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Interview with California Congressman Adam Schiff; NSA Scandal; Obamacare Rollout Problems; If You Like Your Plan, You Can Keep It?; Interview with Charles Krauthammer

Aired October 29, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: If President Obama likes his current spying program, can he keep his current spying program?

I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

The national lead, the president's top intelligence men on Capitol Hill now right now facing questions about why the NSA is tapping the phones of some of our closest allies and what exactly the president knew about it. Will the NSA have to put an end to it?

Also in national news, we heard this over and over. If you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan. But now thousands of Americans are finding out that's not really true, including our guest, a former Democratic congressional staffer who has been an enthusiastic proponent of Obamacare. But now things are changing and she doesn't know why.

And the pop culture lead, inside the house that Alfred E. Neuman built. After six decades of puns and parodies, is "Mad" magazine still hooking kids on satire? I feel like I just set myself up for a snappy answer to a stupid question.

Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We will begin with the national lead. The top intelligence official in the country and the director of the NSA are testifying on Capitol Hill as we speak. And when pressed about reports that the NSA has been tapping the phones of foreign leaders, even allies, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that's long been par for the course.


REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), MICHIGAN: Plans and intentions of foreign leaders would be important for the United States to know.

LT. GEN. JAMES CLAPPER (RET.), NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE DIRECTOR: That's a hearty perennial. As long as I have been in the intelligence business, 50 years, leadership intentions in whatever form that's expressed is kind of a basic tenet of what we are to collect and analyze.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Now, the White House has long denied German media reports that President Obama was told in 2010 that the NSA was spying, tapping the phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and letting it go on.

The Intelligence Committee chairman pressed Clapper about whether the White House would have been told that foreign leaders were being tapped.


ROGERS: Would it, in fact, any value of that information find its way to at least the National Security Council in the White House?

CLAPPER: Well, it certainly could. It may not have position specifically related to a specific selector or any specific collection target. What they would see, though, would be the output of this in its total dimension.


TAPPER: I want to bring in chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

Jim, we just heard James Clapper kind of explain this discrepancy or at least attempt to explain the discrepancy between intelligence officials saying that the White House and the National Security Council had been briefed on this program and the White House saying that President Obama certainly did not know that Merkel's phone had been tapped. Translate that for us.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think, whether he intended to or not, Clapper actually gave President Obama some cover there, because, as he said, presidents read this kind of intelligence all the time. They are looking at the output. They might not necessarily know what the source of that output is.

So it is plausible that the president might have read something that resulted from the contents of, say, Merkel's conversations without knowing that it came from listening in on one of her phone calls. And that's actually something that the administration had been telling Tuesday last couple of days, so, Clapper, to some extent, backing that up.

TAPPER: And also, Jim, the NSA director, General Alexander, suggesting that some of the recent reporting on that NSA has been -- quote -- "completely false." What exactly was he talking about?

SCIUTTO: They go very far here.

They are talking about these reports the NSA listened to 60 million phone calls in Spain, 70 million in France. He said that that was based on the misinterpretation, the misreading of a single slide released by Edward Snowden and he said a few things about it.

He said, one, it was not the NSA listening in on this call data. It was the NSA, the U.S. and all of its NATO partners. Two, the call data had nothing do with European citizens, with the Spanish and the French, but it was a collection of call data listened to in a number of countries in support of military operations. He said it is completely false, one, that this was the NSA doing this and, two, that it was European citizens, French and Spanish citizens that were being listened to, a pretty aggressive knockdown of that story and some of the source of some of the greatest criticism from European side of NSA surveillance.

TAPPER: And, Jim, part of the White House pushback has been everybody does it. Clapper also saying that foreign countries also spy on the U.S.

So, looking at that further, is it possible that the president's BlackBerry is being read by the Germans or the British?

SCIUTTO: I asked this of a former official yesterday I was speaking to, and he said, sure. They probably go after it. I don't know if they would have success. The NSA certainly has advantages.

But one of the points that Mike Rogers made in this hearing, and Clapper and Alexander, is that, in effect, everyone's hands are dirty, because they say, yes, we are the target of foreign intelligence operations but they also say that we go after not only our allies, but the leaders of our allies. He used the term that leadership intentions are both a reasonable and acceptable and valuable target for American intelligence operations. And falling under that umbrella might be the phone calls of Angela Merkel and others.

TAPPER: All right, chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto, thanks.

Congressman Adam Schiff of California sits on the House Intelligence Committee. He stepped out of today's meeting on the NSA program to speak to us live from Capitol Hill.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.


TAPPER: Quickly, James Clapper was also asked if our allies are guilty of the same sort of thing. Here is what he said.


ROGERS: Do you believe that the allies have conducted or, at any time, any type of espionage activity against the United States of America, our intelligence services, our leaders or otherwise?

CLAPPER: Absolutely.


TAPPER: So, Congressman, do we know of any cases of this actually happening in recent years?

SCHIFF: Well, I don't know that I can talk openly in terms of what we know about our foreign intelligence agencies and how they operate and how they target people in the United States.

But I think it would be naive to presume that they are not very active in trying to collect on us, even though we are allies. It does happen. At the same time, I have a concern about this potential wiretapping of our leaders, of our allied leaders, and the damage it is doing to our reputation and the damage that it may do to the cooperation that we need from them in pursuing terrorism cases.

There is a real cost. And the question is, is this justified? I think the president has indicated this is not consistent with our values. And my guess is that while he may not say as an absolute it won't happen again, there would have to be extraordinary circumstances to justify any kind of a tap on a foreign leader of an allied nation.

TAPPER: And the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who has been a very ardent defender of the NSA, as you know, she now says she is totally opposed to spying on U.S. allies.

She is demanding review of all surveillance programs. Do you think that's a good idea?

SCHIFF: Absolutely.

And I raised this today with General Clapper. I think there has to be a real discussion about the intelligence community's obligation under law under the National Security Act of '47 to inform Congress of significant intelligence activities like these that have such tremendous blowback potential.

And I'm not confident in light of these recent allegations that we are getting those fulsome briefings, that we do know the full scope of what is going on overseas. We have a lot more visibility of what happens here at home. We all have a lot more safeguards in domestic surveillance because we have the FISA court as well operating, even though that can be improved.

But we have lot less visibility overseas and, plainly, that's going change in the Intelligence Committees and it really has to change.

TAPPER: Congressman, you sit on the House Intelligence Committee. How much have you learned from Edward Snowden, as opposed to from U.S. government sources that should be briefing you and your fellow members of the Intelligence Committee on these NSA programs?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, with some of these programs, I don't have all that much compassion for members of Congress that protest to be taken aback or surprised. Some of them need to do their homework better.

But on other things, and this most recent allegation is a very good example, if this is true, it is certainly not something I was made aware of. I would be very surprised if many of other Intelligence Committee members were made aware of it.

Certainly, Senator and Chairman Feinstein wasn't. And these are precisely I think of the magnitude that should be disclosed to Congress because if it became public, as it has been reported here, the policy implications are tremendous. The diplomatic damage is tremendous. And Congress should be, along with the executive, weighing is it worth the risk? Are we gaining such great insights that we can't gain other ways that we should undertake these operations?

We need a much better level of dialogue and discussion and oversight and there are going to be changes made for sure.

TAPPER: And that's one of the points, Congressman. I think we always hear from the White House and the NSA and from Director of National Intelligence Clapper there is congressional oversight of these programs. There is oversight of these programs. The public is represented because there's oversight by Congress.

You didn't know about this.

SCHIFF: Well, part of it is, what kind of disclosure are we getting? Are we getting disclosure in the form, we have high confidence? Let's say the intelligence community comes to us and says we have high confidence if we extend our stay in Afghanistan, we can count on the support of Germany or France, but not telling us why they have that confidence?

If that confidence is based on a wiretap of one of the leaders, that's a very different story than informing us of that kind of selector program, that kind of key leader program. That, to me, is not an informed consent or even an informed process. So, I will be interested to get to the bottom of what did they share with us.

And one last point I would make, Jake, and I raised this with Director Clapper today, if the intelligence community was too concerned about the sensitive source of information that they couldn't share it with the Intelligence Committee, what does it say that it was accessible to a low-level system analyst like Snowden? That, I think, raises a pretty profound question as well.

TAPPER: And, Congressman Schiff, just one last question for you. I know you are a loyal Democrat and a strong supporter of President Obama. But which is more disturbing to you, President Obama knowing that Merkel's phone was tapped and not being forthright or him not knowing, which isn't reassuring either?

SCHIFF: Well, I mean, either way you have it, it is a problem for the United States.

And it is a problem for the president's relationship with the chancellor, if this turns out to be accurate. So, there's no good answer because there is no good outcome here either way. And that's part of the reason why I think we need a better disclosure, if indeed we didn't get it here, and we need to make sure that whenever there is the potential for this kind of blowback, we're notified and that our programs at home and overseas, as the president has said, are consistent with our values.

TAPPER: All right, Congressman Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.

SCHIFF: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD: As a Democratic staffer, she defended Obamacare, even as voters screamed in her face, even as her boss lost his job partly because of that. Now she is the frustrated one.

Plus, he likes smart, nerdy stuff. One of his former top aides shares a little insight into what is on the president's iPad. What's he reading, what blogs? That's ahead.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. We're in Chicago today.

In national news: testifying on Capitol Hill today, the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which rolled out the much maligned Web site for the Affordable Care Act.

She said we something we haven't heard from the Obama administration.


MARILYN TAVENNER, CMS ADMINISTRATOR, HHS: I want to apologize to you the website has not worked as well as it should. We know how desperately you need affordable coverage.


TAPPER: OK. But what about the people who want nothing to do with this Web site? Because they already have insurance they are happy with.

She continued to say Americans can keep plans they like and Republicans hammered her for it.


TAVENNER: I am aware that there are issuers in states who are canceling their old plans which were grandfathered in and moving to new plans --

REP. DAVE REICHERT (R), WASHINGTON: So, what you said about keeping your health care plan isn't true?

TAVENNER: No. They can keep it.

REICHERT: No, they can't. They just got cancellation notices. Why are you saying you can? I don't understand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Time has expired.


TAPPER: That point about keeping your health care plan, that's an important one. How many times did we hear this from the president? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you like your doctor, you will be able to keep your doctor, period. If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan, period.


TAPPER: But that was never the whole story. It was simply not credible that the Obama administration and Congress would make a number of sweeping changes to health insurance and everyone would still get to keep their health care plan and their doctor.

Back in 2010, the Obama administration vaguely acknowledged this by noting the high rate of turnover when it came to the 14 million individuals who have private insurance as opposed to group plans. Tucked in the federal register, the Obama administration noted the normal turnover rate for individual insurance is up to 67 percent. Because of changes mandated to plans by Obama care, turnover would likely exceed that range. We haven't even mentioned the employers who are pushing workers off their plans and on to the Obamacare exchange because it's cheaper.

This doesn't sound like if you like your plan, keep your plan. And, in fact, back in 2009, the young White House correspondent challenged the president on that issue, noting that some of the proposals being discussed might have resulted in folks being forced into new plans against their wishes.


TAPPER: What about keeping your promise to the American people that they won't have to change plans even if employers --

OBAMA: I mean, when I say if you have your plan and you like it and your doctor has a plan or you have a doctor and you like your doctor, then you don't have to change plans -- what I'm saying is the government is not going to make you change plans under health reform.


TAPPER: Oh, that's the key. The government is not going to make you change plans through health reform -- though the government might impose a situation that would cause a change of plans for you.

So, the promise was never quite as presented. And yet, the president kept presenting it that way.

And as I said, I'm in Chicago today. Just a few minutes ago, I spoke with Sue Klinkhamer. She worked for a Democrat Illinois congressman.

She defended Obamacare to her constituents -- his constituents. But then he was defeated for re-election, at least in part because of his support for Obamacare. She was then unemployed, forced to get her own insurance plan. A few weeks ago, she got a letter from her insurance provider.


TAPPER: So, you got this letter --


TAPPER: What is it --

KLINKHAMER: -- that said, this is, review of your current coverage. I have a blue advantage with a monthly premium of $254.88, of the date of this letter. Please note that coverage of your current plan will end December 31st, 2013.

Then here -- then give me my plan options.

TAPPER: And what is -- basically, what are the options?

KLINKHAMER: The first one is a silver option which is most similar in benefits to what you have to date. The monthly premium for the member named above, which is me, single person, is $647.12.

TAPPER: Six forty-seven?

KLINKHAMER: $647.12.


KLINKHAMER: My other option is a blue choice bronze which is most similar in price to what I have to date but higher. You know, $254 and that monthly premium would be $322.32.

TAPPER: So, why not take the bronze?

KLINKHAMER: First of all, it is a higher price.

TAPPER: Right.

KLINKHAMER: But my deductible will go from $3,500 to $6,500.

TAPPER: So, some people would say -- supporters of Obamacare would say you're going to get better plans. This is what -- this is what Obama care does. It requires you'll have coverage you didn't have before.

KLINKHAMER: Right. I'm a supporter of Obamacare, you know. And -- this looks a -- was part of my issue. I did tell everybody it would be better.

And I understand that all of these health essentials that are now being covered. But some of those had also been covered in the past couple of years, you know, like mammograms and physicals and things like that.

But I still don't understand why even if all those are covered, why my premiums is going up $350.

TAPPER: And you are not eligible for subsidies?

KLINKHAMER: And I'm not eligible for subsidy. Now, what really bothered me -- I know there are talking points on both sides. So, this morning, congressman from North Carolina, a Democratic congressman to defend and said, well, but those policies the people had that are being eliminated were junk policies.

TAPPER: Junk policies.

KLINKHAMER: Right. And that -- that -- it wasn't a junk policy. It was a good policy. It was in my price range. It gave me what I wanted. It certainly wasn't a Cadillac plan. But, you know, it had a good deductible and good premium. You know, and, again, for people in the open market --

TAPPER: But you can go to an exchange and shop around and find something better, right? Isn't that something else that --

KLINKHAMER: Well, there was a second part of my problem was I went on October 1st. I went on the Web site. Now, I did -- was able to register. I was able to get through the registration part. But that in Illinois, they didn't have their premiums up. They said they would send me a letter with my options.

And then -- the head of get Covered Illinois reached out to me after I sent to the letter to somebody, a mutual friend. And so, I was able to browse the prices. But, again, you are able to browse the prices but you have to go to the carrier Web site to see what the plans are.

I'm assuming with Blue Cross, there were a couple of companies that were completely out of range. They were, you know, for like $400 range. So --

TAPPER: Do you regret -- you worked for a Democratic congressman who probably, one of the reasons he wasn't reelected was because of his support for the Affordable Care Act.


TAPPER: So, do you regret working for him and pushing back when constituents called up and complained?

KLINKHAMER: No. I believe in -- I believe in the health care for all theory. I mean, I'm glad to see the people who couldn't get health care. That was the pre-existing condition. That was a hard --

TAPPER: But you are a middle-class American and you are -- your premiums are going up.

KLINKHAMER: But my premiums are going way up. I just want -- I mean, I have a lot of now conservative Republican friends who are calling me and saying, here's the ironic thing. I'm going to benefit from Obamacare. I'm glad they are. But I just thought that maybe all of them would be put in a pool with me instead of the pool expanding where all the healthy people, you know, kind of went into a higher premium pool. Because then to me it's not affordable. It's available but it's not affordable.


TAPPER: Our thanks to Sue Klinkhamer for telling us her story.

Coming up next on THE LEAD: Just keep quiet. That's the advice one conservative has for Republican. Why my next guest is telling them not to go on the attack over Obamacare.

Plus, taking shots at the majority leader in the Senate. Which Republican senator is so fed up with Harry Reid he reportedly called him a name I can't even repeat here.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

In our politics lead, according to "The New York Daily News", the Oklahoma Senator Coburn was speaking at a Manhattan gala yesterday and reportedly said this. "There's no comity with Harry Reid. I think he's an absolute a-hole."

Today, CNN asked Coburn about it and he refused comment.

But Reid's office fired back. Quote, "Nothing says comity like childish playground name-calling, especially from a senator who has not sponsored a single piece of successful bipartisan legislation during his entire Senate career," unquote.

When CNN asked Coburn if he planned to talk to his frenemy anytime soon, Coburn said he would. I'd like to be a fly in the wall.

But someone who praises the benefits of curse words is my next guest, conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer. He dedicated an entire column to defending the F-word as when former VP Dick Cheney decided to lay it on Senator Patrick Leahy. It's all in his new book, "Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes, and Politics."

And Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Charles Krauthammer joins me now.

Charles, thanks so much for being here. I should point out, one of the reasons you were a supporter of the F-word is you thought it was a rare moment of authenticity in the chamber full of anything but.

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, AUTHOR, "THINGS THAT MATTER": It also gave me the opportunity to, as they say, extend my remarks on it and to -- was essentially a disquisition on the forms of the F-word, the two-worder and three-worder. I went into a long exposition of how they ought to be used. I mean, it's interesting that you should start the discussion off on that. In fact, it's my favorite column in the book and I wanted to start the book with it. But the folks over at Crown Books sort of rose up and said they would have me committed if I started the book with that.

TAPPER: You started the book with just absolutely lovely tribute, a column, about your older brother who passed. I want to get to the book in a second.