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Capitol Police Says Incident Appears Criminal, Not Terror; House Intel Probe of Trump-Russia Stalls; White House Denies Blocking of Yates' Testimony. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 29, 2017 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Cedric Alexander is with us. If you were able to hear the briefing from the Capitol police, you know, any questions that would still be at the front of your mind other than of course we don't know who the suspect is and we don't know what the motivation was?

CEDRIC ALEXANDER, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, I think in a short period of time more information is going to be divulged as to who this subject is whether he or she was armed. And --

HARLOW: It is a woman. We do know now it is a woman.

ALEXANDER: We do know it is a woman. So more information is going to be gathered here, but there are no questions, really that are outstanding. I think the most important part for us to remember at this point that these officers acted very, very quickly and it's something that they're very used to doing in that metro area. As of course we have seen a number of other threats that have been in and around the White House and the Capitol so these officers did an outstanding job in seizing that threat and allowing the city, as we're hearing allowing that city there in D.C., the district to get back to its normal self, and that is critically important, as well, too.

So they were able to contain that situation. No one was severely injured and killed but a lot of information, a lot of questions still are going -- are yet to be asked and I think we'll know that by this afternoon.

BERMAN: All right. Cedric Alexander, stand by. Brian Todd on the scene.

I believe, Brian, we actually heard your voice during that briefing from the Capitol police spokesman. What did you learn?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, what we've learned was that the call first came in at 9:22 a.m. U.S. Capitol police observed some very erratic and aggressive moves by a driver. They tried to get that driver to stop, the driver pulled a quick U-turn not far away from me just over my left shoulder here on Independence Avenue and First Streets. That's where shots were fired and the driver was stopped somehow. I'm going to let our photojournalist Taka Yokoyama kind of zoom in

here to where the vehicle is being processed. There was no one injured, this was according to Eva Malecki, the public information officer for U.S. Capitol Police. We asked specifically what the nature of the shots were, were they shots to disable the vehicle or shots to warn the driver. She did not answer that question then she walked away. We do know according to her that the driver is a woman, that the driver is in custody and what is very important to note here is that there is no nexus to terrorism at the moment that Capitol Hill police are aware of. That is according to Eva Malecki, the public information officer who just briefed all of us.

No nexus to terrorism at the moment. But again it's early in the investigation. There's probably a lot more detail yet to come, but the important thing here is right now is that the driver's in custody. There was no one injured. The driver did apparently attempt to strike some officers on the street.

We're going to try to get some more detail about that particular part of this incident because it's not clear whether the driver was simply trying to get away or was actually trying to injure those officers. This public information officer did not have that information for us.

Again, we're in the very early stages of this. But again, I'll step aside again and let you get another good view of the scene being processed here. What we could see earlier was that this was a dark gray, kind of gunmetal color sedan. It's behind that group of officers that you see there. They're kind of blocking it for us. I think we do have some other views of this thing and they're processing the vehicle right now.

I do see a police tow truck that has just pulled up and several officers over there. No panic here, though, and we are told that business at the Capitol building has resumed under normal operations. I am not sure about the Rayburn Building because the Rayburn building is just a few feet away from us, whether that has resumed operations as normal or not.

Our producer David Shortell tells us he believes that they have resumed operations as normal. And we see -- I can see over toward the east side of the Capitol here, people walking back toward the Capitol building so things are really calming down here now and they're processing this as a crime scene and what's important to note again is that Eva Malecki from the Capitol Hill Police said at this point it appears to be a criminal matter with no nexus to terrorism.

We asked about a motive for this particular driver. She did not have any answer to that. We do know the driver is a woman, the driver is in custody, that no one has been injured.

HARLOW: All right. Brian Todd, reporting for us on the scene. Brian, please stay with us.

BERMAN: I will tell you, you make a U-turn on Independence Avenue, that is not something you do, right?

HARLOW: Yes. No.

BERMAN: I mean, this is a very busy -- you know, one of the nation's busiest streets right next to the Capitol building.

HARLOW: And In the wake of what happened in London.


HARLOW: Just recently with that driver ramming over those people and in the wake of the truck attack in Nice and Ohio State, you do see heightened concern about people using vehicles as weapons. This, they're saying no nexus to terrorism.

BERMAN: No. But after the U-turn apparently striking or coming close to striking several officers and then during the attempted arrest there were shots fired.

[10:35:03] We are joined now by Jonathan Wackrow, CNN law enforcement analyst, former Secret Service officer.

Jonathan, thanks so much for being with us. Obviously, you know, security around the Capitol always very, very tight. You can understand why there was this concern when they saw as Capitol police say this morning, this driver, you know, driving erratically on Independence Avenue and then pulling the U-turn, correct?

JONATHAN WACKROW, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Absolutely. I mean, you have to think about the moment that this incident happened, no one knew whether this was a potential terrorist attack or this is criminal in nature. These incidents are dynamic, they fall very quickly and officers have to rely on their training and tactics to mitigate the threat that's in front of them. So again, they have to take the totality of the circumstances. Here is an individual not obeying lawful orders, apparently, to -- creating a U-turn right there on Independence Avenue so all of these actions by that driver start to come into play.

For an officer, though, to discharge his weapon he had -- he or she had to, you know, have, you know, a belief that their life was in imminent danger or the life of the public. So whenever you start to escalate to deadly force, those things have to come into play. It was reported earlier that there are no warning shots (INAUDIBLE). That's not a construct that's really familiar in federal law enforcement. There are no warning shots. Actions by officers are to mitigate the threat that's in front of them.

HARLOW: Let me ask you this. You say there needs to be an imminent threat for them to fire these shots. Is the bar any lower when it comes to something happening around the Capitol and given this time and area of heightened security, what -- you know, what would need to have happened for them to fire these shots since we are told that Capitol police do not fire, quote, unquote, "warning shots"?

WACKROW: Yes, they -- they don't. So you have to look at the environment. There's a heightened sense of a security posture that is maintained throughout Washington, D.C., but specifically at high-value targets, such as the White House or the -- or at Capitol Hill. That comes into play. When you have a rapidly evolving situation where someone is not following lawful orders, they're not listening to commands of law enforcement and they're acting erratically it starts to paint a picture.

Law enforcement then is only going to escalate to deadly force if it is absolutely necessary. They fear that their life or the life of the general public is in imminent danger, and it's the use of force paradox in this instance that will be interesting to see why that officer decided to discharge their weapon. What was imminent at that moment where they fear for their life or the life of the general public?

BERMAN: So we're looking on the left-hand side of your screen, just so people know. We're looking what I believe is around Third and Independence Avenue right in front of the Botanical Gardens if you've been to Washington, D.C., which is right next to the Capitol and we're taking a look at the vehicle right now in question. It was this vehicle that was, you know, being driven erratically by a female driver shortly after 9:00, pulled a U-turn on Independence Ave. Capitol Police say nearly struck several Capitol police officers. The driver was apprehended, arrested, shots were fired during the arrest.

Jonathan, now is the investigation. I mean, we're seeing the investigation right before our very eyes and just moments ago we saw officers going through that vehicle. What are they looking for?

WACKROW: Well, they're looking for, you know, evidence, quite frankly. What is going to indicate why this person created this incident? What was their motive? Again, you want to look back at the means and opportunity and intent of this individual to cause harm. That's what they're going to start the investigative process. They're going to look back, does this person have -- you know, any mental health issues? Is this something in that space? Is this directly tied to the criminal matter where they're trying to execute some sort of -- you know, vendetta?

You don't know right now, so right now the investigate process has begun. They're going to start looking at the physical evidence at the crime scene, but they're also going to look back at the individual. They'll probably want to search their residence, there are just multiple aspects of this investigation that will start to come into play. First and foremost they're going to interview the individual if they're willing to explain what happened, and that will garner a lot of information at that point.

[10:40:08] HARLOW: CNN law enforcement analyst Jonathan Wackrow, also formerly of the Secret Service, thank you for your expertise on this breaking news. We appreciate it.

And just to reset for our viewers, again we know that a woman driving the gray sedan that you see on your screen was driving --

BERMAN: Erratically.

HARLOW: Erratically along Independence Avenue, did a U-turn and it caused police to apprehend her. Shots were fired in the process from Capitol police. No nexus to terrorism, a criminal incident, now the investigation is under way. We're going to have much more of this straight ahead. Stay with us.


HARLOW: All right. Welcome back. A congressional investigation bogged down in controversy now grinding to a halt. This morning the House Intelligence probe of alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials is at a standstill. No public hearings, no private testimony, no meetings at all, all canceled by the embattled chairman Devin Nunes, and now he faces a new troubling allegation that he caved to White House pressure to block the testimony of former acting attorney general Sally Yates.

[10:45:04] The Trump administration denies that. He denies that, but minutes ago one House Republican said the way things are now maybe it's time for the entire committee to just pull back.


REP. CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: What I think should happen right now is that 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's unfortunate we are where we are in the House. It seems like there's not going to be a House report on intelligence on the Russian meddling and so I think we have to turn our eyes to the Senate.


BERMAN: Now we should note it is not every day, it is almost not any day you hear a member of the House of Representatives say, you know what?

HARLOW: We can't do it.

BERMAN: The Senate should do it. They almost never do anything like that.


BERMAN: Let's start with CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill with these developments -- Manu,

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, real skepticism whether or not this House committee could actually come to any sort of bipartisan consensus. Nunes rejecting those calls to step aside, even some of his colleagues are saying why should we give in to Democratic pressure. And Democrats calling for some of that public hearing to actually come back on the books, the one that was canceled involving John Brennan, James Clapper and as well as Sally Yates.

That is not being scheduled yet, but what Nunes wants to have is a private briefing with James Comey, the FBI director, and Mike Rogers, the NSA director, but there's also some dispute about whether they can sort out having a private classified briefing and a public hearing, And in the meantime, the Senate investigation is moving forward taking shape, starting to move forward and potentially interview Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, in the coming weeks.

There are already negotiations that are happening to at least have him come in and talk on the staff level -- with the staff on the Senate side. So while that's happening quietly, the acrimony is happening in the House.

And an important development later today on the Senate side, Chairman Richard Burr and the Democratic -- top Democrat on the committee Mike Warner will brief the press about the status of their secret investigation and part of that is to show a contrast with what is not happening in the House which is a smooth process going forward. So they want to the show that they're actually doing something. We'll see, though, if the Senate can actually reach any sort of bipartisan consensus over there, guys.

HARLOW: Yes. Senators, as you've heard saying, we've got our ducks in a row, we've got this, and now Charlie Dent saying leave it to them is pretty -- it's pretty remarkable.

Manu on the hill, thank you for that.

Meantime, the Trump administration in an increasingly familiar position, on the offensive, off message and a presidential pivot that may change that.

CNN's Sara Murray is at the White House with that. Good morning.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Well, last week it looked like health care was dead but it seemed the president and some of his advisers and even some on the Hill would like to try to revive it. Last night the president told senators it would be easy and of course, it's not all of that easy and it involves bringing lots of warring factions together and there's one indication that this may be a little bit more political panic than actual progress and this comes yet again from Charlie Dent. He's a member of the Tuesday group, one of these more moderate Republicans in the House who says he hasn't heard from the president on health care. Listen to what he had to say.


DENT: 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 that there's 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. I've seen stories that the -- that there are discussions about certain negotiations between the Tuesday group and the freedom caucus. That's not the case.


MURRAY: None of this means, of course, that health care won't get done, but it certainly does mean that even if we have politicians including the president talking about it, it doesn't seem like the different sides are coming together on this very quickly.

Back to you guys.

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

I want to bring in our panel right now to discuss this. Joining us, Mike Shields, CNN political commentator, former chief of staff to Reince Priebus at the RNC, also with us, Jennifer Psaki, CNN political commentator.


BERMAN: Former spokesperson, communications director at the White House.

Guys, thanks so much for being with us. Charlie Dent made a little news on the show just a little while ago. Let's start with the intelligence investigations, Mike Shields. Not often you hear a House member saying the House isn't up to this, we need to turn this over to the Senate. It shows you the level of disarray that the House committee is in.

MIKE SHIELDS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: First of all, I just want to give a shout out to the Capitol police here in Washington, D.C., for the amazing job that they do keeping us safe and performing their duty this morning. But yes, look, shockingly, there's partisan politics going on in Washington, D.C., even over intelligence, and I think it's a real shame to watch Adam Schiff become just as partisan as Nancy Pelosi and turning this away from trying to find the facts of the case and turning it into a partisan, you know, attack on Devin Nunes.

Look, Devin Nunes went to a source to try and find out the truth and rather than us talking about what's the truth that he found out we want to have a process story about how he it found out.

[10:50:03] And I think Devin Nunes committed the ultimate sin in Washington of actually being sincere and trying to find out what was going on.

HARLOW: But Mike -- but, Mike, here's the thing.

FIELDS: Instead of thinking politically about how something would look.

HARLOW: But here's the thing. He has -- Devin Nunes has not shared what he found out or who his source was with his own committee so isn't part of this on him?

FIELDS: Look, I think that we don't know exactly how the intel committee is going to share sensitive information.

HARLOW: But we do know that.

FIELDS: Especially --

HARLOW: We do know that he hasn't shared it with his own committee.

FIELDS: Right. Right. And I don't know what the reasons are for that. That's what I'm saying. What I am saying is two weeks ago Adam Schiff stood with Devin Nunes and said look, something wrong may have happened here. We may have unmasked people and it may have been driven by the Obama administration. We ought to look at that. A week later, because of probably partisan politics, I mean, let's be honest, the Democrats wake up every day and say how can we make Russia the number one story to fight Republicans, and suddenly we veered off from let's discover what the facts are in the case and talk about the actual facts, and we veered into the process of it and whether or not it's going to be a closed-door hearing or whether or not it's going to be a public hearing and all those sorts of things.

And so we've now devolved, and the reason why Charlie Dent is saying that is we've now devolved into such a partisan fight that the Democrat Nancy Pelosi policy is now getting involved and saying that Devin should step away from this. That is all moving away from actually trying to find out the facts and turning it into a big partisan fight. If they really wanted to find out the facts, they wouldn't do that. They would say let's just sit down and have an investigation.

BERMAN: All right. To be clear, Charlie Dent is a Republican.

Jen Psaki, is the process really as completely meaningless as our friend Mike Shields makes it out to be given that Ryan Lizza at the "New Yorker" is reporting that he was essentially tipped off by the White House even prior to the House hearings with James Comey that Devin Nunes was going to talk about incidental collection. Essentially Ryan Lizza was told by the White House, pay attention to this. Ryan's take on that is that the White House knew what Nunes was going to ask on Monday and maybe knew what Nunes was going to bring up in the days after. Is that coordination a problem? Process as Mike Shields points out.

PSAKI: Well, that was a fascinating depiction of what's gone down. I don't think most of it was accurate but look, I think Devin Nunes is somebody who -- this investigation was proceeding as these types of investigations typically proceed, very quietly. I think most people couldn't have identified Devin Nunes if he was walking around the street including in Washington. Adam Schiff was doing that. You saw the senators on the Senate -- Warner and Burr continuing to do that.

But what happened here is Nunes got a little too close, very -- way too close to the Trump administration. Many people who are affiliated with them or associated with them are potentially a part of this investigation. That made people uncomfortable. Democrats as well as Republicans. So can this proceed? Absolutely it can. There can be open hearings, there can be an independent investigation which a number of people have called for, we're going to hear an update on the Senate side, but this is about a foreign government who tried to, you know, interject into our election. It shouldn't be a partisan thing. This is about finding out what they did and preventing it from happening in the future. HARLOW: Guys, thank you very much. I apologize for cutting it short,

we've had a little bit of breaking news this hour if you haven't noticed. We appreciate your patience. We're going to be right back.


[10:55:21] HARLOW: So Devin Nunes is not having a great week. On top of his committee grinding to a halt, he's now being accused of caving to the White House and blocking former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying. It is a move the Democrats think that the White House and Nunes used to silence her about her testimony regarding National Security adviser Michael Flynn.

BERMAN: Now the White House flat-out denies this, so does Chairman Nunes. They say they didn't try to get in the way of blocking her testimony at all. What does that testimony mean? What does it all mean going forward?

Joining us now, former U.S. attorney general, former White House counsel we should note also, Alberto Gonzalez.

General, thanks so much for being with us. Just to clear up a couple of points here.


BERMAN: It is not at all unusual for Cabinet officials, sub-Cabinet officials, ex-Cabinet officials to testify before Congress, is it?

GONZALEZ: No, not at all, particularly with respect to activities or events that happened while they were in office. So that's -- it's not unusual whatsoever.

HARLOW: So the lawyers for Sally Yates say that they were initially told by the Justice Department that for her to sort of testify in full before this committee might violate what they are calling client confidences.


HARLOW: When you look at the situation and who she spoke to, Don McGahn, White House counsel and also the president, what client confidences would exist in this case?

GONZALEZ: Well, we have to remember that there is an ongoing investigation and so part of the issue and the challenge for the investigators and the prosecutors with respect to the ongoing investigation is the release or compromise of information that may impact the future testimony of potential witnesses, may impact the direction of the investigation. So the current investigation very much is in the minds of individuals at the Department of Justice with respect to what Sally Yates says publicly in Congress.

So I very much understand the concern there. Then of course there is the issue of presidential communications privilege as a general matter and the closer you get to communications between a senior official in the executive branch and the president of the United States, the more that there is a concern of -- of presidential communications privilege that could be asserted in a particular case.

So I can understand why there are serious questions as to whether or not -- listen, you can't prevent someone from testifying, but I think it is perfectly appropriate to look at limiting that testimony when it's appropriate.

BERMAN: So Sally Yates and her attorney made clear they were obviously limited. They won't testify for things that could compromise the investigation, they would stay away from things that are classified. They thought, though, that the Justice Department's concerns about client confidentiality and ultimately presidential communications privilege and deliberative process privilege that that privilege from the Justice Department, that definition, was way too broad there. I mean --


GONZALEZ: Well, with all due respect -- with all due respect to Miss Yates and her counsel that really is a determination to be made by the Department of Justice and ultimately by the president of the United States.

The president of the United States does not assert any kind of privilege except with the advice and counsel of the attorney general who also makes a recommendation that privilege is appropriate and that privilege should be asserted. So again, that's a determination and obviously that can have a difference of opinion, but the ultimate determination lies in the hands of the attorney general and the president of the United States.

HARLOW: Let's talk about how important you believe beyond partisan politics the testimony of former acting attorney general Sally Yates is in all of this. Remember, yes, she is an Obama-era holdover. Yes, she was right in the middle of the dismissal of Michael Flynn because she's the one who went to the White House and raised the red flags to Don McGahn and said look, what he's saying, what Flynn is saying publicly and privately is not reflective of what we know.

How critical is her testimony?

GONZALEZ: Well, it could be potentially pretty important, but listen. I know that we're all in a tizzy here about the House investigation and the breakdown of the working of the House but from my perspective, look, the FBI is doing an investigation. They're doing it quietly the way that it should occur and so it's not a question of justice not being pursued here. The FBI is doing its work. They don't have the burden of having to deal with privilege because they're within the executive branch as a general matter, executive privilege cannot be asserted. And of course, if you make a false statement to the FBI you are subject to the False Statements Act. And so I think that we should all be happy about the fact the FBI is doing an investigation.

BERMAN: General Gonzalez -- Attorney General Gonzalez, always great to have you. Thanks so much for being with us. All right. Thank you all so much for joining us on this very busy

news day. I'm John Berman.

HARLOW: I'm Poppy Harlow. "AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN" begins right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: John and Poppy, thanks so much. Hello, everybody. I'm Kate Bolduan. We do begin with breaking news out of Washington. Shots fired after a --