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A Raucous Day for Trump's Defender; The Heated Debate and the Denials. Aired 10-11p ET
Aired March 16, 2017 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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[22:00:00] VAN JONES, CNN HOST: ... stand for family. Talk about that, don't talk about tweets. Talk about that. I'm going back Wednesday, April 5th for the next special of The Messy Truth with Arnold Schwarzenegger, live from Los Angeles Arnold.
CNN Tonight with Don Lemon starts right now.
Thank you, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in the house!
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Van Jones.
The White House standing alone, combative and defensive over President Trump's false allegation of wiretapping.
This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.
The Press Secretary Sean Spicer refusing to concede that the president's accusation against former President Obama is flat-out wrong. Testy words exchanged with reporters inside the White House briefing room. We're going to show you how it unfolded.
And meanwhile, up on Capitol Hill top republicans, including House Speaker Paul Ryan and the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee say they see no evident of wiretapping. None.
I want to begin with CNN's senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju. Manu, it was quite a day on Capitol Hill today. Take us all through the developments in the Russia investigation and the president. President Trump's unfounded claim he was wiretapped.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Don. It's pretty clear here President Trump stands alone on his claim that he was wiretapped under the orders of President Barack Obama. That's because top members in both parties with access to classified intelligence say that they have not seen any evidence to back up that claim.
That goes for House Speaker Paul Ryan, I asked him directly today, do you believe that Donald Trump was wiretapped by President Obama and his administration? He said, no. No such wiretap existed. Now the two top senators on the Senate intelligence committee. The
republican chairman, Richard Burr, the democratic ranking member Mark Warner put out an extraordinary statement earlier today saying that from what they have seen, there was no surveillance of Trump Tower.
Now during his very feisty press briefing Sean Spicer repeatedly cited Devin Nunes, who's the republican chairman of the House intelligence committee because Nunes suggested at his own press conference yesterday that perhaps it was possible that during broader surveillance maybe incidentally some of Donald Trump's communications were picked up.
Now I asked Devin Nunes about that earlier today, I said, is there any evidence to suggest that Donald Trump's communications were picked up? He said no. He also said he does not believe that Donald Trump was wiretapped under the orders of Barack Obama.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: He said yesterday though, I don't believe what (Inaudible) I don't believe.
DEVIN NUNES, (R) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: Yes. I don't believe that the president ordered a physical wiretap of Trump Tower.
RAJU: And what do you make of the...
NUNES: It's not a physical wiretap or other surveillance activities which is the question.
RAJU: And today...
NUNES: We want to make sure that no surveillance activities were used for political purposes.
RAJU: Do you have any evidence to suggest that any incidental collection may have picked up Trump's, Donald Trump's communications at all? Do you have any evidence to suggest that?
NUNES: Other than General Flynn, we don't.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now Don, this all comes ahead of a very, very highly anticipated meeting on Monday, James Comey, the FBI Director will be among the witnesses testified in the first public hearing of the House intelligence committee which is having this ongoing broader investigation into Russia, looking into any ties between that Russia meddling that allegedly occurred in any campaign process with the Trump campaign during the elections.
James Comey will get asked about this wiretap -- tapping question. And Adam Schiff, the top democrat on the committee telling me today that he is -- that he believes that Comey will bat down this question, rebut President Trump on this issue and say that there were no wiretaps of Trump Tower under the orders of Barack Obama. So, we'll see what comey eventually says. But a lot to look forward to next week as this story continues to linger. Don?
LEMON: All right. Manu Raju, thank you very much. So before we go down this rabbit hole of people pretending the president said or intended something other than what he said, let me be clear, the president put out false information, and over the last two weeks fewer and fewer people have been willing to defend him.
For those remaining who are inclined to make excuses for the president or buy into his attempts at misdirection, let's put the president's own words up on the screen for everyone to see, for you to see.
President Trump first tweeted, "Terrible. Just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism."
[22:04:56] McCarthyism refers to former Senator Joseph McCarthy, who, back in the 1950's systematically accused people of subversion or treason, of being communists without any evidence, destroying countless lives.
Mr. Trump then wrote, "Is it legal for a sitting president to be wiretapping a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier, a new low."
There he is accusing the former president of a federal crime. Then he writes, "I bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October just prior to election."
A good lawyer implies that he has a legal case, that he has some facts and proof. The word fact implies that he's got the good to proof it to back it up. Now he also wrote "tapping my phones, not surveilling my people." He wrote, "Tapping my phones."
And then he writes, "How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process? This is Nixon, Watergate. Bad or sick guy."
President Trump compares President Obama to president who was impeached and driven from office in one of the biggest political scandals ever. And he did it all with no proof and now has the gall to pretend with a straight face that he said something other than what he said.
Maybe you still want to believe the president because this is America and in America his office comes with a sacred trust. We respect that office and its holder, but sometimes we have to ask do they respect that office? Do they respect us enough to give us the truth?
Here's Sean Spicer, the president's Press Secretary today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yesterday you said you were extremely confident that the House and Senate intelligence committees would ultimately vindicate the president's allegation that Trump Tower has wiretapped. As I'm sure you have now seen the Senate intelligence committee have said they see no indication that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance. That seems to be a pretty blanket statement. What's your reaction?
SEAN SPICER, UNITED STATES WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I think there are several things. I'd also, it's interesting to me that, you know, just as point of interest, that when one entity says one thing that truth that claims one thing, you guys cover it ad nauseam.
When Devon Nunes came out and said I think it's very possible, yesterday, there was crickets from you guys. When Devin Nunes came out and said no connection he saw to Russia, crickets. When Tom Cotton said the same -- you don't want to cover the stuff -- no, no.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said he saw no evidence of wiretapping.
SPICER: Actually there's...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The House intelligence committee and Senate intelligence committee.
SPICER: No, no, actually here's his quote, Jonathan. No, here's the direct quote. "I think it's very possible." End quote. That's what he said when he said the president's communications could have been swept up in collection. So, again...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He said there was no indication of wiretapping. No items of wiretap.
SPICER: I understand that. And I think -- and I think the president has been very clear when he talks about this, and he talked about this last night. When he talked about wiretapping, he meant surveillance and that there have been incidents that have occur. Devin Nunes couldn't have said it more beautifully, but you choose not to cover that part. You chose not to cover when Tom Cotton went out, when Richard Burr went out, when others, Chairman Nunes and others and that there was no...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The House intelligence committee said point blank...
SPICER: You know, I understand that, Jonathan. And where was your passion and where was your concern when they all said that there was no connection to Russia. Where was it then? You crickets from you, guys. Because at the end of the day -- no, no, hold on, hold on, hold on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wiretapping Trump Tower?
SPICER: Hold on, I'm making a point. The point is this. Number one, that it's interesting how when evidence comes out and people who have been briefed on the Russia connection come out and say that there was nothing that they have seen that proves connection.
You choose not to cover that, you don't stop the narrative, you continue to perpetuate a false narrative. When he came out and said, quote, "I see no evidence this happened." When he said, "I think it's very possible. Like I said, we should know this." You don't cover that part. You only cover the part that this -- but let's go through what we do, OK?
SPICER: Hold on, hold on. Let me, and I'm trying to answer your question, Jonathan, if you can calm down. If you look at what the New York Times reported on January 20 -- 12, 2017, he said quote, "In its final days the Obama administration has expanded the power of the National Security Agency to share globally intercepted personal communications with the government's 16 other intelligence agencies before applying privacy protections.
The new rule significant that relax long standing limits on what the NSA may do with the information gathered by its most powerful surveillance operation which are largely unregulated by wiretapping laws.
When Sarah Carter reported that by the start of the New Year brought with it unexpected politicizing of the intelligence gathered in secret.
Separately, the Obama administration amended a long-standing executive order allowing information intercepted through FISA warrants or by the National Security Agency to be shared by a wider audience and 16 government agencies as Obama was leaving offices.
Intelligence normally reserved for just a handful of intelligence leaders who spread throughout briefings to scores of workers. And soon leaks began appearing in news media organizations often in stories lacking context of how national security investigations are actually concluded."
[22:10:05] On March 3, Fox News chief anchor Bret Baier said the following, quote, "There's a report in June 2016, a FISA request by the Obama administration Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court to monitor communication involving Donald Trump and several other campaign officials. Then they got turned down. Then in October, then they renewed it into a start-up wiretap at Trump Tower with some computer and Russian banks."
Baier continues, "A June FISA request that Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court get shot down. A judge says...
SPICER: ... hold -- Jonathan, I'm going to --you can ask, you can follow up. "A judge says no go to monitoring Trump Tower. They go back in October. They do get a FISA granted. This is wiretap going on a monitoring of computers that at sometimes they believe to have Russian counts. By all accounts they don't come up with anything in the investigation but the investigation continues and we don't know it."
On November 11th, 2016, days after the election Heat Street reported, quote, "Two separate sources with links to the counterintelligence community had confirmed to Heat Street that the FBI sought and was granted a FISA warrant in October."
Sean Hannity went on in Fox to say, quote, "But protections which are known as minimization procedures have been put in place to protect Americans and that under warrant American citizens that are caught up in their surveillance."
And, quote, "By the way, their identities are protected. Their constitutional rights are being protected. Now of course this was the case with Lieutenant General Flynn because and you know a transcript of this call was created and then given to intelligence officials who then leaked this information which was felony to the press that printed it." End quote.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, Sean, are you saying...
SPICER: go ahead, John.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... that despite the findings, the bipartisan findings of the Senate intelligence committee...
SPICER: No, they're not findings. They're two -- there is a statement out today they have not begun this. As you know yesterday or two days ago, the Department of Justice asked for an additional week. So, the statement clearly says that at this time that they don't believe that. They have yet to go through the information.
The Department of Justice as you know has not supplied this. But I just read off to you. It's interesting when the New York Times reports -- hold on, hold on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I get (Inaudible) the long answer.
SPICER: Thank you. I appreciate it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. So, are you saying that the president still stands by his allegation that President Obama ordered wiretapping or surveillance of Trump Tower despite the fact that the Senate intelligence committee says they see no indication that it happened? Does the president still stand by the allegation?
SPICER: That's -- but -- but your -- no. The president stands by it. But again, you're mischaracterizing what happened today. The Senate -- no, no, I know...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly from their statement.
SPICER: I understand that. At the same time they acknowledge that they have not been in contact with the Department of Justice. So, I again, I go back to what I said at the beginning...
SPICER: Hold on, hold on. It's interesting how at same time, where were you coming to the defense of the intelligence committee and those members when they said there was no connection to Russia. You didn't seem to report it then. There was no -- no, no, so you want -- hold on, you want to comment and you want to perpetuate a false narrative.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually I did report what Clapper said.
SPICER: But when those individuals have gone out time and time again, when Chairman Nunes has said, number one, that there was no information that he's aware that that existed, that got zero reporting. Number two, when he went out yesterday and said, quote, "I think it's very possible" you don't include that in the question mark.
The bottom line is that the president said last night that he will be fighting -- that there will be additional information coming forward. There's ton of media reports out there that indicate that something was going on during the 2016 election.
And I think it's interesting, where was the questioning of the New York Times or these other outlets when that was going on. Where was the question...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible) you've indicated.
SPICER: I believe he will. Jim?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You were just quoting Sean Hannity there. House and senate intelligence committees are quoting FBI.
SPICER: I also quoted -- you know, I get you're going to cherry pick.
ACOSTA: You're citing Sean Hannity.
SPICER: No, no, you also look over -- you also tend to overlook all the other sources. Because I know you want to cherry pick it. But, no, no. But you do. But where was your concern about the New York Times reporting. You didn't seem to have a concern with that.
ACOSTA: We have done -- we have done plenty of reporting on all of this.
SPICER: No, no, but you want to cherry pick.
ACOSTA: These connections between the days when the president's associates of the president to the Russians has all been looked at.
SPICER: No. How do you know all this, how do you seem to be such an expert in this?
ACOSTA: I'm saying that this has been looked at, Sean, and all of that is...
SPICER: How do you know it's been looked at? Hold on, hold on. Where is -- I'm sorry. I'm afraid to understand. Where, can you tell me how you know that all of this has quote been looked at.
ACOSTA: You're asking me whether if it's been looked at...
SPICER: You made a statement, you said, quote, "all of his has been looked at."
ACOSTA: Other outlets have reported...
SPICER: No, no, so, OK. So when your outlets that's all been looked at...
ACOSTA: ... on his contacts and his associates between the president and the Russians in the 2016 campaign, it sounds like during the context of that investigation there might have been some intercepted communications.
The House intelligence committee chairman did mention that and we have reported that. Others have reported that on our air and various publications. But Sean, what you're refusing to answer, the question that you're refusing to answer is whether or not the president still believes what he believes...
SPICER: I just said it to Jonathan. ACOSTA: But you have Senate and House intelligence committee, both
leaders from both parties on both of those panels saying that they don't see any evidence of any wiretapping, so how can the president go on and continue saying this?
[22:20:08] SPICER: Because that's not -- because you're mischaracterizing what Chairman Nunes said. He said, quote, "I think it's possible. He's following up." So to suggest that is actually and you're stating unequivocally that you somehow...
ACOSTA: You said if you take him literally, he is wrong.
SPICER: Right. And I think that we've already cleared that up. And he said exactly that. But the president has already said clearly when referred to wiretapping, he was referring to surveillance. So, that's...
ACOSTA: But it sounds like, Sean...
ACOSTA: ... that you and the president are saying now, well, we don't mean wiretapping anymore because it's not true anymore.
SPICER: No. No, no. We...
ACOSTA: So now we're going to change that to other forms of surveillance. What's going to be next?
SPICER: Jim, I think that's cute but at the end of the day, we've talked about this for three or four days. What the president had to quote, "wiretapping" in quotes, he was referring to broad surveillance and now you're basically going back. We talked about this several days ago. The bottom line is that the investigation by the House and the Senate has not been provided all the information. And when it does but where was the concern...
ACOSTA: Citing news reports but not evidence of that conversation...
SPICER: No, no. What I -- I think the president addressed that last night. He said there's more to come. These are merely pointing out that I think there's widespread reporting that throughout the 2016 election there was surveillance that was done on a variety of people that came up.
ACOSTA: But there was investigation going on whether there are contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians...
SPICER: Jim, I find it interesting that you somehow believe...
ACOSTA: Of course they're going to be looking at these various...
SPICER: OK. I get it. Somehow you seem to believe that you have all of this information you've been read in all of these things which I find very interesting.
SPICER: Well, your comments to some serious conclusions for a guy that has zero intelligence...
ACOSTA: Give me some credit.
SPICER: I'll give you some.
ACOSTA: A little intelligence maybe. But now what you're saying is that...
SPICER: Clearance. I wasn't done. Clearance.
ACOSTA: Those two panel...
SPICER: Maybe both.
ACOSTA: Well, come on. Those two panels have spoken with the FBI director...
SPICER: I understand that.
ACOSTA: ... and have been told there's no evidence of this.
SPICER: OK. I think these questions have been asked and answered, Jim.
ACOSTA: As far as what the president say...
SPICER: Because it's interesting how you jump to all of these conclusions about what they have and what they don't have. And you seem to know all the answers. But at the end of the day there was clearly a ton of reporting...
SPICER ... hold on, Jim. Let me answer. I think that there's been a vast amount of reporting which I just detailed about activity that was going on in the 2016 election. There was no question that there was surveillance techniques used throughout this, I think by a variety of outlets that have reported this activity concluded.
So, and I think when you actually ask those two people whether or not -- and as Chairman Nunes said yesterday, when you take it literally -- and wiretapping, the president has already been very clear that he didn't mean specifically wiretapping, he had it in quotes. So I think to fall back on that is a false -- is a false premise. That's not what he said. He was very clear about that when he talked about it yesterday.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Anyone see Billy Madison the game show scene? Everyone in this room is dumber for having listened to that. I hope that you're not dumber and I hope we're providing you some information.
And just to be clear. No one mischaracterized what the Senate Intel said. Here's the statement. "Based on the information available to us we see no indication that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016."
Senator Richard Burr and Senator Mark Warner on March 16th.
And by the way, I have to give a little bit of correction. Nixon was not impeached. He resigned before he was impeached. They were drawing up impeachment papers. I wrote that. That was my mistake, I apologize for it. Can you do the same, Mr. President for your mistake?
Up next, what was it like for reporters inside the briefing room today, including CNN's Jim Acosta who will join me?
[22:20:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: The White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer in a combative briefing with reporters defending President Trump's false allegation that he was wiretapped by former President Obama.
I want to bring in CNN's senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, one of the men in the center of that exchange, and Michael C. Bender, the White House reporter for the Wall Street Journal. Men, you guys have a tough job lately.
So, Jim, I was watching you, you know, it's tough. You're going to have to hire a food taster. Another raucous press briefing today. What was it like to be there?
ACOSTA: Well, you know, it sort of feels like I go in there every day and I don't know what to expect, honestly. Because I think there was one moment where during the briefing today, you know, Sean Spicer was, you know, saying to me that he has zero intelligence, and then added on to that zero intelligence clearance, which I guess the second part is true. I like to think I have a little bit of intelligence.
But honestly, Don, in all seriousness, you know, we are dealing with an administration unlike any that we've ever dealt with before. I mean, obviously you have a president who at times is not dealing with reality. He is tweeting out things like former President Obama wiretapped him over Trump Tower.
This is on top of, you know, his false claim about there being millions and millions of people voting illegally in this country, that's on top of the claim that his inaugural crowd size was larger than President Obama's.
And we have this conversation it seems, Don, every other week. You know, we don't do it every week, maybe it's every other week, you know, what's going on with President Trump? And the question that I have, and it really goes to the heart of where we are as nation right now, is can President Trump do this for another month, two months, three months?
Can we all do this, are we all going to be chasing down -- maybe by tomorrow or Monday he'll pull this back or come up with some explanation, but we all know there's going to be another far-fetched claim, tall tale tweet that is going to be the news of the day or the news of the week, and my question is, you know, how long can this continue?
LEMON: How long can Sean Spicer keep it up is my thing.
LEMON: Because he kept, today, you know, his response to your question and other the reporters in the room like Mike, other reporters there, to filibuster and then to read news reports, by the way, of which he calls fake news but then he's using those news reports as proof that something was going on.
LEMON: So the president who thinks the news is fake should believe those news reports and then accuse the former president of a federal crime because of the news reports -- I mean, it makes absolutely no sense. And as I said before, I feel dumber for having listened to that press conference.
LEMON: I mean, Mike, you were at the briefing today. What was your impression about what the press secretary was saying and how he conducted himself?
MICHAEL C. BENDER, WALL STREET JOURNAL REPORTER: Yes. It just continues to get bizarre. It's a scary question that Jim is asking. I've been covering Trump since 2015 and I've asking that question, how long can this continue since then.
[22:25:01] So, I'm a little -- I'm a little nervous trying to answer it at this point. But you know, Spicer is up there, one is he's in a difficult job. Jim did an excellent job asking the questions. It's not easy to ask those tough questions. And it's not easy to take questions when you have no answer, right?
ACOSTA: Right. BENDER: I mean, you're right. That's what they did. He stood up there, he filibustered, you know, at one point he pointed to Devin Nunes, who had a tried to defend them against a New York Times article a few months ago.
Well, he had the same sort of readout that Richard Burr did today and made this -- and made the same -- and came with the same conclusion but it was good enough for Sean a month ago but it was not good enough for him today.
You know, they're going to have to face the music here at some point. You know. It's possible that Trump could shock the world here, right. He's done it before. On this issue, you know, if they turn out to be right I feel comfortable saying that will shock the world if they are right.
But right now the White House is behaving like an alcoholic trying to drink away a hangover, at some point they are going to have to face the reality of this.
LEMON: Yes. Jim. Let's talk about this, all these references that Sean Spicer was throwing around.
LEMON: Lots of reports at Fox News. You mentioned you were trying to show, I think what you were doing was trying to systematically go through people who in the reports and he said, you're just picking on Fox.
He said Bret Baier, he said Heat Street, New York Times, he also mentioned something that was I think it was on Hannity, so I'm not exactly sure.
LEMON: He says these are evidence but none of these stories has anything to do about what the president and what alleged, what he alleged in his tweets. I had the New York Times story that he referenced. He said nothing about Trump Tower, he said nothing about wiretapping, it says nothing about the president or any of his people.
ACOSTA: Well, it seems, Don, at this point that the White House is not even trying to prove what the president originally tweeted, that President Obama wiretapped him at Trump Tower. They haven't really presented any evidence at this point that President ordered any kind of wiretapping a la Watergate.
And so, they broadened this out to me and other types of surveillance but you had that statement from the Senate intelligence committee today saying that they have not seen any indication or evidence of quote, "surveillance over at Trump Tower before or after the election."
So they seem to be targeting this broaden, you know, perspective on what the president was trying to tweet about in those original tweets. But you know, I think when Sean Spicer was trying to go through this list of material, and putting aside the fact that he quoted New York Times, a publication that the president has referred to as fake news and the failing New York Times. He was citing Fox News.
And you know, we have some friends over at Fox News who do a great job over there, some great reporters over there, but the Sean Hannity program, and I'm sure I get dinged for this by Sean and perhaps his followers on Twitter for saying this, it is -- it is essentially a house organ for Donald Trump and his administration.
And so, for Sean Spicer to stand there at the podium talking to the American people and talking to the world and quoting Sean Hannity. And then there's other, he makes this other reference to something that Judge Andrew Napolitano said on Fox News. He's one of their pundits over there, referring to how the British, you know, signals intelligence service was providing some of the wiretapping services for President Obama through their sources that they have over there that Andrew Napolitano was talking about.
The British government sent us a statement tonight, Don, and they send it to me and my colleague Jim Sciutto saying that this was nonsense and this allegation should be ignored.
ACOSTA: And so you have the White House press secretary essentially peddling fake news...
LEMON: After they -- after they...
ACOSTA: .. fake news to justify what the president said.
LEMON: Yes. And you know, but I don't Sean or Bill O'Reilly or Sean Hannity, they're opinion news shows. They're not -- they're not -- even Fox News, they don't see them as a journalist, right, they see them as opinion...
LEMON: Entertainment. It's under their entertainment banner. Mike, I have to ask you. How do you guys sit there, how do you know what to believe and what not to believe, coming from that podium which is -- of course that's what they do. They are going to go -- everyone who works for the president they are going to spin at the president's way. But how do you guys know what to believe every day?
BENDER: Yes. Well, it's hard to know what to believe. I mean, to your point earlier, them using sources -- I mean, Sean Hannity himself says he's not a journalist. You know, Sean was -- Spicer was trying to accuse Jim of asking cute questions while he also tries to defend Trump's tweet by saying the president of the United States put quote marks around wiretapping.
You know, it just goes to show, I mean, you know, CNN is still showing Sean Spicer's briefings from start to finish, right?
[22:29:59] I mean, normal -- something that's normally reserved for emergencies, moments of urgency when Americans need to know moment what is being said. But people are tuning in to this not for news, right, not to hear the debate on health care or tax return, or infrastructure or whatever issue that republicans are letting slip away by the day but to watch what Sean Spicer will say next, to be entertained by what is happening in the White House press briefing room.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Yes, I wonder if they realize there is a life after this and there...
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
LEMON: ... you know, there are other jobs and there's also credibility. And...
ACOSTA: I think it's a very good point that Michael Bender was making there, Don.
ACOSTA: I think that the reason why we're tuning in, the reason why Sean Spicer's briefings have become must-see TV and the reason why we're glued to this every...
LEMON: Because they're SNL in the middle of the day. But go on.
ACOSTA: I think it's that to some extent. It was hard to figure out whether this was SNL today or whether this was real life. But I think what we're watching unfolding here, Don, and I hate to say this and I hope it's doesn't sound over the top, is that I think we're watching a crisis of confidence...
ACOSTA: ... in this White House and this president. And he causes this crisis on almost daily, weekly basis through his unfounded claims, whether they're tweeted or spoken or otherwise. And that is what draws everybody in.
Because the press secretary has to come out and defend the indefensible and then we all have to sort of sift through the morass, you know, as I was saying earlier today, we're staring into the abyss, looking for the truth, and not finding very much, Don.
LEMON: Yes. All right. Jim, stick around. Michael, thank you. Always appreciate it. And we'll see you soon back on this program.
BENDER: Thank you.
LEMON: Straight ahead, The Trump White House routinely attacks the press accusing reporters of using a double standard. But can't the administration be accused of the same thing? We're going talk about that next.
[22:35:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: The White House digging in its heels, defending President Trump's wiretapping allegation but republican leaders in Congress say they see no evidence to support that claim.
I want to bring in now CNN political analyst Kirsten Powers, the columnist for USA Today, former Congressman Jack Kingston, a former senior adviser to the Trump campaign, CNN senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson, political commentators Jen Psaki, former communications director in the Obama White House, and Andre Bauer, the former lieutenant governor of South Carolina, and Jim Acosta is back with us. I think we have enough people to discuss this. I hope.
KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Me too.
JACK KINGSTON, FORMER UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: Jim's had plenty of face time.
ACOSTA: I'll get out of here.
LEMON: They kick him. You see he's in the bureau and they kicked him off the White House lawn. So, listen. I'm kidding. They didn't do that. Thay didn't do that.
LEMON: People will believe that.
ACOSTA: Volunteer. Yes.
LEMON: So, Nia, I'm going to start with you. Let's talk more about Sean Spicer's wild and angry press conference. I mean, this administration has gone out of its way to attack reporters and the media but then provides a laundry list of reports to try to prove the president's claims? Are you kidding me?
NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. I mean, it was hypocritical, it was bizarre, it was ironic. I mean, and if you print out that whole sort of filibuster, which I did. It's like four pages long, it's 1,600 words of him just going on and on.
Quoting from New York Times, quoting from an outlet called Circa News, quoting from the BBC and as Jim Acosta sitting there and he's very cool sort of way pointed out to Sean Spicer none of that backs up his original claims of Donald Trump's original claims about wiretapping, President Obama supposedly wiretapping Trump Tower.
So, here we have a White House who all of a sudden in many ways the least curious party in this, right? I mean, at any moment President Trump can pick up phone, call DOJ, call the FBI and get information to this.
But they passed buck, obviously to Congress and Congress has back and said they have found no evidence of surveillance of Trump Tower, so there he is relying on media reports, some of which are from the New York Times which as Jim has pointed out, this White House has insisted is fake news, is a failing paper. Very bizarre.
LEMON: And by the way, the reports that they point to don't actually back up what they're saying.
HENDERSON: Right. Exactly.
HENDERSON: Which is what Jim pointed out in his exchanges with Sean Spicer. I think this is ripe for SNL sort of parodying of this, with Jim Acosta sitting there so cool and smooth. My mom always calls him George Clooney.
KINGSTON: You already have the four pages.
HENDERSON: You know, I mean, he's almost like he could be sitting back there sort of...
LEMON: But listen. But listen.
LEMON: I mean, it's not -- I always say it's laughable but not funny because this goes to credibility. But Kirsten, I want to bring you in here. This White House spent weeks condemning leaks and anonymous sources. Spicer was also asked about that after he listed off these news articles. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just to be clear, you're good and president is good with stories that have with anonymous sources.
SEAN SPICER, UNITED STATES WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No. It's interesting. I think when it comes to the Russia story and on the record sources who have been briefed by the FBI continue to conclude that there's nothing there. You guys continue to fall back on these anonymous sources and perpetuating false narrative.
And yet, when it comes to us talking about all these reports in there you then criticize anonymous sources. So, it's just interesting the sort of the double standard that exists when it comes to us citing stories, when it comes to -- and then how you intend to use them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: I mean again, is he trying to have it both ways or what's going on?
POWERS: Well, it's their double standard. I don't think the reporters have complained about anonymous sources, right? I mean, I think that the White House is the one has complained about anonymous sources and basically said that we shouldn't pay attention to anytime that there's anonymous sources.
LEMON: By the way, there are many people who are in the White House.
POWERS: Who are constantly anonymous sources.
LEMON: Who are anonymous sources.
POWERS: Yes. So, I think that, yes. I think the double standard is coming from their direction. To me the most concerning part of this is that he stood up today and basically said, OK, now here's the evidence. And when you think back to what Donald Trump tweeted, you know, basically I just found out something. And you're thinking you just got briefed by somebody, you just got some sort of inside information. And in fact, now he saw something on Fox and Friends or on Hannity and doesn't really rise to the level of the president getting new information.
KINGSTON: But what he also did, though, was he did go down a litany of open source media that he talked about from the New York Times to the Washington Post to Fox, to Heat Street, and others, and he said, what about this as potential evidence. And he also said something as I understood it, he said, you know, surveillance, wiretap and we have talked about that.
[22:40:00] LEMON: Jack, did you watch my opening statement? He never said -- I put up exactly what he said in those tweets. He never said surveillance. He was very specific...
KINGSTON: No, no. That's true.
LEMON: He was very specific about what he said. He said that it was McCarthyism, comparing the former president to Joseph McCarthy. He also compared him to Richard Nixon, who I was wrong, I said he was impeached. He wasn't impeached. They were drawing up impeachment papers and he resigned. He said he was a bad sick guy. This was a personal attack on the
former president accusing him of a federal crime. At no point did he say anything about any government agency or surveilling. He said wiretapped my phone specifically. And then he said it was case for lawyer. The fact that he said he had proof of it. It was a case for a lawyer and he is not showing it. Please don't sit here and spin something that was not said by the president.
KINGSTON: Well, but he say last night to Tucker Carlson that you're going to see more next two weeks. So, I think that, you know, we should see in the next two weeks.
LEMON: Do you actually think that -- Jack, I'm going to ask you, do you actually think that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower?
KINGSTON: I don't think President Obama did. But I think it's possible that under his watch some of his agencies were doing surveillance, which was probably broad, and I think that before he left office he did spread the word throughout different agencies.
LEMON: So, if someone -- OK. So, if people were being surveilled under the Obama presidency, it's common, we've had intelligence experts here, for people who are Russian, Russian ambassadors, to be surveilled. Their phone calls to be monitored.
The Trump people just happen to be caught up in those -- in that surveillance, no one was going after American citizens or Trump people. They -- Flynn was caught up with Kislyak on the phone.
KINGSTON: Yes. But remember, that one thing Sean was very frustrated with today and I would be frustrated with as well, as he said, you know, when James Clapper comes out and says there's no evidence of collusion and when other intelligence agencies say that, as he said the press responds with crickets and I do think that that's true.
LEMON: Jack, you said that on the show.
KINGSTON: You said it.
LEMON: But you sat and you heard us. But we said it on CNN here all over. There's been no proof. There's been no proof so far. There's been no proof so far. We're talking about Russia and collusion, either two different things that we're talking about.
KINGSTON: You know, let me say this, the great thing about the Don Lemon show you do let people like me and Andre Bauer and we get to speak, but I would say the New York Times not so much. And I do think that there's...
LEMON: But I can't, listen, I have the New York Times article. KINGSTON: The failed New York Times.
LEMON: I have New York Times, the New York Times article that everyone references. The reporter was on with Anderson Cooper, he said that nothing in there said anything to what you're using or what other people are using.
KINGSTON: There's also McClatchy, there was McClatchy, they was the Guardian, there was Heat Street. There were other references and he talked about that today.
LEMON: Those had been...
LEMON: Those articles don't say what they said but anyway, sorry. Andre, I'm sorry. Go on.
ANDRE BAUER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That was Jack.
LEMON: No, you. I wanted you to jump in on that.
BAUER: I got the floor now, great.
LEMON: Now you have crickets. Now crickets. Now it's your chance or I'm going to move on to Jen Psaki.
BAUER: First thing I would say, is we know there was a FISA warrant given in October. But more than that, Don, you know, I watch a lot of CNN and I think the average person who is watching TV, no matter what channel they're watching, it's almost like they can't tell you the difference between Iraq and Iran.
There's so much information there. Did Russia hack? We haven't seen prove, we continue to hear that for months. Now was Trump Tower, did it have surveillance, and I think people are kind of confused as to what the real truth is, because they had so much information overload we're all waiting to see when the other shoe is going to drop. And all of this kind of confuse I thought...
LEMON: Who is responsible for that confusion? Do you think that maybe you are responsible for that confusion for trying to make sense of something that doesn't make sense, for defending the indefensible. Do you think maybe that you and other people should come on and say maybe the president shouldn't tweet and something that there is -- there appears to be no factual evidence at this point?
Instead of saying, well, there was a FISA warrant and then there was this and there was that, which has absolutely nothing at all to do with what the president originally said. Do you ever think that you are contributing to that confusion?
BAUER: Well, I don't think I wholeheartedly said, hey, you know, here's evidence. I just said, hey, a FISA warrant was issued and so there was surveillance that they were looking at in some form or fashion. Whether that's a wiretap or not, I can't tell you. But what I'm telling you is that a lot of people are kind of in information overload and they're going I don't know what the truth is anymore...
LEMON: Does it matter to you that the Senate intelligence committee has said there is no evidence, they have found no evidence that Trump Tower was wiretapped or surveilled in any way?
BAUER: Well, sure. That is an important fact but I also have heard for multiple months now that the Trump organization and Russia were in cahoots but I've seen absolutely no proof whatsoever.
[22:45:03] LEMON: What you heard you haven't heard definitively that they're in cahoots. The question is, is why there is so much contact between people, the Trump surrogates and the Russians. No one has said that they are in cahoots definitively. No one has definitively said that.
BAUER: Well, that narrative has been push heavily.
LEMON: Even the Intel community, the intelligence community is wondering that. The news media didn't put that out. The intelligence community put that out. And so we are going with what the intelligence community said and wondering what's behind that. No news organization has said they're in cahoots.
BAUER: Well, a lot of meetings with the Russian ambassador who met with plenty of the democrats as well.
LEMON: There is no democrats now who is in the White House. The democrats are not in the White House.
BAUER: No, but there are plenty...
LEMON: Donald Trump is in the White House and there's been much more alleged communication between the Trump campaign and anyone else.
I got to get -- I got to get Jen Psaki in. Go ahead, Jen.
JEN PSAKI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: There are a number of things we absolutely know that there should be no confusion about. All of the intelligence agencies agreed that Russia did hack the United States. There is agreement that they did that with the purpose of electing President Trump.
There are specific things. There are open questions that out there. One of them is collusion. No media organization has reported that's the case. There are also questions that should be raise about what Trump associates knew about the hacking or anything that's happened. And all of these conversations raise those questions.
So, I think there's a lot of information out there but there are definitely things we know and we should be stating those clearly because the intelligence agencies are not partisan organizations and they had complete agreement on those facts.
KINGSTON: Well, if they weren't partisan why would they leak a phone call that a private American citizen participated in? Because that is a felony. If they -- we're listening to General Flynn, then they were supposed to not share that information, It was a felony.
PSAKI: They were listening, they were reportedly listening to the Russian.
KINGSTON: Yes, it was a felony to leak that. That's what I'm saying.
PSAKI: We don't know who leaked that. This is more of the distraction about...
LEMON: OK. Hold on. Hold on. Let's just say -- hold on, Jim. Hold on, everybody. Let's just say if it was felony to leak it, when they find the leaker, they will convict or do whatever it is with that leak.
LEMON: OK. Let's take that off the table. So then let's talk about how they were possibly caught up into it...
BAUER: So, how and what did they do?
LEMON: How this happened?
KINGSTON: And I think that's fair but I would say this. And I have to go a little bit back at my friend Jen. That we do not know of surrogates from the campaign who were talking to Russia. And I can't exactly remember how you phrased it. But there has been a lot of allegations but there's absolutely been no proof at all. Just like with the collusion. No proof on that either.
Lots of speculation. And you know, to me, as a partisan, I'd say, hey, this just gets back from Hillary not getting to Wisconsin, and the dems are mad so they're coming up and throwing mud at the wall.
LEMON: All right. So, Jim, I guess Jack has forgotten about Flynn and about Sessions.
PSAKI: Yes. There are a lot of conversation. I mean...
ACOSTA: Don, there are multiple...
KINGSTON: Member of the U.S. Senate which is never remember Claire McCaskill, never ever have met with a Russian ambassador and there's two tweets where she met with him twice but had forgotten that.
LEMON: Claire McCaskill is not president of the United States and she'll have to deal with that.
KINGSTON: But the point that other senators met with ambassadors. I met with ambassador...
ACOSTA: Don, seriously though -- Jack, if I could say that...
LEMON: Go ahead, Jim.
ACOSTA: There were -- there were Trump campaign aides who met with the Russian ambassador during the republican convention in Cleveland last summer.
KINGSTON: With a group of 50 people.
ACOSTA: But, sir, that is unusual. And let me just ask this...
KINGSTON: President Obama set that up.
ACOSTA: Let me just ask this of Andre. Let me just ask this of Jack and Andre here. If the Hillary Clinton campaign had advisers and aides meeting with the Russian ambassador at the democratic convention or during the democratic convention, you guys would be howling. You guys would be...
BAUER: There we got a personal phone call too.
ACOSTA: All we are doing is doing the exact same thing. We are asking questions.
KINGSTON: Do you really believe...
ACOSTA: ... that we would normally be asking if the Clinton folks were doing this.
KINGSTON: OK. Well, let me ask you a question myself. Do you really believe that if the Republican Party or Jeff Sessions or Donald Trump was colluding with the Russian government that they would meet with the ambassador in Cleveland in front of the entire world to see? Or meet in a Senate office with all kinds of records? Absolutely not. I'm answering your question.
ACOSTA: Right. But, sir, but, sir, the attorney general was asked during a hearing have you had any contact or what about the Trump campaign contact with the Russians and he said I did not have any contacts with the Russian when that was clearly not the case. And he did have contacts with the Russians.
KINGSTON: No, that was not the question. And I actually tried my best...
ACOSTA: The Russian ambassador.
KINGSTON: It was a very convoluted question followed by statement.
ACOSTA: But he stated -- he stated definitively that he did not have contacts with the Russians.
KINGSTON: No, he said what would you do if there was...
KINGSTON: He did not say they have...
POWERS: And then he offered up...
ACOSTA: But then are also one reported conversations with Michael Flynn during the transition that occurred with the ambassador around the time of the sanctions.
[22:50:02] I'm not saying that this proves anything and that, you know, we should be heading off to court but these...
KINGSTON: But what do they do to change the outcome?
ACOSTA: But these are questions that should be asked of any president of any party.
ACOSTA: And I don't think -- I don't think the fact that the republicans in the White House means that we're out to get him because of fake news and liberal media. Just this we're asking questions that need to be asked.
LEMON: Stand by. You guys are...
ACOSTA: With all due respect. LEMON: ... you guys are so great. We're going to go longer. But before we go to break, I just want to say this, Donald J. Trump, 7.02 a.m. on March 4, 2017. "How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process? This is Nixon Watergate. Bad or sick guy." That's the quote.
And then, today, Senate intelligence statement on wiretapping. "Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was a subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016," according to Senators Richard Burr and Mark Warner today. That's actually what this is about, not some other backhanded spin that we've been led to believe.
We'll continue our conversation after the break.
LEMON: I'm back now with my panel. And so we've talked a lot about Sean Spicer having an audience of one. He must know the president is watching his performance, but you know, he's placing the blame, you know, saying the president did this. He's trying to shift the blame and make the American people understand something that's actually not there. Is that his job, Kirsten? Is he doing his job or it?
POWERRS: I mean, it does seem to be his job. It feels like he has such a bad hand to play here. because really if you have to come out and say the evidence that the president had was watching Fox and Friends and Sean Hannity, I think you have such a bad hand to play that you almost have to come out and be aggressive, you got to own it. You know what I mean?
POWERS: Like, he's just got to lean into it. And like, that's what he was doing.
POWERS: He just was becoming very aggressive. And just -- and that's what he has to do because that's what Donald Trump wants him to do. You know, he has to know that this is not a good argument. It's just, it isn't. It's not what we think. When we think of the of the president getting new information we think of somebody briefing him. We don't think of him watching a news program.
[22:55:05] LEMON: Nia, the president said it as if he already knew.
LEMON: And now he's saying other information they're waiting on or that he has to investigate. "Just found out President Obama had wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found." As if he knew something. It's illegal, is it legal. And then he says, "It's a great case for a lawyer." As if he had the goods. HENDERSON: Yes, yes. And he talks about Obama being a bad or sick
guy. You know, in many ways this has the same contours of the birther conspiracy theory, and that conspiracy theory Obama was a fraud, Obama was hiding something, Obama wasn't who he said he was. And Trump was the one doing the unmasking.
And that in many ways I think is what going on here. It kind of have the same contours of that. And you wonder if this might become of Donald Trump's favorite new conspiracy theory. The birtherism he hung on to far longer than anybody else. It's essentially for five years. I'd also had the cliffhanger aspect to it, right.
Every time he would sit down, you would wonder if he was going to clear it up and back off of those claims and that in many ways is what's going on here as well.
He will have a briefing tomorrow with Angela Merkel. He'll be questioned about this I'm sure. He might do the same thing that we saw Sean Spicer do today and essentially say, listen, there are all these press reports out there today and there will more to come. He did the same thing with birtherism saying that he had all sorts investigated down there.
LEMON: The same thing with the crowd. Listen, Andre Bauer.
HENDERSON: The crowd size. Right, right, exactly.
LEMON: The same thing with the crowd size but then...
HENDERSON: And yes, and for this, this is a Trump as a man on an island.
HENDERSON: A man by himself. And he's able to say that everyone else is wrong, not only the republicans or the democrats are wrong, of the press is in on it too. So I think it serves a real purpose for him.
Spicer didn't -- pleasure isn't knocking of this down.
HENDERSON: He's very much advancing this idea that Trump has. And we'll see how long Trump hangs onto it. This seems to be the conspiracy theory that he just can't quit.
LEMON: So, Andre, you know, Sean Spicer saying, you know, accused Jim Acosta of cherry picking, right? Couldn't he be accused of the same thing? Because no one said anything, no said OK, we were wrong about the crowd sizes after the park services came out and said and showed the crowd sizes at the same time years apart. Millions of people voted, has not been investigated, is not true, no
one has said anything about that. They didn't do a peep about that. And now wiretapping, so far, not true, no one is admitting it. Andre, is that not -- come on, brother.
KINGSTON: Come on, brother.
BAUER: Well, again, got another question for you. When Flynn talked to the Russian ambassador...
LEMON: No, no, answer that question. Answer that question, man. And then go on. Don't pivot on me.
BAUER: Well, there been plenty of narratives. I mean, well, the press said Trump had no chance of winning. He was only running to get his name out...
LEMON: Come on, Andre?
BAUER: I mean, it's been both ways, Don. I mean, they said he could never win the primary. And of course he's defied the odds and the press over and over again. So, I don't know if he has the goods or not. I hope he does.
LEMON: Nothing to do with anything. Stand by, everybody. Stand by. Andre, we'll get you in it. We're going to take a break. We'll come back at the top of the hour. We'll be right back.
KINGSTON: I'm a silent.
[23:00:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)