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GOP From House Intelligence Committee: No Collusion Between Trump Campaign and Russians; Why Won't Trump Condemn Putin?; Voters Head to Poll in Pennsylvania Special Election; Source: Trump to Choose Larry Kudlow as Chief Economic Advisor. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 13, 2018 - 07:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We see no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

[07:00:06] REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It was apparent, really from the very beginning. Their real object was protecting the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to be able to show, the CIA just got it done.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: This is a sham. These guys are frauds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not saying that Russia was behind this?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Right now we are standing with our U.K. allies.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rex Tillerson did admit that Russia was responsible for this, but we still have not heard that from Donald Trump.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The world is watching. I hate to put this pressure on you, Rick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need better. We've got to bring in real people like Conor Lamb.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This has become so much more than just congressional race. It is testing the power of Trump, the energy of Democrats.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. Alisyn is on assignment. Erica Hill with us this morning. Good to have you, as always. Big headline, the House Intelligence Committee abruptly ending its

Russia investigation. Republican members 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's also no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Democrats on the committee slamming their decision to end the probe.

Let's be abundantly clear: this report is a partisan report. It's a document that was immediately parroted by the president, proclaiming his innocence. The only unbiased authority on whether or not there was collusion and any type of activity that we need to address will come from the special counsel, Bob Mueller.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Meantime, polls are open in a high- stakes special election in Pennsylvania to fill a House seat in the state's deep red 18th congressional district.

Now, that race widely seen as a referendum on Donald Trump's presidency, and comes as President Trump travels to California today for the first time in his presidency. He'll be there to check out prototypes for his border wall. Let's bring in our coverage with Abby Phillips live at the White House -- Abby.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica.

President Trump is waking up this morning with something to be happy about as Republicans have abruptly closed their probe into Russian interference with a conclusion that echoes his claim that Russians didn't try to help him in that election.

Now, the 150-page draft report is expected to be shown to Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee 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.

SCHIFF: 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've 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.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: 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)

[07:05:05] PHILLIP: So while Tillerson is saying that the Russian attack in the U.K. is likely to trigger a response, it's still unclear why the White House won't say the same. Now, President Trump later today is going to go to California, his

first trip to that state as president. He's going to be viewing some border wall prototypes while he's there and also meeting with service members. Now this visit comes amid some pretty stark legal fights with the state over immigration and sanctuary cities, Chris and Erica.

CUOMO: All right, Ab. Thank you very much.

Joining us now is Michael Smerconish, CNN political commentator and host of CNN's "SMERCONISH." And John Avlon, CNN political analyst and the editor in chief of "The Daily Beast."

So you heard Chris Stewart, Michael. You know, "The intelligence community, those three, four agencies and all those pros, they just got it wrong. We reviewed their stuff, and they just mis-read the intelligence, came up with the wrong conclusions. It's time to wrap this up. There's no problem."

You OK with that?

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. The House Intel Committee may be completely correct. But we don't know. And I don't think they know. I think the only individual, the only group of people who know are Mueller and his team of prosecutors.

And I think, Chris, it is so damn sad, because our partisan differences used to extend only as far as the water's edge. You know, we used to be in this country like a couple having a domestic dispute that would turn on an outsider. Well, the outsider in this case is Russia, and we no longer turn on the outsider. Instead we're divided by politics.

I think it's an attempt at inoculation. It's an attempt to inoculate the administration against whatever might come from the Mueller probe.

HILL: So, when you say an inoculation, you mean a coordinated inoculation?

SMERCONISH: Yes. Well, I think yes. Erica, look at the timing of the announcement. I saw that all-cap tweet from the president of the United States. That thing seemed to be in the word processer or already saved in his Android or his iPhone and ready to go. I just don't believe in coincidence. Yes, I think the White House knew this was coming and wanted to seize that opportunity.

Look, I go back and remember the day that Mueller, on a Friday afternoon through Rod Rosenstein, announced the indictment of 13 Russian nationals for what they had done to try and alter the outcome of the American election. That caught everybody by surprise. I'm sure it caught the House Intel Committee members, Republican and Democratic, by surprise. Time and again we have been shown that only Mueller knows what's going on.

And one last thought: we've still not heard from him on the most essential, which is the hack of the DNC server.

JOHN AVLON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, that -- that is a key piece. Michael is right that we haven't found it in.

But to Michael's other point, I mean, there's a pattern of back- channeling between the House Intelligence Committee, the Republicans on it, and this White House that is undeniable. This has, unfortunately, been a partisan exercise from the get-go. And Representative Rooney even said, "We've lost all our credibility, so we might as well shut it down." He's probably right on that front.

Where he's wrong is saying that there's no evidence that Putin tried to intercede in the election on President Trump's behalf. That's self-evidently wrong, based on the information we know. Yes, there was a larger effort to create chaos and try to irritate identity politics and tribalism or politics.

But it came with a specific aim towards the end of favoring Trump over Hillary. And to deny that just hangs a lantern on the fundamental problem of the House committee, which is that it's become a basically false partisan exercise not interested in the pursuit of truth. And it's a disgrace to the best traditions of our politics.

CUOMO: And Michael, what's your take on this kind of theme of being very careful about what we say about Russia?

You have this spy caper, novel-type situation going on in the U.K., these former spies. Theresa May comes out and says, "We think it's Russia. You know, we think that this is what it's about."

Sarah Sanders comes out, doesn't say the word "Russia." No mention about it from President Trump. What do you make of that?

SMERCONISH: I think it's scary insofar as there appears to be no check on Russia by this administration. It's hard for me to fathom and imagine a scenario that would draw the condemnation of Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the president against Vladimir Putin, if not in an instance like this that you're now describing of what just took place in the U.K. or with regard to the meddling in our election.

I mean, I'm mindful of the fact that a Republican House and Senate voted to impose sanctions on the Russians for election meddling, and this administration still hasn't gone along with it.

AVLON: Yes. I mean, that's right. Look, Sarah Sanders was reading from carefully-crafted talking points that specifically did not include the word "Russia." Hours after Theresa May, prime minister of our closest ally in the world squarely blamed Russia, based on their intelligence, for trying to kill a citizen on their own soil.

That is an effort by the White House. And the gap between the White House's talking points and version of reality and the intelligence community's assessment and Secretary of State Tillerson's own statements is stark. And we need to drill down further on why they -- why the White House is afraid to mention the name "Russia."

[07:10:14] Because at this point, it's becoming an international obvious embarrassment, and it speaks to some discomfort on their part for confronting reality. HILL: I want to move on here to the local race we're all watching,

very important special election we're watching today, of course, in Pennsylvania. You're in Philly there. But as we're watching the 18th Congressional District there, everyone watching very closely, obviously, to see what's going to happen, whether Conor Lamb can pull out a win here.

There are lessons, though, not just for Republicans in this outcome but also for Democrats, Michael. When we look at whether they can learn a lesson from the way Lamb has run his race, where he's not bashing the president. He's talking to the people in his district about what they want to hear and what's important to them, not necessarily national party talking points.

SMERCONISH: Erica, I don't think you need to wait until 11 p.m. tonight to know what the lessons are. This guy has -- he's an attractive candidate, Conor Lamb. He has run a very wise campaign. And frankly, the only thing that's at stake tonight is the razor-thin margin of whether it's going to go to Rick Saccone or whether Conor Lamb is going to pull an upset victory.

But I don't know that, in the scheme of things, that matters. He's already shown that this is a very wise path, and it's a path of pretty much traditional Democratic politics. Be pro-union, work with the unions. Yes, be liberal but don't be out of the box. Don't be too far to the left. And it's having great affect.

I mean, who wins tonight? Let me just say this if I may. I don't know if that snow that you're showing on the weather maps is going to extend to the 18th. I suspect that it won't. But it's still a chilly day in Pennsylvania. This is a special election where there's nothing else in the ballot for a position that will vanish in nine months. Who wins? Emotion wins, passion wins.

Whoever is the angriest or the proudest is going to go out, not necessarily representing the largest number of voters, but those who are most motivated are going to carry the day tonight.

AVLON: And traditionally in recent decades, that's been the most hyper-partisan. What will be interesting to see is whether that 20- point gap that went for Trump in '16, and the energy and the most committed is not necessarily the most hyper-partisan, but folks who really feel forgotten in this politics.

And the lesson for Democrats is fascinating, too. Because there's a Democratic civil war that's been brewing beneath the surface and a lot of criticism of some other special elections of folks who didn't go far enough was the narrative.

Conor Lamb, former prosecutor, hugging the unions but also walking a more independent, centrist path that fits the district. And I think that's a lesson the Democrats still haven't fully internalized, but they might after tonight.

CUOMO: Also will play into, if Michael is right and this is a passion play at the polls, was -- was Lamb's strategy of modulating and making sure that he is sensitive to the district enough to bring out people's animosity towards the president, you know, and come out there and back a Democrat? We'll see.

Let me get both of your take on something, though. Gary Cohn is out. We know that now. Who is going to come in? Looks like it could be Mr. Kudlow. Long-time associate of President Trump. We know him from TV. He also is against the tariffs, by the way. This is not official, but this is what the president has supposedly been telling people.

Do we like the choice? Let's start with you, Smerc.

SMERCONISH: Well, I know the president likes this choice, because I think being telegenic is of critical importance to the president, given his own background and, therefore, doesn't surprise me at all. Kudlow is a smart guy by all accounts, but he's very skilled at doing what you do, Chris. And I think that matters a great deal to the president, and the president needs more effective spokespeople for his agenda. So I can see this happening.

AVLON: Sure. Look, and he's been a figure in conservative circles and respected in economic circles. But I think the larger irony is this is a president who is obsessed with hating on the media. A third of his tweets, a plurality of tweets, are about attacking the media. And yet he can't quit the media, because he's obsessed with it.

And he's surrounding his own administration, stocking his own administration with folks largely from FOX News. I mean, you've got Heather Nauert at State, being a spokesman. So it's really not hating the media; it's hating media that tries to hold him to account. But partisan media, he wants more of that on his side.

And it speaks to the fundamentally complicated, contradictory relationship Trump has with the media. He loves it when it's a bunch of folks speaking his talking points and making him look good.

CUOMO: Well, look, it's also an indication of Larry Kudlow is a very compelling guy. He's a big personality. He believes what he believes very deeply. I spent time with him off-camera.

AVLON: Sure.

CUOMO: Remember this dynamic of the last set of, you know, lips to be near the president's ear. Larry Kudlow will be a very compelling guy. He'll be tough to beat in these internecine struggles. So what he wants may well wind up being that last word. We'll see.

[07:15:03] Michael Smerconish, thank you very much for the pulse from down there in Pennsylvania. Very important today.

John Avlon.

Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District is Trump country. He won by over 20 points. Now, you will hear -- well, but it's a Democrat district. That's about registration, not performance. We will take you through why this would be so huge if the young man on your left, Conor Lamb, can pull off an upset. We'll ask Pennsylvania's former Democratic governor, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: Polls are now open and there's a lot on the line in today's special election to fill a House seat in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District. Republicans spending millions in a frantic all-out bid to keep Trump country from turning blue.

Jason Carroll is live in Pittsburgh this morning with more.

Jason, good morning.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And good morning to you.

Folks have already started to line up here. The race is too close to call, and if you look at the history here, the race really shouldn't be close at all. It really should be a slam dunk for Rick Saccone, if you consider all the money that was spent on the race, some $10 million.

[07:20:10] Trump has come out here not once but twice. The vice president has been here. Don Jr. out here, as well. Kellyanne Conway. They spent a lot of money trying to get Rick Saccone over the finish line. But so far Conor Lamb, the Democratic challenger, has proven himself to be a tough opponent.

A lot of people focused on this race, because they're wondering, if Conor Lamb is able to pull off an upset here, that could set the tone for what could happen later in the mid-term elections. That's why so much time, so much money, so much effort has been placed on this race.

The White House is playing close attention. They know that this is a race that's very much a referendum on the president. Chris, Erica, that's why so many people are going to be paying attention to what happens when the polls close out here at 8 p.m. tonight -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Jason, you're in the place to be. We'll see how it turns out. Thanks for being with us this morning, my friend.

Joining us now is Ed Rendell, Pennsylvania former Democratic governor and the former mayor of Philadelphia. Good to see you, sir.

ED RENDELL, FORMER MAYOR OF PENNSYLVANIA: Good to see you, Chris.

CUOMO: All right, so read the tea leaves for us. How do you see this going? Do you think Conor Lamb can pull off the upset in the 18th District?

RENDELL: Yes, I think if the enthusiasm level stays where it is with Democrats 10, 15 percent more likely to vote than Republicans, I think Conor Lamb will win.

But even if he loses by two or three points, it's a shocking result, as your commentator said. And this is a district that Donald Trump won by 20 points and, even more importantly, it's a district where, according to the Monmouth poll, 51 percent of the voters still have a favorable opinion of Donald Trump.

If they can't win in that election, if Donald Trump can't bring out voters who are favorably inclined to him to vote for the Republican congressional candidates in this district, what's going to happen to them in suburban Philadelphia or suburban Cleveland or suburban Detroit? They're going to get killed.

CUOMO: Suburban voters have been a concern. We heard some GOP local party representatives saying, "Well, it's a Democrat district." Maybe by registration. But you have -- you know, you have an anomaly going on there, where it's not just Trump they went for. They went for Romney. They went for McCain. So it tends to turn out at the polls as Republican.

But let me ask you something. Conor Lamb made an interesting choice. He's sticking with the people there. He's playing to his district and their concerns. He's not a big anti-Trump guy. He hasn't gone after him in this election.

Is there a concern that, while that being moderate may play to the attitudes of the majority of the people in the district, it may not stoke the animosity towards the president the same way and, in a special election for a seat that's the only thing on the ballot that goes away as a position in nine months, do you need to stoke those folks?

RENDELL: Well, I think you just hit on it, Chris. I think those people don't have to be stoked. They're so stoked themselves, the anti-Trump voters, that they're getting that regardless.

And Conor Lamb is a lesson to us as a party. Conor Lamb ran as a conservative Democrat, certainly a moderate. He's moderate on gun rights. He's for background checks but against assault weapon bans. And he's pro-life, although he said he would vote to keep Planned Parenthood up and running. So he's a true moderate, and he reflects the district.

And our progressive wing has to understand -- and I consider myself a progressive. We have to understand that these type of Democrats are the ones that can win. Only Joe Manchin can have any hope of winning in West Virginia. So, we've got to continue to support and back these type of Democrats, because they'll be casting the most important single vote.

This is what I tell progressives. Conor Lamb will be voting for a Democratic speaker of the House. And we need a Democratic speaker of the House, because we can't get our legislation to the floor without controlling who's speaker. Speaker controls what bills go to the floor.

So progressives out there, if you're out in the district, suburban Allegheny County voters, get out and then vote for Conor Lamb. He's a good guy. He believes in core Democratic values, and he's just what the party needs in those districts.

CUOMO: You know, it's an interesting debate you guys are having with yourselves, though, within the party, because it seems that the party is moving to the left.

You know, if you look at the names who are coming up who may be relevant in 2020, Bernie Sanders, even though he's an independent, he you know, rises to the top of the list. Elizabeth Warren says she's not running, but she's got a big constituency. Kamala Harris, you know, even the Cory Bookers. You have that movement towards the left in the party. Conor Lamb very different face for the party, almost a return to somewhat of the Clinton days of centrism. Is that where the party is going?

RENDELL: Well, I think the party has got to be smart and in Conor Lamb's district, yes, we need someone who has Conor Lamb's views. In suburban Philadelphia, we don't. We can have more progressive candidates.

[07:25:00] And look, interestingly, Conor Lamb's campaign, which has done a great job of not letting this become a nationalized election. Conor Lamb's campaign asked one national Democrat to come in and campaign for them. Only one, Joe Biden, and he speaks to working- class Democrats as well as anybody does.

CUOMO: You know, I didn't mention Biden. Should I have? Do you think he's your best bet in 2020?

RENDELL: I would love to see Joe Biden, Chris, stand up and say, "This country is in trouble. I didn't think I was going to run again, but I'm running again. I'll serve one term. I won't care about what my favorable rating is. I'll do exactly what this country needs to turn it around. And that's my promise to you, one term. Do what I think is right, not what's politically expedient." I think people would react to that overwhelmingly.

CUOMO: I thought for a second you were talking about you there, Governor. I was going to say, "Oh, it's a big news day for us here on NEW DAY." But you're -- you're giving a boost to what Joe Biden could make as a pitch to Democrats. We'll see if that's where his head and his heart come together.

Thank you very much, Governor. Appreciate the perspective, as always.

RENDELL: Thanks, Chris.

CUOMO: Erica.

HILL: House Republicans breaking with the intelligence community on Russia, ending their investigation without telling Democrats. Was this purely political? We debate next.