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Republicans End House Intelligence Committee Investigation into Russia Interference in U.S. Election; Secretary of State Tillerson Condemns Alleged Russian Poisoning on U.K. Citizen. Aired 8-8:30a.

Aired March 13, 2018 - 08:00   ET

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


[08:00:00] ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to your new day. It's Tuesday, March 13, 8:00 in the east. Alisyn is on assignment. The one and only Erica Hill joining me. Good to have you.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Nice to be here.

CUOMO: And we begin with Republicans abruptly ending the House Intelligence Committee's Russia investigation. Why is it abrupt after 14 months? Because they didn't even tell the Democrats they were going to do it. The GOP breaking with the FBI, the CIA, NSA, and the director of national intelligence, all whom insist Vladimir Putin was trying to help Donald Trump when Russians meddled in the 2016 election.

The House Intel members of the GOP say that's not true. All of those people got it wrong. They also say there's no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

Be clear about one thing. This report is highly partisan. The president jumped on it and put in all caps, proclaiming his innocence on Twitter on the basis of this. The only unbiased authority on whether or not there was collusion or any type of suspect information or what we need to know about Russian interference will come from one source, Special Counsel Bob Mueller.

HILL: Meantime, all eyes today are on that special election in Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district. Voters there heading to the polls this morning to fill a House seat. The battle for this high stakes race is being seen as a referendum on Donald Trump's presidency. And it comes as the president travels to California today, his first trip to the state since becoming president. He's there to see prototypes of his border wall.

CUOMO: Let's discuss. We have CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. Let's start with the investigative bona fides going on here, Jeffrey. You could easily make the case this has been toxic from jump, ever since Nunes went up to the White House, we started to see the two sides divide. Literally they put a physical wall between themselves in the work space for the committee. There have been leaks all over the place. Now this where one of the members comes out and says the entire intelligence community got it wrong. They analyzed the data information wrong, and it's time to end it.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know what's remarkable about the House Republicans' report here is that they didn't have to go as far as they're going in saying that Russia didn't want to help Trump. Of course Russia wanted to help Trump. Now, the more toxic question is did Trump's campaign work with the Russians. That's very much not established for certain at this point.

But to say that Russia didn't want Trump to win and wasn't helping Trump to win after the WikiLeaks hacks, after the social media indictment of the 13 Russians and after the Trump Tower meeting, why fight that battle when the real battle is one they might actually win?

HILL: There's also the question of, because we know how -- even just the fact there's a physical wall, as you pointed out. Everything that we saw from Devin Nunes going to the White House, recusing himself for a certain amount of time, the month that none of us will ever get back as we were wondering about the memos and what's in each one and when are we going to get them, in some ways, Ron, is it good that this actually shut down, because there was not a lot of faith in this investigation to begin with?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think anybody was looking at the House Intelligence Community as the definitive word on what did or did not happen in the 2016 election for all of the reasons that you cited. I think this report is more reflective, is more useful as a measure of what has happened to the House over the last generation, really. Going back a long way, the way in which it has been rotted from within by this intense partisanship that has made it into more of a parliamentary institution.

I would predict, because as Jeffrey said, they went to this extra mile to this very difficult to defend place of saying that there was not only no collusion, which has not been established one way or another, but to say that Russia was not trying to help Donald Trump I think leaves them in a position where it is more likely you'll see Democrats than Republicans citing this report in the fall campaign and basically arguing that it is proof that a Republican majority is never going to perform serious oversight or constrain Donald Trump in any way.

CUOMO: Look, I think -- unfortunately maybe you'll go a step farther there and say you can't have any of these men and women investigate their own, they just can't do it. They can't surrender the me to the we. It is shame on them for not doing what the people put them there to do. This isn't oversight. It's just CYA what they're doing. If it's your party that you're looking at, there are going to be problems. Isn't that just a simple truth?

TOOBIN: I think we sometimes do a little false equivalency here in terms of Democrats, Republicans, they're both bad. I have to say I think the Democrats were trying to get at the facts here. They were trying to interview more people, they were trying to get more documents, they were trying to get financial records. So I don't think this was a purely equivalent situation.

[08:05:06] CUOMO: The leaks wind up being one of the corrosive aspects of it. I get it if you don't have the power.

TOOBIN: There are always going to be leaks in congress.

CUOMO: But that spoils the cooperation, also.

TOOBIN: That's true. But I always feel a little funny about --

CUOMO: Oh, I like the leaks. I'm just saying, Ron, if I'm on the committee and I know Erica is going bad on me when it doesn't suit her political aims, we're going to have a problem working on it together, and that was certainly going on in this committee.

BROWNSTEIN: But working on it together or not you still end up in this very strange place of saying the sky is not blue, that Vladimir Putin was not trying to help Donald Trump. I think it's reflective, and I think it's revealing of the broader evolution of the way House Republicans and Congressional Republicans in general interacted with the Trump presidency. They started with more independence, more skepticism, and particularly after the tax cut and they saw that they could achieve some of their long held legislative goals, they've moved to a much more circle-the-wagons position, a kind of reflexive defending him on all fronts. And that paradoxically may increase their risk in November at a time when his approval rating is 40 percent or below.

CUOMO: Especially on Russia because they're conflating two things the same way the president does, the significance of the interference and the aims and goals of that interference with it being -- making the election result illegitimate. That's what the president does. They're doing that now. And we see it thematically running through other big matters of state such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. He had to wind upcoming up after the White House to condemn Russia for a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain. Listen to what Tillerson said. 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 engaged in such behavior.

Why is this important? Because just hours earlier, the White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the same thing, but left something very important out. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH 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. 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 and the special relationship that we have.

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

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. We're going to continue to work with the U.K. and we certainly stand with them throughout this process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: There's also, too, in "The New York Times" in an op-ed President Trump has allowed Mr. Putin a free hand to meddle in America politics. He cannot ignore yet another attempted murder of a Putin foe on allied soil. And Tillerson didn't shy away from that either.

CUOMO: No, but he was doing cleanup also. Theresa May comes out and says it was Russia. Sanders comes out, doesn't mention Russia, gets asked why they won't mention Russia, and she says we don't think they're sure yet. Theresa May was sure.

[08:10:00] TOOBIN: And when you ask the question, why did Russia intervene in the election, why did Russia want Donald Trump to win, here you see Donald Trump never criticizes Vladimir Putin, neither does his White House even in the face of the evidence that's good enough for Theresa May, it's good enough for Rex Tillerson, but it's not good enough for Donald Trump.

BROWNSTEIN: And by the way, Rex Tillerson's comments went beyond that. He rather remarkably said after a year of trying to engage Russia in a more productive relationship, we have very little to show for it. In fact they are becoming more aggressive. It was just another moment in which you see the secretary of state and the White House have completely different foreign policies.

HILL: Which is not shocking, but to have it be that clear, as you said, especially talking about that pivot that Tillerson says he's seen, the big question obviously is what does this mean going forward, Ron? If we're going to continue to have this public difference, and presumably at no time in the near future are we going to hear anything different from the White House, how does that impact the broader issues?

BROWNSTEIN: It's not just Russia, right. It's obviously North Korea where you had the secretary of state saying we're a long way from negotiating and then the president jumping in to page 370 and saying let's hold the summit that other presidents said would be the end of the process, not the beginning after they had secured concessions from North Korea.

I think all indications are, and you throw in the aluminum and steel tariffs, the other days is we are going to see a White House in which the president is increasingly untethered from any of the normal bureaucratic processes that drive the creation of policy in an administration. And there will be people who welcome that unpredictability. But there will be obviously allies around the world who make it very nerve-racking.

Look what's even happening on guns where once again, on the Dreamers, the deferred action where the president says one thing in a public meeting and then the institutions of the Republican party pull him back to the point where he is now almost completely fallen in line with the NRA. That kind of -- this kind of swerving I think is going to be the rule, not the exception as we go forward. TOOBIN: Can I hijack this interview for one moment and ask Ron

Brownstein a question, because he knows more about politics than anyone in the United States. Who is going to win in Pennsylvania, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN: The late polling, basically a to-up. Whether Conor Lamb, the Democrat, wins by a point or loses by a point probably doesn't matter that much.

Here's what you need to know. This is a district that is 93 percent plus white. It is one of the half-dozen districts with the highest percentage of whites in the country. It's a district Donald Trump won by 20 points that has been so Republican that the Democrats haven't put up a candidate in each of the past two elections against the previous Republican incumbent. And yet we are talking about a knife's edge election.

If the Democrat wins or even comes very close, it gives them the one piece that has been missing so far in Virginia, Alabama, New Jersey, the big elections of 2017. They made a lot of progress with college educated suburban whites recoiling from Trump on cultural and personal grounds. They have shown much less progress among working class white voters which are the core of the Trump coalition. There's no way for Conor Lamb to get close or win if he is not competitive with working class white voters. It may still be those upscale suburbs that push him over the top, but if he wins, the last piece is coming together for a really ominous trend for Republicans.

CUOMO: It also shows what could be a shift in the Democratic Party's approach. You're getting candidates that match the district. They're not just having a cookie cutter set of positions.

BROWNSTEIN: That's what Rahm did in 2006 with the DCCC when they won it back from Bush.

HILL: And he told you, too, it's time for Democrats to start listening to these moderate Republicans, or Democrats, rather.

CUOMO: We'll see how it pays off this time. Thank you, gentlemen, appreciate it.

Republicans on the House Intel Committee, as we told you, abruptly shutting down their investigation, and we say abruptly because they didn't even tell the Democrats. Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell will give us the inside scoop of what was happening in this probe, next.

[08:15:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN JOURNALIST: All right, so Republicans on the House Intel Committee abruptly shut down their Russia investigation and then decided to buck intelligence community's assessment that Vladimir Putin was trying to help Donald Trump win the White House. There's just tons of proof of that suggestion. Why they decided to reject it, we don't understand.

And they did this without telling any Democrats on their committee which is just a reflection of how partisan it has all become. Joining us now is one of those Democrats in the dark, Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. Congressman, thank you for being here. And am I wrong is did you find out about this on like Twitter?

ERIC SWALWELL; CONGRESSMAN OF CALIFORNIA: I saw it on Twitter, yes, I saw it on Twitter and I saw it on Breaking News Alerts coming in. But more importantly, you know, the process is that this report invites another attack not just from Russia, but other adversaries who have similar capabilities. They'll look at us as being weak and they may not stand in the sidelines as they have in the past. They may try and get their preferred candidates and policies through in the upcoming elections.

CUOMO: So what was it like inside, now that the probe is over, you can speak a little bit more obviously just about the tone and the tenor of it? Is it true that during testimony there was a real difference in disposition and questioning between the Democrats and the Republicans in terms of who is being probative there?

SWALWELL: You know the Republicans have said it all along, no collusion, no collusion, no collusion. There weren't looking for a collusion. I hope the public gets to see these transcripts. They will see how few of them showed up to ask questions, what questions they asked and how off, you know, of the topic they were and how much they tried to protect the president when our job was to protect the ballot box as we go to the polls this November.

The American people should see these transcripts because with what little research was done, Democrats, we didn't have subpoena power, we didn't have Republicans willing to bring them in and force them to answer questions. It was a take them as, you know, take them at their word investigation where they could assert something and we didn't subpoena cell phone records, bank records, travel records. We still probed and pushed and I think ask pretty fair questions, but had no Republicans who were willing to work with us to get the truth.

CUOMO: What's the chance that we get the transcripts?

SWALWELL: I hope so if the Republicans believe in transparency, they'll come out. I don't want to do anything that compromises Bob Mueller's investigation because, you know, you want to hold information close and you don't want witnesses to tailor their testimony to what others have said, but I think now we need an independent commission.

I wrote that legislation right after the attack in November, the 2016, Elijah Cummings and I have, Republicans have joined us in it and I think now more than ever, that's the best way to tell the American people who was responsible.

CUOMO: The idea of what Chris Stewart, Republican on the committee, came out and said, "The Intelligence community has got it wrong. They came to wrong conclusions on data that they've seen. We've seen it. I can say that with certainty." Do you share that opinion?

SWALWELL: You know, I believe they were wrong in the way that they responded. And part of that -- and they didn't respond really at all to Russia, and part of that was that Donald Trump had gotten in everyone's head. He said the elections were going to be rigged and then they saw evidence that the Russians were trying to rig the elections and they didn't want to validate what Donald Trump had said, so they were kind of caught flat-footed.

But he is wrong about this, they have sought to discount the assertion that the Russians wanted to help Donald Trump.

CUOMO: Right.

SWALWELL: You don't have to be on the Intelligence Committee to see that evidence. We've seen all of the ads on social media posts where they were pro-Trump, anti-Hilary and so, you know, to go that far to protect the president's fragile ego I think shows who they're really looking out for.

CUOMO: But you know look, you're not on strong footing when it comes to saying that there's no proof that Russia wanted to help Trump in that election. I mean we see it all over the place, you see it in the indictments from Mueller. But in terms of the Intelligence community not doing anything, that's a political process, right? And some of that stink has to be on Obama and Biden, the Vice President and I went at this when I interviewed him.

They made a decision not to come out more aggressively. They put out their statement, but they could have set off all kinds of alarms. I get the political considerations, but it was still their choice. They could say Mitch McConnell wouldn't do it with them, they didn't need McConnell. So this was something that the president decided was not in the political interest. Fair point?

SWALWELL: Yes. He should have done more. Yes, I believe he should have done more and part of their forms that should come out of this would be when does Congress notified when you see election interference, what right does the public have to know about foreign adversaries trying to meddle?

[08:25:01] And I completely agree that the government response was inadequate.

CUOMO: Now, we also see something here that's thematically consistent, okay, the Republicans have joined the president in mitigating Russia as an adversary. It's just true. I mean you guys passed those sanctions. I know people will say, "No, we didn't. We passed the sanctions." True, but the Republicans are now criticizing the president and the White House and the executive for not imposing the sanctions as you guys expected them to be imposed.

Now, we see what happened in the UK, this horrible God forbid where this former spy seems to have been taking by Russia, by Theresa May's reckoning. The White House comes out with Sarah Sanders, doesn't mention the Russia and when asked about why she's not saying Russia, she says, "Well, we're not so sure that they know yet." Theresa May had just said they thought it was Russia.

Why does this White House go so far to be quiet about this country and this man, Vladimir Putin?

SWALWELL: Russia helped the president. Russia has long invested in Donald Trump. He's invested in the Russians. I think that the simplest answer is oftentimes the correct one.

CUOMO: You believe that, do you believe that on some level, this is a quid pro quo? Or do you think that Trump just believes that the issue has been so politicized that he can't go after Russia now because it will expose that he should have been doing it all along?

SWALWELL: I think whether he was working with them wittingly or unwittingly before the election is irrelevant because the end result is the same. He has drawn us close to an adversary. He can't attribute and attack in the middle of a town square to the Russians as we just saw with the UK. He can't impose sanctions against them. He can't say a bad thing about a brutal dictator. So whether he worked with them or not, it's hurting America and it's hurting our ability to have a secure election this November.

CUOMO: Eric Swalwell, thank you very much for your take on what was going on inside that mess of a committee investigation. I appreciatee you being here.

SWALWELL: My pleasure.

CUOMO: Erica?

ERICA HILL, CNN JOURNALIST: Polls are now open in the hotly contested House race in Pennsylvania, will the state's 18th district turn blue? A live report is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: The polls are open in Pennsylvania and there's a lot on the line in today's special election to fill a House seat in the 18th Congressional district, Republicans spending millions to keep President Trump -- to keep Trump country rather from turning blue. CNN's Jason Carroll just caught up with the Democratic candidate moments ago and Jason joins us now live from Pittsburgh. Jason?

JASON CARROLL, CNN JOURNALIST: At least you know Erica, Conor Lamb has pretty much stayed away from the national media. He has denied several requests to be interviewed in the past. But this morning, just after he voted, he came out and answered numerous questions on a number of topics ranging from why the race is so close to his thoughts on President Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will there be nail biter soon?

CONOR LAMB, CONGRESSMAN OF PENNSYLVANIA: I don't know. I just know that we have worked extremely hard. I'm really proud of all those who worked with me and I think it's...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: So once again not only did he answer questions about why the race is so close, but he answered questions about President Trump himself. He said, "Look," he said, "Yes, the president was here, had some influence here," but he felt as though it was really the hard work of his campaign and enthusiasm among Democrats, he said that's the reason he believes the race is so close.

Rick Saccone, the Republican challenger will be voting later on this morning at 10 AM. He made some headlines himself, Erica, when he claimed that both the Democrats -- he said Democrats hated the country and hated God. Conor Lamb was asked about that out here earlier this morning as well and he said, "Yeah, no comment on that."

Erica, Chris?

HILL: Jason Carroll with the latest for us. Jason, thank you.

Joining me now, Matt Schlapp, he is Chairman of the American Conservative Union. Matt, good to have you with us today.

MATT SCHLAPP, AMERICAN CONSERVATIVE UNION CHAIRMAN: Great to be with you.

HILL: Jason obviously we're just getting some comments there from Conor Lamb as we heard. This is a district that has so much attention also because Republicans have dominated this district for 15 years.

So at this point, how concerning it is that the race on election date is so close?

SCHLAPP: Well, it's definitely concerning. Every seat in the House of Representatives is going to matter because, you know, there's a great concern that Democrats might be able to pick up some seats heading into November and on the election day in November, but I think specifically in this race, the issue is that the incumbent Republican who had to resign in disgrace, in a scandal, has really upset the voters in this district and unfortunately Mr. Saccone has to, you know, run under that banner and try to put that behind him.

But he's doing the best he can. I think the good news is for him is that on the Republican side, the Trump political operation, the RNC, they are spending a lot of money, they are working together and at the end of the day, it's going to be up to Mr. Saccone if he can pull this over the finish line.

HILL: So you're saying he was just handed a -- he was given a bad hand on (INAUDIBLE)?

SCHLAPP: There is no question. I'm sure you know about the scandal of the incumbent.

It's one of the worst things I've heard in politics and I don't blame the voters for being angry about it. HILL: There's also though looking at the Democratic side, you know, Chris was speaking with Ed Rendell, former governor earlier this morning, there is a re-election here for Democrats which can't be ignored by either side and that they are seeing a much more moderate candidate put himself forward who, in many ways, aligns more with some Republican voters there.

Is that a concern for you that we are starting to see a shift and see, perhaps it's great for the voters, candidates who may actually speak to their values a little bit more as opposed to a national party level, but how much of that is a concern and is a focus?

SCHLAPP: Well, I'm worried that the Democrats will get smart and, you know, when they got the majority in the House and the Senate back 2006, it was on the back of finding Democratic candidates that you couldn't call radical. This nation is not a radical nation. We're a very centrist nation and when the Democrats portrait themselves as being more moderate, they do much better.

So I think this Democratic candidate, Mr. Lamb, has been smart to disassociate himself from Nancy Pelosi, to disassociate himself from some of the progressive, more radical voices in his party.

[08:30:07] Now, will he get away with it because if he wins, if he were to win today, he's going to vote with Nancy Pelosi on all the major issues mostly likely.