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White House Turmoil Over Russia; White House Denies Trying to Prevent Key Russia Testimony; Jared Kushner Met Russian Banker With Ties To Putin; Sean Spicer Lashes Out at Veteran Reporter Over Russia; Should Nunes Recuse Himself? Aired 10-11p ET

Aired March 28, 2017 - 22:00   ET


[22:00:00] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Breaking news, the Trump White House facing accusations over a cover up over ties to Russia.

This is CNN tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

The administration denying it blocked former acting attorney general, Sally Yates, from telling the house intelligence committee what she knows about communication between the Trump campaign and Russian officials. That hearing was supposed to happen today, but was canceled. The man who canceled it, committee chairman Devin Nunes. Who's resisting calls to recuse himself, saying he's moving forward with the probe. But Democrats charge he's too close to the White House and must step aside. They want to know who signed Nunes into the White House grounds to view classified information, which he ten briefed President Trump about before sharing it with the rest of his committee, so with all these questions about Russia waiting to be answered and an FBI investigation underway, this from the press secretary Sean Spicer.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that's a Russian connection.


LEMON: That happened. I want to begin tonight with CNN senior political analyst, Mark Preston, CNN political analyst, Gloria Borger, political commentator, Ryan Lizza, Devlin Barrett, the national security reporter for the Washington Post, Michael Isikoff, the chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo News, and April Ryan, the White House correspondent for American urban radio networks, the woman who got Sean Spicer talking about that Russian salad dressing. So I think -- welcome to all of you, but it's appropriate to start with you, Ms. Ryan, because you've got the quote of the day. You can't make this stuff up. So let's get in to that in just a minute. But I want to start with Gloria, so plenty of moving parts tonight on the Russian investigation. The White House denying that the administration blocked Sally Yates, former deputy attorney general, from testifying on the Russian Trump connection, Gloria. But the chairman, Chairman Nunes, would not say if the White House asked him to scrap the hearing. Listen -- catching up with him and then we'll discuss.


UNINDENTIFIED MALE: Are you going to stay as chairman and run this investigation?

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Why would I not? You guys need to go ask them why these things are being said.

UNINDENTIFIED MALE: Can this investigation continue as you as chairman?

NUNES: Why would it not. Aren't I briefing you guys continuously and keeping you up to speed?

UNINDENTIFIED MALE: But they're saying that it cannot run as you as chair...

NUNES: You've got to talk to them. That sounds like their problem. I don't have -- my colleagues are perfectly fine. They know we're doing an investigation and that will continue.

UNINDENTIFIED MALE: Did the Trump administration seek to have Sally Yates not testify before your committee?

NUNES: Look, you guys are just speculating. I'm sorry. Whenever there's time we'll do a press...

UNINDENTIFIED MALE: But did they ask you to cancel the hearing today?

NUNES: Come on, guys.

UNINDENTIFIED MALE: Why did you cancel the hearing?

NUNES: There's no -- nothing has been canceled.


LEMON: The answers -- I mean, let's be honest. The answers are perplexing. The Democrats say this looks like a cover up. And now the first GOP congressman, Congressman Walter Jones, is calling for Nunes his recusal. Gloria, what is going on here?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think you see the house intelligence committee imploding completely. I think you see Democrats led by Adam Shift on that committee saying that Nunes can't be -- can't do his job and can't do an impartial investigation. You see signs of so-called collusion, and I'm not talking about the White House and the Russians. I'm talking about Nunes and the White House. And I think that it's a very difficult situation which is why it makes a lot of sense to me to have some kind of an independent investigation or a joint committee or something that would take this or try to take this out of the realm of politics because you are dealing with serious national security issues here. I know that Devin Nunes says, and to a degree likely so, that we all ought to be concerned about the unmasking of, you know, people who were incidentally, in some of these communications, and all the rest. But that is a diversion. That is a side issue right now. The major issue in front of the congress is the question of any kind of Russian ties to people in the Trump transition.

LEMON: And we're not talking about...

BORGER: And that's what it should be focusing...

LEMON: Yeah, we're focusing on how he got his information. Why did he go here and there? Do you agree with what Gloria said, April? You're there every single day.

APRIL RYAN, AMERICA URBAN RADIO NETWORK: I agree whole heartedly. But at issue and at question, can there be a fair intelligence committee investigation on this? And at this point it does not look like it. Even though the intel chair is saying that he's still in charge, and really this is left up to Speaker Ryan to see if this is really something that can fly because it doesn't look like it will be.

[22:05:13] He would be the one who would have to basically remove the intel chair from this. And, again, in question is the improprieties that have happened with this investigation already. Checks and balances are not checks and balances right now. It looks like check mate.

LEMON: Interesting to put it. Hey, Devlin, I want to go to you because you broke the story regarding Sally Yates at the Washington Post. The White House -- they were not a fan of your scoop. Take a look at this.


SPICER: On the 24th, Ms. Yates' attorney sent a letter to the White House counsel requesting that consent specifically stating that if they did not receive a response by March 27th at 10 AM, they would, quote, conclude that the White House does not assert executive privilege over these matters. The White House did not respond. It took no action that prevented Ms. Yates from testifying. That's the story, that's what the documents show. The report in the Washington Post is 100 percent false.


LEMON: OK. So, he's right in a sense but context is everything because here's the thing. The hearing was canceled on Friday, so there was no need for them to reply.

DEVLIN BARRETT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, exactly. I mean, if you have a game that's rained out, you don't expect the refs to show up, right? So, I mean, I actually -- there's one point that Sean Spicer made that I actually completely agree with, which is -- this is one of those -- you know, a lot of this Russian reporting is based on sourcing, this is actually -- our story is not based on sourcing. Our story is based a series of letters among lawyers. If people have doubt or questions, they should read the letters that are cited in our stories that are published with our story and makeup their own minds. The reality is that what happens was there was this back and forth that there was somewhat contentious, and then when it seemed to be coming to a head, they pulled the plug on the hearing. And I think that's very straightforward.

LEMON: Here's the key point of your story. Yates and another witness at the plan meeting, former CIA director, John Brennan, had made clear to government officials by Thursday that their testimony to the committee probably would contradict some statements that White House officials had made, according to a person familiar with the matter. Who's spoken on conditions of anonymity. And the next day, the hearing was canceled, Devlin.

BARRETT: Well, right. And so, what you see both in the letters and in our conversations with people who are familiar with these discussions is that both Yates and Brennan are trying to work through their former agencies and with the current government officials to make clear what they intend to say, where the lines are, and they're having these discussions. But with Yates it became very complicated because of this whole issue of privilege, and different assertion of privilege at different times. And it was never really resolved because, again, the hearing was canceled.

LEMON: So, Mark, while this house investigation, appears by anyone, seems to be stalling here, and the people are questioning whether or not they can actually have one. The other question is Chairman Nunes, where he got the surveillance intel? And people will say we don't like to reveal our sources, but this is important in an investigation. The White House is refusing to say who signed him on to the White House grounds. Is that problematic?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It is for a couple of reasons. One, I think we have to acknowledge we're going to find out who signed him into the White House.


PRESTON: Look, it's Washington. Nobody keeps secrets in Washington anymore, I mean, really, when you're a political official. But why it's problematic is that -- the just the appearance of it looks like they're trying to hide something. That they're trying to hide behind -- that they don't want to give up information. But this is the new problem all along with every turn and every development in this Russia investigation. The White House has not been forthright or had willing to work with either the Department of Justice or with Capitol Hill, specifically the Democrats, I mean, I guess understandably in some ways, but they have not been as forthcoming as they should have been.

LEMON: Do you think we'll figure out who let him on the White House grounds, Michael? Do you think we'll get answers?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, YAHOO NEWS: Yeah, eventually, we will. I mean, there's a lot of speculation about Michael Ellis who was the general counsel at the house intelligence committee working for Nunes, who just a couple of weeks ago went to work at the White House on national security matters. And so, he would seem to be a natural suspect as it were to have at least facilitated this visit by Nunes.

LEMON: But, Michael, Nunes was asked about Michael Ellis by Manu Raju today, and his response is, you're asking too many questions.

ISIKOFF: Right, well that's...


ISIKOFF: But can I just say on the question of the executive privilege here. This was actually, to me, the most significant development today.

[22:10:00] And it's actually a good thing for people who want to get at the truth. Because what Sean Spicer did in that briefing trying to rebut Devin's story was to take privilege off the table and that's pretty astonishing. I've been covering investigation for years in Washington, and White Houses, and Democrats, and Republican, jealously guard executive privilege asserted as much as they can to try to thwart congressional investigators. And whether Don McGahn knew what Sean Spicer was going to say today or not. The fact is Spicer locked the White House in to a position that really allows for testimony far beyond any other White House counsel.

LEMON: Ryan Lizza, do you agree with that?

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It's a great point. Absolutely, he gave the green light for her to testify. Now, look, I suppose this is a White House that has occasionally changes its mind. It doesn't have any compulsion in doing that. I suppose they could come back tomorrow and say, well, there are a little bit of mistake. There are some legal issues here and we don't want her to talk about x, y, and z. But it did seem from the briefing that Spicer came out there knowing he's going to say that. It didn't seem off the cuff. And that the fact that this story had become public due to the great reporting from the Washington Post, had sort of forced their hand and made them not want to seem to be covering up her testimony.

LEMON: Guess what everyone?

BORGER: I think it's important...

LEMON: Hold on, Gloria.


LEMON: I have to get -- guess what everyone? You're coming back because it's such a great panel. So stick around. Gloria, we'll be the first out of the break. Up next, showdown in the White House press briefing room, April Ryan mixed it up with Sean Spicer. We're going to hear directly from April right after this as well.


[22:15:13] LEMON: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer lashing out a veteran reporting -- a veteran reporter for asking questions about the Trump administration ties to Russia, or allege ties to Russia. Back now with me my panel including the reporter, April Ryan. April, you would be first, but I promise Gloria. So, Gloria, you wanted to make a point...

BORGER: No, no, I give the floor to April...


BORGER: ... totally.

LEMON: As you do every single day, you try to get answers from the White House. You ask tough questions.

LIZZA: For the last 20 years. For the last 20 years.

LEMON: So you asked about this Russia connection. It got a little tense. Let's play it and then we'll talk about it.



LIZZA: Sean, don't seem so happy. You're like go ahead. Anyway, with all these investigations, questions of what it is, how does this administration try to revamp its image two 1/2 months in. You got -- story of the day. You've got other things going on. You've got Russia, you've got wiretapping, you've got -- you know, we don't have that...


LIZZA: ... on Capitol Hill.

Sean: No, no, I get it. I've said it from the day that I got here until whenever, that there is no connection. You've got Russia. If the president puts Russian salad dressing on his salad tonight, somehow that's a Russian connection. But every single person -- no, I appreciate your agenda here, but the reality is -- no, no, hold on. No, at some point report the facts. The facts are that every single person who has been briefed on the subject has come away with the same conclusion. Republican, Democrat, so -- I'm sorry that that disgust you. You're shaking your head. I appreciate it. But -- OK, understand this that at some point the facts are what they are. And every single person who has been brief on this situation with respect to the situation with Russia, Republican, Democrat, Obama appointee career, have all come to the same conclusion. At some point, April, you're going to have to take no for an answer with respect to whether or not there is collusion. Hold on. But, April, hold on. It seems like you're hell bent on trying to make sure that whatever image you want to tell about this White House stays. Because at the end of the day -- let me...


SPICER: OK. But, you know what, you're asking me a question and I'm going to answer it, which is the president -- I'm sorry, please stop shaking your head again.


LEMON: I mean, what are you a child? As you put it today, you said that you were road kill today. He was so combative.

LIZZA: He's frustrated. You can clearly see that. And today wasn't a pretty day, the administration wanted to come out and combat this Washington Post story. And anything about Russia, they're very concerned with because of what's been happening with Nunes. I mean, this whole scope -- I mean, from day one, from the day after the president was inaugurated, there's been problems from the podium, from the time they started talking about the crowd size to today. They're frustrated. They're trying to find their footing. I mean, I understand the job that he's trying to do, but I'm also doing my job as a reporter by asking the questions. And I did not ask a question that was wrong. I've just asked after the series of questions from everyone in the room, you know, how do you change the narrative from this negative picture to something that...

LEMON: We don't have that. We don't have that. That's your narrative. I'm just channeling him. Which is just odd to me because, yes, that is the reality of it, but, Devlin, basically what she's saying this is all your fault, buddy.

BARRETT: Right. Sorry, April...

LIZZA: I did not say that.


BARRETT: These are some serious issues, right? And everyone's tense. I mean, I think what you're seeing in some similar ways, frankly, to the way the Clinton email tested some parts of government. This whole Russia issue is really testing a lot of different parts of government in different ways, and people are stressed out.

LIZZA: Can I add one thing about what Sean said there? What he said is just not correct. The subject of potential Russian collusion with the Trump campaign or its associates is the subject of what everyone is investigating. And I interpreted his comment there in between as sort of strange attacks on April, as saying that everyone's looked into this and nobody's found anything. That's -- well, the FBI has been investigating this since July. We don't know the conclusion of that investigation. The house and the senate are investigating this. So, it is the subject that we are all looking into. And his statement made it sounds like it's been sort of asked, answered, looked at and we can all move on. That's not what Director Comey said when he testified last week, the FBI director.

[22:22:03] BORGER: Right. And, you know, April struck a nerve with Sean Spicer. And we are watching Sean Spicer live on television every day. And with lots of press secretaries over the years at that podium, there are lots of contentious, you know, to and froes, right? I mean, you guys all know that. But... LEMON: Ever like this though, Gloria?


BORGER: I don't know that it's ever been under a microscope like this, and I can't vouch for everything, but there're been lot of contentious moments in those press rooms. But the problem that Sean Spicer has, the problem he has -- and April, you know more than I do that the problem he has is that he's pushing this boulder up a hill and he keeps getting rolled over by it, right, as every day. And that's because the story won't go away. And every effort, every effort they make, whether Nunes is making the effort to cancel hearings or to divert people's attention to unmasking, which is really an issue that is not what's in front of everyone. Whatever they try and do it isn't working. And I think today -- let me just say this to the earlier point, which is I think today Sean Spicer made a mistake. Because he said, we welcome, you know, Yates' testimony. And in doing so, in doing so, he kind of opened a Pandora's Box because, of course, now she's going to testify and whether she testify publicly or privately, she's now going to testify because he's given her license to do that from the podium.

LEMON: Mark, have you seen it like this? I've seen some contentious moments but never on a daily basis like this. I can't -- I don't cover the White House.

PRESTON: Well, if you go book to the Lewinsky scandal, and you can certainly find contentious moments. But a couple of things about Sean Spicer because I think all of us know him on the panel. And all of us know April. And let me just say this about April, this is the second time that she has mixed it up with the White House. I mean, she mixed it up with President Trump. But, again, it wasn't her fault. She was asking a simple question that they took unbridged with. Here's the deal for Sean Spicer, Gloria talks about pushing a boulder up the hill. He is being asked to go out and do the unanswerable. To give and answer her for a question that there is no answer to, right? So he's being forced to that. And often times...

LEMON: He's not forced...


PRESTON: I know. But let me just say this because I do think that -- I'll bring it full circle here. He's supposed to go out there and speak on behalf of the leader of the free world. He has an audience of one. He's speaking to the leader of the free world because we know that Donald Trump sits back here and watches those briefings. And so, in many ways that he should be speaking directly to the American people, to world leaders, what have you, but in many ways he's actually having to speak to Donald Trump because Donald Trump is somebody that we know that critiques everything for those that surround him.

LEMON: And, Michael, there is no indication that Sean Spicer's job is going to get easier in the days to come. ISIKOFF: No. But, look, I mean, the key here is, you know, there are

specific matters that the committees can go into and can advance the ball one way or the other. You know, certainly, calling Sally Yates, but also calling Michael Flynn, putting him under oath, asked him why he had those conversations with the Russian ambassador, and who instructed them or did he have conversations with the president about the conversations he was having with the Russian ambassador? Those are the areas where the committees can, you know, cut through all the back and forth, and the noise, and get some facts on the table. And, you know, we might start to get some answers because this is going at an exceedingly slow pace. We're learning a lot about the atmospherics and very little about the core facts at hand. And I think that's what we ought to all be focused on.

LEMON: April, I want to get your response, but I want to play this first because you've got mentioned a lot today. Watch this.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: April Ryan, a respected journalist with unrivalled integrity, was doing her job just this afternoon in the White House press room, when she was patronize and cut off trying to ask a question. One of your own California congresswoman, Maxine Waters, was taunted with a racist joke about her hair. Now too many women, especially women of color, have had a lifetime of practice taking precisely these kinds of indignities in stride. But why should we have to? And any woman who thinks this couldn't be directed at her is living in a dream world.



[22:25:05] LEMON: And we're back to the campaign, it seems like. I mean, seriously...

LIZZA: No, it wasn't the campaign.


LEMON: I know. But, I mean, seriously, those are very strong words. What did you think of the secretary's comments?

LIZZA: I was surprised. I arrived home and was with my daughters, and someone said did you see Hillary Clinton? And I was like, no. And I saw it and I couldn't believe it. I was shocked. But I did go on twitter and I've said preach.


LEMON: I mean, that he is because -- listen, yes, he does work for the White House, but ultimately he works for the American people. And even he -- at least deserves to -- the American people deserve the truth. And as a reporter you should be respected. As long as you respect him, he should respect you. And I thought that he was just really combative with you and it was not a fair -- it was not good answer.

LIZZA: Well, Don, let me say this to you. At the end of the day, he's going to do his job and I'm going to do mine. I'm going to come back tomorrow, and I'm going to keep coming back. I mean, I understand what Sean is dealing with, but I understand what I'm dealing with as well. But what I will say, and I'm going to go back to the common about atmospherics, part of the picture is the fact when Sean is like that or any press secretary is like that it's the reflection of the leader of the free world. So that's a reflection. The way he came to that briefing room today was a reflection of the president of the United States. So the president probably was angry about the Washington Post article and other things that are going on, and it showed in Sean Spicer in his appearance in the podium today.

LEMON: Devlin is like, there you go again. Yes, Gloria, I got to cut you off. You're coming back, Gloria. You're coming back.

BORGER: Hillary Clinton is back. She's not walking in the woods anymore.

LEMON: No, no...

LIZZA: Not at all.

LEMON: ... so it's going to be interesting. All right, more after the break. Don't go anywhere.


[22:30:47] LEMON: All right. Back now with my panel, joining us now what we were talking about what happened in the briefing today, Marc you wanted to weigh in.

PRESTON: For all the folks on social media saying oh my god you're apologizing for Sean Spicer and you're against April Ryan, let's be clear April and I go way, way back and we'll leave it at that, right.

RYAN: Now you're insinuating something.

LEMON: 20 years this year.

RYAN: 20 years, this year.

LEMON: Go ahead Ryan.

LIZZA: I just wanted to apologize for tweeting during the break but one other point of something that happened today just to show how bad things are between the White House press core and the White House. First time I can ever remember this has happened when the White House announced today it will not be sending or allowing, I guess any White House staffers to go to this annual White House correspondent association dinner. Now President Trump already said that he would not be there and the White House staff quote out of solidarity is what they told the president's of the White House correspondent association will also not be going. In previous year's news organizations, they said they didn't want to go because there's too much coziness between the press and the White House.

LEMON: I've never gotten so many invitations on other news organizations.

LIZZA: It's an easy ticket this year.

RYAN: This year is the year to go. I will tell you this and I may not -- I shouldn't be telling you but I'm going to give you a little scoop. There will be a major theme and one of the major themes of the night will be the first amendment of freedom of the press. That is a major theme that night. That is going to be the over arcing theme and I will let you know this. Some of the cabinet secretaries had already been placed at some of the tables. I shouldn't say this either, I am not going to say the name. There supposedly was a cabinet secretary that is supposed to seat with Bloomberg. So now with this new, I guess memo to the WHCA that will not happen.

LEMON: I guess I'm going to go now. I need to be there. So if you're CNN, I'm going.

BORGER: You can sit with me, Don.

LEMON: All right. Gloria, let's go if you'll be my date. This is all about the first amendment. So let's talk now about Gloria, senior advisor, Jared Kushner who testified behind closed doors. This Russian cloud is officially hovering over the inner circle.