This is a rush transcript from "Special Report with Bret Baier," March 20, 2017. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign on the Russian government.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF, D-CALIF.: Director Comey, was the president's statement that Obama had his wires tapped in Trump Tower is a true statement?
COMEY: I have no information that supports those tweets. The answer is the same for the Department of Justice in all its components.
JONATHAN KARL, ABC NEWS: Is the president prepared to withdraw that accusation and apologize?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No. We started a hearing. It is still ongoing. There's a lot of information that still needs to be discussed. So you can continue to look for something, but continuing to look for something that doesn't exist doesn't matter.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
BRET BAIER, ANCHOR: House intelligence committee hearing today, a lot of focus up on Capitol Hill this morning. The president tweeting out before the hearing got underway, "James Clapper and other stated that there is no evidence POTUS colluded with Russia. This story is fake news and everyone knows it."
Senator Chuck Grassley, who had his hands full on the other side of the capital, tweeting "After Comey briefing and document review, I can say at POTUS, president of the United States, and Clapper are both right about this. No evidence of Trump collusion with Russia. FBI Director Comey needs to be transparent and tell the public what he told me about whether he is or is not investigating the president of the United States. Leaks need to be investigated. Comey needs to be transparent about how that is being handled." Interesting as that is going on.
Let's bring in our panel: Mollie Hemingway, senior editor at The Federalist; A.B. Stoddard, associate editor at Real Clear Politics, and syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer. OK, Mollie, your take on the hearing today.
MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, THE FEDERALIST: A lot of people are very excited about Comey confirming that there is an investigation into Russia's meddling in the election and any ties to the Trump campaign. We already kind of knew that.
I thought what was interesting was him talking about the unusual level of leak activity that we have seen and, in his words, how much of that was dead wrong. And that does speak to this coordinated campaign that we have seen. He referenced how few people would've actually known the name Mike Flynn and how that was caught up in surveillance. Only a few people at the highest levels of the Obama administration, the intel chiefs and just a few other people, would have had access to that information. That somehow made it into the press. So we have seen this ongoing campaign, and we have a lot to learn about how those things came out and what it means about what the Obama administration was doing or how much it knew about this coordinated campaign.
BAIER: I talked to Brit, A.B., about the questioners. Adam Schiff obviously laying out a case that of if there is collusion, what it would look like, and asking questions along that line. But Trey Gowdy laying out the case about the leaks and help Mike Flynn's name gets out there.
A.B. STODDARD, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Mike Flynn lost his job because he was discussing sanctions with Ambassador Kislyak and it was picked up. The leak of the transcript is a violation of the law. We've discussed that before, and it's a violation of their code of conduct, their ethics, and it's against the law. But he subsequently lost his job because of that.
So the leaks is a great discussion, it is a worth discussion. It would have been a lot of the discussion today had President Trump not leveled a false allegation against his predecessor. That's the problem is that so much of today was about the international embarrassment of the fictional allegation that he likes to now confuse with broader surveillance. And so there would've been a bigger emphasis, I think, on these illegal leaks of classified information had he not stuck his foot in it. He's really actually going to continue to drag this on. This Russia thing is going to go on. He can make the wiretap things stop, but it looks from Spicer's comments today like he's not going to.
BAIER: Right, and Sean Spicer pushing back hard that this is over. Meantime the Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer issuing a statement, "No matter what else happened, there are no, ifs, ands, or buts about it. President Obama wiretapping Trump Tower did not happen. President Trump owes the American people and President Obama more than an explanation. He owes an apology. He should admit he was wrong, stop the outlandish tweets, and get to work on behalf of the country." Charles?
CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: That's the price of overshooting. There really is a case here, and Trey Gowdy, we would have expected it, he made the case and he made it very strongly. There's only one crime we know about. It was a crime of the unmasking and leaking of the Flynn name. Who did it, what happened, why? We don't know. But that is the only crime that's been established up until now. And Democrats are pretending that there are other crimes which nobody else has been able to vouch until now.
If the president had not overshot with this ridiculous charge about the wiretap, that would've been a major discussion and it might have dominated the discussion. Right now, the storyline is the president was wrong. Everybody is now saying it. His own FBI director is saying it, speaking on behalf of all the Department of Justice, which is Trump's own Department of Justice, which makes Spicer look ridiculous, because it's his own department saying the president was wrong. But that's the price of doing this kind of tweeting.
I think as to the investigation of the collusion, I think the main story remains. As of today, there is zero evidence of it. And I think it's unlikely there will be. The one thing that has happened is that the clock has started for Comey. Once he has announced there is an investigation, people are going to say hurry up. Remember, the same thing happened with Hillary. We're waiting, we're waiting, we're waiting. We have to have -- so I think it's not going to be dragged out and he's going to have to make a dramatic presentation the same way he did with Hillary about her emails.
BAIER: What is stunning is that, if you think about it, this investigation was set to start in July, so we had two major party candidates under investigation by the FBI.
HEMINGWAY: I don't know if it's fair to say Trump himself was under investigation.
BAIER: The campaign.
HEMINGWAY: The campaign. But this is also speaking again to how we're kind of having it both ways. We have had people surveilled since July. We have had stories in the mainstream media, Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, snippets of surveillance, snippets of transcripts, of information, all these allegations, and there is -- and then when Donald Trump actually says that he's being wiretapped because he is so silly or clumsy about how he says it, now we can talk about it because of how he overstepped it.
But we really should be having a conversation about the surveillance of a political opponent during a campaign of what that means, particularly the complete lack of actual evidence that we have any problem. We have had so much smoke and no actual fire and it's really time we get that.
BAIER: Paul Manafort, former campaign manager who was believed to be being looked at and may still be being looked at as part of this investigation, issued a statement, "I had no role or involvement in the cyber-attack on the DNC or the subsequent release of information gained from the attack. I have never spoken with any Russian government officials or anyone who claimed to have been involved with the attack." The suggestion that I ever worked in concert with anyone to release hacked emails or sought to undermine the interests of the United States is false." His statement today. Meantime the whole storyline about the platform change and the GOP about supplying weapons to Ukraine, here's the chairman of House Intel.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DEVIN NUNES, R-CALIF.: I hope that you'll take this back to your investigators, because there seems to be the line out there that somehow the Republican Party watered down its platform. And that's not true. That didn't happen. In fact, what happened is the platform was increased, increased its certainty against what the Russians were up to and it actually amended the platform to make it stronger than what it initially was.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BAIER: Talking about the platform that was said to be changed by somebody sympathetic to Russia.
STODDARD: Well, there's a lot of smoke, as Mollie said, and until it's gone and until this investigation is closed. And then Director Comey says there is no fire and there is no collusion, statements by Clapper and Mike Morrell, the former acting CIA director for Obama, is not going to be enough to make this story go away. Paul Manafort is one of seven people who had sort of either secretive or strange meetings or contacts with the Russians that later came out. This is what makes Republicans nervous. It remains under investigation, and until that's gone, this is the problem for Trump.
BAIER: But answer me this -- if they director of national intelligence who compiles the scrub of the information they have at the time in December, passes off what they have, what happens in between the time Clapper finishes his report with Brennan and there is no collusion or evidence of collusion to the time where we are now. Is there something that happens in between that time? Because we are talking about information and things that potentially happened earlier.
STODDARD: Director Comey today actually was a little bit confusing about it and talked about how that wasn't exactly the same thing as what -- until and unless he stands up, like Grassley is trying to push him to do, and says I've looked at all the information. I am done looking at the evidence and I'm done with this investigation and there's no collusion, there's going to be a cloud.
KRAUTHAMMER: Now that he's announced an investigation is going on he will have to make a statement saying it's over and I have found x or y. There's no way this can just disappear. It will not end until he makes that statement. But when he makes that statement, it ends.
BAIER: Until the White House continues to comment or react to the wiretap part of it.
KRAUTHAMMER: On the wiretap, but on the collusion part, it ends when Comey makes a statement, the same way he did with Hillary with her emails.
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