Return to Transcripts main page


Graham: "No Idea" if FBI Responds Today on Russia Info; More GOP Lawmakers Reject Obamacare Repeal Plan; Tensions high on Capitol Hill over Health Care; Russians Ridicule U.S. on Possible Trump Ties. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 15, 2017 - 10:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, we don't have that evidence yet. And getting back to the FBI Director, there appears to be some confusion up on Capitol Hill. Last night, we heard from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse from Rhode Island, a Democrat, who said that he was receiving assurances from the FBI Director James Comey that he was going to get some kind of answer one way or the other today, as to whether or not the Trump campaign is under investigation in the FBI about its ties to Russia.

But Senator Lindsey Graham is now telling our Kate Bolduan - our colleague Kate Bolduan, that no, he has not received any assurances from the FBI Director on this. Listen to what Senator Graham had to say earlier this morning about all of this here on CNN. Here is what he had to say.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: 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.


ACOSTA: Senator Graham is holding a subcommittee hearing later on this morning, trying to get to the bottom of what Russia tries to do to undermine elections in western democracies, sort of like what they did here in the United States, John. But yesterday, you're right, in the White House briefing room I tried to press the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer as to whether or not they had any evidence that the president was wiretapped by former President Barack Obama.

Of course, the House Intelligence Committee has been demanding that information. They're now giving the White House, the Trump administration, and the Justice Department until Monday to turn over that information. And here is what Sean Spicer had to say as to whether or not they will turn something over. Here is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Get ahead of what they may or may not submit -

QUESTION: It's possible there may be nothing?

SPICER: No, that's not -- at least from where we stand, we know that there's a significant reporting on the subject, that -

QUESTION: Something will be presented?

SPICER: I feel very confident of that.


ACOSTA: And as a matter of fact, Sean Spicer said not only does he feel confident that something will be presented, but he's also saying, John, that he believes once that information is turned over and once these investigative committees look into these -- these Intelligence Committees look into this, that the president will be vindicated after making that claim on Twitter was at 10 or 11 days ago that he was bugged or wiretapped by former President Obama.

By the way, we have not heard anything from the president on that, since he was tweeting this, 10 or 11 days ago. You mentioned that he's going to be out talking to the public today. He's going to be in Michigan, giving a speech there. And then down in Tennessee doing the same thing. I doubt very seriously he'll get into it at those two events. So we may go through today without hearing from the president on that subject as well. John?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: So far it's been an evidence-free zone. And while Sean Spicer says, he is highly confident the administration will turn over that evidence. We have not seen it as of now despite your pressing. Jim Acosta thanks so much for being with us. Appreciate it.

ACOSTA: Sure. You bet.

BERMAN: All right, in just a few minutes, President Trump, he leaves the White House. He goes on a road trip, first to Detroit, as you heard from Jim Acosta, and then this campaign-style rally in Nashville. How hard will he campaign for the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare? How hard does he need to campaign? Maybe very, because many members of his own party appear to be on the fence or maybe already fallen off the fence. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux on Capitol Hill counting the votes right now. Suzanne, what are you hearing?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, he has a very big battle of fight here. There are very few lawmakers who are willing to sign off on this in its current form and its House form that Republicans have come up with. I'll take it from the Democrat, as well as, the Republican side.

On the Republican side here, later today, about 1:00 p.m., we're going to see Senate Republicans, the conservatives, FreedomWorks, hold a rally. We're going to hear from Senator Rand Paul, as well as Ted Cruz. And they're going to be pushing for it, even pushing harder, saying this does not go far enough, it doesn't have big enough changes here. They're calling it Obamacare-lite.

And they're really putting the squeeze on their fellow Republicans in the Senate, the moderates. People like Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska who is not yet ready to sign onto this, because of the damaging CBO score, the report that came out. That said it would be devastating to some poor members and also seniors who would simply not be able to afford to get proper health care.

So my colleague Manu Raju, he actually caught up with the senator yesterday, trying to see if there was some wiggle room or she would be able to support this. And here is how this went down.



MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Do you support the House Health Care Bill?

MURKOWSKI: Would you give me a minute to get to my constituents, please.

RAJU: It's just a yes or no.

MURKOWSKI: Would you please be respectful. I've been sitting there for two hours. Come on.


MALVEAUX: So, John, you can see some frayed nerves there, as people are really under the gun here to see whether or not they're actually going to sign off on this. And the problem she's having and many other Senators, Republicans is really with the rollback of the expansion of Medicaid, which would be a very damaging in her state. And this is what Democrats know and they're taking advantage of.

[10:05:08] We are going to see on the House side, House Democrats are going to be holding a 10:30 a.m. press conference. And they have already revealed their strategy here. They are looking at vulnerable Republicans who have these races in 2018, those Republicans in states where Hillary Clinton won in 2016, in states where they actually have a lot of seniors and they're counting on that Medicaid aid. And finally, where the governors of some states have also decided that they were going to expand the Medicaid, and now that's being rolled back. That's going to be a big problem for them as well, John.

BERMAN: All right, Suzanne Malveaux for us on Capitol Hill, where all the action is, both on health care and on intelligence. What more will we learn today? Let's discuss. With me now, Brian Fallon, CNN political commentator, former press secretary for Hillary for America, Ana Navarro, CNN political commentator, Jeffrey Lord, CNN political commentator and contributing editor at "The American Spectator." Welcome, one and all.

Ana Navarro, look, Sheldon Whitehouse, the Democratic senator from Rhode Island, he says, he believed he would learn at least by 2:30 p.m. today, whether or not there is a criminal investigation by the FBI into these alleged Russian contacts between Trump associates and Russia. Not clear whether he in fact will not clear, even if he does, if it will be made public. Why is it an important answer to get today?

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Because this has been going on for such a long time now. It's a steady drip, drip. I think it erodes trust in the President of the United States. I also think that there are all these different charges flying around. And we have got to get to the bottom of it. You know, as American people, and certainly our legislators and our law enforcement, we cannot lower our standards for what - for how we measure the President of the United States.

This idea that he can be throwing around baseless charges against a former president of a very serious crime with no evidence and offer no proof of it for weeks and weeks is just highly irresponsible. And I think most Americans refuse to lower their standards to say, oh, well, we're not going to take him seriously, when he puts things in quotes, it's not serious, it's not literal? No. He's President of the United States. When you're literally the President of the United States, we're going to take you seriously and we're going to take you literally.

BERMAN: Jeffrey Lord, are you waiting with bated breath to here from the FBI Director?

JEFFREY LORD, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND CONTRIBUTING EDITOR "THE AMERICAN SPECTATOR": Sure. I do think that there should be an investigation on this. But as to the evidence, I mean, I've written an entire column about this going through some of it. I mean, it's been out there in "The Washington Post," in "The New York Times" for months and months. --

BERMAN: You don't know what the FBI Director has. Look, we don't know what evidence he has that we may not --

LORD: No, John -- what we know, I mean, reporting from John Solomon and Sara Carter, he is a former "AP" reporter of 20 years standing and former executive editor I think of "The Washington Times," talking about surveillance, a Trump server, a Trump Tower server there is in of all places in Pennsylvania which is not far from here. I mean, we know that something has been going on here. And all of these intelligence sources have been leaking to the newspapers for months. So we know in fact that there is something going on.

BERMAN: Well, look, what we don't know is that President Obama ordered wiretaps of President Trump as President Trump -- hang on, hang on. I'm not done. There has been no evidence of that provided. Likewise, Jeffrey, we have no evidence or we've seen no evidence or we've heard from intelligence officials that they've seen no evidence of collusion between the Russians and Trump campaign associates. Brian Fallon, to you, I imagine you too would like to see some of this evidence if it exists.

BRIAN FALLON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND FORMER PRESS SECRETARY FOR HILLARY FOR AMERICA: Absolutely. And hey, maybe Jeffrey is right, maybe there is no underlying criminality here, maybe there is no collusion. But there is certainly a lot of smoke here. And if I were the White House, they among all other people should want to get to the bottom of this to try to move past this.

Right now, it's drawing down on his political capital that he needs as he attempts to lobby Republicans on Capitol Hill to support this Trumpcare proposal that's coming under such sharp criticism. The last thing he can afford right now is to have Republicans, members of his own party, like Lindsey Graham going out and questioning him on Russia.

So, he should, of all people want to get to the bottom of this. If I were him I would be encouraging the FBI Director and other members of his administration to cooperate with these inquiries that are being mounted on Capitol Hill. If there's nothing there, let all the facts come out. But I do think that there are more stuff that's coming out every day.

Just the other day, we've learned Roger Stone, close associate of President Trump, admitted to having conversations on social media with the individual that the FBI says was behind the hack of John Podesta's e-mails and the DNC. So that raises troubling questions. Let's get to the bottom of that.

BERMAN: And there are people who want to ask some of those questions. Roger Stone, by the way, admitted to having a back channel with "WikiLeaks" for a long time, very publicly. He does say though, there's no collusion. His claim is there's been no collusion with him and Guccifer or "WikiLeaks" to release the hacked information.

[10:10:01] Brian did provide a Segway to health care, Ana Navarro. Your friend, member of Congress Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Miami, she says she's a no vote now on the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Let me read what she writes. "Too many of my constituents will lose insurance and there will be less funds to help the poor and elderly with their healthcare." Now, you know that if the Republican leadership is losing her, they're in trouble.

NAVARRO: Yes, -- I think it's a very bad signal. Because I can tell you that Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who is my congresswoman and my personal friend, this is not a woman who goes out of her way to be a thorn in leadership's side. On the contrary, she is a team player. She is a loyal soldier. She is a good Republican. She's been in office now for - this is her 14th term. So 28 years.

And when she is saying no, it's because she knows that it's going to mean something very bad for her constituents. Iliana's district, the 27th district of Florida, has got one of the highest enrollments for the ACA. Something like 925,000 people are enrolled and receive subsidies down there.

So it would be -- the effect would be devastating for that district. And Iliana is a good soldier, and a team player up to the point where it hurts her constituents. She has never hesitated in putting her constituents first, whether it's immigration, whether it's health care, whether it's whatever issue. And I think it's what she's doing right now. But if you've got the Freedom Caucus, the far right conservatives, and then you've got the Iliana Ros-Lehtinen of the world saying, we are a no vote. It's a very troubling sign for the future of this Health Care Bill.

BERMAN: Jeffrey Lord, there are some people close to President Trump, Chris Ruddy for one of Newsmax, have basically says, "cut bait." You know, the president should just wash his hands of this, let the Ryan plan, as he calls it, fail, you know, and then maybe let Obamacare fail. That's his strategy there. What do you think of that?

LORD: Well, you know, listening to Ana here, I'm beginning to think that that might be the thing to do. I mean, Obamacare is failing. It is in fact imploding. Insurance companies are backing out. And I'm beginning to think, with all of these problems here with the Ryan plan, et cetera, the best thing is to just step back and let it crash.

And then when it crashes, there will be incentive to do something else, a free market replacement for it. But if we're going to have this kind of problem here, then step back and let Obamacare follow its course. And that's not good for people, but if that's what they want, there they go.

BERMAN: I hope people are making note of this, and now you have Jeffrey Lord, someone who, you know, has the ear of Donald Trump, who certainly listens to what Jeffrey Lord says. Jeffrey Lord, say, maybe this thing isn't worth it. Make a note of that. Brian Fallon, one last question to you. We all lived through last night, the release of two pages of Donald Trump's taxes from 2005. He made a lot of money, $150 million. He paid a lot of taxes, more than $30 million. But Brian Fallon, you say we shouldn't be distracted by this. What do you mean?

FALLON: Well, I think that if Rachel Maddow had been able to obtain, say, the full return from 2005 and we were able to really investigate the true nature of his financial holdings, any connections he may have to foreign governments. Then, maybe that would have been worth spending some time on.

But these top two sheets of the return from one year, a year, no less, in which he actually paid $38 million. I think, actually this is a good report for Donald Trump. The White House should be trumpeting this probably saying, look, I made $150 million. I'm a successful businessman as I claim to be. And I paid $38 million.

So, what are all these Democrats talking about saying I don't pay any taxes. So I actually think that the more Democrats talk about this, the more they're helping Donald Trump by staying focus on health care and all the issues that the Republicans on Capitol Hill are having.

BERMAN: Bryan Fallon, Jeffrey Lord, --

LORD: You can give the White House --

BERMAN: We'll see if that happens. --

FALLON: But I agree with you Jeffrey on cut and bait on this repeal effort. I'm glad you're airing that.

BERMAN: -- It's a big moment, I hope people note this, Jeffrey Lord just ran away from the Trump health care plan. Brian Fallon, Jeffrey Lord, Ana Navarro, thank you all so much. We should note that Speaker Ryan will be on "The Lead" with Jake Tapper. That's today at 4:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN. How will he respond to obviously supports of Donald Trump, maybe starting to move away from his health care notion?

Still to come, the Republican who says that the CBO report on the Health Care Bill might just change the game for him and members of the House Intelligence Committee. They will speak publicly. What is the very latest on that committee's investigation into the alleged contacts between Trump associates and Russia? Stay with us.


[10:18:52] BERMAN: The list of Republican lawmakers who are undecided about the Republican plan to overhaul Obamacare, the list of undecided is growing this morning. New Jersey Republican Congressman Leonard Lance says he will not vote for a bill that has, quote, "no chance of passing in the Senate." He joins me right now. Congressman Lance thanks so much for being with us. Just so we're clear, as it stands right now, with no changes, are you a yes or a no vote on this plan?

REP. LEONARD LANCE (R), NEW JERSEY: I'm leaning no, because I don't think the current bill can pass in the Senate, John. And I want to make sure that the legislation is able to pass in both Houses of Congress. That's the only way obviously, it can reach the president's desk.

BERMAN: So you're voting no or leaning no because you don't think it will pass. What is inside the bill that leads you to believe that it won't pass? What's jumping out at you or what's jumping out from the CBO report?

LANCE: Regarding the CBO report, of course the fact that this might disadvantage those reaching retirement age, those in their 50s and early 60s before reaching medicare age. There has to be a balance between that group and younger people who have not signed up and have chosen to pay the penalty.

[10:20:05] And I think we need to do work in that area. I'm a proponent of the Medicaid expansion and the amendments that we've passed out of the Commerce Committee included that expansion, at least until 2020. And I certainly do not want to move in the other direction in that regard, as some of my colleagues here in the House would prefer to do. New Jersey is one of those states John, that expanded Medicaid.

BERMAN: Sure. So let me ask you, Congressman, let me play you some sound from then-candidate Donald Trump where he flat out says that he won't cut Medicaid. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not going to cut social like every other Republican. I'm not going to cut medicare or Medicaid. Every other Republican is going to cut. And even if they would, they don't know what to do. Because they don't know where the money is, I do.


BERMAN: "I'm not going to cut Medicaid," he said that during the campaign. So if this bill passes as is and he signs he is breaking that promise.

LANCE: I think the president's heart is in the right place. And I certainly think we should work to make sure that the Medicaid expansion could continue. I'm not sure, John, it can continue at a 90 percent reimbursement rate. And that's because the Supreme Court ruled that not all of the states had to expand it. And I think that is a challenge. But I certainly hope that it can continue at least in the states that have expanded it.

BERMAN: But this plan, do think this plan does cut Medicaid?

LANCE: The plan regarding traditional Medicaid moves to a per capita system. That was supported by President Clinton in the 1990s. But I think we should have a healthy discussion regarding that. But I commend the president for making sure that there are no cuts in social security and in medicare. And I hope that we are able to work with the White House in this regard, because we need the support of the White House as well as support here in both Houses of $e federal Congress.

BERMAN: So, Congressman, you of course are from New Jersey, one of the states that did expand Medicaid. You know, and I don't like putting people in ideological boxes, but people could say you're coming from the more moderate wing of the Republican Party. One of the issues when counting votes for this plan is the other side of the party, people who are in the Freedom Caucus, things like that. They are dead set against this for the opposite reason. They say it doesn't go far enough in terms of cuts, it spends too much money. Listen to what Mo Brooks from Alabama told me yesterday.


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


BERMAN: So how do you get what he wants and get what you want and still pass a bill?

I'm not in the Freedom Caucus. I respect the views of all of my colleagues. I hope that we move in the direction I have sucked. And John, I also think the Democrats have to be involved, because the exchanges are failing. I was in a markup for 27 hours last week. We spent 12 hours discussing the name of the bill. I would challenge my Democratic colleagues to come to the plate as well to make sure that there are more choices. In five states there's only one choice for the individual market, one-third of the counties in this country, I know that's not one-third of the people, largely rural counties, But I hope that the Democrats will come to the plate as well. And then moving beyond that I favor of course, purchase of policies across state lines, tort reform, that cannot occur in reconciliation. But I think we should be discussing that as soon as possible.

BERMAN: Do you think the speaker should pull the bill as it stands right now, Congressman?

I think the speaker is doing the best he can, and I think that the bill has to be strengthened, And I hope, and I expect that the president will work with the speaker and with the Senate majority leader and that we should come together on this issue.

BERMAN: Do you think it will pass?

LANCE: I don't think it's going to pass in its current form, because I don't think it would pass in the Senate.

BERMAN: Congressman Leonard Lance from New Jersey, thanks so much for being with us, appreciate it, sir.

LANCE: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: All right, any moment, top lawmakers from the House Intelligence Committee, they are set to speak about their investigation into alleged ties between Trump associates and Russia. What have they learned? What are they willing to tell us? Stay tuned.


[10:28:35] BERMAN: Good morning, everyone, John Berman here. Next hour, the House Intelligence Committee is expected to hold a news conference on its Russia investigation. This comes as Senator Lindsey Graham says he has no idea whether the FBI will respond today to a request for more information on Russia. Let's bring in CNN's senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen in Moscow. Fred, of course everyone dying to know, what's the reaction there from the Russians?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, so far the Russians have been reacting. They've been reacting, the way they've been reacting throughout all of this. They say, look, they had nothing to do with anything related to the U.S. election. And it's been interesting because we've been -- going around Moscow, speaking to analysts and also speaking to regular folks here on the ground.

And they've been saying basically two things. On the one hand, regular folks we've been speaking to are saying, look, we don't believe that our government had anything to do with this. But a line that we keep getting is a lot of people here are quite astounded by the fact that Americans believe that anybody could have interfered in their electoral process.

Many people here obviously feel that the U.S. is such a strong country that it would be impossible for anyone from the outside, to in any way shape or form that intervene in the election process. Maybe even changed the outcome of the election, that's what we've been hearing from a lot of ordinary Russians.

And then, of course, we have the Russian government which in the form of the spokesman of Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Peskov, has come out and basically accused the U.S. or accused many in the U.S. of sparking, what he called "hysteria," saying that all of this wasn't - he called all of this lies and basically, saying there was nothing to Russia meddling in the election in the United States. John?

BERMAN: We have to remember, the --