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U.S. Intel Chief Assures Trump They Didn't Leak to Media; Interview with Sen. Jeff Merkley; Trump Concedes Russia Interfered in U.S. Election; Senate Takes First Step Towards Repealing Obamacare.Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired January 12, 2017 - 07:00   ET


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: All this as Senate Republicans move ahead with plans to dismantle Obamacare, despite not having a plan in place to replace it.

[07:00:15] We're just eight days from the inauguration. We have it all covered. Let's begin our coverage with CNN's Evan Perez live in Washington -- Evan.


Director of national intelligence James Clapper is trying to diffuse a feud between the nation's next president and the U.S. intelligence community. Clapper says he called President-elect Donald Trump last night to assure him that the intelligence agencies were not the source of leaks about an opposition research dossier containing unsubstantiated allegations against Mr. Trump. A two-page summary appended to briefing documents for Mr. Trump last week described allegations by a former British intelligence operative that Russians claim to have compromising personal and financial information on Mr. Trump.

Clapper last night issued a statement explaining why the unverified information was included in the briefing documents last Friday. Clapper says, quote, "Part of our obligation is to ensure the public policy makers are provided with the fullest possible picture of any matters that might affect national security."

The statement was the first on-the-record confirmation from a government official that Trump's briefing documents did include information on the opposition research. The nation's top intelligence official noted that the intelligence agencies did not produce the 35- page dossier containing the underlying allegations. The FBI and the intelligence agencies haven't verified the claims. And as CNN first reported, the original documents were compiled as opposition research for Mr. Trump's Republican and Democratic political components -- Chris.

CUOMO: All right, Even. Thank you very much.

So after months of casting doubts over the conclusions of the intel community, President-elect Donald Trump did finally acknowledge that he thinks Russia was behind the hacks during the election. There were plenty of other headlines coming out of Trump's first press conference since the election.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny live in Washington with more. And to be complete on it, yes, he said, "I think Russia did the hacks." But then later on, he gave the same answer and then quickly said, "but it could have been someone else."

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Chris, you're right. It was almost in the same breath. He did say that Russia carried out the cyberattacks, but then he said it's not the only country that has hacked the U.S. here. But regardless of all that, he did save his anger at that press conference for U.S. intelligence agencies and, of course, the media during that first press conference in six months. It was taking a page right out of his combative campaign playbook.


ZELENY (voice-over): Donald Trump saying for the first time he accepts that Russia carried out the election cyberattacks during a rowdy and contentious press conference.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as hacking, I think it was Russia, but I think we also get hacked by other countries.

ZELENY: But spending much of the hour-long news conference blasting the media and deflecting reports that the nation's top intelligence leaders informed him and President Obama about possible incriminating information in the hands of the Russians.

TRUMP: I think it's a disgrace that information would be let out. It's all fake news. It's phony stuff. It didn't happen.

ZELENY: The president-elect singling out some media outlets that reported on the intel claims and taking aim at U.S. intelligence agencies as he pointed to the Kremlin's denial.

TRUMP: Well, you know, President Putin and Russia put out a statement today that this fake news was, indeed, fake news.

ZELENY: Trump did not say, however, whether any of his aides had been in touch with Russian officials during the presidential campaign, refusing to answer questions from CNN's Jim Acosta.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Mr. President- elect, can you say categorically...

TRUMP: Go ahead. She's asking a question. Don't be rude.

ACOSTA: Mr. President-elect, can you give us a question?

TRUMP: Don't be rude. I'm not going to give you a question.

ACOSTA You're attacking us. Can you give us a question?

TRUMP: I'm not going to give you a question.

ACOSTA: Can you state categorically...

TRUMP: You are fake news. Go ahead.

ACOSTA: Sir, can you...

ZELENY: The incoming White House press secretary threatening to throw Acosta out of future press conferences.

SEAN SPICER, INCOMING WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I informed him that I thought that no one should be treated that way, and treated that disrespectfully. And that if he did it again in the future, I would have him removed.

ZELENY: Trump also not mentioning whether he will continue the sanctions imposed on Russia by President Obama.

TRUMP: If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability. Because we have a horrible relationship with Russia.

ZELENY: All this as Trump had an attorney lay out his plans to distance himself from his business empire. Trump will relinquish control of the company to his two sons and place his assets in a trust, a step he says he doesn't have to take.

TRUMP: As a president, I could run the Trump Organization. Great, great company, and I could run the company. I'd do a very good job, but I don't want to do that.

ZELENY: Trump also pledging to stop any new overseas ventures and vowing to turn any profits from government officials staying at his hotels over to the U.S. treasury.

TRUMP: I hope at the end of eight years, I'll come back and I'll say, "You did a good job." Otherwise, if they do a bad job, I'll say, "You're fired."


ZELENY: Now before Trump left that press conference, he did say that none of his campaign associates had been in touch with Russian officials during the election, but he would not say whether he would keep those punishing sanctions on Moscow, as many Republicans have called on him to do. His view on Russia and other matters were coming into sharper view again today as confirmation hearings for cabinet members continue on Capitol Hill -- Alisyn.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Thanks so much, Jeff.

Well, breaking news overnight, Senate Republicans advancing a budget resolution that includes the repeal of Obamacare, but do they have a replacement for the healthcare law? CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is live on Capitol Hill with the details. What's the answer?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the answer is a big TBD on that, Alisyn. You know, put simply, the moves by the Senate overnight could be described as the first tiny nail in the coffin for Obamacare, because likely the wheels are really now in motion for Republicans to move forward on this.

The Senate taking a very simple but very important procedural step by improving the budget measure that will become the vehicle for the dismantling of Obamacare. The session lasted into the wee hours of the morning, only wrapping up a handful of hours ago with many fiery speeches by Democrats protesting this move by the Republicans.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Thirty million Americans will lose their health care with many thousands dying as a result.

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: Ninety-five percent of children in America now have affordable comprehensive health insurance. Why would we want to move backwards?

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: Imagine becoming pregnant and having your insurer drop your coverage because you no longer are economic.


SERFATY: And this will likely be taken up by the House on Friday, which will pave the way for this to continue moving forward, but very notably, there's still no replace plan in place. No one plan in place. They are considering a series of legislative paths and proposals here.

But the pressure has certainly been ratcheted up by the president- elect, Donald Trump, who just yesterday said that he says the repeal and replacement should happen in his opinion almost simultaneously -- Chris.

CUOMO: An early disconnect between the president-elect and his own party in Congress, because they're all saying they need more time.

All right. So much to discuss.

Let's bring in Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley. He sits on the Foreign Relations Committee and grilled the President-elect's secretary of state nominee, Rex Tillerson, yesterday.

I was with your friend and colleague, Senator, Senator Bernie Sanders at a town hall the other night, and he was dancing like Fred Astaire about whether or not he would vote for Rex Tillerson. He was saying, "Well, I want to listen first, you know, and then I'll decide." And he said, "Well, I'm going to vote against him, but I at least want to hear him out first."

Are you ready to take a position? Are you going to vote for Rex Tillerson or not?

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: I am ready to take a position. It was a very disappointing performance yesterday. Obviously, sanctions are a big concern. As leader of Exxon, Tillerson proceeded to utilize a subsidiary to bypass American sanctions on Iran. His company lobbied extensively to get rid of the sanctions and not -- certainly not to extend them in regard to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and Crimea, and he came before the committee and said, "I have no idea about this. I don't -- I didn't lobby. My company didn't lobby."

And yet it's all in the lobbying reports. It's all in the press reports. They had a big impact on this conversation, so it really was a disturbing performance.

CUOMO: So are you going to vote for him or not?

MERKLEY: I am going to vote against him. Absolutely against him. And issues came up about basically behavior in the world. Marco Rubio did an excellent job in questioning him...

CUOMO: Let me ask you about that, Senator. Would you want the next secretary of the state -- secretary of state during a confirmation hearing to call Vladimir Putin a war criminal?

MERKLEY: No, he didn't have to call him a war criminal, but he needed to acknowledge the terrible human carnage that has occurred because of Russian activities in Aleppo, in Syria. We have 4 million refugees, more than 4 million refugees pouring out of that country. He needed to acknowledge when he was asked about the Philippines that the process of shooting people down, thousands of young men without any type of judicial process, is completely contrary to our values. There needed to be a sense he understood the core values of America and can lead America and have America lead the world in very troubled times.

CUOMO: Did you believe the answer from Rex Tillerson that he and the President-elect have not discussed this area of policy, meaning Russia?

MERKLEY: I can't -- it's inconceivable. Because here, he's been very close to Putin, the President-elect has been very close to Putin. Exxon had huge interests in Russia. Certainly, one of the reasons you would think that Trump selected him was because he is very close to Putin, and so it didn't seem like he was speaking in a straightforward manner.

CUOMO: All right. So you're on a committee that's going to give you the clearance to know what's going on on the intel side. Clapper coming out, going to the President-elect saying, "We didn't leak." What do you make of this story about what was included in the briefing to the President-elect and why it was there?

[07:10:12] MERKLEY: Well, certainly it's essential to alert the President-elect that there is material that he needs to be aware of. Certainly, for all the reasons that we know, eventually information that was compiled by a British company might leak into the public realm. It now has come into the public realm. You want -- you want the President-elect to have a heads up, so it was the right thing to do to provide these briefings, but instead of thanking the intel community for the heads up, he chose to attack the media, attack the intel community, to deflect attention from his own conduct.

CUOMO: Is it true that you and/or other senior members of Congress were aware of some of these allegations and knew that the FBI is looking into some of them?

MERKLEY: Well, I did not. I did not. I don't serve on the intel committee...

CUOMO: Do you believe that now?

MERKLEY: Do I believe...

CUOMO: Do you believe that the FBI is looking into anything that was in the dossier?

MERKLEY: I believe that they probably are, because the information is in regard to three major officials of the Trump campaign collaborating with Russia to have Russia work on fake news and amplify that fake news to take down Hillary Clinton, and to conspire with an outside country.

And I asked Tillerson about this, and I have to give him credit on this point. I said, if a candidate conspired with an outside country to take down your opponent on internal American elections, wouldn't this be against the very core of our democratic process? And he said yes, yes it would be. So I have to give Tillerson credit on that one, but certainly, it is a major attack, and we need to get to the bottom of it. Let's find out what's true and what isn't, what happened.

But this is a very big deal. What Russia was involved in, and what we already know from what the intelligence committees have presented before this recent dossier, is that it's of grave concern and must be addressed.

CUOMO: What do you make of the President-elect calling it fake news?

MERKLEY: Another deflection. Another deflection. Another unwillingness to grapple with the reality before us.

CUOMO: Do you have any reason to believe that any of his officials did have any intercourse or interchange with Russian officials? We do know that one person who was named, Michael Cohen, that was suspected to be Trump's council at the Trump Organization, wasn't him, and that he says he never went to anyplace to meet with anybody from the Kremlin.

MERKLEY: I think we're going to have to have the investigation to find out. I personally -- I have no personal knowledge of it, but it's important that we get to the bottom of it.

CUOMO: All right. Last issue -- Obamacare. People are getting an education in the legislative process now, because every time you guys talk about something, the assumption is, well, now we're going to decide what happens with Obamacare. But this is actually a protracted process. It's about reconciliation and budgeting and committees and all these different steps.

But yesterday, you saw the Democrats making an impassioned plea to keep Obamacare. Do any of you believe that you will be able to keep the ACA as it is right now? And if not, what is your plan? To just obstruct as much as you can or to work with?

MERKLEY: I think we have a very good chance of keeping the ACA in place, and the reason why is the basic elements, when people are asked in America about the basic elements, do you want free preventative tests? They say yes. Do you want students or children on your policies to age 26? They say yes. Do you like the idea that you can compare policies on the exchange? They say yes. Do you like the idea of tax credits that enable low income and middle income folks to be able to afford insurance? They say yes.

And so now this is what the Republicans are struggling with. They have set up this false story about a government takeover, and it turns out the actual elements one by one are quite popular with America, and they're at a loss at what to do, because taking down Obamacare would take down healthcare for more than 20 million Americans, and would decrease the integrity of insurance policies for the rest of America because a lot of what was done in that bill made other insurance policies better than they were. Getting rid of annual limits and lifetime limits, for example, so people didn't run out of insurance when they actually needed it.

CUOMO: Senator Merkley, appreciate you being on NEW DAY, talking us through these big issues, and for giving us a straight answer about what you're going to do on Tillerson. Thank you for being on NEW DAY.

MERKLEY: You bet. Thank you.

CUOMO: Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Donald Trump's plan to let his sons run the family business not sitting well with the government ethics chief. We take a closer look at that, next.


[07:18:44] CAMEROTA: Donald Trump outlining the steps that he will take to try to eliminate conflicts of interest between his business and the presidency before he becomes president. So listen to this.


TRUMP: So I could actually run my business. I could actually run my business and run government at the same time. I don't like the way that looks, but I would be able to do that, if I wanted to. I'd be the only one that would be able to do that. You can't do that in any other capacity.


CAMEROTA: OK. Let's discuss this with Timothy O'Brien. He's the author of "Trump Nation: The Art of Being the Donald." He's also the executive editor of Bloomsburg View. He studied all sorts of things about Mr. Trump's finances. And David Fahrenthold, he's a political reporter at "The Washington Post" who covers Mr. Trump's conflicts of interest.

You, too, are the perfect people to have on this morning and talk to. Nobody knows more about this than you both.

Tim, you heard Mr. Trump say things yesterday that are untrue. What did he get wrong?

TIMOTHY O'BRIEN, AUTHOR, "TRUMP NATION": Well, he talked up the size of his business. It was far too big and complex to wind down. That's not true. He said he carries very little debt. That's not true. We know from recent reporting in "The Wall Street Journal" he owes at least a billion dollars to around 150 financial institutions.

CAMEROTA: That's a lot of debt.

O'BRIEN: It's a lot of debt, and the reality of that is, he's going to be running an administration that regulates those entities. So will he be able in the White House to say, "I'm approaching policy -- banking policy uninhibited by the fact that my business thrives on loans from banks and other entities like that?"

[07:20:16] He said he could turn it over to his sons, and that would essentially insulate him from the running of the business, which is frankly thumbing his nose at the whole notion of a separation between his policy making and his deal making.

CUOMO: You know, an interesting point. The main obstacle, Dave, to all of these things that he's doing, they're still going to wind up being transparency, whether it's giving the profits to the hotels or ongoing decision making.

So he comes out with all these folders and all these documents, which as you heard him say, he's signed and "This shows I'm separating." We will get no chance to review any of those documents. What does that tell you?

DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": It tells me that he actually does not have that detailed of a plan. He brought out sort of a visual aid. This pile of papers and folders on the podium, but he didn't let anybody see them.

The pictures we saw kind of from the side, you couldn't tell there were words on the page. So there's a whole element of sort of just trust me here that he will not be able to get away with.

CAMEROTA: What could he have said yesterday, Tim, that would have satisfied government ethics watchdogs?

O'BRIEN: He could have complied with the tradition that every predecessor in the White House before him from both sides of the aisle has done, which is to release tax returns. He should release about five decades of her personal and private tax returns.

CUOMO: Five decades? Fifty years?

O'BRIEN: He's a 70-year-old man.

CUOMO: Everything since he was 20?

CAMEROTA: Would you be satisfied with the last five years.

O'BRIEN: I'd be satisfied with the last one year, given what he's done, but I'm not -- I'm not crossing my fingers. I think that...

CAMEROTA: But in terms of divesting himself, I mean, you know, this is his family's empire. This is what his kids have banked on.

O'BRIEN: Inherited some from his father. There's deep emotion.

CAMEROTA: Is it fair to ask him to get rid of his life's work?

O'BRIEN: Well, he's taken on a new career, and it's a new kind of work. And it's work in the public service. And it comes with certain sacrifices. It's always been us. And I think that what he is refusing to do is make a clean break with financial realities that are going to haunt his presidency over the next four years.

CUOMO: I found an interesting idea online, Dave. What do you think of this? Please feel free to shoot it down.

He can't separate for the business. People have voted for him, in part, because of his business acumen and his wild success as he describes it. And so it comes down to transparency. There are going to be issues. The ethical standard is semblance of impropriety. Even Trump said yesterday, "I'm not going to run my business and the government, because I don't like the way it looks." That's the smell test.

I saw a suggest that what he should do is buy a public company as a shell entity and use that as the lens through which all of Trump's business can be viewed. Make it a public company and, in doing so, then he has to file and do all the things that public companies have to do. And then everybody could see his activities. What do you make of the concept?

FAHRENTHOLD: Well, it certainly will be more than we have now. I'm not sure it would answer all the questions, but it would be more than we have now. One thing about this is Trump's promises about -- they go down to the sort of price of a hotel room. Now he's selling, "Well, yes, I'm going to sell hotel rooms to foreign governments, but it's not a violation of the Constitution. It's not a gift, because I'm going to give them their fair..."

CUOMO: He had a lawyer come out and say just that. That emoluments have never been construed to include fair exchanges. Now, the truth is it hasn't been litigated at all. So that's as unknown as anything else. But was that persuasive to you?

FAHRENTHOLD: No, because imagine just a particular hotel room. Right? Maybe he charges $800 or $1,000 to a hotel room that really should be $200. You know, basically, how are we going to police that? We're just going to take his word for it that something -- he sells services, rounds of golf, you know, gala -- gala halls. These are things that don't have sort of an easily-marked value.

So what he's asking to do is basically to be sued. He wants people to take this to court and litigate it, and he also wants people to sort of call into question these individual transactions one by one.

CAMEROTA: So Tim, given that his plan is to hand over the business to his son, where does that leave us? What does that mean for the next four years?

O'BRIEN: Well, it means that, unless the sons never ever speak to their father about business deals at all, and he already left wiggle room in the meeting yesterday where they could talk about domestic deals but not overseas deals. There are going to be moments where they're going to question the policy coming out of the Trump White House as whether or not it's clean and whether or not we have a corruption-free government, and that's a nonpartisan issue. It's not ideological. It's not about Democrats and it's not good governance.

CAMEROTA: He could have never done anything to satisfy critics on this. So isn't it just to trust but verify a situation and a full employment plan for people like you.

O'BRIEN: I'm happy if it is, but the reality is I think the Office of Government Ethics has slammed him on this, saying there is a remedy to this, which is that he should divest fully from the businesses.

[06:25:10] CUOMO: But that's an issue, too, because then how do you price it? And is someone going to buy it trying to curry favor? And will he have to dump it, and at great sacrifice, because he has to sell it all at once and create a buyers' market. There are concerns with that, too. Easier said than done.

CAMEROTA: On that note -- don't answer that.

O'BRIEN: All right, I won't.

CAMEROTA: Hold that thought.

CUOMO: It cannot be answered.

CAMEROTA: It's unanswerable. David, Tim, thank you very much. We have a programming note for all of you.

Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, will take part in a CNN town hall this evening. It's hosted by Jake Tapper. It's about the future of Obamacare and will he own the incoming president's proposals? Join us tonight at 9 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

CUOMO: All right. The nation's top intelligence chief calls President-elect Donald Trump over those Russia intel leaks. What did he have to say and how important is this relationship going forward? We have a former CIA director, next.


CUOMO: Retired Marine Corps General James Mattis, Trump's pick for defense secretary, will be in the hot seat in two hours. The general has a sterling reputation and has already shown that he doesn't always agree with the president-elect. CNN's Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, has more.