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Washington Post Reports Putin Directed U.S. Election Hacks; Trump Admits He Doesn't Have Tapes Of Comey Talks; Problems Persist At Department Of Veterans Affairs; Four Republicans Oppose Senate Health Care Bill. Aired 7:30-8a ET
Aired June 23, 2017 - 07:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[07:30:00] SEN. JEFF MERKLEY, (D) OREGON: This is not a dictatorship, this is a democracy.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Senator Jeff Merkley, thank you very much. Great to have you here in the studio with us.
MERKLEY: Good to be with you.
CAMEROTA: Let's get back to David.
DAVID GREGORY, CNN HOST: Alisyn, so much news to cover today. Remember, President Trump threatened that there may be tapes of his conversations with FBI Director Jim Comey. Well, now we know that's not true, so did the president further damage his credibility with his bluff? We're going to ask a Republican lawmaker, coming up next.
GREGORY: We're back this morning and follow the breaking news. "The Washington Post" reporting this morning that the CIA captured Russian President Vladimir Putin -- that he ordered the hacks on the U.S. election and how President Trump struggled to respond to punish the Kremlin.
Joining me now with Congressman -- is Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He is deputy Republican Whip in the House and from Illinois. Congressman, so what's striking about this reporting this morning is it says Putin directly wanted to hurt Clinton and help Trump -- that's the "Post" reporting? What else we know is that there is no doubt about the fact that Russia, from the Intelligence Community assessment, wanted to influence the 2016 election. And finally, we know that President Trump still doesn't believe this as definitive. So based on this reporting what should happen now?
[07:35:13] REP. ADAM KINZINGER, (R) ILLINOIS, IRAQ & AFGHANISTAN VETERAN: Well, this is zero percent surprise to me. We've seen this not just in the United States -- I mean, we've seen it, actually, through the Cold War and we've seen it now in this election, and we see it in all of our allies in Europe. Putin is attempting to undermine democracy everywhere or shake people's faith in it and I would argue, to an extent, he's been successful to a small extent where people question the results of an outcome and delegitimize a president. Look, I think President Trump was legitimately elected by people that voted for him but this is a very serious issue about defending democracy, defending our country, defending the integrity of the election system. And so, we have to go back to countering Russianpropaganda and disinformation, which I have a bill that was signed into law for that. Congress has to work with the White House to give them the tools to push back. This is a very serious issue and so we have to get --
GREGORY: Right, but don't you -- don't you need to take on the leader of the Republican Party -- our your party --
GREGORY: -- for failing to call this what it is and failing to respond? He's never even inquired.
GRGORY: In all of his conversations with Comey and all the rest that were now not taped, he didn't want to know about the underlying offense. Does that offend you?
KINZINGER: It bothers me because, you know, I think what it comes down to is he's worried that it's delegitimizing his presidency. And so I think it's essential that we keep reminding the American public that he was legitimately elected. I don't think Vladimir Putin elected Donald Trump. But I think we also have to recognize the fact that this happened and know that -- look, as a Republican -- let's say I'm just concerned about this as a partisan Republican only so I don't -- you know, I don't care --
KINZINGER: -- if it happened. The reality is in two or four years it's going to serve Vladimir Putin's interest to take down the Republican Party, and if we weren't upset about it we have no right to complain in the future. This is about defending the democracy and the institution -- frankly, the institution of election which is essential to people having faith in the institution of government and that's what the fight is right now. I wish President Trump would admit it. His administration has and I guess that's a first step.
GREGORY: Well, except that it -- you know, he's the commander in chief. I mean --
GREGORY: -- the leadership's got to come from the top and so in that vein, as I ask you whether this president is soft on Russia, I will ask you also to say are you disappointed that the Obama administration did not more forcefully respond when it first got this information as some in the Obama administration were advocating?
KINZINGER: Yes. So, here is the -- here's kind of the quandary of what's happened between the last president and this president. This president doesn't talk very strong on Russia but he acts very strong on Russia. The bombing of the airfield in Syria, the shooting down of the Su-22 hitting various forces aligned with Assad, weapons to Ukraine. His policies have been very good, the words haven't necessarily.
The last president, President Obama, I have great respect for him as a man. He said really tough things about Russia in the last few years of his presidency but didn't do anything tough. So to hear that, you know, the election was attempted to be influenced -- was ordered to be influenced by Vladimir Putin and that President Obama struggled with something to do is also of zero surprise for me because he did that all through Syria, all through Eastern Europe, all through, you know, the fall of Eastern Ukraine and the invasion of Crimea.
GREGORY: Right. Well, that also goes back to the Bush administration as well --
GREGORY: -- in terms of countering what Vladimir Putin did in the former Soviet Republican and Ukraine.
KINZINGER: There's plenty of blame everywhere, yes.
GREGORY: But let's be clear. You say that President Trump has actually done some tough things against Russia and you mentioned a couple of them. He has not done anything to prevent Russia from doing this -- and this being to -- he's done nothing to stop them from attempting to interfere in a U.S. election in the future. And look what he's already done in Ukraine, attacking the energy grid and all the rest. That could happen to -- so he hasn't done anything. His administration's done nothing to counter that.
KINZINGER: Well, the administration is. I had a -- I had a great meeting yesterday with Gen. McMaster. They understand this. There's plans -- there's more things, obviously, I can't talk about in open source, but I do think the president -- the president lending his voice to this issue is extremely essential. And I think if I was advising him, if I was advising the White House, I would say let's get very focused on our message of what you want to do as a Republican Party and what we want to do internationally.
KINZINGER: Admit that Russia's a real problem. Admit that interfering in whether it's our election on or against you, whether it's the French election for Macron or for somebody else, it doesn't matter. The fact is it undermines our very foundation of democracy and we can't have that because, look, today's thing that may benefit your party or may benefit you is tomorrow's thing that benefits your opponent. We just can't have any of it and admitting it is the first step to defeating this --
GREGORY: All right.
KINZINGER: -- and exposing it, too. GREGORY: All right. Your -- I think you're very -- it's very important to do what you've done, which is to say look, this is -- was an attack on America. It doesn't mean that Donald Trump was not legitimately elected.
[07:40:02] KINZINGER: Right.
GREGORY: There was also investigation as to whether the president illegally interfered with this investigation or whether there was any collusion. We don't know if there's proof of that. But we know that the president did threaten the former FBI director with tapes that no longer exist.
GREGORY: We also know that he's going out of his way to say Bob Mueller is an unfair guy, the special counsel. What are your thoughts about both of those?
KINZINGER: I don't like public character assassination. I was confused when people said Bob Mueller was a great guy, which I believe, and then it started to pivot to he's not a good guy. And I think it's natural that Bob Mueller and Comey would be friends because they were both FBI directors and, frankly, Washington, D.C. is a very small town where there's very few options to have friends anyway, and so I don't like that. And I also -- look, I've just said let's get to the bottom of it. Let's get to answers. And so, this kind of public -- I don't know, character assassination is not it for me. That's not something I like.
GREGORY: Do you consider it worse than that? Do you think the president is trying to interfere with the progress of the investigation?
KINZINGER: No, I don't, but I also think, you know, that's not my place. I'm just watching media to make that call.
KINZINGER: That's where the independent counsel -- which I called for because I said Americans deserve an answer -- that's where we're going to have that. But, you know, people want answers today, right now. The problem is this is going to take a while. And I think the president needs to just say look, let the investigating happen. It's what Bill Clinton did very well. My focus is what we need to do for the American people and here's our agenda.
GREGORY: Congressman, thanks for your time so much. Always appreciate it.
KINZINGER: Any time, see you.
CAMEROTA: OK, David, another story. The V.A. is touting major strides in addressing some egregious wait times that were first uncovered by a CNN investigation. So, today, are veterans getting better care? We take a closer look.
[07:45:22] GREGORY: President Trump shaking up the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs, signing an employee accountability bill at the White House later today designed to fast-track firings and ramp up responsibility of the agency. The V.A.'s been rocked by revelations that CNN exposed over veterans dying as they endured terrible waits to see a health care professional. Have things improved? CNN senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin us more -- with more on all of this. Good morning, Drew.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, David. And you know what, quite frankly, it's hard to tell is things have improved. The V.A. certainly says things have improved but they rely on feeding us data to show us things have improved, and as we've said from the very beginning of this scandal, the data is simply not to be believed.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First of all, the --
GRIFFIN: The scandal erupted when whistleblowers bravely came forward and proved the V.A. was lying about how long patients were waiting and, in some cases, dying while waiting for care.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Director Helman (ph), can you talk to us?
GRIFFIN: There were major shakeups --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you please talk to us, Director?
GRIFFIN: -- billions spent --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want more.
GRIFFIN: -- and now, much improved wait times reported by the V.A. That sounds good but Debra Draper at the U.S. government's own Accountability Office has heard it all before.
DEBRA DRAPER, DIRECTOR OF HEALTH CARE INVESTIGATIONS, GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE: The numbers that they're reporting based on our work, they're not reliable numbers.
GRIFFIN: Draper is the director of Health Care Investigations for the GAO, which has labeled V.A.'s health care high risk in terms of government management. It's done so since 2015. Draper says even today, the V.A.'s wait time data is simply not to be believed.
They're longer? DRAPER: Oh, yes. In almost every case we find that their wait time -- actual wait times are actually longer than what the V.A. is reporting.
GRIFFIN: It has been nearly four years since CNN began exposing the secret wait lists, fabricated wait times, delays in care in the patients who died waiting for that care. It's been three years since Congress approved $16 billion in additional funding so the V.A. could fix those problems. In fact, since 2009, the V.A.'s budget has nearly doubled and yet the problems, and some would say the lies at the V.A. persist.
ERIC HANNEL, FORMER LEAD INVESTIGATOR, HOUSE VETERANS' AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: It's still not resolved. It's still happening.
GRIFFIN: Eric Hannel is the former lead investigator for the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, the Congressional committee that led a year's long investigation into veterans dying while waiting for care. Yes, he says, then, as now, the V.A. is now telling the truth about wait times.
HANNEL: None of it. The Office of the Inspector General says the same thing. It was that way in 2014 when you reported on the wait time scandal. It is that way in 2017. You still cannot trust the V.A.'s information.
GRIFFIN: In fact, just this March, a damning V.A. inspector general report on seven V.A. medical centers in the Southeast found patients waited an average of 61 days for specialty care -- two months. And the report found many patient in specialty care services experienced long wait times which were not accurately reflected in V.A.'s calculated wait times. In other words, the wait times were being manipulated. Just one of multiple examples, a mental health patient seeking care. The V.A's official electronic scheduling system showed a zero day wait time when the veteran actually waited 120 days.
The V.A. inspector general determined staff inappropriately discontinued or canceled an estimated 4,600 appointments. What is it like to make a medical appointment at the V.A.?
TRACY RODRIGUEZ, WIFE OF VETERAN: Hi, Joe, I need to make some appointments for my husband.
GRIFFIN: Tracy Rodriguez invited us to find out. Her husband served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He relies on the V.A. for health care. April 24th, she sat down at a kitchen table and let us listen while she tried to make three medical appointments.
RODRIGUEZ: I think they have one person answering the phone over there or something.
GRIFFIN: The phone call itself took more than half an hour.
RODRIGUEZ: He needs to see urology. Um, as soon as you got. Yes, definitely sooner than July or June. GRIFFIN: The wait for urology, two months. Surprisingly, an appointment for primary care could happen in just weeks but when she tries to get an appointment for an eye doctor, a specialty clinic --
Are they saying September?
GRIFFIN: -- five months. About normal, she says, for her.
RODRIGUEZ: One out of three's not bad.
GRIFFIN: Listen, it's so frustrating for these people. The V.A. did not respond to our questions about the reliability of its data. Instead, they sent more data to us, trying to tell us that 22 percent of veterans are seen on a same-day basis, they said. But they do acknowledge the wait times are a continuing problem, Alisyn.
[07:50:08] CAMEROTA: Oh my gosh, Drew. We see the frustration there in the faces and thank you for your reporting and being on the front line of all this.
Meanwhile, you all know about the criticism of Obamacare, but it's also been a big success story in some states. The former governor of Kentucky will be here to give us his take on the new GOP health care plan and what it means for Kentucky.
CAMEROTA: Four GOP senators say they do not yet support the health care bill as it is currently written. One main area of concern are the proposed cuts to Medicaid and the impact on poorer Americans.
GREGORY: A great guest now joining us is Steve Beshear, former Democratic governor of Kentucky. He's the author of "People Over Politics" which chronicles his efforts to sell and implement Obamacare and the Medicaid expansion in Kentucky where it was very successful. The KY is so fascinating, both because I have a lot of family down in the KY which the governor knows, but also you've got Mitch McConnell, you've got Rand Paul. It's fascinating. So, Governor, based on your own experience with Obamacare in Kentucky, what's specific harm do you think the repeal and replace plan by the Republicans would do if it ultimately comes to fruition?
[07:55:00] STEVE BESHEAR, (D) FORMER GOVERNOR OF KENTUCKY: David, Mitch McConnell and his buddies ought to be ashamed of themselves for playing these partisan political games with the lives of about 24 million Americans. They talk about these 24 million people like they're aliens from some distant planet but, you know, these are folks that we sit in the bleachers with and watch the ballgame on Friday night. We shop in the grocery with them on Saturday. We pray in church with them on Sunday.
It's the mother who called me up the other day who has a son with hemophilia and she is so worried and frightened that she's going to lose her coverage and not have her son the medications that he needs to survive. It's the guy in the bowling alley where I took my two grandchildren the other day and he walked up to me and said, after he confirmed that I'd been governor -- he said, "You know, my whole family has health coverage because of you. Thank you."
BESHEAR: You know, these are the people that are being affected and it's unconscionable what they're doing.
GREGORY: Right, but Governor -- but there's another side to this, too. But you've had successes in Kentucky, undeniably. But look, you don't have young and healthy people in Obamacare getting into the health care system and it has had an impact on the overall health care marketplace. So we can appreciate all of the anecdotes and the importance of people getting insurance but there have -- there is a need for problems with Obamacare to be addressed, no?
BESHEAR: That's exactly right, David, and what do you do? You address those needs. You don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.
BESHEAR: You know, you don't throw 24 million out of coverage. You fix what's wrong and that's what needs to be done in Washington. That system is so dysfunctional up there it's amazing. You mention my book, "People Over Politics." That's exactly what they ought to be doing, putting people first and politics second, but they keep playing these games. They won't sit down and work with each other and work through the issues that the Affordable Care Act does have --
BESHEAR: -- and solve those issues so that we've got better coverage.
CAMEROTA: But, Governor, explain to us why you were able to implement it and make it work so well -- Obamacare -- in Kentucky, whereas other states felt that it didn't work for them?
BESHEAR: We went out and sold it for what it was. I went out to the people of Kentucky, most of whom didn't vote for President Obama, and I said look, you don't have to like the president and you don't even have to like me because this is not about him or me, it's about you, it's about your family, it's about your kids. So just do me a favor and go online and take a look at what you might get and I'll guarantee you you'll like what you see.
BESHEAR: Well, they took me at my word and they liked what they saw, and all at once 500,000 Kentuckians in 18 months had signed up for Obamacare and our uninsured rate dropped from 20 percent to seven percent during that 18 months. And they are taking advantage of this health care coverage -- the screenings for everything from cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, you name it. They're getting the screenings for it. They're catching these chronic conditions early. We're teaching them how to manage those chronic conditions and so they're going to have longer lives, they're going to have better quality lives.
You know, this is what America should be all about. It's about us giving quality health care to our people. Let's fix what's wrong, but let's quit all these political games --
GREGORY: Well --
BESHEAR: -- of just being against what we've got simply because President Obama got it passed.
GREGORY: Well, but it's -- but, Governor, to be fair, there's a lot of conservatives in your state who don't believe it is the federal government's job or appropriate role to be subsidizing insurance all across the land to tens of millions people, even if they need it. And even that promise of Obamacare has not always delivered in terms of, you know, the regulations that come with it, in terms of prices of premiums. So what I'm getting to is what about the current bill that's being debated that could be improved that it would at least address some of your concerns which are fundamental, which is don't throw those people off of insurance? I get it. How could you make what they're debating now better?
BESHEAR: Well, if you look at what they're debating right now it's going to throw those people out. It's going to limit Medicaid expansion. It's going to do away with the expansion eventually and then it's going to start shrinking the Medicaid program itself. You know, when you go to this block grant stuff -- all the governors, when they hear flexibility, that sounds good. But you know what, the only flexibility governors will have when they limit the amount of money that comes in from Medicaid, it's the flexibility to decide who to throw off the program or what benefits to do away with.
I mean, there's nothing about this bill that is good for folks. If they want to have something that will expand coverage and make it more cost-effective, then let's take what we've got, let's work on the kinks in it, let's work those kinks out, let's give certainty to the insurance companies who need it. That's why they're sitting on the sidelines right now is because of all this uncertainty that the Republicans have created about what's coming next.
BESHEAR: So create that certainty and we can move on with this.
CAMEROTA: OK. Governor Steve Beshear, thank you very much for giving us your take on this new health care bill. Great to see you.
BESHEAR: You're welcome.