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FBI Chief Briefs "Gang Of Eight" Lawmakers On Hill; Health Care Fight Exposes Divide Within GOP. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 10, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:01] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Would you do that for your spouse? If they were on Skype and the kids went in, would you go in there with the urgency and the insistence that that wife did? That's the question.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: This is our toddler.

CUOMO: We can't just take a hint and move him out of the way.

CAMEROTA: This is our resident toddler. He's --

CUOMO: Got to throw a doughnut in a different direction to get Phil out of the picture.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. That must have been a painful delivery. That's a big kid right there. Phil is a big kid.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: That is a big kid.

CUOMO: That's how we Italians do it, my friend.

CAMEROTA: That's how we make them.

BERMAN: All right.

CUOMO: Go for winter.


BERMAN: All right, guys. Alisyn, Chris, you have a great weekend. Let's get started.

CAMEROTA: You too guys.

CUOMO: Come back, Phil. Give me a hug.

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

BERMAN: I'm John Berman. Thanks so much for joining us.

We do begin with breaking news and jobs, more of them. We're talking about the February jobs report.

HARLOW: It captures the first full month of growth. How many jobs have been created since Donald Trump became president? We now have that answer.

Bringing it to us, our chief business correspondent, Christine Romans, here with the numbers. It's a big one.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It is, and we thought it would be a really strong month. It's not exactly as strong as the highest estimates but 235,000 net new jobs, and in fact, that was a really good number here.

When you look at the trend, it's been a few months of good numbers here overall, 235,000. You can see that last month was very good. In January as well. That was revised up. December was revised up.

And you look at the whole shebang there, this almost exactly matches last February. And, guys, it matches almost exactly the February before that. So there's something about February that's strong.

But what you'll hear from a lot of folks is there is an enthusiasm right now, a business enthusiasm, about Donald Trump that's allowing them to keep hiring. The unemployment rate, 4.7 percent. Pretty much steady.

I think this number could have gone lower if not for the people coming off the sidelines to get jobs. There's a renewed enthusiasm after now several years of strong jobs growth. People are coming off the sidelines and starting to get jobs again, so that keeps the unemployment rate steady.

Where are the jobs? Business and information services tend to be higher-paid category. Construction tend to be higher-paid category. Manufacturing jobs came back in the month. That is really interesting and politically interesting there.

When I look at the U-6, the underemployment rate, that came down. Some people call this the real unemployment rate at 9.2 percent. That has been steadily falling and actually picking up speed in this deceleration here.

When I look at wages, up 2.8 percent. That's a good number. It's about as strong as it was back in December. So you have seen wage increases here. I think this is why the fed would likely raise interest rates next week, but this is a continuation, we have seen, of a strong labor market.

BERMAN: So good, time to put on the brakes. That's the way it's going.

ROMANS: Yes, exactly, pull back the punch bowl as they say.

HARLOW: Interesting, though, right? The President gets these numbers before --

ROMANS: Yes, he did.

HARLOW: So he knew about this yesterday? ROMANS: He did. He knew about these numbers yesterday. The council

of economic advisers presents them to the President. So he's seen these numbers.

You know, he has been a doubter, a naysayer, one would dare say, a conspiracy theorist on these numbers. He's called them a phony, fake.


ROMANS: He has said 95 million people want a job. We'll see if he owns them, fully owns them now. He's on his path --

HARLOW: I think, totally, he'll like these numbers.

ROMANS: He has promised 25 million jobs in 10 years. If he believes these numbers, he could get it.

BERMAN: All right. Christine Romans, great to see you.

HARLOW: Thank you.

BERMAN: Have a great weekend.

ROMANS: You too.

BERMAN: Thanks so much.

All right. This morning, some important new developments on health care. And perhaps the health of the presidency, the closed-door meetings between the FBI Director James Comey and top leaders of the House and Senate with questions swirling about the President's evidence-free claims about being wiretapped.

This as CNN has new reporting about investigations to a, quote, "odd link" between a Russian bank and the Trump Organization.

HARLOW: Also, new signals from the White House this morning that it might be willing to give a little. Give already on the plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare, but where? Where will it make those concessions, and does that put the plan on, frankly, even shakier ground?

We're covering all of these this morning. Let's begin with our Joe Johns at the White House. Good morning.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. What all this means is that the people on Capitol Hill are getting down now to real business in the investigation of Russian interference in the election, including looking into those questionable contacts between a growing list of individuals connected to the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, including and especially the Russian ambassador.

So, Jim Comey, the FBI Director on Capitol Hill, meeting with the so- called gang of eight. This is the bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate, along with the top two members of the Intel Committees on both sides of Capitol Hill. Not clear at all what they discussed. The senators emerging tight-

lipped. The House members very much complaining that they're not getting enough information from Comey. Comey, of course, in a very tight spot because he needs to protect the sanctity of what apparently and certainly sounds like a criminal investigation, very much concerned about the possibility of leaks out of Capitol Hill, given the fact that the House has announced a public hearing on this very issue on March 20th.

[09:05:02] So a lot at stake there. And love to be a fly on the wall. Back to you.

BERMAN: All right, Joe. Yes, good luck with that. Joe Johns at the White House, thanks so much.

OK. The odd link between a Russian bank and the Trump Organization. The two reporters who broke that story, CNN Justice Correspondent Pamela Brown, CNNMoney Investigative Reporter Jose Pagliery.

Pamela, there's an investigation under way on this still. What's going on here?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. It's been going on for months now, John. We've learned this FBI probe remains open, and to this possible computer connection between the Trump Organization and a Russian bank called Alfa Bank according to several sources familiar with the investigation.

Now, this is the same server mentioned in that Breitbart article that a White House official says sparked President Trump's series of tweets last Saturday accusing investigators of tapping his phone. Now, CNN is told there was no FISA warrant on this 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 looking into this.

One official I spoke with said the server relationship seems odd, and investigators are not ignoring it. But the FBI still has a lot more work to do to determine what was behind the unusual activity and whether there's even any significance to it. The FBI declined to comment and the White House did not respond to our request for a comment.

BERMAN: Jose, can you explain these odd communications between the Trump Organization and the Russian bank? What's going on?

JOSE PAGLIERY, CNNMONEY INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Sure. What's strange about this communication is that this Russian bank repeatedly looked up the unique internet address of a particular computer server in the United States used by the Trump Organization. It's highly technical but we can break it down like this.

In the computer world, it's the equivalent of looking up someone's phone number over and over again. Sure, there's not necessarily proof of a phone call, but it usually indicates an intention to communicate. That's how several computer scientists put it to us.

Now, a particular group of computer scientists who obtained these leaked internet records -- records that, frankly, were never ever supposed to be made public -- they were puzzled as to why this Russian bank was doing this. Their guess was, maybe it was trying to send e- mail for the Trump Organization, but they just couldn't tell.

Now, last summer, during the presidential campaign, the Russian bank looked up the address to this server that was used by the Trump Organization some 2,800 times. That's a whole lot. That's more lookups than the Trump server received from any other source.

Now, if you're wondering, the only other entity to do this many internet lookups for that server was Spectrum Health, medical facility chain led by Dick DeVos, the husband of Betsy DeVos. If that name sounds familiar, she was later appointed as U.S. Education Secretary by President Trump.

Now, those two entities alone, the bank and Spectrum Health, made up 99 percent of the lookups. Computer scientists we spoke to found that very strange. And so all the corporations involved, so far, have said that they have never communicated by e-mail with the Trump Organization, and they have different, sometimes competing explanations for the server activity. But they haven't provided proof and they don't agree on what the story is.

For example, the Russian bank thinks it was receiving Trump Hotel marketing e-mail last summer, but they haven't provided CNN with a single e-mail to back up that theory. Meanwhile, American marketing company that would have been sending those Trump e-mails says it wasn't doing so at the time in the summer when we're looking at the time period in question.

Now, Alfa Bank, for its part, stressed that none of its top executives have had any affiliation at all with the Trump Organization or President Trump. Their statement said that neither Alfa Bank nor its principals, including Mikhail Fridman and Peter Aven, have had or had any contact with Trump or his organizations.

So this potential computer link remains a mystery. Nothing nefarious necessarily, just a lot of questions.

HARLOW: And the DeVos thing in all of these is just so confusing.

PAGLIERY: Right. Isn't it a strange coincidence? And that's all we've seen so far, it's a coincidence. Everyone we've talked to says it's not necessary that this is nefarious.

HARLOW: Right.

PAGLIERY: It's not that something is going wrong, but a Russian bank and the DeVos family. That's just weird.

HARLOW: Exactly. Great reporting, Jose. Great reporting, Pamela. Thank you, guys, very, very much. A lot we're covering this morning, including, of course, the fight

over ObamaCare and the future of it. We're just minutes away from a news conference with GOP leaders. They are pitching the current version of the repeal and replace bill to the country and to members of their own party who don't like it. There could, though, be an even bigger showdown that is ahead.

Let's go straight to Suzanne Malveaux. She joins us on Capitol Hill with more.

What is the sense there this morning? Are they getting more of their own party members onboard?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There really is a sense here, Poppy, that they are very divided. We're going to hear from the House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy in about 20 minutes or so, along with other GOP leaders. And essentially, he is trying to push for the repeal and replace ObamaCare with the House's own version of that bill.

And so far, what's happened is, that version has gone, cleared two hurdles through two House committees. That gets it closer to the House floor. But there is a sticking point here, and that is the amount of federal dollars that go to the states for Medicaid.

They are divided over that specific issue. The conservatives would like the rollback of those dollars on Medicaid to happen sooner, by 2017, where moderates want it to happen later, by 2020. This is what is tearing apart moderates and conservative Republicans.

[09:10:13] What we've seen from President Trump is that, publicly, he says, yes, he's on board with the plan that has been put forward by Paul Ryan. But, privately, what he's saying to some of these conservatives who he's already met with is that he is willing to negotiate on this particular point.

At the same time, Paul Ryan is really pushing forward to build this momentum, to get this done as quickly as possible, while there are others who are pushing back, both in the House and the Senate, to put on the brakes.


REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: We're with the American people. We're going to do what we told them we were going to do. And to set this up as a binary choice, we just got this bill 72 hours ago. The American people first saw this bill 72 hours ago. And to say that we can't amend it, change it, and make it right, that's just doesn't make -- that's not how the legislative process works.


MALVEAUX: And senior administration officials tell me that the President feels that he has some momentum, that he is going to get more involved with this. He sees it as a test of his leadership, of his skills as a negotiator, as a deal maker. And so, Poppy, later on today, we are going to see the President

talking about leading the discussion about health care with key members of the House -- Poppy.

BERMAN: All right. Suzanne Malveaux for us.

The question is, is there a deal to be made? Will conservatives reach a deal? Would the President be willing to give in just a little bit?

We're going to have a key member of the House Freedom Caucus who opposes the bill, at least so far, joining us in a moment.

Plus, bombs exploding, bullets flying, thousands of people fleeing, exclusive footage from inside Mosul.

HARLOW: And also this morning, a priest shortage forcing the Pope to rethink requirements for the role. Now, he is open to married men becoming priests. A live report ahead from Rome.


BERMAN: All right, things getting pretty interesting up on Capitol Hill. This is the showdown to repeal and replace Obamacare. It's really a showdown within the Republican Party. Looking at live pictures right now, House Republican leaders will hold a news conference any second. They're going to try to win more support for this bill if they can. Its future very much in question right now.

HARLOW: Of course, we'll monitor that for you, bring you some of it live. But also this morning, it's the morning after FBI Director James Comey held these closed door meetings with lawmakers on the Hill yesterday, amid constant calls for evidence behind the president's wiretapping claims.

Also new questions about what investigators are calling an odd link between a Russian big bank and the Trump organization. Let's discuss with our panel, CNN political commentator, Errol Louis, is here. He is also political anchor of Spectrum News.

David Swerdlick joins us, CNN political commentator and assistant editor of "The Washington Post," and Jay Newton-Small, contributor at "Time" magazine. Nice to have you all.

Errol, because you are here in New York with us, you get the first question. Here is the thing. Last time Comey went to the Hill, Representative Adam Schiff said he stonewalled us. He didn't give us enough information. Unless he did that again, don't Democrats have a lot of answers this morning?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't think that they have a lot of answers. We've seen before, and this goes all the way back to the transition time, when Comey would meet with members of Capitol Hill and they would come out not just frustrated, but fuming that the investigators are further down the road than they realized.

That they've told them very little, can't give a timeline on completion or what's likely to happen, giving them none of the tools that they need to really make some hard decisions.

HARLOW: These hearings are soon. They want the information by the 17th of March. The hearings are the 20th.

LOUIS: Well, that's what happens when you put an investigation of this kind on a political timetable rather than a true investigatory criminal timetable.

BERMAN: Pretty surprising to me at this point, if the "Gang of Eight" at least doesn't have an answer to the question from the FBI director, was then Candidate Trump bugged? Were there wiretaps on his phone? If they don't have an answer to that. That would be surprising given that that's been out there and James Comey apparently has been leaking information about that. We will see.

Jay, to you, you know, this report about an odd link between this Russian bank and the Trump Organization. Again, we don't know what it is. We just know that investigators think it's weird which is like so much of this story, so much smoke and more smoke and more smoke.

JAY NEWTON-SMALL, CONTRIBUTOR, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, you have to wonder at some point, if there's so much smoke, is there fire? There are just so many coincidences, so many things where you're talking about, well, there was this link and that link.

You have Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager and his links to Russia, and then they are denying that there are any other links to Russia. Then all of a sudden they lose their national security adviser, Michael Flynn because he had links to Russia.

The whole reason Trump went on his Twitter rampage this weekend was because his AG Jeff Sessions had links to Russia. Now the question is if the campaign really did have telephonic links to Russia or e-mail links to Russia, that would be the reason why you would get a FISA court to wiretap those links.

That would be something Comey and the investigators would know definitively the answer to whether or not this Alfa Bank link and CNN's reporting on it is actually credible and real and this led to actual communications or not. That's what I'm sure lawmakers want to know.

HARLOW: To you, David, when you look at where they go from here, what is your assessment on how the White House answers this? One of the things we talked about earlier, the president hasn't been out in front making the case, doing the hard sell at least to the television cameras on Obamacare.

I wonder if part of that is because we knows the first question he's going to be hammered with every single time is where is the evidence, where is the evidence, where is the evidence for the wiretapping claims.

[09:20:06]DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, with the wiretapping claims he passed on that opportunity a week ago now to get that answer himself. As the commander-in-chief has the power to reach into the intelligence agencies and investigative agencies that he controls and asks what was going on with the wiretaps, up to and including declassifying information if he thought that information should be given out to the public.

Now having kicked it to Congress, he has put the pressure on Congress and the FBI Counterintelligence Unit to get some answers out there both because we in the media have demanded answers and also because the pressure is on them for their own credibility going back to the story that Pamela reported about the two servers talking to each other.

That in and of itself is not necessarily evidence of anything, but it's one more drip in the series of drip, drip, drips that's basically making it a situation where everyone keeps asking big picture, what is going on between the Trump team going back to the transition and Russia or potentially Vladimir Putin.

BERMAN: All right, another thing, what is going on with health care right now, what's the status of the push to repeal and replace Obamacare. Errol Louis, our Jim Acosta heard from a senior Republican telling him the more this thing is shaky, the more people can back away.

We've had now days of shaky really with conservatives saying they won't support it as is. They can't support it as is, the back and forth there. Now there may be signs the White House is willing to budge. Does that help things if the White House is willing to budge or does it hurt things?

LOUIS: Well, I don't think it resolves the underlying tension here because really what you've got is a number of GOP members, more conservative ones in conservative districts in the House of Representatives who want to rip it uproot and branch. They said everything in the world wrong with the country can all be tied back to Obamacare.

They want to exterminate all of the subsidies and everything else. You have Republicans who are running states, governors, senators, who have to take care of people. That's why you have at least four GOP senators saying the bill is dead on arrival if you undue the Medicaid expansion.

You can't throw millions of people who have mental illness and addiction problems and say you're not covered. You have to figure it out for yourself. They're not in a position to do that. As long as that's the case, there's very little the White House can do to resolve that.

HARLOW: The White House is willing, Jay, to do that from all our reporting this morning and they're going to sit down with some key members of Congress. The reporting is that the White House is willing to end that Medicaid expansion a lot sooner, not 2020, but move it to the beginning of next year, 2018. That will help them with some of those members in Congress. It's going to hurt them with moderates in the Senate. They're stuck between a rock and a hard place on that. NEWTON-SMALL: Absolutely. You've seen the White House go in recent days from being very threatening, the stick, saying we or going to campaign against you in your districts if you don't vote for this bill to realizing that's not working.

So now they're trying to extend carrots and saying here are compromises, ways in which we might work together. If you go one way, you're going to lose the Republican mainstream partnership, the moderate group.

If you go the other way, you'll lose the Freedom Caucus. There's a narrow line to tread. I don't think you'll get 218 votes if you lose either side, which is what you need in the House to pass this, let alone the Senate where they have so many other issues, and they've said it has to be completely rewritten --

BERMAN: David, do we really know what the president thinks or what the president wants, what the number one issue is in the repeal and replace for Obamacare for him?

SWERDLICK: John, I suspect what the number one issue is for President Trump right now is getting a win and getting control of his party's caucus in the House and Senate. Go back 17 years, in President Trump's book "The America We Deserve," he said on health care, "I'm a conservative on most issues but I'm a liberal on this one."

He made the case then and at times even in the campaign for comprehensive care. Right now, they've got a bill that S&P global market rates could already take 6 million to 10 million people off of health care if they compromise with these conservatives, as Jay was pointing out, to get their votes in the mix.

If Medicare is rolled back, you might be looking at more people off of Medicaid. Then the question for the Trump campaign is how do you match up with your caucus in Congress but still stay on the same foot with voters who actually like a lot of the parts of Trumpcare, Obamacare, Ryancare, whatever you call it.

HARLOW: Remember, it was in January after he was elected that the president actually used the words insurance for all. Guys, thank you.

BERMAN: All right, coming up for us next, we're going to speak to someone in the middle of this battle right now, someone who says he cannot support the bill as written. If the White House is willing to compromise a little bit, will he win over? That's next.



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

HARLOW: I'm Poppy Harlow. Let's take you straight to Capitol Hill because at any moment House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy will, along with other Republicans, hold a news conference on their proposed health care reform bill. A health care bill potentially in flux, very much so after the White House overnight is signaling the shift, willing to give a little bit, definitely on the Medicaid part of it, willing to embrace some conservative calls to roll that back much sooner than is called for in the bill in its current form at least.

BERMAN: House Speaker Paul Ryan says the time is now, but some in his own caucus say no, not so fast. Now after years of vowing to repeal and replace Obamacare, there is a fight within the party about just how to do it. So what will bring the sides together?

Joining us right now, a member of the Freedom Caucus which until now opposes this measure, Republican Congressman Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma. Let's be clear, as it stands right now, if the vote were today, would you support this bill?