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White House Daily Briefing; Trump Defends Flynn's Request for Immunity. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 31, 2017 - 14:30   ET


QUESTION: -- has it already been shared with the FBI or does the FBI already have the materials?


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't know the answer to that. Some of it -- I don't know. It's NSC -- NSC pulls materials from the various agencies, so where that all came from, and is it a single source, is it a combination of those, I don't know the answer to that.

QUESTION: (inaudible) answer to that?

SPICER: I can ask. Again, part of it is, there's a question of whether or not we have the ability or the right to release it. Again, as much as I appreciate where it came from, I think again, I go back to, does it really matter? Does it really matter if it came from the CIA or the NSA or another three-letter agency?


SPICER: Of is -- is the issue, Alexis, whether or not, as I've said before, whether or not there is a concern about what that information is doing, who used it improperly, what possibly could have happened. I mean, that -- again, it's where it came from.



QUESTION: What I'm asking is, the executive branch, the FBI, has a separate investigation. I'm asking -- the president believes he has evidence that is germane to that investigation as broad as Director Comey has described. My only...

SPICER: No, well -- first of all, just so we're clear, the FBI's investigation pertains specifically to, from what the director said in open testimony, to Russia. What the president's -- this is not what I believe they are investigating.

QUESTION: I guess I misunderstood. I thought that the FBI was -- also had brought the investigation beyond just the Russians.

SPICER: I don't know. You should -- I'm not aware of that.

QUESTION: If you could just find out...

SPICER: No, you can call the FBI. I don't -- I'm not going to call the FBI and ask them what their investigation is and then you'll write a story about how I called the...

QUESTION: I'm asking you a separate question. Does the president believe that it is important for the FBI to have the information that he finds to be so egregiously offensive, that classified...

SPICER: I don't think it...

QUESTION: ... and politically sensitive information was shared by this previous administration. I'm asking you a really simple question.

SPICER: I don't -- no, it's not. You think it's simple, but I think the reality is it depends. If the -- where it came from, who can share it.

You're acting as though it's a very -- you're acting as though it's a very simple process. It depends on the level of classification, who it came from, whether they have the authority to share it. There's a lot of things that go into this and I know that it sounds really easy. It's not and I think that there -- that with -- that I know a lot of times that just because it can get leaked out doesn't mean it's being handled appropriately and I think there is a desire to make sure that this is done correctly and within the proper guidance of who has the authority to see the right things. And then it's -- and that all of the procedures are followed.

That -- that is -- that doesn't mean we just get to willy-nilly pick stuff and send it around to whoever. There is a reason that certain information is handled the way it is, so that we protect the methods and processes that are in accordance with the intelligence community.


QUESTION: Thanks a lot, Sean.

This morning, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Jason Chaffetz of Utah, took issue with the president's tweet. He said he does not believe that the Russian investigation that's being conducted by the FBI, by the Senate Intelligence Committee, by the House Intelligence Committee is a witch hunt. Why does the president believe it's a witch hunt?

He also said -- before I get your answer to that, he also said that he doesn't think it's proper for the president to sort of tweet out or comment on ongoing investigations. Can you also touch on that as well?

SPICER: Well, I think part of this sometimes comes down to who has access to what information and what they're looking at. So I don't know what he has seen or not seen or whether it's appropriate.

But again, I think there's a whole -- the reason that we've asked the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to look into this is to make sure that we get to the bottom of it in an appropriate, proper manner.

QUESTION: And commenting on an ongoing investigation, is that proper by the president?

SPICER: What ongoing?

QUESTION: Well, there's an investigation that's ongoing by the FBI right now...


QUESTION: and one ongoing investigation is ongoing by the Senate Intelligence Committee.

SPICER: OK. And what...

QUESTION: Should he be commenting on that?

SPICER: So what -- which comment are you referring to?

QUESTION: He called it a witch hunt.

SPICER: Right, but I think that when you -- but those -- as I just said to Alexis, I think there's a difference between the investigations that have been discussed about Russia that we have been very clear about and a discussion about whether something -- as Devin Nunes has said very publicly, the information that he had with respect to surveillance during the 2016 election cycle had nothing to do with Russia.

So there's this seeming assumption that -- what the president's talking about is very clear. There is an ongoing pattern and more and more revelations that what we have seen is that something potentially was very, very bad happening and people were using classified information. Not with respect to Russia, but to surveil people during that cycle and I think that -- that is (inaudible) different. There is no -- as far as I know, we've asked the House and the Senate Intelligence Committees to look into this whole matter. There is no investigation that I'm aware of.

QUESTION: So you take issue with Jason Chaffetz?

SPICER: I don't -- I'll let him speak for himself.

My point is, though, there is obviously -- I -- I believe Chairman Nunes and others who have looked into this and seen the information are probably in a much better position to discuss the situation at hand and understand what's happening.

I'm going to go to Edward Marshall from WVBM in Chicago.

QUESTION: Actually, it's Derek Blakely at WBBM-TV Chicago, but thank you.

SPICER: Two for two (ph). QUESTION: I have a question and if it all possible a follow-up as well. Chicago receives about $12 million a year in law enforcement assistance from the federal government. Would President Trump cut off those funds due to the Chicago sanctuary city status, even though it would (inaudible) hamper the Chicago police -- their fight against street violence, something the president has repeatedly said troubles him greatly?

SPICER: Yeah, I think that you -- you -- you -- it's interesting, you talk about street violence and then we cut off the funding for sanctuary cities. I think it would be interesting to want to send more money to a city that is allowing people to come into the country who are breaking the law, who in many cases are committing crimes, member of gangs.

And so, you can't be a sanctuary city and at the same time seem to pretend or express concern about law enforcement or ask for more money, when probably a number of the funds that you're using in the first place are going to law enforcement to handle the situation that you've created for yourself.

I think the president's belief on sanctuary cities is one shared by upwards of 80 percent of the American people that we shouldn't be using American tax dollars to fund cities and counties, and in some cases, potentially states that are seeking to allow people who are not legally in this country, who potentially could do us harm, to get funding.

And so, I think there's no question. It's not a question of what he will do, his intentions have been very clear from the beginning. I think it's vastly supported by the vast majority of the American people. But I think that to suggest that somehow they're not inextricably linked is a failure to fully appreciate the scenario.

QUESTION: Let me follow up.

SPICER: Blake (ph)?

Oh yeah, yeah, hold on.

QUESTION: Does that make the president more concerned with deporting illegal immigrants than he is with putting shooters and killers in jail?

SPICER: No because if a shooter or killer is here illegally and he's in this country, then I think that -- again, I think respectfully you're delinking the two issues. If you have people who are in this country illegally that are part of a gang, that are part of -- they're committing a threat to public safety or committing the crime, then funding that activity and allowing that to fester is -- is in itself a problem.

And so, by not rooting that out in the first place is allowing the problem to continue and not exactly showing an attempt to solve it in the first place.

Blake (ph)?

QUESTION: So, let me ask you about the two executive orders that are about to be signed.


QUESTION: Peter Navarro said this morning that they have nothing to do with the China trip next week.

SPICER: Right.

QUESTION: So, is that just purely coincidence that it's happening now, when the president is set to meet with his counterpart in China next week? Or is this somewhat setting the table for what might come next week?

SPICER: No, I think they are both broad -- broad-based. I mean, countervailing duties is not something that's targeted at any specific country, so I don't think that you could -- you could use that as some kind of indication of any one country. I think we -- we -- we're giving up $2.8 billion a year and that's coming in all across -- all through our borders, all across. So, that one.

And the other one specifically talks about every form of trade abuse and non-reciprocal practice that are currently contributing to our deficit. So, I mean there's a lot of countries that contribute to that and I think a lot of times, the trade agreements that we've made in some cases haven't been looked at or revived in a very long time. And so, for either one of them to be suggested at any particular country would be a misread of either one.

QUESTION: You mentioned that the president signaled his intention to withdraw from TPP.


QUESTION: Keystone, you've got these executive orders, a whole host of others. The second executive order that's coming today talks about a -- the first one -- a 90-day review.

SPICER: Yeah. QUESTION: The one that's still outstanding is NAFTA and what the president might do with that. So, does that move the NAFTA timeline potentially back 90 days? Does he want to see this 90-day review first before getting to NAFTA?

SPICER: I think the first thing he wants to do is get Robert Lighthizer confirmed as the next U.S. trade representative so we can have someone at the helm of that agency to really shepherd the trade agenda and help with the priorities. I know that Peter and Secretary Ross were here yesterday and Secretary Ross and Secretary Mnuchin and others have been very involved in the trade agenda, but we really need someone at the front of the ship to help us guide us through it. And that review and others are part of that.


QUESTION: Sean, do you have a timeline (inaudible)?

SPICER: I don't.

QUESTION: You frequently tell us to take the president's tweets at face value and they speak for themselves. So, when the president says Mike Flynn should get immunity, is he suggesting to Congress that it grant immunity?

SPICER: I think Mike Flynn and his legal counsel should do what's appropriate for Mike Flynn.

QUESTION: That is -- they cannot obtain immunity. It must be granted.

SPICER: Right.


SPICER: And again, to your question -- right.

QUESTION: Is the president recommending, either to the FBI or to Congress, to grant immunity? Because that's the only way it can happen.

SPICER: I understand that, but again, he didn't say Congress should grant. And I think...


SPICER: Right. And I think that his...

QUESTION: What does he mean by that?

SPICER: What he means is he supports Mike Flynn's attempts to go up to Congress and be very clear with -- with everything that they ask and what they want.

QUESTION: Right. But he could have just said testify. He said he should get immunity.

SPICER: Right.

QUESTION: And I'm asking you because it's an important...

SPICER: It is.

QUESTION: Every lawyer who works on this tells you it's extremely important to seek it and then obtain it. And there's only one way you can seek it, by it being granted either by the FBI or by Congress.

And for the president of the United States to even lightly indicate that he is in favor of that, it seems to me is a significant development.

I'm trying to find out...

SPICER: Right.

QUESTION: ... about what the president was trying to...


SPICER: And I -- I...


SPICER: And I'm trying to answer the question, which is that I think that what the -- not that I think; I've talked to the president about this. I think what he...

QUESTION: You have?


And the president's very clear that he wants Mike Flynn to go and be completely open and transparent with the committee. And whatever it takes to do that, he is supportive of.

QUESTION: Even if he doesn't obtain immunity?

SPICER: He wants him to -- I mean, I don't -- again, I -- I -- I want to be clear. He wants him to do what is necessary to go up there and -- and talk to the committees of jurisdiction to get this matter behind us. QUESTION: And since you've talk to the president about this, he was not trying to suggest to the FBI that it -- or the Justice Department that it grant immunity to...


SPICER: I think he was asking -- I -- I'm not entirely sure the process of whether the Congress does it, or DOJ, or both in this case. But the -- the point that I...


SPICER: I -- I get it. But -- but the...


SPICER: Right, I understand. Right, but the bottom line is...

QUESTION: He's not instructing his Justice Department...


SPICER: No, what he is instructing is Mike Flynn to do everything he can to cooperate with the committees as he's asked to look into this.



QUESTION: You talked about -- one more thing. You talked -- you said Congressman Schiff's coming over here.


SPICER: And let me just be clear, because I know -- I'm -- I -- before you continue, I just want to be crystal clear.

I know that he's communicated. Our expectation is -- I don't -- I don't...


SPICER: There we go, thank you.


SPICER: OK, I -- I...

QUESTION: He's cleared (ph)...


SPICER: I know, but -- because sometimes you...

QUESTION: Senate Intelligence Committee put out a statement yesterday, and I just want to read you a part.

"The committee has asked the White House to direct the agencies that own the intelligence documents in question to immediately provide them directly to the committee."

Has the White House had any problems? I don't believe they're...


SPICER: I think we're -- we're looking into that. I think obviously, we would -- we would've hoped that, like Congressman Schiff may (ph), come and see these documents.

I -- I don't know. I know that the Counsel's Office is in contact with them with respect to that.

QUESTION: Do you see any problem with this...


SPICER: I -- I don't -- I'm not -- Major, respectfully, I'm going to -- the Counsel's Office is working with them. I don't want to get in front of what they -- how they go back and forth and make a decision around that.


QUESTION: ... an illegitimate request?

QUESTION: Schiff is asking the same thing, too (ph).

SPICER: I -- I...

QUESTION: Is this an illegitimate request? That's all I'm trying to figure out.

SPICER: What -- I don't -- I don't know what -- it -- it's not a...


SPICER: I -- I think, obviously, the goal would be...


SPICER: Again, I -- I'm letting -- the White House Counsel's Office sent that letter. They are the ones who those individuals have been in contact with.

Obviously, we'd like them to come see that information, which is what we think would -- would help them further their -- their review of the situation.


SPICER: So, I -- I understand that. But what I'm telling you is it's not my decision, Major. This is a discussion that is occurring between that -- both of those committees and the White House Counsel's Office.

QUESTION: But I'm just asking, as the representative of the president, because it is his...


SPICER: I understand that.

And as you're telling me, it's happening in real time -- this -- this Schiff piece of it, happening in real time. I don't know the answer because it's happening while we're here.

So, I don't have an answer for us on that.

The White House Counsel's Office is in communication with the committee in particular and with Congressman Schiff's office about arranging how that would go down.

I don't know what further discussions they've had since we've been out there.


QUESTION: Very quick just followup. (inaudible) said that U.S. is giving up $2.8 billion a year in countervailing...


SPICER: Right. QUESTION: Peter Navarro was up here last night and said that sum applied to a 16-year period. I was hoping you could just clarify the facts on that.

SPICER: I -- I don't -- I -- I could -- I'll ask Peter to...

QUESTION: Peter Navarro had had it as a far smaller sum over what -- what is...


SPICER: Right, I'll have to ask Peter, (inaudible).

QUESTION: Secondly, following up on Alexis' question, you made some serious allegations about civil liberties and potentially mishandling classified information.

Why wouldn't the White House, if it believes it has evidence of that, hand it over to the federal agency tasked with investigating crimes in...


SPICER: Again, I'm not...


SPICER: That's -- that's not -- because I -- I think the -- first of all, I don't know what we will or will not do going forward. I don't want to prejudge that.

What I do know is that the House and Senate Intelligence agencies -- Committees are both -- the committees that we -- the president asked them that Sunday a few weeks ago to look into this.

And I think that's who is conducting and who we've asked to look into it. And that that's appropriate.

And -- and I'm not aware that anyone else asked us for that information.

QUESTION: And one final one...


QUESTION: ... earlier in the briefing you said, "We don't track every" -- I think (inaudible) to Mike's (ph) question -- "We don't track every person that's on the 18 acres."


SPICER: No, no, no, no.

That's -- he asked about whether or not the chief of staff knew everyone who was on the 18 acres. That's what he asked. QUESTION: So, but -- but when it comes to that, could -- do you have any new information about how the chairman did get onto the campus? Who -- who...


SPICER: As I said in the last two days, I'm not going to discuss this.

QUESTION: Will you release financial -- sorry, the (inaudible) records?

SPICER: Yeah, I think all of that's going to happen as soon as -- there'll be a discussion about a lot of that in -- in the briefing that's going to talk about the financial disclosure forms and such as -- immediately as this concludes. And part of that, yeah. So...


SPICER: With that, thank you guys very much. We're going to get on to the next briefing. Thank you very much.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Here we go. You've been listening to the Sean Spicer daily briefing on this Friday afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin. This is CNN.

A lot of the questions directed at Sean Spicer regarding General Michael Flynn, the now fired national security adviser from the Trump administration. His attorney is seeking immunity to testify before Congress over possible links to Russia.

President Trump shocking a lot of people with going so public, weighing in on this over Twitter, seemingly defending his national security adviser. The tweet for you here, quote, "Mike Flynn should ask for immunity."

You know the story. Flynn was fired after misleading White House officials about his own dealings with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. But now his attorney says -- let's me read it -- quote, "General Flynn certainly has a story to tell and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit."

We've also learned today that a Senate source has suggested they are unlikely to accept the offer.

So let me bring in my panel on this.

James Gagliano, first to you, former FBI special assistant. Specifically, the Senate has said it's too early to decide on the immunity deal but it's unlikely. If you're representing General Flynn, what's the strategy in requesting it?

JAMES GAGLIANO, FORMER FBI SPECIAL ASSISTANT: The presumption has to be that any attorney advising a client appearing before a Senate or House, they need immunity, whether that's transactional immunity or use, immunity has still got to be determined. And you can't presume that means you have something to hide.


BALDWIN: What does he mean by he has a story to tell.

GAGLIANO: The optics on that aren't good because you had the president, when he was a candidate, discussing the Hillary Clinton e- mail investigation saying some of her aides got immunity when they testified, and that means a presumption of guilt. You're got to be careful here. But I think General Flynn will be facing a couple of issues. One will be perjury, if he said something to FBI agents beforehand and said something.

BALDWIN: So it wasn't just Trump that talked about immunity.


BALDWIN: Its Flynn himself.

Alex, let me ask this of you. Alex Whiting, professor of practice, Harvard Law School.

Here's my question: General Flynn back in September said, quote, "When you are given immunity, that means that you have probably committed a crime."

But that is not necessarily the case.

ALEX WHITING, PROFESSOR OF PRACTICE, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: Right. I agree. That's not necessarily the case. What I would focus on more in this case is not simply the request for the immunity but the fact that it was done publicly, and the fact that his lawyer has dangled the possibility that he has information to give. That's more of the play here.

BALDWIN: The dangling of information, since it is so public, it's not like it's helpful information, or some sort of dirt, or they would keep it to themselves. No?

WHITING: Well, that's what I think. And I wrote on a security blog about this that the fact that they have made this public request for immunity, and also the fact that they are asking for -- seem to be asking for immunity without giving any kind of a preview of the information that he has to give, suggests to me that he's not appealing to the prosecutors. The prosecutors don't do it that way. The prosecutors would do it quietly. And he's making an appeal to the congressional committees, which would then complicate any efforts later on for something criminally he may have done.

BALDWIN: And the president has made his own appeal on Twitter. We can throw it back up on the screen.

Tim O'Brien, author of "Trump Nation, The Art of Being the Donald," the fact that the president weighed in on this so publicly. Sean Spicer talked about this in the briefing. Why would he do this so publicly? And he said that the president believes General Flynn should testify, and he wants, quote, "the story to get out there." Are you surprised that the president waded in these waters?

TIM O'BRIEN, AUTHOR: Absolutely not. What doesn't he wade into? We're at a point where nothing the president does around process issues is surprising, which I think is unfortunate. It would be judicious of him to hold back in moments like this and let the process run its course in a completely nonpartisan way. Unfortunately, we're in the middle of a House investigation that has been highly politicized. It raises questions of how independent that examination can be now. And Spicer and the rest of Team Trump keep defaulting to, well, what about Hillary Clinton? She had a conversation with the Russians. And that's become a fairly lame argument. I think they have to come forward with their best accounting to what occurred and go along with the process and stay out of the way.

[14:50:08] BALDWIN: Quickly, Alex, the president did weigh in on this and, to use your word, being judicious. Is there any issue with the law with the president tweeting about this publicly, or no?

WHITING: No, I don't -- I'm not sure I see a legal issue. It reinforces my belief that Flynn is not asking for immunity here because he's ready to hand up some higher-up officials and give some smoking gun information I think he's looking for immunity just to protect himself but wouldn't expect -- there's no indication that he's, at this point, ready to give some good information. And President Trump's tweet reinforces that belief on my part.

BALDWIN: James, the phone calls, the contacts that General Flynn had with the Russian ambassador, discussions of sanctions, we don't know much more as far as context is concerned. Would that phone call in and of itself warrant a request for immunity?

GAGLIANO: It wouldn't. But I think it's standard practice and can't expect him to go in there and testify without getting it. Again, the distinction between transactional and use immunity, it's only your statements that can't be used against you. That doesn't preclude the FBI agents who are going to be listening in on this from taking down notes and following those leads. They can't use the statements that he gives before Congress but they can go after those leads.

BALDWIN: OK. That was one chunk of the news conference today.

The other bit with Sean Spicer, still all of these continued questions trying to seek more information on this story involving the House Intel Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, the secret rendezvous over to the White House, incidental collection and all of this unmasking that he's been talking so much about. The fact that it was, according to multiple reports now, White House officials giving this information. And the questions still coming in to Sean Spicer, who has perfected the art of deflect, deflect, deflect. Case in point.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Are you more concerned about that or Russian interference in the president election?

SPICER: Well, I think if -- as I'm an American citizen, I'm very concerned that people are sharing information for political purposes and using classified information to do so and leaking it. That should be concerning to everybody. I mean --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The Russian interference --


SPICER: That's not what I said.


SPICER: I guess I don't -- the answer is, if someone is interfering with our election, that's not good. I don't think someone revealing and leaking classified information is good either. I'm not sure that you should have to choose.


BALDWIN: Eli Lake, let me bring you in now, columnist for "Bloomberg View."

You spoke to Nunes earlier in the week, and he misled you. Before we get to that, I mean, Sean Spicer, you have these journalists asking perfectly legitimate questions, and they're getting nowhere.

ELI LAKE, COLUMNIST, BLOOMBERG VIEW: Well, what else is new? He's the spokesman for the White House. It's a long tradition of that kind of thing.

BALDWIN: What about authenticity with regard to Sean Spicer and the chairman supposed to be part of this impartial investigation into ties with Russia and the Trump campaign, and all of a sudden, still, there's no transparency? Where is it?

LAKE: Right. They presented the initial story last week as if Chairman Nunes was informing President Trump about information he was getting from kind of independent intelligence officials and what we now know -- and I reported in my column that came out last night -- is that senior National Security Council official discovered a lot of these what they consider to be inappropriate intelligence reports that included information on the front transition. While he was doing a review of a Justice Department regulation of sharing raw intercepts with the intelligence community and sent that to the White House counsel. The notion that President Trump would be unaware of it and would need Chairman Nunes to tell him about it, that's been blown apart. In my view, the underlying issue, which I think all of this -- for as far as we know and Chairman Nunes has said this, too, it's probably legal but I think that the government has the ability to collect massive amounts of communications of U.S. persons without a FISA warrant and we need to be able to trust the eavesdroppers not to use that information to affect our politics or invade the privacy of American citizens. For a long time, groups like the ACLU and others have raised this issue. It's come up before. And at least it appears it may have happened during the Trump transition and I would hope that the committees would conduct oversight of that issue in addition to the extremely important matter of how the Russians interfered in our elections and whether anybody, who was connected to the Trump campaign had helped them in that.

[14:55:25]BALDWIN: You talk about the FISA program in your piece. But in the top of the piece, point blank, how did the chairman mislead you?

LAKE: He told me it was an intelligence official and, in fact, it was people who worked at the NSC. He says that they confirmed information for him, but at that point, I think it's parsing. And, in my view, I had to write letters to let them know when the story changes and it was a tough column and that's how it is.

BALDWIN: Devin Nunes and the tragedy the Russia inquiry on Bloomberg.

Eli, thank you so much.

Gentlemen, good to see you.


BALDWIN: The administration dealing with more firestorms in its first 70 days than most do in a year. David Axelrod in New York joining me live here to talk through a lot.

You're watching CNN's special live coverage. I'm Brooke Baldwin.


BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We were just listening to Sean Spicer in the White House daily briefing. A lot of questions directed to Sean Spicer about the fact that we have now learned through the now fired national security adviser, General Mike Flynn, lawyers saying that they have a story to tell, they were requesting immunity. President Trump tweeting about it today. Spicer saying that he wants him to testify, to get the story out there.

Let's pause for a second and look back at how both then-Candidate Trump and General Flynn spoke about the concept of immunity as early at last year.


GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The very last thing that John Podesta just said is no individual is too big to jail. That should include people like Hillary Clinton. I mean, five people around her have had -- have been given immunity, to include her former chief of staff. When you are given immunity, that means you've probably committed a crime.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Her aides took the Fifth Amendment and her ring leaders were given immunity. (BOOING)

TRUMP: And if you're not guilty of a crime, what do you need immunity for, right?

Here's my question for Hillary Clinton. Can you promise that one of the five people who were granted criminal immunity --