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Senate Hearing Today on Russian Meddling on Election; Obama: Health Care Reform Takes "Courage"; Senate GOP Leaders Meet Tomorrow to Discuss Bill. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 8, 2017 - 10:00   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm John Berman.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Poppy Harlow. Breaking her silence today and just a few hours we will hear for the first time from Sally Yates, the acting attorney general who was promptly fired by President Trump. What did she tell the White House about Michael Flynn contact with the Russians? Well, the president on Twitter this morning, attacking her in a pre-battle of sorts, "Ask Sally Yates, under oath, if she knows how classified information got into the newspapers soon after she explained it to W.H. Counsel."

BERMAN: That's how he spelled it, just so you know. That wasn't us this one time. I want to bring in CNN justice correspondent Evan Perez. Evan, the fact that the president's already on the attack on this this morning, shows you maybe how concerned he is about this testimony today.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, John. I think one of the things we're certainly going to be keeping an eye and an ear out for during this hearing is a little bit more about the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. We're trying to see whether or not either Sally Yates or James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence, will tell us a little bit more about what U.S. Intelligence knew, at least before they left office at the beginning of the Trump presidency.

But we expect a lot of this hearing, a lot of this today to focus on Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser who was fired by President Trump back in January 26th is when Sally Yates went to the White House to express concerns that there was a chance that the Russians could compromise and blackmail Michael Flynn. That's because he had had conversations with the Russian ambassador here in Washington and then had misled the White House about what exactly he had discussed.

Now, four days after she went to the White House, Sally Yates was fired because she had refused to enforce the travel ban, the first edition of the Trump travel ban. It took 19 days before the White House finally got rid of Michael Flynn. And that's only after news stories had described everything that had happened, including his discussions about U.S. sanctions.

So, a lot of the focus today is going to be on Flynn and as President Trump has already previewed, a lot of the Republican talking points are going to be and the questions are going to be about leaks and whether or not Sally Yates and James Clapper and other people in the Obama administration had leaked stories to the news media about this Russia investigation.

HARLOW: Evan, how limited is, you know, what Sally Yates is actually able to say and the questions she's able to answer going to be, given the confidentiality issues, given the executive privilege claims from the Obama and Trump administration, possibly? How far do you think she can go?

PEREZ: Well, that's exactly right. There's a lot of classified information that she won't be able to get into. And then you raised the issue of executive privilege, which was something that the Justice Department had raised a concern with Sally Yates about the Trump Justice Department. They said to her that there are some of her discussions about Michael Flynn that fall under executive privilege. This is stuff that she had told President Trump's administration. And so, she's not allowed to talk about it. We'll see how she navigates that, because there's a lot of questions here about exactly what happened and why exactly the White House took so long to act after she had come in with this warning.

HARLOW: All right. Evan Perez thanks for the reporting. We'll be watching that special coverage here this afternoon as well.

We're also getting new information this morning on the progress or I guess lack thereof, in some of these congressional investigations into those alleged campaign contacts with Russia. Our Manu Raju's on the Hill. He's been talking to a lot of people on these committees about just how -- just long they think it's going to last.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, no question and how difficult it's been, too, because of the amount of information they're trying to assess, including the information that actually underlined that January assessment that said that Russian officials, even Vladimir Putin ordered a cyber campaign to help President Trump. But one thing that they've been struggling to find is the issue of collusion, whether there has been any so far between Russian officials and Trump officials. Because there are a lot of leads and a lot of questions that they have yet to answer and a question about whether or not some of these meetings that occurred between Trump associates and Russian officials had anything to do with the campaign or if it was designed to help that Trump adviser's own personal connections and own business connections.

Now, this comes as the Senate committee has actually sent a number of letters to Trump associates in order to get more information about their contacts with Russian officials, including to former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page, who has declined to provide any of his meetings until overnight, in which he declined -- he revealed one meeting that he had in 2013 with someone he considered a junior attache for the Russian government to the United Nations. But someone, who actually U.S. officials believed to be a Russian spy.

[10:05:01] Now, Page said that it was a brief interaction. He downplayed that and he criticized the committee for conducting what he believes to be a witch hunt, but he did not provide a number of other documents that the committee has requested and chairman Richard Burr and Democrat Mark Warner have threatened to possibly even subpoena for those records. It just shows the difficulty that the committee is having in getting the records, going through that, never mind reaching a consensus on those tough issues. It could spill into 2018 in an election year, guys.

BERMAN: Indeed, it is an election year. That should be fascinating, Manu Raju for us. Thank you so much. Joining us now, Congressman Eric Schwalwell of California, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman, thank you so much for being with us. As you well know, Sally Yates was scheduled to testify before your committee in public in March. That was canceled. The hearing today is on the Senate side, but I do want to know from you if you could ask her a question today, what's the most important information you want from her?

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I wish we had heard from her first, John. The most important question that I think should be asked of Sally Yates is what exactly did she know about Michael Flynn or anyone on the Trump transition team's contacts with the Russians and what was conveyed to the White House.

I think the earlier report by Evan really nailed it. Why was Michael Flynn kept so long after they were told that he had contacts that were not disclosed with the Russians? That's quite disturbing. And the larger question is are there other individuals who are at the White House or in the administration who had similar contacts and the White House has kept them on because they just, frankly, don't care.

HARLOW: So, along with Sally Yates today, we're going to hear from the former director of National Intelligence, James Clapper. And he said in January that as of, you know, his last day in the post, January 20th, he had not seen any evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians. On this network on Friday, you said, yes, there is fire and you said you've seen quote, "Evidence on the unclassified and the classified side of that fire." So, what's the evidence?

SWALWELL: So, first, Poppy, I want to speak very generally, because I think I can address this issue. It is often the case that the FBI, if they're conducting counterintelligence or a criminal investigation, would not read in the DNI, Mr. Clapper at the time. I hope that is asked of him, so that is cleared up. And what I was suggesting on Friday was that I have seen evidence both on the unclassified and classified side of collusion. That's evidence that the FBI must continue to develop --


HARLOW: OK. So, can share with us then --

SWALWELL: You know, so it can come forward --

HARLOW: So, you can share with us then, you can share the unclassified evidence then.


HARLOW: So, what is it?

SWALWELL: Happy to go through it. So, first is senior foreign policy adviser Carter Page. After being told he was meeting with Russian spies, he, you know, showing very bad judgment at the very best, looking, you know, in the best light for Carter Page. He goes over a month after it's revealed that Russia is interfering with our elections to Moscow.

General Michael Flynn, who had a security clearance at the highest level, knew that "Russia Today," you know, Russia's state broadcasting company, is directly linked to Russia's Intelligence Services, gives paid speeches to Russia, sits next to Vladimir Putin and then working on the transition team reportedly is telling the Russian ambassador, don't worry about those sanctions we put on you. -- Paul Manafort, chairman for the campaign --


BERMAN: So, Congressman --

SWALWELL: Yes, go ahead.

BERMAN: These all may be questionable activity --

HARLOW: Bad optics.

BERMAN: -- some of them may actually be in violation of the law. But what you have said on CNN is you have seen evidence of collusion between Trump campaign associates and the Russians. And that's an incendiary charge. I mean, you are saying that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians in this election. If that's the case, we're just asking you what evidence you have of that.

SWALWELL: Yes, well, I just gave you two examples. I have a lot more, John --


HARLOW: But that doesn't prove --

BERMAN: That's not evidence of collusion. That's evidence, again, of possible wrongdoing. It's evidence of sketchy activities, but not --


BERMAN: -- as far as I can tell, actually that they were working together on the campaign.

SWALWELL: John, I disagree. Paul Manafort, chairman of the campaign, being paid reportedly by Russia Intelligence Services, also being paid -- and we've seen the ledger now -- by pro-Russian Ukrainians and then serving --


HARLOW: -- That was up to a decade before he served as chairman.

SWALWELL: Right, but here's the convergence, is that he is serving as the chairman of the Trump campaign when the campaign is asking the Republican National Committee to take out any pro-Ukrainian language at its Republican convention. So again --


HARLOW: So, he said that he didn't do that. -- Again, Manafort said on "Meet the Press" that he did not. He was not the one who spoke up to change the platform. I mean --

SWALWELL: Do you think Manafort is a credible witness?

HARLOW: I'm absolutely not the one to judge, but John's point -- I mean, you need to answer his question. You made these claims. You made these claims of collusion. Where's the evidence?

[10:10:00] SWALWELL: So, Roger Stone. Roger Stone intimates to the world that John Podesta is about to spend his time in the barrel. That is weeks before John Podesta's e-mails are put out by Guccifer 2.0. And then we see conversations that Roger Stone was having with Guccifer 2.0. So, you know, these are not just mere coincidences. This is a convergence. And then there is a whole classified side of information that I hope the world sees very soon. I hope the FBI -- and I have every reason to believe -- we'll continue to develop this. But this is not Donald Trump being the unluckiest man in the world to have all of these coincidences converge at the same time that Russia's interference was taking place.

BERMAN: And just so we know, again, there is the public information that we've discussed. You assert that it points to collusion. We were questioning if, in fact, it does. Have you seen things on the classified side that you cannot tell us about, though, that is even stronger evidence than what is out there publicly?


BERMAN: OK. So, there are things that you cannot tell us that you think are more, you know, perhaps more convincing than the public information?

SWALWELL: There's a pattern here, John, on the classified and unclassified side of deep personal, political and financial ties that Donald Trump and people in his family, in his businesses and on his campaign had with a foreign adversary in Russia that converged at the same time that Russia was interfering with our campaign.

Now, the classified side, that's the role of the House investigation to develop, that's the role of the FBI to develop and the strength of that evidence, hopefully, will come forward, you know, in the coming months or maybe perhaps even longer. But this is a complicated set of financial transactions, electronic messages, foreign witnesses. It's going to take time, not as fast as I'd like, but the American people deserve to hold any U.S. person accountable that was working with Russia.

BERMAN: Indeed. Our Manu Raju reporting after talking to you and others, it could stretch into 2018. Congressman Eric Swalwell, we always appreciate you coming on --

HARLOW: Thank you.

BERMAN: -- and sharing what you can about the investigation.

SWALWELL: My pleasure.

BERMAN: We do have some breaking news here, you know, on the U.S. relationship as it stands now --

HARLOW: Yes, with Russia.

BERMAN: -- with Russia. The Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is going to meet with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov here in the United States, in Washington on Wednesday. Fascinating meeting that will be. They have a lot to talk about, no doubt, about the situation in Syria, also Ukraine as well.

HARLOW: Of course, after that phone call between the presidents last week.

All right, still to come for us, calling out Congress, former President Obama urging lawmakers to show courage and defend his health care law. He's also calling out the current president without uttering his name.

BERMAN: Plus, "We're sorry." The Kushner family is now apologizing for mentioning the president's son-in-law in an attempt to lure Chinese investors to a project. They just happened to mention him during the sales pitch.

And from the ballot box to the streets, thousands right now on the streets after an historic vote in France that was seen and heard around the world. We're live on the ground next.


[10:16:57] HARLOW: President Obama speaking out for the first time on the House GOP health care bill and their work to dismantle the signature law that bears his name.

BERMAN: He received the Profile in Courage Award at the John F. Kennedy Library in Massachusetts overnight. And he urged Congress to stand up against the repeal and as he puts it, "Have courage."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.


BERMAN: All right, CNN's senior Washington correspondent Brianna Keilar, following this for us. You know, Brianna, the former president did not really mention the current president directly, but he almost didn't have to.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Certainly not, especially when he said that it was hard. That's why health care reform wasn't accomplished before. It seemed to be a direct rebuke to President Trump talking about how nobody knew that health care could be so complicated. And he also -- President Obama -- did not explicitly mention this vote that we saw on Thursday in the House to repeal and replace Obamacare. But it was pretty obvious that he had a message for those House Republicans. Here's part of what he said to them.


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


KEILAR: And I was talking, John and Poppy, to a source familiar with President Obama's process going through this speech and it's something I was told that came together here in the last week. So, it wasn't really a stretch for him to make this somewhat topical.

He received this award from the JFK Library Foundation, the Profile in Courage Award and of note, was that he spent a lot of time looking toward Democrats who had voted in 2009 and 2010 on health care reform and really holding them up as an example of a Profile in Courage. You'll remember a lot of them lost their jobs because of that vote and other votes that they took in that Congress and President Obama acknowledged that last night.

HARLOW: 63, to be exact.

BERMAN: That's right.

HARLOW: And you've got to think some Republicans are thinking about their seats.

KEILAR: That's right.

HARLOW: And being in jeopardy now. Brianna Keilar, great reporting thank you so much.

The future of health care, it is in the Senate's hands. The pressure is growing and it's on Mitch McConnell now to deliver. Phil Mattingly is working his sources on Capitol Hill. I mean, you've got Susan Collins saying we're starting from scratch. Rob Portman doesn't love what this does to Medicaid. And you've got Lindsey Graham saying view this with suspicion. Tough road ahead?

[10:20:04] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so you can tell Senate Republicans aren't exactly warmly embracing what was sent over by the House, despite the House weeks upon weeks upon weeks of really difficult, complicated, arduous process to get them to that point. The reality, guys, is the Senate's going to write their own version. It's their prerogative to do such things and that's exactly what they're going to do.

Now, you mentioned Mitch McConnell, the majority leader here. He is really the central player here. He is going to be the one that has to figure out a way to get this through, to kind of bridge the divides that you guys are talking about, senators that come from Medicaid expansion states that find what the House did to the bill absolutely important, kind of marry that with senators who want to cut back even more on Obama regulations than they did even in the House.

But you mentioned Susan Collins, Poppy, and I think this is really important because she is a crucial, crucial player to this process. Take a listen to how she described the process now.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: The House Bill is not going to come before us. The Senate is starting from scratch. We're going to draft our own bill and I'm convinced that we're going to take the time to do it right.


MATTINGLY: And guys, take the time is an important point here. I'm told weeks, maybe even months as they work through this process, kind of behind the scenes what's actually going on right now, there is a Senate Republican working group, 13 senators, committee chairs, leadership members, people that kind of span the ideological spectrum. And then, there are actually a second group, people like Susan Collins, Bill Cassidy, Shelley Moore Capito, others who are working on specific issues as well. At some point, they're going to have to marry all of this together.

An interesting element here, I asked one senior GOP aide who's working on this, kind of what's your end game here? What's your goal? How do you restructure the tax credit or work on the Medicaid expansion? How do you get everybody together? And the simple response was, our goal is to get to 51 votes. That's all they care about right now. However long that takes, whatever the proposal looks like as they come out of this, that's the goal here. That's what they're going to be working forward. But guys, I just want to stress, it's going to be a lengthy process. A lot of it's going to be behind the scenes and there is certainly a lot of work to come, John and Poppy.

BERMAN: Interesting. You ask a complicated policy question, you get the answer is politics. Phil Mattingly for us on Capitol Hill. Thank you so much.

No one has died because they don't have access to health care. Controversial statements being made by one Republican now on the defensive, that's next.


[10:26:48] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOWN HALL ATTENDEE: You're mandating people on Medicaid accept dying. You are making --

REP. RAUL LABRADOR (R), IDAHO: No one wants anybody to die.

You know, that line is so indefensible. Nobody dies because they don't have access to health care.


BERMAN: All right, that's Republican Congressman from Idaho, Raul Labrador, you can hear him being criticized there by the people in the room after he said that nobody dies because they don't have access to health care.

HARLOW: Right. He later amended that statement on Facebook, saying, it was not elegantly phrased. Let's bring in CNN political commentator Kayleigh McEnany and CNN political commentator Angela Rye, the former executive director of the Congressional Black Caucus.

And Kayleigh, let's just start with your reaction to what Labrador said, I mean, saying "Nobody dies because they don't have access to health care." Aside from being just factually not the case, this shows, does it not, a messaging issue for Republicans on selling this to their constituents?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST "ABOVE THE LAW": Look, there was certainly a messaging issue there. It is never good to kind of dismiss the fears of the questioner. Raul Labrador should have said, look, I get that this is a deeply personal issue, I understand your fear. I recognize that. You know, with recognizing that, I think your fears should really be at the sinking "Titanic" that is Obamacare, the fact that several states are facing, the real dire consequences of having no insurers in the individual market.

But he didn't handle that one well. It's imperative that Republicans do handle this well, because in order to sell the AHCA, you have to have a messaging strategy. BERMAN: And you know we want to talk about the exchanges and about insurers pulling out of states in just a second, but Angela Rye, first to you. Look, we now know, we always knew that health care is complicated -- most of us, I should say, always knew that health care policy and health care reform was complicated. And there were statements that the Obama team made that proved difficult and challenging and they had messaging issues early on.

Is this another example of that? Look, if you like your health care, if you like your doctor, you can keep it. We now know that wasn't a 100 percent guarantee right there. So, is this another case of that?

ANGELA RYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND FORMER EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS: I actually think it's a little bit different, John. I think it's closer to Republican messaging saying that Obamacare would be equivalent to death panels. I think it's similar to that messaging and not the president, the former president, trying to ensure that people would be able to keep their doctors. I was one of the lucky people that did get to keep my doctor. I still have the same doctor I had before Obamacare and after.

And I think that it's an important distinction to make. I also think that Raul Labrador, you know, really fell on the sword with this one. I'm sure that's not what he meant, but it's highly problematic, because it actually speaks to what most of the country hears, right, when we hear Republicans talking about health care.

What it seems to the common person is that by all means, they didn't want Barack Obama's name on a health care plan. And so, that meant by any means necessary, they were going to sabotage the thing. 60-plus votes in the House to repeal Obamacare meant that instead of bolstering and supporting a system that, yes, of course needed work because it was new. They instead tore it apart, watched it fall apart and said, oh, my God, look at the disaster and forgot to say in parentheticals that we created. This is a thing that could have been easily avoided by just simply amending the process instead of trying to destroy it and then trying to start from scratch.