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Supreme Court Pick Faces Confirmation; Peter King Talks Comey Hearing; Trump's Meeting with Merkel. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired March 20, 2017 - 09:30   ET

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


[09:30:00] SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Potential larger fight to come if and when Gorsuch gets out of the Senate Judicial Committee. This moves to a full vote in the Senate. And Democrats, if they're united and stand up to block Gorsuch, Republicans have already threated to use the so-called nuclear option, which would essentially lower the number of votes needed to get him through, could pass along party lines. Wolf, as you know, that would be a highly controversial move and one of the additional side fight when you're talking about all of these fights factoring into Gorsuch's nomination.

Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Sunlen, we'll have live coverage of that Judiciary Committee hearing as well.

You know, Jake, it's not just one issue. The House Intelligence Committee hearing, the Senate Judiciary Confirmation hearing later in the week, Thursday, a vote scheduled on whether or not Obamacare will be repealed and replaced.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And a big question right now about whether House Republican leadership has the votes to pass that repeal and replace bill.

But let's focus on Gorsuch on right and bring back our panel, along with senior political commentator and former senator from the great commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, CNN political commentator and former press secretary for Hillary for America and former Justice Department spokesperson Brian Fallon, and also with us, of course, CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

And, Jeffrey, let me start with you. We're going to hear a lot about the rulings that Judge Gorsuch has done, but I suspect we're also going to hear a lot about his time in the Bush Justice Department, especially when it comes to presidential powers and it comes to extraordinary rendition and torture and also we're going to hear about his time as a professor and whether he ever said or did anything in his life as a professor that might set off alarm bells as well.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: And you're going to hear a lot from the senators and you're not going to hear a lot from Judge Gorsuch. I mean ever since 1987 when Robert Bork testified and really engaged with the senators on substance of his views, every subsequent nominee has taken the message, which is, less is more. Don't answer questions other than in real generalities, and I expect that's what we'll see.

We will get a picture of what kind of person he is, of his general approach, but will he vote to overturn Roe v. Wade? Will he support the continued deregulation of political campaigns and Citizens United? Will he support affirmative action? We're not going to get those answers for sure. We can - we can have a pretty good idea of how he feels about those issues based on his record, but he is going to tiptoe around those.

TAPPER: And, Brian Fallon, Judge Gorsuch will be introduced by one of the shining stars of progressive jurists in this country, Neal Katyal, who was an acting solicitor general for President Obama, had a landmark case before the Supreme Court. Will that help Judge Gorsuch before the Democratic members of the committee, do you think?

BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I have to say, the rollout of Neil Gorsuch has been one of the few things that has probably gone right for this Trump White House. So even though they have this hearing today on Russian connections, that's a very fortuitous development for the Trump White House that it's the same day as Neil Gorsuch. I think in terms of emphasizing his bio, the fact that he's a Midwesterner and we keep hearing about all this personal features about him and he's an avid outdoorsman, he's had a relatively good run of the meetings on Capitol Hill. So I do think that that will help him. But I do think, to Jeffrey's point, the lack of assurances on some of these key questions is going to be enough for a lot of these Democratic senators to say, I cannot support him.

TAPPER: And, senator, what are you looking for?

RICK SANTORUM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Looking for the Ginsburg standard, which is no hints, no forecasts, no previews, which means he's not going to say anything about how he's going to rule on any of these. He's not going to give any indication. I think Jeffrey's absolutely right on that. This is going to be a political test and - when it's all said and done. With -

TOOBIN: You know, we talk a lot about the Republican base. But the Democratic base is very engaged on Gorsuch.

SANTORUM: Well, that's my - that was my point.

TOBIN: Yes.

SANTORUM: I think this is going to be a political test. And whether the Democrats are going to - the Democratic base is going to - are going to push Democrats to block this nominee just because he's a Trump nominee, not because he's not qualified, just because he's a Trump nominee and he's going to be more conservative than what they want.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No, there - there -

BLITZER: But, Gloria - but, Gloria, even if there is a filibuster, and you need 60 votes -

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: There will be 52 Republican who will all vote to confirm. The expectation is there are a lot more than eight Democrats who will vote to confirm as well.

BORGER: Well, and millions of dollars have been spent, particularly in those red state senators, those Democrats who are up for re-election in the states that Donald Trump won. And so they're spending millions of dollars on ads in states like Montana for Senator John Tester. So they're - they're making - they're trying to make sure of that.

The one thing I want to add to this is that there's something simmering underneath all of this and - for the grassroots and there is a resentment about what happened to Judge Garland that they believe - Democrats believe this is a so-called stolen seat and that they believe Garland should have been confirmed and that it was taken away from the Democrats. And so there are some Democrats I've talked to who said, you know what, an eye for an eye. I really - I really - there are Democrats who feel very strongly about this and that it isn't so much about Gorsuch, per se. But there's a debate now. Do you go all out on Gorsuch, or do you wait until the balance of the court is actually at stake and go all out on the next nominee, if there is one?

[09:35:08] TAPPER: And, of course, there's presidential politics at play here, John. The idea that - well, President Obama said that his vote to filibuster essentially Judge Alito was a vote that he regretted. That said, when you look at the field of Democrats in the Senate who are thinking about a 2020 presidential run, I can't imagine that any of them, just because of the pure politics of it, are inclined to vote with Judge Gorsuch. On the other hand, as has been pointed out, you have ten Democrats up for re-election in red states that Trump won, including Florida, not just states like Montana, but states like Florida -

BORGER: Right.

TAPPER: States like Pennsylvania. What do they do?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they have to watch this play out. One of the reasons those Democrats have not committed so far - I think it's an open question as to whether they get those Democrats. In a normal circumstance, you would say, yes, those red state Trump Democrats would come over to Judge Gorsuch. But this is not a normal circumstance, in part because the president's approval rating is low, and in part because of the incoming from Democratic interest groups. The incoming is remarkable. So watch Heidi Heitkamp, watch Joe Manchin of West Virginia. But then to your Bill Nelson question in Florida, Trump just won Florida. Trump just won Michigan. He just won Wisconsin. So you watch those senators. They're one-point races. They have a little bit more leeway, but I think it's a fascinating question.

To your 2020 question, Elizabeth Warren has an op-ed in "The Boston Globe" today saying vote no on Neil Gorsuch. He hasn't had his hearing yet. So, you know, some of this is politics.

I'll go back. Judge Gorsuch would be replacing Antonin Scalia. Antonin Scalia was confirmed 98-0. That is - that was - you know, that was 30 years ago, 29 years ago. That, to me, is the - this hearing is a testament to how this town has changed and how Supreme Court picks have changed over a course of 30 years. Both parties deserve some blame for the partisanship. It used to be the president got his picks. That doesn't exist anymore.

BLITZER: I want to quickly go up to Manu Raju, who's up on Capitol Hill, our congressional reporter.

Manu, you're there with a guest.

MANU RAJU, CNN REPORTER: Yes, that's right, Peter King of New York, the congressman who sits on the Intelligence Committee.

Thank you for speaking with us.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Thank you.

RAJU: So what are you going to ask Director Comey when you get a chance to today?

KING: I will be focusing basically on whether or not there's any evidence at all showing collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence, the Russian government or anybody involved, you know, with the Russian operation. Also, leaks, which go beyond just palace intrigue or White House maneuvering, which goes on all the time. I'm talking about classified information that's made its way to the media, some accurate, some very inaccurate, and, you know, what's being done on that. And basically what is the status of his looking at the whole Russian operation or the government looking at the operation, how the report was put together back in December and January.

RAJU: When you - what you've seen so far, is there anything to indicate that there was any collision whatsoever between Trump campaign officials and Russian officials?

KING: I've seen no indication of that whatsoever. Again, Director Comey might have something today. But from everything I've seen and looked into, people I've spoken to, there's no evidence at all whatsoever of that.

RAJU: What about the fact that some Trump associates did have conversations with Russian officials. Roger Stone, for instance, having communications with Guccifer 2.0, known as a hacker to American intelligence? Does that - is that an indication that there could have been those contacts?

KING: I've known Roger Stone for a long time and I certainly can't speak for him. No, but I would say that, again, I think all this is being looked at. And the fact that there's contact and some communication, that goes on all the time. Especially in the world we live in now. I've been on trips to Russia with President Clinton where they were

encouraging American business to get involved. You go into New York, people want real estate. People do - there is a tremendous amount of business and cooperation, discussion between Russians and Americans all the time. And it was known, for instance, that Paul Manafort, who was the campaign chairman, he did business in Ukraine. He certainly did business in that part of the world. So that (INAUDIBLE) find many people in the Clinton administration who had contacts in Russia. The question is, was there any collusion? So far I've seen no evidence at all.

RAJU: Do you want Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, to come before the committee, Michael Flynn, as them questions about those - these issues that have come up?

KING: I think we have to see if there's any evidence there. Just to call them before the committee, if there's nothing to base it on, I don't see the purpose. But, again, it may happen. I have no problem with it. I just don't want to be calling people in if there's no real evidence against them. But if there's anything found or if they want to explain themselves, you know, they have every right to.

RAJU: Do you know if the FBI is, in fact, conducting an investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian officials?

KING: I can't comment on that.

RAJU: So, of course, the wiretapping allegation is something that will certainly come up here over the weekend. Both Nunes, the chairman, and Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat said, there's nothing in those DOJ documents that show any sort of wiretapping ordered by President Obama. Do you want the White House to drop this all together? Is it time for them to move on?

KING: Well, I wish the issue hadn't been raised because, quite frankly, this hearing would have been going ahead anyway this week or next week and we would have been focusing on the extent of Russian influence in the election, which is a real issue and both parties should be interested in that. Instead, we're sort of being sidetracked somewhat.

[09:40:02] Listen, I think it was something that - and the extent that there could have been information that worked its way to the media, worked its way to Democrats, it came from the investigations or surveillance or whatever. But to overshoot it by saying that President Obama intentionally ordered - no, I see no evidence of that.

RAJU: What should the White house do now? Should they completely walk it back? Should the president of the United States apologize to his predecessor?

KING: I'm going to get through today's hearing first and I'm not going to tell a president what to do but I wouldn't have said it in the first place.

RAJU: And you - have you see anything in those documents to suggest there was any wiretapping or if President Trump's communications were picked up in any way?

KING: I'll - I'll rely on Chairman Nunes that he - he's seen nothing. He has access to more than the rest of us do. If he's seen nothing, then I'll go with Devin.

RAJU: But just to put a button on this, you want the White House to drop this wiretapping allegation all together?

KING: I'd just as soon drop it. We have enough significant issues to discuss and, to me, enough questions about what happened in the Justice Department and/or the intelligence community that raise issues about whether or not classified information was leaked improperly. That is what we're focusing on, not whether or not there was a specific order, which, as far as I know, there was none.

RAJU: OK. All right, I know you have a busy day.

KING: All right, thank you.

RAJU: Thank you so much for talking with us. Appreciate it.

All right, Wolf and Jake, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, Manu, thank you very much.

Soon, the FBI director, James Comey, will finally testify on President Trump's unfounded claim that President Obama ordered a wiretap on Trump Tower.

This is CNN's special live coverage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:45:35] BLITZER: We're only moments away from the FBI director, James Comey, testifying in open session on President Trump's wiretapping claims and his campaign's possible ties to Russia. This kicks off a very, very important week for the president at the top of the hour. The director of the FBI, James Comey, will testify before the House Intelligence Committee. Then at 11:00 a.m. Eastern, the confirmation hearings begin for the president's first U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. On Thursday, House members are set to vote on the future of health care here in America, the legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Let's bring back our panel.

And, Senator Santorum, a Republican member of this committee, there are 13 Republican, nine Democrats, we're going to hear them ask questions, all of them. Congressman Will Hurd of Texas, he's unique because he also spent, I think, about 13 years as a clandestine CIA officer before becoming a member of the House of Representatives. He says his father offered him always this kind of advice, which is applicable to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. WILL HURD (R), TEXAS: It never hurts to say you're sorry. And I think that goes for this situation. It goes for the situation with our British friends. Our intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and the British is one of the strongest that we have. And it never hurts to say sorry to your friends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Will Hurd's a Republican. Like other Republicans now, if Comey and the director of the National Security Agency, Admiral Mike Rogers, if they both say no evidence, that what the president tweeted, what, 15, 16 days ago is true, should he apologize?

SANTORUM: Um -

BLITZER: It's a yes or a no.

SANTORUM: Yes. The answer is, he probably should apologize. He's not going to apologize. He'll move on to the next thing. And - and that's just - that's the way Donald Trump operate.

BLITZER: Why is it, Gloria, so hard for this president to admit, you know what, I made a mistake. I'm sorry.

BORGER: You want me to put on my shrink hat?

BLITZER: I'll apologize to the former president. I'll apologize to the British government for citing this erroneous report that the British intelligence community was spying on him at Trump Tower?

BORGER: Because that's not who he is, as Rick Santorum was just saying. That's just not who Donald Trump is. I mean during the campaign, we were just talking about this during the break, the only time I recall that he got close to an apology was after the gold star family, who he insulted, he gave a speech that he read on prompter and said at that point, I have some regrets. But did he apologize directly? No, he did not. Did he apologize by name? No, he did not. It's not what he does. It's not who he is. He doesn't admit mistakes either. He doesn't -

SANTORUM: He thinks he raised a legitimate issue and he doesn't think he accused anybody. In his own mind, he doesn't think he accused anybody. He thinks he simply communicated what he had heard and that he doesn't need to apologize.

BORGER: And that's - and -

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the notion -

TOOBIN: Calling someone a sick or bad man is not - is not an insult (ph)?

SANTORUM: I'm just - I'm -

BASH: I think the notion of the president apologizing is like - it's not going to happen. BORGER: No.

BASH: It's not going to happen. However, I think the real question is whether this is a lesson learned. I also don't know if the answer to that is yes either, because, again, going back to what we were talking about before, what are we talking about? We're talking about whether or not President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. We're not talking about, for this minute and probably the headline coming out of this hearing that's going to start in ten minutes, is going to be this. It's not going to be the collusion, allegations of collusion, questions of collusion between President Trump and his allies, and anybody in Russia, or going a step further, questions about any kind of financial issues and basically financial problems that Trump had that the Russians potentially helped him.

You're shaking your head. You're nodding your head.

BORGER: I -

FALLON: I totally agree. I think it's giving him too much credit to think that he read that Breitbart article, absorbed it, and honestly legitimately thought that President Obama wiretapped him. I don't think this was an honest mix up. I think this was a deliberate attempt to introduce a stink bomb into the conversation about Russia and its succeeded for the last two and a half weeks of distracting people's attention. I think this is probably the most likely thing that Director Comey is going to weigh in on and give a direct answer to today. I also think it's probably the least consequential item that will be discussed in this hearing.

BORGER: But let me - well, but I think this goes to a question of accountability and credibility. You know, Donald Trump always ran a private business and he was accountable to his family, perhaps, and himself. And now he's in a different position. And I do think as president of the United States, you have to learn that accountability matters and that credibility matters. And whether or not he's diverted the conversation, I agree with both of you on that. But in the long term, there are only so many times you can go to the well on credibility until it hurts.

[09:50:29] KING: But do we know the - do we know the answer to that question yet is the key when you've seen over the weekend mostly moderate or, you know, Tom Cole's a conservative but he's a dealmaker in the House, say the president's - who's frowning (ph), the conservative Senator Santorum here, OK. But you've had several Republicans say, you know, eventually this is going to hurt the president's credibility. However, the president, in the last week, is getting a lot of credit from people from doing some transactional business on health care. So we haven't seen that evidence yet that it's affecting his job.

BASH: (INAUDIBLE).

KING: What we did learn from the campaign is that President Trump is not ideological. He's transactional. He does roll these grenades into the room when he's trying to change the subject, when he did this one he was mad. His attorney general had just recused himself. His big day on the aircraft carrier had been taken away from other stories and he rolled this in. When he pulled back in the campaign, he didn't say story, it was transactional. It was beginning to hurt him. He would pull back and recalibrate for a bit. So I think as we watch this going forward, if there's evidence this hurts the president, he may change his tactics for a certain period of time.

BORGER: I think that -

BLITZER: All right, everybody hold on for a - everybody, stand by.

We're going to take a quick break. Our special coverage of this very important House Intelligence Committee hearing with the FBI director and the director of the National Security Agency will continue right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:55:56] BLITZER: All right, once again, we're only minutes away from the FBI director, James Comey, testifying in open session up on Capitol Hill on President Trump's wiretapping claims and his campaign's possible ties to Russia.

Let's bring back our panel for some final thoughts before this hearing begins with the chairman and the vice chairman opening statements.

Clarissa Ward, you just came from London. You spent a lot of time in Europe, a lot of time in Moscow. On Friday, the president, at that joint news conference with the visiting chancellor from Germany, Angela Merkel, repeated the wiretap allegation against President Obama and cited the wiretapping of her cellphone by the Obama administration. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as wiretapping, I guess, you know, by this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps. And just to finish your question, we said nothing. All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn't make an opinion on it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, in that statement, and we're looking at live pictures coming in, members of the committee have now gathered, momentarily this session will begin.

But, Clarissa, he managed to make a very awkward moment for both Britain and Germany.

CLARISSA WARD: It was a series of incredibly awkward moments. That entire meeting with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, you saw here there as she - as he made the joke, she just kind of collected her papers together and kind of smoothed them out on the desk. It was one of just several toe-curling moments. This, of course, coming on the heels of the famous moment during the photo op where she appeared to be saying, "shall we have a handshake," only to be completely ignored. It's not clear whether or not President Trump was able to hear her or not.

But, listen, this was always going to be a very tough meeting. There have been a lot of negative things that President Trump had said about Angela Merkel coming into this. Angela Merkel is known in Germany as being a very strong woman. She's not one to shy away from confrontation when necessary.

BLITZER: Here comes the director of the FBI, James Comey. You can see him. He's about 6'7", so you can easily make him out as he's walking into this House Intelligence Committee hearing. He's going inside.

But finish your thought.

WARD: And so my thought is that it was always going to be a very tough meeting. It was always going to be uncomfortable. We've heard President Trump call into question whether NATO is relevant. He has chastised the Germans publicly about the fact that they don't pay enough in terms of paying their dues towards NATO. He has chastised Angela Merkel publicly about taking too many immigrants in. So it was always going to be a difficult meeting.

BLITZER: You know, Jake, Devin Nunes is the chairman of this committee. We'll see him momentarily. Adam Schiff is the ranking Democrat. They've had a decent but not perfect relationship going into this incredibly important hearing.

TAPPER: And one of the things - pardon me. One of the things on which they've really disagreed is whether or not there is any evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, to suggest that there was any collusion between advisers to the Trump team and any Russians known to U.S. intelligence. Devin Nunes, the chairman, said that he has not seen any evidence along those lines. And Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat, has said that there is circumstantial evidence. That's going to be something that you're going to see Republicans really drill down on that issue.

Plus, you're also going to hear Republicans talk about the fact that in their collection of intelligence there is to a degree that they haven't seen before, and this is something that both Schiff and Nunes have expressed concerns about, the naming of Americans who are not the subject of that surveillance. Usually in these intelligence reports it just says American number one or government official five or whatever.

[09:59:52] But, for instance, with Mike Flynn, who was captured on surveillance apparently of the Russian ambassador, that intelligence information mentioned Mike Flynn by name, and that was, it is believed, one of the reasons why it was able to leak out. And you're going to see some Republicans also drill down on that issue and whether U.S. intelligence is overstepping its bounds on that area.

BLITZER: And John King,