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Intel Chair Defends Cmte Handling Russia Probe; Dem Rep Demands Details from FBI; House Intel Members Split On Special Prosecutor; Trump Defends Embattled Attorney General. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 03, 2017 - 12:30   ET



[12:30:00] REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: We have a bipartisan agreement. And as I've always said, this is a long, ongoing investigation and concern that we've had into Russia.


JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: Now that House Intel Committee yesterday received an update from the FBI Director James Comey. The committee staff Democrat emerged not happy.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: In order for us to do our investigation in a thorough and credible way, we're going to need the FBI to fully cooperate, to be willing to tell us the length and breadth of any counterintelligence investigations they are conducting. At this point, the director was not willing to do that.

The director spent about 3 to 3.5 hours with us and on the areas he was willing to discuss, we had a very in depth set of questions and answers, but there were very large areas that were walled off and those walls are going to have to come down if we're going to do our job.


KING: What's the source of the disagreement here between those walls as Congressman Schiff calls them? The committee thinks they're entitled to them, clearly the FBI director thinks it's not or this not yet.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We are pushing them yesterday about what exactly are they not telling you and they would not say. Now, Devin Nunes came out first in that press conference yesterday and said he still has not seen any evidence yet connections between the Trump campaign and Russian officials during the time of the presidential election, noon.

And then I asked Schiff the same question. He said he's not willing to go there. So the question is perhaps is there any intelligence in that regard that they're not sharing with the committee. With that -- we don't know that yet but reading between the tea leaves that suggests that. The question is the independent prosecutor, that's something that Schiff called for yesterday.

And then I -- then Devin Nunes was standing right there you. So well do you agree? With Devin Nunes and then he shook his head and said no. So that's source of the disagreement and probably why there's not going to be a special prosecutor any time soon.

MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: I think there are a couple things going on. One is that the FBI is conducting investigations and -- for potential criminal activity. So, they're reluctant to go and talk to Congress about this because they're in the middle of investigations. At least to talk about to Congress as fully as Congress might want.

The second is the political question, which is -- what Jeff Sessions did yesterday was it enough to stop a special prosecutor and independent investigation? The answer is that was certainly the effort. And it's enough until it's not enough anymore. If you are Devin Nunes, if you are Richard Burr, if you are Bob Corker, if you are any of these chairs in the House and Senate you want to weigh your desire to have purview over this and your desire to keep this from being a runaway political train by Democrats against your own reputation. And this fundamental question of do you know what you think you know?

When you were out there defending the administration saying there's no "there" there, do you know that? And I think that is the nexus where things like Jeff Sessions' statements in that hearing become politically problematic. Because even if his nondisclosure of that was really inadvertent, if you're one of those committee chair and you're looking at that, you're saying do I know everything that I know (ph)?

KING: Well, there's no question. There's anxiety in the Republican side now because they think how did this happen? Why did this happen? Are they withholdings -- was it a mistake? And if it was a mistake, why didn't you clean it up fast instead of waiting for it to leak out?

There's no questions Republicans had anxiety. But in the public record right now -- and Adam Schiff says is because they haven't received a full briefing, so they haven't received any evidence. So his answer when chairman knew that says there is no evidence.

They're in the public record right now or even the leaks right now. There is nothing that suggests anything nefarious, just a bunch of meetings that people are curious about.

HEMINGWAY: Well, and to point out. The Eric holder was held in contempt of Congress for lying about a gun running scheme that led to the murders to there murders in various individuals. There was no special prosecutor pointed there. The bar for that is high.

But it is interesting that this is the push that Democrats are making. And it was interesting to read a USA today story recently about how Jeff Session had been change in the Department of Justice in the outgoing days of the Obama administration.

And I wonder if these things aren't related but they knew that Sessions being a very law and order type guy would recuse himself because he was involved in the campaign, they would call for the special prosecutor and then right in line they would get the holder holdover who was --

KING: The guy there now, it was Sally Yates who's the originally, and then they removed here because she win of course travel ban. They brought in this prosecutor from Virginia.

HEMINGWAY: And that was the day that they realized what had happened and on the outgoing days of the Obama administration. So something is going on there that is very interesting and more pursuing I think.

KING: And so Democrats in this environment -- I think the attorney general's decision took the steam out of any calls for special prosecutor. Now even Republicans who had said maybe, so let's see if we get to a point where there's something credible before us to do that.

The Democrats want to continue to say you can't trust these people. Here is Nancy Pelosi.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADERS: What do the Russians have on Donald Trump that he would do that and I don't know who knew what in all of this but it's important for us to find out.

We must have that investigation. The very idea that the top cop would go to his colleagues in the Senate and withhold the truth. This is not an unsophisticated person.

[12:35:02] This is a prosecutor himself. He knows what's there. And it's just a reflection of the weak moral authority of this administration if they support what he is doing.


KING: Now, clearly and the Democratic base is very active. That she reflects the Democratic base a lot. She is saying, you know, Sessions did this for nefarious reasons. He didn't make a mistake. Now Sessions says he will now correct his testimony to committee, which you can do in writing.

Democrats say we wanted to call him back as a witness, because they see blood in the water and they want have a political hearing where he get in say on camera these things. Where are we going here?

JACKIE KUCINICH, THE DAILY BEST: So, the other thing that happened yesterday before Sessions recused himself is that Democrats like Senator Schumer who said he should resign. So there is -- and the question is that they're asking are important. Some of the things that Nancy Pelosi said, there are questions that need to be answered. That said, they do run the risk of overplaying this and turning something that is important to get to the bottom of in terms of the hacking into the campaign, the Russian involvement into something just to bludgeon Republicans with politically.

And that -- there is a balance there and that's what you're seeing a little bit with the Intelligence Committee. You're seeing it -- and you're seeing it kind of woven throughout Congress where you have some senators saying, OK, let's take a step back and not make this partisan then you have others, a lot of Democrats making this extremely partisan from the get go without knowing all the facts.

HEMINGWAY: There's another danger there, too, which is that there have been laws that have been broken in this and it's leaking classified information. I mean, the second story about Sessions involves the second instance of FISA information being releases supposed to be help so closely and so carefully. The more you get calls for investigation, the more you might wrap up former Obama administration before others and maybe nobody wants that.

RAJU: And the leaks are part of the House Intelligence Committee investigation. We do know that. Also the Russian contacts allegedly that occurred, also part of that. The next step is going to be Sessions clarifying this testimony in a letter to the committee that could come as early as today. And when he testifies, he will eventually testify with oversight rules and then he'll be asked by Democrats and how does he respond to it there.

So, Democrats will do everything they can to keep the story alive.

KING: The saga continues. Those are not the droids you're looking for.

Next, the Trump White House says the judges are wrong and putting you at risk by blocking the President's travel ban. Why then is take two taking so long?


[12:41:50] KING: Welcome back. This is day 43 of the Trump presidency, and it's been 29 days now since the federal judge blocked the implementation of the Trump travel ban. And 23 days since the three-judge appeals court panel denied the White House request to throw out that lower court ruling.

In attacking those rulings, the President and his team have warned the judges on putting you at risk.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They wanted to take a lot of our powers away. Some people with a lot of the wrong intentions, and it's -- we've got a lot of bad people out there.

I think our security is at risk today, and it will be at risk until such time as we are entitled and get what we are entitled to. We need security in our country.


KING: And yet, still no take two from the White House. We thought this would come the other day. It was delayed. Some people of the White House were saying they delayed it because they wanted to enjoy the after glow of the President's speech which was very well received to the Congress.

Is that it? It does undermine -- you can't go out and say this is urgent, the judges are putting you at risk and then wait, wait, wait.


KING: Yes. But they know it's going to get challenge in the courts again. There are legitimate reasons, you know, right this time. If they got it wrong the first time or the rollout was sloppy, why? Why are we waiting?

TALEV: We do know that in the interim, one of the things that happened was a meeting with the national security adviser and some of the other top officials, and this decision by -- push by both McMaster and Mattis with the Pentagon to pull Iraqis out from that group of the seven countries.

And the debate that ensued prior to that decision involved questions like, number one, don't the Iraqis have a special role with the United States? Because we're fighting alongside of them. Number two, a discussion and conclusion that Iraqis had, in fact, imposed better vetting measures than they've been given credit for.

So some of what slowed this down, independent of trying to enjoy the afterglow of the speech. It is legitimate tweaks and turns. But at this point, as of today, as of Friday, we're waiting to find out whether it's today, whether it's next week, after a long weekend in Mar-a-Lago.

RAJU: Yes. I think we expected it. The area -- and so just signaling that it could come out last week. So this is obviously consuming a lot of debate internally with the administration and also on Capitol Hill. And they have to be also very careful especially in light of reports of an internal assessment suggesting that perhaps the travel ban would not go as far as the administration says in terms of protecting the country against terrorists.

So, the question is how do they alleviate the concerns that a lot of people in their own party have over the travel ban, make sure it passes legal muster and deal with those internal concerns from their own report. That's a very difficult a line to thread. So we'll see exactly what they ultimately decide to come up with. And maybe that's one reason why this is being put off.

KING: A cringe moment for the vice president of the United States. I want to get to -- this is not apples and apples. I'm not trying to equate what Mike Pence did as Indiana governor, to what Hillary Clinton did as secretary of state. But he had a private e-mail account, an AOL account as a governor of Indiana, and the Indianapolis Star reported yesterday that in that account, he occasionally swaps aminos (ph) to talk about federal investigations, crimes and terrorism and also security at the governor's mansion.

[12:45:06] The same Mike Pence who pressed a pretty hard case against Secretary Clinton during the campaign.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's just more evidence that Hillary Clinton is the most dishonest candidate for president of the United States since Richard Nixon.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: That's a tough charge.

PENCE: It is a tough charge, Chuck, but come on.

TODD: If she -- I'll just ask you this, though, if she were as dishonest as you claim, then why isn't FBI prosecuting?

PENCE: Hillary Clinton -- what's evident from the notes, what's evident from all of the revelations over the last several weeks is that Hillary Clinton operated in such a way to keep her e-mails and particularly her interactions while Secretary of State with the Clinton Foundation out of the public reach.


KING: Well, hard to hear some of that because it's out at the state fair, but he's saying Hillary Clinton was hiding these since from public reach or accountable so it goes. Again, these are not apples and apples, not even close. However, but when you make the case for so long, is it that he had a private e-mail account or that he's still on AOL?


HEMINGWAY: Other than he was on AOL and other from that he was hacked. I don't think this is not an interesting story at all. There was no law breaking which was the issue with Hillary Clinton. There was no discussion of classified material and much less top secret material like we had at the Hillary Clinton story. And there was no private server set up.

KING: Yes. There's a question of during his tenure, can you get through public records request documents as fast enough, but to the governor's credit, one of the reason we know about this is when he was leading office. He told his staff, go through my personal e-mail, make sure anything that belongs to the archives just pulled out and put in the state archive. So it's just a cringe, just to laugh or --

TALEV: It shows you how ubiquitous this is --


TALEVE: -- to some extent what Hillary Clinton did and --

HEMINGWAY: No, setting up a private e-mail server is not actually that -- KING: The server is different.

TALEV: It is different.

KING: Yes. The private server was a huge difference especially when it's in your basement -- on the State Department.

All right. Our reporters shift in their notebooks next. I didn't want to go back there. Including some buzz on whether key player in the debates over Obamacare tax reform, is ready to call it quits.


[12:51:26] KING: All right. Let's close as we always do. Head around the Inside Politics table and ask our great reporters to share a little bit from their notebooks and get you out ahead of big political news just around the corner. Margaret?

TALEV: Big news today that I'm going to be watching for the next couple of weeks. Angela Merkel of Germany coming to the White House on March 14th to meet with President Trump for the first time. And this is important for so many reasons. He's met with many foreign leaders but this is by far the most consequential meeting in person so far.

Personal, she's been watching, we know this, for months now videos of old interviews with Trump to see how he operates and what makes him tick. She is doing her homework. But look, everything from have to do with Syrian refugees, Russia sanctions, Iran, like the whole BAWAX economy, the transatlantic relationship, this is all on the table. And how these two really important world leaders interact is going to be keep (ph).

KING: Can't wait for that one. It was very important. Manu?

RAJU: John, Orrin Hatch, the senator from -- who served in the body since 1977, the President pro-Dem who is 82 years old, is torn about whether or not to run for reelection in 2018. I talked to him about this. He says that he is getting a lot of encouragement to run. Now this comes after in 2012 when he said that this would be his last term. He would be absolutely done. He's not going to run again. But he is, as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, central to the push to repeal and replace Obamacare, overhaul the tax code. And if he gets reelected, then he will, in a second two years, will play a huge role, assuming that Dem and Republicans keep the majority for Donald Trump's agenda on health care and tax reform.

And I'm hearing also he's getting a lot of encouragement to run again from Republicans in the leadership, Republicans in the White House. So let's see what he decides to do.

KING: A known entity. They wanted to keep him there. We'll see. Mollie?

HEMINGWAY: So Mattis is pushing hard for Anne Patterson, who is Obama's ambassador to Egypt to be the undersecretary of defense for policy. The White House is pushing back. And they already know that. They speak to this larger tension that I'm looking into between what happened since Mattis has come in sort of a boxing in of Trump on some of what he called for this creative ways of thinking.

The situation with Patterson is interesting because she herself -- she was architect of an Egyptian policy that was unsatisfactory to a lot of people. She herself has views that are deeply in conflict with what Mattis himself has said. So I'm looking at that tension.

KING: That's interesting to watch. We're still on the -- back to that point and then about filling jobs. Jackie?

KUCINICH: So lost in the craziness this week was that the Oversight and Government Reform Committee received a letter back from the White House regarding Kellyanne Conway and the little infomercial she did for Ivanka Trump's clothes. And she's not going to be punished. They said it was lighthearted. She didn't mean to violate the standards of conduct and it was unlikely that she'll do it again.

But I spoke to the Ranking Member Elijah Cummings after this letter came back. And he is concerned about the precedent this sets. What this means for the other agencies because this kind of instructions come from the top. And what does this mean going forward?

KING: We'll keep an eye on that. I want to give kudos to Chelsea Clinton for saying Kellyanne Conway demands an apology. Insert (ph) Democratic Congress on another issue. I'll leave it there. You can look it up on the internet, reprehensible what was said. I'll close with this.

Two more Trump cabinet members are on the job, Ben Carson at Housing and Urban Development and Rick Perry at energy. So, progress at the top, but below that, the government remains a bit of a ghost town.

Still no candidates for hundreds of jobs important to the day-to-day management of the government. Members of Congress and people work for interest groups in town describe an often eerie experience when they call or visit agencies looking for guidance. Sometimes they're told to check back, that the new Trump team isn't quit ready to decide things yet or that there's nobody in place to make that decisions.

In many cases, though, decisions are being made by Obama administration holdovers or by career civil service.

[12:55:04] The President tweeted this morning it was "pathetic." The Democrats hadn't approved his entire cabinet and yes Democrats are slow walking. Some of his choices up on Capitol Hill. No question about that. But pathetic is also a good word to describe the pace of filling open administration jobs, and it isn't the Democrats who have that responsibility.

Thanks for watching "Inside Politics." See you back here Monday at noon. Hope to see you Sunday morning at 8:00 a.m. A quick break, and Wolf Blitzer is in the chair.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 9:00 p.m. in Moscow.