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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Government Shutdown Continues; FBI Investigated Whether Trump Was Russian Asset. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired January 14, 2019 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good news, everybody. The president of the United States says he does not work for Russia.
THE LEAD starts right now.
President Trump forced to deny he's not a puppet for Vladimir Putin, after revelations about what the FBI feared and what President Trump may not be telling us hit a surreal new level.
Does furlough mean vacation in Russian? As every day of the shutdown now sets a new national record, the White House makes a stunningly out-of-touch statement about the thousands of Americans who are not being paid.
Plus, he hid her under the bed for hours at a time, a sick plan revealed in court, as the man accused of kidnapping a teenager and murdering her parents faces the judge live this hour.
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin with our politics lead today.
Today, the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, denied ever working for Russia, a real statement, one President Trump did not answer definitively over the weekend when speaking to his favorite television channel, thus necessitating that he was asked again today by a member of the White House press corps.
The question, which the president called a disgrace, came in response to an extraordinary revelation first reported by "The New York Times," that the FBI during the Trump presidency was so alarmed by the president's actions, officials there opened a counterintelligence investigation to explore whether President Trump was secretly working for the Russians against American interests, either knowingly or unwittingly.
Now, this fact, this investigation is now being used as proof by the president's defenders of political bias at the FBI. And it does sound extreme. A counterintelligence investigation into the president of the United States?
But from the perspective of the FBI, consider the following. In 2016, Russian hackers targeted the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton. President Trump publicly asked Russia, if they were listening, he hoped that they could find Hillary Clinton's e-mails.
The president hired Paul Manafort as his campaign chairman, Manafort, someone with strong ties to pro-Russian Ukrainians and a Russian oligarch who's friends with Putin. Manafort, the president's son-in- law, Jared Kushner, and his son Donald Trump Jr. met at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer who had promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.
And then, in 2017, the FBI was investigating all of this when all of a sudden the president fired the FBI director, citing -- quote -- "this Russia thing," and then shortly afterwards, in an Oval Office meeting with Russian officials, talked about how pressure was off him now that Comey had been fired.
And that's just a sampling. I didn't even mention Michael Flynn or all the others who had contacts with the Russians and then lied about it to the FBI.
So if you were in the FBI, you think there might be something worth taking a look at there?
Amazingly, this was not the only major Russia-related scoop in recent days. "The Washington Post" also reporting the president has gone to great lengths to conceal details of his meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including in one instance confiscating the notes of his interpreter.
U.S. officials say because of the secrecy, there is no detailed record of Trump's five conversations with Putin face to face, at least not one belonging to the United States. The Kremlin has notes of those meetings, no doubt.
Democrats on Capitol Hill, well, they have questions.
CNN's Jessica Schneider starts off our coverage with more on the Russia cloud that continues to hang over the Trump White House.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A weekend of bombshell reports casting questions about President Trump's real relationship with Russia prompting this response from the president on the White House lawn this morning.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I never worked for Russia. Not only did I never work for Russia. I think it's a disgrace that you even ask that question.
SCHNEIDER: The president's pushback coming after several stunning reports about Russia, including "The Washington Post"'s revelation that the president confiscated his interpreter's notes following a meeting with Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Germany in 2017.
Current and former U.S. officials also tell "The Post" the president instructed his interpreter not to discuss the meeting with other administration officials.
Trump and Putin have met five times in the past two years. And while it's unknown if the president gave similar instructions to his interpreter every time, officials say they weren't able to get a reliable readout of the two leaders' two-hour meeting in Helsinki this past summer, where no aides or other Cabinet officials were present.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: The American government does not know what was discussed between Trump and Vladimir Putin in that, frankly, pathetic, embarrassing encounter, where Trump was kowtowing on the world stage to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
SCHNEIDER: Now two House committees plan to subpoena the interpreter's records from that G20 meeting in 2017.
REP. ELIOT ENGEL (D), NEW YORK: What we're not going to do is sit back and do nothing. We're going to try to get to the bottom of this.
SCHNEIDER: The president characterizing it all as business as usual.
TRUMP: I have those meetings one-on-one with all leaders, including the president of China, including Prime Minister of Japan Abe. We have those meetings all the time. No big deal.
SCHNEIDER: CNN is also learning new details about the FBI investigation into the firing of James Comey. Transcripts from closed-door congressional testimony with several FBI officials detail how the bureau considered the possibility that the president fired Comey at the behest of the Russian government.
Then FBI general counsel James Baker told Congress about discussions at the time, saying; "We need to investigate because we don't know whether the worst-case scenario is possibly true or the president is totally innocent."
After the firing, a source tells CNN the FBI opened an obstruction of justice investigation into the president that also had a counterintelligence component to investigate why the president was acting in ways that seemed to benefit Russia.
Today, the president slammed the FBI for opening both facets of that investigation.
TRUMP: The people doing that investigation were people that have been caught that are known scoundrels there. I guess you could say they dirty cops.
SCHNEIDER: And the president seeming to refer there in part to former FBI officials like James Comey, as well as Andrew McCabe.
Now, McCabe's the one who decided to open the counterintelligence part of the probe. But, Jake, it's worth noting that McCabe was actually fired from the FBI last March for misleading investigators about leaks to the media in part concerning an investigation related to the Clinton Foundation and nothing to do with President Trump -- Jake.
TAPPER: That's right, Jessica Schneider.
It was, in fact, a leak that made the Clinton Foundation look bad, so it wasn't done to hurt President Trump. Thank you so much, Jessica Schneider.
Let's talk about this with my experts.
First of all, the idea of dirty cop there, we should just point out there's no evidence that these are dirty cops. There are people that have done things that are controversial, and you can certainly say Andrew McCabe shouldn't have lied to investigators or whatever. But that's not what a dirty cop is.
Second of all, I want to play some sound from Lindsey Graham, a senator from South Carolina,an ally of the president's, who has an interesting interpretation of what this FBI counterintelligence investigation suggests.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It tells me a lot about the people running the FBI, McCabe and that crowd. I don't trust them as far as I throw them. So if this really did happen, Congress needs to know about it. And I -- what I want to do is make sure, how could the FBI do that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: When you look at the at all the evidence, though, it does seem like it's something worth looking into, investigating.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right.
I mean, those that are allies of the president say, look, the FBI didn't have predication to open up an investigation like this, looking at whether he was acting on behalf of the Russians. Simply just what he is saying publicly isn't enough to open up an investigation.
And they would argue that if you really thought he was acting on behalf of the Russians, the U.S. has the biggest intelligence apparatus, one of them at least, in the world. Couldn't you just call up the intelligence community and say, hey, is the president speaking to any Russians?
I mean, that is what they argue. They believe that this is an example of the FBI out of control, going rogue. And we did this reporting today with my colleague Jeffrey -- I'm sorry -- Jeremy Herb, showing the transcript of that testimony, where they said they debated opening the probe into the president even before the firing of James Comey.
So Republicans, allies of the president say this proves in their view that the FBI was going after President Trump even before the firing. However, on the other side, FBI sources I have been speaking with,
there really was concerned within the agency that this was a president who was acting out of control, that needed to be reined in, and they believed that they had every right, every bit of predication to open up this investigation initially.
TAPPER: And you have a very strong column in "Rolling Stone" suggesting that you think the president has already sold out the United States when it comes to this issue.
JAMIL SMITH, "ROLLING STONE": Indeed.
I think that certainly there's enough evidence that the president has, you know, put forth, I think during the presidency, not even during the campaign, that suggests that he is least on the side or at least advocating for the positions that Vladimir Putin is putting forth.
I think, certainly, the positions that he's putting forth, it's not necessarily pro-Russia. But I think certainly the things that he's doing to the country are certainly things that Vladimir Putin wouldn't mind seeing happening to the United States, certainly including this shutdown.
I think that what you're seeing, it's not necessarily a country that is beholden to Russia. It is not necessarily under the -- necessarily the influence, but I think what you have a problem with is a president who could possibly be under the influence under -- of a Russian president, of a foreign president who attacked this country.
That, we know about. I think that's a real problem.
TAPPER: So this also comes at the same time that we're hearing from "The Washington Post," learning from "The Washington Post" that the president had all these meetings with Putin and there are no records of them.
And in one meeting in Hamburg, Germany, his first meeting face to face with President Putin, he took the notes from the translator and confiscated them.
BILL KRISTOL, FORMER EDITOR, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes.
For me, that "Post" article is actually much more damaging than "The Times"' article. But, at the end of the day, we are in no position to judge whether the FBI should or shouldn't have opened an investigation.
And, anyway, it doesn't matter. It was three days later that Mueller was appointed. Mueller has done an investigation. Unless -- he's got people under oath. Unless anyone wants to say that there was no reason to have any investigation at all of Russian interference in the ';16 election, which seems a hard case to make, whether there was no evidence of the Trump campaign dealing with Russians, which it would be a hard case to make, whether there's no evidence that needs to be explored of the Trump administration trying to not be honest about its dealing with Russians, that's what Mueller is investigating.
So whether the FBI over something three days before or not doesn't matter. "The Post" story, on the other hand, is about Trump's behavior as president in meetings with Putin. Very unusual to have no aides there, very unusual not to brief after the meeting.
Very, very unusual -- I don't know of a case like this -- to take the translator's notes, I gather, and presumably destroy them. So there's actually no record of what was said at a meeting. That, I think you would have to go pretty far into American history to find something like that.
TAPPER: So we heard Lindsey Graham explaining his interpretation of "The New York Times"' story about the FBI counterintelligence investigation.
I asked Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin about this meeting, about the story about the president taking away the notes and not letting translators and others in there. Here's what he had to say. Here's his interpretation of that "Washington Post" story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: I do know that President Trump was burned earlier by leaks of other private conversations, so I can certainly understand his frustration from that standpoint.
But you said earlier this is not a traditional president. He has unorthodox means. But he is president of the United States. It's pretty much up to him in terms of who he wants to read into his conversations with world leaders.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't discount that first point.
It was a terrific portrayal of our national security when people leaked the contents of conversations our president had with I believe it was the Mexican president at the time and the Australian prime minister.
BEGALA: That's awful. And I understand that.
It does not explain why you would confiscate notes from a meeting with Putin, where there's no evidence he confiscated notes from a meeting with the Mexican president or the Canadian prime minister or the Australian prime minister.
Why Putin? We have run out of innocent explanations for a lot of this conduct. And I think that's -- that's part of the problem. In may of 2017, he brought Sergey Kislyak, reported to be Soviet -- Russian spymaster, into the Oval Office, and gave him highly classified information.
If I had done that, I would still be sitting in Gitmo. There's no innocent explanation. He's not giving intelligence to our allies. He's giving it to our enemies. Why?
BROWN: And the leak bit doesn't stand up, because if he was worried about leaks, wouldn't he also be concerned at the fact he was taking the notes and keeping those details away be leaked as well, which they have?
And that only raises suspicion.
TAPPER: So, everyone, stick around. We have got more to talk about.
Will Democrats, now in control of the House of Representatives, be the first to see these conversations between Trump and Vladimir Putin, if they subpoena the transcript? That's next.
Then: making light of a massacre and quoting a guy he wants called a Hitler lover. Even by the president's standards, he managed to offend a lot of people this weekend.
Stay with us.
[16:17:41] TAPPER: Welcome back.
Sticking with our politics lead. The White House is not denying that stunning "Washington Post" report that President Trump after meeting with Russian President Putin confiscated his interpreter's notes and told her not to discuss what happened in that meeting with other administration officials. It is worth pointing out that that meeting was at the G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on July 7th, 2017. This is literally just hours before "The New York Times" on July 8th published its story, its bombshell, about that infamous Trump Tower meeting between Trump campaign officials Donald Trump Jr. and that Russian lawyer who had promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.
"Times" reporters had asked the White House for a comment on July 7th and a "New York Times" source tells me that the White House would certainly have known about their pending story before the president met with Putin. We should also know note that later at the summit dinner, President Trump talked to Putin again, this time for nearly an hour with no interpreter present and that private encounter was not disclosed until almost two weeks later. Also, it was on the flight home from this summit when President Trump dictated that misleading statement on behalf of his son claiming that the focus of the Trump Tower meeting was Russian adoptions, making no mention of the promised dirt about Hillary Clinton about which Donald Trump Jr. emailed, quote, if it's what you say, I love it.
Let's discuss this with the former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, and former FBI special agent Asha Rangappa. Congressman Rogers, let me let me start with you. First of all, just the timeline is really interesting. Again, there's no evidence that that's what the president and Putin were talking about, but that is -- if they weren't talking about it, that certainly would explain why he didn't want anyone to know what they were talking about.
FORMER REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), FORMER CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGNECE COMMITTEE: Yes, clearly, and again, it feeds into this narrative. So let's just say that it was innocent. The mistake made is you have all of this scrutiny.
This was after the Comey incident as well. All of this is surrounding it, it's all centered around Russia, and then you would go off and have this meeting. That's just a poor judgment.
But be, it just feeds the narrative that, hey, what's going on? Why do you have to have these meetings with no one else present, with one of Americans' main adversaries? You know, they're a nuclear country. They have nuclear missiles pointed at us. This is something you want to get right with all of your policymakers.
[16:20:02] And candidly, all of those policymakers and from the intel community, DOD, senior levels in Congress use those kind of readouts to figure out what is our policy going forward. When that's missing, you know, it's a national security issue.
So, you're a former FBI agent, Asha, you are as well. What do you make of the timeline looking back on it?
ASHA RANGAPPA, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT: Well, the timeline certainly raises a lot of questions and I just want to add Jake that we also know that Mueller was keenly interested in the circumstances surrounding the drafting of the false cover story about the Trump Tower meeting which Trump participated in on Air Force One. You know, he was looking into it he interviewed that people who were present and, you know, from a legal perspective, it was always a little unclear how that particular event related directly to either the firing of James Comey and that obstruction investigation or to collusion. I mean, it's not great, but you know lying to the public isn't necessarily a crime, which is what was said at the time.
But if we are looking at it in the context of something that came out of his meeting with Putin, that not only would that be a part of a collusion investigation but it would also potentially be an act of obstruction in and of itself. So, it -- you know, it adds some more contexts potentially to why Mueller was looking into that specific event so carefully.
TAPPER: I mean, Congressman, the president has suggested that his strength is building personal relationships with people like Putin, and that's why he would want privacy when it comes to such a meeting. What's the problem with that?
ROGERS: Well, there wouldn't normally be a problem, except when you're meeting with your adversaries, there is a lot more going on. And you're walking in to a room with a trained KGB officer who understands information operations and no one else on the U.S. side gets access to that meeting.
So, if Putin came out after that meeting and said Donald Trump told me, you know, we got a deal on nuclear missiles, everybody would be scrambling around trying to figure this out. That's the problem. And Putin understands how to use information, so he could mischaracterize that meeting and there would be no American backstop in the room.
You can still develop those relationships, I've been in relationships with head of state as a member of Congress and as chairman where there's groups of people, you can still have that personal connection because that's where the conversation is and protect yourself and make sure that everything is right. Your interpreter make sure that they got it right. You don't want to have any problems in execution on the content of those meetings and that's exactly what makes people I think a little nervous.
Again, feeds the narrative on, hey, why are you so why you're trying to obfuscate all of your relationships with your Russian colleagues? Really, I don't even know if there's a real need for that.
TAPPER: And, Asha, take a listen to President Trump talking about the FBI and those who started the counterintelligence investigation into the president's in 2017.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The people doing that investigation were people that have been caught that are known scoundrels there in -- I guess you could say they're dirty cops. And I'll tell you what, it is so unfair what's happened to the FBI in terms of the men and women working in the rank and file of the FBI, and they are so embarrassed by their leadership.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: You're a former FBI agent, what do you make of that?
RANGAPPA: Well, first of all, I would like to point out that according to, you know, the reporting the investigation was open after his own appointees were running the Department of Justice. So, you know, clearly, they also were on board with it and I also believe that once it was passed off to Robert Mueller, that he would have double vetted it to make sure that it was a properly predicated investigation.
You know, I think that when we have a national security concern like this, I think we should be glad that we have FBI agents who are there to resolve and decide, is there a threat here or not? And we don't know if that investigation was closed because they found that there was no threat, that's actually helpful to the president. And, you know, he should welcome that, if that is the finding and he feels confident in that. And if it wasn't, then I think we need to know what risk were at
because this is a person who holds immense power in terms of the country's interest vis-a-vis foreign nations, and that would be something that I think ultimately we would want members of Congress to know about at -- when Mueller finally prepares his report.
TAPPER: That's an excellent point, that both Sessions and Rosenstein would have had to have signed off on this counterintelligence investigation into the president.
Asha, thank you so much. Congressman Rogers, thank you so much.
New horrific details revealed as the man accused of kidnapping 13- year-old Jayme Closs and killing her parents faces a judge for the first time. Any moment. Stay with us.
[16:29:37] TAPPER: President Trump more adamant than ever in his demand that a border wall be founded before he will allow the U.S. government to reopen, with one source saying, quote, he is not going to budge even one inch, unquote. President Trump said as much publicly today with a shutdown on day 24, the longest shutdown in American history.
The president also telling aides he thinks he's winning the PR war and bragging furloughed federal workers stand with him, with no evidence to prove that.
And as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, all this digging in is doing nothing for negotiations.