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White House Apologizes for UK Surveillance Claim; Tillerson: "All Options on the Table" for Noth Korea; Trump Meets with Republicans Study Committee. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 17, 2017 - 10:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: -- predecessor had him wiretapped and his press secretary reading a report from a Fox News commentator, not a reporter, that British spies were somehow involved.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: On Fox News on March 14th, Judge Andrew Napolitano made the following statement, quote, "Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. He didn't use the NSA. He didn't use the CIA. He didn't use the FBI. And he didn't use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ.

What is that? It's the initials for the British intelligence spying agency. This so simply by having two people saying to them the president needs transcripts of conversations involving candidate Trump's conversations, involving President-elect Trump. He's able to get it and there are no American fingerprints on this.


BERMAN: The British say, "no way." And now, two White House officials including Sean Spicer had to apologize overnight. Now, a bit later President Trump could face questions on this. He holds his first news conference since his own evidence-free wiretap claims. He'll be side by side with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel in just a few hours.

A lot going on, we have Jeremy Diamond at the White House. But we're going to begin with Nic Robertson, in London, right now. London -- the UK apparently the recipient of an overnight apology, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, they wanted an apology. They wanted an understanding that this wouldn't happen again. GCHQ Government Communications Headquarters, they very, very rarely if ever make a statement. And they described what you heard Sean Spicer saying that as "ridiculous."

And we've heard from Prime Minister Theresa May's office this morning following up on that. And I'll quote you from what her spokesman said. He uses the same sort of language but here we go. "We've made clear to the administration that these claims are ridiculous and they should be ignored and we've received assurances that these allegations will not be repeated."

That's what the spokesman told CNN, another journalist this morning. Why is this so important to a British Prime Minister Theresa May? Why has it gone under the skin? Britain feels it has a special relationship with the United States. GCHQ has said look, under any circumstances this couldn't happen. We share -- Britain shares with the United States the five I's intelligence operation, if you will, that is, the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. And under that agreement, under the terms of how those intelligence agencies work together, -- they cannot use the other to break the laws of their own country or go around, circumvent the laws of their own country.

So, for the British Prime Minister, she's invested political capital with Donald Trump, making sure she was the first overseas -- world leader to come and visit him. She's fighting on several fronts at home trying to get Britain out of the European Union and trying to stop Scotland getting itself out of Britain. She doesn't need this distraction. The putdown is very strong and that's because the hurt was felt here quite deeply. John?

BERMAN: All right, Nic Robertson for us in London. At the White House, we have Jeremy Diamond. And Jeremy, something highly unusual from this White House overnight, not just one apology, but two.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, John, what we're hearing right now is that H.R. McMaster, the national security adviser to the president and Press Secretary Sean Spicer apologized to their British counterparts over Spicer's remarks yesterday when he read out loud this comment from a Fox News commentator which turns out to be completely false, which was that GCHQ, the British intelligence service, had wiretapped Trump Tower.

The British, as Nic just reported, are firmly pushing back on that. And so the White House is learning here that their words cannot just have political consequences but diplomatic ones as well. You know, this is not the first time that Spicer has put his foot in his mouth, so to speak, with regards to defending the president's comments here about wiretapping.

But now, it provoked what is essentially an international incident. And while this one is one with a very friendly power, one of the U.S.'s closest ally. In the future, this could be an incident with a different country perhaps one less friendly and we would see a very different scenario playing out.

BERMAN: For more about this. I'm joined by Jackie Kucinich, CNN political analyst, Washington Bureau Chief for "The Daily Beast," also with us, Alice Stewart, CNN political commentator, a Republican Strategist, she was a communications director for Ted Cruz for a while and Patti Solis Doyle, CNN political commentator and 2008 presidential campaign manager for Hillary Clinton.

Alice Stewart, I want to start with you because you know, now it's gone just beyond Republicans and Democrats essentially saying they have a problem with the president's story of being wiretapped by President Obama. But now you have another country, now it has gone beyond U.S. borders. How big of a problem is that for this White House?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's a big concern. Look, this started out from the very beginning, when the first tweet came out. It was a credibility problem. There was no evidence to back this up. And as more and more members of the House and Senate Intel Committees have come out and say they don't see any evidence to back this up.

[10:05:03] It goes against his credibility. And then it came into the phase of it's a political problem. And as Jeremy pointed out, now that it's across the pond, it's a diplomatic problem, and that's a concern. And as the UK spokesman has pointed out, the comments that were repeated yesterday by Sean Spicer, who I have great and tremendous deal of respect for, the comments were simply unfounded. And as the UK spokesman said, "it was ridiculous and should be ignored."

And that's not the kind of thing we need to be talking about with regard to anything that comes out of a White House briefing room. I think the entire tweet story line has been a colossal waste of time. We've got a budget that's just been rolled out. We've got health care we need to iron out. And these are the issues that we need to be focusing our time and attention on. And unfortunately, we're dealing with unforced errors by this administration. I think, hopefully, they'll get back on track and talk about these issues that are of top concern to Americans.

BERMAN: You say unforced errors. It was the president who initially said it. He wrote it on Twitter. It was Sean Spicer who read that stuff aloud. They are the ones who keep on fueling this fire and fueling the outrage now from Great Britain.

Jackie Kucinich, there had been those who noted there were two apologies overnight to Great Britain from the White House on this, yet no apologies from the president or the press secretary or anyone in the administration for accusing President Obama of wiretapping Donald Trump. Do you expect that this White House will ever, in fact, back off those statements?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST AND WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF "THE DAILY BEAST": It certainly doesn't seem to be going in that direction. Because Alice is absolutely right, this is a problem of their own making. If Donald Trump had not tweeted what, two weeks ago now, about Obama allegedly wiretapping him, we wouldn't even be having this conversation -- about, you know, them insulting Great Britain at this point.

I mean, this has gone so out of a -- this is blown so out of proportion. It's really quite extraordinary. But no, they have had the ability to go back and they keep just digging themselves deeper into this problem, and to what end? They're using political capital on something that is not real, when they should be using it, when they should be holding this, because -- he doesn't have it forever, right? It is a finite amount of power that Donald Trump has, to get things through legislatively. And yet, he's using it on this rather than health care and the budget, as Alice said.

BERMAN: You know, Patti Solis Doyle, one of the key figures over the next few days on this story will be the FBI Director James Comey, who will testify in public to the House Intelligence Committee. And the FBI director, you know, -- is a man now with some baggage. I think particularly when it comes to Democrats who look at him and hold him responsible, Democrats do partially for what happened in the election with his letters to Congress about Hillary Clinton and the like. As a Democrat, what will you be looking for from the FBI director on Monday?

PATTI SOLIS DOLYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND FORMER HILLARY CLINTON 2008 PRESIDENTIAL MANAGER: Integrity, John, plain and simple. I expect that the FBI director will be honest and direct and forthcoming about where he is in this investigation. And let's go back a couple of weeks. Both, you know, Alice and Jackie said this tweet storm started two weeks ago because of Jeff Sessions basically having to recuse himself from any investigation having to do with Russians and the Trump campaign and collusion thereof.

This president has an arsenal of weapons of mass distraction. And that's what happened. He wanted people to stop talking about Jeff Sessions and the Russians and the Trump campaign and collusion. So, he set off these series of tweets basically accusing his predecessor of a felony and calling him a sick man.

At what cost, though? Certainly, we're not talking about Jeff Sessions having to recuse himself anymore, so the distraction worked but at what cost, at the credibility of his presidency, at the credibility of the United States. Now, you know, we are having to apologize to the UK. It's getting a little out of hand.

BERMAN: And Jackie, I still can't get my arms around what Monday is going to look like with the FBI director and a number of other U.S. officials facing questions under oath from both Republicans and Democrats about this whole thing. Where everything we've been told by all of them is that there is no evidence. It's just going to be such a stark contrast to the public comments coming from the White House and the president.

KUCINICH: And this is broader. This hearing is about Russian hacking into the U.S. election. So it's not just going to be dealing with this wiretapping issue. That said that's where the focus is certainly going to be going into it. And this potentially could be very embarrassing for the White House, because we've -- I've read on back ground, of course, that this is what Comey has been saying privately, that this is not true. But that's very different than having the director of the FBI under oath telling Congress that the president is wrong. And how the White House chooses to deal with that will be definitely something I know we'll all be watching.

[10:10:05] BERMAN: A couple of questions on health care. Alice Stewart, we just had Ken Buck from Colorado, a congressman who's leaning "no" right now on the plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, but says maybe he can get a "yes" if there are a couple of changes adding a work requirement for some Medicaid recipients, also dealing this - basically, the idea of putting up a separate bill to deal with some Republican concerns there. Do you think, Alice, that that will be enough to get this through?

STEWART: They're going to have to add some concessions to the bill that's currently on the table. And we know that members of the Freedom Caucus are working behind the scenes to get some things added specifically with a more swift repeal of the Medicaid expansion. I know that Mark Meadows who's working hard, Senator Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Mike Lee and others are working to make sure that this includes the promises that they made to the American people.

Look, for the last four elections, they have campaigned on repealing and replacing Obamacare. And not just putting out something that will repeal it. It has to be replaced and they don't see this as strong enough. And that is what they're going to do because they campaigned on this and they're up for reelection soon. And they have to make good on the promises to the people. I think we'll see a lot more changes to the plan that's on the table right now.

So, I think we're going to see a lot more changes to the plan that's on the table right now. And I know that President Trump is also working to make the changes necessary because a lot is riding on this for him, as well as for members of Congress. So we're going to see significant changes before it gets out of the House. And I do believe we'll see some amendments once it gets over to the Senate.

BERMAN: You know, Patti, I was reminded by something Mike Allen was writing this morning. Obamacare when it was passed, you know, it wasn't smooth, right? I mean, there were a number of times during the months-long process that it looked like that the bill, whatever formation it was at the time, would go down. Yet it did ultimately pass. Is that what might happen here, that right now we have 22 - CNN is counting 22 votes against it or leaning against it in the House of Representatives, which would be enough to block it. But, you know, will this change enough to get through based on what we know from history?

DOYLE: Look, this is a -- health care, as we know, is very complicated. And it's tough. You know, having gone through it in the early '90s with Hillary Clinton, this is a tough thing to get through, a tough thing to accomplish. President Obama did it with, you know, pure force. A lot of accommodation and I think that's what this president is going to have to do, they're going to have to make a lot of concessions because frankly this is not a good bill.

And so, they're going to have to make concessions in order for it to pass in the House and ultimately for it to pass in the Senate. This is his first big piece of legislation. He needs a win here. And certainly all of this other stuff that's going on with wiretapping and Russians is not helping matters. They need to focus on this piece of legislation and get it passed.

BERMAN: And of course we are waiting to see what those concessions are, what those amendments are. We could learn within the next few minutes because there had been key meetings going on. Jackie Kucinich, Alice Stewart, Patti Solis Doyle, Happy St. Patrick's Day to all of you, you're all wearing green and I'm the one who's Irish and I'm not wearing green. All right, guys, thank you so much.

Still to come -- a potential big development here, CNN now counts 22 House Republicans as a flat "no" or leaning "no" on the Republican Party's plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Can they be moved?

Plus President Trump says North Korea has been playing the United States for years and his Secretary of State now says that all options are on the table, including using military force.

And coming up, President Trump, he holds his first meeting with one of the world's most important leaders. He will take questions from the press. This after the White House forced to apologize overnight to Great Britain over some of the White House wiretap claims.


[10:18:09] BERMAN: Both President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan took part in meetings just in the last hour to try to rally support for the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. As of now, the vote seems very, very tight. According to CNN's latest count, 22 House Republicans say, they will either vote "no" or are leaning in that direction.

It's 22 now because Ken Buck, just moments ago on this show, said he's leaning "no." If 22 Republicans vote against it, this bill is likely to go down. Of course, any of them could change their minds. And that's where Republican leaders are trying to get right now. And administration officials, we did hear from a number of them in just the last few minutes. CNN's Sunlen Serfaty is on Capitol Hill with the very latest. Sunlen?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. It was interesting to see Secretary Price up here earlier this morning on Capitol Hill. He really seemed to take pains to avoid delving into any of the politics of this. As he knows that this bill right here up on Capitol Hill is on very shaky ground in its current form.

And he did appear with some Republican leadership who today really took pains to try to project a sense of unity, of momentum, even as they watch a lot of these numbers from members of their own Republican Caucus tick up with people who are criticizing the bill, saying they're leaning against voting for the bill and some flat out saying they will not vote for the bill in the current form. As you, the latest -- Representative Ken Buck this morning, he says he cannot get behind this bill in its current form. But here is a little optimism, a little hope from Cathy McMorris Rodgers.


REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R), WASHINGTON: Republicans are united. We are united in our goal to repeal and replace Obamacare. And we've been working on this for years. We believe that there is a better way than what was the top-down government takeover of our health care. And that's what we've been working on for years.

We're now working on the specific legislation. And it's been a very open, transparent process every step of the way. But we're on track. We're on track to bring this bill to the Rules Committee early next week and onto the floor.


[10:20:07] SERFATY: So she right there is really preaching unity, but I have to say, I was just over on the other side of Capitol Hill, on the House side, that is a very important meeting that's going on right now behind closed doors. You had members flying into the room, closed door session with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. They will be going over right now what changes, what amendments potentially could be made to this bill to make it more amenable.

And as we've been talking about in recent days, John, you know this is such a big balancing act that they have to essentially walk, wanting to get more conservatives to vote for this bill but not making enough changes to alienate those moderates. So that's what they're going through the nitty-gritty right now, potentially to move forward on this in the Rules Committee potentially Wednesday of next week, John.

BERMAN: All right, Sunlen Serfaty for us on Capitol Hill. Thanks so much Sunlen. Have a great weekend. I want to discuss this now with a Republican Congressman Jason Lewis of Minnesota. He is a member of the House Budget Committee, which means Congressman, you actually already got to vote on this bill and you were a "yes" vote in the Budget Committee on the current plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Are you a committed "yes" vote going forward?

REP. JASON LEWIS (R), MINNESOTA AND BUDGET COMMITTEE: Well, I think there are going to be some changes going forward, John, and that's a good thing, it will make the bill better. I voted for a couple of motions to instruct the chair on some of these changes, some amendments we'll see out of rules, probably. And that's good, make the bill better. But look, Minnesota's exchanges are dying.

I mean, we've had 55 to 67 percent premium increases, blue cross and blue shield drop 100,000 people in Minnesota. The Democratic governor of Minnesota says the Affordable Care Act is no longer affordable. The Commerce commissioner calls it an emergency situation.

And finally John, the State of Minnesota had to pass a $310 million emergency bailout for people subscribing to the exchanges just to keep them in. So this is a dire moment for the health insurance markets. So we've got to stop that. And I think this bill goes a long way towards that.

BERMAN: I wish my co-anchor Poppy Harlow here with me this morning. She's a Minnesota native. She could get into it with you on the back and forth of the facts in Minnesota.

I do want to ask you specifically, because -- Ken Buck of Colorado mentioned two specific changes he would like to see. He is a "no" vote right now. But he could get to "yes" he says if you provide a work requirement for some of the people on Medicaid going forward. And also, he wants to see with a number of Republicans told me they want to see is a whole separate bill going out next week which deals with some of the other things that many people want to see in the repeal and reform. Is that something you could support?

LEWIS: Well, I would love to support that. I've said all along, I think a number of bills are quite good. You've got Tom Price's bill, you've got the American Health Care Act. You've got Rand Paul's bill over in the Senate. All of those are good. The question is what you can get done with 60 votes versus 51 votes. We're starting with reconciliation because we can get the ball rolling that way.

And I think it's a little odd to say, gosh, we have to do it all at once, and I'm certain the Senate will give 60 votes right now in one day. But if wait a month to add the bind across state lines or undoing the essential wellness benefit, which drive up the cost in premiums. If we wait a month why then we can't possibly get 60 votes. I'm not certain of the reasoning there.

BERMAN: 24 million Americans could be without insurance, 24 million Americans in ten years based on the Congressional Budget Office report. Is that a concern to you?

LEWIS: Of course it's a concern. But remember, the CBO report just did this first bucket reconciliation. When we get those follow-on bills, when Dr. Price does what he can at HHS, I think that's going to change. I would also remind you that CBO also overestimated by about 10 million the number of people that would buy insurance under Obamacare.

But look, the bottom line, John, is this. If you've got a mandate that says you've got to buy the kind of plan the government wants you to buy on a government exchange and you undo that mandate and 14 million people say oh, without the mandate I'm not going to buy it, it doesn't sound to me like a product they really want.

BERMAN: It's not all the people. The full 24 million includes some people who will choose not to be on it that the CBO did say, but includes many more who will lose because of Medicaid, who will be priced out as well. So I do appreciate your point there tough, it does includes some -

LEWIS: And I lost three plans on the individual market under Obamacare in Minnesota. There are people losing plans right and left, a thousand counties with one insurer, John. Those people are losing plans.

BERMAN: Look that is true. But again, premiums were rising before Obamacare. They rose during Obamacare. There were few options for some people before Obamacare and during Obamacare. Health care has been a problem for a long, long time, period. Full stop on that and I'm glad we agree on that. Let me ask you something that just happened overnight.

LEWIS: That's why by the way the American Health Care Act goes back beyond the Affordable Care Act and reforms health care tax undoing the mandates, going all the way back to World War II, wage and price control. This is global health care reform. It's not just undoing Obamacare.

BERMAN: All right, Congressman Jason Lewis from Minnesota, thank you so much for being with us this morning. You're my second favorite Minnesotan today after Poppy Harlow who's not here with me. Appreciate it.

[10:25:03] LEWIS: My pleasure, John.

BERMAN: All right, coming up for us. We are getting word President Trump just met with key Republicans, some of whom have been on the fence on this Health Care Bill we were just talking to Congressman Lewis about. What did he say to try to win them over? And did he announce any possible changes to this bill. We'll have that, next.


BERMAN: All right, President Trump, meeting at the White House just in the last few minutes with key Republicans who will vote ultimately on the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. The group he's meeting with, he says some of them were leaning "no" before. He's trying to convince them to get to "yes." What did he say to them in this meeting and did it work to get these key votes? We're going to get to that as soon as we get that tape.

In the meantime tough, I want to go to South Korea right now, where Alexandra Field is there. Because we did just get a major development in the U.S. relationship with South Korea and the posture toward North Korea, the Secretary of State now saying, the military option is on the table in dealing with the North. Alexandra?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is an incredibly significant response from the Secretary of State who said that after arriving in Seoul following a visit to the border between North Korea and South Korea. We know that North Korea has accelerated their missile program. They've advanced their nuclear ambitions here.

The Secretary of State has now said that the security concerns posed by North Korea are not just a regional problem. They're a major concern for the U.S. as well. And he is calling for an entirely new policy toward North Korea. I asked if there's anything that can truly be described as an entirely new or different approach to North Korea that does not include some type of military option or the possibility of one. And here is how he responded to that question.

BERMAN: All right, one second, Alexandra. We're going to go to the White House now and listen to what President Trump said to these Republicans.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we had a nice meeting. We've been talking all during the night. This didn't just happen over the last 20 minutes. This has been going all night long. And we are doing some incredible things. I want everyone to know I'm 100 percent behind this. I want everybody to know that the press has not been speaking properly about how great this is going to be. They have not been giving it a fair press.

The press is - well, as you know, in many cases, I call it the fake news. It's fake news. This is going to be great for people. I watch, I say that's not the bill we're passing. And I also want everyone to know that all of these noes or potentially noes are all yeses. Every single person sitting in this room is now a yes. And we've made certain changes. And frankly, very little, although the block grant is very important, because I want the states to get the money and run their program if they want to run it because they could do it better than the federal government. They're better equipped than the federal government.

I also want people to know that Obamacare is dead. It's a dead health care plan. It's not even a health care plan, frankly. And I watched the architect of the plan yesterday. I watched the old clip where he said the American people are stupid to have voted for it. I watched Bill Clinton saying, this is the craziest thing I've ever seen. And only because everyone knows it's on its last dying feet, the fake news is trying to say good things about it, OK? Fake media. And there is no good news about Obamacare. Obamacare is dead. And unless we gave it massive subsidies in a year from now or six months from now, it's not even going to be here. When they say, oh, more people are on the plan, there's not going to be any people on the plan.

I was in Tennessee, I was telling the folks, and half of the state has no insurance company and the other half is going to lose the insurance company. The people don't know what to do. It's a disaster. Obamacare is dead, nothing to do with these people, nothing to do with me.