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Yates Testimony Blocked; Nunes on Probe; Kushner Likely to Testify; Restarting Health Care Talks; Gorsuch Confirmed Next Friday; Health Care Talks Restart Quietly. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 28, 2017 - 14:00   ET



[14:00:18] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, here we go. Breaking news here on CNN. Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me.

You just heard it from the briefing, the White House denying that it blocked the testimony of former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who, remember, she was fired by President Trump just over a week into his presidency. She was a holdover from the Obama administration.

So Yates had been scheduled to testify on this investigation of the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. But that hearing was scrapped. She played a key role, remember, in investigating Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his conversations with the Russians.

Here was Sean Spicer in that White House briefing just a little while ago.


QUESTION: There are reports that even though the hearing that was set for the 27th, was not scheduled, it was canceled by Devin Nunes to prevent this White House from publicly invoking a claim of executive privilege. Could you speak to that?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I hope she testifies. I look forward to it. it was never - they - let's be honest, the hearing was never - it was actually never notified. If they choose to move forward, great. We have no problem with her testifying, plain and simple. The report in "The Washington Post" is 100 percent false. The letters that they frankly published on their website all back up everything I just read. All of the letters are available on their website. I hate to give them the traffic. But the reality is, is that they specifically say, if you don't respond, we're going to go ahead. We didn't respond. We encouraged them to go ahead. But to suggest in any way, shape, or form that were stood in the way of that is 100 percent false.


BALDWIN: Jim Acosta, let's start with you, our senior White House correspondent there.


BALDWIN: Give us the back story.

ACOSTA: Well, again, this was a very contentious briefing here at the White House. It's becoming almost a daily occurrence. And you heard at one point sort of, you know, tensions flaring up when White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said to our friend April Ryan that if the president put Russian salad dressing on his salad that that would be somehow a sign of collusion with the Russians. And so it's sort of in that - that temperature that he was answering this other question about Sally Yates.

Now, yes, "The Washington Post" did publish some letters that it obtained earlier this morning. Letters from Yates' attorney I guess from the Justice Department to Yates' attorney. And in that letter it does state in regard to her upcoming testimony before the House Intelligence Committee that she would need to consult with the White House. Now, when asked about this, when pressed on this, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer denied that this was any attempt by the White House to try to block Sally Yates from testifying before the House Intelligence Committee. And you heard him say during the briefing, Brooke, that they welcome this testimony. So if that hearing ever comes back to life, and we do expect that it will come back to life from talking to sources up on Capitol Hill, she'll be testifying and the White House said today, they're not going to stand in the way.

BALDWIN: We know there will be life on the Senate side, just to get this in for everyone watching, we heard from, you know, Senator Mark Warner, who's a, you know, ranking chair on the Senate side. She will testify there but no word, to your point, as far as the House Intel Committee is concerned.

Let me move on, because on top of all of this today, you have the Republican in charge of that House Intelligence Committee who is still refusing to recuse himself over questionable actions involving their committee's investigations. You know the story. We're talking about Chairman Devin Nunes claiming he saw information that showed the president's communications may have been intercepted. He revealed this. He briefed the press. He briefed the president before actually telling his own committee. We have also learned that Mr. Nunes visited the White House grounds to meet his source, but still hasn't shown any evidence.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Are you going to stay as chairman and run this investigation?

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, why would I not? You guys need to go ask them why they're - you know, why these things are being said.

RAJU: But they are saying that it cannot run as you - with you as chairman. NUNES: Well, (INAUDIBLE) - you've got to go talk to them. That sound

like their problem. I don't have - you know, my colleagues are perfectly fine. I mean there's - they know we're doing an investigation and that will continue.


BALDWIN: So back to you, Jim, and, again, I know we talked so much about his visit to the White House and this super secure place known as a skiff where he saw said classified information, but we don't know exactly what he saw. We still don't know who cleared him to get to where you are.

ACOSTA: That's right. And Sean Spicer was asked about this during the briefing today. He was asked, you know, do you have any more information to provide. And yesterday at the briefing, Sean Spicer indicated that there would be some more information coming at some point. But he just did not answer the question when asked, well, who cleared Devin Nunes on to the grounds of the White House?

[14:05:07] Now, we should point out, Brooke, that that kind of information would potentially be in the White House visitor logs that are run by the U.S. Secret Service and maintained by the White House. And potentially that information, I guess, would be accessible in those visitor logs. But as of this point, this current administration is not making those visitor logs or that information available to the public, even though we had access to that information during the Obama administration. And so no answers today as to who cleared Devin Nunes on to the White House grounds. Both the White House and the chairman staff, they're just declining to answer that question, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.

Jim Acosta, thank you very much, at the White House.

ACOSTA: All right.

BALDWIN: Let's have a big old discussion on everything we just talked about and more. I've got Nia-Malika Henderson standing by, CNN's senior political reporter. Michael Morse is with us, a former U.S. attorney who actually knows fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. Maya MacGuineas is the president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. And Gloria Borger is here, our CNN chief political analyst.

So great to have all of you on.

And, Nia, let's step back on this Sally Yates story and just do the like - I like to call it the 30,000 foot view. I think we just need to remind everyone who she is, why she's a key player, you know, having come from the Obama administration as a holdover, acting A.G., why is she important? Why does her testimony matter?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Well, her testimony matters because she is the person in her role as acting attorney general who alerted the White House that Michael Flynn, his private - his private sort of testimony or private interactions with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, was different than what the public kind of - the public explanation of that was. Essentially she went to the White House and said that he could be open to blackmail as a result of talking to the Russian ambassador, but then - but then publicly saying he hadn't. So that's what's going on here. And, as well, she obviously was fired by the Trump administration because she defied them over the travel ban. She said that the Department of Justice shouldn't actually defend their travel ban. So she was fired as a result.

From what "The Washington Post" is reporting and what we're reporting as well, her testimony before this committee would have been different than what the White House has said about some of the conversations around Michael Flynn, as well as the Russian ambassador. And we also know that at some point she is going to testify. So, you know, you have there obviously Sean Spicer saying they look forward to the testimony. They hope she testifies. Well, guess what, at some point she likely will.

BALDWIN: So she was supposed to testify again, just to reiterate, in front of this House Intel Committee, but apparently Mr. Nunes scrapped that, which caused all kinds of question marks.

And so, Michael, you know her. Let me just reiterate, because from that Sean Spicer briefing we heard that they flat-out denied that they did not consider using executive privilege on anything having to do with her testimony. What say you?

MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY WHO KNOWS SALLY YATES: I think that lacks any credibility whatsoever. I mean I'm a lawyer.


MOORE: Well, I'm a lawyer. I look at it like - I look at evidence to see what's there. I mean let's think about what's happened in the last few days. You've got Jared Kushner who's suddenly, miraculously been moved into a White House job. You've got Devin Nunes going out - going to a skiff on the White House property. I've been in a skiff. I've been briefed in a skiff. You have to sign in to the skiff. I promise you, there is a log there where he signed in. The White House doesn't want to release that and tell us who he was there. He meets his source where he got the information with the place - executive office where he's investigating. He's in charge of that investigation. I just think it - it just lacks any credibility whatsoever.

I mean I've done criminal defense work too and, let me tell you, I don't have any belief at all that they want Sally Yates to testify. I think that's - that's - that's just unconscionable for a lawyer - for somebody to say that. And this is why.


MOORE: If you're a lawyer and you've got a client who's caught up in somebody else's wiretap, that's the worst thing that can happen for your client. Donald Trump says he feels vindicated. I think he's more likely implicated than he is vindicated. BALDWIN: Wow. Well, you - there is this massive - I can picture this

proverbial, you know, storm cloud over the White House almost since day one of this administration. We now know from the FBI there is, indeed, this, you know, investigation underway between ties, between the Trump folks and Russia. And I just want to play this exchange, which this definitely made me take note, mention of Russian salad dressing between April Ryan, a long time White House correspondent, and Sean Spicer. Roll it.


APRIL RYAN: How does this administration try to revamp its image? Two and a half months in, you've got this Yates story today. You've got other things going on. You've got Russia. You've got - you've got wiretapping. You've got -

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No, we don't have that. You - you - I know.

RYAN: There are investigation on Capitol Hill -

SPICER: No, no, I get it, but you keep - I've said it from the day that I got here until whatever, that there is no connection. You've got Russia. If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that's a Russian connection. But every single person -

[14:10:10] RYAN: (INAUDIBLE) -

SPICER: No, I - and you - well, no, that's - I appreciate your agenda here, but the reality is -


SPICER: Oh, no, no, hold on. No, at some point, report the facts. The facts are that every single person who has been briefed on this subject has come away with the same conclusion, Republican, Democrat. So I'm sorry that that disgusts you. You're shaking your head. I appreciate it. But - but -


SPICER: OK, but understand this that, that at some point the facts are what they are. At some point, April, you're going to have to take no for an answer.


BALDWIN: At some point you're going to have to take no.

Let's add to this - let's put Sally Yates to the side, Gloria Borger, because you now have news on the president's son-in-law who works out of that, you know, West Wing, who is one of the top senior advisers to the president. What have you just learned about Jared Kushner?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, Jared Kushner is somebody who is incredibly close to this president, who has had meetings with Russians. And "The New York Times," you know, disclosed last night that one of those meetings that Jared Kushner had with a Russian bank was actually more of a business meeting during the transition than it was during a proforma meeting and so -

BALDWIN: Gloria, let me jump in, because, forgive me, I thought - let me just report the news and we can marinate on it. Apparently, yes, he will be doing - you know, it's going to private - a private interview, a private interview. That's what we've just learned here at CNN, when he talks about, you know, it's part of this massive investigation and that he will be under oath. That's the news I have for you.

BORGER: Oh, I - well, thank you. I -

BALDWIN: You're welcome. I'm sorry. I thought you had it.

BORGER: He is - he is going to speak - no, he is going to speak with whom privately? With the Intelligence Committees? Are we -

BALDWIN: This is the Intelligence Committee, correct? Just on the Senate side?

BORGER: I would presume.

HENDERSON: Senate side.

BALDWIN: Senate Intel, yes. Just talking to the control room.

BORGER: Right. OK. So - well, that, you know, and this - this is kind of - he volunteered to do this yesterday, to appear, as has Paul Manafort and Roger Stone and all of these people. Roger Stone wants to do it publicly. But all of those folks who have had some kind of dealings with the Russians have said that they - that they will testify and - in private session or in public session, which I think is great. Let them - let them testify before the Intelligence Committees. And, honestly, Jared Kushner probably wants to get out in front of this in any way that he can.

BALDWIN: In addition to that we've been talking about Devin Nunes on the House side. Nia, you know, again, Adam Schiff, the chairman, the Dem, the ranking member, saying he wants Mr. Nunes to recuse himself. He's not doing so. Again, this cloud over the White House. And the big question that again did not again come out of this White House daily briefing, which is, who cleared him when he, you know, had this secret rendezvous over at the White House. Why is that question so key here?

HENDERSON: Well, the question is key, a, because it would be something that would be very easy to find out, right? I mean Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, anybody in that White House could look at those records and find that out. Who let him in? Who let him into the skiff? Who let him into the White House because everybody who goes into the White House would have to pass through something and there would be record keeping about that.

But it isn't clear, you know, whether this was a White House staffer, if it was somebody on the White House payroll, if this was somebody that Nunes knew previously, if this is a source that he cultivated on his own. And the big question here is whether or not Nunes is essentially running interference for the White House, right?


HENDERSON: Trying to make a case that exculpates the White House on any number of the things - any number of things rather than doing his job as - in an oversight role. So that is why people want to get to the bottom of this.


HENDERSON: And you hear Democrats saying essentially that his credibility is shot and that the credibility of this - the investigation on the House side is shot as well. But there's still the Senate side, an investigation going on over there, as well as the FBI into Russia and any suggestion that there might have been any collusion between people in Trump's circle during the campaign and anybody with ties to the Russian government.


Maya, I'm not trying to ignore you, I just didn't want to put anything to you on Russia or Nunes or Sally Yates because you're my - you're my numbers and budget gal here.

So on now apparently there are - and we heard it from the White House daily briefing, Phil Mattingly here at CNN reporting the possibility of restarting the health care conversation behind closed doors after the very public implosion of that on Friday. Adding to that, we know that they want to next talk tax reform and infrastructure. Can they do both simultaneously?

MAYA MACGUINEAS, PRESIDENT, COMMITTEE FOR A RESPONSIBLE FEDERAL BUDGET: Right. So if all the things you just covered weren't enough, and obviously these things are absorbing so much of the time and the energy of our lawmakers -

BALDWIN: It's a lot.

[14:15:05] MACGUINEAS: The policy agenda is massive. And they really have to make a major shift where they start to be able to enact big pieces of legislation and the agenda so that they show both that they can govern and that they can get some of the things that the president and the Republican leaders ran on. So we're looking at tax reform, which they're talking about coupling with infrastructure, and now they're bringing back health care reform. These are three I would say incredibly important issues to pursue, potentially very helpful to growing the economy, but very difficult.

And let me just take a step back. We're starting without a budget in place. They have not laid out a full budget. The only budget that's come out of the White House so far was for one year, and this year and next year. And it just looked at one-third of the budget. So the full budget has not been released yet. And that means we still don't have kind of a road map or a plan for where we're headed. We do know that before any of that legislation is enacted, we're on course to borrow almost $10 trillion over the next ten years. Republicans have been very committed to getting a balanced budget. And tax reform and infrastructure are potentially very expensive adding to that bill. So there are many, many unanswered questions here and I think it's critical that they lay out kind of a comprehensive plan to grow the economy and think about these fiscal issues and have some success of moving these policy items forward.

BALDWIN: But back on health care, again, you know, we're hearing this possibility of restarting those conversations. Apparently the president's over it. Like I think roughly paraphrasing, he's lost - lost patience on this particular issue. But still, moving forward, where in your opinion, Maya, where is the middle ground to even restart this conversation on repeal and replace?

MACGUINEAS: OK, well, that's a really tricky question because what we've found was the middle ground kept on moving and that you have these different factions in the House that needed to be satisfied. We haven't even really focused on the Senate yet, where they have a number of additional issues that a lot of the moderate senators there and those who have states where the Medicare issues come into play have been very focused. They do, I believe, need to revisit health care because it's been both such an important plank in their agenda, but also let's not forget, there are real health care issues to think about, how to control costs without hopefully not sacrificing too much coverage or quality. And I do think there are some middle grounds. I think there are things that can be done that would stabilize some of the insurance markets and create some better incentives but they have to give themselves a lot more time. This is a tricky issue. There needs to be a bigger, broader conversation. I clearly think it would be better if they tried to do bipartisan discussions. They'll have to decide if they want to just do a Republican only health care fix or bring in Democrats and do something bipartisan. But -


MACGUINEAS: These reforms are ones we want to have stick. So I think bipartisan is probably the way to go.

BALDWIN: Yes, some Republicans are saying, hey, maybe more moderates, maybe we talk to the Democrats.

Michael, let me move on because I was just also handed this piece of information with regards to the Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Apparently the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, has just said that Gorsuch will be confirmed next Friday. Will be confirmed. Talk to me about this showdown that this sets up.

MOORE: Well, I'll tell you, I think under any other circumstances Neil Gorsuch is probably about as good a nominee as the Democrats could hope for. He is clearly qualified, he's well-educated, he's written a number of opinions that can be analyzed. They were picking on him on some of the minor part of dissent opinions and some other theories that he had about the law. But by and large he sort of falls into the mold of Scalia. The problem that the Republicans have in trying to move him through is

the way they treated Merrick Garland. And that's causing a roadblock. And now you've got, on top of that, Director Comey's comments that this president is under investigation for possible collusion with the Russians. And I think the Democrats are starting to stand up and say, look, we're just not going to accept as legitimate a nominee from a president who is under criminal investigation. And I think if you went back in the campaign days, you likely would have heard some of the same type of themes that the Republicans were saying about Hillary Clinton.

BALDWIN: We did. We did.

MOORE: So I'm not sure - I don't know if this is - politically if this is the place where the Democrats need to pick their fight and enforce the nuclear option, but they might do that. And if they do it, certainly McConnell has indicated he's willing to go through.

I think what's happening over and over to the administration is this. They have a credibility problem. And the games they're playing with this investigation are part of that credibility problem. When it comes then to governing and making policy, you have to have credibility with the people that you're working with. They just don't have it.

BALDWIN: But, Gloria, so he brought up the nuclear option issue which I can - I think we can assume everyone understands what that is. That would basically blow up some of the Senate rules and the Republicans can do it. But what - if they - if they do that, what is the fallout from invoking the nuclear option?

BORGER: Well, it - you know, as if it weren't partisan enough, it would be, imagine this, even more partisan in the Senate. And, you know, Mitch McConnell is a real Senate institutionalist. I don't think he would like to do that because what it would mean in the future is that if the tables are turned and the Democrats were to get a nominee, then it would apply to them, just a 50-vote margin.

[14:20:13] I think the thing we have to look at here really as we look at this Gorsuch vote, and I think you're right about the Merrick Garland background. The Democrats are incredibly angry about that because they feel that this is a stolen Supreme Court seat for them. But you have to look at those ten red state Democrats who are up for re-election in states that Donald Trump won. And you have to see how they are going to vote on Gorsuch because -

BALDWIN: That's a great point.

BORGER: As we said before, he's very qualified. He is what you would expect a Republican president to nominate. And so in more normal times, I mean I remember when Lindsey Graham voted for Sonia Sotomayor because the president should have his choice of a Supreme Court nominee, as he said. So - but these are not, you know, those times, right? So let's look at those - let's look at those - those red state Democrats -

BALDWIN: Ten Dems. BORGER: And see if they are willing to side with McConnell.

BALDWIN: Great. Everyone, thank you so much. I appreciate it.


BALDWIN: We're ping-ponging all over the place. There was so much going on, on this Tuesday. By the way, in addition to everything we just talked about, anger and frustration reportedly inside this closed-door meeting between Republicans today and some of that targeted at the Freedom Caucus. We'll talk live with one conservative member, next.

Also, it has nothing to do with Obamacare, but moments from now President Trump will make a move to try and dismantle one of former President Obama's biggest legacy items.

And CNN is on the ground in Iraq where the U.S. is investigating whether it's responsible for a strike that killed dozens of civilians.

Also just in, an incredibly significant remark from a top U.S. commander there in Iraq.

Stay here. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


[14:25:58] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Breaking news in the Republican battle to repeal and replace Obamacare. CNN has learned the White House is quietly reengaging on health care. We're hearing this after the president announced he was ready to move on after Friday's big defeat.

We are getting this actually from two people who are familiar with the inner workings of this whole process and what they're telling us is that the president's chief strategist, Steve Bannon, and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, they're the ones leading this effort to, they're hoping, bring new life into this health care fight. Our sources tell us these two believe there is a way to bridge whatever gaps led to the bill's collapse on Friday.

Keep in mind, this comes as House Republicans held the very first closed door meeting this morning since everything happened on Friday. And from our understanding, we're about to find out a lot more. There was some frustration and it got a tad fiery.

So, with me now, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks.

Congressman, wonderful to see you.

REP. MO BROOKS (R), MEMBER, HOUSE FREEDOM CAUCUS: My pleasure. Thank you for the invitation. BALDWIN: So I know, you know, you opposed the Republican health care

bill. You filed a full repeal of the Obamacare law on Friday. Congressman, what do you know about this talk of health care discussions anew?

BROOKS: Well, on Friday, it appeared that there was a swarm to create what I refer to as the surrender caucus, that we are not going to deal with health care. I think upon reflection over the weekend, calmer thoughts have come to mind. And I'm fairly confident now that we're going to continue to pursue some remedy to Obamacare.

Now, is it going to be the repeal that I prefer with whatever replacement comes thereafter? I don't know at this point in time. But I hope it will not be just a repetition of what we saw over the last two or three weeks where Republicans are pushing a bill that the Congressional Budget Office scores as a 15 to 20 percent increase in health insurance premiums, the exact opposite direction our constituents want us to go on the one hand, and on the other hand a welfare program that in effect is the largest welfare program ever proposed by the Republican Party, something that is not good for our country, in my opinion.

BALDWIN: Sure. Sure. Were there - congressman, were there - I understand Speaker Ryan and the president or the White House have been in touch, according to Sean Spicer today, a couple of times since Friday. Do you know if Mr. Meadows or anyone from your caucus has been in touch directly with the president in the last couple days?

BROOKS: Not to my knowledge. But these kind of things are frequently on going behind the scenes without a disclosure of who's talking to whom because sometimes those kind of discussions can hamper rather than enhance the ability to reach common ground.

BALDWIN: Well, let's talk more about the behind-the-scenes going on. Can you just tell me, I mean you were in this closed door meeting this morning. The is the first time that, you know, all the Republicans got together and talked since Friday. How was the meeting? Was it as fiery as some have said?

BROOKS: Well, the real fiery one would have been the GOP conference that we had last Thursday.

BALDWIN: I can imagine.

BROOKS: That was quite remarkable. The one this morning I thought was rather docile in comparison. But certainly there were still people who were animated in their remarks about supporting the largest welfare program the Republican Party has ever supported. I'm very, frankly, puzzled by that view that that's the best the Republican Party can do. We'll have to see where it goes from here. I hope that our conference will listen to the American people. And the folks in my district, in the state of Alabama, they don't want another huge welfare program piled on to a $20 trillion debt that's going to further exacerbate our country's financial condition.

BALDWIN: I understand, congressman, but let me just try to - I'm trying to just pin you down on some details from this meeting because I heard a quote from Congressman Collins, Republican here from New York, saying, quote, "I think it was the longest prayer we've ever had," referring, you know, to the opening prayer at that meeting. Can you just tell - tell me, give me a good nugget about a comment that was made today in that closed door meeting.

[14:30:05] BROOKS: Well, I appreciate you're wanting to know, but I'm hesitant to comment on what anybody else said. I do my best to try to respect the privacy of