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FBI Director to Testify on Wiretap Allegations & Russia. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 20, 2017 - 07:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: ... the biggest we have ever seen in this presidency. Let's get after it.


[07:00:07] REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: A president doesn't go and physically wiretap someone. If you take the president literally, it didn't happen.

CUOMO: James Comey's highly-anticipated testimony just hours away.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: There was circumstantial evidence of collusion. There was direct evidence of deception.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: We need to get to the bottom of who's releasing these highly-classified conversations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the president has evidence, I wish he would share it with us.

REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: It never hurts to say, "I'm sorry." Not just to the president but also to the U.K.

TRUMP: We said nothing. All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Out-of-the-mainstream thinking will cause me to filibuster and use every tool that I have to block his nomination.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: They don't have any good arguments against Gorsuch, but they're furious.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Alisyn is off. Poppy Harlow here with me once again. Good to have you, and another humongous day. Donald Trump facing the most consequential day of his presidency, period. The FBI director, James Comey, is going to take on two major issues. The answer is yes.

Will he come out and say no proof of surveillance by the Obama administration against Trump. And as for the Russian questions of connections, dot, dot, dot.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Also the president this morning up early and tweeting, attempting to distract us, calling stories about possible ties between his campaign and Russia, quote, "fake news."

With all that is going on the Senate begins his confirmation hearing today for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

All of this as Congress and the courts are stalling much of the president's agenda. This on day 60 of the Trump presidency. Let's begin this hour with Joe Johns at the White House.

Good morning.

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Poppy. Think about it.

James Comey at the center of American politics again as FBI director, the one person who can speak with conclusiveness, quite frankly, about all things Russia, as well as about the president's wiretapping claims. But the question, really, this morning is how far is he going to go?


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 kind of out-of-the- mainstream thinking will cause me to 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.


[07:05:07] JOHNS: The stakes just could not be higher for President Trump this week.

Meanwhile, there's a new poll out suggesting the president's approval numbers have sunk to a new low, a historic new low, in fact. We'll get some idea as to how the president is responding to James Comey's testimony on Capitol Hill today. The president appearing at a rally in Louisville, Kentucky. Poppy and Chris, back to you.

HARLOW: And he's up early tweeting a lot already this morning. Joe Johns, thank you.

FBI Director Comey will face these questions and answer these questions about Russia in public in just hours. What's he going to say to the House Intelligence Committee? Let's go straight to our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, live in Washington.

And Evan, as Joe outlined, there are these big questions, right? Is there an ongoing investigation into anyone around the president and Russia, anything -- any "there" there to these wiretapping claims? And then the third part of it is interference in the election. How far? What do we not know?

We have, from a lot of different lawmakers and a lot of folks that sit on these committees, answers to two of those. What we really know nothing about is is there an ongoing investigation. Is that what you're going to listen to most closely?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Exactly. That's what we're going to be looking for, Poppy.

But one of the first questions that we do expect the FBI director, James Comey, to be able to answer today is about the unproven claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped President Donald Trump at Trump Tower.

Now, we expect Comey to say that the president's claim is just not true. But after that, Comey's answers are likely to get much trickier. The House Intelligence Committee is doing a wide-ranging investigation of Russia's attempted influence on the 2016 election. But so is the Senate Intelligence Committee and the FBI.

Now, Comey is testifying with Admiral Mike Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, which is one of the agencies that helped produce that report a few months ago, saying that Russia meddled to try to help Donald Trump get elected.

Now, Comey is 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. And he's also very mindful about getting the idea dragged into yet another partisan controversy after last year's uproar over the Hillary Clinton private e-mail server.

Democratic lawmakers want Comey talk about repeated contacts between Trump associates and people who are suspected of having connections to Russian intelligence.

The Republicans, on the other hand, they want to -- they want Comey to say that, at least so far, the investigators haven't found any evidence of collusion between Trump campaign members and the Russian government.

The problem for Comey and the FBI is that there's still a lot they don't know. This is an ongoing counterintelligence investigation that is still in its relatively early stages -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Evan. Thank you for setting the table. Appreciate it.

Let's bring in Republican Congressman Frank LoBiondo of New Jersey. He's on the House Intelligence Committee. He will be questioning FBI Director Jim Comey at the hearing in just a few hours.

Big day for all of us. Big day for you. Thank you for joining us this morning. REP. FRANK LOBIONDO (R), NEW JERSEY: Sure. Thanks for having me.

CUOMO: So the first thing that we seem to pick up in the president's tweets this morning is, one, he is tweeting and he's tweeting a lot. There are three of them I want to talk to you about.

One of the things he's not mentioning is the surveillance claim, the wiretapping claim.

How important is that for you today? And what do you expect to hear about it?

LOBIONDO: Well, it is very important, because I think it's a big distraction, and I expect it to be put to rest pretty quickly. As the chairman of the committee, Devin Nunes, has said, there is no evidence unless Comey drops a bombshell today. I don't think there is any evidence, and I think we're going to move on from that issue pretty quickly.

CUOMO: But what if you're not allowed to because your brother and sister Republicans want to go beyond wiretapping?

What about anything? Any surveillance, any kind of anything that was done by the Obama administration that could, in some way, pass as surveillance of the Trump administration? Will you press on it? Because it will not die unless you get it at its root.

LOBIONDO: Well, I won't press on it. I don't think that's the major focus of the -- of the hearing, and there's precious time with Director Comey and Admiral Mike Rogers. So I think the main focus is going to be with the Russian connection.

And it's a free-ranging investigation. Wherever it goes, is what we're saying. So now I will caution, we're limited today, because it is an open session. Almost all of the hearing that we have, all of the briefings we have are all on a classified setting.

And if we're going to get into names and sources and methods, I'm sure Director Comey won't be able to go in that direction.

CUOMO: No, understood, that this is about unclassified information that he can give, because it is an open session.

But I will say again, just a little bit of a crystal ball here, if it's just about wiretapping, you will hear from people, certainly within your own party, maybe from the president directly, that it wasn't completely answered.

The next issue is the one that the president seems most interested in. He started out this morning by tweeting, "James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence POTUS colluded with Russia. This story is FAKE NEWS and everyone knows it!"

[07:10:12] Do you believe that all questions about contacts with Russian players by members of Trump's team are fake? LOBIONDO: No, there's -- they're not -- they're not fake. There were certainly contacts. But in all fairness, the outgoing director of the FBI, Mr. Brennan, and the outgoing director of National Intelligence, General Clapper, had said leaving office that they didn't find anything that was -- that was wrong there. There were contacts.

But that's the purpose of what we're doing, Chris. We're -- it's going to be far-ranging; it's not going to wind up today. The rest of this is going to move after next Tuesday, where we have another open session for a couple of the other witnesses who couldn't come today.

We'll be moving into closed session. And that's where I think we'll really get to the -- to the nitty-gritty of everything.

CUOMO: Well, let me ask you something. You just said a couple of things that are important for people to understand contextually.

You said, "Hey, look, this isn't over. Today is an unclassified matter of context. We're going to have more that's more secretive going on. These investigations aren't over." That is -- seems to be lost in the president's scrutiny, doesn't it?

You know, when Clapper said, "I haven't seen any collusion," he didn't say, "And there is no more review being done."

Do you expect Jim Comey to say today, "Hey, there's no proof of collusion, and we're done looking, it's closed"? Probably not, right?

LOBIONDO: No, I don't expect him to say that at all. And I'm not sure how much he's going to say. But here's what we do know, that the House Intelligence Committee on a very bipartisan basis, along with the Senate Intelligence Committee, on a very bipartisan basis, is going to look at everything.

They're going to look at names. They're going to look at situations. They're going to look at sources. They're going to look at everything that's involved that could possibly lead to something else to try, at some point in time down the road, to say with a conclusion and with certainty, either something was or it wasn't. And today is the beginning of that.

CUOMO: Understood, it's just the beginning, that whatever answers that you get from James Comey today are not just qualified in terms of what he's allowed to talk about but what he wants to talk about in something that probably is just a part in the process.

Something else that seems to get ignored here. If you don't agree that these kinds of questions are fake news, if you don't agree that this is something that could be summed as done already, what's going on with these Russian questions and potential connections to the Trump administration, why don't you call out the president, who is a Republican, of course, for making these kinds of statements in the Twitter feed on the day that you have Jim Comey coming up, and the NSA admiral coming on?

LOBIONDO: Well, listen, I've disagreed with this president on some of what he's said and done. I've disagreed with Republican presidents on what they've said and done. My focus is on doing my job as a member of the House Intelligence Committee and as a member of Congress and trying to do that to the best of my ability.

CUOMO: Right. But I'm saying I've only heard from two of you guys so far that, "Hey, you know, when it comes out that this wiretapping thing with President Obama is bunk, the president should apologize."

Why isn't everybody saying that, that if there's nothing there and a president accused his predecessor of a felony and called him a "bad or sick" person -- and we all know that he could have gotten the answer to this a lot faster than you can and he chose not to and put it on you guys and distracted from a process that could to the legitimacy of our democracy, why aren't you guys more critical of that move as a demonstration of your leadership to your constituents?

LOBIONDO: I think we're demonstrating, by saying that there is no evidence that it's pretty clear that we can't control the president's tweets. And I have people that want me to respond on every tweet that Mr. Trump makes. We would spend all our days just doing that.

I mean, the reality is there is no evidence; we haven't seen any evidence at this point. If there is evidence, we need to see it. We need to hear conclusively from Director Comey that there is -- there is no evidence.

Now will he say that, won't he say that? And then we'll see where it goes from there.

CUOMO: Congressman, I've known you a long time. You're always known as a straight shooter. I'm just saying, as you know, what you ignore, you empower. And he gets a lot of forgiveness for these tweets when, time and again, they've been proven without factual basis. That's why I'm raising the question, because you're having it today.

This is a huge day for you guys to have James Comey there; these are haunting questions. They go deep in their implications, and he's basically undercutting the process before it even begins.

LOBIONDO: Well, we're going to see where it goes, because the director, I'm sure, is going to be asked that question. It will be very interesting whether he answers it directly or he somehow punts or circumvents it. That might give us an indication whether there's something more that's being looked at that we don't know about.

And I'm sure that we'll get more of this in classified setting. I mean, what we've had in classified setting at this point does not show us that there is any evidence. Will there be anything additional ongoing?

[07:15:11] I don't know that the question's been asked to Director Comey, is this investigation over? Can you conclusively say this? That's what I'm going to be looking at here.

CUOMO: That's a good question. That could earn you a CNN hat right there all by itself. You know, the idea of whether or not it's wiretapping, but then broadened out to any kind of proof of any kind of surveillance. And as you just said, we've never even heard from anybody conducting one of these investigations if they are real. And what are those investigations? Which is a good way to get around the classified context. Just the existence of the investigation would be very helpful in these Russian questions.

Congressman, thank you very much for joining us on this big day. We look forward to watching the hearing.

LOBIONDO: OK, thanks, Chris.

All right. Now please stay with CNN. This is a big day. It's not hype. These questions have been haunting our democracy. What will the truth be today that gets revealed? You're going to hear about it from Wolf Blitzer, Jake Tapper, anchoring special coverage of the House intel committee hearing with FBI Director James Comey, 9 a.m. Eastern. Appointment TV.

HARLOW: It is a bit overshadowing another major event today. The president's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, about to make the case in just a few hours, as he testifies in front of the Judiciary Committee, that he should have a seat at the nation' highest court. At least one Democratic senator said he is ready to fight hard, potentially stand in his way. That is Senator Richard Blumenthal. He joins us next.


[07:20:23] HARLOW: President Trump tweeting this morning, calling allegations of any connection or collusion between his campaign and the Russians, quote, "fake news." Here's one of this three tweets so far this morning: "The Democrats made up and pushed the Russian story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign. Big advantage in the Electoral College and lost."

This as the president's pick for the nation's highest court, Neil Gorsuch, heads to Capitol Hill for his confirmation hearing in just a few hours.

Let's talk about all of it with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

And of course, we've got a lot of questions for you on Gorsuch. You met with him privately in February. You have a lot of questions about him. But I have to get your reaction to the president tweeting this morning these three tweets, none of them about Neil Gorsuch. All of them saying, essentially, fake news once again with any questions between his campaign and Russia. What's your reaction to that? Is this a distraction mechanism?

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: First, there needs to be a special prosecutor to investigate not only the Russian meddling, now incontrovertible, their interference in the recent election campaign, but also potential ties between the Trump team before and after the election and the Russian interference in our election. And there should be a special prosecutor. I've called for one. In

fact, I've said that the deputy attorney general nominee should be blocked until he commits to appoint a special prosecutor.

None of these tweets has anything to do with Neil Gorsuch, but the president has denounced judges, or as he's put it, "so-called" judges, for striking down his illegal Muslim ban order. And the independence of the judiciary will be front and center as we begin questioning Judge Gorsuch today, because he has to establish that he will be independent. And I've asked him to disavow, and in fact discard, the Trump litmus test and the Trump denunciation of the judiciary.

HARLOW: All right. So let's unpack all of that. You met privately with Justice [SIC] Gorsuch after his -- after he was nominated back in February. You left that meeting, Senator, saying you had, quote, "serious and deep concerns" about him. What are your deepest concerns? What question did you leave that meeting with at the forefront that you will ask today?

BLUMENTHAL: My serious concerns centered on judicial independence. Donald Trump's lambasting and bullying and bluster against the judiciary are virtually unprecedented. I asked Judge Gorsuch to disavow and in fact denounce those criticisms. So far he's failed to do so.

Second, the Trump litmus test. The president promised during the campaign that he would appoint someone who would overturn Roe v. Wade, who would strike down any sensible gun violence prevention measures, who would be of a conservative bent, which affects worker safety and consumer protection. Those concerns are front and center for me.

And, third, this nominee is virtually unique, because he has been vetted, screened, in fact almost selected by outside groups, right- wing conservative groups -- The Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society. In fact, Donald Trump boasted during the campaign that he would pick great judges picked by the Federalist Society. Now they've rehearsed and prepared him for this hearing. I want to know what those connections are, as well.

HARLOW: It sounds like you don't think you're going to get many answers in this hearing, but let's just go through what you've -- what you've laid out. You know, Judge Gorsuch did, according to your office, come out of that meeting with you and call the president's attacks on the judiciary, including calling, you know, "the so-called judge" comment, he did call those disheartening and demoralizing. You're looking for him to go further, it sounds like. What answer do you want?

BLUMENTHAL: I want him to be more explicit and forthcoming on that issue, judicial independence, and also on some of the other areas -- workers' safety, privacy rights, Roe v. Wade.

And let's remember the Supreme Court is more than just marble pillars and judicial robes; it is the flesh and blood embodiment of American justice. I've met with some of the people who have been, in fact, harmed by Judge Gorsuch's decisions in the past. Alphonse Maddin, a trucker who was unjustly fired by TransAm Trucking

Company after he abandoned a truck that was stuck in sub-freezing weather. Phyllis -- Patricia Caplinger, who was a victim of defective product use, and denied relief as a result of one of Judge Gorsuch's decisions.

[07:25:18] These real people have led me to think that Judge Gorsuch ought to be questioned about his commitment to individual rights, as opposed to the corporate interests...

HARLOW: Right, so you...

BLUMENTHAL: ... that seem to prevail.

HARLOW: You have said -- and in March you tweeted, "If Judge Gorsuch doesn't reject Trump's litmus test, I will oppose his SCOTUS nomination relentlessly." You're talking there largely about Roe v. Wade and what the president has said about judges he will pick and their opinions on Roe v. Wade.

But then you went on yesterday to say you will use, quote, "every tool that we have available if he is, in fact, out of the mainstream in that way." I mean, what other tools are you prepared to use? Because if they can't get eight Democratic votes to get the 60 count, it's likely that the nuclear option will be invoked.

So what are the other tools you're talking about?

BLUMENTHAL: The main tool is, in fact, the 60-vote threshold and the filibuster. And I believe, philosophically, that a justice on the United States Supreme Court should be approved by more than just a razor-thin margin. There ought to be an overwhelming consensus.

So 60 votes makes sense for any nominee...

HARLOW: OK, but Senator, you just have to look back to 2013 and what the Democrats did to see how you don't need to get to 60 votes. I mean, if they want to invoke the nuclear option to get a simple majority, they're going to do that, and that will lead to his confirmation.

BLUMENTHAL: There is a school of thought, and I think you are alluding to it, that perhaps the best strategy would be to wait for the next nominee. But I think every nominee is important. If I conclude this one is outside of the mainstream, I will use every tool at my disposal and I think many of my Democratic colleagues share that view.

HARLOW: Senator Blumenthal, appreciate you being with us today. Thank you.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

HARLOW: Chris.

CUOMO: All right. So is President Trump concerned about what the FBI director will say today? He's certainly tweeting about it a lot. He's certainly trying to set the table for people. But we have two men who met with the president this weekend. What is their take? Next.