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Monday: FBI's Comey on Russia, Wiretapping Claims; All Eyes on Washington for FBI Director's Testimony. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 19, 2017 - 18:00   ET



[18:00:27] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour, you are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks for joining me. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

The stage is set for a dramatic day on Capitol Hill. One that should bring some extraordinary testimony on Russia's meddling in the 2016 election and President Trump's claim that he was wiretapped by his predecessor during the campaign. We will finally hear from the director of the FBI, James Comey.

Among the questions he could face before the House Intelligence Committee, is his agency investigating the White House or not? Is there any evidence to back up President Trump's accusation that President Barack Obama had his phone bugged during the campaign?

Now, the Republican lawmaker leading the hearing says no. Watch.


REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Was there a physical wiretap of Trump Tower? No, but there never was. And the information we had on Friday continues to lead us in that direction.


CABRERA: Tomorrow, FBI Director Comey will raise his right hand and tell you what he knows. It's all public on live television. No filters. The proceedings start at 10:00 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Now, if that's not dramatic enough, the political dogfight over Supreme Court vacancy goes public tomorrow as well, with the first confirmation hearing for nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch. Plus, we are just days away from the House vote on the Republican health care plan that both President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan have pitched themselves too political for better or worse.

Let's get started. We have teams of reporters and analyst ready to examine every moment of tomorrow's hearing. Joining me now, Ryan Nobles, CNN's Washington correspondent, and Shimon Prokupecz, CNN's crime and justice producer.

So, Ryan, to you first. We just heard from the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, he went on to also say that there -- that according to what he's seen, no evidence of conclusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

What are you hearing from the top Democrat on that committee, Congressman Adam Schiff, about what he's seen so far?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's clear the congressman would like to put this issue about wiretapping in the background so that they can focus on the bigger issue as to whether or not Russia was involved in intervening in the American election, and what will the Trump campaign play in that.

Listen to what he said about these allegations about wiretapping this morning on "Meet the Press."


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I hope we can put an end to the wild goose chase because what the president said was just patently false and the wrecking ball it created now has banged into our British allies and our German allies. It's continuing to grow in terms of damage and he needs to put an end to this.


NOBLES: Schiff alluding to the fact there that the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer brought in a British intelligence agency into this entire controversy. And I think its Schiff's goal tomorrow to really get James Comey on the record to say, no, there's no evidence that the Obama administration attempted to wiretap Donald Trump during the campaign. Whether or not he gets that definitive of an answer, we'll have to wait until tomorrow's hearing to see.

CABRERA: So, Shimon, walk us through what you'll be looking for when this hearing starts tomorrow morning at 10:00 a.m.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Well, you know, we've talked to some folks here at the FBI and some folks familiar with what he's going to talk about tomorrow. And I think we are going to get an answer on the wiretapping. What I don't think we're going to get an answer on is more about what the FBI is doing in terms of their investigation, what they are looking at, you know, who they suspect in some of this hacking and some of the meddling into the election.

I think we're not going to get as many answers as we would like. Certainly the public would like, because the FBI is still very much -- very deep in the investigation but they are nowhere near the end of it. The counterintelligence division at the FBI, which is looking at this, can take years to sort of come up with conclusions about what happened here. So, you know, we're heading for -- certainly, a big interesting day, but we may not get any answers that we're looking for.

CABRERA: Ryan, Comey was asked to testify but he was not compelled to testify. Does his willingness to do this point out anything significant?

NOBLES: I think what it points out more than anything is that James Comey would in some respect like to get back control of his role in this narrative. It seems as though a lot of people have been talking about him, about what he may or may not be involved in this entire investigation.

And, Comey, as we know, is somebody who likes to show that he has control of a situation and right now, it appears that that control is lacking. So, maybe, as Shimon pointed out, he may not be able to be definitive about the information that he and his organization have gathered over the past couple months, but he can at least show a degree of confidence that he has this under control, that they know what they are doing and that ultimately, they will come to some sort of definitive conclusion.

[18:05:09] At this point, it's just been a lot of rumors and back and forth about what James Comey has been up to. Tomorrow morning, he can try and clear that up.

CABRERA: Ryan and Shimon, thanks for all the good info.

Let's bring in a couple experts who will be carefully watching tomorrow's hearing. Juliette Kayyem, CNN's national security analyst and a former assistant secretary with the Homeland Security Department. Also with me, Tim Naftali, CNN contributor, presidential historian and former director of Richard Nixon's presidential library.

All right. Juliette, to you first. Who are the key players to look for at tomorrow's hearing besides Comey?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: One is going to be Sally Yates, former acting attorney general. People remember her for getting fired for not defending the Muslim ban case, but actually, we later learned she was quite instrumental in the Trump Russia investigation.

Her suspicions about Flynn, the former national security adviser being compromised, led her to notify the White House. They did nothing about that and until told the story was essentially released by the press, and then finally fired Flynn. So, what she has to say in terms of the investigation, why was she concerned that Flynn could be compromised, those are two big questions.

The other person is somebody who won't be there. Obviously, President Trump won't be, but it's Mike Flynn, the former national security adviser, sort of ruling around this entire investigation about the Trump/Russia ties. Mike Flynn seems very close to the center, at almost every turn. His relationship with the Russians, money he got from the Russians, his ties to the Trump campaign and then, of course, his national security adviser. He will not be there, but his name will surely be mentioned and invoked a lot.

CABRERA: So, Juliette, do you expect that James Comey will come out and hit the nail on the head when it comes to these wiretapping claims? KAYYEM: No -- well, in terms of wiretapping, absolutely. Comey has

no incentive to let essentially the fiction that Obama wiretapped Trump, the fiction that all of us not all of us, but a lot of people have been trying to disentangle or figure out what Trump meant until all of a sudden, it's abundantly clear it wasn't true.


CABRERA: -- the White House, there has been no one defending Trump on that.

KAYYEM: Right. (INAUDIBLE) I have been saying about the White House that they're sort of did -- you know, the Monty python, I'm not dead yet scenario. Like, oh, if you just wait a little while, we'll have proof.

There's no proof. Comey wants to shut that down, and the reason why is because the allegation essentially is against Comey, right? That Comey as the FBI director illegally wiretapped Trump.

But the other reason why, as everyone knows, that the real case and the constitutional issue and the historic issue and the issue related to our own democracy really is the bigger issue of the ties between Trump and Russia and what Russia did in the 2016 election.

CABRERA: Guys, let me read something my colleague Nia Malika Henderson wrote about Trump's wiretapping claims. And I quote it. She says, as with birtherism, it's Trump against almost everybody. A vantage point that allows him to constantly be the embattled populist outsider, even as he sits in the White House.

Tim, do you agree with that?

TIM NAFTALI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I agree that he's trying to do that. I don't agree that that stands to make any sense anymore.

CABRERA: Does anybody benefit from that at this point?

NAFTALI: Well, President Trump is at the center of this. He has access to whatever intelligence he needs to have. He could find out today all of the people for whom there are FISA warrants, all the people who have been wiretapped. He can get a sense of the scope of Comey's investigation.

None of these things should be secret from him. In other words, tomorrow, there shouldn't be any secrets for the White House. The White House should know this in advance. In fact, the heads -- the Republican heads of both the Senate and House Intelligence Committee have been very helpful to the White House by basically saying to them, hinting to them, look, there's no evidence backing up those tweets. Get ahead of the story.

And time and again, instead of getting ahead of the story, the White House continues to play around as if there could be some wiretapping.

CABRERA: Why do you think they keep digging in instead of moving on? NAFTALI: Well, that would require us to understand the psychology of

Mr. Trump, of President Trump. Given the campaign, the way he handled the campaign, normally he doubles down, or takes or goes on the offensive when he's on the defensive.

What surprises me, what disturbs me actually is that folks around him haven't said, Mr. President, we are now talking about the use of intelligence, the use of intelligence by a predecessor, the use of intelligence right now. This is not something to tweet about. This is something you -- if you want to go forward with an allegation, only do it if you have the evidence.

Anyway, tomorrow what I'm looking for is I'm looking, first of all, to see whether the FBI Director Comey makes clear that there weren't any warrants for the tapping of President Trump, then-President-elect Trump or his inner circle's phones.

[18:10:12] CABRERA: And that's what sources tell us that that is what they can confirm.

NAFTALI: The second thing I'm looking for is Mr. Comey to explain the scope of the investigation. You see, there isn't really supposed to be an investigation of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia unless there's evidence of some context. My suspicion, and this is based on just analyzing what's open --


NAFTALI: -- is that this started as an invest -- a counterintelligence investigation of the hacking, and the role of Russian intelligence in the hacking. And that means you investigate Russian intelligence. You have to investigate WikiLeaks and you have to investigate any other outlet through which illegally acquired e- mails went.

CABRERA: But it has been confirmed that there was some surveillance of perhaps Russian operatives or foreign aides or spies.

NAFTALI: Right, and that's why tomorrow, you may be hearing something about incidental collection. In other words, if there's a warrant on a foreign entity and an American citizen for one reason or another emails or calls that foreign entity, they may get caught up in the surveillance, even though they were not the target of the investigation nor is there a warrant for them.


NAFTALI: We -- that may be the source. That may be the source of some of the suspicions out there that Trump people were wiretapped.

CABRERA: Juliette, go ahead.

KAYYEM: No, I think what's important here is, right, obviously, there is likely incidental intelligence. I think it's highly unlikely that Comey will confirm a criminal investigation he may just punt that question. It will be asked quite often. I will tell you, if he does confirm that there is an investigation of

Trump associates about the Russia hack, I think the political floor will drop. I don't anticipate it, but that would be definitely a moment.

I will say, one thing that happened this weekend that makes me believe as someone who is looking at all these different pieces. You don't know where each one is heading. These investigations are very complicated. There's generally not an aha moment.

You know, there's a lot of different pieces, is that this weekend, the Senate Intelligence Committee asked Roger Stone, a close friend of Donald Trump's, a part of the Trump team, the loose affiliation of teams, they told him that he essentially should not get rid of or extinguish any information about potential collaboration between him and Russia. You'll remember Roger Stone is the one who seemed to be very close to WikiLeaks, would often preempt WikiLeaks' release by saying, watch out tomorrow, WikiLeaks will have something on John Podesta.

That's the close -- this moment with Roger Stone is about as close as we have gotten to the Trump campaign, except for Mike Flynn. And so, those two together, Mike Flynn and Roger Stone, to me suggests that the Trump administration is going to find it very hard to say everything is benign, everything is innocent. You've got two key players who are under tremendous surveil -- or you know, tremendous questions about the relationship with Russia.

CABRERA: And I'm looking down because I do know that you're talking about the Senate Intelligence Committee asking Roger Stone to hold on to any evidence, papers, anything that could possibly be part of this investigation.

So, important to note for our viewers that there are a couple of parallel investigations happening right now, the House Intelligence Committee and then the Senate Intelligence Committee. We're going to hear Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers testifying before the House Intelligence Committee. And we do know there is on the schedule on March 30th another hearing in which many people perhaps will go before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

So, there's a lot of loose ends at this point. But tomorrow, we might start to get a few more pieces of the puzzle.

Juliette Kayyem and Tim Naftali, our thanks to both of you.

Still to come, the FBI director's hearing comes at a curious time for President Trump and his meetings of U.S. allies. So, how will the world audience view tomorrow's hearing?

And a former British ambassador to Russia joins me next.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [18:18:48] CABRERA: Live will be Capitol Hill Monday as FBI Director James Comey testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Russian attempts to influence last year's presidential election.

Now, committee members are expected to ask Comey if there are any connections between Russian officials and President Trump's associates.

And then there are the president's unproven accusations that former President Obama conducted surveillance on him before and after the election. The nation and much of the world will be watching tomorrow.

Sir Tony Brenton joins me now via Skype from London. He's a former British ambassador to Russia.

Sir, thanks for being with us. What do you expect to learn from tomorrow's hearing?

TONY BRENTON, FORMER BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO RUSSIA: Well, I really can't predict such a wild story now. First of all, with regard to the British involvement, which is the accusation that the GCHQ wiretapping Mr. Trump, I'm absolutely sure that that's not true. Why on earth would they take such a huge risk as what's happening in American presidential candidate?

On the other charges, which are lurking around about the Russians acquiring influence over the Trump campaign, it's pretty clear that the Russians did the hack on the Democratic Party. They also did it to the Republican Party, as I understand it.

[18:20:02] And it's pretty clear that they put the material that they found into the public domain. It would be surprising to me it were discovered that they are actually anticipating changing the result of the election, the results of that, because, of course, everyone expected that a that time, that Mrs. Clinton would win. I think the reality of it is that Mr. Putin intensely dislikes Mrs. Clinton as she supported big demonstrations against him and was very pleased to do some damage.

CABRERA: So, what do you think could be a bombshell of sorts if there were to be one?

BRENTON: I mean, if it were established that -- there was a great dossier, of course, that appeared a few months which purported to describe quite specific Russian abilities to control Mr. Trump and his campaign. If any of that were corroborated, that would be a bombshell. It would be huge and it would be a threat to Mr. Trump's presidency.

But really quite well-funded and motivated news organizations and intelligence organizations have been struggling to corroborate the assertions in that dossier ever since it came out five or six months ago and so far, nothing has surfaced. So, my instinct is there's an awful lot of noise going on and hysteria in Washington D.C. at the moment, but there's rather little evidence to sustain it first. CABRERA: You talked about the hysteria and the U.S. specifically in

Washington. What is the read by those outside the U.S. by people like yourself, by other countries right now, watching and looking from more of this bird's eye perspective on what's happening in the U.S.

BRENTON: OK, my reading is this much more about Trump than it is about Russia, and the various news organizations and maybe the intelligence agencies over there are looking for a way of using supposed Russian links to damage Mr. Trump. And we have seen very specific examples of that.

Let me you rather a small one. Dmitry Kislyak, the Russian ambassador in Washington whom I know quite well from -- when I worked with him in Moscow is a very senior Russian diplomat, just like I was a senior British diplomat. He's been described by some news organizations, including obviously CNN, as a spy master. And that's complete nonsense. He's not. He's a guy whose job it is to go out and meet influential Americans and get to know what they are thinking and where they are going.

These accusations of that sort to muddy the water tremendously in Washington, and make it very unclear what if any basis there is to make wild accusations flying around.

CABRERA: Has the U.S. reputation been damaged among our allies?

BRENTON: Well, I mean, the situation in the United States at the moment in terms of the personality of your new president, in terms of the policies that emerging is so unprecedented that this particular corner of the story, the Russian influence, has played a rather subsidiary role. But if the hearings begin show that there is some really influence by Russia, that would obviously be huge.

CABRERA: All right. Sir Tony Brenton, thank you so much for your insight today.

Up next, the view from Russia. We go live to Moscow to see how closely Russians are following the investigation into their government's meddling in the U.S. election.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[18:27:39] CABRERA: You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. Welcome back. I'm Ana Cabrera.

Tomorrow on Capitol Hill, something we don't see very often, a public hearing called by the House Intelligence Committee. Normally, those hearings are classified. They happened behind closed doors.

But tomorrow's hearing again is going to be public on TV here on CNN starting at 10:00 a.m. Eastern. And this hearing tomorrow is all about Russia. How much did Russia manage to stir the results of last year's presidential election?

The American intelligence community has concluded that Russia did interfere with the vote.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is in Moscow watching reaction to these developments from that side of the world.

Fred, how closely are the people there in Russia watching this story and how it do they view these accusations?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, we asked the Russian government about that just last week and they said they're actually not going to be watching the hearings at all. They said they have better things to do. But, of course, some very top level officials here in the city and in this country are going to be watching very, very closely to see if any new allegations, if any new facts come out.

And you can really see that the Russians are increasingly growing frustrated with some of the things that they are hearing from America. Some top level officials are telling us they feel like it sounds like a broken record. And many people here simply want the discussion to go away.

Here's what they told us.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): Does President Trump really have any ties to the Russian government? Did Russia really meddle in the U.S. election? Questions that persist in the U.S. but that many Russians wish would just go away.

We got unnerved reactions on the streets of Moscow.

"No, of course, we're not interfering in any elections," this woman says.

And this man adds, "In Russia, we have an old saying. A bad dancer always has an excuse. The Americans blame Russia for everything. It's not true."

"I like Americans," he says. "They are normal people. But this is just crazy. If they say all this, it means that Russia is more powerful than the U.S."

Russian state-run media has been lashing out at Western coverage of the Trump-Russia relationship, especially at CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A gift to the Kremlin when you look at the timing.

PLEITGEN: Vladimir Putin spokesman lamenting what he called American hysteria.

DMITRY PESKOV, KREMLIN SPOKESMAN: The fact that Russia is being demonized in that sense comes very strange to us. And we are really sorry about that.

PLEITGEN: All this after both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin expressed mutual admiration during the campaign.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION: He is a brilliant and talented person, without a doubt.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In terms of leadership, he is getting an A.

PLEITGEN: Russian officials acknowledge they were pleased when Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the U.S. election, but they also expected results -- better U.S./Russian relations and possibly an easing of sanctions slapped on Russia over the Ukraine crisis. Now, that hope is fading, one expert says.

DMITRI TRENIN, DIRECTOR MOSCOW CENTER, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTERNATIONAL PEACE: They were giving him a chance. They still are giving him a chance. But they are becoming more realistic about Trump, about the United States, more generally. And I think that, basically, they're not looking for a major breakthrough.


PLEITGEN: So there you have the view here from Russia. The country's officials saying they believe that their nation is being demonized in all of this. Actually, the spokesman for Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, also says that he feels the U.S. is humiliating itself by the discussions that are going on right now.

But, of course, a lot of this, Ana, has pragmatic reasons. The Russians really had hoped that relations would improve very, very quickly. And so far, of course, that has not materialized, Ana.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. It seems those hopes are dampened just a little bit. Fred Pleitgen, thank you so much.

Still to come, pure coincidence or timed intentionally. As the U.S. Secretary of State held key meetings on North Korea, the reclusive regime claimed a big advance in its rocket technology. A live report from Beijing is next.

But first, CNN's Chief Business Correspondent Christine Romans has this week's "Before the Bell."

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ana. Action from the Federal Reserve is now in the rear view mirror, and the money story this week remains in Washington where there will be two big confirmation hearings and constant scrutinizing of the President's legislative agenda.

Does trouble for the health care overhaul foreshadow trouble for tax reform or infrastructure? Any such suggestion could rattle markets.

First step is the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. He's record on big business could come into question. He has ruled on several anti-trust and employment cases.

Later in the week, Labor Secretary pick Alexander Acosta will face lawmakers. He was Trump's second selection after the fast food CEO Andrew Puzder withdrew his nomination. If confirmed, Acosta will be in charge of the bureau that over sees the monthly jobs report as well as workplace conditions and employment opportunities.

We'll also get a housing market heat check on the heels of that Federal Reserve interest rate hike. Numbers on new and existing home sales are due. The housing market, Ana, remains strong with prices in many metro areas near peak levels. With the spring and summer buying season drawing closer, the question now is, can it continue?

Higher interest rates could put the pressure on buyers in more expensive areas. Rates on the 30-year fixed mortgage hit a 2017 high of 4.3 percent last week. But analysts say they still believe that we will stay below 5 percent for the rest of the year. Historically, that's still very low for mortgage rates -- Ana.

CABRERA: Sounds like good news for home buyers. Christine Romans, thank you.

And for more, you can check out Stay with us.


[18:37:36] CABRERA: Moments ago, President Trump's plane landed back in Washington after his weekend at Mar-a-Lago. You see him there waving.

And as we have said, it's a busy week ahead for the President, likely the most crucial of his presidency so far. Director Comey, the Director of the FBI, is on Capitol Hill tomorrow. A hearing for Trump's Supreme Court pick also begins tomorrow. And then Thursday, that key vote on the Republican's health care replacement plan. A lot on the table.

And here's what the President told a pool of reporters as he boarded Air Force One back in Florida, hours after North Korea touted what it calls a revolutionary breakthrough in its rocket program.


TRUMP: I have had meetings on North Korea. He's acting very, very badly. I will tell, he's acting very badly.


CABRERA: North Korea carrying out that test as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a stop in China. A key focus of his meetings, the threat posed by Pyongyang. Will Ripley joins me from Beijing.

So, Will, what's the read in the region there about the timing of North Korea's test, a coincidence or intentionally planned?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you can never read the minds of the North Koreans, Ana, but this does not look like a coincidence, the fact that the state media announced this new rocket engine test at the very same moment that Secretary Tillerson was meeting with the Chinese President, Xi Jinping.

And this technology is concerning because it shows the continued advancement of North Korea's missile program, leading them closer to their end game, which is an ICBM with a nuclear warhead capable of reaching the mainland U.S.

CABRERA: So what do we need to know about this new technology?

RIPLEY: Well, we know that North Korea is creating a more sophisticated weaponry. And the big thing that they're doing now that is different from the past is they switched to solid fuel. So this allows these missiles to be rolled out and launched with short notice.

We already know North Korea has in their arsenal a number of missiles with very different ranges, everything from little over 300 miles to more than 6,000 miles. But what they're developing now are missiles that can be launched more quickly with less detection and with greater accuracy.

CABRERA: So does this actually help then with their development of this intercontinental ballistic missile?

RIPLEY: It does. And, in fact, the North Korean state media said that this new rocket engine does bring them closer. They didn't actually say to their ICBM launch, but we've heard the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un saying, for months now, that an ICBM launch is eminent.

[18:40:05] North Korea has already put a satellite into orbit. A lot of times, they say that, you know, this is for the sake of science, but, in fact, analysts know that these missiles can also be used to deliver nuclear warheads. So it's a very concerning situation and certainly, something that Secretary Tillerson was talking about extensively over the weekend, not only with the Chinese President but also with the two top diplomats here.

CABRERA: Right. Tillerson said during his visit to this region that the U.S.'s strategic patience, those are his words, with North Korea was over and that all options in dealing with North Korea were on the table. So is North Korea trying to test the U.S.?

RIPLEY: I think North Korea absolutely is trying to see and get a sense of what this new administration is capable of, and that's also what the government here in Beijing is trying to figure out. Because Beijing, in the U.S. view, has a lot of leverage over North Korea that they're not using. They continue to trade very extensively with Pyongyang. They're the most meaningful trading partner for North Korea, providing them with, you know, billions of dollars in revenue.

And so what China and North Korea don't know is, is this just rhetoric, or would the Trump administration actually be willing to engage in military action, which could be very destabilizing on the Korean peninsula and very concerning for Beijing? So there's a lot to talk about when President Xi and President Trump meet. We're expecting that to happen sometime next month in the U.S.

CABRERA: That's right. Will Ripley, thank you so much.

Trump's pick for the Supreme Court heads to Capitol Hill tomorrow. What will Judge Neil Gorsuch say to Senate Democrats who could filibuster him? You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



[18:48:14] SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I believe, within a month or two, Neil Gorsuch will be an associate justice in the Supreme Court.


CABRERA: That, of course, was Republican Senator and Judiciary Committee Member Ted Cruz predicting that Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump's pick to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court will be confirmed by the Senate. The confirmation hearing kicks off tomorrow, and it's expected to last a few days. Let's bring in CNN Supreme Court Reporter Ariane de Vogue, joining me now to discuss further.

Ariane, what do you expect from these hearings?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Well, you know, Ana, this is the only chance, maybe ever, that the Senate has to grill this candidate before he gets life tenure, so they'll take it very seriously.

The Republicans will take the opportunity to talk in general about the Supreme Court and the opinions they like of his, those on religious liberty, for example. But you know, the Democrats, they're in a tough spot here. They are still furious about the fact that Merrick Garland, Obama's nominee, never got a hearing.

But the Democrats also recognize that Gorsuch is really well qualified and that, in fact, Trump is replacing a conservative with a conservative. They can well decide to save some of their firepower in thinking down the road, for instance, if Trump were to ever get another nominee, a more liberal nominee. So we could see that happening tomorrow, Ana.

CABRERA: So if he is confirmed, he'll be making a little history on the bench being the first former Supreme Court clerk to serve with his boss, Justice Anthony Kennedy. Talk a little bit about their relationship and how that relationship may have impact Gorsuch's view on law.

DE VOGUE: Well, it is an interesting history. And it's almost like Gorsuch could be going full circle. He was hired originally by Justice Byron White, another westerner. But then White retired and Gorsuch was kind of farmed out to Justice Kennedy. Kennedy did become a mentor, for sure. And Kennedy would later fly to Colorado when Gorsuch made the Federal Appeals Court and he'd swear him in.

[18:50:15] But, in fact, Gorsuch is more philosophically aligned with two other justices on the court, Thomas and Scalia. You know, just like them, he believes that the constitution doesn't evolve with time. It should be interpreted as it is written. So the conservatives look at those relationships, and they hope that that will bring results that they like from Gorsuch, his relationship with Scalia and Thomas from those days.

CABRERA: Judge Gorsuch will be testifying in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee. As you said, this is really their chance to grill him. Who on that Committee has reservations about him right now?

DE VOGUE: Well, Democrats for the most part on the Committee have held a little bit of fire. Although, tonight, we've learned that one, Senator Blumenthal, he said he's prepared to filibuster, but the others are waiting.

Like I said, they're nervous. They don't want to trigger things too early, and they know that if Trump would ever get another seat, swing vote, Anthony Kennedy or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the liberal lioness, then that would be the real fight. And some think, maybe we should hold our fire now, and then really launch a fight down the road if another seat comes up.

CABRERA: Are they limited? Can they only do it one time or the other, or is it more of just political calculation here?

DE VOGUE: Well, it's more of a calculation, right? They could certainly do it here, but they might, just because that the calculation is, the court right now would return to the status quo of how things were before Scalia. So maybe it doesn't make sense to use all their ammunition now for this fight, wait until things could really change, and the court could really solidify in the conservative direction for years to come.

CABRERA: All right. Ariane de Vogue, thank you so much.

DE VOGUE: Thank you.

CABRERA: Still to come, President Trump's budget plan calls for deep cuts to the State Department and the EPA. Next, our Chief Business Correspondent Christine Romans breaks down what's on the chopping block. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[18:56:37] CABRERA: Defense spending and border security are the big winners in President Trump's very first budget outline. Taking the hardest hit, the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department. The President is proposing cuts to their budget to up around 30 percent. President Trump also wants to eliminate federal funds for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts.

As CNNMoney's Christine Romans explains, backlash to this budget is growing, especially among members of both parties.

ROMANS: Ana, the White House budget chief calls this a hard power budget, big new investments for defense, veterans, Homeland Security, and the border paid for by big cuts elsewhere and even the elimination of entire programs. The President's critics call it hard-hearted, for it cuts the programs that serve the very people who Trump campaigned to represent.

So you've seen the headline numbers by now, significant cuts to the EPA, the State Department, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development, HUD. This budget would end the Community Development Block Grants, a mechanism that has bipartisan support. It's been used to rebuild New Orleans for example, and for Hurricane Sandy relief, and for funding of Meals on Wheels, a popular program that provides food, a check in and a visit to homebound elderly people.

Now, blow back was swift and bipartisan.


GREG VALLIERE, CHIEF GLOBAL STRATEGIST, HORIZON INVESTMENTS: Now, here's this genius at branding and he's going to cut Meals on Wheels. I think, in the Reagan administration, they tried to label ketchup as a vegetable or cut Big Bird. I mean, sometimes there are things that sound innocuous that become sort of symbolic of what they're trying to do.


ROMANS: Cuts too to after school meal programs for kids, for scientific research, for long distance Amtrak routes, for public broadcasting and the arts, foreign aid and foreign scholars exchange programs.

Now, make no mistake, this is a budget that makes good on the President's promise to drain the swamp. It envisions thousands of newly empty desks in the big Washington bureaucracies, cutting thousands of highly paid federal employees. Think Labor, USDA, EPA.

No surprise to criticism from the left. But from the right, this budget spends more money than it takes in and leaves an almost $20 trillion national debt untouched, something candidate Trump said he could easily fix in eight years -- Ana.

CABRERA: Christine Romans, thanks so much. Of course, the budget is something that will still will be worked on in Congress.

And, of course, the big, big focus going into this week, however, are the hearings tomorrow. And you can catch a preview of what you should expect from those intel hearings tonight in a CNN special with John Berman. That's at 11:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks for staying with me. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Great to have you with us on a Sunday.

We begin tonight with a credibility question and a major test for President Trump as he arrives back in Washington for a pivotal week. In less than 24 hours, the Director of the FBI will testify before Congress, not only on the Trump campaign's possible ties to Russia but also the President's repeated and unfounded that President Obama tapped his phone. And as we mentioned, this will play out on live T.V. right here on CNN.

[18:59:55] For his part, President Trump says he will be vindicated. But here's one thing we know for sure, our own Justice Department sent a letter to the House Intelligence Committee. This is Trump's Justice Department saying there was no evidence of his wiretap claims.