Return to Transcripts main page


Republican Agenda?; White House Press Secretary Gets in Heated Exchange Over Russia Questions; Interview With Illinois Congressman Mike Quigley. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 28, 2017 - 15:00   ET




SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Again, part of it is, is that I think we have been very clear that when you actually get to the bottom of the facts, every single person who has been briefed on this, as I have said ad nauseam from this podium, that they have been very clear that there is no connection between the president or the staff here and anyone doing anything with Russia.

And I think that the view here was, great, go share what you know. So, no. And that's why "The Washington Post" should be ashamed of how it handled this story. It was 100 percent false.

The letters that they actually published back up exactly what we are saying, that she was asked about this information. Her attorney asked the DOJ. The DOJ said that she had to ask the White House. They made it very clear, if you don't do this, we are going to go forward. We had no objection to her going forward.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to Manu Raju in Washington, our senior congressional correspondent.

And just back up. These accusations that the White House wanted to block her testimony, where did that even come from?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this came in the aftermath of a very surprising decision where by Chairman Devin Nunes on Friday to abruptly cancel a Tuesday hearing today, a hearing that was scheduled today, where Sally Yates was expected to testify, as well as two other former intelligence officials, John Brennan among those expected, and James Clapper, expected to go forward.

Now, Nunes' decision to cancel the hearing ostensibly at the time was so they could hear privately from James Comey, the FBI director, and Mike Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, in a private classified briefing.

Now, this committee, as we've seen, has broken down along partisan lines. And, as a result, Comey and Rogers canceled that hearing. Now a lot of questions about why not have a public hearing and these accusations that perhaps the Justice Department had concerns about Yates going forward, discussing private conversations that were occurring, especially at a time when she was warning about potential blackmail, that Michael Flynn could be potentially blackmailed by the Russians.

The White House, as you heard, firmly denying that. But I asked Devin Nunes, the chairman of the committee, earlier today, was the White House involved? Did they have any involvement whatsoever in asking for this hearing to be canceled? He did not deny it. Take a listen.


RAJU: Are you going to stay as chairman and run this investigation?

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, why would I not? You guys need to go ask them why these things are being said.

RAJU: Can this investigation continue as you as chairman?

NUNES: Why would it not? Aren't I briefing you guys continuously and keeping you up to speed?

RAJU: But they are saying that it cannot run as you as chairman.


NUNES: You have got to talk to them. That sounds like their problem. I don't have -- my colleagues are perfectly fine. They know we're doing an investigation and that will continue.

QUESTION: Can you just comment on why the Intel Committee meetings (OFF-MIKE)

NUNES: Look, there is no -- everything is moving forward as is. I am not going to get into internal communications between us and the Democrats.

But I would go ask them that question and have them tell you.


RAJU: The last part right there where he said, would not say if this investigation was canceled at the request of the White House, now, later, his staff said that it was not.

But Nunes there clearly to make -- clearly dodging the question on multiple occasions where we tried to get them to respond to that, but also not bowing to Democratic calls for him to step aside because they believe he is too compromised, too close to the White House, saying he is going to move forward.

The question, Brooke, is, can this committee move forward and can it produce a bipartisan result? The Senate Intelligence Committee moving forward on its own. The chairman of that committee, Richard Burr, the senator, told me he is not even discussing this investigation with Nunes. He is worried about his own inquiry. We are seeing one investigation move forward and one being bogged down

by partisan politics.

BALDWIN: Can the committee move forward, especially since they scrapped all meetings this week? It's a great question. Manu, thank you so much.

And just hearing from Mr. Nunes, he says, go talk to Democrats.

So, we are about to do that.

Let me bring in Congressman Mike Quigley, Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, a pleasure to talk to you, sir. Welcome.


BALDWIN: So, your colleague, ranking member of your committee is openly questioning whether or not the White House blocked Sally Yates from testifying. Do you believe that to be the case?

QUIGLEY: Absolutely.

And let me just say, with the greatest respect, this isn't Democrats vs. Republicans. This is -- you can look at it truth vs. absolute fantasy land. I don't know what Mr. Spicer is looking at.

It is very obvious the White House wanted this open meeting canceled. They did not want Ms. Rogers -- Ms. Yates to speak. They didn't want a repeat of last week's disastrous first meeting in which Director Comey said there is an investigation, the Russians attempted to help the Trump campaign and hurt Mrs. Clinton, and that there was no truth in the fabrication that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.


So, those are facts that we have ascertained so far. The fact that the White House has a two-pronged attack on this is pretty obvious, obstruction and distraction.

BALDWIN: You say it is obvious. Would you consider that move just to scrap the hearing with Sally Yates, do you consider that to be a cover-up at all?

QUIGLEY: Look, it is evidence of a cover-up.

It is hard to read their minds, but what it says by its action is, we don't want that testimony. We don't want further political damage by others in the intelligence community telling them what happened here.

There is no rational explanation for the cancellation of that meeting. To say that there was a meeting already scheduled with Mr. Comey and Mr. Rogers is simply not true. And the brutal fact is, there is more than two hours in a day. It is what, 2:00, 3:00. We would be done by now. We can meet with more than one person in a day. BALDWIN: Wow.

Let me move on, because, Congressman Quigley, I haven't talked to you since the whole health care -- or -- even before I get on to that, just this whole thing erupted, the secret rendezvous with Mr. Nunes on White House grounds, not divulging who cleared him to get into the SCIF or what exactly he saw.

What are your thoughts on what Devin Nunes did that day?

QUIGLEY: Look, I take no great pressure in talking about the chairman this way. It is just the facts.

I thought, the first two years he ran the committee that I was a member, he was very fair. Ever since Mr. Trump has become President Trump, honestly, it has been a different story. But what he did was beyond the pale.

It makes absolutely no sense, after what Mr. Comey said, that the Trump White House was part of this investigation, the Trump campaign, to go to the White House with information completely, but never mind the fact that he never shared that information and has still not shared that information with staff, with his fellow Republicans, with the ranking member or any Democrats.

And then to get this in some sort of bizarre late-night excursion, it puts, I guess, "Bridge of Spies" to shame. It is cloak and dagger at a time when the American public should know exactly what took place.

BALDWIN: Do you then think he should recuse himself, as ranking member Adam Schiff is suggesting?

QUIGLEY: I suggest that, keep your chairmanship. At this point, I don't know that you have the trust of the American public to complete this investigation. Recuse yourself. Let someone else lead this, and we will move forward together.

BALDWIN: Do you know, Congressman, who would have cleared him to get over to the White House and cleared into that SCIF last week? Do you know that information?

QUIGLEY: I certainly do not. I know as much as anybody who has read the newspapers or watched your programming. It's anybody's guess.

And it does not help the credibility of the investigation that it is all a great mystery. What are we trying to hide? Why won't the chairman reveal this? What in the world is the White House worried about with Ms. Yates' testimony? What are they worried about in having this public meeting?

BALDWIN: Do you think your committee is imploding, sir?

QUIGLEY: Look, the fact of the matter is, we knew this was going to be a rough investigation on this side. When someone says, can you go forward, that's not the right question. We must go forward. How we do that is incumbent upon us. All we can do is message and let

the American public know exactly what's taking place. It is that pressure that will make sure this investigation goes forward with credibility.

BALDWIN: Congressman Mike Quigley, thank you very much for the time.

QUIGLEY: Thank you. Take care.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

We do have more breaking news here coming into us at CNN.

We are getting word that the White House has quietly restarted health care talks days after that embarrassing failure from Friday. We have details on how that is going to work next.

Plus, we are getting word how President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will testify over the investigation into the campaign's potential ties to Russia.

And CNN is on the front lines of the fight in Iraq. There is Arwa Damon for us. What a top U.S. commander has just said about who could be responsible for the deadly airstrike that killed dozens of civilians.

This is CNN.



BALDWIN: So, we're back. Your watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

There was a pretty interesting moment at the White House briefing today. I want to play this exchange for you, this fiery exchange between Sean Spicer and veteran White House correspondent April Ryan. It clearly shows frustration over this issue of Russia hovering over the White House.


APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: How does this administration try to revamp its image two-and-a-half months in? You have this Yates story today. You have got other things going on. You have got Russia. You have got wiretapping. You have got...

SPICER: No, we don't have that.


RYAN: ... investigations on Capitol Hill.

SPICER: No, no, I get it. But you keep -- I have said it from the day that I got here until whatever that there is no connection. You have got Russia. If the president puts Russian salad dressing on

his salad tonight, somehow, that is a Russian connection. But every single person...


SPICER: No. Well, no, that's -- I appreciate your agenda here.

But the reality is -- oh, no, no.


SPICER: 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 are shaking your head. I appreciate it.


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



April Ryan, the White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, what was your takeaway from that exchange?


RYAN: I'm glad you played it, because I am looking intently at it.

Basically, my takeaway from it is what Sean said. I'm a reporter. I just have to report it. And I understand it's two-and-a-half months in. There is a frustration. There is something we have never seen before here at this White House.

And Sean has to do what he has to do. He is the spokesperson for this White House. But I'm a reporter. And I cover all things presidential, to include what is presidential, those investigations on the Hill. It pertains to what is happening here.

So, with everything that's going on, with everything that's going on, that was the question. How do you revamp the image of this White House two months in, two-and-a-half months in? We have never seen this before. There is no agenda. I have no agenda. I have been covering White Houses for a long time.

I have even had other press secretaries from other administrations, to include Republican administrations, chime in today with me. So, it is a friendly adversarial relationship. And I understand what Sean has to do and I understand what I have to do.

We are reporters. And we ask the questions. And I'm going to continue to ask the questions.

BALDWIN: I remember, April, you and I chatted. I don't even -- time is a blur. But, early on, when the president held that mega-briefing and you had asked him, I think it was something about the Congressional Black Caucus and whether or not he had met with Congressman Cummings and, he said, no, something to the effect of, do you want to arrange that meeting for me?

And you are like, well, Mr. President, I'm a journalist. I don't really need to arrange meetings. I am just asking the question.

You point out you have been covering multiple administrations. This is, again, something you have never experienced?

RYAN: Never. Never, ever.


RYAN: But what I will say, what I will say about it is, this administration has come into a new world.

Donald Trump is this mogul, this real estate mogul. He is a businessman. But he is now president, a president who has never had governance. And he is finding his way, and he is finding his way in ways that are hurtful to him and hopefully not hurtful to the country.

As they find their way, he has got a strong press secretary who is going to stand up for him. But, at the same time, there is a strong press corps that is going to ask the questions. And we're not going to be detoured and we're going to keep asking.

BALDWIN: Did Sean Spicer say anything to you or ping you after the briefing, after that happened?

RYAN: No, no, no. No.

I mean, what you saw today, Brooke, you know this, as someone who covers the news. If they don't like something, a lot of times, they will let us know they don't like something, or off-camera, behind the scenes. And people don't see that.

Today, you got a little bit of a taste of what happens behind the scenes sometimes. But it was unfortunate. But we move on. We keep moving ahead. And there is work to be done.

BALDWIN: Keep doing the do. April Ryan, thank you so much.

RYAN: Thanks, Brooke. Take care.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

All right, so, we're going to move on, breaking news, Republicans apparently not entirely finished with health care, despite Friday's implosion of -- it didn't obviously pass. There was nothing that happened.

The White House secretly restarting talks, despite the president's readiness to move on. House Republicans even held a massive closed- door meeting about it this morning on Capitol Hill. Inside, they called the Democrats' celebration -- -- quote, unquote -- "premature."

So, with me now, Margaret Hoover, CNN political commentator and Republican consultant, Bill Press, host of "The Bill Press Show," and Alexis Glick, financial expert and former Wall Street executive.

Great to see all of you all.


BALDWIN: First of all, to you, my friend, on this notion of talks restarting, apparently, the president, according to Phil Mattingly and our reporting, is like, he is over it, patience worn thin, especially after the dealings with House Freedom Caucus and tweet on that?

How do they move forward on this, when they have got tax reform and infrastructure hanging over their heads?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Look, typically, in a Republican administration where you have a Republican president and a Republican Congress, the Republican president sets the agenda, along with the Congress.

You can't have the Congress saying, we are going to do one thing and the president is going to do something else. That's again a recipe for disaster. The president went along with Paul Ryan and the House of Representatives. And it didn't work.

It is hard to see how they are going to get another chance at it. But, seven years, Republicans have been running for fixing this bill. And it is hard to imagine many of them in very safe red districts are going to have to go back to their voters and say, we failed?

You are going to face depressed turnout in the 2018 elections. And that could be a real risk to the House of Representatives. They are between a rock and a hard spot. They have to deliver something on health care.

PRESS: I disagree.

I think they have got to move away from it as fast as they can. This thing is such a colossal disaster on so many levels. Margaret is right. They had seven years where they talked about it, without coming up with a plan? They should have had a plan day one. They didn't.

Donald Trump trusted Paul Ryan. He should never have. Paul Ryan cannot deliver. He is a very weak leader. He couldn't even deliver -- we're talking -- they control the House, the Senate and the White House. And they couldn't get the votes in the House for this plan?

[15:20:11] I think Donald Trump is very smart when he said he senses why this is

a disaster for him and for the party. Move on to something. Get a win on something else, whether it's taxes or infrastructure or something. But get out of health care. And Paul Ryan is talking through his hat.


BALDWIN: Hold on. On the weak leader, I want to respond to that. Do you think he is a weak leader?

HOOVER: Paul Ryan is a thoughtful, wonky, ideological conservative.

And he is a movement conservative. And he doesn't have the experience that John Boehner had, some others had at actually marshaling the votes and like the counting. And that's -- I wouldn't call Paul Ryan a weak leader. I love Paul Ryan. Everybody knows I love Paul Ryan. I am a big fan of Paul Ryan. But it didn't work. And that happened on his watch.


PRESS: He has been there, what, 18 years?

HOOVER: We can all sort of acknowledge the reality.

PRESS: He's been there 18 years? Stop making excuses for them. He was a vice presidential nominee.


ALEXIS GLICK, FINANCIAL EXPERT: But here is I think the bigger issue as they now move into tax reform and look at possibly coupling with infrastructure spending, remember, all of these things are interrelated.



GLICK: So, when they were talking about how to repeal Obamacare, there was a big tax implication to what that might do, certainly to the wealthiest Americans.

So, as they go down to the bargaining table right now, you have to recognize all of these things are interconnected. So, you know what? If I am a Republicans, I would be sitting down today and thinking about, what is the next course of action?

And the other thing that became abundantly clear is the level of divisiveness within the Republican Party, and the fact that...


GLICK: The Freedom Caucus, right, the fact they have this much control on the hard-line right and that right now Trump may actually need to go to Blue Dog Democrats to negotiate tax reform is a big deal for Republicans.


That's a question on strategy. What do they do? Because then you have Republicans saying, maybe you should be looking more to moderates, maybe talk to Democrats, instead of directly negotiating, and not with Paul Ryan, specifically, with the House Freedom Caucus, but directly.

Maybe that was not the smartest thing. What do you think strategy- wise?

HOOVER: Look, what's really interesting -- and I was shocked to hear it this weekend -- but a lot of Republicans for a long time have been saying, maybe Trump brings in this opportunity for realignment. Right?

BALDWIN: What do you mean?


HOOVER: Maybe Trump brings in this opportunity. Maybe it's -- clearly, you can't get all the Republicans just because it is a Republican bill. You do have really significant fissures.

And, by the way, that's not news to any of us in the Republican Party. We have been looking at this since John Boehner stepped in.

BALDWIN: It was an intraparty, colossal...


PRESS: Three words of advice.

HOOVER: You can get white working-class Americans. You can get moderate Democrats. You can do it.


PRESS: Three words of advice for Donald Trump, three.

One, don't trust Paul Ryan. Two, don't trust the Freedom Caucus. Three, if you want to get something done, work with the moderate Democrats. And that's the only way forward for him. This Freedom Caucus is against everything. Paul Ryan can't deliver.

BALDWIN: Well, actually, I talked to Mo Brooks, who is a member of the House Freedom Caucus, a little while ago.

PRESS: I saw that. Yes.

BALDWIN: Let's listen to what he told me on this notion of restarting talks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA: 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 anymore.

I think, upon reflection over the weekend, calmer thoughts have come to mind. And I'm fairly confident now that we are 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.


BALDWIN: Go. You're teed up.

HOOVER: OK. So, now you have found clarity on purity and purpose. Right?

Now you are going to just give a little and not make these purity contexts and litmus tests the way to go. That's ridiculous. You had your chance. You had your chance to pass health care and you're not going to get another one.

GLICK: This is about promises vs. what you can actually deliver now.


GLICK: And as I look at what -- as the next stage here, when you look at tax reform and you look at infrastructure spending, to me, the biggest decision coming out of the White House right now is, who is going to lead that effort?

Is that going to be led through the treasury secretary? Is it going to be led through from the National Economic Council? Who is going to lead that discussion? Because one of the greatest failings I see over the past six weeks is where the leadership divide. Trump really didn't stand up with Paul Ryan. Right?

And now that is going to be something really to watch. Where do they actually put their faith in to push the next piece of reform?


PRESS: Can I just interject a note of reality in here. Right?


PRESS: Tax reform. You think health care is complicated? Tax reform...


GLICK: Right, 1986 would be the last time we had tax reform.

PRESS: It was 1986. And Donald Trump says now we are going to rush into tax reform and do that in 17 days? It ain't going to happen.

So, I think everybody -- they have to slow down here. Again, they have got all the power. And take the time to get something right.


BALDWIN: Even if he and Speaker Ryan don't see eye to eye on that, tax reform?

PRESS: No. No.


BALDWIN: What did I say? President Trump and Speaker Ryan.

PRESS: President Trump.

GLICK: They absolutely don't.

There is a difference of opinion on corporate tax rates, individual tax rates. And the biggest issue is that what Speaker Ryan is talking right now about is a border adjustment tax that would raise $1 trillion in revenue.

Oh, by the way, right now, the treasury secretary not in support of it, the Business Roundtable not in support of it. Across the board, that is extremely controversial.

BALDWIN: So, if they want a big win...

GLICK: So, deficits are going to swoon.

HOOVER: We are going to get a big win with Gorsuch. In a week, they are going to have a Supreme Court nominee who is going to get in. And then they are going to have some wind in their sails.

But what they really do need to do is take their time. You may not like that. But it is going to be a win for conservatives. And so they do need to take their time to get their ducks in a row for the next thing, because Speaker Ryan had -- he had a plan, he had a calendar. He had first health care reform and then tax reform and then maybe build a wall or whatever it is. That timeline is out the window.


PRESS: You are giving Ryan too much credit. I'm telling you, he cannot deliver on anything. He has not. He is overrated as a leader. And he is proving that he is not up to the job.


BALDWIN: We will see, to Alexis's point, who emerges as the leader coming out in this mega-fight on tax reform.

GLICK: Huge. Huge thing to watch. BALDWIN: Alexis and Bill and Margaret, thank you all.


BALDWIN: Thank you so much.

Next -- feisty. I like it.

Coming up next, senators are now saying that they will have a private interview with President Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, about his meeting with a Russian banker. We're live in Moscow with details on the banker's background and his ties, close ties, to President Putin.