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CNN NEWSROOM

Nunes Temporarily Steps Aside from Russia Probe. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired April 6, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA (via telephone): -- the Republicans would like to put to rest. And going home to their constituents and still having this cloud hanging over the committee in terms of its legitimacy in doing an investigation where the chair is in contact with the White House, when the White House is part of the investigation surely was causing consternation.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: But Congresswoman, do you think that this -- you know, completely solves, his recusing himself from this investigation, completely solves the issue of it being politicized. I mean, you do have the ranking Democrat, your fellow Democrat on the committee, Adam Schiff, who has been part of this drip, drip, drip of information, who has come to the microphone many times and said there is you know, more than his words, more than circumstantial evidence against the president here. Has he not also been part of what has become a politicized investigation that is supposed to be an independent investigation of this administration?

SPEIER: Well, I think it would serve as - first of all, I think the ranking member has been very prudent in not disclosing confidential and secret information and classified secret -- information. That is not the case, I would say, from the White House or from the chair. So, moving forward, it would probably behoove all of us to take a page from the Senate book and you know, retreat -

HARLOW: All right. Hold on, Congresswoman, one second. I'm sorry to make you wait again. Paul Ryan is taking questions. Let's listen in.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Yes, I actually think that divide is narrowing quite quickly. What this idea represents is a goal that everyone from the Freedom Caucus, to every other group that's - our representatives here is seeking how do we lower premiums. How do we lower premiums and continue the protections for people with pre- existing conditions. This idea does that.

And so, this is one of those ideas that narrows differences and brings people closer to consensus. There are some other ideas that we are still working on and talking about trying to build consensus on to continue to do just that, lower premiums even further. Give states more flexibility so they can address unique needs of their insurance markets while still protecting, making sure we keep those protection for people with pre-existing conditions.

So, this is one of those ideas that get us closer together, closer to consensus. There are more ideas that we're working on. And that's why we're going to keep working in the days and weeks ahead to go and find that consensus in trying to this bill done.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

RYAN: Still on it.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

RYAN: Jonathan, I will never stop believing in Gantt charts.

(LAUGHTER)

RYAN: I have always - a believer in Gantt charts. I'm a big believer in project management.

We have in our timeline lots of flexibility built into it. You know why, because we had to work with the United States Senate. The Senate moves a little more slowly on any given weekday or month or year than the House does.

So, we have plenty of cushions built into our plans and we are well within that spectrum of timeline that we envisioned on dealing with the Obamacare legislation.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

RYAN: All those things are still in the same timeline that we've already had been on.

QUESTION (OFF-MIKE): Mr. Speaker, Devin Nunes (INAUDIBLE) into the Russia ties and metaling in the election. Do you still have faith that he didn't do anything wrong, did he mishandle classified information?

RYAN: No, I don't believe so. Let me -- I just put a statement up probably while you were sitting here. So let me just tell you what my statement is.

First of all, Devin Nunes has earned my trust over many years for his integrity and his dedication to the critical work that the Intelligence Community does to keep Americans safe. He continues to have that trust. And I know he is eager to demonstrate to the Ethics Committee that he has followed all proper guidelines and laws.

In the meantime, it is clear this process would be a distraction to the House Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian interference in our election. So, Chairman Nunes has offered to step aside as the lead Republican on this particular probe and I fully support his decision.

Representative Mike Conaway, a senior member of the committee will now lead this investigation with respect to House Republicans on the Intelligence Committee. I'm confident that he will oversee a professional investigation into Russia's actions and follow the facts wherever they may lead.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE)?

RYAN: I don't think that's the case. But I think Chairman Nunes wants to make sure that this is not a distraction to a very important investigation. So, he wants to go clear himself while this investigation continues on without any kinds of distractions.

QUESTION: Just to be clear on that. Given the fact that you say he has your support, you reiterated several times your trust in him, but the fact that this has been a distraction, does he still have or do you still have confidence in him to lead the committee overall.

[10:05:09] RYAN: I do. I do.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) can you commit to --

RYAN: I'm not going get in details of the conversations going on. But we believe that there are additional reforms and ideas that can do both things. Protect people with pre-existing conditions and continue to lower premiums and give states flexibility, so that more insurers can come into the marketplace. One of the concerns we have is that insurers are leaving left and right and people are down to like one choice and in some cases, no choices. That's not good. Having a monopoly isn't a choice. It's a monopoly.

And so, what we're trying to do is find the kinds of provisions that bring more insurers into the marketplace, so that people have more choices. And with more choices, you have more competition. And with more competition, you have lower prices.

And we are all dedicating to making sure that people with pre-existing conditions still get the kind of coverage that they need and that it's affordable coverage. And we want to find a way to do that in such a way that everyone else who's in the insurance market can also get lower premiums, affordable choices -- and more competition.

So, that's what this is all about. I'm not going to go into details of particulars, but those are the kinds of debates we're having. And that's why this is a step in the right direction. It's closer towards the final goal and agreement and we're going to keep talking and working until we get it right.

Thank you.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Did you urge Nunes to step aside, sir? Did you urge him to?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We saw there as Manu Raju trying to fire a question. The House Speaker --

HARLOW: And really an important question. Did you ask - did you force Devin Nunes to step aside because he would have that power.

BERMAN: Exactly. And you will note that the Speaker did not respond to that. OK. What you just heard was a news conference in the House leadership. This follows the breaking news which came out of nowhere that the House intelligence there Devin Nunes has stepped aside from the investigation into any ties between Trump associates and Russia.

The chair of that committee, the person who will now lead that investigation is Congressman Mike Conaway from Texas. Paul Ryan, the House Speaker, just said there that he still has faith in Devin Nunes. He still supports Devin Nunes. But at the same time, the chairman, Devin Nunes thought it was a distraction.

HARLOW: This is a really big deal just to reset for you if you're just joining us. This is a man who was defiant in the face of critics, some from his own party about his actions going to the White House, bringing this intelligence. This is someone who time and time again refused to recuse himself, insisting he could lead an independent investigation on the House side.

Now, Manu Raju is with us who has been following him every step of the way, literally and figuratively. Manu, he would not answer your question about whether this was because of Paul Ryan. He is blaming these -- what he calls left wing activist groups for ethics violation complaints they brought to the Office of Congressional Ethics. Is this the first - did John and I have heard of this, what is he talking about.

RAJU: Well, those complaints were levelled in the aftermath of how he briefed the president on the surveillance information. The allegations that he may have mishandled classified information. But really, -- that appears to be covered in a lot of ways, because members of Congress are hit with ethics complaints all the time. And a lot of these ethics complaints are dismissed out of hand because groups can file these from the outside. And there's a process that takes a lot of time for these ethics complaints to be processed.

Now, the real reason is what you heard Speaker Ryan say later in his statement that this had become a distraction. And this had become a distraction for the committee. This had been distraction for this investigation. And a lot of criticism about whether or not the House could actually produce a credible investigation.

Now notably, Paul Ryan did meet with the Intelligence Committee, the full committee earlier this week. With the Republicans on the full committee earlier this week and he said afterwards that he believes this process is going to be getting back on track. The question is to what extent did the speaker pushed Devin Nunes aside.

He said that he has full confidence in Devin Nunes. He said that he believes Devin Nunes didn't do anything improper. But I tried to ask him at the end. Did you try to urge him to step aside? He heard my question, didn't want to answer at the end of the press conference. But that is a real concern that the speaker had, that the other Republicans had that Devin Nunes just could not lead this investigation credibility anymore.

And Nunes himself had just been facing withering criticism. He did not want to answer questions anymore, would not answer my questions yesterday or the day before. Just had given a lot of different explanations about his role in this controversy and clearly realized that he could no longer do this if this investigation were to move ahead.

[10:10:03] BERMAN: All right, Manu, standby. We're just getting word that the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, he is going to hold a news conference any second now. We're going to bring that to you live when it happens. We're trying to get the pictures often.

While we wait for that, want to bring in CNN's Dana Bash. And Dana, we were speaking to Congresswoman Jackie Speier just a few minutes ago. She told us there was an Intelligence Committee meeting this morning. Within the last hour or so, which was shared by you know, Chairman Nunes who said nothing to the entire committee about the fact that he was stepping aside which is a strange twist, strange, strange ending to this strange, strange Devin Nunes saga.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No questions and it's not an ending. And that is what makes this - you know, so troubling frankly to a lot of the Republicans, especially those on the committee, many of whom I talked to who have said over and over again, we, just like the Democrats want to do a credible and real bipartisan investigation into how Russia affected or at least tried to affect elections in this country.

And the fact that Devin Nunes had this meeting and didn't tell his members that he was going to make public, the fact that he is stepping aside, really kind of gives you a window into the leadership that he's had just in general on this probe. I mean, it was the same story when Devin Nunes went public with the fact that he said he had this intelligence that was very troubling and then went to the White House. He hadn't told his committee members yet.

One thing I want to add to what Manu was saying about the reason that he and now the speaker giving for stepping aside and that is the fact that there is now an ethics investigation into whether or not Devin Nunes acted properly and whether he even released classified information in that whole dramatic affair talking to the press, running to the White House and so forth. And what makes this even more "Alice and Wonderland" like, John and Poppy is now you're going to have an investigation into the guy who was investigating, OK? Follow me here.

And that's what the ethics probe is going to be. Whether or not the whole -- all of the moves that Devin Nunes made, not just to tell the president, but also to tell the House Speaker, whose office is right behind me, whether any of that was improper. So there are so many layers of kind of bizarre world up here with regard to this. It is almost hard to keep track of. And I think that certainly there is some political cover in him using this to step aside, because it was so untenable, but some of it is also real because he is now being investigated. -- This Ethics Committee, I believe has subpoena power.

HARLOW: Indeed and I think you put it better than anyone could Dana Bash as you often do, an investigation into the guy who was investigating. By the way, a very important investigation for the American people to get the answers. And let's bring in our panel. Dana, please stay with us. Also with us, CNN legal analyst, Paul Callan, we also have CNN political commentator, Matt Lewis, he's also senior columnist for "The Daily Beast," and of course, our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger joins us as well.

Gloria, I just have to get your take on all of this. What do you make of it? And the fact that Nunes didn't even tell his own committee.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I'm with Dana. It is "Alice and Wonderland" like. Nunes has been under fire -- not only is he being investigated by the Ethics Committee for potentially, acting improperly in collusion with the White House. But I think there are people on the Ethics Committee, both some Democrats and Republicans who are scratching their heads about how he behaved during this entire process with the whole cloak and dagger move going to the White House, saying his sources were not White House related. Then we discovered that, oh, yes, maybe they were White House related after the "New York Times" named them.

And I think that you know there is a real question here about when you are investigating the White House and people who worked in the transition who are no longer in the White House and potentially still in the White House, should you be dealing with the White House on that. And the answer of course is no. You should not. And so, he really ruined his own credibility with that move. And I think he ruined his own credibility with the public as well as internally on his own committee.

And you know, there was a war between Adam Schiff, who is the ranking Democrat and Devin Nunes. And when you have that kind of a war going on, on a committee that is supposed to be completely nonpartisan, something has to give. And I think it did.

BERMAN: And we should note, we are waiting to hear from Adam Schiff, the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee. Any minute we'll bring you that news conference as soon as it happens.

[10:15:05] Matt Lewis, you know more on the timing here because one of the things that Devin Nunes has always said what maybe got him into this, bizarre "Alice and Wonderland" world is his feeling that there were people in the Obama administration that were improperly perhaps or questionably unmasking officials associated with the Trump campaign. Well now, all of a sudden this week there's the reporting that you know Susan Rice may have unmasked the names of Trump associates. So that information comes out. That's now public after Chairman Nunes kept a secret for a long time. And after it's public, he then steps aside. It doesn't make a lot of sense.

MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND SENIOR COLUMNIST "THE DAILY BEAST": Yes, I don't know what -- you would almost said that in a sense, Nunes had, you know, gained a little bit of credibility after having really been embarrassed I think early on. You could argue that he had - sort of gotten his swagger back. So I don't understand the timing. The one thing that I do think is interesting and possibly important here is, remember how - you know, Mike Flynn who was taken down not because of the communication with Russia, but because he misled the Vice President Mike Pence. It appears that Nunes may have misled the Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. Remember, he didn't tell Paul Ryan that the information he received came from the White House. He said that it came from a whistleblower type person. So, he very well may have misled Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House, the one guy who could push him off as chairman of the Intel Committee.

HARLOW: And who didn't answer Manu's exact question which was that. Did you force it? You had the power, did you do it? He walked out of the room. He did not answer. He's going to have to answer that question at some point --

BERMAN: Or he'll have to keep walking out a lot of room.

HARLOW: Or he'll have to give the reporter the silent treatment like the president does sometimes when they ask questions that he doesn't like. Paul Callan to you, your thoughts on this, and you know, the fact that he's pinning this on the ethics complaints.

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think Nunes has been tripped up by these ethics complaints because there's an arcane rule in the House of Representatives that if a member of the Intelligence Committee leaks classified information, that triggers an automatic investigation by the House Ethics Committee. They must investigate. Now, what classified information would Nunes has possibly released. Well, the existence of a FISA warrant, that Foreign Intelligence Service Warrant, which he kind of referred to obscurely in many of his press conferences --

HARLOW: All right. Hold on.

CALLAN: That might arguably the classified information.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: -- respected the chairman's decision to step aside from the Russia investigation. I just want to express my appreciation for what the chairman decided to do. --

HARLOW: Our mic is down.

SCHIFF: I'm sure it was a very difficult decision for him, but as he mentioned I think it is in the best interest of the investigation. It will - I think allow us to have a fresh start, moving forward. I look forward to working, you know, with Mr. Conaway.

This investigation is of such critical importance that we need to get fully back on track. It is I think worth noting that the investigation never went into hiatus. We've been continuing to develop our witness list to work out some of the logistics in terms of how we bring people before the committee. What the process will be. We continue to go through the documents as I understand it. Now the materials that the chairman viewed at the White House that I subsequently viewed are now being made available to the full committee. I think that's a very positive step as well.

So, I do want to say, I look forward to continuing to work with the chairman on the whole range of other issues that our committee has to deal with. We have, I think, worked together very well on a range of other issues and obviously the Russia investigation is important. But there are a whole host of other issues the committee deals with on a daily basis, including of course, some of the preeminent threats to the country posed by al Qaeda, by ISIS, North Korea, Iran, the challenge posed by China among others.

So, a lot of continuing and important work to do, I look forward to working with the chairman on those issues. I look forward to working with Mr. Conaway and the other committee members as well as the investigation going forward. And I have a great admiration and respect for Mr. Conaway and look forward to our continued work on that together. And I thank you.

BERMAN: All right. The ranking member in the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff there making a statement saying he's looking forward to the continued investigation into alleged contact between Trump associates and Russia. With the Republican who will take over that job, Mike Conaway. -- He also said he'll continue to work with Chairman Devin Nunes on other matters.

Of course, the big news today, the House Intelligence here, Devin Nunes has stepped aside from the investigation into Russia and he says it's because of these ethics complaints and accusations that have been filed on him.

[10:20:05] And we just got a statement from the House Ethics Committee, which I think illustrates some of what's going on here. -- Let me read you part of it. This is from the House Ethics Committee.

"The committee is aware of public allegations that Representative Devin Nunes may have made unauthorized disclosures of classified information, in violation of House Rules, law, regulations, or other standards of conduct. The Committee, pursuant to Committee Rule 18(a), is investigating and gathering more information regarding these allegations."

There is a House Ethics Committee investigation now as we're learning from this statement.

HARLOW: Into the man --

BERMAN: Into the man investigating ties between Trump associates and Russia. And again, Paul Callan, you were just finishing up. I'll let you finish your thought here. An ethics investigation does present problems for a House committee chair.

CALLAN: It presents serious problems. I mean, it turns everything into a circus like procedure. He's going to be investigated while he's investigating on behalf of the House Intelligence Committee. And here, you know what classified information would they be saying that he disclosed. The clearest thing I think that they're focusing on right away is he made reference to FISA surveillance. All right, remember, about the masking and unmasking in certain surveillance of Trump campaign members. It is classified -- the existence of a FISA warrant is classified information. So, did he in fact, reveal the existence of a classified FISA warrant inadvertently in his press conferences? --

HARLOW: He didn't specifically say who the warrant was for.

CALLAN: Well, when you start to describe what is in the surveilled information, Trump associates, Trump campaign members, you're starting to reveal the identity of the warrant. Now, he hasn't done that exactly which doesn't make this a slam dunk case against him, but it's enough of a case I think that he has to be removed as chairman for the purpose of this investigation.

BERMAN: Was he removed? Did he step aside willingly? Dana Bash, any sense, do you think Chairman Nunes would have stepped aside just because he was sick of Manu Raju's questions and didn't want to be a distraction. Or do you think that there is some Paul Ryan pressure here.

BASH: Well, if you put it that way that is possible, because there's nobody who has been closer to Devin Nunes, much to Nunes, as Manu Raju, pretty remarkable. But let's just take a step back. I think talking about Manu, what he said earlier, - repeating and sort of underscoring and that is, that yes, of course, this is an investigation, that is, as I said before, it's really like you know, kind of unbelievable and it will be difficult for him to do his job.

But let's just get real. If this wasn't such a public mess, such a frankly public embarrassment for Nunes and for the Republican leadership, he would still be leading this probe. I mean, that's just the bottom line. If he didn't become as controversial as he has, then ethics investigation or not, he would still be doing it. And I think that's just the reality, despite the fact that, you know, we have these comments from Nunes, from the House Speaker and now from the Ethics Committee.

HARLOW: Matt Lewis, when you look at where this goes from here. OK, now you have this Ethics Committee that's investigating what Paul is saying maybe the revelation of this. You know, making public as FISA warrant. Do you believe? I mean, it sounded like Congresswoman Jackie Speier, Democrat on the committee. It sounded like she thinks the committee can move forward now under Conaway. You heard Schiff say he has confidence in the guy who is now going chair it on the Russian investigation. Can the American people have confidence in this investigation in the midst of what Dana rightly described as a - Paul, a circus?

LEWIS: I think so. Look, I mean, it's a step in the right direction. I think that those are cumulative thing. I mean, I think that Devin Nunes discredited himself and this investigation when he acted in really bizarre fashion. He doesn't -- he doesn't inform the ranking membership. He doesn't inform his own committee. He immediately goes over to the White House and briefs the president. Which you know, he doesn't work for President Trump. He represents a co-equal branch of government. And his loyalty should to the public, to his committee. The optics was horrible even if it was above board. It looked horrible. I think it undermined his credibility. If you are a Republican, if you were a conservative, if you support President Trump, you want the House to be able to conduct a fair investigation that is deemed to be credible.

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: You don't want independent counsel -

LEWIS: Right.

BERMAN: You don't want a special prosecutor.

LEWIS: I think Devin Nunes was the best argument for an independent counsel.

BERMAN: Gloria Borger, you know we're now 70 plus days in the complete Republican power in Washington. You know they control the White House Republicans, who they control, both Houses of Congress. Let's just focus on the Congressional part of it just for a reason right now.

[10:25:02] They couldn't get the health care bill passed. This Republican led investigation has now been blown up and the chair has been replaced. This has not gone smoothly on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue

BORGER: No, it hasn't. And I mean, the wind they are about to have by changing the rules of the Senate on the other side -- is Supreme Court now. Naming Neil Gorsuch and I think that the White House is going to tout that, because this is a long lasting victory for them. All though I might add they have to change the rules of the Senate to get that done and that is something that even lots of Republicans are worried about in the long-term.

But on the House side it's just been a total mess. It's been chaos. They're making a last-ditch attempt to try and get something out of the rules committee on health care, which is really more for show than anything else and I think what you have -- on this ethics investigation of Devin Nunes is just an example on how the House Intelligence Committee has not been able to even get their investigation off the ground here into something that's quite important. And I think you know what you have and I want to echo Matt's point from earlier.

The question that I have here is really whether Devin Nunes even leveled with his own very good friend Paul Ryan, Paul Ryan was out there talking about this leaker to Devin Nunes as being a whistleblower. And if in fact, it turns out that these were people who work for Donald Trump in the White House, that doesn't sound like a whistleblower to me.

And I think in the end, -- that argument was kind of unsustainable. From Paul Ryan's point of view because he was out there talking about it and from Devin Nunes' point of view. Just like General Flynn's argument about talking to the Russians, well I didn't discuss sanctions and oops, by the way, I misled the vice president on that, was unstainable. So you know, you have this situation where people inside the administration and the Republican Party are not leveling with each other about what's going on. And that's a real problem.

HARLOW: And let's remember guys, I mean now after Attorney General Jeff Sessions had to recuse himself because of Russia, now you have Chairman Nunes having to recuse himself because of something he says it's because of this ethics investigation. Others would beg to differ. -

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: Mike Flynn quit - or was fired because of Russia --

HARLOW: Mike Flynn quit. This is the third causality of someone close to the administration because of Russia. And yes, Nunes -- was running an independent investigation, but he was close to the administration. He was part of the transition. So, for that period of time, Matt, I mean, this is three strikes for this administration all having to do in some way with Russia.

LEWIS: It is. It's interesting how and we're not even 100 days in. And Mike Flynn obviously being the one who I think was really taking down by it, but look, I will say this. I think that this is - you know, we can talk about the chaos. We can talk about the mess. This is a great sign for democracy actually.

I think the fact that we hold powerful people accountable and that when ethical questions arise, even the Republican Party, I believe is pushing out somebody in order to have a true bipartisan and ethical investigation. I think it's actually a positive side. I don't see it as just the negative, like all chaos. This is good. It would be a bad sign if we didn't. --

HARLOW: Do you think this is how it's supposed to work?

LEWIS: This is exactly how this is some odd to operate.

BERMAN: It is a strange episode of -

(CROSSTALK)

LEWIS: Making (INAUDIBLE)

BERMAN: Right. I mean, there's no "Schoolhouse Rock" episode about the chairman of the Intelligence Committee who goes to the White House to get information, doesn't tell his committee, goes back to the White House and resigns from an investigation without telling his committee.

HARLOW: You can't make this stuff up.

BERMAN: You can't make this stuff up, Matt.

LEWIS: No, it's bizarre. And I think the weird thing is that Devin Nunes, you would think that somebody who can get elected to the United States Congress, somebody who manages to become chairman of the Intel Committee would know better than to do what he did. What he did was really amateur. Not smart and I also wonder if Mike Rogers had stayed in Congress, if he were chairing the Intel Committee. What things might have looked like?

BERMAN: We've asked him repeatedly. We had him in the show -- and he said he'd be doing much different. --

HARLOW: He said (CROSSTALK) to the microphone as much as they have -

BERMAN: Guys, what we're going to do is we'll take a quick break. Stick around. We have a lot more to discuss. Obviously, major breaking news, we're waiting as some new developments from this. Wonder if the White House is going to have anything to say about this. Stay with us.

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