tv CNN Newsroom with Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto CNN February 20, 2019 6:00am-7:00am PST
good wednesday morning to you, i'm jim sciutto in new york. >> i'm poppy harlow. we're glad you're with us. so former fbi director andrew mccabe piles on. listen to this. >> do you still believe the president could be a russian asset? >> i think it's possible. i think that's why we started our investigation and i'm anxious to see where director mueller concludes that. >> bombshell.
mccabe raising serious concerns about how the russia investigation got start ed and so serious questions today about whether the president tried to obstruct justice. >> the "new york times" is reporting president trump asked acting attorney general matthew whitaker if a u.s. attorney who supported trump in the past could take over the federal investigation into the president's former attorney and fixer michael cohen. the "times" says whitaker said no and that the attorney the president wanted had already recused himself. it would fit into a broader pattern of activity by this president, and that is seeking to place loyalists in positions of influence over the probe and remove overs he did not see as allies. the story unfolding, details coming out this morning. we'll start with kara scannell from the latest on mccabe. give us the highlights for folks at home. >> what an interview last night where mccabe continued on this
tour of revelations about the inner workings of the fbi and the quote you referenced before where he is saying he thinks it's possible the president could be a russian asset is eye opening. he talked about the, quote, head-spinning time after fbi director james comey was fired where he and rod rosenstein were grappling to figure out was the president obstructing justice? was he trying to cover up what could have been an improper relationship with russia. let's listen to what mccabe had to say about his views of whether and how president trump is underlining law enforcement. >> this president is undermining the role of law enforcement, undermining the role of our intelligence infrastructure and negatively impacting the men and women of the fbi and across the intelligence agencies ability to protect this country on a daily basis. >> so there's a really kind of new revelations, more information about how the fbi was grabbling with this and
shocking about how they were viewing the president. he was also interesting -- mccabe was asked if he thought any of the president's family members were under investigation and he said he couldn't answer that because it might relate to ongoing investigations. jim, poppy? >> kara, thank you very much. now to that stunning "new york times" reporting that the president asked former acting attorney general matthew whitaker to have the u.s. attorney who supported the president, donated to the president, worked on his transition oversee the cohen probe. i think a lot of people didn't know the name geoffrey berman, now they do and the president is calling all of this fake news but what can you tell us? >> poppy, the "times" report tries to follow on the story that pamela brown and i reported in december about how frustrated the president has been over the michael cohen investigations. he thinks the prosecutors in manhattan are running amok, going rogue and looking to whitaker to do something about it.
now, the "times" takes it a step further last night reporting that he actually called whitaker asking him to put u.s. attorney berman, who he interviewed personally, back on the case despite the fact berman recused himself. he was someone who worked on the trump transition, donated to the campaign and it's not clear that whitaker did anything to address his concerns but the fact he asked at all, again, is part and parcel of this whole idea of the president wanting to put in who he wants in at the justice department instead of following typical protocols. the report also sort of gathered threads we've seen over the last two years, evidence on the ways the president tried to discredit the special counsel's investigation, trying to fire robert mueller, trying to fire jeff sessions, then when that didn't work he turned to congress to undermine the probe, investigate the investigators, floating pardons, at least his lawyer was floating pardons for manafort and the former national security adviser michael flynn all towards trying to make sure
he was protected in the russia investigation, poppy. >> on top of it, i think everyone wants to know about who the president is nominating for deputy transportation secretary, jeffrey rosen to be nominated as deputy ag. can you tell us about him given the heightened interest in the position? >> sure. the deputy attorney general position is supposed to be the overall manager of the department, he oversees all of the u.s. attorney's officers and rosen is a pick here that has raised eyebrows because he has no prior experience in the justice department. he's a long time partner at kirkland and ellis with bill bar who is now the attorney general, he's been the transportation secretary but he's facing an uphill battle here given the turmoil at the justice department over the past several years under trump. >> laura, thank you for the reporting. stay with us.
let's get the president's reaction to this. joe, the president when presented with inconvenient information or information he doesn't like will shout fake news. how is the president responding to this story? >> as you might expect, jim, the president is issuing a blanket response, blanket denial, also getting in some of his favorite digs at the news media. just a few minutes ago the president tweeting "the "new york times" reporting is false, they are a true enemy of the people." and yesterday the president asked about this reporting, got in another dig at the news media issuing yet another denial. list listen. >> did you ask acting attorney general matthew whitaker to change the leadership of the investigation of your former personal attorney michael cohen? >> not at all. i don't know who gave you that. that's more fake news. there's a lot of fake news out
there. >> more generally, the white house communications office has been taking the tactic of attacking mccabe's veracity, his credibility, he has certain issues with the off of the inspector general that led to his undoing at the fbi so more generally the white house going after andrew mccabe as untruthful. >> laura jarrett and jim schultz are with us. jim schultz is a former white house lawyer under president trump. jim, this is part of a pattern here with this president. he was not happy with james comey who was handling the russia investigation, fired him, not happy with chris wray's leadership. he publicly attacked jeff sessions, his attorney general for two years for his handling of the russia probe. put in matt whitaker and he's apparently disappointed with
matt whitaker because whitaker didn't follow through to put guardrails around this probe. is that ethical behavior in your view as a lawyer? >> so let's talk about the whitaker issue. geoff berman did the right thing. just the appearance of the conflict of interest, he did the right thing. for whatever reason he decided to do it. >> the president didn't think it was the right thing. >> even if matt whitaker asked geoff berman to get involved in that problem, he wasn't getting involved in the probe, he recused himself. he had obligations as a lawyer and obligations to the justice department as a presidentially appointed senate confirmed united states attorney. we don't know whether the president made that inquiry or not. he's denied it. whitaker hasn't confirmed it. i don't believe that even if the
president asked whitaker to do it, whitaker was not going to ask berman because if the president made that inquiry, he probably told the president he was recused and couldn't move forward so even the president made that request, berman would have done the right thing if asked and he wasn't asked. >> but i'm asking you is it ethical as a lawyer for a president to make repeated requests along these lines. we know because the president has attacked others for not hemming in this investigation and sent some of them packing. >> jeff sessions, for instance, who i believe did a nice job as u.s. attorney carrying out the missions of the justice department, the president has the right to put whoever he wants in. it's a political appointment. bill barr was nominated by the president, just because he's nominated doesn't mean bill barr will follow every order the president gives. that's not the job of attorney general but the president has
the right to make those selections. same thing with u.s. attorneys, with advice and consent of the senate. these folks go through tremendous background checks and they're in these positions for a reason. >> one point of fact. berman was not confirmed by the senate. he was installed by former attorney general jeff sessions under a little known federal statute and the reason he is there is he was put in place by the district court after there was an interim appointment. i want to raise that because it's part of the story here. this person was not confirmed by the senate. this is rudy giuliani's former law partner. >> okay, he's rudy giuliani's former law partner, my mistake -- sure, go ahead. >> so i just wonder if it's concerning to you that whitaker said to colleagues at the
department of justice according to the "new york times" that his job was to jump on a grenade for the president? >> his job is to run the justice department and he did so. >> sorry, if you could just answer the question. >> whether his job as attorney general is to jump on a grenade for the president? no, that's not his job. >> whether it concerns you that he told that his-to-his colleagues at the department of justice according to the "new york times" reporting. >> we don't know that that was said and if it was that's not his job and that's not the role of the attorney general period. >> another headline is mccabe saying he thinks it's possible that the president -- it's still an open question that the president is a russian asset which was a phrase to come out of the mouth of a former acting director of the fbi. you cover the fbi and the department of justice.
is that a view that was shared -- i won't say widely but beyond mccabe? is that a small minority view of a danger with this president? or is that concern shared well beyond him? >> it was shared with the small group of folks mccabe describes in his inner sanctum making the decision about whether to open these investigations on president trump in the first place back in 2017. so mccabe outlines how he had a whole recommendation from folks who looked at the cases, people working on the russia investigation and they came to him and recommended this so there were at least more than one including the former general counsel of the fbi, james baker, who described he thought there was a perfect possibility the president was completely innocent but they thought it was the fbi's obligation, duty, they thought to get to the bottom of what happened in case the president was, in fact, working on behalf of the russian
governme government. >> since you're so tapped into the doj, is there concern that mccabe is all over the airwaves talking about the information? >> i think there's a sentiment from certain doj officials who feel as though the fact the man who ran the fbi, who opened these investigations is now talking about opening these investigations, talking about the factual predicate for them while the investigation is still going on. while mueller is still completing his work so that's the issue that's been raised when it comes to his discussions about briefing the gang of eight, those top intel officials on capitol hill about these sensitive materials. on the other hand, there are career professionals at doj who have been battered for the past two years and feel like mccabe is sticking up for their voice. >> thank you very much laura jarrett, tim schultz. nice to have you. we are following all the
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transition. let's discuss. we have john avlon who will be joining us on this conversation. one thing josh that was striking to me near the top of this 4,000 plus word piece is it says this. mr. trump's public war on the inquiry has gone on long enough that it is no longer shocking. they're noting the american public may just shrug their shoulders and say, here's another one. what's your read on what the significance is. >> he's attacked the probe more than a thousand times. not through private channels. i think the american public is enured to the fact that the president think this is information is a hoax and doing whatever he can to stop it from getting close to him. the question, obviously, is whether that's illegal or whether there's any criminal liability there. some of the calls reported here
and some of the things my colleague reported at the post raise questions. a number of the president's associates around him are concerned about why he behaves that way, too. they're saying what do you have to hide? they're saying there's nothing here. and i think we still don't know the answer yet. his actions time and time again have been to stymie against the prob probe. >> the shutdown with the show we see behind you, you still come in, john avlon also comes in. >> i'm delighted to be here. >> i wonder if underdiscussed story is that even president trump's quote/unquote loyalist appointees to these positions after he forces out the ones he thinks are not on his side, comey, sessions who was his guy that even these guys and women say no to the president.
>> i think that's an important aspect to the story and it's the silver lining the american system is resilient that, in fact, it's not structured so that one person no matter how powerful even the presidents of the united states can't really pervert the system of justice. n a fundamental way. there are larger structures at work. that's what is important to remember is the fact pattern building up and the stuff we know about. trying to distract people with a blizzard of lies doesn't actually stop that process of justice for going forward. >> blizzard of lies, that's a new one. >> the attack on andrew mccabe for lying under oath three times according to the ig's report and therefore the administration and others saying you can't trust him now. is that a problem for the administration to make this argument given the president's issue with the trust r truth?
>> the administration's strategy has never been encumbered by the president's problems. they see an opening here. they're amplifying his book. this is what happens when president attacks. but they're amplifying the deep state narrative. this was a deep state attempted coup against the presidency. any conversation out of the 25th amendment is troubling. >> and that gets to a question of capacity as opposed to bad behavior. >> correct. it's about incapacitation of the president the long game slope that if it comes to impeachment
that's a political process not a legal process and that's what they think appealing to the base may keep them in place. >> before we go on the question of wall fund iing this presiden already moving forward with rhe rheal locating funds. court decision which is might impose an injunction here what is the white house's next step if that happens? >> the white house's next step will be to go after the court like they've gone after andrew mccabe. he was saying these courts are unfa unfair. once they'll stopped you'll see the president's messaging change to i did everything i could to build this wall, the courts are stopping me. i'm fighting for you, these unfair judges that i didn't appoint. that's what you'll see more and more if he is stopped in any
way. >> and the wall is getting built even if it's not. >> although it's interesting he likes that this is going through the ninth circuit now. >> well, he loves to target the ninth circuit. >> josh? >> he loves to talk about them because his supporters and fox news talk about them and believe they're biased. >> thanks very much the russian president seems to issue a new threat against the u.s. and the u.s. homeland. pretty shocking words. we'll have that next. i hear it in the background and she's watching too, saying [indistinct conversation] [friend] i've never seen that before. ♪
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of the u.s. if the u.s. deploys missiles to europe. listen to this. >> translator: russia will be forced to create and develop weapon which is can be used from those territories through which athletics can be directed toward us but also where centers of decision making and rocket systems that are threatening to us. >> decision making, read that as washington, read that as military command centers. quite a threat from the russian president after the u.s. pulled out of the nuclear arms treaty with russia earlier this month because it's the u.s. position russia was violating. let's go to frederik pleitgen. these speeches to the russian parliament were explosive confrontational words and we saw that today. >> yup. i think you're right. if we look at last year's speech
for instance he introduced russian weapon he is said the russian federation would be developing so building on that, the russian president saying he believed the u.s. was violating the inf treaty. he ripped into united states policy and said it was negative towards the russian federation. let's listen to what vladimir putin had to say. >> translator: in the reyears the u.s. has been leading a policy we can't qualify as friendly. russia wants to have friendly relations with the u.s. our actions are retaliatory defensive nature. >> then he announced another weapon which he says a hypersonic missle that can evade
anti-missile technology and the other thing is that he says can be be launched from existing infrastructure infrastructure. from russian warships but submarines as well so a confrontational speech by the russian president we heard today. it was one of the most glaring instances of the russian president saying there is the real threat of a new nuclear arms race between the u.s. and russia. >> it's a real concern. this treaty helped keep the peace in europe for decades. you heard the russian president say he wants better relations with the u.s. which is of course words we've heard from the u.s. president at times. from your perch in moscow, is that a prospect that folks still take seriously? >> i tell you what, you're absolutely right and it's interesting he says russia wants better relations with the u.s. but there was an important half-sentence he said after. that he said russia will no
longer knock on closed doors so from moscow's perspective, they believe they were the ones who were trying to get these better relations into place or at least to try to help them along and they believe they are the ones who have been rebuffed. it was interesting because after vladimir putin's speech i spoke to very senior russian lawmakers and they said so far they don't believe any head way has been made and they believe the whole discourse going on in washington has been negative for them as well. the most recent remarks, for instance, by andrew mccabe is one thing one russian senator ripped into saying he believed it was ludicrous to think that the u.s. president was an asset of the russians. they're saying this despite all the evidence that's been put forward over the past couple years over meddling in the u.s. elections and believe there are better relations that should come to path. but you see how frustrate misdemeanor people in moscow are that the relations between the u.s. and russia aren't better than they are. >> fred pleitgen, important
reporting. thank you very much. did the president try to pressure his acting attorney general to interfere in the cohen information? the "new york times" says yes in their bombshell new report. one lawmaker says if it's true that would constitute obstruction of justice. he joins us next. no matter where you are in life or what your dreams entail, a cfp professional is trained, knowledgeable, and committed to financial planning in your best interest. find your certified financial planner™ professional at letsmakeaplan.org. you don't see psoriasis. find your certified financial planner™ professional you see clear skin. you see me. but if you saw me before cosentyx... ♪ i was covered. it was awful. but i didn't give up.
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