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Trump: Soldiers in Iraq "Fighting Like Never Before"; Trump/Russia Probe Stalls Amid House Intel Committee Turmoil; Spicer Clash with Report a Blow to Credibility; Interview with Rep. Mike Turner. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired March 29, 2017 - 11:30   ET




[11:34:11] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're doing very well in Iraq. Our soldiers are fighting and fighting like never before, and the results are very, very good.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump raising eyebrows there with remarks about the fight against ISIS in Iraq. Keep in mind the U.S. combat mission there ended in 2010. The American role now is to only advise and assist Iraqi forces.

For more perspective on this, let me bring in General Wesley Clark the former NATO supreme allied commander.

General, thank you so much for coming in.


BOLDUAN: What does that statement mean from a military perspective coming from the president? Is it clear to you what fighting he's talking about?

[11:34:52] CLARK: It isn't clear. It sounds like a little cheerleading, and I think the troops always need some encouragement and cheerleading. We've been engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan for over 15 years now, and it's a long time, and it's the longest war. If you nail it down, really, here's the problem, we're really good at blowing things up and attacking people. We're pretty good at training people on how to shoot and use weapons, but this really isn't our war directly. And at the end of the day, even if we eliminate ISIS, the question is, what's going to happen to Syria? And that's what we're expecting to hear from this administration. They've got guys like Jim Mattis in charge and Tillerson's in charge at State. What's the plan? What's the strategy? What are we over there doing? Because we're working side by side with the Iranians to try to defeat ISIS. The Turks and the Kurds are at odds, and we're trying to work with both of them, and they don't necessarily agree with the Iraqis or the Iranians. So what's happening here is really unclear. BOLDUAN: So when the president makes those remarks, it also comes as

the U.S. military has acknowledged that the U.S. might be behind an air strike in Mosul that killed dozens of civilians and it's under investigation currently. Listen here to General Stephen Townsend the top U.S. commander and what he said. Listen to what he said.


GEN. STEPHEN TOWNSEND, COMMANDER, COMBINED JOINT TASK FORCE, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: If we didn't strike in that area, I would be telling you right now it's unlikely. But because we struck in that area, I think there is a fair chance that we did it. My initial assessment is that we probably had a role in these casualties. Now here's what I don't know. What I don't know is, were they gathered there by the enemy?


BOLDUAN: It's important here, General. The president did not mention the air strike or this investigation during his remarks last night. You might not, of course, expect him to, but is it concerning that what he did say last night is we're doing really well in Iraq and then when you hear this from General Townsend.

CLARK: I think what -- I think what you're hearing is that when you're using fire power like this, and U.S. troops are engaged and you're fighting somewhere using human shields and trying to make the war as bloody and awful as possible -- General Townsend is quite right. They may have staged a bunch of civilians in that building, and they may have sought to bring U.S. air power in there. It may be one of their tactics, is to try to discredit the United States and inhibit us from using our air power against them. It's also true that whenever you use air power, you can make a mistake. So these things happen in conflict. That's what war is all about. That's why you have to work at the political level first. What's the end state we're after? What are we trying to do? Are we still trying to get rid of Bashar al Assad? Are we going to cut a deal with the Russians? Where are we going with this? That's really the questions that I hope our leaders in Congress and our public affairs leaders will ask of this administration. We have American troops on the ground, we've got more than ever, and they're at risk, and they're doing damage, and what's the end state we're after.

BOLDUAN: General Wesley Clark, thanks for coming in. We appreciate it.

CLARK: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the White House press secretary under fire after clashing with a White House reporter in the daily briefing. Coming up, why critics claim it's another blow to his credibility.


[11:42:56] BOLDUAN: Back to the investigation that appears to be going nowhere fast at the moment about Russian meddling in the 2016 election. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes had canceled an open hearing where the former acting attorney general, Sally Yates, would have testified along with former intelligence chiefs. That move seemed to have brought the probe to a standstill. Democrats accuse Democrats of stalling. Republican Congressmen are now joining Democratic calls saying that Nunes should recuse himself. But Republican leaders, importantly, are standing firm by him.

And I want to talk to Republican Congressman Mike Turner of Ohio. He sits on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks for the time.

REP. MIKE TURNER, (R), OHIO: Thank you, Kate. Appreciate you having me.

BOLDUAN: Adam Schiff tweeted this just this morning, saying, "Sally Yates is willing to testify, White House says they want her to testify, public wants to hear from her, Brennan and Clapper. What's the hold up," he asks. Do you have a date set to reschedule the public hearing that was canceled yesterday?

TURNER: No, we don't. But what's interesting about his tweet is he knows the reason. Comey came before, with Admiral Rogers, before our committee in a public hearing and was unable to answer in a non- classified setting over 100 questions. The chairman said we need to bring these two gentlemen back into a classified session, answer those questions before we bring back the others, Clapper, Brennan and Yates, so we can be more informed of those questions. What's interesting is that the ranking member, Schiff, is not cooperating in bringing those two gentlemen back. So the delay at this point is really his own. If he would just join the chairman in getting back to work on looking to Russian interference in these elections and any Trump connections and also the unmasking the improper use of the intelligence --


BOLDUAN: Congressman --

TURNER: -- we'd move forward.

BOLDUAN: If Adam Schiff would agree to sign on to a letter to Comey to talk to him in a closed session, you can guarantee that there would be a new public hearing back on the schedule with Yates, Clapper and Brennan?

TURNER: I can only tell you what the chairman himself has said, even on your own network, that this was not a canceled hearing, that it was a delayed hearing. And as you can imagine, as you've done many interviews, if you talk to one person and they don't complete the story but at a later time can give you the information, you will wait before you interview the others.

[11:45:12] BOLDUAN: I want to get to kind of where this investigation stands right -- do you agree, first of all, this is stalled -- like right now, everything is stalled in your committee? Do you agree with that? TURNER: I agree that we need to get back to work, that Adam Schiff

needs to come back to the table and say I'm ready to do work and stop doing political stunts, and say let's interview Comey and let's interview Rogers and let's get them in a classified session, and let's get these other people in front of us once more so we're more informed on the questions that those two gentlemen couldn't answer in the public session.

BOLDUAN: I wanted to get that question answered first, because I want to get to this. Here's one Republican -- and you know him well -- Congressman Charlie Dent, he said today. He basically doesn't think you guys can handle this investigation any more. Listen to this.


REP. CHARLIE DENT, (R), PENNSYLVANIA: What I think should happen right now is the Senate should lead this discussion, this investigation of the Russian meddling into the election. I think that's where it is. It's unfortunate we are where we are in the House. It seems like there is not going to be House report on the intelligence, on the Russian meddling, so I think we have to turn our eyes to the Senate.


BOLDUAN: What do you say to Charlie Dent?

TURNER: Charlie Dent doesn't sit on the Intelligence Committee, so he has no idea on the status of the investigation. He doesn't know what we looked at or what we intend to look at.


BOLDUAN: -- losing confidence of fellow Republicans like Walter Jones and Charlie Dent, is that a good thing?

TURNER: Again, I think it's the partisan politics that's stalling this and causing others to question what's happening. But if you're on the Intelligence Committee, unanimously, you have every member of the Republican side who is saying let's get to work. Now we have seen in classified Sessions the information. You have the chairman of our committee agreeing with Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, there's been no evidence presented of any collusion between the Trump White House and the Trump campaign or the Russians and the Russian meddling in our campaign. We know how important this issue is to get to on the Russian meddling so we can stop it, ensure the quality of our elections in the future. Let's get back to work.

BOLDUAN: So Adam Schiff, he says that Chairman Nunes should recuse himself from the investigation. And I want to make sure for our viewers, because there are two tracks here basically. And you're talking about the Russian investigation and you have this new information that the chairman has that you all have not been briefed on quite yet. The reason Adam Schiff is saying that he thinks Chairman Nunes should recuse himself is because, supposedly, this new information involves surveillance of folks on the Trump transition and Chairman Nunes was on the Trump transition team. Do you see a conflict of interest there?

TURNER: Absolutely not. It's not about the Trump transition team. And by the way, he was an adviser. He wasn't on the team. I'm certain Adam Schiff was very active with the Democrats on the other side.

BOLDUAN: He was on the executive committee of the transition team. Everyone during the transition --


TURNER: He was a member of Congress. He was an active member of Congress. He was not a staffer of the transition team.

I'm certain Adam was very, very active on the other side.

But the issue is what's true. And what happened is the chairman came into information that shows there were possible intercepts that were improperly used. Now if you were called back to the open hearing with Comey and Admiral Rogers, Admiral Rogers admitted in a question that I posed to him that there were no limitations on the NSA for intercepting the communications of the incoming administration. Now we're aware, through the information that Nunes has brought forward, that the information improperly used by the outgoing administration. All we're doing is waiting --


TURNER: Of the Trump transition. Of the Trump transition. And that's -- and that's what Devin Nunes himself has said, and that's why I asked, because Adam Schiff sees a conflict of interest. You do not. But you're --


TURNER: Let me tell you why. Let me tell you why.


TURNER: Because all of this goes to the NSA, which is the collecting arm. It doesn't go to Devin Nunes to decide whether or not it's occurred. The question is then posed to those who collected the information and who are charged with deciding who gets access to it. So the question has been posed from the committee, show us the information that you collected. If there was inadvertent collection of the Trump transition team, tell us if it was unmasked, meaning the identities of the individuals were revealed --


TURNER: -- and who is was shared with. That is not Devin Nunes doing that, that's the NSA. That has nothing to do with --


BOLDUAN: But it's Devin Nunes leading the investigation of the committee that has oversight of the intelligence agencies, if it does include surveillance of the Trump transition. That is why Adam Schiff says that he sees a conflict of interest.

And this is why I get to where I want to go. During the election, I recall that you were one of the first to call for an independent counsel to step in to take over the investigation of Hillary Clinton following that infamous airplane meeting between Bill Clinton and Loretta Lynch. You said it was a conflict of interest because of that meeting. If that was a conflict of interest, why isn't this?


BOLDUAN: You're talking a transition team member investigating surveillance of the transition.

[11:50:04] TURNER: Right. OK, so the meeting between the Clinton and Lynch was a communication on a decision-making that was going to happen in the Department of Justice and in the FBI as to whether or not investigation should go forward. It wasn't a discussion about facts. What happened with Devin Nunes is that he met with an individual who disclosed to him the existence of something that's a fact, which is then given to the NSA. The NSA isn't making a judgment as to whether or not an investigation should go forward or whether someone should be prosecuted. They're only coming forward with facts. Adam Schiff is well aware of that. When it comes from the NSA, it has no influence from Nunes or from any of us. It's "here are the facts."

I think the reason the Democrats are so worried is because there's probably - because they're taking a while putting together -- a lot of information we're going to get. If this leads, as it could, all the way to the White House having improperly used intelligence communications of the transition team --


TURNER: -- that's pretty serious. You have to acknowledge that.

BOLDUAN: Right. Are you saying this came from the White House then? There's been no suggestion at all that any of this came from the Obama White House to this point. It's just been that there was improper surveillance, unmasking of legal surveillance of the transition team. I know this gets into the lead --


BOLDUAN: -- but you're pointing it back to the White House now.

TURNER: No, no. There's the next step and that is and who saw the information. That's an important step. We all know this goes back to leaks, right? This information was leaked. There were people in the administration saying there's information that shows there was connections and collaboration between the Trump campaign and the Russians and this was all evidence and information that the intelligence community --

(CROSSTALK) BOLDUAN: No. It doesn't have anything to do with Russia, Congressman.


BOLDUAN: This one doesn't apparently have anything to do with Russia.

TURNER: Those were leaks coming from the White House about intelligence information that was improperly handled and used, most likely. So we need to ask the question.

And, Kate, this is pretty serious. If this comes down to improper use of intelligence community information, that's serious.

BOLDUAN: Congressman, thanks so much. I've got a million more questions and not enough time. Let's continue this conversation a little later.

TURNER: Thanks a lot.

BOLDUAN: All right.

TURNER: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the White House press secretary now playing defense after clashing with a White House reporter in the daily briefing. How he's addressing the backlash. That's coming up next.


BOLDUAN: White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, and the press, it's safe to say at times has not been the most harmonious of relationships. But when is it ever with the press secretary and the press? One that has often led to some fiery exchanges in the daily press briefings, like this one yesterday with reporter April Ryan. Watch.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: But, April, hold on. It seems like you're hellbent 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.


BOLDUAN: Joining me now CNN political commentator, Angela Rye, the former director of the Congressional Black Caucus; Joe Borelli is here, Republican New York Councilman; and Jackie Kucinich is here, CNN political commentator, Washington bureau chief for "The Daily Beast."

Angela, a lot of people talking about that moment, April Ryan, having her own say about it. Did you see a problem with that exchange yesterday?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Absolutely. Absolutely. In part, because this is now the third instance of disrespect for April Ryan in this White House. Donald Trump set the tone. Omarosa (ph) had an issue. They were once friends and now this. April Ryan for many people, not just African-Americans but many people is a very straight shooter, a tremendous reporter and deserves jut most respect. He doesn't get to be a daddy and tell her not to shake her head.

BOLDUAN: Do you think it's gotten to the point that Hillary Clinton has gotten to? Do you think it's racist and sexist?

RYE: I think it definitely was sexist. I think the other issues she's had he with the White House have issues with racism. Again, we've had issues historically of people believing that all black people look the same. Donald Trump thought all black people know each other, and she should set up a meeting with the CBC, despite being a reporter.

[11:55:12] BOLDUAN: I will say this. Sean Spicer has worked in Washington for a long time. I think a lot of folks will agree no one has ever sensed any racism or sexism coming from him, Jackie. He was asked to respond this morning on the Hugh Hewitt show. Here's what he said?


SPICER (voice-over): April is a tough reporter that knows how to throw it back and take it back. So to somehow -- I think it's frankly demeaning to for some folks to say she can't take it. We went back and forth. I disagreed with the angle and the way she was coming at the question. But that's what we do, we go back and forth. I don't treat one person different than the next. But to suggest that somehow, because of her gender or race, she would be treat differently, I think is frankly demeaning to her.


BOLDUAN: White House briefings get tense. That's not unique to this White House. Do you think Sean Spicer is more helping or hurting the White House with this stuff?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think that this had anything to do with her race or gender. I think this has to do with respect. I think the way that this White House is conducting themselves with reporters and adversaries, in general, the name calling, the condescending nature that we saw yesterday, that is corrosive. We've all had chippy conversations with press secretaries.


KUCINICH: That's the nature of this job. But it does go too far. Sean Spicer called another reporter an idiot this week. That's not appropriate.


KUCINICH: That's not appropriate on a playground and certainly isn't appropriate in the White House briefing room.

BOLDUAN: If you take there and misstatements coming from the podium since inauguration day, Joe, do you think the press secretary's credibility has been hurt?

JOSEPH BORELLI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think Sean has a tough job, and one he needs to repair some of the damage he may have done over the first few months. The initial press conference with the crowd size didn't help.


BORELLI: We can't treat every instance, like this one, like it's a unique, the first time it ever happened. There's no evidence that there's any gender discrimination in this. Sean is an equal opportunity brash responder to people of both sexes. He's not the first to do it. Roberts Gibbs was cited by "The Daily Beast" as having a contentious relationship, often in shouting matches with reporters.


BORELLI: President Obama, in 2016, got into a little shouting match with a "Washington Post" reporter in October. There was headlines about that. We can't treat this as unique because it's Sean Spicer and because it's Trump.

BOLDUAN: I've clashed many times with Sean Spicer. I never thought it had to do with my gender. I'll say that much.

But to this point, if his credibility has taken a hit, if he's lost all credibility, who is he losing credibility with? Here's my point. Would it be any different coming from that podium from a different press secretary when the tone is set from the top, the man in office?

RYE: That's very true. Part of the issue here is I think, I don't know Sean Spicer. But I watched him interact with you during the campaign. That is a completely different person than who's presenting it himself at the podium. I'm sorry, he's a totally different guy. I've heard people say he's very respectable and all of that. It is a problem at the top. Donald Trump does set the tone. You see how leadership trickles down to the bottom. He is the person that is to blame for this new spicy Sean Spicer.

BOLDUAN: Do you think it would be different if it was a different press secretary? And I mean that, because the tone is set from the top. The message has been all along with this administration that often, what it comes from those daily briefings is for an audience of one, the president.

KUCINICH: It is the audience of one. Look how some of his surrogates, people on the campaign behaved during the campaign towards reporters. It's all you need to know. And Donald Trump likes this is combative in your face style. He doesn't really take much stock in the press. And it shows. It really does. And so everyone has a different style, of course, and maybe someone would approach it separate. I feel some of the press secretaries stood up there and on the Hill, you know when someone's being straight with you. Sometimes you just don't think Sean Spicer straight with the people in that room and the American people beyond the cameras.

BOLDUAN: If he -- if he wants to turn around the relationship with the press -- and let's be honest, a contentious relationship with the press has been great for this president, pre-taking office and post- taking office. How does he do it.

BORELLI: I think he's got a lot of work to do. But as Jackie was saying, with the way surrogates acted during the campaign -- I was a surrogate myself -- but I have to say --


BORELLI: No, no. But I was probably scolded worse on panels like this than Sean Spicer scolded this reporter.

RYE: Come on.


RYE: The only time we had a moment --


BORELLI: I'm saying it's a two-way street, that this type of relationship, this type of contention, this type of language is sometimes often used in relationships like this. We can't treat it as unique.

BOLDUAN: All right, guys, thanks so much.

RYE: Thank you, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thanks for joining us AT THIS HOUR, everybody.

"Inside Politics" with John King starts right now.

[12:00:13] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

Welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King.