Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Administration Under Fire; General Flynn Seeking Immunity. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 31, 2017 - 4:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The president has doubts about vaccines, but all of a sudden loves immunizations.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn once suggested the only people who want immunity are those who have committed a crime. Now he's offering to testify before Congress if he gets, umm, immunity, and the president agrees.

Plus: Candidate Trump blasted him, calling him biased because of his Mexican bias. Now Judge Curiel has approved a settlement in the Trump University lawsuits, and it cost the president millions.

It wasn't that long ago that the NFL wouldn't even allow Las Vegas ads to run through the Super Bowl. Now the Raiders are moving to Sin City. So, does a taxpayer-funded $750 million stadium have anything to do with it?

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm John Berman, in for Jake Tapper today.

We're waiting for the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, to emerge from the White House, where right now he's viewing classified documents that could be relevant to the committee's Russia probe.

That probe just got a new wrinkle. The White House is now urging the president's fired national security adviser to testify before congressional investigators, but before he talks, General Michael Flynn wants immunity to be questioned about possible links between Trump associates and Russia.

His former boss says, go for it, even though both Flynn and the president have previously insisted, if somebody requested immunity, they are probably guilty of something.

What you're looking at right now is actually President Trump in the Oval Office moments ago signing some executive orders on trade. Let's listen in.



BERMAN: All right, both the president and General Flynn, of course, have said, if you ask for immunity, you must be guilty. You can bet their view of that has changed today.

CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins me now.

Jeff, just more drip, drip, drip in the Russia probes.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we're ending the week here with a larger stack of unanswered questions about the Russia investigation, and suddenly General Michael Flynn, who was forced to resign back in February, is now front and center in all of this again here, but we're now...


BERMAN: Now we do have the president talking about trade. Let's listen.


TRUMP: ... and visited the cities and towns devastated by unfair trade policies, probably one of the major reasons I'm here today, trade.

Nobody's ever made bad trade deals like our country has made. I saw the shuttered factories and spent time with the laid-off factory workers. I heard their stories, and I promised them action, and I promised them a solution.

And all over America, you're already seeing that solutions start to take place. Take a look at what's going on in Michigan with Ford and General Motors and Fiat Chrysler and so many more.

The jobs and wealth have been stripped from our country, year after year, decade after decade, trade deficit upon trade deficit reaching more than $700 billion last year alone and lots of jobs.

Thousands of factories have been stolen from our country, but these voiceless Americans now have a voice in the White House. Under my administration, the theft of American prosperity will end. We're going to defend our industry and create a level playing field for the American worker, finally.

Today, I am signing two executive orders that send this message loud and clear, and that set the stage for a great revival of American manufacturing, and you saw that today. You saw what happened. You saw the kind of numbers we have.

The survey actually showed 93 percent of manufacturers are now optimistic about the future, a record high, and that's up from about 56 percent just a couple of months ago. We're going to build on that tremendous momentum, and we're bringing manufacturing and jobs back to our country. First, I'm signing an executive order to ensure that we fully collect

all duties imposed on important importers that cheat. They are cheaters. From now on, those who break the rules will face the consequences, and there will be very severe consequences.

Second, I am ordering the first ever comprehensive review of America's trade deficits and all violations of trade rules that harm the United States and the workers of the United States, just as I promised during my campaign.

This review will be led by Secretary Wilbur Ross, who is joining us here today. Wilbur is an outstanding success story, an unbelievable businessman, a great, but very, very fair negotiator. And on Wall Street, he's simply known as Wilbur, and everybody knows him. And now we have him on our side.


So I thank you, Wilbur. It's really -- you're going to do a fantastic job.

We're going to investigate all trade abuses. And based on those findings, we will take necessary and lawful action to end those many abuses. I'm not beholden to any political or financial interests. I don't care. I'm here to do a job. I'm doing a job for the American worker. I really don't care.

I'm not thinking about my business or anybody's business. Wilbur isn't. Peter isn't. None of the folks that we have up here are. We're doing a job. It's an opportunity like nobody's ever given, and we're here to do a great job for the American worker and for our companies where the American workers are employed.

I work for the American people. Whether you're a Democrat or a Republican or belong to no party at all, you are an American, and I'm here to represent you and your family. We're going to get this thing straightened out. We are going to get these bad trade deals straightened out, right, Peter? It's time.

You have been looking at it for years, right, Wilbur?

This combination over here can't be beaten. That's why I defied the special interests and followed through on my pledge to withdraw immediately from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And that's why I am taking these very historic steps today.

The well-being of America and the American worker is my North Star, and these two orders will point out our nation and point to everybody, point to the world. Next week, as you know, in Florida, at the southern White House, we're having the president of China and a large group from China, his representatives.

And we're going to get down to some very serious business, and we look forward to it. I have spoken to him numerous times on the phone. We look very much forward to it, but it's been very bad what's been happening to our country in terms of our companies and in terms of our jobs, so we're going to start turning it around.

We're going to turn it around fast. Not going to take a long time. It's going to go fast.

So I just want to end by saying that we have a team that's second to none, and when everybody is as assembled and fully in gear after these two orders, I think it's going to be something very special.

I would like to ask Wilbur to say a few words.

And then, Peter, you say a few words.

And we're all set.

Our vice president, I think I'm speaking for both, but I'm not 100 percent sure.


TRUMP: I will tell you one thing. He has one hell of a good marriage going.

Come on, Wilbur.


BERMAN: All right, President Trump just a few moments ago at the White House talking about two executive orders he signed aimed at ending trade abuse, he says.

He also talked about a meeting he's holding next week with the president of China, where he's having a meeting he called at the southern White House, his estate in Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida.

That happens next week, so this is just one of the things going on at the White House at this moment.

One of the other things going on, on White House grounds, Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, is looking at classified documents that the White House says is linked somehow to the committee's Russia investigation.

Any moment, he could leave the White House. Will he comment on what he saw?



BERMAN: All right, welcome back.

Let turn back to CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny at the White House.

And, Jeff, as fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn looks for an immunity deal to talk to Congress, we just learned that, as far as the FBI is concerned, there are no indications that they would be open to such a deal.

ZELENY: John, that's right.

Law enforcement officials are telling CNN that they have no interest, the FBI does not at this time, of talking to Michael Flynn. They have already, and there's no interest in an immunity deal at this point.

Of course, that would all come from the Department of Justice to make any decision like that. So, unclear if the president today was trying to send them a message when he said Mr. Flynn should get immunity.


QUESTION: Any comment on Michael Flynn, Mr. President?

ZELENY (voice-over): President Trump facing new questions tonight on Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser whose shadow still looms large at the White House.

Flynn is offering to testify, in exchange for immunity in the growing probe of Russia meddling in the 2016 election, Flynn, a retired Army general, fired after only 26 days in office for misleading the administration about contacts with the Russian ambassador.

The president took the unusual step of inserting himself in an ongoing investigation, saying on Twitter: "Mike Flynn should ask for immunity, in that this is a witch-hunt, excuse for a big election loss by media and Dems of historic proportion."

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer amplified that message today.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He believes that Mike Flynn should testify. He thinks that he should go up there and do what he has to do to get the story out.

ZELENY: The immunity offer for Flynn was rebuffed by the Senate Intelligence Committee and drew skepticism from Republicans Congressmen like Jason Chaffetz, who took issue with the president's characterization of the Russia probe as a witch-hunt.

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: No, I don't think it's a witch-hunt.

Look, it's very mysterious to me, though, why, all of a sudden, General Flynn is suddenly out there saying he wants immunity. I don't think Congress should give him immunity.

ZELENY: It all adds up to another head-spinning moment at the White House, considering what the president said about immunity last year on the campaign trail.

TRUMP: If you're not guilty of a crime, what do you need immunity for, right?

ZELENY: It was a frequent attack against his rival, Hillary Clinton.

TRUMP: Did anybody ever see so many people get immunity? Everybody. ZELENY: After leading attacks of his own at the Republican



ZELENY: ... Flynn had this to say about immunity.

[16:15:02] FLYNN: When you are given immunity, that means that you have probably committed a crime.

ZELENY: At the White House today, Spicer said it was not hypocritical to suddenly support immunity, if it brought to light the president's belief that conversations with Trump aides were swept up by government surveillance.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's saying do whatever you have to do, to go up, to make it clear what happen, take whatever precautions you want or however your legal counsel advises you.

ZELENY: A key Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee sounded exasperated, suggesting the White House may be trying to muddy the waters.

REP. JACK SPEIER (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: For the president of the United States to pursue this in this manner and have all of us directed away from what we should be doing which is looking at the Russia connection is really a shameful set of circumstances.


ZELENY: Now, this whole discussion of immunity really raises the question of in exchange for what? Immunity is offered to high-ranking government officials if they offer someone else or more information about someone in a higher position.

John, there aren't too many people higher than General Flynn was.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That's exactly right. He answered only to the president.

Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thanks so much.

Any moment now, Congressman Adam Schiff could emerge from an office next to the White House. He's looking at classified information related to the House Intelligence Committee's Russia investigation. What will he tell us? Stick around.


[16:20:19] BERMAN: Welcome back.

President Trump's fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn now says he has a story to tell but will only testify if he receives immunity. This comes as the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff right now is reviewing documents at the White House.

Joining me, Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell. He also serves on the House Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks so much for being with us. It's safe to say, given that Congressman Schiff is in the White House grounds, I think he's in the OEB right now reviewing these documents, we don't know what he's seeing. So I won't specifically what's in them.

But I will ask you if you think it's a positive development that he's being invited to come look.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: It's certainly something that we should all have been able to see a few weeks ago and never should have been done at the White House when the chairman went over there the day after Director Comey testified, but we want to get this information back on track. American people are counting us to find out whether there were any personal, political or financial ties between Donald Trump and his team that converged with Russia's interference.

BERMAN: So, just a few minutes ago at the White House press conference, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that no one is focusing on the leaking of classified information, including the unmasking potentially of individuals. Does that concern you at all?

SWALWELL: These are merely smoke bombs rolled into obstruct an investigation into the ties between Russia and the president's campaign. That is separate, and we should always look at anyone who breaks the law, but to suggest that's more important than an attack on our democracy is quite frankly ridiculous, John. So, I'm not going to be distracted by that and I hope the American people aren't either.

BERMAN: I couldn't agree more it's a completely different issue from whether Russia meddled in the U.S. elections and whether Trump associates, you know, coordinated with the Russians during the election. But the separate matter of was there incidental collection and were identities unmasked inappropriately and leaked inappropriately, that in and of itself is that something that is worth investigating and worth exposing?

SWALWELL: I think it should be done separate from our investigation. What we want to know is why was -- why were people on Donald Trump's team going over to Russia while the interference campaign was going on, like Carter Page? Why did Roger Stone know before the rest of the world did that Russia would hack John Podesta's e-mails and then use Guccifer 2.0 to disseminate them? So, these are the questions that we want to get to the bottom of, and, John, we want to make sure this never happens again. I think that's something Republicans and Democrats should unite around.

BERMAN: So, General Michael Flynn asking the congressional committees for immunity, you're against granting immunity. Why?

SWALWELL: Generally, immunity is not something you give to innocent people, and it's not something that an innocent person would ask for. I've prosecuted homicide cases before using immunity agreements. Usually, you use that because you need testimony you can't get otherwise but you still want the witness to be truthful.

So far, all we know about General Flynn is he hasn't been very truthful about what he had to do with Russia. And so, I'm skeptical at this point, and I also want to know what the Department of Justice thinks of this.

BERMAN: The Department of Justice -- as of now the FBI says it has no reason to grant immunity, no intention of doing so. We just got that information a short time ago. Let me tell you what Richard Painter and Norm Eisen, two ethic lawyers who worked in Republican and Democratic administrations, says because it's interesting. They say, "This case is different from ordinary criminal investigations. Finding the truth is even more important than punishing the guilty because it's critical to our national security and the future of our democracy."

They say it might be worth it to grant immunity to get to the truth.

SWALWELL: And, John, again, when I would deal with prosecutions of murder cases, you want to know what do they have to give first, and you don't want to the have any conditions on that. You need to test the individual to see if they can be truthful and forthcoming. And so far, to just say I want immunity and not to share with our staff what he seeks to tell, I'm not interested in that.

BERMAN: So I've talked to you a few times over the course of this investigation. The question I always ask you is, have you seen any evidence at this point of collusion between Trump associates and the Russians? Have you?

SWALWELL: Yes, yes. Unclassified, and there's classified, and I think the unclassified is almost as powerful, John. I mean, again, Roger Stone, being able to tell the world that John Podesta's e-mails were about to be hacked before anyone else knew it, that is powerful circumstantial evidence and DNA evidence, by the way, John, is also circumstantial evidence used in courtrooms across America. It can be just as strong as direct evidence.

BERMAN: You're not saying DNA evidence exists here, but I understand your point. Eric Swalwell of California, great to have you with us. We're about to lose your window, so I have to say goodbye. Goodbye, Congressman.

SWALWELL: My pleasure, John.

BERMAN: All right. Should General Flynn be granted immunity to find out as quickly as possible what's going on with Russia? We'll discuss more ahead.


[16:29:18] BERMAN: Welcome back.

The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, is on White House grounds right now reading over classified documents that the White House just made available about links they say between Donald Trump's associates and Russia. At this point, the status of that Russia probe not clear.

I want to go to CNN congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty live on Capitol Hill.

Sunlen, Congressman Schiff said that even after he sees those documents today, they'll still be a lot he doesn't know.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. John, Adam Schiff making it very clear that he still will have a lot more questions even before going into this meeting today. He issued a paper statement really critical of how this is essentially all going down noting that he in his words doesn't have the appropriate agency representatives in there at that White House meeting today. So, he says it might not even be possible for him to understand the full context of the documents that he's reviewing today.