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Hope Hicks Appears before House Intelligence Committee; Any Minute: House GOP Leaders Speak; Congress under Pressure to act on Guns; Interview with Sen. John Kennedy. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 27, 2018 - 10:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- communications director who does virtually no communicating in public at least is set to appear in private before the House Intelligence Committee. There is no aide closer to the president or who has been around him more since the beginning of his campaign.

Also, House Speaker Paul Ryan set to answer questions any moment. He will be pressed on what Congress will do, if anything at all, in the wake of this school massacre in Parkland, Florida. Much more on that in just a moment.

But, first, a moment in the Russia investigation that might explain why the president is shouting this morning, virtually at least, look at those words he posted just a short time ago, witch hunt.

CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill with the very latest. Hope Hicks, has she arrived yet, Manu?

I think Manu is having a hard time hearing me. Manu --

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Any minute now, John, we're expecting Hope Hicks to walk into the House Intelligence Committee meeting room just below me. The question is whether she's going to answer questions about her time during the transition period and the White House. What we can tell you is that Congressman Mike Conway, the Republican's leading the Russia investigation, just told our colleague, Jeremy Herb, that he expects her to answer all those questions during the transition and during the White House. The question is whether or not she will actually do that or whether or not she will do what Steve Bannon did when he appeared before the committee earlier this month when he said he would not answer questions because it preserves the right of the president to invoke executive privilege during the transition and during the campaign.

What Hope Hicks is uncertain, whether she has an agreement with the committee, also uncertain, Mike Conway is saying he's not aware of any agreement that she has reached to limit her testimony. Other Republican members too want her to answer more questions, John, including Tom Rooney, the Florida Republican who is a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee, just said to me -- I do, when I asked him does he want her to answer questions during the transition and during the campaign, during her time at the White House. So the question is will she actually answer those queries when members do pose them to her in just a matter of moments. There is expectation that she will limit her testimony based on what Steve Bannon did and based on Corey Lewandowski, who separately would not answer questions about his time after he left the campaign in June 2016 and that is -- those are -- those -- the Democrats have demanded a subpoena for Lewandowski to answer questions. And also demanded that Steve Bannon to be held in contempt. What will they do if Hope Hicks doesn't answer questions? All are going to be answered just in a matter of moments here, John.

BERMAN: All right. Expectations are one thing, reality is another. We will have to wait and see whether Hope Hicks does what past aides have done and refuse to answer questions on the presidency, the transition. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill thanks very much.

I want to go straight to the White House, right now, where the president has been using his executive time to vent out loud and in all caps on the Russia investigation. Abby Phillips at the White House this morning. Good morning, Abby.

ABBY PHILLIPS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, John. The president has ended his relatively lengthy silence on Twitter with more tweeting about Russia. He's been tweeting all morning, with some older quotes from Fox News appearances over the course of the weekend. That's what is so interesting about this. The president isn't watching this morning necessarily. He's tweeting things from all the way back on Sunday, one from Ken Starr that was on "Fox and Friends" and another from Jonathan Turley, praising his comments on Fox on Saturday night. So it all is full circle here.

He ends it all with that last all caps witch hunt tweet, which is a common refrain for this president and might very well be linked to the fact that Hope Hicks, one of his closest aides and someone who has been around the president for a long time, is testifying before the House Intelligence Committee this morning. You know, President Trump has a busy day ahead of him with meetings, but for those precious hours in the morning, his time is all his and he's used it to once again weigh in on this Russia investigation. Hammering home the point that he thinks that this investigation is all a hoax. No word yet today from the president about the other burgeoning issue at the White House, which is guns and what to do about gun violence. I think we're probably going to hear more from him on some other topics today, but for now, we know what is on his mind and it is Russia once again, John.

BERMAN: Abby Phillip, we know what's on his mind, thanks so much. Appreciate it, Abby.

We're also waiting as we said for House Speaker Paul Ryan. He will answer questions about what Congress will do or not do this morning in terms of possible gun control measures. While we're waiting for the speaker, our Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill to give us a sense of what might be going on up there. Sunlen?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. Certainly this morning there have been a bunch of key closed door meetings, members of the House Democrats, House Republicans, heavily behind closed doors.

[10:05:02] And we likely will, emerging from those meetings, learn potentially what the next steps to all this, if anything, will be on Capitol Hill. Of course, we have heard from President Trump who has been pretty vocal in the last few days and certainly since the Parkland shooting, that he wants to see some action on Capitol Hill. But keep in mind. It is the Republican leaders in the House and Senate who will be the ultimate people and those responsible for putting legislation on the floor. So they have a key role in this. That's why what we hear from Republican leaders up here today, the first full working day, for the Congress, since the Parkland shooting, what they say so important to determine the next steps.

We will be waiting for Republican leaders, including House Speaker Paul Ryan come to the microphones and brief reporters in the next few minutes where we potentially will hear a path forward and the House Speaker's Office and recent days have made it clear that as of now, he is going to wait to see what the Senate does to take the next steps. So certainly that's likely something that we'll hear him repeat today when he's pressed by reporters and leaders today, we'll hear from the Senate leadership, certainly lawmakers are facing considerable pressure and adding into the mix the fact that you have this Stoneman Douglas students up here on Capitol Hill, they huddled with House Democrats this morning, will meet with individual lawmakers, certainly it adds to the considerable pressure, John, that they're facing.

BERMAN: Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill, we'll watch very closely, expecting to hear again from the House Speaker any minute. In the meantime, joining me, Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst and CNN commentators, Bakari Sellers and Alice Stewart.

Alice, you know, it was interesting, someone reporting Paul Ryan says he's going to wait to see what the Senate does on guns. The Senate saying, hey, wait a second we're kind of waiting to hear what the president wants on guns, everyone looking at everyone else. Who is leading on this, Alice?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I would like to think that the president will lead on this. He's made it quite clear what he wants on this. And there is virtually universal consensus with regard to strengthening background checks --

BERMAN: Alice, I think you're right, most of the time on most things he hasn't made it clear on this because on the single issue of raising the minimum age to buy a rifle up to 21, he said it, then he stopped saying it. So we don't know where he stands on that. And in terms of background checks, he's never actually made it clear what he wants to strengthen, has he?

STEWART: He made it clear he wants to strengthen the process and make sure that the proper information is put into the system. But he is clear also on a few things. Certainly banning bump stocks, he's made that quite clear, hardening schools, no more gun free school zones, which are a welcome mat for those that are looking to go commit violence. And also he's a big proponent of arming certain teachers and those on campus that want to have a firearm, that are adept at firearms and who are well trained. And that's something that he is quite clear on.

The NRA also is, you know, so many people are pointing the finger at them, stopping some type of measure. They're very strong on making sure that people that should not have guns that are harm to themselves or others. They're the ones that shouldn't have guns. And this is about making sure that we keep all guns out of the hands of some people, not some certain guns out of the hands of all law abiding citizens.

BERMAN: So, Bakari, some Democrats have suggested that they may be hesitant to support this fix NICS thing, to give incentives for states to report to the national criminal background checks because it does not go far enough. Do Democrats, though, do you think they need to get on board with measures that go anywhere and not hope for the moon on this. I interrupted Alice, so I owe you an interruption and I'll do it at any time.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Yes. I'm figuring that the interruption is coming anyway. But, you know, I say that Democrats have to seize this moment, not often do we get a moment in time where the public perception is right where we need to be to create the change we want to see. I think that there are simple things that we can do. I think that not only can we have universal background checks, but I also think that we can study gun violence at the CDC like the public health crisis that it is. I think that we can close the person to person loophole sale. And I also think that we can ban bump stocks and close the Charleston loophole.

I think that those are bipartisan efforts. As far as who is going to lead this if, in fact, after Sandy Hook, the United States Congress and you have 20 plus kids who are murdered and gunned down in their own elementary school if the United States Congress doesn't do anything then, I'm sorry to say, but I don't have much faith they're going to do anything now. I have more faith in the young people who are leading this movement, the public putting pressure on our members of Congress, than I do on the president of the United States, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell.

BERMAN: I'm going to interrupt you only at the very end because I want you guys all to hold for a minute. Ron Brownstein, I want you to talk about young people in just a moment because you have a fascinating take on this.

But joining me now, and he has to run, so we're getting to him right now, Senator John Kennedy, Republican from Louisiana. Senator, thank you very much for being with us right now.

[10:10:01] I'm glad you jumped in right at this part of our discussion. Because we're talking about this measure before the Senate, that at least the number two in the Senate, John Cornyn, wants to bring up, which is, you know, to fix, called the fix NICS plan, to address some changes to improve the national criminal background check on buying guns. You have actually opposed these changes over the last couple of months. Why?

SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R-LA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I support the spirit of Senator Cornyn's bill.

BERMAN: But the spirit isn't the legislation.

KENNEDY: -- I just don't think it is going to do anything. I mean, this is what it says. It says, look, we know for a fact that many federal agencies and many states are not sending information into the NICS database. There are holes in the program you can drive a mac truck through. So in order to encourage compliance, we're going to tell the federal employees if you don't start doing your job, we're going to take away your bonuses. Well, why are they getting bonuses to begin with. To the states, it says pretty please, if you'll do your job, we might give you more money. We'll give you a leg up on getting grants. That's not going to accomplish anything.

BERMAN: Let me ask you --

KENNEDY: Can I just make one other point? If the president wanted to do something here, and I think he does, I would encourage him to send out, to call all the cabinet secretaries in and say, look, I need the names of the people in your agencies who are responsible for sending information into the database. I want their names, and their phone numbers. And if they don't do their job, then fire them. They already have an incentive to do their job. It is called a job. And if the governors, I mean, I've listened to a lot of our governors who I love dearly talk about the need to do something, the need to do something. And I -- look, I understand that. They could start with making sure their states are cooperating with the database.

BERMAN: OK. So, Senator, you say you support the spirit of the measure being proposed by John Cornyn. You sound like you want states to comply here.


BERMAN: In order to get to that spirit, in order to achieve that spirit, in order to achieve that spirit, in order to achieve anything, is there any gun measure, any legislation you can conceive of supporting?

I don't think we need more gun control laws.

BERMAN: Not a single one?

KENNEDY: No. I think we need more idiot control. Look what happened here. There were, what, 40 different calls placed on -- I'm sorry, you use that word -- you used the word idiot, I heard you use that before, who are you referring to specifically?


BERMAN: Who is - I'm sorry you used that word - you used the word idiot and I heard you used that before. Who are you referring to specifically?

KENNEDY: I'm talking to the people who do this. Some of whom are mentally ill, and to them I would say, OK, misuse of the word idiot, but I'm talking about other people, we just automatically assume some of these folks are mentally ill. I happen to believe there is evil in the world. But I'm not going to -

BERMAN: So senator, when we talk about guns, hang on, just one point here is you can't, you know, I'm not going to use the word you use there, but if you're talking about mentally ill, the issue is how do you keep guns out of their hands, how do you keep them from getting guns, if they should not have them? What is the tool that you suggest using to do that?

KENNEDY: We have the tools in place. They're not being implemented. Let me say it again. The NICS database has holes big enough to drive a mac truck through. In the instance in Florida, with the man who killed all these people, there is an assumption he's mentally ill, I don't know that, so I will call him an idiot. I don't know that.


BERMAN: I want to move on to other subjects right now. I do want to move on to other subjects right now but you say you support the spirit of this. Has the spirit prevented these school shootings? Did the spirit prevent the shootings in Las Vegas?

KENNEDY: No, because the law is not being implemented.

BERMAN: So you need more spirit then.

KENNEDY: The law is not being implemented. The NICS database, let me say again, is not complete because the states and the federal agencies are not sending in the information.

BERMAN: You make your opinion extremely clear. No one could ever say you don't on that, Senator. So we appreciate you coming on and giving your opinion on that.

Quickly on Russia, the president this morning called it a witch hunt. The various investigations into Russia, I assume he means the special counsel's investigation. Just quickly on the record, is it a witch hunt?

KENNEDY: No. Not in my opinion. I believe that I've seen classified and unclassified information that indicates to me that, a, Vladimir Putin is a thug, and, b, he tried to interfere in our election, and, c, he will continue to do so, and, d, we can't reason with him. Reasoning with Putin is like trying to hand feed a shark.

[10:15:13] BERMAN: You're getting deep in the alphabet, too deep for me. Let me read you what you have written on this before, sent in an interview just to one of your local papers.

"To me, the one fact we know is that Russia did try to interfere in our elections and they're going to keep try doing it. That's why I think we ought to knock the hell out of them with sanctions. Is he Trump, you say, not mincing words. Is the Trump administration knocking the hell out of Russia on election meddling? Secretary Mnuchin testified in banking committee, I asked him specifically why they were implementing the sanctions. He said that they would very soon. I said we ought to hit Russia with sanctions so hard that they cough up bones. I think that's the only thing they understand.

BERMAN: But, Secretary Mnuchin saying soon doesn't sound like knocking the hell out of them, doesn't sound like they're coughing up bones right now. Does it to you, Senator?

KENNEDY: Well, I asked him to define soon and his answer was a little bit vague. But I'm going to take him at his word.

BERMAN: Senator John Kennedy, from Louisiana, we do appreciate you being with us, sir. Thank you.

KENNEDY: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right. We have our eye on another part of Capitol Hill right now, House Speaker Paul Ryan due to speak in this room any minute to address, we believe, what the House will do to address these school shootings. And a former neighbor of the Florida school shooter speaking exclusively with CNN.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was pure evil. I was actually going to move when he turned 18. I did not want to live down the street from him, knowing he was going to own a gun.



[10:20:52] BERMAN: Live pictures from Capitol Hill, we're hearing from House Republican leadership on their plans for the week, and if, and how they plan to address the school shootings in Parkland, Florida, nearly two weeks ago. We'll jump in when House Speaker Paul Ryan takes questions.

In the meantime, I'm joined again by Alice Stewart, Bakari Sellers and Ron Brownstein. Thank you for your patience. We're jumping around quite a bit. I appreciate you sticking around. Ron Brownstein, you have noted over the last two days that what we're seeing in the wake of Parkland is maybe, maybe the emergence of a new political movement, the post millennials I believe you called them.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. People are struggling for the name for this generation, but we're really seeing the arrival of the generation that is emerging after the millennials. I mean, America is just, you know, accommodating, adjusting to the massive impact of the millennial generation itself on commerce, on businesses, on politics. And now with the Parkland students, you're seeing that the generation that comes after them and they are the millennials even more so. They're even more digitally fluent. They are even more diverse. This will be the first generation ever in American history in which whites will be a minority of the generation at some point by the projections -- already 49 percent kids of color.

And they will begin entering the electorate. I mean, brace yourself, as soon as 2020. There is not that much polling about them, but what we know is that culturally and in their views of kind of what it means to be in a changing America, they are very far away from Donald Trump's definition of the Republican Party.

I mean, in the CNN poll, he was looking at a 22 percent approval among millennials. The limited polling I've seen puts him about that number among the post millennials and between them -- these two generations are going to be 45 percent of all eligible voters in 2024. The future, you know, it always comes at you really fast, and I think that the challenge for the Republican Party is he's defining it culturally on issues from race to guns to gay rights in a way that clangs very hard against the emerging consensus in both of these younger generations.

BERMAN: And look, the generational issue is facing both parties. And, Bakari, I ask you about this, because over the last three days we have seen Dianne Feinstein not get the endorsement of the California Democratic Party and we see a young man, Conor Lamb, running for a Congressional seat in Western Pennsylvania where he's running an ad, literally running an ad basically against the Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Listen to this.


CONOR LAMB (D), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Wants you to believe the biggest issue in this campaign is Nancy Pelosi. It is all a big lie. I've already said on the front page of the newspaper that I don't support Nancy Pelosi.


BERMAN: So, Bakari, this is pretty remarkable. I mean you do have a legitimate generational battle of sorts in your party, correct?

SELLERS: Well, it is a battle. It is it is a battle that we're going to have to continue to fight. Look, the fact of the matter is this, John. I don't care if I get in trouble for saying this. I've been saying it since I'm blue in the face. Our Democratic leadership is old and our Democratic leadership is stale. When you look at the de facto leaders or the leaders of the Democratic Party from the Joe Biden's to the Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, you go all the way down the list.

I mean, you look at the leadership, the Chuck Schumer, in both chambers, you see that it is all above the age of 65, all above the age of 70. What the Republican Party has done a very good job at is uplifting a lot of their younger leaders. The Ted Cruzes, the Marco Rubios, the Nikki Haleys, the Tim Scotts, even the Bobby Jindals. When he was running for president, they allowed these young people space to breathe, Paul Ryan, and assume leadership posts. And the Democratic Party we have a hard time with our leaders holding on to the mantle and then brow beating those people who choose to challenge them.

Now I'm one to believe that Nancy Pelosi has done an amazing job, but Nancy Pelosi also needs to put in place a secession program so that King Jeffries or the other young people in the Democratic Party have an opportunity to lead and bring in some fresh values. And so, I'm going to say that I'm a 33-year-old, a proud Democrat from South Carolina, but our leadership is old and our leadership is stale.

BERMAN: I'm 33 also. Go ahead Alice.

SELLERS: You're not 33, John.

STEWART: I wish I could say I was in that decade. But look, I think the Democrats' concern is much more than just having a bunch of people that are older than the norm, it is -- the problem has been for many years is they haven't been able to connect with the people. I think Barack Obama was someone that had charisma and people connected with him and he was someone that they could relate to. But they have been putting up candidates that didn't have the right message. They're more focused on women's issues, which are important, but they're not focusing on how they can create jobs and what they can do to help the economy and those are the kind of kitchen table issues that voters out there are concerned with. And until Democrats, whether they get someone that is 90 years old or 30 years old, until they grasp the idea they need to have issues on the forefront that of concern to people, they're going to continue to be in this rut they're in.


BERMAN: Hang on one second - Ron, just hang on one second if I can. I'm going to ask you a poll question, which I know you'll like. But it has a twist with news breaking right now. We have a poll out that we released this morning, 60 percent roughly of Americans say they don't think that the president is taking the threat of foreign influence in the election seriously enough. 60 percent say that.

Well, Mike Rogers, who heads up the NSA, has been testifying on Capitol Hill -- hang on one second. That's a tease right there. We'll come back to that subject. Paul Ryan is taking questions now. Let's listen.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We obviously think the Senate should take our whole bill. But if the Senate cannot do that, then we'll discuss and cross that bridge when we get to it. Yes.


RYAN: Patrick called me early that morning, Patrick McHenry who represents the district that the graham family lives in. I quickly turned around and called Mitch McConnell and we got together and decided this is obviously something we should do. And we turned that decision around. The president called me as well that morning. So between Mitch, the president and myself and Patrick McHenry, we made that decision very quickly. Ellen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's like six questions in one there. OK. Let me see if I can get -- first of all, I'm not going to micromanage this. Second of all, I'm not exactly sure what Pat and Joe are doing in their bill, so I can't specifically comment on that. That's a Senate bill.

But we do know that there are gaps in the background checks system that need to be plugged. We passed a bill to do that and we think that should get done clearly. Let me just say this, we shouldn't be banning guns for law abiding citizens. We should be focusing on making sure that citizens who should not get guns in the first place don't get those guns. And that's why we see a big breakdown in the system here.

In this particular case, there are a lot of breakdowns. From local law enforcement to the FBI getting tips they didn't follow up on to, you know, school resource officers who are trained to protect kids in these schools and who didn't do that. And that, to me, is probably the most stunning one of them all. So there is a lot we have to look at. We want to protect people's rights while making sure that people who should not get guns do not get those guns.

Teachers-- look, as we have Sheriff Rutledge has a bill that we're looking at as well that addresses this issue. He's a sheriff from Jacksonville, as you may know. We're looking at the Rutledge bill. That's a question for local government, local school board, local states, as a parent, myself, a citizen, I think it is a good idea. As speaker of the House, we need to respect federalism and respect local jurisdictions.


RYAN: We-- on not being able to address some of the concerns - We should encourage I think it is good they're coming up and engaging in the legislative process. We should encourage, especially with our youth. So this is, again, there are a lot of questions that need answers. And there are a lot of members putting their heads together to figure out where the common ground is, what we want to do is find common ground to make a difference. You want to add to that?

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R), MAJORITY WHIP: As people are contemplating new laws, I think the most important thing to look at is what about all the laws that are already on the books that were not enforced, that were not properly implemented. I think what angers me the most is when I see breakdowns with law enforcement. The FBI had this guy's name on a silver platter. Not just innuendo, and there were a lot of students in that school that said we think he's going to be a school shooter. He himself said he wanted to be a professional school shooter. And it was posted under his name and ultimately turned over to the FBI. And somewhere along the way in the FBI's chain of command --