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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Senate Passes Spending Bill to Avoid Government Shutdown; Fired Acting FBI Dir: I Wanted to Make Sure Russia Investigation Didn't "Vanish in the Night Without a Trace"; McCabe To CBS: Meetings Were Held At DOJ To Discuss Using The 25th Amendment To Remove President Trump; Feds Investigate If Saudi Govt Helped Students Evade Justice. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired February 14, 2019 - 16:30   ET

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


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And I think obviously the concern for these Republicans about the president doing such, is that if there's a Democratic president next and they declare a national emergency on climate change, on guns, on whatever.

[16:30:04] That they're going to have to look back at the president declaring a national emergency for this. So, they're the ones who have been saying for years when President Obama was in office that any of his executive orders were an overreach of his power, an abuse of his power.

So, that is exactly what it is. They're going to be facing calls like that. I mean, who knows what the world will look like by then, but --

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Right. But this isn't like the Bush v. Gore decision where the Supreme Court in 2000 said we're ruling this way but this can never be used as a precedent ever again. This will be used as a precedent.

In fact, Speaker Pelosi threatened -- although that's not the word she would use. She imagined what a future Democratic president might do with this power. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: You want to talk about a national emergency? Let's talk about today, the one-year anniversary of another manifestation of the epidemic of gun violence in America. That's a national emergency. Why don't you declare that emergency, Mr. President? I wish you would.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, you've talked about how there have been 40 national emergencies that have been declared but they're much more controversial, right? They have to do with sanctions imposed on countries and things like that?

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUSXM: Sure. Yes, you see national emergencies declared because of the situation in Sudan, because of Iran's pursuit of ballistic missile programs. Those are the typical things you see come across the transom. Of course, there are disaster declarations, that kind of power, too.

I think it's closer to 50 or 60 that have been invoked.

TAPPER: OK.

KNOX: But this is a sweeping executive power. It's good to have this conversation to say does Congress really want to allocate this much of its own power to the executive branch? Again, we don't know what he's going to do.

It's great that Senator Kennedy can say that. He's flying blind as well. He doesn't know what's going to be invoked, what's going to be involved.

To Kristen's point, money has constituencies in government. And so, what we don't know is where the president, if he does this, where the president is going to go to get the money. You know, the Texas delegation is an example of that. If he decides to build a big, beautiful wall along a major military installation that abuts Mexico, I don't think anyone is going to really challenge him on that. But if he goes after disaster relief from Florida or Texas, I think that's a different question.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes. Let me just say for the record, as a new dad, I think a universal daycare policy would be the national emergency I would hope for and I'd be perfectly happy if anybody do it. You know, one good thing happened, which is 800,000 workers, U.S. federal workers are not going to be --

TAPPER: Yes, they're exhaling today. Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

SIMMONS: They're exhaling today.

But it's interesting the president chose not to back pay the contractors who were left out in the cold during that 35-day shutdown, sort of bunch of people who clean the office buildings in the federal government, do a variety of other things, who will never get that money back. And I think -- it's something telling about how empathetic the president is not, that he chose not to do that.

TAPPER: And, of course, the other thing going on here is the constitutional crisis, that this potentially poses. Obviously, the purse strings are controlled by the House of Representatives and the Senate and not by the executive branch.

Let me bring back Jeffrey Toobin. Jeff, take a listen to potential 2020 presidential candidate, Democratic Senator Mike Bennett of Colorado.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D), COLORADO: My message to all of my colleagues is that if we don't stand up for the rule of law here at a moment like this, we could have a constitutional crisis. It can't be about, you know, situational politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Is he right?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: It is about situational politics. I mean, look at Republicans who were talking about it. You know, Marco Rubio was saying what happens when President Kamala Harris says there's a national emergency about climate change, what are we going to say then? Well, they're going to say that's no good, because politics is completely situational in Washington these days.

I mean, this is a profound question, that who controls the power of the purse? It's been established in the Constitution since the very beginning, in the late 18th century, that it is up to Congress. Here you have this situation where Congress had a big debate over whether to fund a wall and Congress said no. That was the core of this debate.

And now, the president says I don't care what Congress says. I'm spending this money anywhere. There has never been a situation like this.

The National Emergencies Act has never been invoked over the implicit or explicit objection of both houses of Congress. We'll see what courts do. I mean, you know, Brett Kavanaugh, one of his big principles as a judge is expanse of executive power. So, I would imagine that he would support the president here.

But you never -- you know, this is new territory. The courts have never analyze this had kind of situation and we'll see what happens.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. We have a lot more to talk about. We have new insights today into the chaotic moments after President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, from the man who temporarily replaced Comey, in his new book. That's next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:39:35] TAPPER: Welcome back.

More in the politics lead today. A dramatic firsthand account of the FBI's view of the Russia investigation and chaotic eight days after President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey back in May 2017.

In a new book, an interview, the man who took over for Comey, the acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, says he launched an investigation into whether or not President Trump obstructed justice because he was so concerned that President Trump would try to interfere with the counter intelligence probe into possible conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.

[16:40:06] McCabe also goes into kind of conversations about possibly invoking the 25th Amendment to remove the president, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein volunteering to wear a wire to record President Trump.

The White House is hitting back today, pointing out that McCabe was fired last year from the FBI for lying under oath.

CNN senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown brings us the new details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: For the first time, former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, the man who took over after President Trump fired James Comey, talking publicly about his former boss, the president.

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: I was speaking to the man who had just run for the presidency and won the election for the presidency and who might have done so with the aid of the government of Russia, our most formidable adversary on the world stage and that was something that troubled me greatly.

BROWN: McCabe telling CBS he opened up an obstruction probe into the president the day after Comey's firing, as a way to maintain the ongoing investigations into Russian meddling of the 2016 election.

MCCABE: I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground, in an indelible fashion, that were I removed quickly, or reassigned or fired that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace.

BROWN: CBS anchor Scott Pelley reporting McCabe also confirmed in clips not yet released that there were serious discussions among senior justice officials about invoking the 25th amendment to remove the president from office.

SCOTT PELLEY, CBS ANCHOR: There were meetings at the Justice Department in which it was discussed whether the vice president and a majority of the cabinet could be brought together to remove the president of the United States under the 25th Amendment.

BROWN: "The New York Times" reporting that McCabe wrote in a memo that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had looked into the 25th Amendment issue and determined he would need, quote, a majority or eight of the 15 cabinet officials.

The Justice Department slamming McCabe's assertions in a statement today as inaccurate. The response reading: As the deputy attorney general has previously stated based on his personal dealings with the president, there was no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment, nor was Rosenstein in a position to consider invoking the 25th Amendment.

Rosenstein has long denied he thinks there is a basis to remove the president from office but has yet to deny those discussions ever occurred.

Vice President Mike Pence reacting today, telling MSNBC -- MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I never heard of it.

I never heard of any discussion of the 25th Amendment and, frankly, I find any suggestion of it to be absurd.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: And McCabe does have credibility issues. We should note he was found to be lying to investigators in an internal investigation at DOJ that was then referred to the U.S. attorney's office in D.C.

Now, McCabe has denied that he lied to investigators -- Jake.

TAPPER: Pamela Brown, thanks so much.

We should point out that the investigation was into whether or not McCabe leaked to the media that he wanted to be tougher and investigate the Clinton Foundation even more. So, it was actually an anti-Hillary leak that he was being investigated for.

Kaitlan, how worried is the White House about this book?

COLLINS: So here is the thing. In a sense, aides are worried because over the next few weeks before this book comes out you'll see Andrew McCabe doing interviews like this where he's making remarks like those about the 25th Amendment, and the president, and involving the vice president and other senior cabinet officials. So, they're worried about in that sense because the president is going to be watching that, he is going to be frustrated and irritated as you saw on Twitter today, he was going after him, and then have a press secretary put out a statement, going after him as well, talking about that investigation into whether he misled other agents about what he had said.

So, that's what they're worried about, is that it's going to be a distraction for the president or it's going to cause that frustration that he had with Rod Rosenstein to resurface, because remember, when this was first reported by "The New York Times" about the wire and whatnot, Rod Rosenstein nearly resigned. It created all the White House about whether or not they accepted his resignation. So, I think another concern is that frustration could resurface.

TAPPER: So, let me play devil's advocate here and put yourself in the shoes of a Trump supporter, you don't even have to be devil's advocate. Here you have deputy director of the FBI talking about invoking the 25th Amendment because he's afraid that the president is going to impede an investigation. There are a lot of people out there I could see saying who are you to undermine the will of 62, 63 million Americans?

KNOX: They're already saying it. There's wave of people who are saying, well, this amounts to a deep state coup. This is a definition of when you have an entrenched career person in law enforcement who's talking about trying to remove the president from office.

ANDERSON: Yes. I mean, there are ways you can remove a politician from office who is unpopular, doing things that people don't like, doing things that are illegal. [16:45:06] You have elections where people can vote him out of office.

You have impeachment and removal where elected members of Congress can take that decision into their own hands. Something like the 25th Amendment should be exercised only in extreme emergency circumstances --

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUSXM: Like a national emergency maybe.

ANDERSON: The conversation that we just have extreme emergency circumstances. And so it shouldn't just be conservatives that are kind of looking at this askance going. I don't like the idea that this is going on.

But I do think that those unelected bureaucrats do have an important role in holding the elected officials accountable and it's a shame that someone like Andrew McCabe going out on this press tour is making it harder for those folks who are actually doing their investigation to be able to do their job because by continuing to go on T.V. and give interviews like this to try to provoke the President, to try to stir this up continue to make it a political issue. It's making it harder for the folks who are trying to do their job and do the investigation right.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Jamal, I want to take one step back and look at these eight days in May and what happened because it really is quite striking when you review at all. May 9th, 2017 President Trump fires FBI Director James Comey. May 11th two days later, in an interview with NBC News, the President admits he was thinking about the Russia thing when he fired Comey.

May 12th, one day later, Trump tweets James Comey better hope there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press. Four days after that May 16th, sources close to Comey say Trump asked him to close the investigation into Michael Flynn. And that same day sources tell CNN the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein discussed invoking the 25th Amendment and potentially wearing a wire.

Then May 17th, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is appointed. That is a lot of stuff going on in just eight days.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It is a lot of stuff and this is extraordinary. I mean, the fact that they would be having a meeting like this at the FBI is extraordinary. It's also extraordinary that the national security adviser to the President of the United States is suspected of being a foreign asset and they tell the president and his reaction is lay off of them on you know those part, right? It's all extraordinary.

And I think we spend a lot of time trying to justify how reasonable rational people are trying to find a way to stop something they think is really bad from occurring while the President of United States who does not seem to be very reasonable about any of this stuff continues to do more extraordinary things out in public. TAPPER: And Kaitlan, there's an excerpt in the Atlantic, President --

Andrew McCabe talking about meeting with the president the new Oval Office after Comey was fired. White House Counsel Don McGahn, Chief of Staff Priebus are there and the President asked McCabe if he should visit the FBI that day to rally the agency. This is what McCabe says.

"In this moment, I felt the way I'd felt in 1998 in a case involving the Russian mafia, when I sent a man I'll called Big Felix in to meet with a mafia boss named Dimitri Gutfield or Gufield -- that I don't know the name. It's -- I'm not an expert on Russian mafia. The same kind of thing was happening here in the Oval Office. The President and his men were trying to work me the way a criminal brigade with would operate."

Not the first time we have heard a senior law enforcement official compare President Trump to a Mafia figure.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And what's interesting is in that excerpt, I've read it earlier. McCabe says the President had called him at the FBI earlier when they were in a meeting about the Russia investigation and the president was under the impression that people in that building we're going to be thrilled that he had fired James Comey.

When he asked him what's the reaction, are people happy, McCabe said he responded that people were shocked, they were surprised and he didn't really get into the details but he did say in the excerpt that people were crying in the hallways about it.

And I think when he goes back to the White House to meet with the President and the President is real litigating the firing and why he did it, I think it goes to show the President, one of his greatest frustrations is that he believes he got bad advice. That he thought if he fired James Comey that all of Washington was going to rejoice and think he did the right thing because of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation, and instead it was literally the opposite.

TAPPER: And the advice came from?

COLLINS: Jared Kushner.

TAPPER: A mystery unfolding across several states. Students disappearing after being charged with serious crimes and all signs point to a close U.S. ally. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16l50:00] TAPPER: The "WORLD LEAD" now. A shocking pattern that federal investigators are now looking into. Students from Saudi Arabia accused of crimes in the United States as serious as rape or manslaughter essentially vanishing. And despite some of them surrendering their passports to American law enforcement, they're seemingly able to escape justice and secure safe pack passage and safe haven back in their home country Saudi Arabia. CNN's Alex Marquardt reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Abdulrahman Noorah was speeding, driving recklessly along a Portland, Oregon Street police say when he struck 15-year-old Fallon Smart who was crossing. Smart was killed. The 20-year-old Noorah, a citizen of Saudi Arabia studying at a nearby community college allegedly took off in his black SUV.

He was arrested, charged with elevated manslaughter and forced to give up his passport. The student got out on $100,000 bail reportedly paid for by the Saudi government as was his legal team. Then two weeks before his trial, he disappeared.

According to The Oregonian newspaper, his tracking monitor had been sliced off and thrown away. Law enforcement officials telling the paper they believe Nora got another passport and left the U.S. possibly on a private plane all paid for by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which told the paper last July that Noorah was back in the country.

SHANE DIXON KAVANAUGH, REPORTER, THE OREGONIAN: What we have is an apparent pattern in Oregon and possibly other parts of the country where Saudi defendants in the U.S. facing serious criminal charges have managed to flee the U.S. likely with the help of the Saudi government in many of these cases.

[16:55:12] MARQUARDT: Noorah's 2016 hit-and-run case is far from the only one. A total of 17 across eight states and Canada were identified by The Oregonian of Saudi men facing serious charges and then vanishing.

KAVANAUGH: All of them have disappeared. A handful of them have been confirmed to be back in Saudi Arabia. The precise whereabouts of many of the defendants even the ones who are supposedly back in Saudi Arabia is unknown.

MARQUARDT: The earliest case is from 1988 when Abdulrahman Ali Al- Plaies caused a car crash that left a 79-year-old woman dead. Days before his trial, the Saudi embassy paid his $25,000 bail. He left jail with a Saudi military officer and was never seen in the U.S. again. The alleged crimes are wide-ranging. Rape and sexual assault, vehicular manslaughter, child pornography among others.

In a statement to CNN, the Saudi embassy said that the notion that the Saudi government actively helps citizens evade justice after they've been implicated and legal wrongdoing in the U.S. is not true.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MARQUARDT: And, Jake, this news, of course, comes on the heels of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi fueling this reputation of Saudi Arabia acting with utter impunity. Now, Ron Wyden, the senior Senator from Oregon where five of those reported cases took place has reacted furiously saying it is unacceptable and has demanded answers from the State Department which has not responded to him or to us here at CNN. Jake? TAPPER: All right, Alex, thanks so much. And kudos to Shane Kavanaugh from The Oregonian for amazing reporting. He's been doing this for weeks. So here's another example, Kaitlan. The Oregonian reports a Saudi student accused of raping a classmate of Oregon. He had to turn over his passport, he's arrested a few days later. A Saudi consulate official in L.A. posted his $500,000 bail and guess what happens, poof, he disappears. This just happens over and over again.

COLLINS: And that's what's so stunning about this seeing Alex's report is that these are really serious crimes. It's not just something like theft or anything small. This is like manslaughter, assault. So it's these crimes and then these are the Saudi government bailing them out of jail, paying for their fees, and then getting them out of the country so they can evade whatever kind of punishment it would be.

I think it's really stunning that Ron Wyden has asked not only the State Department but also the Justice Department for some kind of clarity, comment, anything, and they haven't gone back to him.

TAPPER: And it does feed into what we're seeing with Jamal Khashoggi. The idea that I don't want to just single out the Trump administration because they're not the only ones.

They're not.

TAPPER: But US. .governments, White Houses whether it's Trump, Obama, Bush, etcetera, they let the Saudis get away literally, literally with murder.

KNOX: Yes. And let's just reflect on that denial at the end there by the -- by their brother the Saudi government just reflect on the barrage of lies from that government about Jamal Khashoggi and his murder inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. You got to keep that in perspective as you weigh that denial.

The role of the government is really striking but you're right. Over the -- ever since 9/11 at least, it came under -- briefly came under closer scrutiny. It was a point of argument between George W. Bush and John Kerry in 2004 but the relationship between U.S. and Saudi Arabia has been fraught.

SIMMONS: Yes. Jake, I was press secretary for U.S. Senator Bob Graham in 2004 and he had previously been co-chaired the 9/11 Commission. I mean, spends a lot of time and still spends time talking about the U.S. government relationship and what happened with the Saudis during 9/11. So you've got from going all the way back now almost 20 years to now or 18 years, to now where we are.

This is not -- this is a pattern of behavior in how the U.S. government handles the Saudis is something that someone at some point should have to answer for.

TAPPER: And take a listen to Vice President Pence earlier today talking about how the White House responded to the murder of Khashoggi.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The President's point, and our point is that as we demand justice in the case of the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, we also recognize as his high relief in his conference the important role that Saudi Arabia plays in the region.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I mean, that says it all.

ANDERSON: I think Saudi Arabia and their role in the region is something we should keep in mind. But we should also keep in mind that the king of Saudi Arabia, which folks have been saying with MBS at the helm is this country that's going to be modernizing. Look, maybe they're letting women drive, how exciting, but we need to be realistic how much change is and is not actually happening when it comes to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

And furthermore, I think when it just comes to this story in particular, Americans are fed up with the idea that folks who are well-to-do and well-connected cannot face the consequences of their actions, period. And the fact that these are folks who are being able to get out -- get out of jail, get out of the country because they've got a well-heeled consulate that can drop a couple of hundreds of thousands of dollars and get on a private jet, you understand why people in America are so frustrated.

TAPPER: Yes. Thanks one and all for being here. I really appreciate it. Follow me on Facebook and Twitter @JAKETAPPER. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thank you so much for watching.