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AT THIS HOUR
In Big Shift, White House Floating Medicaid Change In GOP's Bill; Top Intel Dem: "No Evidence Whatsoever" Of Wiretapping; Hill GOP Rejecting White House Hints Of Changes To Health Bill; Trump's Fired Adviser Worked As Foreign Agent; Sources: "Odd Link" Between Trump Company, Russian Bank; GOP Source: Trump Should Be More Visible On Health Care. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired March 10, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Moments from now, President Trump, on his 50th day in office, could be facing the media as a showdown unfolds over the fight to replace Obamacare.
New this morning, the White House is signaling it is open to negotiations over a key part of the Republicans' health care bill. The bill Republican leaders say is their best shot. The same bill many Republicans don't like. Who's going to blink first?
Let's get right to CNN's senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, for much more on this. So Jeff, big news here, the White House, the president privately saying that he's now open to ending that Medicaid provision that sunsets sooner. What are you hearing?
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is indeed, Kate. This is why this is important. The president earlier in the week said he embraced that House Republican plan, the plan that Speaker Paul Ryan and others rolled out.
But, you know, to bring on some of those conservatives who don't like it, he has since said he's open to making some changes in it, and as you said, he is looking specifically at Medicaid, essentially ending that or rolling it back sooner.
Now that has all types of implications for the bill. A, it is going to -- if that were to happen it would mean more people are not covered sooner, which is of course a problem.
But Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, was hoping that the president would endorse the whole plan and not make any changes, because if you take out one small thing it creates other issues, particularly in the Senate. So this is all still under negotiation.
But the fact that this president says he is open to negotiating is actually worrying some Republicans on Capitol Hill, because they believe it could make it more difficult to pass in its entirety.
So as he meets with House committee chairmen later this hour, of course, he'll be talking about that. Kate, this is an example of how the sausage is made here, the legislation is made. Often, as you know, it's not pretty.
KEILAR: It's not pretty and it's starting to look even tougher and tougher, sausage is tough to make in general. Also this, Jeff, the first jobs report out this morning under President Trump's watch. 235,000 jobs added to the economy. The White House is celebrating, no doubt.
ZELENY: The White House is celebrating. They are saying this is one more example of the success that he has in office, this 4.7 percent unemployment rate. But it's the same factors that go into this that this president has often said was a hoax, and he has often criticized. Let's look back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Every time it comes out, I hear 5.3 percent unemployment. That is the biggest joke there is. Don't believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 and 5 percent unemployment. The number is probably 28, 29, as high as 35, in fact I even heard recently 42 percent.
The unemployment number, as you know, is totally fiction. If you look for a job after since months and you give up, they consider you statistically employed. It's not that way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: Now, Kate, again, these are the same numbers that he was talking about then, as the White House is claiming responsibility and smiling about today. So just a sense that, you know, what goes around may come around. Of course, I can promise you, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer will be asked why the president believes these numbers now and didn't a year or so ago. He'll be holding his briefing later this afternoon -- Kate.
KEILAR: We're waiting for that. Jeff, great to see you. Thank you so much.
Also following this breaking news, in the investigation into President Trump's explosive claim that President Obama wiretapped his phones, Congressman Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, just spoke to our Manu Raju about what Congressional leaders are learning here.
Let's go to Manu, who is on the Hill. Manu, what did the Congressman tell you?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, I had a chance to talk to him after this meeting that he had with other top members of Congress with FBI Director James Comey in a classified setting last night. I asked him specifically, have you seen any evidence yet of the president's stunning charge that President Obama wiretapped him last year? Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Is there any evidence to substantiate what he's been saying about President Obama spying on him?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I haven't seen any evidence whatsoever to substantiate that and I think when Sean Spicer isn't even willing to talk about it, you know there's a real problem.
RAJU: Do you think that the March 20th hearing, Comey will be prepared to talk about this issue?
SCHIFF: He's certainly prepared for the question and I don't see any reason why he can't answer it. He may even welcome the opportunity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: So it's interesting, Kate, because that meeting, that classified briefing last night, the members came out very tight- lipped. So we can only read from their signals about exactly what they discussed.
[11:05:06]We know privately that from our sources at CNN, that FBI Director Comey was concerned about the president's charge over the weekend, and Schiff there saying that perhaps James Comey would welcome the opportunity to discuss this at the March 20th hearing suggests perhaps that Comey may back down the president of the United States when they talk.
And also not seeing any evidence, you have to assume in that meeting they discussed this rather surprising charge at that meeting. Also, Kate, he would not discuss or comment at all when I asked him did he see any evidence of any connections between the Trump campaign collusion and Russian officials, he said I'm not going to comment on that issue either, an area Comey is also exploring they moment -- Kate.
KEILAR: Definitely, at the very least suggests that Adam Schiff has the sense that James Comey has something to say at that March 20th hearing. This is an important, important detail you just got out of the top Democrat in House intel right there, Manu.
Also this if we can change gears to health care, this interparty battle over health care and the replacement that Republicans have put forth, Republicans leaders just this morning after hearing from the White House's openness to negotiations on this key portion, it sounds like Republican leaders are pushing back against that already just this morning.
RAJU: Yes, that's right. Actually House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy made it very clear he does not think it's a good idea to change that aspect of the bill. Why? Because it's a delicate balance right now by doing so to appease conservatives.
You'll put off some of the moderate members including people like Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, who is concerned about how aggressive the bill is currently when dealing with Medicaid. And expect that to be a problem in the Senate too if they go that route, which is why you're hearing pushback right now -- Kate.
KEILAR: And maybe the timing of showing that willingness on the same day when Paul Ryan held his ted talk saying that this is the best thing we've got and moving forward with it, that has something to do with it. Great to see you, Manu. Thanks.
RAJU: Thanks, Kate.
KEILAR: Keeping our eye on Capitol Hill, but let's get back to the White House. The White House is saying it was unaware former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, lobbied for a Turkish businessman while working as a top adviser to Donald Trump's presidential campaign.
On Tuesday, Flynn filed paperwork identifying himself as a foreign agent during that time, during the election. The vice president had a different reaction to that news.
Let's go to CNN's Jessica Schneider. She's following all of this for us. Jessica, what are you picking up?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Kate, these are actually the documents that were filed on Tuesday with the Justice Department. They disclosed that former national security adviser, Michael Flynn's company, the Flynn Intel Group, at the height of the election, it received a $530,000 contract with a consulting firm in the Netherlands.
The exact project was actually to improve U.S. business confidence in doing business with Turkey. Well, as late as September and October of 2016, as the retired lieutenant general was appearing at campaign rallies with then-Candidate Trump and advising him, Michael Flynn we've learned was also meeting with Turkish government officials in New York.
Now the disclosure just filed states that no fees were actually paid by a foreign government, just that Dutch consulting firm. But nevertheless, Flynn waited until just this week to file that mandated paperwork with the Department of Justice that he was operating as a foreign agent.
So the question is now, why did Flynn wait so long to file, and what path did the Trump campaign and the Trump White House know about all this? Vice President Mike Pence was asked in an interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me say, hearing that story today was the first I heard of it. I fully support the decision that President Trump made to ask for General Flynn's resignation.
BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS: You're disappointed by the story?
PENCE: It's the first I heard of it and I think it is an affirmation president's decision to ask General Flynn to resign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCHNEIDER: And of course, Flynn did resign as national security adviser in mid-February, amid revelations that he lied to the vice president about his conversations with the Russian ambassador. And Kate, as of now we're still waiting to hear more from the White House and from Flynn's attorney -- Kate.
KEILAR: That statement from Mike Pence sure tells you something. Jessica Schneider, thanks so much, Jessica.
I want to bring in right now recently retired ambassador, Daniel Fried. Ambassador, thank you so much for coming in.
AMBASSADOR DANIEL FRIED, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT CONTRIBUTOR FOR SANCTIONS POLICY: My pleasure.
KEILAR: Your expertise, of course, is Russia. But I do want to ask you about what we just heard from Jessica, when you see this news, a national security adviser registering as a foreign agent for work that he did prior to the election, should the White House, should the then- campaign and those who ran it, should they have known about this?
FRIED: One would think so. I don't know the details of this case involving General Flynn. I will say this, in Washington there are lots of temptations for recently departed government officials.
[11:10:05]There is lots of money being offered, consultations, and all kinds of job offers. We all have to keep it clean. Don't cross the streams. Either you do public service or you do consulting. There is nothing wrong with either one, but when you mix the two, it creates all kinds of problems, as we're seeing. Just don't go there, as a general rule.
KEILAR: Speaking of Trump administration staffing, I think it's very important for our audience to understand, you are recently retired as America's longest-serving diplomat, 40 years you've worked as a Foreign Service officer.
FRIED: That's right.
KEILAR: Your expertise is Russia. Just first and foremost, why did you leave the State Department?
FRIED: It was time. Forty years seemed like a good round number. I want to make it clear, no one in the new administration asked me to leave. So this was -- I wasn't forced out and I didn't resign. I just retired. I thought it was time.
KEILAR: At the time, as you depart, if you look at where staffing stands right now, today is 50 days into this presidency. Key posts like the number two position at State, Ambassador, the number two positions at Defense and Treasury, they remain vacant. From your perspective in your years in service, what is the real impact of that? FRIED: Well, it means that the U.S. government doesn't have a capacity of senior people to deal with unexpected crises if these come up. And things do go wrong. That's the nature of the business.
Usually and in past administrations, when an incoming team wants to make changes, it's their right. But you usually ask the people who were in place to stay in place until their successors are named, that's what the Bush administration did with the Clinton holdovers, that's what the Obama administration did with the Bush holdovers, and it's a good practice.
Keep the people around, or most of them around, until the new ones are there. That means you don't have a gap and you don't have a lot of acting people in difficult positions. So I hope that pipeline is filled with names and I hope that people start coming out and getting confirmed.
KEILAR: I want to ask you about Russia and this president's position on Russia. He wants a warmer relationship at the very least, we've heard him say that. What do you think the one thing this president needs to understand? What is your advice if you were still in your old post?
FRIED: There's nothing wrong with seeking areas of common ground where we can work with the Russians. President Bush tried that, President Obama tried that, and they had some progress. But I would say a couple of things.
One, keep your expectations under control. We have real differences with the Russians and cooperation often doesn't end up making your high hopes. There are some limits.
The second thing to keep in mind is that we shouldn't pay the Russians in advance for the privilege of cooperating in areas that should be ones of common interest. Don't give them advance presents, don't cave unilaterally as gestures of goodwill.
They're apt to misinterpret that not as a sign of goodwill but as a sign of weakness. So by all means try to work with them but keep your interests in mind.
KEILAR: Ambassador, real quick, we have to go, but your reaction to Jon Huntsman, the president picking Jon Huntsman as ambassador to Russia. Smart choice?
FRIED: I think it is. Jon Huntsman is a serious person. He's worked with Democrats, with Republicans. He's got experience. His time at the Atlantic Council means he has depth on foreign affairs generally and strategically. He's a good choice.
KEILAR: Ambassador Fried, thank you for your time and your service, hope to have you on again soon.
FRIED: Thank you, my pleasure.
KEILAR: Thank you so much. So first on CNN, folks, investigators find a computer link between a Russian bank and the Trump Organization they are calling odd. That investigation continues. We have new details on it, though, ahead.
Plus, he said he will be the greatest jobs president that "God ever created." Ahead, President Trump's first full month's jobs report. Will he live up to that promise? We'll be right back.
KEILAR: We have new details now on a story you heard first on CNN. The FBI's counterintelligence team is examining a possible link between a computer server belonging to the Trump Organization and a Russian bank.
CNN Money investigative reporter, Jose Pagliery, is part of the team that broke the story. He is here with me now. It's a complicated tale, but an important one. What are we learning?
JOSE PAGLIERY, CNN MONEY INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: It is. What's happening here is this Russian bank, Alfa Bank, was repeatedly looking at the contact information for the Trump Organization server here in the United States.
In tech terms, this is equivalent to looking up someone's phone number. It doesn't mean you made a call, it just means you looked up that contact information. But here's the thing, it did that 2,800 times last summer.
KEILAR: That sounds like a lot to a layman.
PAGLIERY: It does, but put it in context, the computer scientist who obtained these leak internet records found that this was 80 percent of the lookups. So imagine, all these lookups are happening, and 80 percent of them are coming from a single bank.
When they looked to see who else is doing these lookups, almost all the rest came from Spectrum Health here in the United States. Most people may not know Spectrum Health, but it's led by Dick DeVos, who is the husband of Betsy DeVos, who is now the education secretary.
So it's raising questions, were there links there, were there communications there? And that's why the FBI is investigating.
KEILAR: Any accusation of wrongdoing?
PAGLIERY: No, not at all. All we know is that servers are acting strangely. That's all. Computer scientists have said, this is weird, it's not really being explained what's going on here. Now we reached out to all the players involved, the Trump Organization, Alfa Bank, Spectrum Health, every tech company involved here and they all have theories but no actual explanations.
[11:20:05]For example, Alfa Bank says maybe we were doing these lookups because we were receiving spam marketing from Trump hotels. Fair point. Except they couldn't produce a single e-mail that summer. There are competing theories about what's going on. We all have questions but no answers.
KEILAR: That's why the FBI continues its investigation into it.
PAGLIERY: That's right.
KEILAR: Great to see you, Jose. Great work. Thank you so much. We'll stay on top of this, Jose, I promise you. We'll stay on top of this.
I just spoke with Republican Congressman Dan Donovan. He is a member of the House Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security Committees, and I started by asking the New York lawmaker about the concerns regarding this latest Russian investigation news.
REP. DAN DONOVAN (R), NEW YORK: We have to allow the FBI to do their investigation. We also have two oversight committees, one in the Senate, one in the House, that are investigating into the Russians' contact with the campaign and the administration and their interference in our elections process.
So I was a prosecutor for 12 years before I came to Congress, Kate, so I would allow them to let them do their work. I've heard some reports that the activity didn't seem so unusual. I've heard other reports that say this is of great concern. So I have great trust in the FBI, Director Comey. I would allow them to do their work before we reach any conclusions.
KEILAR: Congressman, the big issue you're facing on Capitol Hill is health care. The House speaker just yesterday said the following, "This is the closest we will ever get to repealing and replacing Obamacare." Do you agree? Are you on board with your leaders?
DONOVAN: You know, Kate, I have always said throughout this whole process, I think our health care system is broken and needs to be repaired. There are some great things that are coming out of this document now that we're seeing for the first time yesterday. People have been speculating what was going to be in it.
Now they know we'll protect people with preexisting conditions, we'll protect young people until their 26, people starting their careers later in life. We know we're not going to allow insurance companies to discriminate against women and charge them higher premiums than they do men.
All these things are good things. I've said all along what we have to do is to make sure we help the people who are harmed by the Affordable Care Act, because so many people were, and at the same time don't harm the people who are helped by it. We have families paying astronomical premiums and have high deductibles with it. They have insurance, they just don't utilize it, it's too expensive to utilize.
KEILAR: You wonder if you can do both of those things, help the people that were hurt by the bill and not hurt the people that are helped by Obamacare. That gets to the spot that you're in, you're in a tough spot. Your district voted for President Trump, but many constituents have also benefitted from the Medicaid expansion in Obamacare. What do you tell your folks back home right now?
PAGLIERY: I'm doing more listening than I am telling them. I've listened to scores of constituents. Monday I'm holding a roundtable with doctors and hospitals and hear about their concerns. I'm very concerned about our seniors, if we're going to allow insurance companies to charge seniors five times the rate they charge younger people, right now the law is you can only charge them three times as much.
So I have great concerns. But I'm listening to people before I make a decision. The bill is not going to be perfect, Kate. So I have to decide what's best for the 740,000 people that I represent in New York City, not what's good for the Republican Party or what's good for the rest of the country.
KEILAR: It's interesting you say you're going to be meeting with a roundtable. I have seen a lot written, Congressman, recently about your constituents, saying that they want to see more of you. They want to meet with you more in person, there have been protests outside your district office, some jokingly putting up "missing" signs for you. Are you avoiding town halls over this, are you avoiding constituents?
PAGLIERY: No, I'm not avoiding constituents at all. I've had scores of individual meetings and small group meetings in my office every day that I'm back home. I'm here a lot but every day back home. I had an event with the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce a couple of weeks ago, 150 members of the Chamber of Commerce came to exchange ideas about health care, tax reform, immigration reform.
The event was taken over by professional protesters, 40 of which had to be taken out. None of those members of the Chamber of Commerce got to ask their questions or exchange ideas with me. I'm not going to put those people through it.
I'm an elected official, I've been in public office for 25 years, I can take the hit. It's unfair to those people who come out on a rainy night, want to hear what I have to say. I've been doing tele-town hall meetings where I speak to 14,000 families two weeks ago, in the comfort of their home.
People with childcare needs, caring for elderly parents, were able to participate without disruption. When the rhetoric calms down, when the people who want to just obstruct stop obstructing, I will do it again.
KEILAR: Those people might say they aren't being heard by you.
PAGLIERY: They are being heard by me. I have had protesters come in to meet with me one on one or in small groups. I just think it's unproductive for people who are there to hear ideas and voice their concerns and they don't get the opportunity because of people who protest and disrupt the event.
[11:25:05]KEILAR: So Congressman, right now administration officials say the White House is open and privately pushing the idea of ending the Medicaid expansion even sooner than Republican leaders have proposed. What do you say to your president about that?
PAGLIERY: I don't think that's a good idea. One of the good things about the proposed bills now is that all the people that are on Medicaid and who benefitted by Medicaid expansion will be grandfathered in, in perpetuity, they will be protected. In fact they're going to allow people into the expansion plan for another two years.
KEILAR: That's the debate right now.
KEILAR: That's kind of the core. This is a major, a major divide. If you game this out, Congressman, leaders can't get more conservatives on board unless they cut that date shorter. If they do that, they lose you. So what's the solution?
PAGLIERY: Leadership will have to figure that out, but I'm not alone. There's many moderate Republicans who are concerned about the people who are helped by the Affordable Care Act. And most of these people are hardworking people who just don't earn enough to pay for their own insurance or don't get insurance from their employer. We have to make sure that we're not pulling the rug out from underneath those people.
PAGLIERY: We have to make sure, again, I'm not an economist, but there are people who believe that if we keep those people on the expansion plan long enough, with the economy growing, they will actually phase out because their income levels will raise, they won't need to be on Medicaid at all. That's not a bad thing, getting the people off Medicaid.
KEILAR: You say there are great things in this document, but you have great concerns. Are you yes or no on the bill that's out right now?
PAGLIERY: I'm an undecided. I'll meet with my constituents, listen to the hospital people. The hospitals are very concerned. I'll listen to the doctors who actually do this day to day and can tell us how this is affecting their ability to care for their patients. Health care should be between a patient and a doctor.
Government's role in this is just to make sure people have access to health care and everyone's entitled to access. And my goal is to, again, make sure that we help those people that were harmed by the Affordable Care Act and make sure we don't harm those who are helped by it.
KEILAR: I've heard that from conservatives and Republican leaders alike that exact same line you just gave me. It's the details, Congressman, and how you're going to get there. That's the top stop. Congressman, it's great to have you. Please come back on, thank you.
PAGLIERY: Thank you, Kate.
KEILAR: The White House says it was unaware that fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was a paid foreign agent for a Turkish businessman during the presidential campaign. The key new details ahead.
And in minutes, President Trump puts his deal making skills to the test as he sits down with the heads of the key House committees shepherding this health care bill through. Are they all on the same page now? We'll see.