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White House Press Briefing Wraps Up; White House Delivers Final Offer to GOP Critics on Health Care; U.S. Officials: Info. Suggests Trump Associates May Have Coordinated with Russians. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 23, 2017 - 14:30   ET


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: -- to get further briefed and would have further updates.


That's a big difference in reporting and making a serious allegation. In fact, he was doing quite the opposite.

He was vindicating the president and saying, "There is something that you need to know about the substance of the allegations that are being made against you, and why that may or may not be the case, because some of what I've seen..."


QUESTION: (inaudible) not just vindicating him. Wouldn't it (ph) have been just as important for the president to learn?

SPICER: Sure. And I think maybe he would have and then you probably wouldn't have any concern with that, would you?

QUESTION: My question is to you.

SPICER: Margaret...

QUESTION: Just following on that, two questions.

You said again the word "vindicated." The president said he felt somewhat vindicated. Did he feel that having Chairman Nunes come down here helped his own credibility?

SPICER: I think it's reassuring to know that -- that what he discussed -- while, again, the chairman made it very clear that he's not final in any of his processes, that what he had seen so far gave him grave concern, or whatever the exact phrase -- before I get -- to use the phrase that Chairman Nunes needed to say -- that he said -- that he gave him concern and pause for what he had seen and wanted the president to be aware of the activity that he had seen that occurred during the transition period.

I think that's an important -- so, I think, yes, the president did -- it was helpful for the president to know that the investigation, as he had asked for, was starting to bear fruit. And again, I think the equally important thing to note about yesterday was that part of what Chairman Nunes said was that it had nothing to do with these allegations and narrative about Russia. And I think that is a very, very important narrative to be clear on. QUESTION: And are they going to meet again? And after the conversation, (inaudible) they spoke directly, did the president accept Chairman Nunes' finding that there was no wiretapping at Trump Tower, which he said yesterday?

SPICER: Well, one, I don't -- the first one wasn't planned. I don't -- there is nothing planned for the chairman to come down again.

But second of all, I think -- I have and the president has very clearly explained that the tweet wasn't to be taken literal in the sense of the word "wiretap"; that he was talking about surveillance in general.

And yes, I think that...


SPICER: Yes, once -- what Chairman Nunes said is that there was evidence of surveillance that occurred during that -- during the election. And I think that is important to note.

Again, I think the obsession is with the process of how he got here, and what time he left, and who he briefed first, as opposed to the substance of the issue.

But I'm not going to -- all I'll tell you is the public comments that he made to you and your colleagues, both here and up on Capitol Hill, was that he was very concerned with the surveillance -- the surveillance that he had seen and reports of surveillance and individuals who had been masked and unmarked during especially the transition period. I think that should express concern for a lot of individuals.

QUESTION: So the president is confident that Chairman Nunes can continue to lead this investigation and, in his view, be impartial?

SPICER: Absolutely. Yes.

QUESTION: Because there have been some questions about that, including from Republicans.


Thank you guys very much. I'll see you tomorrow. Have a great one.

[14:33:04] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN: OK. Here we go. This could be one the most consequential days -- OK, here we go. We're live here in Washington, D.C. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being with me on what would be one of the most consequential days for this presidency. Talking about this health care bill. Supposed to be, maybe hours from now -- I say hours loosely, because we don't know when it could go -- but hearing from Sean Spicer on health care, he reiterated yesterday and today there is no Plan B. He said the White House has delivered the final offer on this bill and that the bill is on a great trajectory for tonight's vote. That said, there was a lot of arm twisting and texting and talking and meeting all behind the scene.

And we have amazing reporting here at CNN as we peel back the layers on what is the biggest task legislatively for this administration. So I have all kind of amazing voices.

Let me begin with M.J. Lee who has been on the forefront covering all the health care for us.

For people just coming in, not paying close attention, where are we right now, who is meeting with whom, where are we on the whip count?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: This is the big headline right now. Today was supposed to be the by that President Trump closed the deal on the health care bill. He had this big meeting with the House Freedom Caucus and White House officials were hopeful coming out of the meeting that they would be able to announce we have a deal, and it's a go, and that couldn't be further from the truth. And leaders on Capitol Hill are getting frustrated because they feel like the White House sort of got ahead of them. Last night, if you were paying close attention, you may have noticed the announcement, including the essential health benefits that's a big debate. That that announcement actually came from White House sources and came from Freedom Caucus sources, not from leadership, and leadership ended up having to play catch-up. And the position that --

BALDWIN: Speaking of the House Freedom Caucus -- do we need to go right now, Control Room?

Yeah, let's go right now. This is the head of the House Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows. Let's listen in.


[14:35:19] REP. MARK MEADOWS, (R), NORTH CAROLINA: This hasn't been a single focus on essential health benefits on any of us. Obviously, we have some from six requests down to two, which you might even modify that's it's one and a half, because it has to do all with the Obamacare mandates, the Obamacare rules, and we're trying to move from phase two into phase one. We're not adding anything other than we're taking what was supposed to happen in phase two and bringing it into phase one.


BALDWIN: OK. That was a little while ago.

Go ahead, M.J. Finish your thought.

LEE: That was the chairman of the Freedom Caucus saying there was no deal yet. And I think what leadership confronts now is frustration among rank-and-file members who wanted to get on board and get to a yes, and now seeing this deal being made between the White House, potentially, and the Freedom Caucus and they don't know the details of what would happen if they included this essential benefits provision into the bill. And some members already know there's no way to get the constituents on board. And there's no way they can get to a yes on this because this is a drastic step away from the original bill that leadership put forward.

BALDWIN: I took physics and don't remember much about it, but Newton's law, for every action there's a reaction. If they move on one piece to placate the far-right, then you have these moderates who aren't happy.

So, David Chalian, according to Dana Bash and her reporting, the members of the Freedom Caucus want this ironclad document from the White House that essentially promises that premiums and other costs go down.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICBALDWIN: I don't know how you promise that, but OK.



Tell me more about that --

CHALIAN: Well, to your point about the give and take.

BALDWIN: Yes, yes.

CHALIAN: Just look what happened at the White House today. As M.J. said, today was the day that Donald Trump was supposed to seal the deal come out and say we got a deal, we have the votes --

BALDWIN: Let's go.

CHALIAN: -- on the floor. And instead, what was at the top of that Sean Spicer meeting. He met with the Freedom Caucus and now the moderates are coming in this afternoon because they aren't where they need to be with the conservatives. And now it's like let's got to the other pile of votes and try to see if we can get to 216 or 215, whatever the number is, because there might be some absences. So you are now literally seeing the president on the day this voting is supposed to take place going from pot of votes to pot of votes to try and find his way back.


BALDWIN: He's not the only one.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: The president is used to negotiating real estate deals. So you do your negotiation. At the end, you do a handshake and say, OK, everyone will work out the details. Here's the hinge. It doesn't happen that way because the details in legislation have to get worked out first. And welcome to Washington. John Boehner would probably be saying both to Paul Ryan and Donald Trump, this is why I left. And as the Freedom Caucus sits here and wants to move to the right, the moderates don't like it, they want to move to the center. The Senate is upset because this is getting negotiated in and they're never going to approve it. And Donald Trump is trying to herd cats. And it's something he is just not used to and it's frustrating to him and to the White House, I would think.

BALDWIN: I would love to hear you two weigh in. Let's me introduce you both. David Hoppe, former chief of staff for Speaker Paul Ryan, and a veteran Washington lobbyist and senior consultant with One Nation Health Coalition.

So great to have your input and insight, especially within the speaker's brain.

Thank you.

And then Jon Selib, former chief of staff to former Senator Max Baucus. Knows a lot about Obamacare and the wranglings from all of that. Former tax investigative counsel and Senate Finance Committee.

Beginning with you, David.

If you can crawl into Speaker Ryan's brain, because you worked with him as recently as December. He's been -- as the president has been talking to the House Freedom Caucus folks, he's been talking to the moderates in the House. Is this just par for the course, Washington politics 101? Or is it just --



HOPPE: Yeah. Now it's a new administration, a new unity Republican government, and they are trying to get something very important done, so we are all focusing on it, as we should be, and they're focusing on it. But it is not unusual. If you look back to reason they're doing this bill, the ACA, that was a bill that went 14 months from 14 months when it was. The idea came up from a new president with a veto-proof majority in the Senate and a strong House majority and they went through this process. And if you will recall, during the fall of that year, they were not ever going to use reconciliation. No, no, no, we will never do that. Unfortunately, Senator Kennedy --


[14:40:11] HOPPE: -- got replaced by Scott Brown, a Republican who ran on one issue, I'm not going to do this. So they had to go back and do reconciliation. You now have a reconciliation bill that has certain restrictions on what you can do. The ACA was two bills that passed, not one, two. One under regular order, and one under reconciliation. What you did in reconciliation, you can undo in reconciliation. The other bill probably will take some form of regular order, 60 votes in the Senate to get rid of some of those things.

BALDWIN: Let me follow up with you. I know, Jon, you're nodding. And we'll talk Obamacare and the 11th- hour wrangling that when on then.

Today is significant. This is the seventh anniversary of Obamacare and this is the day they wanted to have this vote.

But with regard to Speaker Ryan, we talk about the Freedom Caucus is really the thorn in the side of John Boehner and we joke that sitting around smoking cigarettes far away. How frustrated is Speaker Ryan with them right now? Really?

HOPPE: One of the things that Paul said when he came in was there were a whole bunch of things that happened before I got here, I have a clean slate, there are times you think your close. Is he frustrated? Probably. But Paul, by and large, is an issue-oriented person who wants to get to the issues. He may get frustrated but comes back to what I think is a government-oriented program to a doctor-patient oriented program. The two big things are health care repeal and replace and passed, and get tax reform passed. They are burrowed in on getting those two things done this year.

BALDWIN: Jon, talk about this arm twisting thing, whole process. What it's like?


BALDWIN: There are some parallels.

SELIB: There are some, but actually some big differences. And as David pointed out, we took a lot of time to make sure the members were educated on what the tradeoffs were and they understood what would happen with their constituents. This thing has really rushed through. It's apples and oranges. They will not have a final CBO score before it's voted on in the House, so there won't be any understanding of what it will mean for coverage numbers or the costs incurred by the American people by the legislation. So it's very different. And in that respect, it was easier for us because people were able to understand what they were voting on before they come up.

HOPPE: Let me make one comment on that. It's not quite that -- because Republicans back when the King-Burwell bill was being decided in the Supreme Court, they realized if King won, they would be in a whole new world and they had to do something. They would have to replace it with legislation and they did a lot of work at that time. That was two years ago. Last spring, the Republican members of the House had their better-way effort and they spent a lot of time, four or five months, working through the details of some of this. Did they lockdown every last detail? No, but this is not new. There's no Republican member who can say they were surprised by what Paul Ryan came out with. They may not like it, didn't get go as far enough or as they would want to go, but it can't have been a surprised because he was involved in those. And anybody else who was saw the direction he wanted to go and the Ways and Means Committee wanted to go and Commerce wanted to go. So there's been a little more discussion. BALDWIN: Let me move on, because the other major headline out of CNN

is thanks to Pam Brown, Shimon Prokupecz and Evan Perez, in this report.

In fact, I'm going to have Pam you explain it.

But first, listen to the sound. Of course, our own Sara Murray was asking Sean Spicer about the CNN report that the FBI's information that indicates Trump associates communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign. Here's the sound.




SPICER: I think this is -- with all due -- again, yeah. And this is -- the way that the term "associates" is thrown around, I don't understand what that means. If you're talking about employees of the campaign, the transition or in the White House, that's one thing. But the way that this term "associates" get thrown out -- again, we talked about this yesterday. You pull out a gentleman who was employed by someone for five months and talk about a client that he had 10 years ago, no, I can't unequivocally say that anybody in his past, who may or may not have come in contact with him, sat next to him on a plane, who grew up with him in grade school, because that's a lot of time "associates."

[14:45:13] MURRAY: Paul Manafort was the campaign chairman.


SPICER: No, I get it. Right, right. No, no, I understand who he is.


SPICER: Thank you.


SPICER: I'm well aware of Paul, as I read it out yesterday. The point I'm making is when you use this term "associate," you use all these subjective terms, there's a reason you're doing it which is because you don't have anything concrete. If you do, come back and ask, does anyone in the White House, anyone in transition, but when you throw out a vague term like that, it's a catch all. Can you be certain that anyone who works for Time-Life Turner has ever done anything illegal. I think that's a pretty broad way of casting a net. Or who has visited the building? That's equivocally what you're saying.


BALDWIN: Pamela Brown, I want to go first to you. It was the FBI director who used the word "associates."

BROWN: Those were his words.

BALDWIN: Those were his words.

BROWN: The FBI director would not say Trump campaign associates if it was someone who sat next to the president on a plane. These are people who had a connection to the Trump campaign. We reported that Paul Manafort has been under investigation by the FBI and his contacts with Russians, which he denies. We have reported that Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser, also under FBI investigation, as well as Roger Stone and Carter Page, who the president named to the "Washington Post" editorial board as a foreign policy advisor. All four, by the way, deny they had these contacts. But it's clear that the strategy of the White House is to distance as much as they can from these people known to be under investigation. There could be others. And we are very explicit in our reporting that we don't know that.

BALDWIN: The "C" word being "collusion." So we don't know. But what this begins to indicate, from my understanding, from your reporting, this would be giving them the thumbs-up to Russia to damage the Hillary Clinton campaign.

BROWN: Right. First of all, it's pretty extraordinary that the FBI director came out and went out to say the FBI is investigating the possible coordination of Trump campaign associates and Russians and what that means is there is predication, that's what the FBI has to have before it launches an investigation like this. What we are told through U.S. officials through knowledge of this investigation is that the FBI has collected records, bank records, travel records, financial records, as well as human intelligence, as well as accounts of in- person meetings. So basically, they're putting all the pieces of the puzzle together to figure out what they have. It's largely circumstantial evidence. And we have spoken to some officials who have looked at this evidence and said, well, if you look at this, it appears there could be coordination between the Trump campaign associates and Russians. And then other people have said, in our stories, look, it's too premature to make that inference, we still have a lot more work to be done. But the FBI takes it seriously enough with the information it has gathered to continue with the investigation.



BORGER: I think that that is what the White House does not want to hear, that there's enough information to continue a serious investigation, and these things take forever.

BALDWIN: What did you think of his response to Sara?

BORGER: I didn't think much of it honestly.

BALDWIN: He didn't answer the question.

BORGER: Right.

CHALIAN: He went into this side show about associates.

BORGER: Right. It didn't answer the question. And I think these things take a long time to get done. And the longer this cloud hangs over them, the more dangerous it is for the White House. And that is one of the reasons I think that the White House just grabbed on to the Nunes appearance. And by the way, I think we should point out neither Congressman Nunes nor Sean Spicer answered the question of the information he got that so upset him was from the Trump administration.

BALDWIN: Let's get to the Nunes stuff, because he was asked about this. This is an important piece. Asked about potential interference by the president because we know Nunes went on to the White House and briefed the media and not talking to ranking Democrats on his own House Intel Committee.

Here was that exchange at the briefing.


SPICER: I don't know what he actually briefed the president on, but I don't know why he would brief the president on something we gave him.


SPICER: Right. I don't know that that makes sense. I did not sit in on that briefing. It just doesn't -- so, I don't know why he would travel -- brief the speaker and then come down here to brief us on something that we would have briefed him on. It doesn't seem to make a ton of sense. So I'm not aware of it but it doesn't really pass the smell test.


[14:50:17] BALDWIN: Colonel Cedric Leighton, we talked about this today, yesterday. We don't know where he got the information from. Will the chairman need to recuse himself? Apparently, he said I'm sorry but a lot of Dems are saying that's not good enough.

COL CEDRIC LEIGHTON, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Exactly, Brooke, and I think the real problem is you have the chairman on House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, a committee that historically been the most bipartisan committee in the House of Representatives, they have a real difficult time now working together. And the reason they have this is because of this action by Congressman Nunes. And the fact he went down there without talking to Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat, and he did this - he apparently briefed the Republicans in his -- on his committee about this. Many of them tried to dissuade him from going down there but he still went any way. From an intelligence person, I say you went down to president's office to the White House to talk to him about incomplete information. And when you talk about incomplete information, that does several things. First of all, it gives a false impression to the leader you're talking to, no matter who it is, but also focusing a president on something that is potentially not the most important thing. This is at least what we've seen told so far is ancillary collection. It is not the main focus of an investigation, whether it has to do with Russia or not.

BALDWIN: He said it has nothing to do with Russia. But I take your point it was tangential.

LEIGHTON: It's tangential. When you collect things in the intelligence business, there are times you pick stuff up that you're not interested in. In some cases, you discard it, and other cases, you say, wait, this does have something to do with something else. And because of that, there are going to be other connections that perhaps come out as a result of the information that Congressman Nunes talked to the president about or perhaps nothing. But the key is he did this at a very early state and he should have gotten other professionals involved in this, had a real discussion about this, and before going to see the president about something that may very well be a product of the executive branch, he should have really figured out what his plan of action --


BALDWIN: Hang on just a second. I want to get to you.

But this is becoming increasingly partisan in this committee. A lot of Democrats are saying you can't do this now with impartiality. You need to recuse yourself. He said sorry, but is that enough?

GLORIA: No. Look, the motive for going to the White House was political.

LEIGHTON: Absolutely. Uh-huh.

GLORIA: And listen to you talk about this, the motive could not have been to president the president with--


BALDWIN: It was about what was in it for him.

GLORIA: A complete view of the intelligence. I mean, it was political. He got something, we don't know who gave it to him, whether it was from inside the administration, not necessarily the White House, but somebody from the intelligence community. I was told by a source yesterday it was coming from the intelligence community, and thought it would give some coverage on his tweets.

BALDWIN: But it doesn't.

BORGER: Maybe he thought it might help. It certainly was a political move. You can't explain it in any other way. And as chairman of a committee that's supposed to be non-partisan or bipartisan, that's very difficult to un-do. It's kind of putting that genie back in that bottle is very difficult, unless Democrats feel it can work in their favor and hold his feet to the fire during the investigation, and he's got to be on good behavior. I don't know.

LEIGHTON: It's already happened before with Chairman Nunes because they've gotten him in essence to switch positions on certain issues with President Trump.

BALDWIN: He was a huge Trump defender, and on Capitol Hill, as a result of that, you are correct.

What do you think?


Welcome to Washington. Great to be here.

CHALIAN: Yeah. There's no doubt that this does not vindicate --


BALDWIN: The president.

CHALIAN: -- the president and his tweets. That's just not even the -- Sean used that word from the podium. You heard the president answer a question about that. They clearly want to use that. And the Republicans are campaigning on it and raising money and sending e- mail, so it does give cover of a base-rallying moment of, hey, all that noise you're hearing from the media, here is an alternative fact, if you will, and able to muddy that conversation in a way to their benefit that they can rally their troops home. So that's what is going on here. I do think Devin Nunes harmed himself.

[14:55:18] BALDWIN: Quickly.

HOPPE: Let me make two points. One, both sides are trying to be political with each other. Schiff comments after Nunes went to the White House for a political purpose. Second, on FBI. On the Hill, we sometimes get raw FBI data, especially for nominations, and they caution you, this is raw stuff. They haven't checked it back or fourth. That is about the stage it appears we are with the FBI. It's not that anything is wrong there. It's simple, be very careful, because the FBI has as a lot of stuff that they will tell you they don't know if it means anything. They were simply collecting.


HOPPE: And the Hill, I'm sure Jon has seen them. I've seen them. There are some raw files. And you have got to be very careful.

BORGER: Would you bring it to the president?

HOPPE: Once again, I don't know that I would bring it to the president or not, but just be very careful with the FBI. The stage they are at, if this is raw information, it could be information that's good, or not so good. Everybody has to be careful, both sides.

BALDWIN: I'm thinking of the speaker of the House. He was supposed to talk this morning. That was moved up to, lucky us, any moment. We are expecting to hear from Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House, who has been in meetings all day long, trying to whip the votes for the health care bill. The question, will he have the votes? So many eager to hear what he has to say. Minutes from now, we'll take you live to Capitol Hill.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. CNN special coverage, back in just a moment.


[14:59:58] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BALDWIN: Here we go. We start the hour with breaking news. I'm Brooke Baldwin, live in Washington, D.C.

Major moment with the Trump presidency. His health care bill right now is hanging in the balance. We're told the White House --