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White House Denies Trying to Block Yates' Testimony; Dems to Filibuster Gorsuch Nomination. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 29, 2017 - 07:00   ET


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: -- hold on. No, at some point, report the facts.

[07:00:04] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have great confidence in Devin Nunes. I want him to stay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If these senators get their way, this is going to be the first successful filibuster of a nominee to join the Supreme Court.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: If a nominee can't meet the 60-vote standard, you don't change the rule. You change the standard.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nobody ever told me that politics was going to be so much fun.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Up first, the House Intelligence Committee Russia investigation grinding to a halt because of all the political infighting. The panel's embattled chairman digging in, refusing to step down. That's Devin Nunes. The White House denies it coordinated with Nunes to block former deputy attorney general Sally Yates from testifying.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Meanwhile, the Senate Intel Committee begins its first open hearing on Russia tomorrow. This as the president revisits the health care battle, predicting that it will be easy to get a deal. He is also out touting that the U.S. mission in Iraq is going, quote, "very well," but he never mentioned the airstrike that killed more than 100 civilians in Mosul.

It's day 69 of the Trump presidency. Let's begin our coverage with Sara Murray. She is live at the White House. Good morning, Sara.


Well, it is clear bipartisanship is taking a beating in the House. They are struggling with how to move forward with their Russia investigation. But one thing is clear. Both the House intelligence chairman and White House are on defense.


MANU RAJU, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Are you going to stay as chairman and run the investigation?


MURRAY (voice-over): House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes defiant amid calls for him to step aside from the panel's Russia investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to recuse yourself from this investigation?

NUNES: Excuse me.


MURRAY: The House Russia probe effectively put on hold as Democrats accuse the chairman of stalling.

REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The investigation certainly has ground to a halt, but here's the odd thing. All meetings have been cancelled. We're apparently not going to do anything until this closed-door meeting with Comey and Rogers occurs.

MURRAY: Nunes now saying the investigation will move forward. But only after a private briefing with the FBI director and head of the NSA, which has not been scheduled. The chairman under scrutiny for canceling this week's open hearing, which was supposed to feature testimony from former acting attorney general Sally Yates, who was fired by President Trump.

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It's evidence of a coverup. There is no rational explanation for the cancellation of that meeting.

MURRAY: The White House fighting back against allegations that it sought to prevent Yates from testifying.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I hope she testifies. I look forward to it. If they choose to move forward, great. We have no problem with her testifying.

MURRAY: That's after "The Washington Post" published letters showing the Justice Department said Yates' testimony could violate presidential privilege, all on the same day that Nunes canceled the hearing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should Devin Nunes recuse himself from the Russia investigation and, two, do you know the source of his information?


MURRAY: Republican leadership standing by the House investigation despite growing criticism. With Congressman Walter Jones becoming the first Republican to suggest that Nunes step aside.

SPICER: If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that's a Russian connection.

MURRAY: Press secretary Sean Spicer on the defensive, offering a colorful comeback to repeated questions about the Trump campaign's Russia ties.

SPICER: It seems like you're hell bent on trying to ensure that whatever image you want to tell about the White House stays -- I'm sorry. Please stop shaking your head again.

MURRAY: All as the president continues to deflect, repeatedly tweeting about Hillary Clinton and trying to shift the focus back to his legislation priorities after a bruising defeat on repealing Obamacare.

TRUMP: I know that we're all going to make a deal on health care. That's such an easy one.


MURRAY: Now the heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee are expected to hold a press conference later this afternoon. They had made clear they'd like to speak with Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and a senior adviser, about his meetings with Russian officials. They say he's likely to testify under oath, but privately. So he may get a better sense of what their next steps are at that press conference later today.

Back to you.

CUOMO: I appreciate that bit of reporting. Sara tees up our discussion perfectly. Let's discuss with CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief of "The Daily Beast," Jackie Kucinich; CNN political analyst and "New York Times" deputy culture editor Patrick Healy; and national security reporter for "The Washington Post," Devlin Barrett, who's the man of the hour, part of the team that broke the story that the Trump administration tried to block Sally Yates from testifying.

Devlin, they say that's not true. Make the case.

DEVLIN BARRETT, NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, look, I think it's very simple. This is -- you know, a lot of national security stories are sourced, and so you have to rely on the reporter's sourcing. We published the letters with the story. Any -- any reader can go through these letters and see exactly what they say. And they show that there is this back and forth that goes on last week about the degree to which her -- any of her testimony would be limited by either attorney/client privilege or executive privilege. It's right there in the letter.

CAMEROTA: But Devlin, that back and forth -- correct me if I'm wrong -- is between the Department of Justice and Sally Yates' attorney. The White House is sort of silent. They never weigh in on this. Am I right?

BARRETT: Right, except for the Justice Department. The last letter from the Justice Department says it is likely that executive privilege applies to these topics that are going to come up in the testimony. And so you should go talk to the White House about it.

And so what happens is Sally Yates' lawyer then sends a letter to the White House, saying, "OK, these guys have been saying that privilege applies here. I need to talk to you. And if I don't hear back from you by Monday, we're going forward on our end. We're very comfortable with testifying."

And what happens right after that letter is set, frankly, is the hearing is canceled. So the deadline becomes moot. And there is no need to respond. And sort of this -- this growing conflict just sort of comes to a dead stop, because the hearing is canceled.

CUOMO: There was a March 27 deadline. You're right; it wound up becoming moot. And there was also somewhat of a tacit understanding within the attorney's letter that silence equals acceptance. If we don't hear from you, that means you're OK with it; we can go forward.

CAMEROTA: Particularly if it's canceled.

CUOMO: That's right. What is Nunes saying about why he put off the testimony? If it's not because of the White House?

BARRETT: Right. So when he was asked yesterday, "Did the White House ask you to cancel this meeting?" he didn't answer. The White House denies it asked him to cancel the hearing. And when he canceled the hearing, what he said was they're cancelling it to have a private session with Comey and Rogers, as Sara Murray said in your piece. But that hearing still hasn't happened. That -- the Comey-Rogers meeting also hasn't happened, and there's basically nothing scheduled for a while, and everyone is just sort of in this weird holding pattern.

The last thing, though, is that what the White House did yesterday by saying they want Yates to testify, that actually puts a little more pressure on Nunes to make a decision, make some sort of announcement as to what his next move is.

CAMEROTA: Well, look, Jackie, Devin Nunes needs to explain himself about why he -- on a few different levels. But particularly why he canceled this scheduled hearing, because otherwise it gives the impression that, once again, he's doing it at the behest of the White House.

KUCINICH: Right. It doesn't look good. I mean, at the end of the day, that's what we're sort of faced with. And since he said he seemed also to imply it wasn't cancelled; it was just delayed but didn't elaborate. So it just raises more questions than it answers at this point, which is sort of his look for the week.

CUOMO: Well, you know, there's this ethical standard that we always talk about. There always seems more a semblance of impropriety. For those who are confused by it, this is what it looks like. This is the second time that Devin Nunes, at a minimum second time, has done something that seems to favor the White House to the disadvantages of his own committee and this apparent mandate of getting the truth. True or false?

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's true. And right now, what you're seeing is a circling of the wagons around Devin Nunes instead of answering those sort of direct ethical questions about fairness, about independence, impartiality that you're seeing.

Look, Chris, we saw sort of Manu Raju sort of following, stalking Devin Nunes. He couldn't answer basic questions that Manu was putting to him about -- about why a hearing was postponed, what kind of impartiality he had. Distance from the White House to Paul Ryan come out yesterday saying, "We support Devin Nunes, you know, running this investigation." But that's kind of a circling the wagons and, you know...

CUOMO: Why do they want Sally Yates to come out anyway? People only know about her in terms of her refusing to enforce the travel ban. But that's arguably not even the subject of the hearing.

HEALY: This feels -- you know, this feels pretty bungling right now. I mean, I think there's a lot of people feel Sally Yates is ultimately going to testify under, you know -- under some kind of arrangement. And right now, it feels like a lot of sort of sand bagging going both ways. And it looks like -- frankly, it looks like the Republicans can't get their -- you know, gist at the White House. Congress can't get their stories straight.

CAMEROTA: Devlin, what could Sally Yates say in this hearing? What could Sally Yates say in this hearing?

BARRETT: Well, what I've been told is that Sally Yates is, you know, obviously -- key point of interest is what was Yates' conversation with the White House when she went to warn them about the issue of possible blackmail of Michael Flynn, of the former national security advisor, because his statements regarding his contacts with the Russian ambassador didn't match up with what was actually picked up about those conversations.

And so what I'm told is that some of the what she would say and, like, as Patrick pointed out, likely will say at some point somewhere, is that some of the White House statements about that conversation just simply aren't correct.

CAMEROTA: OK. Yes, that sounds important. That sounds like something this week would be helpful to hear if it hadn't been cancelled.

HEALY: Right, right. Especially as the White House has tried to sort of frame, you know, Sally Yates -- not the White House, maybe, but the Republicans as kind of a partisan as a, you know, a Barack Obama holdover. You know, at the end of the day, she's going to be able to go to the Hill and say, "This is what -- you know, this is what we saw." [07:010:16] CUOMO: All right. So let's say -- let's think it through,

Jackie Kucinich, Sally Yates comes in and says, "I went to the White House. I told them there's a mismatch here. You better deal with it." The White House wound up forcing Flynn to resign. Some would say they didn't even need to do that. So what do they fear here in terms of exposure?

KUCINICH: They don't want to talk about Michael Flynn anymore. They don't want him to talk about -- I mean, look at -- look at the answers that Sean Spicer gave yesterday when he was asked about Russia again. They don't want to talk about this. You heard the frustration; you say the frustration. So the idea that that new information could only be coming out that makes it look like the White House again isn't being straight with the American people, because it has nothing to do with the media. It has everything to do what they're saying, explain themselves to the American people.

And one of the biggest issues with this whole Russia debacle is that they're not putting everything out there. It's drip, drip, dripping out. And it turns out here and there that there are these turns where the White House just isn't telling the truth.

CAMEROTA: Because they say there's nothing there. They say the drip, drip, drip you hear is just dressing.

CUOMO: It's Russian dressing.

CAMEROTA: Yes, dressing.

CUOMO: Let's play it. Why not.

HEALY: April Ryan's question was a very fair one. It was about image and how, Sean Spicer, is the White House going to deal with the drip, drip, drip. It's a real phenomenon in Washington, and it leaves, ultimately, a stain. It raises, you know, more questions than they can move on for. And going after April Ryan in such a -- in such a patronizing way from the bully pulpit of the White House. I mean, anybody watching that video -- I feel like any fair-minded person could say, you know, "Why is he -- you know, why is he getting off of the facts? He can't answer the facts."

CUOMO: He already answered it.

HEALY: He's treating her...

CUOMO: She asked him a tough, straight question.

CAMEROTA: We have the...

CUOMO: He got angry and did this.

CAMEROTA: Let's play it.


APRIL RYAN, JOURNALIST: You've got Russia. You've got wiretapping. You've got...

SPICER: No, we don't have that.

RYAN: ... on Capitol Hill.

SPICER: No, no. I get it. But you keep -- I've said it from the day that I got here until whenever 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.


CUOMO: Look, you know, it was a pretty decent line. I'll give him that much. But the reason that I make fun of him as Captain Credibility is this wiretapping thing was only birthed by the president of the United States, who had the ability to get the answer immediately and didn't, because they wanted a distraction. You now what? They got it. Kudos to you. You found a way to distract people for a little while.

But did he go too far in terms of how he dealt with April? People are taking offense to him saying, "Stop shaking your head." He's been offensive to a lot of reporters, to be honest.

KUCINICH: It just seems like decorum is out the window. And perhaps it has been from the very beginning.

CUOMO: When he doesn't like what's going on. When he can't handle it.

KUCINICH: When he doesn't like what's going on. I mean, we talked about this earlier. He called a reporter an idiot with no sources earlier this week. The lack of professionalism at this point, it comes from the top. This is something, the putdowns, the slams. We've seen that from Donald Trump himself, and it's permeating the rest of the administration at this point, publicly.

CAMEROTA: Devlin, it is -- is it your impression that Sally Yates will ever testify in an open hearing?

BARRETT: Well, yes, I think she probably will, because look, this whole process has only raised the stakes on this. Right? This may not have been the be-all-and-end-all hearing. But when it finally happens, we're probably going to treat it as such because there was such a -- such a back and forth just over having the hearing in the first place.

CUOMO: The irony that the White House coming strong the way Spicer did will probably make it more likely than ever that we'll hear from her.

CAMEROTA: Devlin, thanks so much for sharing your reporting with us. Thanks to you guys, as well, on the panel.

CUOMO: All right. There are other partisan battles going on. Namely, that over Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Will it go nuclear? Will the Republicans have to blow up the filibuster? And what would that mean? If they can't get 60 votes, what will we see?

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux live on Capitol Hill with more. What do you know?


Well, it is certainly game on for the Supreme Court nomination. We heard from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who's laying down the gauntlet, saying that on Monday the Senate Judiciary Committee will go ahead and vote on Gorsuch. That will set the stage for next Friday for the full House. He not only predicts the vote's going to happen, but the confirmation, as well.

It has led Republicans and Democrats scrambling to both sides here. Now, the Democrats are committing now to the filibuster. There are 27 of them who are committed yes. They will filibuster. Two of them say no at this point.

Republicans very much aware of those numbers. They need 60 to break that filibuster. They've got 52 as the majority in the Senate. They are looking at the eight Democrats who perhaps they can turn to say no. There are about a dozen or so they are targeting that are from red states or Trump-friendly states, so they are working on them.

At same time, the Republican leadership has now announced that, yes, they are going to use that nuclear option to change the rules from the 60-vote threshold to 51 to make sure that Gorsuch gets that up or down vote.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: It is going to be a real uphill climb for him to get those 60 votes. If a judge can't meet, a nominee can't meet the 60-vote standard, you don't change the rules.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: No Supreme Court justice has ever been stopped with a partisan filibuster. That is obviously what the Democratic leader has announced they will do. We are optimistic that they will not be successful.


MALVEAUX: And of course, the aggressive P.R. campaign is in full swing. At 12:30 you're going to see on the steps of the Supreme Court members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are going to be making their case for Gorsuch -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Suzanne, thank you very much for all of that.

So the House intel Russia investigation, as we've been telling you, it has been ground to a halt this week. Can it restart while Devin Nunes is still in charge? A Democrat on that committee tells us what he wants to see happen next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [06:20:00] CAMEROTA: House intel chairman Devin Nunes rejecting calls from Democrats and even some Republicans to recuse himself from the committee's investigation on Russia. Here's what Nunes told CNN's Manu Raju.


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

NUNES: Why would I not? You guys need to go ask them why there -- you know, why these things are being said.

RAJU: So 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: They're saying that it cannot run with you as chairman.

NUNES: You've got to go talk to them. That sounds like their problem. I don't have -- my colleagues are perfectly fine. I mean, there's -- they know we're doing an investigation. And that will continue.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you comment on why the Intel Committee meeting...

NUNES: Look, there is no -- everything is moving forward as is. I'm not going to get into internal communications between us and the Democrats. I would go ask them that question.


CAMEROTA: All right. Joining us now is Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. He is a member of the House Intel Committee.

Good morning, Congressman.

REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: Good morning, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: When we interviewed you last week, you were not calling for Devin Nunes to recuse himself or step down as chairman. You said that you had, in fact, found working with him to be effective.

How are you feeling today?

HIMES: Well, I'm feeling more puzzled than ever, because we're in sort of day seven of this saga of not understanding why the chairman took this intelligence, went to the White House, got this intelligence, did a news conference, talked to the president without briefing either the Republican or the Democratic members of the committee.

And you know, not only has that resulted this week in the cancellation of an open hearing, in which we were to have heard from the deputy attorney general, the former CIA director and the former Director of National Intelligence but all of our regular business has been canceled, as well.

Ordinarily we have, on the first day of the week, a kind of review meeting to conduct oversight over this and that. We were to have a meeting tomorrow. We've just been completely frozen. And so a lot of us without any information from the chairman are wondering why have the investigation and the committee been -- been put on ice?

CAMEROTA: Have you asked Devin Nunes?

HIMES: You know, oddly enough, he has not sort of communicated with us or, frankly, with his own staff and with the Republicans on the committee to give us a sense of where we're going forward.

Now we're hanging onto the fact that he continues to say. or at least we believe he continues to say that he will explain the behavior of last week. And look, this isn't -- this isn't a partisan criticism. 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 a lot of -- 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.

CAMEROTA: Yes, understood. I mean, when you say he hasn't sort of made himself available, what do you mean? I mean, is he present? If you knock on his door, what happens? Has he gone dark? What's the deal?

HIMES: Well, there's -- there's just been -- there's been no communication. Again, when -- when he does something sort of as aggressive and as unusual as he did -- and we've heard that story over and over again -- and when there is the cancellation of an open hearing -- and I understand there was a whole conflict about whether the White House did or didn't want Sally Yates to testify.

The reality is she didn't. And when you cancel all of the ordinary business meetings of the committee, it's kind of up to the individual who does that to say, "Here's why I did that." And we haven't been offered that explanation yet.

CAMEROTA: Well, look, I mean as you describe it, business has ground to a halt. You are in deep freeze mode. You're not doing the work that the Intel Committee is supposed to be doing.

What more do you need to know as to whether or not your chairman can be effective?

HIMES: Well, I mean, as I said, we need to understand exactly what happened. And we need to be made comfortable. And I think the American people need to be made comfortable that, whatever happened last week, you know, going to the target of an investigation -- and, again, this is -- don't take it from me. You know, one of the reasons we did not have another open hearing is

in the last open hearing on Monday, the FBI director confirmed that the FBI is doing an investigation of possible connections and links between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

And so in that context, when the lead investigator on the Trump-Russia issue goes to the very party that is being investigated, that raises profound questions that need to be answered now, you know, partly to get the investigation back on track.

But, look, the oversight we do is terribly important. There's a handful of civilians, a handful of representatives of the people who are doing oversight of an operation that is $80 billion-ish in size, that is conducting operations all over the world.

This needs oversight. And so we've got to get back on track.

[07:25:12] CAMEROTA: Well, look, I mean, you make the most compelling case for why your work is so important.

Given that, why aren't you calling for your chairman to step down or to recuse himself today?

HIMES: Well, we Democrats have called several days ago, called on the chairman to recuse himself...


CAMEROTA: But you personally. Are you part of that call?

HIMES: Yes, no, two days ago I joined Ranking Member Adam Schiff and a lot of the other Democrats in making that call. And again, I think, you know, make no mistake. We've always had a constructive working relationship with the chairman. So I think we're open-minded about, if he were to call us into the offices in -- you know, at 9 o'clock this morning and say, "Hey, guys, I'm sorry it took me a week to get back to you, and I'm sorry this got played out in the media. But here is what I saw. And here is what I did," I think a lot of us would be open-minded to hearing that explanation.

But you know the universe. I mean, in the president's -- without transparency, without the facts, you know, rumor and speculation runs to fill the vacuum.

CAMEROTA: Yes. Are you ever going to be able to interview Sally Yates?

HIMES: I will take Sean Spicer at his word. I heard him very clearly yesterday say he looks forward to hearing her testify. And I will take Chairman Nunes at his word, who said that the open hearing which was canceled yesterday will, in fact, be rescheduled. So I'm going to take these folks at their word.

CAMEROTA: And if Jim Comey comes back, what other question, burning question, do you have for him? HIMES: Well, apparently, again, remember that the open hearing got canceled yesterday because, apparently, it was really urgent that we hear in closed session from Jim Comey and from Mike Rogers. That's what the chairman said.

Now oddly, the proposed meeting time was exactly the same time as the open hearing. And then when, for whatever reasons, Rogers and Comey did not come yesterday, lo and behold, the open hearing was not rescheduled.

And so again, I'm going to take Chairman Nunes at his word that it is very important for us to sit down with those two. I don't know why, again, you know, Chairman Nunes has not told us why it is so important. But I'll take him at his word and hope that that happens.

CAMEROTA: Do you think that there is any possibility that Chairman Nunes is acting at the behest of the White House?

HIMES: You know, when you asked about -- when you ask about possibilities, let's look at the circumstantial evidence, right? And again, I want to start from the fact that until last week, he was a constructive part of the investigation.

But, you know, he is close to the president. He was a member of the transition team; on a couple of occasions he's concerned us. He was -- he, of course, along with Senator Burr on the Senate side, was part of trying to knock down a "New York Times" story that the administration did not like.

And when you -- when somebody takes information in the middle of an investigation to the very people who are being investigated, you have got to -- again, you sort of hate if you are trying to be calm and balanced about an investigation, you hate to jump to conclusions. But, my gosh, that looks suspicious.

CAMEROTA: Congressman Jim Himes, thank you for being on NEW DAY. Nice to talk to you.

HIMES: Thanks, Alisyn.


CUOMO: Circumstantial. You can look at the direct evidence with what's going on there right now.

So you're going to have to brace yourself for a supreme showdown. Democrats and Republicans are digging in their heels over confirming Trump's Supreme Court nominee. This isn't so much about how the Democrats or Republicans feel about Gorsuch. It's about the process. So the big question is if the Democrats filibuster -- and it looks like they will -- will the GOP go nuclear? We discuss next.