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Spicer Responds to Cummings; Vetting of Michael Flynn; Dems Won't Vote for Health Care; White House Dodges Tax Plan Questions. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired April 27, 2017 - 14:00   ET


[14:00:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Next hour, we'll hear from the president himself when he formally orders an investigation into the effect of aluminum imports on national security.

The news continues right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi there. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Let's pick right up where Wolf left off. This brand-new headache for the White House as a new investigation is launched into President Trump's embattled former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. We just learned today the Pentagon's inspector general opened an investigation this month to take a closer look into payments Flynn accepted from Russian interests. We are also learning about newly declassified documents provided to Congress that show the Defense Intelligence Agency, the DIA, warned General Flynn not to take payments from foreign governments three years ago. These revelations coming from the top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, the ranking member, Elijah Cummings, who lashed out today at the White House.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), RANKING MEMBER, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: Earlier this week, the White House refused - absolutely refused to produce even a single document, not a single document, in response to the bipartisan document requests that I sent with our Republican chairman. Not one syllable. I watched Sean Spicer make all kinds of excuses and - about how hard it would be to comply with our requests. Come on, man.

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. So the president fired him for lying about his communications with the Russian ambassador. They should be bending over backwards to help us. It does not make any sense and it makes the American people think the White House has something to hide.


BALDWIN: Something to hide. So the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, just now, in the daily briefing, hitting back on the vetting process in putting the blame on the previous administration, on the Obama administration.

With me now, first up, Jessica Schneider, CNN correspondent.

And so, you know, talking just a little bit about how Spicer responded to this saying, you know, these trips in question, the finances in question, that you're saying he didn't report happened after the Obama administration had signed off. Tell me more about that.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Brooke, one of the things that Sean Spicer said, which was very interesting, was he said he was taken aback at these accusations by Congressman Elijah Cummings of a cover-up by the White House. Congressman Cummings was very forceful this morning saying that this was a very big deal and pointing squarely at the White House about the fact that he says they haven't given any disclosures to the committee about what they knew about Michael Flynn's financial dealings with foreign governments. So, Secretary Sean - Press Secretary Sean Spicer coming out just a few minutes ago saying that he was taken aback and then he pivoted and he sort of pointed the finger at the Obama administration saying that it was the Obama administration that gave this top security clearance to Michael Flynn in the spring of 2016, indicating perhaps that the Trump administration didn't exactly do the proper vetting or enough of a vetting when they did bring Michael Flynn in as national security adviser. And then Press Secretary Sean Spicer went on to say that he's reiterated this several times whenever these questions about Michael Flynn have come up. He said that the president made the right decision at the right time.

So, continuing to defend bringing Michael Flynn into the administration as national security adviser and really continuing to shift the blame, in this case, to the Obama administration.


BALDWIN: Let's stay on this blame game. Jessica, thank you.

I have with me, joining me now, Michael Allen. He worked on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush. He is now managing director of Beacon Global Strategies. And Steve Hall is with me, CNN national security analyst and he's a retired CIA chief of Russia operations.

So, gentlemen, great to have both of you all on.

And, Michael Allen, if I may, let me just begin with you. And let me just read - for people who are just joining us on this press briefing, these questions about General Flynn and the blame game. And so Sean Spicer said he, General Flynn, was issued a security clearance under the Obama administration - this was the spring of 2016. The trip and transactions that you're receiving - that you're referring to occurred in December of '15 from what I understand. So, passing the buck back to the Obama administration on all of this. What did you make of what he said?

MICHAEL ALLEN, MANAGING DIRECTOR, BEACON GLOBAL STRATEGIES: Well, first of all, I think we're conflating a lot of different issues here. I mean the inquiry of whether you should deserve a security clearance or not is basically you have to fill out some forms and you're sort of judged to be suitable to receive intelligence information.

What I think what a lot of the reporters are trying to get at is notwithstanding whether he's eligible to receive national security intelligence, did you also do a political vet of General Flynn to sort of make a judgment about whether it's a good idea for someone who went to Moscow and sat down with President Putin, it is a good idea for someone like that to hold a position such as national security adviser? So I think we're mixing a bunch of different issues here. It's career professionals, it's not politicals, who do these type of security clearance checks. And so I think we've got a lot of talking past each other.

[14:05:35] BALDWIN: Steve, you're nodding.

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes. The point that I was agreeing with very strongly is, is that these are - these are security professional that do these - that do these security checks. There's really no politics that are involved at that level. You know, there might be some sensitivity given that, you know, Flynn is a senior guy and, you know, some of the time when he was - when some of the checks were being done, he was director of DIA. So that's always a little bit tricky if you're the investigator.

But, you know, there is a lot of conflation going on and it's taking focus off of what the really key issue is, which is, you know, what exactly are the connections between a guy like Flynn and the Russians because if I were a Russian intelligence officer, he's a guy that I would want to be my spy. Now, I'm not saying that he did that. We don't know yet because of these ongoing investigations. But he would have been exactly the right guy to do it.

BALDWIN: Sure. And there are like - at least three that we know of, you know, congressional investigations into precisely that. And that - I agree with you, that is the crux of this. But there are all these tentacles from this story orbiting around General Flynn.

And let me just go back because, you're right, I don't want to conflate. It is complicated. There's the issue over what the DIA said, you know, as far as warning him once he wanted to go into retirement, as in, you know, money you would made from foreign entities. There's the bit about the security clearance. But with regard to the security clearance, Michael, just coming back to you, and to Gloria's point a second ago, would he - would they not have vetted - the "they" being the Trump team, if Spicer is passing the buck back to the Obama administration on the vet, then what about, as he was integral in the transition, the campaign and onto the White House, did they not re- vet?

ALLEN: Apparently not. I mean here's what I think what happened. Listen, Flynn was a very senior person on the campaign. As far as these people in the Trump campaign were concerned, he was a former senior defense intelligence agency official, one of the top intelligence agencies in our government. And so I think they assumed, hey, listen, if he were good enough for a top intelligence job, he's suitable for, as far as we're concerned, to be a national security adviser.

I think what should have happened is that we should have had additional looks, not just in the black and white of, has he disclosed everything or has he not, but also, hey, is it a good idea that we have someone who did take a high-profile trip over to Russia? Is that an appearance issue or is there more to it? I think those questions should have been asked at some point.

BALDWIN: OK. OK, so that's one piece of it. Let me move on, Steve, to the next piece, which we're all learning today. If the Pentagon, if DIA, said that they warned Flynn, you know, against taking foreign payments, and that he still did it, as these declassified documents apparently suggest, then does that prove that he broke the law?

HALL: It's unclear as to whether or not that proves, you know, in a legal sense that he - you know, that he's broken the law. But, again, I would agree that, you know, you've got this constant drip, drip with Flynn, whether it - you know, whether it crosses into the line of pure illegality, I think that's why you're getting a lot of the ongoing investigations that you have right now and DOD has now got one going as well, in addition to the FBI counter intelligence investigation and, you know, the congressional investigation.

So, yes, appearances is an important thing. And then, of course, what you actually do is important as well. Whether or not it crosses into illegality, we'll have to see. But I can say from a counter intelligence perspective, if I'm involved in somehow vetting folks to make sure that they're going to be - that they're going to have these senior positions in a new administration and I'm looking at, OK, what are the counter intelligence downsides, is it possible that this candidate has somehow been compromised or has done something that is going to compromise him in the future, Flynn doesn't pass the giggle test in that. I mean just the trip to Russia for RT takes that over the edge right there.

BALDWIN: And the $45,000.

What about - let's talk about Carter Page, Michael, former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, who is, you know, one of the central figures in this investigations, you know, over alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign. He was on "New Day" this morning with Chris Cuomo. I want to just tee up this sound bite by saying, I want everyone to listen to this round robin of questions and how, you know, Carter Page keeps saying never, never, never until one moment. Watch.


CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Did you coordinate or communicate the details of your trip or that you were going with any member of the Trump campaign or administration?

[14:10:03] CARTER PAGE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: I never - again, none of those details - they knew I was going but nothing was -

CUOMO: How did they know?

PAGE: It was, again, I don't talk about internal discussions -

CUOMO: But it matters. It matters. Because the suggestion is, they knew you were going. If they knew you were going, they must have had an interest in you going. If they had an interest in you going, did they coordinate anything that you said there, which was inherently destructive to American policy?

PAGE: Absolutely not. And nothing I said was destructive to American policy, Chris.


BALDWIN: Michael, how big is this?

ALLEN: I think it's big.

BALDWIN: You do?

ALLEN: I mean, listen, the key question here is whether there was coordination between the leaks that the Russians orchestrated against Hillary Clinton and the Trump campaign. Here it looks like Carter Page is stopping short of admitting that he - well, he's saying he was in contact with the Trump campaign, but obviously they may have given him some sort of charge or some sort of instructions, or it could have been very innocent, just something to the effect of, hey, listen, as you go over there, tell them we want a better relationship with them if President Trump were elected. So that's the crux of the matter. That's what he's going to have to answer under oath and I expect there's a lot of documentation about this somewhere and eventually the FBI will get to it.

BALDWIN: Michael and Steve, thank you both so very much. Let me continue on here on CNN. We've got more on the breaking news.

Plus, why won't the Treasury secretary guarantee that the middle class will not pay more under the president's new tax cut plan? The White House just responded. Stay tuned for that.

I'm Brooke Baldwin and this is CNN's special live coverage.


[14:15:38] BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Now to something entirely different coming out of Washington today.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Good morning. (INAUDIBLE) give you camera to some of the others to take or do you want it around his neck?


BALDWIN: Kids on Capitol Hill. House Speaker Paul Ryan welcoming these little guys and gals as part of your Take Your Child To Work Day. Not just on The Hill. Aww. But over at the White House. However, behind these fun moments, there is some serious pressure and posturing and maneuvering as President Trump braces for a big, legislative win with less than 48 hours to go before that 100-day benchmark.

And it's happening just as House Speaker Ryan says he is setting no deadline on passing a replacement plan for repealing and replacing Obamacare, even though the conservative wing of the party just announced a version that they would support.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We're making very good progress. We don't have - we're going to go when we have the votes. But that's the decision we'll make when we have it. And, if anything, this puts more federal protections in on pre-existing conditions. Why this amendment I think is a step in the right direction is, we believe the smarter way to go on getting premiums down and protecting people with pre- existing conditions has had federal and state support for people who are sick.


BALDWIN: Now, the focus is on whether the moderate Republicans will support it.

We are also getting word today of this threat from the Democrats. Party leaders say that they will oppose the bill that is preventing a government shutdown if a health care vote actually happens any day this week before Saturday, that 100-day mark.

So, Carol Lee is all over this. She's a White House reporter for "The Wall Street Journal."

Carol Lee, so this threat from the Democrats, I mean we know they're the minority party. They don't have the votes. So how much oomph is behind this symbolism?

CAROL LEE, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, it's not really clear, but one of the responses to it has been interesting in that you see the president and Republicans trying to set up a potential government shutdown to blame the Democrats, which Democrats aren't really in control, so that's going to be a hard one to spin. But there's a number of ways which they've been saying that if the government shuts down, it's going to be Democrats' fault. They've started to create that narrative. And so it will be - you know, we don't really know exactly what's going to happen. I think most people would say that we'll get a one week continuing resolution and this will - they'll punt a lot of this to give themselves more time to work something out. But certainly a health care vote, obviously, to Democrats, is kind of a poke in the eye and that was one of the reasons why last week when this first came up that they were going to renew this health care push. Even some Republican leaders on The Hill thought that that was not necessarily such a great idea because they need Democrats on board to get a spending bill to avoid a shutdown. BALDWIN: What about this whole tax cut plan that we saw 24 hours ago,

you know, unveiled in the briefing from Secretary Mnuchin and Mr. Cohn that has a lot of, you know, critics of the president running foul and they dropped this - you know, all these proposals, but a total dearth of specifics. Where is that today?

LEE: Well, the White House feels like they have a little bit of momentum. They've put forward - it's not even a plan. It's just, you know, an outline of certain things that the president would like to see. It's very broad strokes. And they feel that it wasn't - you know, it differs from the House Republican plan and so - but it wasn't outright rejected by House Republicans, so they feel good about that. So it's at least - but, you know, there's still a long way to go because you need to, a, fill in the details and that's where all of these - the debates were going to happen and it's going to get difficult and you have to do that first with Republicans. And then if they want to get some Democrats on board, particularly in the Senate, that's going to be a whole other debate. And it's just not clear how - what the timing of any of that is. I don't think anyone expects it to move really quickly because these issues just don't do that here.


LEE: But, you know, the president was very - he was the most clear he's been in terms of some of his major legislative priorities, even though it was a very broad strokes outline of this plan.

BALDWIN: Right. Right. Broad strokes, lacking in specific.

And before we let you go, and I'm talking to the control room, guys, do we have the picture from take your child to work day inside - here we go. I'm just giving your little man a shout-out, Carol. I was trolling your Twitter page. Looking very good in the front row center at the briefing today was little Hudson, your little dude.

LEE: Yes.

BALDWIN: So, I love it.

LEE: Well -

BALDWIN: Carol -

LEE: At one point when Sean Spicer was talking and then he laid down with his blanket in the front, which some reporters probably want to do sometimes, too.

[14:20:08] BALDWIN: Carol Lee, thank you. See you in Washington this week, my friend.

Speaking of Sean Spicer, White House spokesman Sean Spicer getting pepped today with questions about the president's just released tax plan, aims for a major, major, major cuts in taxes, but has few explanations, as Carol was outlining on the specifics, right, and how to pay for all of this. And the White House didn't directly answer how it would benefit the president and his family and instead saying Americans are likely applauding the president's proposals.

So, with me now, business analyst and former Wall Street executive Alexis Glick.



BALDWIN: So taxes, taxes. We know, you know, the optics of this. You have these two former Goldman guys and the critics are saying this is all great for the Trumps of the world and, you know, Wall Street, but what about - what about the little guy, what about the working guy, the middle class guy?

GLICK: Well, it's interesting. I was on last night with Anderson and afterwards I actually saw Gary Cohn speak at a private event last night. One thing I'll tell you is, go back and look at Gary's story. He comes from an immigrant family, had dyslexia, grew up in Cleveland. Like, everybody's looking at him and saying he's Mr. Goldman Sachs. Actually look back at his personal story and his background before anybody judges the decision making around this tax reform strategy.

Here's what I'll say to you. The headlines today scream, this is the richest cabinet in history. They are worth $12 billion. The rich are getting richer. And this is all about corporations and wealthy individuals.

Let's take it down to what you talked about, which is, the person who voted him in office, his constituents, the low to middle income earner. If you look at it right now, the estimates are that their taxes will actually rise because of this talk around the removal of the deduction, the federal deduction, on state and income taxes.


GLICK: And that that would really affect those, particularly in New York and California and some of the stronger blue states. The reason they didn't come out with those levels of income in those new three brackets that they're proposing is because they've got to step back and analyze, depending on where those three brackets are, how does that affect not only the long-term deficit but how will that affect the constituent, everyday person who's watching right now who put him in office.

BALDWIN: Yes. Right. And so on that Secretary Mnuchin was doing the rounds this morning on TV touting that this will be good for the middle class, but it seemed to me stopped short of actually saying, yes, I can guarantee it. Here he was with George Stephanopoulos.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Can you guarantee that no one in the middle class is going to pay more?

STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: That's our objective, absolutely.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is it a guarantee?

MNUCHIN: I can't make any guarantees until this thing is done and on the president's desk, but I can tell you that's our number one objective in this.


BALDWIN: I mean I guess telling the truth and not over delivering, you can give somebody credit for that, but still -

GLICK: Oh, yes. And, you know what, here's the thing I'll say to you. If you look at just the corporate tax rate piece of going down from 35 to 15 percent and doing what they're calling repatriation, which is, let's take the trillions of dollars that are parked overseas with huge American companies like Apple, like Microsoft and others, and let's bring it back to the United States so that we can increase capital spending, create job growth, create economic growth and hopefully take the economy from 2 to 3 percent growth.

BALDWIN: That's what they're saying.

GLICK: That's the hope. What you haven't factored into this that no one's really talking about is, everyone's right now focused on, is this going to be - how are we going to pay for this?


GLICK: Is it going to be deficit neutral.


GLICK: If you think about it, when they put out the border adjustment tax, when they put out free trade, when they put out China and are they playing with the currency, those are trial balloons and they've dialed them all back now. So the one thing folks aren't talking about is that if we bring back all of this growth and we help support the economy, the other factor we haven't considered is, will we start having to raise interest rates and how will that affect the consumer?

BALDWIN: Right, because everybody's been enjoying them flat.

GLICK: Low interest rates, easy money.


GLICK: But you also haven't had a good return on your savings account. So the one thing I would say is, let's not rush to judgment. What I like is they put out some guide posts and they're saying to us, we're not going to get it done by August. It's going to take us through the end of the year. But what I would say to folks is, let's take the time to think about, could dividends rise, could it be better for your retirement savings?


GLICK: Might the implications for interest rates be something they have to factor in before they sit down and say, these are the levels at which we're going to change the tax brackets? There's all kinds of things right now that they have to jockey and negotiate on.


GLICK: And so I give them credit for putting out what they've put out thus far. And so far it's been really simple.

BALDWIN: Yes. And, by the way, it's an opening bid.

GLICK: It's an opening bid. That's exactly how I'd describe it.

BALDWIN: Keeping that in mind.

Yes, Alexis, thank you, as always.

GLICK: Thank you, my dear.

BALDWIN: Alexis Glick.

[14:24:53] Coming up next, more on our breaking news from Washington. The White House blaming the Obama administration for approving the security clearance for fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Also just in, Flynn's lawyer responded to that. Stay here.



This concerns the aluminum industry in this country and I want to thank everybody for being here. I want to welcome all of the representatives of the aluminum industry, including Gabe Hudock, the CEO of Alumisource. And I visited Alumisource. And we had a great time seeing the workers. They're incredible people. But they've been put under tremendous, tremendous pressure and strain by outside sources. And we're going to end that pressure and strain so that they can go back and grow and hire lots of wonderful American workers.

Also, I want to thank Secretary Ross, Wilbur Ross, for being here. He's quickly demonstrating to the entire world that we're serious about protecting our jobs and industries, like aluminum, a great industry that was a much bigger industry in terms of this country and in terms of our workers. And it will be again. Believe me, I'd like to get it to be where it was or even beyond, if that's possible.

The American aluminum industry has been severely damaged by unfair foreign trade. Cheap, subsidized foreign imports have flooded into the market, destroyed thousands of great American jobs. Jobs that are no longer. Eight U.S. based smelters have either closed or reduced production since 2015. Only two smelters remain fully operational in our country. The United States now produces less aluminum than we did in 1952. Can you imagine that? 1952. We're doing less. And that's not going to happen. That's a disaster. And we're going back - we're going to start that chart going up the other way very soon.

[14:29:58] Today I'm calling on Secretary Ross to prioritize the investigation he initiated yesterday into whether foreign aluminum imports are jeopardizing our national security and to submit a report setting forth his findings. Based on those findings, Secretary --