Return to Transcripts main page
Flynn Offers to Testify in Exchange for Immunity; Reports: White House Staffers Gave Nunes Intel Files. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired March 31, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Michael Flynn is taking the fifth, refusing to testify without immunity.
[05:58:35] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you are given immunity, that means you probably committed a crime.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He has a story to tell, if they're willing to cut a deal.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Did you meet with the president or any of his aides while were you there that night?
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: No, and in fact, I'm quite sure that -- I think people in the West Wing had no idea that I was there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two White House officials found the intelligence, provided it to Mr. Nunes at the White House.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We invite the Senate and House ranking members and chairmen to the White House to view that material.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: The timing looks fortuitous and probably more than fortuitous.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like a coverup. I don't say it lightly.
ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Friday, March 31, 6 a.m. here in New York. Chris is off. John Berman joins me. Great to have you.
And we do begin with breaking news. President Trump's former security adviser says he's willing to talk to congressional investigators if they give him immunity. General Michael Flynn's lawyer says Flynn, quote, has a story to tell to Congress and the FBI about Russia's alleged interference in the U.S. election and ties to the Trump campaign. BERMAN: All this as several media reports say that staffers inside
the White House were the source of classified reports given to the embattled House intelligence chairman.
We've got a lot going on on day 71 of the Trump presidency. That is an understatement this morning. We want to begin our coverage with CNN's Sara Murray, live at the White House -- Sara.
SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.
Well, another twist, another turn in the saga of the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. Now, Donald Trump's former national security adviser says his offer to testify comes with some fine print.
MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump's fired national security adviser, Michael Flynn, offering to testify before congressional investigators if he gets immunity from prosecution. Flynn's lawyer saying in a statement, "General Flynn certainly has a story to tell, and he very much wants to tell it, should the circumstances permit. No reasonable person who has the benefit of advice from counsel would submit to questioning in such a highly-politicized witch hunt environment without assurances against unfair prosecution." But so far the offer has not been accepted.
The Trump administration is already battling allegations of collusion, amid probes in both the House and Senate about Russia's meddling in the U.S. election. The White House declining to comment about the Flynn news, as Flynn's own words from last year about Hillary Clinton loom large over his potential testimony.
LT. GEN. MICHAEL FLYNN (RET.), FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: The last thing that John Podesta said no individual 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 that you probably committed a crime.
MURRAY: Then-candidate Trump echoing Flynn's words.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE: If you're not guilty of a crime, why do you need immunity for? Right?
MURRAY: For weeks, House and Senate investigators have expressed interest in speaking with Flynn, in addition to at least three other former Trump associates.
SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I think it's safe to say that we have had conversations with a lot of people. And you would think less of us if General Flynn wasn't in that list.
MURRAY: The retired general was forced to resign less than a month into Trump's presidency after admitting he misled Vice President Mike Pence about the nature of his contacts with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Flynn's firing coming only after intense media scrutiny about Flynn's account and weeks after the Justice Department warned the administration that Flynn may have opened himself up to blackmail.
MURRAY: But even after forcing Flynn out, the president praising his former adviser.
TRUMP: General Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he's been treated very, very unfairly by the media.
MURRAY: Now the White House has been adamant that they believe there will be no evidence of collusion between former members of Donald Trump's presidential campaign and suspected Russian operatives. But it's worth noting that the heads of that Senate committee will not go so far, saying it's too early in the investigation to say.
Back to you guys.
CAMEROTA: Sara, thank you very much for all of that reporting.
Let's bring in our panel now to discuss all this. We have David Gregory, CNN political analyst and author of "How's Your Faith?"; A.B. Stoddard, associate editor and columnist at Real Clear Politics; and Jeffrey Toobin, CNN senior legal analyst and a former federal prosecutor.
Jeffrey, let me start with you. Donald Trump we just heard say there if you are not guilty of a crime, what do you need immunity for? What's the answer to that?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the answer is, that's why we have the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, is that you have the right not to speak. And that doesn't necessarily mean you're guilty.
But look, this is a major development. Michael Flynn was one of the most important people in the entire country. The national security adviser to the president is a very important job. He has now taken the Fifth, meaning he's demanding immunity. Just think about what a big deal that is.
CAMEROTA: Well, wait a minute. Having immunity means -- does that tell investigators, "I will not talk to you unless you give me immunity"?
TOOBIN: That's exactly what it is. Now there is a process that prosecutors go through, and here we have a complicated situation where you have both Congress and the Justice Department conducting investigations and they may not agree on whether he should get immunity.
So that came up in the Iran-Contra case where I was one of the prosecutors. Oliver North got immunity from Congress; didn't get immunity from the Justice Department. And that wound up -- that wound up scuttling the criminal case against him. So you have a -- two groups playing off against each other. But they
are both going to listen to Flynn's lawyer. Listen to probably what's called a proffer from Flynn, which means, "If you give me immunity, I will tell you the following," and then decide whether to give immunity.
BERMAN: Just for the record, it's "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that he may be seeking immunity from both the FBI and from the congressional investigation. The reports just talk about the congressional investigations.
David Gregory, Jeffrey is talking about the legal realities here. He also touched on the political realities. You have the former national security adviser, the fired national security adviser now talking about and seeking publicly. His lawyer is publicly asking for a deal for him to testify potentially against people in the administration for which he served.
[06:05:08] DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, and if we're using the Trump standard of how to talk about this in the public domain, then this must be the tip of the iceberg of some huge criminal enterprise. I mean, that's how they described Hillary Clinton in the e-mail server and anybody who took immunity with regard to the FBI investigation of that, during which there were leaks of interviews that the FBI conducted by the FBI.
And of course, the campaign, the Trump campaign was all too happy to run with that. So leaks are a tough thing. In this case, I think it's worth underscoring what Jeff just said.
This is a key figure. This is one of the two main senior advisers to the -- to the campaign and then the president, who's been fired over not being truthful about these contacts with Russia. So if the question is collusion, if the question is an improper relationship with Russia at a time when Russia was actively trying to manipulate your election, then you have a key figure in all of this, who got fired because he wasn't truthful.
So the administration says all this is a hoax and there's nothing there. If they already have gotten rid of two people who were central to it. And now you've got somebody who's in the middle of it, saying there's more of a story to tell.
CAMEROTA: Yes. And in fact, that's what I was going to ask you, A.B., about that very phrase, which Flynn's attorney says: "General Flynn certainly has a story to tell." That is juicy bait...
BERMAN: It's a hell of a lead, isn't it?
CAMEROTA: ... to dangle. That is a good tease right there. So does he want to testify?
A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, COLUMNIST, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: To Jeffrey's point, this is an unusual process for the lawyer to dangle this publicly when the correct process is usually done quietly. If Flynn really has a story to tell, it wouldn't be aired like this with sort of this offer to "Give me immunity and then, you know, I'm going to -- I'm going to testify."
If he has something that, if there's a "there" there, the Justice Department and FBI will be looking at it. I think that the congressional committees are responding sort of, you know, cool to this offer and not expressing a lot of interest in it, because there's not -- they're not sure they're going to get something out of Flynn, and the best way to really -- you know, to go through this process traditionally is that the prosecutors sit down, and they get a proffer. They find out, really, what Flynn has before they offer him anything. And that's usually done in a sensitive and private way so that the -- Flynn's lawyer can protect his client in the best way in the eyes of the prosecutor.
So it doesn't sound -- this sounds like a publicity stunt. It doesn't sound like it's going to end up going anywhere in Congress. I think it's really going to be handled within the DOJ.
TOOBIN: I don't know about that. I mean, I think it's also worth remembering. You know, responsible prosecutors, responsible congressional investigators, they look at the other facts first. They look at what do the e-mails show? What do the intercepts show? What did the other evidence show about Flynn's involvement? And then decide whether to give him immunity.
And that just shows how long this could go on for, because this is an investigation involving some of the most sensitive secrets in the country involving the national security agency. They won't want to turn it over. And that's why none of this is going to happen really fast.
BERMAN: They need to know what they don't know before they give anyone immunity.
BERMAN: No. 2, Jeffrey, immunity doesn't cover perjury. It doesn't cover lying here, which is something, actually, that Michael Flynn has been accused of in the past. In this case, what crimes would he be immune from?
TOOBIN: I'll give you the most relevant one. If, in fact, he had some involvement in aiding and abetting the hacking of the DNC by Russia, that is a crime for which he could get immunity from.
CAMEROTA: But nobody has mentioned that. I mean, that...
TOOBIN: That's the core of this investigation. He hasn't -- he hasn't been accused of that, but the whole idea of collusion between Russia and the political...
CAMEROTA: Is it somehow they gave a green light or said, "Go ahead," or "Here would be a good time"?
CAMEROTA: Something like that? TOOBIN: But I mean, again, we need to emphasize. Just because you take the Fifth doesn't mean you're guilty of anything.
CAMEROTA: Yes. Can they compel him -- hold on one second, David. Can they compel him to testify?
TOOBIN: That's what immunity is.
CAMEROTA: No, meaning without immunity?
TOOBIN: No. No.
CAMEROTA: They can't? There's no jail time if they could?
TOOBIN: No. That's the whole point of the Fifth Amendment, is that you get to refuse to answer questions, and you can't be punished for that. Immunity takes that privilege away from you.
BERMAN: And David, I want you to jump in here, but one of the reasons you give one person immunity is so that person rolls on another in a bigger investigation. And Jeffrey's point is well taken. I mean, you're pretty high up. If you're dealing with an actual national security advisor and you want him to roll on someone higher up, it's got to be a really big fish. We just don't know if there are bigger fish here. Maybe those investigators don't know either.
GREGORY: We don't know. What we don't know is that Flynn is probably angry with how he was treated. And if he didn't -- if he didn't come clean with the vice president, I can only imagine the vice president said to the president, "Look, you can't put me in this position. This guy has got to go."
You don't know how that internal dynamic played out, even though the president has praised Flynn after the fact.
But I think, you know, the other key point about Flynn is he has the relationship with Russian television, this propaganda arm of, you know -- of Russian information. He has this -- you know, this interfacing with Putin. He is advising Trump about policy at the time. And then, of course, he has contact with the ambassador at a time when sanctions have just been levied by the administration because of the evidence of the meddling. So all of that is obviously a trove of information that congressional investigators want to know more about.
BERMAN: All right, guys, stand by, because this is not the only head- scratching, mind-numbing development from Washington over the last 12 hours. There's another firestorm consuming that city. Several media reports that staffers inside the Donald Trump White House shared intelligence files with the embattled intelligence chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes. Nunes took that information back directly to the president rather than to his committee. This is fueling a whole lot of speculation, a whole lot of accusations about coordination and collusion.
CNN's Suzanne Malveaux live on Capitol Hill with more -- Suzanne.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.
Well, the White House said Thursday that its staffers had uncovered materials regarding the surveillance in the campaign of 2016, leading up to some questions whether or not Trump aides themselves actually used the chair of the House Intelligence Committee to back Trump's claim that he had been wiretapped.
MALVEAUX (VOICE-OVER): Embattled House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes facing growing allegations of collusion with the White House. Multiple media outlets now reporting that White House officials provided Nunes with intelligence reports during a secret visit to White House grounds last week.
NUNES: I briefed the president on the concerns that I had.
MALVEAUX: A bizarre development, considering that Nunes went back to the White House the next day to brief President Trump on material he allegedly got from the president's own staff.
MATTHEW ROSENBERG, "NEW YORK TIMES": Was this an attempt to find post-facto justification for the president's tweets? We don't have any answers, because as usual, the White House just doesn't really answer questions about this.
MALVEAUX: Nunes's previous statements contradicting this new report.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: 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?
NUNS: No, it's not the case.
MALVEAUX: "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" also reporting that one of the individuals who let Nunes into the White House was brought on by former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Both newspapers also reporting that Flynn's successor, General McMaster, wanted to fire this staffer, but Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner stepped in to prevent it from happening.
Only now is the White House extending an invitation to the heads of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to review classified information.
SCHIFF: The timing certainly looks fortuitous and probably more than fortuitous. But per the letter, it said that the ranking member had been asking to review these materials, which of course, I have. That suggests, of course, that these are the same materials that the chairman has reviewed. And if that's the case, it begs the question: why all the subterfuge, if that's what it was? Maybe there's an innocent explanation here. I don't understand it.
MALVEAUX: White House press secretary Sean Spicer refusing to confirm or refute the report. SPICER: I'm not commenting on the reports. I'm not going to get into
MALVEAUX: This latest development coming two weeks after President Trump suggested that more information would come out to support his still unproven wiretapping claims.
TRUMP: We will be submitting things before the committee very soon that hasn't been submitted as of yet. I think you're going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront.
MALVEAUX: All the speculation over whether there was collusion between Nunes and the White House overshadowed the start of the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings which began yesterday. They delved into the intricate Russian hacking and their disinformation campaign and their continuing efforts to get into our systems -- Alisyn.
CAMEROTA: Suzanne, thank you very much.
So the question is, of course, can the House intel chairman, Devin Nunes, oversee that impartial investigation on any Trump-Russia ties, given what we now know today? Our panel tackles that next.
[06:18:50] BERMAN: Now to another firestorm in Washington. Several media reports say officials inside the Trump White House gave classified reports to House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes that showed incidental surveillance of Trump associates. So is the Trump White House colluding with the House Intelligence Chairman?
We want to bring back our panel: David Gregory, A.B. Stoddard, Jeffrey Toobin.
Let me put up this timeline so we can get the sense of what we're talking about here. It was on March 15 that President Trump said that wiretap evidence might come up over the next two weeks some kind of foreshadowing there. Then March 21, Chairman Nunes visits the White House coming complex.
On March 22, Nunes briefs, goes back to tell Donald Trump something that he apparently learned the day before, maybe at the White House.
CAMEROTA: And the press.
BERMAN: On March 23, Sean Spicer talks about Chairman Nunes getting information from inside the White House. He says the idea of that doesn't make a lot of sense, doesn't pass the smell test, he said.
Then on March 30 -- that was yesterday -- "The New York Times" comes out and says that Chairman Nunes got intelligence from the White House. Peculiar, David Gregory. A peculiar timeline there. The president seemed to know something was coming. Chairman Nunes went to the White House to get something, then went and told the president later on about that something. [06:20:06] GREGORY: Well, the president said that there was illegal
spying, that he was wiretapped at Trump Tower and laid that at the feet of President Obama. It's criminal activity that he was alleging that no one supported him on. There's been no substantiation for that.
And now, you have the Intelligence Committee chairman making contact with White House officials, reportedly someone in the counsel's office and the NSA staff office handing him this intelligence that shows incidental contact. And I bring Jeff in on this right away, showing that presumably there is a FISA warrant. And perhaps there's incidental names that are -- that are swept up into that that were not redacted, were somehow revealed. And that's what they're claiming is justification for something improper. So that's where the timeline fits together.
And it strikes me as just highly -- certainly irregular and totally improper for White House staffers to be engaged in this. And the chairman has undermined his own investigation by going this route. But he's achieved that point, which is to try to change the subject to an area that a lot of people will be upset about. And that is the leaking of this information, dissemination about this information while the investigation is going on.
CAMEROTA: What do you see, Jeffrey?
TOOBIN: Well, I mean, the whole thing is so bizarre. First of all, you have Nunes, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, going on a clandestine mission himself to the White House, where he gets information from the White House that he claims exonerates the White House, which he then gives to Donald Trump. Why doesn't Donald Trump get the information from his own White House?
The idea of using Nunes as sort of this cut-out to supposedly exonerate Trump -- by the way, another bizarre aspect of this story is this information apparently doesn't exonerate the White House. That this is the spin they're putting on it.
It just shows yet more evidence of how Nunes is in way over his head, is not capable of running this investigation. Shouldn't be involved and they should get either another Republican in there to work with Adam Schiff, the Democratic leader, or better yet, give this investigation to an independent investigator. But they don't appear to be doing that.
GREGORY: And Jeff, isn't the point, if they picked up other information, incidental to the wiretap, that's completely above board, right?
TOOBIN: Right. And that happens all the time.
CAMEROTA: But not if the names are unmasked. I mean, that's what they've worked their way around to. Is that they saw something that was very troubling, Devin Nunes claims, in that -- in that maybe names were revealed. And that's what he thought he needed to alert. TOOBIN: But if their name's revealed in the -- the underlying
documents themselves, that wouldn't be surprising. I mean, when, let's say, the NSA taps the Russian government in the United States, which is what the NSA does, sometimes the Russians talk to Americans.
CAMEROTA: But aren't those names redacted in that paperwork that then the White House or the intel community?
TOOBIN: Not -- not within the intelligence community. I mean, that's the whole point, is they want to know what it looks like. And this is all inside the government.
BERMAN: Three points. Three points. No matter what, this does not prove that President Trump ordered wiretaps on Trump Tower, which is what the president has argued.
No. 2 -- No. 2, none of this gets to any issue about whether or not Russia was involved in the U.S. election in 2016 or whether Trump associates colluded with the Russians. None of this gets to that.
And No. 3, Chairman Nunes himself seemed to deny the facts in this "New York Times" report when he talked to Wolf Blitzer just a few days ago. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Did you meet with the president or any of his aides while you were there that night?
NUNES: No. And in fact, I am quite sure that people in the West Wing had no idea that I was there.
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Those are pretty flat denials, A.B., now, and if you read the "New York Times" report and other media reports now, it just seems to not be true.
STODDARD: It's really breathtaking, actually, that Devin Nunes, you know, came up with the James Bond plot anyway and pulled it off and tried to, you know, paint it as something else, but that he lied to Eli Lake of Bloomberg in an interview a few days ago, saying his source was not a White House source but an intelligence community source. And then he lied to Wolf Blitzer.
I mean, look, he once had a great reputation. He's taken a baseball bat to it. That ship has sailed. But as for coordination, it was also reported on Monday by your CNN analysts Ryan Lizza in "The New Yorker," that last Monday, March 21, a conversation with Ryan and a White House source revealed that they knew that he was going to talk about incidental collection, call it surveillance and try to muddy the waters on wiretaps. None of those things are the same thing, but these three White House aides and Devin Nunes worked hard to try to help Donald Trump out of a hole with these false allegations about wiretapping by confusing the issues of innocence -- collection, calling it surveillance.
[06:25:21] That's the entire thing that Nunes talked about at a hearing with Comey that the White House aide said to Ryan, "What happened?" He said, "Watch Nunes today." Or she said, "Watch Nunes today." They were working together the whole time.
And the fact that Nunes not only would do this while he's running this -- this committee's probe, but really just sort of brazenly say that to Wolf Blitzer and to Eli Lake, I think, is quite stunning.
TOOBIN: You do not lie to Wolf Blitzer. OK? That is so wrong.
BERMAN: There is no immunity from that.
TOOBIN: Exactly. That's our guy.
GREGORY: That's another thing, is where is the control in the White House? You know, if I am the chief of staff, Reince Priebus, if I am the national security adviser McMaster, I want to get to the bottom of why it is people who are working here are conducting themselves this way? They don't have control in this White House. And maybe it's because, from the top down, they want to scuttle this investigation. They don't care about it. The president of the United States calls it a hoax. Somebody needs to get some control over there and keep their people in line. I mean, this is really outside the bounds.
CAMEROTA: Panel, thank you very much for being here.
Meanwhile, explosive testimony in the Senate detailing extreme measures that Russian hackers took to allegedly meddle in the U.S. election. Russia's president, of course, sees things quite differently. We have a live report from Moscow about what he's saying next.