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Tomorrow: FBI Chief Testifies On Russia, Wiretap Claim; FBI Chief To Testify On Russia Investigation Tomorrow; Monday: FBI's Comey On Russia, Wiretapping Claims; House Intel Chair: "No Evidence Of Collusion"; Gorsuch Confirmation Hearing Begins Tomorrow; Senate Intel Panel Tells Stone To Keep Records; Judge Gorsuch To Testify At Sen. Confirmation Hearing; Dem Threatens Filibuster Of Trump's Pick; GOP Health Care Holdouts Spotted At Mar-a-Lago; House Votes On New Health Care Bill Thursday; The Battle To Repeal And Replace Obamacare; President: Health Care Bill Meetings "Going Well". Aired 8-9p ET

Aired March 19, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining me for spending part of your weekend with us. Up first tonight, counting down to a dramatic day on Capitol Hill, was there collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election? And is there any evidence to support President Trump's still unsubstantiated wiretap claims. Those two questions will be front and center just hours from now when FBI Director James Comey testify for the House Intelligence Committee.

Lawmakers from both parties say they have seen no evidence to support the president's stunning allegation that President Obama wiretapped him during the campaign. And sources say a classified report from the justice department to house and senate investigators also does not confirm that claim, but the president refuses to back down. Let's bring in CNN Washington Correspondent Ryan Nobles and CNN Crime and Justice Reporter Producer Shimon Prokupecz. All right, Ryan, lawmakers are at odds right now over the extent of Russia's meddling in the election but they do seem to be on the same page on the wiretap allegations, don't they?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's true, Ana. And if we're looking for a moment of clarity in this hearing tomorrow, it could be on that exact topic. FBI Director James Comey perhaps given the opportunity to definitely say that no one's been able to find any evidence to back up the president's claim and he wouldn't be alone in making that claim. Listen to this combination both republican and democratic lawmakers today on the Sunday talk shows addressing that very topic.


REP. DEVIN NUNES, CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Was there a physical wiretap of Trump Tower? But, no, there never was?


have not seen any evidence of the like that you just describe.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Did you know of any evidence to support that allegation?

SEN. TOM COTTON, (R) ARKANSAS: Jake, not that I've seen and not that I'm aware of.

NOBLES: And just to make sure, we're clear that's three republicans and one democrat in that segment who said that there's no evidence to back up the president's claim. The White House though still has yet to back away from this. In fact they have made firm in their belief that eventually this evidence will come to light. Ana, we'll have to see if the FBI Director makes a declarative statement about it tomorrow if that perhaps changes the position of the Trump Administration.

CABRERA: Shimon, I know you've been working on getting more information from your contacts close to FBI Director Comey. What can we expect to hear from Comey both about the wiretap claims and the then Russia investigation?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: So, first, the wiretap claims, I think Ryan is absolutely right and that we will probably hear from the FBI Director give a definitive answer on what the FBI was doing if they were wiretapping and that -- and that answer is expected to be no. And on this surveillance issue, there is kind of muddled sort of theory behind the surveillance and was there something else going on at Trump Tower and think the FBI Director is prepared to answer that and we'll knock that down. Will that be the final say? Who knows?

I think on the other issue in terms of what Russia was doing in the election, meddling, influencing, I don't think we're going to hear much about that part of the FBI's investigation tomorrow. That is still ongoing, it's in one of the most secretest parts of the FBI, the Counter Terrorism Division, I think we'll get some answers but I don't think we're going to get everything we'd like to put some of these thoughts, these theories to rest. That just may not happen tomorrow.

CABRERA: I guess it's the nature of the beat, it's an important investigation but it won't satisfy a whole lot of people who will be watching. Ryan Nobles and Shimon Prokupecz, thank you both. We have analysts now ready to examine every moment of tomorrow's hearing. Joining me now, David Gergen, CNN Senior Political Analyst and former adviser to President Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton. Chris Cillizza, Washington Post National Reporter and author of The Fix blog, and CNN Contributor J.D. Dance, author of Hillbilly Elegy.

All right, David, we're not even two months into Trump's presidency, we are now waiting anxiously for the FBI Director to testify on President Trump's wiretapping claim on communications between Russia and Trump campaign associates, if that -- if that is true. Can you try to put some perspective on this for us, in historical context, has another president faced this kind of scrutiny so early in his presidency?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't remember any president who's had this kind of beginning to a presidency or faced this much scrutiny, especially under oath. Jerry Ford when he pardoned Richard Nixon -- excuse me, within the first three months s of his presidency eventually have to go and he volunteered to go up and answer questions on the Hill. But it wasn't this kind of did you -- did you mislead the country, did you - did you tell us the truth, flat out with a tweet and Director Comey, the FBI Director has not publicly been under questioning.

This will be the first time he's taken the stand. His assistants have said that he wanted the justice department to disavow these tweets, but the reason for this hearing and why there's so much drama to it, is that this is the first time we'll hear from the FBI Director himself and he can settle it once and for all. It's a very important question and the auxiliary question of whether or not, whether there was wiretapping or some other type of surveillance going on, he needs to clear the air on that.

On the question of the bigger, harder, longer term question about what the Russian engagement is, he -- obviously he's going to be reticent about that, I think what we really want to know is how many -- do you -- do you have investigations ongoing, is there more than one? There have been reports of three, and how long are they likely to take? There had been some reports, one of my sources on Capitol Hill says this whole -- this whole investigation may go up until August of this year, so I think we're going to be looking for answers but we get fewer answers on the question of the Russian engagement.

CABRERA: And that's echoing what we just heard from Shimon as well and what his contacts are telling him. Chris, I want you to take a listen to what House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes said just this morning about the Trump Campaign Associates and Russia and if there are any connections. Watch.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Have you seen any evidence of any collusion between what I'll call Trump world, associates of campaign officials, Trump world and the Russians to swing the 2016 presidential election?

NUNES: I'll give you a very simple answer. No.

WALLACE: No evidence of any collusion?

NUNES: No evidence.

WALLACE: And this is half talking, getting this information from the FBI.

NUNES: Up to speed on everything I have up until this morning, no evidence of collusion.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CABRERA: So he was very firm on all the evidence or paper, the classified briefings he's had, no evidence of collusion, Chris. Now the ranking member of that committee, Congressman Adam Schiff, a democrat disagreed saying there's circumstantial evidence of collusion. How important is it that James Comey or NSA Director Mike Rogers who will be also at that hearing tomorrow clears this all up?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTON POST NATIONAL REPORTER: Well, I think in an ideal world, it would be helpful if we got some clarity. I think in the real world, as David notes, I think you're much less likely to get satisfaction in terms of everything being tied up in a nice bow on Russia than you are potentially on wiretapping. What's amazing is I think this is evidence on of the self-inflicted wounds that Donald Trump regularly inflicts upon himself which is if we didn't have this thing that he set off a month and a day ago over the tweet about wiretapping, potentially he would get some good news tomorrow.

James Comey maybe would say from what we know now, we don't see collusion. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn't. Instead, you have the wiretapping thing coming in here when you have everyone from -- Devin Nunes, you have Tome Cole, close to Paul Ryan, member of congress from Oklahoma saying, Trump should apologize that will heard from a border district in Texas where republican saying Trump should apologize, there's no evidence of this. So again, it's him being his own worst enemy in some ways, on a day where he could get some clarity on an issue that might help him and help the country? Instead you have this wiretappings of omen and cloud hanging over everything.

CABRERA: Which threatens to make him look like a liar. Now, J.D., throughout the campaign, it seemed like among his base, Trump could do no wrong, is that still the case?

J.D. VANCE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think that he can certainly do wrong, the question is whether the things that he does wrong actually hurt him politically. It's funny that the story that's going to dominate the headlines tomorrow, which of course is going to be the Russia stuff and the wiretapping claim, may not be the issue that actually hurts him the most with his core voters or the rest of the American people, which is the impending vote on the American Healthcare Act on Thursday.

And so, in some ways, even though obviously this story is sort of the dark cloud that hangs over the Trump administration, so long as it keeps the focus off of a bill that appears right now to be very unpopular, it may be in a -- in a sort of weird twist of fate something that may benefit him politically.

CABRERA: What's so interesting they hadn't thought about that, again, it seems that Trump oftentimes is distracting and while he had no control over this particular timing, I guess, of the hearing, it could -- it could work in his favor as you point out in that way. So David, how real is the democrats fear that this hearing may be happening too fast when we're talking about the timing here, that if Comey does not confirm ties between the Trump Campaign and Russia for example or because it's an ongoing investigation, republicans might have reason to say this matter is close, nothing to see here. No fire. GERGEN: Oh, I think that's what we really need to know. Look, I

think we're going to get much more definitive statement on the wiretapping. That's going to be the -- I think that's likely going to be the headline out of it. And to go to J.D.'s point, very interesting point. You know, the news cycle moves so swiftly here, this is going to be the headline Monday and Tuesday, and to Wednesday but by Wednesday we're going to be talking about healthcare again.

You know, so, I'm not sure it's going to -- it's going to resolve or keep the focus away from healthcare ultimately. Well, the healthcare is going to get a big, big play later in the week and then -- and the days that follow. But listen, I want to come back to this. I -- Comey -- I think Comey can signal things but he can't say out right. He can signal that these are -- there are ongoing investigation, he -- it would be inappropriate to tell you exactly where we are because we're uncovering stuff as we go and therefore, I cannot -- he's got to leave some ambiguity or leave some uncertainty about whether ultimately he may find collusion because he may not have completed the task.

On the other hand, if he comes in tomorrow and says we're basically wrapped up and there's nothing here folks, that is huge, that is huge because the mega issue hanging over all of this has been this peculiar relationship that Donald Trump has with the Russians and nobody can understand it. And it, you know, has all sorts of ramifications economically in terms of national security. And so, this is -- this is pivotal what's going on with these investigations into their possible ties between the Russians and Trump -- the Trump team.

CABRERA: Chris, let's remember too, FBI Director James Comey faced a lot of criticism from democrats for the public comments on Clinton's email investigation during the campaign. Do you think that issue will affect how he handles his testimony tomorrow?

CILLIZZA: Well, he say no, but I don't see how it couldn't. By the end of the campaign, it was --well, there were three people running, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and James Comey. He went on the ballot but for all (INAUDIBLE) and purposes it was a huge debate over what exactly did he say, when did he say it, why he did he say it, should he have said it? If you talk to the Hillary Clinton people, they will say privately, look, it clearly hurt us. They are not -- they're none too happy about James Comey.

So, yes. I mean, I would say, you have to remember, these people are human beings, they are affected just like everybody else by circumstance. He has had a searing last six months in the public eye, facing criticism from both sides. I'm interested to see how he handles it. I generally think when he speaks publicly, he's quite impressive. The thing to remember though, David makes that point, we have not heard from him.

We've heard through back channels that he was very unhappy with the wiretapping claim, that it was false that the justice department should come out and say it was false. Well, this is his chance so he can make good on that, he can come out and say, to everything I know, this was in fact not true. That would put more and more pressure on Donald Trump. It doesn't mean Donald Trump's going to apologize because he doesn't do that necessarily. But it would be a very public rebuke from a very senior person.

CABRERA: Nobody knows what is going exactly inside Donald Trump's head. I want to bring J.D. back into the conversation real quickly though because our colleague Nia-Malika Henderson wrote, I have an interesting take on this wiretapping claim and perhaps why Trump would have done it. And this is what she write, she said, "as with birtherism, it's Trump against almost everybody, a vantage point that allows him to constantly be embattled, populist outsider even as he sits the White House." J.D., do you agree, is that what's going on here?

VANCE: Well, I think that's a really fascinating argument because one of the difficult things that republicans have learned of course in the past couple of months as Speaker Ryan himself said is if it's much harder to be the governing party than it is to the opposition party. If you're the of opposition party, then you can just lob bombs, you can be criticize everything that everyone else is doing but you're never held accountable for the decisions that you yourself make.

And so, obviously Trump, thrive on being the opportunity, he ran as the change agent. It's obviously harder to be the change agent when you are the president of the United States. So, I do think that one thing this constant controversy brings to the Trump administration is this sense of conflict and in that conflict, you can really make those oppositional arguments that maybe would be harder to make it you were just focused on governing if the media was just focused on whether you're successful or unsuccessful as a governing president.

CABRERA: J.D., Chris, we got to leave it there. David, you'll be back with me in a moment. Our thanks to all of you. And a programming note, CNN is going to bring you a preview of FBI Director James Comey testifying on the Hill about Russia and the wiretapping claims, John Berman anchors a special program tonight at 11:00 p.m. Eastern. Stay with us here on CNN. Still ahead on our show, coming up, it's been one year since then-President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill the ninth Supreme Court seat.

Now, this week it's President Trump's pick who's in the spotlight. We preview the hearing that Obama's nominee never received. And a long- time Trump adviser just ordered to preserve all documents on Russia. At the same time he's worrying someone wants him dead. What Roger Stone is saying about a recent hit-and-run crash.


CABRERA: Judge Neil Gorsuch has all set it up to find before the senate judiciary committee tomorrow for his first day of confirmation hearing. Then, if confirm, Gorsuch would become the first former supreme court clerk to take the bench while one of this former bosses, Justice Anthony Kennedy is actually still sitting on the high court. But with President Trump's revised travel ban possibly headed for the Supreme Court. His confirmation would become a political football. Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal has not ruled out, in fact, a filibuster based on a litmus test. Here's what he said to Dan, MSNBC. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Not only filibuster, but use every tool that we have if he is in fact out of the main stream in that way. Let's remember, we're talking about respect for a well-established, long accepted president, Roe v. Wade certainly fits that description and that kind of out of the main stream thinking will cause media filibuster and use every tool I have at my disposal to block his nomination.



CABRERA: Back with mw now, CNN Senior Political Analyst David Gergen, thanks so much, David for sticking around. You just heard Senator Blumenthal, senate democrats are so frustrated for nearly a year. Republicans refuse to hold those hearings for President Obama's nominee, Judge Merrick Garland. Did that play into the democrats' strategy to potentially filibuster Gorsuch?

GERGEN: Well, I think that they come in in an angry mood. And their anger is justified, I mean, it was unprecedented through, you know, essentially to block the Garland appointment for such a long time, block any kind of vote. That said, I must tell you, Ana, that President Trump has chosen a man in Gorsuch who by all -- by most -- by the assessment of most people who have talked to him and studied his record is within the conservative main stream, he's not way out in the fringes and he's well qualified for the post.

He seems to be a humble man. And I think his rollout, the -- one of the best things, he was one of the best day President Trump has had was a rollout of the Gorsuch nomination. So I think that unless there's some blockbuster piece of information about his past that hasn't come to light, Judge Ggorsuch is going to become the next member of the supreme court. What we don't know is whether it's going to require a filibuster. I think it's a hard choice for the democrats about whether they want to be in -- they want to go all out on the Gorsuch nomination or recognize this one so mainstream that you're not going to able to stop it and you're probably not going to be able to demand public support. You want to elect the democratic senators -- go ahead, please.

CABRERA: Sorry. Given your expertise and just your history in the White House, are there any parallels between Gorsuch and the Robert Bork situation?

GERGEN: No, I don't think there -- Robert Bork was a much more -- much more explosive views, he was much more of a dissenter. He was much more towards -- way out of the mainstream, his views eventually carried a lot of weight within republican circles. But that was a much more controversial nomination, this one is relatively uncontroversial. And to be honest with you, you know, there's been so many others things going on in the Trump administration, there have been so many things like this whole, you know, all the issues we've just been just talking about with the Russians, that's given Judge Gorsuch to rather free pass where press has been much more interested on the more explosive issues.

GERGEN: You know, the juicer issues. But here's the -- here's the democratics' face, if -- they can't stop Gorsuch, are they better off giving a free pass to democrats especially those who are in red states up for reelection in 2018 and there are number of them who would then likely vote for Gorsuch. Or -- and do this without a filibuster, so in effect they say, the republicans say, we're -- democrats say, we don't oppose everybody the president puts up but we're going to oppose the next one if he's out of the mainstream. This one is within the mainstream. In other words, they may gain some leverage I think with the public and with the next choice if they show when it comes to somebody in the mainstream, they want to go through, they're not going to block it. Everybody --


CABRERA: Exactly. Well, our Supreme Court reporter, when you look behind the curtain of who is Neil Gorsuch, I mean, our Supreme Court reporter tells us that Justice Kennedy was Judge Gorsuch's mentor. But philosophically he aligns more with the late Justice Antonin Scalia as well as well as Clarence Thomas. So what does that tell you about how he might impact this court?

GERGEN: Well, I don't think -- I don't think there's any question that he's going to give weight to the conservative side and you're going to expect him to be on the conservative side rather regularly, I think democrats would like to see whether he has an independent mind, if he's willing to stand up to the president. And in particular, on questions revolving around immigration, if the president really were to put a ban on the Muslim entry, if a current case -- travel case comes up, how will he come out on that?

And in addition, I think there's legitimate concern on the part of many democrats that as you add republican in and then maybe one more soon, that Roe V. Wade could be under direct threat. But, you know, that's the consequence of an election for better or force worse. Republicans have been fighting for this and the -- this election was a real gift to the republicans in terms of building a long-term change in the -- in our judicial branch. If President Obama changed it one way, President Trump is very likely going to change it in a very dramatic way toward a more conservative court.

CABRERA: And some of the Trump voters who I talked to back when we were covering the election said that that is the very reason they were voting for Trump was because of the Supreme Court seat. David Gergen.

GERGEN: Absolutely, Ana. You're absolutely right.

CABRERA: Thank you so much for joining us, always great to hear your expertise. Coming up, healthcare holdouts, skeptical republicans meet with Trump's senior staff at Mar-a-Lago. Can they win them over before this crucial vote this week. That story next.


CABRERA: Now to the republican plan to get rid of and replace Obamacare, it goes before a house vote on Thursday, and even though the house is majority GOP, the bill's survival still a big unknown. As of right now, our tally shows 26 republicans in the house are either firmly against or are they are leaning away from the bill and many republicans say they still have serious concerns. Let's bring in CNN's Athena Jones, she was with the president this weekend. Athena?

ATHENA JONES, GENERAL ASSIGNMENT REPORTER: Hi, Ana. The White House and republican leaders on Capitol Hill are hard to make sure there's enough GOP support to pass their bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, there are a lot of conversations going on to try to win over more votes, the president speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One said things are going well. Listen.

[20:30:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had meetings over at the clubs in the southern White House, we had a great weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How's it going selling your health care bill?

TRUMP: Going well. I had a lot of meetings on that.


JONES: Now you heard the president talk about meetings over the weekend. There was a meeting yesterday at Mar-a-Lago with three Republican conservatives who have been pretty vocal on their opposition to the bill as presented by House Speaker Paul Ryan. Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, and Congressman Mark Meadows came down to Mar-a-Lago for a three-hour meeting with White House staffers including chief strategist Steve Bannon and chief of staff Reince Priebus to discuss their concerns with the bill as it stands and to offer some proposals of their own.

Now it's not clear whether any of their proposals will be part of the package of amendments being discussed to try to win over more support. The challenge here of course is that any changes made to win over more conservative Republicans risk alienating more moderate Republicans, and as of right now, CNN's ongoing whip count shows that there are 26 House Republicans who are either leaning no on the bill or have already said flat-out they plan to vote no. That is five more than House Republicans can afford to lose and get this bill to pass -- Ana.

CABRERA: Athena Jones, thanks so much.

Coming up, as the health care battle heats up, is Trump's chief strategist using his former Web site Breitbart to stir the pot? We'll discuss, next. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[20:36:05] CABRERA: All eyes are on House Speaker Paul Ryan as he works to make changes -- last-minute changes to that GOP health care bill ahead of Thursday's vote. The bill as well as Speaker Ryan under attack right now from both the left and the right with Ryan fending off attacks from Breitbart News, the Web site once ran by President Trump's now chief strategist Steve Bannon.

Tom Foreman has our report.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I am not going to defend Donald Trump, not now, not in the future.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's another shot across the bow of the Republican establishment.

RYAN: I have real concerns about our nominee.

FOREMAN: Explosive comments by House Speaker Paul Ryan were recorded and reported last October. So why did the ultraconservative Web site Breitbart release the audio now? Possibly because it could help drive a wedge between President Trump and establishment Republicans.

RYAN: Good morning, everybody.

FOREMAN: Who are jointly pushing a plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

TRUMP: I want to thank Paul Ryan and everybody.

FOREMAN: It's a plan they like but many on the far right despise.

REP. JUSTIN AMASH (R), MICHIGAN: I think they are basically taking the Obamacare framework and trying to call it a Republican piece of legislation.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: That is not what we promised the American people we were going to do.

FOREMAN: So when President Trump's new head of Health and Human Services promised under Trumpcare --

TOM PRICE, HUMAN AND HEALTH SERVICES SECRETARY: I firmly believe that nobody will be worse off financially.

FOREMAN: Breitbart hit back fast suggesting higher premiums and taxes could make that the lie of the year. And pushing the idea this is primarily Paul Ryan's plan, not President Trump's, anyway. That is just one way the hard right is hammering the Republican establishment for not being radical enough in its departure from politics as usual. And with some effect, the president's budget so far promises significant cuts for many government departments, steps toward what the president's own adviser Steve Bannon who came from Breitbart has called --

STEVE BANNON, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: Deconstruction of the administrative state.

FOREMAN: But that may be hard to come by as long as establishment Republicans still hold sway, so it appears the right is hoping to reignite the rancor of the campaign, when Trump called Ryan weak and ineffective. After all, this was just one year ago.

TRUMP: How do you like Paul Ryan? How do you like him? You like him? Oh, you don't? All right.


CABRERA: Thanks so much to Tom Foreman and I'm joined once again by CNN's senior media correspondent Brian Stelter, the host of "RELIABLE SOURCES."

So, Brian, what do you make of the timing of these Breitbart hits against Ryan?

BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Isn't it fascinating? You know, Breitbart says it had this tape of Paul Ryan saying I'm not going to defend Donald Trump.


STELTER: But they have this tape for months. This tape was from October, right around the time of the "Access Hollywood" revelations. Paul Ryan was distancing himself from Trump like many other Republicans were at the time. There were rumors about this tape, we had heard that Paul Ryan said this, but never actually heard him recorded saying it until Breitbart decided to release it at a pivotal moment in these health care negotiations.

So I think the most obvious theory is probably the right one. That Breitbart was trying to time this to put pressure on Paul Ryan. The site, as Tom Foreman was saying, has been relentless about expressing skepticism, about Obamacare-lite or about Ryancare, using derogatory names for this current health care legislation. Right now the site's big story tonight is about Rand Paul's concerns about the bill, so the site is trying to hold, I suppose, Trump but really Ryan accountable from the right on this health care issue.

CABRERA: Well, it seems like it's also trying to distance Trump from the health care bill even though Trump has really been a cheerleader of the bill.

STELTER: Indeed.

CABRERA: Even though he says don't call it Trumpcare, though.

STELTER: Well, you can find so many quotes from President Trump saying so many different things about health care. People are pointing out he said every American will be covered, that there will be health care for everyone, other reinterpreted that to say access for everyone.

[20:40:02] Trump is on the record in all sorts of ways, talking about health care, and those quotes are now coming back and being used in various ways, in the public and in the media and on the Breitbart site.

CABRERA: Do you think Steve Bannon really is disconnected from Breitbart?

STELTER: That is a mystery. It's a mystery in Washington. Whether Bannon is ever talking with editors at Breitbart, whether he's ever feeding information, there have been stories saying at various times Bannon has been angry about the coverage on Trump on Breitbart. There's been other people saying clearly there's still some connection here. We don't know for sure if there's a relationship or not.

But Bannon's comments in that Foreman piece, the deconstruction of the administrative state, I think that's the overlying or the underlying story in a lot of these conversations, whether it's president's budget or this health care fight. It's about what conservatism is today at this time, when many of Trump's most loyal supporters, the ones that you're interviewing during the campaign are relying on Trump to provide better health care now.

CABRERA: Bannon has previous called Paul Ryan the enemy, and then last month, before that tape came out, we heard Paul Ryan say this about Steve Bannon.


RYAN: We're different kinds of conservatives. That's something that I can safely say, I think. But we're serving a purpose which is to get this agenda passed. So I see a person which I have a common cause and purpose with.


CABRERA: So it's kind of interesting. What do you make of their relationship and how they have worked to present it to the media?

STELTER: Right. You've got Bannon, Ryan and then Trump, these marriages of convenience. The "New York Times" said marriage of convenience the other day, probably the best way to summarize this. But Paul Ryan said to reporters on Thursday, we have a president in the Oval Office who likes doing deals, who likes making deals. Ultimately you're probably right, a new version of the "Art of the Deal" about whatever is going to go down with this health care bill. And as David Gergen was saying, Thursday a pivotal day with this scheduled vote.

CABRERA: That's right. Thank you so much, Brian Stelter.

STELTER: Thanks.

CABRERA: It's good to see you. I know you've been on a long time today but we're grateful you stuck around for us.

STELTER: Thanks.

CABRERA: Coming up, a long time Trump adviser, the victim of a hit and run that he believes was deliberate. Why Roger Stone thinks someone doesn't want him to testify in the Russian hacking probe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [20:46:38] CABRERA: Now to a developing story involving a controversial and legendary political operative who has been connected to President Trump for years. The Senate Intelligence Committee has now asked Roger Stone to preserve any records that might be related to the investigation into Russian meddling in the election. That news comes as Stone suggest there might a dark conspiracy to keep him from ever testifying about what he knows.

Here's CNN's Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's a long time Trump confidant, a legendary Republican operative, well versed in trench political warfare who got his start with Richard Nixon. Tonight key members of Congress want to hear from Roger Stone about his own admitted communications with hackers who tried to disrupt the U.S. election.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Obviously I think he and others need to be questioned.

TODD: The top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, tells CNN he's concerned about Stone's contacts with Gucifer 2.0, the online entity claiming to be behind the Democratic National Committee hack.

U.S. officials say Gucifer 2.0 is likely a front for Russian military intelligence. One Senate staffer tells CNN it's very likely Stone will be called to testify when the Senate Intelligence Committee holds hearings on Russian hacking operations.

House leaders aren't saying whether they'll call on Stone to testify, but Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff is eager to speak to Stone.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I'll tell you, that concerns me a great deal because you have someone affiliated with a campaign having direct communication with two of the outlets apparently during the campaign.

TODD: Stone left the Trump campaign in August 2015, but twice in 2016, during the campaign, Stone claimed to have had back channel communications with Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, which published some of the damaging Democratic e-mails. Stone said this to "Showtime."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You, Roger Stone, have said, I believe on multiple occasions publicly, that you have a backchannel to Assange. Correct?

ROGER STONE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: We just happened to have a mutual friend who --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happened to have a mutual friend?

STONE: Yes. Who supported Assange and has some connection to it. TODD: Stone has since explained he got his information from a friend

who spoke with Assange but it was not a communication. More than a month before Clinton campaign chair John Podesta's e-mails were published by WikiLeaks, Stone seemed to predict that would happen in a tweet.

SCHIFF: He probably did predict that John Podesta would be in the barrel. So I think it does beg a lot of questions that I would certainly like answered.

TODD: Stone told CNN's Gloria Borger that prediction was based on his own research on Podesta, not on any communications with WikiLeaks. And Stone says that while he exchanged a few tweets and private messages with Gucifer 2.0, now described as Russia's online persona hacking, it was nothing substantial and it was after the hacking had occurred. Stone told CNN any suggestion otherwise is a, quote, "fabrication."

Now Stone sees conspiracy in a hit-and-run accident Wednesday in Pompano Beach, Florida. He told a CNN affiliate the driver of the vehicle which hit the car he was riding in had tinted windows, T-boned his vehicle and took off.

STONE: Yes, I have to guess that somebody doesn't want me to testify at those hearings.

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It just fits with Stone's flamboyant political style. Maybe it's true. It's not so much about whether or not the accident happened, it's the motive behind the accident that Stone is alleging, and of course that's what makes it entertaining at the very least.


[20:50:04] CABRERA: That was Brian Todd reporting. Our thanks to Brian.

Coming up, intense ceremonies. Animal sacrifices and spiritual possessions. Do I have your attention yet? The host of CNN's "BELIEVER" Reza Aslan joins us with a preview of tonight's brand new episode, "The Mystifying Vodou," next.


CABRERA: Welcome back. On tonight's brand new episode of the CNN series "BELIEVER" host Reza Aslan visits Haiti and takes part in a traditional voodoo ritual. Here's a preview.


REZA ASLAN, HOST, "BELIEVER": Beatrice Daleus is a mambo or a vodou priestess. She will act as my guide throughout the ceremony.

BEATRICE DALEUS, VODOU PRIESTESS: First we're going to call on the spirits so we could offer them the sacrifice. The animal to be sacrificed. ASLAN: Right.

DE LUZ: So the family is waiting for you.

ASLAN: The first action in any vodou ceremony is the drawing of the Veve. Each Veve corresponds to a particular loa. They act as a kind of spiritual beacon inviting the spirit to enter the Lakou.

DALEUS: This is the place for the spirit. Make sure that they participate.

[20:55:04] ASLAN: The hope is that once a spirit finally descends, it will take hold of one of us. But no one really knows who in the room will be mounted.

DALEUS: Now we're charging the Veve.

ASLAN: OK. Once the Veves are charged with offerings of alcohol, the gate to the spirit world can be unlocked and the call to the spirits can begin.


CABRERA: Reza Aslan is joining me now. So, Reza, that is very interesting. I'm intrigued. The word vodou, of course, a lot of us think of kind of something dark. Is that the reality?

ASLAN: There is a dark aspect to vodou because of course it's all about a connection between your world and the spirit world. And not all the spirits are friendly spirits. I do encounter actually some very unfriendly spirits in this episode.

But the idea that vodou itself is about darkness or about demon possession, I think that's of course not true. And what you're really going to see in this episode is I think an exploration of vodou that will show you what an incredible and beautiful faith this actually is.

CABRERA: Hmm. I know that you explore vodou, but is that widely practiced in Haiti?

ASLAN: It is Haiti. There is an old saying that every Haitian knows, which is that Haiti is 70 percent Catholic, 30 percent protestant, and 100 percent vodou. But of course in this case not only is vodou a part of the very cultural fabric of vodou it actually gave birth to what we now know as modern Haiti because it is part of the very revolution that actually allowed the Haitian slaves to free themselves of the shackles of the French and to create the very first black independent republic in the world, in the Americas certainly.

CABRERA: Fascinating. And it's kind of an interesting juxtaposition that we have on our air tonight because moments from now, CNN will air this brand new episode of "FINDING JESUS," which is followed by your episode. And you actually wrote about the conflict between Christianity and vodou that you found. Explain.

ASLAN: Well, since the earthquake in 2010 in Haiti that devastated the country, it left nearly 300,000 dead, a lot of sort of this Christian missionaries have flooded into the country. Many of them were there to do good. Many of them were there to feed the poor and to clothe them and to rebuild that country, but a small group of them are there specifically to eradicate vodou. They believe the vodou is a demonic presence. They think that all of Haiti's problems are a result of vodou, including the earthquake.

And so they feel that the only way to save the nation is to just rid of it vodou. And they actually have done a pretty good job. And what we see is a real clash between these two religions and vodou. In Haiti, fighting back trying to take control over this important heritage for their country and for their children.

CABRERA: Interesting. I know some religion scholars that read your piece, some religious scholars suggested that this theology spiritual mapping that the type of Christianity we're speaking of is intolerant, racist. What is the reception by those there in Haiti who don't share the Christian beliefs?

ASLAN: Well, first of all, I think a lot of Christians in Haiti don't like spiritual mapping. This notion that the entire world is in the grip of a battle between good and evil, angels and demons, and that the job of the Christian is to go into these demonic places, like Haiti, they would say, and to pray out the spirits, to convert the population to Christianity.

My brother-in-law is an evangelical missionary in Haiti. And he doesn't believe any of that stuff, but, a lot of very wealthy, very powerful evangelical groups do believe it. And they're there not so much to help Haitians, they're there to essentially liberate the island in the name of Christ. And it has created an enormous amount of conflict and resentment among very poor Haitians who practice vodou who feel as though unless they give up their religion, then they can't, you know, get the food or get the help that a lot of these missionaries who practice spiritual mapping are offering them. So it's a very interesting clash. And we explore it tonight.


ASLAN: This is by far my favorite episode, Ana.

CABRERA: So good.

ASLAN: You don't to want miss this one. I -- I'm telling you, this is a good one.

CABRERA: I find it fascinating and I look forward to watching.

Reza Aslan, thank you for joining us.

ASLAN: Thank you.

CABRERA: Old religion, new tensions, tune in for "BELIEVER" tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern right here at CNN.

That's going to do it for me. Coming up next, it's a brand new episode of "FINDING JESUS." The epic saga continues with a look at the childhood home of Jesus.

And don't forget to tune in at 11:00. We have a special program tonight. Previewing tomorrow's hearing with FBI Director James Comey testifying on Russia. My colleague John Berman anchors.

For now I'm Ana Cabrera. Great to have your company this weekend. Have a great week.