Return to Transcripts main page


House Intel Chair Won't Step Aside; Nunes Denies Wrongdoing; Yates Blocked from Testifying; Ryan Hits Obamacare Repeal; Trump Irked at Freedom Caucus; White House Tax Reform. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 28, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Kate.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

President Trump takes aim today at a major Obama administration climate change initiative, rolling back an executive order on greenhouse gas emissions that the new president's EPA achieve says smothers job creation.


SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: For too long over the last several years you had certain industries, certain sectors of our economy that were within the cross hairs of the EPA. These industries, like the coal sector, were under assault. And so that is not going to happen anymore. We're going to have a very focused pro-growth pro-environment message.


KING: Democrats disagree with that.

Also stoking the partisan divide, the White House vows to choke off federal funds to so-called sanctuary cities.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That is a big day you had yesterday, too, on sanctuary cities.


TRUMP: That was a very, very important thing you did and, frankly, a very popular thing. So, congratulations.


KING: A new tensions today -- crackling tensions over Russia's election meddling. Senators want to question the president's son-in- law about a post-election meeting with a Russian banker close to Vladimir Putin, and Democrats call for the leader of the House investigation to step aside. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Do you trust Nunes?

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I don't trust him. I mean, I think he's a very nice man. I think he is frankly over his head. I think he used very poor judgment and I think he has tainted the committee. I actually think that there is an effort underway to shut this committee down.


KING: With us to share their reporting and their insight, Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times," Lauren Meckler of "The Wall Street Journal," Karen Tumulty of "The Washington Post," and Olivier Knox of Yahoo! News.

In a bit, an emotional meeting of House Republicans this morning. And after it, upbeat talk, but no timetable of somehow revisiting Obamacare repeal.

But let's begin a very busy hour with a brief but important vote of confidence in the man leading that House investigation into Russian election meddling. Top Democrats, as you just heard, say Chairman Devin Nunes too cozy with President Trump. The Democrats believe he should recuse himself from the House Intelligence Committee review. But Nunes says he is moving on with the investigation and his boss, the House speaker, Paul Ryan, just moments ago brushed aside calls for the chairman to step aside.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should Devin Nunes recuse himself from the Russia investigation and, two, do you know the source of his investigation?



KING: There you go, no and no. Ryan's backing brief there, but it's very important, because it isn't just Democrats raising questions about how Nunes is conducting things. The chairman kept even Republicans on the committee in the dark as he went to the White House complex one day last week to review classified intelligence reports and then returned to the Oval Office the next day to brief the president, again without looping in anyone else on the committee.


REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: This was done because the White House wanted it to be done. And this is what a cover up to a crime looks like. We are watching it play out right now.


KING: Now, Nunes says that's not true. He also says he had no choice. He says he was tipped off that members of the Trump transition team were mentioned in intelligence reports being shared across the executive branch late last year and he wanted to review those documents to see if privacy guidelines were violated.


REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: I've been working this for a long time with many different sources and needed a place that I could actually finally go because I knew what I was looking for and I could actually get access to what I needed to see. I'm quite sure that I think people in the West Wing had no idea that I was there. Look, I go over there a lot. I go over there often for meetings and briefings.


KING: The details of this can be confusing and we don't know a lot. We don't know what exactly Chairman Nunes is talking about and these documents were -- he says it's not related to Russia but Trump transition officials are mentioned in these intelligence documents. He thinks that's an outrage that the intelligence agencies are too quick to put the names in these documents.

Let's, for a moment though, talk about the trust factor. The speaker answered quickly that Devin Nunes keeps his job. Does that shut this down?



MECKLER: I mean, no, obviously. I mean the Democrats smell blood in the water here. I mean I think that actually Speaker Ryan -- or Ryan's endorsement of him was important, but, you know, not exactly enthusiastic. You know, but he --

KING: He didn't want to dwell on that.

MECKLER: He didn't dwell. I think he -- not even --

KING: He'd rather talk about health care.



MECKLER: Right. So, I mean, you know, giving it a two letter answer is about as brief as it gets. So I think that Democrats are really -- think that they have something here. They think that he may -- first of all, I think they may be genuinely concerned about the investigation and they think there may be something underlying in terms of the Russian connections with the Trump administration. They want to get to that. And they also are kind of on the offense these days with Republicans having one problem after the next. And this is another example of them going from -- so I don't think the fact that the -- Speaker Ryan said no is going to put an end to it. OLIVIER KNOX, YAHOO! NEWS: And they're getting a lot of support from

Russia hawks, including in the Senate, among Senate Republicans, and that's one -- that's another reason it's not going away. This is not purely a partisan divide. There is a very strong undercurrent among Russia hawks like John McCain that, in fact, we need to get to the bottom of this. And I -- in fact, John McCain said that Nunes should disclose his source. So, no, it's absolutely not going away.

[12:05:02] KING: Right, and --

TUMULTY: And the more he talks about it, the less sense it makes. It's really beginning to sound like a giant game of Clue. You know, Colonel Mustard, in the library with a --

MARTIN: Right.

TUMULTY: It's --


TUMULTY: The idea that, first of all, he's been working on this a long time and investigating it himself. Then why didn't the other members of the committee know about that?

KING: Right.

TUMULTY: The idea that, you know, a congressman just drops in all the time at the White House is also something that simply does not make sense. Somebody has to keep records of his entry. Somebody has to let him in. Again, there's so many details of this. And as he piles on more details, his story makes -- you know, it seems less and less coherent.

KING: Right. Now he says this is very sensitive, private information, that he'll be proven right in the end when he can put all this out there. We shall see. But to your point about the White House, you can't get on the grounds -- I mean I guess you can jump the fence. We've had a few of those recently. But, you know, you can't get on the grounds without being cleared in and he's not just getting on the grounds. He's going into one of the most sensitive places in the executive office building and getting on a computer.


KNOX: And getting on a computer.

TUMULTY: Can I borrow your skiff (ph)?

KNOX: And getting on a computer there. So, wait -- so --

KING: Right. Somebody escorted him in there.

KNOX: So no one at the White House knew that he was on the grounds in a sensitive facility looking at a classified computer system? I think maybe the White House has other problems if that's true. KING: Right. And so here's the chairman this morning. Here's the

chairman this morning. Again, he says he will be proven right and for now the Republicans are standing by him, but the spectacle of this is what has a lot of people worried in addition to the substance of this. Here he is in the hall saying, why should I leave the committee?


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Are you going to stay as chairman and run this investigation?

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: 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 as you as chairman?

NUNES: Why would it not?

RAJU: Because there's --

NUNES: Aren't -- Aren't I briefing you guys continuously?

RAJU: But they're saying --

NUNES: Keeping you up -- and keeping you up to speed?

RAJU: But they're saying that it cannot run as you as chair with the issue --

NUNES: Well, you're got to go talk to them. That sounds like their problem. I don't have -- you know, my colleagues are perfectly fine. I mean there's -- they know we're doing an investigation and that will continue.


KING: The -- it's just -- it's like a riddle. He's answering questions with questions in the sense of saying, go ask the Democrats. Go ask the Democrats. But -- but he says he's staying on. And to your point, I want to play this sound here. To you point, yes, it's Democrats in the House who are saying he has to go, including the ranking member of the committee and the Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, while Republicans in the House, publicly they support him, privately they're mumbling about, what is he doing here? Why didn't he clue us in on this? We're not quite sure what his end game here or what his information is. On the Senate side, as Karen noted, a lot of leading Republicans saying this looks bad.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Following the House investigation is like following a mystery novel. You never know what's going to happen next. I have a great deal of confidence in the Senate investigation because it is bipartisan. SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, I think 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.

Something's got to change, otherwise the whole effort in the House of Representatives will lose credibility. I mean that's just obvious.


MARTIN: It reminds me of the line that they often throw around in the House where if you're a Republican in the House you say, you know, the Democrats are the opposition, but the Senate is the enemy. There's not a lot of love between chambers and especially when it comes to sensitive national security matters. I mean the sort of Senate snobbery is barely hidden there. I mean they feel like this is sort of their purview and that they're a more bipartisan body. They are a more serious minded body in some respects and that -- that the sort of House -- that's -- they are proving that.

KING: Well, they have managed to actually -- they have actually managed to keep most of this behind closed doors on the Senate side and the chairman and the ranking member largely get along.

MARTIN: Very few leaks.

KING: They've been getting along.

MARTIN: From Burr and Warner, yes.

KING: So it has been a more adult -- I get -- I get the rivalry between the two chambers --

MARTIN: So -- of course.

KING: But it has been more adult on the Senate side so far.

We were talking about the access to the White House. Devin Nunes showing up, going into the old executive -- executive office -- Eisenhower Executive Office Building, getting into one of the most secure rooms in the United States of America, getting onto a computer and the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, said we had no idea he was there.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't know why he would travel -- brief the speaker and then come down here to brief us on something that -- that we would have briefed him on. It doesn't really seem to make a ton of sense. So I'm not aware of it, but it doesn't really pass the smell test.


KING: Correct, sir. You are correct, sir, it doesn't really pass the smell test. MECKLER: And I think that I mean what under lies all of this, of

course, is the suspicion, or the accusation, that he is too tight with the White house for --

MARTIN: Right. Yes.

MECKLER: To conduct -- to lead this investigation. That's what the heart of this is. So the question becomes, well, if he is getting his information from the White House, which is supposedly helping the White House, or just coincidentally helping the White House, you know, the question becomes, can he actually investigate the people that he's so close to that he just kind of drops by for reading room.

KING: He has to understand the gravity of his job and the gravity of the moment and the politics of the moment. Yes, even if he's doing the right thing, Democrats are going to look at this politically.

MARTIN: Right. Right.

KING: So you have to take -- even if you have a trust issue -- you have to take the ranking Democrat with you. If you had taken -- said we -- I've got something, I can't really tell you about it because you've got to come with me, then we wouldn't be in this mess.

[12:10:07] MARTIN: And there's a lot of main stream folks in the Republican Party who are asking that, so what's going on here, because they know the chairman. He was a mainstream member. And he's really sort of, you know, falling for Trump in a lot of ways here. And it's puzzling to a lot of folks on The Hill.

Just real fast, John, taking a step back, looking at this politically, every story about this investigation, it just creates a distraction for Trump. It's a cloud over his head as the chairman said because Trump can't help himself, he responds.

KING: Well, an additional -- an additional cloud now that -- but an additional cloud is that the chairman canceled the hearings this week, including one today --

MARTIN: Right.

KING: In which the former deputy attorney general, Sally Yates, a holdover for the Obama administration, was fired by the -- when she wouldn't enforce the travel ban. Now there's a dust-up. Your newspaper reporting --


KING: That she was told she couldn't testify. That the Trump administration told her that her conversations with the White House on these issues were covered by executive communication, therefore you can't testify. The White House is forcefully denying that it had anything to do with blocking her from testifying, but again it muddies the water.

TUMULTY: There are letters. KING: There are letters.

TUMULTY: There are black and white words on paper or however they received them, maybe electronically, saying that they were trying to assert this privilege and then the chairman conveniently, coincidentally, you know --

KING: Canceled the meeting so they didn't have to.

TUMULTY: So they don't have to push the issue and go public with it.

KNOX: When the first of the odd Nunes behavior bubbled up, a Bush national security career intel but served under George W. Bush, e- mailed me to say, the headline here is Nunes calls for independent investigation.

KING: But where does this go now? Can the Democrats now, because this is embarrassing, can the Democrats now say we have to have this hearing? We're -- they were going to bring James Clapper back in, who had said he saw -- by the time he left he had seen no evidence of collusion. They wanted him back publically to see if he would pull that back some. They were going to bring in John Brennan, who was the CIA director under Obama, who you know he was going to get asked, how did it feel to have the president of the United States call you a Nazi and they were going to bring in Sally Yates, who, of course, you know, was there at this very strange time, the transition.

MECKLER: Well, I mean, I suspect Sally Yates testifies before this is over for sure. I mean, you know --

TUMULTY: And if the House won't do it, probably the Senate will.

MARTIN: In the Senate. In the Senate, will, yes.

MECKLER: Yes. Yes, exactly. I mean, but because that you now have the White House, rather than responding to this story by saying, exactly right, she shouldn't be testifying, they're saying that's not true. Well then there's -- well then there's -- is there no problem here or what? I mean I think that the -- this is not going to just get shut down. There's just too much -- too many avenues, too much going on, too much public information. This is all eventually going to come out.

TUMULTY: The other thing is --

KING: But -- but how does the chairman make it right?

TUMULTY: How does the chair -- how does the chairman make it right?

KING: Can he make it right?

TUMULTY: He -- at this point, you know, at this point I think that if the House Intelligence Committee -- whatever the results of it are, are going to have very little credibility.

KING: Right. TUMULTY: And, in fact, this is sort of putting more pressure on for this to be just taken out of the purview of Congress and given to some kind of independent body.

KING: Right, the senators certainly don't want that. You spent a lot of time doing reporting on the ranking Democratic member.

KNOX: Adam Schiff.

KING: Does he believe this relationship can be repaired? He's the one who came out yesterday and said, you know, I've tried not to say this, but I think the chairman has to go.

KNOX: Well, his solutions are all basically, Nunes must recuse himself, must step aside, can't lead the investigation. We've got to have something -- something more independent than that. So I would say the relationship I suppose over time can be repaired, but on this particular mission it cannot.

MARTIN: Hard to say. Yes.

KING: It cannot. And it's a very important mission. And if you're a Trump support out there, it's important from your perspective too. And to the chairman's position that the intelligence agency is being sloppy and I'm asking people, that's a legitimate issue too. He just needed to handle it more professionally, shall we say, intelligently somebody might even say.

Next, come together or else. An emotional meeting for House Republicans and a potential reset on repealing Obamacare? Really? That's next.


[12:18:04] KING: Welcome back.

Today was get back to work day for House Republicans. They had an emotional meeting. Remember, we're just days now after their attempt to repeal Obamacare and deliver on seven years' worth of promises, crumbled. Inside the meeting, CNN reporters say the message was unify or die. But outside the meeting, Republicans are smiling, saying all is well. The factions want to come together. If you listen to the House Speaker Paul Ryan here, you may even think the Republican caucus learned a few lessons, maybe even, he says, to the point of making another run at repeal, but they won't rush it.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We had a very constructive meeting with our members. Some of those who were in the no camp expressed a willingness to work on getting to yes and to making this work. We want to get it right. We're going to keep talking to each other until we get it right. I'm not going to put a timeline on it because this is too important to not get right and to put an artificial timeline on it.


KING: OK, so help me. It's too important to not get right, to put an artificial timeline on it, so why did they just try to rush this thing through last week then? They had -- I mean they knew going into last week their differences. The speaker thought, I guess, he could get it through. The president opened it to negotiations and it collapsed. But how much of that, what we just heard, is real and how much of that is just a public effort that, oh, we'll be fine?

MECKLER: Well, I think that the interesting question is, you have essentially two opposite messages happening at the same time. He's saying, well, we may -- some of these nos may get to yes. We're going to maybe make this work. And then you have the White House saying, well, maybe we'll work with Democrats once this thing completely implodes.

KING: Right.

MECKLER: Well, those are, you know, satisfying the Freedom Caucus is very different than working with Democrats. You'd say opposite directions. So --

KING: But they're -- but they're not hand in glove. They've been talking a lot about hand in glove, getting together, but that's not hand in glove.

MECKLER: It's not -- no, exactly. So, I mean, how real is this? Who knows. I mean, you know, I don't -- I have no idea. I think that they certainly want to -- I'm sure that Paul Ryan does not want to give up on making any changes to the health care system. I'm confident (ph) of that, but --

KING: I'm sure he doesn't want -- I'm -- they've promised for seven years and he wanted to go first on repeal and replace. I'm sure he doesn't want to give up. But does he want to take that car out of the garage again and put it on the track knowing what happened to him last week?

[12:20:06] TUMULTY: Well, except that if he doesn't, then next year could be pretty -- pretty rough for the Republicans.

KING: Right.


TUMULTY: And it could be pretty rough for a lot of Republican incumbents in their primary.

MARTIN: I have a story actually on this very question, Karen, good plug there. At you can see it now.

But, no, this is the key question now --

KING: Right.

MARTIN: Which is the riskier political move? Do you not bring up the bill and go into 2018 with a Republican president, House and Senate funding Obamacare and keeping it going --

KING: Right.

MARTIN: And risk primaries to some of your incumbents, especially for more conservative parts of the country? Or closer to 2018 do you bring the bill to the floor when it's even more politically sensitive and make some of your more endangered members in moderate parts of the country walk the plank and vote for a bill that will potentially strip thousands of votes of health care.

KING: Right.

MARTIN: It's a hell of a question. Andi think they're struggling with that right now. Which is more of a political risk?

KING: And as they struggle with it --


KING: The speaker is trying to play nice publically. We know he's furious at the Freedom Caucus members, the more conservative members --


KING: Who pulled the bill, forced amendments out of the -- forced changes out of the president and then still said they were going to vote no after making the bill a tougher vote for the moderates. The speaker is trying to keep that calm. He said today, look, they came in too. They want to try to figure this out. We're going to keep talking to them. He's being nice publicly, but he's being nice publically for a reason. The president, last night though, even though the staff spent the day saying the president wants to turn the page, move on to tax reform, move on to other issues, doesn't want to pick fights, 9:41 p.m. last night, @realdonaldtrump, "the Republican House Freedom Caucus was able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory." So he is now, the president, is going after conservative members of his own party.

TUMULTY: Look, one thing we know about Donald Trump is he's not really good at moving on and turning the page and letting bygones be bygones.

MECKLER: But again, this is another contradictory message. I mean they happen on a, you know, hourly basis. But right after --


MECKLER: Right after the bill failed, he was blaming Democrats. Well, that suggests, well, maybe he -- again, that he would want to work with Democrats. So that was the whole message from them. And now it's, oh, it's the Freedom Caucus' fault. I mean --

TUMULTY: Oh, and you forgot in between Sean Spicer saying, well, it wasn't such a good bill anyway.

KING: It wasn't such -- it wasn't such a good -- but not just Sean Spicer. Eric Trump. And most ethics watchdogs think the children should run the business and let the president run the country and not cross the two. But here's Eric Trump saying this -- the president, in the end, made a good decision. Listen to his reasoning.


ERIC TRUMP, DONALD TRUMP'S SON: Well, he's also a person who knows how to walk away from a deal. And, quite frankly, I tout that all time. You know sometimes, you know, the deal if (ph) you walk away from end up being your best deal. And I commend him. I commend him for saying, listen, you guys don't have your act together, you're not going to get it done. You know, we're either going to vote or we're not. And if we're not, we're moving on to something else.


MARTIN: And can we just --

KING: This isn't going down the street to find another plot of land to build a building on. This is the --

MARTIN: Yes. He didn't walk away from anything.

KING: Right. The speaker --

MARTIN: He didn't walk away from a thing.

MECKLER: They walked away from him.

MARTIN: Trump was dying to sign a bill, any bill. He was not really aware of any of the actual policy that --

KING: And he wanted the vote. He wanted the vote.

MARTIN: He just wanted to sign a bill and move on.

KING: It was the speaker who convinced him, don't have a vote.

KNOX: Exactly right.

KING: We don't want to put -- we don't want to put this vote up (ph).

KNOX: Exactly right. This is the fallout from saying it's this bill or not repealing and replacing.

KING: Right.

KNOX: It was a bad messaging strategy, I think. And so when they -- when they said, well, fine, that's it then, we're going to -- you know, we're going to walk away or we're going to help it collapse and then Democrats will have to work with us. I think they got a -- they got a really bad response, not just in -- in Congress but from their voters back home saying, what do you mean you're moving on?

KING: Right.

KNOX: This is like the one thing we voted -- we elected you to do. No, no, no, you can't move on from this.

KING: And so it's a number one priority for the Republican base, has been for years. It has been the signature promise they have made. They also want to get to tax reform. In this moment of dysfunction and distrust, how will it play on Capitol Hill when tax reform comes up and the White House secretary says this?


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I mean obviously we're driving the train on this. So I don't want to -- I mean we're going to work with Congress on this, but I think that the president, as you've heard through multiple -- multiple times the president will be very clear, this is a huge priority for him. Something that he feels very passionately about. And so we'll have more on that later.


TUMULTY: This --

KING: We're driving the train on this.

TUMULTY: This -- and, by the way, this is something where I think Sean Spicer is right. If you look at the last time major tax overhaul got done, a generation ago with Ronald Reagan, it was, in fact, originally driven by the Treasury Department. They calm out with a very specific proposal. When that one didn't work, they resurrected it with a second specific proposal. I do think that this is -- it is so sweeping that Congress does need some kind of guidance as to what the president's bottom lines are.

MECKLER: The problem with that --

MARTIN: It doesn't help (ph) though.

MECKLER: That's -- that they -- nobody even knows in the administration who it is who's pulling this together. They don't have a proposal. They don't have a detailed set of guidance and --

TUMULTY: But they do have -- I mean I -- I do think that has to be the starting point.

MECKLER: And maybe they -- maybe he should -- maybe what Spicer should have said, that, you know, we are the ones who should be driving the train, but that's different than we're actually driving it. Maybe they're in the driver's seat, but it hasn't really gone anywhere.

KING: Well --

MECKLER: The Congress is way ahead of where they are in terms of the substance of it.

[12:25:01] KING: Right, but they -- but if it's going to be from the administration, to your point, that train's not even on the track yet, not at the station, and they keep saying they want to get this done by August. Good luck. All right, up next, Trump's son-in-law under scrutiny. Jared Kushner

agrees to face questions about his meetings with Russians, including one meeting with a banker who's a key ally of Vladimir Putin.


KING: Welcome back. At the top of the White House briefing yesterday, the press secretary, Sean Spicer, read a forceful statement condemning the arrest of anti-Putin demonstrators in Russia.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The Russian people, like people everywhere, deserve a government that supports an open marketplace -- open marketplace of ideas, transparent and accountable governments governance, equal treatment under the law and the ability to exercise their rights without fear of retribution.


[12:29:42] KING: Amen. But that transparent and accountable governance part, well, that's a giant question right here at home amid the White House where Sean Spicer works. Here's just one example. The president's top advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has a date with the Senate Intelligence Committee. The committee wants to hear about his Trump Tower meeting with Russia's ambassador after the election. Kushner disclosed that meeting took place. He only disclosed that last month despite months of reporters requesting that the Trump campaign and transition detail any contact with Russian officials. But the ambassador meting isn't the committee's biggest curiosity.