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Mysterious Connections; Unexplained Look-ups; Russia Investigation Heating Up; Bill on Rush Aired 10-11p ET
Aired March 9, 2017 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[22:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: That's all the time we have tonight, thanks for watching. Time to turn it over to Don Lemon. CNN tonight begins now.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Breaking news, unanswered questions about the largest private bank in Russia and the Trump organization, and why President Trump made those wiretapping accusations.
This is CNN tonight. I'm Don Lemon.
Sources tell CNN there is a federal investigation into a, quote, "odd computer server relationship between the Trump organization and a Russian bank." Could it be the root of President Trump's infamous wiretapping accusations against President Barack Obama?
That's as FBI Director James Comey meets today with members of Congress, with top security access. Members tight-lipped about what was discussed but it comes as they conduct their own investigation of Russia, the election, and President Trump's wiretapping claims.
We have a whole lot to get to. But I want to start with our breaking news. CNN's justice correspondent is Pamela Brown and she's looking into all of it for us. Pamela, what have you learned about the investigation?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, we've learned FBI investigators and computer scientists continue to investigate whether there was a connection between the Trump organization and a Russian bank called Alfa-Bank according to several sources familiar with this investigation.
Now this is the same server mentioned in a Breitbart article that a White House official had sparked President Trump's series of tweets last Saturday accusing investigators of tapping his phone.
CNN was told there was no FIA warrant on this particular server. But questions about the connection between the server and the Russian bank were widely dismissed four months ago as an attempt by Alfa-Bank to block spam. But we have learned the FBI's counterintelligence team the same one looking into Russia's suspected interference in the 2016 election is still examining it.
And one official I spoke with said the server relation is seen as somewhat odd and perplexing. And investigators are not ignoring it but the FBI still has a lot more work to determine what was behind the unusual activity and whether there is any significance to it. The FBI declined to comment and the White House did not respond to our request for comment, Don.
LEMON: All right. Pamela Brown starting us off tonight, thank you very much for that. Now I want to bring in CNN investigative reporter, Jose Pagliery. Jose, explain what was so odd about these communications.
JOSE PAGLIERY, CNN INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Now this is a high technical subject, I'm going to take it very slow. What's odd about these communications is that a Russian bank repeatedly looked up the unique internet address of a particular server in the United States used by the Trump organization.
In the computer world this is equivalent to someone looking up someone's phone number over and over again. It's pretty innocuous. Well, there is necessarily a phone call it usually indicates an intention to communicate, that's according to several computer scientists we spoke to.
Now a particular group of computer scientists who obtained these internet records that were leaked, records that were never supposed to be made public they were puzzled as to why a Russian bank was doing this. Was it trying to send an e-mail to the Trump organization? These scientists just couldn't tell.
Now last summer, during the presidential campaign, the Russian bank looked up the address of this Trump corporate server some 2,800 times. That's more lookups than the Trump server received from any other source. The only other entity doing so many internet lookups was a server that was used by a Spectrum health, that's a medical facility chain led by Jeff DeVos, the husband of Betsy DeVos, who was later appointed by the president as U.S. education secretary.
Those entities alone made 99 percent of log calls. Now, computer scientists we spoke to found that just plain weird. They couldn't explain it. They just thought it was weird. So all the corporate -- all the corporations involved say they never communicated by e-mail with the Trump organization and they have different competing explanations for that server activity. But they haven't provided proof that backs that up. And they don't agree with what the explanation could be.
For example, the Russian bank thinks it was receiving Trump hotel e- mail marketing last summer but it hasn't provided CNN with a single e- mail during that time period to back it up.
Meanwhile, the American marketing company that would have been sending these e-mails from the Trump organization said it wasn't doing it at the time. We have to make clear that Alfa-Bank at this point has stressed that none of its top executives have had any affiliation at all with President Trump or the Trump organization.
In a statement they said that neither Alfa-Bank nor its principles, including Mikhail Fridman or Pyoter Aven have had any contact at all with Mr. Trump or his organizations. So, in essence what we still have is an ongoing mystery.
LEMON: It is an ongoing mystery. And Jose, I want you to stand by because we're going to -- let's dig into this a little bit more. I want to bring in now, Rod Beckstrom, he's a former director of National Cyber Security Center.
Rod, thank you so much for joining us here. So, you heard what Pamela and Jose just reported. Sources are telling them that this server activity is, quote, "odd." What do you make of that, what does that mean?
ROD BECKSTROM, FORMER NATIONAL CYBERSECURITY CENTER DIRECTOR: They're right. It is odd. It's just not very conventional behavior here, Don. I mean, to have 2800 lookups, I mean, what was going on?
[22:05:01] It certainly suggests that there was an intent to communicate between those two parties. And I really don't buy the spam explanation. Here's why. When spam -- if the spam -- if the Trump hotel was spending out a spam campaign, it would be going out globally to thousands and thousands of people, maybe hundreds of thousands of people.
The argument that Trend Micro which is an anti-virus product were like McAfee or Symantec, et cetera that it was detecting this, and then they were doing a lookup just to determine whether it was valid e-mail or not coming in or whether it was a what we call a phishing attack. If that were true, Don, that would have happened from all over the world, from everyone else that received that spam that had trend micro installed and configured in the same way.
BECKSTROM: It didn't happen.
LEMON: Don, what is a lookup? Explain to me and to the folks at home, what exactly is a look up?
BECKSTROM: Sure. There's different kinds. And I don't have enough technical details here to know which one, but the normally DNS query, is that if you're at your browser and type in CNN.com and you hit return, that sends what a simple DNC lookup query to the domain name system and the domain name system is supposed to respond and say, well, the I.P. address for CNN.com is dot, dot, dot, dot, you know, a long set of numbers, like 12 numbers with a bunch of periods in the middle of it for IPV4.
So that's a simple lookup. What's not clear to me here is whether it was that simple lookup, and that is done by the way to fetch a web page or to send an e-mail. So if I send an e-mail to you, Don, at your CNN.com e-mail address, that generally would generate maybe 10 or maybe even 13 what we call DNS lookups.
But so anyway, it suggests communication between Alfa-Bank and the server of the Trump organization. The next thing I want to point out is note the quote by the Alfa-Bank leadership that the principals and the executive leaders have no relationship with the Trump organization.
They're not saying our staff doesn't, our employees or contractors or consultants. And they might be trying to distance themselves potentially from something that they might feel took place. I don't know. That's pure speculation.
LEMON: Interesting. I want to bring Jose back into this part of his reporting, so these lookups. Talk to me more about these look ups. Does that -- does that suggest anything nefarious or you just don't really.
PAGLIERY: No, not necessarily. Because the way that this DNS system works on the internet, it's sort of like the internet's phone book, right. So, if something looked up...
LEMON: Does it suggest hack, that they were maybe trying to hack into the Trump organization?
PAGLIERY: It could. It could. The reason that someone would look up someone's phone number, think about it in real life, right. If I looked up your phone number 1,000, 2,000, 2,800 times, you would probably wonder, why are you looking at my phone number, are you trying to contact me, do you just want to know who I am, what's going on?
And so, that's what we have here, it's just lookups. What these scientists have said over and over again is they can't explain this, they just want someone to investigate. They want the FBI, they want someone to look into this and figure out why was this bank server doing all these lookups.
LEMON: So Rod, my question to you is, if you were looking into server activity involving the Trump organization and the Russian bank, what would you be looking for?
BECKSTROM: Well, what you really want to get ahold of is the data packets, OK? But the reality is if this was any kind of Russian intelligence operation, you got to bet those packets were encrypted. So even if you get the packets well, you could at least say, well, they went from Alfa-Bank and they landed up over here and they're encrypted, so then you would know there was a data flow.
No one has asserted that, that I've heard of, Don, that hasn't been in the story yet. So, but that's what you would be looking for, you would want to see data traffic.
I also want to comment, the DNS system is very open. And that means that lookup or that query goes through open servers and passes through a lot of wires between Moscow and Pennsylvania. And a lot of parties can be listening in. It's legal and valid to keep a record of DNS queries. So major internet operators have huge logs or record books of these,
you know, lookups that have been done and some of these parties, it seems like, have started to share data and have raised these questions about, you know, what exactly was going on here.
LEMON: Odd to say the least, as you guys explained it. OK. Gentlemen, stand by, I want to discuss this now with Russia expert, Matthew Rojansky, the director of the Kennan Institute at the Wilson Center, CNN legal analyst Laura Coates, and CNN national security analyst, Steve Hall.
So we have a lot to go through here. Steve, I'm going to start with you. What's your reaction to Pamela and Jose's reporting? Take us behind what you think counterintelligence, the counterintelligence team is looking for.
STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, first, you do have this anomalous data exchange, this electronic handshake, for a lot of a better -- for philosophy majors like me who don't understand all the technical piece of it. But the important thing is that it raises to the level, to the attention of the FBI and those focusing on the possible cooperation or possible contact between the Trump camp and the Russians.
So that in and of itself is significant. I think another thing that's significant is to remember the role that Alfa-Bank plays. So Alfa- Bank, you've got to remember in Russia there is no rule of law, there is no protection over banks. Basically Alfa-Bank is an extension of Vladimir Putin.
[22:10:01] If Vladimir Putin reaches out and tells the head of Alfa- Bank, Mr. Fridman, that you know, you've got to do x, y, or z, he's going to do it because he works inside the Russian system and stands a lot to lose if he doesn't do it.
So that's important to remember as well, exactly what the nature of the communication is and what's actually going on, I think has yet to be determined. There's a lot more stuff that needs to be dug up first.
LEMON: When you said that Alfa-Bank is essentially Vladimir Putin, I looked right at Matthew Rojansky to see, I mean, explain that, is he right about that?
MATTHEW ROJANSKY, WOODROW WILSON INTERNATIONAL CENTER DIRECTOR: You know, I'm not totally sure that if Vladimir Putin -- so first of all, we have to see what the evidence supports in the end, and that requires an investigation. That's kind of where we are on almost all of these contacts at this point. We can't prejudge until we know exactly what the evidence is going to support.
Second, I would say if Vladimir Putin was mounting any kind of attempt to covertly communicate with Trump or the Trump organization or the Trump campaign, you know, the Russians have plenty of assets that don't have a giant Russian name on the front of them and billions of dollars of Russian assets and servers located in Russia.
LEMON: You're saying it wouldn't be this easy to find?
ROJANSKY: It seems like if that's what they were doing, then they want to be found. And why would they want to be found if those were one of the kind of contents?
PAGLIERY: But one of the things that really jumps out at me here is that this is not how you would want to communicate secretly. It's just not how you do it. If you wanted to communicate secretly, you open up an e-mail address, right, an e-mail account. You share a password and you write an address.
PAGLIERY: That's the old school way to do it.
LEMON: Let's bring in my former federal prosecutor here, Laura, as you were listening to the story, what do you think?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I'm thinking that the unanswered questions we're all wrestling with right now are the very reason why the FBI is investigating. Right now we don't know whether these communications fall under the hacking, the benign, or some other malicious content now.
So we have to figure out whether or not we're opening Pandora's box or going to a dead end. But the real issue here and what's very timely is the fact that we now have confirmation hearings under way for a deputy attorney general who is going to have to oversee this, because clearly, any investigation into Russian contacts with the Trump administration or the Trump campaign is but the tip of an iceberg.
And while we continue on this path, we need to know that anyone who is going to oversee the investigation is going to have to be completely separated from the campaign, which is why Sessions' recusal was So necessary.
but what we're finding now however is that all this unanswered questions solidifies in my mind and in the Congress' mind as to why we need somebody to oversee the investigation who is truly, truly distinct.
Now at this point in time our investigation -- not our, the FBI's investigation is trying to figure out whether or not this falls into three categories, whether or not this is somebody contacting the Trump server to try to have a spam -- you know, counteracting spam, which you've heard is kind of being debunked.
Whether this is somebody who is simply trying to transfer data in some way, or this is something different than that. Or this is a -- or if the Trump server in fact communicated in return. So we have to kind of take a step back here and say, listen, right now it's in the infancy stage.
But again, that combined with other things that are in the infancy stage raises a whole lot more questions and there's a great deal of smoke. LEMON: Yes. OK, Pamela, I want you all to stay with me, we're going
to continue our conversation. And what is the White House saying about all of this? We'll be right back.
[22:15:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: Our breaking news, the ongoing federal investigation into whether there was a computer server connection between the Trump organization and Russia's largest private bank.
Back with me now Matthew Rojansky, Laura Coates, Steve, and Rod Beckstrom. Rod, why don't we have definitive proof of this?
BECKSTROM: Really good question. I mean, obviously the DNS data has been leaked out. Or someone captured that, maybe it was an internet service provider or another major network operator or co-location center. Some operator got that and they shared it, it sounds like between some parties.
Now, they also could have the data -- that's what we call metadata. It's very valuable high level data to suggest that communications has occurred. What we don't have is the packet level data or a record of e-mail packet information, et cetera moving between those servers. So, either they have it and are not sharing it or for some reason they don't have it. But tt's an unanswered part of the question of the story here.
PAGLIERY: Well, look, this is a great point, because we've asked also from the very beginning, this is one of two things. Either the data doesn't exist, right, so that's why there are no communications, there are no secret communications, so we haven't heard of it, or no one has leaked it yet, right?
I mean, all the computer scientists that have looked at this from the beginning have said this needs to be thoroughly investigated. That's all they've said. And so what seems to be happening now is that this investigation have shifted from the cyber team of the FBI to the counterintelligence team that's been handling this investigation into any potential links from Russia, into the American election.
And so what we're dealing with right now is the question, was there communication? And hopefully we'll be able to find that out soon.
LEMON: Matthew, we've heard from many folks, especially the people who were, who have intimate knowledge of Watergate, they said this took, Watergate took two years. And I'm not saying, I'm not suggesting that there's anything there, but to think within just a couple of months of finding this out, there's not going -- there may not be a smoking gun. It could just be drip, drip, drip, and so far that's all we have. Is that enough, does that sound like Russia to you?
ROJANSKY: You know, this is one of my big concerns. Is that we have to walk and chew gum at the same time in this entire investigation. Right now, there is not a Russia policy coming from Washington. That's true both on the personnel side, where, you know, we've heard Jon Huntsman is going to be ambassador but he's not formally appointed, he's certainly isn't confirmed, he's not in office.
And he probably doesn't know what the Trump's administration policy is because they have sent contradictory signals. That the president tweets one thing, then the vice president and secretary of defense say another thing, Secretary Tillerson says a third thing in his Senate confirmation.
What that means is while we're investigating this, and this could take months, it could even take years to unravel, we can't let the investigation by default become our Russian policy. We've got to engage with the Russians and explain to them, look, this is how far these things is going to go.
We're not threatening we're going to come back and topple your regime if we're accusing you of attempting to mess with our elections. If they're afraid of that then we're literally getting into a war for existence, and you don't want to do that with Vladimir Putin.
LEMON: Laura, it's clear that the White House ad all involved don't want to talk about this, and when asked at press briefings or otherwise, they seem to point to something else or just flat out not answer this. But this is what we heard from the White House yesterday. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[22:20:04] SEAN SPICER, UNITED STATES WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I just want to be really clear on one point, which is there is no reason that we should -- that we have to think that the president is the target of any investigation whatsoever.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So Laura, the truth is that the Justice Department has declined to confirm that that is the case. Was Sean Spicer wrong to say that?
COATES: Well, I think politically speaking, on behalf of his boss, he's not wrong to say that. But it's very convenient when you can throw out insinuations and hope that one sticks long enough to divert the attention of either Congressional hearings or the FBI's investigations.
But the reason he said that comment is because the comments about wiretapping either reveals one of two things. One, that President Obama or someone on his staff went and planted a bug in Trump Tower somewhere, which is pretty much a Russian spy novel and highly unlikely, or the other thing.
If this is true at all, would be if there was a FISA warrant based on a probable cause that he, Trump, met one of the requirements for being somebody who is the lawful recipient of a wiretap, meaning he was a foreign agent or some site or terrorist in some way. I'm not saying that's the case, but if that is in fact why there was a
wiretap or if there was one, you've essentially told on yourself. And so the reason you want to say now that I was onto the subject of it at all is to divert that attention.
LEMON: I'm wondering if he's regretting...
COATES: I'm sure, I'm sure he is.
LEMON: ... saying this now.
COATES: I'm sure he is. It's like you say to the godfather here and say, turn to your attorney before you say anything and lean to the microphone and say no comment. That's all it's going to help him at this case.
LEMON: Yes. You know, Steve, you heard Pamela say that there was no FISA warrant on the server involved here. What does that say about the president's claim that he was wiretapped?
HALL: I mean, like so much else that the president has said about this, it doesn't hang together particularly well. I mean, yes, there is a very high bar to get a FISA warrant. And, you know, it's agent of a foreign power kind of thing. So that doesn't make a whole lot of sense.
Look, this is -- this is going to be a lengthy investigation. A good part of it is going to be a counterintelligence investigation, which is the nastiest, most in the weeds kind of thing that you can do, that requires a great deal of attention to detail and focus.
And then you inject into all of that the politics, the presidency. I mean, yes, everybody here who has commented is absolutely right, this is going to be a really long, difficult, painful road. And we're going to have to focus really hard to make sure that it doesn't become our Russia policy. There are other things at play. But this is critically important.
LEMON: It's surprising to me, I've become sort of more flummoxed by it every single day. Because if you're the current president of the United States and you accuse the former president of the United States of doing something that is illegal, you're essentially saying he's a criminal and that committed a crime, of course everyone is going to want to get to the bottom of it to figure out exactly who is right and who is wrong.
This was a tweet of huge consequences that I don't think that this current president even thought about it before he sent it out, Matthew Rojansky.
ROJANSKY: Yes. You know, if there's one thing that Vladimir Putin no matter what he may have or may not have done is celebrating, it's that there is chaos in American politics, and that his vision of American government, which is basically house of cards, that's how he thinks things really are. He thinks everybody's hands are dirty, everybody is spying on
everybody, everybody is murdering and prosecuting everybody all the time all in a battle for power, just like in the Kremlin, he's watching that take place before his eyes. And it is creating the propaganda narrative he wats for his own people to support him. By the way, he has elections coming up next year to be re-elected president of Russia.
LEMON: Matthew, before I let everyone go, and anyone if you want to raise your hand but directly to Matthew first, does this reporting bring us any closer to finding out what the real connection, if there is any between President Trump's team and the Russians?
ROJANSKY: Well, look, I think it's vitally important, first of all, that policy does not get decided in the court of public opinion, and that if there is any actual wrongdoing, whether it's lying or something that goes deeper than that, that that's properly investigated, and then that it be tried.
But all of this has to happen. We're talking about life and death here. You know, it sounds like mellow drama, but Russia is the only country that can destroy life as we know it in the United States in under an hour with a flick of Vladimir Putin's finger, right?
We have to take this relationship seriously. It doesn't mean we don't investigate because we're scared of them. It means while we're doing an investigation, we also manage that relationship, manage expectations, and do deterrence, which has worked to keep us safe for half a century.
LEMON: Then why would -- why would Donald Trump not want to criticize him and appear to be cozying up to them so much?
ROJANKSY: There has been a contradiction within the policy statements coming from the administration, you know, from before inauguration, after inauguration. You've got to have professionals in place, you've got to have experts to manage this relationship.
LEMON: Yes. To the question just before this, Laura, as a former federal prosecutor here, are we any closer to establishing a relationship, if any, between the Trump campaign and the Russians?
[22:25:01] COATES: Based on the evidence we have now, no. But we certainly are on a path to having an investigation that will confirm or take that away, either one -- either way or the other.
LEMON: Fascinating conversation. Thank you very much, all, for your expertise. Steve Hall, Laura Coates, Matthew Rojansky, Jose Pagliery, and Rod Beckstrom, I appreciate it.
HALL: Thank you.
LEMON: And of course our thanks to Pamela Brown for her great reporting on this as well.
When we come right back, this FBI investigation is a piece of the Russia puzzle. But as the investigation continues, can the White House keep saying there's no there-there?
LEMON: Our breaking news, a federal investigation into a, quote, "odd computer server relationship between the Trump organization and the largest private bank in Russia."
I want to bring in now CNN's senior political analyst, David Gergen, political analyst, Kirsten Powers, a columnist for USA Today, and Alex Burns, national political reporter for the New York Times, also with us former Congressman Jack Kingston who was a former senior adviser to the Trump campaign.
Good evening to all of you. Kirsten, I want to start with you. Your reaction to this FBI investigation into computer link between the Trump organization and the largest Russian bank.
[22:29:59] KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, I think there's a lot of smoke. But I don't know how much fire there is, frankly. I mean, you know, we know that there were these communications and it looks strange. But at the same time, there's nothing illegal about the Trump organization communicating with a Russian bank.
President Trump has said he hasn't done business in Russia, but that doesn't mean they couldn't want to do business in Russia and people do that. So, I think we need more information to know for sure whether or not something nefarious happened here.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Alex, it is just another piece of the puzzle here or about at least the communications between the Trump campaign. And it's so unclear what the big picture is here.
ALEX BURNS, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right. I think a piece of the puzzle is exactly the right way to describe this. It's just piles and piles of question marks that we have at this point about all the interactions between either President Trump himself or people in his orbit and people who are associated with the Russian government or just live in Russia or have business relationships in Russia.
That, you know, it's part of the political challenge that the administration has at this point that because, you know, a number of them have not been entirely forthcoming about their contacts in Russia. There is this temptation to sort of see something hiding under every rock when the reality is you can't run a massive business in the United States without having some contact with somebody who has some relationship with big foreign interests.
LEMON: Do you know what might show that?
POWERS: Some tax returns.
LEMON: Some tax returns. I mean, am I -- am I wrong with that?
LEMON: Because listen, with that question, because we keep saying there's drip, drip, drip, here, right?
LEMON: Everyone has said nothing has been established. But can the White House keep saying, continue to say there's no there-there with this, even if it's...
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No. They don't know either, the people telling us that. You know, it really is sort of interesting, have we come to this? The internet of things is now a subject of investigation.
LEMON: Right, right.
GERGEN: And most of us don't know the difference between a lookup and a hookup. You know, or else what is this language people are talking about? I think Kirsten is right, we know so little at this point that we shouldn't get too deeply in the weeds about the computers talking to each other, the servers talking with each other.
What's I do think is much more interesting to where you were going and that is for a long time there has been a supposition here in New York in financial and legal circles that Donald Trump was not able to get funding during his career over the years. The funding from American banks dried up and he turned to Russian banks, and the Ukrainian banks.
And that's the reason that the trail leads to the tax returns, because with a private company, that's where you would find whether in fact he was paying interest to those banks or not. We don't know that. But that's the most interesting part of this.
LEMON: Couldn't get funding because his businesses were not doing that well, by the way, and people were -- or people were afraid to back him, either the economy wasn't doing well or they were afraid to back him because they didn't think his business deals were not up to par.
GERGEN: Well, there are some people who are afraid to back for that very reason or rather use to feel, know he's already going to do business with him for a variety of reasons.
LEMON: Yes. Congressman Kingston, yesterday, Sean Spicer denied that there was an investigation. We heard that earlier. This is what he said today. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Justice Department is saying they never gave you the assurances that you gave us.
SEAN SPICER, UNITED STATES WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: OK. No, no. The assurance I gave you, Margaret, was that I'm not aware. And that is 100 percent accurate.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So when you said no reason to believe, it was, I'm not aware that there's not an investigation?
SPICER: That's right. Right. I mean, I don't know that they're not interchangeable. I'm not aware. I don't believe. You can look up in the thesaurus for trying some other ways, but I don't know that there's a distinction there that's noteworthy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, Congressman, do you see that there's a problem here, the more administration tries to clean up this mess, the bigger the hole that they keep digging? What do you think they should do?
JACK KINGSTON, FORMER UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: You know, I really don't. And I want to say this. I was at the White House or at the old executive building right next to the White House, which is in the compound yesterday, doing, meeting with some people. And I was there last week.
And it struck me yesterday, as I was there, I didn't know everybody, but I knew a few people, saw some familiar faces. But it struck me that, you know, here this administration is moving on, and the critics are still obsessed with this story, and I think the House Intel committees and the Senate Intel committee is, you know, looking at this thing and doing what it needs to do, the FBI is doing what it needs to be.
But meanwhile, the administration is moving health care. You saw this great story today that on the border there's 40 percent decrease in illegal crossing, that's a big change under this administration. They're moving on tax reform. They're moving on infrastructure and so forth.
So, what I believe is that this just isn't the number one issue. And so when Sean Spicer gets a question at it, he may be thinking about transportation and infrastructure or health care, some of the other things more pressing, which the White House is spending its time doing, which they were elected to do.
[22:34:54] And I underscore this because I think the critics in their maybe eagerness to find something that this administration has done nefarious, and, you know, that's fine, that's what opposition parties do, but the reality is they're missing the bigger stuff.
LEMON: Ok. Well, you know the old saying, no news is good news, there's a saying that I say good news is no news, right. So, I mean, we do stories on birthday parties and you know, squirrels on skis or whatever. But that's not how this works.
If there is a federal investigation, which our investigate -- which our reporters found out, of course that's what we're going to cover. And had this president not tweeted out that the former president wiretapped him in relation to Russia, the story may not be to the magnitude that it is now. How can you disagree with that? POWERS: Yes, also, we have to go back to the context that we're
getting all of this information in. One of the biggest things is that one of the things that democrats and republicans were united on actually was that Russia is dangerous and is our enemy and that Putin is a bad person.
And, you know, whether republican or democrat, pretty much everybody agreed with that. Along comes Donald Trump and he has this completely different view. And so a lot of people, including republicans, are asking, why?
BURNS: And on top of that, I would just add that, you know, to the congressman's point that the administration is trying to get involved in pushing other kinds of major policy changes that President Trump campaigned on, that's absolutely true.
And if they had handled the Russia issue differently going back to the end of the campaign and through the transition, if they had been more forthcoming about a lot of the questions that people are asking now, they would probably have a clearer runway.
LEMON: And if there's no there-there to say, listen, my business, maybe his businesses didn't have any -- we're just, you know, speculating here, maybe it had nothing to do with Russia. But if it did, he should say there was a point when I could not get funding, I had to go to Russia, but there's nothing nefarious going on. I went where I could get the money and that's it.
David, hold your thought, right after the break we'll discuss it.
[22:40:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
LEMON: FBI Director James Comey meeting with lawmakers today as the House and Senate intelligence committees ramp up their investigations of Russia's meddling in the election.
Back with me, David Gergen, Kirsten Powers, Alex Burns, and Jack Kingston. We're in the middle of a conversation before the break. David, you wanted to weigh in on what?
GERGEN: Of course we need to be covering this story, if the FBI has got major investigations underway and there's something very fishy underneath all of this, we all know that. At the same time, Jack Kingston has a point but I disagree with on where he came out with it.
And that is, while we're doing this so much, the administration is enjoying the fact that we're distracted from covering this health care bill. And they're jamming it through in the middle of the night. Nobody knows what's in it. Nobody knows how much it's going to cost. And nobody really understands what it's going to do to Americans who so desperately need health insurance. And that's a major, major story. It's hard to cover in the midst of all this other stuff, but we have to do both.
LEMON: But we are -- we are -- and Jack, I'll let you get in. We are covering it on this program, and maybe, you know, I wish we had 48 hours in the day to do more.
LEMON: But with that says is Kevin Madden, Matt Lewis, Andre Bauer coming up, we're going to talk about the health care bill in this block. Do you want to respond to what he said, Jack Kingston?
KINGSTON: Well, I think that the health care bill is something that's going to take a lot of debating, because it is one seventh of the economy. You know, I think -- I just want to say that's where, in my impression visiting the Hill the past couple of days, that's where all the energy is going right now.
They're letting the Intel committees take care of the Russian stuff but they're moving on with the people's agenda which is the right thing for them to be doing.
LEMON: Yes. Listen, I understand where you gentlemen are coming from, but I think it's important when you have a republican House, you have a republican Senate, you have a republican White House, it was the same thing the democrats on the other side, part of that is speaking truth to power and holding people accountable. The media is a part of that.
LEMON: So we need to do that as the media. So let's talk about this. James Comey going over to Capitol Hill today to brief congressional leaders, Kirsten, who have access to highly classified information. What is Comey's goal do you think in these briefings?
POWERS: Well, I mean, I don't really know, but one thing he's been getting a lot of criticism from members of Congress who are very unhappy with the fact that he hasn't been communicating very much with them. So, I think this is probably to a certain extent him going there just wage those concerns and to make them feel like he's giving them something.
Especially for the democrats who are still really smarting over the fact that he was pretty forthcoming when it comes to in sharing information about Hillary Clinton in a way that they believe at least may have, you know, swung the election. So that probably is one of the main reasons that he's, you know, communicating.
LEMON: Is he trying to get back control over the Russian investigation or at least this narrative about the Russian investigation? Because as we have heard, that he was, you know, pretty upset about what happened about this tweet and need to defend the department.
BURNS: I think he's upset -- it's been reported that he was upset about the tweet over the weekend. And before that, he was, you know, clearly upset that, you know, he went in to brief House democrats a few weeks ago, they came out and just ripped him afterwards. I mean, he was not adequately forthcoming. And if you're the FBI director, you know, he's obviously had a very,
very long year and has seen his office, you know, politicized in ways that are probably not comfortable for him. He's made some choices that have politicized the office inadvertently or not.
And so now I think what you're seeing is, you know, in one way or the other he is trying to protect himself and his office from the kind of criticism that he got from the Hill recently.
LEMON: Well, there appears -- there appears to be a path from his office from the FI building to the Capitol Hill lately, he's been up there a lot. How common are these briefings?
BURNS: Well, you know, under the circumstances that we're in right now, it's hard to say how common this kind of setup is. You don't have very often this scenario where, you know, there's an active federal investigation of foreign interference in an election and members of Congress who are just clamoring for more information.
It's also not common, Don, where you would have investigations of this order happening and you wouldn't have the House committees carrying out aggressive and public oversight of their own.
So part of the reason why there's such mystery and such sort of lurid confusion around all this is because you don't have the equivalent of the Benghazi hearings happening now.
BURNS: You don't have that information getting put out on television.
[22:44:59] LEMON: Congressman, I want to ask you because you know, he's the FBI director has been, as we said, going up on Capitol Hill a lot or having to explain himself. But how damaging would it be if Director Comey publicly refutes the president's accusation against President Trump about his -- you know, how damaging would that be? Because he probably made statements about Hillary Clinton before the election.
KINGSTON: If I was James Comey, I would hire a public spokesperson and I would do everything I could do to stay out of the limelight. You know, it's interesting, Mike Pompeo is not even a household name. He's gone so quiet since he's become CIA director. And I think that the old FBI kind of liked that, we're in the background, we are the gold standard, call us when you need us but we don't want to...
LEMON: And if -- I'm running out of time, if I don't let David Gergen speak, he's going to jump out of his chair. David, go on.
GERGEN: Well, I think there's something to what Jack said, but there are hearings coming up on March 20th with House intelligence. Putting James Comey under oath is the place to get the answers.
LEMON: Last word. Thank you all. I appreciate it. KINGSTON: Thank you.
LEMON: When we come right back, as the Russian investigation heats up, President Trump tries to sell the GOP's health care plan. Can the negotiator in chief make the deal?
[22:50:01] LEMON: You think in the seven years since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law that the GOP could have come up with a plan that they could all get behind. It doesn't look that way.
Let's discuss now with CNN political commentators Kevin Madden, Matt Lewis, and Andre Bauer. Nothing is easy when it comes to Washington and politics. I'm sure you guys that's something we can all agree on, correct?
KEVIN MADDEN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. In Washington, they do two things really well. They do nothing, or overreact.
LEMON: So let's talk about -- let's talk all of that.
LEMON: So Kevin, conservatives are lining up against this, the House republicans plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Here's what Senator Tom Cotton tweeted. He said "House health care bill can't pass Senate without major changes. To my friends in the House, pause, start over, get it right, don't get it fast."
I mean, that sounds like a pretty smart idea. Do they need to start over here? Or do they need to slow down at least?
MADDEN: Look, you know, one of the things that the House is very aware of and I think the White House too, not so much the Senate, is that the pressure is on. House republicans spent the last eight years talking about what they wanted to do in order to repeal. What they believed was the wrong direction of health care reform and Obamacare.
And the president ran promising every single day on the campaign trail that he wanted to repeal Obamacare and replace it with something that was something that was, as he said on the campaign trail, bigger, better, more beautiful. And that was going to get everybody covered.
But the Senate, like this is the role of the Senate. George Washington once said, the Senate is the saucer that cools the tea cup. So they want to be much more deliberative. It's not called the greatest deliberative body in the world for no reason. So, but there is no doubt that the political pressure, House republicans are very aware of it. And that's why they're moving very quickly.
LEMON: Andre Bauer, the chief medical officer of the federal government's Medicaid program publicly rebuked the republican plan, and he re-tweeted, there's a lot of, you know, letters in here, initials in here so bear with me. "Despite political messaging from others at HHS, I align with the
experts from AAFP, which is the American Academy of Family Physicians. Americaide peds -- I don't know -- it's American Academy of Pediatrics; and America Medical Association in opposition to the AHCA."
So, he is opposing the plan because of experts and data, not politics. Do you think that's a sign the White House needs a new plan?
ANDRE BAUER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I do. First off, I'm a free market guy. I don't think that the government ought to even be involved in this. But that being said, look. There are definitely problems with the current bill we have. But to run off and be in a haphazard way to immediately say, we've got to do this before April, I think is wrong.
This is a major part of our economy. It is a very complex plan. Nothing in this so far do I see anything that attacks the reasons for rising health care costs? There's no free market in here, there's no choice. We ought to have a fee chart where people know what they're spending when they have to get a surgery before so they can shop it, and see which hospital is a better buy.
Which one is more affordable, which one has better quality? Consumers need skin in the game. And I don't see republicans, who should be talking about this type of plan. I don't see them engaging in this. I'm glad they're at least discussing it. But I feel like there's too much of a hurry for too much of a complex topic to be trying to push for a certain deadline in April.
LEMON: Andre Bauer, raise your right hand, I'm giving you a virtual high five for being so candid in that and not being an apologist who backs up everything the president says whether it's right or wrong.
Thank you so much for your candor in that. I appreciate that. We like that on this show. So, Matt, today, Speaker Paul Ryan literally rolled up his sleeves to defend this health care plan. And here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL RYAN, UNITED STATES SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: This is the closest we will ever get to repealing and replacing Obamacare. The time is here the time is now. This is the moment. And this is the closest this will ever happen. It really comes down to a binary choice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So, republicans have been campaigning against Obamacare let's say, for seven years. What if they can't make good on their word?
MATT LEWIS, CNN COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I give him an a-plus for presentation, probably an f for the plan. You know, look. Here's the problem. The problem is that fixing health care in America is like invading a land invasion of Asia. It's a really bad idea. Health care is incredibly complex. Right now the democrats own it. For
some reason the republicans want to get involved and own it. And this plan -- from my standpoint, the death spiral is worse. So, basically there is no mandate. You can't force people to get coverage under the new plan. And yet, you could get sick and you can't -- they have that same provision.
[22:54:58] So, this seems like a really bad idea. Now look, you could argue there are political consequences, we've been promising we're going to do this for six years so we have to do it. What about the political consequences of passing a horrible bill that collapses? And now you own health care.
LEWIS: I think republicans...
BAER: I agree 100 percent.
LEWIS: ... that might be the worst case.
LEMON: Well, I was going to say, do you guys all agree with that? And you do.
BAUER: I agree 100 percent.
LEMON: Kevin, one -- Kevin, do you agree?
MADDEN: Yes, look, I think the policy, trying to get the policy right on health care, particularly when you have all these pressures of trying to get a greater access to coverage at the same time you want to bring down costs, at the same time you want to reform, for example, the ability to sell across state lines, and all the other sort of policy principles that the White House is looking for, it is very, very difficult.
MADDEN: But my point is to try and explain to a lot of viewers out there watching this, why are they moving so quick? It's because they have, as you said, Don, for the last seven and a half years, been promising to repeal it. And so much...
LEMON: They feel like they've got to show something.
LEMON: I've got to go.
MADDEN: And so much of the rest of their agenda, too. Whether it's tax reform, or other things, all depend on getting this promise delivered on. Right away.
LEMON: I think we can all agree, I've never work in the corporate America in that sense, but that Power Point presentation, whatever it was today, I'm so thankful I don't have a 9 to 5 because I would go to sleep every meeting if people did that all day long. Thank you, gentlemen. I appreciate it.
BAUER: Thank you.
LEMON: Tomorrow night, don't miss the story of Melania Trump, a fashion model and immigrant, and now America's most unexpected first lady. CNN special report Melania Trump, the making of a first lady, tomorrow night, 9 o'clock here on CNN. We'll be right back.
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