Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley; Russia Crackdown; Interview With California Congressman Devin Nunes; U.S. Airstrike Responsible for Civilian Deaths in Iraq?; Top Putin Critic Among Hundreds Arrested in Russia Protests; Iraqi Official: 100+ Bodies Pulled from Site of U.S.-Led Strike. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 27, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: Nunes under fire. The House Intelligence Committee chairman reveals a secret meeting over at the White House complex the day before his bombshell statement about possible surveillance of the Trump team.
This hour, I will speak to Devin Nunes about his mysterious moves, his controversial claims, and whether his panel's Russia investigation has now been compromised.
The Russia probe reaches deeper into Mr. Trump's inner circle, with his son-in-law now preparing to face questioning by the Senate. Why did Jared Kushner offer to testify?
Jailing the opposition. The Kremlin responds to mass defiance by arresting hundreds of protesters, including a top critic of Vladimir Putin. We will have a live report from Russia on this new source of concern about Putin's ruthless ways.
And civilian casualties. The U.S. military investigates a coalition airstrike in Iraq and reports that it cost dozens of innocent lives. What it will mean for the battle against ISIS?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Breaking news new tonight, new intrigue surrounding the House Intelligence Committee chairman and his claim that the Trump transition team's communications may have been swept up during routine surveillance.
Just moments from now, I will speak live with the Republican chairman, Devin Nunes. He's now confirming he visited the White House grounds to view classified information the day before he spoke publicly about that information and rushed to brief the president while leaving Democrats on his own panel in the dark. This revelation is fueling even more questions about where Nunes got
the information, if there's a White House connection, and whether this is part of an attempt to provide political cover for the president.
Also tonight, Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer now calling on the House speaker to replace Nunes as head of the Intelligence Committee and its investigation of Russia's election meddling.
Also breaking, the top members of the Senate Intelligence Committee publicly announcing that Mr. Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, has volunteered to testify in their Russia investigation. Kushner is expected to answer questions about meetings with Russian officials he arranged or took part in, including his just-disclosed meeting with the head of a major Russian bank.
As we stand by to talk to the House Intelligence Committee chairman, I will also speak live with a key Democrat on the panel, Congressman Mike Quigley. He's with us, along with our correspondents and analysts, as we cover all the breaking stories right now.
First, let's go to CNN's Jessica Schneider with more on Devin Nunes' secret visit over to the White House complex.
Jessica, what is latest?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at least one questioned answered tonight.
We know that House Intel Chair Devin Nunes disappeared from his staff last Tuesday night to delve into classified information on the White House grounds. But what we aren't getting the answer to, was this arranged by the White House? A former government intelligence official telling CNN that members of Congress must be cleared to enter White House grounds by a White House staffer, saying it's just not possible that the White House was unaware or uninvolved.
The White House, tonight, though, refusing to deny they knew Nunes was nearby.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, new details about House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes' whereabouts the night before this unusual press conference.
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: What I have read bothers me, and I think it should bother the president.
SCHNEIDER: It turns out House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes was actually on White House grounds, his spokesman confirming Chairman Nunes met with his source at the White House grounds in order to have proximity to a secure location where he could view the information provided by the source.
That's where Nunes tells CNN he viewed information indicating incidental collection of the president's communications. A government official told CNN Nunes was seen at the National Security Council offices of the Eisenhower Executive Building.
Despite Nunes' assertion that no one from the White House knew he was there, it raises several questions. Who granted Nunes access onto the White House grounds? Who led him into the secure room at the EOB and who accessed the computer system to view the files?
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer not providing answers.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I would be glad to check on that. I'm not sure that that's how that works, but I will follow up on that point.
SCHNEIDER: Nunes still hasn't chaired the details with Intelligence Committee members and Democrats are questioning Nunes' ability to be impartial.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Without further adieu, Speaker Ryan should replace Chairman Nunes.
SCHNEIDER: House Speaker Paul Ryan standing by the chair. "Speaker Ryan has full confidence that Chairman Nunes is conducting a thorough, fair and credible investigation."
This as President Trump's son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner has agreed to face members of the Senate Intelligence Committee as new information emerges about his meeting with prominent Russians. The White House previously disclosed Kushner's December meeting at Trump Tower with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
Now the White House admits Ambassador Kislyak requested a second meeting, to which Kushner sent his deputy, Avrahm Berkowitz.
Kushner then had another meeting at the request of Ambassador Kislyak with Sergey Gorkov, the head of Russia's Economic Development Bank. Throughout the campaign and transition, Jared Kushner severed as the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials. Given this role, he's volunteered to speak with Chairman Burr's committee, according to a White House spokesman.
Democratic lawmakers continue to express concerns about the Trump team's ties to Russia.
Senator Mark Warner, ranking member on the Intelligence Committee, telling NBC's "Meet the Press" this:
SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: We have to get the facts out to the American people.
CHUCK TODD, MODERATOR, "MEET THE PRESS": You keep saying there's a lot more smoke.
WARNER: There's a lot more smoke.
TODD: Do you think the fire's there? WARNER: Listen, time will tell.
SCHNEIDER: Jared Kushner is the fourth and most prominent Trump associate to agree to meet with lawmakers.
Last week, former campaign chair Paul Manafort, former adviser Roger Stone, and former foreign policy adviser Carter Page all agreed to talk to the House Intel Committee. Manafort and Carter Page also offering to talk to the Senate committee.
Now, as for the questions about how Intel Chair Devin Nunes got on to the White House grounds and where he got his information, we continue to press the administration, but still tonight no answers -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thanks very much, Jessica Schneider reporting.
I'll speak live, by the way, with the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, in just a few moments.
Right now, the Trump administration is trying to keep its distance from the controversy surrounding Nunes and his secret visit to the White House grounds.
Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, you asked the press secretary, Sean Spicer, about all of this during the briefing today.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said anything is possible when asked whether it was a White House official who was the source for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes during that quiet visit that Nunes made to the White House last week, one day before he announced that new information about the president's claim on being wiretapped.
Spicer said he was not concerned that this visit constituted some sort of new leak from the administration. But I asked Spicer whether there is a perception that it's strange that the chairman would be at the White House, on the White House grounds, one day before revealing information that appeared to be helpful to the president.
Here's what Spicer had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Do you reject that there's any kind of perception problem, whatsoever, in having the chairman over here the day before he comes out publicly and says, by the way, there's this information that's out there?
SPICER: Well, I think the chairman has made very clear through his public comments what his goal was. And I think anyone who wants to -- you can't ask someone to do a review of the situation and then sort of create inferences that because they're reviewing a situation that there's something, you know, that's not right about that.
He is reviewing a situation. He did exactly what -- and I think he's been fairly open with the press as far as what he was doing, who he spoke to, and why. And I think, you know, from our standpoint, that's what we had asked to do, is a review.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now, the White House and Nunes' staff are refusing to say just how the chairman got on to the White House grounds for this undisclosed meeting.
But, Wolf, we should point out to our viewers White House visitor logs are still not available to the public under President Trump. They were available under the Obama administration. It was a database that journalists could search to see who was coming and going over here at the White House, who were they scheduled to see.
We simply don't have access to that information at this point. And the White House is giving us no indication as to when they're going to make that information available to the public. And we should also point out, Democrats are calling on Nunes to step down as the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.
But from what we heard today over at our perch, Wolf, the White House sounds very content with Nunes staying on in that position.
BLITZER: Yes, the speaker, Paul Ryan, also says he should stay on.
All right, thanks very much, Jim Acosta, over at the White House.
As we stand by to speak live with the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, we're joined now by a Democrat on the panel, Congressman Mike Quigley.
Congressman, thanks for joining us.
REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: Glad to be here. "Bridge of Spies" has nothing on us, apparently.
BLITZER: Did the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, compromise the investigation by visiting the White House grounds on the evening before his news conference and his bombshell disclosures?
This is just beyond the pale. Unfortunately, the White House and the chairman have led a two-pronged campaign since this investigation began, obstruction and distraction.
And it makes it very difficult to go forward, but we will go forward. BLITZER: Do you believe that someone in the White House, someone on
the White House staff actually gave him the information which, the next day, he then discussed publicly and actually went to see the president and reported that information to the president?
QUIGLEY: That information could have come from any number of sources. We have absolutely no way of knowing.
Obviously, if there are White House logs, we would have a little bit better idea.
BLITZER: When do you expect the chairman to reveal his source, to make these reports available to you and your colleagues on the Intelligence Committee?
QUIGLEY: We were told it was going to be last Friday. At this point in time, we simply have no idea when the chairman plans to come forward with that information.
BLITZER: As you know, he's also canceled the public hearing on Russia that had been planned for tomorrow, a hearing that was supposed to include former Director of National Intelligence General Clapper, the former CIA Director John Brennan, the former Acting Attorney Yates. They were all going to testify.
Nunes, on his own, suddenly canceled that hearing in order, he said, to have a classified briefing with the FBI director, Comey, the NSA Director, Admiral Rogers, but now that briefing isn't happening either. So what's the logic here?
QUIGLEY: Well, there is no logic.
First of all, there's more than two hours of any day. The two hearings were not mutually exclusive. We could have heard at the public hearing much of what took place at the first hearing. I think the reason the second public hearing was canceled is, quite simply, the first public hearing went so horribly for the administration.
I mean, Mr. Comey, Director Comey announced the investigation was going forward. He also announced that there was no evidence that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. He also said that the Russians were attempting to help the Trump campaign and hurt the Hillary Clinton campaign.
So, it didn't go well the first time. They didn't want to give us a second shot.
BLITZER: Do you think the chairman, Devin Nunes, should resign? Should he recuse himself from this investigation? Should he allow for a special investigation? Where do you stand?
QUIGLEY: Well, I think we need a special investigation.
After 9/11, there were a series of different investigations. And they all have different abilities.
At this point in time, I would respectfully tell the chairman he ought to look into his heart. Can he serve two masters? How much damage has been done to the credibility of this investigation? Attacking the credibility of that investigation hurts the White House as well, because the American public wants these answers.
I think he has to ask himself that. And he has to ask himself at the very least if he should recuse himself.
BLITZER: Well, what do you think he should do?
QUIGLEY: At this point, I'm going to give him a day or two to think about, and we will talk soon.
BLITZER: You have introduced a bill, the Making Access Records Available to Leave American Government in Openness. That's the legislation you have introduced, the acronym MAR-A-LAGO if you will. That would require the publication of visitor logs to the White House, other Trump organization properties.
Why do you think this is necessary?
QUIGLEY: Listen, if someone has the president's here, whether it's at the White House, in South Florida or in Trump Tower, the American public has a right to know who's attempting to influence the democratic progress.
I introduced this three straight Congresses. It didn't get much attention before, probably because President Obama voluntarily released that information, as one of your reporters just discussed.
BLITZER: Who came up with the acronym?
QUIGLEY: I guess I have learned here in eight years that you have to think of something clever, you have to have a clever acronym. I'm not sure who came up with this one, but it certainly hits the spot.
BLITZER: The acronym, once again, MAR-A-LAGO, Making Access Records Available to Leave American Government Openness.
Should your American subpoena the White House logs to find out who Chairman Nunes met with last Tuesday night?
QUIGLEY: Look, we're still working on the strategy here. We're still working on who we should be inviting, you know, what's our witness list?
And then with that is going to come a tremendous amount of subpoenas involving getting documents and so forth to us. You have to prepare for this testimony, these witnesses to be there. It's within the realm of possibility, now that these revelations have come out.
BLITZER: We know that the FBI and the FBI director told your committee last Monday, a week ago, that there is an investigation under way, a criminal investigation, counterespionage, counterintelligence investigation. I think those are the words he used.
Have you seen any hard evidence, Congressman, that there was collusion between Trump associates during the campaign and the Russian government?
QUIGLEY: The way I look at it, the best way to describe it, as an old criminal defense attorney, is to use an analogy.
There's probable cause to believe that there was cooperation. It's a loose analogy, but, remember, we're at the very initial stages of this investigation. We're going to take our time, let the facts take us wherever they go.
BLITZER: What's the probable cause?
QUIGLEY: Probable cause is, there is a -- probable cause is an old legal term.
BLITZER: I know what it is legally.
QUIGLEY: Where does it come from?
BLITZER: No, no, I want to know where it comes from. I want to know, what evidence do you have that leads you to believe that there was what you call probable cause to go forward?
QUIGLEY: Yes, it's the assembly of all of it taken into consideration.
It's the best way to describe it without going into the detail that would be revealing information.
BLITZER: So, is it just circumstantial evidence? Or is there hard, specific evidence?
QUIGLEY: Yes, I guess I'm going to stick with my phrase to stay neutral and unbiased with the information we have. I think it speaks for itself.
There's clearly a tremendous amount of evidence to go forward in this investigation.
BLITZER: So, where do you think it will go, at least in the next few weeks?
QUIGLEY: I'm hoping that they reschedule the public hearing and that they do at the same time have a confidential hearing in which Mr. Comey can brief the committee of the details that he talked about.
BLITZER: But from what I hear you saying, Congressman, is, for all practical purposes, you have lost confidence in the chairman, that he no longer can really do a fair job? QUIGLEY: Well, I think, at this point in time, the problem is, if
this investigation is tainted, those that don't want the investigation will have succeeded. And we can't let that happen.
BLITZER: And your conclusion, based on everything you have seen -- and I know you're privy to sensitive, classified information there as a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Do you think Russian meddling in the election actually had an impact on the outcome?
QUIGLEY: Oh, it's impossible to say. The totality of circumstances say they certainly tried and that they had cooperation. I suppose we will never know exactly how much it influenced the American public.
BLITZER: So, bottom line is, you want this to go forward, this investigation.
Congressman, I'm going to let you go back to work. Thanks so much for joining us.
QUIGLEY: Any time. Thank you.
BLITZER: Just ahead, we're standing by to speak live with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Devin Nunes. What can he tell us about the information he reviewed on the White House grounds? I will ask him.
We will be right back.
BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news on the House Intelligence Committee chairman's secret visit to the White House grounds on the day before he went public with claims about surveillance of the Trump transition team.
The chairman, Devin Nunes, is joining us now live.
Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for joining us.
NUNES: It's great to be with you tonight, Wolf. Thank you.
BLITZER: So, why did you meet with a source on the White House grounds the evening before you came out in that news conference?
NUNES: Yes, Wolf, it's actually pretty common.
Probably, at least once a week, if not more than that, we have to go to the executive branch in order to read classified intelligence. So, that could be the White House grounds. It could be the White House. It could be the Pentagon. It could be CIA. There's a number of places we go.
And so I think Jake Tapper reported on this morning. I had spoke to him. This is something I had been working on for a very long time. I was concerned about Americans' identities being either not masked properly or, in fact, being unmasked in intelligence reports.
This actually goes back to before Mr. Trump's, President Trump's famous tweet, as you know, that he talked about putting -- whether or not he was wiretapped at Trump Tower. And so I had been working this for a long time with many different sources, and needed a place that I could actually finally go, because I knew what I was looking for, and I could actually get access to what I needed to see.
BLITZER: But did you use that SCIF -- and the SCIF is an acronym for a Sensitivity Compartment Information Facility -- did you use that SCIF on the White House grounds? Why not use a SCIF -- you have plenty of them up on the House side and the Senate side on Capitol Hill?
NUNES: Well, that is a very good question.
So, here's the problem. The Congress has not been given this information, these documents. And that's the problem. So -- so, because the -- because this is executive branch, it was distributed widely through the executive branch. This was from November, December, and January.
And these were reports, just let me reiterate -- this had nothing too with Russia, nothing to do with the Russian investigation. There was no way for the folks that I had been working with to actually -- to bring this forward to light. There was no way I could view that, because they couldn't get it to the House Intelligence Committee.
Now, we had requested. On March 25. we sent a letter over to the appropriate intelligence agencies, asking that they provide us for all the Americans' names that were unmasked in November, December, and January, actually going back to June.
And so we're hopeful that we're going to begin to get through those documents, those names. We think the NSA is providing the information sometime this week. It will take our investigators a while to go through it.
But the bottom line is this, is that we have to protect the identities of Americans who are picked up in incidental collection, no matter who that is. It's one of the most important roles of the House Intelligence Committee. We are supposed to be doing oversight.
BLITZER: So, just to be precise, the information you saw over at the Old Executive -- the Eisenhower Executive Office Building right next door to the West Wing of the White House, that information originated with the National Security Agency, the NSA?
NUNES: Well, I'm not going to tell you where I was at on the grounds, because, of course, those are all classified facilities.
But what I will say is, is that across the whole I.C., we are very interested in seeing information across the whole I.C. What I...
BLITZER: I.C. is the intelligence community.
NUNES: The intelligence community. Sorry for using acronyms like this.
But the National Security Agency is primarily the -- you know, our number one source for our military operations that collect intelligence, collect signals intelligence.
So, they're the big player in all of this. We're still going to need more information from the rest of the I.C., including the FBI. But, right now, we're just happy that the NSA is working overtime to get the committee this information, because we want to make sure that all Republicans and all Democrats can get access to this.
BLITZER: But, Mr. Chairman, if you're trying to protect sources and methods -- and all of us understand that -- didn't you think it might be conspicuous for the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee to be visiting the White House complex at night?
Wouldn't that, by itself, risk exposing your source?
NUNES: Well, don't believe everything you read, Wolf. It wasn't actually that exciting.
I have read a lot of reports that aren't true.
BLITZER: Well, tell us what is true.
NUNES: Number one, I wasn't sneaking on. It wasn't at night.
It was in the middle of the -- you know, the sun was out. And I actually stopped and talked to several people along the way. Many foreign dignitaries were there, some I recognized. I said hello, had conversations with them. So, nobody was sneaking around.
All it was, was just a place where I had to go to be able to review this information.
BLITZER: Who cleared you for admission?
NUNES: Well, I'm not going to get into how that process works, but the White House has a process for...
BLITZER: But was it a White House staffer?
NUNES: Look, Wolf, I'm not going to get into sources and methods and how we review documents, especially classified information.
This happens all over the executive branch, and it's quite common.
BLITZER: Because, eventually, these records -- you know how it works -- they're going to come out anyhow, right?
And, look, as I said, this is nothing new. And we're -- it has nothing to do with the Russia investigation.
BLITZER: So, why not disclose it now, if it's going to be released in the near-term?
NUNES: Because, look, this is not something -- sources and methods are kept very confidential.
We invite whistle-blowers to come forward. In fact, we have had many people come forward to the committee in recent weeks, because there's been so much attention on this. And we want to continue to encourage that. If we start talking, disclosing sources and methods, who's ever going to come forward to the committee to bring us information?
BLITZER: In addition going to that secure room to look over these documents, did you have other meetings at the White House? Did you meet with the president or any of his aides while you were there that night?
NUNES: No. No.
And, in fact, I'm quite sure that people in the West Wing had no idea that I was there. Look, I go over there a lot. I go over there often for meetings and briefings to meet foreign dignitaries, all those sort of things. I go to all the agencies. It's part of the role of oversight. And all of our members go to the executive branch.
BLITZER: But you understand how it would look. The next day, you're coming out, you're giving the president some comfort, and he said, you know, he was somewhat vindicated, if you will.
You will understand how all of this looks and why it's causing such an uproar.
NUNES: I do. I completely do.
But the fact of the matter remains that this is information that I had long before Mr. Trump even made his famous tweet. So, and, look, if it was -- if I really wanted to, I could have snuck on to the grounds late at night and probably nobody would have seen me, but I wasn't trying to hide. In fact, I stopped and talked to several people there just along the way, including, like I said, many foreigners.
BLITZER: By holding the meeting on the White House grounds, it makes it appear that someone in the administration was coordinating the release of this information to you. Is that not the case?
NUNES: No, it's not the case. Like I said, this is something I had been working for a long time. And I had to find a way for me to have access to the information, because we couldn't get the information down to the committee.
And this was -- you know, this was a way I could facilitate me getting that information.
BLITZER: You have described your source as a whistle-blower. Was this person going around someone above him or her to provide you this information? Did the person who shared this information allowed you to access this information have clearance from his or her supervisors?
NUNES: I know that it's all Washington intrigue to find out about the sources and methods. And I will say the same thing I said to everybody else. And that is that, look, we're just not going to get into discussing...
BLITZER: Well, when I hear the word whistle-blower -- you are the one who mentioned whistle-blower -- it usually means someone who's not authorized, but feels -- that person feels has a responsibility to share this kind of new information.
NUNES: Yes, so, we have a lot of people who give us information to our committee.
There's lots of different ways that you can come forward. You can ask for official whistle-blower protections. You can be an informant to the committee. You can just provide information to the committee.
A lot of it, there's nothing wrong. If we ask questions to people within the I.C., to officials, they're supposed to give the Oversight Committee the answers. And we want to encourage that activity. We don't want to discourage it.
And any time I start to talk about who, what, why, when, where'd I go, it's not healthy. And it shouldn't be discussed in the public.
[18:30:02] BLITZER: Here's a question that jumped out at me. Why would you need to brief the White House on what you, yourself, have called executive branch documents?
NUNES: Well, because, remember, we get a lot of documents from the executive branch, whether it's the Department of Defense or CIA or others. We have to go to those agencies a lot of times to see them.
I wasn't planning on going to the White House the next day. But after I was able to read what I read, I realized it had nothing to do with Russia, but had everything to do with individuals who were -- whose names were included into intelligence reports. I was very concerned, and I thought that the president of the United States should know. And that's why I went and told him.
BLITZER: Let me turn to the contents of the reports that you've seen. And obviously, we have not seen those reports. Do they specifically name the president or quote him by name, otherwise known as unmasking?
NUNES: So I -- what I've said before on this, Wolf, is that -- is that we do know there was additional unmasking done. And I'll leave it at that. Hopefully, we can get the agencies to -- to get that information to us. In addition, there was information that looked like it was legally
collected, but it was information on President Trump and his transition team.
BLITZER: Was his name specifically mentioned?
NUNES: I can't get into that, because these are clearly classified reports. And so until we can get all of them -- but I can tell you, it's very clear that it was on President Trump and his transition team.
BLITZER: What about current White House officials, Trump campaign staffers, Trump family members? And all of this happened after the election, during the transition, not during the campaign, right?
NUNES: That's correct. What I saw appeared to be like it was from November, December, and January. And I hope that people pay attention to this. This is -- this is a real issue. And what I'm raising here is vital to national security. We cannot allow Americans' names to be either masked improperly or unmasked improperly. And we have a duty and a responsibility to get to the bottom, to see if this was done properly or not.
BLITZER: Was there anything illegal?
NUNES: It depends. We don't know yet. We do know that there was one name. The only crime that we know has been committed so far, assuming that General Flynn was picked up on some type of incidental collection, that was illegally leaked, if that was, in fact, the case.
BLITZER: Any other names illegally leaked, unmasked?
NUNES: We don't -- we don't know yet, but there are additional names that were unmasked.
BLITZER: Because previously, you suggested there were.
NUNES: Yes -- no, no. There are additional names that were unmasked. And that's what raised concern to me.
BLITZER: But you saw actual names in the reports you read at the White House conference?
NUNES: Yes, it was pretty clear who they were talking about, you know, what the reports were referring to.
BLITZER: But you were surmising, you were concluding who the names were. Did you actually see names?
NUNES: For the most part, they -- they were masked. But like I said, there was additional unmasking, which is why we're trying to get the intelligence agencies to cooperate and provide us the information, so we can figure out who asked for that name to be unmasked and who the name was.
BLITZER: Because you say for the most part -- elaborate. I want -- if you could be specific, were there specific names that were inappropriately, if not illegally, unmasked?
NUNES: So, I -- so, I don't know if -- I think, inappropriately, is for sure the case. But what we should do here is we should wait until we get all the evidence and -- to our committee. That's going to take a while. It's going to take a while for us to comb through it.
But what I will say -- and I'll be -- and I'll be as clear as I can on this, it bothered me. As somebody who supports our national security apparatus, it bothered me that this level of information would be included in intelligence reports, because it just wasn't necessary, from my point of view. Legal or not.
BLITZER: Were the calls -- were the calls in question, the transition team calls that individuals were unmasked, were they involving foreign governments intercepted by U.S. intelligence or discussions by foreign governments about calls they may have had with Trump officials?
NUNES: I'm -- I can't get into that, because as you know, a lot of what we do is classified in nature. But I will say that it had absolutely nothing to do with Russia. All the reports I saw had nothing to do with Russia, which is why I thought it was completely appropriate for me to, the next day, to go and talk to the president about this and why I thought it was -- why I thought this needed his attention.
And look, we had been asking the -- we already suspected this. I mean, I had people who had already told me this existed. And we've been asking the agency since March 15 to provide us the names that were unmasked.
BLITZER: But you -- and let me -- I know you have to go vote. And I'd love you to come back after you vote, because there's a bunch of other questions I'd love to ask you.
NUNES: This is a lot of questions.
BLITZER: I know it's a lot of questions, but this is important. And you have -- you know, you have the answers. But very quickly, before you vote -- and hopefully you'll come right back after the vote -- do you understand why it might have been better to avoid that kind of meeting at the White House?
[18:35:06] NUNES: Yes, but, look, when I -- when I went over there, I was expecting to see what had been described to me. I was not expecting to see what I saw. And that's why there was -- there was nothing clandestine about it. It was simply just going through there, saying hi to people, going in, looking at what I needed to look at, figuring out it had nothing to do with Russia at all. It had everything to do about American citizens being caught up in surveillance of some kind. And I thought that it was important for the president to know, and that's why the following day I went and briefed him.
BLITZER: And one final question. I know you've got to go and vote. Those four tweets from three weeks ago that the president leveled those charges against President Obama for ordering the wiretapping of Trump Tower. You don't believe that, do you?
NUNES: No, I mean, I said just days after that, that that didn't happen. Days after that. And largely, the media ignored it; largely...
BLITZER: So he should not -- he should not feel vindicated?
NUNES: Well, look, I'm not going to get into how people feel or don't feel. I just know that I was very clear with all of the media and the American public that I didn't think that those tweets were accurate.
However, I will say -- I said this the whole time -- I am concerned about additional unmasking and if any other surveillance activities were used. And look, clearly, that appears to be the case in this -- in this matter.
BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, you've been very generous with your time. I know you've got to run and vote. If you can come back, we'll continue this conversation. Thanks so much for joining us.
NUNES: Thank you, Wolf. Appreciate it.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Just ahead, we're going to talk about what we just heard from the chairman. Our political team is standing by.
[18:41:14] BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news. The House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, telling us just moments ago that he had to go to the White House grounds to review secret information about possible surveillance of the Trump transition team, because it had not been provided to Congress.
Let's talk about the interview, the ramifications with our panel. G
Gloria, you know, there's a big issue here: Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election. And now all of these side issues are erupting, but this is the chairman who's supposed to be in charge of that big -- that big investigation.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, and he seems to be going off on a tangent. Not that it's not important, because you don't want people to be unmasked in intelligence collection. But he went out of his way to keep saying to you, Wolf, that this was not about Russia. That he was not expecting to see what he saw, which wasn't about Russia, but it was about people being unmasked, either by name or by description, I would have say.
But while the rest of Congress is kind of looking at the Russia investigation, which is before them, he seems to be going off in a -- in a different direction. And that's what is confusing people.
Because the intelligence committees are focusing on any contacts between Trump transition officials, people in the Trump administration, and the Russians, and this is a by-product of that, is important. You don't want people's names unmasked, but it is not the investigation that he is supposed to be heading up.
BLITZER: When we say "unmasked," Rebecca, we mean unmasked within the intelligence community, with people who have access to classified information. He gave one example of a name that was unmasked: Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser. He says that was a law that was broken. But what was your reaction to what we just heard?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, well, it could be a very significant issue, Wolf, if it is as the chairman says. Because unless the intelligence agencies, unless the NSA has a FISA warrant to be monitoring American citizens, they're not supposed to be spying on them. And so this incidental collection, picking up these conversations featuring American citizens, which just happened to be, in this case, members of the Trump team, that's a very serious issue. And you're supposed to try to mitigate as much as possible within the intelligence community.
Now, what the chairman is raising is potentially very serious, because if they didn't properly do that, if this was disseminated throughout the intelligence community and people were able to discern who was being monitored among the Trump team, and there was no FISA warrant, that's a really serious privacy concern. And it's obviously, a different issue than the Russia investigation. But it still, I think, should be very alarming for anyone who is an American citizen.
BORGER: But they weren't necessarily being monitored. It could have been incidental collection...
BERG: That's right, but then there's...
BORGER: ... because the people they were speaking with was being monitored.
BERG: Right. But then the intelligence community has the responsibility to go back and make sure you can't tell who this is that is talking...
DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think...
BERG: ... who is being monitored.
SWERDLICK: Yes, no, I agree with you, Rebecca. I think he did a good job of explaining to Wolf why he's concerned about that right now. I don't think he did a good job of answering why he's sort of given Congressman Schiff the stiff arm on this and not brought the ranking Democrat of the committee into this. Because like Gloria said, this -- the big-picture issue for the committee is the Russia story, not...
BLITZER: But over the past week, he has formally apologized to members of his own committee for handling it the way that he did.
SWERDLICK: He's apologized, but my understanding right now is that Congressman Schiff and other Democrats on the committee are not in the loop on all the information... BORGER: Right.
SWERDLICK: ... that he has, which I think he still -- he didn't really give you a good explanation of that. I also don't think he gave you a great explanation...
BLITZER: He said the information was being made available to Congress. It hasn't been made available to Congress. They're working on ways to transfer it. That's what he suggested.
BORGER: But this...
SWERDLICK: No, go ahead.
BORGER: This kind of muddies the waters.
BORGER: I mean, there is a Russia investigation going on and this, while important -- I'm going to give the chairman that, is not what he is supposed to be investigating. So what he does is muddy the waters, rushes to the White House, goes and tells the president, this is so important, this is so important, you ought to know. Perhaps because his identity was unmasked in some way, shape, or form.
And everybody on his committee is wondering, wait a minute. We understand about the unmasking. We don't think names should be distributed throughout the intelligence community. But, our job is to investigate Russia and contacts with the Trump people. So what this does is, A, it sort of proves, or, you know, gives credence to what Donald Trump was tweeting in a bizarre sort of way, because Donald Trump was saying, you know, he was wiretapped. Although Nunes said he wasn't wiretapped.
But then the White House came back and said he was surveilled, right? So, the question is, is Nunes acting as a surrogate for the administration?
BLITZER: Can he continue as chairman of this House Intelligence Committee, pursue this investigation of Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election, with real credibility?
SWERDLICK: I think the way that House Republicans or congressional Republicans are generally going to have to answer that is all of their credibility is on the line right now. Up to and including the speaker. And if they don't resolve this in a way that demonstrates to other members of Congress and the public, that they're actually try to get to the bottom of the big Russia picture issue and not the unmasking issue, which is important, as we all agree, but not the main subject of this committee, I think that is going to be a problem.
BLITZER: Because, Rebecca, the chairman shows no sign of walking away from this. He is right in the middle of it. You saw, he's willing to go and give interviews and talk about it.
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And so, certainly, he's been explaining himself more as time has progressed. His initial rollout was pretty clumsy, to be frank. Now, he's making a little more sense.
But he said that he does want this information to come out in some way, shape, or form. And I think he's probably hoping that once those revelations are made public, to some extent, he's able to really further explain himself, maybe the perception of this will change somewhat. Until then, it's really difficult to know how much of this was political motivation, how much of this is real?
SWERDLICK: But even if they can't be made public at this time, why can't they be made -- why can't they be made available to Congressman Schiff --
BERG: And it sounds like --
BLITZER: Speaking of Congressman Schiff, Gloria, we're just getting word that the chairman, Devin Nunes, should recuse himself from this entire investigation.
BORGER: Well, that's not surprising, since he called for an independent commission at some point, also. Because they now believe that Nunes is not doing his job. That he's off on this tangent. They're supposed to investigate Russia. Everybody agrees unmasking is a bad -- it could be a problem.
The question that I have, Wolf, is, if this wasn't about Russia, what was it about? And tell us, if these conversations were being surveilled and they were surveilled for a reason, what was the reason? And what were these conversations about?
You know, Russia isn't the only place in the world, obviously. But his line that he was not expecting to see what I saw, really kind of raises a lot of questions in my mind, about what it is that he saw and should he at least share that information with the people he works with on the intelligence committee.
BLITZER: Let me read breaking news. This is a statement just released by Congressman Schiff, the chairman of the committee. "After much consideration and in light of the chairman's admission that he met with his source of information at the White House, I believe that the chairman should recuse himself from any further involvement in the Russia investigation, as well as any involvement in oversight of matters pertaining to any incidental collection of the Trump transition, as he was also a key member of the transition team."
The statement continues, "This is not a recommendation I make lightly, as the chairman and I have worked together well for several years and I take this step with the knowledge of the solemn responsibility we have on the intelligence committee to provide oversight on all intelligence matters, not just to conduct the investigation."
The statement continues, let me read one more line, "But in much the same way the attorney general was forced to recuse himself from the Russia investigation after failing to inform the Senate of his meetings with Russian officials, I believe the public cannot have the necessary confidence that matters involving the president's campaign or transition team can be objectively investigated or overseen by the chairman."
[18:50:04] Let's take a quick break. We're following the breaking news.
Also, the U.S. is condemning the arrest of hundreds of anti-government protesters in Russia. What might Vladimir Putin do next to try to stamp out defiance?
BLITZER: Tonight, the Kremlin is cracking down on anti-government protests in response to demonstrations across Russia, the biggest show of defiance in years.
[18:55:05] Hundreds have been arrested including a leading opposition figure and a critic of Vladimir Putin.
Let's go to our senior international correspondent Matthew Chance who is joining us live from Moscow.
Matthew, what's the latest?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the latest tonight is Alexei Navalny is the name of that leading Putin critic. He's behind bars tonight. He's been sentenced to 15 days in jail for disobeying the orders of a Russian police officer. He was also fined 350 bucks for organizing that illegal protest.
But it's changed Russia in some ways because, first of all, it showed that Russians, even if the rallies are not sanctioned, will go out on the streets in their thousands. Not just in Moscow, in St. Petersburg, but in towns and cities across the country. It's showing the corruption, which is why these people are protesting, is something is an issue that unites people in Russia, unites the truck driver from Ohms (ph), with the intellectual from St. Petersburg. They're willing to come out on this issue.
And it raises the question of what will the Kremlin do next because it can't ignore the fact that this anti-corruption message has been shown so strongly on the streets of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and a range of other cities across this country, Wolf.
BLITZER: A dramatic situation indeed. Matthew Chance in Moscow, thank you very much.
Also tonight, the U.S. military is investigating an anti-ISIS air strike in Iraq that reportedly left dozens of civilians dead. A senior Iraqi official says more than 100 bodies have been recovered in Mosul.
Let's bring in our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
What are you learning, Barbara?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.
Tonight, as the pace of military operations picks up in some of these crowded cities like Mosul, the worry about civilian casualties is growing.
STARR (voice-over): The bodies keep coming. More than 100 so far pulled from the rubble on this street in West Mosul. Civilian defense workers try to help, survivors tell of the horror.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): More than 100 people were inside. Half an hour later, the house was hit in an air strike.
STARR: The U.S. military investigating what happened March 16th when airstrikes were called in at the request of Iraqi forces. A suicide bomber in a truck filled with explosives was believed to be there, according to Iraqis.
COL. JOSEPH SCROCCA, ANTI-ISIS COALITION SPOKESMAN: The coalition conducted strikes in that area. A number of strikes throughout that neighborhood and one fairly close to the place where they have indicated they have civilian casualties.
STARR: The U.S. believes ISIS was using dozens of civilians as human shields not letting them escape the fighting.
ABDUL RAHMAN AL-LOUISI, IRAQI PARLIAMENT MEMBER (through translator): Whether the area was hit by an airstrike or booby trapped by ISIS, a mistake has happened. Civilians have died. We are responsible for them.
STARR: Defense Secretary James Mattis insisting the U.S. is careful to protect civilians.
JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: There is no military force in the world that has proven more sensitive to the civilian casualties. We are keenly aware that every battlefield where an enemy hides behind women and children is also a humanitarian field, and we go out of our way to always do everything humanly possible to reduce the loss of life or injury among innocent people. The same cannot be said for our adversaries.
STARR: But in the narrow streets of heavily populated west Mosul, airstrikes may not be able to avoid civilians. The Pentagon also is looking at other airstrikes in the area so see if they might have resulted in civilians being killed. Iraqis are already calling for a reduction in airstrikes. The U.S. insists it's not yet changing how it operates.
One reason, 250 troops from the 82nd airborne are on their way to Mosul to advise Iraqi forces. Those U.S. soldiers will always have the right of self defense to call in airstrikes.
STARR: Tonight, Wolf, for the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians still trapped in west Mosul, amongst the fighting, there is little interest in the political statements. These people are trying to stay alive.
Now, as for civilian casualties, the Pentagon says this incident in Mosul is a top priority for them, but they're also investigating several other allegations of civilian casualties and they said today that they just might not have enough personnel to get all of this wrapped up very quickly -- Wolf.
BLITZER: One problem, ISIS has booby trapped a lot of buildings there. They built a lot of underground tunnels, all of which potentially could cause a lot of civilian casualties.
Barbara Starr at the Pentagon -- thanks very much.
And that's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.