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Releasing the Nunes Memo; Ryan Wants Memo Released; Bipartisan Tone for Trump's Speech; Trump to Tout Strong Economy. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 30, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:21] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Dana Bash. John King is off today.

Hours from now, President Trump delivers his first State of the Union Address. On his agenda, jobs, the economy, and, we are told, even a call for bipartisan unity. But will the president's message be overshadowed by a partisan GOP memo alleging FBI wrongdoing in the Russia investigation? The House speaker told reporters this morning he wants it publicly released. Now it's up to the president.

Plus, a warning to the White House from a long-time Trump friend.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), FORMER NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: Robert Mueller is not someone to be trifled with and he's not someone who takes lightly the words of anybody who he's looking at.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should the president sit down with him face to face?



CHRISTIE: I don't believe so. I -- listen, I don't think there's been any allegations, credible allegations, against the president of the United States. And I don't think the president of the United States, unless there are credible allegations, which I don't believe there are, should be sitting across from a special counsel. The presidency is different. I don't think they should do that.


BASH: A State of the Union Address is one of those American rituals that can be taken for granted, but right now nothing in this democracy can be taken for granted. There is the pageantry and protocol. Watching a president enter a House chamber is objectively special.

As for the substance, this kind of address can be a defining moment for a president and for the country. But tonight Washington is not entirely focused on the very important issues President Trump will be speaking about: immigration, the economy, terrorism, infrastructure. Inside the halls of Congress, all the buzz is about a memo written by House Republicans accusing FBI officials of bias and cooking a FISA warrant application so it could spy on a Trump campaign adviser. Democrats say the document is stacked with half-truths and lies and amounts to little more than a crude attempt to undercut the special counsel. The speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, said this morning that he wants to get it out into the public.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: There are legitimate questions about whether an American civil liberties were violated by the FISA process. There may have been malfeasance at the FBI by certain individuals. So it is our job, in conducting transparent oversight of the executive branch, to get to the bottom of that.


BASH: Now, the only roadblock to the memo becoming public would be an objection from the president. And sources at the White House say that's not likely to happen.

Let's get straight to CNN's senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, with more on that.

So, Jeff, what are you hearing from your sources there about how this memo is going to be dealt with?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Dana, you're absolutely right. White House officials tell me that it is almost certain the president will authorize the release of this memo. In fact, if he would not, that would be a big departure from everything that he has said publicly and privately, indeed.

The question is when will he do it. I am told by a White House official it will not come at all today. They believe that that would get in front of the State of the Union Address the president is so focused on. They believe it would be a distraction for him.

It's unclear right now if the president has actually read these three and a half pages that were brought over here last evening after that House vote. One official says he doesn't believe the president has because they want him to stay focused on this. One official told me he wasn't sure if the president has. It would be tempting, of course, for the president to read that.

But, Dana, the reality here is, it's a matter of when. It is going to reviewed by lawyers here, by the National Security Council. But look for a release perhaps starting tomorrow and then as the week goes on. But he has five days. But, again, don't look for that today.

BASH: So, Jeff, you're hearing at the White House what I'm hearing on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, that he's not going to release it today because he doesn't want to overshadow his State of the Union.

ZELENY: Right. BASH: But that -- it's already happening. Obviously it would probably

be worse if we actually had the content of it. But just the specter of the House vote inside the Intelligence Committee last night and the anticipation of it, isn't it already overshadowing it? Do they acknowledge that in the White House?

ZELENY: It's certainly a good observation, Dana, because it is hanging over this. The entire Russia investigation is hanging over it. But it's also, as some friends to the president believe and hope, is muddying the waters here, if you will, on this investigation. But it is still viewed as very much a Washington-esque story. If the president were to release it today or indeed talk about it this evening, it would certainly open it up to a far wider audience.

[12:04:56] So, as of now, the audience tonight the president is addressing is a big national audience. Think of a national convention or an acceptance speech. This is the biggest moment -- one of the biggest moments the president has, as you know, as you said, when he walks into that House chamber there. He is going to, I am told, to give an optimistic, uplifting speech, at least most of it, and is going to try and regain some of that support for some of those independents who voted for him. So any talk of the memo before that would certainly complicate that.

But the president, of course, is going to talk about immigration, infrastructure, the economy and national security. We do not believe he'll talk about the Russia investigation at all. But again, of course, that would be a game time decision he would make as, Dana, you know better than anyone, he often insert his own lines into speeches. So we'll have to wait and see exactly what he says.


BASH: Especially if there's some audience participation.

ZELENY: No doubt.

BASH: You, Jeff, have been doing some great reporting about how the speech came together. What can you tell us?

ZELENY: Well, the speech has been, you know, underway here for a while. His advisers, his several advisers, about six speech writers and advisers have been working on it. But we are told this morning that the president also has been handing in lines that he wants to say this evening. For the last several months, he's been thinking of a thought, writing it down and giving it to one of his advisers. So all of that has been combined into one speech that the president is going to give this evening.

He practiced a full run-through, we are told, in the Map Room of the White House yesterday afternoon. I am told he might practice it again later today. It's going to be about an hour long or so. Look for a lot of anecdotes in this speech, the specific stories that speak to immigration, crime, other matters here. Donald Trump -- President Trump knows how to give a narrative like this. So look for that kind of speech tonight, Dana. BASH: Thank you so much for that reporting, Jeff. Appreciate it.

And here to share their reporting and insights are Joshua Green with "Bloomberg Businessweek," Margaret Talev, also with "Bloomberg," Carl Hulse with "The New York Times," and CNN's very own MJ Lee.

Hi, everybody. Happy State of the Union Day.

I want to start by playing a little bit more of what the House speaker said this morning. He talked to some of us reporters privately without the cameras there, and then he did, after he met with the full House caucus, spoke to reporters. And one of the things -- obviously this is back on this question of the memo -- that he's trying to hit home with journalists and maybe, even more importantly, with his own caucus, is that he wants to try to separate out what he says is a potential abuse of power inside the FBI, specifically about the use of the FISA warrant and civil liberties and the broader Robert Mueller investigation about Russia. Let's listen to what he said.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: This is a completely separate matter from Bob Mueller's investigation. And his investigation should be allowed to take its course.


BASH: OK. So the question is, is that even possible? He acknowledged that some of his members are conflating it, but isn't it hard to separate the two when they're -- it's all about Russia, something that the president himself is trying to discredit?

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes, I mean, I think that's a difficult thing to parse, right, because to a lot of people this is the Russia investigation that the FBI, you know, the theory is -- you know, didn't have the justification beyond the famous dossier.

I think -- and I think you were right. This thing has really taken over Capitol Hill right now. It is very tense for the Democratic leader of the House to be accusing the House speaker of a cover-up. I mean those are -- those are tough words. And the other day she also accused, you know, Mitch McConnell of, you know, racial motive. So I think things, you know, for the idea that there might be some call for bipartisanship tonight, I think that that's going to be pretty tough to achieve in this current environment.

I will say it's odd for the Republicans to find themselves on the other side of the FBI. That's unusual. However --

BASH: Very unusual.

HULSE: There have been some cases brought against Republican politicians in the past by the FBI when some members thought there was abuse. Ted Stevens being one. So, you know, it's not always so smooth with the FBI. But it does put them in an odd position. BASH: So you mentioned that the Democratic leader in the House is

saying that this is a cover-up and so forth. This morning the Democratic leader in the Senate went on the Senate floor and talked about the frustration he said Democrats have with the fact that House Republicans and presumably, ultimately, the White House, will want to release a partisan memo without alongside it the Democrats' rebuttal. Take a listen.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: The White House and congressional Republicans' attacks on Mueller and his investigation make you believe it was taking place in a Banana Republic, Erdogan's Turkey, Putin's Russia, not in the United States of America. A different kind of president would want to know how precisely Russia meddled in our election and would have severely punished Putin for it to discourage him from ever trying it again.


[12:10:15] BASH: So, you know, he's kind of trying to put the onus back on the president.

But I think the other question is whether or not, because this is such a partisan process, the whole notion of trying to correct the institutions and to have oversight over institutions, like the Justice Department and the FBI, doing it in a partisan way undermines that goal.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. And speaking to Democrats sources on The Hill this morning, they think that they have a slam-dunk case to make that Republicans are clearly doing this on a partisan basis. And I think the fact that House Speaker Paul Ryan is now on the record, on camera, saying that he has essentially given the blessing for the Nunes memo to come out, that is a big deal for Democrats. They are very, very eager and chomping at the bit to pin the blame on Paul Ryan. So they're happy to see him doing this.

I would say I think in terms of just mapping out their strategy, they think that there are clear things that they can point to. One, of course, is the DOJ guidance saying, this is not a good idea. And, second, the fact that Republicans are clearly, clearly choosing to release one memo and being selective about releasing this memo but not releasing the Schiff memo, I think that gives them the grounds to say, what is it that you are hiding?

BASH: Yes.

LEE: Why not release everything if you're choosing to release partially something?

BASH: And the speaker said this morning that they will release the Democrats' memo, but they sprung it on Republicans yesterday and it takes time to go through the sources and methods and make sure it won't compromise intelligence. Let's look at the other side of this argument, though, which is, never

mind this memo, but maybe with this inspector general report of what really has gone on inside the FBI and Justice Department, that there are legitimate concerns about what Republicans call abuse of power in something that all of us hold dear, which is civil liberties.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "BLOOMBERG": The inspector general's report and the elements that are going to emerge from that are the path by which all of those issues are going to be judged.

What's going on here is different. It's obviously become an intense political dispute over something involving classified information. And as we were talking about earlier, what makes this unusual is that normally you would think of the Republican Party as being kind of the guardians of the FBI and the intelligence community's ability to operate in many ways behind closed doors, protect the sanctity of FISA. You'll always have some Democrats who do that. But that has been a Republican Party mantra. And what you have now is what appears on the face of it to be a dispute between the Republicans in Congress and the administration, but it really is a dispute between President Trump and his own administration --

BASH: Right.

TALEV: And the Republican majority in Congress helping him to make that case.

JOSHUA GREEN, SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "BLOOMBERG BUSINESSWEEK": Right. I mean the most shocking thing about what looks like the impending release of the Nunes memo is that the associate attorney general sent a letter saying it would be incredibly reckless to release this memo, and yet Republicans are barreling ahead and voted unanimously for it in committee to go ahead and release it anyway. That sort of thing is unimaginable in any previous administration. Certainly from Republicans.

BASH: And to that point, John McLaughlin, who is the former CIA director, said the following, FISA warrants typically are big, thick documents, 50 to 60 pages. If the Nunes memo about one is just four page, you can bet it's carefully picked -- it's a carefully picked bowl of cherries made all the more dishonest by holding back the minority rebuttal memo. A real debate needs both. Someone fears that.

Are they're -- are they putting themselves in this box?

GREEN: Well, I don't know if -- that Republicans view it as a box. That sounds very much like what they're doing. And the Democrat complaint is the reason they don't want this memo released, a, it's got classified material, but, b, the charges from Democrats are that this is cherry-picked, it lacks all context, and that was why it was important to have a Democratic memo accompanying it so that the public could understand the full context of these charges.

BASH: Right. GREEN: Instead, what it looks like Nunes and Republicans want to do is try and impugn the motives of certain FBI officials, possibly -- including former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and thereby undermine the Mueller investigation, or at least blunt the force of, you know, a negative report should that come down the pike in a couple of months.

BASH: And we'll see how successful the House speaker is going to be in trying to separate the two because he says very clearly he believes the Mueller investigation is legitimate, he's a good guy, he's a stand-up guy and it should continue. So we'll see how that works out.

We're going to take a quick break. But first, our way back machine. A quick look back at one of the most memorable lines during President George W. Bush's very first State of the Union Address in 2002.

[12:15:04] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT (JANUARY 29, 2002): States like these and their terrorist allies constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world by seeking weapons of mass destruction. These regimes pose a grave and growing danger.




BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT (January 20, 2015): I have no more campaigns to run. My only agenda -- I know, because I won both of them.


BASH: A bit of off-the-cuff humor and maybe a reminder that if President Trump is, in his favorite word, braggadocios tonight, he won't be the first president to act that way.

We are fewer than nine hours to go until President Trump delivers his first State of the Union Address, and the official theme is a safe, strong and proud America. And the White House is promising a bipartisan tone with a particular focus on immigration and infrastructure. And you can expect to hear the president tout what he sees as his economic accomplishments.

[12:20:18] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Certainly the economy will be front and center. We've had a historic year, record- breaking moments throughout the year, in large part due to the president's leadership on deregulation and a huge capstone at the end of the year with the tax cuts and jobs act which we have seen have immediate impact with several hundred companies stepping forward and giving pay raises, bonuses, because of that tax cut and that tax reform package.


BASH: Now, of course, the president is going to say things like you just heard. It would be political malpractice for him not to. In fact, a lot of people are questioning why he's not doing that kind of on a loop, talking about the economy.

But the notion that Jeff is hearing, that I'm hearing, I'm sure you all are hearing as well, of this big bipartisan unity message, how is that going to go? What are you hearing about the realities between the rhetoric that he's planning tonight and what he's up against, and what Democrats are up against every single day?

TALEV: I just remember that in the inaugural address, a little bit more than a year ago, in the buildup to that there was a lot of talk about how a bipartisanship and reaching out to all Americans. But then the imagery of the speech and the tone of the speech was quite stark in and of itself. And I think we need to wait actually to see the delivery of this to understand how it plays out.

On the flip side, if he doesn't do enough of a nod to the base, or if he isn't sort of -- what's the right word --

BASH: Strident?

TALEV: Victorious enough, right, that that might turn off some of his base. So I think he does have a little bit of a negotiating act himself to do.

But, really, this is not about reaching widely across the aisle to bring liberals in, so much as it is to see, I think, from the White House's perspective, whether he can reach some of that middle ground that may have been lost or teetering over the course of the last several months and to bring them back on that economic message. And that's the challenge.

BASH: On the economic message, but also on the 2018 agenda, which they are saying is -- after they sort of check the boxes, which are not so easy to check, the budget, raising military caps, and, most importantly, immigration, they do want to get to inherently bipartisan ideas, like infrastructure.

HULSE: Right.

BASH: The realistic result of that is what, Carl?

HULSE: Well, I think that the Democrats would love to see a big infrastructure bill, but they don't expect to see one that is set up the way that they want it. I think going into tonight, there will be bipartisanship, but Democrats are bringing in dreamers, right? They're getting people from their districts who could be deported if the president doesn't fix that. They're going to be dressed in black. I think they're going to be pretty somber out there.

If I was at the White House, I would be trying to keep the phone away from the president because I do think he can probably deliver this address pretty well, but the fear is, is he going to tweet before it or after it and immediately take on some issue. I don't think anybody -- this is not going to mend what I think are actually increasingly toxic relationships on Capitol Hill. I think it's in a really bad place right now.

BASH: And, yes -- yes, no question. And to be fair, you talked about the Democrats bringing dreamers and making very clear political statements, especially those who are already thinking about running for president against Donald Trump.

But bipartisanship is a two-way street. It just is. Listen to what Chuck Schumer said again on the Senate floor this morning.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: The Republican majority in the White House have been content to craft legislation on their own, demand Democrats support it, and then label us obstructionists. And without consultation, without compromise, we don't. That dynamic is the root of the ineffectiveness and gridlock here in Congress.


BASH: Well, I mean, look, he does have a point, that Republicans feel they have control of Congress, and they can kind of go their own way. But they have reached out to Democrats, and Democrats are all about pleasing the resistance right now. And you could have taken that sound bite and put a picture up of a Republican talking about President Obama --


BASH: At the beginning of his term --

TALEV: Yes, you could have.

BASH: And it would have been exact same rhetoric.

LEE: Right. And the point about unity is that it can't just be a tone that comes directly from the president. There has to be some sort of appetite from the other side of the aisle for that kind of a unity message, right? And we literally have Democratic lawmakers refusing to show up, not just bringing guests that might be a little controversial, that might be poking at the president a little bit. There are members, a number of members, who are just not going to be there.

And I think in terms of, you know, just talking broadly about whether the president will stay on message and sticking to issues like infrastructure.

[12:25:03] On the other side of that, I'm really curious if he ends up slipping in some mention of repealing Obamacare, for example. Both because that obviously is a very partisan issue, but also because it's not necessarily something that I think his Republican colleagues are going to be all thrilled to hear him talk about. If he uses this huge, national address to say, hey, that thing that didn't work for us last year, maybe let's revisit that, I do think that that is going to not sit well with (INAUDIBLE).

BASH: Is that going to happen?

GREEN: It's Trump. It could, right? I think he would be on much safer ground. I mean Trump really does have a good news story to tell that could possibly unite -- if not Democrats in Congress and certainly viewers, and that is the economy. As somebody who writes for "Businessweek," the big fear when Trump was elected was that he was going to cause a recession. Stock market futures plummeted on election night because people were so worried about this.

Instead, here we are, you know, a year later, record stock market, manufacturing jobs are growing. You know, he can produce, you know, valid data that shows that the country and the economy in particular are doing well and claiming credit for that. And what Trump seems to want more than anything else is affirmation. I think that's the one safe place where he could go out and get it and maybe not engender the hostile and negative response he would from Democrats in the audience if he speaks about, for instance, immigration or more of a hot button issue like that.

BASH: Thinking --

TALEV: Or he starts talking about the losers or no collusion or some of these kind of like -- just almost instinctive one-off lines that are real distractions from that core message about the stock market.

BASH: Yes, and I have to say, that speaking of producing, you don't know it, but you're actually a really good television producer because you were talked about the stock market and how he's going to talk about it, and that's actually what I'm going to talk about, which is, a look at the stock market right now.

The Dow is actually falling a little bit more than it has in the past. So take a look at that on the screen right now.

But before we go to break, we also want to talk about what is going on with regard to the halls of Capitol Hill and how things are playing out in really the minutes and hours before the president comes and gives his first State of the Union Address. Stand by for more of that.