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Senate Intel Committee Begins Russia Probe Today; North Carolina Leaders Reach Deal to Repeal Bathroom Bill; Interview with Sen. Jeff Merkley; Interview with Rep. Rick Crawford. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 30, 2017 - 07:00   ET



SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: This investigation's scope will go wherever the intelligence leads.

[07:00:06] REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: If we are doing a non-partisan, bipartisan investigation, we can't have a chairman freelancing this.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: I know that when I make a hard decision, a storm is going to follow. Honestly, I don't care.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: I will not answer any more questions while the investigation continues. That's how it is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are witnessing a coverup.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: President Trump's daughter, Ivanka, joining the White House.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The real test of Ivanka Trump is going to be how she functions as a government employee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Neil Gorsuch is one of the most qualified people in the country on the Supreme Court.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: If Judge Gorsuch failed to get 60 votes, we should change the nominee, not the rules.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Chris Cuomo and Alisyn Camerota.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to NEW DAY. Chris is off. John Berman joins me.

Great to have you.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Great to be here.

CAMEROTA: We have a lot to talk about. We begin with the Senate Intel Committee, set to begin their public hearing on Russia in just three hours. Leaders vow a thorough non-partisan investigation of Russia's alleged meddling into the U.S. election and the possible ties to the Trump campaign while the House investigation is stalled in political accusations.

BERMAN: Meanwhile, whenever FBI Director James Comey says anything out loud in public, it's a big deal. And overnight, he opened up about partisanship and congressional investigations. This as the first daughter, Ivanka Trump, accepts the title of assistant to the president, which is significant role. A position raising a lot of ethical questions this morning.

Plenty to cover on day 70 of the Trump presidency. Let's begin our coverage with Sara Murray live at the White House.

Good morning, Sara.


Well, this White House is certainly sick of answering questions about Russia, but the Senate Intelligence Committee has made it clear they are just getting started. And they have a long list of people they want to talk to to try to get to the bottom of Russia's attempt to influence the 2016 presidential campaign.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: We, together, with the members of the committee will get to the bottom of it.

MURRAY (voice-over): The Senate Intelligence Committee holding its first public hearing on Russia today as political infighting jeopardizes the House probe.

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R-NC), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: This investigation's scope will go wherever the intelligence leads.

MURRAY: The leaders of the Senate panel saying they plan to interview 20 witnesses about Russia's attempts to influence the U.S. election and potential ties between Moscow and Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

Among the possible witnesses, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner, CNN learning that Kushner is expected to testify that his meetings with the Russian banker and the Russian ambassador were an effort to engage the Russians and establish a point person for the administration.

Senate intelligence chairman Richard Burr refusing to rule out the possibility of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians.

BURR: We would be crazy to try to draw conclusions from where we are in the investigation.

MURRAY: The bipartisan show of unity in the Senate a stark contrast to the chaos on the other side of the Capitol. House Intel Chair Devin Nunes continuing to fend off charges of collusion with the White House and refusing to answer questions about the probe.

MANU RAJU, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: What's been the hold up about the specific information that you saw on the White House grounds?

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Look, it's just trying to get all the agencies, you know, for them to get the information to us in a timely manner.

MURRAY: The White House also deflecting.

SPICER: There seems to be this fascination with the process. It's how did he get here? What door did he enter, as opposed to what's the substance of what we're finding?

MURRAY: The ranking Democrat on the House committee expected to meet with Nunes today.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: I don't know how to conduct a credible investigation if you have let alone one person, but the chairman of the committee who's saying I've seen evidence, but I won't share it with anyone else.

MURRAY: This after Schiff refused to sign on to a closed-door hearing with FBI Director James Comey unless Nunes also agrees to reschedule the public hearing he canceled this week. Comey defending the FBI's impartiality at an event last night.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: We're not on anybody's side ever. We're not considering whose ox will be gored by this action or that action, whose fortunes will be helped by this or that. We just don't care, and we can't care.

MURRAY: All this as President Trump's daughter Ivanka officially enters the fray, joining the White House as an unpaid adviser amid public ethics concerns.


MURRAY: And that Senate Intelligence hearing is kicking off this morning at 10 a.m. It's expected to focus on fake news and the way Russia may have weaponized it to try to impact the 2016 campaign -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Sara, thank you so much for all of that reporting.

Joining us now is Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

Good morning, Senator.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: Good morning. Great to be with you.

CAMEROTA: Great to have you. How do you think the Senate Intel Committee will differ from the House Intel Committee's work on this?

MERKLEY: They are working so hard to have a bipartisan focus on the facts. Get to the bottom of the facts, what really happened. And I'm really pleased that the Senate Intel is operating in this manner. I don't think it's enough. I think we should have a bipartisan commission. I think we should have a special prosecutor. But the Senate Intel Committee is operating the way it should under these circumstances.

[07:05:08] CAMEROTA: So you don't think that the House was focused on getting to the facts?

MERKLEY: Well, I think that there has been so much tactics and strategy by the House chairman to support the president that the credibility of the House really is in shreds.

CAMEROTA: So you are calling for a bipartisan commission, but you also have faith in the Senate Intel Committee. Which one is it?

MERKLEY: Well, it's all of the above. Because this is such serious information, it should be pursued by the FBI. It should be pursued by the Intel Committee. It should be pursued by a special prosecutor, and there should be a public commission. By having multiple directions, we might actually get to the bottom of it, and then you throw in the investigating power of the media and perhaps we'll someday know the real truth.

CAMEROTA: That would be nice. Are you giving up on the House ever being able to get to the bottom of it -- I mean, the House Intel Committee being able to get to the bottom of anything?

MERKLEY: Pretty -- pretty much. I think anywhere the House gets to the Senate will have gotten to previously. And so yes.

CAMEROTA: I want to ask you about Judge Neil Gorsuch. Your colleagues on the Senate Judiciary Committee are expected to vote on Monday as to his fitness for the Supreme Court. You tweeted something to the opposite. You said, "I will not stand idly by and allow the people's government to be stolen. We must restore the 'we, the people' democracy and #stopGorsuch."

What does that mean?

MERKLEY: Well, this is the fact that this seat, for the first time in U.S. history, was stolen from the former president. This is a terrible precedent. It puts a big crack in the integrity of the Supreme Court. Every 5-4 decision in the future, should Gorsuch be confirmed, would be in question. I mean, this is not what you do. You do not steal Senate seats. Excuse me. Supreme Court seats.

And so this is an effort to pack the court. And the public has been very, very down on efforts to pack the court in the past, and they should be now, because Neil Gorsuch's philosophy is one of government by and for the powerful and the privileged. Not government by and for the people. So it goes exact contrary to the fundamental vision of our Constitution and our government.

CAMEROTA: I mean, you say that about Judge Gorsuch's philosophy. But let's remember, this is the same jurist, the same man who was approved by the Senate unanimously in 2006. So is it that he has fallen so far, or is this -- this is political payback?

MERKLEY: You get a lot more insight when somebody is contending and up for the Supreme Court than you do when they're up for the circuit court or a district court. You have decisions that they have written. You have additional articles and conversations that they have been involved in.

And what we have is the -- the fact that Neil Gorsuch has made rulings that were clearly doing everything they could to find for corporations over people, ordinary workers. We have the -- his writings that say he doesn't think the LGBT community should be able to use the courts to address issues of discrimination.

He does not like class action suits, because they are an inconvenience to corporations. And yet, how do you have ordinary citizens take on predatory corporate conduct without a class action suit? So all of these things really line up in the -- in the place of -- for the privileged and powerful.

CAMEROTA: But if your Republican colleagues had not blocked Judge Merrick Garland, would you be voting for Gorsuch?

MERKLEY: Well, that's very tough to say, because it's hard for me to get to that spot with this seat having been stolen in the integrity factor. But I really doubt it. He is way outside the judicial mainstream. "The Washington Post" analysis found that he was further right than any existing member of the court.

And I really want to see us restore a court that no longer is controlled by powerful corporate interests. That is not the vision of our Constitution. It's not the spirit of America. And we have to somehow reclaim our democracy.

And one big issue is the dark money that is corrupting all of our -- our political campaigns across the country and control of the Senate. So there's a lot at stake here for what the future of the country will be.

CAMEROTA: Look, you're still angry about the treatment of Judge Garland. Understandably. I mean, you and your Democratic colleagues are quite upset about how he was frozen out of even a vote. But what can you do? I mean, the Republicans now say that, in terms of Gorsuch, they are willing to go nuclear to get him in.

MERKLEY: Well, it takes 50 members of the Senate and the vice president to go there. We don't know that they have all of those votes. There may be some principled individuals among the Republicans who want to stand up and vote for the integrity of the Senate.

CAMEROTA: Have you heard that? Do you have any -- I'm just curious. Do you have any indication from your Republican colleagues that they...

[07:10:05] MERKLEY: Code of silence is under way. So we do -- we do not know where each individual will end up on this.

CAMEROTA: Yes, but about the nuclear option, is that -- is that where we're headed?

MERKLEY: In regard to the nuclear option is 51 votes to change the interpretation of the rules. That's the nuclear option. Change to a simple majority to close debate. And we don't know if there are 51 Republicans -- or 50 plus the vice president who will say yes. Let's destroy the integrity of the Senate with this vote. Hopefully, three aren't.

CAMEROTA: What would that mean if that's what -- if this is where it's headed and that, in fact, is invoked, then what does that mean for the future?

MERKLEY: Well, this whole process would mean two things. If one court seat is stolen from a president and shipped to another president, the temptation will be to do that forevermore. It highly, highly politicizes the court, makes it look just like another kind of elected political position.

The second is, if this process goes through, every 5-4 decision will be one we'll look at and say, "Well, you know, it's not really legitimate, because that Supreme Court justice really wasn't legitimate." And if we change the -- to a simple majority, what it means; it's the next president, will have an easier time of getting their court nominees confirmed. They may be tempted to go further to the left or the right outside of the mainstream.

Obama went right down the middle, and unfortunately, President Trump has not. He's gone way outside the mainstream. And that's really what the supermajority is intended to prevent.

CAMEROTA: There's a lot at stake here for both sides. Senator Jeff Merkley, thanks so much for being on NEW DAY.

MERKLEY: Great to be with you, Alisyn.


BERMAN: All right. We have breaking news from North Carolina. Lawmakers are expected to vote today on a deal to repeal HB-2. That's the state's controversial transgender bathroom bill. But gay rights activists say it doesn't go far enough.

CNN's Dave Briggs, anchor for "EARLY START," joins us now to explain why -- Dave.

DAVE BRIGGS, CNN ANCHOR: This is a confusing one, John, and still far from over.

The Democratic governor in North Carolina working with Republican lawmakers to come up with a compromise. HB-2 forced transgender people to use the bathroom that relates to the gender on their birth certificate instead of the gender they identify with.

But it remains a component of the deal, leaving the regulation of bathrooms to state lawmakers. LGBT advocates say the compromise is simply another version of the old law and would continue to allow discrimination against transgender people, leaving them with no statewide anti-discrimination ordinance and no ability to seek such protection from local governments for years.

Now, time and certainly money are of the essence. HB-2 has already cost North Carolina millions as businesses, entertainers and sports leagues boycott the state. The NCAA has threatened to leave the state out of hosting championship events through 2022 if HB-2 is not repealed by noon today.

And guys, stay tuned to this story. Voting begins in North Carolina at 9:15 on it. But later today, Mark Emmert, the president of the NCAA, has the press conference ahead of the Final Four in Arizona. Will he say they've gone far enough for the NCAA? We shall see.

CAMEROTA: OK, Dave. Bring us updates.

BERMAN: Important vote for the NCAA.

BRIGGS: It certainly is.

CAMEROTA: Well, a federal judge in Hawaii extending the halt of President Trump's revised travel ban indefinitely. The same judge blocked the core provisions of the executive order two weeks ago, ruling that it does discriminate against Muslims. Still no word on whether the Justice Department will appeal this decision.

BERMAN: Two former high-level members of Chris Christie's administration are going to prison for their role in the Bridgegate scandal. Bill Baroni and Bridget Anne Kelly, they were convicted of orchestrating traffic gridlock on the George Washington Bridge to punish a political opponent. Baroni was sentenced to two years. Kelly got 18 months. Both plan to appeal.

CAMEROTA: So the FAA is investigating the death of an American Airlines co-pilot just minutes before his flight landed in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Officials say the 737 jet was two miles from the airport Wednesday when the captain declared a medical emergency. Paramedics were standing by and performed CPR on first officer William Mike Grubbs for nearly 40 minutes before he was pronounced dead.

BERMAN: All right. The House Intelligence Committee in disarray, their Russia investigation stalled. The chairman and ranking member, they will meet today to try to fix it. We're joined by a Republican member of the panel next.


[07:18:35] BERMAN: The top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, they've promised a bipartisan investigation in their Russia probe. Not what we've seen in the House of Representatives, where questions surrounding intel chairman Devin Nunes that's brought the committee's work pretty much to a halt right now.

I want to discuss right now with Republican Congressman Rick Crawford of Arkansas. He is a member of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for being with us.

I have to ask, if you had a chance to watch yesterday the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee give their press conference, answer questions together, getting along. Did you see that and watch with a little bit of envy?

REP. RICK CRAWFORD (R), ARKANSAS: Not necessarily. I think that we have a different dynamic over here in the House that Chairman Nunes and Ranking Member Schiff have certainly done joint press conferences before. And I suspect that they'll do them again. I think that there is a little difference of opinion at this point. We'll work through all that. But I think we're -- I think we're fine.

BERMAN: A little difference of opinion. I mean, you've had public hearings canceled, private hearings canceled. You guys aren't even meeting as a full committee this week. That -- when you say that's a different dynamic, that's a dynamic that's doing nothing right now, correct?

CRAWFORD: Well, I wouldn't necessarily characterize it that way. For example, the open hearing that we had last week was really not very productive.

And I think the American people want to see open hearings, simply because they want to see evidence that we are, in fact, doing some things. But the fact is an open hearing is very challenging. And I think if you review the video, you'll find that Director Comey and Admiral Rogers no less than 100 times said that they couldn't comment in that forum.

[07:20:21] So for us to be productive and to move forward on this investigation, I think it's important that we recognize the value of closed door hearings when we're dealing with the sensitive information. And I think that's kind of where we are at the point where we recognize the value of closed-door hearings versus trying to arrive at the truth in an open setting where they're constrained by classification laws.

BERMAN: The American people did learn at that public hearing that the FBI is investigating possible ties between Trump associates and the Russians. Is investigating coordination. Is that important?

CRAWFORD: It is important for the public to be aware of it. The nature of the investigation is highly sensitive. I think it should remain behind closed doors in order for it to be productive.

BERMAN: Chairman Nunes, the Ranking Member, Adam Schiff, they will meet today. They're going to get together, we think, to try to work out their differences. What do you want to see from them?

CRAWFORD: You know, I think that they have the same perspective. They want to get to the truth. They might have -- differ on how they get there. We feel like it's more productive to bring individuals in in that closed setting so that we can actually get some information that they are unable to disclose in a public forum. Ranking Member Schiff, I think, will probably get to that point, as

well. I think he wants to be included, and that's -- that's understandable. And I think that's what you'll hear today, is the two of them working out their differences to move forward.

BERMAN: On the subject of disclosure, Democrats are saying that your chairman, Chairman Nunes isn't disclosing to them information he says he has. This has to do with the chairman's claim that he's seen intelligence, apparently, on White House grounds indicating that the president's associates were picked up in incidental communication. Listen to what Adam Schiff said about this last night.


SCHIFF: We have a chairman who got information on the White House grounds that he won't share. Not just with Democrats, but with his own committee. And I just don't know how to conduct a credible investigation if you have let alone one person, but the chairman of the committee who's saying, "I've seen evidence, but I won't share with anyone else." What are we to make of that?


BERMAN: You just talked about the importance of disclosure to your committee. What does it say if your own chairman won't disclose his information?

CRAWFORD: I don't think that it's necessarily fair to say that he won't disclose it. I think he'll disclose it at an appropriate time. And I feel like that's the determination and the judgement that he made. He's been on this committee a long time. He knows what he's doing. And I have complete faith that he's going to do the right thing, which he is doing. He's acting well within his charter of the chairman.

BERMAN: He said -- he said he's never going to share the sources.

CRAWFORD: Well, then that's a decision that he'll have to make.

BERMAN: There is a question. Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker reported that he believed the White House was aware, prior even to your public hearing last Monday, that Devin Nunes, your chairman, was going to discuss incidental communications and things that were picked up, maybe even disclosed later on that Trump associates were in that.

He had the sense that the White House was aware of what Chairman Nunes would do. If there was communication and coordination between the White House and the chairman prior to the hearing, prior to his release of that information later in the week, is that problematic?

CRAWFORD: Well, I think what's problematic is the fact that I think that people are conflating the Russian investigation with this new information. That new information has nothing to do with Russia. That we know. And so to try and inject that particular information into the Russian investigation is -- the two are not linked. BERMAN: The question -- the question that people have is the White

House trying to orchestrate the investigation into White House associates? That would be problematic, wouldn't it?

CRAWFORD: It would be, and I don't think that's happening.

BERMAN: Let me change subjects and talk about health care, if I can. Because House Speaker Paul Ryan gave an interview that just aired on CBS moments ago where he talked about the need for Republicans to come together and try to find some kind of deal again.

You voted no on this. Let's stipulate that, or you would have voted no.

CRAWFORD: I didn't vote no, because we didn't have a vote.

BERMAN: Correct. Thank you for that correction. Though you would have voted no.

Speaker Ryan said -- he was talking to Norah O'Donnell -- "What I worry about, Norah, is that if we don't do this, he'll just" -- he's talking about the president -- he'll just go work with Democrats and try to change Obamacare. And that's hardly a conservative thing." Basically, he's saying if we don't get our act together, the president's going to go talk to the Democrats and fix it.

That's pretty remarkable. That's a pretty remarkable thing to hear from the speaker of the House.

CRAWFORD: Well, it is, and I'll tell you what I think, what we all agree on, is that we need to look at legislation that's going to to do a couple of things. One, drive down the premiums and drive down deductibles. Because that piece of paper that says you have insurance is meaningless if it presents no value to the person that's holding it. And that's the problem that we have.

And something we're not talking about, and we should be, is that fact that our interns, our health care policy right now, I think, over time, is contributing to the decline in overall health statistics, because people aren't using their health care insurance, because it's basically too expensive.

So if we're not looking at policy and, quite frankly, I'd like to see the federal government back away from trying to organize and orchestrate and direct health care policy. It's strictly to assume the role of trying to stabilize the marketplace, that's a better approach. I don't think the government has demonstrated a very good track record in managing programs like health care.

BERMAN: Just quick question, quick answer. Your whip on earlier this week, said he believes you are actually closer to a deal now on health care than when it went down last week. Do you believe that to be the case?

CRAWFORD: You have to talk to Steve Scalise on that. He's the whip, and he has these numbers. BERMAN: But of course, you were someone who would have voted no. So

you have to be the type of person that would have to come over and say yes. If you don't have appeal, that's indicative in and of itself. Congressman Crawford of Arkansas, great to have you with us. Thank you for your time.

CRAWFORD: Thank you.

BERMAN: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: OK, John, first daughter Ivanka Trump now officially part of the Trump administration. Is that ethical? We debate it next.


CAMEROTA: First daughter Ivanka Trump has a new White House role. She is an unpaid adviser to the president and, of course, that is raising some ethical questions and how she will resolve her potential conflicts of interest. So let's debate this.

We have CNN contributor and former --