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House Intel Committee Stalls Russia Probe Amid Turmoil. Dems Gear up for Fight over Gorsuch Nomination; Interview with Rep. Mike Quigley; Trump: Reaching Health Care Deal "An Easy One"; Interview with Rep. Charlie Dent; Nunes Faces Mounting Pressure To Recuse Himself. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 29, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:10] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. 9:00 a.m. Eastern. I'm Poppy Harlow.


So what House Intelligence investigation? This morning, there is no House Intelligence investigation in the possible ties between Russian officials and Trump associates, at least as far as we could tell. No public hearings, no private testimony, no meetings, no nothing. Unless you're counting controversy. And there is plenty of that.

The embattled House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes, who cancelled this week's schedule, is now dogged by a new allegation, that he blocked the testimony of former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates because the White House demanded it. Now, the Trump administration denies that. So does Devin Nunes, for that matter. Meanwhile, one House Republican has now joined the Democrat calls that Nunes step aside.

HARLOW: That's exactly right. In the Senate, the intelligence probe, though, is moving ahead without the paralysis of this partisan bickering in the House side. Members of both parties will hold a news conference today to update us on the progress.

And is President Trump breathing new life this morning into the GOP's failed repeal effort of ObamaCare? Well, he told a bipartisan group of senators last night that he is ready to make a deal, and that it will be, quote, "so easy."

Let's begin, though, with the Trump/Russia investigation. Sara Murray is at the White House with the latest on that.

Good morning.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Well, Devin Nunes, the head of that House Intelligence Committee, says no more hearings until they hear privately from the heads of the FBI, as well as the head of the NSA. Now, of course, this is causing a lot of concern amongst some Democrats on the Committee. Listen so what one of them, Congressman Jim Himes, said this morning on "NEW DAY."


REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: This isn't a partisan criticism. You know, you've got Lindsey Graham and John McCain and others saying, I've never seen anything quite like this. And a lot of us have, you know, a lot of history with Chairman Nunes and consider him a friend, but, you know, until we really get read into whatever drove last week's behavior, it's a little hard for us to, along with the rest of the American public, not make some assumptions about what is driving this very strange behavior.


MURRAY: Now, a number of Democrats have said it's time for Nunes to step aside from this investigation, believing, essentially, that he's colluding with the White House. But it's not just Democrats making this call. Now, there is one Republican, Congressman Walter Jones, who also said Nunes should step aside.

Now, there was another former administration official we were expecting to hear from in hearings this week, and that's former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. But now, the White House is facing criticism amid allegations that they tried to block her from testifying. This is something that the White House is vehemently denying. Listen to what Sean Spicer said about this yesterday.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: On the 24th, Ms. Yates' attorney sent a letter to the White House Counsel requesting that consent, specifically stating that if they did not receive a response by March 27th at 10:00 a.m., they would, quote, "conclude that the White House does not assert executive privilege other these matters." The White House did not respond and took no action that prevented Ms. Yates from testifying.

I hope she testifies. I look forward to it.


MURRAY: Now, the White House says they are looking to it. To be determined if it actually happens. Obviously, things have ground to a halt in terms of the House investigation.

The Senate investigation, still continuing. We may get an update on what their next steps are at that press conference later today. Back to you, guys.

BERMAN: All right. Sara Murray at the White House. Thanks so much.

Joining us now is Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois. He's a Democrat on the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, you know, your committee has canceled public hearings this week, private hearings this week. You've even cancelled your regular meetings. As it stands right now, 9:03 a.m. on the East Coast, is there actually a House Intelligence investigation into Trump association ties with Russia?

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: Oh, no, there absolutely is. And at this point in time, I think it's time for the Chairman to take a step back, reassess, and say, OK, we're going to reschedule that public meeting, and we're going to continue to schedule those private meetings with whomever he wants to invite. If it's Director Comey and Chairman Rogers, that's fine.

But these investigation's too important to slow down. It has to move forward. It's been a rough week, but on a bipartisan basis, we can work together.

HARLOW: You say that. And Devin Nunes, yesterday, said, you know, on our air, look, we're moving forward. Why would I recuse himself? Things are moving forward.

He sent a letter, then, to FBI Director Comey once again yesterday inviting him to come back and testify. He signed the letter. His Democratic counterpart, Adam Schiff, the ranking member, did not sign the letter. How is that working together?

QUIGLEY: Yes. The only thing I heard was that, when it came to signing that letter, it had to do with asking Mr. Comey to be there at the same time we were having a public meeting. So in a sense, what the Ranking Member would be asked would be to understand and agree that we should cancel the public meeting.

[09:05:01] The fact that the Chairman decided that was the only time to have Mr. Comey and Mr. Rogers in is not a coincidence. They simply don't want that public meeting. They simply don't want Ms. Yates to testify. And if they let her, eventually, gosh, that would be great. I'd love to have that move forward.

But, you know, unfortunately, they played some games the last eight days. And what we see with the White House is they're starting put the bricks up to build some sort of bunker.

BERMAN: All right. Let's break down what you said because it seems like you're saying you're OK having the FBI Director come in, in private, then you brought up former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who was supposed to testify in public. That testimony was canceled. "The Washington Post" claimed that it was after White House, or at a minimum, the administration, pressure. That's something that the administration, Sean Spicer, everyone, flatly denies.

Have you seen any evidence that the administration pressured your Committee to cancel the hearings?

QUIGLEY: I think what was interesting -- and I don't think Chairman Nunes denied the fact that the White House pressured to cancel that meeting. I mean, look, this hasn't gone well for them. The first public meeting, Director Comey said there is an investigation. The fact is that the Russians conspired to help Mr. Trump's campaign --

BERMAN: I'm pretty sure, by the way, that Chairman Nunes and his staff said that they had no conversations with the White House at all about Sally Yates coming to testify, that they only --

QUIGLEY: Oh, no.

BERMAN: Go ahead.

QUIGLEY: No, I think, when given the opportunity, Chairman Nunes did not deny that the White House wanted that meeting canceled. From all I have seen, it's pretty obvious to me that they did not want Ms. Yates to testify. It's pretty obvious to me that they attempted to block her testimony.

HARLOW: All right. Well, you heard Sean Spicer yesterday, Congressman, say, you know, we welcome her testimony. We have no problem with her testimony. He went as far to say, we hope she testifies.

And if you look and read through the actual letters between the Department of Justice, Sally Yates' attorneys, and the White House, you know, they said, look, we want her to be able to testify in full, not have any of this executive privilege apply. And if you, the White House, do not reply by X date, we will take that to mean you are fine with that.

And the White House did not reply by X date, Sean Spicer said, indicating they were fine with her testifying. Do you not buy that argument?

QUIGLEY: I don't buy the argument. I'll believe it when I see it. They have done nothing but obstruct and distract in this campaign.

HARLOW: What do you mean, see it? The letters are out there. What do you mean, see it?

QUIGLEY: Yes. I will tell you, it's my firm belief that they attempted to block her testimony. That's really all I can tell you at this point.

BERMAN: But it's just a belief, right? Just to be clear, it's a belief. You haven't seen a paper trail --

QUIGLEY: Yes, I can't talk about what I've seen.



BERMAN: All right. That's an explanation. Let me change the subject here slightly.

Ryan Lizza of "The New Yorker" is suggesting that he saw evidence of coordination between the White House and Chairman Nunes prior to last week's public hearing. This is what Ryan wrote, "The White House clearly indicated to me that it knew Nunes would highlight incidental collection. 'It's backdoor surveillance where it's not just incidental, it's systematic.' The White House official said, 'Watch Nunes today.'" This was a conversation that Ryan had before the hearing, before Chairman Nunes went to the White House, before Chairman Nunes went to the White House a second time to inform the President. Would it bother you if the White House and the Chairman were coordinating or at least communicating about this notion of incidental contact before even the hearing last week?

QUIGLEY: First of all, I think that's exactly what has happened. Just understand, again, I think the world of Chairman Nunes. He's been very fair the first two years. When President Trump became president, that all changed.

Do I think that there is coordination between the White House and the Chairman? Absolutely, as to cancel meetings, as to this midnight excursion. Where did he go? He went to the White House.

This isn't going well for them. They hate the fact that the first public hearing went so poorly. That's why the second one was canceled. I think, unfortunately, the Chairman is serving two masters, and he can't do that.

HARLOW: Let me just ask you this to wrap up because only one Republican lawmaker on the House side, Representative Walter Jones, has called for Nunes to recuse himself from this investigation. If more Republicans don't follow suit, what's your strategy? What's your play?

QUIGLEY: There's absolutely nothing we can do. This is up to the Chairman himself and the Speaker of the House.


QUIGLEY: I do believe the American public wants us to go forward on a bipartisan basis. It's hard to do with the credibility we need, unfortunately, with this Chairman in place.

HARLOW: All right. Democratic Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois. Thank you for being with us this morning.

QUIGLEY: Thank you.

HARLOW: The battle lines are drawn this morning as President Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, approaches his make or break week. Confident Republicans set to speak out in the coming hours as more and more Democrats vow to block Gorsuch's vote. Our Ariane de Vogue is following all things Supreme Court.

[09:10:04] Good to have you here outside of the high court. We have the details. We know this time line now, right?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: Yes, we know later on this afternoon, we're going to have Senators Grassley, Cruz, and Lee. They're going to come and give a press conference in support of Gorsuch.

His confirmation is a little bit at a crossroads, right, because the Democrats, Senator Chuck Schumer, are saying that they want to filibuster. They're furious about Merrick Garland never getting a hearing, and they say that Gorsuch isn't a mainstream candidate and that he was evasive.

And the Republicans are saying, look, if you want a filibuster, then we'll vote and we'll change the rules of the Senate to make it easier for Supreme Court nominees to get in with a simple majority. And McConnell has gone as far as saying, look, I'm scheduling a vote on this a week from Friday, Poppy and John.

BERMAN: So, you know, let's talk numbers, right? Twenty-seven Democrats, we think, right now, are saying they'll filibuster. Three say they're on the fence. At least two outright saying, no, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin. I guess I don't know where we're counting Patrick Leahy right now. But what do the numbers tell you, Ariane?

DE VOGUE: Well, it tells me that the Republicans really feel like they're going to get him on this bench. Vice President Pence said it last weekend, one way or the other, he'll get up there. But I have to say, it is a big deal to change the rules of the Senate, right? That's a traditional place and this could have a lasting impact down the road on the Supreme Court.

We could see other candidates who are less mainstream, right, because they wouldn't have to be worried about whether they are confirmable. And if there is another time when the President and the Senate are from different parties, we could see that Garland thing play out again, too, which is an extended vacancy on the court. It's a big deal this change.

But as things stand now, we've heard a little talk about a deal. But really, I haven't heard anything about that in the last few days. That's the direction that we're headed.

BERMAN: So it seems almost inevitable at this point. Ariane de Vogue, at the supreme Court. Great to have you with us, Ariane. Appreciate it.

DE VOGUE: Thank you.

BERMAN: Some news for Republicans still bruised by the health care debacle. The President says a health care deal is, quote, "an easy one, it will happen quickly." We're going to ask a former Republican who didn't back the bill if he thinks it's all so easy.

HARLOW: And guess who just got political? Yep. Hillary Clinton out of the woods. But why?


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE OF THE UNITED STATES: These are bad policies that will hurt people and take our country in the wrong direction.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: Also, the President announcing U.S. troops are fighting in Iraq, quote, "like never before." Did he just make a major announcement about U.S. troops in the region? More on that straight ahead.



BERMAN: It's not dead yet. A slight misquote of Monte Python, but also the new intrigue in Washington this morning just days after the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare went down hard. All of a sudden overnight, the president suggested a deal is possible.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I know that we are all going to make a deal on health care. That is such an easy one. So I have no doubt that will happen quickly. I think it is going to happen because we all have been promising, Democrat, Republican, we have all been promising that to the American people. So I think a lot of good things are going to happen.


BERMAN: So obviously wasn't so easy just a few days ago when Republicans were forced to pull their health care plan.

HARLOW: Not too easy but this is a new push apparently by Republicans for health care reform, putting it back on the table after he thought it was long gone and all just about tax reform going forward.

Sources are telling CNN the president and the vice president both spoke with House lawmakers discussing a path forward. One official says the White House believes that the move passed health care, saying we're done here, may have actually spurred other Republicans who were a no to take action.

With us now, one of those Republicans, Congressman Charlie Dent, he opposed the plan, said it missed the markets. It's nice to have you with us.

You were going to vote no before this bill got pulled. Have you had since, you know, Thursday night and Friday morning any conversations with anyone in the White House about how to get to a yes, how to bring this back to the table?

REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Thank you, John and Poppy, for having me on the program. No, I have not had any conversations with anybody from the administration about how to move forward on health care since last week. I think if there is going to be any dialogue on health care, any negotiation, we have to build a bill from the center out.

I don't think this should be a partisan only exercise. It's clear to me that even if we, Republicans, were to find something we could agree on in the House, at the end of the day, if this bill were to make it to the Senate, they're going to tear it apart and gut it.

So it really is not going to solve anything. I think what we have to do right now is find some areas of consensus. I know Democrats want to work to restore the individual market. It is a mess under Obamacare. We have to fix that.

There are taxes that they don't like. There are taxes that we don't like. We could find some common ground, but making this a partisan only exercise I think would be an exercise in futility.

BERMAN: We want to talk about Democrats in just a second, but I just want to be crystal clear, no conversations with the White House. Have you had any conversations or negotiations within the House other than that big caucus meeting yesterday to try to formulate a new deal?

DENT: I am not negotiating with anyone. I have seen stories that there are discussions about certain negotiations between the Tuesday Group and the Freedom Caucus. That's not the case. In fact, I would argue -- now, members talk to each other all the time. Do I talk to other members, absolutely? Am I negotiating with anybody right now on the bill that was just put aside? No.

HARLOW: So, Congressman, why not, right? If Americans are so at risk, as you and other Republicans say, because of the existing system, because of Obamacare and it was for many of you your number one promise through your campaigns, why not negotiate with folks?

You said you have talked to Democrats in the Senate who you say admitted that the individual insurance market is a complete mess. Why not negotiate with them, try to bring them to the table and perhaps change the language of just a focus on repeal, repeal, repeal?

[09:20:12]DENT: Now, you asked me if I was in negotiations, I said the answer was no, not since last week and not with the Freedom Caucus. I think we should engage in the health care conversation, but it should be from the center out.

Republicans and Democrats coming together, identify areas where there are problems and then put that type of legislation out on the floor. Too much of this discussion on -- wait a minute.

This discussion on health care, this discussion on health care has been too much discussion about artificial time lines, arbitrary deadlines, all to affect the baseline of tax reform. In other words many saw the health care issue as a speed bump on the road to tax reform.

I think we have to get focused on this health care reform in a way that we're talking about the people who are going to be impacted by our decisions and I want to deal with tax reform and infrastructure, too. I want to get this right.

I am all for negotiating with people who want to get to a solution that could get signed into law, but engaging in a partisan only exercise, I think we just demonstrated, is not going to work. To make this reform sustainable and durable, it will have to be done on a partisan basis.

HARLOW: It sounds like you're saying you were more willing to negotiate with Democrats than you are with the House Freedom Caucus. Is that an accurate read on your take?

DENT: Well, what happened last week -- let's be very honest about what happened last week, Poppy. The White House is making concessions to many on the hard right, who are not going to vote for the bill anyway, and in the process, they ended up alienating many members on the center right. That's what happened and I don't think we should go down that road again this week or next week. I think we have to change the paradigm.

BERMAN: So this narrative that we're hearing from the White House and the president last night that making a deal is going to be easy, you're closer to a deal today than you were on Friday. It sounds like what you're saying is it is just not true.

DENT: Well, I don't know. Look, there could be all sorts of people talking to each other, you know, making deals or whatever. That could be, but as I said, I have not been part of those discussions.

BERMAN: And you're a key player in this, though. Don't diminish your role here. You know, the Tuesday Group was important. You are an influential member of that group. If you are not involved in this, it kind of gives you a sense that maybe it's not happening to a degree that people (inaudible).

DENT: Well, I can't speak to what happened last night or who met with whom. I simply can't tell you. But I can tell you that I'm not negotiating with anybody right now on this bill.

HARLOW: So let's talk about negotiating tactics with the president who, you know, the art of the deal president. As you know, well know by now, you were quoted -- it was quoted in "The New York Times" magazine that the president said to you at the end of these negotiations last week that you were, quote, "destroying the Republican Party. You were going to take down tax reform and I'm going to blame you." You said that's just a typical day at the office for you. Does the president need to reconsider, rethink his negotiating tactics?

DENT: Well, you know, look, last week people were -- they let their emotions get the best of them and people say things they probably would regret, but the bottom line is I held my ground. My position was the same. I expressed my concerns about the bill under consideration.

Frankly, the Medicaid piece wasn't ready. The tax credits weren't sufficient and there are other challenges with this bill. We all know that. That's why it was pulled. So bottom line is, look, we have to -- I think and the president I think said it the other day.

He talked about talking to Democrats and I think it is a smart thing to do. Any major reform in this country, whether it's on health care, tax reform or infrastructure will have to be handled in a bipartisan way. I don't think there's any way around it.

Now we can dilute ourselves think we can try to muscle this thing through. The Democrats made a huge mistake with Obamacare back in 2010 when they muscled it through on a partisan basis. We have been fighting about it ever since and I voted against Obamacare.

I have a lot of problems with it, but I think we have to be smarter and do a better job and not make the same mistakes they did.

BERMAN: Quickly before we let you go, you are talking about bipartisanship on the Hill. Walter Jones from North Carolina called on Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence chair, to step aside, recuse himself from the Russian investigation, do you think he should recuse himself?

DENT: What I think should happen right now is the Senate is going to lead this discussion, this investigation on the Russian meddling into the election. I think that's where it is. It is unfortunate we are where we are in the House. It seems like there is not going to be a House report on intelligence, on the Russian meddling, so we have to turn our eyes to the Senate to see if they come to a resolution.

BERMAN: Are you saying the House should give up at this point? That the House shouldn't bother with its investigation?

DENT: Well, my sense is right now that the House is in a situation where the issue has become overly politicized. It doesn't seem like there is much cooperation on either side and it seems that the Senate, both Senators Burr and Warner are doing a pretty good job of running a fair investigation and I think that's where we will have to look right now to get a real report on this.

[09:25:09]HARLOW: So that's a yes?

DENT: What's a yes?

HARLOW: That the House shouldn't proceed at this point, is that right?

DENT: I think the House should try. But at this moment, I don't have any -- I'm not optimistic just given the tone and the tenor and the various shots being taken by both sides. It sounds to me they are getting into a stalemate position. I think we will have to rely on the Senate for Russian meddling into the election.

BERMAN: All right, Congressman Charlie Dent from Pennsylvania, thanks so much for being with us.

DENT: Thank you for having me. Really appreciate it.

BERMAN: Really interesting discussion.

HARLOW: Yes, absolutely.

BERMAN: All right, overnight, Hillary Clinton gave easily her most political speech since she lost the election. She targeted some, offended others, and this morning, this question, is there a political future for Hillary Clinton?


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Obviously the outcome of the election wasn't the one I hoped for, worked for, but I will never stop speaking out for common sense benefits that will allow moms and dads to stay on the job.