ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR:
Earlier today, the top two members, the Senate Intelligence Committee, spoke to reporters in advance of their first public hearing tomorrow and to all things Russia. And while it’s obviously too soon to draw any conclusions about the shape of their investigation, the shape that’s going to take, it’s hard to miss the sharp contrast, between today’s rollout, for them, which was straightforward, sober, devoid of drama, seemingly bipartisan, and the rolling train wreck over on the House side.
Both the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are supposed to investigate Russian meddling in the last election, as well as possible collusion between political campaigns and Moscow. Instead, as you know, the House committee hearings are on hold and the chairman, former Trump transition team member, Devin Nunes, is facing growing allegations of collusion himself — collusion with the White House, seemingly aimed at giving the president cover on his unfounded claim that President Obama wiretapped him.
Now, tonight, we have new developments on that. You can call it new evidence, or another piece of the puzzle, but it’s really a tantalizing piece of information that was reported by CNN contributor Ryan Lizza who first wrote about it for “The New Yorker.”
And we want to go into some detail about it tonight off the top of the broadcast because it’s potentially important piece of information, that adds to the timeline of what Chairman Nunes did last week that brought the House Intelligence Commission to a halt. And it also adds to the suspicion that Mr. Nunes colluded in some way with the White House, helping make each domino in this story knock over the next.
So, here’s what Ryan Lizza wrote in “The New Yorker,” what a White House official told him about that hearing, when Director Comey, and the head of the NSA, Mike Rogers, testified last Monday. Quote, “Last Monday morning, shortly before the start of the hearing, a senior White House official told me” — this is Ryan Lizza speaking, “You’ll see the setting the predicate. That’s the thing to watch today.” He also said, and I quote, “Watch Nunes today.”
Again, that’s a senior White House official telegraphing a strategy that would become clear in the hearing, telegraphing a punch, if you will. Not only that, this official even described what kind of punch is coming, suggesting that Lizza read a report in “The Hill”, which was dated the 11th of March, nine full days before the hearing.
So, here’s the lead of that report from “The Hill”. It said, quote, “Intelligence agencies could have inadvertently collected and then searched Donald Trump’s phone calls under a controversial loophole in surveillance law, experts say, even if it did not involve a wiretapping order from a federal court.”
So, that’s really interesting when you consider it, because that’s a senior White House official, telling Ryan Lizza of “The New Yorker,” the morning of this hearing, to basically watch for talk about inadvertent collection of Donald Trump, not direct wiretapping, but inadvertent collection.
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Were the communications of officials or associates of any campaign subject to any kind of improper surveillance? The intelligence community has extremely strict procedures for handling information pertaining to any U.S. citizens who are subject even to incidental surveillance, and this committee wants to ensure all surveillance had followed all relevant laws, rules and regulations. Let me be clear: I’ve been saying this for several weeks. We know there was not a physical wiretap of Trump Tower. However, it’s still possible that other surveillance activities were used against President Trump and his associates.
COOPER: So, Jim, the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer again today pressed as to who exactly let Congressman Nunes onto the White House grounds. Did he finally have an answer, because for days now, he said he would be looking into it, I guess?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The short answer is no, Anderson. This is a daily ritual over at the White House press briefing where reporters ask White House officials, namely Sean Spicer, the press secretary, for any new information on the how the House Intelligence Chairman, Devin Nunes, made his way on to the grounds of the White House during that mysterious visit last week. And we’re just simply not getting any direct answers.
And as you just mentioned, Spicer earlier this week said that he would look into all this and try to provide some answers to reporters later on this week. That simply did not happen today. And I will tell you, Anderson, I did press Sean Spicer specifically on the question of whether he knew who the source of this information was that was involved with Devin Nunes and provided him with this bombshell information and Sean had one word answer to that was no, he did not know who this mysterious source is. And so, we’re going to continue to ask for those answers. It’s not altogether clear we’re going to get those answers. Keep in mind, earlier today, Sean Spicer, while he was sounding somewhat willing to get to the bottom of this earlier this week, he was criticizing reporters earlier at the briefing today, saying that reporters were simply fascinated with the process of all this.
COOPER: Well, I mean, it’s not difficult to find out who signed in the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. I mean, if the White House wanted to give out that information, you know — I mean, it’s on White House grounds. I’m sure there’s a book or a computer they just look at.
ACOSTA: Yes. That’s right. There is such a thing as the White House visitor logs. It does track the comings and goings of people who make their way on the grounds of the White House. I wipe my badge here every day. Presumably, the U.S. Secret Service has me coming into the White House at whatever time that was early today. Members of Congress, dignitaries, people who have announcements inside the White House, with various officials. They have to go through the Secret Service.
Now, we should point out the White House visitor logs, Anderson, while they are maintained by the Secret Service, it is the White House that keeps the keeps basically the keys to the castle here. They are the ones who can decide whether or not this information is going to be made public. As we’ve been saying all week, the Obama administration made that information public, made those visitor log public.
You wouldn’t be able to search in real-time. But you had a sense of going back and looking at the information later on. The Trump administration is not doing that at this point, Anderson.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT:
You know, the Senate Intelligence Committee, though, moving full steam ahead on this. Chairman Burr saying he has a seven-member staff already knee-deep in these documents. They’re working hand in hand with the intelligence community. And, of course, Senators Burr and Warner, they also say that they have 20 witnesses they want to interview. They’ve already set up interviews with five of them.
And that brings us to some of the major players that we might be hearing from down the road here. We know that former Trump campaign manager, Paul Manafort, he has agreed to talk to the committee. And Jared Kushner has offered the same. And, of course, those mounting questions that been coming over for the past week or so after the disclosure that he met with the chairman of that state-run Russian bank back in December, at the height of the transition. So, he will be talking with senators about that. The senators saying they are pleased that Jared Kushner has made that offer.
And there’s the issue of General Michael Flynn. It was talked about a little bit today at the press conference. However, I did talk to General Flynn’s lawyers. They tell me that they themselves — the lawyers have talked to the Senate Intelligence Committee. Michael Flynn has not spoken to the committee.
So, of course, all of the plans moving full steam ahead. But at the same time, Senators Warner and Burr, they say that they will be working hand in hand on really a bipartisan basis.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Chairman Nunes at this point has shown that he’s too close to the White House for us to have an independent, credible investigation that makes progress. That’s why, Anderson, I think it’s time for him to step away. Our country was attacked by Russia this last election and this investigation is bigger than any single person.
And so, for that reason, as well as going over to the White House the day after our open hearing, I’m very concerned that the public is losing their trust in our ability to conduct this investigation.
COOPER: Do you trust, Chairman Nunes, I mean, that he’s not colluding with the White House?
SWALWELL: Well, I like Chairman Nunes. And he and I have worked together and the committee has worked with him in the past in a bipartisan way and for him to keep the credibility he needs to lead our committee on other non-Russian issues, I think he should step aside. So, you know, I don’t know what’s going on here. I think that this White House, its behavior, is consistent with trying to cover-up something that happened.
And I’m talking about Michael Flynn lying to the vice president. I’m talking about Jeff Sessions misleading the Senate panel about his prior contacts with Russia. The president making a deceitful claim about wiretapping and now, having Chairman Nunes come to the White House grounds to receive classified information.
Anderson, it would be easier for someone on the White House grounds to take what Chairman Nunes saw to the president, than to bring the chairman from the House over there to receive it. So, it just isn’t adding up.
COOPER: You know, what is the status, though, of your investigation? Because, I mean, from the outside perspective, at least, it certainly seems like it’s at a standstill.
SWALWELL: It looked like the press conference that you saw today with Senators Burr and Warner. That’s what an investigative road looks like when you have Republicans and Democrats going down it together.
Unfortunately, last week, it was stalled when the chairman went over to the White House. We can get back to that moment. But I think the only way to have independence, dependability and progress is for a new leader on their side.
COOPER: But, I mean, right now, is it fair to say that there is an investigation that is ongoing? I mean, are people investigating from your committee? Or are things just stalled?
SWALWELL: It’s stalled. We are still receiving information and able to review documents. But, right now, as far as the public is concerned, there’s no public hearing. Our hearing yesterday, for no given reason, was canceled. There’s no future public hearing. And we still want to hear from Acting Attorney General Yates and former Directors Clapper and Brennan, because I think they could illuminate a lot about what Russian was doing and individuals who may have been communicating with them.
SWALWELL: And the fact that he canceled a hearing for no reason, the fact that he went over to the White House, two days, you know, on Tuesday and Wednesday, both days after the public hearing — to me, it just looks like there’s a conflict of interest. And whether he thinks there’s one or not, the perception of a conflict of interest undermines our duty to have a real investigation.
COOPER: I’m just wondering, personally, when you saw, you know, two ranking members on the Senate Intelligence Committee, giving the press conference today, do you watch that thinking, man, I wish I was on that committee? Or I mean, that’s the way it should be?
SWALWELL: I watched it with envy. And it looked familiar because we’ve seen Chairman Nunes and ranking member Schiff work together in the past. But there was a sense of betrayal last week when our chairman went over to the White House and didn’t share it with us.
And you know, Anderson, what’s so concerning was he said that he had this information long before the president’s wiretapping claim. And to me, that means there was deliberation and thought. And it was intentional that he went over there. That he had the opportunity to read us in. He chose not to.
And right now, it looks like he’s wearing a uniform that has the White House’s name on it, not the uniform of an independent committee.
COOPER: It’s interesting to use the word betrayal. That’s what it feels like for you, like a betrayal, for you, of the committee itself?
SWALWELL: This committee has worked so well in the past, and maybe part of that is because we work often in secret. Three floors below the Capitol. There’s no cameras, there’s no reporting of what we have to do, but we know that national security is on the line.
And right now, it feels like all of that work is in jeopardy because we have a chairman who seems more loyal to the White House right now than the investigation we’re charged with doing.
CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Well, we are so deep in a fishing expedition for red herrings here that we’ve forgotten what this is really about. As the congressman suggested a moment ago, there is a cover-up going on, the FBI knows and I say this as a reporter that a cover-up is going on, the intelligence community, both of the Obama presidency and the Trump presidency understands there is a cover-up going on.
People on Capitol Hill understand that there is a cover-up going on. Does that mean there is an active obstruction of justice, laws have been broken by this person, that one and another one? We don’t know yet. But all of these deflective actions by the White House, by a shell in the form of White House, in the form of Chairman Nunes, are about a betting cover-up and trying to keep the American people from understanding what the connections are, or might not be between Donald Trump and the Russians, between his campaign and the Russians, between his campaign and the Russians and between his associates and the Russians.
We are seeing impediments thrown out by the White House and by Republicans on Capitol Hill, almost every day now, particularly in the House, to keep the truth from being known wherever it goes. This is an extraordinary situation, and the important thing is that the leaders of the counterintelligence investigation by the FBI and the intelligence investigations by the other government agencies understand there’s a cover-up going on.
COOPER: Well, for the breaking news tonight. First daughter Ivanka Trump has taken an official job in the White House as an unpaid adviser to her father as a government employee shall be bound by federal ethics standard since Trump already has a office in the West Wing as you know, her husband Jared Kushner is also an unpaid adviser for President Trump and widely seen as one of the most powerful people in the President’s inner circle.
Jim Acosta joins me again. So what are the details, Jim of this official position?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson it shouldn’t surprise people at home that running the country, running the White House is becoming a family business for Donald Trump. The White House did confirm earlier today that President’s daughter Ivanka Trump will be serving as unpaid employee here with the title of assistant to the President. Ivanka Trump for her part released a statement saying she decided to take on this government role to avoid any questions about conflicts of interest because they were certainly being raised.
We can put that quote up on screen. It says, “I have heard the concerns some have with my advising the President in my personal capacity while voluntarily complying with all ethics rules and I will instead serve as an unpaid employee in the White House, subject to all the same rules as other federal employees. Throughout this process I have been working closely and in good faith with the White House Counsel and my personal counsel to address the unprecedented nature of my role.” Certainly is unprecedented.
Now, Anderson, this may raise questions and this has before of whether Ivanka Trump will be violating federal nepotism rules as her father of course as the President, her husband as you mentioned Jared Kushner is also a White House adviser. But the President’s lawyers Anderson, we’ve heard from the White House Counsel Office, we’ve heard from all sorts of lawyers working for Donald Trump they maintain that the law gives him broad discretion to name his own team of advisors. Anderson, if this question comes up again, that will be the answer we get, Anderson.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: An FBI official, as you may have heard, tell CNN that the FBI Director James Comey hasn’t received an official request from your committee to testify. Chairman Nunes — spokesman for Chairman Nunes says Director Comey would not come to testify before the committee without a formal request that has to be signed, not just by him, but also by you. Nunes says you refused to sign that invitation. Is that true?
SCHIFF: Well, it’s certainly true that chairman wanted me to agree to a hearing on Tuesday at 10:00, instead of the open hearing. And we were not willing to do that. In fact, we found about the cancellation of the open hearing in a very round about way when the agencies reached out to us and said, “What do you want us to come talk to you about on Tuesday?” And we had to say, “What hearing on Tuesday?”
BLITZER: Was there a stalemate now? He’s not going to let this open hearing take place with Clapper, Brennan and Yates, that was scheduled for Tuesday unless you sign a letter inviting Comey to come and testify behind closed doors before the House Intelligence Committee. Is that the stalemate right now?
[21:05:08] SCHIFF: Well, you know, that is one of the issues, just as far as the hearings are concerned. We proposed let’s do both. We’re more than happy to do both and we’re waiting to hear back on that.
BLITZER: Congressman, are you talking with Devin Nunes? How are you communicating? Are you meeting — because you used to have a very good relationship with him.
SCHIFF: We did. And, you know, this has been — I think very tough, very tough on all of us. This is someone I worked well with for many years. But I can’t overlook if the chairman of our committee is going to freelance in this way. We just — I have to be able to represent. We’re doing a credible investigation.
BLITZER: So you’re not even talking with each other?
SCHIFF: You know, we are scheduled to talk tomorrow. I’ve asked for a meeting with the chair.
BLITZER: Will you subpoena the White House visitor logs to try to determine with whom the chairman met at the White House to review those sensitive documents?
SCHIFF: I hope the chairman will decide that he will be forthcoming on what he saw, who he saw it with and whether they have any relationship to the White House. We do need to get to the bottom of it, otherwise, there’s going to be this permanent cloud hanging over our investigation.
CARL BERNSTEIN, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: . . . something staggering is going on here. We have had the most basic aspect of our democracy attacked by a foreign power in the view of all the U.S. intelligence agencies. We now have the majority party in the House of Representatives trying to obstruct a real and legitimate attempt to find out what occurred, to find out what the Trump family, the Trump campaign, the Trump business organizations, relationships with Russians are and what occurred. There’s an obstruction of attempts to find that out. There is a cover up going on as is known to every one of the intelligence agencies. I’m using the term cover up because that’s the word that people in the intelligence agencies, both in the Trump and the Obama administrations are calling what’s going on. It doesn’t mean there’s an obstruction of justice. It doesn’t mean somebody should go to jail for it. They need to know more. And what they know, these investigative agencies, including the FBI, including the CIA, including other intelligence agencies, they are having impediments thrown in their way day in and day out by Republican impediments thrown in their way day in and day out by the White House and by Republicans on Capitol Hill. Look, the Democrats — I’m not saying they’re angels in this thing about how go investigating this either. We need, in fact, a special prosecutor. We need a 9/11-type commission to get to the bottom of all of this. And we have coming in a new deputy attorney general who perhaps will appoint a special prosecutor, Mr. Rosenstein.
COOPER: You know, I want to ask you something that you just said, which is that — and I don’t want to misquote you, but this is the most important thing, one of the most important things you have worked on.
You know, earlier today, Senator Burr said that this is one of the biggest investigations the Hill has seen. And Senator Warner said it’s the most important thing he’s ever taken on in his public life. Where do you see this in terms of importance?
Senator KING: Well, I put it right up there. I mean, it is — this was an attack on our democracy. And by the way, the hearing that we’re having tomorrow, which is a public hearing by the way, I think we should do as much of our work in public as we possibly can.
He’s going to talk about the fact that the Russians are doing what they did here all over the world. They have been doing it in Eastern Europe right now while we’re talking. They’re doing it in France. They’re messing around with their elections. They’re doing the same thing in Germany.
So, this is a new kind of aggression that they’re carrying out. And not only, Anderson, I mean, all the attention has been focused on, you know, what did the Russians do, the hacking of the e-mail, the release to WikiLeaks, also the question — the second question which is were there connections between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
But the third issue that I don’t think has gotten enough attention is the Russians were also probing and pushing on our state election systems. They were trying to get into voting machines and registration. That’s pretty scary stuff. And they weren’t doing it for fun. It appears they weren’t successful but they’re going to be back.
I view this — we got some history to cover here, but we’ve also got to think about where this is going in the future. They’re going to be back in 2018 and 2020. And the reason, there should be bipartisan or nonpartisan is they could come after either side.
Putin isn’t a Democrat. He’s not a Republican. He is an opportunist and he’s going to come after whoever he thinks is standing in his way. And that’s why we’ve got to get to the bottom of it for the good of the country.
COOPER: Do you think there needs to be a select committee or an independent commission as Senator McCain has vote (ph) for?
KING: I don’t think so. And the reason — there are a couple of reasons. One is to set up — well, we already are a select committee. I mean, if you had another Senate committee, you would have 15 other members. But it wouldn’t be materially different than the committee that you have today. It’s a very well balanced committee. We’ve got some very conservative members, more on the progressive liberal side. So, it’s a good committee.
The idea of an outside commission, a lot of people talk about that, but the mechanics of that, there would have to be a statute or resolution. It would have to be bipartisan. Who gets to appoint? Does the president have a role in it?
Plus, you’d have to start all over with security clearances for the staff and the members of the commission. It would be six to eight months before such a group got to where we are today.
COOPER: You know, we also learned today that the former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn is on the list of people your committee is going to speak to. Do you think he needs to testify in an open hearing? And do you, you know, do you know what you want to ask him?
KING: Well, not yet. And I think that’s why the chairman and Mark Warner today said we’re going to take our time and be sure we understand exactly what people know and what the right questions are.
But I think, yes. I think as much as we can do in public is important for two fundamental reasons. One is if we’re going to have any credibility in terms of where we land, where we end up, people have to have seen what we see. We can’t go behind closed doors for six months and then come out and say, “Here’s what happened.” I don’t think that’s going to have credibility.
The second reason it has to be public in my view is we want the American people to know what the Russians are up to so they understand that this is not a one off and when it happens in 2018 or 2020 or 2024, they can say, “Oh, the Russians again.”
That has to be part of what this committee conveys to the American people, because, otherwise, you know, we’re going to be struggling in the dark. And, now, there will have to be some behind closed doors meetings —
KING: — because of intelligence methods and sources. But other than that, I think in public ought to be the rule.
COOPER: Carl Bernstein, I mean, just back to what Sean Spicer said about wanting Sally Yates to testify. Do you believe he will come to regret saying that? Or do you believe if some conservatives argue that Sally Yates herself could face a really tough hearing given that she was fired by President Trump for refusing to defend his travel ban and telling other people in the Department of Justice not to?
BERNSTEIN: I think that Sean Spicer has no regrets about anything that has to do with the truth. I think that our expectation of getting anything truthful out of Sean Spicer’s office at this point is delusional.
He is not paid to give us transparency or the truth. That’s not his job. And he showed himself to be someone whose interests are antithetical to the truth. I think we need to get back to the basics, though, that Jack a moment ago was talking about, that Senator Warner was talking about, and that is what occurred in the interference in the most basic aspect of our Democratic process, the election.
And, that goes to why we need to know absolutely everything about what relationships have existed between Donald Trump, his family, his campaign, his business associates with ethno-Russian, Russia business interests, oligarch, et cetera, et cetera. And what is so impossible to understand if the Trump White House is interested in anything like the truth is why they won’t open up on these questions. And the American people deserve to know, particularly about the business interests.