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White House Press Briefing; 2 White Officials Helped Give Nunes Intel Reports. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired March 30, 2017 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
QUESTION: And you described what was going on at the meeting today as the first phase.
Can you lay out to us what is somewhat entailed (inaudible)?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yeah.
QUESTION: Is the president being given detailed strategies? Or is it broad principles? What is involved in this first phase?
SPICER: I think it's a little of both.
He's talked -- they're talking about the process that they intend to partake; you know, how this is going to lay out, who they're engaging with, how they're -- how they're going to being that process. And then some of the guiding principles and making sure that any -- any updates that he has or any principles that he wants to suggest are incorporated into that -- to that plan as they begin to meet with stakeholders.
But part of this is to -- to level set with him as to what they intend to do and how they intend to do it.
QUESTION: And you said there's (ph) a dual-track between health care and tax reform, but then there's also infrastructure...
QUESTION: ... peaking (ph) out there. So, can all of those go -- go together?
SPICER: Lots of tracks.
I mean, there's -- again, remember, they're not all the same people. Some of them overlap, some of them don't.
But I think part of this is, is that you got to remember that some things can happen sooner than others because of the -- the legislative calendar. Some things are going to take longer, because of both the legislative calendar and -- and because of the number of individuals involved and the complexity of the situation.
But there's a lot of things that can be moving at once because of -- of how they'll play out.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sean.
Turning to the foreign front, yesterday Vladimir Kara-Murza, the twice-poisoned Russian dissident and vice chairman of the Open Russia movement, testified before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee backing continued sanctions against Russia.
He also called on Secretary of State Tillerson to meet with Russian civil society members -- in other words, anti-Putin dissidents like himself -- when he makes his trip to Moscow next month.
Mr. Kara-Murza also said he was meeting with many members of Congress, both parties, but he would be very happy to meet with any administration officials.
Are there any plans for the president or anyone in the White House to meet with Kara-Murza?
And will Mr. Tillerson meet with the Russian civil society...
SPICER: I would suggest to you -- I'm not aware of anything. Both the National Security Council as well as the State Department are probably more appropriate for you to address that to.
QUESTION: Sean, can I ask a question, but before I do, get some clarification on the answer that you gave to Hunter and to Major?
I thought it was just yesterday that you said that when you were asked who cleared in Chairman Nunes, that you had asked some preliminary questions, had not gotten answers, and that you would continue to ask.
QUESTION: So, my question today is, do you know the answers to that and you are saying you will not answer that question today, or you don't know?
SPICER: No, no, that's not -- right.
You know, so what I'm saying to you is, is that the decision that has been made as to bring in all the relevant individuals that are reviewing the situation and make them available. That getting into sources and process is not the proper way to conduct this review, and we want the people who are conducting it to understand more fully the materials, not necessarily who came in what time and whatever.
QUESTION: So, you're -- just to clarify again, you asked the questions, you were not given answers...
SPICER: No, no. That's -- that's -- I -- I'm just saying...
QUESTION: ... that you asked that -- wait, let me finish.
QUESTION: You said yesterday that you asked, you didn't get the answers, and so what you're telling us today is you are never going to get the answer -- you, yourself -- you are never going to get the answer to who cleared in Chairman Nunes. SPICER: No.
What -- what I'm saying is, is that the decision was made it's supposed to focus on the process, to focus on the substance, and that the decision was made...
QUESTION: But you're still not answering my question.
SPICER: I -- I let you answer -- ask the question, so let me answer it, please.
And the answer that I've giving you is that -- that the decision was made internally to focus on the individuals who are doing the review, both Republicans and the Democrats, House and Senate, and have them come in and look at the materials. That's what the focus should be, Alexis.
QUESTION: All right.
SPICER: Kaitlan (ph)?
QUESTION: Wait, wait, wait. Here's my new favorite question.
QUESTION: The president has expressed his affirmation, his support for the finding that Russia interfered with the 2016 election. That is the centerpiece of the investigation at the FBI and the Senate Intelligence Committee.
My question is, what -- can you update us: What is the president doing now in the administration to respond to Director Comey's testimony that that interfering is not just election-year based, but continuing?
SPICER: What -- you're talking about the executive order, is that correct?
QUESTION: I'm just asking you, can you update: What is the administration doing to prevent that -- to -- to...
SPICER: So -- OK.
QUESTION: ... to respond to that preliminary finding already -- that we already know, that it is continuing?
SPICER: Well, so, the executive order that the president signed that continues the national emergency deals with looking into malicious attempts and cyber attempts to -- to come into the United States. That's what the -- the executive order that he signed was.
QUESTION: That's the sum total of the response so far?
SPICER: Well -- I'm not going to get into what we're doing -- what -- what's being behind the scenes, in terms of the intelligence and law enforcement community.
But the -- the bottom line is that there was an emergency declared with respect to challenges that the United States faces from a variety of -- of actors outside the United States, to come in and -- and use cyber techniques to hack the United States.
The national emergency will continue under the president to address the threats that we face from abroad and from a variety of places.
SPICER: I'll ask April.
QUESTION: Yes Sean, so...
QUESTION: You called on someone else?
Oh, I'm sorry, go ahead and then come back to me.
SPICER: OK, I'll do it. Kaitlan (ph) then April. I'm sorry.
QUESTION: She can go first, but I'll just go after her.
QUESTION: OK, thank you, Kaitlan (ph).
So, Sean, what is the ultimate goal of -- of the leaders coming in to get this information? And will it be information that Nunes received plus -- or will it just be basically a synopsis of a synopsis of what Nunes received? SPICER: Well, it's going to be the materials that are relevant to the discussion in the area that they're reviewing. And that's up to them to decide the relevancy of that. I think we have, or the National Security Committee (sic), has gone into -- come upon some materials that they want to share with them. It's up to them to make a decision about the relevance of those documents and what they lead them to believe.
But I mean there's two issues here. One, April, is what -- what do they see? And then what -- what do they want to see in addition to that or as a result of those -- of those materials? Right? So in other words, they -- they may see things and say, "Hey, this is interesting, I wonder if there's a pattern. This is interesting, I want to see more."
Or they may come to a conclusion right away, but that's part of the idea of -- to your first part of your question, of sharing information with them, is to allow the members of both of the committees on a bipartisan basis, to come in and review materials that we think are relevant to the issues that the president talked about with respect to surveillance, the masking -- unmaking of individuals, the handling of it, et cetera, et cetera.
And then it's up to those members to decide what to do with that information, how to explore that more in depth.
QUESTION: So ultimately, in their questioning, they could actually wind up getting what Nunes received possibly, if they dig and ask different questions; just sitting in the intelligence meetings like the president does, digging? If he decides to dig more, he'll get more?
SPICER: It -- it depends. I think that's possible. I don't want to prejudge what they ask and what -- what comes in response to it. It also has to do with what documents we have. They may go down a particular trail and have to follow up with a -- with an agency and say, "You know, we saw this; can we see a follow-up on that?"
As you saw from media reports, the NSA has been asked to provide documentation to the House. My understanding from the reports is that that was ongoing and maybe some of the materials that they see prompt them to ask additional questions.
But -- but that's -- that's part of providing it to them. It's an ongoing review. And what we want is -- is for them to see these materials and come to conclusions, or -- or need more information to come to a conclusion. But this is part of that review process.
QUESTION: Are they allowed to, say, any type of briefing...
SPICER: I -- I...
QUESTION: ... with their ranking and who they are, no matter him being the head of the Intel Committee, are some of these other members allowed to see the same things (inaudible), even though they're not the head of the committee? Are they allowed to see that? SPICER: My understanding would be that they would.
QUESTION: OK and lastly, Sean, do you know who allowed this (inaudible)?
QUESTION: You don't know?
QUESTION: I have some questions for you. One is, has anyone in the White House ever raised the possibility of a Cabinet position or a top intelligence post later on in the administration for Devin Nunes?
SPICER: Not that I'm aware of.
QUESTION: And secondly, will the president hold a press conference so he can answer questions on the surveillance claims and all these intelligence revelations themselves?
SPICER: I'm not good enough?
QUESTION: Not that you're not good enough, but will he -- he's the one who made the claim...
QUESTION: You didn't make the claims. He made the claims.
SPICER: Thank you. I will convey your request to him. I know that I've said it before, and we'll see. I'm sure, that at some point -- he enjoyed the last one so much.
Is that -- would you like tomorrow?
SPICER: Does that work for you? OK, well, let me -- let me see what I can come up with.
QUESTION: I just want to clarify. Can you tell me from what you know about these materials, do they validate the president's wiretap claims?
SPICER: I don't know, I have not seen the materials. It is members of the National Security Committee (sic) who have come across these documents that want to make them available to the members who are leading the review.
QUESTION: And -- and why not just be more forthcoming about this entire process of who let Nunes in? If -- if this was enough -- if the president of the United States could tweet this claim about wiretapping, doesn't the American public have a right to know more right now?
SPICER: Yes, they do. And I think that's why we're going through a process. And I say this respectfully, I understand that you want all of those process answers -- what day did (inaudible) come in; what were they wearing; what door they came in. The relevant questions are about the substance of this. And -- and
it's interesting, I don't get the same thing when I see these unpublished stories with anonymous sources. You don't ever tell me who your sources were, who...
SPICER: Glen (ph), I'm actually asking (sic) Cecelia's question. If you could be polite as not to interrupt her.
SPICER: Thank you.
Do you accept his apology?
SPICER: That's very...
SPICER: Thank you.
That's not how it works, though.
But I would argue that -- that you guys have -- when you write a story, and you call and say "I have four anonymous sources that said whatever," and I say, "OK, well who were the sources and where do they come?" You go, "Sorry, I'm not revealing anything to you but the substance that I'm asking you to respond to." But when the shoe is on the other foot, you're all about the process.
The bottom line is that there are two congressional committees that are conducting reviews of this situation. And those committees are looking at the relevant information and talking to relevant people. To your point about the process, we have made individuals available and encouraged individuals to testify or to meet with or to discuss with -- that have been approached. So I think that what we are doing, frankly, and I know you probably disagree, but I think that we are doing the responsible thing by making sure that documents and materials are shown to people with the appropriate classifications in the appropriate settings, and that the people that the different committees would like to discuss these matters with are made available to them.
I think that's the responsible way of handling this.
QUESTION: (inaudible) something very much that I have two questions, one on Venezuela, another one on (inaudible). I'll start with Venezuela. Because today, the supreme court of Venezuela said they decide to take over the congress power, and opposition say that it's a coup underway. Do you consider there is a coup underway in Venezuela? And what is the -- what can we expect the United States to do?
And the other question is on climate change, because President Obama's time also (inaudible) bilateral climate deals with Brazil, China and India. And (inaudible) to those?
SPICER: Well, on the first one, respectfully, I would send you to -- I would refer you to the State Department. The only supreme court I'm really focused on right now is ours, and getting Judge Neil Gorsuch confirmed by the Senate.
So I'd be glad -- I think the State Department's more of an appropriate venue to discuss the activities over there.
And second, I think when it comes to -- to things like the Paris treaty, as I mentioned at the outset, that is being...
SPICER: I understand, but -- but I think that there are things that we will have updates for on all of these things as we move forward. Right now, I've got nothing on that subject yet.
QUESTION: The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that the Trump administration is proposing more modest changes in NAFTA. Like, for example, they're leaving the arbitration panel that deals with trade disputes in place, et cetera, et cetera. Is the White House backing away from some of the more sweeping changes to NAFTA that the president proposed during the campaign?
SPICER: You know, I would just argue that -- that Robert Lighthizer isn't even nominated yet. That is not a statement of administration policy at this point. There is nothing that -- in those documents that we are confirming, or in that report, rather, that we are confirming.
That is not a statement of administration policy. That is not an accurate assessment of where we are at this time. And I think our goal is to get Robert Lighthizer appointed as the next ambassador and U.S. trade representative. And then when we have that, we will have plenty of updates on where we go with respect to NAFTA and the rest of our trade agreements.
With that, I'm going to say good-bye. I will see you tomorrow. Thank you.
I'm sorry. I promised two days in a row.
QUESTION: Thank you, Sean.
I've got one on foreign policy and one on domestic policy.
QUESTION: First one is many Republicans were very critical of how President Obama had handled the Iranian Green Revolution about six years ago. So my question is if mass protests across Russia developed into a movement, is this something that -- what would the administration feel its role should be regarding that?
SPICER: I'm not going to -- that's a hypothetical question, to talk about what would happen and if -- when it comes to...
SPICER: I know, but when it comes to protests, we obviously encourage, as we did last Sunday, the peaceful -- the government of Russia to allow the peaceful protest of individuals throughout their country. We obviously support the people to have a voice in every government throughout the world.
QUESTION: And on the subject of partisanship and obstructionism, whose responsibility does the president feel it is to put an end to partisanship? And who needs to be reaching out to whom, for lack of it?
SPICER: I think it's a two-way street. I think we -- you know, I think part of it is, you know, we -- the president and the first lady extended an invitation the other night for everyone to come. I think we were excited to see a third of Senate Democrats come. I wish we had seen more.
There's an opportunity, I think, to engage in a -- in a discussion about some of the issues and come together. But I would argue that, you know, when you look at -- at this fight on Gorsuch, there are -- I -- I don't disagree with the fact that if you're a Democrat, you probably don't necessarily agree with some of the rulings and some of the philosophies of Judge Gorsuch. I get that.
But the end of the day, the -- they have always agreed -- in fact, in most cases, the filibuster has never been the norm. It hasn't. And -- and it is odd to see that these individuals who have -- it's one thing to vote no, it's one thing to say that we don't agree, but to now turn to filibustering or threatening to filibuster Senate -- unbelievably qualified people -- and there is nobody that I'm aware of, even on the left, that is suggesting that Judge Gorsuch isn't qualified to serve as a Supreme Court justice.
Republicans in the past have allowed Democrat presidents to have their nominees voted on up-or-down, and for the most part when you go back through President Obama, President Clinton, they have been -- Republicans have joined with Democrats to allow people who are qualified to go onto the court. And to see this new precedent be formed by Leader Schumer is disappointing, because this is a huge, huge crack. I think there was a column, one of the papers today, I think, you are really fundamentally changing how the Senate's going to operate by doing this. And I think that's an important -- you know, they can disagree with them philosophically. I get that. That's -- but when you have an election, you can assume that a Republican president is going to choose Republicans for appointments and for federal judgeships, and the Democrats will do the same with -- with -- with their time in office.
But it was Obama's, you know, nominees that got through all with Republican support. And it's difficult to understand why, when you've got someone as eminently qualified as Gorsuch, that this is the stake that they want to drive.
And I think it further sets a partisan divide in our country, when we can't allow people who are qualified, and universally so, to get on the bench.
QUESTION: Is enough being done from the president's side to try to...
SPICER: I think so, sure.
But I think it's a two-way street. I would ask you, you know, what is -- you know, I remember a few years ago there was all this talk about from the get-go of Obama, Democrats (sic) made hay about how they wanted to see him as a one-term president. I -- I've seen a similar tactic from Democrats now about how they want to defeat him, they want to stop his agenda. And there's no sense of them wanting to work with this president.
So, at some point I think we have shown a willingness to bring them together.
It's amazing how many senators when you talk to them over the course of the last, you know, almost 70 days, have said "You know, I've been to the White House more in the last 70 days of a Trump administration than I was during eight years of an Obama administration." And I think that that speaks to the president's desire to bring people together and to find common ground on areas of mutual agreement where we can move the country forward.
Thank you. I'll see you tomorrow.
[14:48:03] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Let's take it. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
A couple of headlines coming out of the briefing, but the biggie, the White House not confirming nor denying this explosive report out of "The New York Times" that the chairman of the House Intel Committee got help from White House officials to see information, to see this report related to President Trump's tweet claiming that he was under surveillance.
Let me back up. We talked a lot about this. Devin Nunes has been raising eyebrows on this secret rendezvous on the White House grounds in which he said he saw information that suggests the president's communications may have been intercepted. You remember that day. He took that information to the press and then went on to the White House, took the information to the president before alerting members of his own committee. But so far, no evidence of that. And Chairman Nunes will not reveal his sources. He is under fire for compromising the integrity of his committee's investigation.
Now, "The New York Times" reporting is not just one, but two White House officials, including someone from the National Security Council, who was brought into the White House by the now-fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Let's first get to Jeff Zeleny, who covers all things White House for us.
My goodness. A couple of Jedi questions. But first, Sean Spicer didn't want to give up names, process, sources, nothing.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHIT HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, this is a very significant briefing today. This will take a while to sort through Sean Spicer's answers. I can tell you that. This certainly raises more questions about this entire last situation over the last two weeks or so. The fact that the White House is inviting the top members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee over here to the White House complex to look at more information certainly begs the question, why didn't they do that in the first place as opposed to only having the House Intelligence Committee chairman, a Republican, over to look at it in a quiet matter and then have the dramatic announcement the next day.
[14:50:10] Brooke, I was also struck by something else Sean Spicer said. He said he did not know, he would have to get more information about whether the president had been briefed on all of this new information. Brooke, to me, that raises the question again, was the president surprised the afternoon that Devin Nunes came here to the White House to present him that information. It certainly was presented as a surprise. I was in the briefing room that day. I later asked the president if he felt vindicated. He said somewhat. Now with all of this other information that's coming out, Brooke, it's beginning to look like in fact that may not be a surprise at all and raises questions on all of this. So now we'll see how the intelligence officials, the ranking members, and the chairman on both the House and Senate side, how they respond to this, if they come over to the White House and look at this information or not.
But I detected a different tone from Sean Spicer. He was not as combative. It looked to me like he was explaining something that he had just sort of learned about, and I think this is a very significant day here -- Brooke?
BALDWIN: Agree. Agree.
Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.
Let's talk now to Manu Raju, who apparently has spoken with Manu.
You talked with chairman Nunes. Has he responded to this explosive report from "The New York Times?"
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he has not responded to this report because the only thing they've said from his office is that they are not going to discuss any of the sources or comment on that. Nunes has left the building. The House is out of session. Sean Spicer once again refused to say whether or not anyone from the White House authorized Mr. Nunes to come on the White House grounds, review this intelligence information which he later briefed the president on. I asked him repeatedly, can you just rule out, say was not way or another whether a White House official is involved and he would not respond. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Why can't you answer that question? The White House ---
NUNES: I'm not going to answer that question or any more questions, guys. Unless you have something new, there's just nothing --
RAJU: But there's a lot of questions still about what happened here.
NUNES: You guys are free to do all the stories that you want. And I appreciate that. But our investigation continues, and that's how it is.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, earlier this week, Nunes told Wolf Blitzer this, that it was, quote, "not the case that someone in the administration was coordinating the release of the information." And then as more questions emerged about him getting on the grounds, reading this information, he would not rule out or say whether someone in the White House was involved. So a lot of questions are still surrounding this.
Now, the question going forward is whether or not the House Intelligence Committee can actually carry through with this Russia investigation. Nunes did meet earlier today with Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, Schiff telling reporters that he's prepared to move forward and also noted that it was a rather tense meeting, not saying whether or not they discussed this very controversial episode of Mr. Nunes reviewing this information and briefing the president of the United States on. Clearly a lot of questions that Devin Nunes has not answered yet. Namely, who is his source and if the White House was involved -- Brooke?
BALDWIN: Thank you for grabbing Mr. Nunes last night. I'm glad you brought up the Wolf interview. We'll play a little of it in a moment.
It's important to point out, one of the questions Wolf asked Mr. Nunes on Monday, did you meet with the president or any of his aides while you were there, there being at the White House last night. His answer, no, and I'm quite sure if people on the West Wing had no idea I was there.
Let me bring in my panel.
Gloria Borger, there's a lot to go through.
First, you kept hearing Sean Spicer use this word obsessed or obsession, saying, quote, "We're not as obsessed with process as we are with substance."
But I want you to tell me, why does process matter? Why does the who here, the sources here matter if, according to "The New York Times," two high-ranking White House officials, which you talk to critics of the White House and they would say this screams coverup.
BORGER: Right. Go back two weeks ago, when the president tweeted and said that he had been wiretapped. And the White House changed that to the president had been surveilled. OK? Devin Nunes has been going out of his way to try and say that, you know, perhaps he was, perhaps people's names were unmasked, et cetera. Here's the question of the day: Did White House staffers help Devin Nunes get access to classified information to try and proof that Donald Trump was right. And that, to me, is not a process question. To me, it's a substantive question, because we have been told, in fact by Sean Spicer, that the notion that anybody from the White House would have helped Devin Nunes doesn't pass the smell test. We were told that earlier this month.
The second question is -- and Jeff Zeleny alluded to this before -- was what did the -- I hate to use the old phrase -- what did the president know and when did he know it?
[14:55:48] BALDWIN: It's a great question.
BORGER: When he was informed of this information and told Jeff that he had felt vindicated, had he actually known about it before? There's a question here about whether the White House orchestrated this, kind of set Devin Nunes up in a way and presented him with this information to set him down a divergent path to talk about issues, except for the issues that his committee is supposed to be investigating.
BALDWIN: Which is Russia.
BORGER: Which is Russia.
BORGER: So Sean Spicer was trying to deflect all of these questions as, you know, a bunch of process questions. We've invited the committee folks up here to look at the actual substance.
David Catanese, let's go back to what the president told FOX, that information would be coming out the following week. The president knew this was coming. DAVID CATANESE, SENIOR POLITICS WRITER, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: I
think so. But, you know, there's a lot of different moving parts and a lot of people saying different things on this. To me, the most significant part of the -- this Sean Spicer briefing today is that he did not outright deny "The New York Times" story that says two White House officials facilitated this information, this intelligence to Devin Nunes. Sean Spicer has had no problem coming out of that briefing podium every day and castigating false reports. He did it with "The Washington Post" involving Sally Yates and whether they were trying to block her from testifying. He did not do that today. In fact, in one of his exchanges he said, it's important when we get new information to provide that information to the appropriate people. Now, that's a vague answer. To me, that was a tell that says, hey, it is ok for the White House to provide information to the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, and maybe it isn't relevant intelligence that does show improper surveillance. We don't know that yet. You know, that is the question.
I think the other question is why he is sharing this information with other members of the Intelligence Committee. I think that's going to be the committee that haunts the House inquiry and why that inquiry has become so hyper-politicized.
BALDWIN: One of the other great questions from the briefing came from one of the reporters that if one of these said White House officials was in fact a high-ranking official on the national security committee, why then would this person do potentially political bidding if that person wasn't functioning at the White House in that capacity.
Larry Noble, let me get you in about Sean Spicer saying, "You all are obsessed with process." You agree that it matters tremendously?
LARRY NOBLE, CNN CONRIBUTOR: Yes. The process is very important because it goes to the credibility of the information and the credibility of the committee and the work it's going to do and the credibility of what the White House is talking about. Process is really important.
What was ironic about it is he said we're not interested in process but what they are asking to be investigated is the process by which other leaks took place. So process is part of the whole system. They have to realize that.
Two other things struck me about this. One is, Gloria said the deflection issue. They've made this all about the leaking of the information, which is an important issue. But they really do obviously want to avoid the talking about the involvement of Russia. And then the third thing -- and this is, I guess, more of a perspective issue, I have the feeling, watching this that you're seeing once again in real-time the collapse of what looks like a coverup. They say this process is important and what they are doing is the most important, and the information will eventually get out. I think if history teaches us anything, it will eventually get out. The question will be, will the House committee have any credibility of getting that information out, will we have to go to a special committee or special counsel? But I think they are playing a foolish game at this point of trying to
prevent information from getting out and trying to deflect the questions to ones they want to be answered and not the ones of how this all happened and what actually did happen.
BALDWIN: How about just the ethics of this, Larry, though. I mean, "The New York Times" is reporting the senior director of Intel at the National Security Council and this lawyer who worked on national security issues --