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Nunes on White House Grounds Before Intel Announcement; Kushner Agrees to Senate Questions on Russia Ties; Trump Moving on from Health Care; Interview with Representative David Brat. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 27, 2017 - 10:00   ET


[10:00:07] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow. Top of the hour, we begin with breaking news. Two big, major breaking stories. Just moments ago, we learned the answer to somewhat of an intriguing mystery, the whereabouts of the House Intel chair on the day before he went to the White House and told President Trump that his communications may have been swept up in surveillance of foreign nationals. Turns out, where he was the day before that major announcement, he was on White House grounds.

BERMAN: All right. Then just last hour, CNN confirmed the senators will question President Trump's son-in-law, perhaps his most trusted adviser, Jared Kushner, about meetings Kushner had with Russian officials, including, "The New York Times" reports, a Russian banker.

First, though, let's go to Capitol Hill. Manu Raju is there. Devon Nunes, the House Intelligence chair, on White House grounds the day before he made that major announcement -- Manu.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Now he is confirming actually telling our colleague, Jake Tapper, in a phone interview that he was, in fact, on White House grounds.

What he's actually saying now, John and Poppy, is that he was reviewing this in a secure facility on White House grounds, reviewing this information that he revealed publicly the next day, that information that perhaps some communication, something involving the Trump transition team were swept up, inadvertently picked up, incidentally in intelligence reports, so he wanted to review this document in a secure facility.

Now he is telling Jake Tapper that he was not in communication with any White House staff that day, he was not in the White House, but he was in the secure facility. And of course this comes as there's a lot of questions about how he got this information, who his source was, and whether or not it was anyone who was sympathetic to the administration to help Donald Trump defend himself against questions about his own tweet, in which he said that President Obama had ordered wiretaps of him during the campaign, something, of course, that has not yet been proven.

But now we do know that the day before Mr. Nunes was on White House grounds. We still don't know who gave him that information, but clearly this is a subject of intrigue here and something that has impacted this House Intelligence Committee investigation as Democrats question whether or not Nunes can fairly be the leader of this committee during this investigation into Russia and his contacts with the Trump campaign, guys.

HARLOW: Well, and Manu, let's remember two things. I mean, one, he ran to the White House the next day with information to show the president before showing it to other members of his own committee, the Democrats and Republicans in his own committee. And then there's the timeline of this that I'd just like your take on how important the timeline is, because after the president made those erroneous claims about being wiretapped by President Obama, he then spoke to Chris Ruddy of Newsmax on the 5th of March, and he said, this will be investigated, it will all come out, I will be proven right. Why does that matter so much now?

RAJU: Yes, that's right. And then afterwards, of course, he -- President Trump said that he would provide that information to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. But then on that last Monday, remember, James Comey and Mike Rogers, the FBI director and the NSA director, both testified publicly that there was no information supporting President Trump's tweet. So the next day, Mr. Nunes reviewed some information that perhaps could give the White House some cover, although the information -- it's unclear what Devin Nunes actually reviewed because he has not shared that of course publicly and not even with members of his committee yet.

And those documents do not confirm that President Trump himself was wiretapped, was the subject of a physical wiretap. What they suggest, perhaps, is that some communications were picked up incidentally and appeared in intelligence reports discussing the Trump transition, the new Trump government. So that's a question, guys, what exactly did that information say. It's not quite clear. Questions remain, guys.

BERMAN: And just to be crystal clear on this, and then I want to get to Sara's reporting, which is also important this morning. But, Manu, just to be clear, you've asked Chairman Nunes several times if he was given this information by the White House.


BERMAN: Or administration officials and he just won't tell you, even though we now know he was at the White House the day before he went public.

RAJU: Yes, that's right. Several times. In multiple press conferences, he's gotten rather annoyed by those questions, but I asked specifically, can you rule out this information has come from the White House? And he says, I will not even say who my source is, I will not reveal my sources. And interestingly he would not tell the Ranking Democrat on the committee, Adam Schiff. He said he would not even tell him who his source is, so he's protecting his source.

BERMAN: All right.

RAJU: But it will only lead to more questions.

BERMAN: All right. Manu, stand by. The other half of this breaking news today is at the White House itself, where CNN has confirmed that Jared Kushner will face questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

[10:05:06] Sara Murray, what are you learning?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John, that's right. And Senate intelligence investigators for that committee have questions about Kushner's meetings with Russian officials and his ability to arrange them for other campaign advisers.

So here's what we knew. We knew that Jared Kushner met with the Russian ambassador in December during the presidential transition phase, but now we are also learning, a senior administration official is confirming, after that meeting, the ambassador wanted another sit- down with Kushner. Kushner knocked this down to his deputy, who attended the meeting, and the ambassador also wanted Kushner to sit down with the head of a state-owned development bank. Kushner did attend that meeting.

Now the White House is seeking to downplay this today, saying that all of these meetings were above board, totally appropriate given the broad purview of activities and issues that Kushner had both during the campaign, but also now in the West Wing. So in a statement, a White House spokesperson said, "Throughout the campaign and transition, Jared Kushner served as the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials. Given this role, he has volunteered to speak with Chairman Burr's committee," that's the Senate Intelligence Committee, "but has not yet received confirmation."

And it is worth noting that there's nothing wrong with these meetings inherently during a transition. It may have been entirely appropriate for Jared Kushner to be having these meetings, but of course, they're getting a lot of scrutiny now given the backdrop of the House investigation, the Senate Intelligence investigation, and also the FBI investigation into just what extent Russia had in meddling with the 2016 election, but also what the extent was of contacts between Donald Trump's associates, his campaign advisers, and suspected Russian operatives.

One thing is clear, this is certainly not what the White House was hoping to pivot to today. Back to you, guys.

HARLOW: Yes, absolutely not. Sara Murray at the White House with that reporting. Thank you.

Let's talk about all of this, these two big, breaking stories with our panel, David Drucker is here, CNN political analyst and senior congressional correspondent for "The Washington Examiner." Jay Newton Small is with us, a contributor for "TIME" magazine.

Welcome to you both. David Drucker, let me begin with you. And I just want to clarify

something for our viewers. Yes, Nunes said to Jake Tapper he was on White House grounds the day before. That doesn't mean he was in the White House. Our Jeff Zeleny is reporting he was at the National Security Council offices. That's in the Eisenhower Executive Building, which is on White House grounds, which is a place where you view classified information in a secured room.

BERMAN: Just to be clear, though, when you're on the White House grounds, you go back and forth between the White House and the executive office building.

HARLOW: You are. You do. But just to make --

BERMAN: Which is essentially an extension of the offices of the White House.


DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, it doesn't mean he was in the Oval.

BERMAN: Right.

DRUCKER: But it means that he was there trying to check out information or -- the truth is, we really don't know exactly what he was doing. Now here -- look, I think there's something that is interesting to understand about Chairman Nunes. Before he was chairman of the Intelligence Committee, he was a member of the committee, and he never hesitated when it came to going around leadership on the committee if he felt like something wasn't being looked at. During the Benghazi -- the inquiry into Benghazi, when he was not happy with the leadership of his committee under a Republican, he went around leadership and brought in a witness to meet directly with then Speaker John Boehner in his office.

So Chairman Nunes is somebody that doesn't always like how intelligence gathering is handled inside Washington. He feels like there's a lot of group think inside Washington, and he has been, in his words, hot on the trail of what he feels are improper leaks that led to the unmasking of General Flynn, and he told me on Thursday when I talked to him for 20 minutes and I was asking about this, others. He didn't say it wasn't illegal, but he said it was improper and out of bounds.

And so I think that there is a lot more to this story and not all of it may turn out well for him, but I think to understand the character of Chairman Nunes, this is not surprising to me that he would sort of go around the edges here to try and ferret out information and get it out into the public.

BERMAN: The part about this -- again, the timeline, Jay, is that he was on White House grounds in the old executive office building the day before he rushed to the White House, somewhat dramatically, to inform the president of something that he was next door confirming the day before? The timeline's a problem here. JAY NEWTON-SMALL, CONTRIBUTOR, TIME MAGAZINE: It is, absolutely,

because it definitely makes it seem like, somehow, he got that information from the White House and then returned to the White House to the president himself and said this is really -- you know, this is what happened, and you're right to some degree that some of your communications may have been swept up. You weren't actually wiretapped. But it does make it seem like the information came from the White House, came from a source in the White House, because there are plenty of places, plenty of what they call skiffs or secure rooms, where you can view classified information.

There are plenty of places on the Hill where you can do that. There are places at the CIA, the national -- the National Director of Intelligence offices, the FBI. I mean, you can go to a gazillion places in Washington. Why would you specifically go there?

HARLOW: Jay, just to jump in, I mean, that -- you nailed it, right? I mean, that's the key question that we had is, are there these offices, these rooms, these secure places on the Hill where he could have just gone?

[10:10:02] David Drucker, Jay just answered that, yes, indeed, so --

DRUCKER: And that's part of the -- why I don't believe in parsing, you know, the old executive office from the Eisenhower Building, the White House. He's on White House grounds, which means he's --

HARLOW: By the way, his staff didn't know where he was going.

DRUCKER: He's talking to --

HARLOW: He got out of the cab and --

DRUCKER: He's talking -- right. He's talking to administration officials or somebody. Look, even if he's talking to Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, who he knows very well, who he recommended for the job of CIA director --

BERMAN: Who he's allowed to talk to, by the way.

DRUCKER: Right, and there's nothing wrong with it, but that's still an administration official. And there is -- you know, when I talked to Nunes, what he told is, look, I have sources I've been cultivating for years and if I explain too much of where this information come from and how I obtained it -- because remember, he had only viewed it. When he announced this information, he had no documentation. He was hoping to get it from the NSA on Friday, but he had no documentation, but look, that's his explanation.

He is going to have to explain more if this starts to look like he was coordinating with the White House to provide the president cover because that's what we're really talking about here.

BERMAN: He's physically performing his oversight duty, right? He is in the -- in charge of congressional oversight over House intelligence. He is physically performing that oversight duty on the grounds, you know, of the executive that he's overseeing. That's a problem.

Jay Newton-Small, I want to get to the Jared Kushner thing, which we also learned about just a few minutes before this Devin Nunes thing.

HARLOW: Health care feels so --

BERMAN: Health care ancient. Devin -- sorry, Jared Kushner will answer questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee about meeting with the Russian ambassador. Again, a lot of people apparently met with the Russian ambassador, but also now we're learning about meetings with a Russian banker who worked at a bank that have been under some sanctions imposed by the Obama administration.

NEWTON-SMALL: It is -- I mean, this is sort of like an onion, where you keep peeling it back and there's more and more context, more and more layers. And it's sort of amazing that originally they were like, oh, there was no contacts, and all of a sudden, there were, like, contacts with like five people and -- you know, and with a bunch of different oligarchs, not just one or two, or -- it was a bunch of people.

And so it is one of those things where as this information comes out, as it proliferates, as we learn more and more and more about these contacts, it really does present sort of a drip, drip, drip for the Trump administration. And if you have somebody like Jared Kushner, the president's most trusted adviser, going to Capitol Hill, testifying on these things, it is a real problem for the administration because that's not only a distraction, he's going to have to spend time preparing for those hearings instead of doing his job, but it also is a real worry for the administration when you're looking at, are there going to be indictments? What happens with this information?

Because if it's serious enough that these are people who are testifying and they're not covered by executive privilege, then that's a really -- that's a serious indication that there's something there that they're looking at. There's smoke where there's fire, or there's fire where there's smoke.

HARLOW: This is the closest person to the president and the only person we know within the White House right now to be questioned in these investigations.

BERMAN: And the only person related by marriage also. Let's have that.

HARLOW: There you go. The onion peeling continues.

David Drucker, Jay Newton-Small, so nice to have you. Thank you both.

Still to come for us, President Trump desperate to get his presidency back on track after a stinging defeat on health care reform. In the spotlight right now, the House Freedom Caucus. I don't think the president is a huge fan right now. One member quit the caucus over the weekend. We're going to talk to another member of the group next.


[10:27:07] HARLOW: President Trump, bruised and battered, angry over quite a failure to get health care reform and repeal through. Just four days after trying and failing to win over the ultra conservative Freedom Caucus. He's now lashing out at their role in his first legislative embarrassment.

He's not only assigning blame to fellow Republicans, he is shifting his focus squarely to other priorities. One major question today, does he trust the House speaker that he can get things done? What will it take to get tax -- tax reform through after health care failed?

Our Sunlen Serfaty is on Capitol Hill with more.

Look, the administration, everyone you can think of is saying everything is kumbaya with Ryan and Trump. You know, they need to work together on tax reform going forward. How do you see the state of play?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. They are saying that publicly, Poppy, but I can tell you, a lot in the political ether up here on Capitol Hill questioning otherwise. For right now, what we're seeing as the Republican Party's trying to pick up these pieces after the failure last week, we're seeing President Trump for his part, at least publicly, to focus his fire, his attention, his blame on the House Freedom Caucus right now.

As you said, that hard-right, conservative wing of the party that really became a thorn in the side for Speaker Ryan and President Trump. One of the factions that, indeed, brought down this health care bill and stood in their way. But you do have these questions around Speaker Ryan's political future, given that he as the leader failed to usher the votes through, failed to get a deal done. And this is something that the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows, was asked about over the weekend. Here's what he had to say.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Breitbart is suggesting that you're one of the people they are looking to, to replace Speaker Ryan. Does he have your support?

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), HOUSE FREEDOM CAUCUS CHAIRMAN: Listen, this is not me. And I can tell you, there is no conversations going on right now with regards to replacing the Speaker.


SERFATY: Now, publicly, both the White House and aides to Speaker Ryan are taking pains to emphasize that their relationship is in a good spot, that they're in a good place, that no one's blaming each other, but it is such an important relationship to watch going forward, as you know, John and Poppy, especially as they attempt more ambitious goals like tax reform.

BERMAN: All right. Sunlen Serfaty for us on Capitol Hill.

Sunlen, thanks so much.

Joining us now, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, Congressman Dave Brat of Virginia.

Congressman, thanks so much for being with us. Your caucus has one fewer members this morning. You know, Ted Poe left the Freedom Caucus. He said you guys would vote against the "Ten Commandments." You would say no even to the "Ten Commandments." A few minutes ago, we had Mike Turner, not a member of the caucus, but your Republican colleague from Ohio, say that you guys acted with a mob mentality.

Your reaction this morning to this criticism.

REP. DAVID BRAT (R), HOUSE FREEDOM CAUCUS: Yes, my reaction is the press is a little dramatic. We had no hard time getting to yes over the last six years on 50 votes to repeal Obamacare.

[10:20:03] So if the press would do its job and report the news, we've all voted 50 times. We all voted yes.

BERMAN: But Congressman -- Congressman --

BRAT: The Freedom Caucus members --


BRAT: Let me -- let me finish this sentence.


BRAT: The Freedom Caucus has had no hard time getting the yes on the past 50 votes that all the House members and all the Senate members. This is a new bill that came up three weeks ago. We're working with President Trump, who's done an outstanding job messaging. His goal is the forgotten man, to drive down prices. We were negotiating. We were this far from getting those prices down. It's all the insurance regs. President Trump did an outstanding job negotiating. We're about there. It's still going to happen. And so the drama needs to ramp down.

You know just keep an eye on the prize, which is the prices of health care down so we help the forgotten man and clean the swamp of all this drama, which can only take place in Washington, D.C.

HARLOW: All right. Two things, all right? Not the press that was saying mob mentality. It was your fellow Republican, so just that point of fact. And the second thing is, you say calm down, too much drama being made of this in the press. It's the president who said he has no interest in moving forward with you guys on health care. He has said this was your shot, it's done, he's moving on to tax reform. So are you hearing otherwise?

BRAT: Yes, I heard otherwise from the president the day of the vote. I mean, that's what -- the press is selective in creating a narrative. The president said when Obamacare crashes, which it is because it's in a death spiral, prices are going up 25 percent a year. You add home, your health insurance prices will double in four years. Under the CBO score, the new bill, prices are going to go up 15 percent to 20 percent until 2020. That's not remembering the forgotten man back home. Trump ran on that. Trump ran on all -- at all the big town halls in Florida with 25,000, he said repeal. The crowd went nuts.

This bill wasn't out when he was campaigning. And so when he said repeal, everyone knew what repeal meant. Now we have a very complex, federally run system that we are going to have to negotiate within those parameters. And so to say that we're not negotiating in good faith and moving the bars is false. We moved the bars when we moved away from the 50 times we voted yes for repeal. We all got to yes 50 times.

BERMAN: And let me just also add that one person who I know you will agree is not a member of the press is President Donald Trump who also -- you said, you know, he had some nice words for you last week and is a good salesman, but he also has been critical of the House Freedom Caucus. Let me read you what he wrote this weekend.

He said, "Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus," these are his words, the president's, "with the help for Club for Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood and Obamacare." That's the president criticizing the Freedom Caucus, again, not the press. Go ahead.

BRAT: Yes, let me get to that one on the Planned Parenthood issue and all that. This bill, which is a federally run system with prices going up still has to go to the Senate, where it will be weakened, right? But some senators over there are already working on a deal. We can put bucket two and bucket three into this bill and have a total success for President Trump. So I think he's being ill advised about even the critique of the House Freedom Caucus. Some of those promises won't make their way into law and that's what we're fighting for.

We want President Trump to be a success. If prices go up through 2020, that's going to pose a problem for our voters back home. And so we're trying to make sure that his primary themes -- he said I want shopping across state lines, I want the price to come down, I remember the forgotten man, I want to get rid of the swamp in D.C. when you're running one-sixth of the U.S. economy, health care, through the federal government, when Social Security and Medicare are already insolvent, and we're $100 trillion light and $20 trillion in debt on the next generation, I don't think people want the federal government running their health care system like we ran mortgages eight years ago when we created the financial crisis.

That's the nearest analogy, right? We've said we care about you, we're going to run your mortgages, let's do liar loans. We imploded the only safe asset class, which was the American home, into the ground. We don't want to do that with health care. We're fighting for the American people along with President Trump, who's doing an outstanding job.

HARLOW: All right, look, your party in control of the White House and Congress could not get health care done. That is just the fact. Sounds like you think you will at some point. OK, but you've also got a real challenge ahead of you when it comes to the budget. I mean, come April 29th, marking 100 days of this administration, the government could shut down if folks -- when it comes to the funding of Planned Parenthood, for example.

Would you favor a shutdown if the budget plan does not fully defund Planned Parenthood? Would you favor a government shutdown?

BRAT: Yes, the press always puts these tough hypothetical questions to us instead of looking at the major issues that matter.


HARLOW: That's not a hypothetical question. That's not a --

BRAT: The press -- yes, I know.

HARLOW: That's an actual question.

BRAT: Right.

HARLOW: Would you favor a government shutdown in lieu of --

BRAT: Yes. No, I do not --

HARLOW: -- defunding Planned Parenthood?

[10:25:04] BRAT: Right. We do not favor a government shutdown. No one favors a government shutdown. Markets want stability. We all know that. We're going to get there. We're going to go do tax reform.

The press needs to focus its attention on $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities, $20 trillion in debt and anemic economic growth under President Obama, which was never focused on. We need to get this thing growing.

President Trump is going to put a tax cut bill in coming up in short order. That's his main -- that's -- he gets excited about that one. That's going to happen, the economy's going to grow. Yes.

BERMAN: The chairman of your own committee says, by the way, the tax cuts don't need to be offset. On the issue of the debt.


BERMAN: And the deficit, if there are tax cuts as part of this tax plan, you know, Chairman Meadows of the House Freedom Caucus says that they don't need to be offset now, correct?

BRAT: If we can get tax cuts in play, that will get us 4 percent economic growth instead of 1.5 percent. And so that growth right there will offset, right? You've got to believe that tax cuts happen, like JFK -- when JFK passed tax cut, we got 5 percent real growth, and then Reagan, we got over 4 percent real growth. We can do it again, and we're going to come out of this smelling like roses because we're going to do the right thing.

We're not in a hurry. That bill had a three-week artificial deadline on it. It was very hard to get everybody together in three weeks. We're going to get it done and the American people are going to be very happy when they see the work of President Trump along with Congress coming up.

HARLOW: You guys have got a lot of quotes this morning, smelling like roses. Last hour it was mob mentality. Before you go, we just want to follow up on one thing you said to John's question. You said the president is being ill advised when he tweeted that, very critical of your committee. Ill advised by whom?

BRAT: There's a narrative coming out, right? Everyone goes after the conservative members always. There were more moderate members who were going to walk away from that bill at the end. That's why the vote was pulled, right? So there's a narrative out there always against the most conservative members in the conservative caucus. And they were called right wing and all this kind of stuff.

I follow James Madison, I did a PhD in economics, I went to Princeton Seminary, I follow Adam Smith from the Scottish Enlightenment who gave us free markets. That's not right wing. That's what made this country great in the first place, right? If you put those things together -- and President Trump knows what those great things are, right? The Judeo Christian tradition, the rule of law, free markets, that is what pumped up his base when he ran and sent him over the top.

We want to maintain that tradition that made us so great. You don't do that by growing Washington, D.C. You've got to shrink D.C. --

HARLOW: But who gave him the bad advice? Who gave him the bad advice? It's a one or two-word answer.

BRAT: Yes, it's across the board. He's been getting bad counsel from the media, from some in leadership who said that some of us should not even exist up here. I mean, there's just -- we need to be on a team and get a good product that lowers price, and we can do that in short order.

HARLOW: OK. Republican Congressman Dave Brat, thank you for joining us.

BRAT: You bet.

BERMAN: Very interesting to hear that. Thank you so much --

HARLOW: You are giving the president bad counsel, the media.

BERMAN: The media is giving the president bad counsel, but also House leadership, he said, which was not uninteresting.

All right. We have some very interesting news when it comes to the investigation into Russia and also Trump associations possibly with that. House Intelligence chair Devin Nunes. We now know where he was the day before he made a key announcement. Why is this important? Stay with us.