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White House Press Briefing; Rep. Devin Nunes "Alarmed" by Trump Communications Picked Up By Intelligence, Leaked; Republicans Working on Getting Necessary Votes on Eve of Obamacare Repeal; Westminster Attack Being Treated as Terrorist Incident. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired March 22, 2017 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If somebody fills out a form here, an SF86, their security clearance form, or another employment document and lies on that form or misleads, then they're going to face the penalty of law on that. That's big difference between saying when someone was hired on a campaign or another entity that they should disclose everything in their past.
Whether or not they - who their clients were. But again, if someone presented a resume and it was faulty, sure I think that if that was fault as you would recall, there were other - there was another person during the transition that was named to a position that was discussed as not being truthful with some of their works.
We let them go. That was - you - people write things, they have jobs, they describe themselves a certain way, and every time that I'm aware of, that we've had an incident where someone has not been full forthright and truthful, we've let them go.
But when you worked for the United States government, you actually fill out security clearance forms, employment forms, under the penalty of law. None of those cases occurred in the past, and to dredge up someone's work from a decade ago, it's not that Paul wasn't truthful, just to be clear, you're trying to conflate something that's not there.
You're trying to make the accusation that somehow he was dishonest or distrustful...
QUESTION: I'm asking about...
SPICER: No you are.
QUESTION: I'm not asking about Paul Manafort.
SPICER: Who are you asking about? QUESTION: That's what I'm asking is can you say with certainty that, right now, that there's nobody working for this Whitehouse that is presently working in the interests of a foreign government?
SPICER: I can tell you that every form has been filled out that it - it... QUESTION: So you trust that there's (inaudible)...
SPICER: Absolutely. To, yes, you got to - I mean, people were filling out forms, so to sit here and ask me whether I can vouch for, whatever it is, a few hundred people, that have filled out everything, you know, that would be ridiculous for me to stand here and suggest that I possibly could.
What I can tell you is under the penalty of law, every single person has filled out a form that is being vetted by whatever level of classification that they need to get by the appropriate law enforcement agencies or - or HR entities.
But I can't prevent somebody from fully disclosing everything on their taxes or filling our a form, what I can tell you is that if there is an instance brought to our attention, or so (ph) has mislead it, either they will be referred to the appropriate law enforcement agency or dismissed or appropriate action will be taken, but, yes, there is no tolerance for that.
QUESTION: And then very quickly, in regards to Devin Nunes and the fact that he's going to come today and the comments that you began the briefing by telling us, on March 4th the President tweeted, "How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during a very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad or sick guy."
Does the President stand by his statement that President Obama is a "bad or sick guy?"
SPICER: I - I think the President's tweets stand for themselves. We've talked about that, I don't want (ph)...
QUESTION: So, you think (inaudible)...
SPICER: Give me - I'm going to answer the question if you can actually...
QUESTION: OK, you said it stood for itself so I thought (ph)...
SPICER: I know. I think the President's tweets speak for themselves, as for the rest of the tweets, let's see, as we've mentioned before, how this process evolves and what information we can further gather out.
AUDIENCE: (Sean)? (Sean)? (Sean)?
QUESTION: Thanks, (Sean). On the executive order on energy independence, that's been delayed for several weeks now. Can you - can you...
SPICER: Hold on, how do you - why would it be delayed? We have our (inaudible)...
QUESTION: Well, your office said that it was going to be released several weeks ago, it wasn't. Then - then there were reports, consequently, that said it would be released and it hasn't.
So, can you give...
SPICER: I - I don't, which all due respect, I don't - I don't believe I ever announced that were was - that that was scheduled to come out.
QUESTION: OK, can you - can you - can you tell us when it will be released?
QUESTION: And can you - and also, it said in it, it addressed the Clean Power Plan, which is the Obama-era climate change revelation, and there is apparently no replacement opportunity in that executive order.
SPICER: Can I just - I'm going to cut you off here.
SPICER: We've discussed executive orders in the past. I've told before until they're ready to be announced, I don't comment on the scheduling...
QUESTION: This is a policy question about...
SPICER: I know it is, but you're asking me the contents of it. It's not a policy question.
QUESTION: No, no, this is - I mean, I just haven't been able to finish my - -my question.
QUESTION: Thank you. So - so, apparently there's no replacement for it, that is the answer to a Supreme Court ruling in 2007. Does the administration feel it is legally bound to regulate greenhouse gases?
SPICER: I - I - let's wait and see what the executive order says or doesn't say. I don't want to get into...
SPICER: I - I understand the question. I'm not getting ahead of this at this point?
QUESTION: (Sean)? Will President Trump hold a news conference on the attack (ph) and also on his upcoming travel? Do you any guidance on other rallies that he may have because that's where he sends his message out to the American people, including social media.
SPICER: I - I - he sends his message out in a lot of ways. I - I would - if they're rallies, then I would refer you to the campaign website to get updates there. As for future press conferences, you know, stay tuned on - on when the next one is going to be.
AUDIENCE: (Sean)? (Sean)? (Sean)? (Sean)?
QUESTION: When you learned - when you learned that - that members of the President's team may have been in contact with someone through the intelligence community, and a federal judge, has deemed to be a little bit dodgy, does that give you any pause at all?
SPICER: Who are you referring to?
QUESTION: The people who are subject to the (inaudible) order - (inaudible) order.
SPICER: It's not - I'm sorry, can you rephrase?
QUESTION: Sure(ph) it's -- it's a reference to Nunes. Members of the President's team, whether it's in transition or the campaign, are said to have been in contact -- being picked up by -- when they were in contact ...
QUESTION: With someone who was the subject vice ordered(ph). Does that give you any pause at all ...
SPICER: I don't know ...
QUESTION: Given the -- the things that you haven't known before, about Manafort and Flynn, et cetera?
SPICER: Not until we know further details. I think to get ahead of what we -- what we know -- I don't -- until we know what the chairman's gonna brief mine -- for me to suggest what -- what is -- what he is gonna reveal to him, about whom, and when, and how would be -- I -- you know, inappropriate at this point to comment on.
I'm going to go to Elizabeth Crisp out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
QUESTION: Hi, Sean. Thanks. Last year, Louisiana suffered one of the worst flooding disasters in our nation's history. Today, thousands of people remain displaced and communities are struggling to rebuild. With support from the Obama Administration, the state received about $1.6 billion in flood assistance through the CDPG Program(ph).
The state's seeking $2 billion more of federal aid and our Governor has asked for President(ph) Trump's support. So my question is two- fold. What is the Trump Administration's position exactly on the federal government's role in the long-term disaster recovery efforts? And also, can Louisiana count on this Administration's support for additional flood assistance(ph)?
SPICER: Thanks, Elizabeth. I -- I believe the -- you know, the process works such that the Governor makes a request to FEMA. FEMA then puts it through the process. I'm not aware of where that -- what the request is or where it stands in the process. And I -- I would -- I'd refer you back to FEMA on that ...
QUESTION: This is actually -- this is aid separate from FEMA ... SPICER: OK(ph).
QUESTION: It's the long-term part -- that's(ph).
SPICER: OK(ph). So I -- I know that the budget that was just presented allows for substantial funding for humanitarian assistance, including disaster refugee programming -- program funding in -- in priority areas.
I -- I think, at this point, the budget process has just kicked off. And we will now -- you know, begin the process of working with Congress on watching them draft a budget and talk about our -- our priorities and where they go forward.
The President will have a full budget out in May. And -- and so, that would be an appropriate time to do that. But I would refer you back to -- to the Governor at this point. And figure out where that stands in the process. Cecilia(ph).
QUESTION: Can you say today, with certainty, that Paul Manafort never tried to pressure or encourage the campaign to take on a -- a more pro-Russia position on any issues?
SPICER: I -- I -- not that I'm aware of. I can't -- but -- but there's nothing that suggests that that was the case.
QUESTION: And on Nunes, from what you know about what he has said so far, is -- are you -- is The White House viewing this, in any way, as vindication on President's wiretapping tweets?
SPICER: I -- I would refer you to his comments specifically. I don't -- until we know what he's going to brief the President on, I don't wanna have to get ahead of this. I think, obviously the suggestion that he made, that --that people were what they call unmasked; meaning that an American citizen who's caught up in a -- in a surveillance has -- by rule of law, has their name protected.
The idea that individual's names were unmasked and let known suggests -- raises serious questions. Why was that name unmasked? What was the intention of doing that? There's a lot of questions that I think his statement raises. And I hope that we can continue to get to the bottom of.
But right now, we just don't -- we're not there yet. I think that there are a series of questions that -- that need to get answered, as to what happened, why it happened. And hopefully, we will be able to share more with you going forward. Todd.
QUESTION: Thanks, Sean. On the -- on the border wall, the President's budget blueprint calls for a couple a dozen lawyers who are good and dedicated to acquiring land and, I think, people are wondering just how aggressive the eminent domain effort is going to be and how that squares with respectful private property lines.
SPICER: As I recall, during the Bush administration, similar efforts were undertaken to secure the appropriate property that would be where a fence or a wall, in this case, would be.
So, this is nothing new. This is the government doing what it has to do to protect its border. I think there's nobody in America and I dare say the world that didn't believe that the President was committed to building a wall.
And, I think that we're gonna take the steps necessary to fulfill that promise. To make sure that we have to. So, I know that the steps they're starting to take both in terms of funding and the administrative steps to see the President's vision fulfilled on this pledge that he made to the American people and we'll go from there.
QUESTION: Is there any update on how the wall will be financed?
SPICER: I think both the 2017 supplemental has some initial funding in it. The 2018 budget does and has ...
QUESTION: I'm talking about where the money will come from.
SPICER: Right. And, I think, that we're gonna continue to do it right now the initial funding that was put in place will allow it to begin. The President's made very clear that using existing resources we go forward.
There'll be continuing discussions about the financing on the wall both in terms of how we will pay for it and who will be the source of that payment.
QUESTION: Has he given up on Mexico?
SPICER: No, not at all. Thank you, guys, very much. I'll see you all tomorrow. We'll try to have updates on the subjects that are currently pending. Thank you.
[14:40:56] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Here we go. You have been watching the daily briefing with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
I'm Brooke Baldwin, in Washington, D.C., today.
A lot to get through today. But first, let me begin with the coverage from parliament in London. Just so we're on the same page before we delve into politics, some of the headlines made there, we can now report with regard to this terror investigation underway in London that four people now have been killed, including the attacker, and also a police officer, and 20 other people have been injured. We heard Sean Spicer say that President Trump has spoken to the prime minister, Theresa May, and we're awaiting a read out of that phone call. But, of course, he has been briefed and he has condemned this attack.
But let's move on to the huge headline with regard to the House Intel chairman, Republican Devin Nunes, who this morning spoke to members of the press, and said, quoting him, "It is possible that Donald Trump's personal communications were picked up in incidental collection." He went on to clarify that this was not related to Russia and he said, quote, "I am alarmed by it."
So let's go first to our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju, who -- I have a couple of questions for you, but let's just begin with who exactly was he saying being picked up, the president's personal communications? Transitional staff? And for the Congressman, how was he able to divulge this kind of information today, Manu?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: The answer to both is it's unclear, Brooke. At this press conference today, Devin Nunes emerged saying what he considered alarming information, something he's actually briefing the president of the United States on this afternoon after briefing the House speaker that some of these communications that occurred between Trump transition officials during the time of the transition period were incidentally picked up by the Intelligence community as part of foreign surveillance, but not related to Russia. He would not get more specific about that. But we asked him multiple times who specifically are you talking about? He said he would not reveal names. We said which country are you talking about? He would not discuss which country.
Now I asked him, point blank, Brooke, does that mean the president of the United States, were his communications picked up. At first, he said yes, and then he was asked multiple times by me and other reporters about this and he walked back, saying it's possible the president's conversations may have been picked up incidentally, something he is raising concerns about.
Now, this is how he described it in the onset of his remarks. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DEVIN NUNES, (R-), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I recently confirmed that on numerous occasions the intelligence community incidentally collected information about U.S. citizens involved in the Trump transition. Details about U.S. persons associated with the incoming administration, details with little or no apparent foreign intelligence value, were widely disseminated in intelligence community reporting. Third, I have confirmed that additional names of Trump transition team members were unmasked. And, fourth and finally, I want to be clear, none of this surveillance was related to Russia or the investigation of Russian activities or of the Trump team.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, when he says the issue of these people being unmasked, that is what was alarming Devin Nunes right now, saying someone inside the intelligence community has revealed information about who these Trump officials were, who were having communications with other foreign officials, as part of what's happening on the intelligence surveillance, foreign surveillance. Now he was asked by me and another reporter, does that mean that you believe the president of the United States was spied on? He said -- he would not actually go there. He said I'm not going to get into the legal definition, but I have concerns.
But, Brooke, it's important to point this out. Donald Trump has been saying now for the last few weeks that he had been wiretapped under the orders of President Barack Obama. So does this vindicate him? Does this mean that you believe Donald Trump has been wiretapped, based on what you've just seen, is a question we asked Devin Nunes? He said, no, he still does not believe there was a physical wiretap of Trump Tower. He believes his communications were picked up legally. And there's no way of him knowing at this point whether or not these communications were heard in Trump Tower, so that Trump tweet, still there's nothing to back that up at this moment -- Brooke?
[14:50:34] BALDWIN: Got it. Got it. A lot unclear.
But, Manu Raju, thank you much for that.
And hearing this morning, I understand the Democratic co-chair for the House Intel Committee, David, hasn't commented yet.
But just listening to all of this, reporting all of this out for the first time today, what's more alarming that this potentiality happened with the president over at Trump Tower or that we have a House Intel Committee chair who is maybe getting out ahead of himself?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It's hard to say. And it's really, you know, I was kind of struggling.
And I don't know about you, David, but struggling to parse exactly what Chairman Nunes meant, because he went out of his way to say this wasn't about Russia, and went out of his way to say these seem to be legal FISA taps. So what he seemed to be saying I think was that these names were unmasked and circulated and, therefore, the content of these conversations were somehow circulated with their names associated with it for whatever reason.
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICS DIRECTOR: Which we don't know.
BORGER: Which we don't know. Could it be gossip? Could it's be to do harm to the people in the Trump transition? To do harm to the president? I don't even know whether he's part of this or not, so we're kind of left reading behind the lines.
CHALIAN: Nunes, when asked, did say, yes, the president, and then he took it back.
CHALIAN: The chairman did initially say --
BORGER: Then he took it back.
CHALIAN: And then he said, well, "potentially." So that needs to be clarified. One of the reasons - and this is my speculation, just trying to, again, as Gloria is saying, parse the words -- one of the reasons he may have been so adamant about this not having to do with Russia is because there's an investigation going on with Russia, so perhaps it would not be appropriate if this were somehow tied up in that investigation for the House Intel chairman to go down and brief the president when the FBI director, two or three days ago, said that Trump and his associates are under investigation for Russian contacts. That would be something that the House Intel chair would stay away from. I think maybe that's why he won't specify --
BORGER: Yeah, he has to specify that because he might have been doing something illegal at that point.
And the question is, he's talking about -- I don't know whether he's allowed to do what he even did today, what he even said today, publicly.
BALDWIN: That's why I asked Manu, and that's not clear.
BORGER: Right. Again, we're just kind of -- we have blinders on and we should have blinders on, but now that he's come out with this -- and I do not believe -- I know I've been in contact with people on the Democratic side. I think they were caught very much unaware.
CHALIAN: As I think Sean Spicer was, right? It sounded like Sean Spicer was learning of it right before he went into the briefing and would have to wait what he actually briefs the president on.
BORGER: And the fact that Nunes went directly to the White House in a nanosecond means he had something to say.
BALDWIN: Right. Right. So there's that.
Let me add another layer to this. Paul Manafort is totally pushing back on the Associated Press report. It was pretty explosive, saying essentially, he earned millions of dollars trying to do some work for this Russian billionaire. And specifically, this A.P. report says that Manafort pitched him a plan to, quote, "greatly benefit the Putin government," and, thus, paid all this money. So Sean Spicer was asked about this today, and I'm roughly quoting him, he said, no, Paul Manafort was simply hired as the campaign chief to count delegates. Did I hear that right?
BORGER: Well, Paul Manafort was the chairman of the campaign, something like four months.
CHALIAN: Chief strategist.
BORGER: And had an important role, including delegates, I would say.
(CROSSTALK) BORGER: But they didn't have to count delegates.
BALDWIN: So it wasn't an issue.
BORGER: It wasn't an issue. And even though Sean Spicer sort of apologized for saying that Manafort had a small role in the campaign, he also made it seem less than it was.
BALDWIN: This is someone who came in after Lewandowski was fired.
BORGER: -- but it really wasn't.
Then when asked the question, which was a hypothetical, about would the president had hired Manafort if he knew 10 years ago he tried to help Vladimir Putin, according to this A.P. story, and Sean deflected that again and he went off talking about Manafort. And after that, he talked about the Podestas, Clinton, and Russia, and kind of went off on that.
[14:50:22] BALDWIN: Big picture, why does this matter David Chalian?
CHALIAN: Paul Manafort is a central character to what FBI Director Comey is investigating and what he talked about the other day. Even though Comey did not want to talk about individuals, we know from our reporting that Manafort is central to the nexus of Russia and Russian associations and Trump world, during the year of the campaign. We do not know the details of those. We do not -- but we know that's being looked at. That's why this is so important. That's why you see Sean Spicer trying desperately to push Manafort away as if he's not part of the White House, which is true, he's not, and move him out of Trump universe because he clearly is a central character.
BORGER: And I had spoken to somebody who is close to the White House and asked, does the president still talk to Paul Manafort, and the answer was no.
BORGER: Just emphatically no.
CHALIAN: It's important to remember, when Paul Manafort left the campaign, Eric Trump was interviewed on FOX News and said, my father doesn't want this distraction. So it wasn't even -- at the time, it wasn't as if this was -- this was the reason Paul Manafort was removed from the campaign, because they deemed him as a distraction.
BALDWIN: Even then.
CHALIAN: Even then.
BALDWIN: Huge task ahead for the Trump administration, this promise from Republicans for years and years, now repeal and replace Obamacare. We're on the eve on this vote on the House side.
Phil Mattingly has been working this piece for us.
This is all about numbers right like the magic number is 216, they need it to be a big resounding yes. And what sinks it? 21 Republicans?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. They could afford to lose 21 Republicans. Brooke, that's why we've seen an enormous pressure campaign, because they're short. They're not there yet. And I think they're willing to acknowledge that.
But I think there's an interesting dynamic occurring, in fact, a fascinating dynamic if you're a reporter. It's probably a terrifying dynamic if you're Speaker Paul Ryan or the White House.
BALDWIN: Tell me.
MATTINGLY: I want to first play sound from Sean Spicer, because this is a crucial point of what happens if they don't get the vote.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPICER: I know we saw Lou Barletta, who was a no. Steve King was a no, now a yes. The count keeps getting stronger for us.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And if it doesn't pass is there a Plan B?
SPICER: No, there's no Plan B. There's Plan A and Plan A. We're going to get this done.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So you are confident, 100 percent confident --
SPICER: We're going to get it done, plain and simple.
If you want to see Obamacare repealed and replaced, this is the vote, this is time to act. This is what people have told -- the American people is going to happen. This vote is going to happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: There is no Plan B. Brooke, it's not just the White House saying it. It's what I hear repeatedly from House, too. It is going to the floor tomorrow, even if they don't feel like they have the votes, which makes the campaign that much more important. We have seen members shuttled over to the White House, the president sitting down with a few himself. You have Speaker Ryan and his top allies texting, calling, meeting in person with some of the moderate members trying to make sure they're willing to come aboard.
The big question, without House Freedom Caucus, the most conservative members, a couple hours ago, they huddled in, there were six boxes of pizza, which they did not give us any, which was a little frustrating, but they were sitting there trying to figure out if they were going to come to a yes, many were not movable. But as they came out and had met with the president, they weren't budging yet. What the president is offering, what the speaker is offering is not enough. They're saying, start over, pull the bill. There's a game of chicken. Someone has to give. Right now, there's no real clue yet who is going to be -- Brooke?
BALDWIN: As Sean Spicer said, Plan A, the train is leaving the station.
Thank you, Phil Mattingly, for this game of chicken that continues into tomorrow.
Gloria burger and David Chalian, what it's in for these far-right Republicans to flip?
[14:55:14] BORGER: Votes. They have to please their --
BALDWIN: For 2018 or is it more --
BORGER: You mean to flip and support the president?
BORGER: Oh, they may be worried about getting primaried. They may be worried that you promised to repeal Obamacare and you didn't.
BALDWIN: They're saying it's not going far enough.
BORGER: They saying it's not going far enough.
CHALIAN: But they are also still trying to exert leverage. They have something Trump and Ryan want. They're vote on this, so waiting to till the last minute. Exerting the leverage and one of the things they really want to see is that list of 10 essential health benefits that have to be included in any plan that's part of Obamacare that's something that's anathema to the conservatives, one of the things they really want to get rid of. And there's a big argument why that's not being done in the House version and why is going to wait for the Senate. But that is one of the --
BALDWIN: Who is the biggest closer, the president? Speaker of the House? HHS secretary? The vice president? Who has the magic touch?
BORGER: I don't think people live in fear of President Trump going out and campaigning -- he's at 37 percent in the polls though still popular with the Republicans, but it's not like the president is there with a green eye shade and rolling up his sleeves and saying what can we do about the provision of the Medicaid. I think in the end, it may have to be, in an odd way, I think, maybe Paul Ryan. I don't know.
Do you agree?
CHALIAN: It's a great question you're asking, Brooke. We don't know because we haven't seen it yet. This is the first big legislative push. And Phil Mattingly was making this point earlier. This is trial by fire right now. This is not a team that has a play book of how to do this. The first time they're in the majority with the Oval Office and the first time that Trump team is trying to get something like this over the finish line, and we just haven't seen who is the closer and how they do it.
BALDWIN: Magic number 216.
BORGER: No LBJ. Not yet.
BALDWIN: Thank you both so much.
We do want to talk London now.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BALDWIN: Here we go, on the breaking news out of London. An attack being treated as a terrorist incident. British parliament is still on lockdown. At least four people are dead, including the attacker. We know 20 others are injured, including some with what they're calling catastrophic injuries.
Here we are getting new video from Westminster Bridge, looking up at parliament, showing people walking along, and this car crossing over this bridge just mowed them down, according to Scotland Yard. We have been just told one victim was also pulled out of the river there. Nearby, video shows this car. It's crashed there. Smashed into the gate. This is the perimeter of U.K.'s parliament. And it was here that witnesses say this attacker got out of the car and had a knife, stabbed a police officer before ultimately being shot by police.
Here is one eyewitness describing the scene.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RADOSLAW SIKORSKI, POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER: I heard rather than saw, what I took to be a collision, like a car hitting a sheet of metal. And when I know looked at my -- I saw people down on the streets, on the tarmac. First person, second person, people rushing to help them. I saw in all, five people down, mowed down by a car, including one person bleeding heavily from the head. And another person lying unconscious.
UNIDENTIFIED WITNESS: We were just walking as normal, and the first hit, the second people and the third time, no one realized it. In and out, zigzag, and it was quick 10 seconds in between.
KEVIN SHOFORD (ph), WITNESS: I looked to my left and saw a man force his way through a security gate. He went straight for a police officer, wrestled him to the ground. Then another police officer approached. The attacker got up and walked towards him with his arm outstretched, carrying a weapon. I didn't know whether it was a gun or a knife, but I think it was a knife. And then, less than a couple of seconds, gunfire, and that's when it was all panic. I assume that was the armed police who patrol parliament, the others taking out the attacker. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: People ran for cover. Of course --