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Seventeen Intelligence Agencies Concluded Before Election Day That Russia Was Interfering And Then-Candidate Trump Refused To Believe Them; Tragedy On The Open Water In Colombia; Republican Leaders Want To Get The New Healthcare Bill Through The Senate Before The Fourth Of July Vacation; Some Mayors Across The Country Are Frustrated With The Russia Cloud Hanging Over The White House; Problems Still Exist at VA. Aired 7:00-8:00p ET
Aired June 25, 2017 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:00:00] ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Can Republican leadership secure the votes in the Senate? The current math just doesn't add up and the senior White House official admits to CNN quote "it's going to be a rocky week." The critical questions, will a vote happen this week before the holiday recess? Will Senator Mitch McConnell be able to flip the five no votes? And how will the President make his case for healthcare to the American people?
We just learned an important price tag for the Senate health care bill may be unveiled tomorrow. The congressional budget office could release its score on the bill and Republicans are nervously awaiting that number.
Meanwhile, President Trump is working the phones trying to convince reluctant senators to change their minds and support the legislation. The White House says President Trump spoke with Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky, two of the five Republicans who say they oppose the bill in its current form because it doesn't go far enough to repeal Obamacare in their view.
I want to go straight to CNN White House correspondent, Athena Jones. Senator McConnell is giving members just a handful of days to dig through this 142-page bill and even less time to consider it once the CBO score comes out. What is President Trump's healthcare secretary now saying about this bill?
ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well this is interesting, Ana. As you said, there is enough opposition at this moment to effectively kill this bill. That's why it is going to be such an important week to watch all these negotiation taking place behind the scenes and see if they can get this bill across the finish line.
But a lot of the concerns that more moderate senators have brought up about people who may end up being left behind by this bill in particular due to the cuts to Medicaid that are proposed in this bill, well, Secretary Price insists that people aren't going to be left behind in the end. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TOM PRICE, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: The plan that we have would put in place would not allow individuals to fall through the cracks. We would not pull the rug out from anybody and we would not have individuals lose coverage that they want for themselves and for their family. We want to make certain that healthcare is available to all Americans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: Now, you heard Price echoing an argument they have been making from the very beginning of this effort. From when the House was working on this bill which was that we should be looking at this in a more comprehensive way that the Senate bill is just one step in a process. Secretary Price has argued that the department of health and human services can make administrative changes that would help bring down costs and premiums, make sure people are covered.
But the bottom line here is that the CBO and the congressional budget office can't score these kind of future hopes that Price is talking about and these future steps he plans to make when it comes to administrative steps. And so, that is why when you saw the CBO score, the earlier version and the House version they found that millions and millions and millions would lose coverage. They are likely to find something similar with the Senate bill -- Ana.
CABRERA: Because the Senate bill is very similar to the health bill.
Athena, CNN is now learning also that the President has been personally calling some of those Republican senators who have expressed concerns about the bill. What more can you tell us about that?
JONES: I asked White House press secretary Sean Spicer, what is the argument that the President is making to these senators? Is he getting into the nitty-gritty? Is he getting into policy details?
We heard that when he was trying to woo House members that he wasn't able to talk really about individual concerns when it comes to nitty- gritty policy details. I was told that the President's argument is the argument we have seen on twitter and elsewhere which is that Obamacare is dead. There is no other alternative. This is the time to the last best chance really to comply with the promise that Republicans have been making for years now. Ever since this bill was signed into law in 2010 Republicans have been vowing to repeal and replace it. So that is part of the argument that we know the President is likely to make to the senators that he is talking to.
But a calling of Monday rest was that an event a Koch Brothers event and talked to Senate whip John Cornyn who acknowledged it was going to be close. As you mentioned, I talked to a senior White House official earlier who said it was going to be a rocky week. So a lot to walk for -- Ana.
CABRERA: All right. Athena Jones, you are on top of it. We appreciate that.
Let's talk more about the race to repeal Obamacare. Joining us, senior reporter for CNN Politics Stephen Collinson.
Stephen, we could learn as early as tomorrow how many people could lose insurance and just how much this plan could cost Americans? Are the numbers expected to be better than what he saw with the House bill?
STEPHEN COLLINSON, CNN POLITICS SENIOR REPORTER: We don't expect them to be substantially different because the bill, although there are some changes to the House bill, it doesn't appear at least the first sight to be substantially different.
Now, it was such a big deal when the CBO issued its score of the House bill because it came out and said that 23 million few Americans over the last decade would have health insurance under the replacement for Obamacare than under Obamacare and not have big reverberations in the national debate about this bill.
We don't know exactly what it will cost and who it will pay with the big differences in cost between the two bills, but a CNN analysis of the Senate bill suggests that younger, healthier Americans are likely to get the price reductions in the health policy simply because they could possibly be allowed to buy policies that cover fewer contingencies but older, sicker Americans could well have higher deductibles and higher premiums and could pay more for out of pocket costs. And then there is the wealthiest Americans who currently pay an extra tax to finance Obamacare subsidies. They are going to get a tax cut. So there are clearly winners and losers.
And the question I think in the CBO score will this question of how many people lose out because of the end to the Medicare expansion -- Medicaid expansion which allowed many low-income Americans to get health care. And opponents of this bill say, no, they will simply fall through the gaps of (INAUDIBLE) healthcare tools because of the Senate bill.
[19:06:06] CABRERA: It will be interesting to see how that CBO score impacts the bill's chances of getting those 52 senators to say yes or at least 50 senators to vote for it.
Let's add some more voices to the mix here and turn to Russia now. Joining us as well is CNN national security analyst Shawn Turner. He is also the former director of communications for U.S. national intelligence and Jack Barsky, a former KGB agent and author of "Deep Undercover, my secret life and tangled allegiances as a KGB spy in America."
So Sean, listen to what President Trump has said during a chat this morning with friends over on FOX News.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I just heard today for the first time that Obama heard knew about Russia a long time before the election and he did nothing about it, but nobody wants to talk about that. And to me, you know, in other words the question is, if he had the information why didn't he do something about it? He should have done something about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Seventeen intelligence agencies concluded before Election Day that Russia was interfering and then-candidate Trump refused to believe them. As someone formerly with national intelligence, Shawn, does it bother you that the President is just now acknowledging Russia's role and painting it as if he just found out.
SHAWN TURNER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS FOR U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, Ana, thanks for having me. You know, first of all, this response by the President seems a little disingenuous. Look, as you pointed out, 17 agencies concluded prior to the President being elected that Russia had interfered in this election. The President had been briefed on this once he became the candidate. So the idea that the President was not aware is something that I think we should all be concerned about.
But you know, here is the more important issue, Ana. You know, President Obama was measured and cautious and deliberative when it came to dealing with national security issues. Now, whether you believe he did the right thing and not taking more substantive action or whether you believe he did the right thing by determining that politics were too much of a factor, you know, that could be debated.
But this issue with Russia today is this President's issue. So the real question isn't why didn't President Obama do more? You know, that will be debated and that will -- historians will examine that. But the real question is what is President Trump going to do today to address the fact that Russia, a foreign government and an adversary of the United States interfered in one of our most fundamental and foundational processes, the electoral process and that's the real question we should be asking.
CABRERA: Jack, you are obviously well versed in Russian espionage. Is Vladimir Putin surprised right that President Obama didn't do more?
JACK BARSKY, FORMER UNDERCOVER KGB AGENT: No, he's not. And by the way, we don't know what President Obama did or did not do. Trust me that American intelligence is well ahead of the CIA and the NSA, well ahead of the game here. We don't talk about this stuff. We have cyber capabilities that I guarantee you outpace what the Russians have.
So the one thing about doing something about a particular hack is not that easy, you know. You can't put up a wall and say, look, don't hack anymore. So you would have to now launch a counterattack and Obama determined that wasn't the right thing to do.
CABRERA: It's not the time.
He did respond. We know what he did as far as the retaliation and it came in December. He had the sanctions. He got rid of people from the compounds that were here.
But Jack, the report in "the Washington Post," found a number of Russians spies, expel to retaliation for Russia's election meddling, would Americans be surprised to know just how many Russian spies are actually in the U.S.?
BARSKY: Yes and no. You have to assume that fundamentally almost every diplomat has some kind of connection to Russian intelligence. So that would be a maybe big surprise to many Americans who still think, you know, the game is played by certain rules and the Russians don't play by the rules and never have.
I don't think there are that many illegals so that people think, you know, you have a spy next door. That was probably more the exception than the rule.
[19:10:11] CABRERA: Not quite as dramatic as we envisioned from the movies.
But Stephen, by accusing President Obama of not doing enough in response to Russia, is President Trump now inviting or exposing himself to criticism of how little he has done to respond to Russia's election meddling himself.
COLLINSON: Well, I think you can argue, Ana, that this is a strategy to sort of deflect away from questions about what the President himself plans to do about this. He has said back in January that he believes the Russians were responsible for this, a fact that Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman referred to last week. But he is much more frequently tried to sort of blur the issue. And I think that's one of the things that the President was doing over the last few days.
It's interesting that whenever this issue is brought up, the White House sees this in a very political way. They equate the whole idea that the election was meddled in by the Russians with some attempt to delegitimize President Trump's victory. They are exceedingly sensitive about that and we have seen that from the President himself.
So I think that's one of the reasons why they are less willing to talk about what they might do about it. I think in many ways the vacuum has been filled with key figures on Capitol Hill. There was some sanctions on Russia passed by the Senate. They were still pending in the House. And it will be interesting to see what the White House position is on those. But it's clearly the President's clearly trying to deflect from -- with his tweets and what he said on FOX today from his own sort of responsibility to do more to defend the U.S. elections system, I think.
CABRERA: Shawn, we have learned about a number of meetings and talks between Trump campaign and Russian officials over the last few months. Are those meetings anymore concerning now that the President acknowledges Russia interfered in the election?
TURNER: Well, I think when you look at those meetings in the aggregate of all the other facts that have come out with regards to Russia and interactions between campaign officials and Russians officials, you know, whether or not they are more concerned or should be more concerning is, to be quite honest, it's still to be determined. I mean, look, we said prior to the election that it was want unusual for campaign officials to occasionally meet with counterparts from other countries to establish relationships and to begin a dialogue. But in this case, the question that we are all wondering is whether or not those interactions went too far. Whether or not there were deals made and whether or not there was some element of governing or attempting to govern prior to the administration leading off this and coming back in.
So I think it's a question that the special investigator will get to the bottom of. But I think it's one that we all need to have an answer to.
CABRERA: Jack, the "Washington Post" also reported that U.S. intelligence agencies had sourcing deep inside the Russian government capturing Putin's direct instructions and the operation to damage Clinton's chances of winning and to help elect Trump. Now, the report called the intelligence on Putin extraordinary. What is Putin's reaction to knowing how much was exposed about his direct role?
BARSKY: Well, you know, first of all, you have to question the "Washington Post" sources. If American intelligence has a source deep in the Kremlin, that source will be so well protected that no journalist has access to it. So I would be very, very cautious with regard to the credibility of that article. So I'm not going to go any further than that.
CABRERA: Do you think it's possible that somebody inside and close to the kremlin Would be sharing information or that it could get out or do you think it would be captured through some kind of surveillance?
BARSKY: Nothing is impossible, but I believe it's very unlikely. The Russian government is extremely well protective of it's out of walls and so has been the Soviet Union. This is a very, very close society compared to hours and it's probably a lot easier to have a source somewhere in the White House than in the Kremlin.
CABRERA: All right. We'll leave it there. Jack Barsky, Stephen Collinson and Shawn Turner. Our thanks to all of you.
Ahead this hour, hot under the collar. U.S. mayors frustrated the Russian investigation is dominating the conversation. Why they want to see more attention on immigration and climate change.
Plus, falling through the crocks. Four years after CNN helped expose a scandal at the VA, the problems still exist. What our Drew Griffin uncovered.
And then later, sky bright (ph) frightening moments at a theme park in New York after a girl you see slips after dangling from a ride. How it happened coming up.
You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
[19:18:59] CABRERA: Just in to the CNN Newsroom. Tragedy on the open water in Colombia. At least three people were killed when a pleasure boat carrying about 150 people sink near a resort town. Authority say 24 people are now hospitalized. And the Colombian air force deployed a helicopter to help in the rescue and recovery operation.
Republican leaders want to get the new healthcare bill through the Senate before the Fourth of July vacation. But with the number of senators still firmly against them that time line might not cut it. Listen to one a prominent Republican and governor who ran for president last year. He hates the new bill because both parties are missing the point.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: Both parties ought to be worried about poor people because I don't think either party particularly cares about helping poor people. You look at the rates of poverty, you look at the problems in this country, we have not designed the system to get people work. Everything we are talking about now, getting people healthy, getting them health care is designed to get them to work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: I want to bring in CNN contributor and author J.D. Vance.
J.D., you just heard Governor John Kasich there say that neither party particularly cares about poor people. His words, is he right?
[19:20:09] J.D. VANCE, AUTHOR, HILLBILLY ELEGY: Unfortunately, I think that he is right. At least he is right in this way. Though, I think a lot of people obviously are well intentioned on both the left and the right. There, unfortunately, aren't a lot of people willing to do the hard thinking necessary to figure out what it is to do to actually help poor people. I think that's one of the reasons that poverty rates and there are a lot of the indicators that we see among the poor like addiction death rates, like life expectancy are going in the wrong direction. And then unfortunately, they have been going in the wrong direction not just over the past eight years and the past 16 years. In a lot of cases, some of these trends have been going in the wrong direction for 30 or 40 years.
CABRERA: Now, under the GOP senate health care plan, we could see the entire Medicaid program as we know it change drastically. Bottom line, states are going to be getting a small share of money from the government and they would under the current law. And a lot of governors say they don't have the funds to make up the difference. John Kasich is one of them.
Seventy million Americans depend on Medicaid, low income, children, the disabled, the elderly, how might this one part of the Senate plan impact Trump's base?
VANCE: Well, the most obvious way that it is going to impact Trump's base and a lot of other folks, quite frankly, is that when you don't have enough money to support the Medicaid program, eventually you have to cut reimbursement rates which means that a lot of people are going to have less access to their doctors and less access to some of the care that they depend on.
Now, it is important to note that I think there are very real criticisms to be levied against the Medicaid program. A lot of folks aren't able to see the sort of doctor that they want to see under the current program as it exists. But to fix that problem, you fundamentally have to spend money. Now, you can spend money in the private insurance marketplace, you can spend it on Medicaid, but unfortunately, the choices that this Republican health care bill makes both the house version and the Senate version is to cut taxes, primarily for wealthy Americans instead of helping some of the lower income and working-class Americans afford their health insurance. And I think that's really the fundamental flaw.
CABRERA: Do you think that the fact that the GOP healthcare bill, at least the house bill is more unpopular than Obamacare will have an impact on how the GOP senators and eventually house members vote on this?
VANCE: It's a really tough question. You would think that it would have a pretty significant impact. But my worry with this particular piece of legislation is that a lot of senators and House members have decided that the costs of doing nothing outweigh the costs of doing something really unpopular. And so, though I think a lot of folks recognize that this particular piece of legislation is very unpopular, what they don't want to do is go back to their constituents and say we fail to repeal and replace Obamacare.
I mean, the great irony, of course, is this whole thing is that as some of the architects of Obamacare themselves has said, the bill doesn't actually repeal or replace Obamacare. In some cases it keeps in place some of the worst parts of Obamacare. It just doesn't spend any money on some of the folks who need help getting access to care. So you keep the core architecture in place, but then you cut money from folks who are trying to afford their healthcare. In some ways it's the worst of both possible worlds. And I think to call it even a repeal of Obamacare is probably inaccurate at this stage.
CABRERA: An issue that you are very passionate about. We talked about here, combatting opioid addiction. There is funding for that bill and in the fight but some doctors on the front line say it could make the opioid crisis worse. How do you see it?
VANCE: Yes, that's absolutely right. I mean, the big concern here, if you think about this from the perspective of states like Ohio, and Kentucky and West Virginia is that they really are facing this incredibly terrible public health crisis, something they haven't seen the likes of in 20, 30, 40 years. And consequently, the folks who are suffering from the opioid of this epidemic either the addicts themselves or their children or their parents, they rely on some of this government assistance to actually access treatment, to access (INAUDIBLE) which is a very effective treatment. It gives people a way of relapsing back into their addiction.
And if you pull the rug from under those people, you are not just going to make the addiction crisis worse. And what I mean is you are not just going to make more people addicted to heroin and prescription pain pills. You may very well force their parents to take care of kids that they're not able to take care of. You may force children to watch their parents suffer through addiction in the home as opposed to accessing a treatment center. And I think that's the real big problem with this particular piece of legislation is it is going to pull the rug out from under a lot of people at the very moment when states like Ohio are really suffering from a terrible, public health crisis.
CABRERA: One more thing. Change of subject. The White House has been keeping the cameras out of the daily press briefings. In fact, they only have four times in the past month that they have had on- camera briefings. Do you think this is a stunt? Or is there a good argument to be made for not doing press briefings on camera?
[19:25:03] VANCE: Well, I think in some cases it's a stunt. But the big thing that worries me is not this particular action by the White House. It is the fact that if you look for the past couple of decades, public faith in the institutional credibility of the press has gone down and down and down. And that is something you see across the political spectrum. And as we talked about before, you need to have a neutral arbiter of facts. When somebody says something you need to have some confidence about whether what they are telling you is true or whether it's a lie. And to have that sort of foundational element in our public discourse, you need a press that's trusted by most people.
And I think what the White House is doing is in some ways just the end result of the fact that a lot of people don't trust the press because, yes, a lot of people look at what the White House is doing and they are upset by it. But a lot of people look at that and say, well, why would they let the press in the briefing room anyway? The press is full of fake news. They are just telling lies about the White House anyway. And so, I think this is just a really bad symptom of something that should worry all of us in American political life which is the fact that a lot of people just don't trust the news media across the political spectrum anymore.
CABRERA: J.D. Vance, thank you.
VANCE: Thank you.
CABRERA: Coming up, picture this. You are out on a fishing trip and then this happens. A group's remarkable close call with a humpback whale. You have to see that video again. We'll have it.
[19:30:37] CABRERA: Some mayors across the country are frustrated with the Russia cloud hanging over the White House saying the country's attention needs to be focused on health care, climate change, immigration and other issues.
CNN's Rosa Flores has their message for President Trump.
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I met with the mayors every single year I was President, and I always looked forward to it.
ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (vice-over): While the 42nd President spoke to more than 250 mayors at the U.S. mayors' conference in Miami Beach. It was the 45th President who was on some of the mayors' minds especially on issues such as climate change, immigration and health care.
MAYOR GREG FISCHER (D), LOUISVILLE: What they promised was more and better healthcare and lower cost. So that's really what America is looking for right now. And when you take a city like mine, Louisville, 100,000 people can lose healthcare.
MAYOR MARTY WALSH (D), BOSTON: I think it is going to affect us. We are in the ballpark of 300,000-plus and 3,000 Massachusetts folks.
MAYOR SLY JAMES (I), KANSAS CITY: This is, unfortunately, a political solution. They are looking for a political win.
FLORES: And it wasn't just Democrats. Here is the Republican mayor of Mesa, Arizona, John Giles.
MAYOR JOHN GILES (R), MEZA, ARIZONA: If we fumble this, you know, I think it could be the end of the Republican Party if people, you know, see us take something that is fab like Obamacare and think the way to fix that is to make it worse, then I think I'm not sure what we have to offer as a party and the Republican party. So this is going to be a defining moment for the Republican Party.
FLORES: But on sanctuary cities, a different story.
WALSH: We cooperate with ICE.
FLORES: Mayor Marty Walsh who once offered to turn Boston's city hall into a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants say that Trump's executive orders on the matter have only created fear and mistrust.
WALSH: In Boston, what we are trying just (INAUDIBLE) with people who are undocumented in our city.
FLORES: On climate change, when President Trump exited the Paris climate accord more than 300 mayors pledged to honor the commitment of the agreement.
FISCHER: We see no difference between the environmentally responsible and being successful as a business, as well. So we are moving full speed ahead with all of our environmental programs in Louisville.
FLORES: Knowing that the President often turns to twitter, we asked these mayors what their message to President Trump would be in 140 characters or less.
JAMES: Be careful what you say, it may come back to bite you. And once it's out there, you can't take it back.
WALSH: Act responsible. You are the President of the United States of America. People are watching you. FLORES: Rosa Flores, CNN, Miami.
CABRERA: A homeland security official warned Congress that Russian government-linked hackers potentially targeted as many as 21 states' election systems last year. This assessment was made during a senate intelligence committee hearing this week with DHS and FBI cybersecurity officials.
Now, DHS added, none of the targeted systems were involved in vote counting and an important thing to point out. Now, agency officials did not specify which states were affected but they likened the hacking attempt to someone rattling the doorknob and then not being able to get in.
Grizzly bears in Yellowstone Park are making a comeback. In fact, the Yellowstone grizzly population has recovered enough to be removed from the endangered species what leading to the loss of some federal protections.
U.S. secretary of the interior Ryan Zinke called this one of America's great conservation successes. He said the grizzly population has rebounded from as few as 136 bears in 1975 to an estimated 700 today.
A group of inmates in Pope County, Georgia are being rewarded for doing something good while on a work detail. Listen to this. Instead of making a break for it, the six inmates responded to help a sheriff's deputy with a chronic Medical condition who had collapsed and passed out. One inmate called 911 with the deputy's phone while others removed his bullet-proof vest and gun belt so he could breathe better. And to thank the inmates the sheriff's department had a free pizza lunch in the park with the deputy's family members even joining in and baking some desserts.
The sheriff will also be giving the men the maximum possible amount of time off with their sentences for good behavior. The deputy is now back on the job, by the way.
All right. This might be the video of the day. You have to see this New Jersey man who has a whale of a fishing tale as he captures on video a humpback whale breaching the waters off New York harbor nearly capsizing the 9-foot fishing boat there and just leaps out of the water. I want to show you again. We will slow down the video.
(VIDEO CLIP PLAYING)
[19:35:08] CABRERA: You can see the whale there opening its huge jaws in a hunt for food. The fishermen say it was chasing fish when it jumped out of the water and tapping their hull and actually knocking a few fish into the boat. Score.
Coming up, years after the VA was rocked by revelations that veterans were dying, waiting years to see a doctor, problems still exist. A special CNN investigation next.
[19:39:43] CABRERA: Americans were angry and ashamed when the scandal first broke four years ago and CNN helped expose how veterans were being badly mistreated by the VA Medical system responsible for their care. President Obama tried to address the problem, but many issues remain unsolved even today. And on Friday, President Trump signed a new law that should give the VA more power to fire bad employees. Veterans and their advocates say its past time the system gets fixed.
CNN's Drew Griffin has more.
[19:40:14] DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The scandal erupted when whistleblowers bravely came forward and proved the VA was lying about how long patients were waiting and in some cases dying while waiting for care. There were major shake-ups.
Can you please talk us to, director?
Billions spent. And now much-improved wait times reported by the VA. That sounds good, but Debra Draper with the U.S. government's own accountability office has heard it all before.
DEBRA DRAPER, DIRECTOR, HEALTH CARE INVESTIGATIONS, GAO: The numbers that they are reporting based on their work, they're not reliable numbers.
GRIFFIN: Draper is the director for health care investigations for the GAO which has labeled VA's health care high risk in terms of government management. It has done so since 2015. Draper says even today the VA's wait time data is simply not to be believed. They are longer.
DRAPER: Yes. In almost every case we find the actual wait times are actually longer than what the VA is reporting.
GRIFFIN: It has been nearly four years since CNN began exposing the secret wait lists and fabricated wait times and delays in care and the patients who died waiting for that care. It's been three years since Congress approved $16 billion in additional funding so the VA could fix those problems. In fact, since 2009, the VA's budget has nearly doubled. And yet, the problems and some would say the lies at the VA persist.
ERIC HANDEL, FORMER LEAD INVESTIGATOR: Still not resolved and still happening.
GRIFFIN: Eric Handel is the former lead investigator for the House veterans affairs committee, the congressional committee that led a years-long investigation into veterans dying while waiting for care. Yes, he says, then as now, the VA is not telling the truth about wait times.
HANDEL: None of it. The office of the inspector general says the same thing. It was that way in 2014 when he reported on the wait time scandal. It is that way in 2017. You still cannot trust VA's information.
GRIFFIN: In fact, just this March, a damning VA inspector general report on seven VA Medical centers in the southeast found patients waited an average of 61 days for specialty care, two months. And the report found many patients and specialty care services ng experienced long wait times which were not accurately reflected in VA'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 VA's official electronic scheduling system showed a zero-day wait time when the veteran actually waited 120 days. The VA inspector general determined staff inappropriately discontinued or canceled an estimated 4,600 appointments.
What is it like to make a Medical appointment at the VA?
TRACY RODRIGUEZ, WIFE OF VETERAN: Hi, Joe. I need to make some appointments--.
GRIFFIN: Tracy Rodriguez invited us to find out. Her husband served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He relies on the VA 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. As soon as you have got. Yes, definitely sooner than July or June.
GRIFFIN: The wait for urology, two months. Surprisingly, in appointment for primary care could happen in just weeks. But when she tries to get an appointment for an eye doctor, a specialty clinic.
GRIFFIN: They say September?
GRIFFIN: Five months, about normal, she says, for her.
RODRIGUEZ: One out of three is not bad.
GRIFFIN: The VA wouldn't respond to our direct questions on the unreliability of the wait time calculations. And instead, the VA sent us comments from the new secretary, David Shillkin in which he cites VA statistics which say quote "22 percent of veterans are seen on a same-day basis," unquote. The VA secretary has acknowledged much more needs to be done and that he's committed to being very transparent on how long vets are waiting for care.
Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.
CABRERA: Thank you, Drew.
Coming up, W. Kamau Bell walked the street in one of the nation's dying towns, a preview of tonight's brand new episode of "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No jobs which leads to no money which leads to depression, which leads to drugs and alcohol.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[19:48:58] CABRERA: President Trump says he can create jobs and save the coal industry, but that comes with big challenges. W. Kamau Bell visited one of the poorest cities in coal country on this week's "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA."
W. KAMAU BELL, CNN HOST, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: So this used to be the school, but what is it now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Social club.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A community building.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A community center.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The blacks didn't have nothing. They was talking about tearing the building down. It had been closed a few years and so we asked for the school.
BELL: Is it still a place where people hang out?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the only place.
BELL: This is the only place that black people come together.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. They are on a 50-mile radius, if we are having something they come.
BELL: So for 50 miles this is the black headquarters.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
BELL: Wow! I want to ask you about this, it says lynch, Klan threatened and never
showed up and there's a picture of you smiling. So tell me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They didn't really know it was that many blacks living in this area. Once they figured out, they called that off. People was up on their houses and they had shotguns and -- that's one thing about in this area, we watch out for each other, black, white, everybody, community work together. It's just a good place to live, I think.
[19:50:12] CABRERA: W. Kamau Bell joining us from Berkeley, California.
W. Kamau, thanks for being with us. You were there in the heart of coal country. President Trump we know got a lot of support there after promising to bring back jobs to that area. How do the people you met think he is doing as President?
BELL: I mean, I think that they are still hoping upon hope that that happens. Because there's not a sense that there's choices out there. I mean, there is a lot of people working on bringing other industries there, but that's what President Trump should be focusing on. How can we bring other industries in Coal County and not how can we start getting energy up again. A lot of them know but that's not a good thing to hope for, it's those jobs.
CABRERA: Now a lot of Appalachians residents get their health coverage from Obamacare. Are they concerned about what they are hearing right now about health care reform in Washington?
BELL: I mean, I think, they are still a lot of hope as we say across the country, still believe that he has got some ultimate plan. And so, I think there is a lot of them that think maybe there's something they are not understanding, a lot of them don't trust the mainstream media sources to tell them that's not the truth. But so there is hope that there. And I there's (INAUDIBLE) happen. But I think there is still a lot of hope in Trump there.
CABRERA: That's interesting. And now you, you spent a lot of time there and have been to a lot of other places, what stood out to you there in Kentucky coal country most?
BELL: The thing that stood out most to me was that most know that coal is maybe should pass. They know that the coal will have destroyed the coal industry destroyed the environment in large part and they know they should be looking towards something else. The problem is they don't know what else is. So that is why (INAUDIBLE). Most of them know that coal is not the place.
CABRERA: They don't know where to go otherwise. Well, the former mayor, the mayoral candidate there in the town you visited wants young people to stay and to find jobs. I mean, do you think that's realistic that there are enough opportunities to make that happen?
BELL: I mean, I think that is all about education and people who are sort of like invested in staying there. I mean, as I have said before, it was not long ago the Silicon Valley was a someplace you stopped your between San Francisco and L.A. And then the industry comes out of almost nothing there. And I think that if the education gets better there, if the school systems gets better, if people feel like there's a reason to say, you don't know what's going to happen. But that stop looking in the past and look toward the future. And there are people there who are doing that. I want to be clear about that. They seem more to speed.
CABRERA: W. Kamau Bell, thank you as always.
And we look forward to your episode tonight. Be sure to tune in. It's "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA" at 10:00 p.m. eastern and pacific. You are on CNN.
Coming up, he is often seen, but rarely heard. So when Jared Kushner speaks, Jeanie Moos is all ears.
[19:57:03] CABRERA: A massive heat wave in the western part of this country is now affecting some 20 million people creating the perfect conditions for fires. And there are 18 active large fires burning right now in Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, and Utah.
The largest is the Brian head fire in Utah. It has spread over 42,000 acres nearly 1,000 people are on the front lines fighting that fire, over 30 cities in the west tied or broke high temperatures. The records, at least, on yesterday and there's not much rain relief in sight over the next week or so. Not good for those firefighters.
Jared Kushner has been called the President's secretary of everything. But come to think of it, have you ever heard him talk?
Here's Jeanne Moos.
JEANIE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He has been seen, but not heard, silently watching President Trump sign orders, Jared Kushner is usually in the middle of the action, but publicly mum.
TRUMP: Thank you very much.
MOOS: Sitting at the President's side, but never a peep out of him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever heard him speak? Seriously. What does his voice sound like?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE). Newspaper and some other websites and online media businesses. MOOS: But we now know the President's son-in-law doesn't really sound
like Gilbert Godfree because obsession with technology leaders Monday, Jared Kushner finally used his vocal cords.
So without further ado, drum roll, please, we present the actual voice of Jared Kushner.
JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO THE PRESIDENT: The department of defense for example still uses eight inch floppy disks.
MOOS: No wonder nobody focused on what he was saying --
KUSHNER: The Trump administration got it done.
MOOS: I don't believe it. This is like finding out mermaids have legs tweeted someone stunned to find Kushner has a voice. Others drew parallels, Jared Kushner's voice sounds like a young Michael Sarah.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow, Mr. Manager.
MOOS: Kushner's silence was mocked on SNL.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And now my little cushe (ph) ball, Jared Kushner.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know you don't like talking, but one of you, taking it away.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God, you are such a cute little twig. And live from New York, it's Saturday night.
MOOS: Kushner is a guy with a twitter account, but no tweets, a cover story in time with no interview. He once tiptoed past his wife as she was being interviewed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on out.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come on, Jared. Here, Jared. Oh Jared, you can't walk in and not say anything.
MOOS: The silent side kick has finally found his voice.
KUSHNER: It's working. And it's very exciting.
MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN. New York.
CABRERA: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. I hope you will a great weekend.
This week, Senate Republicans could get closer than ever to repealing Obamacare. And right now they are in all out race to get the votes they will need to get it done. They can only afford to lose two GOP lawmakers. And if the roll call where to happen right at least five Republicans say they --