Return to Transcripts main page


Did FBI Director Comey Misstate Facts to Congress?; Trump Sending U.S. Troops to Afghanistan?; Senate Targets Health Care. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 9, 2017 - 15:00   ET



ROBERT RICHARDSON, DISMISSED FROM EPA ADVISORY BOARD: And, certainly, any new administration would have the authority and the right to appoint its own advisers.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Will you reapply, Robert?

RICHARDSON: ... this is -- I don't plan to at this time.

But when you see it in the larger context of proposed changes to the Science Advisory Board, which is a different board, proposed budget cuts, the removal of information and data from the EPA's Web page, taken into totality, this gives me great concern.

BALDWIN: OK. Robert Richardson, thank you so much in Michigan for us this afternoon. Appreciate your time.

Top of the hour. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Moments ago, the White House on the defense over testimony from Sally Yates, the one-time acting attorney general who was fired by President Trump. She had raised a number of questions about then acting National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. You know the story. The White House took 18 days to fire General Flynn after Yates went to the general counsel of the White House three times and warned him that General Flynn was vulnerable to blackmail from the Russians.

Moments ago, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said this about Sally Yates.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We did what we should do. Just because someone comes in and gives you a heads-up about something and says I want to share some information doesn't mean that you immediately jump the gun and go take an action.

I think if you flip the scenario and say, what if we had just dismissed somebody because a political opponent of the president had made an utterance, you would argue that it was pretty irrational to act in that manner. We did what we were supposed to do. The president made ultimately the right decision, and I think he was proven that...

QUESTION: How is she a political opponent of the president? She was acting attorney general.


SPICER: Appointed by the Obama administration, and a strong one -- a strong supporter of Clinton. So, that's now I think number four.


BALDWIN: Let's start with Jim Sciutto, our CNN chief national security correspondent there.

And, Jim, we had a whole conversation just a couple minutes ago about even just Spicer's characterization of her warning as a flippant heads-up. What did you make of his words today?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Listen, he's doubling down on that heads-up description, which is the same description he had on February 14, the day after Flynn was fired, when he was asked about what Yates said. He described it as a heads-up.

And since then, in public hearing yesterday -- and we reported this last week -- Yates has made clear it was far more than a heads-up. It was a warning, a very serious warning. She said she walked -- in her words, she walked the White House counsel through the details of Flynn's underlying behavior, again, her words, and she specified that that made her concerned that he was subject, vulnerable to being compromised by Russia.

That description of the conversation is far more than a heads-up. It becomes, I suppose, a question of who do you believe then, Sean Spicer's description of that meeting or Sally Yates' description of the meeting?

But what is clear is, it does not meet the definition of heads-up. It certainly meets, as Sally Yates described it, as quite a forceful warning.

BALDWIN: We know that General Flynn was on the inner circle, was even really sort of the warmup act for right around campaign time for when candidate Trump would come out.

And we talked a lot about how President Trump is very loyal to his inner circle. But, still, the question is, why is the president still defending this man that he fired?

SCIUTTO: Well, it was one of his first big hires, right? It's hard not to see that as a mistake, right?

And Sean Spicer, in effect, admitting that today, saying after they went through their process, the president made the right decision. But the other point I would make is this, Brooke. As Spicer and the president frankly attack Sally Yates as a partisan, keep in mind not only did she serve the administrations of both parties, even as Dana made the point a few minutes ago, went after Democratic politicians in her role as a prosecutor.

But this is a charge that the president and his advisers have leveled at other senior national security officials. They have accused the former CIA Director Brennan. At times, they have accused the FBI director, James Comey, of being partisan when those senior national security officials come public with information that is inconvenient or that they don't accept.

So, that is -- you might call it convenient, but it is certainly a frequent way to react or undermine people who come forward even from these very senior positions, even people who have served multiple administrations, with information that the administration doesn't like or disagrees with.

BALDWIN: Jim Sciutto, thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Let's talk health care now, the battle over the nation's health care right now.

Vice President Mike Pence is meeting with senators to try to advance the Obamacare replacement plan that the House passed five days ago. And that's happening as we are getting word of a response to the lack of diversity in this group. You can see the picture for yourself. These are 13 Republican male senators who are tasked with finding consensus on health care.


So, now we are hearing from a senior White House official telling CNN that women will be added to the team, saying -- quote -- "You will see these optics addressed" -- end quote.

Phil Mattingly is up on the Hill for us.

And so, again, Phil, this is coming from this White House senior aide. What are you hearing on the Hill about additions to this group of senators?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. The White House senior aide appears to be a little out in front of where Senate Republicans here are right now, Brooke.

You talked about that lunch that Vice President Pence was at. There was a meeting before it. The entire Republican Senate Conference met as well also on health care. And you talk to Republicans about this issue, which we kind of first started discussing on Friday, when the names of this working group and frankly the photos of those in the working group became very public, and Republicans -- one Republican aide told me explicitly, this is about the policy.

It's not about the optics, saying that there was no plans to add anybody in the near term. Senator Mitch McConnell came out after that meeting, saying that everybody is involved in this process. I'm told behind the scenes, at this lunch behind closed doors, that

Senator Mitch McConnell made very clear if you want to be part of this process, you will be a part of this process. Remember, they have got 52 members in their conference. They need 50 votes at minimum to be able to pass this. So they need people involved.

You want to talk about what perhaps they are doing to make clear that they want this to kind of go away a little bit, Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia senator from a Medicaid expansion state, was invited to the working group meeting today to talk about Medicaid expansion.

Susan Collins, a very important Republican senator on health care, gave a presentation behind closed doors at this lunch. So, senators making very clear, Senate Republicans making very clear, Brooke, that they want their women -- the women involved from the conference, but not quite going as far as the White House right now and saying there will be an explicit addition to this already announced 13-member working group.

BALDWIN: OK. Stay on it.

Phil, thank you so much on Capitol Hill.

Let's discuss all of this with Erin Elmore, a Trump supporter and former contestant on "The Apprentice," and Zerlina Maxwell, who used to serve as the director of progressive media for Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Ladies, good to see both of you.


ERIN ELMORE, FORMER "APPRENTICE" CONTESTANT: Hi. Good morning. Good afternoon.

BALDWIN: Good afternoon.

Erin, let me begin with you. Why is this taking so long, do you think, to address the lack of diversity in this critical group?

ELMORE: I'm sorry. I'm having a very hard time hearing you. But I think I understand your question.


BALDWIN: Hang on a second. Hang on.


BALDWIN: Can you hear me, Erin? Because we need to be able to have a two-way conversion. Take a break. Take a break.

We will be right back.


BALDWIN: All right. We're back.

We are going to brush that on off the shoulder and continue on.

We've got Erin Elmore with us, a Trump supporter and former contestant on "The Apprentice." Zerlina Maxwell used to serve as the director of progressive media for Hillary Clinton's campaign.

Ladies, thanks for the patience as we iron out some of those technical kinks.

But, Erin, where was I? We are talking about this all-male 13-senator panel. And, yes, you were listening to Phil Mattingly saying some women are certainly coming into the room. They are making sure their voices are heard. But why do you think it's taking this White House or the Senate so long to address the optics issues?

ELMORE: Not long at all. I actually don't think this is about identity politics at all. It's more about statistics.

Obamacare is failing in one out of three counties in the United States.


BALDWIN: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Let me stop you right there. Hang on. Hang on. You can give me statistics on Obamacare if you want, but, to me, this is just about women having a voice when it comes to health care in this country.

ELMORE: Absolutely.

BALDWIN: And why do you think it's taking so long for them to get some women on this panel?

ELMORE: I don't think it's taking that long at all. I think they are working on it and it's been addressed. And we are moving forward in a positive direction. And I think women should absolutely, unequivocally, 100 percent be part of the process.


BALDWIN: Why has it taken them four to five days?


ELMORE: They have no Obamacare left.

Four to five days? I'm not sitting on Capitol Hill. That's what your reporter should have addressed. But what I'm telling you is Obamacare is absolutely imploding. It is not working. It's a failing system. Premiums are skyrocketing and through the roof. And what we need to do is just come together and all they are trying to do is achieve a common objective. That's their job. (CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: You are totally changing the topic. You are totally changing the topic.

Erin, this is...


ELMORE: We are not talking about Obamacare? I thought we were.

BALDWIN: This is about maternity care. This is about breast-feeding and rape treatment.

ELMORE: OK. Sure. I'm a mother. I'm a mother.

And, absolutely, you are so right. And all of these 13 gentlemen on this committee right now, they are all elected officials. They weren't just elected by men. They are speaking on behalf of women who have issues like breast-feeding and child care and mothering.


BALDWIN: Hang on. May I speak? It's my show.

ELMORE: Absolutely.

BALDWIN: Why is it taking backlash, for us to put these graphics up of these panels, since Friday afternoon, for them to take note and finally address the optics? I have an issue with that.

ELMORE: I do, too. From what I understand, that wasn't the issue, though.

We are making it about something that it's not, because every conversation I have seen with all of those 13 individuals say that this is not a closed-door conversation.


BALDWIN: It's not a closed-door conversation. You are correct. They have been -- some of the women have been allowed in.

ELMORE: So, perfect. Perfect.

BALDWIN: Zerlina, do you see it as an issue?

MAXWELL: I do see it as an issue, because representation is important, having a diverse set of perspectives in the actual room making the decisions about what are really serious policy issues, right?

Health is something that is universal. It's really important to make sure that you have women in the room who understand what maternity care means and what issues in terms of essential health care benefits go directly to women. One of the aspects of Obamacare that has been largely successful -- I

would disagree that is imploding -- premiums were skyrocketing before Obamacare was implemented. But in terms of those preventative health care benefits, there are a number of different essential health care benefits that go directly to women, that are directly impacting women, millions of American women, who would go and seek out services at places like Planned Parenthood in the alternative, if they weren't included in the Obamacare bill.

BALDWIN: OK. Let's move off of that, because I really would love both your 2 cents on this Jimmy Kimmel.


BALDWIN: Jimmy Kimmel, he's back on TV. He's trying to hit back at his critics after he made that emotional appeal, talked about his child, talked about health care in this country. His newborn son had to undergo open-heart surgery.


So, here is Jimmy Kimmel from last night.


JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": And I would like to apologize for saying that children in America should have health care. It was insensitive.


KIMMEL: It was offensive, and I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me.


KIMMEL: There are very sick and sad people out there. Here's one of them. His name is Newt Gingrich. He's the former speaker of the House.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: You show up at the hospital with a brand-new baby, and the brand-new baby has a heart problem, the doctors of that hospital do everything they can to save the baby. They don't say, we will take care of the baby right after you write a check. They try to save the baby's life. And that's true across the board in this country.

KIMMEL: Yes, it is true that, if you have an emergency, they will do an operation, and that's terrific, if your baby's health problems are all solved during that one visit.

The only problem is, that never, ever happens. We have had a dozen doctors' appointments since our son had surgery. You have got a cardiologist, a pediatrician, surgeon. Some kids need an ambulance to transport them. That doesn't even count the parents who have to miss work for all this

stuff. Those details, Newt forgot to mention. I don't know if the double layers of Spanx are restricting the blood flow to his brain.



BALDWIN: So, Erin, you are one of the critics that Kimmel is addressing here. You have come after him.

ELMORE: Absolutely.

I mean, he's a limousine liberal, two-time college dropout that's losing in the ratings. So I don't really think he has got any credibility.

Moreover, speaking of another statistic, he's saying that children don't deserve health insurance? They don't have it right now; 19.5 million Americans are uninsured. Premiums are absolutely through the roof, like I was saying.


BALDWIN: But isn't he defending those people, too?

ELMORE: I mean, I don't see how he can be, because what he's talking about isn't statistically sound or accurate.

Have you seen "The Man Show"? Someone who is criticizing Newt Gingrich and Spanx shouldn't be having girls in slow motion jumping up and down on a trampoline for entertainment.

So, he's not exactly the voice of someone that I respect or appreciate or isn't necessarily misogynist himself. So, he's like really toeing a slippery slope here.


Zerlina, how do you see it?

MAXWELL: I think that Jimmy Kimmel was talking from a personal perspective, which is why the original clip went viral, because, in terms of health care, that's something that we all have to deal with. We all have family members who may avoid going to the doctor because for the fear that there will be exorbitant costs that they won't be able to afford.

And so, yes, people are dying because they do not have access to affordable health care. That was true before Obamacare. That will be even more true if Trumpcare gets through the Senate. And I think Americans, rightly so, about 100 million or so will be impacted by the bill in its current form.

And that should be concerning to all Americans, because health care is something that I think we can all agree, as Jimmy Kimmel said in his original segment, is something that is a right. A baby should not be able to -- a baby should not have no access to the care it needs because their family can't afford it.

BALDWIN: OK. Appreciate both of you. Erin and Zerlina, ladies, thank you.

ELMORE: Thank you.


BALDWIN: Coming up next...

MAXWELL: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Thanks.

Just in: the White House rethinking U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. Might that result in a U.S. troop surge? We will talk about what's next for America's longest war.

And does FBI Director James Comey need to correct the record? All these new questions emerging about the accuracy in part of his congressional testimony and what the FBI plans to do about it.



BALDWIN: Welcome back.

The White House today is responding to a new proposal on President Trump's desk that is looking into sending an additional 3,000 to 5,000 troops to Afghanistan. But how does the president justify this military surge? How does it square with his America first campaign promises? Here is Sean Spicer from moments ago.


SPICER: He's also very clear on in the campaign that, and as president, that he is going to do everything he can to fight radical Islamic terrorism, to root out and destroy ISIS.

In some cases, if ISIS, where he has to go into Afghanistan, that's -- they may be synonymous at that point. But let's be clear. With the exception of the piece that we announced today that the president authorized yesterday, no decision has been made. So let's not get ahead of what that ultimate policy will be.


BALDWIN: Just to get a sense of the president's thinking on this, let's take a look back to 2012, 2013, in tweets when Donald Trump called Afghanistan -- quote -- "our longest war" and that it's -- quote -- "time to get out of there."

That is just -- take a listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": What exactly will you do about Afghanistan?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would stay in Afghanistan. It's probably the one place we should have gone in the Middle East, because it's adjacent and right next to Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons. So, I think you have to stay and do the best you can, not that it's ever going to be great, but I don't think we have much of a choice.

That's one place, frankly, instead of going to Iraq, we should have probably gone there first, but I would stay in Afghanistan.

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: On Afghanistan, you are saying that you are with the president. For now, you leave the troops there and you see what the time horizon...

TRUMP: I would leave the troops there, begrudgingly. I'm not happy about it, I will tell you. But I would leave the troops there, begrudgingly, yes.


BALDWIN: Let me now bring in brigadier General Anthony Tata.

General, good to see you.

BRIG. GEN. ANTHONY TATA (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Good to see you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: And we also -- let me just remind everyone you were the former deputy commanding general of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and your new book, "Besieged," takes a look at domestic terrorism in the United States.

So, let's just get straight to it.


And Sean Spicer was asked, what is the calculus of this potential surge in Afghanistan? Is this more about this deep-rooted issue with the Taliban or ISIS?

TATA: All of the above, Brooke.

I really think what you have got is a commander in chief who has a lot of confidence in Secretary Mattis and General Mick Nicholson, the commander in Afghanistan. And so when you put that together, it's good to see the commander in chief supporting the commander on the ground and the secretary of defense.

Mick Nicholson and I served together in Afghanistan. As you referenced, I was the deputy commander there. And Mick was one of my subordinate commanders. And he's been in and out of Afghanistan for the last 10 years. So there's not an American soldier that understands Afghanistan and the Pakistan greater region than General Mick Nicholson.

And if he is saying he needs 3,000 to 5,000 more troops, what he's really looking at, Brooke, is building capacity in the police forces and military of the Afghan national police, Afghan national military, and also for governance.

Let's remember, they were completely dismantled. And so their governance is continuing to grow. And now we have got a new threat with ISIS there. And we are trying to bring the Taliban to the table politically.

And so those three things are really why you need -- 3,000 to 5,000 troops is roughly a combat brigade. And there has also been an ask of NATO. The U.K. is now considering sending some more troops also. But this dates all the way back to 2001, when you had guys like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and Feith that really did not know what they were doing and pulled -- unplugged everything, sent it to Iraq, and left us with an incomplete mission in Afghanistan.

And now we have paid that price dearly, and that's why we are still there, because we never did it right to begin with.

BALDWIN: Well, he is giving all this latitude, as you alluded to, I think, and you are saying just he feels really confident in these top military brass to make some of these decisions.

But you also then have critics of the president who point to when he decided and got massive bipartisan support for the decision to strike in Syria. Do you think that sort of round of applause politically at all factored into this decision?

TATA: You know, Brooke, I really think this is a thoughtful decision.

You don't send 3,000 to 5,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines into combat lightly without going through the process. He's got a great team there with H.R. McMaster, Secretary Mattis, Mick Nicholson, all coming together, making good recommendations on how to use these troops, where they would be used.

There's a thorough vetting process that happens. The deployment will occur. The training will occur before the deployment. And it will be sort of a shrink-wrapped package of troops that go there for a specific mission.

And one thing I appreciate is that we are not really talking about where they are going to be, what they are going to do exactly. In general terms, they are going to build capacity, they are going to train the police, they are going to train the army of the Afghan nationals, and then they are probably also going to conduct some combat operations.

If Mick Nicholson says he needs them, we need them over there. And, ultimately, the whole purpose for us being there, Brooke, is to deny sanctuary to terrorists. That's where 9/11 originally occurred or was planned.


BALDWIN: Of course. Of course.

General Tata, as always, really appreciate your wise, wise perspective. Thank you so much on Afghanistan.

TATA: Thanks, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Let's talk now about James Comey, the FBI director, under fire for some false statements that he made under oath.

CNN has confirmed that when the FBI director testified last week, Comey overstated the number of e-mails that Hillary Clinton's aide Huma Abedin forwarded on to her then husband, Anthony Weiner, as well as the number of confidential classified e-mails forwarded.


JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: Huma Abedin appears to have had a regular practice of forwarding e-mails to him, for him I think to print out for her, so she could then deliver them to secretary of state.

She forwarded hundreds and thousands of e-mails, some of which contained classified information.


BALDWIN: Well, it turned out that those e-mails ended up in Abedin's husband's computer because of a backup system for her phone, essentially in the cloud.

And the actual total is far fewer than the hundreds and thousands that Comey had claimed. And not only that, but the e-mails that were classified, that were found weren't actually marked classified at the time.

With me now, Pete Hoekstra, the former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

So, Congressman, welcome back. Good to see you.

PETE HOEKSTRA (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Good to see you. Thank you.


So, on James Comey, I mean, this is a guy who has prided himself in rushing in to correct the record on multiple occasions, including the infamous letter, right, 10 days before the presidential election. His words have become political talking points.