Return to Transcripts main page


President Trump to Meet with Republican Lawmakers on Information Regarding FBI Informant in Trump Campaign; American Government Employee in China Diagnosed with Mild Traumatic Brain Injury; Interview with Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 23, 2018 - 8:00   ET


[08:00:00] MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Inside the White House it has been a storm of the president yelling about leaks. He's been very agitated about it for weeks. I realize some people are saying, no, no, he's not really upset about it. He barely focuses on it. That is not true. He is consumed by it.

People will talk to him about one staffer or another, and he'll say, is that person a leaker? Is that person a leaker? He asks specific people to identify other leakers. This particular issue is one that makes some people in the White House, not all, but some, the one that he's tweeting about uncomfortable because they are not sure that there's enough evidence to support it. And for people that have to go out and defend him this becomes yet another brick in the wall of their credibility that's being removed because they are the ones selling this and they will have to answer for that later.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: The rule in that game is that you have to show your people respect and that's what -- when you get loyalty in return. Taking their phones, letting them know that you think it could be any of them, I think it's going to actually hurt the situation. So let's see where we are in the state of play with this. This is all about tomorrow. What is the calculation in them not having the Democrats there with them?

HABERMAN: I think that they are basically worried about their being any kind of counternarrative. Again, to be clear, this is my guess. I have not deeply reported this out. But they do not want to have the information open for others so that there can be what we saw for instance with previous that had come out, competing memos by the Democrats and Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee. They wanted it to be just one message coming out of this. They don't want Democrats to be able to say you're cherry picking this information. Here's what the rest of this shows.

That will make it very problematic for the country as a whole to believe what they are saying, but in terms of their own voters because everything has become completely partisan and tribal all around, Republicans are making the gamble that for their own voters that will work. If you look at poll after poll in the last couple of weeks, it is showing that the president's attacks on the probes into his campaign, into Russia collusion, they, among Republicans, his attacks are working. It is raising the seed of doubt, and I think that is what you're seeing here. That is why it's an exclusive look as opposed to one that invited Democrats.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: If the president doesn't like leaks, how does showing all this to Devin Nunes help? Devin Nunes sometimes has not been a lockbox with information. Is that fair?

HABERMAN: Interesting use of lockbox. Look, I think Devin Nunes is close to the White House, we know this. He was a part of the president's transition team and we know this. And I think the president is assuming that Devin Nunes will send out the information that he wants.

We know -- this is important to note every time we talk about the president and leaks and his obsession with leaks, there is a reason that on the campaign and in the White House he has been known as the leaker in chief. He is opposed to leaks unless he's the one putting out the information. Remember the main thing for him is control, and control about his image, control of information about him. As long as he has it, and I believe in his mind having Nunes have information is still in his control, and he's fine.

CUOMO: It's really confusing to figure out where this all goes. They have this inspector general Horowitz who's an Obama appointee dropped the hammer on McCabe, made a criminal reference on him lying in what was a propaganda move of boosting his own credentials and wanting to go after Hillary Clinton. And now if he's going to refer to, him included, as the criminal deep state, the I.G., when they come out with their investigation of here's what happened in the email scandals and here's why these people had to be removed, and this was bad, and the FBI should have done this and this, why should anybody believe it? They're part of the criminal deep state.

HABERMAN: Because, again, we are in the era of virtue signaling, and for the voters who the president wants who he knows will believe him no matter what he says, when he just says this one is real but this one is not real, they will take him at his word. Rudy Giuliani did the same thing on this show with you pointing to a "The New York Times" report. How many times have we heard the president or Rudy for that matter over decades criticize my paper, but when there's a report that they feel helps them in some way suddenly we are not fake news.

CAMEROTA: Yes, yes. Speaking of Rudy, you had a conversation with Rudy, and he had said that on September 1st, that was going to be the deadline for Mueller, that's when they would have it wrapped up. What's the story behind this?

HABERMAN: So there was a Reuters report, Mike Schmidt reported on Sunday that what Rudy had told us in an interview was that Mueller had suggested he hoped to get this probe wrapped up by September 1st. It was contingent on an interview with the president, and that is all part of what they're negotiating. Reuters quoted someone, I don't know who, an anonymous official saying that Mueller doesn't really care what Rudy says and that this is made up what Rudy is saying.

He called me to say that everyone in the room who was part of the president's team for that conversation with Mueller's folks remembered the same way except for Jay Sekulow who remembered it as the end of summer. That is still a three week difference technically. In actuality it's September 22nd I believe this year.

[08:05:03] But his point was we all heard this. This is not some made up thing. This is a real fact, and that Mueller's office which has complained to the Trump team previously when certain things have been said did not complain this time to them. So do with that what you will.

CAMEROTA: Oh, I will.

CUOMO: This is an interesting wrinkle, because what is the chance that people who are tasked with investigating obstruction of justice explicitly in their mandate cannot ask any questions to someone who is at the center of that investigation about that issue.

HABERMAN: I think it's small. I think it's not surprising that the president's lawyers are trying to narrow that out. Their whole argument is that this is an illegitimate inquiry. That this is an illegitimate inquiry that was based on what they describe as an illegitimate source. Rudy used those words here last week, an illegitimate source that's Comey. And so they are trying to suggest that things that stem from that should not be a part of this.

I do not think they will be successful, but remember their gamble is not we have to show up at the table no matter what. Not getting into whether they should do it or not, their argument is they don't have to, and they are going to essentially I think try to force this standoff to be Mueller subpoenaing them. I don't think everybody around the president is convinced that Mueller will.

CAMEROTA: So you know there's a whole school of thought that every single thing we've just talked about for the past five minutes is like gobbledygook to most Americans. Who can keep up with the threads of all of this. How can anybody know which one is more sufficient than the other one? Obviously there are news hounds, our viewers who do keep up with it and obviously we report on it every day. But what real Americans and voters care about are taxes and their paychecks. So yesterday, the president said good news, I have another tax cut plan. People were surprised to hear that. There were no details offered. What's that about?

HABERMAN: I have no idea. Honestly, I don't want even want to venture a guess on that one. I'm sure there's something that he is working to go push out. From anyone I have spoken to in the White House there's no actual meat on this bone yet, but we'll see. We'll see what happens.

CUOMO: How can he get it through his own party?

HABERMAN: He can't.

CUOMO: We still hear all the time how upset they are about the impending deficit consequences of the recent tax cut. The president said, we've seen what the tax cuts did for the economy. No. We've seen what the suggestion of tax cuts meant to businesses, but we haven't seen the effects of it in a real comprehensive way because they haven't been made manifest through the tax cycle yet.

HABERMAN: One of the things that was interesting about him saying this is that Republicans believe -- most Republicans believe that the tax cut last year -- that the bill they pushed through, the change package to the tax laws, was beneficial to them. This is something that they accomplished and that they could run on in the midterms. And they are dying for the president to stop tweeting the way he did this morning, stop saying things like 2016 was more important than 2018 like he said last night about voters turning out. They want him to stay focused and talk about things like the tax bill and he has been unable to do that. So the idea that he is now suggesting there could be something else is also veering way off script.

CUOMO: He hasn't mentioned taxes but he did leave his spy gate, and I guess he's not talking about the Patriots and the Jets in the whole video scandal, which was spy gate, by the way, to talk about the trade deal with China and the changes to Dodd-Frank. So he's at least moving back now --

HABERMAN: He always does. Every morning there is always -- it's two sides of the seesaw. There's one set for you people who want to hear something about the deep state, and then here's another set for people who are policy minded and want to talk about x, y, z. That happens almost every day.

CAMEROTA: "The Boston Globe" has a bombshell that some of these tweets that we read every morning that we think are from the president are actually his staff members writing them, mimicking his style.

HABERMAN: Bombshell?

CAMEROTA: Yes it is a bombshell, because I didn't know that they would intentionally include grammatical errors so that people think they're from the president.

HABERMAN: The grammatical errors which include the random capitalizations of words and things like that because one of the things that they had noticed that reporters do, and I'm guilty of this too, is after he tweets one of his error filled tweets -- and, by the way, I make plenty of spelling errors, so I'm not judging that. But they think that reporters set a terrible tone on Twitter by going over this and mocking it and so forth.

It's a bit of a suggestion that people are paying too much attention to what's happening on Twitter across the board, and by people, I mean people in this White House. Poll after poll shows that, Republicans and Democrats, show that even his own voters don't like his tweeting. So I understand that they think -- they think it's a distraction. They think it's unpresidential. So I understand that they feel that they are imitating some authentic voice and perhaps making it easier to keep the machine from his fingers, but it's unusual.

[08:10:02] CAMEROTA: Do you misspell your husband's name?

HABERMAN: I do not. My husband's name is --

CUOMO: Sylvester?



HABERMAN: I appreciate that.

CUOMO: When I went to type Melania in, mine defaulted to Melanie. You got to check.

HABERMAN: Of course, it's an auto correct thing.

CUOMO: The point is, you got to check, and it's the haste.

HABERMAN: Some typos are real, so just do with that what you will.

CUOMO: It's the haste.

CAMEROTA: "Covfefe." That was real.

CUOMO: That's the haste. The criticism is you're not thinking about these things. You're reacting, you're going too quickly. Word choice is a real criticism. When he doesn't know which word to use -- spelling error -- we all do it. It's Twitter.

What I don't get is this. He knows that people don't like what he says on Twitter. He knows that's not that effective for him, and he doesn't do what he does best, which is go on TV and defend himself no matter how tough the questions. Nobody is as good for him as he is for himself when he does that, and he won't do it.

HABERMAN: And he'll tell you that any day of the week, that nobody defends him as well as he does. So two things I would say. I don't actually think that he knows his tweeting doesn't work. I think he thinks it does work, number one. Number two, I think over the course of a year a lot of people have gotten in his head that he needs to not answer questions, not do interviews primarily because of the legal cases that are all around. And I think right now in particular he does not want to answer questions about Michael Cohen, about Stormy Daniels, and you can see that over and over again. Periodically there will be these flares where he'll call in to Judge Jeanine's show on FOX News because that just makes him happy, or --

CUOMO: But there's no pushback.

HABERMAN: I know. I understand. I think that most people are, but he tends to stick with the friendly feedback loop.

CUOMO: Some of his people fade when you test them. They start making nonsensical answers and they just attack you. He was better. It's easier for us to do the job when he doesn't come on, by the way. It's easier to talk about someone.

HABERMAN: I think whether he was good at it or whether he was terrible at it, I think it is good for presidents to answer questions. And it is really worth reminding people probably every day that he has not done a press conference in more than a year for somebody who claims to be Mr. Media and Mr. Unafraid.

CAMEROTA: Thank you for that reminder. Maggie Haberman, great to talk to you.

HABERMAN: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: We do want to get to some breaking news right now because the State Department has issued a health alert to U.S. citizens in China after an American government employee complained of unusual symptoms and was diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury. Let's go to CNN's Matt Rivers. He's live in Beijing. What does this mean, Matt?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, this is a strange one. Just a couple hours ago all U.S. citizens got an email from the U.S. embassy here, and I can read you part of what that statement said. It said in part, a U.S. government employee in China recently reported subtle and vague but abnormal sensations of sound and pressure. The U.S. government is taking these reports seriously and has informed its official staff in China of this event. We do not currently know what caused the reported symptoms.

And it was shortly after that came out we called the embassy. They confirmed that this individual did get diagnosed with mild traumatic brain injury, and that made us interested because of what happened in Cuba last year. You'll remember there was two dozen or so diplomats and their families that reported symptoms similar to this and reported diagnoses similar to this minor traumatic brain injury, and the U.S. government said that the Cuban government had a role in that.

We asked the state department about this. A U.S. diplomatic official did tell CNN that they are looking into this as a -- they're investigating whether this could be a sonic attack similar to what happened in Cuba. But as of now no official confirmation of anything like that. The United States not saying China has anything to do with this, but they are investigating.

CUOMO: All right, thank you very much. Please let us know any developments. Scary, especially with the context of what we heard in Cuba.

Also this morning, key Republican lawmakers are set to review classified info on an FBI source tomorrow. They are not bringing any Democrats. Why? How can this help the situation if you don't have both sides represented? Why do we have sides at all? Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro weighs in next.


[08:18:02] CAMEROTA: Two key Republican lawmakers who requested access to classified information about a confidential FBI source are set to meet with senior Justice Department and FBI and intelligence officials tomorrow to see this info. Now, not invited as far as we know to the meeting are any Democrats.

So, let's talk to a Democrat from the House Intel Committee, Texas Congressman Joaquin Castro.

Good morning, Congressman.

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D-TX), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

CAMEROTA: Have you asked if you can go to this meeting?

CASTRO: Well, it's basic protocol when you have these kinds of meetings on Intelligence Committee that you have both Republicans and Democrats represented, so this very much is a departure from standard operating procedure and it makes it seem more like a Trump legal defense team meeting than anything else.

CAMEROTA: Have you told your Chairman Devin Nunes, by the way, I would like to go?

CASTRO: I believe that basically our ranking member and staff have communicated by this point the fact that Democrats should be included, sure. But also that's Devin knows. He knows its standard procedure for both sides to go.

CAMEROTA: Well, that's not what the White House knows. Here's what Sarah Sanders claims about that invitation.


REPORTER: Would the White House welcome Democrats to be at that meeting?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We'll keep you posted. My understanding is they haven't been the ones requesting this information, so I would refer you back to them on why they would consider themselves randomly invited to see something they've never asked to.


CAMEROTA: Why would you consider yourself randomly invited, Congressman?

CASTRO: Again, that's a nonsensical answer.

This is information that basically is part of the investigation and its significant information, so why if there's significant information would you not include the relevant folks who are involved in the investigation?

CAMEROTA; So -- one last question on this thread, if you went up to Devin Nunes today and said I would like to come, what would happen?

CASTRO: Well, we'll see. I promise you today that I'll go up to Devin Nunes and ask him to invite everybody on the committee. [08:20:00] CAMEROTA: Are you concerned that the FBI and the DOJ are

opening their files and revealing an informant's name to members of your committee?

CASTRO: Yes. There are a few concerns. First, that this person's life could be affected, obviously, could be endangered. There's a reason that sources are kept very confidential and classified.

But the other thing is that there's this parlor game going on, basically Devin Nunes who is now part of Donald Trump's legal defense team is requesting information from executive agencies, getting that information and then most likely going over and sharing it with the president or his team so that he can handicap his legal liability. In other words, so he can better assess whether he should do something like testify in front of the grand jury. So there is this channel of information that I think is going from the executive agencies to Devin Nunes over to the White House.

CAMEROTA: So that's what you think this is about. You don't think that this is about investigating, you think it's about feeding information to the White House. Why?

CASTRO: I think -- I think it was feeding information to the White House for a long time. We saw that with the midnight run months and months ago. It's the same racket that's been going on.

CAMEROTA: So, you think that -- what you're saying, basically, is that Devin Nunes is an instrument of President Trump's defense and his sullying of the criminal justice system and the Department of Justice?

CASTRO: Yes, unfortunately, Congressman Nunes has played that role now for a while. I don't know exactly why or when he decided to do that but it's clear that he's been doing that for a while.

CAMEROTA: And so, why do you think in that case the FBI Director Chris Wray and Dan Coats are going along with opening these files and revealing a confidential informant's name?

CASTRO: That's a great question and I hope that you put that question to them directly. I don't understand, first of all, why they're going along with a meeting that they understand is a break from standard procedure that everybody that's relevant to this investigation. In other words, the investigators should all be present for this even if it's not the larger intelligence committee, even if it's just the so- called Gang of Eight which would include our ranking member Adam Schiff, everybody who's a relevant investigator should be there.

So, I was kind of surprised to see that the FBI and the DOJ would go along with this. You know, I described that back channel of information where the executive agencies fit in is, I don't think they're actively necessarily, you know, in cahoots with Devin Nunes to help him out to give information to the president, but I do think that in order to save their jobs, they are capitulating, they're acquiescing to all of Devin Nunes' requests.

And so they eventually cave in. They give him the information he wants and then he finds a way to feed it to the president. The president's able to handicap or figure out some better legal strategy because of the information he has and they keep doing this over and over.

CAMEROTA: From what you learned, do you think the FBI did anything wrong by using a confidential informant or source to try to talk to George Papadopoulos or Carter Page or Sam Clovis?

CASTRO: Well, I guess, let me say this, in all of the information that I've seen as somebody who's been on this intelligence committee doing this investigation now for over a year, I did not see anybody who served as a spy in the Trump campaign.

CAMEROTA: Can you say that again? You didn't think who served as a spy?

CASTRO: I didn't see anybody, I didn't see any indication that anybody was serving as a spy?

CAMEROTA: Did you know about this confidential informant?

CASTRO: There is some stuff that's classified that I can't discuss. But in reviewing everything and everything that was presented to us -- no, there was no indication that anybody was a spy. In fact, I think yesterday, Carter Page who was part of the Trump campaign basically said that based on his interactions, he had no indication that anybody was spying on the campaign.

CAMEROTA: Yes, Sam Clovis has virtually said something similar.


CAMEROTA: So what does Congress do about this that the president is tweeting this morning that this could be the biggest scandal in history?

CASTRO: Well, I mean that's the president's M.O., right? The president is basically blows thing up and exaggerates things and he tries to dominate the narrative that way. That's what he does.

It doesn't make it true. In fact, in Washington, he's probably the person that tells quite honestly the most lies of any politician out there, so this is consistent with what he does.

CAMEROTA: That's what fact checkers who crunch the numbers say in terms of the staggering number of untruths that come out of the president.

Congressman Joaquin Castro, thank you very much for your perspective. Please let us know what response you get when you talk to your Chairman Devin Nunes about going to this meeting.

CASTRO: I will.

CAMEROTA: Thank you.


CUOMO: President Trump repeating claims that a spy was placed in his campaign. He has never provided a single fact of that.

[08:25:00] In fact, the only information that's come out is contrary to it. He also calls it a scandal. His critics call it a distraction. The impact of the latest tweet storm next.


CUOMO: President Trump ramping up attacks on the FBI and the Justice Department. He doesn't even call them that. He calls them this -- look how things have turned around on the criminal deep state.

Remember, every one of these agencies is run by his own picks. They go after phony collusion with Russia, made up scam and end up getting caught in a major spy scandal the likes of which this country may have never seen before. What goes around, comes around. He added, spygate. Not the Patriots and the Jets and that whole deal. Could be one of the biggest political scandals in history.

Let's bring in CNN law enforcement analyst Josh Campbell. Deep state, true or false?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: False. There is no deep state and now there's -- he's added the phrase criminal deep state which for men and women of law enforcement who are charged with upholding the rule of law, I can't think of a greater insult than to call those people who go to work every day trying to uphold the rule of law criminals.

Now, look, the president is very good at two things. First of which being sucking the oxygen out of the room and focusing attention and redirecting to other issues, and that's what we're seeing here.