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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Intel Member Schiff Views Classified Docs at White House; Interview with Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 31, 2017 - 16:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: 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.

[16:30:03] So, he says it might not even be possible for him to understand the full context of the documents that he's reviewing today, so essentially really blasting the White House for how this continues to unfold.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY (voice-over): House intelligence ranking member Adam Schiff shuttling to the White House today to review classified information offered up by the White House, an invitation extended by the White House sent in this letter to the intelligence committees Thursday. But it's not clear if Schiff will be looking at the same classified documents shown to House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, and Schiff before his visit sending a letter of his own back to the White House, expressing profound concern with the way these materials are being made available to the committee.

Meantime, Chairman Devin Nunes faces continued fallout, with new revelations about what he knows and how exactly he learned that information. First reported in "New York Times", a U.S. official now confirms to CNN White House staffers, Ezra Cohen-Watnick and Michael Ellis, are believed to be two individuals involved.

But still unknown is whether the two White House staffers were involved directly in showing Nunes the documents when he was on White House grounds last week, as he looked at the intelligence materials that he claims showed Trump aides campaign conversations with picked up in intelligence collection.

Nunes today remaining adamant. A spokesman saying, "Chairman Nunes will not confirm or deny speculation about his source's identity and he will not respond to speculation from anonymous sources."

The White House staffers' involvement fueling even more questions about the independence of Nunes' investigation from the White House.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I'm firmly convinced that the president and his aides concocted this and drew Devin Nunes into it, and he became, you know, an advocate and abetter to what I believe is an absolute fabrication.

SERFATY: And even more criticism of the credibility of Nunes' claim that the information was brought to him by a whistleblower.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: To me, this looks like -- nothing like a whistleblower case, and -- and, again, I think the White House needs to answer is this instead a case where they wish to effectively launder information through our committee to avoid the true source of the information.

SERFATY: The White House today --

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We all found out, you, me, everyone else, that is coming down here after he held a press conference with your colleagues to say he was coming down here based on stuff that he had found that didn't have to do with Russia, that had a whistleblower source had given him.

SERFATY: Attempting to swat down the criticism.

SPICER: What he did, what he saw and who he met with was 100 percent proper.

SERFATY: Meantime, as the firestorm continues to grow around Nunes, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is facing increasing questions if he still stands by the chairman. A spokeswoman saying today the speaker doesn't know the source of the disclosure to Chairman Nunes. The chairman has the speaker's full confidence.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SERFATY: And as all to those questions continue to swirl around him since the House is not in session today, Chairman Nunes is back at his district in California. At this hour, he is appearing in an event in Fresno. He himself has been very silent in all of the day's developments today, John. So, we'll see if this comes up -- John.

BERMAN: All right. Sunlen Serfaty, thanks so much.

Joining me now is Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma. He serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senator Lankford, thanks so much for being here.

Let me ask you right off the bat here. Do you support granting immunity for General Flynn?

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R-OK), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I'm going to let the chairman of the committee be able to make that decision as we walk through the process. Obviously, we'll want to be able to hear from General Flynn. We think he has something to be able to contribute to the conversation, the other witnesses that we've reached out to, all of them have voluntarily agreed to be able to meet with us and we do look forward to meeting to all of them, including General Flynn.

BERMAN: No one else has asked for immunity, have they? LANKFORD: No, I'm not going to go into the details of how we actually

operate, but I would just say everyone else has voluntarily cooperated. How about that?

BERMAN: I'll take that as a yes, even though you didn't say it that way.

General Flynn and President Trump both repeatedly suggested during the campaign that if someone is granted immunity, it suggests that they committed a crime. Do you agree with that characterization?

LANKFORD: No, that makes good politics in the conversation in a campaign time period, but you and I both know a lot of people address immunity issues for a lot of reasons, not just past behavior but what happens in the testimony. It's often that somebody is sitting down at the desk and as they are being interviewed, there's a trip-up so they are worried about perjury charges. So, there's lots of issues that happened with that.

It would a pretty free conversation if he has immunity so we could ask about anything and address any issue, but we'll see where that goes in the days ahead and what the agreement is.

BERMAN: So, the president said this morning in a tweet, he called the investigation into Russia a probe that you are involved in, he called it a witch-hunt. Are you on a witch-hunt?

LANKFORD: No. We're not on a witch-hunt.

[16:35:00] Obviously, we're out to get the facts and it's beneficial to the White House and to the American people to get as many of these facts out as fast as we can possibly get them out to make sure that we takes the facts wherever the facts go, to get it resolved, because at the end of this, we're going to put out a bipartisan report from the Senate Intelligence Committee after we go through literally thousand of pages of documents and highly classified documents, a lot of different interviews.

As we finish this investigation, we'll put out a bipartisan report and reporters like you and others that will say did you ask X, Y, Z? We need to be able to answer yes to show we were thorough in the process and to get it out so we can settle this one way or the other.

BERMAN: I listened to your hearing and it was fascinating. Serious information and serious discussion about Russia trying to get involved, trying to meddle in elections all over the world, including this election. It's a very serious matter.

Does it help focus the attention of the American people on it when the president of the United States calls this quest a witch-hunt?

LANKFORD: No, I think everyone is going to realize for what it really is. We've got another election coming up two years from now. The president wants to make sure that Russia stays out it four years from now as well. This is what Europe has dealt with for a very long time. We've not

paid attention to it and said it's over there, and for whatever reason Russia decided to engage with us and they decided years before this election that they were going to ramp up and try to engage in this. The way that they actually prepared for it and the things that they laid how the in the process, it was clear they had planned to be involved in this election for a while.

So the key thing for us is how do we fight that off next time to make sure that the American people have all the facts that they need for a future election that they were able to confront Russia and to be able to make sure that they understand why our cyber doctrine is and when they cross the line to be able to engage in our elections, it's over the line.

BERMAN: So, CNN has confirmed the two White House staffers helped House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes get access to, quote, "the troubling information" as he described it at White House last week. So, Chairman Nunes and the administration, they have not issued a denial.

I know you don't want to comment on the House investigation. I'm not asking you to comment on the House at this point. I'm asking you to comment on how the White House has handled it, given how its staffers provided this information. Do you think they have handled it well?

LANKFORD: We asked the House weeks ago -- or the White House, that is, weeks ago to give to us any documents that they had leading to any accusations that were in the public. We're gathering all documents of everything related to this, and if they have anything, we've asked them to turn that over. Now, they have been responsive to us, as you know yesterday, sitting in no doubt to the chairman and ranking member will be able to take a look at this information of both the House and Senate Committees.

I would be pretty confident that those documents would then come to us within days as well and we'll add it to the ongoing investigation. But, again, there are thousand of pages of documents we're going through. So, we're glad to have those added to the conversation but it's a part of the whole.

BERMAN: All right. Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma -- thanks so much for being with us. Have a great weekend.

LANKFORD: Thank you.

BERMAN: President Trump definitely not winning the lawsuit against the now defunct Trump University. The same judge that then candidate Trump said was unfair because he is Mexican says the president is on the hook for millions and millions of dollars.

And then you may not be going Las Vegas for an NFL game, but Sin City's newest players could still cost you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:42:39] BERMAN: All right. Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Let's stick to politics. On the panel today, CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod, who was senior adviser to President Obama. Also with me, CNN senior political analyst David Gergen who was an advisor to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton.

So, a lot of good advice given by these two men, which is why I really have been dying to ask both of you this.

Before we get to the substance of the fact that General Michael Flynn, former national security adviser, asking for immunity, I want to put this question to you. If you were sitting in the West Wing in your old job and someone walked in and said, hey, this fired senior staffer just asked for immunity, David Axelrod, what would be your response?

(LAUGHTER)

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I would say I miss my old life. You know, the -- I never had that experience, you know? So, I don't know how I would react, but David has had so many experiences in different administrations that he can speak to that.

But, look, there's no way -- I saw Jack Kingston on the air last night trying to spin it as somehow a positive thing. There's nothing positive about this, OK? This is bad news. It marks a -- a step up in the seriousness of the investigation and you've got a guy who is super close to the president both in the campaign and was national security advisers for the first weeks of the administration who now by his own standard and the president's apparently implicated in something.

BERMAN: So, David Gergen, you can answer that question and also note that the president was tweeting about this morning. He basically said that he agreed Michael Flynn should get immunity. Why? Because he calls the investigation a witch-hunt. What do you make of that?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, yes, if I were sitting in the White House just like David Axelrod, you know, I think the first thing we would do is go to the president and urge him not to say anything anywhere until you've had time to figure it out.

I think it's a mistake to call it a witch-hunt. It seems to taint the whole thing in some way, dismiss it and -- and that's just not a good signal from the president. I do think that you have to say when Donald Trump go out and get immunity and testify, he is trying to send a signal, I'm not afraid of what you have to say, you know? There's nothing -- typically get people immunity in order to -- the official investigating officers can get somebody higher up.

Well, who is higher than Flynn if it's not the president so when the president says go ahead and talk, go ahead and sing, he's showing a certain amount of bravado that there ain't nothing there.

BERMAN: And they repeated that had from the White House. Sean Spicer at the press conference today said, you know what, he should go testify, go testify, Michael Flynn. So, maybe you're right, they are trying to express confidence.

David Axelrod, when you were on "NEW DAY" this morning, both you and I, Alisyn Camerota, shoot a panel with both Donald Trump voters and she asked them about their opinions of this Russia investigation. Listen to what they said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: How many of you, raise your hands, are concerned about the Russia implications and allegations that you've heard?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we've got to get to the point where we let things like this whole Russia thing settle down and move on and let the man be President.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So Axe, no one raised their hands and said they were concerned. And this Trump voter said, you know, they care about other things more. They think it's a distraction. It's fascinating.

AXELROD: Yes. I think there's instruction in this. I think his base is sticking with him. This same group, as another part of this interview, gave him mostly all A's for his performance so far. And I actually think, you know, leaving the policy aside which I think has real problems, his stepping out on trade this afternoon and announcing a very aggressive trade order or two of them that he was signing that will get us into some contretemps with the Germans and others, probably plays much more to this base than any concerns they might have about this particular story.

BERMAN: Which gets me to an obvious follow-up, David Gergen. You know, why then keep on fueling the fire here which the President is doing by tweeting about it this morning with General Flynn saying "go get immunity because it's a witch-hunt." You know, why play these games that they're playing with Devin Nunes and White House staffers? Doesn't that draw focus back to Russia when obviously your base wants to see something else?

GERGEN: Well, that's an interesting question whether it draws attention back to Russia or whether it creates a fog back around the Russian investigation. You know, you might have -- if there's a fire there, they may want to create -- I think they are working to create a lot of clouds around it so you can't really see the fire very well. But I do think David Axelrod is right. You know, the trade issue plays very well to that base, but I must tell you, you cannot continue to count on the base being there if things get more and more serious. If it looks like somebody -- if somebody gets indicted that's close to the President, if something like that appears or there's some report that comes from a bipartisan committee headed by a republican saying "there really was collusion and we believe there's circumstantial evidence," that can wear with your base. I was there -- when Nixon held his base, I was there for a fairly long time. And even during the anti-war rallies and outbreaks during the early 70s, Nixon won by a massive landslide in '72. You know, but that base disappeared on him over time and you have to be aware that in the White House. You can't sit there complacently.

BERMAN: So David Axelrod, of course, you know, the big question gets to Donald Trump's relationship, the President's relationship with Russia and was there collusion during the campaign. You've got a special coming up on Saturday night, "THE AXE FILES". It's airing here on CNN. You sit down with Senator John McCain and you asked him about the President's relationship with Russia and comments he's made about Vladimir Putin. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AXELROD: What did you think when you saw the President with Bill O'Reilly when O'Reilly called Putin a thug and a murderer and the President said, well, you think we're so innocent?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Killer -- he -- what O'Reilly said, it stands out in my memory. He said he is a killer, and the President said, well aren't we killers, too? That was so appalling to me to have a moral equivalency between this fellow who is -- I don't know how many deaths he's responsible for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: You know, at this rate David, that panel that Alisyn Camerota talked to, they said at the panel, "yes, Russia may have spied but we spy too. It's the same language that the President's using that John McCain object to.

AXELROD: Yes. And look, I think he understands his base and he understands his audience. And I think that they do take cues from him. And there's -- it -- the thing is -- lays with a certain amount of skepticism about institutions generally. But one thing I would say about his base, David made one point which it can erode over time. His base isn't large enough to sustain him over time. This group that she talked to were the hardest core. There is another group of voters that supported him that were republicans that weren't necessarily thrilled with him. That's the group he has to worry about, and that's a group that can be deeply disturbed by some of this.

BERMAN: It would be interesting to see. David Axelrod, David Gergen, gentlemen, thanks so much for being with us. Have a great weekend and, of course, this programming note. You can see "THE AXE FILES," with David Axelrod tomorrow night on CNN. His interview with John McCain that will air at 9:00 Eastern.

All right. Payback. President on the hook for millions of dollars to former Trump University students. The details about that money ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:50:00] BERMAN: All right. Back now with our "MONEY LEAD". A $25 million settlement was approved this afternoon in the Trump University case. Thousands of former students will get most of their money back. In his decision, Judge Gonzalo Curiel said the settlement is fair, adequate and reasonable. You may remember that then candidate Trump had accused Curiel of being incapable of being impartial in this case due to the Judge's Mexican heritage and Trump's promise to build a border wall. Want to get to CNN's Drew Griffin. Drew, tell us about the settlement.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN REPORTER: It's pretty good, John. Think about the class action settlements you have -- may have been involved with, with telephone company or car rental company where you get like a dollar off coupon at the end of the day. These students who went to Trump University will split $25 million, they'll up to 90 percent of the money they paid Donald Trump. What we now know is his -- you know, defunct and out-of-business real estate school which they all sued about many, many years ago. This was settled ten days after Donald Trump was elected President. John?

[16:55:15] BERMAN: How much did people pay? How much did these people pay? How much did they spend for the classes?

GRIFFIN: You know, it was a graduated amount. It was upselling all the way. You went to a free seminar and you were talked into a three- day class for $1, 495. Then, if that one you're upsell to a $10,000 class. And then if they really got you on the hook, you went for the gold elite program, $35,000 to teach you the tricks to the trade all under the guise that you're going to be taught by Donald Trump's hand- picked experts and all this, and would teach you the secrets of his success. Turned out there were no secrets, there were no hand-picked experts. And that's why this suit got settled and that's why these people are going to get their money back.

BERMAN: So Drew, there was one lone holdout in this case who opposed settlement, wanted an opportunity to face Trump one-on-one. You spoke to her?

GRIFFIN: Yes, I did. Her name is Sherri Simpson, an attorney, single mom and from Florida. Here's what she had to say about why she wanted to opt out of this suit and sue Donald Trump herself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERRI SIMPSON, TRUMP UNIVERSITY FORMER STUDENT: The mere fact that he's now our President shouldn't stop me or anybody else from continuing a lawsuit that was started long before, that was started on the basis of a fraud that was committed against us.

GRIFFIN: You feel he got away with it?

SIMPSON: I do. I feel he got away with it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: And John, she still feels like he got away with it. She is not going to get her chance to sue President Trump. The judge ruled that, you know, she will not be able to opt out. She's going to have to go with the class, get up to 90 percent of her money back. Her attorney told me she would appeal, that was before this ruling. I've not been able to get in touch with him today to see if they actually are going to appeal based on the judge's comments. It looks like this is a done deal and the Trump University lawsuits are settled.

BERMAN: For a lot of money. Drew Griffin. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Finally today, the "SPORTS LEAD" at March Madness continues, the final four hits the court tomorrow. Big betting money is sure to be flowing in Las Vegas. But this week Las Vegas won a big score of its own. The Oakland Raiders got the OK from NFL owners to move there despite long-standing fears of putting a team in the nation's gambling capital. CNN's Paul went to Las Vegas to see first-hand why this is such a major win for Vegas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For decades you could come to Las Vegas and bet on all four major U.S. professional sports but the league did an end run on moving in, wary of mixing gambling and athletics, but no more.

STEVE SISOLAK, CLARK COUNTY COMMISSION CHAIRMAN: Ecstatic.

VERCAMMEN: Clark County Chairman Steve Sisolak helped lure the Raiders out of Oakland to Las Vegas.

SISOLAK: Nothing is more regulated than our gaming industry. It's a gold standard of gaming. If there was ever to be a problem the sports books are going to be the first ones to know.

VERCAMMEN: And this glistening T-Mobil Arena will house the second major Vegas pro-sports team.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Vegas Golden Knights.

VERCAMMEN: Expansion Golden Knights of the National Hockey League premiere this year.

The casino owners here and politicians like to point out in the modern era the temptation to gamble is everywhere. One can gamble under the table in their office pool for March Madness let's say or fantasy football. And they can also go by the nearby reservation and gamble legally at a casino, but it's across the United States.

So both the NHL and NFL are rushing to Las Vegas with a Raiders deal as complex as an NFL Playbook. It's estimated at $1.9 billion, including a $650 million loan from Bank of America and $750 million in reworked hiked hotel room taxes. NFL owners seeing dollar signs voted 31-1 to create the Las Vegas Raiders.

ROBERT LANG, UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, PROFESSOR: The 29th largest U.S. metropolitan area, so not out of line for the -- buffalo has a team, yes. Jacksonville has a team.

VERCAMMEN: The casinos are already trying to figure out how to sell new NFL package deals.

RICHARD BROOME, CAESARS ENTERTAINMENT, VP OF COMMUNICATIONS: I think it's an interesting and we think exciting challenge so that you'll have Packers fans and Bears fans and Patriots fans coming to Las Vegas to see their teams play here.

VERCAMMEN: Nevada labor unions are celebrating the Raiders move and the job sell tow along. A stadium may not be finished until 2020, that won't turn off the city's gusher of optimism, Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman.

CAROLYN GOODMAN, LAS VEGAS MAYOR: In the next decade we're going to have all major league sports because this is the venue to come into.

VERCAMMEN: And Las Vegas has already landed on black, silver and black, the Raiders. Paul Vercammen, CNN, Las Vegas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Meanwhile, Oakland weeps. Our thanks to Paul Vercammen for that. Do not forget to tune into CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" this Sunday. The top democrat in the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff who is still on White House grounds, reviewing documents. He will join Jake. It all starts at 9:00 a.m. Eastern this Sunday. Meanwhile, that's all for THE LEAD today. I'm John Berman in for Jake Tapper. I now turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: Happening now, breaking news, laptop bombs.

END