Return to Transcripts main page


Michael Flynn Offers Congressional Testimony in Exchange for Immunity from Prosecution; Calls for House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes to Step Down Russia Investigation Continue; Interview with Senator Bill Cassidy. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 31, 2017 - 08:00   ET


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He has a story to tell if they're willing to cut a deal.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you meet with the president or any of his aides while you were there that night?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. In fact I'm quite sure people in the West Wing had no idea that I was there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two White House officials found the intelligence and provided to Mr. Nunes at the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We invite the Senate and House ranking members and chairman to the White House to view that material.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The timing certainly looks fortuitous and probably more than fortuitous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like a cover-up. I don't say it lightly.


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

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Morning everyone, welcome to your NEW DAY. Chris is off. John Berman is with me. Happy Friday.


CAMEROTA: It sure is. We begin with breaking news. President Trump's fired national security adviser Michael Flynn offering to testify before Congress if he is granted immunity. Flynn's lawyer says Flynn, quote, "has a story to tell," but we do not know what that story is. This comes as the FBI and Congress investigate Russia's interference in the U.S. election and possible ties to the Trump team.

BERMAN: In the meantime another controversy is consuming Washington. Several media reports revealing that officials inside the White House gave House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes classified documents. So many questions surrounding 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue on this, just the 71st day of the Trump presidency. Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Sara Murray live at the White House. Once one of the president's key advisers now asking for immunity, Sara. SARA MURRAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, another twist, another turn in this ongoing Russia saga. This time Donald Trump's former national security advisor says he's offering to testify, but that offer comes with a catch.


MURRAY: President Trump's fired national security advisor, Michael Flynn, offering to testify before congressional investigators if he gets immunity from prosecution. Flynn's lawyer say 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."

Flynn's lawyer saying discussions with both House and Senate committees have taken place, 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 NATIONALS SECURITY ADVISER: The very last thing that John Podesta just said is no individual too big to jail. That should include people like Hillary Clinton. Five people around her have been given immunity, to include her former chief of staff. When you are given immunity that means you have probably committed a crime.

MURRAY: Then candidate Trump echoing Flynn's word.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And if you're not guilty of a crime, what do you need immunity for?

MURRAY: For weeks House and Senate investigators have expressed an interest in speaking with Flynn, in addition to at least three other from Trump associates.

SEN. RICHARD BURR, (R) SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I think it is 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 on 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 a 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. But even after forcing Flynn out, the president praising his former advisor.

TRUMP: General Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he's been treated very, very unfairly by the media. (END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: This morning the president took to Twitter to weigh in on this Flynn controversy. He tweeted "Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt excuse for big election loss by media and Dems of historic proportion." It is worth reminding our viewers, though, that when James Comey was testifying on Capitol Hill he pointed out that this investigation into Russia began in July, which was months before we knew the outcome of the election. John?

BERMAN: Sara Murray at the White House, thanks so much.

So there were several media reports this morning of staffers inside the Trump White House shared intelligence filed with the embattled House Intelligence Chief Devin Nunes. Nunes took that information directly, maybe directly back depending on how you look at it, to the president rather than to his own committee. This chain of events has fueled accusations of possible coordination. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux live on Capitol Hill with more. More twists, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, John. The House and the Senate are not in session today, and the man in the center of the controversy is in his home state of California for the weekend. But the controversy over whether or not he colluded with White House officials to essentially backup Trump's claim he was wiretapped is really taking over.


[08:05:13] MALVEAUX: Embattled House intelligence chairman Devin Nunes facing growing allegations of collusion with the White House. Multiple media outlets now reporting that White House official provided Nunes with intelligence reports during his secret visit to White House grounds last week.

REP. DEVIN NUNES, (R) CALIFORNIA: 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 of those answers because, as usual, the White House just doesn't really answer questions about this.

MALVEAUX: Nunes' previous statements contradicting this new report.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": 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, that'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 advisor Michael Flynn. Both newspapers also reporting that Flynn's successor, General, McMaster, wanted to fire the 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.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The timing certainly looks fortuitous and probably more than fortuitous, but for 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 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.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not commenting on the reports. I'm not going to get into it.

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 are going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront.


MALVEAUX: And all the speculation over whether or not there was collusion between Nunes and the White House really overshadowed the first day of the Senate intelligence committee's hearings, and that of course focused on Russia's own disinformation campaign of 2016 and their ongoing efforts to hack various U.S. systems today. Alisyn?

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Suzanne, thank you very much for all of that reporting. Joining us now is Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. Good morning, Senator.

SEN. BILL CASSIDY, (R) LOUISIANA: Good morning, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: I want to start with a couple big lines from today for you. Do you think that Congress should grant immunity to Michael Flynn to testify?

CASSIDY: You know, I think it is a good idea. Congress needs to get at the bottom of this. The American people are intensely interested in it. There is a lot of kind of, do we know it's true or do we not? Flynn I think maybe can unlock this. If he can, I think it proves the process forward. We have to emphasize this is incredibly important. It's incredibly important if it's true or if it's not true, we need to get at the bottom of what is true.

CAMEROTA: What questions do you have about what Flynn did or Devin Nunes?

CASSIDY: Clearly Chairman Nunes has accessed information others did not. The fact that ranking member Schiff, the Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, as well as members of the Senate Intelligence Committee will have access to the same information is a good development. Part of what's been going on is what does Devin know and what does he not. Now all will know, at least those who are important to know, what he does know, and that's good. We need more transparency, as much as our intelligence sources will allow. The American people need to be reassured that our election process is above board and that Russian involvement is not kind of too important in terms of our national decision-making.

CAMEROTA: Absolutely. Now that we have reporting this morning that Chairman Nunes, the source for his information was to White House officials, do you believe that she should stay on as chairman of the House Intel Committee?

CASSIDY: I have no problem. That's one of the House -- it is a House committee decision. As long as he feels he's effective, I think it's OK for him to stay on. And we have found out information from that. We have found out, for example, that the Obama administration tapping Russian officials swept in, if you will, American citizens.

[08:10:06] We also understand that the identity of some of those American citizens was revealed. That's against the law. That is against the law. That's wrong. And although it's been kind of an odd way to get there, Nunes' revelations have revealed that.

Next, we also know that Adam Schiff as well as the Senate Intelligence Committees are going to see the information. If you will, it wasn't done ideally, but what Nunes has done has moved the ball forward significantly in what the appropriate committees are going to learn about what has transpired.

CAMEROTA: Just one more question about that unmasking, if the identities were just revealed to the Intel community, is that against the law?

CASSIDY: Well, first, we know that Flynn's identity was revealed to "The New York Times." That's against the law. Now, I'm not defending Flynn for anything he may or may not have done. But it was actually public knowledge, some of this, and that is wrong.

CAMEROTA: OK, but in terms of what Devin Nunes got his hands on, which, again, there is so many questions about, you just don't know if it was incidental collection and who saw anything on there. There's so many questions about what Devin Nunes did, which is part of why this is so mysterious.

CASSIDY: Which reassures me that the ranking member of the Democratic side on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees will now have access to that same information. I will go back to what I said earlier. It was an odd way to get there, not the best way to get there. But Nunes has clearly moved the ball forward in terms of what the House and Senate committees will know as regards these issues.

CAMEROTA: OK, let's talk about something that I know is very important to you as well as the American people, and that is the way forward on health care. Given that the first effort failed last week, everybody wants to know what are the next steps. Here is what President Trump said about the next steps. Listen to this.


TRUMP: I know that we're all going to make a deal on health care. That's such an easy one. So I have no doubt that's going to happen very quickly. I think it will, actually, because we've all been promising, Democrat, Republican, we've all been promising that to the American people.


CAMEROTA: You are intimately involved in this effort. Is it going to be very easy and quick?

CASSIDY: I don't know if it will be easy and quick, but it is imperative that we do so. On your website this morning,, there is a couple that before Obamacare was paying $400 for their insurance, now they're paying $700 more a month for insurance with benefits they do not wish to have. Premiums have climbed just tremendously under Obamacare, under the individual market. We have got to change that. And so even though that House effort failed last week, the premiums are still climbing. So I do think there will have to be a deal of some sort. Whether it's comprehensive or piecemeal I'm not sure, but it's important for the American people we get those premiums down.

CAMEROTA: So you have been working on a deal. In layman's terms can you tell us what would be different and more salable about your deal than what was presented last week?

CASSIDY: When President Trump ran for president he won by saying he wanted to replace Obamacare with something which covered everyone, caring for those with preexisting conditions, without mandates, and to lower premiums. The House bill actually ended up with fewer people covered and higher premiums. The bill I have put forward would lower premiums for the American people on the individual market but it would also continue the coverage caring for those with pre-existing conditions without mandates. We help President Trump fulfill his pledge. That's the difference between the two plans.

CAMEROTA: Given that you want more coverage and that President Trump had suggested something that sounded a lot like universal coverage, how are you going to get your most conservative colleagues on board?

CASSIDY: It is physically conservative to bay for benefits, number one. So my position is a conservative position. Secondly, every Fortune 500 company manages costs, manages costs. So if you have someone whose ill, you don't just write checks. You have someone manage their health care.

The federal government and the state government do the same thing. If you have a mentally ill patient who has gone in and out of the emergency room three times a month, you can't just write checks. You have to manage their health care. Rich Lowry, good conservative, at "National Review" wrote "Coverage is important. It is the fiscally conservative thing to manage the cost of this health care." And we think our plan does that. I am a doctor. I worked in a public hospital for the uninsured for years. I can tell you someone pays. It's better to manage that cost than to just write checks.

CAMEROTA: Senator, Cassidy, thank you very much for coming on NEW DAY to talk about the news as well as your new plan. We look forward to hearing more about it.

CASSIDY: Thank you, Alisyn.

BERMAN: Up next, lawmakers and the U.S. intelligence agency say Russia's threat to the U.S. is real. So is the president of the United States taking it seriously? We have an all-star panel to debate this next.


[08:18:34] BERMAN: President Trump tweeting this morning about fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's attempt to get immunity. He wrote, "Mike Flynn should ask for immunity and this is a witch hunt, excuse for big election loss by media and Dems of historic proportion."

Now, earlier, just a few minutes ago on NEW DAY, Senator Angus King says that Russia is a very real issue.


SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME), SENATE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: There is no doubt whatsoever that the Russians were behind an effort to interfere with our elections.


BERMAN: So, is the president taking this threat seriously?

Let's discuss. CNN political commentator Kayleigh McEnany is here, CNN political commentator Ana Navarro and a former New York City Council speaker, Christine Quinn.

Kayleigh McEnany, is it a witch hunt, as the president said just this morning, or is this a serious issue in which there is in question that Senator Angus King said that Russia meddled in our election and it needs to be looked at?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is both. It is serious when Russia meddles in our election. It is a witch hunt in that there is no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. And yet Democrats out there espousing -- there are two separate things. So, one is a witch hunt and one is very serious.

I do think we have to -- what President Trump was trying to do this morning was asking people to step back and look at some of the double standards. I thought back to when five Clinton associates were given, there was not this apoplectic oh my goodness, it's her former --


BERMAN: Actually, on the contrary.

[08:20:00] Well, among the Republican nominee for president, Donald Trump, and among his chief foreign policy advisor, Michael Flynn, there was that apoplectic response. Listen to the president.


TRUMP: Her aides took the Fifth Amendment, and her ring leaders were given immunity. And if you're not guilty of a crime, why do need immunity for?


CHRISTINE QUINN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That was my question this morning when I read the tweet. If he doesn't think Michael Flynn did anything, which you kind of by definition do if you are calling it a witch hunt, right? Which is clearly we used that phrase to say something that's unfair, outrageous, an attack that's not warranted, then you don't need immunity because by definition, immunity is kind of release from punishment for an obligation or having done something wrong.

CAMEROTA: It wasn't just president Trump. Michael Flynn also said about Clinton associates, if you have to ask for immunity, chances are you did something wrong and you're guilty. Now he's in this boat.

MCENANY: Maybe he didn't understand how immunity worked at this point.

But, look, to his point, I think he has a serious one here. Let's look. There are allegations that Michael Flynn might have violated the Logan Act that says you cannot negotiate with a foreign power when you are a private citizen. No one has been prosecuted under that statute and it's 200 years in existence. But Mike Flynn might be the first because the climate is such everyone wants a scalp, everyone wants to see someone in the Trump administration fail.

CAMEROTA: Well, he might have done something wrong.

MCENANY: He might have been. But why was there not a prosecution under the statute in 200 years?

QUINN: That's a red herring. That's a red herring.

MCENANY: That's not a red herring.

(CROSSTALK) QUINN: It is. Look, that, the Logan Act, is not the only thing that mike Flynn could have violated. But let's not distract by talking about this law that's allegedly never been used. I think the issue here is Mike Flynn and President Trump are choking on their own words. He said immunity like it was a four-letter word when he was discussing Secretary Clinton and his campaign.

And it is simple. Mike Flynn was in fact not wrong. Why do you need immunity if you haven't done anything wrong?

BERMAN: Ana Navarro, who has been quiet for a very long time, especially for Ana Navarro.

Ana, what's your take on this?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know, I'm struck listening to this entire conversation of how similar it is to the conversation we were having years ago about Hillary Clinton and Benghazi and that being called a witch hunt, and the problem here is that in both cases, there was so much partisan ship it was hard to get to the truth and the American people deserve the truth of what happened in these elections.

As a Republican, I can tell you I am extremely disappointed by the way the House Intel Committee is conducting this investigation. I think the chair is irredeemably tainted. I think he is compromised. I think he is torn between his loyalties to a president that he supported strongly, that he was a surrogate for, that he was in the transition team for, and a committee and an intelligence investigation that is leading to places that he doesn't want it to lead.

There is such a world of difference between how the Senate is conducting its bipartisan investigation and what is happening in the House, and I think it's high time that Republican leadership start taking a good look at what's happening in the House Intel Committee and really ask themselves a question, is Devin Nunes capable of conducting an impartial investigation?


NAVARRO: Because we must take partisanship out of it. We are talking about the idea, the concept that our geopolitical foe, Russia, meddled in our election. I don't care whether you are Republican, a Democrat, a libertarian, a vegetarian or what you are, you should care enormously about this, and it should be something that outrages you and that we should all as Americans be pushing for real answers and a real investigation.

MCENANY: Also with regard to the unmasking of U.S. citizens, that could be a concern for anyone who cares about the Fourth Amendment and the U.S. constitution.

CAMEROTA: And they're looking into it all of it. I mean, let's face it, we can keep these two things in our head both at the same time.

MCENANY: Sure. CAMEROTA: But when we had Angus King on today, who is on the Senate Intel Committee, who is already doing good work in terms of trying to figure this out, he was unequivocal. He went farther than other people have and said there is no doubt Russia meddled.

If you take that from the people who know, the source, then don't we have to keep digging and asking these questions?

MCENANY: Absolutely. And, look, I think both sides should learn from this. Look, the Democrats need to say I'm concerned about the Fourth Amendment and wrongful surveillance and the Republicans need to say we are concerned about Russian meddling and I think both sides need to acknowledge that because there is a lot of double speak going on from the left and the right.

QUINN: The word -- the word Ana used that's most important to all of us, and I think follows up in a way to what you're saying, is truth. You know, in our world of, you know, alternative facts, which are falsehood and fake news, which is not news, it is not a thing, we forget about the truth.

[08:25:01] And these investigations take part in a bipartisan or independent commission way in a search for the truth because that's what the American people deserve and the truth is relevant to the entire set of factors under investigation. And that's what we need to keep asking ourselves.

And Ana is right, regardless of party, are we getting to the truth? Because if we don't know the truth and Russia did attack our election system, it will happen again and it will happen by more of our enemies.

BERMAN: You know, Ana, you almost have to keep reminding yourself in this discussion that there are two things that are completely separate here. The answer of whether or not Russia meddled in this election and whether Trump associates colluded with the Russians is completely separate than the idea of incidental collection, surveillance and the like and whether or not people are masked or unmasked. Two things are completely separate. While they might both be valid issues, if your answer to whether or not the Russians meddle is the Fourth Amendment, you are not talking about the actual question.

NAVARRO: You know, John, I think the only way we are going to get to the bottom of everything is if we investigate both things and investigate them fully, comprehensively and simultaneous because even though they are separate things, at some point they overlap, right? What is the evidence there may have been collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians comes because of incidental surveillance. What do we do then?

But I go back to the point that, look, every time I see Devin Nunes on TV right now, he looks like the Easter lamb being led to slaughter. This guy is saying all sorts of things, tripping all over himself. It seems to me, he may have even lie to the speaker of the house because the speaker of the House said that what Devin Nunes told him was he got the information from a whistle blower type when, in fact, it was White House staffers. That is a lie to the speaker of the House.

And I think Paul Ryan needs to take action because there is going to end up hurting every Republican. If Republicans -- if Americans see that Republicans in leadership, Republicans when they are in power cannot conduct an impartial full investigation, it is going to wind up having a cost on the entire party. Right now, Devin Nunes clearly doesn't pass the smell test, and if leadership doesn't do anything about it, they are all going to stink to holy hell.


QUINN: In addition to Ana's always perfect reference to a lamb to be slaughtered, every time an American, regardless of party, sees Nunes on TV, they are questioning their validity.


MCENANY: -- being transparent without leaking to the press.

QUINN: Look, you know what, if he was doing his job and doing a true independent investigation, people would have -- wouldn't have to have those kind of questions. They would all be being looked. People look at him when they say where --


NAVARRO: The Republican is chairing the Intel Committee in the Senate is doing it. He's doing it like an adult whose loyalty.


CAMEROTA: Yes. But, Kayleigh, are you saying Nunes is being transparent?

MCENANY: Look, yes, in a way.


MCENANY: "The National Review" has a fascinating piece and everyone should go read it and the author argues from the Hoover Institute that at least Devin Nunes is out there. He was transparent when he went to the White House.


CAMEROTA: He says I can't tell you what I saw. I can't tell you --

BERMAN: I got it.

QUINN: It was a whistle blower.


MCENANY: What he's not doing is leaking information, which is a felony, to the press as an anonymous source, which for all we know Democrats are doing. CAMEROTA: How do we know?

QUINN: You know what, I think the issue here is Mike Flynn didn't know the definition of immunity and Kayleigh doesn't know the definition of transparency. So, what we need to get all the Trump supporters is a ginormous dictionary to understand some basic facts.


NAVARRO: What Devin Nunes did was lend himself to a charade so that Donald Trump could say he was vindicated, and that is torn loyalty.

CAMEROTA: OK, thank you, panel, very much. Have a good weekend.

Russia controversies are piling, I think is fair to say. But the Trump White House, how can they turn things around? We get the bottom line with David Axelrod, next.