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Soon: House GOP Leaders Speak; House Intel Chair won't Step Aside in Russia Probe; Nunes Speaks to CNN. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 28, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:20]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow. At any moment now, Republican House leaders will step up to a podium. What they will say? We do not know, but we do know that they just left a meeting filled with anger and frustration, one that seemed more like an airing of grievances. That's according to a member inside of that meeting texting with our Phil Mattingly.

Republican representative Chris Collins calling it a wound-mending session post health care defeat, and adding to their frustration this morning, the embattled chair of the House Intelligence Committee under more and more pressure.

BERMAN: Yes, leading Democrats are calling on Devin Nunes to step aside in that committee's investigation into the Trump associate's alleged ties with Russia. Devin Nunes, moments ago, tracked down in the halls of the Capitol. He says the investigation will move on. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: How does this investigation move forward now that Democrats are calling for your recusal?

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CHAIRMAN INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Move forward just like it was before.

RAJU: And you're not going to recuse yourself?

NUNES: The investigation continues. We've had an investigation into Russia for many, many years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: He said the investigation continues. He didn't directly answer the question about whether he will recuse himself. We're not sure whether he's really much into that or not.

So, Democrats are calling for Chairman Nunes to step aside. And this morning, really for the first time, we're starting to hear from some Republicans, in the Senate mostly, but Republicans now questioning the chairman's judgment. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think you put his objectivity in question at the very least.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: There needs to be a lot of explaining to do. I've been around for quite a while, and I've never heard of any such thing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Again, we are waiting right now. You're looking at a live picture from inside the Capitol where House Speaker Paul Ryan is expected to speak along with other leading Republicans. We do not know what they will talk about. We do not know whether they will address the swirls of controversy around Chairman Nunes. We should know soon enough. Let's go to CNN's Sunlen Serfaty. He was on Capitol Hill. Sunlen, we are all waiting for this news conference.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. And certainly, first and foremost, we expect the speaker to be asked about Devin Nunes, whether he still stands by him, something that he said last night. But as you noted, the calls are certainly growing up here on Capitol Hill for Devin Nunes to recuse himself from this investigation, from Nancy Pelosi, notably, from his Democratic counterpart on the committee, Adam Schiff.

But first, let's get to how Devin Nunes in the wake of all this criticism is defending himself, defending going over to White House to meet with his source to get that information, and Adam Schiff's pushback.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NUNES: Number one, I wasn't sneaking on. It wasn't at night. It was in the middle of -- you know, the sun was out, and I actually stopped and talked to several people along the way. Many foreign dignitaries were there, some I recognized. I said hello, had conversions with them. So, nobody was sneaking around. All it was, -- was just a place where I had to go to be able to review this information.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We've reached the point after the events of this week where it would be very difficult to maintain the credibility of the investigation, if the chairman did not recuse himself from matters involving either the Trump campaign or the Trump transition team of which he was a member.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: And it's not just Democrats being critical of Devin Nunes, some Republican senators, notably senators Graham and Senator McCain. This morning, stopping short of asking for Nunes and calling for Nunes to recuse himself, but they're saying, look, he has a lot more explaining to do. Senator Graham, saying if he's not willing to let Democrats and Republicans on that committee, who he met with, what he was told, then he has lost the ability to lead. So, some criticism coming from top Republicans.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan last night in a statement issued by his spokeswoman said that he still stands by Devin Nunes, but certainly, John and Poppy, he will be getting a lot of questions shortly about just this.

HARLOW: Going to be the first question, you would think, out of the gate. Sunlen, thanks for the reporting on the Hill. In just about an hour, the president is sitting down with members of a police union. He's doing a lot of tweeting this morning as well about everything not having to do with the news at hand and Devin Nunes.

Sara Murray is at the White House with more on what the president has ahead today. I mean, they want to get everyone's eyes off of this. Not succeeding at that, though.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. If you are following the president's Twitter account, what he is focusing on there is health care reform and the failure of conservatives to rally behind it and get that bill through Congress. But if you're here at the White House, the big focus is still this controversy over Russia and what happens next.

As you pointed out, the president does have a meeting with the Fraternal Order of Police next hour. That will be sort of the first opportunity for journalists to try to press him for a response. He's become pretty adept at ignoring our questions when we do get a chance to see him in these sprays. But it's possible we may get some comments from him.

[10:05:11] I think it is worth noting, Poppy, that the White House does have a lot of answers to these questions when you ask, you know, where did Devin Nunes get this information? Who let him on to the White House grounds? That's something that is pretty easy for the administration to figure out, and it's worth noting that they're not inclined to do so.

They've been telling me this morning that they probably are not going to release that information of who allowed Devin Nunes on to the White House grounds, even though it would be relatively simple for them to check on that. It's very clear that they want to move beyond this Russia story, rather than try to cooperate with journalist inquiries into this. Back to you guys.

BERMAN: All right, Sara Murray for us at the White House. Sara thanks so much. Again, a reminder, we are waiting to hear from House Speaker Paul Ryan. He is due to hold a news conference at any moment. They just had a closed-door meeting on Capitol Hill with Republicans, where they had -- a lot to say to one another, an airing of grievances we're told, there are policies to sign still - for that, about what went on with health care, but also, the House Intelligence Committee very much at the forefront.

Want to talk about this with Abby Phillip, CNN political analyst, political reporter for the "Washington Post," Patrick Healy, CNN political analyst and deputy culture editor for "The New York Times" and Salena Zito, CNN contributor and reporter for the "Washington Examiner."

Salena, I want to start with you, because -- to us, it feels like things have shifted a little bit this morning. Yes, Democrats have been calling on Chairman Nunes to step aside. But this morning for the first time, you are having Republicans, albeit in the Senate, senators like Lindsey Graham and John McCain and Susan Collins to a little bit of a lesser extent, questioning the judgment of the House committee chair and say that he's got some explaining to do.

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR AND REPORTER "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Right. Well, it's probably not a shock that McCain and Graham are criticizing Nunes. They've never been sort of a fan of Trump. So, you know, they're always going to be the sharpest skeptics of the president out of the gate.

I mean, Nunes is in an interesting position. Does he say, look, the reason I went there was because we have leaks, and I went there because it was the most secure place to review these documents. Fair enough. But you know, not talking about it just makes the story draw out, you know, and create more questions rather than answers.

So, I think that's his biggest challenge. I thought it was interesting that he didn't say if he would recuse himself or not. People give us hints all the time of what's going on. I feel like that was a bit of a hint that maybe he will recuse himself.

HARLOW: Maybe, you know, but it's sort of confounding that, as Sara Murray was reporting, that the White House could give the simple answers, like who from the White House signed him on to the property, right? And he could answer simple, you know, questions like why didn't you review this in a skiff on Capitol Hill instead of the White House, which he essentially in his answer to that yesterday said, Patrick Healy, I couldn't get the information over to Capitol Hill, essentially saying it's from the Executive Branch, no?

PATRICK HEALY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST AND DEPUTY CULTURE EDITOR "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Right, exactly. And he's playing - you know, he's playing real defense on this, you know, trying to sort of bob and weave and suggesting, well, I saw you know, foreign dignitaries who I said hello to. It sounds like a lot of excuse-making.

But the bigger issue, Poppy, is the one you get at, which is the sense that only the Executive Branch could have provided this information to him sort of on their terms, -- which is disconcerting for folks I think who want an independent investigation, who have serious questions. John McCain and Lindsey Graham aren't just critics of Trump. They have, you know, decades of a track record of asking very hard questions about the security and safety of the United States and of the integrity of the foreign policy here.

And so, you know, while some Republicans I think are falling in line and trying to figure out ways to defend President Trump, you know, protect the committee chairman, Devin Nunes, -- there's still major question's out there -

HARLOW: Patrick - HEALY: Sure.

HARLOW: So sorry to interrupt. Hold that thought. We have our Manu Raju speaking with Devin Nunes on the Hill. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) working together?

NUNES: Thanks, guys. We're not going to talk about the investigation. If you have any intelligence questions, I'll brief you at the proper, appropriate time when we have new information, just like I always have been doing.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: A simple affirmative, which you've almost given. At this time, you are not considering recusing yourself -

NUNES: Well, look, I'd like to answer your question, but I'd like to know first what the purpose of that would be - why that would be, because someone asks? I mean, that's not how it works to me.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: They're calling for you to recuse yourself, saying that you have a conflict of interest.

NUNES: I just left -- what would that be? Help me understand.

RAJU: Their criticism is that you're too close to the White House, you shouldn't have briefed the president last week, and you can't credibly run the investigation. That's what they're saying.

NUNES: OK.

RAJU: So, do you -- what's your response?

NUNES: You guys know the truth to that. You were told -- you guys know exactly what was said.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: We're asking you, if you feel you have a conflict of interest. -

[10:10:04] NUNES: I briefed all of you last week many times. So you guys know everything that's going on in this investigation. So I would just say, go talk to them and ask them.

RAJU: But are you going to stay as chairman and run this investigation?

NUNES: Well, why would I not? You guys need to go ask them why they're - you know, why these things are being said.

RAJU: Can this investigation continue with you as chairman?

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

RAJU: But they're saying that it cannot run with you as chairman. NUNES: You've got to go talk to them. That sounds like their problem. I don't have -- my colleagues are perfectly fine. I mean, they know we're doing an investigation and that will continue.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you think that the committee -

NUNES: Guys, I've got to get going.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- that the investigation at this point will not be affected by all this? Will it change in quality or how it runs?

NUNES: No, I mean, we're doing a very thorough job on this investigation. As you know, this Russia issue, we have been on it for many, many years. And so, we'll continue to be on the issue.

(INAUDIBLE QUESTION)

NUNES: Look, we're not going to get into who we're going to interview or not interview at this point unless they publicly come forward. And you know -- so, last week when someone publicly came forward, I announced it to all of you. There's really nothing more guys.

RAJU: Did your former attorney, Mike Ellis, was he your source?

NUNES: Manu, how many questions are you going to ask? There's like 20 questions every day.

RAJU: But Mike Ellis was your former lawyer, a lot of speculation about whether he was your source.

NUNES: You can continue to speculate, as I've told you before. We're not going to get into sources, methods, anyone.

RAJU: But you're ruling out it came from the White House now?

NUNES: I can tell you just go back and look at the stories that have been written, and you know, I think those are pretty accurate. Interviews that I did with CNN last night on your show, on "Wolf Blitzer," I don't think there are any more questions that you can ask.

RAJU: Intelligence source, as an intelligence source -

(INAUDIBLE QUESTION)

NUNES: What's that?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you just comment on why the Intel Committee meetings were canceled this week?

NUNES: Look, there's no -- everything is moving forward as is. I'm not going to get into internal communications between us and the Democrats. But I would go ask them that question and have them tell you.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But did you cancel the meetings? NUNES: Guys, you're going to have to - I told you, I've been very fair to brief all of you when there's something to report. But there's nothing to report right now.

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

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

RAJU: Did they ask you to cancel the hearing today?

NUNES: Come on.

RAJU: Why is that not - I mean, why did you cancel the hearing?

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

RAJU: The public hearing -

NUNES: Nothing has been canceled.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Last week on Monday, you said you expected to - (INAUDIBLE) Obama administration that this was to be today, the 28th.

NUNES: Why don't you guys go ask the Democrats these questions?

RAJU: Did you announce on Friday that you were canceling this Tuesday hearing?

NUNES: Yes. So, as of Friday -- it seems like you guys don't listen. As I said, last Friday, we have more questions for Mr. Comey. Until Mr. Comey comes in, it's a little tough for us to do depositions and interviews. That's what I said last Friday. That hasn't changed.

RAJU: So, why did you cancel the public hearing?

NUNES: I just told you. Are you just going to keep asking the same question? I told you last week, until Comey comes forward, it's hard for us to move forward with interviews and depositions.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you regret going to the White House to get -

(INAUDIBLE QUESTION)

NUNES: As soon as we can get the questions answered from the FBI director that would be the logical first step.

RAJU: When you talked to the president last week, when you briefed him, did the Russia investigation come up at all?

NUNES: You've already -- I've briefed everyone multiple times on that conversation, including all of your questions. I don't know why you keep asking the same questions over and over again.

RAJU: Yes or no, did the Russia investigation come up? NUNES: Go back and look at the tape, and you will see that that question was answered in front of all the press last week.

RAJU: Yes or no.

NUNES: I already -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right, our Manu Raju following House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes in the halls of the Capitol, the bowels of the building, chasing him down with question after question. I think the headline is that the chair makes clear that he is not recusing himself. --

HARLOW: He said, "Why should I?"

BERMAN: He said, "Why should I? Why don't you ask the Democrats why I should step aside?" So, he is not recusing himself from this investigation right now.

HARLOW: Well, the other headline there at the end, you heard Manu say to him repeatedly when you went to brief the president at the White House last week, did the Russian investigation come up at all? Instead of just saying yes or no, he said, go back and look at the transcript of what you asked me last week. He could have clearly just answered that.

BERMAN: Devin Nunes facing, you know, sustained questions, but not going anywhere, at least not now. Let's bring back our panel. I believe they're still with us. Abby Philip, Patrick Healy, Salena Zito.

[10:15:00] Abby Philip, you know, in Washington, sort of remarkable to see the pressure that the chairman is under right now and the frustration that he is starting to display with these questions, questions which, again, we have to note, he has not directly answered.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST AND POLITICAL REPORTER "WASHINGTON POST": That's right. And I think that that exchange is really remarkable in the degree that it shows how under siege he is right now, both in the public eye from his colleagues on the committee. That is not how this committee is supposed to operate. They are supposed to operate in a bipartisan fashion, and it is very clear that that has broken down and that he's on the defensive.

So, we don't know what he is going to do about recusal, but this kind of situation is clearly not helping anyone involved. It continues to create a new narrative that is problematic for the White House, that's problematic for his committee. It does nothing to further the investigation in an impartial fashion.

And you can tell that by looking at what the Senate is doing, which is not happening in the public eye. It's happening very quietly. You don't have the chairman out there being besieged by questions every single day. So there's clearly something happening on the House side that is a little bit dysfunctional right now. BERMAN: All right. Abby, Salena -- go ahead Patrick.

HEALY: Just to Abby's point, I mean, he's become now a character in this. And the American people very much want to have confidence in this investigation, that it's full and fair and you know, from what you just saw now, I mean, that looked you know more like a circus.

But one other point, Devin Nunes just said that House leaders, suggesting Paul Ryan, were perfectly fine with where things stood. I mean, we're going to see that I think in just a few minutes, but that was quite an assertion on his part.

BERMAN: Well, that's a good tease from you, Patrick. Guys, stick around, because we are waiting to hear from House Speaker Paul Ryan. House leadership holds a news conference any minute from now. Fascinating to see how they answer questions about the Intelligence Committee and Devin Nunes. We are waiting to see the results of that. Plus, you know, Jared Kushner, three other people associated with the Trump campaign, they will soon be talking to the Senate Intelligence Committee, much more on that as well. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:20:58] BERMAN: All right, back now with our panel. Also joining us is Michael Allen. He's the former majority staff director of the House Intelligence Committee. Very relevant this morning, given the fire that the current chairman, Devin Nunes, is under right now, who just told us moments ago that he will not step aside from leading that committee. He says, "Why should I?"

Michael Allen, first, just set the scene for us. Have you ever seen this level of rancor surrounding the House Intelligence Committee?

MICHAEL ALLEN, FORMER MAJORITY STAFF DIRECTOR HOUSE INTEL COMMITTEE: Well, this is pretty extraordinary. I mean, it's definitely sort of an oasis of bipartisanship in an otherwise polarized Congress. Most of the hearings are behind closed doors, and most of the information that is exchanged is of a really delicate, sensitive nature. So, this is an extraordinary series of events, and I'm sure the committee and I know the chairman must want to get things back on track.

HARLOW: So, Michael, just talk about the damage that this does, though, big picture, to have this committee in such disarray, such disarray that the FBI director told our Manu Raju he's not going to come testify and give those answers they need until the committee can get along and get its sort of House in order. This is the committee that guards the secrets, a lot of classified information that keeps this country safe.

ALLEN: Look, look, it's not very shocking to hear that there's politics going on in the Congress. I mean, there always is in every investigation I've ever been involved with. There have been communications between the party of the president and the party of his allies on the Hill. And so, I wouldn't totally put too much stock in that. The FBI wants to do its work. They don't want Congress to interfere. At the same time, Congress feels like it has a duty to oversee the Intelligence Community.

And so, I think they've got some explaining to do. And you know, I noted that Chairman Nunes did apologize last week for going public. And so, I think there's still time to get this back on track. We need the House and the Senate looking into these extraordinary allegations. And so, I think we have a little bit more time to go.

BERMAN: Salena Zito, Paul Ryan about to walk up to that lectern, you are seeing on the screen, right there. He will take questions based on this meeting he just had with the Republican Caucus. They talked about a number of things.

But you can imagine that there will be a question, do you continue to stand by the House Intelligence chair. We have been told that Paul Ryan will say yes. Is there any reason to anticipate that Paul Ryan's faith may be shaken going forward?

ZITO: Well, I mean, he certainly can't like the optics of what's going on, right? I mean, this is sort of sacred ground, the Intel Community. And as Mike said, yes, politics happens all the time, but nonetheless, at this moment, given what we're -- you know, all these stories that are sort of peeling out. The political optics of this hasn't been very good for sort of, you know being able to trust whatever comes out of the committee.

And I think that Paul -- you know, Nunes in that interview, it appears that he said that Paul Ryan -- essentially said that the Republicans have his back. But I don't know how long that goes on, if this continues to be so damaging for the president, for the committee, and for the work that they need to do to uncover what's going on.

HARLOW: Abby Phillip, even if Nunes stays as the chair of this committee, even if they do resume these meetings, which they likely will, and hear from all of these individuals they've called in. You know, at what point do they lose complete credibility in their findings among the American people after all of this, what truly has become a circus?

PHILLIP: Well, it just really depends on who you ask. I mean, I think all of this happening right now is probably not penetrating particularly far right now. It's very complicated. It's a little bit confusing, and I wouldn't blame anybody from being confused because it seems like every day the story is changing from Devin Nunes, from the White House, et cetera.

[10:25:07] So, if they are able to come up with a conclusion, if there is integrity in the process, I think that is likely to be respected. But if there continues to be this confusion and what seems -- like interference from the people who are being investigated, that is going to undermine this entire process.

And beyond that, I mean, the White House is not really enamored with this investigation to begin with, but they also have a lot of other stuff going on here in Washington. They want to move forward with their agenda -- tax cuts, infrastructure -- and this entire story line is really kind of swamping anything else from really getting through in the public right now, and that's got to be frustrating.

And the question is how long are they going to allow that to continue? How long is the side show going to be allowed to cloud everything else that might be more positive coming out of this White House and from this president.

HARLOW: All right, guys. Thank you all very much. We've got to get a quick break in here before Paul Ryan takes the podium. Thank you all for joining us.

Still to come, we will hear directly from Paul Ryan as he faces these questions. Does he still have faith in Chairman Devin Nunes? Much more from Paul Ryan, straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)