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New Reports Indicate Constant Trump Campaign Contacts with Russia During Presidential Campaign; Interview with Congressman Kevin Brady; Russia Makes Concerning Military Moves Against U.S. Aired 8- 8:30a ET
Aired February 15, 2017 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[08:00:00] ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: A lot of news this morning, so let's get right to it.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. We begin with breaking news. Another crisis for the Trump White House. Multiple sources tell CNN several high-level advisers to the president constantly made contact with senior Russian intelligence officials during the presidential campaign, something the White House press secretary denied just yesterday.
CAMEROTA: Among the names captured in intercepted calls are Mr. Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and the now ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn. So what is the connection between Russia and the Trump administration? It's day 27 of the Trump presidency.
Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Jim Sciutto. He is live in Washington. What have you learned, Jim?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Alisyn, two things sparked alarm inside U.S. intelligence and law enforcement. One, the repeated contacts between Trump campaign advisers and Russian officials, described as constant contacts. But also the level of those officials, senior most advisers very close to the president who were in this regular communication.
And these communications considered significant enough that both then president-elect Trump and President Obama were briefed on it by the nation's senior most spy leaders.
SCIUTTO: Multiple sources tell CNN senior advisers to Donald Trump were in constant communication with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. U.S. intelligence intercepting repeated calls since last summer, raising red flags due to the frequency of communications and the high level campaign advisers involved. Those advisers include former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and recently resigned national security adviser Michael Flynn.
President-elect Trump and then President Barack Obama were both briefed on details of these extensive communications according to U.S. officials familiar with the matter. Manafort, who has business ties with Russia and the Ukraine, told CNN that he was not in contact with Russian officials during the campaign, calling the allegations, quote, "boggling," and noting the FBI has not contacted him. Asked about possible contacts between Trump advisers and Russia, White House spokesman Sean Spicer gave this somewhat confusing answer on Tuesday.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's nothing that would conclude me that anything different has changed with respect to that time period.
SCIUTTO: But U.S. officials say the timing of the communications was alarming, the calls taking place while Russian hackers were targeting U.S. political organizations with cyber-attacks meant to undermine the election.
DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.
SCIUTTO: Paul Manafort addressed those concerns in July.
PAUL MANAFORT, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: It's just absurd. I don't know anything about what you said. You may know it. And if you do, then you ought to expose it. To say you know, I don't even know what you're talking about. It's crazy. The fact that we're having this conversation is the wrong conversation.
SCIUTTO: Today the Kremlin says reports of contact between them and Trump's team before the election are not based on any facts.
SCIUTTO: Those July 27 comments by the president or the nominee at the time, Donald Trump, calling on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's e- mails happening during the time period when these constant communications were taking place between senior advisers and Russia. I should add, Alisyn, that you're going to have a meeting between the new secretary of state Ray Tillerson and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Germany tomorrow. Lots for them to discuss.
CAMEROTA: Absolutely, Jim. Thank you for all of that reporting.
So fallout this morning from Michael Flynn's resignation. We have learned that the president knew for weeks that Michael Flynn had misled his administration. So why was Vice President Mike Pence kept in the dark? CNN senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns is live at the White House with more. Good morning, Joe.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn. The timeline on Michael Flynn's departure is really just raising even more questions about who knew what in this administration and when.
SPICER: The evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation is what led the president to ask for General Flynn's resignation.
JOHNS: Some key Republicans now joining Democrats, demanding investigations into Michael Flynn and the administration's ties to Russia.
REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, (D) MARYLAND: We have no idea why Flynn was doing all of this and why he was trying desperately to help Russia. He's not going to get off that easy. We need some answers to a whole lot of questions.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: The intelligence committee is already looking at Russian involvement in our election. It is highly likely they want to take a look at this.
JOHNS: As the White House reveals that the president knew for weeks about Flynn's calls with Russia. On January 26th, the Justice Department first warning the White House counsel that intercepted calls show that Flynn misled them, lying about discussing sanctions with the Russian ambassador, making him vulnerable to blackmail. That same day the White House says the president was briefed.
[08:05:05] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president from day one, from minute one, was unbelievably decisive in asking for and demanding that his White House counsel and their team review the situation.
JOHNS: But the president waited 18 days to demand Flynn's resignation and kept Vice President Pence in the dark the entire time the West Wing was investigating Flynn's account. Flynn's call to the Russian ambassador happened on the same day President Obama announced new sanctions against Russia for their cyber-attacks attempting to influence the U.S. election. Weeks later vice president-elect Pence went on national TV defending Flynn and denying that he discussed sanctions with the Russian ambassador.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The conversations that took place at that time were not in any way related to new U.S. sanctions against Russia.
JOHNS: The vice president only finding out that Flynn misled him last week after an explosive "Washington Post" report uncovered the truth, two weeks after President Trump first learned of it.
Before resigning, Flynn spoke to the conservative website "The Daily Caller," insisting he crossed no lines in his dealings with Russia and raising questions about who may have leaked details of his calls. President Trump's only public comments on the firestorm this week, a tweet, "The real story here is why there are so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington. Will these leaks be happening as I deal on North Korea, et cetera?"
JOHNS: In fact the president was back on social media a little while ago tweeting, quote, "This Russian connection nonsense is merely an attempt to cover up many the many mistakes made in Hillary Clinton's losing campaign," Chris. CUOMO: Maybe a little bit of a distraction. And it is no small
irony, Joe, that the only guy who apparently has come clean in this situation is Mike Flynn.
Joining us now is Republican congressman Kevin Brady of Texas. He is the chairman of the House ways and means committee. Congressman, good to have you on with us this morning.
REP. KEVIN BRADY (R), TEXAS: Thanks, Chris. Good to be here.
CUOMO: So you have Senator Bob Corker who came out this morning, pretty full-throated concern he needs to know more and understand who knew what and when and what's going on with this apparent Russian connection with the White House. Senator Lindsey Graham, and I'm pointing these two out because they're both Republicans, then said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: There are real members of Congress up here, Republicans and Democrats, who love our country and are going to make sure that checks and balances that have been in place for 200 years work even when the president is in your own party.
It's OK for Trump to disagree with Lindsey Graham and other Republicans on how to handle Russia. It would not be OK to have the Trump campaign receiving assistance from the Russians. That would be a game-changer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CUOMO: Yes, they're senators and you're in the House. But you are a respected leader within your party. Do you share their concern?
BRADY: We ought to get to the facts on this. We ought to know what happened. I want to know why Michael Flynn misled the vice president. I want to know if there were any untoward conversations that he had that led to this loss and erosion of trust with President Trump. I want to get to the facts. I'm actually confident our intelligence committees, which have always worked in a very bipartisan way, can dig into those facts. I'm not so interested in the gossip, the rumors, the anonymous leaks. I want to know the truth of what happened here. And I think we have a way forward is empowering our intelligence committees to do this.
CUOMO: What do you make of the criticism that the intelligence committees aren't enough, that you need this to be a broader investigation that is truly bipartisan, maybe even, some have suggested, with a special prosecutor so you don't have any political overlays?
BRADY: Before you start a forest fire, maybe you ought to see what the smoke is all about. Maybe you ought to see exactly what this is, and then temper that investigation, make sure it applies appropriately to what's going on. So let's start, let's let the intelligence committees do their work in a bipartisan way, in a fair, objective way. And then once we know those facts, we can act appropriately.
CUOMO: Right, but you know you have Republican dominance in the committees. You just had Senator Rand Paul who prizes himself as an independent spirit saying Republicans shouldn't investigate Republicans. And we've seen out of the White House fake answers to real questions. They can't get on the same page --
BRADY: I don't know about that, Chris. I'm not sure I agree with the fake answers.
CUOMO: Well, let's look at them.
BRADY: Sometimes it's the other way around.
CUOMO: Let's look at them case by case.
BRADY: I do think Congress should exercise its oversight role regardless of who is in the White House. And I look at our intelligence committees. These are very solid, bipartisan people. They know the seriousness of our intelligence networks and breaches of them. And so I do have confidence they can identify the facts. Then we can act appropriately.
[08:10:00] CUOMO: I'm just saying if you don't do it right at its inception, it's hard to then get it right afterwards. You do the investigation so you do get those early facts right, so you do understand the implications. And if that's compromised by politics early on, you'll never get anywhere else. That's the concern.
BRADY: I agree. If I weren't, that would be a challenge. I don't think that's the case. And so let them do their work. Let's get to the bottom of this. And then, again, if there's something there, some path we need to follow, we need more facts, then we'll go after them, regardless of who is in the White House. Congress is going to conduct its oversight role, but it's going to do it based on facts, not just on the political winds.
CUOMO: It's very interesting, on this notion of fakeness, nothing that has been reported by us has been rebutted by the White House as a point of fact. They are the ones who can't get on the same page with their answers from something small like whether Flynn resigned or was told to resign. Sean Spicer saying there's nothing he knows that would conclude that they had any contacts with Russia. We now have multiple sources that there was constant contact. They said they didn't know about Flynn, and then we know they knew for weeks about Flynn. Does this not concern you?
BRADY: Well, it does. Look, I don't necessarily buy into the media perfection statement that you made. I think the media makes plenty of mistakes.
CUOMO: I'm talking about --
BRADY: In this case I think we should focus on the facts. Let's find out exactly what occurred. Look, I think this is a serious issue. Republican or Democrat I think agree there. But before we light the forest fire, let's find out what happened in those conversations, why Michael Flynn misled the vice president, and work through that timetable. I think that's a fair approach.
CUOMO: By the way, we don't even know Michael Flynn did anything wrong, even if he did talk about sanctions there. I don't know that it would even trigger the Logan Act, let alone a political play of making him resign. So you're right. The facts are important, those transcripts are important, and I know the American people would love to see them.
You talk about doing this the right way early on. Transparency is the issue at the root of all of this. It always has been when it comes to Donald Trump and what seems to be a curious relationship with Russian sympathies. You had people come to you and say, hey, you know, we could get his taxes. We have this 1924 law that we could use and maybe there will be some transparency in that, maybe it will help the president by showing what is or is not in his taxes. You said no. Why?
BRADY: Here is why. That would be an abuse of power by the chairman of the ways and means committee, me. That law directs us to look at tax administration, only look at private tax returns in the case of the tax administration. That is clearly not the case here.
And let me just say this, look, if you let Congress begin rummaging around for political purposes in the tax returns of the president, what stops them from doing it to everyday Americans? That would be an abuse of power. Let me just tell you, privacy and civil liberties which is at the heart of that law, by the way, would be weakened if we took this approach. And so I've said absolutely not. We're not going back to the bad old days when Congress or elected officials could use private tax returns to harass and intimidate and punish their political enemies. We're not going to do that, regardless of where you stand on whether those tax returns should be public, that's your position. But we're not going to abuse our power. I'm not goings to abuse my power to do that.
CUOMO: I never said anything about making them public. The law would allow internal review of them. And you said for political purposes. Why do you discount any questions about the Trump administration connections to Russia?
BRADY: So start at the beginning of this law. What in tax administration do his returns have to deal with?
CUOMO: What in tax administration? What do you mean, like the goings-on of how we look at taxes in this country?
BRADY: No. It is how taxes are administered.
CUOMO: I would say nothing.
BRADY: I know. And I would agree with that.
CUOMO: But Congressman Pascrell said something different. He said the committee does have the ability to access tax records in order to do a review.
BRADY: I disagree completely. This provision is about how the tax code is administered and specifically protects the civil liberties and privacy of American citizens from prying politicians. And so this law is exactly the opposite of what's been presented. And let me just tell you, look, you do not want Congress and elected officials to be able to abuse their power to rummage around in your tax returns because they think you're a political opponent or enemy. So that's the bigger principle. That's where I say no.
CUOMO: I got you. You're not going to get anybody disagreeing with you about not wanting the government digging around their taxes.
[08:15:02] I'm just saying the assumption that it's all about politics may be something that can be argued. But Pascrell (ph) made his case. You're the chairman.
Let me ask you something that matters more certainly to you -- tax policy. Big reason that our president is named Donald Trump, people want to see tax relief. They think it will spur the economy. All of this, as real as it may be, does distract from his ability to get stuff like that done, the work of government.
Where are you on a tax proposal plan? When do you think we'll see something?
BRADY: Yes. So, moving forward very quickly, I think it's exciting the president is going to talk about his tax plan here in the next few weeks and tells us he's absolutely committed to get this economy going, leapfrog America, as Republicans have proposed, lead America as the best place on Earth for new jobs and that new investment.
And so, I'm excited about the work that's done. We're going bold on here. This only happens once every 30 years. We've got to get this right, you know? And not just getting the economy and wages going, but simplifying the tax code so much so, nine out of ten Americans with file using the postcard style system and busting up the IRS, redesigning them.
These are critical proponents of tax reform. And I feel very confident. We're exactly on the right track forgetting this done this year.
CUOMO: Quickly, this year. So, you're saying we'll see something when?
BRADY: In 2017.
CUOMO: 2017. All right. You give me a little bit of a range. But I'll take it. Any progress will be something.
BRADY: Let's put this in perspective, 30 years nothing has occurred, first time in a generation. This year is the time -- let's seize this opportunity.
CUOMO: Case by case analysis, let's see what happens. Kevin Brady, thank you very much. Appreciate it.
BRADY: Thanks, Chris.
CUOMO: All right.
CAMEROTA: As if it's not complicated enough, Chris, officials say a Russian spy ship is positioned off the U.S. Coast. How will President Trump respond? Our national security and counterterrorism experts weigh in, next.
[08:20:29] CAMEROTA: Russian military moves causing concern this morning. U.S. officials say Russia has a spy ship off America's East Coast in international waters. A senior military official also telling CNN Russia secretly deployed a cruise missile, apparently violating a decades-old treaty.
So, let's discuss all of this with our panel. We have CNN terrorism analyst and former CIA counterterrorism official, Phil Mudd, and CNN national security commentator, former House intelligence chairman and former FBI special agent, Mike Rogers, and CNN chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.
Mike, the plot thickens. Just as we've been talking about Mike Flynn all morning and what his relationship and his contact with Russia is, now this. Is this a provocation from Russia? How do you see this?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Well, this is over -- actually a couple of years you've seen this ramp-up of provocation from the Russians.
We saw missiles get deployed, the Iskander missile get deployed to Kaliningrad. It's a little small little piece of Russia between Poland and Lithuania on the Baltic Sea that NATO believes could be capable of carrying a nuclear weapon. That was certainly provocation on behalf of the Russians.
We've seen this push out of their military toward U.S. international borders on the West Coast, they were flying their bombers, nuclear capable bombers. We've seen them do this in Europe as well. As a matter of fact, one country, a Scandinavian country, last year already exceeded its defense budget for responding to incursions into its airspace by the Russians.
So, this isn't a new activity, but it is certainly something we should all be concerned about, how we move forward and how we continue to push back Russian, at least aggression.
CUOMO: Phil Mudd, Mike Flynn, career intel man, smart. Everybody says the same thing.
The idea that he wouldn't think that communications with a Russian counterpart wouldn't be the subject of some type of monitoring seems naive. How does that inform us in terms of whether or not Flynn should immediately be assumed to have been doing something that he knew was wrong, that was illegal or nefarious?
PHIL MUDD, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: We shouldn't assume he knew he was doing something -- let's be clear. When I was at the FBI and CIA, I met Russians. If had been in the Trump campaign last year, I would have met Russians. The best way to know your adversary is to talk to them.
The questions that come out of this -- let's be clear about the difference between insinuation, communication simultaneous with the e- mail issues and with the Russian attacks on the election, the difference between simulation and fact. What was the content of those conversations and, of course, did he mislead the vice president?
Yes, I think what happened afterwards in the post-election period, in the post-inauguration period was more significant than the actual meetings. I would have met the Russians if I were him.
To back your original point, if you're an intelligence officer and you don't know going in and talking to the president and vice president about what you said to the Russians is knowable in the government, I don't understand that one. Somebody intercepted that communication and he had to know that. I think he just got in over his head.
CAMEROTA: So, Jim, that leads us to your reporting. That's interesting context that Phil just given us, that he would have met with the Russians. So, what is unusual about what you've learned about Trump advisers constant?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Two things.
One, the frequency. Constant communications, not just an introduction here or there. Constant communications.
Two, the level. We're talking about the senior most advisers to Trump, close proximity to the president having these communications.
I was speaking to somebody from the Obama administration last night who said during '08, the transition then, that she met with foreign officials, but maybe once or twice, to talk about logistics, perhaps, of a trip, but not repeated communications. So, this is what intelligence officials have told me. Having those contacts by themselves is not unusual, but the repeated nature of these contacts, the frequency and the level of people who are doing them much more senior than would normally have these contacts.
It's one thing to introduce yourself to your counterpart on the other side. It's another thing to have these regular communications. That's what raised the red flags for U.S. intelligence and law enforcement.
CUOMO: And, Mike, you don't have to be an intelligence expert to know that something that makes things more powerful is a denial of it. Sean Spicer going out yesterday and saying, "I don't know anything that would make me believe that anybody from here was talking to any Russian".
[08:25:01] And then, all this reports coming out certainly fans the fire and leads to the other question. The who knew? The central question of this.
It's not necessarily about Flynn doing something illegal or the arcane Logan Act. It's about the notion that Mike Flynn is being explained by the administration as some kind of rogue agent and nobody knew, nobody directed him, nobody was aware. Does that make sense to you?
ROGERS: Well, here is where I think we can get -- everybody can get in a bit of trouble. Speculation I have seen even this morning on folks pulling it into the political arena can be really dangerous. They're making some very serious allegations.
I think we all ought to stop for a minute, let the Senate do its investigation. They said they're going to have an investigation. I think they should do that. I think they should get the facts assembled as we would know them.
Again, you know, to Phil Mudd's point, it is not a crime to talk to adversaries or allies, and that happens more than people realize.
CUOMO: Then why was Flynn forced out? Why did he have to resign? If it's not a big deal --
ROGERS: I think what's a big deal is if you misrepresent yourself to the vice president of the United States. I do think that's a big deal.
CUOMO: But that takes us to the central question, do you believe he could have been doing this -- your answer may be yes -- that he was doing this all along, never directed, nobody knew, nobody monitored any of Mike Flynn's conversations?
ROGERS: Well, I mean, clearly, in the reports you had, he made conversations away from everyone else. As a matter of fact, there's a report he did one on the beach when he was on vacation. Clearly, that wasn't going to be monitored by anyone else other than the intelligence community that is very interested, let's say, in what our Russian counterparts are doing here in the United States. And so, that activity is clearly going to be watched, hopefully with a sharp eye.
I will tell you, though, this is -- Mike Flynn had this kind of position going back several years. It wouldn't be out of the range of possibility that he was eager to do this on his own and wasn't directed. I think we shouldn't make that speculation until the investigation is done, because that's a serious consequence.
You know, think about all the things we have to deal with. Kim Jong- un is firing a missile. Iran fired a missile in violation of U.N. resolutions. Same with Kim Jong-un in North Korea, fired -- we have some huge and significant national security challenges. And what I'm worried about is they need -- this is an opportunity for them to realign the National Security Council.
I think it was completely distracted by all of this for some period of time, in a time when we have all these very serious issues. This would be an opportunity for the president to say I'm going to realign the National Security Council. I'm not going to have four or five people in charge making decisions with different statuses and different ranks. We're going to have a National Security Council that functions to get the information to the president and other decision makers to make a good decision. That to me is really important.
CAMEROTA: We'll see if he takes your advice. Mike, Jim, Phil, thank you very much.
SCIUTTO: Thank you.
CUOMO: So, everybody seems to be on the same page of saying we need to get the facts straight. The question is, how do we do that except for our efforts as reporters? There are calls for a bipartisan congressional committee. That's being pushed back by Republicans. They're saying we have the intelligence committee, let them do their work. Then, we get to the White House, what are they saying is the right way to deal with this situation?
We get the bottom line, next.