Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Civilians Killed in Iraq; Trump Administration Under Fire; General Flynn Seeking Immunity. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 31, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:01]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here's my question for Hillary Clinton. Can you promise that not one of the five people who were granted criminal immunity will ever be allowed to serve in a Clinton administration?

Huma's been a problem. I wonder if Huma is going to stay there. And I hope they haven't given Huma immunity, because it seemed that everybody who walked down the sidewalk got immunity. I hope they haven't given Huma immunity, because she knows the real story.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: I get to talk to David Axelrod, the senior political commentator, former Obama senior adviser, also host of the political podcast "The Axe Files," which premiers here on CNN tomorrow night at 9:00.

So, David Axelrod, an honor and privilege. Thank you so much.

(CROSSTALK)

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's some awkward tape right there.

BALDWIN: You like how -- it's out of the archive.

AXELROD: Yes.

BALDWIN: What do you think?

AXELROD: Well, obviously, that was then, and this is now.

BALDWIN: Sure.

AXELROD: This is a serious turn in the road in this investigation.

You know, I think that immunity doesn't -- it doesn't speak to guilt. But they have colored it, in their own words, in a very dark way. And it does raise questions about what it is exactly -- what is the proffer that Mr. Flynn is going to make, General Flynn is going to make to the FBI, to the committee about what he has to offer in exchange for immunity?

BALDWIN: President Trump tweeted about this today.

AXELROD: I saw that.

BALDWIN: We can put the tweet up. Why would the president weigh in on something like this?

AXELROD: This is such an interesting question. If fact, to answer it, I would have degrees that I don't have. I don't know why President Trump does what he does.

I assume he wants to connote that there's nothing to hide and he hopes Flynn will tell the whole story, and, secondarily, that he thinks that the whole thing is political and a witch-hunt and all of that stuff, which is a big part of what appears to be the strategy, which is to color in advance any conclusions that the committee or the investigating agencies might come to.

BALDWIN: What about just watching these briefings? We take them and oftentimes I catch them each and every single day. Sean Spicer sometimes will comment on certain stories. Sometimes, he won't, that big "New York Times" piece 24 hours ago and the two White House officials who apparently helped -- who were the sources for Devin Nunes.

Do you think Sean Spicer, as he continues to deflect and won't comment, the authenticity factor, the credibility factor lacking?

AXELROD: It's difficult for -- you know, he has a difficult job because he has to follow the leader.

BALDWIN: Audience of one.

AXELROD: And the leader sends him off into a lot of different directions.

I said this morning that Sean should try out for Cirque du Soleil for all of the bending and twisting that he needs to do to try and keep up here. And he's paying a price, there's no doubt about it. Sean was one of the best-liked and respected press people in Washington.

And he has sacrificed a lot in these last 70 days trying to explain -- sometimes explain the unexplainable.

BALDWIN: I want to get to your show, but first let me set up my question with -- I got to talk to retired Republican Wyoming senator -- Senator Alan Simpson.

AXELROD: Ah, yes, always fun.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.

Always down for a sound bite. And so we were -- I was asking him about bipartisanship, because he famously crossed party lines. And he mentioned Ted Kennedy. And I know you talked to John McCain who mentioned the line as well. Here was first Senator Simpson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALAN SIMPSON (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: The coin of the realm when I was there was trust. And the coin of the realm is severely tarnished.

An example would be me and Ted Kennedy. I didn't agree with his votes. I didn't care about his lifestyle. That had nothing to do with me. That's all his. But when he shook my hand and said I'm with you or I ain't, I put it in the bank, and he never lied to me once.

That's what it's all about. You don't have to the like the guy who is a Democrat or the Republican. You can hate their party, you can hate their president, but, for heaven's sake, the only way to do business and learn to compromise an issue without compromising yourself is to trust the other person.

If they break the trust, well, then start up a new facade or burn the bridges or whatever you're doing. But trust, there's no trust among people in the same party. In the same faction of the party, there's no trust.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It was Bob Dole that said Ted Kennedy could eviscerate you on the floor in a speech and then come in the Cloak Room and convince you that he wasn't talking about you.

(LAUGHTER)

[15:05:05]

MCCAIN: But you know the thing about Ted Kennedy? The reason...

QUESTION: You guys once menaced each other in the well of the Senate.

MCCAIN: Oh, we fought. And we would fight. And then we would finish the fight and we would put our arm around each other -- I never forget -- he would say, yes, we did pretty good, didn't we?

He was -- because he divorced personal relationships and personality from the issues. So, therefore, if you were friends with Ted Kennedy, that friendship worked. And also, like with Reagan and O'Neill, when you had an issue, you could sit down and work it out because you had a personal relationship.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Where did that go? Obama administration referred to Republicans as the party of no because of all of the blocking after blocking after blocking. And now even within the Republican Party, you see the House Freedom Caucus blocking the non-vote vote on health care.

How does D.C. get some of that good juju back and the trust?

AXELROD: One of the reasons why I wanted to sit down with Senator McCain, I ran a campaign against him in 2008. BALDWIN: Yes, I have heard of that campaign. Yes.

AXELROD: Yes, but we -- I feel strongly, and I think he does as well, that you have to be able to have disagreements, sometimes serious political disagreements, and still find a way to respect each other and to appreciate each other as people.

BALDWIN: Where has that gone?

AXELROD: Well, this has been a longstanding move that began in the late '80s.

A lot of it is driven by the way media has changed. A lot of it has been driven by the way campaigns have been funded or are being funded. So there are a lot of disincentives to cooperation.

But one thing that I talked to him about that was interesting, he mentioned Bob Dole. I asked him, did the passing of the sort of World War II generation, the greatest generation, people who fought side by side, whether they were Republican or Democrat, rural or urban, did the passing of that generation contribute to the lack of comity that we see today?

And he said, absolutely, that is true. But he said for that reason, he is hopeful that as this new generation of veterans get into leadership, people who have served in these wars, that there may be a reconstitution of some level of cooperation. And one hopes that he's right.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: I'm hopeful. I'm hopeful for that.

AXELROD: We need it badly.

BALDWIN: We do.

David Axelrod, thank you so much.

AXELROD: Always good to be with you.

BALDWIN: We will be watching of course "THE AXE FILES" with this guy. CNN's special TV premiere, tomorrow night, at 9:00, a conversation with Senator John McCain, "THE AXE FILES WITH DAVID AXELROD."

Thank you.

Let's continue on, shall we? Back to our breaking news here, General Michael Flynn now seeking immunity to testify in front of Congress over possible links between the Trump cam campaign and Russia.

The president shocking many people this morning, going very publicly with his thoughts, tweeting: "Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch-hunt. Excuse for big election loss by media and Dems of historic proportion." To be clear, General Flynn was fired some weeks ago after misleading White House officials about his own dealings with Moscow's ambassador to the U.S. But now his attorney is saying, and I quote here, "General Flynn has certainly" -- rather, "General Flynn certainly has a story to tell and he very much wants to tell it should the circumstances permit."

Now, just a moment ago, in that White House daily briefing, we heard from Sean Spicer, a lot of journalists throwing questions at him about this, specifically from our own White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, asking if the White House is at all concerned about whether General Flynn's testimony may implicate someone in the administration, might it be dangerous for the president?

And, in a word, Sean Spicer said nope. Here's more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think that the interesting thing is, if you actually stop for a second and realize what the president's doing, is that he's saying do whatever you have to do to go up, to make it clear what happened, take whatever precaution you want or however your legal counsel advises you.

But, again, I have heard in some legal circles that the president could have exerted legal authority with him and Sally Yates and others. It's quite the opposite. And, again, I think that that, compared to the narrative that you have hear from a lot of folks in this room all the time, is a little bit opposite.

Here you have a president who is telling Mike Flynn and others to go up there, make sure -- in fact, we talked about the other day with members of the administration, the president -- we made -- volunteered.

This doesn't look at an administration that is not doing everything that it can to get to the bottom of this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's talk more about this.

Let me bring in Mark Geragos, CNN legal analyst and defense attorney, and Michael Moore, former U.S. attorney.

Gentlemen, good to see both of you.

And, Mark Geragos, first up to you. You have this statement from General Flynn's attorney -- quote -- "General Flynn certainly has a story to tell and he very much wants to tell it."

[15:10:05]

If you're his attorney, what is the strategy in being so public about this? MARK GERAGOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Look, if I'm his attorney -- and let

me speculate, because I haven't talked to his lawyer -- that telegraphs to me that my client, in this case Flynn, is a target, because I'm trying to get immunity, because if they give me immunity in Congress, that's going to screw up famously any Department of Justice investigation.

And the fact that Congress is now responding, and the Senate is responding and saying, no, we're not going to give you immunity, my guess is and my speculative analysis is that he is a target of a Department of Justice probe, and they're not going to screw it up.

They're not going to let him get out of that by virtue of getting immunity in front of Congress.

BALDWIN: He's the central figure in the investigation, we know, because of the contacts he had with the Russian ambassador. And the Senate has said -- quote -- "Too early to decide on immunity, but unlikely." So you are correct.

Michael, on the flip side, I know...

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Yes, yes, go ahead, go ahead, go ahead.

GERAGOS: I was just going to say, the other thing is, remember how this started. This started because they have intercepted clearly conversations he's had with the Russian ambassador, and they know exactly what was said.

And he's made statements that apparently are at odds with that. You factor in the Turkish government lobbying issue, and they have probably -- the Department of Justice has probably got a situation where they know exactly what they can do with him. And the lawyer -- and he is doing exactly what he should do. Mr. Kelner is doing what he should do.

He's saying this guy isn't going to talk until I get immunity, because he knows that they have got some statement that is or a conversation that's already on tape.

BALDWIN: Let me get to that, because that's my question, too.

Michael, I was told you have personally approved some of these immunity deals. So if you're the DOJ here, if you're the other side, you tell me, would you talk about immunity without knowing what General Flynn might offer up, what information he would able to provide?

Would this be a blind deal or, to Mark's point, not so much?

MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: I think I agree with Mark on this one. No lawyer, no prosecutor worth his or her salt is going to just offer immunity to somebody without having some proffer, either through a letter or discussions with counsel for the witness, about what's out there. You just can't do that.

You just can't say, come in and tell us everything. We don't really know what we're going to hear, but you don't have to worry, we're not going to use it.

And I think Mark's right, too, the cast -- the issue here in how it's used and whether or not the congressional immunity might mess up a DOJ investigation. There's a rule when you're a lawyer and you're in trial, and that is you typically don't ask a question that you don't know the answer to.

And I think that's probably what you're seeing here. They didn't just pull this guy's name out of a book or off a Trump administration list and decide they want him to testify in front of Congress. They know what they have got. And he's been caught up in somebody's wiretap or in some surveillance. And that's -- probably at this point, I think it's going to implicate somebody in the administration, if not him.

BALDWIN: You're saying maybe a bigger fish.

MOORE: That's exactly right.

BALDWIN: Like if he provides this information, he would provide this information, be guaranteed immunity, because that thus would lead to even potentially damning information?

MOORE: These cases rise and fall on people not being able to keep their mouth shut and other people rolling on the next guy.

Typically, as a prosecutor, we try to get higher up. We want to go up the chain, instead of down the chain.

And so as a U.S. attorney or a prosecutor looking at the case, you have got to make a decision about whether or not the information that this particular witness has helped you move in the direction you want to move the case to move in.

And like I said, I just think they knew what they have. They had some idea of what is on the tape. They have some idea of what he has got to offer. But I don't blame his lawyer. I think he's probably doing exactly what a good defense lawyer would do.

I think it's interesting though that the words of the campaign and all the cheering section that went, especially on by Mike Flynn, those words are coming back to haunt him.

BALDWIN: About immunity last September, and I'm paraphrasing, but essentially saying, if you're asking for immunity, that's like -- that's basically saying you have committed a crime.

Mark Geragos, so let me ask you, just because he said, just because you ask for immunity, that doesn't mean you have committed a crime?

GERAGOS: Right.

And I would come to his defense right now and say just because he's asking for immunity doesn't mean that he's guilty. But at the same time, he's a complete hypocrite, given the tape that's out there. And it reminds me of these clients that come into my office who are all good law and order folks until they see what happens when they -- and they always say, where are my rights?

And I say you were the one who was busy giving them away. So, now the chickens are coming home to roost. I would be concerned if I was Flynn because -- obviously, because to me what's being telegraphed here is, hey, we don't necessarily need what you have got to say. We already know how we have got you, and we don't need you on immunity.

[15:15:17]

And there's a term of art in the federal system called queen for a day. There's a way that the prosecutors could bring him in and give him what's called queen for a day. Basically, tell us what you have got, and we can't use it.

If they're not offering queen for a day, that means they've got him by the short hairs and he's in a world of hurt.

BALDWIN: Interesting. So far, the Senate says it's too early to decide on immunity, but it's not looking likely. You have the president weighing in on Twitter. Sean Spicer backing him up and saying, listen, the he just wants him to testify and they want to get the story out there.

We will continue. Mark Geragos and Michael Moore, thank you both so much.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Let's bounce over to Capitol Hill because we have -- thank you -- some new video just into CNN showing the House Intel's top Democrat, this is the ranking member here, Adam Schiff, there in the pink tie. He's arriving at the White House. There you have it.

So this is happening as more questions are being asked about the chairman of the Intel Committee Devin Nunes' secret trip to the White House.

Manu Raju, our correspondent there on Capitol Hill, standing by.

We had heard from Sean Spicer that yes indeed Mr. Schiff would be arriving. Can you tell me more about this visit and what he's supposed to be doing?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He's going to be looking at data that actually was supposedly responsive to a request that the committee made on March 15.

What We don't know, Brooke, is whether or not this information is the same information that Chairman Devin Nunes saw last week and then later briefed the president of the United States on and also claimed publicly that some Trump team communications may have been incidentally swept up in surveillance. We do not know if these two are linked. Schiff also doesn't know

that. In fact, he put out a statement after Spicer announced this visit saying that there will not be any representatives from the intelligence agencies there while he's reviewing this data.

He will not be able to make a conclusion one way or another about what this content actually says. He's also raising questions about whether or not this is the same information that Devin Nunes had.

Now, this comes as questions continue to grow about how exactly Devin Nunes got this information and now the fact -- and that it's been revealed by our reporting, as well as other news outlets, that at least two White House officials were involved in getting him the information.

Now, Sean Spicer, asked about this repeatedly at this briefing, defended what happened and said there was nothing wrong.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: But if you're asking me, is it appropriate for a member of Congress to come over here, as Chairman Nunes has said himself, he wasn't hiding or roaming. Was asked to come here by an individual.

He came over, which happens daily. He was asked to go somewhere. He went there. He is clear. And nothing that is inappropriate, and exactly the opposite. What he did, what he saw and who he met with was 100 percent proper. No one knew that he was coming to speak to the president. He announced that on television during a press conference.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: But, Brooke, still a lot of questions about why the White House allowed him to come onto the White House grounds, see this information, not tell the rest of the committee, not even reveal that the White House was behind this, and then have Chairman Nunes come out and essentially suggest that the president may have been surveilled to potentially give cover to President Trump in that tweet that he issued several weeks ago saying that he had been wiretapped by President Obama, which, of course, he has no basis of fact at this point.

So we will see what Schiff has to say, if he does say anything about these documents that he's reviewing right now, Brooke.

BALDWIN: We will see. He's at the White House.

Manu, thank you so much for now.

Meantime, coming up next, the Trump administration dealing with firestorm after firestorm. It is day 71 in the White House. What's happening, how can the administration recover, move forward? Need some wins. Where will he get them?

We will talk to Michael Smerconish next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:23:05]

BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN.

Week number 10 is winding down for the Trump White House. It's been no less tumultuous than week one through nine. From General Michael Flynn to Chairman Devin Nunes, the administration continues to find itself in crisis mode.

So, let's talk to CNN political commentator Michael Smerconish, host of the "SMERCONISH" show here on -- both on Sirius and of course "SMERCONISH" here on CNN.

Hello, sir. Happy Friday.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good to see you.

BALDWIN: All right, give me the scoop.

You talked to "The Wall Street Journal." It was Shane Harris and Carol Lee who broke this Flynn immunity story initially in the paper. What does Shane tell you? What's his intel?

SMERCONISH: He provided the background facts.

They did break this story and agreed when I weighed in and said this could be huge or it could be nothing. It could be huge insofar as Lieutenant General Flynn may know where the bodies are buried and is prepared to implicated people and talk about what went on here.

Or it could just be good lawyering, because we do live in politically tumultuous times. And maybe his lawyer is taking the prudent path and saying, you want to speak to my guy? Fine. But you have to give him immunity.

I have a hunch. My hunch is that what most is problematic for General Flynn has nothing to do with meddling in the election. He was a national adviser to candidate Trump. He was not an operative. He was not at that level.

But perhaps he's concerned about failure to disclose in some of his financial forms that he had been paid by Russian-affiliated entities, and he'd like some peace of mind on that before he speaks to a congressional committee.

BALDWIN: Were you surprised that the president tweeted about this?

SMERCONISH: I wasn't, because I think that it fits the narrative. I think that it fits the president's political purpose of saying this is all noise, this is all a witch -hunt, diverting our attention to the way in which we know this information, the leaking.

[15:25:08]

You heard Sean Spicer make reference to that again in today's daily briefing, as opposed to the sum and substance.

But, Brooke, keep your eye on one ball, because the legal issue here is whether there was aiding and abetting of a hack. Did anybody associated with candidate Trump aid and abet Russian individuals, Russian associates as they were hacking into the DNC?

We still don't know the answer to that question.

BALDWIN: What about just moving on to this whole health care fight?

And we all know the role that the House Freedom Caucus played in the implosion, right, this time last week of any sort of vote.

SMERCONISH: Right.

BALDWIN: And so now President Trump has taken to Twitter and he's specifically calling out the chairman of the Freedom Caucus and other members.

And I read a tweet from one of these members, Justin Amash, saying: "It didn't take long for the swamp to drain, Donald Trump. No shame, Mr. President. Almost everyone succumbs to the D.C. establishment."

These guys are about to be on recess. They're going to go home to their districts, these red districts that voted for Trump. What's their play moving forward?

SMERCONISH: Well, I'm so glad you asked this question, because they are more secure than he, the president, is.

BALDWIN: They are?

SMERCONISH: You are right that they are going home to red -- absolutely.

They're going home largely to gerrymandered districts. They're going home to districts that gave those individual members of Congress far greater margins on the whole than had President Trump.

They are going home to districts where they did far better in the last cycle than did Mitt Romney running against Barack Obama. So, the only way they're vulnerable is from an attack by their right flank. Who's going to run at a Mark Meadows from his right flank and be even more conservative than he was?

Whoever that person is I, not going to be a friend of President Trump if they're successful. So, maybe what it represents is President Trump saying, I'm going to cast my lot with Charlie Dent, with the Tuesday Group, and maybe even some Democrats, because I can never bring around the Freedom Caucus.

BALDWIN: Well, Paul Ryan says no to Democrats. And I think in one of those tweets, President Trump ultimately said no to Democrats, but I suppose we shall see.

I know we will see you tomorrow morning on TV. I know you're also, I bet, talking about Bill Cosby and his trial upcoming in your backyard there in Philly. We will look for you at 9:00 a.m. here on CNN.

Thank you, my friend, so much.

SMERCONISH: I'm almost catching up to you in the brackets, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Do you see I'm wearing my Carolina blue? This is definitely on purpose.

(CROSSTALK)

SMERCONISH: I'm nipping at your heels.

BALDWIN: Well, my heels are the best, so ba-dum-bump.

(LAUGHTER)

BALDWIN: Michael Smerconish, thank you so much. Talk to you next week.

Coming up next here, just absolutely heartbreaking images from the devastation in the Iraqi city of Mosul, this little girl all of 4 years of age left bloody and wounded after an airstrike that Iraqi officials say left more than 140 civilians dead. Doctors say this little girl may never see again.

An aid worker who witnessed the impact of the crisis firsthand talks to me next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)