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Freedom Caucus Member Abruptly Resigns; Trump Shifts Blame to Republicans After Health Care Defeat; House Dems Demanding Independent Investigation on Russia Ties; Hundreds Arrested in Russia in Anti- Corruption Protests; Manafort Denies Political Tie to Russia; 14 Mexican Inmates on the Run After Tunnel Escape; A Different Side of Scientology. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired March 26, 2017 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: With us.
Republicans and the White House are still reeling from legislative defeat after the breakdown of the GOP's Obamacare replace bill. Fingers are being pointed, alliances are being questioned, and the big unknown right now, is what's next. First though, who should take the blame.
President Trump first pointed to Democrats and now he is targeting conservatives, calling out specifically the House Freedom Caucus directly on Twitter. And in a late development today, one of the group's members has just stepped down abruptly.
Congressman Ted Poe of Texas saying in a statement, quote, "Saying no is easy, leaving is hard but that is what we were elected to do. Leaving this caucus will allow me to be a more effective member of Congress and advocate for the people of Texas."
Meantime, all eyes are on the relationship now between President Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Let's discuss with CNN White House correspondent Athena Jones.
Athena, we know the president and Speaker Ryan talked at least a couple of times this weekend. What are you hearing?
ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Ana. That's right. They have spoken several times in the last several days and also this week. And we know they spoke for an hour yesterday, a GOP source telling my colleague Dana Bash that the two -- the relationship is now stronger than ever. And we know that they talked again this morning, and there's some interesting background to the conversation today and that is that yesterday morning the president tweeted out a promotion, essentially, for a FOX News program airing that night, saying, "Watch Judge Jeanine Pirro tonight."
All day on FOX they were running promotions saying that there would be new wiretapping details coming out in that broadcast. There weren't truly any truly new details on the wiretapping matter, but what did emerge in that broadcast last night at the very beginning, in Judge Jeanine Pirro's opening statement, she called on House Speaker Paul Ryan to step down for having failed to get the votes needed to pass the repeal effort. And so that led to a lot of questions, was this a coincidence? Was the president talking about that?
And so an aide to Speaker Ryan told my colleague Ali Malloy that the two spoke again today and the president was clear his tweet had nothing to do with the speaker. They are both eager to get back to work on the agenda. And that is the message we've been hearing from the White House. They are not placing the blame for this failure on the shoulders of Speaker Ryan, but instead in other places. We heard more of that today from chief of staff Reince Priebus who was asked on "FOX News Sunday" if the president thought Speaker Ryan should step down. Here's what he had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS SUNDAY HOST: 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 and thinks that Paul Ryan is a great speaker of the House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: So there you heard another endorsement from the White House. The president thinks that Paul Ryan is a great speaker of the House. That relationship is going to be important going forward. The White House has to figure out -- the president has to figure out how he's going to deal not just with House leadership, like Speaker Ryan and others, but also with the House Freedom Caucus, those conservatives he called out on Twitter today, the bloc of about 30 House Republicans who have proven themselves to be pretty powerful in blocking this legislation and winning various other fights in recent years.
Also this idea of working with moderate Republicans and potentially Democrats. Reince Priebus talked about working with Democrats several times in that same interview.
The question, Ana, is can the president bash Democrats in comments to the press and on Twitter and bash the House Freedom Caucus and then expect them to want to come to the table and work on getting some of these big legislative priorities done. What will the coalition look like that helps the president achieve what he wants to achieve at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue -- Ana.
CABRERA: A lot to talk about. Athena Jones, thank you.
Let's bring in our panel now to talk a little bit more about this first defection from the House Freedom Caucus in the wake of what happened on Friday, the day the bill was pulled. Texas Congressman Ted Poe tweeted this. He says, quote, "Thanks for your leadership, Donald Trump and Speaker Ryan. Some only want to be the party of no. Would have voted against the 'Ten Commandments.'" Congressman Poe had planned to vote yes on the health care bill. He
announced last summer that he is battling leukemia.
Let's talk it all over with CNN political commentator Peter Beinart, contributing editor for "The Atlantic," and Sarah Westwood, White House correspondent for the "Washington Examiner."
To you first, Sarah. What does Poe's resignation signal and are you expecting more to follow suit?
SARAH WESTWOOD, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: Well, Poe's resignation certainly signals that the fractions within the Republican Party, between the Freedom Caucus, between the Tuesday group and all the members in between are still very real. You know, when President Trump won the White House and when Republicans retained the Senate, when there was an expectation that neither of those things would happen, I think that the divisions within the Republican that were very evident at the beginning of the 2016 primary were sort of forgotten in the honeymoon period of Republican victory.
[20:05:02] But this first legislative battle is just a powerful reminder for Republicans that those divisions still exist. That they're as real as ever. And that passing legislation will require a balancing act where all the members on the ideological spectrum of the GOP are satisfied and that's a lot easier said than done. It was clear that there was not necessarily an attempt on the front end to make a bill that could appease the Freedom Caucus because those divisions were laying below the radar for so long and now we're seeing that it is going to be a challenge that needs to be considered earlier in the process than it was here.
CABRERA: It's kind of interesting because Congressman Poe won his November re-election by a big margin. He got 60 percent of the vote. His Democratic opponent just 36 percent.
So, Peter, I mean, how much would this vote on this health care bill really have impacted his political future?
PETER BEINART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, I think the problems go way beyond Congressman Poe. And basically you have a Republican Party that controls all three branches, control the House and the Senate and the White House, but can't really govern. It can't govern because it has -- governing requires compromises. It requires -- and you have a wing of the Republican Party that is too invested in political purity, in the House especially, but some in the Senate, too.
CABRERA: And you're talking about the Freedom Caucus in that?
BEINART: And some of their allies in the Senate, people like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, for instance. And then you also have in the White House someone who simply doesn't have any experience in getting this done. You can see how amateurish an effort this was. If you compare it to -- I mean, look at the Obama administration, all the time they put in to getting Obamacare through, this was a very slap dash amateurish effort by comparison. And it just shows that right now the Republican Party is not a party that's well positioned to actually govern.
CABRERA: So what does the president do? Let's take a look at his approval rating right now Quinnipiac University, only 37 percent approve of his job performance, compared to 56 percent that disapprove. And then this morning what does he do, he goes on the attack against some of the Republicans with his tweet about the Freedom Caucus, which we showed earlier.
So, Sarah, with that low of an approval number, was that a smart move?
WESTWOOD: Well, certainly the president does need some sort of to have some sort of way to turn the page on this. He needs to have some sort of legislative victory, or some other situation that takes the focus off of this failure. The problem for him is that he's expended so much of his political capital trying to get the American Health Care Act passed and it failed.
Now when he calls members personally, when he invites them to the White House residence, brings them in groups to the Oval Office on the next legislative battle, it will be that much less effective because he's done it before and he wasn't able to get that legislation into the end zone. So now that they're moving on to something that ostensibly should be easier, tax reform, I mean, giving tax cuts to American families, you would think that that would be an easier sell to just about every member, but that legislative battle is going to be just that much more difficult because of this failure and because his clout on the Hill has been diluted by this loss.
CABRERA: Well, the tax reform was supposed to happen after Obamacare, Peter, because they wanted to have some savings to be able to kind of back up some of those tax cuts?
BEINART: Right. Essentially why are we calling this tax reform? Right? It's not tax reform. It's not an effort to kind of reform and get back to some basic fair or better principle. It's basically an effort to cut taxes, especially for people who are at the very upper top of the bracket. Now the reason it's easier to do that is because the deficit has declined. And we have seen this again and again from Republican presidents. Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and now Donald Trump is going to try to do the same thing.
Once you have -- once the deficit has gone down, you basically blow it on a large tax cut geared towards the very wealthy. This will be easier to get done than repealing Obamacare because there will not be so many short-terms losers. The losers will be long term, right? As we put the country on an unsound fiscal footing, but in the short-term it should be easier because essentially you're just throwing money at people that we're going to have to pay for down the road.
CABRERA: Well, Republicans would argue that that money is going to be reinvested into the economy and so therefore there's going to be more growth. But let me switch gears.
BEINART: Right. It didn't work the last few times.
CABRERA: Let me switch gears here and talk about the Russia investigation and the investigation into whether there was any kind of coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign. Let's listen to what Congressman Mike Quigley, a Democratic member of the House Intelligence Committee that's part of this investigation, what he told me just a short time ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D), MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Indeed, we should have an independent commission, and clearly, we need an independent prosecutor.
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 is probable cause to believe that there was coordination.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: So, Sarah, we have heard Adam Schiff earlier this week saying that there may be more than circumstantial evidence, but now he is saying that there is probable cause to believe this. What's your reaction?
[20:10:09] WESTWOOD: I think Democrats and Republicans are both guilty of politicizing this investigation as much as they possibly can. I mean Democrats have sought to sensationalize every new piece of information and Republicans have shied away from investigating Russian cyber activities as aggressively as they could because they're afraid that that will bring them into confrontation with these additional allegations of Trump campaign collusion.
And so to a certain point the question has to be asked whether the House Intelligence Committee can continue this investigation not just because of Republicans but also because of Democrats, because the political temperatures are so high in Congress right now that it's hard for a committee that is as partisan as the House Intelligence Committee has become to handle this without politics sort of just making any investigation anything other than a circus or a side show.
CABRERA: Let's talk about another story that maybe got buried a little bit this week because of everything else going on, Judge Gorsuch, Trump's Supreme Court nominee, he moves to the next round of the confirmation process this week, and so far, some of the -- I guess the fallout or the reviews, shall we say, of his committee hearings has been pretty positive that he's been emerging relatively unscathed.
Peter, do you see him and his confirmation being perhaps a win that the president so desperately needs?
BEINART: Yes. I mean, I think this is the most competent thing so far, big thing the Trump administration has done. They didn't choose a kind of a fringe person. Gorsuch is very far to the right ideologically but he's the kind of person you could have easily imagined any Republican nominating. He has a serious judicial record. And the Democrats will oppose him because they oppose him ideologically. But the rollout was effective and it's weird. I mean, usually Supreme Court fights kind of dominate everything politically, but this has actually been eclipsed by all these other fights that they're having, and this is actually the one, the Gorsuch one, that's going the best for Trump right now.
CABRERA: All right. Well, let's watch this week. Peter Beinart and Sarah Westwood, thank you both for coming on. Have a great rest of the weekend.
Coming up, the White House rushing to distance itself from the Trump's former campaign chairman. The new questions about Paul Manafort and his ties to a Russian billionaire.
[20:16:35] CABRERA: This was the chaotic scene in the heart of Moscow today as Russians participating in an anti-corruption protest surrounded a bus transporting a detained opposition figure. Now the anti-corruption critic was one of hundreds of people arrested during this protest. He's also planning a run at the presidency in Russia in 2018.
Similar demonstrations were planned in 100 cities across Russia today. The protests drawing a heavy police presence but remained largely peaceful.
Senior international correspondent Matthew Chance is joining us live now in Moscow.
Matthew, what do these Russian protesters and their opposition leader want?
MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, on this occasion, they're looking for -- they're calling for the resignation of the Russian prime minister. His name is Dmitri Medvedev. He's been the subject of a long documentary film that's been broadcast and posted on the Internet by this main opposition figure, Alexei Navalny, and accusing him of all sorts of corruption, of accumulating a portfolio of expensive properties including yachts and mansions and vineyards, all of which outstrip his sort of official salary.
And so this is what the opposition figure Alexi Navalny has been calling for. And this has really touched a nerve in Russia because there is widespread concern and anger about the level of official corruption here, and thousands of people have come out onto the streets across the country to protest against that. Now there were several arrests, lots of arrests, 500 arrests in fact in Moscow alone. And that's prompted criticism from the United States.
Mark Toner, "The State Department spokesman, saying the U.S. strongly condemns the detention of hundreds of peaceful protesters throughout Russia on Sunday. Detaining peaceful protesters," the statement says, "human rights observers and journalists is an affront to core democratic values." At least one American journalist, Alec Bloom, was detained briefly for that five hours by the authorities during the time he was attending and reporting on that rally.
So, yes, you know, a significant protest and perhaps the biggest protest that Russia has seen since 2011, 2012 when Vladimir Putin came back into office as the Russian president.
CABRERA: And of course, Matthew, we know these protests come after a former Russian lawmaker and vocal Putin critic was shot in the -- in Ukraine on Thursday, he was shot dead. Were protesters concerned at all for their safety today?
CHANCE: Well, look, I think that the opposition figures in this country, whether it's that individual, that former parliamentarian you're talking about who was killed in the Ukrainian capital a few days back, or whether it's Alexi Navalny himself must be very concerned about, you know, their safety. I mean, it's a dangerous occupation to say the least, opposing the Kremlin. I mean, the last decade and a half is littered with examples of individuals who have been prominent Kremlin critics and who have met sticky ends, and so I think security is always a concern when you're criticizing the Kremlin.
CABRERA: Matthew Chance reporting. Thank you.
Quick break. We'll be right back.
[20:24:06] CABRERA: The man who ran President Trump's campaign for a number of months last year says yes, he once worked for a Russian billionaire, but there was nothing political about it. And talking about Paul Manafort, his name is part of the congressional investigation looking into how much the Russians may have worked to influence the 2016 election. Manafort and two other former close Trump advisers are now volunteering to appear before the House Intelligence Committee but now something else has emerged about Manafort that may connect him to people overseas who had very good reasons to see Donald Trump win the White House.
CNN's Tom Foreman has more.
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: How many people have to say that there's nothing there before you realize there's nothing there?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The administration is moving fast to put distance between President Trump and the man who is a key interest in the Russian hacking investigation, Paul Manafort.
SPICER: And obviously there's been discussion of Paul Manafort who played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.
[20:25:03] FOREMAN: Limited? Manafort was Donald Trump's campaign chairman from May to mid-August last year, overseeing the staff, the budget and dismissing early claims by Democrats that Russian hackers targeted their party's computers to tilt the election Trump's way.
PAUL MANAFORT, AMERICAN LOBBYIST AND POLITICAL CONSULTANT: They certainly are getting desperate rather early in the game.
FOREMAN: But now a lawmaker in Ukraine says he has discovered a new document in an office where Manafort worked as he advised the former Ukrainian President, Victor Yanukovych. The lawmaker says the paper looks like an invoice for $750,000 in computer parts allegedly signed with Manafort's name. A spokesman for Manafort says Manafort does not recognize the document and it's not his signature, and CNN cannot verify the authenticity of the invoice.
If it is legitimate, however, it could dovetail with the so called "Black Ledger," a longer list revealed last fall which purports to show $12.7 million in payments alongside Manafort's name. That lawmaker who found the new document believes all the money could be for undisclosed services paid for through the Ukrainian president's political party.
SERGII LESHCHENKO, UKRAINE LAWMAKER: I think it's not all money for him. It's more for his activity as well, for his campaigning activities, for some technical issues of his activity as a spin doctor. $12.7 million is an incredibly high amount of money. But for corrupt politicians, this was not so impressive.
FOREMAN: But why should such payments matter to the U.S. investigation of the Russian hacking scandal? Because the former Ukrainian president, Manafort's client, was a Kremlin ally. Even fleeing to Russia when he was driven from power.
Manafort dismisses any suggestion there was a corrupt river of money flowing from the Kremlin as part of a scheme to elect Donald Trump and get a more pro-Russian president in the White House.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Why is it so farfetched to blame the Russians and say that the motive was to help you?
MANAFORT: It's just absurd. I don't even know what you're talking about. It's crazy.
FOREMAN: When reports came out during the Republican convention that the Trump camp pushed the Republican Party and its platform to ease up on criticism of Russia for invading Ukraine, Manafort pushed back.
MANAFORT: It absolutely did not come from the Trump campaign. I don't know who everybody is, but I guarantee you --
CHUCK TODD, MSNBC ANCHOR: Nobody from the Trump campaign wanted that change in the platform?
MANAFORT: No one. Zero.
FOREMAN: Amid these latest developments, Manafort's most recent statement says, in part, "I had no role or involvement in the cyber attacks on the DNC. I have never spoken with any Russian government officials or anyone who claimed to have been involved. The suggestion that I have ever worked to undermine the interests of the United States is false."
(On camera): And yet investigators keep scrutinizing this chain of connections from President Trump to his one-time campaign chairman to a former president of Ukraine to Moscow. And wondering if they will find anywhere along here any evidence of something truly nefarious going on or just what the White House has said all along, only a witch-hunt.
CABRERA: Tom Foreman, thank you.
Back with me now, CNN political commentator Kayleigh McEnany and joining us, Wajahat Ali, contributor for the "New York Times."
Kayleigh, on Friday, Roger Stone, Carter Page, Paul Manafort, all put out statements that they are willing to testify. Do you feel the White House is worried about what they might say?
KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: No. I don't think so. These are all people with tangential relationships with the campaign, the strongest of which, as you point out, was Paul Manafort who served as the chairman for five months during a two-year campaign. I don't think they're worried. What Democrats are doing is they're grasping at circumstantial evidence saying Paul Manafort did a deal with a billionaire a decade ago when he was involved with the Trump campaign for five months. And this 10-year far back deal somehow means that Trump colluded with the Russians.
It is absolutely ludicrous. Republicans could do the same thing. I could say, look at Hillary Clinton, see said when she extended the reset button to Russia, her words, her goal was to strengthen Russia, when she extended the reset. I'm not pointing to that evidence because I don't have direct evidence of Hillary Clinton colluding with Russians. That's what Democrats are doing to Republicans.
CABRERA: Wajahat, there is a lot of smoke surrounding the Russia- Trump campaign ties, but thus far there's no fire. Do you fear that Democrats risk over promising and under delivering? Would they be better off simply staying quiet and letting this investigation play out?
WAJAHAT ALI, CONTRIBUTOR, NEW YORK TIMES: Well, no. There's a lot of Russian smoke around Trump Tower and I think it's President Trump's interest to do an independent investigation, which is what the majority of Americans want, according to a poll. If he has nothing to hide, then he has nothing to lose because this taint will taint his presidency for the next four years, if indeed he lasts that long, because, look, the FBI since last year, is doing a counter intelligence investigation.
[20:30:02] That means they're investigating Russia's interference into our election process, but also the fact the U.S. citizens allegedly Trump associates worked with Russia. That's an act of espionage. Paul Manafort is not a volunteer was a campaign chairman who ran that campaign for several months and remember when the "New York Times" came out with that allegation that he received in cash $12.7 million to help pro-Russian Ukrainian forces, what did he do? He resigned. And Michael Flynn, the NSA director, when it was revealed that he lied about the nature of his conversation with the Russian ambassador, what did he do? He resigned.
And the top cop, Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, it was revealed he lied twice, yes, he lied twice, about his lack of, if you will, conversations with the Russian ambassador, what did he do? He recused himself from this investigation. So I think the American public demands an independent investigation and if Donald Trump has nothing to hide, he will be open to this, he will be cleared and we can move on.
CABRERA: Can you agree on that, Kayleigh?
MCENANY: There already is around investigation. The FBI is looking into what happened with Russia in the U.S. elections. The House Intel Committee is also looking into this. They are fully capable of handling this. You know --
CABRERA: Why not have an independent -- why not an independent investigation to dispel any question about any partisanship being part of this?
MCENANY: Because there's no reason to believe that the FBI and the Department of Justice cannot handle this. Jeff Sessions already recused himself. They can handle it, why appoint a special prosecutor? I mean, what this boils down to is Democrats are so upset that they lost the election, they're grasping at anything other than pointing their finger where it should be pointed which is the fact that they had a bad candidate in the form of Hillary Clinton, so they're trying to make up this false narrative of Trump-Russia collusion without evidence. Nothing pointed to by my colleague was evidence -- direct evidence and I challenge him to present me direct evidence of Trump colluding. He doesn't have any. It just does not exist.
ALI: That's why we need an independent prosecutor, an independent investigation, and that's why FBI for the last year, almost into last summer, which by the way, let's not forget, Donald Trump publicly said, invited Russia to criminally hack the e-mails, that happened. And by the way, what happened afterwards? It was revealed from our intelligence that Russia indeed interfered into our election process. Roger Stone, long-term ally of both Paul Manafort and Donald J. Trump, admits to talking to Julian Assange and Guccifer 2, which by the way, our intelligence agency said is a Russian intelligence agent who had the e-mails and released them.
And by the way, Roger Stone, magically, weeks before these Podesta e- mails were released, you remember, he tweeted it out. So I think there's enough there-there for any American who cares about our national security and any American who puts their country above their party to do an independent investigation. If there's nothing to hide, Donald Trump should come out there and say there's nothing to hide, go for it, FBI, go for it, let's do open hearings, let's do under oath testimonies, and under oath investigations, under oath questions and answers from Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and Carter Page.
By the way, they're agreeing to do this, Ana, but it's not under oath. If it's under oath, it'll be very different. So let's do it. Let's have it out.
CABRERA: And is that the case, Kayleigh? Do you think that they would -- if they're coming on under oath or -- and does that make a big difference to you?
MCENANY: Look, what makes a difference is we have Director Jim Comey looking into this, who has angered both sides of the political spectrum. He angered the Democrats when he announced the Hillary investigation, reopening of the investigation rather. He angered Republicans this week when he announced the investigation into the Trump associates' connections with Russia. This is someone who's fully capable of handling this. I don't understand what the beef is with Director Comey --
CABRERA: I don't think the beef is with Director Comey. I think the beef has been with Devin Nunes coming out -- he's the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee that's investigating, and he came out earlier this week with information that he took first to the White House, then he took to the press before he briefed his colleagues in the House Intelligence Committee. That's part of the beef. The other part of the beef is that he also cancelled a public hearing that was scheduled for this week with members of intelligence committee. That's the other part of the beef.
Now according to Democrats who didn't give a good reason for canceling that meeting, and so it has risen -- it has created some questions about his motivations or intentions behind some of these actions. And regardless I don't know what his intentions or motivations were, but I think that that's the investigation in question and that's why we're hearing some of the calls from people that I have talked to, and what Wajahat is saying, for an independent commission and perhaps even an independent prosecutor to look at this.
And it's not just Democrats. John McCain, a Republican, has also asked for that, Kayleigh.
MCENANY: But if something is there, it will be found because it's not just Devin Nunes and House Intel Committee looking into it, who I fully trust.
[20:35:04] You know, if others do not, they also have the FBI separately looking into Trump associates' connections with Russia, so you've got two separate branches there looking into the same thing. If there's evidence there, it will come out I can promise you that.
ALI: So, Kayleigh, we're on the same side. We're on the same side.
MCENANY: You have people committing felonies, leaking information to the "New York Times" and "The Washington Post." If there's any direct evidence of Trump doing anything nefarious, I promise you it will find its way into the hands of the "New York Times" and "The Washington Post."
ALI: Kayleigh, so we're on the same side, why not help? Why not help as much as we can, give as much ammunition and leeway to our intelligence agencies, to the House, to the Senate Intelligence Committee, to actually thoroughly once and for all completely investigate this and all the allegations and see if those allegations in that ex-MI6 agent's dossier which the FBI is taking very seriously. Let's follow it all the way. Let's look at the financial transactions. Let's look at Donald Trump's tax returns. Let's clear him completely so the next four years of his presidency will remain without the taint of this Russian smoke and Russian cloud.
MCENANY: But when you --
ALI: And maybe -- and maybe you can invite Donald Trump to send one tweet, maybe just one tweet, criticizing Vladimir Putin, a man who he said was, quote, "a smart man," and you pin that tweet. Maybe that would help just in one small way.
MCENANY: When you announce a special prosecutor, you're in effect saying we can't trust the Justice Department to do its job.
ALI: We can't trust Nunes.
MCENANY: We have no reason not to trust the Justice Department. We were saying the same thing about Loretta Lynch. We can't trust her to investigate Clinton, appoint a special prosecutor. It didn't happen. When you are suggesting that we need one, you're suggesting the Department of Justice can't do their job and they can.
CABRERA: Kayleigh and Wajahat, thanks. We got to leave it there, got to get in a quick break, we appreciate you both coming on in this spirited conversation.
Coming up, a prison break that took a lot of planning and digging. A live report on the hunt for more than a dozen Mexican inmate who escaped through a massive tunnel beneath a prison wall.
You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[20:41:03] CABRERA: You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera.
There is a big manhunt under way in Mexico after a prison break. 14 Mexican inmates are still on the run after using a huge tunnel to escape. Officials say they snuck out on Wednesday in the Mexican city, Ciudad Victoria. 29 inmates initially got away, now the half of them have been captured. But that's not all. Three inmates were also stabbed to death during a riot that broke out on Friday after guards there at the same prison destroyed some shelters that have been built by the inmates.
Let's bring in CNN's Leyla Santiago, joining me live from Mexico City now.
Leyla, give us the latest on this story.
LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, Ana. So right now we know that officials have captured 15 of those inmates, 14 remain on the run. And so the big question, not only, I think, for viewers at home, but also investigators here, is how in the world could something like this happen? This was a tunnel 15 feet deep, about 130 feet long, and a tunnel that allowed 25 inmates to escape. Those inmates, by the way, most of them, had -- were conflicted of kidnapping, robbery, murder, and four of those also had ties to organized crime.
And I think that's going to be key in answering that question of how do something like this happen because that tunnel really speaks to the power and the influence of Mexican cartels, not only inside prisons, which by the way was not a maximum security prison, but also to prisons that are of maximum security.
Let's go back to 2015. We saw El Chapo also escaped from a prison through a tunnel. He's since been extradited to the United States. And then earlier this month the son of a well-known cartel member also escaped. Granted not believed to have been through a tunnel. But it speaks to the power and the influence that many of these Mexican cartels have within the Mexican prison.
CABRERA: And the boldness, when you look at these pictures, how big that tunnel is. It's an interesting story. You'll continue to follow for us.
Leyla Santiago in Mexico City, thank you.
And still ahead here tonight a spiritually curious journey into scientology. The host of CNN's "BELIEVER" Reza Aslan is going to join us live with a different side of the religion you've heard so much about.
[20:47:42] CABRERA: Welcome back. CNN is delving into the mysterious world of scientology in tonight's episode of "BELIEVER." Reza Aslan speaks with two former top trainers in the Church of Scientology and eventually they were excommunicated but they continue to teach what they believe is the purist version of scientology.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REZA ASLANT, CNN HOST, "BELIEVER": Anyone can just leave the church if they want to?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Certainly you can. You can. But what if you have a daughter or a son on staff?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My daughter disconnected from me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She disconnected from him when he left.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Doesn't call me, won't talk to me.
ASLAN: Did you try to reach out to her?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure, but it's just -- you know, it's a wasted effort.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you say you got declared, that's it, the ax has fallen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
ASLAN: Did you introduce her to scientology?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sure. I've been a scientologist since before she was born.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Before she was born?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right. Yes. So she sort of grew up with it.
ASLAN: Did you know that that was going to happen?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yes.
ASLAN: Can I ask you why you felt it was -- considering the consequences -- so important for you to say your piece?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All I can say is that it was a point of integrity. I couldn't be in the organization and see the things that I saw going on and not know that there was something wrong. What's more important, you know, that or some personal pain and discomfort and familial, you know, rejection or something? And I chose the religious aspects of it as being more important.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Host of "BELIEVER" Reza Aslan is joining me now.
Reza, it seems like you had such frank conversations with these guys. What surprised you most about filming this episode on scientology?
ASLAN: Well, like most people I didn't realize that there was this whole scientology sectarian movement. All these independent scientologist.
ASLAN: Some of them refer to themselves as scientology reformers who have left the church for all the reasons that you hear all the time in these various shows about scientology, but haven't left the religion. In fact they believe that they are the true believers. That they are maintaining the original intention of Ron Hubbard and the church has lost its way. That was a completely fascinating thing for me.
[20:50:03] CABRERA: Yes. And I'm still trying to make sense of that because who wants to learn scientology from a teacher who's been excommunicated?
ASLAN: Well, increasingly, a lot more people than you can imagine. I mean, look, scientology has had a lot of bad rap. Corruption and abuse allegations, many of which are probably very true. What's remarkable is that here we have a group that very much sees itself as the bearer of the true form of scientology. They think that the future of scientology is with them. And by the way, it's a global movement. I mean, a lot of them are in Los Angeles but we see some in L.A. there's groups in Mexico, and all over Europe.
People who have decided to take this religion upon themselves. And the church, as you can imagine is not very -- very welcoming of that. They, like most churches, feel as though they are the only ones who get to define what scientology is. They very have clearly said that you cannot be a scientologist if you are -- if you've left the church. And these guys here, I think, have, obviously, a different impression.
CABRERA: I know there is a lot of debate about whether scientology actually fits the criteria for a proper religion. Where do you stand on this now?
ASLAN: Well, look, I mean, I've been studying religion for 20 years. And I can't tell you what makes something a religion or not. No scholar can. I know that a lot of people, of course, because of the controversies around scientology refer to it as a cult. And without in any way devaluing the abuse allegations, the corruption allegations, I would say that, you know, whether you are a religion or not is not based on whether you abuse your followers. I mean, if there was no such thing as a religion without abuse or a corruption --
CABRERA: Right. Look at the Catholic religion.
ASLAN: I've never seen that.
CABRERA: Which I am and we have to whole Catholic Church scandal with the sex abuse.
ASLAN: And I think this is really interesting. Catholicism is a very interesting one. The vast majority of people when they look at the church abuse scandal can separate that from the little old lady that goes to church on Sunday and prays and does the rosary. But a lot of people can't really separate the Church of Scientology, the institution of scientology with the religion of scientology.
And what these independent scientologists are saying is these are separate things. The religion is different from the church. Don't confuse the two. And so this is the first episode -- this is the first time really ever that we are finding out what scientology actually is. What do these people actually believe, why do they believe it. Not just the usual controversies and the usual stories about corruption and celebrities and all that stuff.
CABRERA: How big is this religion? Do you know how many people are identifying themselves as scientologists? ASLAN: Well, the church says there are millions of scientologists
around the world and this is -- the way they come up with this number is how many people get services, auditing services from the church. These -- independent scientologists will say that they are growing more rapidly than the church is. That membership in the church is actually retracting a little bit and it's expanding because people are increasingly realizing that you can actually access these teachings outside of the church.
That you can have, you know, a movement up the bridge to total freedom as scientology would say without necessarily dealing with the dogma and the control of the church. And frankly as I make this argument in the episode, the Church of Scientology has to make a decision. They need to decide whether they're going to continue to try to maintain control over this religion or whether they're going to allow it to evolve and individualize.
All religions have to go through this process. The ones that actually succeed are the ones that allow for less control. Allow people to actually make of the religion what they want. The ones that die are the ones that try to hold on to control. And I think the church is really facing a moment of clarity. They've got to figure out what they want to do as they move into the future.
CABRERA: Super interesting. Reza Aslan, thank you so much.
ASLAN: My pleasure.
CABRERA: "Faith Under Pressure." Tune in. It's a brand-new episode of "BELIEVER" tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN. We'll be right back.
[20:58:22] CABRERA: It's March Madness. Sorry if your bracket is busted. The field now down to four. Four teams that will fight it out for the NCAA men's basketball title. It's got something for everyone. The newcomer Gonzaga, they've been on the tournament a lot but it's the first final four after several past disappointments. Oregon, back for the first time since the ducks last won the title way back in 1939. And then there's the Cinderella story, South Carolina. Who would have picked them?
There are some still perfect brackets out there. So apparently there are those. A seventh seed, almost no one expected to be here. And North Carolina basketball royalty aiming for a sixth title. So that's your final four. Hey, here at CNN, my own bracket not too bad. Good enough for a top spot right now among my fellow CNN anchors. Call it luck. I don't know. I went to WSU so Oregon-PAC 12, worked at Gonzaga -- worked in Spokane. Gonzaga, a team I've always rooted for. So call me lucky.
The tournament isn't over. I did miss on Duke but I admit it, I'm feeling pretty good right now.
If you got all of the final four teams right, however, huge congrats. Out of nearly 19 million brackets on ESPN, just 657 got all final four teams right. 657. Pretty good, though. The final fun kicks off next weekend with the semifinals on Saturday in Glendale, Arizona, and the championship on Monday night. Got to say it, go Zags, go Ducks.
That's it for me. Coming up next is the premiere of "FINDING JESUS," episode -- excuse me, "The Tomb of Herod."
And again I'm Ana Cabrera. Have a great night. Thanks for being here. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.