Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Rips Conservative Groups for Health Care Fail; Interview with Congressman Mike Quigley of Illinois; Hundreds Arrested at Anti- Corruption Protests. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 26, 2017 - 18:00   ET


[18:00:04] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks for staying with me on a Sunday. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

Two big stories we are following tonight. Inside the beltway, the fallout from the GOP health care bill. The president now blaming his own party while plotting his next move. And pundits wondering, will the fighting doom his ambitious agenda even before his first 100 days in office are over?

And in Mosul, Iraq, the Pentagon calls the death of dozens of civilians a terrible tragedy. But the story of how they were killed appears complicated. Meanwhile, more U.S. troops are being sent to help push ISIS from Mosul.

We begin tonight in Washington. And if you're elected, sent to the nation's capital, chances are, you'll have enemies and friends. President Trump may be a little short on the latter right now. And his early morning tweet might be sowing even deeper divisions within his party. The president ripped conservative Republican groups, blaming them for torpedoing his health care bill.

This is what he wrote, "Democrats are smiling in D.C. The Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club for Growth and Heritage have saved Planned Parenthood and Ocare."

So, could President Trump switch it up, work with Democrats to score victory over the far right flank of his party?

Let's talk it over with Athena Jones outside the White House.

Athena, what are you hearing from the Trump team this afternoon?


Well, it's a very interesting question, that question about whether they're going to be willing to work with Democrats. It's something we heard White House chief of staff Reince Priebus talk about several times in an interview this morning on "FOX News Sunday", this idea of working across the aisle, working with Democrats, but also having the Republican caucus come together. It gives us at least a little bit of a clue about their legislative strategy going forward.


REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think it's more or less a warning shot that we are willing to talk to anyone. We always have been, and I think more so now than ever, it's time for both parties to come together and get to real reforms in this country, whether it'd be taxes, whether it'd be health reform, whether it'd be immigration, whether it'd be infrastructure, this president is ready to lead and sort of, you know, over with the games in the legislature.


JONES: So, interesting to hear the chief of staff talk about how this president is ready to lead, ready to talk to anyone who wants to make a deal. But he talked in the end about games -- over with the games with the legislature. The bottom line is that getting anything done, getting the president's big priorities accomplished is going to require working with the legislature. And it's going to require not just working with House leadership, but figuring out a way to deal with House conservatives who blocked this bill, also with moderate Republicans in the House, and then also potentially Democrats.

But what's interesting is that you have chief of staff Reince Priebus talking about working with Democrats, but then you have the president in his commentary and on Twitter blasting Democrats along with the House Freedom Caucus. The House Freedom Caucus, those conservative members, they make up about 30 members of the House. And so, they're going to have to figure out how do you work with these groups, is it conducive to blast them and bash them and then still expect them to come to the table? House Speaker Paul Ryan said a couple of days ago, when this bill was failing, doing big things is hard. And doing big things is going to require these sides working together in Congress and we'll have to see how the White House manages is relations with all members of Congress in the coming weeks, Ana.

CABRERA: Ha, I'm taking a deep breath. Got to love politics.

Athena Jones at the White House, thank you.

JONES: Thanks.

CABRERA: Now, let's turn our attention to the committee in Congress trying to find out if there's an improper connection between people close to President Trump and Russia. We were supposed to hear testimony from this Tuesday, but this man shut the hearing down, California Republican Devin Nunes. He chairs the House Intelligence Committee. And he says the hearing was simply postponed.

Democrats however say it was cancelled and they are furious about it. At least one is now calling for Nunes to step down.

Now, here's a tweet from a member of that panel, Illinois Democrat Mike Quigley, saying, "Very disappointed Nunes cancelled hearing, suppressing answers, stirring confusion, keeping people in the dark, won't allow us to fulfill our mission."

A few minutes ago, I spoke to Congressman Quigley right here on CNN.


REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), ILLINOIS: I think this is a two-fold campaign by the leadership on the Republican side of the House and the White House. It is distraction and obstruction. There's no way you can account for all the actions that have taken place in the last seven to nine days. They have done nothing to help the investigation. There's zero reason to cancel Tuesday's meeting other than last week's public hearing went so horribly for them.

CABRERA: What was the reason Devin Nunes gave you for canceling the hearing this week, the public hearing?

[18:05:03] QUIGLEY: He gave -- he gave no reason directly to the Democrats. We spoke to the chairman and then without telling us, he gave the staff 15 minutes notice that he was going to have this press conference where he announce the cancellation. There was absolutely no discussion beforehand as to why. There was no reason to cancel it.

He said that there's going to be some other testimony. The two aren't mutually exclusive. He still could have had Mr. Clapper, Mr. Brennan, and Ms. Yates to testify in front of the public so they could see additional evidence to what they saw in last Monday's testimony. Instead, because the public hearing didn't go well, and the public mood is starting to focus against them, they decided to cancel. There's no other logical explanation for the extraordinary journey we've taken these last 10 days.

CABRERA: Congressman, it seems that this committee needs desperately to work together to get answers for the American people. Can this intelligence committee handle the investigation without becoming too partisan?

QUIGLEY: I don't know how the Democrats have been partisan. We are in the minority. We can't cancel a hearing. We can't go on a midnight excursion and say that we saw evidence that the president was somehow wiretapped. All I can do --

CABRERA: Do you believe that -- do you believe that this needs to be handed off to an independent commission?

QUIGLEY: Oh, I think the two should work together. They have different abilities. Indeed, we should have an independent commission. And, clearly, we need an independent prosecutor. But the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence have abilities that the others may not. We meet in top secret --

CABRERA: In what way?

QUIGLEY: -- fashion. Well, we meet in top secret fashion. We are privy to top secret information on an ongoing basis. We're going to have access to materials that others probably won't have. So, after 9/11, there were a whole series of investigations. Each one had their own merits. We need to do the same.

CABRERA: Have you seen more than circumstantial evidence of possible collusion between the Russians and Trump campaign associates?

QUIGLEY: I think the best way for me to describe it as a former criminal defense attorney is this -- there's probable cause to believe that there was coordination.


CABRERA: That was Congressman Mike Quigley, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

So, joining me now to discuss further, CNN political analyst Josh Rogin, and national security analyst, Juliette Kayyem.

Josh, you just heard the congressman there being very careful with his words, describing what he's seeing as, quote, "probable cause" to believe that there was coordination between Trump insiders and the Russians. Those are some pretty strong words for a member of the intelligence community.

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, and that matches what the ranking member has previously said. It seems like there's enough to investigate and there's no proof yet that there's actual collusion.

But what I really got from that excellent interview that you just showed is that there really is no way for the House Intelligence Committee to conduct a bipartisan cooperative investigation. I think that ship has sailed. I think that's abundantly clear on the one hand. Nunes cannot be seen by the public as a credible steward of such an investigation. It seems like the damage between Nunes and Schiff is irreparable and with the rest of the committee.

So, something else is going to have to have to happen in order for the American people to have confidence that this matter has been fully investigated and put to the rest. Now, there are problems with the select committee, too. Those people are appointed by the House Senate leadership. So, that could become a partisan exercise, too. A commission has to be approved by the president.

There's no real magic bullet here that's going to solve this. But the House committee, I don't see how we get back to normal on that one. It seems pretty bad.

CABRERA: Juliette, what's your take? Can this process continue with any level of confidence in its current form?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: No, I agree with Josh. I think the House investigation was essentially -- you know, started the week looking very promising to the extent that Comey came out so forcefully, acknowledging that there was an investigation and then by Nunes sort of, you know, whatever happened with this week, with him alleging certain things, taking them back, him going back and forth to the White House, I think by this weekend, it's clear that can't continue.

But there is a Senate -- there's three investigations going on. Of course, there's the FBI investigation, which did learn about and I think it's important to know one of the reasons why Comey was acknowledged it was because he wants the public to know that there is this investigation going on.

The Senate also has its own investigation and they have been much more quiet. There was a little bit of issues regarding Senator Burr and his contacts with the White House, but he seems to have sort of quieted down. They are doing their work, him and Mark Warner. And so, I think that the American public should at least feel slight more confidence in that investigation than we've seen out of the House.

[18:10:05] I don't want to blame the entire committee. I put it squarely on Nunes at this stage.

CABRERA: Josh, I know you know in a recent article that John McCain is among those calling for this independent commission that both you and Juliette say needs to happen. Are you hearing from any other Republicans saying the same?

ROGIN: I have seen Graham say that he's getting close to that, but he hasn't actually said it. There are definitely conservatives who have advocated for an independent select committee who are not in Congress. But so far, John McCain is the only sitting member of Congress on the Republican side who is reaching for this.

I was with him in Brussels at an international forum this past weekend and he just simply said the United States public has a right to have some sort of confidence that this issue has been adjudicated in a way that we can all move on. It's too important.

And we're just not talking about the conclusion, which is maybe true, maybe not true. We're talking about the Russian interference in our election. We just see it's definitely true, and we need somebody to get to the bottom of that. We need somebody to do that independently.

And if no one else can do it, the select committee or select commission or whatever it is, is going to have to happen. It's just a matter of time before more and more lawmakers come around to that.

CABRERA: Juliette, you had mentioned previously you were awaiting the testimony from Sally Yates, the former acting A.G. when President Trump took office. Now that hearing is cancelled. What do you make of this?

KAYYEM: So, I think that's very unfortunate. I mean, look, you know, some of these witnesses could be beneficial to the Trump administration. It's clear Nunes does not think that anymore. And so does not want them to have a public forum.

Sally Yates was always interesting. She's known in Democratic circles as sort of a hero because she was willing to get fired by Trump during the Muslim ban, but we learned later on, before that, she had warned the Trump White House about the former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and about him possibly at least from the news reports possibly keeping from the White House in particular Vice President Mike Pence his contacts with Russia and the Russian ambassador. The White House held on to that information for several weeks until

the media reported on it. That's when Mike Flynn got fired. I was anxiously awaiting it because many of us are curious about Michael Flynn at this stage, about why wasn't he fired? What is he doing right now? And what he knew and in what stage?

And so, Sally Yates is giving clarity regarding that because of her sort of very aggressive stance with the White House early on in the administration.

CABRERA: We have not heard from Michael Flynn regarding these hearings. But we did hear from Carter Page, Roger Stone and Paul Manafort just in the last couple days, saying they would volunteer to go before this committee. Some of them in a public setting, to testify about what they know.

Josh, what more are we learning about when and if that could happen?

ROGIN: Well, we don't have any timing. We saw Roger Stone on a Sunday show this morning denying any collusion. He's the one most directly in the firing line because he's admitted to contacts with Guccifer 2.0, a contact he says were innocuous. But I'm sure that will be a subject of the investigation.

Manafort has been in the news because he's continually accused of doing business with people related to the Putin government. That may or may not have anything to do with the campaign. He might just be doing business with the Russians for the sake of doing business with the Russians.

Carter Page is a separate case I think. He's more of a low level guy who had some incidental contacts. He did travel to Moscow, which was suspicious. But in the end, there's a lot less there because he was such a tangential, sort of outside guy in the campaign.

And then there's Flynn, who has been very silent. You know, I think he's just being prudent. I don't have any specific information that there's any other reason. I know that Juliette has some other reporting on that.

But anyway, the point is that, you know, eventually, all these guys are going to have to either be cleared or indicted. And, you know, barring any new information, it doesn't seem like indictments are coming. So, it's an accusation that has to be resolved.

If I were them, I would want to clear my name, too. And I think in one way or another, the only way to really do that is to face the congressional testimony and make their defense.

CABRERA: Juliette, could Congress ask the president to come and testify before them?

KAYYEM: No, simply not. And he wouldn't. But there's one thing that Josh did say that is worth noting. While there's a criminal investigation going on and questions about the theory of that case in terms of how far up does this go and what does the president want, know and when did he know it, which will be explained through the process of an investigation of these four men that were just mentioned.

I should say that, you know, it's important to remember and Josh brought it up earlier, that if the FBI investigation goes forward, we still have the bigger national security foreign policy issue of Russia.

[18:15:05] We are watching Russia today on the news, but certainly, its involvement with our campaign -- that can't get resolved by the FBI, it can't get resolved by an indictment. And that -- my worry is, is that we're going to be so focused on the FBI side of it that the bigger issue, the geopolitical issue does not get resolved, including directing our executive agencies on what to do, like the NSA, the FBI, Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, what to do in the instances of Russian aggression.

We have an election coming up, it's hard to believe and it seems too painful to even want to contemplate. We have an election coming up, local elections all the time, but we have a big midterm election coming up next year.

CABRERA: All right.

ROGIN: I would just very quickly add that I think, Juliette's right, the bigger issue here is the Russian interference. There are a lot of committees working on that -- Senate Armed Services Committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And as for these Trump associates, they haven't been charged with anything. And even if they are, they're presumed innocent until proven guilty and I think that's something we should keep in mind.

CABRERA: And it's still the beginning really of these investigations. Josh Rogin and Juliette Kayyem, our thanks to both of you.

KAYYEM: Thank you.

CABRERA: Right now, something extremely rare is unfolding on the streets of Russia. Hundreds arrested in mass demonstrations against the Kremlin. We'll tell you why they are rallying. We'll take you there, coming up.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


[18:20:29] CABRERA: We're following protests breaking out in cities across Russia. Take a look at these pictures. Hundreds of people are under arrest as they were rallying for the resignation of Russia's prime minister over corruption allegations.

These unsanctioned mass demonstrations as the Kremlin is calling mark a rare show of nationwide defiance. We can tell you now one of those arrested was a Putin opponent. This comes just days after another Kremlin critic was shot dead outside a hotel in broad daylight in Ukraine. Joining me now is CNN senior international correspondent Matthew


Matthew, what is the latest on these protests?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the protests across this vast country, Ana, are effectively have come to an end. There were 500 arrests, according to state media, just here in the Russian capital. But there have been thousands of people that have been taking to the streets across Russia, in St. Petersburg, in Vladivostok, in the far east of this country, and in towns and cities all across. And in an extraordinary display of opposition to the government and to the allegations of corruption specifically against the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, they are calling for him to resign.

But, you know, I think the Kremlin will be taking note these are urban, liberal, kind of elite centers that are coming out into the streets. Even though there's thousands of people, this is a country of more than 140 million people, most of whom still very strongly behind the Kremlin and behind its leader Vladimir Putin.

CABRERA: And you talk about the corruption being the big issue. I mean, when you see this sort of outward expression of so much emotion boiling over, this isn't something you see in Russia every day I would imagine.

CHANCE: No, and I think it's fair to say that these are probably the biggest protests we've seen in Russia since 2011 and 2012, when Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, came back to start his third term in office as president. There were mass protests then on a bigger scale in fact than these protests.

But you're right, it's very rare. A lot has happened in Russia over the course of the past several years. Nationalism is on the rise. They have annexed Crimea as part of Ukraine. They have gone to war in Syria. And Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is very much riding still a popular wave, a nationalistic wave.

That's not really going to be dented by these protests. But, you know, there are elements of his government, the prime minister for one, who is deeply unpopular, and this is an expression of that frustration.

CABRERA: Interesting to hear his prime minister so unpopular and yet Putin very popular.

Matthew Chance, thank you for adding that perspective for us.

Now, after the defeat of the Republican health care bill back here in America, the White House insisted President Trump had complete faith in House Speaker Paul Ryan, and then came a tweet. A cryptic suggestion from President Trump to watch a show where the host had her own opinion about Paul Ryan. That beltway mystery is next.


[18:28:07] CABRERA: A spokesman for House Speaker Paul Ryan trying to explain this tweet from President Trump in which he promoted Judge Jeanine Pirro's show on FOX News. The president suggesting people should watch her show.

And when viewers tuned in -- well, this is what they heard.


JUDGE JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: Paul Ryan needs to step down as speaker of the house. The reason: he failed to deliver the votes on his health care bill.


CABRERA: A Ryan spokesman now says Ryan and President Trump spoke today. The president made clear his tweet had nothing too with the speaker. Too be clear, throughout the day, FOX News had been promoting that new details in the wiretapping case would be revealed on that show.

And so, let's bring in to discuss and figure out what really happened here.

Senior media and politics reporter Dylan Byers is joining us now.

Dylan, what do you make of this?

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR MEDIA AND POLITICS REPORTER: Well, look, there's certainly a possibility that it the president was trying to further off load blame for the failure of the health care legislation on to Paul Ryan. There are certainly a lot of people in the White House, including some of his most senior officials such as Steve Bannon who has been fighting against Paul Ryan and Paul Ryan types of lawmakers for several years, even before he joined the Trump campaign.

I think it's also just as likely that it can be explained away by what you just pointed out that, which is that the countdown clock was advertising supposed new wiretap evidence or something to that effect. I think if you look at the president's tweets and he sort of line them up with his viewing habits, when you see is often those tweets are a response to what he's watching on cable news as we get deeper and deeper into his administration. I know we're only two and a half months in, cable news for him is really FOX News because that is the one network that sort of tells him what he wants to hear.

CABRERA: In the meantime, you have sites like Breitbart, kind of considered alt-right, far right, now blaming Speaker Paul Ryan for the failure of the health care bill, even calling for his replacement. Well, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus tried to ease some of the concerns about any tension between the Speaker and the President. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: So does he want Paul Ryan to step down or not?

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: No, he doesn't, and he has talked to Paul Ryan yesterday for about an hour. He believes what he said in the Oval Office on Friday. He doesn't blame Paul Ryan. In fact, he thought Paul Ryan worked really hard. He enjoys his relationship with Paul Ryan, thinks that Paul Ryan's a great Speaker of the House.


CABRERA: So kind of an interesting dynamic we're seeing here. Is President Trump essentially being put between his base, right wing media sites like Breitbart, and Ryan, the man essentially responsible for pushing his agenda through?

BYERS: Yes, that's absolutely right. And by the way, I don't doubt what Priebus is saying there. You know, we're sort of looking to see, you know, how much is the President actually aligned with Ryan? One of the reasons we don't believe the words coming out of the President's mouth or out of Reince Priebus' mouth is because there is a bit of a credibility issue with this administration.

But, yes, you look at where the President is now, thinking about future legislation, he has not only the Democrats, who he has to go up against, he also has the Freedom Caucus and the sort of far right wing of the House who has shown and demonstrated here, in his first major test of trying to pass legislation, that they are willing to stare him down, that they're willing to say no, even to this President.

And so, he needs Paul Ryan. He needs Paul Ryan, and he needs to decide, is he going to tack further to the right and try and bring in members of that House Caucus who can stand in the way of potentially any legislation? Or is he going to try and bring some Democrats knowing that that might be what that kind of legislation might be what it takes in order to get something through the Senate, once anything gets to the Senate in the first place?

And what you're seeing with the media landscape is something that very much mirrors that. You're seeing there's a right wing media and then there's a far right wing media. And that far right media, which is willing to criticize House Speaker Paul Ryan, which is willing, at times, even to criticize President Trump, represents that same sort of far right Freedom Caucus fringe of the Republican Party.

CABRERA: And then there's the mainstream media, which the President has had no problem attacking over and over and over again. And yet, after the ObamaCare repeal and replace plan failed to go through to even a vote, who does he call? He picks up the phone and calls "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," two of the places that he's assailed so often. Why do you think he did that?

BYERS: Well, look, there's an enormous discrepancy here between what the President says and what he does when it comes to media. He always rails against the media. His rhetoric has gotten only more and more aggressive over time. He now calls the media the enemy of the American people.

He has singled out "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post," and yet, like you said, he calls these news organizations. He cares about how these news organizations cover him. He also sees them as a useful tool in terms of getting his message out.

And in fact, this is something he's been doing his entire life. In fact, what his phone calls to the mainstream media reminded me of was the fact that when he was going through divorces in New York, he would call up New York tabloids and try and spin the narrative his way. He lives in the media.

We were just talking about how he watches Fox News all day and responds to Fox News. I mean, he lives in and for the media and the media narrative. That is really how he measures his own level of success, is by that level of coverage, that level of exposure, how much attention is being paid to him. He always has cared about the ratings.

So, you know, as much as his base might really rally behind this sort of anti-media cry, the truth is that he loves the media, is obsessed with the media, cares more about the media perception of him than perhaps anything else.

CABRERA: Interesting. Dylan Byers, thank you for joining us.

BYERS: Thank you.

CABRERA: Still to come, tragedy in Mosul. The U.S. military launching a formal investigation into the deaths of potentially hundreds of civilians. Was it ISIS? Was it a U.S. airstrike or somehow both?

[18:34:12] We'll take you to Iraq, next. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


CABRERA: In the war against ISIS, the Pentagon confirming today more American troops are now headed to Iraq. The exact number of soldiers set to deploy, we still don't know. The term used by a defense official is in the low hundreds. They will likely be sent to an Iraqi air base in east Mosul. Who knows how long they will be there?

Also today, the Pentagon is addressing the very serious allegation that one or more U.S. airstrikes may have killed hundreds of Iraqi civilians this month. Here's a statement we got today from the CentCom Commanding General saying, quote, "We are investigating the incident to determine exactly what happened and will continue to take extraordinary measures to avoid harming civilians."

CNN's Senior International Correspondent Arwa Damon is in northern Iraq with more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The investigations are still ongoing, but what we have been able to, at least, preliminarily piece together is that, on March 17th, according to one of the local counterterrorism commanders, as the forces were advancing, there was a truck that they believed was laden with explosives, driven by a suicide bomber that was advancing on forces, and an airstrike was called in specifically against that. The force of the explosion then caused a number of homes to collapse.

We spoke to an eyewitness who lived a few houses down who described a pretty terrifying scene and said that, as he and his family were fleeing, they could hear people screaming, screaming things like, "We're alive, please save us." And he said that in at least one of the homes, there were around six families that were sheltering there because they believe that it was a fairly sturdy structure. Just the homeowner himself, his family was made up of 17 individuals.

[18:40:13] And it took the civil defense team quite some time, days in fact, to actually be able to reach the site because of the intensity of the fighting. And according to the head of the civil defense team, at least 80 bodies were pulled out of the rubble. One of the Iraqi generals who is the spokesman for the Iraqi joint military command, he said that they believe that, in one house alone, there were 130 people.

Now, the Iraqis are saying that because of how densely populated this part of Mosul is and because of these various reports of civilian casualties, there are going to be modifying their tactics using less airstrikes, advancing more on foot -- these are very narrow streets -- using more drones, using more precision artillery.

But this is the ugly reality of the battle that they are facing. ISIS is holding the civilian population hostage. People, when they do try to flee, based on what we have been told, if ISIS catches them, they turn them back at gunpoint. They don't allow families to leave houses that ISIS then uses as fighting positions. And this was one of the big concerns, even well before this battle for Mosul even began, the fate of the civilian population.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Irbil.


CABRERA: Our thanks to Arwa Damon.

Now, to that major U.S. military announcement today, the new deployment of soldiers to northern Iraq. Our Pentagon Reporter Ryan Browne is joining us with more information.

Ryan, the timing of this new deployment is kind of interesting. Do you think or are you hearing, is it at all related to the investigation of that airstrike?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY PRODUCER: Well, Ana, this deployment had been in the works for some time, we understand. But however, it is related to this intense battle that is beginning to take place inside Mosul, in that older part of the city where you're seeing this fierce resistance by ISIS as they dig in, hide amongst the civilian population, use snipers.

So the Iraqi troops are struggling in this kind of critical part of the battle, so they're bringing in more advisers, a U.S. defense official tells us, in the low hundreds, which would represent a significant uptick in U.S. forces advising Iraqi troops in this battle.

CABRERA: Today, we also heard from the U.S. Central Command, as we mentioned earlier. What more have you learned about this investigation now into the deaths of all these civilians from the U.S. side?

BROWNE: Oh, that's right. The military has confirmed that an investigation is ongoing. Now, what they've done is reviewed the strikes that the military has carried out in recent days and kind of compared that to where these reports were coming from, where these reports of civilian casualties. And they've identified one strike on the 17th of March that did take place in the neighborhood where these reports of civilian casualties are emanating from.

Now, the U.S.-led coalition believes that they were targeting ISIS fighters and ISIS equipment. So right now, what they're doing is they're going to review the intelligence from the strikes, surveillance materials, local intelligence reports from the ground, from officials and social media, and really suss out what happened, what took place.

This investigation will take some time, but the military is constantly investigating these type of allegations. They have a process that they're going to pursue, but they do adjust their procedures, their operating procedures, when these kind of reports come in, in an effort to avoid these kind of situations in the future.

CABRERA: All right. Ryan Browne, from the Pentagon, thank you.

Still to come, it's a jarring image. A candidate in a western democracy embracing Vladimir Putin. At the same time, President Trump's campaign aides are being investigated for possible conclusion with Russian operatives. Why a French presidential candidate's cozy relationship with Putin is raising eyebrows?

[18:43:57] You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


CABRERA: Russian president Vladimir Putin is now seeking to influence a key American ally in Europe that has a presidential election next month. This is happening as the FBI investigates Moscow's meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Far right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen expressed pro-Russian views after sitting down one-on-one with Putin and Moscow recently.

CNN's Brian Todd breaks down what may be motivating Putin to now influence other western politicians. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vladimir Putin's latest attempt to manipulate another country's levers of power, he meets in Moscow with France's far right presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, a woman who, if she wins, could turn a key U.S. ally upside down. Le Pen says she'd like to lift sanctions on Russia, to recognize Putin's annexation of Crimea. And she makes another bold declaration.

MARINE LE PEN, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL FRONT (through translator): It's a world of Vladimir Putin. It's a world of Donald Trump and the United States.

TODD (voice-over): Analysts say it's a stunning image for a top candidate in a western democracy to unabashedly embrace Moscow at a time when, in America, President Trump's campaign is being investigated over whether aides coordinated with Russian operatives.

HEATHER CONLEY, DIRECTOR OF THE EUROPE PROGRAM, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think what's unusual is how much Russia is now playing into our news cycle, our daily consciousness. Russia is very much at the center of our attention, and that's exactly where President Putin would like it to be.

TODD (voice-over): Why is Marine Le Pen a favorite French candidate of Putin?

BEN JUDAH, AUTHOR, "FRAGILE EMPIRE": Because Le Pen wants to break Euro-Atlantic institutions. Le Pen wants to bring France out of NATO. She wants to bring France out of the Euro. She wants to break a block which Putin sees, correctly, as preventing Russia achieving the dominant position in Europe as a great power.

[18:50:14] TODD (voice-over): And tonight, there's serious concern that Putin will meddle in France's elections, like he allegedly did in America. CNN has learned French officials are worried that Putin's hackers will fish for damaging information, using similar tactics to how U.S. intelligence says they targeted Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Russian hackers are believed to have targeted France before with a devastating cyber attack in 2015 of a top French T.V. network. Putin denies trying to tilt the French elections.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, PRESIDENT OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION (through translator): We do not want to influence events in any way.

TODD (voice-over): But Marine Le Pen has already gotten a boost from Russia, a loan, three years ago, of about $10 million to her party from a bank owned by a close friend of Putin's.

DAVID KRAMER, SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR HUMAN RIGHTS AND DEMOCRACY, THE MCCAIN INSTITUTE: The very fact that Marine Le Pen is in Moscow this week and is there to drum up support from Putin, has received a $10 million loan from the Russians in 2014, that Putin is trying to boost the far right forces in France, all this does suggest that Le Pen is rather beholden to Putin and the Kremlin in Russia. TODD (on camera): Analysts say Putin's attempts to help far right

candidates with his world view, win power in other countries, is just one way that Putin is moving toward his ultimate goal, staying in power himself. He's got an election coming up next year, which experts say he's fairly paranoid about, even though he has manipulated the political machinery so heavily, there's almost no chance he'll lose.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


CABRERA: Coming up, 14 inmates still on the run after a daring prison escape in Mexico. Details on the manhunt and how these prisoners got out, but first, this week's "Before the Bell."

The Trump rally on Wall Street could be in jeopardy. Why? Because the failure of health care in the House has big implications for tax reform. That's what's investors are really waiting for. And now that health care didn't pass the House, Wall Street is worried the rest of President Trump's agenda is in peril.

Since the elections, the stock market has been pricing in the best- case scenario that pushed stocks to record highs. But then last week, we saw that rally hit pause as all this uncertainty put investors on edge. Now, this failure to repeal and replace ObamaCare in the House could give investors a reason to sell.

Of course, all is not necessarily lost for tax reform. And experts believe this failure could actually motivate Republicans to move on quickly and perhaps come to terms on taxes.

We're back in a moment.


[18:57:03] CABRERA: There's a big manhunt under way in Mexico after a prison break. Fourteen Mexican inmates are still on the run after using a tunnel to escape. Officials say they snuck out on Wednesday in the Mexican City, Ciudad Victoria. Twenty-nine inmates initially got away. Well, now, about half of them have been captured.

But that's not all. These inmates were also stabbed, three of them were stabbed to death, during a riot that broke out Friday after the guards destroyed some shelters that had been built by the inmates. CNN's Leyla Santiago is joining me now from Mexico City.

Leyla, give us the latest on this story.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: All right. So let's go over the numbers first, Ana. We have a captured, 14 still on the run. And we're starting to learn a little bit more about these inmates just in the last hour or so.

We've learned that the majority of them were incarcerated for crimes like kidnapping, homicide, robbery, but there were four, at least four, that we know that were believed to be involved in organized crime. And this really speaks to the great influence, the power, of cartels here in Mexico.

I mean let's go back just a few weeks earlier in March. The son of a very powerful, well-known cartel escaped a prison. And then let's take it back to 2015, when we saw El Chapo also escape from prison through a tunnel. Of course, he's been extradited to the U.S. since then.

But there's a lot of focus right now on the investigation. The key question, how did this happen? Who is responsible? And that's something the authorities here have really remained tight-lipped.

When we checked in with a government official from that state, what they told us was, we have restored order. Families are now being allowed to go to the prison and visit prisoners. And more importantly for them, that tunnel, which is about 15 feet deep, about 130 feet wide, has been sealed with concrete.

CABRERA: Now, when you look at these pictures, that tunnel is no small tunnel. You just gave us the dimensions there. How is it that that tunnel was built?

I mean, do these prison guards, for the lack of resources, are they not checking? Or is there a suggestion that there could be some kind of complicity?

SANTIAGO: Again, all of that will be part of the investigation. But this is an older prison, built in the 1940s, one which government officials admit needs some upkeep and a little bit more attention, which may speak to how this was able to happen.

CABRERA: All right. Leyla Santiago, keep us posted. Thank you.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Greet to have you with me this weekend. I hope your weekend is finishing strong.

[18:59:56] Tonight, the blame game. After pointing fingers directly at the Democrats for the failure of the health care bill, President Trump has decided there's more guilt to go around. The target this time, the Republicans. And his form of attack, Twitter.