Return to Transcripts main page
FBI Director Testifies Before Congress on Investigation into Possible Trump Campaign Ties to Russia; FBI Director: No Evidence of Wiretapping By Obama in Trump Tower; Interview with Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired March 21, 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] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president is incapable of admitting error.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The FBI is investigating any links between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Investigating it and having proof of it are two different things.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Putin had a clear preference for the person running against the person he hated so much.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one could have chosen better than Neil Gorsuch.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Senate Judiciary Committee will extend the courtesy denied to Judge Garland, a respectful hearing, and a vote.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We feel really good where we are.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thursday is our chance to end the Obamacare catastrophe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Tuesday, March 21st, 8:00 in the east.
And we begin with two bombshell revelations. President Trump is under FBI investigation as to whether his campaign officials colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. Also, FBI Director Comey shooting down the president's bogus wiretapping claim.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: It didn't stop the White House, though, from saying that those allegations are still very much alive. Now, remember, this is all happening while the White House, the president specifically, needs as much credibility and credit with lawmakers as they can have. They have to try and get Gorsuch through as the next Supreme Court justice. They have the health care bill which is causing big problems inside and outside the party. What is the state of play? A lot to cover, day 61 of the Trump presidency. Let's begin with Joe
Johns at the White House. Joe?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Chris. "Under investigation" is one of those headlines you just don't want to wake up with here at the White House, and for a while it looked like there was going to be some real pushback, but when the president appeared before the cameras last night in Kentucky, he didn't have anything to say about it.
JOHNS: President Donald Trump dodging the biggest challenge to rock his administration at a campaign rally Monday night.
JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: The FBI as part of the counterintelligence mission is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts.
JOHNS: FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers facing five hours of questioning before the House Intelligence Committee.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Obama could not unilaterally order a wiretap of anyone?
COMEY: No president could.
JOHNS: Comey rejecting Mr. Trump's baseless claim that former President Obama wiretapped his Trump Tower campaign headquarters.
COMEY: I have no information that supports those tweets. The answer is the same for the Department of Justice and all of its components.
JOHNS: The White House trying to dismiss much of Comey's testimony.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think there's a lot of areas that need to be covered, there's a lot of information that still needs to be discussed.
JOHNS: Continuing to deny any coordination.
SPICER: You continue to look for something, and continuing to look for something that doesn't exist doesn't matter.
JOHNS: And, incredibly, refusing to back off the president's bogus wiretapping claim.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the president prepared to withdrawal that accusation and apologize to the president?
SPICER: No. We started a hearing. It's still ongoing. And as Chairman Nunes mentioned, this is one in a series of hearings that will be happening. JOHNS: President Trump's official government Twitter account firing
off defensive tweets in real time throughout the hearing, leading one lawmaker to press Comey to clarify the record.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the tweet, as I read it to you, "The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence the electoral process," is that accurate?
COMEY: We've offered no opinion, have no view, have no information of potential impact because it's never something that we looked at.
JOHNS: Comey also revealing the intelligence community has come to at least one clear conclusion -- Russia's interference in the election was primarily driven by Vladimir Putin's disdain for Hillary Clinton.
COMEY: Putin hated Secretary Clinton so much that the flipside of that coin was he had a clear preference for the person running against the person he hated so much.
JOHNS: Meantime Republican trying to deflect from the investigation, instead focusing on leaks and who revealed former national security adviser Michael Flynn's identity.
REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: One thing you and I agree on is the felonious dissemination of classified material most definitely is a crime.
JOHNS: With the president's government account even suggesting Obama might have played a role in the leaks, tweeting "FBI Director Comey refuses to deny he briefed Obama on calls made by Michael Flynn to Russia."
JOHNS: Despite the cloud hanging over the White House, the administration is going to do its very best to try and change the subject today and focus on the plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. The president headed to Capitol Hill this morning, Alisyn.
[08:05:06] CAMEROTA: OK, Joe, thank you very much.
Let's discuss all of this with CNN political commentator and former White House communications director Jen Psaki and Trump surrogate and former political director for George W. Bush, Matt Schlapp. Great to see both of you this morning.
JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Great to be here.
MATT SCHLAPP, FORMER GEORGE W. BUSH POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Great to be with you, Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Matt, now that Director Comey said definitely said there is no basis, no evidence whatsoever for President Trump's accusation against President Obama about wiretapping, why is the White House continuing to push it? SCHLAPP: Well, I mean, I think what Director Comey said is he has got
no evidence that says Barack Obama wiretapped President Trump, but he also said there was an investigation. He finally publicly acknowledged there was an investigation going on --
CAMEROTA: Into the meddling. That's different, Russia meddling into the election.
SCHLAPP: No. Let me tell you, I have been involved in the investigations. They start with a very broad goal, and they will go where the facts lead them. And the fact is this, I am going to watch all these hearings like a lot of the Americans are, and I'm going to see what the conclusions are, both eventually the FBI will have conclusions to make and Congress will have conclusions to make, and at the end of it I'll be guided by that information.
CAMEROTA: So you think it's still possible -- I understand, but you think, in other words, even though James Comey said I checked with the Department of Justice, I know of no possibility of wiretapping from President Obama nor does the Department of Justice, you think, Matt, there's still a possibility?
SCHLAPP: Alisyn, this is one of the big questions here, which is we can use this word from dragnet, this wiretapping where someone crawls up a pole and hooks onto a line, or we can talk about surveillance, which is the 21st century equivalent of what that means. And the fact is this, we know that through surveillance, which happens through all kinds of devices that all of us carry, that we have already, as Congressman Gowdy said, the felonious leak of information.
I worked for President George W. Bush, where we had a whole Congressional investigation over only one thing, the leak of somebody's name inappropriately. We have that right front and center in this investigation, which is why I am glad Congress is looking at this because I think there are a lot issues Republicans have concerns about as well.
CAMEROTA: OK. Jen Psaki, is this a good use of taxpayer money?
PSAKI: Let's be clear. That is not the question they are asking right now. Leaks are serious and they should be addressed. I think everybody can establish that. But the real issue I think most people have here is about the connections between associates between the current president of the United States and a foreign government who have may have intervened in our election. That is the clear question they're exploring. There's a one-man band focused on wiretapping, and that's President Trump. I would suggest he move away from that and his team move away from this. It's distracting not just the Democrats but Republicans --
CAMEROTA: Why aren't they moving away from it, Jen? You know how this works. You were the communications director. Why after what James Comey said are they still pushing it?
PSAKI: I think the theory I think would probably be that they want to appeal to a very small portion of the population who helped elect Donald Trump. I am not saying it was just that population, but will believe what he says. They want to make it seem like institutions, government, the media are all against him. I don't think that's actually the reality, but they have doubled and tripled down on it. Now, if he wants to be president of the entire country he needs a different strategy and so does his team.
CAMEROTA: What about that, Matt? Every day we spend talking about wiretapping that, as we know of today, doesn't exist, we are not talking about tax reform, et cetera, et cetera?
SCHLAPP: Yes, I totally agree. I think Jen is a professional and I think she gives good advice here. And I think the thing I worry about as a conservative, and I am not here as the chairman of the American Conservative, not as a Trump surrogate just to correct that, is I worry about the agenda as well.
But here's the fact. We already had as a part of this surveillance done by our government which has resulted in somebody -- and I am not accusing anybody because I don't know who did it, has already resulted in leaks to some of our premier media institutes, the name of somebody who should not have been revealed, who should not have been unmasked, and that is a very serious problem.
So my question would be if I were sitting on that committee and involved in this process, would be who else was been surveilled. And I think these are the types of questions the FBI will eventually have to answer to the DOJ, and I think these are the questions that Congress will have to get answers to. There are all types of questions here, and I for one am very upset over the fact that Russia, as your guests have said, for decades tried to influence our elections and they double downed this most recent election, I think it's repugnant. I think as Americans we should all be against that.
CAMEROTA: So Matt, just to stick with you one more second. The leaks, what I hear you saying is the leaks bother you more than the president's spurious allegations against a former president? I hear you, you are waiting to hear what the investigation says.
[08:10:03] SCHLAPP: We don't know what the fact are until we get the facts.
CAMEROTA: We know what the facts are today.
SCHLAPP: When you are in the middle of the investigation it means nothing until the investigation is concluded. Look, I've been involved in these investigations. They start one place and they go where the facts lead them. And at the end of the process we will all have a better idea of what the facts are.
CAMEROTA: Not a single official in addition to James Comey has backed President Trump's claims, we can't find a source.
SCHLAPP: That's right. I agree with you.
CAMEROTA: And I know you are very concerned about the leaks, understandably, both sides are. But sometimes you need leaks to reveal what is going on. Obviously Watergate is the prime example.
PSAKI: Are you saying it was OK for the leaks of John Podesta and the DNC? It sounds like you are saying that.
CAMEROTA: Are you saying that Deep Throat, for instance, should have gone to jail?
SCHLAPP: Why don't you answer my question first?
CAMEROTA: I ask the questions here. You answer the questions, Matt.
PSAKI: I'll be fair. I'll answer that question.
CAMEROTA: Watergate, so Deep Throat should have gone to jail?
PSAKI: No, because under Deep Throat's situation, I think he was actually a whistleblower and I think actually you had a president that was using the power of the federal government to punish his political enemies. And quite frankly, many of us who are Republicans and conservatives are worried about how this investigation got started under the previous administration seeming to go after politically the opponent of Hillary Clinton. I think these are the questions that worry people. If no one did anything wrong, great, but I think the questions have to be answered.
CAMEROTA: Jen, your response?
PSAKI: That's just simply not an accurate assessment of what happened. First of all, the intelligence community is made up of individuals who have served Democratic and Republican presidents, many for decades, and I think that's an insult to them and the hard work that they do. They are looking into a number of connections here, a lot of information has been out there. Maybe it's coincidental, but what if it's not?
And I think Alisyn touched on a very important point there, which is there's ultimately a question of what is more important here to people and what should Congress be focusing their time on? Is it that connections between a foreign government meaning to do us harm with associates of the current president of the United States, or is it the individuals who may have provided information to the media? We should look into that, but I think the first question is much more serious and should receive a lot more attention. I don't think it's a hard call.
SCHLAPP: Can I jump in?
CAMEROTA: Very quickly, Matt.
SCHLAPP: OK, so basically yesterday in the hearing we learned that up to seven people may have been briefed in the Obama administration and what was happening before the election, and this has been going on for more than 60 days. I'd like to have the answer to which Obama officials were briefed on this.
PSAKI: That's not what we learned. There were names that were raised by Trey Gowdy, really in a classless way to be totally honest.
SCHLAPP: That's cheap.
PSAKI: It could have come from the current White House, it could have come from a Republican, it could have come from an independent. He raised those names and just threw them out there.
SCHLAPP: Was the Obama administration briefed fully on this investigation before the election? I'd like to have the answer. It's a very simple question.
CAMEROTA: But if they were briefed, you're sure, Matt, it sounds like, any leaks would be coming from the Obama administration rather than from the current occupants at the White House.
SCHLAPP: No. I think most of the leaks have come from Congressional Democrats. I don't think that --
CAMEROTA: What are you basing that on?
SCHLAPP: Alisyn, as I said, that's my best guess. I don't think we're going to know the facts until this investigation which I am glad is going on is concluded. Until then, Republicans have concerns here, too.
CAMEROTA: Sure, and until that happens you are guessing where you think the leaks would come from based on, oh, I don't know, politics.
SCHLAPP: And so are you, Alisyn. You are guessing there too. You are guessing. There's no facts, we won't know --
CAMEROTA: Hold on a second, Matt. I am not actually talking about the leaks. You introduced that. What I was talking about was the president's word. The president's words are more important, and the president has made allegations of a felony against a past president based on as of today nothing, nothing, no credible source. That is what worries me, and that could be dangerous.
SCHLAPP: Could I invite you and everybody covering this to keep following the hearings and let's see what the conclusions are both at the congressional arm and the FBI and DOJ. That's all I am asking.
PSAKI: They are not exploring that question, so nobody is going to find an answer to that.
SCHLAPP: Jen, yes, they are.
PSAKI: You are the only one that thinks that.
SCHLAPP: No, I am not.
CAMEROTA: Matt, you think there are still congressional hearings about President Trump's accusations about wiretapping, and you think that's a good use of taxpayer money?
SCHLAPP: No. I think it's a good use of taxpayer money to figure out the extend Russia tried to meddle with our elections.
CAMEROTA: Which is different.
PSAKI: We all agree.
SCHLAPP: OK, good.
I think secondarily to that, as a part of this they also clearly are looking at to whether or not people on the Trump campaign had inappropriate contacts with officials of the Russian government, which I think is an appropriate thing as well. As a part of that, as you search for the facts in those two areas --
[08:15:03] CAMEROTA: Yes.
SCHLAPP: -- all of these other questions about when this investigation started and if there were political influences and who got briefed and what information were leaked, I'm telling you it will all be part of it. And I think that's what we need as a country.
CAMEROTA: Good. What does that have to do whether President Obama wiretapped Trump Towers?
SCHLAPP: You want me to try to give you the same answer again? I can give you the same answer, which I think the term wiretap is a dragnet 1920s term that does not play in the 21st century ideas of what surveillance is. There was broad surveillance and the government has the ability to surveil almost all of our conversations, watch everything we do, and already, we have a felonious leak of somebody involved in one of those conversations. And to me, that's incredibly troubling and I hope it is to all of you.
CAMEROTA: OK, Jen, ten seconds. Do you have a response?
PSAKI: Look, I don't think the question of whether President Obama wiretapped President Trump should be put to rest, and we should stop talking about it. He doesn't need an apology. I think we need to move forward.
The focus and what the American people care about is whether or not the current sitting president was involved with -- his associates were involved with a foreign government. That's what the focus, and to intrude in our election. That's what the focus of the investigation will be on, and I think it's going to be a long time. Democrats have to be patient, too, and we'll see what comes out of it.
CAMEROTA: Jen, Matt, thank you for the debate.
SCHLAPP: Thank you.
PSAKI: Thank you.
CUOMO: So, President Trump for his part is touting the health care bill this morning, and he also was teeing it up at a campaign rally last night. He is going to go to the Hill today to try to sell it.
Now, we understand that the bill was once seen as the final version and it's not going to change, has changed, because there's so many skeptical lawmakers on the GOP side, were yet to be mollified.
CNN's Suzanne Malveaux live on Capitol Hill with more.
The question is now, what did they put in the bill to sweeten the pot?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they certainly put in a lot here, Chris. We are going to actually see President Trump be here at Capitol Hill in less than an hour, and he's meeting with the House Republican caucus. This is their typical weekly meeting, but it is anything but typical today, the president being invited by the vital leadership to try to close this deal. This after many amendments were passed late yesterday to satisfy -- at least try to satisfy some of the conservatives.
TRUMP: We're going to negotiate and it's going to go to the Senate and back and forth. The end result is going to be wonderful and it's going to work great.
MALVEAUX (voice-over): President Trump ramping up pressure on House Republicans ahead of Thursday's vote on the American Health Care Act.
TRUMP: Thursday is our chance to end Obamacare and the Obamacare catastrophe.
MALVEAUX: The GOP revealing last-minute tweaks to the bill overnight, hoping to appease both conservative and moderate Republicans who are on the fence, to get the 216 votes needed for the bill to pass.
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Every change we make conforms to the Senate rules we have to play by.
MALVEAUX: Now, the bill allows states the option of receiving federal Medicare funding as a block grant instead of a set amount per enrollee, something conservatives have been asking for. It also allows states to require able-bodied Medicaid recipients to work for their insurance, and aims to repeal Obamacare tax increases this year instead of 2018. The House also sets aside $75 billion in tax credits, to help seniors buy their own policies, after analysts predicted big cost increases for older Americans, under the initial bill. They are leaving the details to the Senate.
RYAN: All these changes that have been added, we're doing to make sure they're done in such a way they can't get filibustered and we feel really good where we are.
MALVEAUX: It's still unclear whether the revisions to the bill will sway enough Republicans to ensure it will pass on Thursday. During Monday's closed-door meeting, the White House is arguing to conservative lawmakers that the time for negotiation on the bill is over. (END VIDEOTAPE)
MALVEAUX: One of those people in that meeting, Republican Senator Mike Lee emerging from the White House meeting saying it was frustrating and clearly a lot of them who have fight in them against this bill. The chair of the House Freedom Caucus as well saying they believe they have enough votes to block this on the House side, but also recognizing the politics behind this, saying that his colleagues, of course, should vote their constituency -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: OK, Suzanne, thank you very much for explaining all of that.
Up next, what we learned from the Comey testimony and what Democrats still want to know. A member of the House Intel Committee joins us live.
[08:22:42] CUOMO: Well, if you talk to any Democrat after the hearing yesterday, you're going to hear the same thing, that was the worst day of the Trump presidency yet. President Trump was caught lying.
One of the men making that case, Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas, he's a member of the House Intel Committee. He was one of the questioners for the FBI and NSA directors and he joins us this morning.
Congressman, let's test the case. We heard your questioning. You were trying to get at the dossier. You were getting resistance.
But the implications were obvious, you believe the president was lying about wiretapping allegations and Democrats in general believe that yesterday was an abject victory for you and a defeat for Trump. Make the case. Why?
REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Well, I mean, most of all, I think all of us, both Republicans and Democrats, want to get to the truth. We want to make sure that we answer all of these unanswered questions and root this out now so that Russia or another country doesn't interfere with our elections in 2018 or 2020.
And so, I did think that it was probably a bad day for President Trump, Director Comey basically confirmed that there are members of the Trump campaign who are under investigation for coordinating, and that was director Comey's word with the Russians that interfered with the 2016 elections, and also, as you mentioned, he stated that the Justice Department has found no evidence and the FBI found no evidence of any kind of wiretapping or surveillance of then-candidate Trump by President Obama.
CUOMO: And the White House pushes back this way, by saying, you Democrats, you love to say words matters, how about these words? You want to get caught on wiretapping, but this is about surveillance, and those questions weren't answered yesterday. You never heard from Admiral Rogers or Director Comey there was no
kind of surveillance done by any agency in any way of Trump. That was known about by or motivated by the Obama administration, and you also heard that there was no proof of any collusion between Trump staff and Russian interference. So, they see it as a wash.
CASTRO: Well, as to the second issue about collusion, that's what is being investigated and this is just the beginning of that investigation.
[08:25:01] On the wiretap, both Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, as well as the FBI director, the NSA director yesterday I believe also commented on it yesterday, and the Justice Department has said that they found no evidence of wiretapping or surveillance, as far as I am concerned.
But most of all, Chris, remember, the president, more than, unlike any other president any other person in the United States, has the ability to put forward any classified information that he may be holding on to that they claim nobody else can see. He can put that out there to make his case and to offer proof.
CUOMO: He says he did not want to hurt the agencies, he didn't want to cause trouble for them or make their integrity to be in question. So, he put it on you guys to figure it out.
CASTRO: I mean, that's hard to believe when you have a president who has literally berated both the CIA and FBI multiple times, you know, in mid-morning or at 2:00 in the morning on Twitter. So, he's not showing much respect for the intelligence agencies or much concern for their well-being.
CUOMO: Do you think Trump was lying about the wiretapping?
CUOMO: Do you think that the FBI director was telling you everything that they know about any connections between the Trump administration and Russia?
CASTRO: No. I think it's just the beginning of answering that question, and I am sure that's going to be a months-long -- hopefully not years long, but months long investigation to get to that.
CUOMO: Why did you spend time on the dossier yesterday? Do you believe that there's anything real there? Because it has been widely dismissed on the merits, however, it has been validated in terms of some of the sourcing.
CASTRO: Sure. Well, there's two things. First of all, the salacious stuff we can put aside. But the dossier also contains a timeline having to do with the release of e-mails, for example. So, one of the things I went through yesterday was a piece of the dossier that says the Russians basically had a bunch of Hillary Clinton's e-mails they would release after September. And in October, we have a release of John Podesta's e-mails, and you know, and basically if you follow that timeline, there are many coincidences there which start to add up.
CUOMO: Do you think this will endure as kind of a political convenience, one tool in the box that Democrats can use to pester Donald Trump as president, and or do you believe that anything real and substantial will come out of any of these investigations that might lead to a prosecution?
CASTRO: It's too early to say that for sure. You know, it's the beginning of the investigation, and so I think most of all what everybody should hope for, aside from the partisanship, is to get to the truth. This shouldn't be a witch hunt against anybody. Nobody should be prejudged, and at the same time as the FBI director mentioned yesterday, the committee and the FBI should be willing to go where the evidence leads.
CUOMO: Congressman Castro, appreciate you being on NEW DAY as always.
CASTRO: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: Chris, as we've been discussing, the White House is on the defensive this morning, dismissing James Comey's testimony, and standing by the president's baseless wiretapping claim. Majority Whip John Cornyn gives us his response, next.