Return to Transcripts main page


Explosive Information on Intel Reports. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 30, 2017 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: How about just the ethics of this, Larry, though?

"The New York Times" is reporting this senior director for intel at the National Security Council and this lawyer who works on national security issues, if these two were at all involved, this is a massive -- am I correct in saying this is a massive no-no, this is a violation?

LARRY NOBLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It very well may be. And that's a process question.


BALDWIN: May very well be?


We don't know specifically what happened, but if what they did was use that for political information and what they did was give it to Chairman Nunes for political reasons, then, yes, I think they have a very serious problem on their hands.


BALDWIN: Go ahead, Gloria.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I was just going to add, you then have to ask the question, why, if they had this information that they think is incredibly relevant to the House investigation, would they not invite Adam Schiff, along with Devin Nunes, and say...


BALDWIN: That's my question. Why pick up the phone and say, aha, let's get Chairman Nunes on the grounds of the White House ASAP?

NOBLE: And, beyond that, why wouldn't Chairman Nunes then turn immediately to Adam Schiff, if he was given this information to say?

Why wouldn't he say, I can't hold this information. So it goes -- raises ethics -- it goes to ethics issues involving Chairman Nunes. Why didn't he see his first responsibility as his responsibility to the committee, to Congress? They don't answer to the president. They have an independent investigation going on. There are a lot of ethical questions here.


DAVID CATANESE, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": And one answer to that might be, if you ask Devin Nunes why he doesn't want to share the information is because they ask who the sources is, and if this "New York Times" report is true, the sources are the White House.

And then Adam Schiff looks at that and may not that that is credible. You have this circle problem here that really comes back to I think the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and his own committee. That's why I think the real answers, if we can get accepted answers to this, it's going to have to come from the Senate, because the House process has become so politicized.


BALDWIN: They were the grownups, as we all saw yesterday.

I want to continue this conversation. But let me just play a little bit more sound from the briefing with Sean Spicer.


QUESTION: I'm wondering if the White House thinks it's appropriate for national security officials to be conducting what's basically a political task, which is trying to find information that then validates something the president said?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yes. So I have read the report, and respectfully I think your question assumes that the reporting is correct.

QUESTION: It does.

SPICER: And so I would just suggest to you that the letter that was submitted earlier to the ranking -- the chairman and the ranking members of the two committees, two Intelligence Committees on the Hill, the reason that the White House has asked them to come up is to view that information.

And, again, I don't want to get in front of that. As I have said before, I don't -- we are not as obsessed with the process as much as the substance. And I think that our goal is to make sure that the ranking members of both committees, as well as the chairman, see the information, that the materials that are important to this, and then worry about the outcome at the end of it.

QUESTION: Are you saying that "The New York Times"' reporting today is not correct?

SPICER: I'm saying that in order to comment on that story would be to validate certain things that I am not at liberty to do.

QUESTION: For days, you haven't been able to tell us who he met with.

SPICER: And I understand that.

And, again, and I think that there's an assumption, as I have said before, we cannot condone -- in the same way that you protect sources when I call you and say you have got 18 anonymous sources and you go, well, I can't reveal my sources, Chairman Nunes in conducting an investigation and a review has an opportunity to have his sources.


BALDWIN: We are just over the top of the hour. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We got Jim Acosta there standing by at the White House.

Jim, let's just -- for people just tuning in, a sort of bombshell report coming out "The New York Times" which is what took up the bulk of that White House briefing with Sean Spicer. I want you to set up it for me, "The New York Times"' reporting and these two officials who apparently gave this information to Chairman Nunes and then just how huge this report is.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And we should say reportedly that "The New York Times" is saying that these two White House officials were helpful to Devin Nunes when the House Intelligence Committee chairman made that mysterious visit over to the White House last week.

During the briefing, as you just went over, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer didn't confirm that. He just really danced around the question and did not confirm whether or not these two White House officials mentioned in "The New York Times" were in fact Devin Nunes' sources for all of this.

But what he did say is that the White House has sent over a letter to both Intelligence Committees, in both the House and in the Senate, inviting them to come and look at information that the White House believes is very helpful.

And I should point out I just talked to a source with one of the Intelligence Committees up over in the House, the House Intelligence Committee, that they have received that letter.


At this point, they are not elaborating as to what's in the letter. But they have received it. And so this is certainly a work in progress on a day where there's a lot of turmoil over here at the White House.

There was a staff shakeup that was announced earlier today where it was announced that the deputy chief of staff, Katie Walsh, is leaving the White House for an outside group that will be helping promote the president's agenda.

But no question about it, that news was overshadowed in a major fashion by this report in "The New York Times" that the White House is just not really acknowledging at this point, Brooke.

BALDWIN: So, just quickly, though, to follow up, Jim, this is the obvious question. But if they had -- if the White House had this information and they were concerned about this information, and instead of potentially calling just Mr. Nunes and knowing that both the House and -- Intel Senate and House committees would be heading over there, why not make that phone call and say, hey, get over to the White House, all of you, a week ago?

ACOSTA: Exactly.

And, remember, it was last week that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked the question whether White House officials were the ones who provided this information to Chairman Nunes. And Sean Spicer said from the podium and the Briefing Room that that did not pass the smell test, that he did not believe that that was correct.

Now, he was asked -- I asked him yesterday, do you know who the source of information for Devin Nunes is? He said no yesterday. And April Ryan, our friend April Ryan, asked that question again today in the briefing.

BALDWIN: I know.

ACOSTA: So, Sean Spicer is saying he does -- that's right, did not know. So he is saying that he does not know who this source is or who these sources are.

"The New York Times" is reporting that they know who these sources are. And as we saw during that briefing today, Sean Spicer was sort of dancing around that and really did just not confirm or deny whether it was true, simply saying that this letter has been sent off to the Intelligence Committees and that those members are free to come over here and take a look at the information that the White House believes is helpful and that they believe it backs the president's claim that there was some surveillance going on during the 2016 campaign that wasn't appropriate.

BALDWIN: Jim Acosta, thank you so much.

Let me just set up some sound. I want to play this interview between Wolf Blitzer and Chairman Nunes. This is back on Monday. You know what's happened since. The ranking member, Adam Schiff, is asking for Chairman Nunes to recuse himself, essentially saying, based on what he thinks, that Chairman Nunes is acting more as a surrogate to the Trump administration and not as what he should be on this committee, this impartial investigator looking into Russia.

So, here is Wolf and Chairman Nunes from Monday.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Who cleared you for admission?

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, I'm not going to get into how that process works, but the White House has a process for... (CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: But was it a White House staffer?

NUNES: Look, Wolf, I'm not going to get into sources and methods and how we review documents, especially classified information.

This happens all over the executive branch, and it's quite common.

BLITZER: Because, eventually, these records -- you know how it works -- they're going to come out anyhow, right?


And, look, as I said, this is nothing new. And we're -- it has nothing to do with the Russia investigation.

BLITZER: So, why not disclose it now, if it's going to be released in the near-term?

NUNES: Because, look, this is not something -- sources and methods are kept very confidential.

We invite whistle-blowers to come forward. In fact, we have had many people come forward to the committee in recent weeks, because there's been so much attention on this. And we want to continue to encourage that.

BLITZER: By holding the meeting on the White House grounds, it makes it appear that someone in the administration was coordinating the release of this information to you. Is that not the case?

NUNES: No, it's not the case. Like I said, this is something I had been working for a long time. And I had to find a way for me to have access to the information, because we couldn't get the information down to the committee.

And this was -- you know, this was a way I could facilitate me getting that information.


BALDWIN: That was Monday. We're all seeking the truth here in this story, because the endgame is this impartial investigation into potential ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Let me bring my panel back.

I have got one more voice sitting next to me here in New York, Emily Jane Fox, CNN contributor and writer for "Vanity Fair."

So, Emily, let me just kick off with you here, what -- you have been listening to this whole conversation. You heard the briefing. You had a couple of takeaways?

EMILY JANE FOX, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. I think it's interesting that you heard Sean Spicer definitively say that he did not know that these were people in the White House speaking to Congressman Nunes.

BALDWIN: These sources.

FOX: These sources.

I think what is interesting is that we have heard Sean Spicer say that time and time again, and he's been wrong. He said that in, I believe, his first official briefing in the White House Briefing Room. Someone asked if anyone besides General Flynn had spoken to anyone with the Russian official, Russian ambassador, and he categorically said no.

And then a few weeks later, it came out that actually the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, had met with Jared Kushner. Now, a source in the White House told me at the time that Spicer just simply didn't know that that meeting happened, that there are so many people in the White House doing so many defense things that it doesn't get communicated to Spicer every time.


And so I think this could be a situation people within the White House don't know what is going on within those walls.

BALDWIN: So, when Sean Spicer is asked continually do you know who these sources are, and continually he says no, you're saying?

FOX: Who knows if he knows the full truth?

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes. Yes.

Gloria, let me just hear from you again just on all of this and, again, why over and over Sean Spicer is saying you're obsessed with sources. You don't give up your sources, talking to journalists, so we're not going to give up our sources. But it's about the substance, it's not about the process. But it's entirely about the process.

BORGER: It is about the process. And let's just take a step back.

Remember March 15, which seems like 10 years ago. The president did an interview with Tucker Carlson. And in that interview with Tucker Carlson, he was asked about his charge that he had been wiretapped. And at that point, he said, well, wiretap covers a lot of different things.

But then he went on to also say this. "I think you're going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks."

So it seems to me that on March 15, the president knew something. The story that Devin Nunes told us is that he thought he was going to the president and telling him for the first time about this information that he had revealed through these anonymous sources, which "The New York Times" tells us are actually people on the White House grounds.

So I think we have to sort of step back, do our reporting and start connecting the dots here and start asking the question, which is very valid, who orchestrated this? Was this in fact orchestrated and was Devin Nunes used, in a way, by people at the White House to prove the president's point?

And did the president know, in fact, as he stated on March 15, that something would be coming down the pike? It sure sounds to me like he did.

BALDWIN: After all this happened with Chairman Nunes, then we heard from President Trump saying that he did feel somewhat vindicated.

BORGER: Vindicated.

BALDWIN: We're going to continue this conversation.

But let me just -- let me pivot quickly, David Catanese, to you on health care. President Trump, we saw the tweet, threatening war essentially on members of his own party, the House Freedom Caucus, this group of very far-right Republicans, essentially, if they continue to put up this fight over health care.

Sean Spicer was asked about this tweet. This was his response.


QUESTION: He seemed to be picking a fight with the Freedom Caucus. The Freedom Caucus, as you know, has 30 members. Does the president realize how important this caucus is, this coalition in terms of passing a replacement bill for the Affordable Care Act and passing the rest of his legislative agenda?

SPICER: Well, of course he understands that the goal of all legislation is to get a majority in the House, majority in the Senate.

But at the end of the day, he recognizes that he has a bold and robust agenda that he's trying to enact, that he ran on and told the American people that he would do when he was president, and he's going to get the votes from wherever he can.

QUESTION: Can he pass that agenda without the help of the Freedom Caucus?

SPICER: Well, there's two questions. One is, mathematically, yes. But, secondly, I think that there's a few members of the Freedom Caucus, both prior to last Friday's vote and since then, who have expressed a willingness to want to work with him, rather than necessarily as a bloc.

And I think that there continues to be some promising signs in that -- with that.

So, again, I think part of it is, is I think that if people are more concerned with voting as a bloc, than what's in the best interests of their constituents and for the American people, he's hoping that people will see the bigger picture, the goals that we outlined and sometimes not let the really good be the enemy of the perfect. QUESTION: He seems to imply in that tweet that he would be in favor

of primarying some individuals in the Freedom Caucus who oppose his agenda. Is that correct? Did I read that correctly?

SPICER: I'm going to say I'm going to let the tweet speak for itself.


BALDWIN: David, we heard the Mark Meadows and the Dave Brats of the world today, not really getting into this, saying no comment, they don't want to get into the drama business, was the Dave Brat comment.

But if you're a member of the House Freedom Caucus and you know the president apparently wants to go to war with you, and you have got mega things like tax reform and infrastructure coming up, what are you thinking?

CATANESE: Mark Sanford of South Carolina, a member of the Freedom Caucus, did come out and said, this isn't helpful. I have been a governor. I have got to negotiate with legislators. This isn't helpful to come out and antagonize us.

You almost got to feel for Sean Spicer that he should come out with a sign every day that says, the president's tweet speak for himself, because he's always answering for tweets. And he can't really answer.


We know the president watches cable news. He probably saw something this morning that he didn't like and he decided to react. This is how he operates.

Then he also threw the Democrats in there. We're going to come after the Democrats, too.

But, you know, now he's already suffered a loss on health care. Now they are trying to transition to tax reform, maybe infrastructure. And the appeal is maybe we're going to go to Democrats?

What Democrat anywhere is going to work with him? The Democrats are feeling emboldened now. They do not feel like the president is a threat. He's at 35 percent approval. His party is divided. He's got this Russian investigation that has consumed his agenda. This is all we're talking about, instead of his agenda.

What Democrat is going to come to the aid of President Trump and give him a legislative victory? I just don't know who that Democrat is right now.

BALDWIN: And, by the way, the deadline, April 28, on potential government shutdown, that old thing. You can add that to the list as well.


BALDWIN: The one thing, though, that didn't come up, Emily, in this entire briefing which I think, had the "New York Times" piece not broken, this would have taken all the time, Ivanka Trump. Surprise. She's now official. She's got this title. She won't be paid, but working out of the West Wing.

You have been reporting on her for a long time.

FOX: Well, I think what is amazing about the Trump administration is that they stomp on all their own good news and they stomp on all their maybe questionably good news.

And the fact that Ivanka Trump didn't even come up today just really speaks to that. Ivanka is going to continue doing what she has been doing since the president took office.

BALDWIN: What has she been doing?

FOX: She has been sitting in on meetings. We saw her at a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. We saw her next to Justin Trudeau in a meeting about women and entrepreneurship.

That's what she's going to continue to do. She wants to push a very specific agenda set related to working women, related to female entrepreneurship, related to families. And so far, she's handled that issue OK for what she wants to be doing.

Does she need to have an official White House role to be kind of an adviser to her father? Absolutely not. The reason why she took the job is because she was facing criticism about whether or not she would continue to voluntarily comply with standards of all White House employees.

If she was going to be sitting in such high-profile meetings, ethics experts were saying she needs to comply with all the standards to make sure that she is divested from businesses that she could have...


BALDWIN: Sure, but then you have the nepotism rule, people screaming about that, and then the Jason Millers of the world, who used to be with the Trump campaign, saying, hang on, this skirts around that simply because she's not being paid.

FOX: It doesn't skirt around any of the issues. And that the White House thinks that her being an official employee gets rid of those issues is a little bit misguided.

BALDWIN: To be continued.

Emily, thank you so much. Thanks all of you for being with me.

Let's move on, because we have more breaking news here, talking about these Intelligence Committee Committees. We know as the Senate Intelligence Committee holds its first briefing on Russia's meddling in the presidential election, we're also now hearing another presidential candidate was a victim of attempted interference by Russian trolls. Yes, that happened. Details ahead. This is CNN's special live coverage. I'm Brooke Baldwin.



BALDWIN: Welcome back to the breaking news here on CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Here's the deal, the White House not confirming, not denying this explosive report out of "The New York Times" that suggests that the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, did indeed get help from White House officials to see information relating to President Trump's claims that he was under surveillance.

Devin Nunes, you know the story, has been raising eyebrows for this secret rendezvous over at the White House in which he says when he was there that he saw information that suggests that the president's communications may have been intercepted.

He took that information to the press. He then took that information to the president before alerting members of his own committee. Now, so far, no evidence. And Chairman Nunes will not reveal his sources. He's under fire for compromising the integrity of his committee's investigation.

In fact, the ranking member is calling on himself to recuse himself. But you fast forward to now and this report out of "The New York Times" is reporting that it's two White House officials, including someone from the National Security Council who was brought in initially to the White House by the now fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

With me now, Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union and former political director for George W. Bush.

Welcome back, sir.


BALDWIN: And Ambassador Norm Eisen, a CNN contributor and former White House ethics czar during the Obama administration.

Mr. Ambassador, a pleasure to have you on. And nice to meet you.


BALDWIN: Let's begin, Matt Schlapp, with you.

And before we get into the nitty-gritty, why not -- on behalf of the White House, why aren't they just more forthcoming on information on this issue?

SCHLAPP: You know, I don't know all the facts here. I think this is one of the frustrations for the American people, Brooke, is that there's a lot that is being said.

There's a lot -- who seems to have the most information in all of this are many of these reporters for "The New York Times" and "Washington Post."


BALDWIN: But, I'm sorry, Matt.

But this happened at the White House. And according to "The Times" -- and, again, this is a report, but if it's two White House officials, including someone, a senior director on the National Security Council, how would the White House not know and not have the information to at least pass along some of it to the public?


Look, all I can tell you is, I worked in a White House for four years and a lot of people come in and out, including a lot of members of Congress. And that's part of the process.

I don't think we should assume that there's anything inappropriate with those meetings. But all of this information in the end is going to come out in these investigations. And if anybody did something untoward or inappropriate, we're going to find out.

I think the bigger question is -- for Chairman Nunes is clearly the person or people he talked to, they demanded to have as much confidentiality as they can in order to pass over the information. It's often called a whistle-blower who does that.

And I don't know if that's the case in this situation, but it has all of the appearances of that.

BALDWIN: Mr. Ambassador, to you, as an ethics czar, let's take Matt and say -- let's say there was nothing maybe nefarious or maybe with regard to what happened.


I think the issue, though, is, Sean Spicer keeps coming back to this point that you all are obsessed with the process, and it's not about the process. You don't give up your sources, so we're not giving up our sources. This is about the substance.

But the process matters, doesn't it, sir?

EISEN: It does, Brooke.

Matt worked in the George W. Bush White House. He never would have countenanced this. Our country was attacked in an act of gray war by Russia through their cyber-attack.

The Congress is doing oversight, asking the question whether there were people around Mr. Trump or the question whether Trump himself knew anything about it. That oversight is a holy duty under the American Constitution. You have got to remain at arm's length.

If "The New York Times"' report story is true, these are not whistle- blowers in the White House. These are aiders and abetters in a cover- up. They are working actively with Mr. Nunes to do the opposite of oversight, to obscure what's going on.

The process matters. If we don't have faith in the process, then we don't have faith in the outcomes. This is too important for Mr. Nunes' monkey business.

And I think he's violated the rules here. In fact, my watchdog organization, CREW, has filed a complaint against him with the Office of Congressional Ethics.



BALDWIN: Aiders and abetters in a cover-up, Matt, you have got to respond that.

SCHLAPP: Yes, I always got to love CREW. You guys are pretty quick at going after Republicans. It's OK to be partisan. That's all right.


EISEN: Not true, Matt. Not true. My coach here is a Republican, George Bush.


SCHLAPP: Yes. Nice try.

EISEN: He is George Bush -- W. Bush's ethics czar.


EISEN: It's bipartisan.

SCHLAPP: It's one of the most partisan organizations in Washington.

Look, I think it's fine to be partisan. Everyone has a right to have their politics. Let's go back to the underlying issue.


BALDWIN: Let's go back to my question. His allegation -- hang on, hang on, hang on.

His allegation, if in fact if this -- if the report is true -- and we don't know -- but this is pinning it on "The New York Times" -- he says aiders and abetters of a cover-up.

I want you to respond to that. SCHLAPP: There is no cover-up here, because what's happening is,

we're having a bipartisan investigation in both the House and the Senate and the FBI is also looking at these very serious matters.

I do agree that the idea that Russia tried to affect our election outcomes is incredibly sobering and serious. I want to have the answers.


BALDWIN: If you listen to Chairman Nunes and also, according to "The New York Times" piece and what the actual report was corroborates what he said, which didn't have to do with Russia. He went off talking about masking and not...


SCHLAPP: Well, Brooke, I'm trying to follow where you're going here. OK?

I'm talking about the investigations and the fact that the seriousness of the investigations. If you want to talk about this particular interaction with Chairman Nunes, my only point is, is, which is that information, as it relates to the inappropriate surveillance of political opponents, will also be made public.

These are very serious charges. If they are unfounded charges, the people making those charges will have to account for them. But I will just tell you, I'm a Trump supporter. I'm a partisan Republican. I am troubled by all kinds of questions here.

I want to have the answers. I think the American people want to have the answers. And we're going to get them.

BALDWIN: Let me play some sound. This is when President Trump sat down with Tucker Carlson at FOX News just a couple weeks ago talking about this.


TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS: You're the president. You have the ability to gather all the evidence you want.


But I think that, frankly, we have a lot right now. And I think, if you watch -- if you watched the Bret Baier and what he was saying and what he was talking about, and how he mentioned the word wiretap, you would feel very confident that you could mention the name. He mentioned it.

And other people have mentioned it. But if you take a look at some of the things written about wiretapping and eavesdropping -- and, don't forget, when I say wiretap, those words were in quotes.

That really covers, because wiretapping is pretty old-fashioned stuff. But that really covers surveillance and many other things. And nobody ever talks about the fact that it was in quotes, but that's a very important thing.

But wiretap covers a lot of different things. I think you're going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.


BALDWIN: "I think you're going to find some interesting things coming to the forefront."

Mr. Ambassador, did he know what was coming, do you think?

EISEN: Well, it certainly looks like it, Brooke.

And there have been other indications, comments by other individuals forecasting this. And it looks to me like a desperate effort to backfill, to find some justification for those outrageous and dishonest and false tweets by Mr. Trump.

But it's very important for us not to get away from the core questions here. And I believe that the White House itself --