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WH: Immigration Framework Is The 'Compromise Solution'; FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe Stepping Down. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 29, 2018 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[12:30:10] JON KARL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Are you going to bring Senator Schumer down here again? I wouldn't mind.

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DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Our Jim Acosta asking the president if he's going to bring Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate down here. And this is obviously is about ongoing negotiations with the Democratic leader on the question of immigration. The president's deputy say, the immigration framework that the White House revealed last week is not up for debate.

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RAJ SHAH, WHITE HOUSE PRINCIPAL DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: The president has offered a compromised solution with, you know, showing real leadership that reaches across the aisle. We're going to see if Democrats are serious about border security. We're going to see if they actually want to fix the problem or if they just want to demagogue it.

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BASH: That compromised solution angered Conservatives for allowing nearly 2 million undocumented immigrants to stay legally. It also infuriated Liberals for wanting to change immigration policy in a way that they say discriminates against non-white countries. Now, a modern Senate -- moderate Democrat I should say, tell CNN, it is time to try a different approach.

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SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: A common sense coalition, I think, is going to be the grounding, if you will, of what will pass or what can move through the Senate. We're going to meet Monday night to start over again. The president has laid out what he wants. That's a good starting point. Let's see if it's something that we can agree on, something we need to adjust and something we can negotiate with.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: And we're back with our panel now. Julie, I should say, that was not my colleague Jim Acosta, it was my old colleague, Jon Karl, asking the president a question. But what's your sense of where things are? It is such a fragile time for these immigration negotiations?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, it is. And, you know, it took so much just to get the president to a point where he was willing to go out there and say what he actually wanted for weeks leading up to the last -- against to the government shutdown.

There was a sense that Republicans on Capitol Hill didn't really know what he was willing to do. Democrats on Capitol Hill didn't really know what he was willing to give. And strangely, he trapped (ph) out this proposal a couple days before the State of the Union. Typically, you'd maybe unveil something like this in the State of the Union Address. But he's now gone out there with a proposal that the polls of both parties do not like.

And the question is really, can negotiators on Capitol Hill, and maybe it's the senators like Joe Manchin and the more Conservative Democrats along with the Moderate Republicans who can do a deal like this. And maybe it's the leadership that's going to have to step forward and try to get it done. But is there the critical mass there for a deal? It doesn't seem like there is around what the president has put out there.

What I'm hearing is that there is much more of a possibility of a narrower deal. If there's going to be any sort of compromise on this issue. It's going to have to be a very narrow and delicate balance, because you already see that the progressives who really care about immigration think that this deal is not good enough. And Conservatives who care about the issue think that it's way too lax. And that is not get you to where you need to be on an issue like this.

BASH: And obviously, the biggest question is the House of Representative and House Republicans to be specific. Molly, I want to play it for you what a pair of House Republicans have said about the president's framework.

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REP. PETE SESSIONS (R), TEXAS: Simply say, we'll go and offer now an opportunity for citizenship. I think the votes do not exist.

REP. MIKE JOHNSON (R), LOUISIANA: I'm afraid if we create a special path for citizenship for those who are here illegally that we encourage more illegal immigration. I would have to be a no vote. And I think there would be a lot of others as well.

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BASH: OK. So in recent times, those kinds of comments from House Conservatives would have been a death now because it would've meant that the house speaker, John Boehner, you know, had this experience many, many times. Didn't want to bring anything up that would get a majority of the majority of House Republican votes. It has been known as the Hastert Rule, named after the former house speaker, Dennis Hastert, who sort of implemented this.

Paul Cain from the "Washington Post" noted something that is a very interesting potential change. And here's what he said. Now there's a corollary to the Hastert Rule named for disgraced former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert. Even on the divisive issue of immigration, Ryan is guided by whether President Trump supports the legislation. And that will be enough for him to bring it to the House floor.

So no longer the Hastert Rule he's saying, maybe the Trump Rule something to that.

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: Well, I think that that's the right approach for Paul Ryan because that's the only way he's ever going to pass legislation is if the president supports it. All of these members of the House are terrified of the president because they never know where he is. And they never know when he's going to have their backs. This was true on health care, it was -- it's been true on all these funding fights, it's been true on tax reform.

[12:35:03] It gave everybody the confidence in the Republican caucus to come together behind that bill because they could see how strongly and forcefully the president was behind it. And he -- it didn't seem like he was going to waffle or abandon them. And so this is an issue that there are -- there is may not a silent majority, but there is a large caucus of moderate to center right House Republicans who want to get behind some kind of immigration compromise.

But if the president is going to take their knees out from under them, if their Conservative colleagues are going to turn this into a primary issue, there is a lot of feeling that ever since Trump's 2016 campaign revolves so much about -- around the issue of immigration, it has really hardened divisions around this issue. And Trump probably the only one who could change that.

BASH: And Molly said that the president -- the House Republicans are worried about the president. I would argue that they're much more worried about their base, which is why they need cover from the president, I should say, as you start talking. We're waiting to hear from the president who just spoke at a lunch at White House. Go ahead.

JOHN MCCORMACK, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes. I do think that President Trump has had some ability to almost bully some of the more Conservative members of the House. He's talking the healthcare bill, they got a very small concession about President Trump is going after the House Freedom Caucus. And they ended up voting to pass it.

You know, where this all goes in the end, I don't know. I mean if it's just a stalemate this, this will play out in 2018. And it will play very differently in states like Nevada and Arizona where Republicans are playing defense. They're holding onto their Senate majority there. And the Democrats are playing defense in a lot of deep red states. So I think where this gets.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: And it's such a key point that Molly made as to whether the president actually sticks to this. The White House made a very significant step in making its first formal offer on immigration. But for Conservative Republicans in the House and in the Senate, the safe thing to do is to be opposed to any kind of legalization for people here illegally. That is whether passion is in their base even on the issue of DACA and Dream --

BASH: Standby, sorry to interrupt you. We're going to look at video that just came in to CNN, President Trump having lunch with members of U.N. Security Council. Let's listen.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- Secretary Tillerson, Ambassador Haley, General Kelly and General McMaster to host a very distinguished group of United Nation Security Council ambassadors from all around the world.

Today, we will discuss our cooperation a range of security challenges, including the denuking of North Korea, very importantly, countering Iran's destabilization activities in the Middle East, ending the Syrian conflict and confronting terrorism.

The success of the United Nations depends on the independent strength of its members, and these are very strong members. Some of them are new to the council. We're leading on the global stage to renew this founding principle of sovereignty. The United States has been a lot over the last year. We've -- I appreciate all them. Congratulations. But on an economic front, on a financial front, it's been incredible what's happened.

It's like a whole different place. It's booming. And it's going to continue because we have a long way to go. But it's been doing really well. So we appreciate it. I think we're taking the world along with us. We're helping the world. That's why some of the countries, even many of the countries throughout the world are doing so much better because of what we're doing.

So my administration is proud to work with you. We've already done a tremendous number of coalition buildings. And the United Nations Security Council in particular is very important to us. The power and the respect that it has all over the world is very, very excellent. But there's much work that we have to together do.

Earlier today, the ambassadors viewed a display of Iranian missiles and arms that the regime has transferred to its militant allies in Yemen. And later today, they're going to view Syria atrocities exhibited at the holocaust museum. So they've seen missiles from Iran. And they're looking at some of the atrocities taking place in Syria.

We'll also discuss what more we can do to defeat the Taliban. I don't see any talking taking place. I don't think we're prepared to talk right now. It's a whole different fight over there. They're killing people left and right. Innocent people are being killed left and right, bombing in the middle of children and the middle of families, bombing, killing all over Afghanistan. So we don't want to talk with the Taliban.

There may be a time. But it's going to be a long time. Now, we're all out. And that's taking place right now. And it's a whole new front. And it's a whole new set of principles that we're being governed by. When we see what they're doing in the atrocities that they're committing and killing their own people. And those people are women and children. Many, many women and children that are totally innocent, it is horrible.

[12:39:58] So, there is no talking to the Taliban. We don't want to talk to the Taliban. We're going to finish what we have to finish. What nobody else has been able to finish, we're going to be able to do it. So thank you all very much. We appreciate it. And we're going to have a tremendous discussion about that and other subjects. Thank you all for being here. We appreciate it. Thank you.

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TRUMP: Thank you. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks everyone. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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BASH: President Trump making some remarks while having a lunch with members of the U.N. Security Council. This of course as he prepares for a very, very important speech tomorrow and as he is trying to navigate along with members of Congress in both parties a way to deal with immigration.

Let's pick up on that discussion. We were talking about the Republican side before. But it's not just Republicans who are saying maybe they're trying to bite off more than they can chew. Some Democrats are saying that as well. Chris Coons of Delaware made that point earlier.

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SEN. CHRIS COONS (D), DELAWARE: I think where we should be proceeding is to start with the smallest, narrowest possible deal on border security and Dreamers. And see if we can build out from there in a way that doesn't compromise our core values as Democrats. That may be very difficult to do. But we'll get to it this week.

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BASH: You know, it kind of makes sense. We have seen the movie so many times of Republicans and Democrats trying to do a big comprehensive immigration bill, which has the goal of trying to kind of sneak in things on both sides. You know, what actually everybody standby, I'm going to quickly to the White House to Jeff Zeleny, our senior White House correspondent.

Let's go right now to Jeff Zeleny, our senior White House correspondent with some BREAKING NEWS. Go ahead, Jeff.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dana, good afternoon. We are getting word now from our reporters at the Justice Department that the acting FBI director, Andrew McCabe, who, of course, has been the center of so much controversy in ire of the president, has told his staff that he plans to step down.

These sources are telling our colleagues at the Justice Department that he is planning on stepping down, likely at the end of March. He will go on leave between now and then. Of course, this is significant, Dana, because as you well know, the president has been so angry at Andrew McCabe. He has called him out specifically over months.

It is one of the things that set off the entire fight and argument that been going on extraordinarily so between the White House and the Justice Department. So if Andrew McCabe saying he'll step down, that certainly is an incredible development here. We don't know what led to this. We do not know if there any discussions with the president and him.

This is just coming in now, Dana, but it certainly puts a find point on an already fractured relationship between the Oval Office, the White House here and the Justice Department. Of course, many questions to be answered and asked about this. But that's what we have right now, Andrew McCabe stepping down from the FBI after long service there currently in March. Dana?

BASH: Jeff, thank you for that reporting. I want to go now to our colleague Shimon Prokupecz who has more contexts for this resignation. Shimon, the first question is why now? Why today?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, Dana, we certainly don't know that this does seem to have come out of nowhere. We know that based on most of the reporting that we've been doing concerning McCabe that he had been planning to retire for quite some time. He's been telling his senior staff. He's been telling agents as they season the field. These are people who run the various field offices, that he had been planning to retire in March.

We had heard that he was considering leaving early because he had accumulated some leave time, and so he can use that to leave early essentially. So for whatever reason, he announced today, that today will be his last day as the deputy director. But he won't be officially retire until March when his leave runs out.

BASH: Shimon, thank you so much for that reporting as well. Let's bring it back around the table here. Look, the obvious first thing to talk about is the reporting recently that President Trump asked Andrew McCabe who he voted for. Which, you know, I haven't heard anybody who has -- maybe elected is the best way to put it people who have been elected to Congress and elsewhere, say, that that is a good idea or that that is even remotely in keeping with protocol. DAVIS: Well, I mean, its way outside the norm of how a president generally interfaces with Justice Department officials. The Justice Department is generally considered to be independent of politics. You don't ask someone who's in the FBI or who is in the hierarchy of the Department of Justice, are you a political supporter of mine.

BASH: Especially the FBI.

[12:45:00] DAVIS: But, you know, the president talk about this last week and he said, he actually didn't remember asking that question. But if he had, what was the big deal. And he didn't understand what the big deal was. But apart from the question of whether he's owning up to having asked, he did go on to say that he considered McCabe to be suspect because his wife ran for office in Virginia and the have the support of Terry McAuliffe.

And he said, Terry is Hillary. And his wife took money from Terry McAuliffe. And the fact that the president is out there talking to media about this and this issue that he has at someone who is very high ranking at the FBI. You have to imagine and I'm not basing this on any reporting. This is just come out.

But it could become untenable for a person to stay in their job under those circumstances particularly if he's going to retire soon anyway. Who wants to stay in a job like that that is so sensitive when you have the president aggressively going out there publically and --

BASH: Now, you should also remember that the end of last year, the end of December, it was out there that Andrew McCabe was going to retire at some point soon. It was reported that -- you guys reported it first and shortly after that. The president sent a tweet about the Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and here's what he said.

How can FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, the man in charge along with leakin' James Comey and phony Hillary Clinton -- of the phony Hillary Clinton investigation including here 33,000 illegally deleted e-mails be given $700,000 for wife's campaign by Clinton puppets during the investigation?

That was the point that you were making that this has been a mantra of Republicans up to and including the president himself suggesting that he can't do his job because his wife ran as a Democrat on the State of Virginia.

MCCORMACK: Yes. I mean to Julie's point, he definitely does see these people at the FBI, the Justice Department as part of his team. You know the -- there's like a ASI ASIS (ph) campaign suffer for loyalty, why wouldn't he ask James Comey for loyalty? The problem is that, you know, objectively that that won't exactly say from ignorance won't necessarily be a defense against any obstruction of justice charges.

KAPUR: And he's become a lightning rod because there has been sort of a search for counter evidence and counter narrative to, you know, the Russia investigation. So I mean it is certainly staggering to see there be an argument that somebody at the Justice Department or anywhere in government can't do their job because their spouse has a political has a political affiliation. I'm not sure we've seen that before at level this high. So I think that certainly notable.

BALL: But I think that, you know, we can all speculate on what's happening here. But we need to know what was the precipitating event. Because if this is -- if this was a retirement in the normal order of things, the staff would have known about it, it would have been amply sort of pre viewed. It would have come as a surprise to the people who cover the FBI everyday.

He wouldn't have said -- probably said this is my last day today. It would have probably been more orderly. But we don't know what was behind this. We don't know what caused him to decide that he can no longer stay there.

BASH: But, you know, again, another tweet that the president sent out on December 23rd. He said, FBI Director Andrew McCabe is racing the clock to retire with full benefits 90 days to go.

To your point Molly, he announced today that he is retiring. But he's not actually retiring according to Shimon's reporting until March, until he gets those benefits it seems.

DAVIS: Right, I mean he is obviously, he had those plans in place for a while --

BASH: Which by the way, there's no criticism there. A lot of people in government do that.

DAVIS: No. I mean this is what happened when you work in government. But -- I mean I think as Molly said, we don't know what the back story is here. We don't know if a phone call was made. We don't know if a conversation was had after this story about Mueller came out. And we know that, you know, the president obviously fired Comey, sought to fire Mueller.

And if you're Andrew McCabe and the president is now out in public again hammering at these charges at your family and, you know, impugning your integrity or ability to do your job, it is interesting though he won't be gone from the Justice Department until March.

BASH: Exactly.

DAVIS: So, you know, if you're the Trump White House and you're concerned about what he might have to say when he's no longer with the government, that day doesn't come until March.

[12:48:53] BASH: OK. Everybody standby. You said there a lot about answering questions. We're all going to be calling our sources in the break. And when we come back, we're going to have more on this BREAKING NEWS. Stay with us.

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BASH: We're back with the BREAKING NEWS. And that is FBI director, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe is stepping down. Back with our panel. And Julie, I want to sort of revisit something that you said before the break, and that is that he's stepping down now. He's not officially going to be leaving until the end of March, presumably to get his benefits. But he's on administrative leave until then. What does that tell you?

DAVIS: Right. So he -- I mean, we had known and reported late last year that he was planning to retire. And that this had been in the works. The curious part of the news today is that he is stepping down as of today. As Molly said, without any sort of for planning the day we knew of or that he'd notify anyone of. And he's on leave until mid-March. So the retirement doesn't become effective until then.

So the question is, is he being placed on leave? Is he voluntarily taking leave? And why if he's leaving, why not just, you know, run out the clock until his retirement? There's got to be something going on here. And the timing is curious given that they're debating this memo that we were talking about earlier --

BASH: Exactly.

DAVIS: There is been all these discussion, renewed discussion about his, you know, political affiliation and whether that effected his ability to do job. And the Mueller investigation continues to pace.

DAVIS: And then let's just touch on that very briefly, the memo that Julie is talking about that they are debating as we speak inside the House Intelligence Committee does reflect, according to Republicans, poorly on McCabe and the decision-making process in terms of the Russia investigation.

[12:55:00] I'm not going to ask you to speculate on it. But it is -- I will just say affirmatively it's kind of hard to imagine that there isn't at least some form of correlation between what's going on there and the notion that he's suddenly on administrative leave. It's hard to imagine he's doing that on his own.

BALL: There's been a lot of pressure on him. There's been a lot of pressure on him from the Intelligence Committee, as you note. He's really been put in the spotlight, in particular by this controversy with the memo. And so you can imagine that there was tremendous pressure on him. And we don't know how much of a choice he had about going on leave. That absolutely, it seems like the most relevant sort of top line to what's been going on with Andrew McCabe.

KAPUR: And this makes it even more intriguing right now to watch Rod Rosenstein, the deputy DOJ chief, who was functionally in charge of the Russia investigation. He appointed Bob Mueller. He could end up becoming a target of the stuff when President Trump is getting caught between House Republicans and his own Justice Department.

BASH: Very important point. Thank you all for rock and rolling with that BREAKING NEWS. We're going to have a lot more on this news with Wolf Blitzer next. And of course there is a White House briefing in a few minutes as well. Wolf is going to pick up right after a break.

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