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Defense Inspector General Investigating Flynn; Trump Agrees "Not to Terminate NAFTA At This Time". Aired 8-9p ET

Aired April 27, 2017 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:11] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening. Thanks for joining us.

The battle to repeal and replace Obamacare is firing up again with a new amendment that could lead people with preexisting conditions out of luck.

We'll have much more on that later this hour.

We begin, though, with the latest on the Russia White House watch. And new trouble for President Trump's fired national security advisor. Today, we learn that Michael Flynn is under yet another investigation. This one from the top watchdog at the Pentagon over failing to disclose payments he received for a speech at a Russian television event.

Now, the House Oversight Committee says newly revealed documents show that Flynn was warned explicitly about taking foreign money years ago. This comes just days after the House Oversight Committee said that Flynn may have broken the law by not disclosing the payments.

And as you may or may not have remembered, depending on how closely you follow the president's Twitter feed, a month ago, the president was saying this about Flynn and the Russian investigation as a whole. Quote, "Mike Flynn should ask for immunity in that this is a witch hunt excused for big election loss by media and Dems of historic proportion."

Now, the White House is distancing itself from Flynn, but it wasn't that long ago that he was on stage with then-candidate Trump obviously in multiple events. The candidates shining example of one of the many great generals who supported him.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: General Flynn, I met him at a ballroom because someone was being honored. You know who it was? It was me. And from the day I met him, I was impressed. He's tough, he's smart, he's great. And we're going to get people like that very actively involved with us.

How about General Flynn? We love General Flynn, right?

By the way, we have a great general with us, General Flynn. Where is General Flynn? He is around here someplace.

Incredible guy.

I want to thank General Flynn for being here. Great guy. Great man.

Michael Flynn, General Flynn is a wonderful man. I think it's really a sad thing that he was treated so badly.


COOPER: Well, now as the White House continues to face serious questions about Flynn under the specter of ongoing Russia investigations, it's blaming everything but its own vetting, everything including the Obama administration.

Manu Raju has details.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER (voice-over): President Donald Trump's former national security advisor now under a new investigation.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD), OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: We have no evidence, zilch that he obtained permission from the secretary of the army and the secretary of state to accept any foreign government payments as required by law.

RAJU: New documents show the Pentagon warned retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn in 2014 about accepting any foreign payments, suggesting he failed to get permission to travel to Moscow.

LT. GEN. MIKE FLYNN (RET.), FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Thank you so much for inviting me and having me here.

RAJU: He has paid tens of thousands of dollars in 2015 by the Kremlin-backed new station RT, where he also dined with Vladimir Putin.

Now, the Defense Department inspector general is announcing its own investigation into whether Flynn broke the law. This after Flynn also allegedly failed to disclose foreign payments in a security clearance, a potential felony.

(on camera): Do you believe he may have broken the law?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I don't know whether he did or did not. That's why we have an investigation.

RAJU (voice-over): But the House Oversight Committee's investigation is now breaking down along party lines with Democrats accusing the White House of stonewalling.

CUMMING: I honestly do not understand why the White House is covering up for Michael Flynn -- I don't get it -- after the president fired him for lying. RAJU: The White House has refused to provide certain records it says

are not relevant to the Flynn investigation.

(on camera): Why are they relevant to your investigation?

CUMMINGS: Spicer also said that they didn't have documents. Remember that? Come on.

These guys are playing games, and when you see Mr. Spicer, you can tell him I said that to him. All of these documents are relevant because they go to what his relationship was with the Russians, what his relationship was with Turkey. Did they vet for the highest security position? I mean, we don't know.

RAJU (voice-over): At the White House, spokesman Sean Spicer said the Obama administration was to blame for providing the security clearance for Flynn in 2016 and pushed back on Cummings' attacks.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: All of that clearance of the made by the Obama -- during the Obama administration and apparently with knowledge of the trip that he took. So, that's how the process works.


RAJU: Democrats are calling for subpoenas to force the White House to comply, but they are running into resistance for Republican Chairman Jason Chaffetz.

(on camera): Are you satisfied with Chairman Chaffetz's push to get these documents?


RAJU (voice-over): Today, the president ignored questions about whether he regrets hiring Flynn.

REPORTER: Do you have regrets about Michael Flynn?



COOPER: And Manu joins us now.

Has Flynn explained why he didn't disclose the payments?

RAJU: Well, Anderson, actually tonight, a source familiar with the case tells me that Michael Flynn did not file the proper paperwork with the State Department acknowledging that fact, but says this was not an intentional -- just a failure to disclose information.

[20:05:06] In fact, pointing out that Flynn actually did brief the Defense Intelligence Agency before and after his trip that was paid for by that Kremlin-backed network RT.

Now, the question is what will happen to Michael Flynn if the government finds that he did try to conceal this payment?

One possibility is his pension could be hit, and that could be according to this source, quote, "very consequential to Flynn" because he lives off of his pension right now.

Now, at the same time, Anderson, Michael Flynn's attorney Robert Kelner putting out a statement saying the State Department was well aware that this trip occurred. Also, it occurred through the speaker's bureau, but in that statement, Anderson, he does not say that he sought permission for these -- for this trip and got permission for those payments as well. That's, of course, a central question of this investigation going forward -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Manu Raju -- Manu, thanks very much.

As you just heard in Manu's piece, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer is pushing off the blame for Flynn not being properly vetted on the Obama administration. He is defending the Trump administration's diligence.

Our Jim Acosta joins us now from the White House.

You press Sean Spicer about Flynn today. What did he say? What answers did you get?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, White House officials are offering up a new explanation on the vetting of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, pointing out the retired general had a security clearance review during the Obama administration last year.

I asked White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer why Flynn did not have an additional review before coming into the Trump administration. Spicer said that would not have been necessary comparing the security clearance process for Flynn to that of White House reporters like yours truly who received their entry passes to the White House every couple of years, and Spicer pushed back on this attack from Congressman Elijah Cummings that the White House is engaged in a cover-up. Here's what he had to say.


ACOSTA: Congressman Cummings accuses this White House of a cover-up. You say what?

SPICER: I say that I was frankly taken back by his comments today because they're frankly not true. The Department of Defense was the issuing agency for General Flynn's SF-86. We referred them to the Department of Defense who owns and issued his security clearance, and they got a copy of it. That's how the system works. The documents that he requested, he received.

ACOSTA: There are no other documents that you have at this point that could be turned over to this committee that would be relevant --

SPICER: He asked for -- not that I'm aware of at this point. (END VIDEO CLIP)


Now, the House Oversight Committee is making it very clear, Anderson, they want to see the vetting documents for Michael Flynn. I am told by White House official that if the oversight committee wants that information, they should actually seek out the Trump transition office here in Washington, which is apparently still open according to that White House official, but an aide with that oversight committee said, well, if that's the case, why can't Vice President Mike Pence help us with that information? He was, after all, in charge of the transition, Anderson.

COOPER: Jim, would did be normal for transition to do their own vetting? I mean, Mike Flynn was head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. So, you know, I mean, it's clearly he had a security clearance before. I mean, would it really be incumbent on the transition team to kind of re-assess everything, re-polygraph the guy?

ACOSTA: Well, and that is the argument that you are getting from the White House. I talked to a White House official earlier today who said Michael Flynn, in fact, did do a polygraph test during that security clearance review that re-upping of his security clearance that was conducted early last year during the Obama administration. I guess the question that a lot of reporters had in the room today is that, yes, OK, you went through that process about a year ago, might there be other questions that could potentially surface over the course of a year that might be interesting to ask of a national security advisor before he comes in to the White House a year later? According to the White House, they're saying that was not necessary.

But at the same time, Anderson, this one White House official said, "Look, we're not going to defend that guy." That is a direct quote, and it is a far cry from what we've heard earlier this year when he said Michael Flynn was the subject of a witch hunt.


All right. Jim Acosta -- Jim, thanks very much.

Lots to talk about with the panel. Joining me today is General Mark Hertling, Maggie Haberman, Van Jones and Jason Miller.

General Hertling, I want to start with you because you obviously know General Flynn. You filled out the same forms, I assume, that he did. You yourself had a security clearance.

What do you make of this? I mean, A, should he have been re-cleared to go to the transition team, which to me seems a little far-fetched, but also I don't quite understand how he could have told the Defense Intelligence Agency he spoke at RT and went to this thing and yet not told them that he got paid for it.

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Yes, it's tough for me to talk about, Anderson, to be honest with you. I -- this was a Standard Form 86. This is the form they're talking about. I filled it out multiple times in my career, as did anybody else who gets a security clearance.

It's not run exclusively by the Department of Defense. It's run by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management.

[20:10:02] So, it's used by the State Department, the Treasury, CIA, DIA, anybody that grants a security clearance.

Now, the thing is, in this file, it's very intrusive. You see words like "this is your current and historical record," and they ask all sorts of questions about your personnel background. You fill it out, and when this is filled out, then the U.S. Office of Personnel Management sends people around to talk to your relatives, your friends that you list on here, the friends of your friends who you don't list on here.

So, they get a pretty good feel for the kind of person you are if you have any debts, if you have any drug use, drunken driving -- anything that you don't report. That's what gets you your security clearance. And then every couple of years, it's renewed.

Whenever you go into a job, your security transfer or your security clearance is transferred to that new job, and before you can do anything, that new position vets you.

So, when I took command of U.S. Army Europe before I could go into my first SCIF and get a first briefing, somebody said, "Hey, does the boss have his top security briefing?" "Yes, here it is right here. Here's the form."

"Anything change on this?" "No. Nothing has changed." "OK. Great. Let's move." That's the way it works.

There is also something when you retire that you receive an out brief that says if you are going to do any of these kind of things, you might draw on your security clearance, you can't deal with foreign governments.

And there's another act called the Foreign Agent Registration Act of 1938 which they talk to you about. You fall under the Emoluments Clause which we've talked about with the president.

So, all of these things are a part of this, and truthfully, you know, I do not understand how Michael Flynn who processed these paper works as an intelligence officer would have known not to tell somebody that he was going to talk or represented a foreign government.

COOPER: Because, I mean, it's been a long time since I applied for a security clearance, but I seem to remember one of the main questions is, are you an agent of a foreign government or --


COOPER: So, any kind of payment from a foreign government or RT or some Turkish guy, I mean, all of that, I would think, would be very foremost in Michael Flynn's mind.

HERTLING: Yes. Not only that, but when I was commanding Europe, every year when you had to update, you had to say what countries you traveled to and what happened there. Was it business, pleasure? Did you get any gifts from anyone? And you had to write all of those things down.

So, as I traveled the 48 countries of Europe, I had it to say every country that I went to the following year to update the form. So, all of these things were a part of it, and especially when you are getting payment from a government like this.

When I saw Mike Flynn appear at that banquet on TV, I though, hmm, that's kind of weird. What's he doing there? I never would have suspected he would have being paid by RT. When I read his op-ed --

COOPER: He was also sitting next to Vladimir Putin which is --

HERTLING: Yes. Well, right, and getting paid for it.

When I saw him do an op-ed in a major newspaper and sign his name Lieutenant General Flynn, I would have never thought he was representing the government of Turkey. This is very, very bizarre to me.

COOPER: All right. We're going to take a quick break. We're going to continue a discussion with the rest of our panel.

Also later, President Trump has said over and over again what a horrible deal he thinks NAFTA is. Now he says he has decided he won't withdraw at this point from it. The president says changed his mind, coming up.


[20:17:06] COOPER: The Russian-White House watch tonight, fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is even more under the microscope. The headline that Flynn was warned about accepting foreign payments well before he did just that from RT TV, a station widely thought of as a propaganda tool of the Russian government.

Today, Sean Spicer was asked for people about how Flynn was vetted, how he was fired. Listen.


REPORTER: If he wasn't fired by the president for lying to the vice president, would he still have a job today right here at the White House?

SPICER: It's -- I will just that I think the president made the right call at the right time, and it's clearly paid off. I think the president made the right decision at the right time, and he continues to stand by that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Back now with the panel.

Maggie, as a reporter for "The Times" -- what do you make of what Flynn has done?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think that, look, I don't know enough about the intricacies of either the laws that he might have violated as Democrats claimed or the way that the security clearances process is supposed to work to be able to speak with clarity about what he should have done.

The basics of what I know, though, are that the story keeps getting more complicated for the White House. You have seen the White House distance itself from Flynn after, as you noted, initially standing by him pretty firmly, through the president's Twitter feed. It's hard to understand why it is that he would not have been more declarative about what he was doing in terms of receiving this payment. He clearly knew what the rules were.

This issue in terms of being a foreign agent for Turkey, I think, has been enormously complicating. It's tied up or connected to a court case that's going on in federal court in Manhattan. All of this is not great for a new administration certainly, and it does raise questions about as got asked at the briefing, if this had not come up about that transcript where Flynn had not been candid with the vice president about what he had said to the Russian ambassador, would he still be there? This is going to be an ongoing distraction for the West Wing I think for some time.

There is so far no clear explanation that makes sense. And the thing that Flynn's defender say is, look, RT, a lot of American journalists appear there. Some of them get paid. Well, they're not former generals, and it's not quite the same thing.

COOPER: Jason, as one who worked on the campaign and with the transition, does it -- I don't get why Flynn -- I mean, who seems -- presents himself as a straight shooter, stand-up guy, wouldn't have said, especially when all the Russia stuff starts swirling around, wouldn't have said to people on a transition, oh, by the way, you know, I got paid. I mean, to your knowledge did he ever do that, kind of give the details to anybody in the transition team?

JASON MILLER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Not that I'm aware of, but it's also important to keep in mind, that from the campaign's perspective, here was a retired army general who had active and valid top secret clearance. And as Sean pointing out today in the press conference, not only did he have that, but after coming back from his trip, he reported to the Department of Defense that he had made this trip and his top secret clearance was reauthorized.

And so, from the campaign's perspective, and I think even as they then transitioned into the White House, I don't think that's something that you can put on the Trump administration or on the campaign or on the White House because, again, he did have a top secret clearance in good standing. [20:20:14] Now, does he have some challenges? I think so. And I

think that he's going to have to come forward and explain what went on here and ultimately, it was his not being completely forth right with the vice president that led him to the exit.

But again, from the president's perspective, from the White House perspective, I don't see where they did anything wrong.

COOPER: Van, what about that? Because I mean, it wasn't just that he was some guy who had a top secret security clearance. I mean, he did run the Defense Intelligence Agency.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think there was a couple of things happening here. First of all, it is, in fact, understandable that the Trump organization would assume the best about this guy. It turns out he is sketchy. It turns out he is terrible.

But that wasn't his reputation as some sketchy, terrible Russian, you know, loving dude. So, you can understand why in the mess of a transition which is always difficult, you may give the guy the benefit of the doubt. I'm trying to be very charitable here.

What you cannot explain, though, is why you throw somebody under the bus two-thirds of the way or half of the way and then don't flush the toilet? What they should be doing right now is not what they're doing. They should say, listen, we're going to give you everything about this is guy. We're going to walk out here with Democrats, arm in arm. We got to say, this sort of behavior from America generals is not acceptable, period, point-blank. We're coming for him and anybody else, and send a clear signal.

The reason that you have this story going on and on and on is because they want to throw him halfway under the bus. It's not -- I'm going to make a lot of people mad tonight. It's not necessarily political malfeasance to have some trouble in your transition, but what you are seeing right now throws up alarm bells across the political spectrum because if this guy is somebody you're going to defend even partially, he has done horrible things, there's something wrong in that White House.

MILLER: But, Van, where I would push back and I disagree with you is the fact that I don't think the White House is interfering with any sort of investigation. I mean, if you want his speaker records, go talk to the speaker bureau. If they want his SF-86 form, go talk to the --

COOPER: But if the White House has stuff, why not just give it out?

JONES: This is how you guys get yourselves in a ton of trouble. Why make people walk all around the barn and go to Wal-Mart, McDonald's trying to find stuff. Just put it all out there so we can move on to the next story.

And this is the behavior that creates a level of suspicion and anxiety that you see right now. MILLER: But here's the important thing is that the committee sent

these letters to the DOD. They sent it to the various different agencies. I mean, if are you sending a letter to the DOD wanting to get -- and again, it's inside baseball without a form that's called the SF-86 form, that's up to the DOD to provide --

COOPER: Right. But if the White House has documents that are germane, why wouldn't they just --

MILLER: But here's the important point. If the White House has not invoked executive privilege over anything here and so they're not stonewalling or getting in the way of anything.

JONES: Listen, Elijah Cummings, tough guy, strong partisan. He is not the type of person that will go running way down field and break with his counterpart unless he is experiencing really serious opposition.

What you saw Elijah Cummings do tonight and the challenge he laid down to Sean Spicer, to let you know that there is a big problem going on and the senseless --


COOPER: The beginning , Maggie, on this whole Russia stuff, the White House has said, look, if they want to have an investigation, let them have an investigation. But it's never been, you know, to Van's point, we're going to do everything we can to make sure --

HABERMAN: No, no, and if anything, going back to the earlier point about the president sort of defending Flynn early on, I think that there has been -- I'm not saying this is why it's happening. I don't want to connect the two. But I do want to take note that the White House has been -- some in the White House have been concerned about -- Flynn has been around them for a very long time.

If Flynn feels like he is being fully thrown under the bus, or the toilet flushing or whatever metaphor we were using before, that risks coming back possibly painfully against the president, and I think they're a little mindful of that.

COOPER: All right. We've got to take a break. General Hertling, thank you. Van Jones as well.

Maggie and Jason are going to stick around.

Up next, does the White House have a new strategy on NAFTA? What President Trump is saying about it now when we continue.


[20:27:56] COOPER: President Trump is tapping his deal-making skills and now says the U.S. may stick with the North American Free Trade Agreement after all.

The president tweeting this morning, quote, "I received calls from the president of Mexico and the prime minister of Canada asking to renegotiate NAFTA rather than terminate. I agreed. Subject to the fact that if we do not reach a fair deal for all, we will then terminate NAFTA. Relationships are good, deal very possible."

He now says that a deal is very possible. Not what he said obviously for months on the campaign trail.


TRUMP: If and when I win, we are going to renegotiate the disaster known as NAFTA.

A Trump administration, we renegotiate NAFTA.

And if we don't get the deal we want, we will terminate NAFTA and get a much better deal for our workers.

There has never been a trade deal as bad as NAFTA.

NAFTA has been such a disaster.

NAFTA has been a disaster for this country.

We have NAFTA. It's a disaster.

NAFTA was a disaster.

NAFTA is probably --

The worst economic trade deal ever signed in history.

NAFTA is one of the worst deals ever signed by our country.

Nothing is as bad as NAFTA.

Nothing can be as bad as NAFTA.

NAFTA is a bad, bad, bad deal.

We're going to renegotiate NAFTA to make it better, and if they don't agree, we will withdraw.


COOPER: So, that is what he is saying now. Joining us again, CNN's Jim Acosta, at the White House.

I mean, these phone calls to Mexico and Canada, do we know the details?

ACOSTA: Well, what we know, Anderson, and it's important to preface this by saying that earlier in the day yesterday White House officials were saying anonymously to reporters that the president was considering signing this executive order to declare his intention, renegotiate or withdraw from NAFTA, and then he had these phone conversations with the leaders from Mexico and Canada, and then came the statement from the White House saying he was not going to terminate NAFTA at this time.

The president was insistent that he was not softening at all on this issue. Here's what he had to say.


TRUMP: If you check my campaign -- any of my speeches, I said I'll either renegotiate or I'll terminate. So, they asked me renegotiate, I will, and I think we'll example in the renegotiation, which frankly would be good because it would be simpler. But we have to make a deal that's fair for the United States. They understand that. And, so I decided, rather than terminating NAFTA, which would be a pretty big, you know, shock to the system, we will renegotiate.


[20:30:26] JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Now, Anderson, I'm told that in addition to those calls with the leaders from Canada and Mexico the president was also talking to cabinet members and business leaders before making this decision. But as you played in that long montage of clips the president very clearly gave the impression during the campaign that he did not like NAFTA and that it was going to be out the door if the Canadians and the Mexicans did not agree to his terms during a new round of negotiations.

So, if he decides to not renegotiate or withdraw from NAFTA we're going to have a situation where once again the president has a very big policy reversal on his hands.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: But the reality of renegotiating the deal on NAFTA, I mean, how long a process would that be, do we know?

ACOSTA: It could take several months. It may take a congressional buy-in. That is not clear at this point. However, what we're told by a senior administration official is that next week we do expect to see the president take some kind of action on this to begin the process of renegotiating, as he said.

But again, this is one of those processes that not clearly laid out in terms of how the president is going to be able to get a better deal from the Canadians and the Mexicans.

And you're hearing from the Canadians officials north of the border, Anderson, saying that they're going to be very tough when it comes to these trade deals that they feel that -- perhaps there are some areas where things can be renegotiated.

The White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer today was saying, well now there are other issues -- other trade issues that they want to talk about, dairy issues and so on. And so, this has the potential to get very complicated for the president to make good on his promise.

COOPER: All right, Jim Acosta, thanks.

Back with Maggie Haberman, Jason Miller, also join the conversation David Gregory and Ana Navarro and Kirsten Powers. Maggie, I mean, you know, I saw a lot of people both Democrats criticizing the president, always changes again, but I mean, what he saying (inaudible) sound very much like what he said on the campaign trail which is he wants to renegotiate. I mean, he's not emphasizing how terrible it is as much -- perhaps as he did, but it is -- there is continuity there.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, NEW YORK TIMES WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, it is not as dramatic a shift as some other issues that we have seen with the president. On this one, however I would say he actually sort of took both positions, right? I'm going to renegotiate and then I'm going to scrap it so he can say that he's doing both and he is sticking with one right now.

I think the bigger question here is number one, how incredibly big this all is? We don't really understand by what mechanism they're planning on doing this, what this would look like.

I was at a background briefing at the White House last night where a senior administration official said tow things, said that NAFTA as we know it is dead and I don't know, again, what that will look like. But then, conceded that NAFTA is not zero sum as this person put it, that there are some benefits to the agricultural industry and the president is aware of that. You do not really hear the president talk about that on the campaign trail. This does fit in to a broader theme of sort of we're getting ripped off that Trump has been talking about 30 years. So that's not a surprise.

But I think the confusion here is whether -- and this is the problem with this White House, and this is problem with the anonymous sourcing in this White House which we have all relied on is, it's not clear whether this was some kind of crazy like a fox move to leak this out, to bring people to the table or whether this was a whipsaw approach. And I know that they're saying that the president reached out to the leaders of Mexico and Canada.

My understanding is that they called him after this word got out and then it was sort of restructured back toward a renegotiations.

COOPER: Ana, I mean, you know, people are very critical of the president when he said that, you know, Chinese premier had given him a 10 minute talk about North Korea and Chinese history and after that he sort of realized it wasn't really as hard.

It does seem like he is, you know, he hasn't radically changed on NAFTA, though, clearly he's emphasizing something else. But, he's looking to renegotiate. Is it fair for Democrats to be hammering him on this?

You can argue he's open to changing or he's open to listening to other people. I mean that's the nice way of looking at it.

ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's not only the Democrats that hammered him on this, and so the people that came out quickly to defend NAFTA were actually Republican senators. The ones that came out the quickest were the border state senators people like Sen. John Cornyn, people like Sen. John McCain, people like Jeff Flake from Arizona and Texas. It matters to them. They know the benefits of NAFTA in their states.

But I think the point you were making, you know, we see this over and over again from Pres. Trump here's the bottom line. We elected a government neophyte. He had never done this. He's a TV producer and he's real estate developer, he's a brand maker, he's an expert in that. But he's learned in the last 100 days that healthcare is complicated, that NATO is not obsolete and now he's learning that NAFTA, getting rid of it would be a shock to the system, as he says.

So I think what we're seeing is a guy who is learning as he goes along and who is hearing from a lot of people. That being said I always come to the table that a lot of what Donald Trump does is a distraction mode, is a distraction tactic for, you know, a bad press day. He's also very good at that.

[20:35:15] COOPER: So, David, I mean I guess you can either look at it charitably (ph) as he somebody who listens to other people and can alter his view or he didn't -- he should have known that while he was running.

DAVID GREGORY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Harry Truman was a neophyte, too, but he was not as appallingly like a neophyte as this president allows himself to be whether it's on North Korea or on healthcare, things where he could know better and he holds himself out this way.

NAFTA is I think -- I have no problem with the big montage and the fact that he was really hard edged in the campaign and now he says, look, we're going to negotiate if we can get a better deal, but -- this is still a principle because I think he's taking a principled approach.

I think this is an area that he has actually has thought about and has rallied against for a long time. Here's what I don't like, I think this crisis management is ridiculous. This idea of coming out and say we're going to scrap this thing and then turning around, now it's a negotiations because we got to be kind, that's bad. And it's bad because even if he gets a good deal out of it doing at this time, his word is starting to be suspect and that starts to apply itself to crisis like North Korea. That's bad for the president.

COOPER: We got to take a quick break. I want to get the panels take on Pres. Trump on repot caught on his first 100-days in office, ahead.


[20:40:18] COOPER: This afternoon, Pres. Trump signed an executive order aimed at protecting whistle-blowers under the Department of Veterans Affairs a moved aimed at racking up wins before the symbolic 100-day mark of his presidency on Saturday. Now at the same time he mentioned the approaching milestone and touted his team's work on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: During these first 100 days which, as you know, I've been saying is a very extreme emphasis placed on these 100 days, Joni (ph), it's not quite as big as they're saying. But we have really laid a foundation and had a lot of legislation pass which nobody understands. I think it is 28 bills, as of this moment. Somebody said by the time it ends, it's 32 bills. And tremendous legislation.


COOPER: By the way, in case you're wondering who Joni is, who Pres. Trump just mentioned, that would be Iowa Senator Joni Ernst, the National Guard Veteran who as at today's event.

We're back now with the panel. You know, Kirsten, it is -- I mean it's easy to point out the discrepancy between, you know, Pres. Trump saying this is an artificial benchmark which it obviously is, and also putting out during the campaign a 100-day plan for what he was going to accomplish much of which has not been done.

KIRSTEN POWERS, USA TODAY COLUMNIST: Right. He's right that -- I think you can place too much emphasis on this and he can talk a very successful presidency whether he's successful now or not. But you're right. He did put out this contract a lot of which has not been accomplished. And this was something that he was talking about saying even at 90 days as he was having a wonderful 90 days. So it's something that he's focused on a lot.

And, the reality is, he got kind of out of the gate things didn't go very well but so much focus on the travel ban, and I think that he ate up a lot of their time unnecessarily. And he hasn't have a lot of successes to point to other than the confirmation of Gorsuch to the Supreme Court which is a big accomplishment, no question about that. But most of --

COOPER: Right, it's very rare for --

POWERS: Right.

COOPER: -- a president to get that so early on.

POWERS: Yea, so he -- so I think that, you know, but most of the things that he's done are executive orders and most of them are just undoing things to Pres. Obama did which, you know, and I guess is a promise that he made but it's not doing anything really new. And he doesn't have any major legislation. He had a huge failure, obviously, with Obamacare.

COOPER: And for Gorsuch they had to change rule in the Senate.


COOPER: Jason, I want to play something -- an interview that the Pres. Trump gave yesterday. I think it was to the Washington Examiner. Anyway, he grades himself and he talks about his first 100- days.


TUMP: I gave us an A. I would say communication would be less than an A, because I don't think we've gotten the word out what we've done, because I think we're so busy getting it done that we're not talking about it.


COOPER: I mean, I do think there are things they have been able to accomplish and they haven't been able to get the word out. I mean, I do think the drop in illegal immigration which obviously predated him as well but has been significant, you know, more than -- I mean, I've seen anywhere from 40 to 60 percent just in the last three month of the Trump presidency.

But a lot of the not getting the message out is lack of message just by the president himself. I mean he does step on his own successes at times.

JASON MILLER, FORMER SR. COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER, TRUMP CAMPAIGN: So, if we take a step back and kind of slow it down really what this 100- days has been about. Yes, we got Justice Neil Gorsuch through, very important.

I really think the biggest take away is something that Maggie touched on a moment ago, is return to these more populous trade policies the president has been talking about some 30 years.

And when coupled with things like the tax cuts, yes, they're being done by executive orders, but again, that's why folks voted for Donald Trump because they wanted to see these policies put in action.

And when he talked about the forgotten men and women of America in his inauguration speech this is really what he was speaking to. And I think there's been -- it's been really slow for the media to catch onto this, the fact that they expect to bring these economic populist policies to the front and center, the (inaudible) economic and security issues as we start talking about Canada and Mexico.

And, look, when you talked about NAFTA which we talked about just a moment ago, if this wasn't -- if the U.S. wasn't getting screwed in this you wouldn't have the leaders of Canada and Mexico call him so quick, I think that was a great move by the White House.

COOPER: Jason ignored the whole point about the president stepping on it. I get it which is (inaudible), but I mean, Maggie, to that point, he has had, you know, the speech he gave to Joint Session of Congress which was very well received got, you know, he stepped on it two days later, I think it was.

HABERMAN: I think it is in controvertible that this president has, especially in the first two months, I would say, had enormous problems staying on track and staying focus focused. Now --

COOPER: Do you think it's calming down? HABERMAN: I do actually. So I'm going to say two thing, I was going to say, his quote about, you know, we've done messaging or communications, we've done less well. You could close your eyes and that's Barack Obama saying the same thing about his own administration which is -- he said versions of that, number one.

Number two, I do think -- and look, it is subtle because part of the problem with this president in terms of people seeing a change is there's so much frenzy all the time. It's like watching a dust cloud go down the road. But, he -- there is actually a change. Do not underestimate the degree to which that wiretap tweet of his was a problem for him that he realized was a problem for him and he has been trying to move away from slowly.

[20:45:18] COOPER: We got to take a break. I want to thank everybody in the panel tonight.

The House Republicans are scrambling to take another swing of repealing Obamacare. The tweaks they made to their bill to (inaudible) conservatives may be a tough sell for moderate Republicans. We'll look at that ahead.


COOPER: Day 100 for Pres. Trump is now just a whisker away. One of candidate Trump's biggest campaign promised is repeal and replacing Obamacare, still a working progress. House Republicans are ramping their efforts on a duo (inaudible). There's a new bill in play and this time the conservatives who helped torpedo the first version month ago are apparently on board. House Speaker Paul Ryan still needs to (inaudible) 216 votes to pass the legislation. This time the ball is in the moderate's court. Phil Mattingly has details.


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tonight, Republicans renewing their attempt to push through the healthcare repeal and replace they've long promised.

REP. PAUL RYAN, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: We have a moral obligation to prevent people from getting hurt, to stop damage from being continued.

MATTINGLY: Now with the backing of the conservative House Freedom Caucus who opposed the original healthcare bill that stall jut hours before heading to a vote.

[20:50:4] RYAN: I think we're making very good progress. We don't have -- we're going to go when we have the vote, but that's the decision we'll make when we have it. I would argue that this is a bill that a moderate would more likely want to support.

MATTINGLY: The change, a new amendment negotiated by a Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows and a member of the more moderate Tuesday Group Tom MacArthur. The amendment would let states apply for wavers that could weaken several key Obamacare insurance reforms, including the price protections and place for those with preexisting conditions. What benefits insurers must cover in their policies and the ban on allowing carriers to charge more based on a person's health background.

REP. TOM MACARTHUR, (R) NEW JERSEY: My one and only goal in this has been to try to make this bill something that helps the health insurance market survive.

MATTINGLY: But all eyes now are on the party's moderates who are far from supporting the amendment arguing it will leave even more people without coverage.

REP. DAN DONOVAN, (R) NEW YORK: It doesn't help the people I represent. One of the criticisms I had about the Affordable Care Act is it made insurance so expensive that people who had it didn't even use it because their premiums were high, their deductibles were high, their co-payments were high and people with preexisting conditions, you're right, we can't deny them coverage.

MATTINGLY: Democrats are quick seizing on that opposition.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) MINORITY LEADER: The new Trump care will allow states to decide whether or not insurers have to cover Americans with preexisting conditions. It's hard to come up with a crueler bill.

MATTINGLY: And ramping up their efforts to slow down the process all together now saying they'll oppose stop gap funding measure to keep the government open if Republicans push for a health care vote between now and Saturday, Pres. Trump's 100th day in the office.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) MINORITY LEADER: What you say in the GOP haste to pass the bill and Trump trying to cram it down in the last 100 days. I think Pres. Trump is really making fools of the members of Congress of his own party.

MATTINGLY: But House Speaker Paul Ryan is pushing back saying the blame for a potential government shut down will fall squarely on Democrats.

RYAN: I'm confident we'll be abele to pass a short-term extension and I'd be kind of shocked if the Democrats would want to create a government shutdown because they have been dragging their feet.


COOPER: And Phil Mattingly joins us. Now, so where does the bill stand? Do the Republicans have enough votes?

MATTINGLY: Well, as we speak, Anderson, House leaders have just walked into Speaker Paul Ryan's to decide whether or not there is a path forward at all on this bill. And that means a vote as soon as tomorrow.

There's been a furious behind the scenes lobbying effort, a furious whip effort by the leadership to try to and get the votes on board. The reality right now here is up to this point they have been short and that could be fatal for even this new iteration of the bill going forward. We will find out after this meeting, but there's no question there has been a late blitz to try and move this quickly, to try and get it underneath that 100 day mark for the president.

The big question now is, can they get there? I'm told optimism was flagging over the course to the last hour or so. We'll see by the end of this meeting, Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Phil Mattingly, thanks very much.

Just ahead, Gary Tuchman returns to a county in Texas where nearly everyone voted for Donald Trump and ask them how they grade his first 100 days.


[20:56:48] COOPER: As we said day 100 of the Trump presidency is almost here. Now before he took office candidate Trump laid out an ambition to-do list for the first 100 days. Back then he seem to embrace the 100-day benchmark, lately though, not so much. As (inaudible) in this program we think it's important to hear from many voices as many voices as possible in this divided nation. So, we want to hear from president supporters as well as his critics. So tonight Gary Tuchman returns to a town he visited just a week after the election.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Roberts County in the Texas panhandle is one of the most sparsely populated counties in the nation. Fewer than 1,000 people live here. But it's number one when it comes to the election of Donald Trump as president.

Donald Trump is now 100 days into his term.


TUCHMAN: On a 1-10 scale, what would you give him?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would give him a 10.

TUCHMAN: Ninety-five percent of Roberts County voters picked Donald Trump to be their president, the highest percentage of any county in the nation, but many voters we talked to in the county seat which was pronounced (inaudible) are concerned not so much about the president, but concerned for him.

HERMAN BOONE, TRUMP VOTER IN ROBERTS COUNTY, TX: He's been doing his job. Congress has not been doing their job.

TUCHMAN: Concerned because of the establishment.

One of his promises was he would drain the swamp. Do you feel he's draining the swamp?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The swamp's fighting back. TUCHMAN: Many of the Trump voters we've talked with here tell us they believe the president won't be able to fulfill many of promises if he doesn't get help from others.

Who hasn't helped Donald Trump --

BILL BREEDING, TRUMP VOTER IN ROBERTS COUNTY, TX: Lots of Democrats and Republicans.

TUCHMAN: So you think the Republican led Congress is not helping the president?

BREEDING: Especially the head of the Republican Congress. I don't think it's helped him.

TUCHMAN: You're talking about Paul Ryan.

BREEDING: I'm talking about Paul Ryan.

TUCHMAN: So you don't put any blame on Donald Trump?

BREEDING: I put some blame on Donald Trump, but he is trying to do something that's better than what we had the last eight years.

TUCHMAN: The act of trying means a lot here.

Do you feel he's kept his promises that he made for the first 100 days?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's trying to.

TUCHMAN: We asked about his contract with the American voters, where Donald Trump vowed to work with Congress to introduce 10 legislative measures and fight for their passage in the first 100 days.

Nine of them have not been introduced. Only Obamacare has been right here has been introduced and it failed. So he hasn't kept his end of this contract.


TUCHMAN: Well, he said 100 days.

BURNETT: He's had 100 days, but he he's the Russian thing thrown at him. He's got a big problem with Korea thrown at him. It's not like he's been sitting there, -- sitting on his thumb doing nothing.

TUCHMAN: Here's the question, is a promise a promise? If you don't keep a promise, is that a problem?

BURNETT: A promise is a promise as long as you're working on it. When you throw your hands up and say I can't do it, it's no longer a promise, it's a broken promise. But he has not thrown his hands up.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TUCHMAN: There are many Trump voters here, Anderson, who are concerned that his presidency hasn't gone as smoothly as they would have hoped, but we haven't met anyone today who wishes they voted for Hillary Clinton instead, Anderson.

COOPER: Gary Tuchman. Gary thanks very much. And thanks for watching "360." Time to hand things over to Jake Tapper in a primetime edition of "The Lead" the first 100 days.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Thanks Anderson. You know, maybe the fact that Obama had fired Flynn was all the vetting process Trump needed.

"The Lead" starts right now.