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White House Press Briefing; Nunes Trip to White House Raises Questions. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 27, 2017 - 14:30   ET

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


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: -- we can continue that conversation.

[14:30:00]

QUESTION: (inaudible) Sean, unfortunately, there's been a rise in hate crimes when it comes to different groups, to include anti- Semitic crimes.

SPICER: Yeah, and we...

QUESTION: You've commented from that podium this is (inaudible) this gentleman in his jailhouse gave a statement to a reporter, talking about he wishes the man were younger and weren't -- he was a thug that he killed. So, what do you say to this? This is clear -- it's racism at its ugliest.

SPICER: Yeah, two issues.

Number one, I think hate crimes, anti-Semitic crimes of any nature should be called out in the most reprehensible way. There is no room for that in our country and I think the president noted that in the joint address, that there is one issue that, despite policy, should unite us, and that is calling out hate, that is calling out divisiveness based on the color of one's skin, one's religion, one's gender. The president's been very clear on that and he's called it out before.

He's -- with respect to certain particular situations, he made it very clear at the opening of his joint address. That's what he led with is a call to -- to denounce hate no matter where we come from politically. He's also talked about it -- the night that he took the stage on that Wednesday morning around 2:40 A.M. about how one of the things that he needed to do and wanted to do as president was unite all Americans.

But I think that there's one other piece to this, April, that I just want to be clear on. While we unequivocally, no question about it, need to call out hate, anti-Semitism where it exists, there is another thing that we have to do. And in your case in particular, while I don't know all of the details and I don't want to reference any specific case -- but I think we saw this the other day with some of the anti-Semitic behavior that was going out with respect to people of the Jewish faith is that we saw these threats coming into Jewish community centers and there was an immediate jump to criticize folks on the right and to denounce us -- denounce people on the right and ask them to condemn them.

And it turns out that, in fact, it wasn't someone on the right and it was -- the -- and the president from the get-go had said I bet you it's not someone -- and he was right. And yet...

QUESTION: I'm not calling...

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Oh no, I understand that. And that's...

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: I understand that. And I think in those cases, there's no question, black and white, we need to call out all instances of this.

But that being said, while we're on the topic, I do think that there has been a rush to judgment in a lot of other cases when it comes to in particular some of the anti-Semitic discussion where people have jumped to the conclusion about denouncing people on the right and asking for this. And in that particular case, we saw that the president was right and that this rush to judgment by a lot of folks on the left was wrong and none of them have been held to account on that.

And that is something that equally needs to be called out. When people are charging something of someone that is not true, there has been nothing to go back to (ph) those individuals, nothing on the left who came and asked for everyone on the right to denounce something that they weren't guilty of. And I think that there needs to be an equal go back in time and call out those individuals for -- for rushing to judgment and calling out those individuals.

QUESTION: And my second topic and I'm done. Someone who was in the room -- you like talking about the CDC meeting that happened last week. Someone who was actually in the room at that meeting said that the issue of HBCUs came up. It's a very sensitive subject right now in the black community and here at the White House. The issue of HBCUs came up and it's -- Omarosa said that she would be the one heading the HBCU office at the White House and the president did not make a response confirming or denying.

Will this be the case? Is this the case?

SPICER: I -- we don't have any announcements to make. I -- I assume that you're referring to the executive order and we don't have anything to announce on that subject at this time.

Kristen (ph)?

QUESTION: Sean, thank you. Given that the Freedom Caucus blocked the bill to repeal and replace (ph) Obamacare, does the president still believe he can work with the Freedom Caucus on future pieces of legislation?

SPICER: I think it's gonna depend on what legislation. QUESTION: But not necessarily?

SPICER: Well, again, I'm not gonna -- it's not a question of -- we're gonna work with anybody who wants to work with us on -- on achieving the goals that the president set out. I don't think -- we're not putting (ph) anyone and saying we'll never work with you again. It is that balance...

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: No, I don't think he's written -- no, I -- I think as -- as he mentioned, he learned a lot through this process about loyalty and it's not just a block, it's certain individuals. On -- and again, I'm not gonna get into naming names, but I think the president learned a lot through this process.

And -- and, you know, one of the things that's interesting is when you look back in the -- and I know there's been a lot to make of this. The president also recognizes that when there's not a deal to be made, when to walk away. That's one of the -- one of the traits -- it's not just about making deals, it's knowing when to walk away from deals and knowing when there's a bad deal that's the only solution.

And I think the president understood that where we were -- that while you can get a deal at the time, that sometimes a bad deal is worse than getting a deal. And I think he smartly recognized that what was on the table was not gonna be keeping with the vision that he had, and so he -- he -- he decided that this was not the time and that a deal was not at hand.

QUESTION: Let me ask you about this tweet over the weekend. Does he regret tweeting to his followers that they should tune in to Judge Jeanine, only to tune in and then have her call for House Speaker Paul Ryan...

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: He's a fan of the show. That's it, plain and simple. I mean...

QUESTION: Doesn't he owe Speaker Ryan an apology then?

SPICER: He and Speaker Ryan talked extensively over the weekend. I mean, he's...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

SPICER: I don't know if they talked today, I think they talked both Saturday and Sunday at length. But -- but again, he is a fan of the show. He tweeted out support of it. That's it, plain and simple.

QUESTION: A lot of people...

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: I know what a lot of people say, Kristen (ph), I just said it.

QUESTION: Doesn't he owe...

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: No. He doesn't -- he has spoken -- for what? For supporting a show on Fox? No.

Dave (ph)? Dave (ph)? Dave (ph)?

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Two questions. One on the president choosing Jared Kushner (inaudible) American innovation to reform government across the government. Obviously, Jared Kushner has 60-some days of experience in Washington, never had a prior government job. Does the president view that, somehow, as an advantage in his pick?

SPICER: In some cases. When you look at the individuals that he's bringing in, again, I think one of the things that Jared -- and again, they may talk more about this later. But one of things that Jared's looking at is some of the procurement, the technology aspects, and if you've ever really dealt with the government and recognize how outdated and un-modernized some of this is, it is not serving the American people, it is not serving the constituents that many departments have.

And I think looking at how we procure different things and procure technology in particular is important. It's important -- I mean, I think that when you look at the V.A. in particular and recognize how it handles certain things -- there are certain things it does really well, by the way. It buys prescription drugs really well, buys them in bulk, gets the job done. But there's certain things that it may not do as well in terms of how it keeps its records and how it serves veterans, how it lends money, et cetera, that we can look at and figure out is there a better way?

Government is not business, right? We recognize that there are certain things that business would never do in terms of what government has to do because we serve all of our people. But there are certain practices that we can put in place that can help us deliver a better product and a better service to the American people in some of these key areas.

And I think that when you look at some of the business acumen that Jared and some of the other individuals who he is bringing into this process can really -- I think it is a great service to this country. There are so many individuals that Jared has talked to that have done so well and been so blessed by our nation, that it wanted to give back in some way, shape or form and are using this opportunity to help our country and serve our country in ways that they -- they believe they can use their expertise to do.

Yeah?

QUESTION: And on health care, this review that you've talked about, what went right, what when wrong, I know you don't want to name names, but would it be fair to say at this point that the president has written off some people?

SPICER: I just -- I think I answered that question. It's not a question of written them off, it's a question of understanding there's sort of an understanding of, you know, how you deal with certain people and how they've dealt with you. But it's not a question of writing them off.

We're going to need to get to -- you know, as time goes on, we'll get to -- I'm just going to keep saying 218, it's easier. I won't screw that one up down the line. But I think that we recognize that as we go down this path of a big bold agenda that the president has, that we're going to need every vote we can and hopefully grow the vote in some cases to well beyond that. But we're not writing off anybody. But we do recognize there are some lessons learned from this process and the president made it very clear on Friday.

Thank you guys very much. I'll see you tomorrow. Enjoy the day.

[14:38:42]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: A very happy Monday to you. A busy Monday here in Washington. I'm Brianna Keilar.

You've been watching the White House press briefing on what is a very critical day for the Trump administration as the FBI is investigating potential ties between Donald Trump's campaign aids, former aids, and Russian officials, trying to get to the bottom of if there was some coordination between political attacks during the 2016 election.

We just saw Sean Spicer, White House press secretary, peppered with a lot of questions about something we have been trying to get to the bottom of, and that's a visit to the White House last week by Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, the committee that's supposed to be investigating this very matter of Russia and the Trump campaign. And what we have found out, not from the briefing, but we're trying to get more details from the briefing, is that Nunes went to the White House one night last week. The next day -- and he viewed some classified information. We don't know with whom or what it was. What he did do was the next day said that there was evidence that Trump aids, maybe Donald Trump himself, had been caught up in the surveillance of foreign officials. So that is to recap where we are.

Let's take a listen to some of the questions and the answers of Sean Spicer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[14:39:59] SPICER: And everything I know about is what he has done is through public reports he's made on the record to different folks when he said he has multiple sources. He met with different folks to gather things as part of his review of the situation. So all I know and what I'm willing to communicate is what has been made available through on-the-record comments he has made. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You said I don't know the members of Congress

have to get cleared in. There is some question about that. Who in the White House signed him in essentially?

SPICER: I don't know. I'll be glad to check on that. I'm not sure that that -- how that works. I will follow up on that point.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: We have a great panel with us here today. I want to bring in Reuel Gerecht, a former CIA officer and also a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy.

Can you lend some insight as to why the chairman would need to go to the White House complex? To be clear, he was at the executive office building on White House grounds. Why would he need to go there to view class 32ed information? Is it possible he would have done this at the request of a low-level White House staffer. It seems unlikely this wouldn't be something that staffers would have knowledge of.

REUEL GERECHT, SENIOR FELLOW, FOUNDATION FOR THE DEFENSE OF DEMOCRACY, FORMER CIA OFFICER: It's odd. Usually, when Congressman want to have classified information, the executive branch goes over and gives it to them on the Hill. It's possible that the information was on some type of digitalized system that does not allow printouts. That can happen because of counterintelligence concerns. But with the chairman that would not have happened. So I don't know. It's a bit bizarre. Obviously, if he's looking into a classified system on a computer that require access codes, et cetera, somebody would do that. They would understand that would all be traced. So it's difficult for me to believe that he was not authorized to do that by the parties concerned at the White House.

KEILAR: The White House didn't seem concerned. It seemed like he was authorized. We're just missing a lot of the facts, Gloria.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think somebody would have to clear him in. And somebody would probably have to shepherded him to the room where he needed to go to view these intelligence documents. And Sean Spicer also said today that Nunes said he had multiple sources about this intelligence, which I haven't heard that. I might be missing it, but I really haven't heard that.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: His spokesperson put out a statement today that referred to one source.

BORGER: One source, exactly.

CHALIAN: He met with his source.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: -- so everybody confused it seems on the Intelligence Committee. Republicans and Democrats trying to figure out just what occurred. And also, Mark Warner told Andrea Mitchell today, he called Nunes' actions suspicious because nobody understands what occurred. It seems, in order to clear the air, at least with his own committee, he needs to do that quickly.

KEILAR: Two sources say Nunes was with a staff member on Tuesday night, David, and then he got a message. So he gets summoned or he gets some information and gets out of the car and gets in an Uber without the staff member. Staff did not hear from him that night. The next they heard was from Nunes the next morning, which is the day he scheduled this press conference.

CHALIAN: Right. What is clear now from the briefing is that the White House, from its perspective, clearly is fine with whatever he did. They want no part of this. Whatever information he got, it's up to him to talk about. They are not going to talk about it.

But what is also crystal clear from Nunes' comments today is that he went to the White House. He received information at the White House and then went back to the White House in some dramatic fashion to redeliver that information from where he got it when he briefed the president.

BORGER: I think they just want to make clear, Sean Spicer wants to make clear, we're not facilitators. We are hands off. We have no fingerprints on this whatsoever.

KEILAR: How is that possible?

(CROSSTALK)

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's a lack of curiosity here. I just don't know. It doesn't seem like maybe he's trying.

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: When it came to the information, it seems he would be a little curious of where he got the information.

Now in an interview, Nunes told Eli he had to go over there because he had to get into a networked computer. I don't know if it that's right.

Maybe you can speak to that.

And he also said he copied down the identifying numbers so he could request the information to show to the committee. It seems like he should have done that before he went to the press. Get the information, show it to the people on the committee. Right now, we're dependent on his interpretation of that information. As we all know, people lock at classified information or intelligence reports and see different things. We need other people to look at it and tell us what it means.

KEILAR: What do you think about that, Reuel?

[14:45:04] GERECHT: I suspect that there are members in the White House and even in Congress who deal with classified information who are not fully conversant in what America routinely does with intercepts. And that it's not uncommon for Americans to be picked up on those intercepts. Both in the United States and from Russian calls, communications that begin in Moscow. Moscow to pick up a lot. So parties may be making much too much of this. It's possible if you look at it yourself, you're not going to be surprised. If the intercept is picked up and it's open and not encrypted, they would know already if it was something really damning.

CHALIAN: We should remind everyone, Devin Nunes said this has nothing to with Russia. So whatever information he had had absolutely to do with Russia is what he has told the press, before he went to the White House and After he briefed the president.

KEILAR: So your expectation is this is surveillance of a foreign national that is not a Russian national.

BORGER: His problem is the unmasking of the names of people swept up accidentally in this, some of whom who might have been working in the administration, or even the president, which goes back to the president's tweet three weeks ago that he was being wiretapped.

GERECHT: Let me repeat, it happens all the time. All the time.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think the interesting element here is in talking to folks on Capitol Hill ask somebody who told the story about what happened to him the night before in it reporting that out, is members of his own party who care a lot about the unmasking issue, try to make a whole hearing about it when Comey was on the Hill, are perplexed by everything that surrounds what's happening. They had no idea what was going on. If this is legitimate and justified, we'd be all in with you, let us know what's going on right now. The fact that it appears cloak and dagger when talking to congressional staff and lawmakers saying, what on earth is going on. That's the biggest issue. There might be legitimate issues and concerns but no one can get their heads around everything surround it right now.

KEILAR: One of the other things that came up during the briefing was President Trump's son-in-law, a top advisor, Jared Kushner, who had availed himself to speak to the Senate Intelligence Committee chair. Let's listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: Based on the questions that surround this, he volunteered to go in and sit down and say, hey, I'm glad to talk about the role that I play and the individuals I met with. But remember, given the role he played during the campaign and during the transition, he met with countless individuals. That was part of his job and his role. And he executed it completely as he was supposed to.

You're acting as though there's something nefarious about doing what he was tasked to do.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)

SPICER: Right. And I think based on the media frenzy that existed, I'm answering it. And I'm just saying to you that, based on the media frenzy that existed around this, he volunteered to make sure that -- he said, hey, we made some contacts. I would be glad to explain them. Let me know if you would like to talk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: This is something that hits awfully close to home for Donald Trump, because this is one of his top advisers.

When you look at someone like Donald Trump or any president, you have these circles. This is the inner circle, Jared Kushner.

HUNTER SCHWARZ, CNN POLITICS REPORTER: Yeah, they're trying to get out in front of this. They're saying Jared, he wanted to speak to this committee. They didn't ask him to. And nothing he it was wrong. During the transition period, he was meeting -- the phrase used was he was a conduit to foreign leaders. Any communication he had with Russia was above board and he was just doing his job.

KEILAR: "The New York Times" is reporting there were previously unreported meetings with Russian officials. But it seems, looking at what Sean Spicer is saying, that he certainly isn't necessarily acknowledging that or he's saying this is no big deal.

SCHWARZ: Yeah, they are just saying he did this and it was part of his job. There's no reason for -- he used the word nefarious, a lot times, Spicer does, there's nothing nefarious going on. This is all Jared doing his job. That's why he's willing to talk about it.

KEILAR: The attempt last week by the Trump administration to get an Obamacare repeal and replace bill through the Republican conference, not even through Republicans and Democrats, there was a failure at that. We know Donald Trump has said he has learned something from that, but certainly there's a lot of soul searching going on at the White House. Let's hear what Sean Spicer said about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[14:50:00] UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is the president serious about working with Democrats on health care?

SPICER: Absolutely. In fact, starting Friday afternoon through late yesterday, he's received a number of calls as well as other members of the senior staff that had been working on health care from members from both sides saying they would like to work together and offer up ideas.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Will this require a serious course correction for the White House? I mean, the president has branded Chuck Schumer a clown. Worked entirely with Republicans on this bill. Would this require a serious change of course from the president?

SPICER: To some degree, sure. I think the president talked about that. We learned a lot through this process. We're obviously looking at ways we can improve not only how we handled health care, but other things. How we do everything. I mentioned it to some of you in the course of things. One of the traits of a successful organization is to examine how you do things. I think there's been a lot of outreach from members of both sides with ideas. The president is willing to listen to these individuals. If they come to resolution on a way forward, we're willing to listen and move forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: David Chalian, Democratic voters do not like Donald Trump. That is to put it kindly. Can you imagine a situation where House Republicans, the White House would have any luck in bringing Democrats over?

CHALIAN: I think you're exactly right. Because that's the context of these members are going to decide about they would be able to afford outreach to the White House. You have Donald Trump that is anathema to everything the Democratic base believes in. They want their folks in Congress to o oppose him at all terms. You have Donald Trump at 36 percent approval right now. And so he has no real political clout. 36 percent is a bad number. There's no attempt there. And Democrats just practice the playbook of a wall of opposition and it worked for them in terms of wounding President Trump politically. There's no incentive right now that I can see for the Democrats to want to work with the White House.

BORGER: I totally agree. There's disincentive to work with the White House. I was talking to a senior White House official who also said about these whispers of returning to health care, now you have a Freedom Caucus that is disbanding to a great degree. There's going to be divisions in that Freedom Caucus. Maybe they can use that to their advantage at the White House because they are getting a lot of pro- life groups saying what Donald Trump tweeted, which is that you have blown your only possibility of defunding Planned Parenthood. So you see some of these members of the freedom caucus peeling off. That's very attractive to folks at the White House. Divide and conquer could be a strategy.

KEILAR: Kirsten Powers, can we do a quick fact check. We heard Sean Spicer say that when he was just describing the process of Democrats passing Obamacare, he said that they tried to go single payer and were essentially rebuffed. I covered it.

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: It's possible he was talking about the public option, but even that is not right. He was talking about it as if a vote came up and was somehow rejected, which happened. It was revisions to cast what happened just happen with Trumpcare in some sort of vote, it's not that big a deal. It's pretty spectacular. The public option was floated and negotiated and the White House just said we're not going to be able to include it. Sort of an overture to Republicans. Single payer was never on the table.

KEILAR: Phil, can you put a button on the wider picture? The big topics we're talking about, the investigation when it comes to Russia. You're looking at how Sean Spicer handled the questions a about the Obamacare repeal attempt. When you look at how things are playing out right now for the White House, what would you say? MATTINGLY: Remember Neil Gorsuch. You have a Supreme Court nominee

who had a fantastic week on Capitol Hill. Not just on Capitol Hill, but more broadly right now. You have a success story moving through. And nobody can focus on it because of everything that's going on with Nunes, and health care just imploded upon them. This idea that Democrats are going to come to the table, one Democrat texted me last week, and I asked him, what are you doing, and he said, they are lighting themselves on fire, I find no reason to walk over with a bottle.

KEILAR: They didn't text they were heading over to be helpful? I'm so surprised.

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTINGLY: -- they were going to let them light themselves on fire. I'm so struck by the fact we have a Supreme Court nominee that's rolling through or had a very good week and nobody is talking about it. The White House you feel great about that. There's 15 other things ahead of them.

[14:55:06] KEILAR: It's a really good point.

Everyone, thank you so much.

Next, we'll have more on the breaking news. The Republican in charge of the House Intelligence Committee revealing he was on the White House grounds just a day before his controversial announcement about the president's communications. Sean Spicer not ruling out the mysterious source is from the White House. Details, ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Top of the hour now. I'm Brianna Keilar.

And the White House is plodding its way forward after the bitter health care defeat on Friday. Right now, the critical focus for this administration appears to be dealing with the fallout of a surprising revelation that has left the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, with some explaining to do. Today, we learned that Nunes visited the White House a day before his controversial announcement that he saw information suggesting that communications of then President-elect Donald Trump and his advisers may have been swept up in surveillance of other foreign nationals. Why was he there? Who did he speak to? How does this fit together?

Take a listen to what White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said when questioned if the source of the information could have come directly from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[15:00:03] SPICER: I can't say 100 percent that I know anything what he was briefed on. What I can tell you, through his public comments, is that he has said he had multiple sources, that he came to a conclusion on to the degree to which --