Return to Transcripts main page


Graham: "No Idea" If FBI Responds Today On Russia Info; Lawmakers Push White House For Wiretap Proof. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 15, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: So you've done some right answers.

BERMAN: -- Cuomo could stop the train just by looking at it. He won't need --

HARLOW: With his muscles. Yes, right.

BERMAN: He won't need someone to help stop the train.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: That hurts J.B. We've known each other a long time.

BERMAN: You know I'd have a different answer for you if she wasn't there.

CUOMO: It's all right.

BERMAN: All right.

CUOMO: That's fine.

HARLOW: John Berman, I miss you. But I told Cuomo, he needs me. I'll be back soon.

BERMAN: All right, guys. Thanks so much. Let's get to the big show.


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

Is there a criminal investigation into President Donald Trump, the Trump campaign, Trump associates? You might think we would know the answer or at a minimum, that it's an easy question to answer. But with all the microwaves, quotation marks, and debate about what is literal and serious, it has been hard to tell.

If there is literally an investigation, it would be serious, literally. And we could know within hours. Finally, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse says that FBI Director James Comey led him to believe that he would make things clear by this afternoon. Just minutes ago on CNN, Republican Lindsey Graham says he is ready to subpoena the FBI if he doesn't get answers. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Congress is going to flex its muscles. The President of the United States asked Congress to look into this, as to whether or not the Trump campaign was surveilled during the 2016 election by the federal government. I'm going to get to the bottom of it. And if it needs a subpoena to get there, that's what we'll do.


BERMAN: Very shortly, President Trump hits the road. And it's a good thing that Air Force One has plenty of carry-on space because he's lugging some pretty heavy baggage today, the Republican plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare. He has a campaign event tonight, but how hard will he campaign for the plan as it seems to be losing support from both wings of his party?

Senior Washington Correspondent Joe Johns at the White House for us now with the very latest. And the latest may be, are we going to hear from the FBI? Is the White House and the administration going to turn over the evidence it says it has that President Trump was wiretapped?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: John, you know, based on what we're hearing from Capitol Hill, don't bet on it. Senator Lindsey Graham kind of poured cold water on the notion that we're going to get some type of affirmative assurance from the FBI Director today as to whether or not there is an investigation into any possible connections between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Now, that seems to contradict or at least conflict a bit with something that was said just yesterday by Democratic Senator Whitehouse from Rhode Island. He suggested that there would be an assurance of some type, and he told a number of reporters including CNN's Manu Raju. He thought there would be some type of assurance.

So anybody's guess as to what's going to happen. What is clear is that Senator Graham is going to continue pressing on the issue of Russia as well as pressing on the issue of wiretaps and the President's allegations. Let's listen.


GRAHAM: I've seen no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. I've seen no evidence of a wiretap being requested by the Department of Justice, a warrant. But the longer it takes to answer my letter, the more concerned and suspicious I'm beginning to be.


JOHNS: Yes, very suspicious. And why is all of this important? Well, the fact of the matter is Senator Whitehouse and Senator Graham are the two top senators on a judiciary subcommittee that's holding a hearing today on the issue of Russia and its m.o. in undermining democracies. So they wanted to get some word from the FBI, just not clear if they're going to get that today, John. BERMAN: Well, we will keep pressing. The FBI will keep pressing

Senator Whitehouse to see what we hear. Joe Johns, thanks so much.

The White House and House Speaker Paul Ryan, they have a math problem this morning, mainly subtraction. The Republican plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare, it does appear to be losing votes from across the spectrum of the Republican Party.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux on Capitol Hill right now. And, Suzanne, you know, there are some Republicans who flat out don't even want to talk about this.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, they don't. I mean, John, this is a big battle day for health care reform and the Republican bill on both sides. I'm talking about Democrats as well as Republicans.

We'll start on the Republican side on the Senate, conservatives there holding a 1:00 p.m. rally. We're talking about Rand Paul and Senator Ted Cruz pushing that this is not actually hard enough. That they have to make greater, more drastic changes here. They are calling it ObamaCare Lite. And they are really putting the squeeze on moderate Republicans, those who say this is way too costly as per the damaging CBO score for seniors, for people who cannot afford and who will lose their health care coverage.

One of those people, Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Now, this is a clip where my colleague Manu Raju tried to catch up with her and get her sense, get her take, on whether or not she will support this plan as it is written now.


[09:05:07] SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: No. No, no, no, no. I'm really, really --

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Do you support the health care plan at this moment?

MURKOWSKI: Can you give me a minute to get to my constituents, please?

RAJU: Just a yes or no. Do you support the House health care bill?

MURKOWSKI: Would you please be respectful?

RAJU: I'm being very respectful.

MURKOWSKI: We're sitting there for two hours, come on.


MALVEAUX: So, John, clearly, Senator Murkowski not necessarily ready to sign on to this. And of course, what she has a problem with, which many other senators have a problem with, Republicans, is the fact that you have this rollback of Medicaid expansion. And that is a big problem for her.

What we're going to see on the Democratic side, the House Democrats are going to be holding a press conference at 10:30. And they're going to be making their case that this is too harsh, and they're specifically targeting Republicans who they think are going to be vulnerable, up for re-election.

They are talking about those who are from states where Hillary Clinton won for 2016, also states that have lots of seniors and who are counting on their health insurance, and finally, those states that decided to go ahead and expand the Medicaid under ObamaCare and that they are actually going to lose under this new Republican plan.

Those are the people that they're going after, so this battle goes on, John. And, clearly, it is heating up.

BERMAN: Indeed. All right, Suzanne Malveaux on Capitol Hill, where there is a lot going on between health care and all the intelligence matters. Thanks so much, Suzanne.

I want to discuss now. With me now, Errol Louis, CNN political commentator, political anchor of Spectrum News; Rebecca Berg, CNN political analyst, national political reporter for "Real Clear Politics"; and Salena Zito, CNN contributor and a "Washington Examiner" reporter and a "New York Post" columnist. She just does it all.

All right, Rebecca, I want to start with you because Sheldon Whitehouse, the Democratic Senator from Rhode Island, he did tell us -- he told Manu Raju -- that today, by 2:30, he expected to learn from the FBI Director whether there is an FBI investigation into alleged Russian ties between, you know, with the Trump campaign or Donald Trump or Trump associates.

Now, I don't know if Senator Whitehouse was overselling it or not. But if that is the case, if we do learn that today, it's a big deal.

REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: Of course, it's a big deal, John. Now, there's a question mark here as to whether we, the public and reporters, will learn what these senators learn today from the FBI because the FBI might come to them and say, you know, we want to keep this between us. We don't want this to be publicly disclosed.

Because the FBI tends not to comment publicly, at least, on ongoing investigations, and so it's possible that they will get this information and we will not. But it is also possible that we will learn this information, and that would be a huge piece of news moving forward, especially as we're beginning this investigation publicly on the Senate side into Russia and its ties to Trump and the campaign.

So that's going to be starting next week on Capitol Hill. The Senate Intel Committee will begin its hearings. And certainly, if there is a disclosure from the FBI that this investigation is ongoing, you can bet that that will inform the ongoing Senate Intel Committee investigation as well. BERMAN: Likewise, if there's not an investigation. I think that

would be part of the hearings as well.

BERG: Absolutely.

BERMAN: That would be something the public wants to know. That's something the White House wants to know. It will be hard for the FBI Director to maintain silence, whether it would be today. He's not appearing at the hearing today, but he is scheduled to appear at the House Intelligence hearing on Monday.

So silence between now and Monday, it will be hard for the FBI Director to maintain, Errol Louis, particularly because you're starting to see Republicans get antsy and get impatient. We heard Lindsey Graham, who was on "NEW DAY" this morning. You know, and he said it basically would be a big screw-up if the FBI doesn't provide what it knows to the various committees in Congress.

ERROL LOUIS, POLITICAL ANCHOR, SPECTRUM NEWS NY1: Well, that's right. Chuck Grassley is saying that he may hold up confirmation of some of the mid and lower-level employees of the Justice Department if he doesn't get any answers.

Congress has been put in a very difficult position. They're supposed to provide oversight. The President is actually asking them to look into some of the questions that are swirling around about intelligence and wiretapping and what's going on at Trump Tower during the transition and the creation of the administration. And yet, they're not providing the information either to Congress or to the public.


LOUIS: And so Congress is making clear that, as a co-equal rank of government, they're going to use the leverage they have. Those leverages include talking to the media.

BERMAN: And, look, we are days away from either evidence or a subpoena. I think that's clear, and that's why we keep talking about this. Either there will be evidence today or statements today from the FBI Director, or Devin Nunes and House Intelligence says there will be a subpoena, you know, after Monday. So this is imminent at this point.

Salena Zito, I want to shift gears a little bit, you know, talking about hard places to be, between a rock and a hard place. This is on the issue of health care right now and the Republican plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

[09:09:55] Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Republican from Miami, you know, who, by the way, tends to vote with leadership. Last night, she says this is not a plan she can vote for. She says, "Too many of my constituents will lose insurance, and there will be less funds to help the poor and elderly with their health care." So that's Madam Rock, as it were.

Let's meet Mr. Hard Place, and that would be Mo Brooks, conservative from Alabama, who told me he is against the bill yesterday. Listen to this.


REP. MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA: It's still the largest welfare program ever proposed by the Republican Party.


BERMAN: So, Salena Zito, these are tough waters to navigate because you've got people on both sides of your party saying they don't like this plan, they won't vote for it. How do you satisfy one without upsetting the other?

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You don't. I mean, if you remember in 2009 and 2010 with ObamaCare, when it was being rolled out, you had the Stupak 11, where you had 11 conservative Democrats who are, you know, not going to vote for it.

I mean, this is complicated. It's messy. And in a good way, it's being done, you know, pretty transparently. So you see all these moving parts, all these different factions. You've got 435 members of Congress who all have incredibly different districts with incredibly different needs and populations and ages. And, you know, everyone is looking out for their back yard.

And I suspect this is going to continue to be messy. One of the things, I think, that we will see that we're not talking about as much right now is, I think, Trump will show a willingness to completely change his mind on a number of key components on this if he feels as though it's not being satisfactorily -- you know, sort of looked at broadly as being a successful move for his administration and for the country. So I think this mess is going to continue for a couple of months.

BERMAN: So, Salena, that's a very big point that you just made there. And I don't know if you have reporting on this, but the idea that the President or the White House might be willing to change his mind on key points, that would be big. It's been an open question. Also a big open question is, how hard is the President really going to campaign for this bill as it is?

ZITO: Well --

BERMAN: He goes to Tennessee tonight. How hard is he going to push for this bill, this bill? Not saying ObamaCare stinks, he says that a lot. But how hard will he push for the bill that's on the table right now, Salena?

ZITO: I think he'll push hard for the bill that's on the table now. But I also think that if the bill changes, he'll come back out and say, hey, I had a good bill before, I have a better bill now, and we're going to go with this one.

And I think, as it changes and as, you know, the parts start to move and he sheds off some things and adds other things, he'll then take the next version of it out there. And he'll go out there and he'll hold rallies and he'll talk to the people. And that's what he is effective as, at least he had been up until November.

BERMAN: All right. You know who doesn't seem to like the plan right now? British comedian John Oliver, who's got a show on every week. And he actually did something, you know, amusing.

Whether you agree with it or not, it is sort of funny, you'll smile. He put an ad on "Fox and Friends" -- I think it aired this morning -- sort of talking about the bill. I want to play that ad for you.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If my premiums go up and subsidies go down, I'm going to wind up paying more. That's basic math there, fellow. That's like replacing my catheter with a garden hose. I don't want that.

If that happens, millions of folks like me might get real angry, which is worth thinking about if you're the sort of person who really likes being popular. You get that, right? Right?

You get that. Right?


BERMAN: All right. Let's stipulate that John Oliver viewers may not exactly be Donald Trump voters. We will stipulate that. But, Errol Louis, one of the issues now for Republicans and the President is the idea that seniors are looking at this, people before, you know, 62 or 65, and realizing they could take a hit under this Republican plan.

LOUIS: Well, that's right. That's what the CBO scoring indicates. That's what Democrats are going to play to. We know that seniors tend to vote and vote in big numbers.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida, who you pointed to before, she's in one of those districts. There are about 23 of them, where there's a Republican member of Congress but the district went for Hillary Clinton. So these are folks who are not going to really sort of play games in Congress about alienating seniors, alienating some of the small business owners, alienating some of the other categories who are going to take a hit under the Republican plan.

And they know, just as you're alluding to, that the President always reserves the right to change his mind. It is part of his art of the deal, is that he can walk away from a deal at any moment. He talks about it all the time, that that's one of his strengths.

Well, they're not necessarily able to do that. And if he walks away from the deal and leaves them holding the bag with not just a bad plan, but having voted for a bad plan, they'll be punished at the polls next year.

BERMAN: All right. We're going to watch this over the next few hours and tonight to see what the President says. Errol Louis, Rebecca Berg, Salena Zito, thank you all so much. [09:14:59] Tonight, a really big night. Wolf Blitzer and Dana Bash

are hosting a town hall on this plan with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. He'll be here to answer your questions on the new bill. "ObamaCare: What Comes Next," it airs at 9:00 Eastern only on CNN.



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Democratic senator from Rhode Island, Sheldon Whitehouse, told CNN overnight that he believes that FBI Director James Comey indicated to him that he would reveal to the senator by today whether the FBI is involved in a criminal investigation into the Trump campaign or Trump associates and alleged ties with Russia.

[09:20:08]Sheldon Whitehouse believes that will happen by 2:30 today. Will it? We don't know. Senator Lindsey Graham also on the committee says he's not sure it will happen. One thing we do know is there are a lot of questions about the alleged ties between Russia and Trump associates.

And the FBI has been asked a lot of questions and then asked to provide a lot of information about it. So, too, has the White House and the administration. They missed a deadline to provide evidence to a House committee. That was yesterday. That deadline passed.

The White House still says they have evidence it will get handed over, but House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer is not so sure. Listen.


REPRESENTATIVE STENY HOYER (D), HOUSE MINORITY WHIP: President Trump is so extremely confident that he has so many things that he knows that aren't true. So I think it's very difficult to believe Sean Spicer, if they had proof, it seems to me they would have disclosed it to the Congress.

But more importantly to the American people and President Trump would have been happy to do that. The fact is, I think his representation was untrue. It's an alternative fact.


BERMAN: Steny Hoyer with the Democratic view. I want to bring in Richard Painter, former White House Ethics lawyer. He served under President George W. Bush. Richard, always great to have you with us.

Look, Sheldon Whitehouse, the Democratic senator says he thinks he at least will know by 2:30 today from the FBI director whether there is a criminal investigation into these alleged ties between Trump associates and Russia. What would that mean? Functionally speaking, what would that mean if the FBI director says there is this criminal investigation? RICHARD PAINTER, PROFESSOR OF CORPORATE LAW, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: Well, it depends on who is being investigated and for what. We just don't know what's happened right now, other than there has been criminal activity by the Russians inside the United States probably with the cooperation of some people inside the United States, some collaboration with someone, we don't know who.

What is critical is that the Trump administration not try to cover anything up, not try to mistake that President Nixon did with Watergate. Get the information out, anybody suspected of being involved should be out of the government.

People should be prosecuted if necessary and we should go along with the business of government. Absolutely no cover-ups. It's time to get the information out. The public has a right to know what's going on here.

BERMAN: Why do you think it's been so hard to get an answer on this? Because it seems like a pretty basic question that the FBI should be able to answer and Congress should be able to get an answer, too?

PAINTER: Well, generally, the FBI should not comment on pending investigations unless there's a very compelling public interest of pending investigations. Of course, they broke that rule a week before the election with a Hillary Clinton e-mail letter when they had absolutely nothing on that computer that was worth looking at.

So it appears that they're quite selective in how they approach that rule. They generally don't comment on pending investigations. In this case, however, I do think they need to tell members of Congress at least if they're investigating anyone in connection with either of the two political campaigns that have already taken place. There's no risk of influencing an election. At this point, the American people have a right to know.

BERMAN: Yes, I mean, when you have the resignation of the national security adviser, the attorney general recusing himself from investigations, this has already affected this administration. Maybe more transparency would be better in this case.

So Lindsey Graham was on "NEW DAY" today, Mr. Painter, and he was talking about what evidence he has seen, what he hasn't seen, what he still wants to know. Listen to what he says.


SENATOR LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: To get a warrant, Chris, to follow the Trump campaign, there's two ways you can do it. The foreign Intelligence Service Act would allow you to follow campaign operatives if you believe they're interacting with foreign agents.

The second way is a criminal warrant to follow the Trump campaign if you believe they're taking services from a foreign government in violation of our campaign laws.

I want to know were either one of those warrants ever issued? I don't believe they were, but the longer it takes to answer that question, the more suspicious I get.


BERMAN: You know, does Congress have a right to those answers? Does the public, Richard, have a right to those answers?

PAINTER: At this point we need to know what happened, to what extent the Russians were collaborating with Americans with respect to espionage inside the United States, who those Americans might be, what's being investigated by the FBI.

It is critically important that Congress at least be informed about this information, and if it's not sensitive intelligence information, that ought to be released to the public. This is a very serious situation where a foreign power has been able to conduct spying inside the United States.

High ranking officials have lied about it. The attorney general misrepresented his contact with the Russians to the Senate. General Flynn lied to the vice president. Other people may be lying. We have a right to find out what is happening in our government and what the Russians have been doing in our country and who has been helping them.

[09:25:08]BERMAN: All right, Richard Painter, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate it, sir.

PAINTER: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: So where is the proof? The Trump administration missed one deadline to provide evidence that President Obama wiretapped Candidate Trump. So Congress is getting irate. What will they do about it? A key member joins us next.


BERMAN: All right, good morning, everyone. John Berman here. Republicans on Capitol Hill may be running out of patience. The White House may be running out of time when it comes to President Trump's claims that he was wiretapped by former President Obama.

In just a few hours, the top Republican and Democrat in the House Intelligence Committee will meet with the media as the panel says it may have to subpoena the Justice Department for proof of the allegations.

Over in the Senate, South Carolina Governor Lindsey Graham, says he may seek a joint select committee to investigate if the FBI doesn't meet a request for evidence that he has asked for of these wiretaps.

All of it as a Monday deadline for the Justice Department to provide that evidence gets closer. Now the --