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Source: Trump's Susan Rice Improper Masking Claim is False; 'Nuclear' Showdown Looming Over Gorsuch Confirmation. Aired 6-6:30a ET
Aired April 4, 2017 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: This is an effort to role more smoke bombs into an investigation that was making progress.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reports the former Obama national security advisor was involved in unmasking Trump associates.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: If that's the case, it's just dereliction of duty.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We get all kinds of intelligence intercepts all the time.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE MEMBER: I'm going to do whatever it takes to get Gorsuch on the Supreme Court.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We should be actually celebrating the anniversary of Justice Garland, rather than voting on Judge Gorsuch.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: To my Democratic colleagues, this is going to be very bad.
MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president and I have faith Congress is going to step up and do the right thing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a solid idea that was offered. We were certainly encouraged.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Freedom Caucus does not hold the key to this.
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 Tuesday, April 4, 6 a.m. here in New York.
Up first, President Trump trying to deflect again from the expanding web of ties between his team and Russia. The president alleging that former national security advisor Susan Rice improperly unmasked the identity of Trump associates who are caught up in surveillance of foreign targets.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So President Trump wants you to believe he is the victim of a crooked scheme. Those are his words. Here are our words: There is no evidence of any wrongdoing. And in fact, if anything, the NSA asking for identities was a reflection of exactly how much traffic there was involving Trump people and foreign players.
The White House blasting the press for not reporting on another fake scandal being pedaled by right-wing media. That is day 75 of the Trump presidency, and we do have it covered.
Let's begin with CNN's Jim Sciutto live in Washington. Busy night for you, my friend.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No question. Listen, we're at a space where intelligence is routinely politicized. But even the terms of intelligence are deliberately distorted.
I've spoken to the most senior former intelligence officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations. They say definitively unmasking is not leaking. It is routine. It is something that senior national security officials do on a regular basis to get a better understanding of the intelligence reports they see every day. It is legal. There are protocols put in place since 9/11 to allow this to happen. It cannot be done alone: it requires the approval of the intelligence community. And that information is not widely disseminated. It's between the briefer and that senior national official, whoever it is including Secretary Rice.
I've spoken to people close to Secretary Rice. It is their position that she did not -- the reports that she unproperly unmasked identities are, in their words, false. This appears to be the latest attempt to back justify President Trump's unfounded claim that President Obama surveilled him.
SCIUTTO (voice-over): Former President Barack Obama's national security advisor, Susan Rice, at the center of President Trump's latest attempt to renew his unproven wiretapping claim and divert attention away from his team's contacts with Russia. President Trump seizing on conservative media reports that claim that Ambassador Rice unmasked the names of Trump transition officials caught up in routine surveillance...
STEVE DOOCY, CO-HOST, FOX NEWS CHANNEL'S "FOX & FRIENDS": At its core, if this was surveillance for apparently political reasons...
SCIUTTO: ... tweeting that he was spied on before the nomination and calling it a crooked scheme. Source close to Rice telling CNN that the allegations that she did anything unusual or improper, false.
The White House, meanwhile, blasting the media for ignoring this ginned-up scandal. SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: From a media standpoint,
somewhat intrigued by the lack of interest that we've seen in some of these public revelations and reporting that has gone in that direction that we've seen in some of the other directions that we've seen.
SCIUTTO: Officials stress unmasking names in intelligence reports is a routine procedure, something different from leaking this information to the press.
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: If somebody feels that it has -- that there's intelligence value -- and of course, there's a whole series of procedures that you have to go through and lawyers look over your shoulder, so there's nothing at all unusual about unmasking.
SCIUTTO: The administration's latest justification a far cry from President Trump's initial claim one month ago, President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, an accusation that Mr. Trump has seen attempted to redefine.
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That really covers surveillance and many other things.
SCIUTTO: And justify even after his own FBI director refuted the claim.
TRUMP: I think you're going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.
SCIUTTO: Last week the Trump administration also tried to distort comments made by a former Obama defense official, Evelyn Farkas.
SPICER: Dr. Farkas's admissions alone are devastating.
SCIUTTO: This to substantiate Trump's contention that Obama spied on him. Farkas says her comments were wildly misinterpreted.
And the week before that, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes got wrapped up in the White House diversion.
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: The president needs to know these intelligence reports are out there.
SCIUTTO: Briefing the commander in chief and the media before his own committee about classified information of incidental collection on the president's associates.
TRUMP: I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found.
SCIUTTO: Trump calling Nunes's announcement vindication. Days later it turns out that officials inside Trump's White House were the original source of the documents shown to Nunes.
SWALWELL: We believe this is nothing more than just an effort to roll more smoke bombs into an investigation that was making progress. (END VIDEOTAPE)
SCIUTTO: Now, there are legitimate questions about unmasking. How easy does the law allow officials to unmask the names of Americans incidentally caught up in the surveillance of foreigners? Those are legitimate questions. But based on what we know now, there is nothing unusual or certainly illegal about the unmasking done by former Obama officials -- Chris and Alisyn.
CUOMO: And that's part of the problem here, right? First of all, Jimmy, thank you very much for laying it out with us this morning. Stay with us now because it's an important conversation.
And as Jim's pointing out, there's this conflation of legitimate issues and applying it to a situation where they don't bear any relevance.
Let's discuss now. We have associate editor and columnist for Real Clear Politics, A.B. Stoddard; and CNN counterterrorism analyst and former CIA counterterrorism official Philip Mudd. It's good to have all of you here on this important morning.
[06:05:11] Phil Mudd, the word "unmasking" is being used in a very nefarious way now. It's almost like you should say it in an evil whisper. "They were unmasking." What is unmasking; and when is it right and when is it not?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Well, let me take you into this situation. Going back to the fall, as you know, there's a lot of stories swirling in Washington, including at the White House, about Russian interference in the election. Obviously, the president appropriately asks his national security adviser, Susan Rice, to look into how the government should respond. On January 2, President Obama announces sanctions against Russians and expels Russian diplomats.
I've got to judge, based on what we've seen in the past 24, 48 hours that Susan Rice is getting intelligence not only about how the Russians are responding to those sanctions but about communications between the Russians and Trump officials.
So let's cut to the chase. What is she supposed to do? She's responsible for implementing the sanctions policy of President Obama; and she sees intelligence that says person No. 1, American No. 1 is talking to Russian officials about this issue. She either says I have the responsibility to know who's talking to the Russians about the president's policy or I'm not going to know.
She goes forward and says, "I'm going to unmask those names." Not only appropriate, but it's her responsibility to know this.
This is a smoke screen by the White House. By the way, Sean Spicer knows about as much about intelligence as I know about ballet. This is dime a dozen, what the national security advisor should be doing? She's got to know how people are trying to impede the president of the United States from implementing sanctions, and she's got to know who's talking to the Russians. It's that simple, Chris. CAMEROTA: OK. So A.B., that is quite different than how the White
House is depicting this situation and how right-wing media is depicting the situation. Let's listen to Bill O'Reilly, who last night addressed the angle the White House likes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: This story is starting to explode, trying to dwarf the Russian thing, because the Russia thing's been going on for a while. There's no -- everybody says there's no evidence. Even Schiff, the Democrat ranking on the House Intel Committee says, "There's no Russian thing that we've seen."
BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Well, he didn't quite say that, but he came close. This means we're going to have dual track -- and dual track investigations in both houses, at a minimum. And -- and this whole question of the gathering of intelligence, surveillance, and unmasking American names is going to be a significant part of it.
O'REILLY: Yes. It's now broken out.
HUME: There's no way -- there's no way to get -- to turn back from that now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Funny way to turn back from it, by keeping the facts straight of how you have general issues versus you have specific ones of concern here, A.B. Stoddard, about how this was done. Do you see this thing reported on legitimately in that clip and others that are coming out of the conservative issue.
A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Well, I do think that the leaking is the issue. And the leaking is a problem. No matter who the administration is, which party controls it, the intelligence community has a code of conduct, and they're not supposed to be leaking that stuff. And the wide dissemination of these, you know, leaks of transcripts and stuff is really the problem here.
But what people are doing, as we've been talking about, confusing and conflating these issues. And people at home who are interested in the truth really need to learn the difference between incidental collection and wiretapping. They are not the same thing. Unmasking is not wiretapping. Unmasking is not leaking.
And so it allows Trump supporters and allies to build this narrative that there was this wild surveillance of Trump and his associates. There were conversations between FISA targets and other people, perhaps other foreigners or even Trump associates themselves, during which names of Trump campaign officials, et cetera, family members, were caught up in this. It's the wide dissemination that is a problem, potentially a crime.
Susan Rice has a credibility problem. Devin Nunes has a credibility problem. So there's -- this is very muddied waters here at this point. But it's important for people to know that what Jim points out in his reporting, this is not only legal, whether people like it or not, but it's not even unusual...
STODDARD: ... is really -- that's the fundamental headline here and the bottom line.
CAMEROTA: So then, Jim, take it one step further for us, what A.B. just raised. Do we know how widely Susan Rice then disseminated the name that she asked to be unmasked or revealed to her?
SCIUTTO: We don't know that. This is the thing, described to me, again, by various senior officials. When unmasking happens, it's not like you put out a memo, right, to the entire White House staff. That unmasking happens between the briefer and that senior national security official.
Now, is it possible that senior national security official then goes down the corridor and tells someone else in the building or calls a reporter? It's certainly possible. We don't know that at this stage.
[06:10:09] But the other point I would make is this, is that unmasking cannot -- one person cannot order unmasking. It requires the intelligence community, in this case the NSA, to agree that that request is material and then to grant that request.
And the other point that was made to me was that these things are meticulously logged. One former senior intelligence official said to me -- and Chris, you'll appreciate this -- they are logged like Irish baptismal records. You know, so you can't do it -- you can't do it in the dark. And that's one reason why Devin Nunes was able to go to the White House and look at the request that Susan Rice made. They are meticulously logged. And that's by protocol and by law.
CUOMO: And you know, look, again, you guys are all making great points, and a lot of them are going to bear repeating, because we are seeing an intentional deception going on here, Phil Mudd. Where you want to take a general issue, which people do have about surveillance. What are you guys collecting there in the spy world? And when is my name up for your own offer within your agency or outside, and what was done specifically here?
And to Jim's point, if Rice wanted to leak this, if they wanted to do something sneaky, why would she have gone through the normal challenge of having it unmasked and created a paper trail of her own deception?
MUDD: Sure. And if you look at this case, let me pick up on what Jim said and take you inside the room. I've been in the room when the FBI director requests the unmasking of a name. Believe it not, the FBI director can't just determine the name in that intercepted communication. He's got -- the director of FBI has to go through that formal process that Jim just identified.
So as soon -- as soon as Susan Rice, presuming this story is correct, asks for that name, she knows that she's going to be entered in a registry that indicates she's made the request. One more point. There was a suggestion earlier that this is an intel
community leak. I'm going to wager to you, Chris, I bet you a beer, that some of these leaks are coming from within the White House. That is there are White House officials who are seeing these records and saying, "I want to throw Susan Rice under the bus, because that diverts this -- this investigation from Russia." I don't think this is all intel guys. We know that, because one of the connections we see between the White House and outside, was the White House inappropriately calling the Congress.
CUOMO: Well look, me buying you things to eat and drink is going to be nothing new. I don't even know if it counts as a wager. But all you have to do is look at Devin Nunes. He went from saying, "Oh, no, I got all this independently" to having a direct connection to the White House with the information he wound up putting out. So there's something to what Mudd is saying.
CAMEROTA: It is a tangled web. Thank you, panel, for helping us sort it out this morning.
We have other news to tell you about. Turning to the Supreme Court battle on Capitol Hill, Democrats now have the votes to block President Trump's nominee, Neil Gorsuch. So Republicans are poised to override them by changing Senate rules to confirm him when they vote on Friday. That would be unprecedented at this level.
CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is live on Capitol Hill with more on this showdown. What is next, Sunlen?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Alisyn.
Well, it's notable that Democrats have now locked in enough support to be able to successfully filibuster Neil Gorsuch, which essentially dares the Republicans to do what they've been threatening to do all along: invoke this so-called nuclear option, changing long-standing Senate rules, getting Gorsuch through this week with a simple majority vote. And so far, Republicans are not backing down from that threat.
CORNYN: Judge Gorsuch will be confirmed by the end of the week by the United States Senate.
SERFATY (voice-over): Senate Republicans poised to invoke the nuclear option for Supreme Court nominees to confirm Neil Gorsuch.
GRAHAM: I'm going to vote to change the rules, because I'm not going to be part of the Senate where Democrats get their judges, and Republicans can never get theirs.
SERFATY: After Democrats secured enough votes to filibuster his nomination.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: This nomination is not the usual nomination. SERFATY: The Senate majority leader vowing to change the rules so
that Gorsuch and future Supreme Court nominees will only need a simple majority to secure confirmation, needing 51 votes rather than 60.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I think that's unworthy of the Senate. I don't think it's the right thing to do.
GRAHAM: The judges will become more ideological, because you don't have to reach across the aisle to get one vote any longer. So this is going to haunt the Senate. It's going to change the judiciary, and it's so unnecessary.
SERFATY: But Democrats have been emboldened after Republicans refused to hold a hearing last year for President Obama's Supreme Court justice pick, Merrick Garland.
SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: If seven months of preventing Judge Merrick Garland from getting a hearing and a vote is anything, it is the longest and most successful partisan filibuster in Senate history.
SERFATY: The Supreme Court showdown playing out on Capitol Hill as the White House tries to revive the health care battle. Vice President Mike Pence meeting with the House Freedom Caucus late last night, hoping to win them over with two new offers. First, allowing states to opt out of providing essential health benefits required under Obamacare. Also on the table, a waiver for insurers to opt out of requirements that ban them from charging higher premiums based on gender, age, or prior illness.
REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC), CHAIR, HOUSE FREEDOM CAUCUS: We're encouraged by at least the idea, intrigued by the idea, but would certainly need a whole lot more information before we can take any action.
SERFATY: Meantime, back on the Gorsuch battle, the wheels in motion will start turning on all of this today. At some point, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will move to end debate today. That will set up a key procedural vote on Thursday. We expect, as we've been reporting, that that filibuster will not be defeated. It is then when this potential nuclear option could be invoked, which, Chris, potentially sets up a final confirmation vote for Neil Gorsuch on Friday.
CUOMO: Politically sticky situation but logically pretty simple. Traditionally, you need 60 votes to get a Supreme Court justice through. Now they're thinking of changing the rule, making it a simple majority. That would be something. We've never seen it before.
So we're going to tell you more on what's going on with this battle over Gorsuch. Will we have a new Supreme Court justice by the end of the week? We'll tell you what needs to happen for that to be so.
[06:20:25] CAMEROTA: All right. Leaders in Washington are speaking out about changing the rules ahead of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch's confirmation vote on Friday. Senate Democrats now have enough votes to keep Gorsuch off the bench, but Republicans have something up their sleeves, as well. They have a last ditch way to push him through.
So let's bring back A.B. Stoddard. Joining her are CNN political analyst and "New York Times" deputy culture editor, Patrick Healy; and CNN senior analyst and former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Toobin. Great to see all of you.
Jeffrey, let me start with you. We call this the nuclear option.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Thank you.
CAMEROTA: It would be unprecedented at the Supreme Court level. What does it mean for what's going to happen this week?
TOOBIN: Well, it means that Neil Gorsuch is going to get confirmed, because there are 53 solid votes for him, and that's clearly a majority. And the rules will change so that there is no longer a need for 60 votes to close off debate. But instead, it's just a simple majority.
CAMEROTA: So forevermore, what happens this week will change the rules of how Supreme Court nominees...
CUOMO: Until they change it again. You know, it's a procedural rule. Depends on who wants what. You now?
TOOBIN: The ratchet seems only to work this way. And I have to say, I find this less outrageous, less crazy than most people.
I mean, the Senate is an undemocratic institution to start with. You have very small states with the same number of votes as very large states. And 40 senators can stop legislation, can stop a nomination. Why is that such a good thing? Why shouldn't democracy rule? I don't get..
CUOMO: Well, it was always seen as -- it was always seen as empowering minority. Right? You're going to be out of power at some point. '
But there is something that needs to be made plain. And that is one of the things. That's a good point, Jeffrey. But the Democrats have enough votes to stop it. No, they don't. They don't have enough votes to stop Gorsuch, because you only need 51 votes.
CUOMO: This is a filibuster move. This is a move to stop voting from happening. So this, in and of itself, is a minority play.
CAMEROTA: It's used to be 60 until the... CUOMO: You never needed 60. What it is is you need 60 to shut me up,
CAMEROTA: Where do I get...
CUOMO: You only need your vote and one elbow.
But if the Democrats don't want a vote to happen, they do something called a filibuster, which either party can do. Right. And they keep talking. The sixty votes is to stop the filibuster. Then they can vote, and it's a straight up and down vote.
PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he's trying to prove the point.
CUOMO: Make it clear. Big words.
HEALY: I mean, to Jeffrey's point, it's about, you know, can the genie ever be put back in the bottle? You know? I mean, once they sort of uncork this, once it's -- you know, once everything is about just 50 plus one. You know, the history of the Senate has been about slowing things down, not looking necessarily for a straight line majority but trying to build up some kind of consensus, trying to get some kind of bipartisan support. That is a thing, really, of the past. I mean, right now, it's all about partisan politics, what president -- what president's party is in office, which all the members...
CAMEROTA: But A.B., let's be clear. I mean, Republicans say, "Hey, Harry Reid started it."
STODDARD: Well, Harry Reid in 2013 got rid of the filibuster for lower court nominations. And what will happen by doing this for the Supreme Court nominations is it will, many fear, lead to it going away for legislation, as well. So I understand Jeffrey Toobin doesn't have a problem with that. Legislation will just pass now with 351 votes. But in an atmosphere that's so polarized, I don't think we need less bipartisanship.
So I also think it's going to be, really, a corrosive move on both bodies, both branches, not only on the Senate and, therefore, the Congress but the Supreme Court, where you're going to see more kind of polarizing partisan figures.
Because it -- if everyone is confirmable, then no one is really held to the standards with which these justices have always been confirmed, which is that they're, you know, uniquely qualified and come with sterling credentials to the job that neither party in the past has objected to, even when there is a disagreement over ideology.
So I think that's why so many of us are lamenting that this is doing to happen, because it's going to affect not only the Congress but the Supreme Court.
CUOMO: The Supreme court is so important. The man or woman will be there so long that it shouldn't just be who you like in a moment of advantage. What do you make of that argument?
TOOBIN: I don't buy it. First of all, I think that the presidents have taken these nominations very seriously for a long time. I mean, Neil Gorsuch, whatever else you think of him, is very qualified on paper. He's very conservative, but this is what Donald Trump promised. Donald Trump promised, "I'm going to appoint a pro-life justice to the Supreme Court." That is apparently what he has done.
[06:25:08] I think he's going to continue to do that, whether it's 50 or 60 that are required for confirmation. And I think Hillary Clinton would have done the same thing if she were president.
HEALY: Look, what's sharpest (ph) to remember, Antonin Scalia was confirmed 98-0. These are different times now. And the idea of sort of saying, "Well, we're going to sort of hold onto these kind of old rules to try to take us back to some sort of better day." Neither party wants that. The Democrats did this to George W. Bush. Republicans fought, you know, Barack Obama on this. It's just -- it's not where we are now in politics.
CAMEROTA: Let's talk about something that also interests and affects so many Americans, and that's health care. A.B., the House Freedom Caucus is back at it. The White House says they're back at it. Democrats have their own ideas. Where are we with health care plan right now?
STODDARD: Well, the president went from threatening to support primary challenges against the members of the Freedom Caucus who brought the bill down on March 24, but by Monday he was talking to them and -- which is an interesting thing. Although he talked about working with Democrats, threatened Democrats in the Friday tweet. It doesn't seem that he's going to get any takers.
So he realized he really has to deal with the hardline conservatives who were the toughest votes to get last time. They are back to debating on the very same things, the Title I regulations under Obamacare that make it so popular. It will be hard, actually, to find something that the Freedom Caucus can support that lowers premiums for healthy people and will likely raise premiums for sick people that the moderate Republicans will agree to.
There are still skeptics at the leadership table about this, though everyone wishes something would just fall from the sky and work out. There's a lot of doubt.
CUOMO: Quickly, A.B., have you heard anything about drug pricing maybe being a middle ground, a small step that they can get everybody.
It's not something they can do by Friday. They want to take a recess and do a government funding Bill by April 28. And that is a whole new frontier in health care reform that would require the help of the Democrats since so many conservatives in the Republican conference believe that you let the free market dictate that kind of thing and you don't start messing with drug companies and the pricing. So that's something that Trump would have to spend a lot of time on.
CAMEROTA: A.B., Jeffrey, Patrick, thank you all very much for your time.
CUOMO: All right. So we have new details on that terror attack in Russia. Authorities identified a man police say carried out yesterday's attack on a metro train in Russia. Who is he? What was the motive? Is there any other part to the plot? Next.