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Congress to Hold Hearings on Trump's Claims of Wiretapping; Congress to Hold Hearings on Possible Ties Between Trump Campaign and Russia; Interview with Congressman Jim Himes. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired March 20, 2017 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[08:00:00] TONY BLINKEN, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: -- we need you with us, we need you to exert pressure on North Korea. If he did, that's a successful trip.
POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR. We' can't do it without China.
BLINKEN: That's right.
HARLOW: Thank you, Tony, nice to see you. Appreciate it.
BLINKEN: Good to be with you.
HARLOW: All right, following a lot of news. Let's get right to it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as wiretapping, I guess we have something in common.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: James Comey's highly anticipated testimony just hours away.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Obama is owed an apology.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What the president said was just patently false, and he needs to put an end to this.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no FISA warrant to Trump Tower.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to investigate each and every one of these things related to Russia.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll tell you this, Judge Gorsuch will be confirmed.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: There is great deal of skepticism about Judge Gorsuch based on his record.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democratic filibuster will not succeed.
TRUMP: We're going to have great health care. It's going to be passed pretty quickly.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think there's enough conservatives that don't want Obamacare-lite.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're right on track. We're right where we want to be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
CUOMO: All right, good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Alisyn is off. Poppy Harlow is here for yet another day of major, maybe the biggest just far. Why? Well, very high stakes here, because in just two hours, FBI director James Comey is going to testify in public before the House Intel Committee. Don't go in there expecting to hear everything. This is going to be Comey talking about what is unclassified that he can discuss.
But still, two major issues. One, was there any surveillance, specifically wiretapping of the Trump administration or Trump directly by the Obama administration? And second, is this look at Russian connections between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives real?
HARLOW: How will the president react to all of this? We already have some clues in his tweet storm this morning, calling stories about possible ties between his campaign and Russia, quote, "fake news."
The Senate this morning also beginning its confirmation hearing for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. All of this as Congress in the coarse have stalled my of the president's agenda thus far. It is day 60 of the Trump presidency. Let's begin this hour with Joe Johns at the White House. So he is tweeting already this morning.
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. It's so interesting here in Washington. James Comey continues to be in the spotlight of American politics, when you think about it. He is probably the one person who can speak with some conclusiveness about what happened with Russia and the election as well as the president's wiretapping. But really the question is, just how far can Comey go?
JOHNS: 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) HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Was there a physical wiretap of Trump tower? No, but there never was.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: 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 claims straining diplomatic relations with two of the United States' strongest allies, the president even joking about it Friday during a state visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
TRUMP: As far as wiretapping, I guess, you know, by 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 Washington officials and the Trump campaign, a key point of partisan disagreement.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any evidence of any collusion?
NUNES: I'll give you a very simple answer. No.
SCHIFF: 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 emails, 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 statements 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 on his views of the president's travel ban and Roe versus Wade.
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL,(D), CONNECTICUT: That kind of out of the mainstream thinking will cause me to filibuster and use every tool that I have at my disposal to block his nomination.
[08:05:05] JOHNS: Both hearings come as Republicans are under pressure to change the health care bill, which could be voted on later this week in the House.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I'm very impressed with how the president is helping us close this bill, making the improvements 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: Incredibly high stakes for the administration this week. There's a new poll out showing the president's approval numbers now reaching an historic low. We'll get to see the president at least twice today in a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Abadi, and, again, at a rally in Louisville, Kentucky, this evening. Back to you.
HARLOW: Indeed. Joe Johns, thank you very much at the White House.
The eyes of the world are on FBI Director James Comey as he appears in just a few hours before the intelligence committee. What is he going to say to those three key questions? Our justice correspondent Evan Perez is live in Washington with more. Obviously there's stuff he can't say because this is a public hearing and he can't get into anything classified. But he can answer these looming questions, especially on the wiretapping questions, very definitively.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. We expect that actually one of the first questions that FBI Director James Comey to be able to answer today is about this unproven Trump claim that President Barack Obama wiretapped him at Trump Tower. We expect Comey to say that the president's claim is simply not true.
But after that, Comey's answers are likely to get much trickier. The House Intelligence Committee where he's testifying is doing a wide- ranging investigation of Russia's influence on the 2016 election, but so is the Senate intelligence committee and the FBI. Comey is testifying with Admiral Mike Rogers, the director of the national security agency, which was 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.
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 mindful about getting the FBI dragged into yet another partisan controversy after the uproar last year over the Hillary Clinton private e-mail server investigation.
Democratic lawmakers want Comey to talk about repeated contacts between Trump associates and people who are suspected of having connections with 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 and Comey is that there's still a lot they don't know and there's still a lot they can't talk about. This is a counterintelligence investigation that is still in its relatively early stages. Chris?
CUOMO: Evan Perez, respect the fresh cut you got for this big day.
Let's discuss the implications with Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut, a member of the House Intel Committee, and one of those who will question the FBI director today. Congressman, big day. Thank you for joining here on NEW DAY.
First, let's deal with the big bucket of cold water. Do you think there is a chance that the FBI director may come before you today and maybe also the NSA director and say, I'm sorry, even though I said I would come talk to you guys, I can't give you satisfaction on what, if anything, we're looking at with Russia, what if anything we know about any surveillance of Trump. Any chance he stonewalls? REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: I'm not sure I would use the word
"stonewalling." The bit issues that my committee's investigation are looking into, the question of whether there was collusion, where there was knowledge. Remember, knowledge and collusion are not the same thing, and whether the Russians have any financial or nonfinancial leverage, compromising material on the president of the United States that might explain the behavior of the president of the United States. All of that stuff is likely to be subject to both of them saying sorry I can't confirm or deny, because as you know, counterintelligence investigations are some of the most sensitive things that we do.
One thing he can do, of course, is, as your reporter suggested, finally put a stake in the heart of this ridiculous and very dangerous sideshow of the president saying that Barack Obama wiretapped him.
CUOMO: Well, OK, let's talk about that for a second. So you have two big issues on the table, potentially. On wiretapping, if Jim Comey comes forward and maybe even Admiral Mike Rogers and they say what everybody seems to be saying, which is President Obama didn't personally do anything. He couldn't have done anything. There is no wiretap, there is no FISA warrant, do you think that would be sufficient? Because now it's grown like a fungus. It's just about surveillance. There's 17 different agencies. It could have been anybody. Comey may not even know. Rogers may not even know. It doesn't mean it's untrue just because they say it wasn't wiretapping. How do you deal with that?
HIMES: I think they can do two useful things. They can say no, the former president did not wiretap Donald Trump. And by the way, the president does not have the authority to wiretap anybody.
[08:10:05] And of course hopefully they help can clean up some of the disastrous mess that President Trump set off when he accused, and I understand he did it by reading FOX News reports from the White House, but when he accused the British, our most important ally, our most important intelligence community partner at keeping the American people safe, when he basically accused them of doing Obama's dirty work. So I think he can put a stake in those two absurd allegations. And you've seen the White House back away. But of course when the question is, what about ongoing investigation, we're going to be pretty frustrated because I doubt that Director Comey is likely to give much in the way, again, of the underlying substance of what this investigation is all about.
CUOMO: Conspiracies are very economical and fuel efficient. It takes very little to keep them going. That's why I raise those questions.
On the other one, do you think that Comey and/or Rogers will validate the idea that they are even looking at connections between Trump's staffers, associates, whatever word you want to put on it, and Russian players?
HIMES: Well, I think they're going to be very careful there. This committee is doing this investigation not because of Donald Trump's tweets but because all of the president's top people, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, the list goes on and on, all of them had bizarre and ongoing contacts with Russia. Most of them then lied about the nature of those contacts. And in the context of a president who will attack the cast of "Hamilton," who will attack Chuck Schumer, who will attack "The New York Times," who will attack you, but doesn't have a nasty word to say about one of the most appalling regimes and one of our biggest antagonists on the planet, Russia and Vladimir Putin, you put all those things together and you have enough questions so that not just the Congress, but hopefully the FBI would be investigating why all of that is true.
CUOMO: Also, congressman, I hear a little bit of a finesse point that I've been hearing from other Democrats, where it's stop saying "collusion." We're not looking at just collusion. We want to know about knowledge of what the Russians were doing during the campaign and whether any of the Trump people had knowledge that Russia was doing it. What do you mean?
HIMES: Collusion would be, if there were collusion, if the Donald Trump people were working with the Russians to elect him and to compromise the U.S. election, in 240 years of history we have never had -- Watergate would pale by comparison. We have never had a scandal of that magnitude. But even knowledge -- and again, remember, this investigation is just started in the Congress. But even knowledge, if Paul Manafort or Roger Stone, who had a bizarre ability to predict what WikiLeaks was going to do next, if they knew about it and didn't raise the alarm, that is also very, very serious. And of course it points to the question of what do the Russians have on this president, whether it's financial, whether it's nonfinancial, compromising information, what explains this president's bizarre behavior where he will attack everybody, literally everybody, but he handles Vladimir Putin with kid gloves?
CUOMO: Congressman Jim Himes, appreciate it. This is a big day. People have been waiting for this. They'll be hanging on your questions. I will be among them. Thank you for coming on NEW DAY.
HIMES: Thanks, Chris.
CUOMO: Appreciate it.
All right, so we want you to stay with CNN because this is going to be a big day. This is not hype. These questions have been paralyzing part of our political process. What will the FBI director, what will the head of the NSA finally say to get any measure of satisfaction to any of it? Wolf Blitzer, Jake Tapper, the big guns anchoring our special coverage of the House Intel Committee hearing with FBI director Jim Comey. And then you're going to have Admiral Mike Rogers who follows him at 10:00 am eastern. But our coverage starts at 9:00 am. Poppy?
HARLOW: All right, Chris, we're also following breaking news. The British Prime Minister Theresa May plans to trigger Article 50 next week with a formal letter announcing Britain's withdraw from the European Union. This action will kick off a two-year countdown to official Brexit. It will allow negotiations to start between London and the EU in the coming weeks. CUOMO: In Tennessee, there is a manhunt under way for a former teacher suspected of kidnapping one of his students. Fifty-year-old Tad Cummins, take a look at the man on your screen. Take a look at the girl on your screen, 15-year-old Elizabeth Thomas. They were last spotted in Decatur, Alabama, about a week ago. Cummins is armed. The girl could be in imminent danger. Cummins was suspended from his job last month for alleged inappropriate contact with Elizabeth.
HARLOW: Did you see it this weekend? Not the NCAA tournament but Disney's live action adaptation of "Beauty & the Beast." It opened with huge numbers. The film starring Emma Watson as Belle broke the record coming in at $170 million. It's also the best opening weekend of 2017 so far. Even more impressive, the film brought in $350 million worldwide.
CUOMO: I didn't know she could sing that way. Did you?
HARLOW: She's perfect. I didn't know.
CUOMO: If you told me that in advanced, I wouldn't have been surprised by anything.
HARLOW: I want to go see it. Is that weird?
CUOMO: Not at all. You are going to have -- now that you have the baby, you're going to see all the movies you want to.
HARLOW: A little young, don't you think?
CUOMO: Not if you want to see it.
HARLOW: Coming up for us, the president's agenda sidetracked, clearly, by his unproven wiretap claims. Can he get it back on track? This is, perhaps, the most critical week of his presidency. We'll go deep on that next.
HARLOW: FBI Director James Comey will testify soon about Russia and the president's baseless wiretapping claims. It is a critical week for this president. He's already up tweeting this morning. Here's what he's saying.
"James Clapper and others stated that there is no evidence (inaudible) colluded with Russia. This story is fake news and everyone knows it. The Democrats made up and pushed the Russia story as an excuse for running a terrible campaign, big advantage in Electoral College and lost.
The real story that Congress, the FBI and all the others should be looking into is the leaking of classified information. Must find the leaker now."
Joining us to discuss, CNN senior political commentator, Rick Santorum, and former Florida Republican Congressman David Jolly. Gentlemen, nice to have you both here.
Let me just get both of your reaction to the president's tweet this morning. Nothing about Neil Gorsuch, which could be a big win for the president.
[08:20:06]DAVID JOLLY (R), FORMER FLORIDA CONGRESSMAN: Sure, it could be. Look, it shows the president completely off message. He has been. He's digging himself deeper. Look, I think the Comey hearings are going to be obvious. Democrats want to talk about Trump.
Republicans want to talk about Russia and if we do step back, look, this could be a big day historically for whether or not Russia did play and influenced our elections.
Take Trump out of it. Just a minute, this is a national security day if you're Republicans on the House Intel Committee. If you're a Democrat, you want to tie this to Trump as much as you can.
HARLOW: So let me get your take, Senator Santorum, on what one of the highest ranking Democrats on the Intel Committee, the ranking member, Adam Schiff, is saying on Twitter also this morning, "Mr. President, the Russians hacked our election and interfered. No one disputes this now but you. This is what's called a fact."
He went on to tweet, "As you will see during our hearing, Mr. President, there is no evidence Mr. Obama tapped your phones. This is what is called fiction. You have long been a supporter. You often defend the president on this network. What do you say in response to Adam Schiff, though?
RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I would agree that there's no evidence that there was any tapping of Mr. Trump's phones. But the truth is also there's no evidence of any collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians or even any knowledge.
There's no facts of any knowledge of what the Russians were doing with respect to, quote, "trying to influence the election." So, I mean, you make the claim that this is -- wiretapping is baseless. I would agree with that. There doesn't seem to be any evidence, but there also doesn't seem to be any evidence that there's any collusion or even knowledge of it and what goes on --
HARLOW: Aren't they really separate issues, Senator?
SANTORUM: They are separate issues but neither of them have any real basis of information to be able to sort of make the claim and I agree. You know, criticize the president on what he is saying on the wiretapping, but let's also criticize the Democrats.
And I would argue that the media for making a lot of what we really don't have any information that the Russians actually did collude or acted with knowledge of the Trump administration, but that sort of left out there. We don't really know about that yet. Well, what we do know is that we don't have any information that that's the case.
HARLOW: What we do know, Congressman, according to 17 different national intelligence agencies is that Russia did try very hard to meddle and interfere, tried to sway. They wouldn't go as far to say did sway but tried to sway the election in Trump's favor.
We do know that. So there is much more basis in fact on Russia's meddling, hacking into our election than there is on the president's claim that his predecessor committed a felony and wiretapped him where there is not one shred of fact.
JOLLY: Well, that's it. The wiretap claims speaks to a larger credibility issue. We know that the president lied about the crowd size at the inauguration. We know he lied about the Electoral College win. We know he's lied about wiretapping. How on Thursday does he sell the American people a health care bill?
How does he sell anything at this point? You know, it kind of goes to the fact that he has been attacking people all along. At some point, he needs friends. At some point, he needs credibility, and he has wasted that in his first two months.
HARLOW: He has the credibility, though. When you look at the tracking poll numbers, 37 percent low of it's been. He does have that credibility, still, within his base.
JOLLY: Within his base.
HARLOW: And members of his own party. Let me get your reaction to some of your fellow Republicans, Senator Santorum, calling on the president to apologize if, indeed, Comey does testify there's no there "there" to the wiretapping claims. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPRESENTATIVE TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: I see no indication that's true. It's not a charge I would have ever made. Frankly, unless you can produce some pretty compelling proof, and I think President Obama is owed an apology in that regard.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARLOW: Representative Tom Cole and other Republicans have called for him to apologize as well. If Comey gets up there and says, Senator, that the president lied, that there is nothing to this, should he apologize?
SANTORUM: I don't think the president should apologize for that based on what Jim Comey says. As we know there's all sorts of other intelligence agencies that are looking at this and determining whether anything was done. Again, I don't see the evidence of that.
HARLOW: When should the president apologize? Should he ever apologize for saying his predecessor committed a felony? What's it going to take for you to say, yes, indeed, he was wrong and should apologize? If it's not Jim Comey, who is it?
SANTORUM: Well, I mean, obviously, like I said before, there are a lot of intelligence agencies that are involved in wiretapping. I guess once we have a clear picture that none of them were involved, probably the president should step forward and say he's now convinced it's not the case and make the appropriate apologies. But I don't think he feels that he's there at this point.
HARLOW: Do you agree with the senator?
[08:25:07]JOLLY: I lost sound on the senator.
HARLOW: You did?
JOLLY: I think the president should apologize. There's a bigger issue here, I think the anxiety of the American people are resting with, which is whether or not this president is intellectually qualified to be president of the United States.
There's a credibility issues, yes. He has never -- part of his ego going to apologize for false claims. He's going to make more false claims. The question is, are we dealing with a president who is electorally qualified? Of course, but intellectually qualified --
HARLOW: You're saying he's not smart enough?
JOLLY: Look at how he --
HARLOW: What do you mean by -- that's quite a charge. What do you mean by intellectual --
JOLLY: I think he's going about his own health care bill listening to you, Poppy and Chris, in the morning. This is not a president who practices in details nor understands the finer points of domestic policy or foreign policy.
So when he throws out a wiretap charge, what does that mean? Yes, we know he's lying about that, but it means he doesn't understand what a FISA court is.
He doesn't understand he just made an allegation of a felony, that he's rippling the credibility of the United States on the world stage. That speaks to more than credibility. That speaks to intellect.
HARLOW: Senator Santorum?
SANTORUM: That's just absurd. The president of the United States -- I mean, this is what the left does. They always take a situation and then they go one step too far.
HARLOW: It's going to be your fellow Republican.
SANTORUM: Well, I just think it's an absurd claim to suggest that the president doesn't have the intellect to be president. President Trump has run a multi-billion dollar organization. He ran the most, I would say, historic campaign from the standpoint of coming out from nowhere to be elected president.
And to suggest that he doesn't have -- understand the details, talk to Paul Ryan. Paul Ryan over the weekend talked about how the president is deeply involved in the negotiations and working very diligently with the House, unlike what President Obama never did.
The smart president, quote, "smart president" never had the ability to sit down and work with people and actually put a deal together. Donald Trump is smart enough to realize you have to get your hands dirty and work together to get things done and he's doing it and that's why you're going to see a health care bill pass this week.
HARLOW: Very quickly before we go, isn't it undercutting the millions of Americans who voted for this president, put their livelihood in his hands to say he is not smart enough?
JOLLY: No. He was duly elected president of the United States. He is the president. He won the Electoral College. This is why we need to see him surrounded by his cabinet and need to see more of the cabinet and less of the White House team. Look, he has put together a team of remarkably qualified secretaries. But he shouldn't dabble in the finer points of domestic and foreign policy when he simply doesn't understand it.
HARLOW: Congressman Jolly, Senator Santorum, nice to have both here. Thank you very much -- Chris.
CUOMO: Santorum strips Jolly of Republican-ness because he doesn't like his answer. Headline.
President Trump and James Comey, do you remember their first meeting? Little interesting to watch. The FBI director is about to testify about the president's wiretapping claim. Here is the moment, by the way.
Check your screen. Remember this? Kind of brings him in. Little -- that's what that was. No kiss from Pence. No surprise there either. So, is this going to change their relationship today? It's part of the bottom line, next.