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Tillerson Claims 20 Years of North Korean Policy a Failure; Dina Powell to be Named Deputy National Security Adviser; Interview with Senator Patrick Leahy; Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 16, 2017 - 10:30   ET


[10:30:17] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. John Berman here.

New this morning, CNN has learned that U.S. intelligence and the Defense Department expect North Korea to start a new round of nuclear and missile testing any day now. And this news comes as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, he is in Tokyo right now on his first major trip to Asia.

CNN senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski at the State Department for us.

And Michelle, this news about North Korea, these imminent nuclear tests coming on the very day when the secretary of State says the U.S. need to seriously reevaluate its North Korea policy.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: : They are looking new ways of dealing with the situation. So he's saying that the policy that's been in place for a long time is basically failing. You can look at that from two ways. I mean, the good news lately is that just in the last year, the international community came together through the U.N., including China, which the U.S. has long felt hasn't done enough to pressure North Korea, and they instituted these unprecedented sanctions against North Korea. So that shows unity there, it shows a willingness to punish North Korea for its nuclear advancements. The bad news, of course, is it really hasn't been working.

Here is what some of what Tillerson said on his trip.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, I'm not going to speak to, you know -- I mean, it's -- I mean, look, we can dissect, you know, the cross- section of U.S. media.


KOSINSKI: OK, sorry, guys, that was the wrong -- the wrong sound bite there. But Rex Tillerson, while he's in Japan, he came out during this press availability and said, look, you know, this policy is not working. It is a failing policy that's been there for 20 years and it's time to do something more. I think what everybody wants to know is, what does that mean? What does the U.S. want to change? How is it going to raise the level of pressure on North Korea to the point that it actually will change behavior?

He didn't want to go into any detail but we know from other sources that it could mean things like putting additional pressure on China, maybe sanctioning Chinese companies that do business with North Korea still, possibly treating the problem more as a global threat, really, not just a regional threat, which is how China tends to see the North Korea problem. So you have to deal with North Korea, and everyone who is threatened by it. But you also have to maintain that relationship with China. That's where it gets very tricky -- John.

BERMAN: And Michelle, you know, the secretary of State oversees traveling on behalf of the State Department on a day when the president says he wants to cut funding to the State Department.

KOSINSKI: Right. Yes, I mean, the funding, we know that it's an enormous cut to the State Department's budget, It's going to be like 37 percent. Then when you look at other programs like USAID, U.N. programs are expected to be cut by 50 percent, this has raised a lot of consternation among all kinds of people, including members of the military, writing a letter about the need to keep funding for those kind of State Department programs.

You know, it's called soft power, spreading U.S. democracy and values and influence around the world, aside from military power. It's viewed as very important. But Tillerson in response to a question about it said that, you know, he wants to really look at, since the State Department has been at a record level of funding, he wants to make it more efficient. He said that literally on his first day in his position.

But we also know that he wants to try to preserve as much as he feels is necessary. How this will all turn out in the end, that's what we'll have to see, John.

BERMAN: All right. Michelle Kosinski for us at the State Department. Thanks so much, Michelle.

We're getting word this morning that a top adviser to President Trump is changing jobs. Dina Powell is expected to be named deputy national security adviser. This is according to a senior administration official. Powell currently serves as senior counselor for Economic Initiatives.

Want to bring in CNN's senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns.

Dina Powell, you know, respected -- highly respected across bipartisan circles in a lot of different fields -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's absolutely right. And put this under the heading of the president and the National Security adviser HR McMaster trying to bolster the National Security team.

Dina Powell does have that role now as economic adviser. Also closely associated with the president's daughter, Ivanka Trump. And Dina also is a former Goldman Sachs executive. But she also has chops right here in Washington, D.C., going all the way back to the George W. Bush administration, where at the State Department, for a period, she's an Arabic speaker, she's an Egyptian American, well-known in Washington.

[10:35:04] And the administration sort of rolled her out in public just this last week. When the deputy crown prince of Saudi Arabia was here visiting with the president, she was in the room also. So they are hoping she can help HR McMaster. He is being positioned as very on board with Dina Powell coming in and making this move on the National Security team -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Joe Johns for us in the White House. Thanks so much for that update, Joe, appreciate it.

The FBI director briefed the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee about President Trump's claims of being wiretapped. I'm going to speak to a key member of that committee, coming up.


[10:40:07] BERMAN: All right. You're looking at pictures from just a few seconds ago, President Trump greeting the prime minister of Ireland, Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach of Ireland -- you can tweet me if I'm saying that wrong, but it means prime minister -- here to visit for St. Patrick's Day, which of course is tomorrow.

This is a visit that happens every year. The prime minister and the president will sit down. They will enjoy a lunch together. And then the prime minister will head back to Ireland. This is the prime minister's last trip as the leader of the Irish government to the United States. He is stepping down not long from now, but it is always a nice visit. So that is going on right now. We'll bring you any news if they make it.

In the meantime, Democrats and Republicans now say there is no proof to back up the president's claim that he was wiretapped by former president Obama. So where exactly did President Trump get that information? This is what he said overnight.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've been reading about things. I read in -- I think it was January 20th, a "New York Times" article, where they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article -- I think they used that exact term.

I read other things. I watched your friend Bret Baier the day previous where he was talking about certain very complex sets of things happening and wiretapping.

I said, wait a minute, there's a lot of wiretapping being talked about. I've been seeing a lot of things. Now for the most part I'm not going to discuss it because we have it before the committee, and we will be submitting things before the committee very soon that hasn't been submitted as of yet.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BERMAN: All right. FBI director James Comey, he briefed the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee just yesterday on all of this.

Joining me now is Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, he is on the Judiciary Committee.

Senator, thanks so much for being with us.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Happy to be with you. And also you pronounced Taoiseach correctly.

BERMAN: Well, that's great. That's an upset victory right there, Senator. Thank you for hat. And happy --


BERMAN: Happy St. Patrick's Day to you.

LEAHY: I'm having lunch with both he and the president this noon so we'll make sure we get the term correct.

BERMAN: Fantastic. Have a great lunch. In the meantime, yesterday Dianne Feinstein, the Ranking Member of your committee and the chair of the committee, Chuck Grassley, met with FBI Director James Comey. Senator Feinstein said this briefing was all on sensitive matters, highly classified.

Are you satisfied now, Senator, that the FBI is providing the information that your committee is seeking on the president's claims that he was wiretapped by former President Obama?

LEAHY: I am satisfied that President Trump was never wiretapped by former President Obama. It's a terrible thing for him to say. He ought to have apologized to the American public. He ought to have apologized to President Obama for not telling the truth.

You know, this idea that President Obama could have personally ordered a wiretap, I don't know why President Trump makes these outlandish statements. He knows they're not true. He knows he's not telling the truth when he says that. He ought to apologize. It makes you wonder what it is he wants to distract the American people from.

BERMAN: He gave a new explanation overnight, President Trump did, about this. He said, "When I say wiretapping, those words were in quotes, and that really covers it because wiretapping is pretty old- fashioned. It covers surveillance and many other things."

Is that a satisfactory explanation?

LEAHY: Of course not. And for him to say, I read something or I heard somebody on FOX News say something which made me think I had -- this is the president of the United States. He has access to all the intelligence in this country. He knows it's not true. He knows that President Obama did not spy on him. He knows in fact that as president he would not have the power to do that on an individual American. So I don't know what it is he wants to distract us from. Unless, well, we've seen he set up Trumpcare which takes millions of Americans, including some of his best supporters, off health care.

He's now sent us a -- says he's sending us a budget which would cut a lot of needed programs in the United States, from LIHEAP to infrastructure. He would cut out security at our embassies, even thee they tried to make a big thing about Benghazi. It's almost don't look at the man behind the screen, it's that kind of strange behavior.

BERMAN: Look, there is no evidence, we have been told by you, by Republicans and others, that President Obama ordered the wiretapping of President Trump. But you get Trump allies who say, yes, but there was surveillance that maybe it picked up Trump associates.

[10:45:09] Now I know that is not what President Trump --


BERMAN: I know that is not what President Trump initially claimed. That is not what he claimed in those tweets. You know full stop right there. But is it a fair question to ask what was picked up in that surveillance and how does it relate to anyone connected to Donald Trump?

LEAHY: Well, then the question is, was anybody connected with Donald Trump breaking the law? Where they doing things with, say, the Russians that broke the law? And if they were, what were they doing? That's a lot different than what President Trump claimed.

BERMAN: But --

LEAHY: Now let's -- you know, every time he gets pushed back on a claim and is shown that what he says wasn't true, he said, well, what we really meant was, or you have his press secretary going, air quotes, air quotes, air quotes. That's not the way to run the presidency.

BERMAN: All right, Senator Leahy, we just got breaking news, the House Budget Committee over on the other side of Capitol Hill just voted to advance the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. So it got through another committee. We are about to hear from Speaker Paul Ryan any minute right now. And we're expecting the speaker maybe will offer up some changes to this Republican plan.

LEAHY: I don't know. We have -- we have Trumpcare, which has passed the House committees on a party line vote. Trumpcare did not have a single hearing, a single public hearing, unlike the Affordable Care Act, as they call it, Obamacare, which had dozens and dozens of hearing. In fact your network covered a lot of them.

So now we have Trumpcare passing on a Republican Party line vote. But I think at some point somebody is going to say, what do you mean? You just took away my health insurance, you just took away the ability for my spouse who has a debilitating illness to get the care they need to stay alive. That's going to raise some real questions, but what is in Trumpcare?

BERMAN: All right, Senator Patrick Leahy from Vermont, thanks so much for being with us. Happy St. Patrick's Day, early, sir.

LEAHY: Happy St. Patrick's Day to you, too.

BERMAN: All right. Coming up, any minute for us, House Speaker Paul Ryan, he will hold a news conference, no doubt he will speak about the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. The big question is, will he announce what changes he's willing to make to get this bill which is very much in jeopardy through the House of Representatives?


[10:50:15] BERMAN: Live right now, he's talking about St. Patrick's Day right now, but any minute we expect him to tell us maybe what changes he's willing to make to the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Very much in jeopardy. Let's listen.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: And knowing me, some fairly lame jokes. Today, though, the House Budget Committee took up the American Health Care Act. It is the third committee to debate this bill as part of our ongoing open and transparent regular order process.

We look forward to strong support there, putting us another step closer toward keeping our promise, keeping our promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. From there, the bill will go to a fourth committee before it goes to the House floor.

Lastly, as we have said from the start, repeal and replace will be a step-by-step approach. That is why yesterday the majority leader announced that the House will be -- will begin considering additional legislation. These include reforms like eliminating the antitrust protections that create more competition. This will help make sure that people are not left with few or no choices like we're seeing across the country, allowing small businesses to pool together across the country, giving our small businesses more purchasing power so that they will have more choices and lower costs and they'll be able to harness the power of bulk buying like large companies do.

Medical malpractice reform that helps prevent abusive lawsuits. It helps cut down on defensive medicine, which is another way we can lower costs and increase choices. These are just a few of the ideas and these are ideas that we strongly believe in. They were part of our better way plan. But we know that we cannot advance all of them through the reconciliation process. That is why we are acting on these reforms separately but also immediately concurrently.

We're not going to wait on these things. So you all remember the slide from last week. First, we pass our bill to repeal Obamacare's taxes, mandates, and spending. And we replace all that with reforms that build a better patient centered market-based system. Second, Secretary Tom Price will take administrative actions to help lower costs and increase consumer choices and restore market freedoms and states' rights. Third, we pass additional reforms, as I just mentioned and there are others behind that, to further lower costs and increase choices for families.

We're very pleased with where we are because we are on track and on schedule with where we have been intending to being this whole time. We've made a promise. We've made a promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. We're going to keep our promise to the people that elected us. Questions. Manu.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Speaker, last night on FOX News, President Trump suggested that his assertion that President Obama wiretapped him -was -

PAUL: I thought you were going to ask me an Obamacare question.

RAJU: Well, this is -- you know, this is something the president, the White House has had to deal with. The president suggested that this was based off of press reports, his accusation is based on press reports. Are you comfortable with the president making an assertion like that based off press reports and frankly, do you believe that he was wiretapped?

PAUL: Well, I've already answered the question about whether the wiretap occurred. And I think Devin Nunes and Adam Schiff answered that question pretty clearly. I saw the same -- I got the same briefing with them on that as well. But after we heard about this, we did see a number of press reports that made this allegation, that made this suggestion. So yes, those press reports did exist.

Frankly, I didn't know about it until I think Bret Baier asked me about it. So this is something that I was unaware of until we did see a few press reports on this. But the point is, the intelligence committees in their continuing, widening, ongoing investigation on all things Russia, got to the bottom, at least so far, with respect to our intelligence community, that no such wiretap existed.

RAJU: Do you believe the president, though, when he says -- do you believe the president when he says he's been wiretapped --

PAUL: I didn't see the interview.

RAJU: When he says that he was -- when he says that President Obama ordered wiretap on Trump Tower? Do you believe --

PAUL: No, that's what I said. We've cleared that up, that we we've no evidence of that. Thank you.


PAUL: So end of the fiscal year, we're at the BCA cap level. So I don't see a big issue there. We just got the president's budget submission just this morning. So this is the beginning of that step. What I'm encouraged by is the notion that we're going to begin rebuilding our military which is something we're all very worried about, the hollowing out of our military, it's something that we believe in fixing. And so they just got this process started. So this is a long, ongoing process. This is the very beginning of the budget process. And no, I'm not worried about the end of the year. August 28th is where the funding lapses.

[10:55:03] I'm not concerned about that. I think we'll hit our benchmarks.


PAUL: This is news?



PAUL: Great. We are. I just spoke with the president about a half hour ago. I speak with the president pretty much every single day. I spoke to him twice yesterday. So we are clearly in sync on this. We're working very hand in glove on this, and the president's team. So we're working extremely closely.

I've got to tell you, I am very pleased and very excited, and I've got to tell you, it's something I hadn't seen in a long time. This president is getting deeply involved. He is helping bridge gaps in our conference. He is a constructive force to help us get to a resolution so that we get consensus on how to repeal and replace Obamacare.

It's been very helpful. And so we're working hand in glove, listening to the concerns of our members. As you know, now that we have our score, we can start making improvements and refinements. Clearly the main part of this bill are going to stay exactly as they are. But we're making those improvements and refinements based upon the feedback we're getting from our members. And the president of the United States is the one who's been mediating this. The president of the United States is the one who's bringing people together, sitting around a table, hashing out our differences so that we can get to a consensus document.

The goal here is get to a bill that can pass, that we can pass, and that actually is great policy. And the president is playing a very constructive role on this and literally hand in glove, every day we talk, we compare notes. Our teams are fused and working together. And I'm very excited about that.


PAUL: Yes. He's unorthodox in ways -- of course he's unorthodox, and it's actually very constructive in many, many ways.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE). Is it more likely you'll pass a bill if he's unorthodox? And in what way --


PAUL: No, he -- what I just said is, he is making it easier and better for us to pass health care. The president, his involvement and his engagement, his listening and his negotiating skills are bringing people together so that we can pass a bill. So we have a bill that we can get pass, get consensus on, and make good on our promises.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE), the fact that he tweets, the fact that he might bring up something about alleged wiretapping, is all of that unorthodox?

PAUL: Sure, it's unorthodox. I think what the president -- here's what I see with the president. Did you see him yesterday in Detroit, in Tennessee? The president has a connection with individuals in this country. He goes -- no offense, but he goes around the media and connects with people specifically and individually.

This is a power that we haven't seen since Ronald Reagan. And so what this president is showing is that he knows how to connect directly with people. That helps us bridge gaps in Congress and get Republicans unified so we can deliver on our promises. And that is extremely constructive. Carrie?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Just to follow up, the past few weeks, months, we do hear about what palace intrigue going on between you and the president. How often do you and Donald Trump address a lot of these reports that there is constant tension going on between both of you?

PAUL: Yes, there really isn't.


PAUL: I would say that there is no intrigue, palace intrigue divisions between the principals. I can't speak for low-level staffers. I can't speak for outside groups. But the principals, the chief of staff, the vice president, the budget director, the HHS secretary, the president himself, we're all on the same page. We talk constantly. Our teams are working together. So there really is no schism whatsoever. And of course you're going to have this chattering class stuff. That's just kind of happens in this day and age.

It's something that, A, isn't true, B, isn't intimidating or daunting to us in any way, shape whatsoever. I'm excited with the fact that we have a president that likes closing dealings. We got a president who thinks bold, thinks big, wants to act, and wants to get us to the finish line and he is being very constructive in doing that.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You've been arguing that your plan is going to inspire people to buy coverage because the premiums are going to be so much lower. But the CBO actually says they're going to go up. They just won't go up as quickly as premiums under Obamacare.

PAUL: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: So how many people do you really think are going to be --

PAUL: Yes, so the market stabilization in the interim, remember we said we're not going to pull the rug out from under people. We're not just going to just end it tomorrow and nobody has anything. It will take time for markets to stand themselves up and offer new products in the new deregulated free market setting. So what CBO is saying is, not only are you going to be stabilizing the market in the meantime, you're not going to have catastrophic double-digit increases again. You're bringing those down. When -- just wait. When your reforms kick in, premiums go down. And this is before we

get to phase two or phase three. The CBO estimate, which shows that our reforms, when they kick in, bring premiums down, but more importantly, CBO ignores, because they can't score what Tom Price is going to do to further bring market competition and freedom, bring prices down. So we're very confident that this bill, which already shows will lower premiums, combine with the things that Price will do and also state-based --