Return to Transcripts main page


Report: WH Won't Discuss Report That Officials Helped Nunes; Marco Rubio's Campaign Victim of Russian Meddling; Top Intel Democrat Speaks on Nunes-WH Report. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired March 30, 2017 - 15:30   ET


[15:30:00] NORMAN EISEN, FORMER ETHICS CZAR DURING OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: And it looks to me like a desperate effort to backfill and to find some justification for those outrageous, dishonest and false tweets by Mr. Trump. But it's very important for us to not to get away from the core questions here and I believe that the white house itself is taking the wrong approach here. I wish they embraced Matt's approach of saying something very serious happened. Why don't they acknowledge what's happened and pledge full cooperation, instead of these midnight viewing sessions purportedly on the fourth floor of the Eisenhower executive office building and there's no indication that there's been anything but routine intercepts incidental to tracking foreign officials and their conversation.

They may have picked up some Trump campaign conversations. So, I think the white house is taking the wrong approach. It's inconsistent with matt's own statement that we have a very serious, one of the most serious attacks on our country in decades. The white house should respect that and not do a cover-up with Mr. Nunes. It's shameful.

BALDWIN: Go ahead, Matt. I want to hear from you before we go.

MATT SCHLAPP, FORMER GEORGE W. BUSH POLITICAL DIRECTOR: A couple of points here. First of all, if you run an ethics organization, you ought to wait until all of the facts come out. I want to see what Director Comey and the Senate and the house says. We don't have to make partisan defenses on either side. If the Trump team has made mistakes or chairman Nunes and others, that's just all part of this. I think the secretary part of this is that we keep using this word incidental surveillance. Let's unpack that word, Brooke. What we're really saying is that Obama officials were able to look at the conversations of the Trump team. Now, let's just let that sit in. I know that we don't know that to be a fact yet, but that is what is alleged and through this process of the house and Senate and the FBI, we're going to find out what is true and not true there. If that's true, that's also very serious. I would encourage everybody that knows about ethics to make sure that all of the guidelines were followed on that, that nobody's name was made public that shouldn't have been because that's been done once and maybe it will be done more times and I think there are serious questions that both sides want answers to.

BALDWIN: I think you're right. Having former FBI guys on the show saying it could have been the presumption that it was just regular conversations with foreign diplomats, ambassadors and that sort of thing is par for the course to --

SCHLAPP: Maybe. But we don't know.

BALDWIN: We don't know. To quote you, we need the truth. I appreciate both of you so much for coming on, Norm Eisen and Matt Schlapp, thank you.

We're about to hear from Adam Schiff, his response to this "New York Times" report alleging two white house officials helped give the chairman of that very committee the intelligence reports from the white house. We're back in a moment.


BALDWIN: Explosive new allegations coming out of the first hearing by the Senate intelligence committee today into the investigation of Russia's meddling in the U.S. election. Among today's revelations are a network of internet trolls cranking out these phony stories, a deliberate campaign of misinformation and Russian hackers directly targeting politicians, including Republican Senator Marco Rubio who sat on the intelligence panel. Here he was.


In July of 2016, shortly after I announced that I would seek re- election to the United States Senate, former members of my Presidential campaign team who had access to the internal information of my Presidential campaign were targeted by IP addresses with an unknown location within Russia. That effort was unsuccessful. I also informed the committee within the last 24 hours, at 10:45 a.m. yesterday, a second attempt was made again, against former members of my Presidential campaign team who had access to our internal information, again targeted from an IP address from an unknown location in Russia. And that effort was also unsuccessful.


BALDWIN: Let's talk more about logistics and techniques here that Russia has been adopting. Chief correspondent, editor at large is joining me. Thank you for being with us. When you hear these trolls, this is a sophisticated, coordinated effort massively swaying public opinion.

[15:40:00] LANCE ULANOFF, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, MASHABLE: Right. It's like a company, right? So, the leaders of the company, the people who are interested in swaying public opinion and then they hire people with various skills and the stories we're talking about are two different stories. There's the hacking attempts where it's a coordinated effort to get into that computer and possibly grab information. Then there's the disinformation where they have armies of people who have computers and they are writing content, working with hackers trying to access computers that can place this information.

BALDWIN: Stand by.


ADAM SCHIFF, CONGRESSMAN, CALIFORNIA: Review materials that pertains to the incidental collection. The letter asks that the committee look into whether these materials were properly gathered, whether they were properly masked or unmasked and properly disseminated. All matters, which are within the ordinary course of the committee's responsibilities. We have sent the white house a reply. I am more than willing to come to the white house at the earliest opportunity to review the materials. I did make clear in my letter, the ordinary course of the committee's responsibilities. We have sent the white house a reply. I am more than willing to come to the white house at the earliest opportunity to review the materials. I did make clear in my letter, however, that it will be ultimately necessary to share these materials with the full committee and we will need their cooperation as well to work with the agencies who have custody of the original documents.

When analyzing questions of whether something is properly the subject of incidental collection or whether it was properly unmasked or the distribution list is appropriate, that is impossible to do without consulting the agencies to find out how the materials were gathered and why there was a need to know in case of any unmasking of names. This is not something that is going to be apparent on the face of the documents. It's also not something that I think either chair or ranking member alone can somehow adjudicate. I did express, in my reply to white house council, though, my profound concern with the way that this is being made available to the committee. On the same day that "The New York Times" said that the source of the materials that were provided to our chairman was in fact national security council staff, I was informed in a letter from white house counsel that white house -- excuse me. National security council staff found these materials in the ordinary course of business. Now, that timing concerns me. If, in fact, the national security council staff that discovered these materials reportedly in the ordinary course of business or the same national security staff that provided them to the chairman to be provided to the President, it raised a profound question why they were not directly provided to the white house by the national security staff and instead were provided through a route involving the chairman.

If that was designed to hide the origin of the materials, that raises profound questions about just what the white house is doing that need to be answered and I have asked the white house for their assistance in answering those questions as well. The third point I want to make, in addition to what will be necessary to answer the questions the white house has asked us to look at in terms of the procedures, we will look into that. We want to find out, also, if in fact these are the same materials or a subset of the same materials earlier provided to the chairman, why that security method was employed to provide to the committee. And finally, this issue is not going to distract us from doing our Russia investigation. If that's the object here, it will not be successful. We're going to look into everything that the Russians did to influence our election. We are not going to be deterred. We're not going to be distracted. Issues of incidental collection are important. They are part of our ordinary oversight and we're going to get to the bottom of what the Russians did and how they did it and whether there was any coordination or collusion with U.S. persons, including those associated with the Trump campaign. That work is going to go on regardless. And I'm happy to answer any of your questions.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Ranking member, can you clarify for us, it says in the ordinary course of business, national security council staff discovered the march 15th letter. You don't know if these are the same documents that the chairman reviewed on white house grounds last week?

SCHIFF: Well, none of us have any way of knowing. I think only the white house knows the answer to that question and we should ask them. I have to say, it is highly concerning to me that on the same day that this "New York Times" story reports and I don't know whether "The New York Times" sources are accurate about whether the two people mentioned in that story but the fact that Sean Spicer yesterday had no idea who may have been involved in that review by the chairman, today they suddenly do, it raises a lot of very difficult questions for the white house but again, we need to get to the bottom of whether these same staff that discovered these materials in the ordinary course of business, according to the white house, were trying to use a circuitous method of delivering them back to the president that obviously would be deeply disturbing.

[15:45:00] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When you say, you will not distracted by all of this but that already appears to be the case. Your investigation has effectively ground to a halt because of these questions and the politics. How can the American public have confidence in this investigation?

SCHIFF: There's no doubt that there's a cloud over the investigation as a result that the materials were provided if indeed we're talking about the same documents here. What I'm talking about is -- and I speak for the Democrats on the committee. I hope I speak for the Republicans on the committee -- this is too important not to go forward. We are determined to go forward. Whatever obstacles are put in our way. I've been very frank about what I consider some of the conflicts here. Ultimately, it's up to the speaker who conducts this investigation on the GOP side. I can only be responsible for what we do on the Democratic side. We cannot be distracted. We are not going to continue to call witnesses and we have the representations of the majority that they will support the witnesses that they want to hear before the committee. We're going to go forward. But as significant as this is now, there's just no way we can allow the investigation to be deterred from the much more important issues at stake.

MANU RAJU, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Mr. Chairman, when you met with Mr. Nunes today, did he reveal anything about either the source of the information, whether the white house had any involvement of getting him onto the white house grounds or the two names revealed by "The New York Times" today, Ezra Cohen-Watnick or Michael Ellis being involved?

SCHIFF: You know, we didn't get into any level of detail on that issue. Our focus during our conversation was how do we go forward in terms of the witnesses that we want to testify, how do we go forward in terms of the hearings that we had scheduled that were canceled and getting the hearings back on track. That was really the length and the breadth of our discussion. As I mentioned earlier, it's not an easy conversation at the moment but, you know, this work has to go on and, you know, I'm prepared to work with whoever I need to make sure that we get to the bottom line here.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I want to clarify one thing.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is there any headway in resolving the impasse over bringing FBI Director Comey back. It's my understanding that you're withholding your signature from a letter that Comey drafted. Is there any progress in resolving this impasse?

SCHIFF: You know, I wouldn't say we're withholding anything. We signed the letter that the chairman wanted. We've invited directors Comey and Rogers to come back and we've invited Sally Yates, directors clapper and Brennan to come back. The chairman has yet to sign that letter. I hope he will. That would be in the interests of the public. The white house has made clear they want sally yates to testify. We want sally yates to testify. I think she's fully prepared to testify. So, the only obstacle at this point is the signature of the chairman and we hope that we get that.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I want to make sure I understand this correctly. You wrote a letter first or they wrote a letter from the white house counsel?

SCHIFF: The white house counsel wrote a letter to us. We received that effectively simultaneously with him during the press conference and it invited the chair and i, in response to questions that I had raised, to review these materials. But again, we've accepted. I'll go read them. I look forward to it. It is ultimately going to be necessary, if the white house really wants us to answer the questions they've raised, for the full committee to look at this, not just the ranking and chair. And we'll need the support of the agencies because they will be the information about how the materials were gathered and what procedures they followed.

[15:50:00] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When will you do this and would you do this in the same format as the chairman did and what setting that the white house [saw these, would you do that in the same format or is that unknown?

SCHIFF: Well, again, I have no idea what format the chairman viewed them or even what materials the chair has viewed. One of the questions I asked the white house and my responsive letter is, are these the same materials? And, of course, if these are the same materials or any subset of them are the same materials, why weren't they presented in a more transparent way to the committee? That's the diplomatic way of putting it. So, a lot of unanswered questions. I think the letter that I got from white house counsel certainly raises far more questions than any answers. And among the most significant questions at the moment is, are these the same white house staff that reportedly discovered them in the ordinary course of business and if they are, they just walk down the hall or across the plaza and they can present it to the white house staff or the President himself at any time. In the ordinary course of business and if they are, they just walk down the hall or across the plaza and they can present it to the white house staff or the President himself at any time. So why all of the cloak house cooperation.


SCHIFF: I'm ready to go any time.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: On the weekend, Friday?

SCHIFF: I'm happy to go tomorrow. If they're ready tomorrow, I'm ready to go tomorrow.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you think over the course of his statements on the matter the chairman has revealed any classified information? And do you think that the house ethics committee should be investigating that matter?

SCHIFF: You know, I don't know the answer on the classification issue. I don't want any involvement in any ethics questions. You know, I have a -- an investigation to try to run as the minority ranking member, and I'm keeping my focus on that. So, that's not an issue I want to get into.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What came from your conversation with Devin Nunes? What is the way forward? How do you see it?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, we certainly had a hiatus from the hearings this week, but at the same time the work didn't stop. We were in the process, and still are, of reviewing, you know, the voluminous materials as well as developing our witness list. We have finalized an initial witness list. Now, the way these investigations work, you start out with a set of witnesses that you want to interview first. That leads you to more information, to further witnesses. This is not the last or the final or comprehensive witness list, but we did discuss about whether we could come to agreement on the witnesses we both want to bring in. I think that we made a lot of progress on that score, and at the same time we had a long discussion about the hearing that was cancelled and how to get that hearing scheduled once again. It is my hope that the chairman will reschedule the hearing that he postponed. According to the chair, the only holdup was he wanted to have this closed hearing first. So, we'll have the closed hearing first. That will remove I think any obstacle to going forward with the hearing we had already committed to doing.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is that going to happen next week eventually?

SCHIFF: I don't know when it will happen.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Were there any concerns -- I know you talked about sally yates and Republicans potentially not wanting her to testify. Are you aware of any other concerns from, say for example, the CIA as relates to John Brennan or other witnesses that the administration has expressed concerns about testifying in an open hearing? SCHIFF: I'm not aware of any of that. Directors have testified

frequently in open session, and I think senator king said in a quite articulately way today how important it is that this investigation be done not just in private but also in public, because I think he is quite right to point out if we do this entire investigation in private, and ultimately, we reach a conclusion even if we're able to agree on that conclusion, it is not going to have the public's confidence. If they're not part of this investigation, if they're not read into as much as they can be read into, they're not going to have much confidence. It is going to look like some back-room deal. So, we really need to be sure that as much of this that we can do publicly, we should. Obviously, a lot of it we can't do publicly of necessity but no reason Sally Yates can't testify in public.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Speaker Ryan said Nunes said his source was a whistleblower type person. The two people described in "The New York Times" article --

SCHIFF: You know, it certainly doesn't sound as all like what I would consider a whistleblower. We have procedures for whistleblowers to come to the committee. When they come to the committee they are protected.

[15:55:00] They provide whatever materials or information they have, and they're protected. That procedure wasn't followed here. And if we're talking about not people from the agencies -- again, I don't know where "The Times" has it right or wrong, but if we are talking about national security council staff, they can go to white house counsel. There are already mechanisms and places they can go to share this information. And if the object here was to give it to somebody to give to the President, that makes it all the more bewildering why it wasn't taken directly to the President, particularly, you know, if one of those individuals is the director of intelligence at the national security council. They have frequent access to the President. They don't need our chairman to deliver something to the President that they can deliver themselves. Obviously -- so to me this looks like -- nothing like a whistleblower case. And, again, I think the white house needs to answer, is this instead a case where they wish to effectively launder information through our committee to avoid the true source of the information. That question the white house really needs to answer.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: After you met with Nunes, you said by the end of the day you hope to have a finalized witness list. Is that still the case? Do you have anything more to share on that?

SCHIFF: You know, I have to say we've been a bit overtaken by events during the day. We have our witness list, they have theirs. So, we have exchanged witness lists. My understanding is that there is a lot of common agreement and we may have something more to say by the end of the day, but, frankly, as in every day in this investigation you think it is going to be one kind of day and it turns out to be quite a different day. So, that is something we're still focused on and we'll try to resolve it, if not today then tomorrow.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The two individuals mentioned in "The New York Times" story, do you want to speak to those people?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, I certainly think we need to get to the bottom of whether this was some stratagem by the white house. Obviously, that would be deeply concerning to us, and if it is necessary for us to interview these two individuals then we should do so. But I have to say I'm more than perplexed by how these materials have been put forward and the motivations behind it. I do think that the white house has a lot of questions to answer. So, we're going to do our best to find out.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why do you think the invitation was extended to you today in the manner that it was, you know, right after "The New York Times" story came out?

SCHIFF: You know, the timing certainly looks fortuitous, and probably more than fortuitous. But per the letter it said that the ranking member had been asking to review these materials, which of course I have. That suggests, of course, that these are the same materials that the chairman has reviewed. And if that's the case, it begs the question why all of the subterfuge if that's all it was. Maybe there's an innocent explanation here. I don't understand it, but I hope that they'll have an explanation for just why they've used this path to provide materials to the -- to the committee.

RAJU: So, you're suggesting it but you're not saying it. Do you personally believe the white house has been working with chairman Nunes to undermine and undercut this investigation?

SCHIFF: You know, the only thing I'll say is, again, you know, trying to keep the focus on, you know, what's the best route to doing a credible investigation, if there's been a substantial question about whether we can do that, then we need to take whatever steps are necessary to restore credibility to the investigation. And I don't want to speak for the chairman. I think you can and have asked him these questions. I do want to try to keep my focus on, OK, what is the path forward here. And to do my best to cordon off any distraction, keep our eyesight on what is truly at stake here. And, again, you know, I think this is, I'm sure, quite mystifying to the country. People need to appreciate the context. The context is we had a foreign power intervene in our election.

This is not about whether that was decisive or not, it doesn't matter. They intervened in a very significant way. Our intelligence community has concluded -- not Democrats and not Republicans but the entire intelligence community -- the Russians will do this again and, indeed, are doing it right now in Europe. We need to understand what they've done here. We need to understand if they had help of U.S. persons here. That is the mission. The rest may be important, but that is the mission. I'm going to do my best to keep my focus on that mission. When we run into obstacles -- and we ran into a huge obstacle this week with all of this -- I want to be candid about whether I think it poses a problem in terms of the credibility of our investigation, and it has. But at the same time, I want to keep as laser-like a focus as I can on making sure we get the investigation done.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What effect do you think that could have on the chairman's indications?

SCHIFF: I don't know whether -- I don't know anything about the materials yet. So, I'm not in a position to say whether these were intercepts between foreign parties, I just don't know. I don't even know if these are intercepts. So, I am in enviable or unenviable position of not knowing what these materials are.