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Trump Stands By Unsubstantiated Wiretapping Claims; Trump Meets With Merkel. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired March 17, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: But this historic moment overshadowed by the president's response here, standing by his baseless allegation.
Also take note, before I play this for you, President Trump also took no response for the White House's apology to the British government and this British intel agency for what Press Secretary Sean Spicer said just about 24 hours ago now. Spicer, citing FOX News, claimed that President Obama used British intelligence to spy on President Trump during the campaign.
First to President Trump's comments just moments ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: And, Mr. President, my question addressed to you, if I may.
QUESTION: Rejected White House claims that the alleged wiretapping on you, on Trump Tower, on the Trump Organization or members of your campaign was -- that British intelligence was either responsible for it or involved in it.
And after these claims are rejected, what is your take on that? Are there other suspects, or do you think it was a mistake to blame British intelligence for this?
And, by the way, my second question, are there, from time to time, tweets that you regret?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Very seldom.
QUESTION: Very seldom. So, you would never wish...
TRUMP: Probably wouldn't be here right now, but very seldom. We have a tremendous group of people that listen, and I can get around the media when the media doesn't tell the truth. So, I like that.
As far as wiretapping, I guess, this past administration -- at least we have something in common, perhaps.
TRUMP: And just to finish your question, we said nothing.
All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television.
I didn't make an opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on FOX. And so you shouldn't be talking to me. You should be talking to FOX, OK?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: All right, I have David Chalian up, our CNN political director.
I cannot wait to hear your interpretation of what we just heard there from the president.
But first let's go to Capitol Hill, Manu Raju, and let me talk to you first, because you have got some breaking news on the story from the House Intel Committee.
What have you learned?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's right.
Actually, the Department of Justice complying with the request from members of Congress to provide information whether there's any evidence at all to back up President Trump's charge that he was spied by President Barack Obama under the orders of President Barack Obama.
Now, the House Intelligence Committee made a request for the Justice Department to respond by Monday, which they failed to meet that deadline. They have now responded, we are told by a source in the House Intelligence Committee, as well as the Justice Department. The Justice Department is also saying they have responded to the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, each of which have raised their own questions about President Trump's claims.
Now, let me read you a statement from the Justice Department spokeswoman, who said: "The Department of Justice has complied with the request from leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and Judiciary Committees seeking information related to surveillance during the 2016 election."
This comes right before a key hearing coming Monday when James Comey will testify in a public setting on the issue of wiretapping, but largely on the issue of Russia, Russia meddling in the investigation that both Congress, the Intelligence Committee is conducting, and what we understand what the FBI is doing as well.
Comey had been under pressure to respond to these allegations of wiretapping. And from what we understand from what Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, believes is that James Comey will publicly rebut President Trump on Monday.
So we will see if letter that was sent today to these committees in any way throws cold water on exactly what President Trump has been asserting, but right now the committees are going through these documents that they have received and they plan to issue a statement later this afternoon, Brooke. BALDWIN: OK. We will wait to see what's in these documents. Manu,
thank you so much.
David Chalian, to you. Just it was that last snippet. It was that great question from that German reporter, right, who asked a question about the wiretaps, when you heard the laughter in the room when he was referring to the tweets and seldom do I regret.
What did you make of what the president said?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Let's combine this with what Manu was just reporting.
CHALIAN: So you have this week, we have had the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Republican Devin Nunes, House Intel ranking member, Democrat Adam Schiff, Senate Intel chairman, Republican Richard Burr, Vice Chair Mark Warner, a Democrat of Virginia.
Now you are going to add Jim Comey on Monday of what Adam Schiff expects he is going to say, the FBI director. And what you basically got from President Trump was retweets doesn't equal endorsements. That's basically what he was saying from the presidential podium, because he didn't take any ownership or responsibility for the fact that his spokesperson went before the White House press corps and stood at that White House podium yesterday and cited this story about the British intelligence service.
BALDWIN: Which the White House has since apologized for.
CHALIAN: Which the White House says they did not apologize for, but some Brits say a formal apology was offered. I believe we had some reporting earlier from White House sources that it could be construed as an apology.
They're not on the same page here right now. Sean Spicer said, we regret nothing, sort of taking his cue I think from his boss there.
But what didn't happen here with that question is that the basic question, two weeks ago, you tweeted that Barack Obama wiretapped your phones. It has been completely debunked by everyone. Do you withdraw, recant that tweet?
That question wasn't posed to him. And he was able to sort of sidestep by laughing off the tweets and talking about the British moment. But we still have this fundamental question of whether or not President Trump was telling the truth, when everybody says he wasn't.
BALDWIN: Which is totally the nut of this whole thing, but why then at the end was he saying you go talk to FOX News, when you know this is the president of the free world? He has got like a million different intel agencies on speed dial and he's saying talk to FOX and he's citing FOX. CHALIAN: Yes. That's a little different than the buck stops here on
the desk in the Oval Office. Right?
CHALIAN: So, yes, he clearly is just trying to give a stiff arm to this.
He wants no piece of this. By the way, from the communication shop point of view, I would imagine they left that press conference pretty pleased that they got through that, when this had been a swirl all day leading up to this news conference, and that he was able to sort of strike just away with this go talk to FOX.
It doesn't actually resolve though the fact that, as you said, the leader of the free world, here he is, the president of the United States, accusing his predecessor of what would be an enormous crime, when every single expert who has access to intelligence information about this says it's not true.
BALDWIN: David, thank you. David Chalian in Washington.
CHALIAN: Thanks, Brooke.
Let's keep talking about this, this brush-up with the British government we were just referencing. It all started when, as David mentioned, the White House spokesman, Sean Spicer, was standing behind the podium this time yesterday citing claims from this FOX News contributor.
When pressed about the president's wiretap claims, Sean Spicer started reading pages of media reports from the past two weeks.
Here he was.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: "The New York Times" reported the following. Sean Hannity went on, on FOX days after the election. Heat Street reported. Andy McCarthy writing in "National Review." Sarah Carte from Circa reporting.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Just so we're clear, the press secretary's job is to provide the media with information, not the other way around.
Let's go straight to CNN senior media correspondent and host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter. Also with me, CNN political commentator Jason Miller, who is a former communications director for the Trump transition team and served as senior communications adviser for the Trump campaign.
So, guys, great to have both of you on.
Brian Stelter, let me just begin with you, because hearing the president say, talk to FOX, talk to FOX, you, sir, have talked to FOX. Are they standing by the FOX News contributor, the judge's comment in that clip? How are they responding to this?
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: A one-sentence statement, Border Patrol
It says: "Judge Napolitano stands by his report on 'FOX & Friends.'"
Now, "FOX & Friends" is an entertainment show in the mornings. It's an opinion show. And Napolitano was a guest on the program a few days talking about this idea. His exact quote was this.
He said: "Three intelligence sources have informed FOX News that President Obama went outside the chain of command" and then basically suggested the British were the ones spying on Trump. He was saying these sources, these intel sources were telling FOX News this information.
But now FOX is saying, no, that was the judge. The judge does stand by his information.
There's some murkiness here. I think there's a bigger information that's been missed, which is Napolitano is leaning on three intel sources. Presumably, those are the kind of intel sources that now work for President Trump.
But instead of citing them, instead of suggesting there is proof for the president's assertions, the president is instead saying, go talk to FOX. So there's this really interesting issue about Napolitano's credibility and FOX's credibility, but ultimately it's about what the president chooses to believe, what he hears on an opinion show that he chooses to believe.
BALDWIN: Why, Jason -- you know the president and especially working in the coms office. You know how this works. Why does he continue to cite FOX News?
Again, I realize FOX is a friendly outlet for the White House. But he has called the media, he's called them the enemy of the people. And this is also Sean Spicer. They use the media when it works to their advantage. Just doesn't seem like you can have it both ways.
JASON MILLER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Let's go back and review what exactly happened yesterday, and that in his daily press briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer went through a whole host of clips and sources and publicly reported information that had discussed potential surveillance regarding the president and his campaign and other sources that we have seen out there.
MILLER: The point that Sean was trying to make, I believe, was here is the breadth and the depth of all this talk about surveillance. And if you go back to -- I think there's one point that really everybody is missing this week of what the really -- the truly big news was.
And that in -- Chairman Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, in his remarks the other day, he talked about the incidental collection, potential incidental collection of Americans' information, and also the potential misuse of such information, and he brought up the issue of unmasking.
And for those who aren't -- I'm not a lawyer and I wouldn't expect everybody at home to be a lawyer.
MILLER: Right. Just to explain to people, if law enforcement or national security or a CAA is up on a foreign national and somehow an American gets swept into that, there are very strict rules for not pulling Americans into that and releasing their names, so there's no sort of backdoor surveillance.
The fact that the chairman of the House Intel Committee is requesting from the CIA, the NSA and the FBI to get out all the information to find out what Americans have been unmasked here, this is a really big deal. For Chairman Nunes, who is a very cautious guy -- he doesn't go out and throw around political comments.
For him to be raising this issue of unmasking really I think raises the concern of what kind of backdoor surveillance there could have been.
BALDWIN: I'm not dismissing that. That's absolutely a valid point.
My point is, this is a White House, Jason, that tells Americans don't listen to the media, you know, fake news, don't trust them, and yet they, Sean Spicer, the president, are pointing to interviews, articles, contributors, to say, see, I'm proving my point.
MILLER: Well, I think it's an example of showing to members of the media here's where some of their fellow colleagues and journalists have brought up such sources. And I think it's just another way to reiterate the White House's position on this.
And quite frankly, if I was in that spot, I would do the exact same thing. I think Sean did a very good job of forcefully making his points yesterday.
BALDWIN: Jason, Jason, Jason, Jason, Jason, then why not -- let's take the media and sourcing the media out of it.
I'm going to ask you the question I asked of David Chalian, which is, this is the president of the free world. He has all these intel agencies and all the answers like a phone call away. Why is he not calling them for the answer, was I wiretapped, vs. cite the media?
MILLER: I think they're doing the very smart thing, which is, let's go and have this hearing, let's have the Hill go and take a look at this as part of their oversight.
BALDWIN: But to hear the president, say talk to FOX, he could end this.
MILLER: But, Brooke, also the other thing is, too, let's keep in mind there's been absolutely zero proof that's been put forward regarding this supposed collusion or coordination with Russians that somehow supposedly swung the election.
BALDWIN: There's been zero proof forward from, you mentioned, Nunes, and Schiff and Burr and Warner as well, no proof that what the president says or tweeted has any merit.
MILLER: Not yet, it hasn't been presented.
However, as we look to Monday, and when Director Comey comes in and testifies...
MILLER: ... I think we're going to see them go through. And we will see, hopefully, that these three agencies...
BALDWIN: I'm sorry.
I got to -- according to Chairman Schiff, according to Manu Raju, Jim Comey, the director of the FBI, is going to sit in that hot seat on Monday and say, you know what, he wasn't wiretapped. This is according to Schiff.
MILLER: But I got to push back on you there for the simple fact that the White House, I think, has made pretty clear that they're talking about overall surveillance issues.
And also when we're talking about some of this backdoor surveillance, when we're talking about the unmasking issue, that likely wouldn't have come from the FBI. I think that's potentially America is getting swept in. If that did happen, it would have been from the other agencies.
But, again, that's why they're doing this hearing on Monday.
BALDWIN: Which is public.
BALDWIN: Do you feel ignored, Brian? I'm sorry. Go ahead.
STELTER: No, no, I don't at all.
I think you're getting to the issue here. But the president did say he was wiretapped. He wasn't talking about other surveillance. He did say he was wiretapped.
BALDWIN: Four tweets.
MILLER: He say that in quotes, Brian.
STELTER: He didn't use quotes every...
BALDWIN: He didn't use quotes every time.
STELTER: It's really silly to talk about quotes, honestly.
No, he also called former President Obama a sick and bad guy. This is all about blaming the former president. We can be honest about that. It's all about saying, oh, blame Obama. But that's kind of boring 13 days later after these tweets all came out, 13 days, and we still don't have any evidence.
STELTER: Sorry. Go ahead.
MILLER: I'm sorry.
I would just caution you that until we have the hearing, until we find out if there were any examples of incidental collection, until we get this list of all the Americans who were unmasked over the past six months, I would just urge caution until we find those answers.
STELTER: Pushing it down the road, pushing it down the road, kind of like birtherism, right?
We need to find the proof. We need to find the proof. Pushing it down the road for weeks and weeks and months and years.
MILLER: Brian -- that's a little to fantastical to jump to that, Brian.
STELTER: I just think the White House has said, President Trump has said don't believe anonymous sources, but he's believing these anonymous sources from Andrew Napolitano.
And he's having Spicer go out there and quote Napolitano's claim. He's choosing to believe these opinion hosts and these commentators because it makes him feel good, it makes him feel right, gives him a reason to blame Obama.
BALDWIN: And you're right. You're right.
At the end of the day, this is about trust. This is a word we keep using, but it's germane because it's, can America trust the president, Jason?
BALDWIN: Heaven forbid there is an international crisis or crisis or a war, and based upon all of this that we have all been discussing, can he be trusted?
BALDWIN: Whether it's an Angela Merkel picking up the phone calling him, or just we the people of the United States.
And I think that we saw today in the press conference the great representation that the president gave us as a country.
And, Brian, I think you made a very good point in this last hour coming out of the press conference, that the president -- really if there was one message that came across, it really was strength, obviously talking about work force issues, talking about trade issues between the two countries, a very important trade partner.
But also I think we saw that the president, as we know, says the exact same thing in public that he does behind closed doors where he pressed the chancellor on issues of funding, percentage of GDP and NATO and also the fact that our countries need to continue to working together to destroy ISIS.
I think most Americans, it's a Friday, have NCAA Tournament going on, all this great stuff heading into the weekend. I think they're probably excited about jobs. And they're glad to see that they have a president who is out there talking about jobs and keeping us safe. That's really why he was elected.
BALDWIN: No, I agree. And we have entire segments dedicated to talking NATO and jobs and 2024 when they committed to the 2 percent. But I hear you loud and clear. And, go, Tar Heels, on that bracket note.
Jason Miller, thank you very much. Brian Stelter, I appreciate you. See you on Sunday morning.
MILLER: Thank you.
BALDWIN: We do have more breaking news here. We are getting word that the man who jumped the White House fence last weekend -- listen to this -- he was on White House grounds hiding for 15 minutes.
Hear what went wrong there.
Also, we're learning a Secret Service agent's laptop has been stolen, and on this laptop, all kinds of information, detailed floor plans for Trump Tower.
I'm Brooke Baldwin. Special coverage here continues here in just a moment.
BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
More on our breaking news today, as President Trump reiterates his claims that President Obama wiretapped him during the campaign. His press secretary, Sean Spicer, now apparently saying they don't regret anything after Spicer cited a FOX News contributor who says that British helped President Obama spy on then nominee Trump.
Joining me now, Ari Fleischer. He is the former White House press secretary under George W. Bush.
It is so wonderful to see you.
My goodness. OK, so you have this -- essentially, this self-induced crisis. We're coming up on two weeks from this early Saturday morning tweet from the president. And you have this senior White House official saying that they had apologized to GCHQ -- this is the British intel agency -- who smacked them when they heard that Sean Spicer had quoted this thing from FOX News.
Britain backed them up, but now Sean Spicer is again saying we don't regret anything.
ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER GEORGE W. BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Yes.
Well, look, Brooke, I consider this whole thing to be an immense waste of finger movement by Donald Trump when he made those tweets and pretty much a total waste of breath by everybody focusing on this now.
I get it. He shouldn't have done it. He went too far. He's wrong. And Washington is fixated on it. I think most of the American people understand and just kind of put it on the side. It's something that shouldn't have happened.
But I hope people really are focused much more on what's going to happen with the health bill, the economy, those issues. I get it. People have to be accountable for what they said or what they tweeted. But I consider most of this a waste of time.
BALDWIN: Ari, you stood at that podium and you took all those swings for a couple of years for Bush 43. How do you defend the indefensible?
FLEISCHER: Well, it was wrong. I said that. He went too far. He shouldn't have made those tweets. They're a complete waste of finger movement.
BALDWIN: But if you're Sean Spicer, Ari, how do you stand there?
FLEISCHER: No, Sean's job is to carry the president's words.
And so unless the president says to Sean, Sean, I made a mistake, we're going to back down, Sean must do what his boss tells him to do. The press counts on Sean to represent the president. That's his job.
BALDWIN: Did you ever -- President Bush, we have had conversations before.
FLEISCHER: No. No.
BALDWIN: No, never.
FLEISCHER: I have not been put in similar positions like this.
Look, Donald Trump is unique. It's one of his weaknesses. It's one of his strengths. If America wanted somebody who doesn't do these kind of things, we would have elected Hillary Clinton.
America knew we were electing an outsider with no governmental experience who was not a smooth operator. But they wanted by design somebody to go to Washington to change things, to break things and to improve the economy.
That was the focus of the election. And that's why I'm perfectly comfortable, Brooke, saying there's a whole category of behaviors that Donald Trump engages in that I just take with a grain of salt.
FLEISCHER: Some of them are bragging. Some of it is saying, my countertops are the best countertops in any building you could ever buy. Nobody's lobbies are better than my lobbies.
And I put that in a whole different category.
BALDWIN: But hold on. Take it with a grain of salt? We are talking about the president of the United States.
FLEISCHER: I get that.
BALDWIN: And I'm wondering if Americans, through different news cycles of these sorts of tweets, will sort of start thinking, eh, I'm not listening?
FLEISCHER: We have heard this often throughout the campaign, when he also said things that were just demonstrably wrong.
People standing on rooftops in New Jersey, he said thousands celebrating 9/11, were offensive. And so we've been through this. And America still chose him because they did not choose him on this basis. They chose him because they knew we need an outsider to break the way things are done in Washington and get the ball moving on the economy, on health care, on trade, on job creation.
BALDWIN: He never apologizes when he makes these statements.
FLEISCHER: No, he doesn't. That's true.
BALDWIN: He doesn't apologize.
FLEISCHER: He didn't the day before the election either.
BALDWIN: This is a credibility issue. I have talked to -- there's a Republican congressman who says that the president should apologize to President Obama.
BALDWIN: Do you think that he should?
FLEISCHER: You know, I have never been interested in getting apologies for people for this.
Did Barack Obama apologize because he said you could keep your health care and keep your doctor? He was wrong. He shouldn't have said what he said. Same thing here with Donald Trump.
But there are so many bigger fish to fry. That's my point, Brooke. I understand that you have to -- there's accountability. The press is doing its job to focus on what the president said. But I think most of the American people are just in a very different spot from the retribution the press corps when somebody says something that is wrong.
The press hangs on to it like a dog that will not let go of someone's ankle. And it makes most people out here in the rest of America just say, when you guys in Washington are done fighting, wake me up and let me know if Obamacare is repealed, let me know if we've replaced it. That's I think where the country is.
BALDWIN: Listen, I'm with you. And we do talk health care, but this is something that keeps coming up because it's a credibility issue. And you have got Congress investigating. We're talking to both -- the Intel Committees on both sides. We've got Jim Comey in the hot seat on Monday. It's news and it's important to ask. Last question, just on all of this. What do you make of the fact that
this has now spilled overseas into Britain, and the intel agency slammed Sean Spicer, the fact that this has become an international incident?
FLEISCHER: I'm hoping that people in the White House learn from all of this.
I do think the biggest lesson of all is go back to the Thursday when the president made that speech to the joint session of Congress and got accolades, to that Saturday when he sent the four tweets. The lesson is very clear for the White House.
If you want to move up in support and make the American people grow to support Donald Trump, be like the Thursday speech. If you want to be back in the soup, be like the Saturday tweets.
BALDWIN: Ari Fleischer, thank you very much.
More breaking news, 15 minutes, 15, that is how long a man went undetected after hopping the White House fence last week. We will tell you what went wrong and where they eventually found him next.