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Senate Hearing Today on Russian Meddling in Election; Obama Calls For "Courage" To Oppose Obamacare Repeal; Group Of 13 Senators Mull Over Changing House Bill; Macron Victory Sends Euro To Six-Month High. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 8, 2017 - 09:00   ET


[09:00:00] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. A lot of news, let's get started.

All right. Moments ago, the President lashes out at a key official expected to testify today that she warned the White House about contacts with Russia. High drama on Capitol Hill.

Obama for the defense for the first time. The former president speaks since the House vote to repeal his signature health care bill. It takes little courage, he said, to aid those who are already powerful.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And political earthquake. The dramatic election overseas that could tell us where politics are headed around the world and all the way to the Oval Office.

Good morning, everyone. Hope you had a great weekend. I'm Poppy Harlow.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. So what did the White House staff know about Michael Flynn's contacts with Russia and when did they know it?

Today, key testimony that some never thought we would hear from an official fired by the Trump administration, testimony already drawing a missive and a misspelling from the President himself.

HARLOW: We'll get to that misspelling in just a moment, but for the first time, former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates will describe concerns that she voiced to the White House about Flynn's conversations with Russia's ambassador to the United States. She is expected to contradict the White House by saying that she delivered a serious urgent warning, not a casual heads up as it's been described by the administration.

Just moments ago, here is the prebuttal on Twitter from the President, "Ask Sally Yates under oath if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it to the White House Council," not counsel, E-L.

BERMAN: Copy that.

HARLOW: The White House counsel.

BERMAN: S-E-L. Just saying. HARLOW: I can't spell either. We have a lot to cover. Let's begin

with CNN Justice Correspondent Evan Perez. Good morning.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning, Poppy and John. Well, we're expecting to hear from Sally Yates, the former Acting Attorney General, a lot more about what she was worried about, what she was concerned about when she went to the White House back on January 26th to raise concerns about Michael Flynn, the national security advisor for President Trump.

We are expecting to hear a little bit more about his Russian contacts and also essentially why they decided to go to the White House because he had misled Vice President Pence and others in the White House about his discussions with the Russian ambassador here in Washington.

There is a lot that we expect that she won't be able to say, as well as James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence, because those two people were very much front and center as the U.S. intelligence agencies, the FBI, looked and watched as what they believe was happening with Russian interference or at least attempted interference with the U.S. election.

We expect that there's a lot she won't be able to talk about because of the classified nature of this. But as you can tell from the President's tweet already this morning, there's going to be a lot of politics here.

I think what you're going to hear from Republicans, they're going to try to paint Sally Yates, in particular, as a Democratic operative, in other words, because she's been in the Justice Department for 30 years. But she got fired just three or four days after the beginning of the Trump administration because she refused to enforce the travel ban, the first edition of the travel ban.

So, again, we expect to hear a lot more about what the concerns were last year about Russian interference in the U.S. election. There is a lot that's going to be classified, and we expect that we're going to hear a lot of "cannot answer those questions" from both Sally Yates and from James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence.

BERMAN: No, it may very well be. As you point out, their timeline is in contradiction to what we're hearing from the White House. And that's unusual in a Senate hearing so that's what we're going to watch for today. Evan Perez, thanks so much.

We're also getting new information this morning on the progress, or lack thereof, in some of these congressional investigations into alleged Trump campaign contacts with Russia. CNN's Manu Raju on Capitol Hill joins us with that. Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right, John. In fact, I'm talking to a number of lawmakers who sit on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, and one thing that they're saying is that, this is not going to move quickly.

There is no way, virtually, that this will get concluded before the summer recess this August. And that means it gets a wide stretch well into the fall and possibly even into next year because of the amount of data that they need to go through. One senator, James Lankford of Oklahoma, said, if you stack up all the records, it will be taller than him and he is five-10.

And they said that going through each of these leads is leading to even more questions. And one of the questions that they are struggling to answer, John, is whether any of these meetings that occurred between Trump officials and Russian officials had anything to do with the campaign, or was this simply designed to help those Trump associates businesses in their own bottom line?

Now, the Committee sent out a number of letters to Trump associates late last week, including the former Trump adviser Carter Page who refused to provide information about his meetings with Russians to the Committee last week.

[09:04:55] And in a new letter coming overnight, John and Poppy, Carter Page also declining to list a number of his other meetings but does acknowledge meeting in 2013 with someone he considered a quote, "junior attache" to Russian Federation at the United Nations. But that official, U.S. authorities believe, actually was a spy for the Kremlin.

So this is one thing that he did acknowledge he actually met with. But a number of other meetings, he did not disclose, and it would take too much time and it was preposterous for the Committee to deal with. It just shows a number of issues that they have to deal with before they can reach any sort of consensus on this big investigation, Poppy.

HARLOW: Of course, they can subpoena those documents but interesting that he said, you'll have to ask the Obama administration for those.

BERMAN: Right.

HARLOW: Sort of flippantly talking about surveillance. Manu Raju, thank you.

Here to discuss, Rebecca Berg, CNN political analyst and national political reporter for RealClearPolitics; Matt Lewis, CNN political commentator and a senior writer for "The Daily Beast;" and Counselor Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's legal analyst and former federal prosecutor. Nice to have you here.


HARLOW: Good Monday morning. Let's talk about big picture because Sally Yates, not just any former official, right? She is the Acting Attorney General who was fired because she refused to implement the travel ban. Michael Flynn, anything but a typical federal official. He was fired because he lied to the Vice President. Talk about the significance of today.

TOOBIN: Well, this is one of the first times we're going to hear under oath about what the Trump administration knew about what Michael Flynn was really doing. I mean, Michael Flynn, it now appears, was much more involved with foreign powers. He is now registered as an agent of Turkey. He had these numerous contacts with Russians.

And the question that hovers over this whole saga is, what was the relationship between the Trump campaign and Russian government? The Russian government, we know, was working to help Donald Trump and to hurt Hillary Clinton. What, if any, connection the Trump campaign had to those efforts is the big question, and today is one small window into that question.

BERMAN: What does the level of urgency matter? One of the things that we've heard is that Sally Yates is going to testify she went to the White House with an urgent warning, an alarming warning, that this conversation happened and Mike Flynn was lying about it. The White House said they only got a heads up. What does that manner, the degree? Why is that an issue?

TOOBIN: Well, because Michael Flynn was supported by the White House throughout this whole period as the reports kept coming. At one point, Donald Trump said, I haven't heard anything about it. It was only when there was a direct contradiction between what he told the Vice President and what the facts that came out later. So, you know, the White House stood behind Michael Flynn for a long time and then they cut him loose. Sally Yates' significance is that she was warning well in advance of his departure.

HARLOW: Yes. Matt Lewis, to you, you know, the White House was not distancing itself very much from Michael Flynn for a while. And now, they are trying to put as many arms between themselves and Michael Flynn as they can.

Except for we looked back at the harshest thing the President himself has said about Michael Flynn in all of this and this is it, "He didn't tell the V.P. of the United States the fact and then he didn't remember, and that's just not acceptable." He has supported Flynn's request for immunity if he is going to tell his story.

You know, how problematic is that for this White House? They want as much distance from Flynn as they can get. The President doesn't seem to be distancing himself that much.

MATT LEWIS, SENIOR COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes, and it makes it hard for the press shop and the communications people to do what they want to do which is to provide distance between them and Flynn when the President isn't sort of playing along.

But remember, this is a guy, Mike Flynn, Donald Trump likes him. He considered him reportedly to be as possible Vice President. He obviously tapped him for an important role, national security adviser. Flynn goes to the Democratic Convention and shouts, "Lock her up." Flynn and Trump hit it off. They were incredibly close.

And, you know, one gets the sense that, you know, Flynn now had to be thrown under the bus, but Donald Trump, you know, there's some cognitive dissonance there. I think that the White House, the communications people, would prefer it if Donald Trump were little less positive toward Mike Flynn. BERMAN: Yes, sort of not some casual hanger on, Michael Flynn. He

was the national security adviser, which is a pretty important position as far as White House positions go.

Rebecca Berg, we are getting a sense of how the White House is going to deal with this today. Evan touched on it. They're going to go after Sally Yates.



BERMAN: They're going to say, Sally Yates, you know, partisan hack who wants to run for elective office one day as a Democrat. They're also going to question, you know, why she didn't go to the White House sooner with her alarm. And we heard the President, you know. The President himself is already prebutting this.

Is that effective, to go after this woman who will be under oath, who worked for 20 years in multiple administrations, including Republican administrations?

[09:10:00] BERG: Well, absolutely, it's effective, John. And that's why we're seeing the White House and President Trump try to do this, cast doubt on Sally Yates and her motives, turn this into a political issue, really frame her actions as an Obama official, as someone who was appointed during the Obama administration, acting as someone who would be rooting for that side of the aisle.

Now, obviously, you know, she'll be under oath. She will be telling the truth in this testimony. But certainly, Republicans and the White House are going to try to cast doubt on what she is saying and frame it from the context of she worked in the Obama administration. She didn't want to implement the travel ban. Clearly, she didn't want this administration to succeed.

And we've also seen this with the President trying to cast doubt on unmasking during the Obama administration. Of course, launching his baseless claim that the former President Obama wiretapped him at Trump Tower.

And so the more that President Trump can turn this into a political issue or a political football back and forth, it muddies the waters, and some of his supporters might forget that this is actually about Russian meddling in the election and potentially colluding with his campaign.

HARLOW: Sally Yates, Jeffrey Toobin, is getting more attention because, one, you know, her testimony was cancelled before. We haven't heard from her. There was this whole back and forth over whether the White House is trying to silence her or not.

But we're also going to hear from former DNI Clapper. And this is someone who came out in the media amid that President reveal and said, no, I didn't see any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia up until January 20th when I left my post. So what's the most important question he can be asked today?

TOOBIN: Well, whether he has seen anything that changes his opinion.


TOOBIN: And that is --

HARLOW: But he wouldn't have seen more intelligence after he stepped out of the role.

TOOBIN: Probably not. But my sense is that he is going to be pretty cautious in what he says. I mean, people in that world tend not to make categorical judgement because of the volume of information they see and also how imperfect the information is.


TOOBIN: But if I can just say one thing about the President's tweets today. You know, it just shows how much the norms of behavior have changed. I mean, the idea of the President of the United States essentially threatening a witness -- I mean, he is basically accusing her of leaking.

HARLOW: Of leaking.

TOOBIN: You know, we have never had that before. We've never had presidents who did this kind of thing. And, you know, the misspelling is the least of it. I mean, the idea that the President, you know, the guy who is in charge of the Justice Department, is threatening a witness, it's really kind of disturbing.

BERMAN: You know, Matt Lewis, a reminder what Carl Bernstein, you know, the famous Watergate reporter, CNN analyst, said during the White House Correspondents' Dinner. He essentially said, where there are lies and secrecy, there is a good road map to follow.

Here, well, you have lies. You have Michael Flynn lying to Mike Pence. He was fired for that, that much we know. We have secrecy in that these Sally Yates hearings were postponed once already. And now, you have the President basically trying to muddy the waters here.

So does this provide a good road map for people to follow? The question is, a road map to where?

LEWIS: Well, the good news is there is going to be a hearing today, and that we still live in this great country where, you know, we have an opportunity to get to the truth. You know, things are not hidden as they might be, say, in Russia. So we live in a great --

BERMAN: Just for instance, to name one country.

LEWIS: Just to name one, right. Obviously, a serious thing here is that, if Russia knew that Mike Flynn was lying to the administration, he would then be in a compromising position, you know, they have the potential to then blackmail him. And, you know, oftentimes, the way it works is, you open the door to them by, you know, giving them an opportunity. And they could begin working you and lobbying you and trying to turn you. And so it's a very serious thing.

And I do think the one thing we may learn today or find out more about is whether or not Sally Yates just gave a heads up to the Trump administration or really implored them that this is a very serious matter. And so, look, we are blessed to live in this country where some of this, I think, we're going to find out some information today.

BERMAN: All right. An uplifting statement from Matt Lewis to close on. Thank you so much. Rebecca, Jeffrey, to you as well.

Overnight, President Obama, the former president, broke his silence on the House vote to repeal ObamaCare. He talked about courage but quite deliberately so about something or someone to be more specific. Find out whom in just a moment.

And new reaction this morning to a historic election, a landslide win that some are looking to reverse trends around the world all the way to the White House.

[09:15:00] HARLOW: Also, is this North Korean diplomacy? Another American citizen detained as tension continues to build. More on that in a moment.


POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- is this North Korean diplomacy, another American citizen detained as tension continues to build. More on that in a moment.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. This morning as the Senate takes up the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, we are hearing for the first time from the guy with his name on it. The former president, Barack Obama, spoke last night about the House vote to throw out his signature legislation.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: There was a reason why health care reform had not been accomplished before. It was hard. It is my fervent hope and the hope of millions that regardless of party such courage is still possible, that today's members of Congress, regardless of party are willing to look at the facts and speak the truth.


HARLOW: Those comments coming from the former president after he received the Profile in Courage Award at the JFK Library last night.

[09:20:06]Our senior Washington correspondent, Brianna Keilar, is following all of this. It was so clear who he was talking about, but he didn't even have to say the president's name.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He didn't explicitly mention, as you point out, Poppy, President Trump's name. He also didn't explicitly mention this vote that we saw on Thursday, the House Republican effort to at least pass through their chamber this bill for repealing and replacing Obamacare.

That is what he was talking about, though. He had a message for Republicans as they move forward and this goes into its next phase in the Senate. Here is part of what he said.


OBAMA: I hope that current members of Congress recall that it actually doesn't take a lot of courage to aid those that were already powerful, already influential. But it does require some courage to champion the vulnerable and the sick, and the infirm, those who often have no access to the corridors of power.


KEILAR: Now President Obama received this award from the JFK Library Foundation, the Profile in Courage Award, but the folks that he really gave kudos to in his speech here were Democrats who had pushed through Obamacare with votes in 2009 and 2010.

He specifically highlighted them saying that most of them lost their jobs for the hard votes that they took during those two years. It was also interesting, though, because since we noted that he did not explicitly call out Donald Trump.

He did say that the reason why health care reform was not accomplished before was because it was hard, which certainly seemed to be a direct rebuke of Donald Trump talking about who knew how complicated this could be.

BERMAN: Indeed. Unspoken yet hinted strongly. Brianna, stick around. I want to bring in Nia-Malika Henderson, our senior political reporter.

Nia, the question is, where are we now with health care reform? Obviously the Senate said it's taking it up, but we are getting such a different message them, right?

Susan Collins said they are going to start from scratch. Senator Lindsey Graham says the House effort needs to be viewed with suspicion. Rob Portman says it does not meet the test of stability for people who rely on Medicaid. I mean, this is the Senate saying thanks but no thanks.

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think that's right. I mean, essentially the health plan which passed barely last week is in the garbage now in terms of what the Senate is going to do. You know, they will look at a skeleton version of this, but they will work on their own plan.

And a lot of these folks have already in a meeting. There is a 13- member working group. A lot of people noted that it is all men. They have been talking about the way forward in terms of how do they cobble together a 51 or 52 or so senators to pass this thing in that broad spectrum of Republicans who are in the Senate.

People like Lisa Murkowski, Susan Collins, people who are moderate as well as people like Rand Paul, who doesn't really believe that the government should have any role in terms of helping to provide people health care.

I do think that the fact that it made it out of the House, which is incredibly ideologically diverse in terms of the Republican and probably more so ideologically diverse within the Senate is.

That in some ways I think is good news for the Senate's chances. We'll have to see over these next many months what they are able to cobble together.

HARLOW: But part of the reason that some of these House numbers, you know, got on board is because they completely believe that it won't make it through its Senate in its form and that the Senate is going to change into something perhaps they are a little bit more comfortable.

On the other side, Brianna, you have Congressman Dave Brat of the Freedom Caucus saying just last week of the Senate, you know, work that has to be done on this they better not change it one iota. If they change it, you are not going have 218 votes.

I mean, they are going to change it. Susan Collins says we're starting from scratch. So where does that leave this administration?

KEILAR: They are really going to change it. I think there is even an argument to be made that the Senate could be helping the House by making changes and making this more palatable. If politically you think that voters are paying attention to the specifics that are in this bill.

I think we will see if there really are not those votes. The difference will be if Senate Republicans have a plan, House Republicans obviously have their plan. There will be significant differences between them.

But then they would ideally come to the table and hash out some of those differences. It is different I think, though, when you get to that final place of there being some sort of agreement, and then you say to House Republicans, OK, remember when you celebrated in the Rose Garden for this, your part of passing repeal and replace, but you hadn't actually passed it.

Well, here this is the best you're going to get, are you going to make good on that promise to repeal and replace or are you going to vote no on this? You know, we don't know the answer to that question yet.

HARLOW: To Brianna, I think people are paying attention to the specifics. I heard a young couple saying did you hear about the $880 billion cut to Medicaid? Specific numbers.

BERMAN: It is. Look, and now the Republicans are learning the messaging problems of that health care that the Democrats had for so long. Take the case of Raul Labrador who had this town meeting this weekend and said something that raised a lot of eyebrows. Listen to this.

All right. Let me read it out loud. He was talking about -- he was asked about people on Medicaid and he was asked if people on Medicaid would die. Of course, Congressman Labrador said no one wants anyone to die. I'm now told we have it. Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are mandating people on Medicaid accept dying. You are making a mandate --

REPRESENTATIVE RAUL LABRADOR (R), IDAHO: No one wants to die. That line is so indefensible. Nobody dies because they don't have access to health care.


BERMAN: All right, shouted down because he said nobody dies because they don't have access to health care. He since clarified his remarks. I should read his statement, "During ten hours of town halls, one of my answers about health care wasn't very elegant. I was responding to a false notion that the Republican health care plan will cause people to die in the streets which I completely reject. But Nia, again, you know, Republicans now are dealing with this. They own it to the extent that Democrats have for over six years.

HENDERSON: That's right. And they have got to figure out their message and I think you do hear a different messaging from the White House. The message there was essentially Obamacare is broken. It is in a death spiral and Republicans are here to fix it.

That's probably a better messaging than the congressman there was able to mount in defense of what the Democratic argument seems to be, which is that Republicans don't care if you die. It seems to probably not be the greatest messaging either. You have heard that messaging before.

The thing that I think Democrats that's tough is that Obamacare has been on the ballot. It's mostly lost, right, 2010 it lost, 2012 it won, Obama won, 2014 it lost and 2016 it lost. So there's the momentum at this point I think really is on the Republican side.

Democrats have to figure out if they can muster as, you know, Obama talks about the courage. They have got to courage but they don't have the forces at this point in either House to really mount a block to repealing and replacing Obamacare.

I do think the other point is that Obamacare will never really be repealed, right? I mean, Obamacare, the basic premise is that federal government has a role to play in providing people insurance. It is probably not going away.

HARLOW: All right. Great point. Nia, thank you very much. Brianna, thank you as well.

Also, if you missed it over the weekend, there was a little election in France, a big win for Emmanuel Macron, 39-year-old former investment banker, taking home a resounding victory.

BERMAN: Giving you a chance to speak French on morning television. How are the markets reacting this morning? We are joined by CNN's chief business correspondent and star of "EARLY START," Christine Romans.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It looks like the Dow will be down about 31 points. That's not very much, but up to a six-month high and then it fizzles a little bit. Here's why, last week you had the S&P and the Nasdaq hit record highs on Friday, that very strong April jobs report.

They were poling last week and indicated that Macron had very good chances. So that was driving a global market that we saw pop there in the euro because France will stay in the E.U. and will keep the euro. That was good overall.

There is a lot of work to be done ahead about what kind of reforms he can do in a French economy and he has to have a parliament. That's not until June. It will be the next milestone there.

Retail earnings to tell you about this well that will be really important there. There is a retail deal today. Kate Spade being bought out by Coach. So that's a big move in that sector.

You guys have been talking about health care. This is triple the pace of job creation in health care that the rest of the economy. So this has been a big driver of jobs. When you look at since the Obamacare exchange has opened, you have about 1.1 million new jobs added in health care in three years.

HARLOW: In three years.

ROMANS: This is really critical here as the Senate takes up health care reform. So be very careful about that engine of job growth.

HARLOW: Well, the expectation, right, is that if you have this reform, you take that money out of the systems, there goes some of those jobs, no?

ROMANS: Yes. Well, one of the reasons why there's been so much job creations in the big hospitals, university hospitals especially have been adding facilities, have been adding wings because they have this new body of paying public who are insured if you have more uninsured or you have questions about (inaudible) of health care system.

We've already seen Reuters has some fascinating reporting, but I've already seen some (inaudible) systems put off hiring, put off some of their plans over the next year because they don't have clarity -- there's the bell.

HARLOW: Christine Romans, thank you for the French lesson this morning. Appreciate it. We'll be right back.