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Comey and Trump's Relationship; Wiretapping Hearings Today; AARP Steps Up Health Care Fight; Comey Testifies Before Congress; Judge Gorsuch Hearings. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired March 20, 2017 - 08:30   ET



[08:32:26] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: What will he say? What will he say? I mean that is the question. FBI Director Jim Comey is going to be in front of Congress this morning. He's going to be asked about wiretapping. He's going to be asked about surveillance. He's going to be asked about the existence of an investigation into Russian connections with the Trump staff. Is he going to give answers? Bottom line, "Washington Post" White House bureau chief Philip Rucker.

Now, before we get to the substance, let's deal with the style. Let's replay that moment.


CUOMO: You remember when Comey and Trump had their kind of introduction moment there when he won and it kind of -- it was the handshake and the kiss and he was like, come over here, Jim. You're the real star. And what was that, Philip? Was that just a whisper in the ear or was that a little -- just a little, kiss, kiss, you know, we're all good now? What was your read on that?

PHILIP RUCKER, WH BUREAU CHIEF, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think he was just trying to be friendly. But, look, Comey's this guy through the campaign, the relationship was up and down with Trump. He hated Comey when he -- when he wouldn't indict Hillary Clinton. And then, at the end, he loved Comey because of that letter. And I think whatever Trump thinks of Comey is dependent entirely on what -- what Comey thinks of Trump at that moment --

HARLOW: Yes, well --

RUCKER: And whether he's creating any problems for Trump.

HARLOW: He may really hate Comey come lunchtime today depending on how Comey answers that question.

RUCKER: I think you might be right.

HARLOW: But here's the predicament --

RUCKER: Yes. HARLOW: Can he fire Comey? Can? Yes, he can. Will he? Should he? How

would it look? Comey serves at the pleasure of the president, right? He's only a little bit into his ten-year, you know, span of service.


HARLOW: But how would that look? Wouldn't that just look like the president was trying to cover something up if he -- if he fires Comey?

RUCKER: I think that's right. It would be a pretty extraordinary move for him to do that. Technically, he can, but I think it's very unlikely that he would. It would certainly create all sorts of questions about this Russia connection and the investigation. So I think it's an unlikely move for the White House to make.

CUOMO: Yes. I mean I think that it would be --


CUOMO: A -- even in this administration, even with the forgiveness for Trump and what he does, that would be a huge problem because it would only --

HARLOW: Because we never see shocking things from this administration (ph).

RUCKER: He would look guilty essentially (ph).

CUOMO: Right, but that would -- but, Phil, that would be a big deal. It would be hard to pivot it any way, except in the worst way for the administration.

RUCKER: That's right.

CUOMO: So, two other things. One, on the wiretapping, do you believe Democrats, and some Republicans who want this cleared up and to go away, do you think they'll get satisfaction because, yes, he said wiretapping. Yes, he said President Obama. And to broaden it beyond that at all, I get why people would criticize that. But it has gone beyond that. And what if he doesn't say no kind of surveillance by anybody, any agency, I know it, and then Rogers comes on and echoes that. Short of that, will wiretapping live after today regardless?

[08:35:08] RUCKER: You know, I think it's always going to live because Donald Trump is continuing to make this point and defend it, as is his press secretary, Sean Spicer. And I don't think the media and the public at large, frankly, are going to -- are going to give up on this. I think, you know, for the president to make that sort of charge about his predecessor is remarkable. And it's incumbent upon him now to show some evidence. And I think regardless of what Comey says this week, the issue is going to still linger there.

HARLOW: You guys had some great reporting over the weekend with my Sunday night reading on what's going on inside the White House.

RUCKER: Yes. HARLOW: I mean the president hates these stories, you know, these sort of palace intrigue stories. But, you know, two months in, day 60 of the Trump presidency, who really do you get the sense has the president's ear?

RUCKER: Well, the president might hate the stories, but his staff are eager to talk about them. We talked to about 18 different White House officials and other friends of the president and really came to conclude there's a new dynamic in the White House. It's not Reince Priebus versus Steve Bannon, which is what we thought it would be at the beginning and what it seemed to be at the beginning, but rather they've formed an alliance to take on what we're calling the New York moderates, Gary Cohn, Dina Powell and others who have ties to Goldman Sachs, who are trying to model the president in image, in tone, in policy and really push a more centrist business-friendly agenda, and they've been clashing with the Republicans, the sort of conservative nationalists in Steve Bannon and Priebus.

CUOMO: Let me ask you something.


CUOMO: What do you think gets more satisfaction today, the idea of whether or not there was surveillance of Trump by the Obama administration, or whether or not there is an actual inquiry into connections, knowledge --


CUOMO: Of Trump staff and what the Russians were doing during the election?

RUCKER: Well, I imagine we're going to hear a lot more specifically about the charge that President Trump made on the wiretapping. That seems like a pretty easy know based on everything we've been hearing and CNN has been hearing and all sorts of other news outlets about what the FBI has concluded, which is that there is no evidence of that wiretapping. But the bigger question, of course, is the Russian investigation.


RUCKER: I think the public wants to know answers to that. And I think the members of -- on The Hill are going to be pushing Comey to answer.

CUOMO: The stakes are high.

RUCKER: Very high.

CUOMO: The president just tweeting right now. "Just heard fake news CNN is doing polls again despite the fact that their election polls were way off. Disaster. Much higher ratings at Fox." He just tweeted that. You know, got to --

HARLOW: They're not our polls. They're Gallup polls. It's very different to poll -- CUOMO: There you go.

RUCKER: You're right, that's a Gallup poll and it's pretty bad.

HARLOW: It's very different -- it's very different to poll people's opinion of a sitting president than to poll people about how they may go vote. It's completely different.

CUOMO: And, by the way --


HARLOW: All right.

CUOMO: The plus/minus on our poll of polls on the national vote was on.


CUOMO: You know, it was what happened in specific states. But, again, the president really concerned today, Philip. He's on Twitter. He's trying to shape the narrative. Let's see what happens.

RUCKER: Well, I hope he's watching us.

CUOMO: Oh, he's watching.

HARLOW: Philip -- Philip, thank you very much.

RUCKER: Thank you.

HARLOW: Great reporting by you and your team.

All right, just ahead for us, can Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch give the White House a big win? How far will Democrats go to try to block him? Our legal experts will break it down.


[08:42:09] CUOMO: Time now for "Five Things to Know for Your New Day.

Number one, all eyes on FBI Director James Comey. He's going to testify before the House Intel Committee about the president's wiretap claims and Russia's election interference.

HARLOW: Also this morning, confirmation hearings begin for the president's Supreme Court pick, Neil Gorsuch. Democratic senators not ruling out a possible filibuster attempt.

CUOMO: Republican leaders tweaking the party's health care bill to try to win the support of skeptics. House Speaker Paul Ryan said the GOP bill to repeal and replace Obamacare will most likely get a floor vote Thursday.

HARLOW: Authorities suspect a Colorado wildfire that forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes may have been man made. No injuries or property damage, though, reported yet.

CUOMO: President Trump's going to meet with Iraq's prime minister today at the White House. Their meeting expected to focus on defeating ISIS and continued economic assistance from the U.S. and allies to help Iraqi forces do just that.

For more on the "Five Things to Know,' you can go to for the latest.

HARLOW: All right, an influential group representing 38 million older Americans stepping up its fight against the Republican health care bill. Chief business correspondent Christine Romans in the Money Center.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And they have big dollars to do it, guys, AARP vows to hold lawmakers accountable if they vote for what AARP calls a tax on older Americans. Quote, "this harmful legislation creates an age tax, cuts the life of Medicare and gives sweetheart deals to big drug and insurance companies while doing nothing to lower the cost of health care prescriptions. We intend on letting all 38 million of our members know exactly how their representatives voted."

AARP outraged by this analysis, courtesy of the Congressional Budget Office. A 64-year-old earning $26,500 a year would see premiums rise nearly 13 grand under the GOP plan and they could pay even more. The new bill lets insurers charge older Americans four to five times what younger people will pay. House Speaker Paul Ryan acknowledging this weekend the bill may need to be changed for that demographic.

At the White House today, President Trump meets with Microsoft co- founder Bill Gates. The two met last December, but that meeting was overshadowed when Kanye West showed up at Trump Tower on the same day. This time Gates has been sharply critical with Trump's plan to slash foreign aid. We expect Gates to explain to the president how he believes foreign aid makes Americans safer, Chris. These are two billionaire businessmen with different world views. Bill Gates at odds with the president on immigration and climate change as well.

CUOMO: Gates is big. AARP is big. They started sending me information, by the way.

HARLOW: Yes, I'm not surprised.

CUOMO: You know what that means.

HARLOW: No, but, seriously, on the Bill Gates note, I mean good to have a seat at the table. You want a seat at the table. Make your voice heard. We see what happens.

CUOMO: True. True.

Senate confirmation hearings from President Trump's Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch are about to begin. But, is it Democrats who are on the hot seat? We have a legal expert tell you what's behind that question, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:48:47] HARLOW: The eyes of the world on Capitol Hill today as two big hearings get underway very shortly. FBI Director James Comey set to testify before the House on Russia and also the president's wiretapping claims, and the president's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, will face his confirmation hearings in the Senate.

Let's discuss with Joan Biskupic, CNN legal analyst and Supreme Court biographer, as well as Jeffry Toobin, our senior legal analyst and quite the author himself as well.

CUOMO: Prodigious.

HARLOW: Nice to have you both. Exactly. Nice to have you both here.

And, Jeffrey, let's just begin with you on Comey. You seem skeptical. You don't think he's going to give a lot. He's not going to say much?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: No. I mean, you know, FBI directors don't talk much about pending investigations. And we don't know exactly --

HARLOW: Until they do right before an election.

TOOBIN: Well, we'll see. This is the thing that makes Comey's testimony so interesting is that Comey broke every rule that is -- that applies to FBI directors, Justice Department officials, to basically destroy Hillary Clinton's candidacy in October and November of last year. But, if you look at his record, if you look at the customs of the FBI, they don't really talk much about pending investigations. I expect we will get a clear, narrow answer to whether Trump Tower was bugged. And that answer will certainly be no, since everyone who knows anything about this subject has said no. But beyond that, in terms of what investigations are going on involving Russia, involving Trump officials, I expect we will not hear anything close to a definitive answer.

[08:50:20] CUOMO: One quick balance on this, Jeffrey. We've been hearing from the Democrats this morning saying, hey, collusion is not the standard. Proof of collusion is not all we're looking for. We're looking for proof of knowledge of what the Russians were doing by Trump people, I guess, in real time. What's the distinction there?

TOOBIN: Well, the distinction is potentially critical. If, for example, anyone involved in the Trump campaign or any American aided and abetted the hacking of the DNC or the hacking of John Podesta's e- mails, that's a crime. But if they were simply in touch with Russians, who later were involved in hacking, that's not a crime. It's potentially politically very embarrassing, but it's a huge difference legally between actually helping and simply just being in conversation.

HARLOW: All right, so, Joan, let's get your take on the other hearing that's clearly getting overshadowed by Comey.


HARLOW: And Neil Gorsuch might be OK with that, but his confirmation hearing is today on The Hill. I wonder how he will address the questions of, you know, judicial independence and the things that the president has said about the judiciary branch, just last week calling it overreach in their travel ban 2.0 ruling, talking about, you know, the so-called judge when he knocked (ph) on the first time around on the travel ban. Can he walk the line, condemn the comments, not the man?

BISKUPIC: I'm sure he has practiced many times trying to do that. You know, you mentioned two big hearings. But this is the one that's for life.

HARLOW: Right.

BISKUPIC: Neil Gorsuch is going to appear before all of us for, you know, the first and only time where people can ask a lot of questions, and then he's appointed for life. For, you know, probably 30 years, your children, your children's children will be living in the America, you know, that -- where he has set the law. And I think those questions right now are so salient about judicial independence and how much he will be an independent actor from Donald Trump. And I think he will probably today suggest some of that in his personality when he reveals himself to the senators about judicial neutrality. And then it will be up to the senators to try to pull out more as they start the Q&A tomorrow.

But I think this is a moment where he's going to have to set the stage and introduce himself to all of America. We saw him the night that Donald Trump, you know, announced the nomination. But this is his moment entirely to start answering those questions.

CUOMO: And let's see if the Democrats have prepared to posture or to really test this nominee. Joan, I mean there are ways -- look, what's the main thing? The main thing is going to be, hey, are you like Nino Scalia? Are you a real originalist? And we'll put to the side the discussion of that's what really Scalia was in practice. But do you think it's on the Democrats to see whether or not they've found ways to get at what matters, or if they're just going to punt and grandstand?

BISKUPIC: No. I mean this is -- this is a big deal. As I said, you know, it's a once in a lifetime for him. It's once in, you know, five years, a decade for the Democrats. Why don't they use this forum to point out some very important legal issues today? They'll have like 20 hours of testimony over this week that they can talk about the most important issues to Americans on individual rights, on privacy, on -- you know, we've got the immigration travel ban right there on center stage. They can't ask -- well, they'll try, but they can't get answers to -- from Judge Gorsuch about how he would rule on that, but they could try to probe his thinking. And I think that they should try to develop -- and I'm sure they have developed creative ways to approach it. And even if he tries to say very little on the substance, he will still reveal himself. He will reveal himself. HARLOW: Jeffrey -- and, Jeffrey, final thought. If you were the -- if you were questioning Gorsuch, you had one question, what would you ask?

TOOBIN: Oh, you're making me so nervous, Poppy.

HARLOW: I tend to do that.

TOOBIN: I think -- you know, it's still the biggest question of all in constitutional law. Should Roe v. Wade be overturned? He probably won't answer, but it's a good illustration of what's at stake in this nomination.

HARLOW: All right, and we know that that's what Blumenthal was saying earlier. That's, you know, the litmus test for him, how is he going to answer -- answer that one?

We're out of time. Thank you both very much. We'll be watching both of those hearings on The Hill today.

CUOMO: I's Monday. There's a lot to be expecting today. But how about we start with a little "Good Stuff" on this beginning of the week? Next.


[08:58:20] CUOMO: Time for "The Good Stuff." A couple of Indiana college students aren't in class. And if they're not in class, do you know what they're doing?


CUOMO: They're spending their free time to give back to the homeless. You've got Keaton Hendricks and Eric Cellier, OK, they wanted to supply socks to homeless shelters. A big need, by the way. So they started a business, Sky Footwear, that lets you buy a pair of socks and, in return, they donate a pair.


KEATON HENDRICKS, CO-FOUNDER, SKY FOOTWEAR: There are people in my own community that were suffering and hurting. How simple a sock is to us is such a huge need to them.


CUOMO: True. They run their business out of their dorm room. Every month they choose a different shelter in their state. They've donated more than 2,000 pairs to date. And, by the way, they picked a good product. Have you noticed that socks have made a huge comeback?

HARLOW: Yes. My husband has many interesting color socks.

CUOMO: Right.

HARLOW: But now I'm going to buy them from there. CUOMO: Why not, right?

HARLOW: Why not.

CUOMO: I mean if you're going to make a, you know, a commercial choice, why not make one that is actually giving back?

HARLOW: That is not what I thought you would say college kids are doing in their spare time. I was thinking more keg stands (ph) and I'm very happy to see that.

CUOMO: That's why it's "The Good Stuff."

HARLOW: That's why it's "The Good Stuff" this morning.

CUOMO: All right, so we have special coverage of FBI Director James Comey testifying before Congress. It's going to begin right now with Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper. We've been calling you guys, the big dogs to bring us the big story.

HARLOW: The big guys.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Jake Tapper live in Washington for CNN's special coverage of a critical day in the Trump presidency.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Wolf Blitzer. We welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

[08:59:58] Just a short time from now, a dramatic moment in the wild saga over President Trump's accusations that his predecessor, the former president, Barack Obama, wiretapped him inside Trump Tower in New York City.