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Interview With California Congressman Eric Swalwell; Republicans Attempt to Revive Health Care Talks; Trump-Russia Probe Continues; Ivanka Trump Responds to Critics Who Say She's "Complicit". Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 4, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:05]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: back channels. Congressional investigators dig deeper into meetings between Trump advisers and Russians during the transition. Were U.S. sanctions on Moscow discussed? We are going to tell you what CNN is learning tonight.

Smoke and mirrors? The president and his allies ramp up their allegations about unmasking, trying to shift attention and suspicion to President Obama's former national security adviser. Tonight, Susan Rice is responding for the first time to the attacks.

Take two. vice President Pence is reaching out to Republican lawmakers, trying again for a health care compromise. But tonight the problems that killed the first attempt to repeal Obamacare haven't gone away.

And fear and carnage. A suspected chemical weapons attack slaughters dozens of Syrians, including many children. The White House is blaming the brutal strongman Bashar al-Assad, even as Mr. Trump appeared to be softening his administration's policy toward the Syrian regime.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news in the Trump-Russia investigation. CNN has now learned that congressional investigators are pouncing on new information about meetings between Trump advisers and Russian officials during the transition.

They are focusing on the timing and proximity of the talks, trying to determine if an easing of sanctions on Moscow was discussed.

Also tonight, a new warning about the gravity of the Russia investigation. Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, telling me just a little while ago that he expects some people will end up in jail when all is said and done.

Also breaking, former Obama National Security Adviser Susan Rice is speaking out about reports that she sought to unmask the identities of Trump associates caught up in the surveillance of foreigners. Rice denies any wrongdoing or an attempt by the Obama administration to use intelligence for political purposes.

And the Trump administration says an apparent chemical attack against innocent civilians in Syria can't be ignored, as sources says intelligence indicates that sarin gas was likely used, but no word yet as to how the United States will respond. The White House blaming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while claiming his heinous actions are the consequence of President Obama's weakness toward the Syrian regime.

I will talk about those stories and more with our guests, including Congressman Eric Swalwell, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to CNN chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto.

Jim, you have been working your sources on this Russian investigation. What's the latest?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a congressional intelligence source tells me that the congressional investigation committees are interested in looking at these meetings between Trump associates and Russians during the transition.

They're interested in the number of meetings, the timing of these meetings, but also the substance of them. In particular, did U.S. sanctions and a relaxing of U.S. sanctions come up in those talks?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): Tonight, the timing and proximity of meetings between Trump advisers and Russian officials during the transition is raising questions among Hill investigators, a congressional intelligence source tells CNN, in particular, whether the loosening of U.S. sanctions only Russia was discussed.

The FBI is looking into a secret meeting on the island nation of the Seychelles, hundreds of miles off the east coast of Africa, according to "The Washington Post," this as part of an investigation into alleged contact between the Trump campaign and Russia.

"The Post" reporting that in January, just before President Trump took office, Blackwater founder and Trump donor Erik Prince had a meeting in the Seychelles with a Russian close to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to arrange a back-channel communications between Moscow and the incoming administration.

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: There was no reason to find some Russian businessperson for some contact with the Russian government, when you could easily have asked the State Department or the Obama administration to help create contacts that are front-channel, direct between government to government.

SCIUTTO: Prince donated $250,000 to the Trump campaign, and his sister is the education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

The White House said Prince had no connection to Trump and Prince denied to "The Washington Post" that the meeting was about Trump. But even GOP lawmakers acknowledge the growing questions.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This is a centipede. A shoe will drop every few days, the latest the meeting in the Seychelles. Look, this is a requirement, in my view, why we need a select committee in order to get through all this, because there's lots more shoes that are going to drop.

[18:05:05]

SCIUTTO: This is just the latest in a string of meetings Trump associates and Russian government officials, including a meeting in December between Trump's son-in-law and aide Jared Kushner and a Russian banker whose bank has been under U.S. sanctions.

Ties between former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and Russia are also under renewed scrutiny, after revelations that Page was in contact with a Russian intelligence operative in New York in 2013.

Court documents reveal a transcript of the Russian spy's account of a conversation he had with Page, who is referred to in the document as male number one. Speaking about Page, the Russian says -- quote -- "I think he is an idiot and forgot who I am" and -- quote -- "I will feed him empty promises."

Page admits that he was in contact with at least one Russian spy in 2013, but claims he thought the Russian was working for Moscow's U.N. office and he did not release any sensitive information, Page saying in a statement -- quote -- "I shared basic immaterial information and publicly available research documents. In doing so, I provided him nothing more than a few samples from the far more detailed lectures I was preparing at this time for the students in my spring 2013 semester."

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO: Regarding Erik Prince, sources tell CNN that he did meet with members of the Trump national security team during the transition. And he claimed there and elsewhere to have access to the Trump administration. Whether and to what degree he had actually access to the Trump administration, that remains, Wolf, an open question.

BLITZER: Jim, thank you, Jim Sciutto reporting.

Also tonight, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman said his panel may talk to former National Security Adviser Susan Rice as part of its Russia investigation. Susan Rice now responding for the first time to questions about surveillance of Trump associates and the unmasking of their identities. Let's go to our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju, up on

Capitol Hill.

Manu, as you know, Susan Rice is denying any wrongdoing, saying any unmasking that was done was simply part of her job as the president's national security adviser.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf.

This came in the aftermath of House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes' trip to the White House to review information that he said showed some incidental collection of Trump campaign communications with foreign officials and the unmasking of some of the Trump associates.

Now, reports emerged yesterday saying that Susan Rice was the official doing the unmasking and this prompted a firestorm of criticism from conservatives and some Republicans who say this needs to be part of the ongoing Russia probe.

Now, earlier today, Susan Rice came on national television and pushed back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUSAN RICE, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: The allegation is that somehow Obama administration officials utilized intelligence for political purposes. That's absolutely false.

Let me explain how this works. I was a national security adviser. My job is to protect the American people and the security of our country. That's the same as the secretary of state, the secretary of defense, the CIA director.

And every morning to enable us to do that, we receive from the intelligence community a compilation of intelligence reports that the I.C., the intelligence community, has selected for us on a daily basis to give us the best information as to what's going on around the world.

I received those reports, as did each of those other officials, and there were occasions when I would receive a report in which a U.S. person was referred to, name not provided, just U.S. person. And sometimes, in that context, in order to understand the importance of the report and assess its significance, it was necessary to find out or request the information as to who that U.S. official was.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, Wolf, the Senate Intelligence chairman, Richard Burr, just said moments ago that if the intelligence leads to Susan Rice, then they will ask Susan Rice to come before the committee.

This comes as both the Senate and House Intelligence Committee are finalizing their list of witnesses on the House side. In particular, a notable development, in that the Republicans and the Democrats on the committee appear to be closer to consensus on exactly who to interview as part of a probe that had been stalled over Chairman Devin Nunes' role.

And also on the Senate side, that investigation continues to take shape, as Republicans and Democrats are interviewing members of the intelligence community in a private setting, including the first transcribed interview on Capitol Hill. That will take place tomorrow with a member of the Intelligence Committee.

The question, Wolf, will Susan Rice be one of those people who come forward? We don't know the answer to that quite yet -- Wolf.

BLITZER: OK, Manu, thanks very much for the reporting.

Let's get some more on all of this with a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Eric Swalwell.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: You heard the former National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

Do you believe she did anything improper?

SWALWELL: I have seen no evidence that she has.

And, Wolf, see this as just another hurdle that's keeping us from getting to the finish line of this investigation. And we're determined to get to the bottom of what happened. I think we are getting closer every day.

[18:10:08]

And a lot of times, the behavior of people under investigation can tell you a lot about whether they are culpable of any wrongdoing.

BLITZER: This is how Senator Rand Paul, a Republican, described Susan Rice's behavior. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: We use the term wiretapping to mean eavesdropping. So, now we know that someone in the Obama administration was eavesdropping and specifically searching a data bank.

(CROSSTALK)

PAUL: It's a huge deal that we're collecting millions of Americans' phone calls and that someone can go to a keyboard and put your name in and search it without a warrant. This is an illegal warrantless search.

Here's the thing is, you can order the specific listening device or you can say, you know what? We already have it. And it's this amazing reverse targeting, where we have millions of people in a database. And I can be Susan Rice and go down and type Donald Trump or General Flynn into a database and, boom, up comes the information.

QUESTION: Do you know that happened?

PAUL: Is that not the same as ordering the surveillance? They know it exists. Look, every business,every international business man or woman who talks overseas is in that database. Do we want political officials to be able to type in the name of Bill Gates and find out they have a deal going on in Europe? We do not want that to happen.

I believe Susan Rice abused the system and she did it for political purposes. She needs to be brought in and questioned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, Congressman, is the senator right? Is that an accurate characterization?

SWALWELL: He sounds like a guy that spent his Sunday golfing with a subject of this investigation, and he did.

No, he's not correct. In fact, Wolf, the White House is the only party that can declassify exactly what Chairman Nunes saw. And so I believe if there really is evidence of wrongdoing, they will show us that.

But my prediction is, they won't because there's nothing there.

BLITZER: He did play golf last Sunday with the president of the United States. I just want to be specific. Are you saying, what, he's just trying to defend the president? Because he's been a libertarian, as you know, for a long time.

SWALWELL: Sure. He may have honest concerns about government surveillance. That's fine.

But he has not seen what the White House is referring to and the White House won't show the world what they are referring to. So, we should only assume based on their track record that this is only an effort to deceive and obstruct an investigation that needs to go forward.

BLITZER: The Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, Richard Burr, said it's possible Susan Rice could fall under his committee's investigation.

Do you think the House Intelligence Committee will follow suit?

SWALWELL: Well, Wolf, I will just say this. We have agreed on our witness list. I'm excited that that's showing the American people we're going forward. And if they want to put a hurdle up like bringing Susan Rice in, that's fine.

Again, we're moving forward. There are more relevant witnesses than Susan Rice. And our job is to get to the bottom of what happened. BLITZER: Do you believe there was anything improper about the meeting

between Erik Prince and a Russian close to Putin that we have now learned about?

SWALWELL: It's our job to find out, Wolf.

And Erik Prince, of course, has ties to the fund-raising apparatus of Trump's campaign. He's the brother of a member of the Trump administration and it sounds like from the reports that he went to the Seychelles to try and get a better policy towards Russia.

Our concern is, was this a quid pro quo for Russia's interference in our election? We can only find out if we continue our investigation. And that's what the American people expect of us.

BLITZER: We also have learned that another Trump campaign adviser, Carter page, met with a Russian intelligence spy back in 2013, gave him documents on the energy industry. At the time, he didn't know he was a Russian spy. He thought he was a diplomat at the U.N.

What steps will your committee will taking in response to these developments on both Carter Page and Erik Prince?

SWALWELL: It has to be part of our investigation.

Wolf, if we look at what Carter Page did in 2013, meeting with a Russian spy in a light most favorable to Carter Page, people could say, well, he may not have known.

However, once he found out, it's inexcusable that, in 2016, after the world learns that Russia's interfering in our campaign, with the permission of the Donald Trump campaign, he goes over to Russia and continues to meet with Russians.

Now, at that point, I think we need to learn a lot more about whether his meetings and the financial ties he had were converging with Russia's interference.

BLITZER: The documents that your committee chairman, Devin Nunes, the ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff, have seen over at the White House, have you seen those documents as well?

SWALWELL: Arrangements are being made right now, Wolf, for every member of the committee to see them.

BLITZER: But have you seen them yet? Have you seen them yet?

SWALWELL: No. And we are expecting to see them before we leave town to go home this weekend.

BLITZER: You will see them at some point, but you're confident that everything that the committee and ranking member saw, you will see?

[18:15:00]

SWALWELL: Yes. BLITZER: I spoke with one of your colleagues from the Intelligence

Committee, Congressman Joaquin Castro, in the last hour. I want you to listen to what he said to me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Have you seen any hard evidence of collusion yet?

REP. JOAQUIN CASTRO (D), TEXAS: Well, I guess I would say this, that my impression is I wouldn't be surprised after all of this is said and done that some people end up in jail.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: You agree, Congressman?

SWALWELL: I think we need to let the investigation run its course. I don't want to prejudge what the FBI and Department of Justice are going to do.

There is evidence of collusion, both on the unclassified side, what we have shown the world. And I have a Web site that lays that out. And there's also evidence on the classified side.

But, right now, we just should follow the evidence. And, Wolf, if at the end of the day, these are just mere coincidences, it's in the president's interest for the world to know that. And if not, it's in our country's interest that people be held accountable.

BLITZER: Congressman, I need to take a quick break. Stand by. We are going to resume all of our coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:20:17]

BLITZER: We're back with breaking news.

CNN is learning of a sharpening focus on the timing and proximity of meetings between Trump advisers and the Russians as the House and Senate press ahead with their parallel investigations.

A critical right now, was there any discussion about easing sanctions on Moscow before Mr. Trump became president?

We're joined by Daniel Baer. He's the former U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Daniel, thanks very much for joining us.

DANIEL BAER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE ORGANIZATION FOR SECURITY AND CO-OPERATION IN EUROPE: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: You testified before Congress today on Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election.

What's your biggest concern as an expert on Russia?

BAER: Well, I think there are two things that are general areas of concern going forward.

The first one we know from the assessment of our intelligence community and other open source information that Vladimir Putin ordered an interview into the U.S. 2016 election. The American voters deserve to know what worked, what didn't work, how extensive that way, so they can be educated and understand how Vladimir Putin tried to manipulate their votes and whether a spy sitting in Moscow had more impact on the election than a woman voting in Iowa.

And they deserve to know that. That's a fact-finding mission to do with security. The second set of issues and one that you alluded to is the question about collusion and cooperation, criminal activity that might have been helping Vladimir Putin achieve his objectives in taking down Hillary Clinton and elevating Donald Trump.

And I think that's a separate, also significant set of questions.

BLITZER: Do you believe there was?

BAER: I think there's enough -- as John McCain said, it's a centipede and every day, it seems like another shoe drops.

There's enough evidence right now to suggest that a full investigation is needed. I believe that a special prosecutor is necessary for the criminal element. I think that we need to have -- I respect the ongoing work done by both the House and Senate Intel Committees, but we also need to have an independent commission that can fully investigate what Russia did during our 2016 election and make recommendations about how we can defend ourselves in the future.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: As you know, the FBI has a criminal investigation under way. It's been under way since July.

Joaquin Castro, the congressman from Texas, told me in the last hour he believes when all is said and done, some people probably will wind up in jail. Do you believe that?

BAER: I think it's -- I wouldn't want to prejudge the outcome of an investigation. I think it's very important that the FBI take this forward. As I said, I think there's a criminal question here and whether there was criminal collaboration with the Russians.

I think there's also just the fact-finding mission, which also needs to be done. And it really shouldn't be a partisan issue. All of us have an issue in our democracy being defended.

BLITZER: All right. Daniel, stand by, because we're getting some breaking news, new information about the unfolding horror in Syria, where a suspected chemical attack has killed dozens of people, including lots of children, injured hundreds of others.

A warning to our viewers, the images are graphic and disturbing.

Let's go to our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what's the latest?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, tonight, a U.S. intelligence official said it's beginning to look like this attack has the fingerprints of Bashar Assad, the Syrian regime.

This may be the largest attack since 2013 against his own people and maybe it is the deadly agent sarin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): CNN will not blur out the horror, activists say dozens of civilians killed and hundreds injured, including children, when airstrikes hit in Northern Syria's Idlib Province.

Eyewitnesses say victims were short of breath, joking, foaming at the mouth. People died of asphyxiation, symptoms of a chemical attack.

DR. FERAS AL JUNDI, TREATED ATTACK VICTIMS (through translator): I saw children dead. I saw an entire family, a mother and three children, all dead.

STARR: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ignoring shouted questions about the attack from reporters just days after he made clear the Trump doctrine is to no longer aim to push Syrian President Bashar al- Assad to be removed from power.

REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: I think the status and the longer-term status of President Trump Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.

STARR: This may be the new reality.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: There is no plausible way to get rid of him, and we're all going to have to hold our collective nose and accept that and come up with a strategy that minimizes his ability to hurt Syrians in the future.

STARR: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer also blaming both the Assad regime and President Obama.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration's weakness and irresolution.

STARR: Europe taking a much tougher public line, the British foreign minister focusing on Assad's crimes.

[18:25:07]

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH FOREIGN MINISTER: It would be another reason to think there's an absolutely heinous outfit. It's a war crime.

STARR: An emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council now scheduled for Wednesday morning.

Bana al-Abed, the 8-year-old Syrian girl who tweeted from Aleppo during the government siege, had a new message for President Donald Trump.

"This is today in Syria, in Idlib. Hi, Donald Trump. Do you love this" she says with a photo of the children of her country.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Images that are truly heartbreaking, Wolf.

Tonight, it's worth remembering President Obama came under years of criticism for his so-called red line, no chemical weapons used by Bashar Assad. Assad crossed the line. The U.S. did not take military action against him.

Tonight, Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson late in the day issued written statements condemning the attacks in Syria, but still at the end of the day no indication that the U.S. is going to do much, if anything about it all -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Heartbreaking to see those images of those little kids. All right, Barbara, thank you very much.

Daniel Baer is still with us, the former U.S. ambassador to the OSCE, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

It is heartbreaking. And the reaction from the Trump administration, from your perspective, is it adequate? What do you see?

BAER: I think the reaction from the Trump administration is very regrettable.

First of all, Secretary of State Tillerson had nothing to say when he was asked about it. When you get asked about a war crime, and you're the secretary of state, you should be able to say it's horrible, I deplore it.

BLITZER: He did issue a written statement.

BAER: Yes, after he left the room without answering the questions.

And then for the White House to put out a statement blaming a policy from several years ago for the actions of Assad and his Russian enablers today is just ridiculous. There's no reason why that needs to be a partisan issue or scoring political points.

What the White House should be focused on is what we should all be focused on. First of all, this is an outrage. It appears to be a war crime. We should be focused on the crime at hand and about bringing Assad to account. And Assad must go.

BLITZER: If it is the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad that committed this war crime, clearly a war crime was committed, the Russians are deeply aligned with Bashar al-Assad. You're an expert on Russia. Is that going to change at all?

BAER: I think you make a very good point.

We were told obviously there was a deal to remove sarin from Syria. We were told it was out of Syria.

BLITZER: The Russians told the U.S.

BAER: That was part of the deal that was struck several years ago was to remove the chemical weapons from Syria.

Either stuff has been brought back in or we were lied to. I think the Russians also bear -- they have been working hand in glove to drop bombs on the Syrian people with the Assad regime and the Russians bear some responsibility in this. And they need to be held to account for that as well. And I assume that we will continue to do that at the U.N. and elsewhere.

BLITZER: Well, at the U.N. -- there will be a meeting of the U.N. Security Council. And we can anticipate a Russian veto of any resolution to condemn...

BAER: Absolutely. They have been defending Assad for years at the Security Council.

BLITZER: Yes.

Daniel Baer, thanks very much for joining us.

BAER: Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, congressional investigators looking into meetings during the transition between Russians and Donald Trump advisers, including his son-in-law. Did they talk about easing U.S. sanctions?

And President Trump's daughter Ivanka, also a key adviser, answers critics who say she is -- quote -- "complicit" in what's happening over at the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with all the breaking news on the Trump-Russia investigation. One Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Joaquin Castro, telling me tonight that he expects some people, when all is said and done, "will end up in jail," his words.

[18:33:16] This as former Obama national security advisor, Susan Rice, now responding to Republican attempts to shift the focus to her.

Let's bring in our experts, and we have four excellent experts. Phil Mudd, let me start with you. The -- this whole notion, Chairman Burr of the Senate Intelligence Committee now suggesting maybe Susan Rice will fall under his committee's investigation. You heard what Senator rand Paul said. I want your reaction. PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERINTELLIGENCE ANALYST: Senator Burr is right.

She should be in front of the committee but not for the reasons you think. I think some people believe she should be there to explain actions they believe were inappropriate.

What she did was perfectly appropriate. Somebody before President Obama left office was trying to interfere with the president's ability to sanction Russia. Here's why she should be in front of the committee.

The question should be, if people were interfering with the president -- with President Obama's sanctions, what was the impact on your relationship with Russia? How did you see that play out. When you were seeing Trump officials talking to Russians, what were you thinking about the effect on the president's ability to impose sanctions?

And finally, Wolf, one specific question that I would have and that I would pose to her. When President Putin decided not to respond to American sanctions, to President Obama's sanctions, was her assessment that his failure to respond was because he received assurances from the Trump people that they would let him off the hook when they came to office? That's the real story here. It's not unmasking. It's not her asking questions about intercepts of Americans. It's about whether people who are not in office yet impeded the president's authority to set sanctions against Russia.

BLITZER: Because we remember when the U.S. expelled about 30-plus Russian officials. We anticipated an equal action from the Russians against the U.S. That never happened. That was mysterious. You make a fair point there.

MUDD: Yes.

[18:35:11] BLITZER: Gloria, this whole conflation that some are calling it -- unmasking, leaking, surveillance -- is this by design?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think so. I think it's designed to muddy the waters. Look, since March 4, when the president tweeted that he was being spied on by Barack Obama, the administration in some way shape or form has been looking for evidence to substantiate the claim.

And what they're talking about with unmasking is trying to muddy the waters here. And let me -- you know, let me say this: unmasking is not leaking. Unmasking is trying to understand the content of the surveillance that you are looking at. It's trying to understand the intelligence that's in front of you.

And as Susan Rice explained -- and you know, again, I have no problem with her going before the committee, but this -- her unmasking was to understand things and not to leak things. And she said if she asked for something to be unmasked, it was delivered to her, and it wasn't distributed to a wide group of people who can then leak it all over the place. And so I -- you know, I think it's a diversion. BLITZER: David Axelrod, how do you think the investigations will

pursue these latest revelations about Erik Prince's secret meeting, Carter Page's contacts with a Russian spy? How do you think that's going to unfold?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, they're going to have to look at it. And in the first instance, they're going to have to look at it for the reason that Phil Mudd mentioned.

If -- if, in fact, General Flynn, in his discussions with Ambassador Kislyak, made representations about what the U.S. was going to do relative to the sanctions; and this was a follow on meeting to that, they're going to need to know that. And they're going to want to know what was discussed in that meeting and did -- and who authorized this -- this sub rosa meeting between Prince and a representative of Putin? And was it part of the same discussion?

So that seems to me central to what they're looking at, as is Carter Page because he's been a central figure in this. Donald Trump identified him as a -- as a principal foreign policy advisor. We know that he's had multiple contacts with the Russians, visits with the Russians; and now this story comes. And if there were intermediaries between the Russians and the Trump campaign relative to what was to come in terms of leaks, he would be someone that they would look at. So I think both those stories are relevant to the investigations that we know are ongoing.

BLITZER: In the last hour, Rebecca Berg, I spoke to Joaquin Castro, the congressman from Texas, a member of the House Intelligence Committee; and he said flatly, he believes some people probably will wind up in jail when this investigation is over. That's the first time I've heard a member of the House or Senate Intelligence Committee make a bold statement like that.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And of course, he is a Democrat, so we have to bear that in mind. And it's easy to make these sorts of proclamations when we don't have all the information out in public for us to assess. It's all classified. FBI investigation is ongoing. So we don't fully know.

We do know that this is potentially a criminal investigation that is ongoing. So there is the potential for someone to wind up being prosecuted by the DOJ at the end of all this.

But this is sort of equivalent to Republicans during the presidential campaign saying that Hillary Clinton would end up in jail, saying, "Lock her up." Obviously, that did not come to pass. But, you know, for weeks and months they were saying that it would or could. So it's a little bit early, really, to know.

BLITZER: But Congressman Castro said, based on the information he's seen, the public information and the private, classified information, he thinks some people, not just one person, some people will wind up in jail.

BORGER: Well, Wolf, that doesn't help if you want to have a bipartisan investigation. Honestly. I mean, he's entitled to his own opinion, but people are trying to lower the decibel level right now and not -- not increase it. And to jump to these kind of conclusions at this point, I think is a bit of a tease and really is a little early.

BLITZER: You wanted to weigh in, David Axelrod?

AXELROD: No, no, I agree with that. He's a great friend of mine, Joaquin Castro. I have a lot of respect for him. But it's probably best for all involved in this investigation to keep speculation at a minimum and let the investigation work. So I would agree with Gloria.

BLITZER: And Phil, you agree?

MUDD: Not only do I agree, but let's be clear here. The Democrats a week ago were saying the Republicans should never have gone to the White House to talk to President Trump. That shows bias. And then we have a Democrat coming out saying, "Excuse me, before the investigation actually gets under way, I have determined that people are going to be in jail?"

These people ought to shut up and do the investigation. How clear can this be?

BORGER: Yes.

[18:40:14] BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. We're going to continue this. Critics now accusing President Trump's daughter, Ivanka, key advisor, of being, quote, "complicit" in what's happening over at the White House. She has now responded in an interview. You're going to hear her response when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:45:07] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with our experts.

Gloria, I want to play a clip. The daughter, Ivanka Trump, she's also now a senior advisor to the president. She gave an interview to Gayle King of CBS. Listen to this exchange then we'll discuss.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GAYLE KING, CBS: We heard the phrase complicit. That Jared and Ivanka are complicit in what is happening to the White House. Can you just weigh in on how you feel about that? There have been articles. There have been parodies. What do you think about that, that accusation?

IVANKA TRUMP, FIRST DAUGHTER: If being complicit is wanting to -- is wanting to be a force for good and to make a positive impact, then I'm complicit. I don't know that the critics who may say that of me, if they found themselves in this very unique and unprecedented situation that I am in would do any differently than I'm doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: All right. Gloria, I want your reaction. And you're someone who's actually interviewed Ivanka Trump.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And she's very composed and what she's trying to say is, I'm going to do what I want to do. I'm trying to do, you know, she's got her issues. She's got her women's issues.

And she's -- seems to me she's trying to say I'm in this unprecedented situation and I'm going to stay in my lane and do what I -- what I want to do. I'd like to see the entire interview because, of course, her portfolio, in many ways, is not unlike her husband's and that she seems to be the first among equals, has security clearance, can roam anywhere she wants, has her father's ear.

So, you know, while she seemed to be sort of down playing her role, I think it's much broader in reality.

BLITZER: There's no doubt about that, David Axelrod. She is a player just like her husband, Jared Kushner, a major player in this new administration.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I would argue, they are the two most important players because if you look at the history of Donald Trump -- and Gloria did a wonderful biographical piece on him -- if you look at the history of Donald Trump, he's really reliant on his family and particularly his children. They have been his advisors, his trusted advisors over the years.

And now as this administration goes on, they've had some early reverses, you see more and more responsibility heaped onto Jared, heaped onto Ivanka, who's now come on as a formal adviser. I think the concern is that no one in that White House and they certainly are among them actually has any experience in dealing on this scale with these kind of issues. None of them have experience in government, the senior people around the president.

And I think that that shows, and that's one of the reasons why he's had the reverses he's had. I'm not sure they can solve that problem for him.

BLITZER: You've seen all those reports, Rebecca Berg, that they -- the daughter and son-in-law -- are moderating influences on the president in all of the tumult that's going on.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But we haven't really seen any evidence of that, Wolf. That we see these reports come out that suggest, you know, Jared and Ivanka had a moderating influence on this or that. But, practically speaking, I have not seen any evidence of that.

Their portfolios are massive. They are sort of a master of none at this point. So, I think a lot of people on the outside are waiting to see what are Jared and Ivanka going to do to moderate this administration. But, frankly, the president has surrounded himself for the most part with people who are partisans, who are loyal Republicans, conservatives. People like Mike Pence, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, who are taking this administration in that direction. Jared and Ivanka have suggested they want to take it in another direction completely and we haven't really seen that.

BLITZER: And there's so many critically important issues unfolding right now.

Phil Mudd, I want to make the turn to Syria. We've all seen by now these horrific pictures of these people gas, sarin gas, we think was used by the Assad regime, including all these little kids who were killed. This administration has to come up with a new policy to deal with that.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ADVISER: They do. And what we saw today is not that helpful where we have the spokesman suggesting that somehow President Obama is responsible for this.

In one respect, Sean Spicer is correct. As you know, back years ago, five years ago, President Obama set a red line. He said if he uses chemical weapons, we should respond. This is not just President Obama. This is the authority of the White House and the United States.

President Assad used chemical weapons going back to 2013 and we didn't respond. I think this is one of the biggest shortcomings, maybe the biggest foreign policy shortcoming of the eight years of the Obama administration.

However, in less than three months in office, we have immigration reform. That's the responsibility, I guess of a federal judge who overturned it. We have health care reform.

[18:50:02] Well, that's the Freedom Caucus. It's not our problem. We have Russia, well, that's the media, that's not our problem. And

now, we have Syria. Well, that's not us. That's the previous administration.

I'm down here in Miami visiting my 85-year-old dad. He's a monster pain in the ass, but he gave me great advice years ago. Great advice. Stop whining and get on with your life. Do something.

When you have responsibility for these issues, at some point, you have to get out of rearview mirror and say, I'm responsible for setting security policy for America, going forward. Stop blaming people and figure out how to move forward, to quote my dad.

BLITZER: I quickly want to get -- I love your dad, by the way.

I quickly want to get David Axelrod. You're in the White House when that red line was drawn by the president. The Syrians used poison gas, chemical weapons. The U.S. did not go to war, did not take them out.

Talk a little bit about that, because right now, the White House, Sean Spicer today is blaming the Obama administration, at least in part for the disaster these images we are now seeing. AXELROD: Just one quick correction, I wasn't in the White House at that time that that happened. But I will say this, the president made the decision he made and the decision was to make a deal to get the chemical weapons out of Syria, and by most accounts that happened. Russia was the guarantor of that deal. Now, we see the chemical weapons resurfacing and Russia, of course, Syria being a client state of Russia, Assad being tied to Russia.

So, that is an ongoing concern. Russia is a very big player in the middle of this.

Let me say one other thing. I'm wondering if Phil's dad is available to be White House chief of staff. It sounds like he may be a great addition to the team.

BLITZER: Yes.

MUDD: No.

BLITZER: Not leaving Miami. Loves Miami.

MUDD: No.

BLITZER: As he should.

Gloria, your thoughts?

BORGER: Well, look, I think that now, you have Donald Trump who tweeted in 2013, "What I am saying is stay out of Syria," so he's blaming the former administration when he tweeted that at the time. Now, the new policy seems to be hands-off with regard to Assad. And let his future be decided by the Syrian people, which is what Rex Tillerson, secretary of state, has said.

But then, John McCain has stepped up and said and is calling this a disgraceful chapter in American history because he thinks more ought to be done and he is actually going to meet with Rex Tillerson over this very issue. So, there is disagreement in the Republican Party about what to do. It's a difficult, intractable issue but hands-off can sometimes be intercepted as looking the other way. And you can't do that.

BLITZER: Very quickly. Everybody, stand by. We're getting some more breaking news. We've got to take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:57:20] BLITZER: Ivanka Trump is opening up about her relationship and conversations with her father, the president of the United States.

Listen to this exchange she just had with Gayle King of CBS.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A, that you are your father's daughter, and we all get that. You also talk about the critics and you have a couple that say, why isn't Ivanka speaking out? Where is she on Planned Parenthood? Where is she on the rights of women? Where is she on climate change? And it's like you're being held personally accountable for not speaking up? What do you say to your critics?

I. TRUMP: I would say not to conflate lack of public denouncement with silence. I think there are multiple ways to have your voice heard. In some case, it's through protests and it's through going on the nightly news and talking about or denouncing every issue in which you disagree with. Other times, it is quietly and directly and candidly.

So where I disagree with my father, he knows it. And I express myself with total candor. Where I agree, I fully lean in and support the agenda and hope that I can be an asset to him and make a positive impact. But I respect that he always listens. It's how he was in business. It's how he is as president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Rebecca Berg, what did you think of that answer?

BERG: Well, it sounds to me, Wolf, like she's trying to have it both ways, to appease these critics and say, you know, I'm standing up to my father, I'm standing up to his administration, its direction. But at the same time saying, you know, I'm a part of this. And it's difficult to see in that answer whether she really supports the direction that this administration has been going or whether she doesn't. It's -- it really doesn't say a lot to me at all.

BLITZER: Very quickly, David, what do you think?

AXELROD: I'm not sure. She's in a very difficult position. I don't know what presidential aide is called upon to say where they agree with their principal. I mean, or frankly a family member.

BERG: Why is that a difficult position though? Usually, if you're an aide you would say I support this, I agree with the direction.

BORGER: She didn't.

AXELROD: Or you'd say I'm here to serve him and I will give him my advice.

But the point is I think the bigger problem is one I mentioned before, Wolf, which is so much responsibility is falling now on her and on Jared to handle major issues, China relationships, the Middle East, the reorganization of the American government, and it just seems very, very risky and in the end of the day, I don't think the president's doing them a favor by loading them up that way.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to continue to listen to this and a lot more.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.