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AT THIS HOUR

FBI to Austin Serial Bomber: "Talk to Us"; Trump Steps Up Attacks on Mueller, FBI, Justice Department; Lisa Monaco: Firing McCabe Ahead of I.G. Report a Major Breach of Protocol; Lawmakers Demand Answers over Misuse of Facebook Data; Interview with Rep. Jim Himes. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired March 19, 2018 - 11:30   ET

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


[11:30:00] JAMES GAGLIANO, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: They have got a signature here that tells them that the trip-wire-activated device was the same as the package activated device. Now, they got to do a lot of forensic evidence, harvesting here, and then try to, again, make sure they reach out to the public. This is a post-9/11 world, Dana. We can no longer walk around oblivious or in condition white, as we say in the police lexicon, meaning you're unaware of your surroundings. If this bomber put this device out and just was tempting to select a target of opportunity, this could have happened to a young child, this could have happened to anybody. So we got to have folks be our eyes and ears. If you see something, say something. Reach out to law enforcement if anything looks out of place.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: I can't imagine how terrifying it is. The first thing that comes to my mind is what it was like here in D.C. during the sniper, all those years ago. And it really is terrifying, especially when you're thinking about things like small children just playing in the grass if there is a trip wire there.

Thank you so much for your insights and your expertise. Appreciate that, James.

GAGLIANO: Thanks, Dana.

BASH: Coming up, raging against the special counsel. President Trump, for first time, attacking Robert Mueller by name. Details ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:35:20] BASH: President Trump is giving oxygen to concerns on Capitol Hill that he could fire the special counsel in charge of the Russia probe. For the first time, Trump called out Robert Mueller by name as he railed against his team of investigators and questioned the fairness of the investigation. The weekend explosion of angry tweets is fueling concerns that the president could trigger a constitutional crisis by forcing Mueller's firing.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is at the White House.

And, Jeremy, you're getting information about what the president is telling his friends and allies about what triggered his tweet storm this weekend. What are you hearing?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right. Well, the president often spends his weekends and his evenings phoning friends and allies outside the White House to vent his frustrations to get some advice. This weekend, he was doing that in the wake of the firing of deputy FBI director -- former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. The president telling friends and allies that -- he was both boasting about the firing of Andrew McCabe, but also venting his frustrations at the ongoing and apparently intensifying investigation by the special counsel Robert Mueller. We saw much of that, frankly, play out in public view on the president's Twitter account all weekend, prompting some concerns from Republicans, particularly as he vented those concerns about Robert Mueller's investigation and sought to really undermine perhaps the very foundation of that investigation.

We saw the president on Twitter this morning, continuing with that tirade. Tweeting this morning, "A total witch-hunt with massive conflicts of interests." And as I mentioned, this is prompting some concerns about Republicans on Capitol Hill who do want Robert Mueller's investigation to continue -- Dana?

BASH: It sure is. Obviously, because the president is so transparent, really is, on his Twitter feed, it seems pretty clear that the subpoena to the Trump Organization didn't go over well in the West Wing, and particularly with the president himself.

Jeremy, thank you so much for that report.

We'll have much more on what this all means for the investigation and for the Trump White House after a quick break. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:41:50] BASH: Welcome back. There is a lot to break down after a wild, I should say, another wild weekend of the president on his Twitter, talking about Robert Mueller.

I want to talk to our panel here, Seth Waxman, a criminal defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, CNN's senior political analyst, Mark Preston.

Hi, guys. Thank you so much for coming in.

And, Mark, I want to ask you, let's talk about this notion through the prism of the Trump universe. Let's just say that Donald Trump fires Robert Mueller.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right.

BASH: What would the ramifications really be, the political and, you know, sort of constitutional ramifications? Would there be very many?

PRESTON: Let's first say that I think he could actually get to the point of having Robert Mueller fired. Now, he wouldn't necessarily do it, and the attorney general wouldn't necessarily do it because he's recused himself. First of all, the president can't do it. The attorney general has recused himself. It would fall to Rod Rosenstein. Let's assume that he wouldn't do it. Then it falls to Rachel Brand, except Rachel Brand doesn't work there anymore because she decided she couldn't deal with this anymore. And it would just keep sliding down to finally somebody would have to step up.

Here's the thing. If you asked me this question 30 days ago, I would say I don't think he could get away with it. I think he would get away with it now.

BASH: Why?

PRESTON: Because it comes down to timing at this point. If he were to do it and he were to grasp on to any little bit, any little bit of misconduct by that office, then I think he could get away with it. If he were to do it just flat-out because they were getting close to him, then I don't think he could get away with it. But with this president, he can very much do anything, Dana, as we know.

BASH: So let me -- we should say, for the record, that I have not talked to anybody close to him who thinks it is a good idea to fire Robert Mueller.

PRESTON: Absolutely not.

BASH: And I'm sure you have heard the same thing from your sources.

PRESTON: Of course.

BASH: Seth Waxman, one of the things that the president is attacking Robert Mueller, again, by name, for the first time over the weekend, about is that he stacked his team, he called them hardened Democrats, like, the way you describe criminals, right, hardened Democrats. Fact check, true or false?

SETH WAXMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY & FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I think there are a number of Democrats or people who contributed to the Democratic campaigns of public officials, however, look at Bob Mueller himself. He was a Republican. The idea this is some political entity that is on a witch-hunt for the president, that just speaks against everything that Bob Mueller stood for. The people that are working for him are career prosecutors that have been doing this for maybe five, 10, 20 years, that pride themselves on their integrity and have a reputation they built not only through this investigation, but after relying on that reputation into the future. So the notion that, you know this is a political witch-hunt, all staffed by Democrats, I can tell you, having worked at the Justice Department, I couldn't have told you a -- maybe except for my one or two closest associates or friends, what the political leanings of any of my colleagues were. It just wasn't something that came up. It wasn't part of the conversation. It never, in my experience, played into a single case that was prosecuted.

BASH: And, Mark, the president clearly got his back up, and then some, by the subpoenas going to his company, to the Trump Organization, from Robert Mueller's team, something that he called a red line at least probing his financial -- financial situation. We don't know if that's exactly what they're looking for, but they're looking for everything. When he says "witch-hunt," he's obviously trying to taint the jury and, in this case, the jury is the court of public opinion. He's trying to galvanize people who aren't already by his side to come to his side and then against Robert Mueller.

[11:45:30] PRESTON: Right, right. Absolutely. Look, what he not doing is he's doing a dog whistle, and a dog whistle is a very low tone that is sent out to your supporters, right. Your supporters --

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: This is a bullhorn.

PRESTON: This is a bullhorn. This is a bullhorn. It is actually effective on his part. The reason being, we all know that people look at Washington, they believe it is a swamp, and they're correct. They see what the approval rating is for members of Congress, whether you're a Democrat or Republican, and you're in the high teens at best right now. So for him to say it is a witch-hunt, you have all of this questioning right now with the establishment and institutions at this point, that's why I think he could potentially get away with this.

BASH: I don't want to end this conversation without talking about Andrew McCabe, the deputy FBI director until last -- this past Friday, when the president fired him. A lot of controversy around that. I was talking to Lisa Monaco, in the Obama administration, and worked for Robert Mueller at the FBI and has a lot of experience at Justice, who said, just in terms of the basics of the process, this inspector general report, which has been going on, a report into the conduct of Andrew McCabe and others with the Clinton probe, isn't public. It is not officially over. And firing him before that is a major breach of protocol. What do you think?

WAXMAN: Yes. Lisa and I worked together years ago here in the U.S. attorney's office in D.C. And it is just that. The idea that this report has come out and -- has not come out publicly and these actions have been taken. I mean, if Andrew McCabe had, you know, given the Russian codes over, the bomb codes over to the Russians and done something that, you know, required existential circumstances, we got to get him out of office today, and on the 11th hour before he's set to retire and get his pension, that had to happen because lives were at stake, sure, I guess we could all understand and appreciate that. But this activity, you know, harkens back to 2016, where two FBI agents supposedly kind of got a reporter up to speed on the true narrative of a story going to be published. That's a year and a half later. And the idea that had to happen on the eve of his, you know, retirement, when his pension was in play, just, you know, speaks -- the atmospherics of that is vindictiveness and political retribution.

BASH: Look, and the fact is we don't have all the facts.

WAXMAN: That's correct.

BASH: We know what he's saying. We know what the president is saying. We don't have the facts which is -- speaks to the question of, why now, why not wait until we have -- (CROSSTALK)

WAXMAN: We're working in a vacuum --

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: Exactly.

Seth Waxman, Mark Preston, thank you so much.

And coming up, from Wall Street to Capitol Hill, Facebook is getting hit from all sides as investors, lawmakers and users demand answers over a major data scandal. That's next.

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[11:52:30] BASH: Facebook is facing questions from politicians in the U.S. and the U.K. after the news broke that a data firm linked to the Trump presidential campaign got access to personal information of about 50 million Facebook users in violation of the site's policies. They suspended Cambridge Analytica, the net firm who had been hired by the Trump campaign. They suspended a whistleblower, Christopher Wiley, who was a data analyst for the company. Cambridge Analytica denies any wrongdoing.

Joining me to discuss this and more is Democratic Congressman Jim Himes, of Connecticut, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Thanks for being here. Nice to see you in person.

REP. JIM HIMES, (D), CONNECTICUT: Thanks, Dana.

BASH: Let's start with Facebook. Your Democratic colleague in the Senate, Amy Klobuchar, has said Mark Zuckerberg, the head of Facebook, should come before the Judiciary Committee. He hasn't appeared before Congress at all about what happened in 2016. Why is he getting a pass?

HIMES: I agree with the Senate, he should come. He is ultimately accountable for the actions of his company and he should come. Of course, if he comes, he'll come with all the executives and general counsels and everything, so he'll get benefit of that advise. But Facebook, like so many of our social media and tech companies generally, they are in the midst of a transformation from a world they lived in three years ago. I remember this. I was a tech banker a long time ago. It was total Libertarianism. We're just a platform, it doesn't matter what people do in our platform. Obviously, the Russian attack on our election -- and Facebook's rule, and there's a story to be told in the near future about the kinds of ads that were run on Facebook. They've come to realize that they do, in fact, have some responsibilities, but I'm not sure that's sunk in to the extent it needs to.

BASH: But has it sunk in with Congress? It's one thing for Facebook not to want to be policed. It's understandable if it's their business mode, particularly if their philosophy is Libertarian. But given what happened in 2016, isn't it up to Congress to do this? And let me ask you, do you think that the fact that Zuckerberg and other executives at Facebook have been quite generous to Democrats and Republicans in political campaigns has anything to do with it?

HIMES: I don't think the second part is a big consideration here. Like every other major corporation, they're giving lots of money to both sides. I don't think that has an impact on the policy, or much of an impact.

What I will tell you is you raised a very difficult question. So in other words, Congress has passed laws about how you finance elections. If somebody buys an ad on Facebook, that's election spending, and the laws exist. Where it gets really touchy -- and this is why it's a really hard problem and why the responsibility I think lies with Facebook to have good policies and the American people to be smart about where they send their information -- you're talking about free speech here. Congress can't step in and say, you should say this, you shouldn't say that. So you get into areas where, constitutionally, Congress shouldn't be acting.

(CROSSTALK)

[11:55:25] BASH: I understand.

HIMES: I think it's really about these social media companies realizing they have a responsibility to be good citizens.

BASH: That makes sense. It's a very touchy and delicate dance.

Just on how this relates to Russia, my understanding is the Trump campaign data director told your committee that they, the Trump campaign, didn't use any Cambridge Analytica data in 2016. Are you satisfied with that answer based on what you've seen?

HIMES: I can't really discuss what was said behind closed doors in the committee from any particular witness. I will tell you that the probability that the Mercer spending -- and Mercer, of course, are funders of conservative candidates and they were 100 percent behind Donald Trump. Steve Bannon, of course, an owner of Cambridge Analytica, that work was used. By whom and when, I'm not sure, but that work was used.

BASH: You don't -- OK. Let's shift to Bob Mueller and the president's attack on him this weekend. You tweeted this on Saturday, "As Real Donald Trump floats around in his snow globe of chaos, crassness and corruption, it is time for every member of Congress to prepare to create a statutory special prosecutor if Mueller is fired."

Since then, the House speaker has said Mr. Mueller and his team should be able to do their job. Is that reassurance enough for you?

HIMES: No, far from it. Far from it. The usual cast suspects, casts and characters have said something. John McCain, Jeff Flake, the speaker, kind of a watered-down statement relative to the threat this represents to the integrity of the rule of law in this country. The sad fact, Dana, is -- and I'm about to go there right now -- the sad fact is that the majority party in both chambers of the Congress are not yet ready to step up with a statutory protection for Bob Mueller. They would regard that as a punch in the face to the president at a time when many of them are facing primary elections.

BASH: Would you put your money where your mouth is? Would you demand that this statutory defense of Mueller, putting it into the law, be part of the government funding? Meaning that the government could shut down unless the Republicans and Democrats in Congress agree to do this, yes or no?

HIMES: Well, probably not in my own case. Look, I get it. This is the one piece of must-pass legislation. Dana, I'm not a fan of saying, I'm going to shut down the government if I don't get what I want. We accused the Republicans of doing this back in the Obama administration. Of course, now we're in a position to do it. Social Security checks need to go out, law enforcement must be funded. This is a moment in time where the American people need to demand of their representatives that they protect Bob Mueller.

BASH: Congressman Himes, thank you so much. Appreciate you coming in.

HIMES: Thanks, Dana.

BASH: Nice to see you.

President Trump is set to unveil his new plan to fight the opioid crisis, which includes the death penalty for some drug dealers. Those details, coming up.

[12:00:05] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

The president leaves this hour for New Hampshire. The policy goal? To discuss the war on opioids. The political backdrop?