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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Trump Approved to Release the Nunes Memo. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired February 1, 2018 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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[22:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, HOST, CNN: ... the candle at both ends. I'm happy I did it to test power for you. I thank the people here who gave you the facts first. They worked very hard. And I appreciate everything that this opportunity brought us. So thanks for tonight.
Anderson Cooper is back for a special edition of AC360. That starts right now.
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN: Welcome to a special late edition of 360.
We begin with President Trump determined to release the so-called Nunes memo. A new reporting on how that determination originated and grew. The reporting comes from the Washington Post. Here's the lead of the story.
President Trump was only vaguely aware of a controversial classified memo about the FBI's Russia investigation when two House conservatives brought it to his attention in a January 18th phone call.
The conversation piqued Trump's interest. Then the Washington Post report goes on saying, quote, "Over the next two weeks according to interviews with eight senior administration officials and other advisers to the president he tuned into cable television segments about the memo, he talked to friends and advisers about it. And before he even read it, Trump became absolutely convinced of one thing, the memo needed to come out."
Josh Dawsey is one of the Post reporters sharing the byline on this breaking story tonight. He joins us now by phone. So, Josh, talk to us about the president's decision making process when it came to this memo.
JOSH DAWSEY, REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Right, so this whole (Inaudible) Anderson, at first, the president was told by conservative lawmakers there is an intriguing memo that alleges abuses at the FBI that can help you. The president, as you said, was vaguely aware of it.
As conservative lawmakers is often his inner circle talked to him advising him on the memo. He became convinced that it could be a puzzle in the Russia investigation that could show wrongdoing by Rod Rosenstein, into deputy attorney general overseeing special counsel Bob Mueller's probe and he wanted the memo out, the four-page classified memo.
Even as his FBI Director, Chris Wray, as other DOJ officials, as intelligence officials showed some consternation about this, said maybe we should do some redactions, maybe we should not release this at all. In fact, the FBI said we had great concerns with it.
The president became increasingly convinced it should be released and this week even until he did not see the memo, our reporting shows he saw it for the first time yesterday afternoon, Wednesday afternoon. The president by all accounts had heard it would be in his best interest to release it and was resolute and determined to do that.
COOPER: So the president was watching a lot of television, assume Fox News played a decent sized role in all this.
DAWSEY: It did. Anderson, we in our story tonight reported that one segment that particularly intrigued the president was actually on CNN. As the president was going to Davos last week, he was watching the segment with Trey Gowdy, the South Carolina conservative republican, who was calling for memo to be released.
That particularly invigorated him and, you know, drove him to tell his advisers, hey, all of these guys, eventually you're saying it should be out there, it should be out there. So it's some Fox News, some CNN.
And there are a number of people around him on the outside, even John Kelly, his chief of staff, had pushed back against DOJ officials who say it should be released.
It's a mix of TV and his inner circle and from the president, you know, I withstood eight, nine months of damaging stories about me and this Russia investigation, as he has professed time and time again, he thinks it's a witch hunt and a hoax. And here's information that can actually benefit me and I want to release it as soon as possible.
COOPER: Did John Kelly -- where was he in all this in terms of what he felt the impact of this memo would be?
DAWSEY: So our reporting indicates that on Monday, Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who's overseeing the Mueller probe and Christopher Wray, FBI director, came to the White House to express concerns about the memo.
And we saw John Kelly, we don't think you should release it. John Kelly told them in return, the president didn't plan to release it and we plan to release it. John Kelly has frequently talked to the president about it including yesterday afternoon bringing the president the memo, reviewing it with him and telling the president we do not think there are actual national security concerns that should prohibit its release.
John Kelly has been based on all of our reporting, Anderson, pretty simpatico with the president, in saying that the memo should be out there and that he supports a quick release of it. COOPER: Did John Kelly, I think I read in your article that John
Kelly perhaps didn't think it would be as big a bombshell as some republicans were saying. Is that correct?
DAWSEY: Right. That's kind of a concern that many in the White House share. I think even some of the conservative lawmakers, there's been such a buildup on this for the past week, week and half, where there's been a steady drum beat that's increased day in and day out that this memo is going to have bombshell accusations that's really going to change the trajectory of the investigation.
I think some folks close to the president are saying, you know, the revelations are not that severe. You know, what was really remarkable to us, Anderson, is that for two weeks, more than 200 republicans on the Hill have seen this memo.
[22:05:00] The intelligence community has. The DOJ had. The president had not seen it until yesterday but still wanted it released. We heard him on the hot mic on Monday night, the state of the union, saying 100 percent we're going to release it.
So the sense is among many of the folks who talk to the president, who he trusts, were telling him this is in your benefit and even having not seen the text, he wanted it out.
COOPER: So for all the talk of -- by Paul Ryan and others on Capitol Hill, republicans, saying this is not going to -- this is not an attempt to impede the Mueller investigation, or is not going to have any impact on the Mueller investigation, or it's not an attempt to delegitimize the investigation.
The president, according to your reporting, I know according to CNN's earlier reporting as well, clearly thinks this will have that impact.
DAWSEY: We reported this, others have as well. But he shard to DOJ. He obviously fired Jim Comey, he's tried on several occasions to oust Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Even seeking his resignation letter. He has berated Andrew McCabe, another senior FBI official who recently left, for his wife's political donations.
He's frequently mocked and chastised Rod Rosenstein.
The president, one of his greatest frustrations in office is then that DOJ is going beyond his control and this investigation is beyond his control.
And what our reporting indicates, Anderson, is that he sees this to expose what he sees as overreaches and things that he believes are unethical at the Justice Department. And by highlighting this memo, it gives him some ammunition, some fodder to really go after his critics who have led this investigation. I don't want to say his critics but the officials who have led and oversaw this investigation.
DAWSEY: The president sees this memo as a repudiation of them. COOPER: Josh Dawsey from the Washington Post. Again, the story just
breaking just a short time ago. Thanks very much, Josh. More on the president's expectations. CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins us now from the White House. You got reporting what the president has been telling friends about this memo and the impacts he hope it has.
JEFF ZELENY, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Indeed, Anderson. The president we're told in recent days has been telling friends and associates he's speaking with on the phone after the state of the union address and since then that he believes the release of this report will be a vindication of sorts and will also discredit the Russia investigation largely because he believes it will expose what he sees as a prejudice deep within the top ranks of the FBI.
Now, this in some respects is the culmination of a months of disgruntlement really and the president believes he's been treated unfairly by the FBI. Of course, it's one of the things that led to the firing of James Comey last May.
The appointment of the new FBI Director, Christopher Wray who's been on the job six months exactly today. Now he finds himself locked in this confrontation with the president.
The FBI said they have grave concerns about the release of this memo. The officials here said the president listened to those, but, again, never wavered in releasing that memo.
We saw him say in an unvarnished way after the state of the union, 100 percent, I plan to release it. He didn't read it until the next day. On Wednesday, we're told.
So, Anderson, there was never a question here if it was going to be released, the only question was when, and now it appears it's tomorrow.
COOPER: Fascinating. Jeff Zeleny, I appreciate that. With us now, a democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler, ranking member of the House judiciary committee. Congressman, I'm wondering what you make of this. The idea that the president was talking about releasing it saying 100 percent we're going to release it without having even read it.
JERROLD NADLER, (D) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: Well, he obviously expected that this would in some way discredit the investigation. This is the latest step in a concerted campaign by the president to disable, discredit and attack the Russia investigation.
COOPER: You have no doubt that's what it's about.
NADLER: It's clearly about that. And the real significance -- one of the real significance of this is that the republicans in Congress have now crossed the Rubicon. Until now we would criticized them for standing idly by and doing nothing while the president trashed the FBI and the Department of Justice and the other agencies we depend on to protect us and to protect our security and did everything he could to sabotage an investigation of the Russian interference in our election.
Now you have to say that they're actively complicit, they're accomplices in this.
COOPER: What I don't understand about what the republicans have been saying, I mean, Monday we had a member of the House intelligence committee, a republican on, and he said essentially what Paul Ryan later on said, which was, look, Chris Wray looked at this memo, didn't have any changes to it, didn't raise factual objections to it implying that the FBI essentially had a chance to look it over which is clearly not the case.
NADLER: Clearly not the case and stated not to be the case. The FBI objected -- Wray objected. Now I read the secret documents underneath the...
COOPER: You read the underlying documents.
NADLER: I read the underlying documents. I've read the memo.
COOPER: Which Nunes apparently has not.
NADLER: Which Nunes apparently has not. I said last week I think it was that the memo based on the documents that I read on which this is supposedly based is profoundly misleading. Now...
[22:10:00] COOPER: Misleading because I mean, the FBI is saying it's misleading because it ignores certain facts.
NADLER: I can't get into details on this. It's profoundly misleading based on the document -- based on the underlying documents.
Now, Wray comes out, the head of the FBI, and says that this I is -- that releasing of this would compromise classified information, which it would, although I'm not the judge of that. The FBI is the judge of that.
This would compromise classified information. He asked for the opportunity for the FBI to vet that for that purpose and was denied that. And it's not surprising that the head of the FBI would be concerned with compromising classified information.
What was shocking was that he was willing to go further and as the head of the FBI say that it is misleading for...
COOPER: Whatever is that.
NADLER: ... lack of context, but that it's misleading. He's seen the underlying documents. For the FBI to say not only that it's compromising classified information, but it's misleading, is really surprising.
I'd point out also that the republicans all criticized, said she should be locked up, Hillary Clinton, for being allegedly careless in handling classified information through e-mails. And here they are deliberately releasing classified information that the FBI says is -- would compromise our security.
COOPER: You know, I talked to Chairman Goodlatte earlier from the judiciary committee who said that this is the result, this memo is a result of a lengthy investigation by the republicans, by that committee. But when I talked to Congressman Hines, a democrat, he said there really has been no investigation. There have been no witnesses called, there been no, nobody from the FBI called in and confronted about this.
NADLER: Right. Yes. I think what Nunes, you said Chairman Nunes, right?
COOPER: No, I was talking to Chairman Goodlatte from the judiciary committee.
NADLER: Well, clearly -- I'm the ranking democrat in judiciary.
NADLER: We've had no hearings, we had no investigation. None on this. There was some -- there was one witness or two witnesses came in and testified in a confidential setting, not classified confidential, on things tangential to this. But we never really -- we never went into any of this stuff.
COOPER: I want to bring in the rest of our panelists. I know Gloria have some questions.
GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: Yes. Congressman, is it possible that the FBI did not conduct a totally by-the-books operation?
NADLER: Based on, well, I think they conducted a totally by-the-books operation and the burden of proof is on anyone to say they haven't. And if there's no evidence of that at all.
BORGER: You've seen the documents.
NADLER: I have.
BORGER: So why do you think Devin Nunes is doing this?
NADLER: Because he's willing to lie in order to obstruct the investigation. This is a very high-stakes game. We had an intervention in our election by the Russians, we had apparently collusion by people -- clearly collusion by some people in the Trump campaign with that. Starting with the president's son and Manafort, going to a meeting for the purpose of getting negative information on Hillary from the Russians.
That was why they went to the meeting. We know that the e-mails that are public. So there was that. It's got to be investigated to make sure to find out exactly what happened to make sure this doesn't happen again.
And we also know all of our intelligence agencies are telling us the Russians will do it again to our next election. They will sabotage our next elections. We have to protect ourselves. And we know from Sessions, we're doing nothing to protect ours ourselves. And we can't do anything to protect ourselves because the president won't admit the possibility that this is happening.
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Congressman, based on I know you can't disclose what's in the memo that you read, but base on your reading of it could you see it as a way to set up a pretext for removing Mr. Rosenstein? Does it appear to you to be constructed in that way?
NADLER: It could be. It could be use -- that's all I can say.
AXELROD: And do you anticipate bringing -- we now know the FBI director gave his opinion on this, this reporting in the Post says the DNI Dan Coates was opposed to this. The Justice Department has been public about their concerns. Do you anticipate represent the FBI director and others coming before your committee to -- are you going to ask for that?
NADLER: We already asked for it. We asked specifically in a committee hearing the other day, on I think Tuesday, that -- it was Tuesday. We asked that the committee go into executive session to discuss inviting the FBI director in front of us. We asked that in letters to the chairman.
The letters have been denied. The request through executive session has voted down on a party-line vote. I sent the letter today to Chairman Goodlatte asking that the FBI director be invited to the committee on a formal or informal basis, and I awaited response but based on the responses so far, it's going to be stonewalling.
[22:15:00] KIRSTEN POWERS, POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: I just think it's an incredible thing what you just said, Devin Nunes is essentially lying for the president, and, but it's not just him. It's all these other members of Congress as well.
NADLER: That's why I said that the republicans have crossed the Rubicon and become accomplices and complicit in this huge cover-u cover-up.
POWERS: So you're saying, because they basically led everyone to believe there's going to be something in this memo that's going to show that there's some sort of bias in the FBI and you're saying there's just absolutely nothing in the underlying documents that would suggest that there...
(CROSSTALK) NADLER: I'm saying the underlying documents, you will see that -- I'm
not saying there's nothing in the underlying documents. I'm saying if you read the underlying documents, you would see that is profoundly misleading.
BORGER: If you would, like, describe without giving us particulars about what you saw, would you say it's a bombshell, would you say the public would react in a -- with outrage? I mean, how would you...
NADLER: I think, my own personal opinion, is that people when they see this memo, a lot of people are going to react by saying, that's what it is?
COOPER: Gloria, you have some new reporting about the lead-up to this, the drumbeat.
BORGER: Right. I mean, there are people I'm told who are familiar with this process that are worried about just exactly what you're saying which is that this could be overhyped and that that's probably why the White House will send it back to Congress and let Congress release it. That the process has been so messy that it may not be as clear-cut as the people who originally talked to the president about it would have liked.
COOPER: Congressman, do you believe that Devin Nunes or his staffers have had contact with the White House or direction from the White House? Because...
NADLER: I don't -- I don't know, but I certainly suspect it.
COOPER: He was asked this question pointblank, he said he did not have contact, a member of his committee asked him, but when asked of staffers, he didn't answer the question.
NADLER: And, therefore, I suspect that they certainly did. Not only because of that, but because I think it's very evident that they're working hand in glove. But I can't prove that.
COOPER: Congressman Nadler, I appreciate your time. Thank you very much. Everyone else, we got to pick this up after a quick break. Two former federal prosecutors join us as well.
And later, House Speaker Ryan who has the power to stop the memo coming out but is not. We'll look closer how he got on board with it and why even some republicans are questioning the speaker's decision.
[22:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
COOPER: With the Nunes memo expected out tomorrow, and Washington already pretty hyped up about it. Fired FBI Director James Comey is weighing in, tweeting quote, "All should appreciate the FBI speaking up. I wish more of our leaders would. Take heart. American history shows that in the long run weasels and liars never hold the field so long as good people stand up. Not a lot of schools or streets named for Joe McCarthy."
Back now with the panel. Joining us is former RNC chief of staff, Mike Shields. Also, former New Jersey attorney general and former federal prosecutor Anne Milgram. And Michael Zeldin, former special assistant to Robert Mueller at the Justice Department, as well as Kirsten Powers and David Axelrod and Gloria Borger.
Michael Zeldin, you see the tweet there from James Comey on the eve of what we believe to be the release of this. Does it feel to you like a spurious attack on the FBI?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: The Nunes...
ZELDIN: ... memo is a spurious attack, a politically motivated spurious attack on the FBI that is unnecessary for the redress that he says needs to be happening.
COOPER: What the republicans are saying is, look, this is about educating the American people, the American people need to know what's going onn at the highest levels of the FBI.
ZELDIN: Right. So there are two ways to do that, you can invite the inspector general to investigate those improprieties or you can hold oversight hearings and, in fact, FBI Director Wray asked to brief the full committee in closed-door session to answer any and all questions with respect to their concerns about the issuance of this FISA warrant that they're so worried about and they declined that opportunity.
So there are opportunities here to gather the information. These memoranda, because the underlying classified information that gave rise to them will never be distributed. Do not provide that education that you hope for.
COOPER: Mike, why not do what Michael Zeldin was...
MIKE SHIELDS, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: You know, it's interesting to me about the FISA law, so the FISA law was something that Devin Nunes actually worked on and at the time that it came up, a lot of democrats opposed it, right? It was something that became a partisan fight about FISA.
And republicans said, look, when there's abuses of FISA, we need -- don't worry, we're going to call it out. So Devin Nunes has been working to call out abuses of the FISA law. There have been other examples where they've tried to bring DOJ and FBI witnesses up and Schiff has fought it. He doesn't want this to happen. And so the partisan nature of this committee, I think we have to talk about how partisan...
(CROSSTALK) COOPER: No, I get that, but to Mike -- right.
SHIELDS: Adam Schiff is being...
COOPER: To Michael's point about the inspector general as being one avenue to address this or have open hearings and call in...
SHIELDS: Yes, look, I understand that. When you have a broken committee that is as leaky and as a clown show that I would call it that Adam Schiff is running, they took a vote in the committee. By the way, a vote did happen amongst elected members of Congress to do this and send it to the White House.
There's a process that is legal that is going through that is the way to do this if you want to do it. And as we talked about before, that happened with the torture memo on the Senate side with democrats when they were in charge. They took a vote and said we're putting it out.
And so, look, in the end there will be a big debate about this. The left is going to look at it one way, the right is going to look at it another way. There will be a memo from the democrats and there will be a big public debate about it.
ZELDIN: It doesn't help our national interest to have that debate. Because if you're a foreign intelligence officer in the great -- in Great Britain or in France or Australia or any place else and you think, well, I'm thinking about sharing information, but wait a second, maybe I shouldn't be sharing that information because this could be the end result of it.
It gets put into a political -- I can't say that word, political process, and, therefore, we're not going to participate with you. There are very severe consequences...
COOPER: Anne, how concerned are you about the memo's release?
ANNE MILGRAM, FORMER NEW JERSEY ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm unbelievably concerned about it. And I think there's sort of two levels to think about. First, we are talking about classified information, and exactly as was just said, how we gather that information which we do not release publicly, first of all.
The second piece is that I think it's really important to remember that the memo is not facts. It's one person version of facts. And if we go back to why and how FISA warrants are issued, this is when we come to Rosenstein, this is probably the third approval of a FISA warrant, where to get through this process you have to go through extraordinary levels of showing evidence, about someone, about having probable cause that here Carter Page was a part of -- was an accessory to the Russian government.
[22:25:09] And so, we're really we're starting with this conversation about the memo, but to me, it is critically important that we have the conversation about what would have been truly outrageous here, in my view, as a former prosecutor, is if we didn't actually do a FISA warrant on someone who is known to have been a target of the Russians, who wanted him to become a spy, who continually had business dealings, who was constantly in Russia.
He was a senior member of a campaign who'd already provided public information but had provided information to the Russians.
BORGER: And you know, Carter Page was kind of had a pre-existing condition here, Carter Page had been surveilled before this renewal of this.
MILGRAM: Yes. And warned by the FBI that he was a target.
BORGER: And warned by the FBI. So the renewal of this surveillance which is what the FISA court does, the renewal of this was not -- was not something that was so extraordinary that they just initiated it. I mean, this is somebody they had been looking at and had reason to believe they should continue to look at.
MILGRAM: What's also really important about the renewal is you can't get a renewal based on the original evidence. The only way to get a renewal is to show that during that 90-day period, there has been evidence that it is, in fact, true that someone is basically essentially turned or being turned by another -- by a foreign government.
COOPER: But that seems, Kirsten, to be part of the allegation here is that the evidence -- I mean, again, I haven't seen this memo nor the underlying intelligence. But the reports that have come out is that questions about the use of the so-called Steele dossier without a description of the origins of the Steele dossier given to the judges.
POWERS: Yes. I mean, we're really hamstrung because we don't actually know what's going to be in it. And we're getting reports I've talked to people who have talked to people in Nunes' office, they say it's going to show some broad pattern that goes way beyond the things that we're talking about.
So, you know, I asked Congressman Nadler about that, like is there any possibility that there is some sort of bias? He didn't dismiss the idea that there might be some bias over there.
The problem is, is you know, you're sort of dismissing it like, well, it's such a clown show, but there's nothing really stopping the republicans, forget the democrat, the republicans from actually letting, for example, the Department of Justice despond to the accusations. That would be the basic part of an investigation, right?
AXELROD: Well, I mean, this is the thing that kind of undercuts the - this is just a partisan scrum argument. When you have the president's own appointee as director of the FBI, when you have his Justice Department and when you have his director of national intelligence all urging the president not to release this memo, then it's more than a partisan scrum. It's a national security concern. SHIELDS: Right, but that's why you would think democrats would want
more oversight and, yet, Schiff tries to stop oversight of FISA abuses over and over again on that committee for partisan reasons. That's a fact.
ZELDIN: That's beside the point of what we're talking about. We're talking about whether or not in the application, in the renewal of a FISA warrant on a specific individual there was an abuse of process. That's what this is about. And what they're concern is...
SHIELDS: We think.
ZELDIN: Well, that's what Nunes has said publicly. What we're really faced with is the reality that they don't like the Steele dossier and they want to try to discredit it because that has implications for the Mueller investigation.
The one point that we need to understand about the FISA court is that they don't take raw intelligence as the basis for a finding of probable cause, so the Steele dossier, irrespective of who paid for it, was a raw intelligence document.
And these prosecutors are going to scrub it, corroborate it, and make it so that probable cause can support it. And if you look at the testimony in the 702 renewal, you'll see that the majority of the House subcommittee on intelligence said these are like the best of the best of the judges appointed by the chief justice of the United States for particularly reviewing this type of probable cause. You don't get a chance to...
COOPER: Yes. We got to take a quick break. We're going to have more with the panel ahead.
Up next, what Ambassador James Woolsey has to say about the intelligence community concerns over this memo as a former CIA director and a former senior Trump adviser. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[22:30:00] ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN: It looks like the concerns of the intelligence community including the president's own choice for FBI director probably won't be enough to keep the Nunes memo from seeing the light of day. A senior administration official says the White House will tell Congress, quote, "probably tomorrow," when, quote, "that the president is OK with it."
Joining me now is former CIA Director James Woolsey. Director Woolsey was a senior Trump adviser. So, Director, do you believe the White House should sign off on releasing the memo despite what the FBI says of grave concerns.
JAMES WOOLSEY, FORMER DIRECTOR OF CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: It depends entirely on sources and methods. That's what's at risk when something is disclosed in intelligence. That you lose an agent, somebody gets killed, or you lose a telecommunications link that you penetrated that nobody knows about.
On the other hand, you have the public's right to now, and this is an important public issue. So, those two tendencies or judgments conflict. And you got to decide how to handle the conflict. I think -- I haven't heard anything so far about a really careful review of any damage to maintaining sources and methods.
COOPER: It's interesting, though, the...
WOOLSEY: Being undertaken. Go ahead.
COOPER: It's interesting, though, the FBI, it doesn't seem it's just about sources and methods, that's something that theoretically could be redacted. The FBI put out this extraordinary statement saying that it's the omissions of facts that basically create a misleading picture.
If that is, in fact, true, and you know, to your point, the public deserves the right to be educated about what's going on, if it is, in fact, a misleading picture, and the democratic response is not being released at the same time, is that appropriate?
WOOLSEY: Well, it's entirely appropriate for them to express their views. It's a free country, but this decision is the president's. He's the ultimate classification authority. And I think that if he decided for whatever reason, that if it should or should not be disclosed, he's within his rights.
COOPER: So, clearly he's within his rights under the law. But just as a matter of principle, if the president's making that decision, which according to our reporting and first of all from the Washington Post the president decides to release this before he even read about it, just as soon after her heard the existence of the memo, watched a lot on cable television.
[22:35:04] But if the president told friends and advisers as we've been reporting that he believes it will have an impact on the Mueller investigation, that it will perhaps weaken confidence in it, or raise questions or doubt about it, is that -- does that -- does that raise any concerns with you? It's certainly legal for him to do it for whatever reason, but is that a proper reason?
WOOLSEY: He can have whatever reason he wants as long as he's not breaking the law and as long as, I think, the judgment serves a real purpose, either to improve thoroughness with which somebody could understand what's going on or to hide something because disclosure would damage sources and methods. The president can have any reason he wants. This is his turf.
COOPER: But if it misleads the public, you say, you know, it's educating the public, if it's actually misleading the public, or -- is that -- is that fine? WOOLSEY: I don't see how he gets that authority taken away from him,
and misleading, you've got to, I think, look at the whole document. And somebody who does this all the time looking at questions about sources and methods decides whether or not the intelligence capability of the country will be damaged, or on the other hand, not be damaged. And that to me, is the only major issue. The rest of this is kind of down in the grass.
COOPER: Does it -- does it concern you at all that the person behind this memo is House intelligence committee Chairman Devin Nunes? This is the man who after it was revealed that he orchestrated basically what seemed to be a stunt with the White House back in March regarding classified information had to recuse himself from his own Russia investigation until late last year. Do you have concerns about where this is stemming from?
WOOLSEY: This is not where the judgment comes in. If his colleagues don't agree with Mr. Nunes, they could try, I suppose, to vote to replace him as chairman. There are measures that can be taken in the Congress if a member is not behaving properly.
They're complicated and they're not easy, but I don't think you depart from them because somebody has said they are troubled. There has to, I think, be some type of serious problem with respect to sources and methods. Before you come in, try to come in from the outside and it's not clear where that would be from.
WOOLSEY: And say, OK, you don't get to be chairman anymore or whatever.
COOPER: Director Woolsey, I appreciate your time. Thank you.
Coming up, we're going to expand on this with the panel as well as the breaking news from the Washington Post about the president's eagerness to put the memo out. We'll be right back.
[22:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
COOPER: Just to quickly refresh you on the breaking news, the Washington Post reporting the president was eager after watching cable news and talking to conservative lawmakers to make the Nunes memo public even before he's actually read is.
Some of the reporting tracking (Ph) with our Gloria Borger who's bringing us today. Back now with the panel.
Michael Zeldin, you were listening to former CIA Director Woolsey who was basically saying unless this is critical -- unless this is revealing sources and methods, there's nothing -- sounded like he was basically saying there's nothing, no reason the president shouldn't be able to release this.
MICHAEL ZELDIN, LEGAL ANALYST, CNN: Right. Which I found to be stunning for an intelligence officer because this is that which compromises the entire national security apparatus that we have come to rely upon. Countries rely on our integrity.
Remember what happens when the president shared Israeli intelligence on ISIS with the Russians, what a big dustup that was, and whether or not they would continue to share because of that mistake.
This is not dissimilar to that. We are going to potentially share opinions about how intelligence was gathered in a FISA application against an American who is accused of associating with people against our interest. It's just not acceptable to say it's in his constitutional right to do so and if sources and methods aren't revealed, let's have at it. It's just not acceptable.
GLORIA BORGER, CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: But let's say, as Mike points out, let's say that there needs to be some revisions in how FISA -- the FISA court works and how the whole process is managed. I mean, let's just...
ZELDIN: Or that there are abuses.
BORGER: Or there are abuses. Let's just stipulate that. That doesn't erase the fact that the president, himself, is telling friends that this is going to help me and that that's his reason for doing it because it's going to hamstring or delegitimize or destabilize the Mueller investigation.
And he has a way to go after Mueller without going after Mueller directly because he's going -- he's going after the investigators who work for Mueller, the investigation and he doesn't have to stick his finger in the eye of Bob Mueller, personally.
So from the president's point of view, it's more personal than it is about anything else.
DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: I was interested in what Congressman Nadler had to say about the memo which he's read, and that it might be to make the case that Rosenstein should be removed because one way to limit this investigation would be to remove him and put someone else in charge of that investigation.
COOPER: For those who don't know, he's the number-two man at the Department of Justice.
MIKE SHIELDS, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, CNN: Right. But now we're speculating that the president is going to fire people based on...
AXELROD: Who can imagine him doing something like that?
SHIELDS: Well, but my point is -- right. And so why don't we bring this up as a topic and make a partisan hit out of the fact, you know, the memo we haven't seen yet, let's talk about the things the president might do with that memo. I mean, look, the president is clearly frustrated there are things he
thought went on in the Hillary Clinton campaign that were not investigated. And by the way, a lot of people on Capitol Hill are frustrated with that, too.
And so, you know, shocking that we've gotten to a place now where this is turned into such a partisan football that we do speculation that we haven't had any evidence of collusion, and now people are saying it's not about collusion...
AXELROD: I don't understand what the Hillary Clinton -- but I don't understand, Michael, the Hillary Clinton matter has to do with this issue. That's not what this memo is about.
SHIELDS: No, what I'm saying is...
AXELROD: That's what I'm talking about.
AXELROD: I'm not talking about anything else.
SHIELDS: I know. But you're making an assumption and I'm trying to challenge that assumption.
KIRSTEN POWERS, POLITICAL ANALYST, CNN: But I also think that there is, you know, at least from the people I've talked to, they believe that this partisan bias isn't just against Trump. That it's actually in favor of Hillary Clinton.
You know, so that's a broader thing. Look, I have just a slightly different view on it. I actually don't think there's any problem with criticizing the FBI or the DOJ. I don't think they're above reproach. They have done bad things. And they are people. And people do bad things.
[22:45:00] It is entirely possible that there's partisanship there. We don't know that there is. We don't know that there isn't. The problem is this investigation that we had Congressman Goodlatte explaining to you, I mean, it's just, it's laughable.
COOPER: There wasn't an investigation.
POWERS: And the Washington Post report that we're referencing says the president first became aware of it January 18th. It's February 1st. Like, how -- not enough time has passed to have a real investigation.
AXELROD: And, as has been mentioned, there are forums including the committees, themselves, in which the FBI director could be brought in and others could be brought in, and...
COOPER: Right, in fact, I mean, the FBI, I mean, Chris Wray wanted people from the FBI to appear before the House intelligence committee and the republicans on that committee said no.
ANNE MILGRAM, FORMER NEW JERSEY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes, very much so. I mean, he's asked for the opportunity, and, in fact, he's made a statement which is an extraordinary thing for the director of the FBI. The head of the national security division has made a statement saying there have been no abuses. Also an extraordinary thing.
I think it's important when we watch Director Woolsey and we think about this that, I agree it's legal that the president can declassify this. There's no question that it's lawful. But one of the things I think is particularly troubling here, is that we're talking about a FISA warrant, someone who works for the president as part of the campaign and the president as the subject of a criminal investigation that's ongoing that relates to this.
And he's personally very invested in the outcome of all of those things. And so it does feel to me as, you know, in addition to compromising national security and intelligence, it also does strike me as, you know, we're not -- the way the director described it made it seem like it was sort of the president was an objective arbitrator in this and really it's not. He's judge and jury. And he's personally invested in the outcome of this. I think...
ZELDIN: So you add the two points of, one, the Devin Nunes' staff seems to have been coordinating with the White House on the drafting of the memorandum, and to Ggloria's point, the president has been, to our reporting, telling friends that one of the by-products of the release of this is going to be that it provides a basis to tarnish the Mueller investigation.
So, to exactly your point, he doesn't come into this with clean hands. It's a personal decision over a national security interest which is what I found so problematic about Woolsey, he didn't say, you know what, the president in this case is putting personal interest above national security interests and as much as I love the president, I just can't as a career intelligence officer accept that. That's what he should have said.
COOPER: We got to take a quick break. Coming up, why the White House -- why the House Speaker Paul Ryan is going along with the release of the memo chorus. What he said today. And our panel weighs in.
[22:50:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
COOPER: As we've been reporting House Speaker Paul Ryan is fully onboard with releasing the Nunes memo high pressure. Here is what he said at the republican retreat in West Virginia today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL RYAN, UNITED STATES SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This memo is not indictment of the FBI, of the Department of Justice, it does not impugn the Mueller investigation or the deputy attorney general.
What it is, is the Congress' legitimate function of oversight to make sure that the FISA process is being used correctly and that if it wasn't being used correctly that needs to come to light and people need to be held accountable so that we do not have problems again. Because this does affect our civil liberties.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Back with the panel. Mike, if this is the way oversight is supposed to be done and executed, how come this is so extraordinarily rare that the only time that I mean, anybody in the last couple of hours I've been asking can think of is when democrats released against over the objection of republicans, the so-called torture memos.
SHIELDS: Yes. I think two reasons. First of all, well we don't know. I think we need to see the memo before we can start answering the questions. Hopefully the memo, the material in the memo will explain some of the reasons why it was done this way.
And if that can't be satisfied then you better believe that the people released it are going to be criticized by everybody for there not being enough material for this other than being released for what's being sort of -- sort of a theorized here.
COOPER: Because I mean, oversight has been done for decades by committees legitimate oversight and it's done in a much different process.
SHIELDS: Right but this one goes through what is the intelligence committee, which has become unfortunately, it used that the intelligence committee was actually one of the most bipartisan committee because it's so much about national security and now it's turned into a completely partisan committee where there is this fighting.
And it was partisan when that -- that was one of the shocking things about that torture memo where the democrats put theirs out and the republicans put theirs out. Because that's one of the first times we've seen how partisan the intelligence committee could be. It really hadn't happened that way before.
AXELROD: Mike, why didn't they -- why didn't the republican chairman of the House intelligence committee -- why was he not willing to share the memo with the republican chairman of the Senate intelligence committee?
SHIELDS: You and I neither one of us knows the answer. What I'm trying to tell you...
AXELROD: I know but it doesn't seem like a partisan dispute.
SHIELDS: Sure. What I'm trying to tell you is that we are now in a zone where there are leaks, where this being used as a partisan football where democrats seem to want to get a political advantage over republicans.
So perhaps the chairman said, you know what, this is something we need to get out there before I start handing out to a dozen people where they just turn it into something that it's not. We'll find out when the memo -- I don't know...
AXELROD: So you think Senator McCrory a guy from his own party would do that? I can't believe it.
SHIELDS: Or the staffs or the democrat staffs on the committee? Look, I don't know the answer to that.
BORGER: And remember the president had those confusing tweets. Because he was against it before he was for it. That morning. And it sent Congress sort of concurring about it and maybe this is what was on his mind when he was sort of confusing what it was. And so if you want to have the debate on FISA and this particular section have the debate.
COOPER: But he only learned about it from the Washington Post. The 18th. I mean, the time now all just blends together.
COOPER: I can't remember when the FISA.
BORGER: I can't either. But I think this may have been a part of it because he has felt maligned.
SHIELDS: Yes. And look the issue of FISA like I said before. Republicans are for fight, I left hearing the defense of the FISA legislation. We had to fight democrats to get it done, and so it's one of the interesting changes in this.
Suddenly now -- suddenly now journalists and democrats are not for sharing information. And we're talking -- we're saying things like protecting sources. Those are the sort of things republicans say when we don't want intelligence to be leaked through the New York Times and other publication that might damage national security.
Democrats are so partisan about it that they switched positions purely because they try to attack the president of the United States on this which makes republicans do think...
COOPER: But it does -- but it does seem though everybody has switched. I mean, like the republicans -- this is not the Republican Party... (CROSSTALK)
SHIELDS: Yes, I don't disagree with that. I don't disagree with that. So that's why I start calling things a circus. Because that becomes the answer to a lot of weird questions we had.
COOPER: January 11th by the way the president's tweet about the FISA thing. It was before that.
BORGER: Yes. It might be on his mind.
AXELROD: No, I think the circus thing, I think it's an important thing to remember. Because I do think that part of the strategy of the White House is to try and turn the entire discussion into a partisan circus.
So, if there is a bad result from the special counselor or if he wants to fight against a request -- the request to sit down with the special counsel.
[22:54:58] AXELROD: He can say I'm not doing this because it's part of a partisan circus.
SHIELDS: And their amateur in this White House compared the Clinton White House was going after Ken Starr with many of the members of the Congress that are democrats were still in congress. So they've learned the play book...
BORGER: Well, but they understand from Ken Starr that a special counsel has to have public opinion with him. And what they're trying to do is destabilize the special counsel so he doesn't have public opinion with him.
I mean, Bob Mueller is a hard guy to attack because he is so silent and so well respected. So you attack everything else. And you kind of muddy the waters that way. They want to -- you know, they -- when he finally issues whatever he issues or goes and asks Donald Trump to sit down with him or subpoenas him or what -- they want to raise all these -- all these questions about Mueller without -- without raising questions about the man himself.
ZELDIN: So quickly back to one second, to Ryan's statements, he made three statements. He said this is about oversight. And it's not. I think we fairly discussed that this is not an oversight process. He said this is not an attack on the FBI. The director of the FBI says it is.
He says this is not about attacking Mueller. But the president says it is. So it's just not acceptable to anyone who disagree with that point of view to let it be out there. It's a problem.
COOPER: We got to -- we got to take a quick break. Again, more news ahead. We'll be right back. Thank you -- that's it. This is it for us. That's it for us. Thanks for watching 360.
Jim Sciutto with Pam Brown is up next with a CNN special report. More news ahead.
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