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Senate Investigates Trump-Russia Ties; Explosive Report on Nunes Briefing; Expert: Russian Meddling Continues to this Day; Ivanka Trump's Official White House Role Raises Questions. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 30, 2017 - 16:00   ET



REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I just don't know. I don't even know if these are intercepts. So, again, I'm in the either enviable or unenviable position of not knowing what these materials are.

But I think people need to understand the process of figuring out how these were collected, were they properly collected, were they properly disseminated, were they properly masked or unmasked, we look at these kind of issues all the time. This is not new for our committee, which is why it makes so unusual, irregular that it would be presented to us in this way.

This is within our ordinary wheelhouse. There is a proper way to put this before the committee. That certainly was not followed here. And the White House ought to explain why that wasn't followed here. But there is a good way to answer these questions, and we will do our best to answer these questions, but we will not lose sight of the Russia investigation, and we are going to keep focus on that.


QUESTION: Has there been any uptick in attacks on your or your staffers' computers or I.T. networks or anything since this investigation has been going on?

SCHIFF: I'm not aware of anything like that.

Thank you very much.


That was Adam Schiff, congressman from California, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

A fascinating news conference. He confirmed that he has been invited by the White House to go to the White House and look at documents that the White House now says were collected by the National Security Council staff in the routine conduct of doing business that they say draws questions to some of the things they were looking into before about whether U.S. intelligence collected information and intelligence on U.S. citizens.

This, of course, all gets to Russia and the investigation into Trump associates, whether or not they were coordinating with the Russians during the election and the claim from President Trump that he was wiretapped. That's been discredited. He then went to expand it to say that perhaps he was surveilled after the fact.

Now, Adam Schiff has been invited to the White House. So has the ranking member and the majority members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and this all comes on the same day that "The New York Times" published a report saying that two White House staffers, two people who worked in the White House are the ones that shared with Republican Devin Nunes that information which Chairman Nunes says indicates to him that Trump associates were picked up in incidental surveillance.

I want to get to Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, who has been listening to that news conference.

Manu, that was fascinating.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, it was, John, and also him not saying whether or not "The New York Times" report was accurate, because he, frankly, just doesn't know.

Adam Schiff met with Devin Nunes earlier today in an attempt to try to get this investigation to move forward, and it has essentially, as we know, broken down in the aftermath of Devin Nunes going to the White House, briefing the president of the United States on this secret information that he got, but not telling the committee about it and not sharing that information.

Now, Schiff says that they actually did not discuss this issue earlier today when he met with Devin Nunes earlier today. He did not discuss who the source was. He did not discuss whether anyone in the White House authorized him to get on White House grounds. I asked Adam Schiff about that directly. He said that did not even come up in their discussions.

They tried to figure out how to restart this investigation, but Schiff raising a larger concern, as he said, a profound concern that the information that the White House is now suddenly making available to them comes at the same day as this "New York Times" report suggesting two White House officials were involved in authorizing Mr. Nunes to review this information, saying that why all of the -- quote -- "cloak and dagger" in providing this information to the committee, as, you know -- when all of these questions have been raised about whether or not the White House was involved in any way?

So, a major question about whether or not this investigation can go forward and whether or not the White House was involved in trying to undercut this investigation. I tried to get Schiff on that directly, do you think the White House tried to undercut this investigation in any way? You're hinting at it.

He would not go there, saying he wants to see the information first, but raising concerns about how this whole thing played out. And, John, one more thing. We have not heard from Devin Nunes yet since the release of "The New York Times" report, his staff putting out a statement saying they're not going to comment on any of their sources, until -- we will see what Devin Nunes has to say when he gets into California later today and perhaps in Washington next week.

BERMAN: Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, stand by.

Manu brings up what is the key question here. "The New York Times" reports two that White House staffers shared information with House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes. After that report came out, the White House invited other members of Congress, members of the Intelligence leadership, to come view information. We do not know if it is the same information.


That is a huge question. If it is the same information, it does beg the question why the White House waits more than a week after giving it to Devin Nunes to give it to the other members of Congress?

All right, I want to go now straight to the White House, bring in CNN senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

And, Jim, at the White House press conference today, Sean Spicer faced a lot of questions and gave some very careful answers.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Extremely careful answers, John, that's right. Aides to the president are once again reeling from questions about whether the White House provided information to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes during that mysterious visit here last week.

But that is hardly the only headache for this White House, where a staff shakeup is also under way.


ACOSTA (voice-over): The White House danced around a report in "The New York Times" that two White House officials provided information to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, intended to bolster President Trump's claim that he was wiretapped by former President Obama.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not commenting on the reports. I'm not going to get into it.

ACOSTA: But White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer did reveal that the administration just sent a letter to both the House and Intelligence Committees offering what the West Wing sees as new, helpful details.

SPICER: We have sent a letter within the past few hours to both of those committees that there was surveillance that occurred during the 2016 election that was improper and that we want people to look into this.

ACOSTA: Just last week, Spicer pushed back on the notion that White House officials would be involved in assisting Nunes when he made that mysterious trip on the White House grounds.

SPICER: That 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.

ACOSTA: Spicer was pressed on those comments today.

SPICER: I was very clear that I said, based on what Chairman Nunes has said, I believe the following doesn't make sense. Your obsession with who talked to whom and when is not the answer here. It should be the substance.

ACOSTA: Amid the questions about the Russia investigation and in the aftermath of the recent health care debacle, the White House is shaking up its staff, with Deputy chief of Staff Katie Walsh leaving the West Wing for an occupant side group that will support the Trump agenda, in hopes of avoiding another Obamacare-like defeat.

Walsh's departure is inviting questions whether White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus could be on his way out. But a senior White House official told CNN Reince is not next.

QUESTION: With Ms. Walsh's departure today, are you expecting more any staffing shakeups in the West Wing?



ACOSTA: Now, a source on the House Intelligence Committee says the panel did receive the letter that Sean Spicer mentioned at today's briefing and actually provided it to us.

This is it right here, John. The letter does invite, as you were just hearing from Manu and from the chairman, the ranking member of that committee, does invite the Intelligence Committee members to come over here and review documents that are being made available by national security officials and White House counsel lawyers.

And it does say very specifically that the White House remains committed to cooperating with the committee. But, John, this letter obviously stands in stark contrast to what Devin Nunes did last week, which is mysteriously come over here and review materials in a way that was just not shared with the rest of the committee, the Democrats on the committee.

This obviously appears to be an attempt by the White House to put a more I guess up-front and, you know, public process into motion, John.

BERMAN: That is a key point, sharing, cooperating now more than a week after might have shared the same information with Chairman Nunes.

Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks so much.

So, while the Intelligence Committee was trying to get on the same page, the Senate Intelligence Committee held open hearings today on its investigation into Russia. What was said about Russian meddling in the U.S. election?

That is next.



BERMAN: All right. Welcome back to THE LEAD. We're following breaking news this hour.

Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, says there are profound questions and too much cloak and dagger stuff, this after a report by "The New York Times" that says that two White House officials fed information to House Chairman Devin Nunes.

We're joined now by CNN's Jessica Schneider and back with Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

Manu, again, just to be clear, let me read you a little bit of "The New York Times," what "The New York Times" says here, that Devin Nunes was brought to the White House grounds, apparently the Old Executive Office Building, and briefed by Ezra Cohen-Watnick, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council, and Michael Ellis, a lawyer that works on national security issues at the White House Counsel's Office and someone who used to work with Devin Nunes on the House Intelligence Committee.

It was these two individuals who work on the White House grounds who gave Devin Nunes whatever information the chairman says he has that Trump associates or transition officials were somehow picked up in incidental surveillance during the transition.

The White House does not deny this report today. And they will deny pretty much anything at any time. They have no problem with denials. The fact that they didn't deny it raises this question of whether or not the White House, White House staffers were coordinating with the House Intelligence chair during this investigation.

RAJU: Yes, that's absolutely right.

And not only is the White House not denying it. Neither is Devin Nunes as well. In fact, Michael Ellis that you mentioned is one of the sources in that "New York Times" report who is suggested.

I actually asked Devin Nunes earlier this week specifically, was Michael Ellis, who is a former aide on the House Intelligence Committee to Devin Nunes, was he a source? Was he potentially a source? He would not say, said, I'm not going to talk about my sources and methods.

I also asked him, can you rule out that there was anyone at the White House who was involved at all, in any way, either to give you the information or allow you on the grounds to review this information? He said, I'm not going to answer that question. I have answered these questions over and over and over again. I am not going to go there. He has not suggested that. Now, the question that Adam Schiff raised

at his press conference is, why did the White House apparently allow Chairman Nunes to come and review this information, apparently from White House staff, and have Mr. Nunes then brief the president the next day, and before even talking to the whole committee about it?

It seemed it's rather circuitous, and as he mentioned -- quote -- "cloak and dagger." Why not just have the staffer tell the president and leave the investigation out of it?

I tried to get Adam Schiff to say, are you suggesting that the White House is trying to undercut and stall this investigation?

[16:15:00] RAJU: He would not go there yet, but he did say this raises significant questions about the credibility of the House investigation and the question is whether or not they can actually produce anything on a bipartisan basis on this issue of Russia meddling, John.

BERMAN: No, why the secret trip to the White House and then the dramatic trip back to the White House to brief the president when two White House staffers could take a not-so-dramatic walk down the hall to brief the president? An important question.

Manu, stand by.

I want to bring Jessica Schneider.

Because, Jessica, you have been covering the Senate Intelligence Committee which held its first hearing today. And the significance of this perhaps greater because they've been trying to paint this contrast to the relative disarray and disharmony that's going on the House side.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, really all business in the Senate Intel Committee today, John. You know, experts right now testifying that Russian interference during the election may actually have been a lot more wide ranging than previously believed, not only do they blame a lot of the fake news spread on Russian trolls but those testifying today say the Russian meddling was in full effect during both the Democratic and Republican primary.

So, it looks like Hillary Clinton wasn't the only overt target here. One of the experts saying that Senator Marco Rubio was an inadvertent target, and this afternoon, Senator Rubio revealing for the first time that his staff was the target of repeated hacking attempts by Russian IP addresses, first right after Rubio announced his reelection bid for Senate in July 2016 and one attempt happening as recently as yesterday morning.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R-FL), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: A second attempt was made, again, against former members of my presidential campaign team who had access to our internal information, again, targeted from an IP address from an unknown location in Russia, and that effort was also unsuccessful.


SCHNEIDER: So, Senator Rubio there not disclosing a lot more details, but it does go to the belief that Russia meddling was wide ranging, happening over the span of many months during the campaign. And according to those experts, it is still happening today. Those experts even cited the recent smear campaign against House Speaker Paul Ryan after the failure of his healthcare bill, John, as the results of some of that Russian meddling. So, a lot to be uncovered here, just the beginning of one of many hearings in the Senate Intel Committee -- John.

BERMAN: It was really fascinating how much you can learn when partisanship is not as much a part of it.

Jessica Schneider in Washington for us -- thanks so much.

All right. It was supposed to ease at the concerns but Ivanka Trump's new official White House job is raising more questions like will the president fire his own daughter if she wasn't cutting it. That's next.


[16:21:56] BERMAN: All right. Welcome back to THE LEAD.

As we first reported yesterday, Ivanka Trump is formally becoming a White House employee with title of "assistant to the president" which is a significant title. Her first daughter's elevation raising all sorts of red flags for ethics experts.

So, our latest installment of "Conflict of Interest Watch", CNN's Cristina Alesci joins me now.

And, you know, does her new official role in the White House, does it ease ethics concerns?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEYCORRESPONDENT: No, it does not. That is the short answer. But it's a step in the right direction because now she is required to disclose her assets and that disclosure could come any day now.

Look, when the White House job wasn't official, Ivanka didn't have to provide that information. But here is the problem. Ivanka still owns her fashion business and gets paid from it as well as from the Trump organization. So, those ties give the ethics community a reason to ask, is she making policy decisions for the good of the country or for her own bottom line?

Now, in order to resolve conflicts all together, she'd have to sell and she said she can fix this by recusing herself all together from certain decisions, but who is going to police that? Ethics experts don't trust this White House to do it, and as for the nepotism concerns, the White House says the Justice Department is on its side. It also says that this position, Ivanka's, is an unpaid one which satisfies the letter of the law, John.

BERMAN: All right. One more item on the "Conflict of Interest Watch" as it were. The Trump organization pursuing perhaps another hotel in the nation's capitol? What's going on here?

ALESCI: Well, if it happens it would be really controversial. I spoke to one of the D.C. developers, a competitor to the Trump Organization, frankly, and he said the Trump Organization has been scouting locations for months, multiple groups are actually interested in funding this project.

Here's what jumped out when I was reporting this. The developer said that, quote, "Interest in partnering with the Trump Organization has exploded since the election." The Trump Organization in response says it is always looking for projects but it has nothing new to announce right now.

So, they're not exactly denying it, and this hotel would be different than the existing one. It would be branded the Scion Hotel, which is the mid-price line that the Trump Organization announced in September. Again, that's different than the existing one. As you know, that one has the Trump name all over it. And it's really been a flash point in this controversy over the president's conflict of interests. Trump goes to eat there.

BERMAN: A lot.

ALESCI: His cabinet secretaries are spotted there.

BERMAN: A lot.

ALESCI: And that raises the question whether you can buy access, and competing hotels and restaurants are crying unfair competition.

Look, a second D.C. hotel would definitely open a new line of questioning at this point.

BERMAN: All right, Cristina Alesci, thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

So, what would happen in the investigation of the Trump campaign in Russia? I'm going to ask Senator Rand Paul live, coming up.


[16:29:04] BERMAN: All right. Welcome back. More on our politics lead as we follow breaking news.

House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff says a "New York Times" report raises profound questions about who showed classified information to Chairman Devin Nunes last week.

We're joined now by Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky.

Senator, thanks so much for being with us.


BERMAN: I'm sure you have seen the "New York Times" report that Chairman Nunes had at least two White House sources for that classified information that he then turned around and reported to the president. Does that chain of events, the idea that the White House shared it with the chairman who then shared it back with the president, and the idea that they were talking about an investigation in the White House associates, does it concern you?

PAUL: It sounds like a lot of breathless reporting about the president was told classified material. Well, I thought he was allowed to read classified material.

I see all of this reporting and I don't understand a bit about what people are talking about. What is the alleged impropriety with showing the president classified material?

BERMAN: I think what people are looking at is the fact that White House staffers shared it with one member of the Intelligence Committee and the ranking member as well.