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President Trump to Host Three World Leaders in Mar-a-Lago In a Few Days; Michael Flynn Asks for Immunity in Return for His Testimony. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired April 2, 2017 - 14:00   ET

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


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FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now in the "NEWSROOM", the Russian cloud over the White House.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The president has said he's feel somewhat vindicated by what Nunes has said about these documents. Now that you've seen these documents, can you understand why Chairman Nunes might have some issues with the surveillance that was going on?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I can't go into the contents of the documents, Jake. And I think the answer to the question is this effort to point the congress in other direction. It basically say don't look at me, don't look at Russia, there's nothing to see here.

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NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: The president had not once called me and said don't beat up on Russia, has not once called me and told me what to say.

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CHUCK TODD, NBC HOST, MEET THE PRESS: Have you gotten any intelligence information that indicates the Obama administration somehow applied, asked for surveillance of the Trump transition, the Trump team, any Trump associates?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, will you vote for or against Judge Neil Gorsuch?

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: I haven't decided yet.

WHITFIELD: The looming showdown over the President's supreme court nominee. (END VIDEO CLIP)

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MCCONNELL: There's no rational basis, no principled reason for voting against Neil Gorsuch and that's what's before the senate this week.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Neil Gorsuch I think is the kind of nominee that our democratic friends really haven't been able to find any real fault with, except that he was nominated by this president. And they realized that this is their last gasp to try to prevent him from being confirmed.

WHITFIELD: CNN NEWSROOM starts now.

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WHITFIELD: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Sunday, I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

It's an important week for President Trump, a showdown looms over his supreme court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. And Trump has important diplomacy to attend to, meeting with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and China; all, as the cloud of Russia continues to hang over the White House.

New revelations today that Michael Flynn, the former National Security adviser failed to initially disclose thousands of dollars in Russian money, speaking fees that he received from Russia's state funded TV network, RT.

This morning, President Trump insisting that it's all just a distraction, tweeting, "The real story turns out to be surveillance and leaking. Find the leakers."

Joining me right now, Ryan Noble, CNN Washington correspondent. So Ryan, what are you learning about the specifics of this speaking fees and the reaction on Capitol Hill to Michael Flynn's request for immunity?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, CNN obtained a statement from Michael Flynn's lawyer last night in response to the revelation of his financial disclosure forms from his time at the White House and they essentially said that this was a process, the reason that those three speeches that he gave to Russian-connected groups were not omitted on purpose but that it was just a misunderstanding as to how you file these forms; he filed a form in February where you essentially put all of these speaking engagements under one line through the speaker's bureau that booked these speaking engagements and then resigned from his position.

The White House Counsel's office later came back to him and said that each one of these speeches needed to be itemized. There were more speeches than just these speeches that were connected to Russia. But obviously, these three speeches, one given to RT, the Russian Television Network, the Russian state-owned television network will certainly be among the things that are scrutinized as we continue this investigation into Russia's alleged attempt to hack the American election.

And this comes as both the house and senate intel committees are mulling over that decision that Flynn offered them to testify in exchange for immunity. And both the ranking members on those two committees on the house side Adam Schiff, the Democrat and Mark Warner on the senate side, they both talked about that offer that Michael Flynn has given them and this is what they had to say this morning.

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SCHIFF: We don't want to do anything that will interfere in any case that the justice department may decide to bring. We also have to determine whether he really can add value to our investigation, whether we need him to learn information we can't learn from other sources. So it's very early, I think, even to be considering this.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: We're not ready to consider that. We're not even publicly acknowledging that he's contacted us. If and when we would talk to General Flynn under whatever considerations, we'd want to make sure we knew all the right questions to ask. But we're not anywhere close to making those -- drawing those conclusions yet.

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NOBLES: So essentially, Democrats at this point saying not so fast in terms of this immunity offer from Michael Flynn. There's a chance that he may not even be interviewed by either of these committees at least according to the ranking Democrats around (ph).

But Fredricka, there's no doubt there are many who believe that Flynn [14::05:00] is a central character in this entire investigation into just what role the campaign may have played in their interactions with Russia leading up to the election in the fall, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Ryan Nobles, thank you so much for that. In the meantime, Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat in the House Intel Committee investigating Russia's meddling says President Trump is engaging in a distraction. Here's more of what the congressman told CNN's Jake Tapper on "STATE OF THE UNION".

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SCHIFF: Deputy Assistant to the White House informed me when I went to see them that these are exactly the same materials that were shown to the chairman. Now this is a very interesting point. How does the White House know that these were the same materials that were shown to the chairman if the White House wasn't aware what the chairman was being shown?

And the second point was also made to me and this, I think, was also underscored by Sean Spicer, and that is, it was told to me by the deputy assistant that these materials were produced in the ordinary course of business. Well, the question for the White House and for Mr. Spicer is the

ordinary course of whose business? Because if these were produced either for or by the White House, then why all the subterfuge? There's nothing ordinary about the process that was used here at all.

And Jake, I think the answer may come from the president himself and you can say a lot of things about the president but one thing you cannot say is he's not subtle. And I think his tweets tell the story. And the story is, look over there at leaks and look over there at anything the Obama administration we can claim did wrong on its (inaudible) collection or anything else. But whatever you do, under no circumstances, look here at me or at Russia. I think that's really what's going on.

TAPPER: Do you think that Chairman Nunes was part of an attempt to provide some sort of cover for the president's claim about Obama wiretapping him at Trump tower which obviously, this does not prove, but to cover for that or an attempt to distract as you're suggesting?

SCHIFF: It certainly is an attempt to distract and to hide the origin of the materials to hide the White House sand (ph). The question is, of course, why?

And I think the answer to the question is this effort to point the congress in other direction. It basically say don't look at me, don't look at Russia, there's nothing to see here. I would tell people whenever they see the president use the word fake, it ought to set off alarm bells. And I think that's really what's going on here.

TAPPER: Now you signed a letter with Chairman Nunes about three weeks ago asking the intelligence community about unmasking. That's when someone incidentally picked up and surveillance is named by official name and not just Citizen A in an intelligence reports.

I guess the question that Nunes is asking or suggesting that we should be asking in the media, who unmasked these Trump advisers and is it possible that any of these unmasking was being done for political reasons instead of for legitimate ones?

SCHIFF: Well, first of all, I can't talk about, as I mentioned, the contents of any documents. So at this point, I can't say whether anything was masked or unmasked improperly.

I can say this. In the ordinary course of what we do as an Oversight Committee, we look at exactly these issues. If the White House had any concern about whether minimization was used properly or unmasking was used properly or there was improper incidental collection or how it was handled, that is material that should be given to us in the ordinary course of affairs; it doesn't need to be done by night, through stealth at the White House.

The only reason to do that again is if you want to hide where these materials are really coming from and who's behind it. And I think part of the reason why that was done is this effort to deflect attention from the Russia investigation, to raise other issues to effectively create a cloud through which the public cannot see what's at stake here.

And what's at stake here is a foreign intervention in our election, a very serious issue about whether U.S. persons were involved, an investigation that's being conducted by the FBI into possible coordination with the Trump campaign, that is really, I think, among the most serious business the country has to do right now. And the White House seems to be doing everything it can to point in other directions and say do not look here, there is nothing to see.

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WHITFIELD: All right. Let's talk more about all of this Michael Allen, former majority staff director for the White House intelligence -- for the House Intelligence Committee, sorry about that, and CNN contributor Julian Zelizer, also a historian and professor at Princeton University and CNN political analyst, Josh Rogin. All right. Good to see all of you.

All right. So Michael, so we just heard Schiff say, you know, American should be worried and a little weary that President Donald Trump uses the word fake so much, this as Trump appeared to revive wiretapping claims with his tweet. Do you agree with Schiff that the president is, again, trying to distract from the bigger picture?

historian and professor and josh Rogin. he said we should be worried that President Trump uses the word fake so much. do you agree with Schiff, [14::10:00] the president is, again, trying to distract from the bigger picture?

MICHAEL ALLEN, FORMER MAJORITY STAFF DIRECTOR, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I do think the president is trying a page out of the Bill and Hillary Clinton playbook which is to go ahead and try and cast a pall over the investigations even if they are run by the house and the senate to kind of key to his supporters that this is a big mess, there's a lot of strands of inquiry going on here but that I didn't do anything wrong. So I do think there is an element to the strategy of a packs (ph) on both your houses.

WHITFIELD: And Julian, Schiff says is Republican counterpart Chairman Devin Nunes should recuse himself? Still unclear whether they saw the same kind of material on White House grounds. Speaker Ryan has said that he believes Nunes should stay exactly where he is. He would have the power to remove him as chairman. So does this mean that a bipartisan house investigation in the intel committee is simply impossible?

JULIAN ZELIZER, HISTORIAN AND PROFESSOR, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Yes, I think that wish is not going to happen. I think there was some good will originally that a Republican-led house could investigate a Republican president even with the potential cost. But all the revelations and stories that have come out since then have undermined that possibility. So I think it's really going to be on the shoulders of the senate to demonstrate that bipartisanship is possible with this kind of investigation within united government.

WHITFIELD: And before that, Josh, will we ever know or how will we know whether the material that Devin Nunes saw on White House grounds is the same that Schiff saw because they seemed to be walking away with very different perspectives about the material that they looked at.

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: We will not necessarily. And that's why trust in the Oversight Committee is so crucial. And that's why the lack of trust and the lack of credibility that the public has in one of these two investigations is so tragic. I mean, you know, it's not just the fact that -- let's say unmasking is a real issue and protecting Americans caught up in incidental surveillance is something that's important. And any intelligence official will tell you that it's not a fake issue, that's something we should look at.

But the way that Nunes went about this and the way that the the White House went about this, you know, White House information to a congressman and he blurt its out in public and then he goes back to the White House, it just doesn't make any sense. And it just looks so clumsy and really erodes any public confidence that can really get to the bottom of this one way or the other.

WHITFIELD: So Michael, is it clumsier? Do you feel like it was intentional? I mean, wouldn't Nunes know better?

ALLEN: Well, I think it was a bit manufactured. I think Nunes counted on not being spotted down at the White House and that's why we're all talking about this here today.

But Josh is right. Look, I mean, I'm not saying this should be the number one issue in the inquiry but it is a serious matter if people for political gain were trying to see sensitive intelligence around the executive branch for political reasons. And we've seen other nominees in the past get crucified for seeking to understand the underlying nature of a piece of intelligence by seeking to unmask one of the people in the phone call.

So I think we just need to keep that in mind. It is something that we've held serious in the intelligence community which is protecting U.S. identities. And I think that's the point that Devin Nunes is trying to make. But I don't think he's going to get very far in trying to overshadow the larger question of Russia's influence in the election.

WHITFIELD: All right. Standby gentlemen. We've got more ahead. Micheal Allen, Julian Zelizer, Josh Rogin, thank you.

All right. Straight ahead, breaking news, Donald Trump tells the "Financial Times" if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will -- his words. More details on what else the president is saying about North Korea, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [14::15:00]

WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. This breaking news, President Trump in a brand new interview with the "Financial Times" says the U.S. is ready to go it alone on North Korea saying, "Well, if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will." This just days away from President Trump hosting China's president

right here in the U.S. I want to bring in Ryan Nobles, CNN's Washington correspondent. So Ryan, President Obama -- or I should say President Trump is scheduled to meet with the president of China. Does this set the tone in a more complicated manner?

NOBLES: I don't know if it makes it more complicate, Fredricka, but it certainly makes it clear where the White House stands on this particular issue. There's many in the foreign relations community that believe that in many ways North Korea is propped up by the Chinese government and it's really China that has the opportunity to kind of solve this North Korean problem. And President Trump has made it clear that he wants China's help in solving this North Korean problem. Listen to what he told the "Financial Times", I will read it for you now.

Trump essentially saying that if they -- China has great influence over North Korea and China will either decide to help us with North Korea or they will not. He goes on to say that if they do, that will be very good for China. And if they don't, it will not be good for anyone.

And he essentially is making it clear in this statement that if China is not prepared to take on this North Korean threat that the American government will. And he also says that he doesn't feel his administration needs China's help to solve the North Korean problem, that he is willing to go at it alone. Now that could make things very complicated in that part of the world but as you said, Fredricka, this certainly sets the stage for this conversation with President Xi. And it's not as if they don't have a lot of other things to talk about.

Obviously, President Trump was very critical of China. He promised to label them a currency manipulator [14::20:00] during the campaign. He's often talked about the American trade deficit with China. So they have a laundry list of things to talk about. And it's clear that this is at least going to be one of the more important things discussed.

WHITFIELD: Well, let me bring in our panel and talk more broadly about this, Michael Allen former majority staff director for the House Intel Committee back with us, CNN contributor Julian Zelizer, who is also a historian and professor at Princeton University and political analyst Josh Rogin. And Ryan Browne also with is now, usually, Pentagon correspondent joining us from Washington.

All right. So gentlemen, this is interesting because the president is saying in this "Financial Times" that the U.S. doesn't need China. But just earlier today on ABC's "This Week" the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley had a very different message saying that China is the key in leveraging North Korea. Just listen to her response when asked by the host, Martha Raddatz, if China doesn't cooperate.

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HALEY: Oh, no, China has to cooperate. This is now down to do we want to continue to see these ballistic missile attacks from North Korea or does China want to do something about it? And this is all about the fact that they need to have action. And we're going to continue to put pressure on China to have that action. That will be shown in multiple ways.

But what we are going to do is say, China, you know that you're the only one that's doing this. We appreciate that you stopped coal going into North Korea but we know it's going in other ways. At some point, we need to see definitive actions by China condemning North Korea and not just calling them out for it.

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WHITFIELD: All right. So Julian, are these mixed messages coming from the White House just days away from this country, this president, hosting the Chinese president?

ZELIZER: Well, there are mixed messages with the China; there actually have been since the inauguration. I think there might be a strategic element to this. This is the image of the deal maker sending mixed messages until a final deal is reached. As we've seen, that doesn't always work.

And some of it could be the incoherence of the administration which never has really had a clear foreign policy and so you get multiple messages coming from the same source. And so, both are at work.

The threats, though, you know, can be dangerous. And in the end, the administration has to have a plan when they make threats in terms of where they are going with this.

WHITFIELD: And Josh, this president has made it very clear. I mean, he has a track record of threats sometimes work and has worked in his art of the deal, it didn't necessarily work leading up to the GOP health care plan but threat is something he's dangling as it pertains to this kind of relationship in that region, the relationship with China as it pertains to trying to handle North Korea, might this backfire?

ROGIN: Well, we will see if he follows through on the threats. Let's define what we're talking about here. The administration is preparing to increase the pressure on North Korea through a range of sanctions, right? And then they're preparing to increase the pressure on China for a range of what they call secondary sanctions; sanctions on Chinese companies that help North Korea, OK? Those Chinese companies are linked to the Chinese government, the Chinese government is not going to like that, OK? That's what they're all talking about.

Now, what they're going to do at the summit is that President Trump is going to say to President Xi, listen, I'm going to give you X amount of time to show me some progress, to do some more stuff that I can point to that says China is getting on board with North Korea. If and that doesn't happen, we're going to come through with the sanctions plan.

And that could be a big problem in the U.S.-China relationship. I mean, there's a lot of stuff going on with China, there's Taiwan, there's Tibet, there's human rights, there's trade, there's investment. There's all sort of U.S.-China relation -- South China Sea. So if they want to really confront China on this North Korean issue, that's going to have big consequences. That's why they're trying to message it before they actually do it.

The messaging is what we're seeing now. It's not necessarily inconsistent; it's just not clear, right? And is that planned or is that just chaos inside the administration? It's probably in the latter.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And there has been a lot of messaging, even by way of the Secretary of State abroad, Rex Tillerson. So Ryan Browne, how does this either help set the stage for some real progress or setting the tone at least in terms of how the U.S. is going to handle North Korea?

RYAN BROWNE, PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, North Korea has presented itself as a real issue in the early months of this administration, right? They've done multiple missile tests and several tests of a missile engine that the Pentagon is particularly concerned about because it's believed that this type of engine could potentially be modified into the engine capable of delivering an inter-continental ballistic missile that could threaten the mainland United States.

Now President Trump was asked in the interview with the "Financial Times" whether he would consider some grand bargain that the Chinese had floated in the past which is some kind of reduction of whether its U.S. Military exercises with South Korea or the [14::25:00] 28,000 U.S. troops in South Korea.

He didn't address that specifically but the Pentagon has definitely pushed back on that kind of arrangement saying that the U.S. Defense of South Korea will continue independent of this. So definitely, the U.S. is continuing with its presence in South Korea. It delivered the THAAD Missile Defense System there last month. So this is definitely something that the military is watching closely.

WHITFIELD: And Michael, what does this mean? What's your interpretation of going it alone? Especially on the hills of when Rex Tillerson was in Asia, he talked about, you know, preemptively handling North Korea.

ALLEN: Here, I think, President Trump is sounding the exact right note. I think history shows that the only time the Chinese are incentivized to actually take real action that would curb North Korea's sort of abhorrent behavior is when they think the United States might be crazy enough to do something alone.

So I think they're just trying to send some messages to incentivize China. China is not excited about dealing with this issue. I think they think it's a nuisance. But the last thing they want is a more active United States and/or (ph) Japan and South Korea seeking to reunite the peninsula and put another western democracy near the Chinese mainland. And so I think this is just the kind of signaling that needs to go on

before a big meeting this week so that the Chinese come prepared with some real measures that they're prepared to take to get the North Koreans to curb their behavior.

WHITFIELD: And quickly Ryan Nobles at the White House, this meeting between President Trump and the Chinese president not at the White House but we're talking about in Mar-a-Lago. Explain that setting and why.

NOBLES: Essentially, the president feels comfortable there. It worked well when he had Shinzo Abe from Japan in town a few weeks ago to what he dubbed as the Southern White House and have a more relax environment to have these conversations and obviously, it's already been talked about today, the relationship with China is one that's been untested between these two administrations. And we don't really know how well President Xi and President Trump will get along.

It's interesting to note though that at this point, the soon-to-be ambassador to China, former Iowa Governor Terry Branstad who is very close with President Xi is at this point not scheduled to be at that meeting at Mar-a-Lago and he could turnout to be an important player in this because he and President Xi have such a close relationship, they've known each other for a long time.

So we will have to see if that becomes an interesting part of this dynamic as we have this summit coming up in just a few days.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thank you so much. Thanks to the big panel, two Ryans, a Michael, a Josh and a Julian. Appreciate it, gentlemen.

(LAUGHTER)

PANEL: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Coming up. Conflict of interest, claims continuing to plague Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner. What does this mean for their roles in the White House? We will talk about that next.

[14:30:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Meetings with world leaders will dominate President Trump's schedule this week. He'll discuss a wide range of topics with the leaders of Egypt, Jordan and China.

When China's president meets with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, it will thanks in no small part to Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner. But Kushner's involvement has helped keep a spotlight on potential conflicts of interest within the Trump administration. Kushner is a beneficiary of companies that have sought investment in China. And his wife Ivanka Trump has been a stakeholder and continues to be a stakeholder in the Trump International Hotel in Washington. And that has become an ethics lightning rod over concerns that people might do business there to gain influence with the White House.

Joining me right now, former White House ethics lawyer Richard Painter, and national security attorney Mark Zaid.

All right. Good to see both of you. So, Richard, you first. You know, one of Mr. Kushner's advisers has called any remaining conflict, quote, "pretty narrow and very manageable." Is he right?

RICHARD PAINTER, ETHICS LAWYER UNDER GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, these conflicts are not narrow. Jared Kushner is conflicted out with respect to his own investments as well as those of his wife Ivanka. That means anything that would affect the real estate industry he's going to have to recuse from. He has substantial real estate holdings. That goes regulations of the fact they loan money to real estate developers and the potential repeal of Dodd-Frank. He's got to stay away from that.

He is also going to have to stay away from trade issues because his wife Ivanka imports clothing from around the world including I believe China. So he's going to have to stay away from trade issues that could affect her clothing business. That's going to be absolutely critical.

WHITFIELD: So how immediately are you talking? How long does it take to do these things?

PAINTER: Well, he's going to have to recuse throughout his entire time in the government. From trade as well as anything that affects the real estate industry. And that means that if he has a discussion with China and trade comes up, if either side brings up trade as something they want to negotiate over, he may have to step out of the room and step away from the matter because he cannot do anything that's going to have a direct or predictable affect on his real estate holdings or Ivanka's trade clothing business.

WHITFIELD: So nothing more than recusing, not divesting from companies?

PAINTER: Well, yes, he should have done that. I mean --

WHITFIELD: And since it hasn't how long does that take?

PAINTER: He can do that I think that selling off real estate can be done in a matter of months. And she can simply shut down her clothing business and decide that's not what she's going to do when she's in the White House. And she's not going to have her name put on clothes and have them sold in the United States after they're made somewhere else for much less money. She could decide that.

[14:35:03] They could do it. I think they should. But that doesn't appear to be what they want to do so they won't (INAUDIBLE) broad. These are narrow. They're broad.

WHITFIELD: So while the president reminds that he is, you know, protected against conflicts of interest, his other family members and those who are employees of the White House working for federal government are not.

So, Mark, you know, there have been concerns over the Trump hotel in Washington and whether foreign leaders would stay there or hold events there to gain influence with the White House. How serious a problem is this for Ivanka Trump who is a stakeholder there?

MARK ZAID, NATIONAL SECURITY ATTORNEY: Right. So the lawsuit that I am actually handling with some of my colleagues here in D.C. for a cork wine bar against Donald Trump which we filed last month, so that applies mostly to an elected official. So she's not an elected official. She's an employee of the White House now. She has -- the federal government then. She has obviously a significant stake in the hotel interest. It will create further conflicts of interest because there's just absolutely no doubt that those here in Washington, whether lawyers, lobbyists or foreign leaders and their delegations are going to the Trump Hotel and the restaurant in order to curry favor either to see or be seen by the president of the United States and his local and surrounding entourage.

There's no doubt about it. Now when we look at some of these conflicts of interest, we look at it from several different perspectives. You have -- whether it is illegal or whether it is unethical and what the perception is. And this White House doesn't seem to care whether it falls within any one of those three if any of them at all. And I think what most of us have a lot of concerns about is unlike Robert F. Kennedy, which brought about some of the laws that exist now, or President Clinton, if Hillary Clinton had won, and no doubt he would have had some role, they're qualified to do something.

What qualifications does Ivanka and Jared have to be meeting with foreign leaders? I don't care if they advise their father and father- in-law about certain things. That's fine. But why is she possibly getting a security clearance to be involved with some of these issues with world leaders? I don't get that.

WHITFIELD: And in fact, Donald Trump has already been on record about what he thinks about nepotism. This is what he had to say as it pertained to his show "Celebrity Apprentice" way back when.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, TV HOST: Nepotism.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That's true.

KING: Why?

TRUMP: I like nepotism. You know? You can take care of your kids. You know that better than I.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: I like nepotism. I think -- you know, a lot of people say nepotism, usually these are people without children, but I like nepotism.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right. So, Richard, then, you know, the now president has made himself very clear on there and kind of indirect answer to you, Mark, in that, you know, he's talking about relatives and that's what qualifies them to be there if he so chooses. Can anyone challenge him on that?

PAINTER: Well, it may be challenged if people want to get access to records as they did during the Clinton administration, get access to records of the health care task force arguing that Hillary Clinton could not be a federal employee. The court sided with the Clintons on that. So we could see what type of litigation may come out of that.

I have to say on the merits, however, that as many questions I have about Jared and Ivanka and their qualifications, there're a lot more qualified than people like Steve Bannon, and a whole lot of -- conspiracy theorists in the White House who I think are really quite dangerous and ill informed about foreign policy, and if that's what it takes on nepotism to balance out what we have in the White House, that's more preferable to letting some really very dangerous people close to the president when he's in control of the nuclear weapons.

So I think we're choosing among some very bad alternatives here. But Jared and Ivanka may actually have a positive influence on their father and if that's what it takes, then I guess that's what we've got to live with.

WHITFIELD: All right. Mark, last word?

ZAID: Yes. At the end of the day, this is probably going to come down to Congress. I mean, Congress needs to enact laws. And if they want to do it prospectively so it doesn't impact this administration since the Republicans are in control, that's fine. But the laws they enacted in the wake of President Kennedy pertained more to executive branch employees and not to White House employees. There are ethical issues but not laws that necessarily directly impact it.

So I think this is a situation where the majority of the American people don't want this type of conflict of interest to exist. So we need a law.

WHITFIELD: All right. Mark Zaid, Richard Painter, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

All right. A third Senate Democrat announcing support for U.S. Supreme Court nominee NEIL Gorsuch. Coming up, we're going to take a closer look at his path forward.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:43:04] WHITFIELD: All right. The battle to confirm Supreme Court pick Neil Gorsuch is heating up. Tomorrow the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on whether to send his nomination to the full Senate and that final confirmation vote is expected to happen on Friday. But there are big challenges ahead. Right now it's unclear whether Republicans have the votes to break a Democratic filibuster. In order to do that, Republicans need 60 votes. That means they need eight Democrats to get on board. And so far only three Democrats have said they will vote yes. And here they are.

Republicans also weighing in on the so-called nuclear option which would change Senate rules to get around a filibuster. This morning lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are weighing in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Judge Gorsuch is going to be confirmed. The way in which that occurs is in the hands of the Democratic minority. And I think during the course of the week we'll find out exactly how this will end but it will end with his confirmation.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: Why doesn't President Trump, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, sit down and try to come up with a mainstream nominee? Look, when a nominee doesn't get 60 votes, you shouldn't change the rules. You should change the nominee.

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WHITFIELD: All right. So let's discuss this right now. CNN Supreme Court reporter Ariane De Vogue, and CNN presidential historian Timothy Naftali.

Good to see both of you. All right. So, Ariane, you first. Tell us about this third Democrat that has decided to vote yes for Gorsuch.

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT CORRESPONDENT: Well, like you said tomorrow is a big day. The Senate Judiciary Committee is going to vote. We expect Gorsuch to advance. And that we also expect to get more of a sense where some of these key Democrats are. Right now it's about the math. As you said, as things stand it takes 60 votes to confirm him and as of Friday 36 Democrats led by Chuck Schumer suggested they might filibuster, but three Democrats and one just today said that look, they're going to support him.

[14:45:03] Those were Manchin from West Virginia, Heitkamp from North Dakota, and Donnelly from Indiana. They all come from states where Trump won. They said look, they're furious about Merrick Garland never getting a vote but elections matter. They say that Gorsuch is qualified.

On the other side the Republicans come back and they say look, if you're going to do something historic like this, and change -- and filibuster, then we will change the way the rules are and we'll make it easier for Supreme Court nominees to get through. So both sides are saying something historic is about to happen and McConnell, he said look, there is going to be a vote no matter what happens on Friday.

WHITFIELD: And, Tim, you know, for many Democrats here still very upset that Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama's pick, never even had a hearing and that many are leveraging this situation as payback. Politically smart?

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, I mean, the problem for Democrats is that the American people watch the Garland drama and didn't seem to -- not enough of them cared because they didn't penalize Republicans for what the Republicans did.

There's a big issue here about tradition and what the Republicans did to Merrick Garland was completely outside of tradition, of the tradition of the way in which one handles a presidential Supreme Court nominee. It had been done once before in 1968, at the very end of the LBJ's term. But the idea that a president has no right to nominate someone when they have an entire year, almost an entire year as president, is not historic at all.

So I can understand why Democrats are uneasy. But you know, as Mitch McConnell has said, Senator McConnell said, Justice Gorsuch is going to happen. He's going to be confirmed either because the Democrats will not get enough -- 60 votes, or he will be confirmed because Mitch McConnell will do exactly what he did with Merrick Garland. He is going to say look, we have the right, we have the rules behind us, we're going to use the nuclear option, we're going to confirm this man. So the issue really for Democrats is, is it in their political interests to go down fighting? I think that's what this is all about. Because in the end, Neil Gorsuch will be on the Supreme Court.

WHITFIELD: All right. Tim Naftali, Ariane De Vogue, thanks so much to both of you. Appreciate it.

NAFTALI: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Coming up, scathing new developments in the harassment claims against FOX News star Bill O'Reilly. Millions of dollars in secret settlements now coming to light. We'll have details after the break.

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[14:51:01] WHITFIELD: All right. This weekend a new report about the women who say FOX News star Bill O'Reilly harassed them and the secret settlement payments that are now being revealed.

I want to bring in Brian Stelter. He's our senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES."

So, Brian, give us details of this report and how it all got out.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Indeed "The New York Times" published this after months of investigation looking into Bill O'Reilly and women who have accused him of sexual harassment or in one case another kind of verbal harassment.

Here's the story that's on the front page of "The Times" in print today saying, that even as Bill O'Reilly's popularity has grown and grown he's made more and more money for FOX News, he's also had these payments, these mostly secret payments -- settlements to women who have accused him of wrongdoing. Now O'Reilly says there's no merits to these claims. FOX essentially

says this is in the past. You can see here these cases stretch all the way back to 2002. And there are two that are recent, from 2016. One of them is pretty infamous. It's from 2004, Andrea Mackris. She was paid about $9 million by O'Reilly in a case that was very widely publicized. But the other cases were private and were not known about until "The New York Times" reported on them.

WHITFIELD: And, you know, I read that article and you can't help but say to yourself like, so how did we get to keep this job given all of these settlements? You actually spoke with a victim's rights attorney Lisa Bloom who is representing one of O'Reilly's accusers. And what does she have to say about all this?

STELTER: That's right. Lisa Bloom actually representing a woman named Wendy Walsh who has not sued or gotten a settlement from O'Reilly or from FOX, instead is going public with what she says was improper behavior several years ago by O'Reilly. She says that when she rebuffed O'Reilly's advances, he tried to take away a job that she might have been in contention for.

Here is what Lisa Bloom said about what she wants from FOX.

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LISA BLOOM, REPRESENTS ONE OF BILL O'REILLY ACCUSERS: This is not my first case against FOX News and I don't expect it will be my last. Dr. Walsh is a longtime friend and she had already been a client of mine on some business matters and I'm very proud to stand with her and represent her. As you pointed out, she did not sue. She did not ask for a dime. She has not asked for any money. She simply has told her story publicly and so I wonder what Mr. O'Reilly's response is to her given that his defense is simply everybody's after money. But she's not even asking for any money.

STELTER: So why is she holding a press conference with you tomorrow?

BLOOM: Because everybody in the media has come to her since this story broke yesterday asking for more information. And we do have something to reveal at the press conference as to what the next steps are going forward.

I will give you a little preview. There needs to be an independent investigation of sexual harassment at FOX News. How many women have to come forward? By my count it's already been dozens and dozens of women who have been reported in reputable media to have come out against Roger Ailes and now Bill O'Reilly and others.

And I can tell you that the law firm Paul Wise who everybody in the media has said has done an independent investigation has not done an independent investigation.

STELTER: So let me --

BLOOM: They represent FOX News.

STELTER: So Paul White looked into the Ailes matter for FOX last summer.

BLOOM: They represent FOX News. They told me that. That's fine. FOX News is entitled to have an attorney. Those are attorneys for FOX News. They have not done an independent investigation and that needs to happen immediately.

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STELTER: Lisa Bloom there saying we need to know a lot more about the culture inside this cable news channel that allowed the CEO for many years, Roger Ailes, to be running the company with such an iron grip. He was accused of harassment by many women. He was ousted last summer. Now it's O'Reilly getting attention.

And Fredricka, we've heard from O'Reilly in a statement on his Web site, BillOReilly.com, this weekend. Here's part of the statement. He says, "Like other celebrities, other famous people, he's vulnerable to these kinds of situations." He says, "Just like other prominent and controversial people I'm vulnerable to lawsuits from individuals who want me to pay them to avoid negative publicity."

[14:55:01] He went on to say that, "No one ever filed a formal complaint and the worst part of my job," he says, is being a target for those who would harm me and my employer, the FOX News Channel."

The counter argument to that, Fred, is there's a lot of famous cable news anchors out there including at FOX who have not had to settle lots of these situations, who have not been threatened with suits from women. O'Reilly is in a unique situation here. The biggest star on cable news now under a lot of scrutiny.

WHITFIELD: All right. Brian Stelter, thank you so much. Of course, you can watch Brian's show "RELIABLE SOURCES" Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time right here on CNN.

All right. Still ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM, we'll return to our developing story, the president sending a message if China doesn't solve issues with North Korea, quote, "we will," end quote. The latest at the top of the hour.