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GOP From House Intelligence Committee: No Collusion Between Trump Campaign and Russians; Tillerson: Russia Clearly Behind Nerve Agent Attack on Former Spy; Voters Head to Polls in Pennsylvania Special Election. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired March 13, 2018 - 06:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tell me the strongest piece of evidence that supports collusion, because there just isn't.

[05:59:33] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They claim there's no collusion, there's no collusion. They never once looked for collusion.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were trying to help Trump at some point. They were also trying to hurt our side.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (via phone): I don't agree. They were attracted to him because they thought that he would be much better for them.

THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is highly likely that Russia was responsible.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The attack was reckless, indiscriminate and irresponsible.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rex Tillerson has come out condemning Russia. That has not been met at all by the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A loud boom. It shook the windows.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a pool of blood everywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the third over the past ten days.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is your NEW DAY. It's Tuesday, March 13, 6 a.m. here in New York. Alisyn is on assignment. Erica Hill joining me.

Good to have you, as always. Let's get you the starting line.

The House Intelligence Committee abruptly ending its Russia investigation. Now the probe has been assailed as a partisan mess for some time, but now the Republicans have gone all in, attempting to clear Trump, breaking with the U.S. intelligence community and announcing that Vladimir Putin did not try to help Donald Trump win when Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. The GOP report insists there is no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Democrats on the committee objecting to the GOP's findings and slamming their decision to end the House probe. Let's be abundantly clear: this report is partisan. It's a political document that was immediately parroted by the president to proclaim his innocence.

The only unbiased authority on whether there was any collusion or any type of crime in connection with the interference will come from special counsel Bob Mueller.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson going farther than the White House, saying he is outraged at the poisoning of a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom that he says, quote, clearly came from Russia. Why are President Trump and the White House so reluctant to condemn Vladimir Putin?

And it is a big day in Pennsylvania, a high-stakes special election there today. The battle for a House seat widely seen as a referendum of Donald Trump's presidency.

All of this as the president heads to California to check out prototypes for his border wall.

Let's begin our coverage now with Abby Phillip live at the White House -- Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica.

Well, President Trump is waking up this morning with some reason to be happy after Republicans have suddenly closed their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and made some conclusions that echo his view that Russia did not try to help him. Now a 150- page draft report from the Republicans will be shown to Democrats on that committee as soon as today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIP (voice-over): Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee abruptly ending their Russia probe without telling Democrats, announcing that they have found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to sway the 2016 election.

REP. MIKE CONAWAY (R-TX), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, you never know what you never know, but we found no reason to think that there's something we're missing in this regard. We've talked to everybody we think, we believe we need to talk to.

PHILLIP: President Trump touting the announcement in all caps on Twitter, but Democrats insisting that the investigation was incomplete and that a number of witnesses and documents still need to be subpoenaed. REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: They

would ask, you know, very conclusive questions like, did you conspire? Did you conclude? And if they said no, the Republicans were content to leave it at that. That's not conducting an investigation. That's going through the motions. So the fundamental problem from the beginning was that my colleagues viewed their job as protecting their client, the president, rather than getting to the truth.

PHILLIP: Republican Tom Rooney lamenting that the committee's partisan infighting has gone off the rails.

REP. TOM ROONEY (R), FLORIDA: We lost all credibility, and we're going to issue, probably, two different reports.

PHILLIP: The House GOP report breaks with the intelligence community's conclusion that Russia meddled in the 2016 election to help President Trump.

REP. CHRIS STEWART (R), UTAH: We're just going to have to show the people they were wrong on this. They just misinterpreted some very key intelligence and drew the wrong conclusions.

PHILLIP: A spokesman for the director of national intelligence declaring that the agencies stand by their assessment and will review the findings of Republicans.

LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER (RET.), FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE (via phone): Starting with personal animus that President Putin had for Hillary Clinton, they wanted to do everything they could to hurt her. Then when things got serious was then- candidate Trump, particularly when he became the nominee, they were attracted to him, because they thought that he would be much better for them.

PHILLIP: As the House Intelligence Committee's probe comes to a close, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is gaining steam. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein defending Mueller's probe, telling "USA Today" "The special counsel is not an unguided missile. I don't believe there is any justification at this point for terminating the special counsel."

Meanwhile, the White House stopping short of blaming Vladimir Putin for the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in the U.K. last week. Shortly after British prime minister Theresa May said it was highly likely.

SANDERS: The use of a highly lethal nerve agent against U.K. citizens on U.K. soil is an outrage. The attack was reckless, indiscriminate and irresponsible.

PHILLIP: Hours later Secretary of State Rex Tillerson going further in a strongly-worded statement, declaring, "We have full confidence in the U.K.'s investigation and its assessment that Russia was likely responsible."

(END VIDEOTAPE) PHILLIP: Now while Tillerson has said that the Russian actions in the U.K. will likely trigger a response, it's still really unclear why the White House was not willing to go that far.

[06:05:06] Meanwhile, President Trump is headed to California today, his first trip there as president, and he's going to be touring some border wall prototypes amid some legal battles with the state over immigration and sanctuary cities. The president is also going to meet with service members at the end of that visit -- Chris and Erica.

CUOMO: All right, Abby, thank you very much.

Joining us now is CNN political analyst John Avlon and CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero.

So John, politically, because that's really what this is all about with the House Intel Committee, you can't be that surprised that this is where they were going to come out. I mean, from the beginning, it's been set up to find reasons to defend Trump with the Democrats in dissent but without any power.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Surprised? No. Outraged? Yes. For the reason that is this should be something from the get-go that's bigger than partisanship, but in the House committee it's never been. They've been back channeling to the White House. They've been digging up dirt on Democrats. And they haven't found a way to come together.

I don't mind that they say there's no collusion as much as to say that there's no evidence that Trump wanted to back -- that Putin wanted to back Trump in the election. That's an insult to the intelligence community. That belies all the facts that come to bare. That shows that there's a willful blindness in place because of the hyper partisanship, and that denigrates the entire investigation.

So we're back to the Senate investigation with far more bipartisan credibility than the Mueller investigation. They're right. Rooney is right, they've lost all credibility; but that's a sham and a shame.

HILL: You talk about what we have left. Obviously, the Senate is left. And the defining voice on this and the findings will, of course, be the Mueller investigation. But in some ways to John's point, I mean, Carrie, was there ever really a question that what we were going to eventually learn from the House Intel Committee was going to be anything but bipartisan -- I mean, but partisan rather?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So the past year's investigation that the House has conducted, if we even want to call it that, has been completely partisan, as John says. And this is such a shame for this committee, because you know, the Intelligence Committees historically have played a very different role than other committees in Congress. They have the trust, normally, of the intelligence community that they will have access to classified information and handle it properly. They generally conduct themselves in a more bipartisan manner because they're dealing with national security issues. And so the Intel Committees have always been just sort of a cut above

when it comes to partisanship. What's happened on the House Intelligence Committee for the past year really prejudged whatever report that came out. And the shame of that is that, to the extent that there are any useful recommendations, for example, on election security, on working with our partners in Europe on the same threats that they're facing with Russian interference. It just -- they will not have any credibility because of the process through which the House has used.

CUOMO: I mean, look, you can't be surprised right now whether anything could be dealt with in a bipartisan manner there, especially if it's existential in any way to the sitting administration. It just -- it doesn't make sense. I know it's supposed to work that way.

But I don't know when we've seen it in a long time, by the way, where you saw real bipartisan look at something that came hard on one side and both sides were together on that condemnation. I just -- I don't remember it. And this one started off with Nunes going to the White House.

HILL: Yes.

CUOMO: To basically collaborate with them on what information could come out to help their case.

AVLON: Yes.

CUOMO: What else did you need to know?

AVLON: And more recently, a member of the Republican staff digging up dirt on Senator Warner and leaking it to a partisan news organization.

CUOMO: Nunes was able to step aside but then somehow was able to come back even into the same investigation.

AVLON: Look, and there's the Benghazi investigation, which was similarly hyper-partisan but about something fundamentally less impactful to the American trajectory.

And look, you know, you can quote Arthur Vandenberg and say, "Partisan ought to end at the water's edge." And then you can say, you know what? We left that place a long time ago.

But at least the Senate investigation is trying to work bipartisan. You know, Burr and Warner have been working deciduously. This is something that is bigger than partisanship, people. This is about a foreign power meddling in our election.

And again, you can look at the evidence, and you may not be a place of collusion versus complicity. That's a great debate. There's going to be partisan impacts on what people believe on that. But for them to go as far as to say that they don't believe that Putin wanted Trump to win, based on all the evidence overruling the intelligence community, overruling the evidence that's there self-evidently in their face, even beyond simply desiring to sow the seeds of chaos. That just shows what a sham this has become.

HILL: How much of this, too, Carrie, is about undermining Robert Mueller? And how much of that will we see moving forward, perhaps in more tweets from the president or wherever it's going to come from?

CORDERO: Well, I think it's pretty obvious, based on what happened last night, with the House majority releasing some talking points about what their conclusions were going to be and then very quickly, within minutes or an hour, the president tweeting. It looks pretty clear that they are coordinating in some way, and so that he was expecting these results and that their investigation was intended to reaffirm what his narrative is about the Russia investigation.

[06:10:24] The special counsel's investigation will go on its own track, and the special counsel has different investigative authorities, doesn't have to take witnesses who just say, "Well, I think I won't talk to you," as the House majority apparently did. Some witnesses had more flexibility about whether they would answer questions or not.

The special counsel is not going to go down that path. They will use investigative authorities that they have. They will demand witnesses to appear when they need to. And so the result will be different.

But they also are looking at a different aspect. They're looking at potential criminal violations, which will reveal itself in a different way than a report that comes from a congressional committee, which is supposed to lay out a narrative that gets at actually what happened across the entire event.

CUOMO: And of course, Mueller has got a grand jury, you know, which is an objective mechanism that, you know, we don't have in any of these political investigations. Of course, we do see here that this is part of the White House pressure, Carrie, to start bringing this to an end. It was easy to get the House to follow their orders.

AVLON: Right.

CUOMO: The Senate is supposed to come out in a few weeks. You have to assume there's some relationship between those two decisions. And then we heard that the White House is trying to negotiate, as part of a sit-down with Mueller, a fine-point end to the Mueller investigation.

Have you ever heard of that happening, by the way, in a probe like the one Mueller is doing where, "If you sit down, we'll promise you that we end the probe at a certain date"?

CORDERO: No. That doesn't happen. So the investigators are going to take their investigation where it goes, and they are going to stay within the parameters of the regulations. But they are going to -- they have -- there's so many different aspects of that investigation.

There is a money piece. There is the DNC hacking piece. There's the Russian influence. We already saw the indictment of Russian nationals and Russian entities for using social media and other mechanisms to try to influence U.S. political opinion. There's the potential obstruction angle.

So there's so many different angles of that investigation that it's hard to believe that there's a circumstance where one interview is going to end it all.

HILL: And I would also point out, too, based on what we've seen and has been written about, as well, it would almost seem like the Mueller investigation, as everything else is winding down, it is only ramping up and getting broader.

I do want to ask you quickly about this, though. So reporting from our own Pamela Brown, that a source close to the president has said he's been asking about what he should do in terms of Stormy Daniels. And basically, the line from the White House is stay quiet, or from the source, I should say, because there is concern, John, that this could have a larger impact on the president than the Russia investigation.

AVLON: Well, look, it's subjectively not as big as the Russia investigation. To be clear, this isn't about sex. It's about money. It's about campaign finances. It's about trying to hush someone up right before an election in a way that could be determinative.

It may have a bigger impact on his personal life than the Russian investigation, may. But it's sordid, and it's the kind of thing that sticks on the cover of supermarket tabloids if they weren't in the pocket of the president to begin with.

And this is actually -- this is not going away either.

And they've put themselves in a corner. They can't really talk about it. They're in a bit of a double block. And so, you know, the answer to the president, what should I do about this, is go back in time and don't do it. But that's not on the menu.

CUOMO: Hey, I'll tell you. You know what's impressive about the situation? Ge hasn't said anything.

HILL: Not a tweet, nothing.

CUOMO: That is very rare. Carrie Cordero, thank you very much. John Alon, as always.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling out Russia in a very specific way for a nerve agent attack on a former spy in the U.K. President Trump not so much. Why won't the White House condemn Putin? We discuss next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[06:17:57] HILL: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson going farther than the White House, condemning Russia for a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain. Tillerson saying, "There is never a justification for this type of attack. The attempted murder of a private citizen on the soil of a sovereign nation, and we are outraged that Russia appears to have again engaged in such behavior." Hours earlier, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders had a

different message.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANDERS: The use of highly-lethal nerve agents against U.K. citizens on U.K. soil is an outrage. The attack was reckless, indiscriminate and irresponsible. We offer the fullest condemnation, and we extend our sympathy to the victims and their families and our support to the U.K. government. We stand by our closest ally in the special relationship that we have.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you're not saying that Russia was behind this act?

SANDERS: Right now we are standing with our U.K. ally. I think they're still working through even some of the details of that. And we're going to continue to work with the U.K., and we certainly stand with them throughout this process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: I guess she didn't hear Theresa May say it was Russia. We have to go to the U.N. It was Russia. It was Russia.

HILL: Those details were pretty clear. Let's bring back now John Avlon and joining us, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor at RealClearPolitics.

A.B., why is it so consistently difficult for this White House to say "Russia"?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATED EDITOR, REALCLEARPOLITICS: Just watching Sarah say that was so painful and her written remarks were that the attack was reckless indiscriminate and irresponsible. It was attempted murder. And Theresa May had already come out and blamed the Russians.

Why is Sarah sanders being asked to say things this way? It was extremely painful to watch.

It's so obvious at this point. I don't know why the Trump White House just doesn't throw a few condemning adjectives out now and then and actually own up to this to make the conversation go away.

Everyone spoke yesterday about the fact that they didn't do it and that Rex Tillerson went out, you know, as a free agent, which is often the case. Secretaries, cabinet secretaries, defense secretary, secretary of state in this administration have other policy positions than we hear from the West Wing. And that is reckless and irresponsible.

[06:20:07] But this is just really, I just think, so politically painful for the administration. I don't know why they continue to do this.

AVLON: Well, they continue to do it, because she's being given talking points that specifically say don't mention Russia.

CUOMO: She's under orders.

AVLON: Yes, of course. This has a hostage video quality. She's reading this very carefully.

It's also the geopolitical equivalent of thoughts and prayers. We stand by our allies, but we're not going to name the problem.

The problem in this case, as Theresa May made clear, is Russia. Say it from the White House podium. The secretary of state can say it, because he's reacting to both intel and common sense. Why is the White House press secretary being put forward to the American people with explicit orders not to name Russia?

CUOMO: Is it just simple politics where the president now believes he can't give it to us? He can't start going after Russia, because it will expose that he hasn't been going after Russia. That's what people around him are suggesting to me. That's just -- well, you guys have made Russia a no-go zone for him. Because now, if he acknowledges Russia --

STODDARD: Chris, the way to shut it off is to condemn and disavow the actions of the Putin government from the briefing room or from his Twitter account, if he wants to. The way to stop the narrative that the only person in the world he's ever consistently nice to is Vladimir Putin is to be critical, like Theresa May was.

HILL: And it's not like -- this president does not have a difficult time switching when it comes to where he stands.

AVLON: No. No. In this case to A.B.'s point, it actually would just be a smart thing. I mean, you know, this guy is the master of deflection and distraction. That wouldn't necessarily make the core problem go away, but it wouldn't keep highlighting the core problem.

CUOMO: Then what is it? And why doesn't he do it? Because this was a no brainer. They poisoned people.

AVLON: Theresa May, our closest ally --

STODDARD: And Rex Tillerson.

AVLON: And Rex Tillerson, who's freelancing -- you know, and commits the Washington gaffe of telling the truth is very clear about this. And yet, the White House press secretary is under orders not to address the issue directly.

This just raised the question again. There are six billion people on the planet. Why is the only one that Donald Trump won't take a shot at Vladimir Putin?

CUOMO: Well, we have the right question. No answers.

HILL: No answers. CUOMO: So at 7 a.m. this morning, the polls open in Pennsylvania. We

do see some nice political cover going on on both sides. The Democrats put money into this. That was actually surprised. Seems like it paid off in terms of making it closer. We'll see if they can get anything done with Conor Lamb.

The Republicans are saying all kinds of things about how, well, you know, the registration here is very Democratic. Of course, the way the place performs, the 18th District is very Republican. How big a deal is this today?

STODDARD: Oh, it's a big deal. Republicans are very scared about a loss or a near miss. And the fact that Conor Lamb could actually come close, even if he doesn't win, and Rick Saccone only grabs a district that Trump won by 20 points or 20 1/2, but you know, if he gets it by 1 or 2, that's going to -- that's going to ignite a huge discussion about what's going on.

And Conor Lamb has really played kind of -- he went to perfect candidate school. He has the support of unions. He doesn't talk about being a Democrat. He doesn't bust on President Trump. He really is hewing to the line of that district enough, not on every position, but highlighting their -- what unifies them. The miners' endorsement. I mean, he really -- Rick Saccone is drowning. He's not only a bad candidate, but he has in Conor Lamb, someone who's sort of, really, a centrist.

And it's going to be very hard to win that district. Even with the registration advantage, it's just definitely a conservative district. But this is making Republicans incredibly nervous.

AVLON: Yesterday the state GOP chair was confronted with some polling that showed Lamb around 6 ahead. He said, "Oh, it's a Democratic district." Again, put aside registration. Look at the voting patterns. Not only plus 20 for Trump but 18 for Romney; voted for McCain. This is a suburban conservative district south of Pittsburgh.

So this is really a fascinating bellwether of a bellwether state. And if Democrats can continue their run into this part of Trump country, that's significant.

Now, it's also one of these circumstances that if the vote goes .5 in either direction, the results are going to be over-indexed dramatically in every way. But it -- the Democrats --

CUOMO: Meaning what?

AVLON: Meaning that if Conor Lamb wins by .5, it will be "Democratic blue wave, here we come." And if he loses by .5, it will be, you know, "Democrats can't get it done when it counts." So, you know, you want to be careful.

That point is, I think, the gap that's closed indicates a real problem. It's almost $12 million spent in a district that Republicans shouldn't be fighting tooth and nail to keep. STODDARD: That's not going to exist at the end of the year. No, I

think -- I would argue that, A, I think Rick Saccone can pull it out. But I think if he just pulls it out, it's still a win for the Democrats, scares Republicans. And I think that if Conor Lamb can overcome this guy, Murphy didn't have -- he didn't have an opponent for the last two cycles.

[06:25:03] CUOMO: Right, right. Good point.

A.B., thank you very much, John Avlon.

HILL: People in Austin, Texas, on edge this morning after three package bombings killed two people, and now police want to know if the victims were targeted. A live update next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CUOMO: Breaking news from the Middle East. The Palestinian prime minister was told to have survived an assassination attempt. Hamas condemning the attack. The prime minister's convoy was hit by an explosive device as it moved through Gaza. So far, no claim of responsibility. No one was injured in the blast.

HILL: Police and the FBI now looking for a possible serial bomber in Austin, Texas. They've now linked three package bombs that have killed two people. Two of those explosions happening on Monday while the city hosts the wildly popular South by Southwest festival.

CNN's Nick Watt is live in Austin now with more -- Nick.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica. That's right.

Three bomb attacks in just ten days and an unknown suspect still at large. Now, police do not believe that this is in any way connected to that South by Southwest festival.