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Hope Hicks to Testify Before House Intelligence Committee; President Trump Tweets in All Caps with Exclamation Point; Congress Under Pressure to Act on Guns; Georgia GOP Threatens To Kill Delta Tax Break Over NRA Decision; Trump End Twitter Lull With "Witch Hunt" Claims. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired February 27, 2018 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:03] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. John Berman here.

The president claims he would run into a school unarmed to stop a shooter, but this morning he is already walking away from a new gun law that would have made it harder for the killer to get a weapon.

Also today, new CNN reporting on the growing number of warnings missed, twice as many calls to the sheriff's office as the sheriff actually says.

But we begin with big testimony in the Russia investigation. One of the president's closest aides, and the inner most ring of the inner circle, Hope Hicks, will appear before Congress.

Who knows if that was the impetus for the president to wake up shouting on the Russia probes. Look at that, all caps and an exclamation point.

Let's go to CNN's Manu, all caps, Raju, exclamation point, on Capitol Hill to preview this big intelligence committee hearing -- Manu.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the big question, John, is whether or not Hope Hicks is actually going to answer the committee's questions. The Democrats in particular want to ask her not just about topics that happened during the campaign but topics that happened during the transition period, and happened while she was at the White House and as she's become communications director at the White House.

Now what we've seen from the last two high-profile witnesses who have come through this door that those witnesses have not answered the committee's questions, particularly Corey Lewandowski who during his January testimony said that he was not prepared to answer questions about any matters after he left the Trump campaign in June of 2016.

Now Democrats have called for a subpoena of Corey Lewandowski to answer some questions about those topics. Republicans have not agreed. But on Steve Bannon's case, when he came before this committee, he did not answer questions about the transition period and his time at the White House saying that the White House has instructed him to invoke executive privilege to protect those communications that may have occurred with the president.

Those -- that assertion of executive privilege by Bannon have been scoffed at by Republicans and Democrats with some threats to hold him in contempt of Congress. Now the question today is whether or not Hope Hicks will do the same, whether or not she will answer questions about her transition, whether or not she will answer questions during her time at the White House, and if she does not, will the Republicans join the Democrats in expressing their concerns, either threatening to hold her in contempt or issuing her a subpoena. We don't have those answers yet. But we will know in just a matter of minutes when she arrives here behind closed doors when members try to ask her questions.

And remember, John, her first appearance before the committee which was scheduled for January was delayed amid all these questions about exactly what she was willing to answer including the Trump Tower meeting, what she knew about the Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and the response to that meeting which we know was misleading and that she apparently had a role in drafting that statement to the news media.

All questions that a number of these members want her to answer. The question, though, John, will she answer? We just don't know that quite yet -- John.

BERMAN: And unusually stealthy Adam Schiff walked behind you moments ago, Manu. We're going to let you get back to your job stalking these members. See if we can make some news before the hearing begins. Check back in with us if you hunt someone down. Thanks, Manu.

Let's go to the White House now where it appears that the president has been catching up on some missed TV from over the weekend, sharing some of his favorite views on the Russia investigation. Seriously, that's what he's been doing.

CNN's Abby Phillip at the White House with that -- Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's been an all-caps morning here, John, for the president who's in the White House on apparently executive time. What's interesting about these tweets is that after a nearly three-day hiatus, the president is back on Twitter. He's talking about the Russia probe and he's tweeting some old quotes from "FOX & Friends" appearances over the weekend.

At least two of the quotes came from Sunday morning, one from Ken Starr, the other from Jonathan Turley. Both of them talking about Hillary Clinton and the Russia investigation all driving toward a central point that the president punctuated in his final tweet, two simple words, witch hunt, in all caps and an exclamation point.

The president is clearly focused on this Russia story despite the fact that the White House often talks about the media and Democrats being fixated on this issue. We know based on the president's own comments on social media that he woke up first thing in the morning and that's what he was tweeting about. There are a lot of other things on the agenda today, John, for the

president including this brewing issue of guns. But we still haven't heard much about him -- about that today from him. And it remains to be seen if he's going to advance that issue or if he's going to continue to be fixated on Russia, especially as today one of his closest aides, long-time aide Hope Hicks is testifying. That might be something that is bothering him as he goes into this day -- John.

BERMAN: Yes, I suppose it depends on how much he has caught up on the DVR this morning.

Abby Phillip, at the White House, thanks so much.

Joining me now, CNN contributor, professor at the University of Texas School of Law, Steve Vladeck.

[09:05:05] Let's talk about Hope Hicks appearing before the House Intelligence Committee meeting this morning, Steve, because in some ways this could be like a "Seinfeld" hearing, a hearing about nothing if she declines to answer questions about her time in the White House which seems almost definite and her time during the transition which seems highly likely. Correct?

STEVE VLADECK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think that's right, John. And I think it's worth stressing that those are actually very different legal questions about whether Hope Hicks can avoid answering those questions. There's no such thing as executive privilege during the transition. The president-elect is not protected by Article II of the Constitution. So I think it's actually a very weak claim if Hope Hicks says she can't talk about the transition.

As for once President Trump came to office, you know, the harder question, John, is, have some of these privilege claims been waived given how much the president and those around him have actually talked publicly about these very conversations and about Hope Hicks's role therein.

BERMAN: And there's no privilege, zero privilege during a campaign. And obviously Hope Hicks was at the president's side for the duration of the campaign. Correct, Steve?

VLADECK: That's exactly right. And I think one of the real interesting points here is a witness can show up and refuse to answer a question. By itself, that's not a problem. The question is what happens then? Is the majority, in this case the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, your friend and mine, Devin Nunes, actually going to push back and require Hope Hicks to formally assert a privilege even potentially one that doesn't exist? Or is the committee just going to allow her to not answer questions much like they did with Steve Bannon, throw up their hands and walk away?

You know, that's the really interesting thing to look for. Is the committee going to try to force the issue, especially for questions about the campaign and the transition when there's really no legitimate claim to executive privilege? BERMAN: Steve, I think a question that a lot of Americans have right

now is what's the point of having congressional investigations right now, particularly the House Intelligence Committee, if they're not going to push for certain answers given that Robert Mueller is doing his own investigation and has already heard from Hope Hicks?

VLADECK: Well, I think it's important to separate the different roles of the Robert Mueller investigation on the one hand and Congress on the other. What Robert Mueller is investigating is basically a counterintelligence problem which is Russian interference in the U.S. elections and then there have been criminal indictments arising out of that counterintelligence investigation.

Congress, John, has a broader mandate. Congress can look into anything it thinks is relevant to the American people. Ultimately if Congress thinks there's real malfeasance here on the part of the president and his administration, it's Congress, much more than I think Robert Mueller, is going to be the one we want to hold the administration accountable.

And John, at the end of the day, Congress is the one that can make the political considerations, the political evaluations. That's not what Bob Mueller is supposed to be doing.

BERMAN: Thank you for explaining it like that because I think that's lost on some people. They play very different roles and by not answering questions to Congress, which has a clearly defined role here, you are in some ways, you know, thumbing your nose at the system.

Let me put up a number that gets to I think the larger issue here. CNN has this new poll out which finds that 6 in 10 Americans say that President Trump is not taking the investigation into Russian efforts to meddle into the election seriously enough. 58 percent not taking it seriously enough. And that is what is at the basis of this entire investigation. And that is what Robert Mueller just two weeks ago, he charged 13 Russians for meddling in the U.S. election.

VLADECK: That's right, John. I mean, I think it's worth stressing. We have 19 indictments and five guilty pleas out of what the president labeled this morning a witch hunt. It doesn't sound like a witch hunt to me. Now there's a separate question about whether at the end of the day Robert Mueller is going to find any evidence that the president himself or those closest to him were directly involved.

But, John, leaving that aside, there is the broader and I think increasingly indisputable fact that the Russians did indeed attempt to interfere and interfered in the 2016 elections. And I think the most telling thing about the president's tweet storm is that absolutely none of it has been about how the government, how the United States should respond to that interference going forward to make sure it doesn't happen again.

BERMAN: Professor Vladeck, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

VLADECK: Thank you, John.

BERMAN: So in the immediate wake of the Florida school massacre, the one concrete measure the president suggested he would support was raising the minimum age to buy a rifle to 21. He said it again and again and again. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to go very strong into age, age of purchase. We're going to work on getting the age up to 21 instead of 18. Perhaps we'll do something having -- you know, on age because it doesn't seem to make sense that you have to wait until you're 21 years old to get a pistol, but to get a gun like this maniac used in the school, you get that at 18.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: But after having lunch with NRA leaders over the weekend, the president has suddenly gone quiet on this issue.

[09:10:06] A White House official says it's not clear where the president currently stands. And a congressional source tells our Jim Acosta the president seems to be backing away. We will have to watch that very closely.

In the meantime, House Republicans are going to face the cameras next hour while the Senate struggles to move a bill on background checks that most senators seem to support. Still not much movement on it yet.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux on Capitol Hill.

Suzanne, what's the very latest?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, John. Well, in less than an hour we're going to hear from House Speaker Paul Ryan. That press conference he's going to be pressed on that very issue, whether or not they're even willing to bring a bill before the floor.

There seems very little appetite honestly, John, among lawmakers here and little enthusiasm to do so. We're also going to see Senate GOP folks after their policy luncheon what they come up with, whether or not there's going to be a big push.

Here are some of the proposals already there on the table. The bump stock issue. That was something that came up after the Las Vegas massacre. Folks though that that would actually go through, something would be done to ban, if you will, that little device that turns a semi-automatic into an automatic weapon.

The president has indicated perhaps he'll take some sort of executive action or order on that. Improving federal background system. That was something Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, had pushed back in 2013. It also failed. It would require an expanded check, if you will, for gun sales and gun purchases over the Internet. He wants to reintroduce that. We'll see where that goes.

Changing the legal age, as you had mentioned, to buy a long gun or a rifle from 18 to 21. That is something that initially the president said yes, he'd be up for. He seems to be backing away from that.

Also restricting the size of the gun magazines. This is something Senator Marco Rubio talked about right after the Florida shooting, at least in the town hall, the CNN town hall, seemed to adjusting his stance, acknowledging that perhaps less deaths would occur if you didn't have that capacity for as many rounds to be shot. We'll see where that goes.

And finally, the ban on the purchase of AR-15 style weapons, that is something that we heard from Representative Brian Mast, very powerful Republican who made his case. He is a vet. He says this cannot be in the hands of just anybody. There are 164 Democrats who are co- sponsoring that bill. Seems to have a lot of support on the Democratic side on the House side.

But honestly, John, it does not look like it is really going anywhere. And so there are lots of ideas, real big questions as to whether or not you can get the kind of support on the House and the Senate side to move any of this forward.

BERMAN: Suzanne Malveaux on Capitol Hill. Make no mistake, today is a huge day. Watch all the activity up there very, very closely. I know Suzanne will be.

Thanks, Suzanne.

Delta cuts ties with the NRA. Now Georgia Republicans are threatening to nix a tax break for the airline. And sources tell CNN that Ivanka Trump's trip to South Korea is fueling new tensions inside the White House. Why the high-profile trip is not setting well with senior officials.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:17:17]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, teachers and staff are back at work at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Tomorrow students will go back to class, two weeks after the shooting that killed 17 people.

Now we are learning still more about missed warning signs on the shooter. The sheriff says he got 23 calls about him and his family. But CNN pulled the records, and they show the Broward County Sheriff's Office got at least 45 calls on the shooter or his brother since 2008.

In at least one of those calls, it came from the shooter's neighbor who says she begged an officer for help.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOELLE GUARIN, SHOOTER'S NEIGHBOR: He basically told me that there was nothing he could do unless he carried out a threat, unless something happened.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In this case unless he shot a school because that's what you were talking about.

GUARIN: Basically, yes. After he left, I just felt completely helpless and frustrated. I didn't know where else to turn.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: That neighbor says she and her husband both knew they would one day see the teen on the news. She said, quote, "In an orange jumpsuit being charged with murder."

New developments on this story from Georgia, now, Delta Airlines, the largest private employer in the state decided to stop providing a discount to NRA members to fly to the annual NRA Convention. Now some Georgia Republicans are retaliating.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CASEY CAGLE (R), LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR OF GEORGIA: I'm tired of conservatives being kicked around on our values. It's time we stand up and fight and show corporations that conservative values are important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Republicans there vowing to block a tax break that would have saved Delta more than $40 million. Joining me now Republican State Senator Michael Williams. Senator, thanks so much for being with us. Just so our viewers know, you are running for governor. Let me stipulate that --

MICHAEL WILLIAMS (R), GEORGIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: That's correct.

BERMAN: -- and you actually opposed this tax break for the airlines even before the Delta move, correct?

WILLIAMS: That's exactly right. On Friday when Lt. Governor Casey Cagle was trying to fast track this bill through the process, I stood up and objected to a procedural move that would allow the bill to come to a vote beforehand.

BERMAN: OK, but, and but I should say the Delta move upset you even more. Why?

WILLIAMS: Well, the Delta move brought more attention to this. Really, it's kind of helped me to get people aware of what's going on so that we could energize our base, people in Georgia that love our Second Amendment, love our Constitution. They've gotten involved. They've sent out text messages, Twitter, e-mails.

The people in Georgia, again, those people that love our Second Amendment are infuriated by this and able to use this to advance a discussion on how we don't need to give corporate welfare.

BERMAN: Delta says it likes the Second Amendment. Let me read you their statement.

[09:20:02] It says, "Delta's decision reflects the airline's neutral status in the current national debate over gun control" -- I think we have a graphic we can actually put up to go along with it -- "out of respect for our customers and employees on both sides. Delta has taken this action to refrain from entering this debate and focus on its business. Delta continues to support the Second Amendment."

So, you know, it's not like they're levying a surcharge on NRA members, they're just pulling back a discount.

WILLIAMS: Yes, but again, that statement is completely false. It's a straight-up lie. By doing this at the time they did, by saying we're no longer going to give the Second Amendment, the NRA members this discount --

BERMAN: Just to be clear, they're saying the NRA members, no Second Amendment -- America are Second Amendment members.

WILLIAMS: Why didn't they pull the discount for those that support Planned Parenthood or some of the issues on the left? Again, they --

BERMAN: Delta -- to be fair to Delta, a year ago when there was that play in Central Park, where someone who looked like President Trump was knifed in this bloody manner, they pulled funding for that show.

WILLIAMS: When they behead our president, that's a no-brainer. Who is not going to pull funding for someone who wants to behead our president?

BERMAN: Let me put it this way, there are other businesses in the state of the Georgia, correct, that do not give NRA members discounts. Do you feel they should be penalized?

WILLIAMS: No, again. We are not penalizing, and my stance is not to penalize Delta for taking away from the NRA. My stance has always been that we don't need to give out corporate welfare. Delta makes billions a year. They don't need this tax break.

And on top of that, they're trying to attach this tax break to a bill that will allow the Trump tax break to flow to the people of Georgia. Delta has hijacked this whole debate.

BERMAN: They're two separate issues. You absolutely oppose this without the Delta NRA issue. But you opposed it even more strongly, which I think is a fair statement, after Delta made the statement about the NRA --

WILLIAMS: It's been able to energize our base and get them involved in this discussion.

BERMAN: Is it fair -- Delta is the largest private employer in your state. You think, again, on this narrow issue, on the Delta-NRA spat, it's worthwhile to penalize the largest private employer in your state? WILLIAMS: I am not penalizing Delta for their position. They injected themselves by taking away the discount to NRA members. They did it -- the same week the Senate was talking about giving them a tax break.

BERMAN: Is singling out NRA members, though, for a discount, would that not be weighing in on this discussion right now?

WILLIAMS: Exactly. That's what they did. They interjected themselves into this debate. By doing so, it's brought a lot more attention to what I am trying to do, which is to stop corporate welfare. That's the underlying issue for me.

Delta is making billions of dollars. Why do they need a tax break from the citizens of Georgia? Plus, again, attaching it to the bill that's going to allow the Trump tax breaks to funnel down to the people of Georgia, I just think the whole thing is wrong.

The fact that Casey Cagle, our lieutenant governor wants to come out and say he's against it, only after they whipped the senators to see if they would stop him from pushing through this tax credit, this tax break.

BERMAN: All right. Georgia State Senator Michael Williams, Senator, thanks so much for being with us today. I appreciate it.

WILLIAMS: Thank you. It's a pleasure.

BERMAN: All right. We're just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Stocks set to open a little bit lower this morning. Investigators waiting to see Jerome Powell make his first trip to Capitol Hill as chairman of the Federal Reserve. Will he give some clues about the possibility of raising interest rates?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:28:30]

BERMAN: Congress with some key decisions on gun legislation. The president up and making statements early this morning. Joining me now Molly Ball, CNN political analyst, Sabrina Sadiki, politics reporter for "The Guardian," and Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for "The Chicago Sun Times."

Molly Ball, our Abby Phillip at the White House said "It's an all-caps morning here at the White House. Those are the all caps, witch hunt! exclamation point." The question I have is why would the president wake up tweeting witch-hunt this morning with everything else going on?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Because he thinks it's a witch hunt. I mean, look, it's not new that the president is obsessed with this investigation. He is obsessed with things that concern him personally. So, while matters of policy are perhaps of primary concern to people whose job it is to make policy on Capitol Hill and so on. And people like me whose job it is to cover policy, the president is preoccupied first and foremost with what he perceives as an existential threat in the investigation, and so that's what he is focused on. He's watching Fox News. He's tweeting about what he's hearing, and this is what he does.

BERMAN: With all caps, nonetheless. Look, you know, the United States, the American people are using their own form of all caps an exclamation points in polling right now. We asked in this new CNN poll, are you confident that the Trump administration is doing enough to prevent foreign influence in future elections?

Sixty percent say no, say that the president, despite waking up talking about Russia, is not doing enough to prevent future influence. And one really fascinating point, 80 percent of Republicans, though, say that he is. Lynn Sweet, that's a staggering --