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Strzok Fired Over Anti-Trump Texts; Omarosa Releases Second Tape; Trump Says Omarosa Signed NDA; Conway Struggles to Name Black West Wing Aides. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired August 13, 2018 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Meetings with Democrats this week as they start to meet. We'll continue to track that.
Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS today. See you back here this time tomorrow.
Jim Sciutto's in for Wolf. He picks up our coverage right now.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Jim Sciutto, in today for Wolf Blitzer. It is 1:00 p.m. here in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks so much for joining us.
The FBI fires the agent who sent anti-Trump text messages and was once part of the Mueller investigation. Now the president is responding with a big suggestion.
The West Wing drama, the president now firing back at Omarosa after she reveals another tape, this one of a call that she had with President Trump himself one day after she was fired. Was any of this illegal?
And Giuliani contradicts Giuliani. The president's lawyer completely backtracking on whether the president spoke with James Comey about backing off the investigation into Michael Flynn.
But we begin today with the breaking news. The FBI Agent Peter Strzok has been fired for sending anti-Trump texts to his then-colleague Lisa Page ahead of the 2016 presidential election. Once those messages were brought to light, Strzok was taken off Robert Mueller's special counsel team and moved to a different position. The decision to fire him was finalized just on Friday.
CNN crime and justice correspondent Shimon Prokupecz joins me now.
Shimon, Strzok's attorney, he's saying that this decision goes against not only the agency's protocol, but also against the recommendation from the inspector general. Is that accurate criticism?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it certainly is when you think about the norms of the FBI and then how usually things go through the process and the procedures. Certainly the attorney here arguing that that was not followed. And that has to do with the fact that the OPR, the Office of Professional Responsibility, which was investigating Peter Strzok, had recommended suspension and demotion. They did not recommend that he be fired. But the deputy director, Peter Strzok's attorney says, went ahead and fired him anyway, announcing that to him on Friday, saying that essentially that he was fired. We're told that there wasn't really a lot of explanation given as to why Peter Strzok was fired. But, nonetheless, this decision was made.
His attorney, Peter Strzok's attorney, releasing a statement a short time ago essentially saying that the decision to fire Special Agent Strzok is not only a departure from typical bureau practice but also contradicts Director Wray's testimony to Congress and his assurances that the FBI intended to follow its regular process in this and all personnel matters.
Now, of course, Peter Strzok testified on The Hill about these text messages, about his relationship with Lisa Page. People close to Peter Strzok pointing out that the inspector general found that there was no bias. So, of course, they're questioning, why was he fired then. You know, it's likely that this will get appealed and, you know, in an effort to do that, people close to him have set up a Go Fund Me page to try and pay for some of these legal bills. But, you know, as we've seen, the president has already reacted. And, really, what goes forward, I think, politically in terms of this investigation, in terms of this whole entire situation will be certainly interesting to see it unfold.
SCIUTTO: Shimon Prokupecz, thanks very much.
For more on the firing of Strzok, what it means, let's bring in CNN criminal defense attorney, former federal prosecutor Seth Waxman, CNN political analyst Karoun Demirjian, CNN national security analyst Shawn Turner, and our chief political analyst Gloria Borger.
So, Gloria, the IG took a hard look at this --
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.
SCIUTTO: And said, yes, you know, this was not good behavior. Good that he was taken off the Mueller investigation. But we recommend FBI protocol, 60-day suspension, et cetera. So now you have the deputy director in effect overruling another senior FBI official.
What do you see behind that?
BORGER: Politics. I mean, and, you know, to me, and I -- and we don't -- you know, we have to report this out, but it seems to me that you know that Rosenstein, Rod Rosenstein, has been in a fight with conservatives in Congress who want him impeached. You know that the FBI has been under fire by Republicans in Congress. You know how the president feels about Strzok. And it seems to me that he may be a sacrificial lamb here. And they may have just decided, you know what, let's just get rid of this once and for all.
You remember that ten-hour hearing. He did not back down one minute. And so, you know, something has occurred here that would make them say, OK, we're not going to stick with protocol. Instead, we're going to fire somebody who, for a very long time was a respected member of his organization.
You know, I wonder if that hearing, in the end, helped or hurt him. And just to reminder our viewers, he was quite a defiant --
BORGER: Yes, he was.
SCIUTTO: You know, presence as he was responding to those questions. Have a listen.
[13:05:03] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PETER STRZOK, FORMER FBI AGENT: I can assure you, Mr. Chairman, at no time, in any of these texts, did those personal beliefs ever enter into the realm of any action I took. Furthermore, this isn't just me sitting here telling you. You don't have to take my word for it. At every step, at every investigative decision, there are multiple layers of people above me, the assistant director, executive assistant director, deputy director, and director of the FBI, and multiple layers of people below me, section chiefs, supervisors, unit chiefs, case agents and analysts, all of whom were involved in all of these decisions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Shawn Turner served a long time in the U.S. intelligence community, most recently before he left for the office of director of national intelligence.
Was he giving an accurate representation there by saying, listen, yes, you know, I did something bad here, but let's be clear, there are loads of folks below me and above me and this could not have affected the investigation, as the president has repeatedly and continues to argue?
SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, look, I think it certainly is possible that what he did, did not affect and impact the investigation. But I do think there's something a little more interesting here.
You know, I agree with everything Gloria said. But, you know, I've talked to a lot of former colleagues in the FBI, former and current colleagues. And one of the things that I take away from those conversations is that almost universally, whether people in the FBI support the president or they don't support the president, almost universally they have said that what Peter Strzok did in those text messages and what he did in this testimony irreparably damaged his ability to continue to serve in the FBI. And they feel that way not because of their politics, but because they are strong believers in something that I've been saying, and a lot of us in the national security space have been saying for a long time, and that is that you leave your politics at the door when you do the business of the bureau.
And so I think that the impression that he might not have been doing that, whether it's true or not, is something that was a real concern for a lot of rank and file FBI officials. And so I think that for a lot of them they saw this coming. And I think that some of that inside pressure may be why we are here today.
SCIUTTO: And you're saying that performance there, why, because he was so defiant, he didn't fall on his sword, as it were?
TURNER: Because he -- right. You know, if -- not only because he was defiant, but he did not speak to the FBI's strong belief. So he didn't speak strong enough to the belief that politics, that partisanship should not enter into the work of the FBI. Basically, he defended himself and he took issue with the politicians who were questioning him, but he did not defend the FBI in a way that people would have thought would have been the right thing to do.
SCIUTTO: Now, Karoun, Republicans, of course, including the president, have repeatedly pointed to Strzok, the texts with Lisa Page, as evidence that the entire Mueller investigation is biased, although we should note there are many people involved in the Mueller investigation and he was removed from this investigation when these texts were revealed. But the president, sticking with this line, because just a short time ago he tweeted the following, based on the fact that Strzok was in charge of the witch hunt, will it be dropped? It is a total hoax, no collusion, no obstruction. I just fight back.
It strikes me that if Strzok is a sacrificial lamb, he hasn't satisfied the president.
KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The hunger -- the -- yes.
DEMIRJIAN: Yes. I mean, look, this is the thing. If it's just about the politics, we've kind of learned in every other stage of this that when the FBI tries to clean house -- and this is not the first time somebody has come up. McCabe was the person that we were talking about several months ago. It doesn't actually stop things from happening.
Strzok is a target for the tweets he sent. Rosenstein is a target because of the position that he has. They are both fairly defiant when they appeared before the joint congressional committee hearings. And this is going to be something that continues.
The difference, though, I guess, between Strzok and let's say Rosenstein is that you have leadership that does not want to touch the Rosenstein thing. They don't want to get involved. It's a small subset still, a very conservative House Republicans, many of them in the Freedom Caucus, that really want to push this connection to the entire investigation, take down Mueller, have everything go away. It's not really backed by the Paul Ryan's and the Mitch McConnell's of this world. And that makes a huge difference.
Whereas Strzok did something wrong. And it's objectively difficult to defend, even though the Democrats are very much trying to, and clearly Strzok was trying to defend himself as well. It is evidence of bias. Even the IG said, look, the investigation's fine, but this guy is not. SCIUTTO: Right.
DEMIRJIAN: And that makes it much more difficult to thread that needle. But, as you see, the people that are beating this drum on other drums, I guess, in his band, to take the metaphor way to far, are not necessarily going to stop that because this particular person's story has been terminated, (INAUDIBLE).
SCIUTTO: Clearly the president -- Seth, looking at this as a former federal prosecutor and criminal defense attorney, you see the lawyer's statement -- Strzok's lawyer saying, listen, yes, he admitted he did something wrong here, but if you look at FBI protocol, suspension was what was called for. And, in fact, they did a whole investigation. Legally -- let's set aside the politics. Legally, has Strzok been done badly here by this decision?
SETH WAXMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: He may have been. When you look at his, you know, single case, every employee of the Department of Justice is entitled to due process. And if he was, you know, fired for political reasons as opposed to a meritorious basis, I mean we have the decision of the inspector general that points to a suspension or demotion, not a firing. And so I think his lawyer will have a basis to bring a case. Whether that will ultimately settle or not out of court. But I think the bigger political arena that we're all talking about really has the -- you know, really drives this train in large part.
[13:10:20] SCIUTTO: Right, no question.
Well, listen, stand by, everyone. There's a lot more to talk about, because also developing right now, the president continuing to take shots at Omarosa after she dropped yet another tape today. This one a conversation with the president himself.
Plus, Rudy Giuliani contradicting Rudy Giuliani after saying the president never spoke with James Comey about the Michael Flynn investigation. What this means for Mueller's case going forward.
And, an airline employee stealing an airplane, getting it in the air before eventually crashing. We have the tapes of what was said from inside that cockpit.
[13:15:15] SCIUTTO: President Trump on the attack again. This time over the release of a new secret tape from the former "Apprentice" star and former White House aide Omarosa. This time the tape is of a phone call with President Trump himself, this after the Chief of Staff John Kelly fired her. Have a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Omarosa, what's going on? I just saw on the news that you're thinking about leaving. What happened? (INAUDIBLE). What happened?
OMAROSA MANIGAULT NEWMAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE: General Kelly -- General Kelly came to me and said that you guys wanted me to leave.
TRUMP: No, I -- I -- nobody even told me about it. Nobody --
TRUMP: You know, they run a big operation, but I didn't know it. I didn't know that.
TRUMP: Goddamn it. I don't love you leaving at all.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Well, the president acting surprised there. This is the second tape that Omarosa released while promoting her new book. The first triggered alarm with some national security experts after she recorded John Kelly firing her. And that firing taking place inside the secure Situation Room, an area where phones are never allowed or should never be allowed. And now Omarosa says that she is threatening to, quote, blow the whistle on what she calls White House corruption.
CNN's White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins joins me now.
Omarosa and the president, they've had a close relationship for many years, going back to the reality TV days. Now Trump, as he often does when criticized or with former employees, he's criticizing her, attacking her. What reaction are you hearing today from the White House?
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's been quite the reaction. And I don't think we've seen the president react like this about a staffer leaving the White House since Steve Bannon's departure. But the president is now referring to one of his highest paid aides here in the White House as a whacky low life, tweeting several times about Omarosa this morning, saying that she was not liked in the White House, that she was not smart but vicious. He said she would rarely see her, but that she was constantly saying bad things, missing meetings, and that when John Kelly suggested getting rid of her, that the president asked him to try to work it out because she said nice things about him.
Now, that last point is a remarkable one, Jim, because of course the president is essentially saying that he paid someone $179,000 of taxpayer money because they said nice things about him and praised him.
But that's not all. The president also just tweeted a short while ago saying that Omarosa has already signed a nondisclosure agreement. That's something she talks about in the book, being offered to sign one after she left the White House. But the president seems to be referring to these nondisclosure agreements that we reported on back in March. You'll recall that the president insisted whenever he was first brought into the White House that his staffers sign NDAs.
Now, he was told by several people that just simply wasn't feasible, but instead White House Counsel Don McGahn essentially finally relented and had this watered down, largely what was seen as unenforceable version of an NDA. The White House denied that employees signed these, but the president seems to be confirming it there with his tweet.
Now, all of this is going on, Jim, but also, of course, we have to keep in mind, we have sources telling CNN they're worried that it wasn't just Omarosa taping conversations in the White House, which could spell more trouble for this administration.
Kaitlan Collins at the White House. Thanks very much.
Back with me now to discuss, Karoun, Shawn, Gloria. Also joining us now is CNN political commentator Angela Rye.
Angela, I guess what strikes me about this beyond the drama of the day is this is a sort of typical presidential relationship here, right? So hire someone knew for a long time, says that he kept her on because she said nice things about him, and then when she leaves or he leaves, in this case she, attacks them as I always knew she was a low life, et cetera.
I mean it's a pattern here, is it not?
ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's definitely a pattern. I think what's frustrating to me is, I find myself having to agree with the Trump administration on something. And the one thing that I agree with them on in this case is that it is not just inappropriate, it is certainly a national security breach and a challenge to be recording anything in the Situation Room. I have a homeland security background. Like, you just know better. And, in this instance, you regularly finding yourself on the other side of the administration saying, they don't know better. And for whatever reason, whether it's lack of training or a lack of regard for the rules or regulations that exist, they don't know better. But there still have to be repercussions for that.
I think the other issue I have, frankly, is, if Omarosa knew all of this when she went into the administration, which she did, then she should have never gone. I think the issue that I have with both Donald Trump and Omarosa is that they're playing with lives now. This is not "The Apprentice" the remix, is what I called it on Twitter. And we have to, at some point, have to say, you know what, enough is enough. This is now a distraction. How many times have we said that since the election? This is now a distraction and it's putting us all in harm's way. And it's just time to stop.
[13:20:01] SCIUTTO: Gloria, as Kaitlan was saying there, the White House itself is concerned that there are other tapes.
SCIUTTO: And that other staffers -- why do people feel the need to tape conversations? Is it perhaps that they're concerned the president might lie about what was said in those conversations? BORGER: First of all, I don't think they trust each other. And many of
them probably don't trust the president himself. And if you're signing nondisclosure, non-disparagement clauses, maybe you want to do it to protect yourself to a certain degree.
I think the level of paranoia is something we haven't ever seen in a White House. And what was John Kelly doing taking her into the Situation Room to fire her basically? I mean, you can fire someone somewhere else. It doesn't have to be there.
And phones -- as Angela is saying, everybody knows. You can't bring a phone into the Situation Room. You can in this situation room, but not in another. But, you know, the point is that everything was handled badly. And the president now is obsessed with Omarosa, whom he told on that tape, I believe falsely, that he didn't know she was going to be fired because he didn't offer to rehire her, did he? I don't --
RYE: I don't love that you're leaving.
BORGER: Yes, I didn't hear that.
SCIUTTO: No, there was some -- even a gasp.
BORGER: I didn't hear that.
SCIUTTO: There was some play acting in his reaction to that.
BORGER: Right. Yes.
BORGER: So it's just all a mess.
SCIUTTO: Shawn, I have to ask you, you served many years in the intelligence community. We are -- listen, we're a nation at war. We've got two ongoing wars. Russia is attacking our democracy. There are genuine national security risks.
What does it mean for U.S. national security? How do U.S. adversaries look at an administration, the most powerful man in the world, where you have people taping each other? You have -- you know, apparently lies going back and forth. There was back stabbing. There was very public comments from the president on people who very recently served in very senior roles. Is that a threat to U.S. national security for outsiders to see this very public display of dysfunction?
TURNER: Look, our adversaries, who collect information, who collect intelligence on the United States, look at an administration like this as divided against itself, an administration where there's all this infighting, all this distrust. And it is a treasure-trove of potential information for our adversaries. It is a target of opportunity.
And when we talk about taking these devices into the Situation Room, look, there's absolutely no doubt that there are national security implications here. And it's not for the reasons that people might think. Certainly it is the case that we are concerned about people potentially recording conversations and doing things like what Omarosa did. But these devices, these little super computers that we carry around with us, these are some of the most sought-after and most aggressively pursued targets of our adversaries when it comes to gathering information. And so it's not just about protecting the conversations that are happening there, but it's also protecting all of the information that these things could potentially collect or broadcast because they're being taken in there.
So in the national security space, as we look at this administration, there is a lot of concern about what people in this administration who get upset with this president, get upset with other people in the administration, what they might do in order to express that frustration and that anger and how that might impact our national security.
SCIUTTO: To be clear, and others have mentioned this to me before, a phone like this, a foreign intelligence service can listen -- turn it into a listening device.
TURNER: Absolutely. The reason --
BORGER: Can trigger --
SCIUTTO: Can -- without you knowing and turn on the microphone and --
TURNER: Absolutely. The reason that we put these phones in boxes outside of secure spaces is because we know that there's lots of software out there that will allow our adversaries to turn these into listening devices and collect all of that information. It's also the case that they don't even have to turn them into listening devices. These devices are always broadcasting information. And so if we're in there and we're sending e-mails based on what's happening in the meeting, all of that is information in transit and it's all vulnerable to our adversaries.
SCIUTTO: Karoun, it appears that we may have caught the White House in a lie, imagine that. If the president is tweeting that she signed an NDA, a nondisclosure agreement, but Kaitlan Collins has said that the White House has denied repeatedly that staff were required to sign an NDA and that Don McGahn developed some sort of watered down something, regardless, the president thinks they signed an NDA. So who's telling the truth?
DEMIRJIAN: Well, I mean, if they signed a piece of paper that the president wants to call an NDA that doesn't have any legal weight, it can't really be enforced, then I guess that's one situation which everybody could.
I mean, look, an NDA is -- we've seen the president use it in his pre- presidential life. It's a very common corporate tool. It's come up with the Stormy Daniels issue. I mean it's come up in every -- almost every other episode, I guess, of Trump's story that precedes his time in the Oval Office. And so this could be just a knee-jerk thing that he likes to throw out there. And if his -- his staff was placating his desire for the NDAs by kind of giving non-NDA NDAs, then that's -- that's an option of what that was there.
SCIUTTO: It raises the basic question, do you -- why does he feel he needs an NDA from senior staff.
SCIUTTO: I want to listen, Angela, if you can, to the president's counselor, Kellyanne Conway, when she was asked to name a high-level African-American adviser in the West Wing now that Omarosa is gone. Here's her answer.
[13:25:10] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is the most prominent, high-level adviser to the president on the West Wing staff right now?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: African-American?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
CONWAY: I would say that -- well, first of all, you're totally not covering the fact that our secretary of housing and urban development and world renowned neurosurgeon --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm asking you about the White House staff. I'm asking you about the people the president is with every day.
CONWAY: Well, that's important that he's -- that he's -- well, the president works with Secretary Carson every day. He's trying to break the back of the (INAUDIBLE) --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who -- who there is in -- in the White House staff right now?
CONWAY: And you -- we have Jeron (ph), who's done a fabulous job.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does he have an office in the West Wing, Kellyanne?
CONWAY: He has an office on the -- in the EOP, absolutely, the executive office of the president, yes. But, Jonathan --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But not in the West Wing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Your reaction to that belabored answer?
RYE: Yes, belabored is nice, Jim. I don't have to be as nice as you.
You know what's sad about this? I know Jeron Smith very well. And now that might hurt him at the White House. But he's someone who I respect a great deal. I hate that he's in the White House, but he does work there. And he was with the Domestic Policy Counsel. He's now on the legislative affairs team. That's not a team that Donald Trump deals with on a regular basis. So I think that Kellyanne Conway stretched the truth. And I think the unfortunate reality is that there aren't a number of black folks they can name at the White House at the table because nobody wants to work for a racist president. Nobody wants that type of association in history. That is the reality of that. I don't -- I have no idea why Jeron took that l (ph), I am calling it a l (ph).
But Omarosa did it for self-serving reasons. We see it now. She's wrote a book. She taped conversations that were self-serving. This is no whistleblower, right? This is someone who recorded conversations to protect herself later because she knew it was going to be a disaster. So she liked to go around saying that people would have to bow down to Donald Trump. I guess we're starting with her.
SCIUTTO: Strong words.
Thanks to everyone. Angela, Karoun, Gloria, Shawn.
Coming up next, flipping the script. Another contradiction from Trump's legal team. Now Rudy Giuliani said that the president never spoke with James Comey about the Michael Flynn investigation.
Also, joining me next to discuss it all and what this means for the Russia investigation, Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell. He's on the House Intelligence Committee from the great state of California.
Please, stay with us.