out a lot quicker. Manu Raju up on the Hill.
OUTFRONT now, Democratic senator from Connecticut, Richard Blumenthal. He sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Mr. Senator, thanks for joining us tonight. SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Thank you, Jim.
SCIUTTO: You heard there, the White House says it's glad to release the Democratic memo. But as soon as members of your party remove information it says may risk national security, I supposed, I'll ask you, do you trust the White House to put this out there once any necessary redactions have been made?
BLUMENTHAL: There's a level of hypocrisy here that is clearly undeniable. After all, the president announced he was going to release the Nunes memo over the objections of the Department of Justice which said it was extraordinarily reckless and the opposition of the FBI which said it had grave concerns. He said he was going to release it even before he read it. And, now, of course, they are insisting that the FBI and the Department of Justice re-review this memo. They've already reviewed it once. And they have submitted in a letter to Don McGahn, the portions highlighted and subseted in red that have to be removed.
I think that the Democratic minority is acting in an abundance of caution and responsibility in making absolutely sure that there are no compromises in sources and methods of national security and the White House by contrast, let's be very blunt, has demonstrated a callous disregards and indifference for national security norms, not the least of them being keeping 30 to 40 people on the staff with access to confidential, classified secret information even though they have only interim security clearance. That was the case with Rob Porter.
SCIUTTO: I want to get to the security clearance issue. But still on the memo, you could sum up the Republican argument as our memo was shorter and less detailed. The Democratic memo was longer and more detailed. The president claimed on Twitter, you remember, the Democrats sent a political and long response memo which they knew because of sources and methods and more would have to be heavily redacted, whereupon they would blame the White House for lack of transparency.
I wonder if you think that argument holds water, that this was a Democratic plan here to make it longer to delay the process.
BLUMENTHAL: That argument is totally bunk. Not exactly a legal term. But I think very appropriate here because it is ten pages as opposed to three and a half. It's not like a lengthy detailed thesis.
But it does refute some of the key claims and in fact, Jim, as you know, some of those claims in the Nunes memo are themselves refuted by Nunes himself who acknowledged that the source of this information was footnoted. It was a political source. This warrant has been renewed three times, so it had to be productive.
And that it was in fact, composed of multiple sources as a 50 to 60 page affidavit.
[19:35:0-4] Application normally would be for the FISA court. And so, the Nunes memo really fell with a thud like a lead balloon. And the memo prepared by a Democratic minority I think is somewhat longer but not so long as it could be regarded as a political document, the way the president has claimed.
SCIUTTO: A central focus we know of the Mueller investigation remains, did the president or has the president obstructed justice in this investigation. When you look at the president's behavior on the memo, do you believe this adds to a case for obstruction of justice? I know you've already said you think there's a credible case. But how would the president's involvement with the release of this memo, in your view, add to that case?
BLUMENTHAL: There is a credible case of obstruction of justice against Donald Trump. His refusal to release this memo as well as his blanket release of the Nunes memo without even having read it or making the decision before he read it is more evidence of obstruction of justice. It's not alone but it does go to corrupt intent which is one of the two essential elements in any charge of obstruction. The other being interference with a lawful investigation. It goes to motive and intent.
SCIUTTO: I want to ask you about another CNN story tonight. Our top story, CNN confirming Rob Porter was one of 30 to 40 White House officials, administration, political appointees, operating without full security clearances. The White House has called this backlog and blamed it entirely on the FBI.
But intelligence officials have told me, you know, a lot of these things are being held up because of lingering questions in the security process and that, in fact, as the FBI has said it's really up to the White House to issue these clearances once they have a recommendation from the FBI.
You're in the Judiciary Committee. You can be involved on this at times. What is your explanation for how this process works?
BLUMENTHAL: I've asked the inspector general of the intelligence community to investigate the security clearance process in the White House. This report by CNN is chilling. It indicates that a vast number of people with access to the nation's most important and consequential may have secrets as Rob Porter did, malign and despicable secrets as in his case.
SCIUTTO: Are you saying you're concerned that the blackmail risk could extend beyond Rob Porter?
BLUMENTHAL: That's exactly our concern. And take the two individuals we mentioned in our letter asking for the I.G., inspector general investigation, Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn, both reported to have embarrassing and potentially very dangerous and damaging conflicts of interest. That's the reason that we ask for this investigation about the security clearance process.
Make no mistake, Jim, the White House can expedite a background clearance which was not competed on Rob Portman. It can expedite a security clearance, also not completed and the White House knew in November that there could be no security clearance for Rob Porter and still permitted him access to classified information with the most consequential secrets. SCIUTTO: I'm glad you said Rob Porter there, not Rob Portman, of
course, the senator.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, thanks very much for joining us tonight.
BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.
SCIUTTO: And OUTFRONT next, Trump voters choose the president or the FBI.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Do you have faith in FBI?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hell no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: And Steve Bannon was so scared of President Trump's wrath over a book that he tried not once but device to get its release delayed. Why?
[19:43:04] SCIUTTO: New tonight, the head of the FBI set to testify on Capitol Hill tomorrow about global threats. But one of the biggest threats facing his agency may actually be from the president himself. For months, Trump has attacked the FBI, calling it, quote, a disgrace and accusing agents of politicizing investigations.
So, is the damage already done?
Martin Savidge is OUTFRONT.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Cedar Rapids, they make Quaker Oats, and Iowa helps make presidents. In 2012, Obama won the state by nearly six points. In 2016, Trump won by nine.
I'm with four Trump voters, an aerobics instructor, a banker, a former baseball player and a salesman. President Trump's approval ratings with his base and these Iowans are sky high.
JASON NEIGHBOR, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I think exactly what I voted for, we wanted some -- a little bit of a change from what we had before.
SAVIDGE: These voters trust Trump but they do not trust the Russia investigation. They consider the whole thing a --
VINCENTE JAVIER, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Political witch hunt from the get- go. To be honest, it's a disgrace.
SAVIDGE: They don't believe in the investigation because they don't believe the investigators. (on camera): Do you have faith in the FBI?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hell no.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, absolutely.
SAVIDGE: Do you think that the FBI has a political bias in this --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe, yes.
KEVIN SLAMAN, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I want do preface by saying it's not the FBI, it's the leadership of the FBI --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Agree.
SLAMAN: -- that has politicized this. And in this situation, the people at the top of the food chain have decided they don't like the game. They're going to change it. They're going to play by their rules.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): They see nothing wrong with President Trump questioning the allegiance of Justice Department officials, even though a recent poll found two-thirds of voters did think that was wrong.
RENEE NEIGHBOR, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I think it gives him an idea of where people are coming from.
SAVIDGE (on camera): Where they stand?
R. NEIGHBOR: Where they stand. Exactly.
[19:45:01] And why -- like you said, why wouldn't you want to know?
SAVIDGE (voice-over): Do they believe the president has attempted to derail or obstruct the Russia investigation?
JAVIER: No, no. He said bring it on.
SAVIDGE: They all knew of the Nunes memo, but are divided on the Democrat memo?
(on camera): Do you want to see that as well?
SLAMAN: Yes. Yes, full transparency.
JASON NEIGHBOR, TRUMP SUPPORTER: No need to read the Democratic memo. I'm ready to move on as a country.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): I ask if they thought Trump should agree to be interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller.
(on camera): Is that a good idea?
R. NEIGHBOR: He's very transparent. He's open. He's -- I think we've talked before, he's not afraid.
SLAMAN: Not under a subpoena or if it was not under oath.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): Ironically, even though this Trump voters think the Russia investigation is seriously flawed, they want to see it through.
(on camera): So, you don't want to see Mueller fired?
SLAMAN: No, let it run the course. They're doing the right thing. Let it run it course, because the truth will come out.
SAVIDGE: It's pretty clear from that conversation and from others that I've had with Trump voters that many of them believe that the Russia investigation is nothing more than a political scheme that was fabricated and now is being perpetuated by Democrats and others who just simply can't accept the fact that Donald Trump is president.
Martin Savidge, CNN, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
SCIUTTO: Those are exactly the words the president himself had said many times as well.
OUTFRONT next, Steve Bannon's words of warning for the president about women and Oprah.
And President Obama's portrait unveiled. Some are asking what he's doing at Wrigley Field.
[19:50:26] SCIUTTO: Steve Bannon is expected to speak with special counsel Robert Mueller's team as early as this week. This as Bannon also faces a deadline this week to cooperate with the House Intelligence Committee in its Russia investigation or face possible contempt proceedings.
OUTFRONT now, Joshua Green. He is the author of "Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump and the Nationalist Uprising", which will be released in paperback tomorrow.
Josh, I certainly want to get to your book because there's a lot in there. But I do want to start with Steve Bannon, since he is appearing before two very important investigations this week, the Mueller one and the White House Intelligence Committee.
How key do you think he will be to these probes?
JOSHUA GREEN, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK: Well, I think it depends on what it is he is going to tell Mueller's investigators. He was certainly a key figure in the Trump campaign toward the end and the transition and in the White House. And we know from what he said publicly to the author, Michael Wolff, that he considered the 2016 meeting between Russian operatives and top Trump campaign officials to be treasonous, Bannon's word.
And also that he believes that Donald Trump Jr. went up stairs after that meeting and informed his father. Those are both subject that the special counsel is going to want to look into, as well as congressional investigators. And depending on what Bannon has to say to them, that may or may not be a problem for Donald Trump.
SCIUTTO: Your book really gets into this very personal relationship between Bannon and Trump. You report that Bannon himself considered running for president if Trump was not on the ballot in 2020 for whatever reason. How seriously did you find he was thinking about this?
GREEN: Well, apparently pretty serious. I mean, this is one of the new stories in the book that after Bannon left the White House, you know, his goal was to really advance this nationalist movement and seemed concerned enough that Trump either wouldn't run for re- election, or might be stopped either by an impeachment or some sort of health crisis that he spoke to people around him about running for president and even thought about starting a third party. He was going to call it the National Union Party, which is a name borrowed from Abraham Lincoln and the Republican Party in 1864 that temporarily took on that name.
SCIUTTO: You know, better than me there is no love loss between Trump and Bannon after Bannon's dismissal, his comments in Michael Wolff's book, which was very critical of Trump, his family as well. Now, when Bannon first left the White House, in public he was loyal. But privately, you say that the facts are very different.
GREEN: That's right. I mean, publicly, he said to me and other reporters he presented this as an amicable parting. He was going to go on the outside and fight Trump's battles there. But I reveal in the book that privately, Bannon was very upset. He initially refused to take Trump's phone calls and he said to associates at the time, I'm sick of playing wet nurse for a 71-year-old man.
So, I think that illustrates the kind of frustrations that Wolff documented in his book and really the frustrations that a lot of White House advisers have with Trump from time to time, the fact that he can't stick to a message and the fact that he often comes out either in Twitter or on television undermines his own administration's goals.
SCIUTTO: Goodness, wet nurse to a 71-year-old man, that is explosive.
GREEN: Pleasant (ph) thought.
SCIUTTO: You revealed that Bannon twice tried to delay the publication of your book. Why did he go after your book?
GREEN: You know, I think he perceived, you know, correctly that having a book that featured him as a prominent player could be potentially damaging to his relationship with President Trump. Bannon once told me if Trump doesn't want a costar, he's not going to want to see me on the cover of your book. And I think as my book showed and also is the recent Wolff book showed, that was an accurate diagnosis. Trump didn't like it and it cost Bannon severely.
SCIUTTO: Thanks very much. It sounds like a good read.
OUTFRONT next, Michelle Obama is that you in the official portrait? Jeanne Moos looking for answers.
[19:57:34] SCIUTTO: Tonight, a tradition lives on, even as the Obama's go for something of little less traditional.
Here is Jeanne Moos.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There they were in the flesh holding hands, waiting for their national gallery portraits to be unveiled. First hers. And then his.
Not your average national gallery presidential portrait.
BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: That's pretty sharp.
MOOS: But what's with all the greenery?
In the weeds, as usual, I see, tweeted one critic. Coming out of Wrigley's left field, commented someone else.
Both President Obama and the former first lady chose African-American artists, Kehinde Wiley explained the plants include flowers from Chicago, Hawaii and Kenya.
But all some could see was Sean Spicer hiding in the bushes.
Someone else noticed the similarity to Beyonce's pregnancy announcement. The artist Wiley is known for painting African- Americans like Michael Jackson in royal settings, mimicking old masters. He choked up thanking his mom.
KEHINDE WILEY, ARTIST: We didn't have much but she found a way to get paint.
MOOS: Amy Sherald painted Michelle's portrait using gray tones to down-play skin color so her subject's personality would come to the fore.
President Obama thanked her for capturing the intelligence.
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Hotness of the woman that I love.
MOOS: The first lady reacted to her own image.
MICHELLE OBAMA, FORMER FIRST LADY: Let's just start by saying wow.
MOOS: But who instead of wow is what half of the people we asked said. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is she an actress? I have no idea.
MOOS: A little like Michelle Obama.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A little like her, but I don't think it is her.
MOOS: Who is this woman?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is a very good question.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is a gorgeous picture of Michelle Obama.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have no idea.
MOOS: Some who recognized Michelle Obama --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: God only knows, Michelle Obama.
MOOS: -- did it the roundabout way.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know those arms.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Great guns as they say.
MOOS: And you know what they say about Obama's portrait, he has very big hands.
Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.
SCIUTTO: Thanks so much for joining us tonight. I'm Jim Sciutto, in for Erin Burnett. Don't forget, you can watch OUTFRONT anytime, anywhere on CNN Go.
"AC360" starts right now.