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Lawmakers Push for Probe; Trump Ally May Review Intel Agencies; GOP Holds Obamacare Conference. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired February 16, 2017 - 09:30   ET



[09:34:04] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. So glad you're with us.

Intelligence leaks and concerns about former national security adviser Michael Flynn's conversations with Russian operatives, just two things that have prompted multiple calls from Republicans and Democrats for congressional probes into the Trump administration. All of this as the president doubles down on his attacks against the leakers.

BERMAN: Joining us now is Republican Senator James Risch of Idaho. He is a member of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Ethics and Intelligence Committees.

Senator Risch, thanks so much for being with us.

SEN. JAMES RISCH (R), FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: John and Poppy, thank you for having me.

BERMAN: So the Senate Intelligence Committee is where the action will be. It's that - where it's already been in terms of investigating alleged contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians. Also perhaps the conversations that Michael Flynn had with the Russian ambassador. I suppose my question to you, sir, is, would you like to see - would you like to see General Flynn come testify before your committee, and are you willing to subpoena him if he's unwilling, and what would you want to know from him?

[09:35:05] RISCH: Well, right now we're laying down exactly how the investigation, the probe, the look into, whatever you call it, is going to take place. That's going to take the shape of obviously document review. That's already underway. It's going to take the form of testimony before the committee. And it's going to take some interviews with people. And it may very well include getting General Flynn in. Whether that happens or not, I don't know.

Sometimes when these things happen, depending upon what the facts are, you can invite them, but that doesn't mean they have to testify. And that happens more often than not when you get bogged down in this kind of an investigation. HARLOW: All right, let me get to some new reporting just in from our

Jim Sciutto and get your reaction to this. The White House, Jim is reporting, is considering tapping Stephen Feinberg, a big investment baker here in New York, to conduct a review, senator, of all of the U.S. intelligence agencies. This is according to officials with knowledge of the plan.

A few things to note here. This would essentially take away that authority from the director of national intelligence. That's something that the White House denied during the early days, that they wanted to sort of revamp the DNI. This is someone who would come in, someone who sits on his economic advisory council, and he would oversee, do a full review of all these intelligence agencies that the president has been so critical of. Is that a good idea?

RISCH: Well, you know, that's up to the president. This is new breaking news. I - as you told it to me, this is just what I've heard. But you have to remember -

HARLOW: And "The New York Times" reported it this morning. So, overall, as a concept - I understand if you haven't read it all, but is it a good idea? Does the U.S. need this?

RISCH: Well, it's not a question of, does the U.S. need this? It's a question of, does the president feel he needs this? Remember, we have two branches of government. What you just described for me that this person is going to do is exactly what the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence does. And that is, we do oversight on all of the 16 intelligence agencies. In addition to that, we also do oversight to see that they're doing their job. We also do oversight to see that they're not infringing on U.S. citizen privacy concerns.

So that's our bailiwick. That's what we do. So whatever he does for the president, that would be up to him. If the president feels that he needs to have a look at this and have someone advise him as to what the first branch of government is doing as far as the committee operation is concerned, that's certainly up to him. We cooperate very well with the intelligence agencies.

BERMAN: The question is, you know, you haven't - you know, we've all been out here the last month or two. We know there is what seems to some to be a bit of a feud right now between the intelligence community and the president.

RISCH: Well, sure.

BERMAN: What happened before the inauguration, and may be on going right now. And, again, your concern isn't just for the administration, but it's also for the intelligence services itself. Do you think this will send a chilling message to the rank and file?

RISCH: Not necessarily. But, you know, the point that you brought up is an excellent point. Here's what's happened. When you change administrations, as we just did, there are dozens and dozens of people at the top level who actually have to leave the agency and new ones are brought in under the new administration. Sometimes there isn't good feeling when that happens. And I think a lot of this fallout is from that. Indeed, "The New York Times" article that broke all this stuff indicated that the information they got were from former members of the intelligence community, which means they're people that mustered out when Trump came in, and for whatever reason they felt that they should leak things. The president is absolutely right, that leakage of classified information is a criminal act. And he's right to be unhappy about that. Having said that, of course, that doesn't take care of the predicate problem regarding these conversations.

HARLOW: Right.

So, senator, to John's point, I want you to listen to what Representative Steve King, a Republican of Iowa, said to our Alisyn Camerota just this morning, because it gets to the crux of the question, which is, you know, how far do you go here? Is there an intimidation - is there a fear of intimidation of intelligence officials. Let's hear what Steve King had to say.


REP. STEVE KING (R), IOWA: They have to find the people that are working against this administration, and they need to be purged from the intelligence community.


HARLOW: His words, those people working against this administration need to be purged from the intelligence community. Do you agree with that?

RISCH: Well, I think they've already left. As I said, the articles themselves said these are former people that are - that are talking about that. But the intelligence community is made up of tens of thousands of hard working, good Americans who put their lives on the line in many instances. These people are not the people that are involved in the political aspects of this. And the people who did this, who formerly were with the agency, do a real disservice to those who have remained behind and work in these agencies and do the necessary work that America needs to gather intelligence. I have no doubt that the people that are in the agencies and have remained there are as frustrated and unhappy with the law breakers who have disclosed classified information and -

[09:40:25] BERMAN: But just to be clear -


BERMAN: Senator, just to be clear, because you called it a predicate problem. You still do think there are questions that need to be answered in terms of possible contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians during the campaign and also further light shed on what General Flynn discussed with the Russians?

RISCH: And so I don't miss communicate, don't get me wrong, the fact that it was illegally leaked in no way reduces the seriousness of those concerns that all of us have, particularly those of us who aren't particularly enamored with Russia. Those are serious concerns and they're going to be looked at. But, as I said, there are other issues here -


RISCH: Not the least of which is law breaking.

HARLOW: All right, senator, we appreciate you joining us. Thanks for coming on.

RISCH: I'm happy to.

BERMAN: And it's also great of him to respond to the breaking news.

HARLOW: Absolutely.

BERMAN: I mean, obviously, he's hearing our report for the first time and we do appreciate his willingness to talk to us about it as it happens.

HARLOW: That's a good point. And we're going to have much more of this breaking news. A big report out from our Jim Sciutto. Stay with us. Much more on this after the break.


[09:45:25] HARLOW: Breaking news from the White House. CNN just learning that President Trump outraged by this slew of leaks he says are criminal is considering putting someone he knows very well who is on his Economic Advisory Council and fundraised for his campaign in charge of reviewing all of the nation's intelligence agencies. This would be a huge move.

BERMAN: This would be a big deal. This would bring in another layer over the people that in some ways he seems to be feuding with right now.

Our Joe Johns joins us with the details.

Joe, who are we talking about here?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: What we're talking about is Stephen Feinberg. He's a billionaire, founder of a New York investment firm. A friend of Donald Trump. I think you can call him a Trump loyalist based on his record. And what we are being told at CNN, this is reporting from CNN's Jim Sciutto, is that Stephen Feinberg is under consideration for conducting a review, essentially, of the U.S. intelligence agencies. However, we're being told there are things that have yet to be worked out because the Office of the Director of National Intelligence has sole authority over many of these issues.

"The New York Times," of course, first reported this and today here in the Briefing Room we here at the White House had an opportunity to speak briefly with Sarah Huckabee Sanders of the administration. She tells us that at this time they don't have any personnel things to report, but she says the Trump administration takes leaks very seriously. She also said they would be doing a thorough review. So I asked if it was Feinberg that would be doing that review, and she said they don't have any personnel announcements at this time.

So that's what we know. Stephen Feinberg under consideration to do a review of the intelligence agencies and happens to be a friend of Donald Trump's.

Back to you.

HARLOW: Joe Johns, thank you very much.

And before we move on, let's just talk about why that matters. That matters because this would be, essentially, someone very close to the president, on his team, overseeing the intelligence community that he -

BERMAN: Which is what the DNI does.

HARLOW: Does already. Does already.

BERMAN: The Director of National Intelligence is supposed to be the one coordinating all that. That said, look, I mean there are people who will say that anyone needs a management consultant. They're - you know, you can have a periodic review of systems in place to try to refine it.


BERMAN: The timing is what will raise some eyebrows.

HARLOW: Absolutely right.

Still to come for us, repeal, replace, repair? What is it going to be? Republican lawmakers right now meeting on Capitol Hill on Obamacare and what is next. Our Phil Mattingly digging into it all. He's straight ahead.


[09:52:25] BERMAN: All right, happening now, a closed door meeting on Capitol Hill. The subject, Obamacare.

HARLOW: That's right, Republicans facing obstacles to reform and differences of opinion on how they are going to do it. Remember the promise was replace - repeal and replace right away.

Phil Mattingly, our congressional correspondent, is on The Hill right outside of that conference.

What are you learning?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, the members of the House Republican Conference are restive, there's no question about it. Poppy, you made the point, this has been kind of the key campaign pledge, the thing they ran on not just in the last election cycle but really at the last three. And there just hasn't been a lot of movement going forward.

What's going on behind me in this closed door meeting, as it's been described to me by Republican aides, is they're trying to calm the process down. And what you have right now is sharp ideological differences, sharp differences over the timeline, how fast this is supposed to move. What Republican leadership wants to convey is that they have a strategy. It's a slower-paced strategy than maybe some members would like, but it is a strategy that's in place.

Here's the difficultly, guys. There is no bill text. There is no final plan. There is no real kind of issue that they can coalesce around. And that's making members very uncomfortable, particularly because of this reason. Tonight, they go home for congressional recess. What's happening at home? Well, we've seen it, a lot of town halls, a lot of constituents raising a lot of concerns. That makes members even more uneasy than they already are, putting a lot of pressure right now on GOP leadership, guys.

HARLOW: Yes, no question.

BERMAN: Phil Mattingly outside that meeting right now.

Phil, there are some competing plans. We're hearing from Mark Sanford and some members of the Freedom Caucus also recently, and they're coming forward with the beginnings of ideas. Is there a sense that they may reach critical mass of support?

MATTINGLY: It's unlikely. Look, you talk to leadership aides, that's not the proposal, that's not the direction they want to go. But that really underscores kind of the differences here. There's ideological differences on the policy with that plan. But the Freedom Caucus matters. It's 45, 50 members of the House Republicans. And if the House Republicans can't get most, if not all of their members in line with whatever their proposal is, guess what, they can't get the requisite number of votes to pass that proposal.

But the issue, again, is trying to walk the line here, not only on the policy side, but the timeline. You talk to more conservative members of the conference, they made clear that they want things to happen quickly. They want them to happen fast. That's why they're pushing plans forward. The leadership wants to slow it down a little bit. They're worried about all of their members, not just the most conservative, guys.

HARLOW: You know who's helping them, quickly, Phil, is the CEOs of these big health care companies. Humana pulled out for 2018 of Obamacare. The Aetna CEO just said yesterday it is in a death spiral. I mean this should be helping them.

[09:55:01] MATTINGLY: Yes, and I think that's - look, that's the - the issue when you talk to leadership officials right now is they want their members to - relax isn't the right word. They understand what they're hearing when they go home. They understand what they're about to face when they go home tonight to their districts. But they believe they have a message. They believe that the system is in need of repair. And as such, they need to take the time to do this properly, do it step by step.

But, again, there are conservative members agitating for a faster process, making clear this was what we promised on the campaign. This needs to happen now. If they can't calm those members down, get them kind of back into line, this is very problematic, not just for how's this going to look going forward. Guys, this has the potential to sink the entire issue altogether. And I think that's why you're seeing members meeting behind closed doors. That's why you're seeing Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price come up, try and quell the concerns, assuage some of the concern and really try and get folks back into line as they really kick this process into high gear.

BERMAN: All right, Phil Mattingly for us on Capitol Hill. Great reporting, Phil, we appreciate it.

The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM starts after a quick break.