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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Republicans Demand Investigation of Investigators; President Trump Speaks Out on North Korea Summit; GOP Lawmakers Call for Independent Probe of FBI, Justice Department; Interview with Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired May 22, 2018 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: House Republicans want an investigation of the investigators. But, if the Democrats win, will there be an investigation of the investigation of the investigation?
THE LEAD starts now.
A Democratic outcry after the Justice Department tries to work to find a way to address the president's political concerns about the Russia investigation. Now GOP lawmakers say even that is not enough. Is the Justice Department facing a potential constitutional crisis?
The highly anticipated summit with North Korea's leader could be delayed or canceled, President Trump acknowledged today, raising doubts about the meeting he suggested could bring him a Nobel Peace Prize. So, where might that leave North Korea's nuclear program? We will talk to CNN's correspondent who is right now inside North Korea.
Explosive lava eruptions unleashing toxic clouds and forcing evacuations on Hawaii's Big Island. The dramatic video of that molten lava vaporizing everything in its path, with the fears that a power plant might be next.
Welcome to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm Jake Tapper.
We are going to begin with the politics lead, and the White House just minutes ago addressing the president's maximum pressure campaign on the Department of Justice, breaking with norms and pushing for an investigation into the very people investigating him and his campaign team.
This comes after the revelation that a confidential FBI source in 2016 had conversations with Trump campaign staffers. The president responding to that news today, saying -- quote -- "If they had spies in my campaign during the campaign for political purposes, that would be unprecedented in the history of our country" -- unquote.
Press Secretary Sarah Sanders today revealing that the meeting with lawmakers about that confidential source will take place on Thursday of this week, and the individuals expected to attend are Republican Congressman Devin Nunes sand Trey Gowdy, FBI Director Christopher Wray, the director of national intelligence, Dan Coats, and acting Assistant Attorney General Edward O'Callaghan.
No Democrats invited as of now. But while Democrats and some Republicans even are concerned over how the president is characterizing this FBI confidential source, and some are chagrined at the president's rhetorical disregard for prosecutorial independence, to say nothing of his continued description of special counsel Robert Mueller, a widely respected former FBI director and Republican, as a mere former Obama employee, more than a dozen House Republicans today calling for a second special counsel investigation into the Justice Department itself to investigate the investigators, as it were.
CNN's Laura Jarrett begins our coverage today with this report.
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump weighing today in on a controversy he helped start.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If they had spies in my campaign, during my campaign for political purposes, that would be unprecedented in the history of our country.
JARRETT: A confidential intelligence source used by the FBI and CIA for years now in the middle of a political firestorm, the White House saying lawmakers will get the information they want after weeks of the Justice Department refusing to hand over details about the individual and pressure from House Republicans.
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: We're just not going to take this nonsense of every time we peel something back, every time we need information, we get ignored, we get stalled, we get stonewalled, and then, lo and behold, we get accused of, we're going to destroy the nation's ability to keep it secure.
JARRETT: While current and former officials say the source was not planted inside the Trump campaign...
JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: They were not. They were spying on -- a term I don't particularly like -- but on what the Russians were doing.
JARRETT: Reports about the source's discussions with former Trump campaign advisers have fueled accusations about a campaign mole, a notion adopted by the president, who ordered the Justice Department over the weekend to launch an investigation into the FBI.
TRUMP: Some man got paid, based on what I read in the newspapers and on what you reported, some person got paid a lot of money. That is not a normal situation, the kind of money you're talking about.
JARRETT: Yet even former Trump campaign advisers say their conversations with the individual were hardly cloak and dagger or otherwise eventful.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The meeting was very high-level. It was like two faculty members sitting down in the faculty lounge talking about research and there was no indication or no inclination that this was anything other than just wanting to offer up his help to the campaign if I needed it.
CARTER PAGE, FORMER TRUMP FOREIGN POLICY ADVISER: I never felt groomed. So if he's a -- if he's good at doing that, then perhaps that is part of the game.
JARRETT: Top officials in the Trump administration had tried to protect the source's identity and records, fearing his life could be placed at risk. But the White House brokered an agreement for lawmakers to review the highly classified information they sought, only raising more questions than answers about precisely what lawmakers will now receive and leaving Democrats worried Trump has crossed a red line.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I think little by little, and sometimes not so little, we are seeing an erosion of the independence of the Justice Department that is gravely concerning.
JARRETT: When asked earlier today why no Democrats are planning to attend this highly classified briefing on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said it is simply because they haven't been the ones asking for the information -- Jake.
TAPPER: Although Democrats have said that they want to be there.
Laura Jarrett, thanks so much.
My panel is here with me.
Phil Mudd, let me start with you.
I want to play part of what the president said this afternoon when asked if he had confidence in Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Do you have confidence in Rod Rosenstein?
TRUMP: What is your next question, please?
TRUMP: Excuse me. I have the president of South Korea here. OK? He doesn't want to hear these questions, if you don't mind.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Your interpretation of that answer?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: That is a no. Look, this is not just a question about Rod Rosenstein. You know who
is on the hot seat is the attorney general. If the president ever removed Rosenstein, first question you would have is, somebody who was with the president early on in the campaign, that is the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has to step back, I think, and say, I have got to go too.
There is the law of unintended consequences here. If the president wants to move, there is going to be a lot of other stuff that rolls if he chooses to take out Rosenstein.
TAPPER: Do you think that it is at all possible that there should be oversight over what the FBI did in allowing a confidential source to go and talk to people on a campaign? It is certainly an unusual thing and Congress has an oversight role.
NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: I think the big challenge here is that the president's party looks like it's trying to shield the president.
The president of the United States is going up against his own DOJ, and the Republicans are coming in to basically shield him from an investigation. At the end of the day, the FBI was looking at Russian interference in the election. There are people -- Russians have been indicted for their involvement in the election.
And the fact that Republicans are basically trying to run interference for the president's investigation, this has been going on for months.
And the fact that Rod Rosenstein or Wray are meeting with the president at all to discuss this investigation I think taints what is happening here and makes it look like the Republicans are trying to undermine...
TAPPER: Scott, do you have any issues with President Trump reaching out to the Justice Department and suggesting that they investigate the investigators, as it were?
SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No.
As far as I know, the Justice Department is a still a Cabinet agency that exists underneath the president of the United States, according to our Constitution.
And I will answer your first question. Of course there should be oversight. Nobody in the government is above oversight. And we have a situation now where I think, in the latest Monmouth survey, 43 percent of Americans said I want this investigation to end.
You have a rising number of people who lack confidence in it. No matter the outcome, collusion, no collusion, whatever happens, we need the American people to accept the outcome. There will be a huge number of people who won't if things like this are not investigated.
Politics were at play in the text messages between two of the agents. Comey himself admitted he had politics on the brain when he made certain decisions. This absolutely has to be looked at by the inspector general at the least and maybe a special counsel.
TAPPER: And the inspector general is looking at it.
TANDEN: You are demonstrating the incredible partisanship that we see happening in this investigation.
We're seeing essentially you're arguing that this needs to be investigated by Republicans. Why aren't Democrats part of this? If there should be an investigation, it should be bipartisan. But that is not happening.
It's only Republicans who are trying to run cover for the president. And the fact that you're citing polling from the fact that the president has attacked this investigation from the beginning, those -- it is Republicans who are questioning this investigation, not independents.
TAPPER: Do you think the Democrats should be at this meeting? They want to be there.
JENNINGS: Yes, I do, actually.
I think that when we have congressional oversight, both parties need to be represented. Obviously, the Republicans want this information, but there is no reason not to have people there. I suspect that at some point, all this stuff is coming out anyway, so shielding it from certain parties wouldn't make any sense to me.
TAPPER: Phil, I want you to take a listen to Sam Clovis. He was one of the Trump campaign officials with whom this confidential source met. Here he is describing the meeting.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAM CLOVIS, FORMER DONALD TRUMP NATIONAL CAMPAIGN CO-CHAIR: It was an academic meeting. It was not anything other than him talking about the research that he had done on China, and that was essentially what the discussion was about. I didn't have any notes on the meeting because there must not have been anything substantive that took place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: What would the meeting have been?
MUDD: Look, if you are running -- by the way, I want to challenge something that was discussed earlier, that this is unusual for an informant to be an investigation of political corruption.
It's unusual at a presidential level, but one of the top 10 priorities for the FBI is political corruption. And, routinely, whether it is the city council or the president, if you want to understand, as we saw in this case, what is happening, you put an informant in. In this case...
TAPPER: But this wasn't political corruption investigation. It was a counterintelligence investigation. That is different. Right?
MUDD: Sure. But you are talking about corruption in terms of, did somebody accept something of value from a foreign government? I would term that political corruption. Did they get information related to WikiLeaks, for example, that helped them in the campaign?
In this case, you are going to have somebody -- I'm not sure he's the only informant in the operation here -- going in pretty softly, you don't want to spook the target, pretty softly to say, what are the conversations about Russia, what are the conversations about China?
You might get to the level of passively trying to learn whether there are further conversations about what is showing up on the Internet, whether people are making jokes, as we heard from Papadopoulos, or not jokes, about the foreknowledge of what WikiLeaks was showing.
So there is a lot of information you can get from a human informant, even passively, that you can't get from like a phone intercept.
TAPPER: So, Phil, let me ask you, when the FBI asks a confidential source like this one to go in there and talk to Trump campaign sources, are they trying to find out what the Russians are up to or are they trying to find out what the Trump campaign is up to? Or both?
MUDD: The predication for the investigation is whether there is a violation of law.
They are trying to find out not whether nobody did something stupid, not whether there is an ethical violation. They trying to determine not only what the Russians did -- that's the counterintelligence investigation -- but whether that led to illegal activity by somebody in the campaign.
The whole purpose of the investigation is not strictly to learn what the Russians did. It is to learn whether a law was violated.
JENNINGS: There is an issue here that has to be explored on the question you just asked. The text messages between Strzok and Page are heavily redacted, but there is a message between them that says...
TAPPER: These are the FBI agents.
JENNINGS: The FBI agents, yes.
JENNINGS: It says, the White House is running this. Now, there is a lot of redaction around that, so we don't know exactly what they meant by this.
But the mere presence of that statement alone must be looked at to answer the question that you asked, which is, are they looking at what the Russians are doing or what the Trump campaign is doing?
If you had run a campaign and you had been elected or even defeated in a campaign and found out later that people were probing the people that work for you, you would definitely want to know if political shenanigans were at play.
TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We have got a lot more to talk about.
We are going to take a quick break.
The attorney general is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome after being held captive by the deep state? That is a claim made by our next guest says, a Republican congressman.
Stay with us.
[16:16:27] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Earlier today, more than a dozen Republican lawmakers demanded that a second special counsel be appointed to investigate the investigators. The Republicans say there are enough questions about the conduct of the FBI and Justice Department regarding the probe into Russian interference and into the 2016 election and the possible role of anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign in that interference to warrant an entire second special counsel.
Joining me now is one of those House Republicans, Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida. He serves on the House Judiciary Committee.
Congressman Gaetz, thanks for joining us as always.
REP. MATT GAETZ (D-FL), HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Thank you for having me, Jake.
TAPPER: So, you spend a lot of time investigating the investigators. I wonder, do you agree with the premise of the original counterintelligence investigation that Russia interfered in the election and that it's worth getting to the bottom of any possible American assistance?
GAETZ: Absolutely. Russia engaged in a malign influence campaign all around the world. They seek to undermine democracy by undermining democratic institutions. They will continue to try to do that in the United States and there are a number of ways that our supervisors of elections and heads of our departments of state around the country are fighting to ensure that we're sufficiently resilient to combat that threat.
TAPPER: OK, good. I just want to know what you thought about because I wasn't sure.
Today, you demanded a second special counsel be appointed. Just -- in point of fact, independent council are for violation of law. What crime are you suggesting might have taken place here?
GAETZ: Well, here we see the potential collection of intelligence on the Trump campaign and we also see the misrepresentation of information before the FISA court which would violate Woods procedures. That would be something that we would absolutely want to get to the bottom of.
And, you know, we've already seen a number of personnel changes at the FBI and the Department of Justice that seem to indicate something is not right. When you've got to demote and reassign your heard of counterintelligence, when you've got to demote and reassign one of your top lawyers in Lisa Page. When you see Andrew McCabe fired and referred --
GAETZ: -- for criminal prosecution, when you see Bruce Ohr not disclosing the fact that his own wife was working for Fusion GPS and, all of a sudden, he goes from being a counternarcotics professional to working on counterintelligence issues. It just seems like a lot of information that could lead to hopefully some good bipartisan reform of these entities.
TAPPER: So, I wondered if you were going to bring up this issue about what was presented before the FISA court, because I don't know how you know that. You're not on the House Intelligence Committee. You haven't seen the underlying intelligence. How do you know that anything improper was done in the FISA court?
GAETZ: Well, we have received briefings from the FBI regarding the elements of their application. We've also read the memo from the House Intelligence Committee that all -- that the entire House voted to declassify and the American people have been able to observe. And that memo laid out clearly that the principle piece of evidence, the first piece of evidence laid out was this dossier that was paid for by the DNC and --
TAPPER: No, that memo -- that memo made it very clear that it was Papadopoulos' meeting with the Australian diplomat in which he acknowledged that he had talked to somebody with Kremlin connections about dirt on Hillary Clinton and Hillary Clinton e-mails --
GAETZ: Well, that is one element, Jake.
TAPPER: No, they said that --
GAETZ: But that was not the first piece of evidence.
TAPPER: The Devin Nunes memo said that is the reason the investigation was launched.
GAETZ: No, that was a memo from Peter Strzok that did initially launch the investigation. But that didn't lead to the application before the FISA court.
My allegation is that the Woods procedures were not followed before the FISA court. There would not have been any preparation of the FISA court in the absence of that very dossier. That's not -- don't take my word for it, that was the testimony of Andrew McCabe.
TAPPER: Well, I mean, I have talked to people at the Justice Department who say you keep saying this and you don't know what you're talking about because you're not on the House Committee on Intelligence.
[16:20:02] You haven't seen the underlying intelligence.
GAETZ: Those very people, those very people have also briefed members of the House Judiciary Committee. I would point out to you, Jake, that the Judiciary Committee has oversight over the FISA process. That's not exclusively the purview of the intelligence.
Frankly, I wish the Judiciary Committee would be more active in interviewing witnesses regarding the procedures that were followed and the evidence that wasn't presented. These prosecutors before a FISA court did not have a defense attorney in the room. They had an obligation to present not only the evidence that was favorable to their position but the evidence that wasn't favorable and they gave no indication that the DNC was involved in paying for this, no indication that Christopher Steele was involved. There was only a vague reference to Glenn Simpson.
TAPPER: Well, they said that there was political -- it was paid for by political opponents of the president, but let's --
GAETZ: No, but that references Glenn Simpson, and that was Christopher Steele who the FBI indicated had been deemed uncredible because he lied to the FBI about other disclosures to the media.
TAPPER: Let's step back to the issue, to the reason I have you here, which is I want to talk to you about this call for -- for a second special counsel to investigate the investigators, to investigate the FBI, to investigate the Justice Department. Have you spoken directly with President Trump or any officials inside of the White House about this legislation, are they on board?
GAETZ: I have not spoken to any of them about this legislation.
TAPPER: Has anyone else in your group of members of Congress who introduced this legislation, Congressman Meadows or anyone else, DeSantis, have they talked to anybody in the White House? I'm just looking to find out in f the White House supports this.
GAETZ: Sure. So, Mr. Zeldin was the principal author of the resolution. He said at a press conference earlier today, he's not spoken to the White House.
Mr. Meadows indicated that he's not spoken to the White House about this resolution, and I've not spoken to them about the resolution. So, I don't know if other members of Congress have but the principle authors of the work product that was filed today have not spoken with the president or the White House about the specifics.
Now, obviously, you know, there is a lot of information that's referenced regarding the status of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation, the double standard at the FBI and the levels of bias at the FBI. And over time, I've had discussions with the White House about those issues but nothing about this call for a second special counsel filed today.
TAPPER: You slammed the Attorney General Jeff Sessions over his decision to recuse himself, yesterday, a decision rooted in Justice Department ethics guidelines. You said this about Mr. Sessions. Let's roll that tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GAETZ: It's like, you know, the -- over at the Department of Justice, he's got Stockholm syndrome. He's become sympathetic with his captors over there in the deep state.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: So, I'm just trying to understand this theory, the entire Justice Department and intelligence apparatus and leadership was appointed by President Trump. So who is the deep state you're referring to? Is it the FBI Director Christopher Wray, the director of National Intelligence Dan Coats? Who is it?
GAETZ: My specific concern deals with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. I think Mr. Rosenstein is deeply conflicted. I think that in many cases, he is playing Jeff Sessions. I think Jeff Sessions has been functionally, you know, set off into a corner at the Justice Department on these critical issues. I don't think that there was a legal or factual basis for his recusal and I think that it's really hurt the country.
TAPPER: You said that the White House is not yet fully informed about the extent of the information collected on the Trump campaign. What are you talking about? What information do you know that the White House and the president do not?
GAETZ: I cannot talk about that in an unclassified setting, Jake. But there is an additional fact pattern that has nothing to do with the individual that's been talked about in the media regarding the collection of intelligence on the Trump campaign. That information is in the possession of some congressional investigators, not others, and it's my hope that we're able to have greater transparency around those facts.
TAPPER: And you learned about this how?
GAETZ: Again, I'm not getting into that because it could disclose classified information.
TAPPER: I want you to take a listen to the former Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie. He's a former U.S. attorney who has continually advised President Trump on the Mueller investigation. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: Bob Mueller himself is not a partisan. He's an honest guy. He's a hardworking guy. He's smart. And you can't argue the investigation is not effective so far. A number of guilty pleas, a couple of indictments in a year, that's pretty good work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Is Chris Christie wrong there, sir?
GAETZ: Yes, I don't agree with that assessment. When you look at the indictments against the Russian entities, this is information as I stated in response to your first question that it has been widely know that around the world, there is an effort by Russia to interfere with institutions of democracy. So, it's not some ground breaking endeavor, this initial round of indictments.
And my belief is that based on the team that Robert Mueller has assembled that there is great bias against the president, that tools have been used that are unfair, particularly if the collection of intelligence on the president's campaign in any way influenced the Mueller investigation. We don't know that to be true but I certainly want to find out more and that's why I support the appointment of a second special counsel.
TAPPER: Congressman Gaetz, thanks so much for your time. Appreciate it, sir.
GAETZ: Thank you, Jake.
TAPPER: We have a lot to react there. My panel will be back with me next. Stay with us.
[16:28:59] TAPPER: And back with my panel.
We're talking about the move by some House Republicans to push for a second special counsel. This one to investigate the Justice Department and the FBI. In other words, investigating the investigation.
Phil Mudd, you just heard Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, who's pushing for this second counsel, who thinks Rod Rosenstein is -- for want of a better term -- part of the deep state and working against the own attorney general and the president. What's your reaction?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, so part of this is the president of the United States saying I think there was a spy in my campaign because I read the newspapers.
Could we step back for a moment? When we are in a democratic society, we should be cautious about having politicians decide who gets investigated. That's what we call politicization. That is dangerous.
To support my point, I'd say, I guess we should have investigated when Trump Tower was wiretapped because the president had a bee in his bonnet about that, about when Susan Rice unmasked people, the Republicans had a bee in their bonnet as well. They went to the White House and said that's a fraud. We should have investigated President Obama because clearly as President Trump has told us, he was not born in the United States.
Every time the president has a bad hair day, which by the way which is often, we're not going to conduct an investigation. And politicians shouldn't be directing this off and who gets investigated by federal authorities.