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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump: Andrew McCabe is "Poor Man's J. Edgar Hoover". Aired 4- 4:30p ET

Aired February 20, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:02]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Those comments came just hours after Senator Bernie Sanders made race a focal point in his campaign announcement. And speaking of, there you go, a heads-up for Monday night.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being with me.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts now.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Brace yourselves. The Mueller report is about to drop.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Breaking news: The attorney general is prepared to announce as soon as next week that the special counsel's Russia investigation is done.

What might the Mueller report find? And what will the public be allowed to see?

Bernie bringing in the cash, the senator breaking a fund-raising record. So is every other Democratic candidate now worrying that voters are still feeling the Bern?

Plus, NATO forces catfished. All it took was public information and 60 bucks to locate and track troops, even manipulate them into disobeying orders. Now, just imagine what, say, oh, I don't know, the Russians might be able to do.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we begin with breaking news.

After almost two years, we are finally learning it may be over as soon as next week. We're talking about the long-awaited investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller and his team into possible conspiracy between Russia and members of the Trump team to interfere in the 2016 election, as well as any other possible related crimes.

CNN has learned that the brand-new attorney general, Bill Barr, is preparing to announce the completion of the Mueller report, along with plans to submit a summary of the report to Congress soon after, according to sources familiar with Barr's plans.

This is the most significant indication so far that Mueller is almost done with his investigation. Late today, President Trump was asked by CNN's Kaitlan Collins whether the report should be released next week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That will be totally up to the new attorney general. He's a tremendous man, a tremendous person who really respects this country and respects the Justice Department.

So that will be totally up to him, the new attorney -- the new attorney general, yes.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Is the report going to be published, do you think?

TRUMP: I guess, from what I understand, that will be totally up to the attorney general.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The timing of the announcement from A.G. Barr could change. And it's not clear what exactly the attorney general will send to Congress, and, of course, what will be released to the public, if anything, though we do know congressional Democrats have already expressed grave concerns over Barr's refusal during his confirmation hearing to guarantee he would release the entire report to Congress, with Democrats insisting a summary and not the actual report will not be acceptable, which means this could kick off a legal battle, with Democrats in Congress suing the Department of Justice.

Mueller took over the investigation in May 2017. Since then, his team has filed 199 criminal counts against 37 people and companies, six of them from Trump world. There has been one person convicted at trial, President Trump's former campaign chair Paul Manafort. He's currently in jail awaiting sentencing.

Manafort's deputy Rick Gates also pleaded guilty, as did Trump's former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, who did time in prison. Former Trump fixer Michael Cohen, he will head to prison in May.

Former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing. And Trump adviser Roger Stone was just charged, of course.

Many of these individuals from Trump world were charged with lying to the FBI or to Congress about their contacts with Russians, which leads us to the questions we hope Mueller will answer, starting with, why? Why all the lying about contacts with the Russians?

Was there any conspiracy between President Trump, his campaign, administration officials, campaign officials and Russia? Did the president of the United States commit any crimes, whether conspiracy or obstruction of justice? Are Mueller's indictments done? Is that it? Was Roger Stone the last one? And if so, did he find suspicious activity that looked like conspiracy, but Mueller could not prove it beyond a reasonable doubt?

We do not know if Mueller will answer these questions or if Attorney General Barr will let us know any of the details about them.

CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz joins me.

Now, Shimon, we have seen some signs that Mueller's team has been possibly wrapping things up.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Some on the ground, Jake. We have seen prosecutors and staff members from the special counsel's office wheeling out boxes from the office.

This was the last week. It was the first time we had seen something like that. There have been signs in the courthouse also that this has been wrapping up.

The Mueller grand jury, the grand jury that he has been using to indict and investigate all of these charges, has not been seen since January 24. That is when Roger Stone was indicted. It was just the day before he was indicted, that that was the last time we saw that grand jury.

[16:05:05]

Certain prosecutors that have been assigned to the special counsel's office have now gone back to the Department of Justice. And then one other thing that has been going on is that a lot of these cases that are still going on, like the Roger Stone, have been taken over by the U.S. D.C., the district attorney here, the U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia.

TAPPER: How much of the special counsel's office work might we actually get to see?

PROKUPECZ: Yes, that's the big -- going to be the big, big question as we get into the next few weeks.

Certainly, William Barr has indicated that he was going to stick close to the regulations, telling members of the Senate during his confirmation hearing that under current regulations, Mueller's report is supposed to be confidential.

And then he went on and explained it even further and take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The attorney general, as I understand the rules, would report to Congress about the conclusion of the investigation.

And I believe there may be discretion there about what the attorney general can put in that report. SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: So you would make a report to

Congress?

BARR: Yes.

KENNEDY: Based on the report you have received?

BARR: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PROKUPECZ: And by all accounts, certainly the people that we have talked to there have been close to this investigation at the Department of Justice, that William Barr intends to stick close to the regulations in this investigation.

So it could be that we may not see a lot of what the Mueller team has been working on.

TAPPER: All right.

Shimon Prokupecz, thanks so much.

We should note the end of the Mueller investigation does not mean the end of investigations of President Trump and people around him. There's the investigation by the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York into the president's role in hush money payments to women who allege affairs with him.

There is also investigations into the Trump Foundation, the Trump inaugural committee, to say nothing of House Democrats who last November won subpoena power.

But let's talk with our experts about the Mueller report.

Jeffrey Toobin, Attorney General Barr has said he wants to be as transparent as possible with the public. But he's not pledged that he's going to hand over the report, the Mueller report, to Congress. And he's actually not legally required to do so by the statute.

Do you think this is going to end up in front of the Supreme Court, Congress, Democrats suing DOJ to get the full Mueller report?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's possible.

The regulation is oddly worded, and there does appear to be a lot of discretion. He could release the vast majority of it. Like, for example, classified information, everybody knows that has to be exercised before anything is released.

But after that,there starts to be a lot of play in the joints. What is grand jury material? What is related to ongoing investigations? What is affecting the rights of people who are not charged? If you wanted to take expansive views of all those categories, you could eliminate almost the -- an entire report, or you could say the public interest is such that you could take out none of those categories. This is obviously going to be an extremely consequential decision that

Barr makes. But I don't know how he's going to make it.

TAPPER: Kim, you worked on the Whitewater investigation.

What do you make of the timing here? Do you think that the Mueller team was just waiting for Matthew Whitaker to no longer be the acting attorney general before they did this? Do you see anything into the timing here?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSOCIATE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: That's difficult to speculate.

I mean, there were four years under Ken Starr and a much smaller investigation. So it seems that the timing hopefully is not rushed, because this is very widespread, not just in terms of obstruction of justice, but also in terms of potential financial crimes, the Russian influence into the election.

So it's puzzling to make any speculation about why now. Of course, Rod Rosenstein has also indicated -- at least publicly, we're hearing that he's going to be transitioning. And he is sort of the mastermind at this point of all the information relating to this.

So it would seem to make sense to keep him on board, at least for the transition process.

TAPPER: Let me bring in Josh Campbell.

Josh, we know that Mueller still has unfinished business. Former campaign chair Paul Manafort has yet to be sentenced. Michael Flynn is still cooperating with the special counsel's office. Former Trump campaign official Rick Gates has yet to be sentenced. Mueller's only getting started in court with -- on Roger Stone's case with an indictment last month, although I think that's been handed over to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.

We know the D.C. U.S. attorney's office is working on that and other cases. It might continue. Do you see this as a sign of Mueller's office feeling they're done, they have exhausted everything they can find, and it's up to the courts to prosecute?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, I think we were seeing the end here, at least as far as it relates to the president and the campaign itself.

Now, as you mentioned, there been a lot of cases that have been carved out and farmed out. But if you go back to Robert Mueller's original mandate, that was trying to determine whether or not there was coordination or collusion between the campaign of Donald Trump and the Russians, and that's going to be his major focus.

I think the fact that now we're seeing this wrap up, I think that part of it is coming to a close. Now, with respect to what we were talking about earlier, as far as what we actually get to see, you mentioned the highly classified information that might be in a report like this. [16:10:02]

We can't lose sight of the fact that these sources and methods are used in a number of different cases, a number of different counterintelligence operations that will go on and on and on, unrelated to the president.

So what I would say, for the American people, just because you may not see the full report, that doesn't necessarily mean that there's something sinister there. Of course, the friction will be whether or not Congress asks to tell us everything, give us the full report, the sources and methods, and then they make the determination themselves what they want to release.

There's going to be a very intense debate over that very fact. What do they get to see? And then what does the public get to see?

TAPPER: And, Jeffrey, we have also seen the Democrats being accused of trying to move the goalposts by suggesting, well, it's not just what people are charged with. We need to see everything, because maybe there was possible conspiracy, but Mueller just didn't have enough evidence to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. We need to know about that as well.

TOOBIN: Well, remember, Department of Justice policy, which Mueller is certainly going to follow, is that the president can't be indicted while an office.

So any evidence relating to the president, which is obviously of great interest to everyone, seems to be very important to include in the report, because there's no potential for a court case there. The only thing you could do is report it to Congress.

Leon Jaworski, who was the Watergate special prosecutor, turned over material to Water -- relating to Watergate to Congress because it related to the question of impeachment. So there is history of reporting information to Congress, even though it was not specifically related to a criminal case.

TAPPER: Do you think that Mueller would do that? Or do you think that he would be -- discretion is the better part of valor, he will just -- he will just keep what isn't expressly related to a criminal charge?

WEHLE: Well, I think the question is what Attorney General Barr is going to do.

And, as Jeff mentioned, that we are in this weird situation where traditionally the Justice Department wouldn't disclose this information about ongoing or even closed-up investigations, but, if there were crimes, they could prosecute them, and they can't.

So I think the argument has to be there's some accountability here. If this were to go to court, the Congress could say, listen, we need this information because the only constitutional mechanism available for potential accountability is the impeachment process. And we need this information.

And, of course, for impeachment, historically, you don't need to prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. So even if it didn't give rise to crimes that would -- could be prosecuted if he were a private citizen, it would bear potentially on impeachment, at least as a matter of the Constitution.

TAPPER: Josh Campbell I want to play a rather interesting comment Kellyanne Conway volunteered last night on Chris Cuomo's show. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm saying it's absolutely true that the President and others around him have lied...

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: The one thing we know is true, Donald Trump is the president.

CUOMO: ... about Russia-related matters, and I don't know why.

But I got to go. When we learn more I promise you this, as I have said every time...

CONWAY: Not me. I have no exposure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: OK. Tough to make that out. But what happened there is Chris Cuomo said the president -- it's absolutely true the president and people around him have lied about Russia. And Kellyanne Conway says, not me, I have no exposure.

Kind of an interesting comment for the counselor of the president to make.

CAMPBELL: It is indeed.

And if you look at that interview as well, we have seen this evolution on people that are speaking on behalf of the president. When we first started out with administration and they were asked about potential illegality by the president, they would flat-out deny it.

Now they have evolved to, well, as the president told me X, Y and Z, so very much distancing themselves. I don't assume that she falls into this category of people that are facing legal jeopardy. Otherwise, why would she actually volunteer that?

But what will be fascinating is, as you mentioned earlier, what's Mueller's center of gravity here? What does he decide is in the public interest?

And I was hearkening back to the Hillary Clinton case, when I was inside the FBI. And, obviously, there are big differences here, as that was a private citizen. But in that case, the question was, does the public deserve to know something in the public interest, even if there is not a charge?

That will be very interesting to watch here, what Mueller does.

TAPPER: Yes.

I'm guessing that he's not going to use Comey as the standard by which -- as the gold standard in how to deal with such a thing.

Thanks, one and all.

President Trump just threw out a new insult aimed at former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, just as McCabe spills some new details about the FBI's investigation into Trump.

Plus, NATO tricking its own troops to make a very scary and yet salient point, using social media and 60 bucks to do it. The new report coming up.

Stay with us.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:18:25] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Andrew McCabe has made a fool out of himself over the last couple of days. And he really looks to me like sort of a poor man's J. Edgar Hoover.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: President Trump firing back this afternoon at former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe who told CNN, quote, I think it's possible, unquote, that President Trump could still be a Russian asset.

That suspicion partly why McCabe says he launched the FBI investigation into the president in the first place in 2017.

CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: You know, I was concerned.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe now revealing new details about the moment he briefed top congressional leaders about the FBI's counterintelligence probe into President Trump.

MCCABE: There were no objections. There were no protests. There was no -- you know, there was a clear sense in the room that people were resigned to the fact that we had taken a necessary step.

SCHNEIDER: The briefing was in May 2017, on the same day special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed. At the table, the so-called "Gang of Eight", the top leaders of Congress from both parties, Democrat and Republican.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST: Any concerns from Nunes, Burr, Ryan or McConnell, the Republicans there?

MCCABE: No concerns.

SCARBOROUGH: Did they say any, say any, you're doing what? You're investigating the president?

MCCABE: No pushback whatsoever.

SCHNEIDER: Senator Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, was in that briefing and talked about his concerns with Jake on "STATE OF THE UNION" last month.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), VICE CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I'm not going to talk about what we may have been briefed in the Gang of Eight when these investigations opened, but I do think it's curious that throughout that whole summer when these investigations started, you had Vladimir Putin policies almost being parroted by Donald Trump.

[16:20:14] SCHNEIDER: McCabe's says one participant's presence at the briefing made it almost certain the president himself would be filled in.

MCCABE: It was my expectation that it would likely be relayed back to the president partially because of the presence of Devin Nunes.

SCHNEIDER: Congressman Nunes led the House Intelligence Committee at the time and touted his tight ties to the White House.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (D), CALIFORNIA: The president needs to know that this intelligence reports are out there and I have a duty to tell him that.

SCHNEIDER: Nunes was later exposed for doing the White House's bidding and trying to bolster the president's false claim that former President Barack Obama had ordered an illegal wiretap at Trump Tower.

NUNES: I would be concerned if I was the president and that's why I wanted him to know.

SCHNEIDER: Nunes responding to McCabe's allegation today in a statement, saying in part: Many of the stories he's telling on his book tour are transparently self-serving.

McCabe, meanwhile, has said he and others at the Justice Department not only suspected the president could be working as a Russian agent but McCabe's still believes it's a possibility.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Do you still believe the president could be a Russian asset?

MCCABE: I think it's possible.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SCHNEIDER: The president and White House officials have repeatedly discredited Andrew McCabe with the president today calling him a disgraced man who is making a fool out of himself. And, Jake, the president has also called McCabe a liar because of the inspector general's findings that McCabe misled investigators about leaks to the media.

But McCabe is pushing back, calling the inspector general's report flawed and incomplete -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Jessica Schneider, thanks so much.

Let's talk about this with our experts.

Governor Dean, I want to drill down on the briefing that McCabe gave to the congressional leaders, Democrats and Republicans, the so-called "Gang of Eight". Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCABE: You know, I walked through a fairly detailed brief which I won't share the detail here, of course.

SCARBOROUGH: Right, can't do that, right.

MCCABE: There was resignation at the table. There were a few nodding heads.

SCARBOROUGH: But you were specific. We are investigating the president of the United States because we are concerned that there may be something -- something amiss regarding his relationship with Russia.

MCCABE: I was perfectly clear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Do you think that -- assuming that his version of the stories is accurate, that the fact that there wasn't any pushback? Does that suggest something?

HOWARD DEAN (D), FORMER VERMONT GOVERNOR: Sure, it suggests that Russia and Trump were in fact colluding over something, although I suspect there was Russia -- it was a Trump's hoped for investments in Moscow rather than anything else.

TAPPER: You disagree?

KRISTEN SOLTIS ANDERSON, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST & POLLSTER: I totally disagree. What that suggests to me is that, thankfully Congress did not in a partisan fashion try to push back against the FBI conducting an investigation. The fact that Andrew McCabe briefed congressional leaders on the existence of them opening an investigation does not suggest that there is evidence of collusion. That is like an enormous jump to make.

I'm frankly glad that congressional leaders didn't push back. Let the FBI do its job.

LINDA CHAVEZ, FORMER REAGAN ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think most people sitting in that room, probably, at least on the Republican side of the aisle, which is my side of the aisle, probably said, no, he's probably not an asset. He may be a useful idiot however, and I think that's the role he's played.

He has been a mouthpiece for Vladimir Putin. I think Governor Dean is correct that when we follow the money trail, I think we're going to find out that he was involved in some very shady deals, but that's not going to come out I don't think with the release the Mueller report. I think it's going to take the Southern District to dig down deeper into the Trump Organization, into his own finances and the family's finances to come up with that.

TAPPER: So you think almost -- and I don't to put words in your mouth -- but you think almost he was like an unwitting agent, he was being manipulated?

CHAVEZ: Yes, absolutely. I think he was being manipulated. I think he wants a relationship with Putin for a number of reasons. I think he does admire strong and he admires Kim Jong-un. I mean, that to me is the most bizarre thing in the world but it's also because I think he's got money interests.

ANDERSON: Well, I think a lot of those things are troubling, but I'm awfully glad that the FBI was sort of given the latitude by Congress to investigate them and that the Republicans in the room did not object.

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: But I think it's important to remember that this point in the process, he was briefing them on the fact that an investigation was beginning. So he wasn't telling them what the conclusion of it was.

Now, what's jarring about this to me and I think many people is that they knew that the president was under investigation for possibly being an agent of Russia and they still didn't speak up. They still didn't speak up when President Trump and other people took additional steps publicly, when we learned more things privately that were concerning and were seemingly confirming publicly what they were briefed on an investigation was starting on.

DEAN: That's the partisan nature of this. If in most normal Congress is where people actually feel a sense of patriotism that exceeds their love for the president of their own party, both parties would have intelligence committees.

[16:25:01] The fact that Nunes was essentially a double agent for Trump while he was running the intelligence committee, it's just shocking.

TAPPER: Well, Nunes today -- Nunes today said in a statement: Although I cannot comment on the content of Gang of Eight briefings, it's preposterous to deny that the FBI was investigating Donald Trump from the moment it open its investigation in mid-2016. So, his argument is, I already -- we already knew that the FBI was looking in to President Trump because of the investigation that started with George Papadopoulos and then Carter Page and the other stuff, that he's calling that an investigation into Trump. It certainly was an investigation into people around Trump, but that's what he says.

DEAN: Yes, except McConnell was told -- Obama told McConnell about this during the election and McConnell refused to have anything to do with it.

I mean, you know, my view as I'm sitting here, what the hell is the matter with this country? I mean, I can't imagine this going on under any president of either party, including George W. Bush who was not beloved by my side, but at least he understood what it was to be president.

TAPPER: And you worked for Obama --

PSAKI: Yes, I was going to say, it wasn't just that McConnell did refuse to do anything, he also held back on a bipartisan letter that was going to go out and encourage states to take steps to protect their own electoral system. So, he also was pushing back on bipartisan efforts to try to prevent the Russians from doing more. It's actually even step further and worse.

TAPPER: What do you make of McCabe saying that it's possible that Trump is still a Russian asset? Maybe he means it in the way that Linda means it, unwitting. But what do you make of that?

ANDERSON: I don't know to make of a lot of things that Andrew McCabe says. I mean, he does have credibility issues and he's out on a book tour. He wants to sell books. The way you sell books is you say things that make headlines.

I think I would rather wait not for something that Andrew McCabe says in a book tour interview, but let's wait and see what the Justice Department says when they conclude their investigation.

PSAKI: I think, look, Andrew McCabe is in an imperfect narrator. I think we can all probably agree on that. However, that can be true -- he can also -- he wants to sell books, he has scores to settle. At the same time, he is sharing useful and compelling information the public should be alarmed by.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around.

Breaking news about President Trump's fraying relationship with his own director of national intelligence. Stay with us.

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