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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

GOP Leaders Back Away From Trump Wiretap Claim; Interview With California Senator Dianne Feinstein; Republicans Divided Over Health Care; GOP Showdown Over Obamacare Repeal; Interview with Congressman Mark Meadows of North Carolina. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 8, 2017 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:10]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Speaker Ryan says Republican fights on the hill are growing pains, growing pains. Does that count as a preexisting condition?

THE LEAD starts right now.

Republicans backing off, President Obama ticked off, but President Trump not tapping out after he claimed without a shred of proof that the former president tapped his phone.

Repeal and repeat? Conservative critics blasting the plan to replace Obamacare as President Trump heads out to make his first big sale and warrants of an electoral bloodbath if Republicans fail.

Plus, CIA secrets leaked, how America's spies can turn our gadgets against us. Now that the secret is out, though, how much is U.S. national security at risk?

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're going to begin with the politics lead. Welcome to Obama tapped my phone island, population, President Trump. The White House saying the president has no regrets about his fact-free claim that then President Obama tapped his phone last year, even though just about everyone else in this city in the know or with the power to investigate the claim says it's not true, or that they have seen nothing that can support the accusation.

That includes Republican leaders on the Hill. That includes officials at the White House. And it also includes FBI Director Comey, who in his first appearance since President Trump's tweets over the weekend did not address the claim at all. Even the president's own press secretary when pressed said that the matter is above his pay grade.

And today we learned that President Obama, no stranger to Donald Trump's needling, might need another kite-surfing get away after seeing the president's tweetstorms.

CNN's Sara Murray is live for us at the White House for us.

Sara, the president would request the investigation from lawmakers, but theoretically he's the one sitting on this nonexistent evidence.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a little bit of a conundrum over here today, Jake. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, he went further today, saying there is no reason to believe the president is the subject of a counterintelligence probe, but still not offering any proof as to why the president would suggest that he had been wiretapped by former President Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): It's been four days since President Trump's shocking claim that President Obama spied on him. And while there is still no evidence from the White House, today, senators say they want proof.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The president has asked Congress to look into whether or not his campaign was wiretapped by the Obama administration. I will take up that challenge.

MURRAY: In a Saturday morning tweetstorm, Trump alleged that Obama ordered a wiretap on Trump Tower, the home of then candidate Trump and the location of his campaign headquarters. Today, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse penned a letter to the Justice Department and the FBI asking for copies of warrant applications or court orders related to Trump wiretaps.

They wrote: "We would take any abuse of wiretapping authorities for political purposes very seriously. We would be equally alarmed to learn that a court found enough evidence of criminal activity or contact with a foreign power to legally authorize a wiretap of President Trump, the Trump campaign or Trump Tower."

Trump's claim inspiring other senators to ask for more details.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: As far as the information from the president, I would like him to turn over any evidence that he has supporting his tweet from this weekend about surveillance. I think that would be helpful to our investigation.

MURRAY: The seemingly unfounded wiretapping allegation casting a shadow over Trump's other ambitions. At a health care markup today, one Democrat called out his GOP colleagues for their silence on Trump's claims.

REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D), TEXAS: You would think we were asking someone to comment on whether or not President Obama was a criminal who wiretapped President Trump at Trump Tower, because they have been silent on that. Indeed, every outrageous statement, every crazy tweet, they are silent on that.

MURRAY: As for the FBI director, sources tell CNN that James Comey was -- quote -- "incredulous" about Trump's Twitter allegations. At a cyber-security conference today, Comey wouldn't address the issue head on, but made it clear he plans to serve out his term.

JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: You're stuck with me for about another six-and-a-half years.

MURRAY: Meanwhile, the subject of these allegations, former President Obama, denied to a spokesman ever order surveillance of a U.S. citizen. Sources say Obama was -- quote -- "irked and exasperated" and in a state of disbelief about Trump's wiretapping claims.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, President Trump may have lobbed this wiretapping allegation to try to move the conversation away from Russia, but that's not exactly what's happening.

[16:05:00]

There are a number of senators who have made or are about to make the trek out to CIA headquarters. They want to view the raw intelligence about Russia attempting to meddle in the U.S. election and find out for themselves whether they see any evidence of collusion between former Trump advisers or Trump campaign advisers and suspected Russian officials -- Jake.

TAPPER: Sara, thank so much.

On that he subject, let's go to Capitol Hill now, where the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee is just back from CIA headquarters. Senator Mark Warner, the vice chair of the committee, says he has even more questions about Russian meddling in U.S. politics after reviewing raw data from intel officials.

CNN senior congressional reporter Manu Raju just spoke with Senator Warner.

He joins me now.

Manu, how much would the senator reveal here?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, he didn't say specifically what he saw, but he said that the information that he did see leads him to more questions about exactly how Russia meddled in this election and, in his words, attempted to help one candidate over another. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: A lot of what we saw today was the evidence underlying how Russia manipulated the news, how it hacked into the DNC and John Podesta and leaked out in favor of one candidate against another candidate.

But I think these efforts, beyond even the whole question about whether there were contacts between campaigns and the Russians.

RAJU: Is there anything that suggests that the Trump campaign was involved in coordinating that release of information?

WARNER: At this point, I'm not going to get into that part of the discussion. That's part of our investigation.

It's always been about misinformation. It's been about the hacking and selective release of e-mails and it's been about whether there's been any contact between either campaign and the Russians prior to the election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So, Jake, Mark Warner making it very clear they are still looking into that idea that Donald Trump, his campaign associates may have been discussing having contacts with officials tied to the Kremlin during the campaign.

I also talked to another member of the Intelligence Committee, Susan Collins of Maine, who is not ready to say whether or not they are able to assert whether or not there were any contacts between Trump officials and Russian officials, saying they are still looking at that data.

But, Jake, Susan Collins also saying that there should be a public hearing on -- by the Senate Intelligence Committee on the issue of Russia because of this committee operates in secrecy. She believes the public deserves to know as well, Jake.

TAPPER: Manu Raju for us on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. She serves on the Intelligence Committee.

Thank you so much for joining us, Senator. Appreciate it.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Oh, you're welcome.

TAPPER: So, you're on the Intelligence Committee. Have you seen any evidence that President Obama tapped Donald Trump's phone?

FEINSTEIN: No, I have not. And it's all rather shocking to me that a sitting president would make this kind of an allegation about a former president without any proof whatsoever.

And, as you know, the Obama White House people and the Obama people have responded and said that it was absolutely false. So, to keep this going with no proof, I think, is really very dangerous for President Trump.

TAPPER: What do you think might be behind the president's claim? Do you have any idea?

FEINSTEIN: No, I don't have any idea. It may have been some right- wing news channel. I don't know.

As we all know, sometimes, these things are wrong on these news channels. But this is different. This is a sitting president of the United States who makes a charge against the former president, and it's a serious charge. And I believe it's patently false. So, without any backup, the

present president is left out there making a material allegation that is false, and I don't think that's a good thing to do.

TAPPER: There do seem to have been or continue to be investigations into Trump associates and their relationships with Russians, which might mean that the FISA court approved some wiretap of communications.

Do you know, can you talk at all about any possible FISA warrants to listen to conversations of Trump associates?

FEINSTEIN: That's easy. No, I can't, because I don't know of any FISA warrants in this area.

TAPPER: The Trump administration and President Trump himself have talked a lot about how much they hate this culture of leaks. You in the past have talked about this also.

In 2012, after two big front-page "New York Times" stories, one on Stuxnet, the cyber-attacks by the U.S. against Iran's nuclear facilities, and also President Obama's secret terrorist kill list, you condemned the intelligence leaks.

You said -- quote -- "We have a problem, and we want to stop that problem."

Is President Trump onto something when he complains about these leaks?

[16:10:02]

FEINSTEIN: Well, as you know, WikiLeaks has just done an apparent dump of some 9,000 files, which, if true, could be very serious.

And the allegation is that this is a contractor. Well, this is the third contractor now that's done this kind of leaking, which really -- it's just about espionage, and beginning with Snowden, and then an NSA contractor, and now a contractor allegedly putting this out through WikiLeaks.

I think we really need to take a look at the contractor portion of the employee work force, because you have to be loyal to America to work for an intelligence agency. Otherwise, don't do it. Don't come aboard as a contractor.

But to come aboard and then scrape the system or do a major dump of highly classified material is really very dangerous for this country to allow to happen. And we have got to get to the bottom of it and stop it.

TAPPER: There are Americans who saw the WikiLeaks dump, what they're calling Vault 7, suggesting that CIA hackers are able to infiltrate phones, television, computers, turn the targets' own electronics against them as surveillance tools.

Are you concerned about the CIA having that power? Is there enough oversight to make sure that it's not abused?

FEINSTEIN: Well, that oversight is one thing of that, and maybe there should be more. We do not do a lot of oversight in that direction.

The other thing is, if the technology industry in a national security event, like a terrorist attack, and the police have a device, and the police ask for help in opening that device, and the industry will not comply, then it leaves the government at a sufficient and major disadvantage.

So, it seems to me that what we need to do is work out some form of accommodation. If you don't want these massive leaks to occur, there has to be some way that, if the government needs help -- and that help has to be qualified, related to a very serious crime and/or a national security incident that takes lives -- then I think the company should help open the device.

TAPPER: Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, thank you so much. Always appreciate it.

FEINSTEIN: Thank you. Thank you very much, Jake.

TAPPER: Whose side are you on, Nancy Pelosi's or Donald Trump's? That question was posed to Republican members of the House today. But it doesn't seem to be enough to convince some skeptical conservatives who are wary of this new health care bill.

We will talk to one of the skeptics coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:04] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Let's stay with politics now. President Trump meeting with skeptical conservatives on the Hill today as he throws the weight of the White House behind the House GOP's repeal and replace health care bill. Selling it to his own party will be the first big task for the presidential deal maker.

CNN's Phil Mattingly is live for us on Capitol Hill.

And, Phil, already, there is a lot of squabbling between the White House and Republicans on the Hill about who is at fault for something of a rocky roll out.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, the kind of blow back certainly caught everybody off guard. The intensity of it wasn't expected. They expected some, but the intensity has certainly added to the pressure here and it's not just from conservatives. It's from outside interest groups and interests as well. The American hospital and health systems put out a letter saying they have significant concerns. The American Medical Association said they can't support the bill because of potential reductions in coverage.

All this makes very clear, Jake, Republican leaders, this is their bill. They have a lot of work cut out for them. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY (voice-over): For House Republicans, the big sell is on.

REP. KEVIN BRADY (R), WAYS & MEANS COMMITTEE: This morning, we will answer President Trump's call.

MATTINGLY: Two committees launched the first legislative action in a long awaited Obamacare repeal bill. Speaker Paul Ryan making a not so subtle pitch and still skeptical and even out right opposed members. This is exactly what you campaigned on.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I have no doubt we'll pass this because we're going to keep our promises.

MATTINGLY: Even as he acknowledged despite those promises and the full-on support of President Trump, he still has problems inside his own party.

RYAN: What you're seeing is we're going through the inevitable growing pains of being an opposition party to becoming a governing party.

MATTINGLY: Sources tell CNN GOP leaders blitzed their members behind closed doors today, with House Majority Whip Steve Scalise placing a split screen slide on a projection screen of Trump and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The question Scalise asked, whose side are you on?

The GOP aides realize it will take more than that as conservatives continue to threaten to sink the bill altogether.

REP. MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA: It is a lump of coal. Ultimately, it will result in the demise of our country or at least contribute to our debilitating insolvency and bankruptcy.

MATTINGLY: Among those in need of persuading, Senator Ted Cruz, who despite the unfounded allegation tying his father to the assassination of JFK --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What was he doing with Lee Harvey Oswald shortly before the death? Before the shooting?

MATTINGLY: And this unflattering tweet about his wife Heidi will be welcomed by President Trump at the White House tonight for dinner and some lobbying on Obamacare. And with good reason, on the other side of the aisle --

REP. FRANK PALONE (D), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE ENERGY & COMMERCE COMMITTEE: Mr. Chairman, I'm simply asking for recognition with regard to a parliamentary inquiry.

MATTINGLY: -- there is no help on the way as Democrats today spent hours criticizing the bill.

REP. RICHARD NEAL (D), WAYS & MEANS COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: Does it cover more Americans? No. Does it cut the deficit? No.

MATTINGLY: Mocking the process and the president at the same time.

[16:20:03] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bad. Sad.

MATTINGLY: As well as the components for maintaining preexisting condition protections, to allowing kids to stay on their parents' health care until the age of 26.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a lot of plagiarism in this bill.

MATTINGLY: And attacking the legislative sprint now in full effect.

REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D), TEXAS: Last week, this bill was literally under armed guard in the capital, kept a secret as Donald Trump's tax returns.

MATTINGLY: The Democratic efforts falling short of derailing any aspect of the GOP plan. Underscore that the GOP leaders from Trump on down, the issue is their party. And they simply aren't there yet.

RYAN: Look at what this does -- this is a conservative wish list.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: And, Jake, I'm standing right outside one of the committee rooms where they are actually slogging through the legislative action. But an important note here: there are no changes expected to these bills, at least in committee.

So, how do you get those skeptical or down right opposed conservatives to come aboard? Well, we're starting to get a hint of President Trump's strategy, some of those House Freedom Caucus members, the most conservative of the House Republican Conference, they will be heading to the White House to bowl, persuasion in full effect, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Phil Mattingly, thanks so much.

Let's talk to one of these skeptical conservative Republicans who says he won't vote for the bill as it's now written, Congressman Mark Meadows, Republican of the great state of North Carolina, joins me now. He is also the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Congressman, thanks for coming on. Appreciate it.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Jake, it's always great to be with you. Thanks so much.

TAPPER: So, the number three Republican in the House, Majority Whip Steve Scalise told you and other Republicans today when it comes to this bill, you're either with Nancy Pelosi and you oppose this bill, or you're with Donald Trump and you support the bill. Under this construct, I suppose, you're with Nancy Pelosi?

MEADOWS: You know, I'm with the American people, Jake, and you know that. I'm a straight shooter and what happens is if it's a bad bill, whether it's on our side of the aisle or the Democrats' side of the aisle, I'm going to stand with the American people.

And Donald Trump and I are not at odds. We want to make sure that we repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with something that drives down health care costs and insurance premiums, and this doesn't do it, Jake.

And, so, you know, when you put those slides up, that doesn't do anything to compel people to look at this. These are principled decisions. We have to have an honest debate and hopefully negotiate to get to a place where there's 218 votes in the House.

TAPPER: Do they need to get rid of the refundable tax credits in the bill, which some of the house Freedom Caucus Members have called Republican welfare? Is that one of your big objections?

MEADOWS: Well, that is an objection, but that's more a tactic on where we get there, Jake. I can tell you that in our bill, the one we endorsed, it doesn't have refundable advance tax credits. But really, we had even some of our members saying, well, what about the working poor, how do you handle that? And, so, we had amendments looking at Dr. Rand Paul's bill to make sure that we can supply some money, at least seed money to make sure that we do that.

But to do a new entitlement program, do I have a problem with that when indeed it's not even means tested? We have it -- if you're a certain age, you get it. It does have a cap on it and that's an improvement. I would acknowledge that.

But really right now what we're looking at is my big concern is will it drive down insurance premiums and the analysis that I've done at this point would suggest that it doesn't, and it doesn't even cover as many people as perhaps what we have right now.

TAPPER: Beyond allowing more competition across state lines, what do you think would be an effective way to bring down premiums?

MEADOWS: Well, one of the ways, Jake, that you could bring down premiums is to allow insurance companies to offer different kinds of insurance. Everybody talks about this being a full repeal, but the fact of the matter is we're still mandating insurance companies what they offer and how they offer it.

So, if I want to buy a catastrophic plan that has a deductible of 25,000 or 50,000, and fund my health care needs through an HSA, I can't do that today because the law prohibits it. We need to address that. That starts to drive it down.

And so, until you really have more flexibility in the insurance industry, we're not going to be able to drive costs down.

TAPPER: Are you prepared for the political pressure of this? President Trump says he's proud of this bill. The plan is going to be wildly popular. He's working to convince Republicans to support it. He sent out a tweet yesterday. I guess it was a nice tweet about his friend Rand Paul coming on board, but some people thought it was a way of like showing like, "Hey, I'm paying attention to who is opposing me."

Are you at all concerned?

MEADOWS: Well, I mean, political pressure, getting a call from your own president, of course, I would be not honest if you say, are you worried about that type of political pressure?

But I can tell you this. I believe when the president understands the fact that this is not going to really help millions of people, that he'll be with us on our side because I campaigned with him. I know what he said in North Carolina and other states in the South. And as we see that, it's all about making sure that we provide more affordable health care.

[16:25:04] And, so, you know, as the president weighs in, that message that is being reported is very different than what I heard from the vice-president and Director Mick Mulvaney which says we're open to amendments. Let the negotiations begin. We're a willing partner in that ready to negotiate, ready to get to yes.

TAPPER: All right. Congressman Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina -- thanks. We'll have you back as this process continues. Appreciate it.

MEADOWS: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Schools shut down, companies closed as rallies take place around the world on, quote, "A Day Without A Woman".

Plus, a criminal investigation being opened into the WikiLeaks dump of some scary CIA documents that say the agency can hack into cell phones, TVs, cars. Are more leaks on the way?

Stay with us.

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