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Comey Delivers Speech Amid Wiretap Controversy; White House Stands Behind Trump Wiretapping Claims; House Schedules First Public Hearing On Russia. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 8, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: He got in there, and he said it was the right thing to do and he hopes he inspires others.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Oh, my gosh! Well, that's quite a shiner there, but thank goodness for him. Time now for CNN NEWSROOM with Poppy Harlow and John Berman.

Hi, guys.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Alisyn, your red inspired me, so I thought I would, you know.

CAMEROTA: I'm happy to hear that.

HARLOW: Yes, make it a little bit --

CUOMO: I hope that man inspired John Berman, known to stand and watch.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You inspire me.


BERMAN: I'm inspired. You complete me, also. Thanks so much. Let's get started.

HARLOW: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. Two giant questions this morning on the Republican plan to overhaul ObamaCare. Is it now effectively TrumpCare, and is it dead on arrival?

The real action to preserve, promote, maybe even save this, begins in the next two hours. Two committees will hold so-called markup meetings. These are seeking compromises and concessions. This is where the sausage is made, and all signs point to some angry sausage, or at least angry sausage makers.

HARLOW: OK. All right. Well, those making the sausage still don't know one very important thing. How much is this going to cost?

House Speaker Paul Ryan says his party will rally the votes to get it passed. A gut check on that this morning, though, shows this is far from in the bag. Those votes too close to call. And this morning, a senior administration official tells us, quote,

"the volume of blowback was a bit of a surprise." Of course, they're referring to blowback from fellow Republicans. And the President is adding some heat to the equation. He reportedly told House GOP members that if the repeal fails, they will face a, quote, "bloodbath" in next year's midterm.

Our Sunlen Serfaty begins us this hour in Washington with new word coming in from the White House. They're launching a, quote, "full- court press." Is that right?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right, Poppy. Expect basically to see the White House and President Trump a lot more engaged on this because, quite frankly, they understand that they now have a lot more arm-twisting to do.

And my colleague, Jeff Zeleny, reports that a senior administration official says that they were indeed surprised by all the blowback coming from Capitol Hill, a lot of fierce opposition to the bill. So they are launching this full-court press, in essence, to motivate Trump supporters across the country but, importantly, to get all of those reluctant Republicans on board with this bill.

So expect to see President Trump out there traveling the country, rallying support for this bill, reaching out to members of Congress directly, including engaging with them over Twitter, which we saw a preview of last night when Trump tweeted to one of the bill's chief critics, Rand Paul.

He said over Twitter, "I feel sure that my friend Rand Paul will come along with a new and great health care program because he knows ObamaCare is a disaster." Now, while President Trump, though, is stepping up his engagement, very sure that he needs that engagement because, up here on Capitol Hill, I can tell you, opposition is growing by the hour, not only from House Republicans but Senate Republicans as well.

Here is a sampling of their pushback.


SEN. MIKE LEE (R), UTAH: This is not the repeal bill that we've been waiting for, for all these years. It's a huge opportunity that's been missed.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: The first thing Republicans are bringing forward is a piece of legislation that says we repeal it but keeps Medicaid expansion and actually expands it that keeps some of the tax increases. That is not what we promised the American people we were going to do.


SERFATY: Now, amid all these criticism and concern, today is a critical day on Capitol Hill for the fate of this bill. Within the next hour, two House committees will start marking up this bill. They're working to get to a final product, potentially, that can pass in the House and in the Senate potentially, Poppy and John. They are all planning to work well into the evening to hammer out these details.

BERMAN: All right. Sunlen Serfaty for us on Capitol Hill, thank you so much. The White House doing a full-court press, we are told, but some conservatives say it will take more than phone calls and arm- twisting to win them over here. They say the problem is in the plan itself.

We're joined by CNN Chief Business Correspondent, star of "EARLY START," Christine Romans.

Romans, winners and losers with this new plan versus ObamaCare?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, let's talk about what the three beefs are, really, of conservatives and Republicans here with what we see in this new plan.

First of all, tax credits. Some say that creates a new entitlement system. They don't see much difference there when you're talking about subsidizing or helping people pay for the tax care.

Number two, some are calling it ObamaCare Lite. You know, children under 26 stay on their parents' plan. You can't ban pre-existing conditions. And you lose the penalties under ObamaCare, but you replace it with a premium surcharge for those who let their insurance lapse. So they're saying it's simply kind of the same thing.

And then there's the Medicaid expansion, and this actually cuts both ways. Under this new plan, it would roll back that Medicaid expansion. And there are Republican governors who, frankly, accepted the federal expansion of Medicaid so that more of their people could be covered. Some are concerned, if you roll that back, that's going to leave millions of people uninsured. There are others though, the flip side, who are concerned, frankly, that they're not rolling it back completely and so they don't like that.

[09:05:09] So those are some of the beefs right now in different quadrants of the Republican Party. Now, who wins? Who loses? What does it mean for what you make?

The richest Americans will get two big tax increases that will go away. So that will be thousands and thousands of dollars for the richest Americans. They will benefit.

But what about real people? If you make $20,000 a year, you are 27 years old, here is how it breaks down.

Under ObamaCare, you have $3,000 in subsidies to help you pay for health care. The House health care tax credit would be $2,000. You can see a 40-year-old there, a 60-year-old. The older you get under this, if you make $20,000 a year, the less help you get in tax credits to pay for health insurance.

Let's jack it up to $40,000 a year. This is, again, if this new plan were to be in place by 2020. Compare the ObamaCare subsidies to the tax credits under the health care bill, and you can see the differences there.

Now, if you're making $100,000 a year, for 27-year-olds and 40-year- olds and 60-year-olds, there are no ObamaCare subsidies, right? That cap's set about 47. But this is what it looks like if there were tax credits.

The other issue here is, what kind of plans are going to be available? Will they be able to pull premiums down? That's really key.

The President is promising more choice and cheaper prices. So there's a lot going on here other than just, you know, what kind of subsidies you're going to get, what kind of tax credits you're going to get, but what is the care going to look like as an end result.

HARLOW: Yes, absolutely. Christine, thanks for educating us every morning on this as it changes. We appreciate it.

Let's discuss, debate, with our panel. Joining us now, CNN Contributor Salena Zito, CNN Political Commentator Errol Louis, and CNN White House Reporter Jeremy Diamond.

Errol, let's begin with you. So the President says he supports this. He's reaching out to folks in his own party who don't via Twitter, et cetera. He had Lindsey Graham over. I mean, this is a full-court press from the White House and the President himself.

Some Democrats call this TrumpCare. If it is indeed TrumpCare, what does that mean? Is that good for this bill? Does it help it? Does it hurt it?

ERROL LOUIS, POLITICAL ANCHOR, SPECTRUM NEWS NY1: TrumpCare is more, I think, political jargon than anything else. The President himself said the other day, hey, nobody knew how complicated this was.

HARLOW: Right.

LOUIS: And by nobody, I think he meant himself. The fact is that Republican lawmakers have been wrestling with this stuff for the better part of eight years, and they have not managed to sort of square the circle.

There are all of these questions about, what do you do if you don't have the individual mandate? What do you do if you want to keep 26- year-olds on their parents' policies? What do you do if you don't have a way to pay for this stuff? And what do you do if you don't have the votes in Congress, especially if you do away with or seriously impair the Medicaid expansion?

And those are the political questions that have to get answered. Donald Trump, I think, wants something to happen. He's being very forceful. This is his political style. This is, frankly, what he brings to the table that, I think, all sides can agree is, at least, positive. He's going to drive the conversation forward and make sure that they

don't dither for too long. But the underlying problems, the underlying dilemma, it's the same as it was on the day that the Republicans first decided they wanted to do away with ObamaCare.

BERMAN: All right. Salena Zito, let me show you what was the front page of Breitbart this morning. Breitbart, of course, Steve Bannon's old website. "FreedomWorks Opposes Speaker Ryan's ObamaCare 2.0 Plan."

"Speaker Ryan's ObamaCare 2.0 Plan," and I don't think, Salena, they mean that in a nice way. There's a lot of pushback from some conservatives to this plan right now. The question to you is, you know, does the President have the juice to overcome this opposition? How does he do it?

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. I mean, look, the sausage making -- and I come from a family who has actually made sausage -- was --

BERMAN: That's why we booked you.

HARLOW: You bet.

BERMAN: We booked an expert on this subject.

ZITO: Even better.


ZITO: -- you know, wasn't that long ago. It's incredibly messy for the Democrats when they put together ObamaCare. I'm unsurprised that this is incredibly messy, sort of reformulating it and getting rid of it.

Having said that, the person who has the most political capital in this moment is President Trump. And he should use it to his advantage, sort of do the opposite of what Obama did with the stimulus, where I thought, at the time, he had the perfect opportunity to go out there and sell that and sell it in districts and sort of, you know, brand it as something that was going to create jobs in a much more effective way, rather than leaving it to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid and members of Congress who are terrible salesmen.

You know, Trump should take this on the road. He should go to Jim Jordan's district and say, hey, Jim, kind of need you to be here with me on this, you know, in front of, like, a big crowd. He's the guy that can get this done, and he's showing that he's willing to do that. And I think that's incredibly important for this to pass.

And so you see, tonight, he's having dinner with Ted Cruz and his wife at the White House. Very important move because this is one of the guys, like Rand Paul, that he needs to bring on board to get this passed.

[09:10:07] HARLOW: Indeed. This is the first and perhaps ultimate test in his first term, at least, of the art of the deal. Can he pull it off?

ZITO: Right.

HARLOW: Jeremy Diamond, you've covered the man for quite a while now. He doesn't hesitate to work with people he has worked over. He has Lindsey Graham over, and Lindsey Graham said, I gave him my new cell phone number. Remember when the President Trump gave that out during the campaign when they weren't exactly friends?

To what extent do you see the President as being able to be successful in this, in getting those, you know, people in his own party on board who don't like this a lot right now?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, it's certainly a key part of his persona, right? The dealmaker who's always willing to work with whoever it is to get something done. And Ted Cruz coming over tonight, it seems the President has already won something out of that.

You know, yesterday, when the hardline conservatives were out on the steps of Capitol Hill lambasting this new ObamaCare plan, one man was really very obviously missing from there, and that was Ted Cruz, who was not out there bashing the President and his new bill.

And, you know, I think Rand Paul, so far, has seen the carrot aspect of the President's negotiating strategy with that tweet last night saying, you know, my friend, rand Paul, is going to come out of this. The question is, will he now see the stick, or will other members of Congress see the stick?

And I think that tweet last night was also kind of a warning signal to Republicans saying, listen, I have this power of Twitter which I have been known to use. Let me use it for good and not for bad necessarily. But, certainly, tonight, Ted Cruz is going from lying Ted to dining Ted.

HARLOW: There you go.

BERMAN: Dining Ted. So is Heidi Cruz, by the way, who, you know, Donald Trump famously, in a tweet, criticized her looks. So that the Cruz family coming a long way.

DIAMOND: Prompting Ted Cruz to call him a sniveling coward, so.

BERMAN: Exactly.

DIAMOND: So those are words not --

BERMAN: So it should be a nice dinner tonight at the White House. Errol, I want to ask you this because, happening now, as Wolf Blitzer would say, James Comey, the FBI Director, is speaking at Boston College. He's talking about cyber security.

This is the first time the FBI Director has spoken since President Trump accused President Obama without any evidence of wiretapping him during the election. We do not know, at this point, exactly if the Director will comment on that. He will take questions, which will be interesting.

But what do you think is going through his head right now, Errol? How much pressure, do you think, the Director feels to comment on this publicly? We're told he's incredulous in private.

LOUIS: Yes, I would assume that this is a spotlight he does not want to be a part of. He's center stage in a really important moment here in history where there's almost no win for him. He can either enrage the President of the United States, or he can defend his agency. And that's a really tough place to be.

You know, when you have the President sort of making these kind of wild accusations and clearly, according to what we've heard from aides to the President, did not even contact the FBI to ask for clarification of any of this stuff, the FBI is seen as either sort of a tool of the President whose authority can be sort of slung around -- and it's implied that the FBI, if anybody was going to do the wiretapping, might have done it or at least known of it -- or they're seen as off to the side and a player that doesn't know what's going on among their own personnel.

So Comey is in a no-win situation. I would be very surprised if he said anything at all about it today.

BERMAN: We are watching. Guys, thank you very much. Salena Zito, apparently from the sausage kings of Pittsburgh, Jeremy Diamond, Errol Louis, thanks you, one and all, for being with us.

A little Ferris Bueller reference there for people who are watching closely.

HARLOW: Your favorite word this morning.

BERMAN: All right. You're seeing live pictures right now of the FBI Director speaking for the first time since the President's comments or charges about wiretaps. We know he is incredulous in private. He will take questions at this event. Will the students of Boston College ask him about this controversy?

HARLOW: I think they will, and you'll see it here live.

Also today, women rallying around the world. This is indeed international women's day. Some, though, are calling it a day without women, protesting and not going to work. Marches kicking off in just moments. This, as the President is tweeting his support for women this morning.

That's all ahead.



JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: I'd love to be invited back again. Obviously anyplace called Irish Hall is a neat place to have this given my background. What I want to do this morning is share with you some thoughts about how the FBI thinks about the threat we all face and how the FBI is trying to address that --


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So FBI Director James Comey. The key words there, you're stuck with me for another six and a half years. Why does that matter? Well, because of the huge controversy swirling around the FBI, the intelligence community since President Trump over the weekend, without any evidence, accused former President Obama of wiretapping him during the election. We are told James Comey has been incredulous about this. Frankly, people have been asking questions about his future.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And the White House hasn't directly said, yes, the president has confidence in James Comey. He serves a ten- year tenure at the pleasure of the president. So he says six and a half more years to go.

BERMAN: It's interesting. So the White House has been asked a lot about this over the last few days. White House press Secretary Sean Spicer was pressed on whether the president has any regrets about opening up this fight. Listen.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Will the president withdraw the accusation? Does he have any --

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Why would he withdraw it until it's adjudicated? That's what we're asking. It's for them to look at this and see if there's --

ACOSTA: No regrets about raising this accusation?

SPICER: Absolutely not. I think what he wants them to do is look into wiretapping, other surveillance. As I mentioned before, the other leaks threatening our national security. You're seeing the leaks happen over and over again, they come out throughout the administration, throughout government, that undermine national security. I think the appropriate thing to do is to ask the House and the Senate to look into it.


[09:20:04]HARLOW: Our Jessica Schneider is in New York following this story for us -- I should say from Washington. Good morning.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy and John. You know, you heard there. The FBI director seeming pretty secure in serving out the rest of his term. We are paying close attention to that speech at Boston College today. It's, of course, a cyber- security conference.

Those wiretap allegations will be what we're watching for. Will FBI Director James Comey finally respond publicly to those wiretapping claims? We, of course, know that Comey was "incredulous," a direct quote, following President Trump's Twitter accusations early Saturday morning.

Comey concerned that they would make the FBI look bad. That's why he had FBI staff reach out to the Justice Department asking them to knock down the allegations. Still no comment from the DOJ. We know that's definitely a source of frustration for Comey.

As we watch that cyber security conference at Boston College, will Director Comey finally speak out publicly or will he continue to stay quiet? That is the big question here.

Meanwhile, Poppy and John, a lot happening on Capitol Hill. The House Intelligence Committee wasting no time scheduling a public hearing on Russia's meddling into the election. We know this investigation could also include those wiretap allegations.

House Intelligence Chair Devin Nunes has also invited to speak at this public hearing on March 20th, FBI Director Comey, also other notables including former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and interestingly, guys, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates.

We know President Trump fired her when she refused to defend his initial executive order on that travel ban. So a lot to watch today including that speech by Director Comey.

HARLOW: Absolutely. Again, he is expected to take questions. So what will the good students of Boston College ask and how will he answer? We'll have that.

BERMAN: Jessica Schneider just said, you know, will he comment directly on the controversy going on? I think he just did, saying you'll have me around for another six and a half years. I think that means something.

Let's bring in CNN senior political analyst, Mark Preston. The director has been in the public spotlight for a long, long time, Mark. He knows people are watching him and listening to every word he says very carefully. So when he says you'll have me around for another six and a half years, what message does that send?

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That he's going to stand in his position and not resign under any pressure, if there was any pressure exerted upon him. I mean, another answer could be perhaps that Donald Trump had a conversation with him, but I don't necessarily believe the latter. I believe the former.

We know from his associates through our reporting from our justice team that he has no plans of leaving his office any time soon. Comey is there to stay until Donald Trump decides that he wants a new FBI director.

HARLOW: So let's talk about these public hearings, important that they're public, starting in the House on Russia and everything having to do with the hacking of the election on March 20th. That is a long time from now, given how these days go. What does the White House do between now and then? Do they keep tap dancing on all these questions until then or do they address it more directly?

PRESTON: No, I think you're absolutely right, Poppy, they tap dance because there's no answers for them to give other than to continue to try to support President Trump and what his allegations were on Saturday when those really early morning tweets where he flat-out said that President Barack Obama at the time was tapping his phones.

Now what is very interesting about this is that Devin Nunes, who is the intelligence chairman on the House side yesterday said that we in the media are taking Donald Trump too literally. I don't understand how we could take him when Donald Trump was very literal when he made that accusation on Saturday morning.

BERMAN: Yes, I don't think there's a figuratively way for a president to tap someone's phones. There's only one way to take that. Mark, these hearings will be public. This will be a chance if the FBI director shows up, former DNI shows up, if Sally Yates shows up. This will be a chance for them to answer questions directly presumably from Democrats as well, did President Obama tap Trump's phones?

PRESTON: Right. And it's going to be a must watch TV. You know, the hearings will take place on the 20th, but the committee has demanded all documentation to be submitted by the 17th. We might actually get a leak out of the committee perhaps, or perhaps out of the witness, about what is going to be said or what the revelations are in the lead-up to the 20th. There is still a lot of road ahead as Poppy said until we get to the 20th. I'm sure there's going to be more shoes that will drop before then.

BERMAN: Never leaks in Washington. Washington leak-free. Mark Preston, great to have you with us. Thank you so much.

All right, so much for smiles and handshakes, former President Obama is reportedly livid over President Trump's wiretap accusations.

HARLOW: Also Wikileaks claiming it is spilling some of the CIA's biggest secrets on how it hacked smartphones, television and more. We'll talk about what this really means and any fallout straight ahead.


BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

HARLOW: I'm Poppy Harlow. This morning there's new reporting that tensions are rising between President Trump and former President Obama over the claim that Obama wiretapped his phone. This is according to the "Wall Street Journal" which cites numerous people close to President Obama who says he's, quote, "Livid about these accusations."

BERMAN: This after that Donald Trump said his relationship with the former president had been going swimmingly. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (via telephone): I've not gotten to know President Obama. I really like him. We have -- I think I can say at least for myself, I can't speak for him, but we have a really good chemistry together.