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FBI Director to Testify on Wiretap Allegations & Russia; Confirmation Hearing for Gorsuch to Get Underway. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired March 20, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as wiretapping, I guess we have something in common.
[05:58:37] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All eyes on Capitol Hill for the FBI director's highly-anticipated testimony.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Obama is owed an apology. What the president said was just patently false. He needs to put an end to this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was no FISA warrant to attack Trump Tower.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We're going to investigate each and every one of this these things related to Russia.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I'll tell you this: Judge Gorsuch will be confirmed.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (R-NY), MINORITY: There is a great deal of skepticism about Judge Gorsuch, based on his record.
CRUZ: The Democratic filibuster will not succeed.
TRUMP: We're going to have great health care. It's going to be passed very quickly.
SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I think there's enough conservatives that don't want Obamacare Lite.
RYAN: We're on track, and we're right where we want to be.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We want to welcome to our viewers around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's March 20, 6 a.m. here in New York. Alisyn is off. Poppy Harlow joins me. And I'm saying the date slowly for April reason. This is a big, big week.
Donald Trump, president of the United States, facing properly the most consequence of his presidency, just two months into office. In just hours, FBI Director James Comey is going to testify before the House Intelligence Committee. The president's credibility is on the line. How will Jim Comey answer the question about the president's unproven claims about being surveilled by his predecessor?
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Exactly. How much will Comey reveal also about Russian interference in the U.S. election and potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia?
Meantime, this big week begins with the Senate kicking off this morning these confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. All of this as Congress and the courts have stalled much of the president's agenda.
We are now in day 60 of the Trump presidency. We have it all covered for you, so let's begin this morning at the White House with Joe Johns.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning Poppy.
Another center-stage appearance in the spotlight of American politics for FBI Director James Comey, the one person seemingly in a position to speak with conclusiveness about Russia's mischief in the election and the president's wiretapping claims.
But the key question this morning is how far will Comey go to clear any of this up?
JOHNS (voice-over): The bizarre saga of President Trump's explosive claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama last year comes to a head today. FBI Director James Comey expected to publicly debunk the president's unproven allegations. Lawmakers investigating the claim repeatedly saying there is no evidence.
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Was there a physical wiretap of Trump Tower? No, there never was.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: I hope we can put an end to this wild goose chase, because what the president said was just patently false.
JOHNS: Trump's unsubstantiated claim straining diplomatic relations with two of the United States' strongest allies. The president even joking about it on Friday during a state visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
TRUMP: As far as wiretapping, I guess by, you know, this past administration, at least we have something in common perhaps.
JOHNS: The FBI director will also face questions about Russia's interference in last year's election and possible collusion between Russian officials and the Trump campaign, a key point of partisan disagreement.
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Any evidence of any collusion?
NUNES: I'll give you a very simple answer: no. There is circumstantial evidence of collusion. There is direct evidence, I think, of deception.
JOHNS: Lawmakers expected to grill Comey on the extent of Russia's election meddling. Last June, the Democratic National Committee was hacked. Later, WikiLeaks released the stolen e-mails, an attack targeting Hillary Clinton that then-candidate Trump embraced.
TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails.
JOHNS: The U.S. intelligence community overwhelmingly concluding that the Russians intentionally tried to sway the election in Trump's favor. Adding to the intrigue recent controversy surrounding Trump's former national security adviser and attorney general, both under fire for misleading regarding their contact with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
The Comey hearing could overshadow today's confirmation hearing of Trump's Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Gorsuch expected to face tough questions about his views on the president's travel ban and Roe v. Wade.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: That will cause media, filibuster and use every tool I have at my disposal to block his nomination.
JOHNS: Both hearings some as Republicans are under pressure to change the health care bill that could be voted on later this week in the House.
RYAN: And very impressive with how the president is helping us close this bill, making the improvements that we've been making, getting the vote.
JOHNS: CNN's latest whip count has 26 Republicans leaning or voting "no," which could doom the plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.
JOHNS: Enormous stakes this morning, the new poll showing the president's approval rating sinking to a new low. We're likely to get a reaction to today's developments from the president at a rally this evening in Louisville, Kentucky -- Chris.
CUOMO: Well, everything could change after today. Joe Johns, thank you very much. FBI Director James Comey just hours away from appearing before the House Intelligence Committee. What is he going to say?
CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez live in Washington with more. We were speculating this morning, imagine if Comey went up there and said, "Sorry, I can't talk about an ongoing investigation." Unlikely, but what a day of possibilities. EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Chris. Well,
one of the first questions we do expect FBI Director James Comey to be able to answer today is about the unsubstantiated claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped him at Trump Tower.
Now, we expect Comey to say that the president's claim is simply not true. After that, Comey's answers are likely to get a lot more tricky. The House Intelligence Committee is doing a wide-ranging investigation of Russia's attempted influence on the 2016 election. So is the Senate Intelligence Committee and the FBI.
[06:05:09] And Comey today is testifying with Admiral Mike Rogers, who's the director of the National Security Agency, which helped produce the report saying that Russia used hacked e-mails from Democrats to try to help Donald Trump get elected.
Comey's likely to talk in general terms when it comes to specifics about the bureau's investigation. He's worried about affecting what his agents are doing is also very mindful about getting the FBI dragged into yet another partisan controversy after last year's controversy over the Hillary Clinton private e-mail servers.
Now Democratic lawmakers want Comey to talk about repeated contacts between Trump associates and people who are suspected of having connections to Russian intelligence. Republicans, on the other hand, they want Comey to say that, at least so far, investigators haven't found any evidence of collusion between Trump campaign members and the Russian government. The problem for the FBI, Chris and Poppy, is that there's still a lot they don't know. This is an ongoing investigation in its relatively early stages.
CUOMO: Right, but Evan, even that point you just made, how will that be finessed? You know, the difference between there's no proof of collusion, and we're still early in the investigation. Those are two different worlds of political implication.
Thank you for teeing it up, my friend.
Let's bring in the panel. CNN political analyst and senior congressional correspondent for "The Washington Examiner," David Drucker; associate editor and columnist for Real Clear Politics, A.B., Stoddard; and CNN senior political analyst, senior editor for "The Atlantic," Ron Brownstein.
All right. Let's begin at the beginning of implications here. OK, A.B.? So he comes in today, probably won't say, "Sorry, guys, can't talk to you about this, especially with the NSA Director Rogers, coming in behind him. There will be something there who will say something today. How big are the stakes?
A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATED EDITOR AND COLUMNIST, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: I think it will be a moment of great consequence when he basically shoots down the wiretap allegation that President -- President Trump made against President Obama. I think he's going to do that. That's what the intelligence officials on the House committee expect him to do. He's going to put it to rest. Ten days ago, he tried to get the Justice Department to put it to rest. I imagine a Democrat will say apparently, you asked the Justice Department to quash this, and they didn't do that and why. What is Attorney General Sessions doing?
So that will be a moment of high drama, and it will be very embarrassing for the White House. Beyond that, I don't know how Director Comey handles this question of collusion, because if the investigation is ongoing, he's not supposed to talk about an unfinished investigation. If -- he's done it in the past, though, in 2016.
But if he says today, "We have concluded our investigation. There is no more evidence to assess. There is no collusion," what does that do to the congressional investigation? That would be dramatic, as well.
HARLOW: David Drucker, what are you expecting on that front? I mean, if he does, you're right, because then it really devolves in the Democrats' court to say what exactly are you investigating, outside of, you know, what both parties want is any interference in the election investigated. If he comes out and says, like DNI, former DNI Clapper did, that, you know, "We haven't seen any evidence of collusion," where do Democrats go with their argument from there.
DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think what's very interesting about this is that, Comey in general has always been a straight shooter, although there's obviously a disagreement about how he handled 2016. And so you have to think that, if he had nothing to say, or if he didn't want to talk, because of ongoing investigations, and he knows he's going to be under intense questioning, why show up? So that tells me that he at least wants to try and get the bureau's position out there and tell us something.
So what are we looking to see? One, I'm looking to see some enterprising Democrat ask him about the different ways he handled investigation in the Trump associates and Hillary Clinton during the campaign. Ten days before election day, he sends a letter to Jason Chaffetz, head of the Oversight and Government Reform Affairs Committee in the House, saying essentially, "We're looking into Hillary Clinton's e-mails again." That was a big deal. They never talked about Trump.
The second thing you want to look for, and this is what Republicans are going to zero in on with Comey and with everybody else testifying, which is who knew about General Flynn, and can we figure out who leaked from those intelligence sweeps? And they're looking at either to get actual names from people that served under Barack Obama or in the intelligence community. Either way, that's something that they want to find out.
CUOMO: Now, their chance of satisfaction on that isn't the best in the world. They'll be asking several steps down more than we've ever heard disclosed at one of these hearings before. But you never know.
Ron Brownstein, so on the wiretapping question, the real success, to A.B.'s point, will be that it's not about wiretapping. He's got to go further and talk about any kind of surveillance to really make any news in terms of our understanding. But the Russia question, much more wide open. Just an admission that there has been or is now an ongoing and wide-ranging investigation of potential collusion would be something.
[06:10:00] RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and look, I think people will be surprised at the -- if he announces that he is done. There is no indication, or as Evan Perez said, that there is an ongoing investigation.
And there are legal scholars who have argued, I think, pretty persuasively, that there's inverse relationship between the amount that he discloses and the extent to which the investigation is active. That the more vitality there is in the investigation, the less likely he is to talk about it. And that is what -- that is what is so odd, so kind of hall of mirrors about all of this, which is to some extent the mere act of coming out and talking about this does, in some ways, threaten an ongoing investigation, as did, if the president was right and there was a wiretap, his -- his publicly revealing that threatened an ongoing investigation.
So I think this is going to be very, very kind of treacherous terrain for both sides. And by the way, Democrats who want to criticize him over his behavior during the campaign also have in the back of their mind they may want to uphold his credibility, depending on what he finds in -- on the underlying question of any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence officials.
HARLOW: You know, David Drucker, you said recently this is a president who's not affected by facts. And we were looking back at some of the things that he has said.
Let's just listen back to May of 2016. Here's what he said about FOX and the reports that he cites.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: When I cite reports and when I cite major magazine articles or something, it's up to people to believe it or not to believe it. I'm not writing it myself. I'm not going out and doing the research. So I think that's a very acceptable for me to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: "A very acceptable thing to do." And now you have Republicans. I think we have two we can listen to. Fellow Republicans not just saying there's no evidence of, you know, wiretapping but saying this is a president who should apologize to his predecessor if there's no "there" there. Listen to that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. WILLIAM HURD (R-TX), INTELLIGENCE AND OVERSIGHT COMMITTEES: It never hurts to say you're sorry and not just sorry to the president but also to the U.K. for the claims or the intimation that the U.K. was involved in this, as well. REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: Unless you can produce some -- some
pretty compelling proof, then I think the president, you know, President Obama is owed an apology.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DRUCKER: The president's been peddling conspiracy theories for years. I mean, this is just a part of the political act. And, you know, it's worked to great effect for him, in terms of domestic politics, because it has strengthened his connection with his base. And because of this, they always doubt us and anybody else that questions him because, if nothing is true, then only what he says is true.
The interesting thing about some of the clips you just played is, in talking to Republicans on Capitol Hill the past couple of months, what I've noticed is they've really gotten used to Trump and his unconventional method of communication.
HARLOW: But they still think he might apologize.
DRUCKER: But the one area where they are concerned is that, at least when he talks unconventionally, it should be true. They're very concerned about the credibility of the office of the president of the United States. Particularly so that people overseas know that they can take the president seriously. So tweet all you want, go on weekend tweet storms, driving everybody nuts, but it better be true. That's what they have been telling me. They appreciate his methods, but they don't want him spouting falsehoods.
And that's a really big concern for him down the line, because if his presidency over time runs into rough patches, which they all do, he's going to need all the help he can get from his allies.
CUOMO: But isn't there an inverse relationship, A.B., between how out there he is with his tweets and his truth? You know what I mean? Like the more wild he is about something, the less true it tends to be.
STODDARD: Right. I think his unconventional tweets, unfortunately, are usually laced with falsehoods. And that's -- look, I really think if President Trump was concerned about his credibility, we would have known that a long time ago. He wasn't concerned in the campaign, and he's not concerned with it now. And so that's an issue for Republicans.
So as we speak to them privately, and they're still trying to give him a honeymoon, they're under all of this pressure. They can't leave a hearing, the men's room, their office on Capitol Hill, without having greeted by reporters.
HARLOW: By our Manu Raju, running...
STODDARD: It's very hard for them to answer these questions.
He's staring at an approval rating, the latest tracking poll, an approval rating at 37 percent, the lowest of any president two months in, since they've been tracking, by far. That's the reality of the number he's looking at.
So what I think about those numbers are if, in polling talk, has a very high floor. I don't think it's going to go much below 35 percent, because he has a bunch of people in this country who will be with him, no matter what he does or says.
It becomes the problems for the Republicans on Capitol Hill. And do they, facing down 2018, if those numbers are toxic in December or next March, do they abandon him? That is a real possibility.
CUOMO: All right. You know what? Let's move onto another topic. We're going to keep the panel with us. Ron Brownstein, we'll start with you when we have our next topic, because we have a big day on Capitol Hill. I can't believe it gets even bigger. Jim Comey would be enough for me, in terms of saying, "Wow, we're really going to hear about this Russian situation from the man who was doing the investigation, allegedly, and the NSA head.
[06:15:08] But you're going to have Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper anchoring special coverage of the House Intel Committee hearing with Comey, and they're also going to be talking about the questions of a next Supreme Court justice who could be the tie breaker on the court, which is right now 4-4. That's going to be, again, at 9 a.m. Eastern.
HARLOW: All right. The president hoping for a win this week in, as Chris just said, his pick to be the ninth Supreme Court justice. Neil Gorsuch will take the hot seat today. He's going to face a lot of questions from the Judiciary Committee. How far will the Democrats go in trying to oppose him? Our panel weighs in next.
HARLOW: President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, will face a major test today as his confirmation hearing begins this morning in the Senate. Democrats facing a tough choice: fight his confirmation with all they have or save their ammo for future battles and potentially a next Supreme Court nominee.
Let's bring back in our panel: Ron Brownstein, A.B. Stoddard, David Drucker.
Ron, since we didn't give you the last word on the last one. The first word goes to you on this one. This is where the president could win. This is also where some Democrats could give and say, "Here is how we are showing bipartisanship." How do you see this playing out with Gorsuch?
[06:20:16] BROWNSTEIN: Well, first, to -- the last point, because it's relevant here. You know, to David's point, there's a portion of the electorate that loves when Donald Trump kind of breaks all norms. But that's not his whole vote. That wasn't nearly enough to win. On election day, roughly a quarter of the people who voted for Donald Trump, in the exit polls, said they did not think he was qualified or had the temperament to be president. They were willing to vote for him anyway, because they wanted change or they didn't like Hillary Clinton. But that's what we are seeing. He at this moment is his own biggest problem. Right? I mean, there
are elements in the agenda, the health care repeal, the executive order on Muslim -- affecting Muslim-majority countries, building a wall that's very controversial. But I think without a doubt, the biggest head wind's facing at this point is doubts about his own personal fitness for the office and the way he is conducting himself.
And part of what that's done is drive his approval rating among Democrats down into single digits, much lower than we've ever seen for a president this early in his presidency among voters in the opposite party. And the effect of that has been to make it easier for Democrats in the Senate, those 10 Democrats up in 2018 from states that he won, to oppose him on a series of issues.
And you do have to wonder if a vote for Judge Gorsuch might be a way for some of them to try to balance the scales at the same time that they feel very comfortable opposing him on many of his key ideas like health care, like the budget, in these purple states and particularly in some of the blue-collar states where President Trump's core supporters are concentrated. Will they feel that voting for Judge Gorsuch is a way to kind of send a message to the other side? That could make it tough to sustain a filibuster, which we certainly expect at least for some Democrats to try.
CUOMO: The nice thing about his polls, Ron, is that he can only go up, especially when it comes to Democrats. And as soon as he gets something that's called a win for them, they'll probably see a little pop in his poll. We'll hear a little bit about this.
So A.B., in terms of how this plays out, it could just be as it always is, which is a political pageant where these senators get up and give six-, seven-, eight-minute statements that are punctuated with a question mark at the end of it. And Gorsuch just tap dances in this canard of "I can't really say anything about politics. I'd never consider politics." And then he gets on the bench and does just that.
Or do you think we're going to hear some targeted criticisms today that could reveal something?
STODDARD: Well, in addition to the fact that, especially if they're going to save their political capital for later and not blow up the filibuster this time, the Democrats, and they're going to let their ten red-state -- I mean, their blue -- Trump state Democrats, you know, break ranks and vote for him, then they have to really bring some fire to these hearings. Right? They have to make their effort in the hearings if, on the vote they're going to let it go.
We all know he's going to be confirmed, no matter what happensm if a filibuster has to be blown up. But I think that there are some issues on which they want to put some separation between Gorsuch and Trump. So I think they're going to ask him not only maybe about Russia stuff but purely about his defense of religious liberty and whether or not these travel bans disfavor Muslims in favor of Christians.
STODDARD: Well, they're still going to try.
HARLOW: They'll look back to what they wrote about...
CUOMO: He'll say If it's a judge's decision he's going to say it was to the context of that particular case. If it's when he was working for Bush he'll say, "I was an advocate then."
STODDARD: That's what they have to do during the...
HARLOW: Right. We've seen confirmation hearing after confirmation hearing where these, you know, justices haven't really said much of anything.
But I do wonder when he is asked about the president's comments on the judiciary. Calling the so-called judge. What he just said about the latest travel ban being knocked down, you know, calling it unprecedented judicial overreach. This is the guy that, after his meeting -- after his meeting with Blumenthal, called it disheartening and demoralizing. Will he give some real answers on those questions?
DRUCKER: Well, he may give some answers in terms of protecting the integrity of the judiciary, I don't think he will comment in any way on Trump's assessment of the ruling. Because in doing so, that would give his own assessment of the ruling, and that's something he's been very careful not to do, on the grounds that he doesn't want to talk about anything that's not before him, because that would be doing the exact thing that is improper for a judicial nominee to do.
Look, I think what's very interesting here is how smoothly the Gorsuch nomination has gone. If you look at how chaotic at times Trump has been, how unconventional his White House has been, here they pick a very solidly received center-right jurist. He's getting all of the accolades from the American Bar Association and everything that you want to get.
And he's put together a team to shepherd his nomination that is professional, from communications on down to the legal team. They're doing everything right, and because, Chris -- and we've talked about this -- because everything is being overshadowed by the House Intelligence Committee hearing -- we've got a health care vote coming this week. I mean, this is really just -- this is not fake news; it's not news. This is not news, and this guy is going to -- I really think this guy is going to sail through. And in part because, as A.B. noted, if they try -- if Democrats spend their filibuster on this, they're going to blow it up. Republicans like to call it the Reid rule, because Harry Reid broke the rules to change the rules.
[06:25:10] Neil Gorsuch will be the next Supreme Court justice on the court, no bones about it. And the problem is, there's nothing wrong with him so far as we've seen. So unless they can come up with something in the hearings, forget it.
CUOMO: Well, it's not even about wrong or right, necessarily. It's about what what he represents.
Ron, I think it would be so interesting, if these Democratic senators can help themselves. You know, to ask some untraditional questions of this judge. To ask him about the Ninth Amendment. I know a lot of people are going to be, "Wait a minute." But the idea of, you know, are there rights that weren't enumerated that are reserved for people?
You know, that really goes to the heart of what people want to know about this guy. Are you going to do what Scalia would tell people he was doing, which is the Constitution is dead, dead, dead. You know, we only look at it at that time. You know, and at that point, they could ask him about the Ninth Amendment. And they could say, hey, you know, the Eighth Amendment, cruel and unusual punishment.
You know, back when they designed the document, you know, branding somebody was OK. Would that mean that it would be unconstitutional to say branding is not OK? You know, they could ask him questions that will give you a window into this man, unlike what we've had in the past.
BROWNSTEIN: Yes, as you know, Chris, I really think that, you know, since the -- the Bork hearings, the Robert Bork hearings in 1987, I believe, the end of the Reagan administration, was really the last time that we had true fireworks and we learned a lot more about the nominees.
I mean, in many ways, I think Democrats have -- know today all they are going to know about whether or not they feel comfortable supporting Judge Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, because the history has made it very, very hard, even on judicial philosophy, beyond individual cases. Remember, John Roberts said, "I'm the umpire. I call balls and strikes."
BROWNSTEIN: And then he overturned a major pillar of the Voting Rights Act.
CUOMO: He also said Roe v. Wade was existing precedent and that the court had ruled on that; and that was seen as controversial. But a lot that comes down to how the questions are asked. It will be interesting if it's any different today.
HARLOW: Absolutely. Thank you all very much. We appreciate it. Ahead for us.
CUOMO: All right. Another provocation from North Korea. This was the concern. What are you going to do the next time they do something? Why South Korea's defense ministry is calling this one particularly meaningful. What did they do? What will be done about it? Next.