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White House Denies Inappropriate Russia Ties; Trump Accuses Obama Of Wiretapping Him, Offers No Proof; Senator Demands To See Secret Health Care Bill; Pro-Trump Rallies Today Across The Nation; Trump Choosing Mar-a-Lago Over Camp David; Obama Spokesman: Obama Never Ordered Surveillance; Former Official On Trump's Wiretapping Claims: "It's False, Wrong"; Trump Cries "Witch Hunt" As More Russia Contacts Revealed; White House Denies Inappropriate Russia Ties. Aired Noon-1p ET

Aired March 4, 2017 - 12:00   ET


REZA ASLAN, CNN HOST, "BELIEVER": -- they do to be what they are. I think that's why they opened themselves up to me. A lot of these communities are very secretive. So that's the way that I was able to earn their trust.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Reza Aslan, thank you so much for being with us. Can't wait to see it. It gets underway tomorrow, "BELIEVER" premiers tomorrow at 10:00 p.m. Eastern Time right here on CNN. Be sure to watch. Thanks so much, Reza. All right, the next hour of the CNN NEWSROOM begins right now.

All right, hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for being with me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. False, wrong, did not happen, this is how a former U.S. official is characterizing President Trump's explosive and baseless accusation today after the president tweeted this, this morning.

Saying quote, "Just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism." The president is offering zero proof to support this allegation.

We're getting new details now from CNN's Shimon Prokupecz. He just spoke with a former senior U.S. official with the Obama administration. Shimon, tell us more about what was said.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Well, like you said, Fred, basically, the entire thing is false. This tweet, the former official is telling us did not happen. The information in the tweet, what Donald Trump is saying occurred at Trump Tower did not happen. And quote, this official as you said, said, "This didn't happen. It is made up. False. Wrong."

Keep in mind, it was in October and November and it's still ongoing. There's an investigation into Russian's hacking, into the Russian's meddling into the election. So that investigation is still ongoing.

People sort of in the Trump circle, the orbit, your names have surfaced as possibly communicating, talking to Russians, there have been all sorts of reports about that and you know, the FBI is still looking into that.

They're still conducting their investigation and to think that Trump, that the FBI would ask the Department of Justice for permission to go ahead and wiretap or to listen in on Donald Trump's conversations, this former official says is just not true. It's false. Just not something that they would want to do.

It's not something that they plan to do. No one had ever asked to do this as far as this official is concerned and certainly, no one ever went to a judge to ask for a permission for a warrant to go ahead and search to sort of listen in on his phone calls.

WHITFIELD: And Shimon, this source that you spoke with, was there any expectation that they would hear this kind of accusation or does this just catch that source and others completely by surprise?

PROKUPECZ: I think it caught a lot of people by surprise this morning. These tweets, you know, immediately when I called around and I was talking to sources, they were sort of bewildered, they were like, what, how could this be? This just does not happen.

We have no information here at CNN that Donald Trump was ever under investigation. That he was a target of the investigation. That anything involved sort of him directly. We have reported on that they've been looking at people surrounding him and I think it just confused a lot of officials this morning.

The FBI has not returned our phone calls. We've tried other officials and we haven't heard back yet, but yes, Fred, everyone is surprised. Are they surprised that Trump would tweet this, would say this? Probably not. But just the idea that the government would do this to Donald Trump in October has you know, everyone's like nonsense, basically.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and to say that via tweet about his predecessor without also revealing source information or anything to back it up. Shimon Prokupecz, we're going to check back with you. Thank you so much.

Let's now go to the winter White House. CNN's Athena jones is live for us now from Palm Beach, Florida. So what more is being said there? We know the allegations via tweets, but what else from Florida?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Fred. Well, we are still waiting for word from the Trump's White House communications team about what he meant, what he was referring to. Was he referring to a report, is there evidence that he can offer? We have stressed these are baseless accusations, that the president offered no proof when he put these series of tweets starting early this morning.

You've gone through a couple of them. Let me go through a couple more. He also said, "I bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October just prior to election." Now, again, he calls it a fact. This is not a fact that's been proven and you just heard that vigorous denial from a former official that Shimone spoke with. The president also tweeted, "How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process? This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad or sick guy."

[12:05:05]So these are explosive allegations again offered with no proof. We've been talking for the past year or more about how unprecedented so much has been about this past election, past campaign, this is unprecedented. It is not a usual thing to have a president accuse another president on Twitter of spying on him -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And then anything more from anyone who once worked with President Obama in the White House?

JONES: Right. We've reached out to a couple spokes people for the former president and they have not yet commented in any official way. They are, of course, aware of these tweets, but one former Obama official, the spokesman for the National Security Council, Ben Rhodes, did take to Twitter to respond.

Here's some of what he said to President Trump speaking to him directly. Rhodes said, "No president can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you." He's talking directly to President Trump there.

He also went on to say, "Dear pundits who lauded his speech," he's talking about that Tuesday speech to the joint session of Congress that a lot of people called presidential, Rhodes says, "Dear pundits who lauded his speech, is it still presidential to call your dignified predecessor a bad or sick guy?"

And I've got to remind you, Fred, that President Trump has been blaming the former president for a slew of things. He says President Obama and people on his team are responsible for the protests we're seeing at these town halls across the country that the Republicans are confronting.

He also has been blaming the president or his team for leaks. So this is not entirely new to have President Trump blaming President Obama for something, but these allegations particularly explosive and again, with no proof offered.

WHITFIELD: Then that in contrast with President Trump talking about after his meeting, his first meeting in the White House with President Obama and even though the limo ride to Capitol Hill before inauguration saying he was so nice and gracious, what has happened in 45 days or so. All right, Athena Jones, thank you so mucn.

OK, let's talk about here, I want to bring in Michael Zeldin. He is a former federal prosecutor, CNN senior media correspondent, Brian Stelter, host of "RELIABLE SOURCES." Also with me, CNN presidential historian, Tim Neftali, and CNN senior law enforcement analyst, Tom Fuentes, a former assistant director to the FBI. OK, lots to chew on here, Michael, let me begin with you because you investigated allegations between, you know, presidents before. You investigated allegations of impropriety when the George H.W Bush administration requested a search of Bill Clinton's passport files. What do you decipher here when you hear and read the sitting president's accusations about his predecessor?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, it seems more likely that the president has his wires crossed than they were tapped. I think that the bold allegations that have been made on Twitter don't ring true. It seems to me that if the Obama administration believed that foreign agents were operating in the United States in a way that required allowed for a FISA, the special court -- foreign intelligence court --

WHITFIELD: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

ZELDIN: If they felt that there was a FISA justifiable warrant, it would be targeted against them. If the location of the communications took place in the Trump Tower and I think it was Breitbart that reported it was related to a server in Trump tower that was related to banking related information, that would be perfectly appropriate.

But so, not, it's not that the p president is targeted. It would be foreign officials that would be targeted, but I don't believe there's any truth to the merits of the allegations made by the president on Twitter, and it's a bit unseemly, frankly.

WHITFIELD: And Tom, you know, former Obama NSC spokesperson, Ben Rhodes had tweeted out saying no president can order a wiretap seeing specifically, "No president can order a wiretap, those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens from people like you."

So, in no official capacity, anyone directly related to President Obama has come out. People who once worked with him do have this to say. Is this the beginning of a back and forth spat between the Obama and Trump administrations in your view?

TOM FUENTES, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, the question, Fredricka, is that you know, Obama, that's true, he's not in a position to order anything as president. That would have to come from the FBI submitting an affidavit for a FISA wiretap on whoever it might be and they are doing this on a daily basis at the FBI on a number of national security counterterrorism investigations.

[12:10:05]But the idea that a sitting president would try to order the FBI to do it, I think a president with any political acumen would not do it because it would come back on him. You know, someday that would become public and obviously would be extremely negative on a president that did that.

But the question in this case is wasn't in fact actually FISA wiretaps. You have officials from the Obama administration saying that it's not true. There were no FISA wiretaps. The FBI was not conducting electronic surveillance at Trump Tower on then Candidate Trump or elected Candidate Trump and his officials. So, you know, if that's true, that's troubling in itself that all these various media outlets have reported the attempt by the FBI to get a FISA wiretap in June last year followed bay successful attempt to get one this past October.

And is that true or not? Because you've got a lot of media outlets saying it's just a fact, and so you could see President Trump waking up this morning seeing that reporting and basically becoming extremely unhappy.

ZELDIN: It really drives from the Breitbart-Mark Levin story. That's where -- that's the genesis of this. Most media outlets are saying these are unsubstantiated claims. So it's not like you wake up in the morning and "The New York Times" and "Washington Post" are saying, we have evidence that a FISA warrant was obtained and it was located in Trump Tower. That's just not true. So, he woke up in the morning with the Mark Levin-Breitbart story on his mind and that's what led to these unsubstantiated tweets.

WHITFIELD: The right wing conservative, you know, radio, so then Brian, you know, if the sourcing now is media outlets, that Donald Trump believes are you know, in step with his thinking, how troublesome, worrisome, reckless potentially is it that this is the sourcing of his information, this is the impetus of this kind of tweeting and bashing a former president.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Reckless is the word that does keep coming to mind. It's wholly inappropriate for the leader of the free world to be spreading this kind of theory. It's a twist on a popular conservative media theory that former President Obama is doing as much he can to undermine the new president.

This is a theory we've seen for weeks. We've seen allegations for weeks. And now, Trump taking this several steps further with the claims on Twitter this morning. He's also I think trying to distract, trying to change the story line, trying to get folks to focus on something different.

But it is absolutely reckless and to use one of the president's better words on Twitter, it's also sad. There's not supporting evidence for what he's saying. If there is, it should come forward. He or his government should present that evidence to these all, so for now, there isn't that evidence.

I'm afraid that through all the coverage it just muddies the waters, people become confused about what is true or isn't true. Maybe that's the president's intent here, but there is no evidence for what he's claiming.

I think no matter what those conservative stories and conservative media outlets were saying before, there isn't the substantiation.

ZELDIN: This is very similar to the investigations I did as independent counsel where there were these right wing outlets in Arkansas, who kept saying to Herbert Walker Bush that Clinton had written a letter of renunciation of citizenship and that would be in his passport file.

So they did this orchestrated search of his passport files based on this right wing reporting. No such letter existed. It led to an independent council investigation that put some people through some terrible periods of time just because they were following up on right wing media conspiracy theories. It's sad -- that becomes the source of what is a tirade from the president.

STELTER: By the way, if the president does find himself ensnared in something in the future, if he doesn't make it to eight years or whatever he wants to make it as president, what's he going to do, he's going to blame former President Obama.

And some of what I see in his tweets this morning, laying those bread crumbs. Remember in the fall what he did about a rigged election. He laid these kinds of bread crumbs. If he lost the election, turn back, oh, I lost because it was rigged.

What's he doing now? He's telling a story about President Obama trying to undermine him. I think that's what we see partly in these tweets.

WHITFIELD: And again, a former Obama administration senior official has said flat out wrong. False. There's nothing behind this later allegation of President Trump -- coming from President Trump via all these tweets. So Tim, House Speaker Paul Ryan was on Fox News and was asked about an array of things and this is what he had to say.


[12:15:02]UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you concerned on the flip side that the Obama administration may have been surveilling members of the Trump campaign in a pretty detailed investigation during the election?

REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Well, I don't think that's the case. If you recall, President Obama asked the intelligence community after the election to canvas all the intelligence and give a report to Congress on what Russia did do and all their interactions.

And in that report, they nobody alleged there was a person in America like a Trump campaign official involved with the Russians on this. So, if they would have found that you think they would have put that in the report that they gave us in early January.


WHITFIELD: And Tim, I want you to respond and we've just now gotten information from a second now former U.S. senior official under the Obama administration saying quoting now, "Just nonsense" in reference to this wiretapping allegation from President Trump on President Obama. So how potentially damaging is this for the sitting president now to make these accusations about his predecessor?

TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: The first thing I'd say is that you know President Trump could find out the answer. Richard Nixon had a top secret investigation of the intelligence community started after he became president to find out if they wiretapped him during the '68 campaign. And he discovered that they hadn't.

Now, then he started fake news and would say that he had been wiretapped. It wasn't true. He knew it wasn't true. In fact that report was declassified a few years ago. So Donald Trump could actually find out what FISA warrants had been issued. He has the power as president.

So it shouldn't be a matter of mystery for him. I think it's unlikely because presidents realize, outgoing presidents realize that the next president can find out what they've done and it would be a real challenge for our system if an outgoing president wiretapped an incoming president, whether or not they saw warrants on other people, that's a different issue.

This is very damaging because remember that President Trump has not shown any interest in the intelligence community. He always raised doubts about it and now, he's raising doubts about whether or not it engaged in undemocratic activity. The intelligence community may have told him, by the way, that they didn't and he doesn't believe them.

ZELDIN: It does play perfectly into the narrative that the president has been following since elected, which is everybody is out to get me. This is conspiracy against me and the allegations with respect to my people and Russia and interference with the election and Wikileaks and the like is all fake and this allows him to continue that narrative I think in an effort to discourage real investigations into whether or not there was any there "there" to begin with.

WHITFIELD: All right. Tim, Michael, Tom, Brian, thanks to all of you. Appreciate it.

All right, now turning more attention now, the spotlight on the Trump administration and Russia and the web that continues to grow even more tangled by the day. You need a scorecard to keep up with all the change of details.

Up next, the president tries to reverse the heat calling for this investigation into Democrat now Chuck Schumer's ties to the kremlin. Remember the photograph that was tweeted out from long ago? All that straight ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.



WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. Live pictures right now of a sunny Washington, D.C. We understand this is called the march for Trump demonstration. Pro Trump supporters gathering today at the Washington Monument and will march their way to Lafayette Park, which is just across from the White House. We'll continue to monitor the event as people gather there and bring you developments.

All right, meantime, President Trump is accusing Democrats of a witch hunt amid revelations that more of his key advisers met with Russia's ambassador to the United States and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says he will now revise his testimony about his contact with Russia on Monday.

CNN's Brian Todd explains the contacts between Trump's campaign and the Russian ambassador go back almost a year.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For months, the denials have been emphatic and definitive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you say with 100 percent confidence that Mr. Trump or anybody in this campaign had no conversations with anybody in Russia during the campaign?

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: No, I'm just telling you, it's all phony baloney garbage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If any adviser or anybody in the Trump campaign had any contact with the Russians who are trying to meddle in the election?

SESSIONS: Of course, not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you say whether you are aware that anyone who advised your campaign had contacts with Russia during the election?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.

TODD: It now appears those denials were at best deflections. CNN has confirmed a growing list of people affiliated with the president's campaign who had contact with Russia's ambassador to the U.S., Sergei Kislyak as far back as last spring.

In April of 2016, Kislyak was in the audience, in the same room with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as then Candidate Trump gave a speech calling for the U.S. to ease tensions with Russia.

Three months later, Kislywak was in Cleveland on July 20th on the sidelines of the Republican convention. CNN has learned at least three Trump campaign national security advisers met with the Russian ambassador.

One of them tells CNN nothing inappropriate was said. That there was no collusion with the Russians to aid the Trump campaign, but was Trump's Russia policy affected by those meetings?

Trump's team allegedly pushed convention delegates into changing the GOP platform language to offer less help to Ukraine in their fight against Russian separatists.

[12:25:08]Days later, Trump told ABC this -- PRESIDENT TRUMP: He's not going into Ukraine, OK. Just so you

understand. He's not going to go into Ukraine. You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it any way you want it.

TODD: During his confirmation hearing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions also denied any contacts as part of the campaign.

SESSIONS: I did not have communications with the Russians.

TODD: But on Thursday, Sessions admitted, he, too, met with the ambassador in Cleveland.

SESSIONS: In retrospect, I should have slowed down and said I did meet one Russian official a couple of times and that would be the ambassador.

TODD: The week after that meeting in Cleveland e-mails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were released, embarrassing Democrats during their convention. The Trump campaign denied any involvement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are there any ties Mr. Trump, you or your campaign and Putin and his regime?

PAUL MANAFORT, TRUMP CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN: No, there are not. It's absurd. No basis to it.

TODD: Days later, Mr. Trump was back in front of cameras, seemingly daring the kremlin to help take down Hillary Clinton.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing.

TODD: U.S. officials now say the Russians were engaged in a concerted effort to help Trump get elected through hacks and fake news. On September 8th, Sessions still a surrogate for the Trump campaign, met with the Russian ambassador a second time. This time, in Sessions' Senate office.

Sessions says the subject of Ukraine came up. CNN has learned contacts between the ambassador and Trump advisers continued after the election. In December, a senior administration official now says the ambassador met briefly at Trump Tower with Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his appointed national security adviser, General Michael Flynn despite news cameras rolling constantly in the Trump Tower lobby.

Kislyak was apparently never seen by reporters entering or leaving the building. Later that month, Michael Flynn had a flurry of calls and a text with the Russian ambassador, he says touching on everything from holiday greetings to sanctions.

It was then that President Obama expelled more than 30 Russian diplomats and levelled sanctions on Russia, yet Vladimir Putin said he wouldn't respond in kind. Trump praised Putin's move in a tweet, "I always knew he was very smart." Two months later after "The Washington Post" detailed the timing of the calls, Flynn was forced to resign. The White House says for misleading Vice President Pence about his conversations with the ambassador.

The next day, Press Secretary Sean Spicer was still trying to answer questions about Trump campaign contacts with the Russians before the election.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's nothing that would conclude me that anything different has changed with respect to that time period.

TODD: Two days later, the president himself was again asked and again denied that anyone on his campaign team had contacts with Russia during the election.

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Nobody that I know of.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you're not aware of any contacts during the course of the election?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: How many times do I have to answer this question?


TODD: It appears the president and his team will continue to have to answer these questions as congressional investigations are looming. Now, it's important to note that it's not unusual for members of the president-elect's team to meet with foreign dignitaries after the election, that none of these contacts appear to have been illegal and the Trump administration says it did nothing wrong. Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

WHITFIELD: All right, I want to bring back Timothy Naftali, a CNN presidential historian and former director of the Nixon Presidential Library. All right, good to see you again. So, all these denials, but now records and admissions of meetings after all, what is this in your view kind of leading up to?

NAFTALI: I'll tell you the mood it creates. It creates the sense of a cover up. Now, there may be nothing that they are covering up, but that the actions, the fact that what you're doing is they keep revising their statements, the Nixon presidency, the press secretary at one point, when the press understood there had been a clear lie, said that old statement is no longer operable.

The problem for the campaign, now presidency, they're revising themselves and they're revising themselves awkwardly. Here's the real problem. It's not unprecedented for a president-elect's team to talk to the Russians. The Russians, traditionally, or Soviet would reach out to a president-elect and try to establish some contacts.

It happened under Kennedy and Carter. The difference here are the contacts before the election. That seems to be completely unprecedented and the questionable nature of the contacts after the election given the climate, the fact that everyone was talking about the hacking scandal. So, that's what makes this really different.

WHITFIELD: Is it denying that those, that that contact happened, but then later on saying oh, yes, it did, and then omitting what wasn't discussed, but never revealing what was discussed.

NAFTALI: Exactly and the problem here is if you're innocent, just say you had the contacts, but they -- and I think -- I mean, the best spin you could put on this is that given the hacking scandal, they didn't want to mention any of these contacts after the election and that some of them were innocent.

[12:30:08] I don't know. But again, it's the climate they've created. By their own mishandling of this, at the very best, they are in competent. But of course, there could be a bigger story there, we just don't know at this point.

WHITFIELD: All right. Tim Naftali, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

NAFTALI: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Happening right now across the nation, lawmakers are facing angry constituents in their hometowns. Details on that after the break.


SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: So what have you learned? That I'm a conservative, damn proud of it. And I'm going to help Trump where I can, and the rest of you who voted for Clinton, you should want him to succeed too. All right.



[12:35:22] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. So just moments ago, Senator Lindsey Graham wrapped up a very ruckus town hall in Clemson, South Carolina. The Republican senator talks about Trump's accusation this morning that former President Barack Obama wiretapped the Trump Tower before the election as well as Russian meddling in the presidential campaign.


GRAHAM: Thank you all. As to Trump, Russia campaign ties, I have no evidence personally that there are any, but I will insist that the FBI be given full opportunity to look into this without political interference. So it's going to (INAUDIBLE).


WHITFIELD: All right. CNN's Polo Sandoval has been monitoring all of these today, joining us now with more on what the senator had to say during that town hall and what the audience had to say. But he address the wiretapping accusation right off the top. POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It certainly was a very heated exchange at their place there on the Clemson University campus in South Carolina earlier today. In fact, the event there just wrapping up a few moments ago, Fred. And as you mention, right out of the gate, the senator from South Carolina tackling this issue at least addressing this latest Trump twitter tirade.


GRAHAM: I don't know if it's true or not, but if it is true, illegally, it would be the biggest political scandal since Watergate. So, it's my job as a United States senator to get to the bottom of this.


SANDOVAL: So again, that's a pledge coming from Senator Graham there. Two things that he said to the crowd that would really be concerning for him, that is if the current President is suggesting that the former president would illegally order a tap on Trump Tower, according to his allegation or in the other scenario here too, Fred, that the Obama administration would be able to gather enough legal evidence, or enough evidence, a legal tap on Trump Tower. So again, this is all very initial, but as we've heard from several reports from my colleagues at this point, the administration says didn't happen.

WHITFIELD: Right. For former officials --


WHITFIELD: -- senior --

SANDOVAL: Very close to it.

WHITFIELD: -- former senior officials with the Obama administration, saying no, wrong, didn't happen, preposterous, all that. All that. Thanks so much. We appreciate it Polo.

All right. Next, Obamacare Lite. That's what Senator Rand Paul was labeling the Republican's plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. New details on the bill, and why some GOP lawmakers haven't even seen it.


[12:41:54] WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Repealing and replacing Obamacare was a tough campaign promise for Donald Trump and many GOP leaders, but a replacement plan hasn't been presented yet and some top Republican lawmakers haven't even seen a working draft.

Senator Rand Paul turned the search for the health care plan into a chaotic scavenger hunt this week marching to the House side of the Capitol. Reporters into (ph) searching for the bill. The Kentucky Republican even brought a copy machine to xerox the document so he could share it with the country. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: We heard it was secret, we wanted to see it even more because if something's secret, you worry that people are hiding things. What we think is being hidden from conservatives is that there's a lot of Obamacare lite in their bill.


WHITFIELD: OK. Let's talk more about this with CNN Money senior writer Tami Luhby. So Tami, Senator Paul called the health care reform draft Obamacare lite.


WHITFIELD: Why are some of the Republican so upset now?

LUHBY: Well, there are several reasons, but what specifically Rand Paul is talking about is three provisions that he feels are just way too much like Obamacare. You know, the Republicans hate Obamacare. They hate everything about it. The biggest issue is the individual mandate, you know, that they've really railed on requiring people to get insurance or pay a penalty. And Rand Paul claims that there's a penalty in the Republican replacement plan, too. But in this case, it's not a penalty where you have to pay the IRS, it's a penalty because you're going to be charged more if you don't maintain continuous coverage of your insurance.

WHITFIELD: Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, you know, painted a much different picture of GOP unity on this health care reform. He calls the process transparent. And that the GOP is unified. Listen.


REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We're doing this hand-in-glove with President Trump, with Tom Price, HHS secretary, with our counterparts in the Senate. We're all working off the same piece of paper, the same legislation. So, let me just describe in general what we're talking about here. We're talking about giving the states control of the Medicaid program which is something that Conservatives have invited for years. I wrote our budgets. We used to call them the road map for America than the path to prosperity. Everyone of my budget that I wrote as the Conservative gold standard for Republicans was to give states control of Medicaid.


WHITFIELD: So Tami, Speaker Ryan says this bill is what Conservatives have been asking for, but then you wrote in a recent CNN Money article that the GOP is fractured on how to help people pay for their health insurance. Can they find common ground are or these going to be sharp differences?

LUHBY: Well, there are a lot of differences in their philosophies, but, you know, Rand Paul is really making a big show of this right now. He brought the copy machine as you mentioned, he's also been placing signs around -- you know, he's been -- on his Twitter feed, has had signs showing show me the bill, you know, on different statues and different doors. So he's really interested in, you know, flushing out what the leadership has said has already set. He doesn't think it's so set and he really wants to have a voice in this.

WHITFIELD: Republicans --

[12:45:02] LUHBY: So they talk u about being unified but there's still, you know, a faction that is not.

WHITFIELD: Yes. OK. All right, many on the Hill saying there's a lot of work to be done. Tami Luhby, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

LUHBY: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead, as President Trump retreats to Mar-a-Lago on the weekends, the official presidential getaway Camp David? Well, it sits empty in a place where often President hosts other leaders and heads of state. What's happening with it? That's next.



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WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. In the newsroom, you're looking right now at live pictures of two separate march for Trump events, which were taking place across the nation today. On the left side of the screen, Nashville, Tennessee. Meanwhile, pro-Trump supporters gathering at the Washington Monument. And they will march to Lafayette Park, which is right across from the White House. We'll continue to monitor these events and bring you any developments as they happen.

Meantime today, President Donald Trump is at his so-called winter white house. His Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. This is his fourth weekend there since becoming president. And closer to D.C., the famous retreat for past presidents, Camp David, well, it sits empty. Suzanne Malveaux has more.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: President Trump arriving in Florida to spend another weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we get a lot of work done. Believe me, it's not rest at the southern white house, its all work.

MALVEAUX: His fancy Florida estate, he's go-to (ph) for getting business done outside the White House and hosting world leaders like Japan's prime minister. But President Trump's weekends at Mar-a-Lago are costing U.S. taxpayers big money. From firing up Air Force One to fly to Florida with traveling staff. To securing the beach front property with coast guard patrols.

"The Washington Post" estimates the trip so far have cost up to $10 million in just five weeks. And at the same time, taxpayers are also footing the bill to operate Camp David. The secluded presidential retreat less than 70 miles from the White House. Set aside for presidential down time in diplomacy. Even dormant, it costs an estimated $8 million a year to run.

Trump has expressed little interest in using the cheaper alternative, describing the retreat (ph) to reporters as very rustic, saying "It's nice. You'd like it. You know how long you'd like it? For about 30 minutes."

ANITA MCBRIDE, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO LAURA BUSH: It doesn't fit everybody. President Obama, you know, he's a city guy. This is a remote location. I don't think initially, President Clinton was crazy about it either, but then came to really love it. Remember, Jimmy Carter almost thought about getting rid of it and thankfully, he didn't.

MALVEAUX: Famously, Carter brokered the historic 1978 peace accord between Egypt and Israel and at Camp David. Anita McBride who worked in both Bush White Houses says for them, it was a sanctuary.

MCBRIDE: Still, the only presidential family that spent 12 Christmases at Camp David.

MALVEAUX: The private, secure location also enables some world leaders to grow close, as Bush revealed what he discovered after hosting British Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

GEORGE W. BUSH, 43RD PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, we both use Colgate toothpaste.


TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: They're going to wonder how you know that, George.

MALVEAUX: President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it (INAUDIBLE). His doctor believed the cool mountain air helped Roosevelt sinuses. President Reagan visited a record 150 plus times, often to ride his horse. President Clinton failed to get a peace deal after sequestering the Israeli and Palestinian leaders there for two weeks. And President Obama hosted African and G8 leaders at a summit early in his presidency, but rarely returned, spending most weekends at the White House.

Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, Washington.


WHITFIELD: We got so much more straight ahead in the Newsroom. Stay with us.


[12:59:12] WHITFIELD: Hello, again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me on. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

WHITFIELD: All right. We begin with the breaking news, a spokesman for former president Barack Obama is now responding to President Trump's serious accusations this morning when Trump tweeted, "Just found out Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism."

CNN's Athena Jones is live for us now in West Palm Beach. So Athena, what is the former president Obama saying?

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Fred. Well, this is a statement just received -- we just received through a spokesperson for the former president Kevin Lewis, and this is what he said. "A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice. As part of that practice, neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance --