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FBI Refused W.H. Request on Trump/Russia Stories & Travel Ban Controversy; Boehner: Repeal, Replace Obamacare Won't Happen; Caitlyn Jenner Rips Trump over Transgender Bathrooms; GOP Rep: Obama Immigration "Endangered" America. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired February 24, 2017 - 11:30   ET



[11:33:07] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump this morning blasting the FBI after two CNN exclusive reports on his administration. The president tweeting that, quote, "The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security leakers."

We do not know if his tweet is a direct response to our exclusive reports, one of which reveals that the FBI rejected a request from the White House to publicly dispute media reports about the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. And our other CNN exclusive report uncovers growing concern in the intelligence community over steps the White House is taking to try to justify its controversial travel ban.

CNN justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is part of the team that broke these exclusive stories.

Pam, I want to begin with this back and forth over Russia.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, clearly the White House is on the defensive, with President Trump going after the FBI for leaks in his tweets and calling on sources to be named. But just today his own White House staff held a background briefing asking for their names not to be used. Two senior administration officials today strongly argued that White House officials acted appropriately in asking the FBI to publicly knock down media reports about communications between President Donald Trump's associates and Russians known to U.S. Intelligence.

The White House was reacting to our exclusive reporting that White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, asked the FBI to say the reports were wrong after deputy director of the FBI McCabe said the reports were wrong. The officials were defending the White House request to the FBI. They confirmed Priebus spoke with McCabe and Director Comey about the reports of contacts between the Trump campaign. Trump's advisers during the campaign and Russian intelligence. But officials also said Priebus did not initiate the conversation. This is coming from the White House, the White House saying Priebus did not initiate the conversation with Andrew McCabe that sparked the request to knock down the story. Rather, the official said McCabe asked for five minutes alone with Priebus and called the reports "B.S." The senior official said Priebus expressed his concern to McCabe that the White House was getting crushed on the story and asking what am I supposed to do? McCabe then called Priebus to say the FBI could not comment on the reports. Officials said Director Comey later called Priebus to echo McCabe's message that the FBI could not get into the position of making statements on this story. The FBI has declined to comment.

[11:35:49] Brianna, I can tell you the communication between the White House and the FBI was unusual because of decades-old restrictions on such contacts, specifically laying out -- laid out in two Department of Justice memos. If McCabe did say this to the White House, he may have overstepped, since it is an ongoing investigation, not to mention an investigation involving the president's associates and Russia. The request from the White House is a violation of procedures that limits communications with the FBI on pending investigations.

And these memos are very clear, Brianna, saying who from the White House can speak to the Department of Justice, the officials in the Department of Justice. It's very clear that there should only be communication about pending investigations if it has to do with the performance of the president's duty or if it's an important law enforcement matter. And as we know, Brianna, the FBI's counterterrorism, counterintelligence division, I should say, is still investigating this.

KEILAR: All right, Pamela Brown, thank you for that report.

I want to discuss all of this with CNN national security analyst, Steve Hall, a retired CIA chief of Russia operations. And we have Mike German, former FBI special agent and whistleblower. He quit the agency over what he saw as failures in the FBI's counterterrorism program.

Steve, this back and forth between the FBI and the White House, we heard Pam explain that there are clear lines here. Were they crossed?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, I don't want to lose the forest for the trees here. It's unclear as to who spoke to whom first. And, you know, how that all broke down. But I think the important thing to focus on here is the continued Trump administration's incredible sensitivity to the whole issue of, you know, whether or not his team was in touch with the Russians before the elections.

KEILAR: But does it matter who spoke to who first? In the scheme of things, the idea that the FBI, that there could have been this presumption that the FBI might in a way go to bat for the White House or at the White House's desire? I mean, putting aside who contacted who first.

HALL: I think it is an area of concern. Because I've served in a lot of third world countries where democracy is not particularly well- developed yet. You have the sort of standard situation, practice, where the president or the prime minister of awe country reaches out to their local law enforcement or intelligence services and says, I need help with this, can you downplay this, can you raise this issue. It's not a Democratic practice. We have policies in place that dictate and try to guide what the relationship between our executive branch should be, the president and FBI and other law enforcement intelligence. It is an area of concern. And it's something that really shouldn't happen in a much better developed democracy like ours.

KEILAR: The United States of America.

Mike, what do you think? Did this cross a line?

MIKE GERMAN, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT & WHISTLEBLOWER: I think it certainly violated policy. And we have to understand why this policy was put in place. And any time you have to reference Watergate, you have to recognize you're in dangerous waters. A lot of it discussion about how we need to deregulate and get rid of the administrative state, you have to understand that these rules are in place to help prevent these kinds of situations.

KEILAR: If intel gets politicized, if you have what's supposed to be an independent agency going to bat for the White House, what are the perils of this?

GERMAN: The greatest peril, especially with the FBI, is that you undermine the rule of law. The way our system works is that we all believe that the law is supreme and everybody can be held accountable to the law. But when you have political influence on FBI investigations or over FBI and Justice Department decisions, you undermine that concept, and then it becomes easy for the population to start believing the law only applies to some of us and, therefore, none of us have to obey it.

KEILAR: What are your concerns with that, Steve?

[11:39:56] HALL: The rule of law is -- that's exactly right. This is again what distinguishes us from so many other lesser Democrat democracies out there. You mentioned the politicization of intelligence. This is a step down the road. We heard some stuff about involvement of the DHS intelligence unit and the administration trying to reach out to get support for their travel ban. And you've got to get the order of this right. You've got to collect intelligence to then make decisions as opposed to have a policy and then look for intelligence to back this up. So the politicization of this is of great concern as well.

KEILAR: All right. Steve Hall and Mike German, thanks to both of you.

President Trump still has not released his tax returns. But one Republican shocked an angry crowd when they asked him if the president should.



UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: I think if you'll hear me out, you'll like the answer.


KEILAR: Plus, it was a big Republican promise, to replace and repeal Obamacare. Well, not so fast. Former House Speaker John Boehner says it's not going to happen.


[11:45:24] KEILAR: It's been a mantra for President Trump and many Republicans since day one or even before day one, repeal and replace Obamacare. The president repeated it just a short time ago at CPAC. But a former GOP leader, who you will recognize, says that's not exactly what's going to happen.


JOHN BOEHNER, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I shouldn't have called it repeal and replace, because that's not what's going to happen. They're basically going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it.


KEILAR: And according to Boehner, he says repair and rebrand might be a more appropriate mantra. His comments coming as his old colleagues have yet to settle on a replacement plan and as they're getting a lot of flack from angry constituents at town hall meetings.

I want to bring in CNN senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju.

Manu, how are Republicans responding to this from Boehner?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: They're pushing back, Brianna. They feel they have to fulfill this central campaign promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. When you talk to Republicans privately, they do believe what Boehner is saying is probably more like what is going to happen. If they're even successful at repealing parts of Obamacare, they can only do it on a piecemeal basis and replace the law on a piecemeal basis. It's not going to happen in one fell swoop. It may be just an effort to fix elements of the law that are not working.

Still, the Republican leaders are pushing back, including Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who was asked about this yesterday.


RAJU: Senator, former Speaker John Boehner predicted that Obamacare repeal and replacement isn't going to happen. Is he wrong?


RAJU: Speaker Boehner this morning predicted that repeal and replacement isn't going to happen.

MCCONNELL: I sure hope he's wrong. We need to do that. It's a commitment we made to the American people and we need to keep it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, expect march to be a critical time for the Republicans in Congress to start that process of repealing Obamacare, replacing Obamacare.

But the question, Brianna, is whether or not any of the lawmakers who have been getting an earful back home from their constituents, whether they change their minds at all. Because there is a very small margin for error in the House and the Senate, if there are defections of more than two in the Senate. A lot of efforts in the coming months will be a critical period as well.

KEILAR: It sure will be.

Manu Raju, thank you for that.

Joining me, CNN senior political contributor, Michael Mutter, the former Democratic mayor of Philadelphia; and Beverly Hallberg, a conservative strategist attending CPAC, from where she joins us.

Beverly, you heard John Boehner say that, basically, it's not going to happen, and you just heard Donald Trump. He was talking about we're going to make it better. How is that any different than the repair and rebrand that Boehner is talking about?

BEVERLY HALLBERG, CONSERVATIVE STRATEGIST: Well, I do think it takes time. You talked about march being a pivotal month. It no doubt will be. But if you talk to anyone here at CPAC, I think they would agree with me, there is a reason that John Boehner is no longer speaker of the House, and that is because he didn't want to lead the Republican Party. People spoke across this country and said we want Obamacare to be repealed. This is one of the reasons why Donald Trump won the presidency. It may take some time. But when you control three branches of government and can't push forward with repealing Obamacare, you aren't doing your job.

KEILAR: What does he do, Trump, when he's also facing the fact that now this new survey from Pew shows a record number of Americans approve of Obamacare?


To you, Beverly, sorry.

HALLBERG: There are people -- yeah, that's OK. When you see there are people out there who are concerned, I understand. That's because in many ways there is a narrative out there that people are somehow going to lose health insurance. And that's not the case. That's because of a really important part of this which House Republicans are talking about quite a bit, is making sure there is replacement there. But we can't deny the fact that Obamacare in many ways has been a cancer. When you're taking a look at small business owners, I am one myself, my premiums have tripled since Obamacare has been enacted. You saw American families, small businesses purchase their own insurance Yes, there are going to be people concerned, but there are also many

voices across this country that spoke in November who said we need to repeal this health care system.

[11:50:06] KEILAR: Mayor, when you are looking at this -- you are hearing John Boehner say that, and there are a lot of people -- he is a Republican saying that. You have a lot of people who are just observing how difficult this is. They're watching the town halls. From your perspective, how do you see this, and, I mean, Donald Trump could just repair and rebrand it and it could go very well for him.

MICAHEL NUTTER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Republicans are getting their butts kicked at their own town hall meetings. What we are talking about now is retreat and rethink. They've been talking about this for about seven years now and haven't been able to come up with anything that makes any sense.

The one thing I will agree with Beverly on, they are now in charge of the White House, the House, and the Senate and still can't reach agreement, which is what Speaker Boehner was talking about when he made those statements. People are worried about not having health care because half of them talk about repair -- repeal and replace, and the other half talk about repeal it completely.

I think I heard Mr. Trump just say he will let it crash and burn. You know, easy for you to say. You actually have health care. Those BHO are seeking treatment, preexisting conditions, kids up to 26 years old, someone in the middle of cancer treatment, it's not a laughing matter for them. Any big law, there are always going to be some parts that maybe need repair. You find out what to do. They're getting an earful back home, and they're running scared.

KEILAR: Listen to this. Obamacare is a big topic in these town halls, but so has President Trump's tax returns occasionally been.

And this is a Congressman in Florida confronted on this issue.




UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: Let me say right here, right now, absolutely, Donald Trump should release his tax returns.



KEILAR: Mayor, that's not clearly what this crowd was expecting. I mean, does that kind of make the point that some of this is not -- it really is about protesting and not always about discourse.

NUTTER: I haven't seen a pivot like that since Alan Iverson (ph) was playing basketball for the 76ers. He was getting hammered, and suddenly, he wants to start talking about Donald Trump's tax returns. I mean, it's hilarious. These are their hometown town hall meetings. Their constituents are upset about a bunch of different things, and these members of Congress really have to start trying to figure out is this how I want to spend my time, do I want to take this beating for the president or do I want to pay attention to what my constituents want? You know, taking care of yourself is the first order of business in politics.

KEILAR: It was so fascinating, hear the booing when people hadn't heard what he said, though. I thought that was really kind of funny.

I wonder what you think, Beverly, about Caitlyn Jenner, if you have been following this, because she ripped President Trump over the lifting of transgender guidelines that said to schools, let students and public schools use bathroom that is correspond with their gender identity. Here's what she said.


CAITLYN JENN ER, TRANSGENDER WOMAN: I have a message for President Trump from, well, one Republican to another. This is a disaster. And you can still fix it. You made a promise to protect the LGBTQ community. Call me.


KEILAR: Wow. I mean, Beverly, why did he pick this fight when so many Republicans and maybe not there at CPAC, but they don't want to be back engaged in the culture wars, they want to be dealing with tax reform, and they want to be dealing with an Obamacare overhaul.

HALLBERG: Well, I follow Caitlyn Jenner on Instagram, so I did see that video that was put out yesterday, and I would say that it does relate to I think a lot of confusion around this as a whole. What President Trump is really doing is saying that President Obama overstepped his bounds when it comes to the authority of the presidency. This is about turning it back to states. This is a federalism issue. And I would say when we do have an important issue, an issue we do want Caitlyn Jenner to weigh in on as well as others, we need to have that discussion. And when you have the president -- what President Obama did was usurped really the ability for us to discuss, I think this is a good decision.

[11:55:02] KEILAR: We'll have to leave it there.

Michael Nutter, Beverly Hallberg, thank you for being with under the circumstances.

Next, a fact check for an interview I did earlier this week with one lawmaker. We're back in 60 seconds.


KEILAR: We want to follow-up with an immigration segment we did on the show Wednesday with Congress Trent Frank, the Republican from Arizona. He lauded the Trump administration's efforts to expand deportation powers at the local level and charged that President Obama stood by when it came to border security, making the country more dangerous, even though President Obama deported far more undocumented immigrants than George W. Bush, earning him the moniker deporter-in- chief. Here's our exchange.


KEILAR: Why did he have a reported number of deportations?

REP. TRENT FRANK, (R), ARIZONA: There were a lot of things he could add to that. If you look at how many people were coming in, if you look at what the policies among the ICE agents themselves were. Again, if you are telling the world and telling me that Barack Obama was more committed to border security than --


KEILAR: No, I'm not.


KEILAR: I'm telling you he deported more people than George W. Bush, and he did so in a more focused way, concentrating more on criminals, and, I mean, those are just the numbers. Those are the facts.

FRANK: Well, if -- listen, if you look at the number of criminals that came in here under Barack Obama -- my office can send you some statistics that would certainly put this into perspective.


KEILAR: We asked his office for the statistics three times before they even acknowledged our request. When they did send the statistics, they were deportation numbers from Immigration and Customs Enforcement that have been compiled by the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that opposes illegal immigration but also legal immigration, a group that has been criticized by the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank, for misrepresenting statistics. When I pointed that out, a Frank aide justified his claims with a series of talking points that they said was information revealed in a House hearing on immigration that Franks attended back in September. When we looked at the hearing in the congressional record, those talking points did not come from expert testimony. They were lifted almost verbatim from the comments of a Republican congressman, Lamar Smith of Texas, actually, who did not cite where he got the statistics. Frank's office directed us to various agencies, but they did not provide us the actual data so we could break it down objectively.

Here is what we found. After a quick search on, statistics from a data research group at Syracuse University showed the number of deportations of criminals increased under President Obama, immigration offenses, traffic offenses, drug crimes, assault. President Obama deported more in those categories than George W. Bush.

And here is the problem with this. Congressman Trent Franks may have a valid point. I don't know. He can't or won't back it up with facts. These issues are so important deserve an honest conversation, not just talking points.

Thank you so much for joining us AT THIS HOUR.

"Inside Politics" with John King starts right now.

[11:59:50] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

And a newsy Friday it is. President Trump paid a triumphant visit to a big conservative meeting here just outside of Washington looking to rally support for his agenda and looking to stifle any lingering distrust on the right.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We need to define what this great, great, unprecedented movement is and what it actually --