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Senate Intel Committee Begins Russia Probe Today; Ivanka Trump's White House Job Raises Ethical Questions. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired March 30, 2017 - 06:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The House is in a situation where the issue has become overly politicized. We're going to have to rely on the Senate.

[05:58:42] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're here to assure the American people we will get to the bottom of this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a chairman more loyal to the White House than the investigation.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: How he conducts himself, when and where he shares things are issues for him. That's it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president's daughter, Ivanka Trump, will be serving as assistant to the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is an epic crisis at the White House, and it starts at the top with the president.

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: Judge Gorsuch will be confirmed to the Supreme Court.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he isn't qualified, nobody is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This seat, for the first time in U.S. history, was stolen from one president and delivered to the next.

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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome the viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Thursday, March 30, 6 a.m. here in New York. Chris is off this morning, and John Berman joins me.

Great to have you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's all happening right here.

CAMEROTA: It is. Let's get right to it.

In just hours, the Senate Intel Committee begins its probe of the alleged Russian interference in the U.S. election and possible ties to the Trump campaign. The hearing is in sharp contrast to the House investigation, which is stalled.

BERMAN: This as the FBI director breaks his silence about the politically-charged investigations; and first daughter Ivanka Trump's new position in the White House raises new ethical questions. Got a lot happening on day 70 of the Trump presidency, so let's begin our coverage with CNN's Sara Murray, live at the White House.

Good morning, Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

Well, this White House may be sick of talking about Russia, but the Senate Intelligence Committee is making clear they are just getting started. And they have a long list of people they want to talk to, to try to get to the bottom of Russia's meddling in the 2016 campaign.

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SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: We, together, with the members of the committee will get to the bottom of it.

MURRAY (voice-over): The Senate Intelligence Committee holding its first public hearing on Russia today as political infighting jeopardizes the House probe.

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: This investigation's scope will go wherever the intelligence leads.

MURRAY: The leaders of the Senate panel saying they plan to interview 20 witnesses about Russia's attempts to influence the U.S. election and potential ties between Moscow and Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

Among the possible witnesses, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner, CNN learning that Kushner is expected to testify that his meetings with the Russian banker and the Russian ambassador were an effort to engage the Russians and establish a point person for the administration.

Senate intelligence chairman Richard Burr refusing to rule out the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians.

BURR: We would be crazy to try to draw conclusions from where we are in the investigation.

MURRAY: The bipartisan show of unity in the Senate a stark contrast to the chaos on the other side of the Capitol. House Intel Chair Devin Nunes continuing to fend off charges of collusion with the White House and refusing to answer questions about the probe.

MANU RAJU, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What's been the hold up about the specific information that you saw on the White House grounds?

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Look, it's just trying to get all the agencies, you know, to get the information to us in a timely manner.

MURRAY: The White House also deflecting.

SPICER: There seems to be this fascination with the process. It's how did he get here? What door did he enter, as opposed to what's the substance of what we're finding?

MURRAY: The ranking Democrat on the House committee expected to meet with Nunes today.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: I don't know how to conduct a credible investigation if you have let alone one person, but the chairman of the committee who's saying I've seen evidence, but I won't share it with anyone else.

MURRAY: This after Schiff refused to sign on to a closed-door hearing with FBI Director James Comey unless Nunes also agrees to reschedule the public hearing he canceled this week. Comey defending the FBI's impartiality at an event last night.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: We're not on anybody's side ever. We're not considering whose ox will be gored by this action or that action, whose fortunes will be helped by this or that. We just don't care, and we can't care.

MURRAY: All this as President Trump's daughter Ivanka officially enters the fray, joining the White House as an unpaid adviser amid public ethics concerns.

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MURRAY: And that Senate intel hearing is expected to kickoff around 10 a.m. today. We're expecting them to focus on how Russia effectively weaponized fake news and used it during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Back to you guys.

CAMEROTA: OK, Sara. Thanks so much for all that reporting.

Let's bring in our panel to discuss. We have CNN political analyst and national political reporter for "The New York Times," Alex Burns. We have White House reporter for Bloomberg News, Shannon Pettypiece and CNN senior political analyst and senior editor at "The Atlantic," Ron Brownstein. Great to have all of you.

Ron, let me start with you and let me pull up for our viewers the things that we know. The Senate Intel Committee will be doing differently, at least in the House, among other things. We're going to have seven staff members dedicated to investigating this. They say they have an unprecedented amount of documents provided that they'll be sifting through. Twenty requests for interviews. Five already scheduled, including Michael Flynn and the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. They hope to conclude before 2018.

And yet, Ron, you say that this investigation will still take them out of their comfort zone. What does that mean?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: Right. I mean, the Intelligence Committees, first of all, have been something of an island of bipartisanship in an increasingly partisan Congress.

In the House, you're seeing the waters rise to the point where that kind of the dysfunction that have divided other committees over the years, have now engulfed the House Intelligence Committee, as well. The Senate is proceeding on a -- on a better course. It is not used to being a big public klieg-like kind of committee. It is one that is used to operating more behind closed doors, quietly dealing with very sensitive information.

And this, in one sense, is taking on a much more public role than is traditional for the committee. And the other thing that is worth noting, is that I think even Democrats on the committee acknowledge this is a committee whose -- whose expertise is right there in the name. Intelligence. They are going to -- they're very comfortable looking into what Russia did, and the questions of contact and collusion and, in effect, the counterintelligence questions. Financial issues with the Trump orbit and people from Russia, that is much less in their expertise, as well.

And I think Democrats on committee will tell you that to get a full picture of all the dimensions of this potential question is also somewhat beyond their traditional comfort zone.

BERMAN: You know, to me there were a couple of important things with that news conference they held yesterday. No. 1 were the facts and what they're going to do, and we saw what they're going to apply there. Then there was the subtext. It seemed to me they were saying, "Shame, shame, shame on you over in the House of Representatives." They're trying to paint a very different picture to how they're going to go about doing it, Alex Burns.

And one thing they sort of made clear is they're willing to use the subpoena. And that's not insignificant.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, that's a really, really big deal. And this is, you know, I've spoken to some Democrats who are close to Mark Warner, the Democratic, you know, vice chairman on that committee.

For the last few months, he's been really, really focused on moving the investigation forward. But on maintaining his personal working relationship with Richard Burr. Because those subpoenas don't happen unless you have Republican cooperation. And what you've seen on the House side is all this attention on Devin Nunes, but on both sides in the House, there's been this incredible and rapid just sort of partisan politicization of the Russia investigation.

Adam Schiff, I think, is using the tools he now has at his disposal to try to pressure his chairman to move in a certain direction. That that relationship is basically dead already. That's not what we've seen on the Senate side. The senators always like to play this game. You know, unlike our friends at the House, we are actually some -- you know, we're mature adults here, right? But in this case, it might actually be true. This is a -- these are two guys who are working together on, you know, the basis that I think most Americans want to see their elected officials working.

CAMEROTA: Shannon, you've been doing a lot of reporting. Over on the House side, is this stalled indefinitely? Is this going to ever find its way?

SHANNON PETTYPIECE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BLOOMBERG NEWS: It really seems like we are in an unprecedented situation in the House. You know, people on the Hill who worked with Nunes for years, long time, long serving members, they kind of feel like we're in uncharted waters. They don't really know what to expect for where we go from here. So at this point, I think it's anyone's guess.

BERMAN: You know, they are meeting today. The chairman, Devin Nunes, and Adam Schiff, the ranking member, are going to meet today. Maybe they'll set up some kind of private hearing for James Comey, the one that got canceled or maybe was never scheduled, depending on who you ask.

Ron Brownstein, one more thing that the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, said that struck me. He said, "This is the biggest investigation that's been on the Hill in my tenure here." And he's been here since 1994-95. A big investigation, no matter what it finds. Even if it finds nothing is problematic for an administration.

BROWNSTEIN: It is a -- it is, you know, kind of a barrel in the shark. Right? I mean, as they said in "Jaws," it is a big load to carry around with you. There's no question. I mean, you know, certainly in the Clinton years, the ongoing various investigations were a major distraction. They zap a lot of energy out of an administration.

And by the way, I think what we're seeing in the House is kind of, you know, a moment that crystalizes for the public. Basically, the House -- the way the House works or accurately doesn't work on most issues. I mean, the kind of division that has erupted in the Intelligence Committee.

How different is that from the way the health care bill unfolded in the House just a few weeks ago. There essentially was no effort by the Republican majority to ever negotiate our bring in Democrats until it failed. And maybe there will be some conversations now, but The House has become a more -- over my lifetime, a much more parliamentary institution, where you have a governing party and an opposition party. And they don't really try to negotiate.

The Senate does have a different tradition, largely because of the filibuster that almost always requires a majority to at least talk to the minority and gives them some veto. I think it's that tradition that is holding on better in the Senate Intelligence Committee than anything we've seen in the House.

CAMEROTA: Alex, last night, James Comey, director of the FBI, was at this dinner. International -- I'm sorry, intel and national security alliance leadership dinner. He spoke. And he gave a window into what many see as his sort of mystifying decision-making process. So listen to this.

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COMEY: This is a challenge I face when I testify in front of Congress. It is not a criticism of Congress. They see facts as to how it will affect my side. How does that argument affect my side. And when they encounter people, and I'm just one of 37,000 here like this at the FBI, who never considers sides. It's confusing. I know that when I make a hard decision, a storm is going to follow, but honestly, I don't care.

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BURNS: Apparently not.

There's certainly been no FBI director in my lifetime who's been so sort of overly politicized as James Comey. Partly because of the investigations he has had to handle. There's also not been in my lifetime multiple presidential candidates, multiple presidential campaigns yielding FBI investigations in the middle of an election. Right?

You know, it is striking to see his critics on the Democratic side and, to a lesser extent, on the Republican side sort of shifting back and forth over the last year between, you know, shame on him for exonerating Hillary Clinton. Shame on him for doing the opposite of exonerating Hillary Clinton. Shame on him for speaking to Congress like this.

You know, if you're James Comey and you're the FBI director, you may not have a partisan political goal, but you do have a political goal, a governing goal in sort of maintaining your own power, maintaining your own credibility as a law man. And that's what we're seeing him try to do now to show people who, you know, are really skeptical of him towards the end of that campaign and after the campaign, the Democratic anger at James Comey is still just extraordinary.

[06:10:06] CAMEROTA: And what his motivations were. You're -- you do hear about him trying to become vindicated to saying, "I don't have any partisan motivations. I'm trying to talk about the facts."

BURNS: He sounds almost like a Supreme Court nominee, right? This idea that, "Well, I just call balls and strikes." And that may be true or it may not be true. Certainly, the monster he's got to maintain.

PETTYPIECE: Yes, I think sometimes in journalism, we say when everyone is complaining about your reporting and calling you biased, then you must be doing a good job. Because both sides are angry with you. I think maybe that's a little bit what he's going for here. But he does risk becoming too politically toxic where he just get tuned out, you know, or where he does get viewed as partisan. And that's such a dangerous place for the director of the FBI to be in. BERMAN: It's interesting. Seems to be trying to force the House

committee to get his act together. He essentially wouldn't agree to go talk to them until Adam Schiff and Devin Nunes got on the same page. We'll see what happens there.

Hold on one second. We're going to take a quick break. We've got a lot more to talk about. President Trump has a new assistant, his daughter, Ivanka. The new role raising some ethical questions of how she will resolve possible conflicts of interest. We're going to discuss that next.

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[06:15:10] Ivanka Trump taking an official job in the White House as an unpaid assistant to the president, which is actually a very lofty title. There are growing questions about whether the move violates federal anti-nepotism laws and how she might resolve possible conflicts of interest. We're going to discuss that. Back with us is our panel: Alex Burns, Shannon Pettypiece, Ron Brownstein.

Ron, first to you. I guess we can think about the nepotism, the fact that you probably would have been working in a Ted Cruz administration in a second. But I do think that this move, bringing Ivanka Trump into an official role in the White House, might signify where this White House thinks things are going politically right now.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. First of all, I agree with that. This is -- I think this is the first, not the last domino. You have a president who is has 35 percent approval in the Gallup, even if other polls are around 40. Either way, much, much lower than any new president at this point in their term.

And I think the fact that they are bringing in the first daughter, who clearly he relies on as someone, you know, whose judgment he trusts is, I think, a sign of changes coming. And can I just button up one point from Alex? You don't need a partisan motivation to play a proper political role. And I think that's important to understand with what happened last -- last fall with James Comey.

It doesn't matter if the goal was to help Donald Trump by releasing that letter. Even, I think, many people in Washington suspect the goal was to insulate the FBI from potential critics, maybe fearing leaks from more conservative agents inside the bureau that they were allegedly covering up material.

But even if the goal was to kind of protect the FBI's reputation, there is a reason there are those Justice Department guidelines. And the fact that he chose to act beyond those, you know, that's the question. Not whether the motivation was partisan in the sense of helping one side or another.

CAMEROTA: Yes.

BROWNSTEIN: Certainly, J. Edgar Hoover made a lot of choices in the FBI that made big political ramifications that went beyond the balls and strikes of law enforcement role. CAMEROTA: And I want to challenge Ron on the Ivanka point that he

made. It wasn't President Trump always trying to get Ivanka into the White House? Does this show, you know, an administration in trouble or trying to pivot or this is just the work that they tried from day one to figure out a way that wouldn't run into ethical minefields?

PETTYPIECE: I think it always seems to be the case. She was going to have an influential role in this administration. And I think to her credit coming out and saying, OK, let's just make it official and not just sort of behind the scenes. I mean, she was at the White House quite regularly. She was accompanying her -- her father on trips.

I mean, so at least coming out and being open about it, to her credit, that does help. But again, with everyone in this family, in this administration. Her husband Jared Kushner, the president, herself. It's just the conflicts are so rich. And they could be going further to separate themselves from their business ties. I know we haven't had a business president before. Unchartered territory. There is a lot further that they could go. There's further she could go. And they're just not going there.

BURNS: On your first point, on the evolution of what her role will be. You know, at first saying no, no, no. You know, Ivanka actually said to "60 Minutes," I'm not going to play a formal role. And everyone was like, really? Because it looks like you're kind of playing a formal role. Now they're only making official what everyone sort of knew.

Alex Burns, how hard will it be for her to separate her businesses and abide by the ethical standards that she says everyone else abides by?

BURNS: Well, I mean, judging by the performance that everyone else in the administration, probably difficult. Right? These are people who are not used to untangling themselves from their personal financial commitments and their just interests in the world of business and branding, right?

The Trump family is not just a matter of selling products. It's about selling the name. And it's hard to disentangle that name from what they're doing in government at this point. But look, the real test of Ivanka Trump is going to be how she functions as a government employee and whether she really functions as a government employee.

You had presidents in the past take advice from their family members. You're just not had in a very, very long time them elevate members of their immediate family to such a lofty role as this one. And we've had, over the last few months, you know, this pretty consistent set of stories where, you know, friends of Ivanka -- Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner will sort of put out word that they favor this administration policy. They don't favor this other administration policy that their friends in New York find distasteful.

And, you know, now that she is going to be in government, I think there's a degree of accountability that is going to come with that. Right? That is you're actually involved in shaping the policy, not in just this informal counselor way, you know, you do bear some responsibility for the results.

CAMEROTA: Ron, we have something hot off the presses about the future of health care. This is an interview that Speaker Paul Ryan has just given to CBS. But we are able to air the transcript before they are because they're not on the air yet. Here is what Paul Ryan has just said.

"What I worry about, Norah," the host, "is if we don't do this" -- meaning pass it -- "then he'll just go work with the Democrats" -- meaning the president -- "to try and change Obamacare. And that's hardly a conservative thing. This is a can-do president who's a businessman, who wants to get things done, and I know that he wants to get things done with the Republican Congress. But if this Republican Congress allows the perfect to be the enemy of the good, I worry we'll push the president into working with Democrats and suggesting that as much."

So I mean, right? You can't hear it spelled out any more plainly of what Paul Ryan wants.

BROWNSTEIN: Right. But also, you can't have the subtext become text and have it still work. Democrats have felt from the beginning all week that the reason -- many Democrats have felt the reason Donald Trump is talking about -- President Trump is talking about working with Democrats is really to pressure the Republicans. Right? Because there was no contact between the parties, in essence, in the House and drafting this bill. Speaker Ryan is saying, look, here is the thread. He will go make a deal with Democrats. That would require radical changes in the bill.

If there is a deal with Democrats, it's on the portion of Obamacare that deals with the private insurance through the exchange where there are problems. The heart of the Republican bill, though, is repealing the expansion of Medicaid and going beyond that to block grant the program to the point where 14 million people, according to the CBO, would lose coverage.

And we'd have almost a billion dollars, a trillion dollars less than Medicaid spending. That is an absolute non-starter for Democrats. There's no negotiation with the Democrats that includes any of that. So realistically, they would have to kind of jettison that whole agenda. It's hard to see President Trump going too far down that road. But I think Speaker Ryan gives you the real kind of point here, which is they're talking about Democrats primarily as a way to leverage Republicans.

BERMAN: They're a boogeyman here. Shannon, I can't quite figure out how real the idea of the Republicans are talking about this is. If you look at Charlie Dent, a moderate from Pennsylvania yesterday, if you're not negotiating with moderate Republicans, who's actually doing the deal?

PETTYPIECE: Look how toxic President Trump is in the Democratic Party among the Democratic base and Democratic supporters? Do you want to be the Democratic senator who worked with President Trump to get some revised Obamacare through? Probably not. It would really depend on your district, so you really have to look at the districts and who you're targeting.

You know, but President Trump, he isn't a hard-core lifer conservative free market principles, you know, ideologist. So there is, ideologically the possibility that he has more in common with Democrats. And he does, certainly, with the Freedom Caucus and some members of the far right.

BURNS: There really is -- it is worth taking stock of just how far Paul Ryan has moved over the last few months. But I'm old enough to remember when he said he was supporting Trump for president because whatever the Republican Congress passed, he would gladly sign. Right?

So the fact that we are now in March or at the point of him saying watch out or he'll work with the Democrats, that is pretty striking.

CAMEROTA: All right. Panel, thank you very much. We have to tell you about the other news. There's a deal in North Carolina. Lawmakers agreeing to deal -- to a deal to vote today on repealing the state's controversial transgender bathroom bill. But critics say this does not go far enough. We'll explain why.

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[06:26:55] BERMAN: North Carolina lawmakers expected to vote today on a deal to repeal HB-2. That's the state's controversial transgender bathroom bill. But gay right's activists say that is not good enough. CNN's Dave Briggs, anchor of "EARLY START" joins us live to explain now.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you guys.

John, the state's governor acknowledging it's not a perfect deal. But he worked with Republican lawmakers here to come up with a compromise. It retains a critical component here. States would control the regulation of bathrooms. Under the deal cities and local governments cannot pass their own anti-discrimination laws through 2020, in order to let federal lawsuits play out.

LGBT advocates say the compromise simply brings back the status quo before HB-2 passed in 2016. It also fails, in their words, to protect transgender people from using the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity.

Time and, of course, money are of the essence here. HB-2 has already cost North Carolina millions as businesses, entertainers and sports leagues have boycotted the state. The NCAA has threatened to leave the state out of hosting championship events through 2020 if this bill is not repealed by noon today.

John, the reporting, some now out there say it could cost billions of dollars to state in economic damages over the next 12 years if they don't repeal.

BERMAN: A lot of pressure from the sports leagues and everywhere.

BRIGGS: And a battle moving forward, as well. Because Texas may do this, as well.

BERMAN: The final four. San Antonio.

BRIGGS: The final four next year. So that's the next battle front.

CAMEROTA: Have you guys just run away with some sort of sports cast that you segued to? OK. Stop this. Thank you, Dave Briggs, very much.

Meanwhile, other headlines. There's another setback for President Trump's new travel ban. A federal judge in Hawaii who had temporarily blocked that ban from taking effect now extending that order indefinitely. In his ruling, the judge found that the ban likely violates the Constitution by targeting Muslims. No word on whether the Trump administration will appeal this new ruling. The Justice Department had argued that Hawaii has not been harmed by the new rules.

BERMAN: The death toll now 13 in the head-on collision between a church bus and a pickup truck on a Texas highway. The church members were traveling from home from a retreat when the truck crossed over the median, slammed into the bus. Twelve passengers were killed. The thirteenth died in the hospital. The truck driver and one passenger suffered injuries. And a cause -- the cause of the crash is now under investigation.

CAMEROTA: All right. How has it been going for President Trump so far? His approval ratings are one measure. They did hit a new low this week. But what do his supporters, his avid supporters think of his performance?

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CAMEROTA: Guys, 60-plus days into the Trump presidency. What grade do you give President Trump?

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CAMEROTA: You'll see their response, next.

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