President Trump and FBI Director disagree on Nunes memo


Amara: Well, CNN legal analyst and constitutional attorney, Page Pate, joining us now, here in studio, to break this all down for us. A lot to talk about. Let’s start with this December meeting that President Trump had with the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein. Again, he was appointed by Trump, and the President should know that the Justice Department is an independent entity. Yet, you have this kind of conversation going on, questions being asked about where the Russia investigation is headed. What do you make of this? I mean, did he cross the line, legally?

Page: I don’t think that conversation alone crosses the line legally, but when you add it with all of the other things that this President has done since taking office, then I certainly think the Special Counsel has legitimate grounds to consider an obstruction of justice investigation. Now, talking to your Deputy Attorney General, there’s nothing illegal about that, nothing unconstitutional about that. The President, as you pointed out, appoints the Deputy Attorney General. But, when the investigation centers on the White House, people close to the administration, then traditionally, Presidents have allowed the Justice Department to act as an independent agency. Now, it’s technically in the Executive branch, so it’s under the President, but former Presidents, past Presidents, have recognized the importance of that institution being separate and independent. This President does not seem to recognize that.

Michael: Well, I mean, the President, the White House, the team Trump, they’re all the ones under investigation. If you’re asking the guy who’s in charge of the investigation, or overseeing the investigation, “Hey, where’s this heading? And by the way, are you on my team?”, obstruction of justice is hard to prove, isn’t it? You have to show criminal intent. But does the weight of other instances… Is there a cumulative effect?

Page: Absolutely. I mean, that’s the only way to truly prove intent in a case like this because you can’t get inside the President’s mind and he’s never going to admit that the reason he took these steps was to derail his own investigation. So, you look at a pattern of conduct, and it’s not just this one conversation with Rod Rosenstein, it’s the other conversations in the White House about, “We may need to get rid of him. We may need to get rid of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. We may need to get rid of Bob Mueller.” In fact, there’s reporting that he intended to fire Bob Mueller until they pulled back, the White House Counsel did. So it’s that pattern of conduct that I think the Special Counsel’s office will focus on.

Amara: Put this into context for us, the fact that you have the FBI Director publicly clashing with the Trump administration, issuing this very rare public warning not to release this Republican intelligence memo because of grave concerns. Tell us more about what these concerns might be and how unusual it is for this to happen.

Page: Well, it’s extremely unusual. In fact, I can’t think of a time this has happened before. You have the FBI Director, Chris Wray, who’s obviously trying to defend the FBI, the institution of the FBI, because the credibility of that agency is very important, and it goes beyond this investigation. And so, he’s coming out, saying that, “Look, this memo is, first of all, maybe misleading.” I think that’s one of the things he said, and it could very well jeopardize ongoing investigations, ongoing intelligence efforts by both the FBI and other agencies in the Justice Department. So, he’s asking the White House, “Stop this. Don’t do it.” But, obviously, the President is apparently at war with his own Justice Department.

Michael: Well, yeah. I mean, obviously, Mr. Wray must be feeling desperate because last night the President said, “A hundred percent, I’m gonna release it.” So, he obviously came out today after hearing that.

Page: That’s a bold move, Michael. Think about that.

Michael: It is.

Page: He also serves at the pleasure of the President. This President has previously removed FBI directors so, presumably, he wouldn’t hesitate to remove Chris Wray.

Michael: He’s putting his head on the chopping block there. It’s been a busy few hours, because there is a third that we need to ask you about, too. The FBI agent who was in a relationship with another FBI agent, and people will be familiar with this story, they were swapping texts that the Republicans say showed a bias against the Trump campaign, that same agent is now being said to have authored the original version of the e-mail that eventually reopened the inquiry into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, which a lot of people think torpedoed the campaign. What do you make of that?

Page: Well, I think that agent was obviously trying to do his job. And you hope that a dedicated law enforcement agent who’s working for the Department of Justice, either from a prosecutor’s side or an agent’s side, will put aside whatever political beliefs they have to try to do the right thing in connection with an investigation. And I think, just like Jim Comey, this particular agent had a choice. Now, I may want to have Hillary Clinton as President, but do I do my job? And is there enough here to warrant a reopening of that investigation? And so, I’m sure that was a difficult choice for this agent. Jim Comey said it was a difficult choice for him, but at least what he did suggests he was not out to try to sandbag Hillary Clinton.

Amara: So many accusations.

Michael: It’s interesting, too, isn’t it?

Amara: Yeah, so many accusations of bias out there that, you know, you have to remember that these are institutions that were made to be independent.

Michael: Correct.

Amara: Page Pate, we appreciate you coming in. Thank you very much.

Page: Thank you, Amara.

Michael: Wow, an awful lot happening. Page, thank you.


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