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Senate to Conduct Investigation into Possible Russian Interference in U.S. Election; Interview with Senator James Lankford; Interview with Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia; Putin: Russia Never Interfered in U.S. Election. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 30, 2017 - 08:00   ET


[08:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That actually is a very lofty title inside the White House and it is raising some new ethics questions. We have a lot to cover on day 70 of the Trump presidency. Let's start with CNN's Sara Murray live at the White House. Good morning, Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. This administration is certainly sick of talking about Russia, but the Senate intelligence committee is making it clear they are just getting started, and there is a long list of people they want to talk to when it comes to getting to the bottom of Russia's attempts to meddle in the U.S. election.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We together with the members of our committee are going to get to the bottom of this.

MURRAY: The Senate intelligence committee holding its first public hearing on Russia today as political infighting jeopardizes the House probe.

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

MURRAY: The leaders of the Senate panel saying the 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 a Russian banker and the Russian ambassador were an effort to engage the Russians and establishment 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 showed unity in the Senate a stark contrast to the chaos on the other side of the Capitol Hill. House Intel Chair Devin Nunes continuing to fend off charges of collusion with the White House and refusing to answer questions about the probe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's been the holdup about the specific information that you saw on White House grounds?

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: It's just trying to get the agencies in order for them to get the information to us in a timely manner.

MURRAY: The White House also deflecting.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: 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 is 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), CALIFORNIA: I just don't know how to conduct a credible investigation in you have let alone one person but the chairman of the committee who is 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 advisor amid public ethics concerns.


MURRAY: The Senate Intelligence Committee hearing today gets underway at 10:00 a.m. And they are kicking it off by looking at the role of fake news in the election and how Russia may have tried to weaponize it to influence the outcome. Back to you guys.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Sara, thank you very much for all of that. Joining us now is Oklahoma Republican Senator, James Lankford, a member of the Senate Intel Committee. Good morning, senator.


CAMEROTA: How will you all be different than the House Intel Committee?

LANKFORD: We're just going to stay focused on what we're doing. We have to work together on this. This is a very serious set of accusations, a serious set of charges that are out there, and so we need to be able to resolve it. So we are as Chairman Burr mentioned in a prior report, we're going to go where the facts lead us and be able to walk through this. But we have to be able to walk through together so we have trust. At the end of this we plan to be able to put out a bipartisan letter and report. That means we have got to be able to walk together the whole time.

CAMEROTA: How will you avoid descending into partisanship as we've seen on the House side?

LANKFORD: There are differences of opinion. When we get behind closed doors, we talk those out and we get a chance to share our information with each other. The chairman and vice chairman go to briefings together when there are those high level briefings. We do briefings as a committee together. We agree on where we're going to go on interview, what key documents that we still need. So we work together on that and it's a very open process, which means we have to meet a lot. We have to walk through things, but it is the right way to do it.

CAMEROTA: Listen, after the House debacle, many senators, Republican senators even, are calling for an independent commission to investigate this because they say that all the things that have been fraught in the House proves that Congress really cannot do this task.

LANKFORD: I don't agree, actually. There are -- you can't find 10 independent people in Washington, D.C. As you get a chance to walk through the security clearances and all the things that have to be done to pull up a committee and say these individuals are going to be nonpartisan, it's hard to find nonpartisan people in any of these issues.

What I think is best case scenario is to be able to allow the Senate Intelligence. Hopefully the House Intelligence committee can get a chance to bury the ax and they can go through this together as well.

[08:05:03] But at the end of the day we have the security clearance. We have the connections. We have the access to all the documents. If you startup a new committee, it is going to protract this thing at least two years while they just get organized, get clearances, get caught up to where we already are.

CAMEROTA: Do you have faith that the House will be able to bury the ax?

LANKFORD: I have faith that they can, and we'll see if they do. How about that?

CAMEROTA: OK, that's a start. Are you investigating different things than what the House said they were investigating? Because the House at times seemed pretty focused on the leaks and the unmasking of sources.

LANKFORD: We're going through everything on that, Alisyn. I'm not going to go through all the details of exactly what we do, but we are independent from the House in our investigation. We're trying to share information with the House as we have it. We're asking them to be able to do the same with us. But we're not conducting it in coordination with the House. We're an independent investigation, and so we're walking through that process as we can.

But it is a broad, sweeping piece, not only what the Russians did, clearly they were trying to influence our election and destabilize our election as they have done to many other nations all around, especially Europe. We're also trying to investigate was there any connections with the Trump campaign. Was there any other conversations? What happened to all the leaks? The leaks are also serious as well. When you walk through a process for any classified document or classified conversation to suddenly be in the public, that's a serious issue as well. And so all these things get collected together to be able to be part of our investigation. But the center of this is the Russian engagement in our election. We have got to resolve that. The Russians will not stop doing it. We have to expose what they do, how they do it, and put a stop to it.

CAMEROTA: We understand you will be calling many witnesses, including top aides to President Trump, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Jared Kushner for starters. Who are you most interested in talking to?

LANKFORD: I would say all the above as we walk through this. Many people have voluntarily agreed to do that. We are trying to work through a good process to get to voluntarily agreement where we don't have to push it to involuntary testimony. But we want people to meet with us. So far people have been eager to be able to meet with us and to go through that testimony at times.

So some of these will be in public. Many of them will actually be in private because we're dealing with very difficult sources and methods. As President Obama mentioned in December when he put out his report on the Russian attacks onto our elections and any possible collusion that was out there, he made the statement as well, the American people aren't going to see all sources and methods. There will be questions at the end of it because we're dealing with very classified issues and information and sources. So we have to get out as much as we can so the American people can see it but also still protect the future of our intelligence operations.

CAMEROTA: Personally speaking, what's your burning question that you want to ask some of these folks?

LANKFORD: We have to determine was there any collusion between the campaign and any Russian individuals. I have no doubt the Russians were trying to interfere. What we don't know yet is were individuals trying to reach back out? We have toe able to determine that with certainty, and we have got to be able to determine how do we block this in the days ahead, because this will not stop. The Russians, this has been their mode for a long time. They have not done it to the American elections as they did this last time like this ever. And so we've got to find out why they did that and how they can stop it in the future.

CAMEROTA: Are you surprised he hasn't been as vocal about all of that as you just have been? LANKFORD: He's kind of hit or missed on it a couple times. I have

seen several of his press conferences are read some of the famous tweets that are out there. He's frustrated because I think he feels like he wants to get this down and over with and get the investigation finished. Investigations like this take a very long time. We have to take it very seriously and try to push it as fast as we can. But at the end of it we can't have someone say did you ask such and such and say no, we didn't, because then the investigation loses credibility. That means we have got to really check our stuff as we go through it. I'm sure he's frustrated by that, but at the end of the day we need to get a solid answer in either direction.

CAMEROTA: I want to ask you about another looming threat, and that is the perennial threat of the government shutdown. It sounds as though you all could be headed for a possible government shut down on or about the time of the president's 100th day in office, about April 28th, over military spending. How are you going to avoid that?

LANKFORD: Well, we're working through that over the next three weeks. We've got three weeks and then we will bring these bills to the floor. By the 28th of April we have to have all funding done at that point or have a continuing resolution. I'd like to have an appropriation bill done. I'm on the appropriation committee. There are a lot of important aspects that happen when you do appropriations, not a continuing resolution, which is basically taking last year's budget, changing the dates, and just putting it into this year's. It's not very strategic at all. And so we're trying to be able to get to that appropriation process. We have three weeks, it hits the floor, and then we'll talk more about it from there. But I don't see any looming shutdown. I do see a deadline, though. Quite frankly, Congress works best when it has a deadline. It hardly works at all when it doesn't.


CAMEROTA: That's quite a statement and truism.

[08:10:00] You know, John McCain, Senator John McCain does not sound quite as optimistic as you do. Let me read to you what he said. He says "I will not vote for a continuing resolution no matter what the consequences because passing a continuing resolution destroys the ability of the military to defend the nation and it puts the lives of the men and women in the military at risk." He won't vote unless it is the number that he thinks hit it is spot.

LANKFORD: This is an ongoing situation between the House and the Senate, within parties, and within the White House. So this is part of the negotiations that you have seen for a long time as well. There will be a lot of noise, they'll be a lot of smoke as we work through the process, but we'll get this resolved.

CAMEROTA: You will also get it resolved, if history is any precedent, at the 11th hour.


CAMEROTA: That's another thing that Congress enjoying doing. LANKFORD: Actually, 11:59 actually.

CAMEROTA: Thank you. Thank you for that prediction. Senator James Lankford, thanks so much for being here on NEW DAY.

LANKFORD: Thanks, Alisyn.


BERMAN: We do have some breaking news on the Russian front. Russian president Vladimir Putin speaking out just moments ago. He denies that Russia interfered with the U.S. election, used some pretty salty language. CNN's Paula Newton live in Moscow with the breaking details. Paula?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, this was supposed to be a roundtable on northern issues. This president was ready for this question. He was asked categorically, did Russia interfere in U.S. elections? Vladimir Putin called all of that provocations and outright lies made up for the American political cycle. And then he said, "Look, I'm going to say it the way Ronald region said it. Read my lips. Did we interfere in the elections? No."

He said that all of this was made up for political gain and the political cycle. He said he believed that Americans actually wanted to cooperate with Russia and they were ready to do that. He also reiterated that, look, if they were going to have a summit perhaps in a place like Finland, that he was ready to meet with President Trump at any time and that he would be willing to be there and discuss issues. But Vladimir Putin really with that salvo coming out and saying, look, there is no absolutely nothing to this. No evidence will ever be found of this, and these are lies that are made up for political gain. He also called it in his words by many "warmongering." He seemed to insist or hint that in fact it was dangerous and he harkened back to the Cuban missile crisis. He also gave the sentiment that he hoped that what he called this kind of irresponsible talk would end sooner rather than later. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: All very interesting to hear Putin weigh in on the conversation that we all here have been having for months. Thank you very much for that new reporting.

So dozens of Democratic senators are planning to filibuster Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Why is West Virginia's Joe Manchin not one of them? We'll ask him, next.


[08:16:13] BERMAN: Well, we have some breaking news: Russian President Vladimir Putin moments ago denied that the Russians interfered with the election and he added he's open to meeting with President Trump.

I want to discuss this now with Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. He is literally the man in the middle of it all right now, a key vote in the Supreme Court, also a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senator Manchin, thanks so much for being with us.

Let me read you some of this breaking news from Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said any allegations that the Russians meddled in the U.S. election are fictional, illusionary provocative and lies.

Do you see it like that?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: He's wrong. He's absolutely wrong. I mean, every indication we have from all of our intelligence, briefings we had as it made to the public that that's not accurate at all. They were very much involved and try to be involved than ever before, made more attempts to infiltrate.

What we do know also, it didn't have any outcome -- any change of the outcome of the election, but what they learned, are they trying to use that now in different parts of the world whether Germany, Bulgaria, wherever, be in France. So, we'll see.

But basically, we have got to stop them from intervening in any democracies and these votes that we have basically and the democracy and change power that we holds so dear. So near and dear to us.

BERMAN: He's wrong. That's a pretty blunt answer.

I know you are having your first public meetings later today and will actually address some of those very specific issues.


BERMAN: House Speaker Paul Ryan was interviewed this morning on CBS and he was asked about certain aspects of this investigation. He was asked flat-out if the investigation was focused at all specifically on President Trump himself. Listen to how he answered it.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I don't believe that he is. So I don't think that he is under investigation. No one has suggested that he is and not even in a vague way. I don't believe that he is.


BERMAN: Do you have any indication, Senator, that President Trump himself is the focus of this investigation?

MANCHIN: No. President Trump's name has not come up in any of our briefings that I have been attending and I don't think I missed any of them. With that being said, but everybody involved in this whole process and the campaign is being looked upon and basically we're coming in and we'll be coming in to answer questions. So, we'll find out.

And what we've said before, the Senate has been very, very diligent its direction and how we're going to conduct this. It's been very bipartisan and I truly believe with all my heart, John, that in the Senate Intelligence Committee, the members of that committee will put their country and the government before any individuals. So, wherever the intel takes us is where we will go.

BERMAN: We've had that indication from the leaders of your committee, and we've had that indication just moments ago on this show from Senator James Lankford, Republican of Oklahoma, who told us the number one thing he wants to find out, is he wants to be able to determine if there was collusion between Trump associates and Russia. And that stuck out to me because President Trump's staffers, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, even Paul Ryan, have flat-out said that they have seen in evidence of collusion and Senator Lankford who's on your committee says he still wants to find out if that evidence exists.

MANCHIN: Well, James Lankford is a quality human being. He's a good friend of mine.

And it doesn't matter whether you're Democrat or Republican. This committee is a professional committee with extremely confidence and professional staff. We can get to the bottom of this quicker than anybody else can.

We are not objecting to any other committees or any other select committees or special prosecutors, whatever they want to do. But I will assure you that the Senate Intelligence Committee will do its jobs based on the facts. It's not going to be a witch hunt of any kind, and have a determination when we make a finding and basically disclose that to the public that we will be unanimous in how we do it. That's what we should be doing.

BERMAN: Would it be premature to say there is no collusion at this point?

[08:20:02] MANCHIN: Oh, it is very premature to say that. You can't say that in any of this. We just know there is an awful lot going on and awful lot of seriousness for us to be checking into to making sure our whole freedom, our systems of freedom and democracy and election basically transfer of power has not been breached. That is our job. The public has to have confidence and faith in these elections, that the person in power was put there in the most legitimate, open fair process that we could ever have.

BERMAN: And, Senator, I can say, at least so far, the public is pleased to see that the senators on your committee are getting along.

Let me shift gears and talk about the Supreme Court, because you are a key vote for the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch. Up until this point, you have refused to say how you will vote. You said you were waiting to meet with him again.

You met with him again yesterday. You had time to sleep on your meeting. As you sit here this morning, have you decided whether you will vote to confirm Judge Gorsuch?

MANCHIN: I'm getting close to making that decision, and I have gone over everything as diligently as I can, crisscrossed all of the info and asked all the questions I thought needed to be asked to make a determination, an evaluation based on the facts I have from him in his meetings. So, I will do that very soon, John.

But, you know, the most important thing --

BERMAN: Hang on. You say you're close. Give us a clue here, which way are you leaning? I mean, you have known about this for a long time. You met with him yesterday. You say you're close. I kind of think you probably have already made up your mind.

MANCHIN: Well, let's just say -- please let me say I'm very, very close. I'm going to do this as quickly as I possibly can and I want to move on and basically I think we should. We have a responsibility to have a working judiciary branch of government. If you don't have nine members, you're in serious problem.

BERMAN: It seems to me that you're suggesting, if you want nine members, the quickest way to get to nine members is to vote yes on Judge Gorsuch.

MANCHIN: Well, you know, you look for all the different attributes in a person that's going to be there for an awful long time. But basically, hold those -- hold those attributes that you hold so dear. And we're looking at all those things, and this is a quality individual. I don't think anyone disputes that. Tremendous education, background, held in high regards.

The main thing we're going through is basically the cases he's ruled upon, his opinions, how he's written on those opinions and evaluating that to make sure that he'd fair and balanced. I'm finishing that process and I will finish it soon.

BERMAN: His attributes so far have they impressed you?

MANCHIN: Good man. Good man.

BERMAN: All right. You're not going to budge no matter how hard I try on that. Let me ask you about this --

MANCHIN: You're good, John.

BERMAN: Some of your colleges have said they plan to filibuster the nomination. You have come out against that. You said you hope that doesn't happen.

Now, on the Republican side, if it does happen, it seems as if the Republicans are willing to use the so-called nuclear option, which means you don't need 60 votes anymore. You just need a bare majority. What's your take on that?

MANCHIN: Well, let me just say how we got to where we are today. You know, Harry Reid in 2013 pulled the nuclear option after doing everything he possibly could do or thought he possibly had done to get cooperation because we were not getting on any bills. Nobody was getting approved. The replacements and basically a putting a staff together, whether it's President Obama, President Trump, whoever should have an opportunity to do that. Nothing was getting done.

So, Harry pulls the nuclear option. We basically all -- I was totally opposed. I'm the only Democrat still in the Senate that opposed that and voted against it. I thought it was wrong.

The 60-vote cloture rule gives the minority -- so, the Democrats have been the minority right now. The Republicans were in before -- it gives them input. It creates an atmosphere where you have to cooperate and build consensus. That means you have to sit down and work.

If we end up breaking this on the Supreme Court or anything else, then basically all you have is a six-year term as a House member. That means a 51 simple majority. That is not what the intent of this body. It's not good for this body or this country.

BERMAN: Senator Joe Manchin, in the middle of it all -- thanks for being with us. Appreciate it. Really do.

MANCHIN: Thanks, John. Appreciate being with you.

BERMAN: Alisyn?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: All right. John, take a look at this. We're about to show you live pictures of Capitol Hill. Pretty morning there.

All eyes on Capitol Hill as the Senate Intel Committee gets ready to begin their work on Russian meddling in the U.S. election. At the same time that this is happening, Russian President Vladimir Putin is talking about this. All of that in the bottom line, next.


[08:28:28] CAMEROTA: Russia's President Vladimir Putin --

BERMAN: Easy for you to say.

CAMEROTA: Well -- is slamming the allegation that the Kremlin meddled in the U.S. election calling it, quote, "lies and warmongering." This comes as the Senate Intel Committee is set to begin their hearing into Russian interference.

Let's get the bottom line with CNN's political analyst David Gregory.

David, great to see you.

The fact that Vladimir Putin this morning felt compelled to weigh in on this and deny it, what does that tell us?

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That he wants to stir the pot some more. You know, this is a leader who is trying to cultivate a different kind of relationship with America, but also stir the pot and create some more trouble at a time when the American political system is not in agreement on how they even want to pursue these allegations. So, it is mischief making and whenever he wants to weigh in on it, he wants to create more mischief.

So, I wouldn't put a lot of stock into what he says about it. He is trying to signal that he wants to do business with the administration probably on the most favorable terms that he can and any time he weighs in on this, apparently, our president thinks, you know, it is validation of some kind.

BERMAN: What he's saying isn't true, at least according to U.S. officials, at least according to Senator Joe Manchin, who we spoke moments ago with, who's on the Senate Intelligence Committee, when Vladimir Putin says that Russia did not meddle in the U.S. elections, U.S. officials who say they know say, no that is flat-out a lie.

Now, another interview this morning on NEW DAY, which is fascinating, Alisyn Camerota right here spoke to Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma who basically said he is still not convinced there wasn't collusion between Trump associates and Russia. Listen to this.