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Flynn Quits as National Security Adviser amid Scandal; House GOP Leaders hold Weekly News Conference; Ryan: Trump was Right to Ask Flynn to Resign. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 14, 2017 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:00:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good Tuesday morning to you. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. Thank you so much for joining us. The breaking news this morning, any moment now, we will hear from House Speaker Paul Ryan. This is the first time we will hear from him since the resignation of Michael Flynn as national security adviser. These are live pictures from Capitol Hill where Speaker Ryan will speak with other Republican leaders there. We're waiting to see how they will address the unanswered questions swirling around Flynn's departure and his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

HARLOW: Among those still unanswered questions from the White House this morning, did the president know about Flynn's conversations with Russia's ambassador while they were happening? And also, we don't know if or why the White House ignored an explicit warning from the Department of Justice that Russia could potentially blackmail the national security adviser. That warning, by the way, came more than two weeks ago.

So what happened between then and late last night when Flynn finally resigned? Let's begin with our chief political correspondent Dana Bash. She's in Washington to walk us through the final chaotic hours that led up to this resignation last night. And a little bit history for us this morning as well. Dana, let's begin with how last night unfolded.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And that starts with yesterday afternoon, of course, amid so much questioning and confusion and pressure, frankly, on the White House, to decide what to do about Michael Flynn. Kellyanne Conway went on TV in the afternoon, a little after 4:00 p.m. Eastern and said that Michael Flynn has the president's full confidence. An hour later, the White House spokesman Sean Spicer said that the situation was being evaluated, and then just a little less than four hours later, the president himself didn't answer a question but by 11:00 p.m., the news broke first right here on CNN by our Gloria Borger that Michael Flynn had actually offered his resignation.

So, how did we get to this place where three weeks into an administration, the president's -- one of his most senior, most important aides in any administration is forced to resign? Let's go back in time to late December. You look there. Intelligence officials turned up communications between Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador.

Then, fast forward, a few weeks. Mike Pence, this is the critical, critical moment. Mike Pence was going on television on January 15th, asked Mike Flynn if he, in fact, had conversations about sanctions, critical sanctions that the Obama administration put on Russia because of allegations of meddling in the U.S. elections. And he was told no. So that's what Mike Pence reported on television. Then, fast forward about two weeks ago. The Justice Department warned the White House that because of these conversations, Mike Flynn could be compromised and could be in a position of being blackmailed, according to a source. And then, things got even more complicated.

If you see the February 8th, 9th, 10th and so forth it was Mike Flynn's story changing. Did he actually talk about sanctions -- with the Russians? Did he not? He told reporters. He told people in the White House, yes, and then said, oops, maybe I'm misremembering that.

So that really is what all culminated in what happened last night in the fact that that discussion that he had with Mike Pence, the Vice President of the United States told him he didn't talk about sanctions and then later throughout the several weeks after that said, oh, maybe I did. Maybe I don't remember. That I am told was what did him in because either he didn't tell the truth to the vice president or he didn't take notes and take the time to remember a critical conversation. And neither of those scenarios were things that the president could hold onto in a national security adviser.

HARLOW: Dana Bash, great reporting. Thank you very much. Let's discuss all of this now with Adam Entous. He's a staff reporter for "The Washington Post," helped break all of this. Alice Stewart, CNN political commentator and Republican strategist. Ryan Lizza is here as well, CNN political commentator and Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker." And retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, he commanded U.S. troops in Northern Iraq while Flynn was an intelligence staff officer for General McChrystal in Iraq as well.

Let me begin with you, Adam, great reporting on this to you and your entire team breaking so much news in the last 48 hours. Walk us through what is surprising to you most given the timeline that Dana just laid out?

ADAM ENTOUS, STAFF WRITER "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, I mean, I think the big question that we're all trying to figure out is who knew about what Flynn spoke to the Russian ambassador about? Did he report the conversations after he had it, or did he check with certain people in the Trump team or Trump, himself before he had the call? And that's something we don't know the answer to. -- It may take a long time before we get the answer to that.

[10:05:03] The other question for me that seems urgent is trying to understand when Sally Yates, you know, notified the White House Counsel about these, you know, questionable communications and the potential for blackmail. What did the counsel's office do? Who did they talk to? From the public statements by Vice President Pence when the story broke last week, he was surprised, clearly, and taken aback. --

HARLOW: So have you been able to get any comment from Don McGahn?

ENTOUS: No, I think at this point we just don't know the answers to these questions.

BERMAN: Luckily, we have with us another great reporter who has been digging as well. Ryan Lizza, I hope I'm not outing you before you publish your article. But I know you started talking to people inside the administration who are giving you their version of sort of what was known, when and by whom, at least on some levels. Explain Ryan.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT "THE NEW YORKER": Well, look, I think that the White House's official line here is and is going to be that they were the victim here, right? That Michael Flynn lied to the vice president. That he lied to Spicer and because those are the two people who went out and made incorrect statements about Flynn's contacts with the Russian ambassador. And I think that they want to sort of avoid asking Adam's very excellent questions. Who else knew, right?

You know if Flynn was talking to the Russian ambassador the day after that Barack Obama instituted these sanctions, was he doing so at the direction of the president-elect, and did he report back on those conversations? I think that is an absolutely crucial question and one that I think that the White House would like to put behind them and would like to argue that well, this was just a sort of rogue operation by Flynn. He forgot that he talked to them about sanctions. He lied to us about it and we've now cleared this up by accepting his resignation. And I don't think - I don't think that's going to wash until we get a much clearer picture of who knew what, when.

HARLOW: Right. Alice Stewart to you, I think two important points. And one is just the fact that Flynn would know, given all of his background in intelligence and all the service that he has served to this country. He would know that a conversation like this would be recorded. So that's a little bit confusing. But what is your response to the president's response to the last time the media actually got to ask the president about this was Friday. Because the reporters in the two short briefings yesterday didn't ask him about this. Here's how the president answered those questions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know about that. I haven't seen it. What report is that?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: "The Washington Post" reporting that he talked to the ambassador of Russia before you were inaugurated about sanctions -

TRUMP: I haven't seen that. I'll look into that.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: So if you didn't hear it, that was reporters on Air Force One asking the president, what do you make of the reports that Flynn, your national security adviser, spoke with the Russian ambassador about potentially using sanctions, et cetera, before you took office, which would be in violation of the Logan Act and then, more importantly, didn't tell the truth to the vice president allegedly about it. Alice, is there any defense for not hearing more from the White House, the president himself about this? And said this morning, a few moments ago, he tweets that he's really mad about the leaks.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think with regard to the sound bite you just played, I'll give the president the benefit of the doubt on that one. He may have been referring to a specific report on this huge incident that he didn't know about. But what he knew about this entire incident, I think that's the question that still remains.

I think what's also getting lost is it's completely not uncommon and appropriate for a national security adviser in the transition period to be speaking to Russian officials and the ambassador. That is completely common and it's not unusual to suspect that just after the Obama administration issued sanctions and expelled the diplomats that this topic would come up and that is more than likely the case here. The problem is, he didn't commit a crime in the conversation, but it is the cover-up of it and the not being honest with it -

HARLOW: He may have committed a crime.

BERMAN: It would have been a violation -- it would have been a violation of the Logan Act. And as you've said, it may not be uncommon to talk to the Russians. It is uncommon to lie to the vice president about it if that's what happened and - it's uncommon for the White House to be told about it you know two weeks ago and then to go dark for two weeks. We still have no explanation for why that happened. Sorry, Alice. I'll let you finish.

STEWART: You know, one thing, I mean, Mike Pence, of all people, he is a pillar of trust and confidence in the administration. And when that is undermined, it's a serious problem. And I think that was the final straw with -- as for doing away with Mike Flynn but also there's the bigger question is, you know it appears clearly they were not forthcoming with information to Vice President Pence but also, there's a lot of information that the American people deserve to know in this, and I think it's right to ask those questions.

[10:10:01] BERMAN: General Flynn - I mean, sorry, General Hertling, there have been people joking on Twitter today that General Michael Flynn is now one person who's been fired by both President Obama and President Trump. He wasn't fired by President Trump, he resigned. --

HARLOW: Pushed out.

BERMAN: He was pushed out of his job at DIA under the Obama administration too. But you know him, right? The personality traits here, they did rub some people the wrong way. What went wrong here for General Flynn? LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I think it's a combination of a couple of things, John, first of all, the character piece. Mike Flynn is a very smart guy, and he's a good intelligence officer. But there have been these lapses in character and in this case, specifically and in other cases, some lapses of integrity. When you tell the truth or you don't completely tell the truth.

Now, sometimes that's a benefit for an intelligence officer. You sometimes have to skirt around things. But when you're in government, integrity is critically important for building trust. Not only inside the team but as was just mentioned, with the American people. In this case, it was a loss of trust with the vice president. But there's a bigger issue here, and it surrounds the integrity of the entire administration. And that has to do with the continual bending of the rules and having this loose association with integrity and then not having the processes which counter those.

What I mean by that is if Mike Flynn is going to make a phone call, and he should, and anybody in the administration knows this. When you make these kinds of important calls or engagements with foreign officials, you better have a process to write down what was said because other people need to know about it, and you need to know you're on the right track. So in my view, it's a combination of character, integrity and lack of processes.

HARLOW: Adam, to you. What about the broader issue of the public's right and need to know what happens between this administration and Russia. Because it's not just now that Flynn is being investigated and - you know for this call with Russia and other potential communications. It's also Carter Page. It's also the former campaign chairman Paul Manafort who was pushed out with an investigation going on right now. And also one of the people that has Trump's ear, Roger Stone. This is a larger picture question, is it not, about this campaign and this administration and Russia?

ENTOUS: Yes, absolutely. I mean, this is obviously something we've seen over and over again. We've had other people that have been close to Trump that have basically been disassociated from him as a result of questions about you know, Russian ties. And you know -- you have to, I think, understand the context here. You know, the Intelligence Community in early December had reached this conclusion that the Russians had intervened in this election -- in the 2016 election, in part at least to try to help Trump.

And then a few weeks later, you know, you have this flurry of phone calls around the same time that the Obama administration is responding to Russia's alleged meddling. And so, you can understand why everybody is - you know the hair on everybody's back is up. You know there's a suspicion out there which you would think would result in additional caution being taken.

You know, why couldn't Flynn, in this case have just told Pence and everybody else, he's not going to give a read-out of this call. Like he's not going to give read-outs of his calls with the British ambassador, let's say. Or, for that matter, he could just say, you know, it came up in passing and that was it or you could have characterized it in another way. I don't really understand why it was necessary, in this case, not to characterize it accurately.

BERMAN: You know, as is often said, it is the cover-up that gets people in trouble. Guys, don't go anywhere. We have a lot more questions right now. And we're waiting to hear from House Speaker Paul Ryan and other House Republican leaders. This is their first chance to address the resignation of Michael Flynn. What will Paul Ryan say? Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:15:23] HARLOW: All right. Let's listen in to a briefing by Republican leaders. We should hear from the House Speaker Paul Ryan in just a moment. Obviously, we want to hear what he has to say about all of this surrounding General Flynn's resignation and what the White House said and did not say. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN BRADY (R), TEXAS: -- by Obamacare with the freedom to buy a health care plan that's right for them and not what's right for Washington. It is portable that can travel with them throughout their lifetime. It's tailored to their needs. Grows with their family and can be changed throughout their lifetime. We're also looking to strengthen options like health savings accounts, sort of those consumer-driven health savings accounts that can help families deal better with the day-to-day out-of-pocket costs that come with health care as well.

So, we are focused on repealing Obamacare, replacing it with the types of reforms that work for patients that return control to the state so they can tailor health care to their needs and restores the free market so Americans just have more choices.

REP. GREG WALDEN (R), OREGON AND CHAIRMAN, COMMERCE COMMITTEE: Good Morning. I'm Greg Walden. I chair the Energy and Commerce Committee and I hail from the great State of Oregon where I did five town halls in the last week. And I'll tell you what. I want to echo what Chairman Brady said. Health care is very important to all Americans. We want to get it right. We've been taking our time to do that. And I think you're going to see us come forward with a replacement bill after we repeal. That makes sure that people have access to affordable health care for the first time.

I've heard from farmers and ranchers and small businesspeople about what's happened to their premiums. How they didn't get to keep their plan. How they didn't get to keep their doctor. And we've met with states. We've met with governors across the country over the last couple of weeks who understand that this is not sustainable. So, you're going to see us move forward on the Energy and Commerce Committee looking at reforms, looking at a better way to provide help to those most in need in our states and the Medicaid population and to allow states to innovate.

Our state of Oregon has had quite a bit of innovation over the years. We've got the CCO's in place. We have actually brought better health care outcomes at lower cost. There are great ideas out there among the states. But right now they have to come back and beg permission from a federal bureaucrat to be able to do much of anything innovative. We want to give states flexibility and we want to give people better health care. We're going to accomplish both in the legislation. We'll be marking up in the near future.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Thank you very much. I want to wish you all a very Happy Valentine's Day but more importantly, I want to wish my wife, Julia, a very Happy Valentine's Day. If the cameras are on -

(LAUGHTER)

MCCARTHY: Would you two like to come back up?

(LAUGHTER)

MCCARTHY: All right. I do want to thank these two chairmen for the work they're doing, providing when it comes to replacing Obamacare. We all know the challenges of what's happening to so many families, the high deductibles, all those that join the co-ops, those 23 co-ops that were given more than $2 billion. 18 of them have failed.

When you look across the United States, those more than 3,000 counties, with now 1,022 of them, those counties, one-third of America only have one health care insurance company. That's the real challenges that continue to fail as we go. That's why we cannot slow down. We have to repeal and we have to replace it. When you look at the functions of what we're doing, focusing on the individual, focusing on the care, the betterment of all of America, these two individuals and their committees are doing the work.

Now, this week, we're continuing to make sure we're reforming and getting the regulatory process in America working right. When you look at the Congressional Review Act, only one time in history, has one ever been signed into law? Two will be signed this week. We'll have passed our 13th by the end of this week. Kevin Brady will actually be on the floor going through unemployment insurance drug testing. So many have been addicted in the past, we should not continue to help the very poor habits but we should give states more flexibility, getting people back to work. That's exactly what we're being able to do.

When you look at these reviews - Congressional Review Acts, what we're doing, especially regulatory, we're helping America get back to work, finding common sense regulations. But also in the long run, what we're doing is making sure a level playing field that states have the flexibility and the protection. So, we look at the other one that we're dealing with when it comes to retirement planning. Making sure those individuals have the same protection in the private sector as also in the public. And I think that's very important looking out after the individual at what this Congress wants to make sure they do. I yield back.

[10:20:12] REP. STEVE SCALISE (R), MAJORITY WHIP: Happy Valentine's Day to my lovely wife, Jennifer, back home.

(LAUGHTER)

SCALISE: I think we know what the Speaker is going to talk about, too, and to all of you, of course. Look, for years now, Americans have been telling us all across the country that Obamacare has failed. It has failed families. If you look at what it has done to the practice of medicine. We've seen so many doctors leaving the practice of medicine. In fact, a lot of them have ran for Congress and got elected to Congress to come and help rescue people across this country from the failures of Obamacare.

And the good news is we've been listening to them and we've committed that if we finally get the opportunity with the Republican House and Senate and White House, that we would repeal this law. And actually replace it with reforms that put patients back in charge of their health care decisions. Health care decisions are too important to be made by un-elected bureaucrats here in Washington. And what we're working on is legislation that will actually put that control back in the hands of families, and patients, and get it out of the hands of these un-elected bureaucrats.

And we're focused on lowering costs for families. One of the biggest failures of Obamacare is that it's made health care more unaffordable and more inaccessible for families with double-digit increases in my home state, Louisiana. A 25 percent increase in health care costs for hard-working families over what they were paying last year. And last year, we saw costs going up again because of all the unworkable mandates and taxes in this failed law. And so, there is relief. There's help coming.

Our committees have been working on this. Our committees have actually been engaging governors in this process. Hearing from people all across the country that have really good ideas about how to put the control of health care decisions back in the hands of patients and focus on lowering costs. It's exciting to see that we've listened to Americans and we're actually doing the hard work.

And this isn't going to be some bill written in the back room like Speaker Pelosi did back on the day before Obamacare came to the floor where she literally wrote the bill in a room where nobody could read it. And it was voted on with people who had never read the bill. This bill is actually being worked on by all of our committees of jurisdiction in publicly view. You can actually watch it on "C-SPAN." Hearings have been held already, more hearings are being held. Committees will be actually taking legislation and having votes and marking them up where people can watch this on "C-SPAN." It's a much better change, much better process. And it's going to result in much better health care for Americans all across this country.

REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS (R), CHAIR HOUSE REPUBLICAN CONFERENCE: Happy Valentine's Day everyone and especially Brian, who proposed to me 11 years ago, today. He did it right.

(LAUGHTER)

RODGERS: As we approach our work as a unified Republican government, our 200-day plan, one of our top priorities is to repeal and replace Obamacare. And with the confirmation of our colleague, Tom Price, as Health and Human Services secretary, we are excited to see him in that position and we trust that he is the best choice to lead in this effort. And his confirmation is just one of those additional steps as we move forward with the repeal and replace of Obamacare.

We're on track. Our committees are going to work on tax credits, on health savings accounts, on Medicaid, on restoring a robust insurance market. Really pleased to have Chairman Walden and Chairman Brady with us today to go into more details on these efforts. We're continuing to work to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a 21st century health care system that works for everyone, including the most vulnerable in our communities, the people with disabilities, the people with pre- existing conditions, the people who need help. Our goal is to ensure that everyone has better access, better options. We want people to be empowered to make the best health care decisions for themselves. It's important to all of us, for all of us, it's personal.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I want to start off by saying, Happy Valentine's Day to my wife, Janna. I'm sure she's watching this on C-SPAN.

(LAUGHTER)

RYAN: Look, our promise to repeal and replace Obamacare is about two big things. First, it is about rescuing people from this collapsing law. Where premiums are getting higher and higher and the choices are getting fewer and fewer to the point where people have no choices left at all. This law is in a collapse, and we have an obligation to rescue people from that collapse. It's also about building a stronger health care system for the country, one that gives every American access to quality, affordable care.

Instead of fewer choices, we want our health care system to be truly competitive. Insurers should compete for your business and treat you fairly. Instead of more mandates, you should have the freedom and the flexibility to choose the plan that best meets your needs.

[10:25:04] Instead of more bureaucracy, the patient and the doctor should be at the center of our health care decisions. Instead of all of this uncertainty, instead of worrying about whether or not yet to find a new plan or new doctor, you should have real peace of mind. That's what our health care system should look like.

All of this will help lower costs and end the annual sticker shock of higher premiums. I fully recognize and respect the strong feelings that people have about this issue. We should be passionate about this issue. It is about people's lives. This affects every person and every family in America. That is why we are taking a step by step approach.

So people can see the changes that we are making. So that they can see how they will help. And working with Secretary Price, we will have a stable transition where no one has a rug pulled out from under them while we work toward a better, more stable system. So this step by step approach will rescue people from Obamacare's collapse and give every American access to affordable quality health care. This is how we deliver on our promise to the American people. This is why we're doing what we're doing. We have to stop the collapse, and we have better ideas that have been time tested that will make sure that we give the American people the kind of relief they deserve. Questions?

Nice shoes.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER (OFF-MIKE): My wife agrees.

RYAN: Do you want to come up and say Happy Valentine's Day to her?

(LAUGHTER)

RAJU: In your opinion, does the American public deserve to know whether the President of the United States directed Mike Flynn to talk to the Russian ambassador about the issue of sanctions during the transition?

RYAN: Let me take a step back for a second. National security is perhaps the most important function or responsibility a president has. And I think the president made the right decision to ask for his resignation. You cannot have a national security adviser misleading the vice president and others. So, I think the president was right to ask for his resignation. And I believe it was the right thing to do.

Let's speak about Russia for a second. I've always been a Russia skeptic and hawk. New administrations these days try to get better relations with Russia. The Bush administration tried to get better relations with Russia. The Clinton administration -- Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration did the reset.

So, I understand it's reasonable and rational to try to improve relations with Russia. That's what new administrations inevitably do. But I'll leave it up to the administration to describe the circumstances surrounding what brought to this point. I think the key is this. That as soon as this person lost the president's trust, the president asked for his resignation and that was the right thing to do.

RAJU: Will Congress (INAUDIBLE) to that?

RYAN: I won't prejudge. I'm not going to prejudge any of the circumstances surrounding this until we have all of the information. Yes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) the travel ban was against our country's principles --

RYAN: No, I said, a Muslim ban would be against our country's principles or religious test. This is not that. Yes?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just to clarify, would you support an independent investigation into Russia's ties, and are you concerned that it seems the White House knew about all of this, this call and everything, three weeks ago and did not -

RYAN: -- To my same answer to Manu's question. I think I'm not going to prejudge circumstances surrounding this. I think the administration will explain the circumstances that led to this. The Intelligence Community has been looking into this thing all along, by the way, just involvement with respect to Russia. I think it's really important that as soon as they realized that they were being misled by their national security adviser, they asked for his resignation. I can't speak to the rest of the circumstances. I think we need to get all that information before we prejudge anything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Speaker, do you have any concerns about the president talking apparently about the North Korea ballistic missile test at Al fresco at Mar-a-Lago.

RYAN: Al fresco, I've never heard that in a -- press conference before. I don't believe that any classified information was discussed. So I think it's important that if classified information is discussed, it's discussed in what we call skiffs. It's my understanding that no classified information was discussed and talking about foreign policy at the dinner table is perfectly appropriate. Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: All right. House Speaker Paul Ryan there, facing questions for the first time about the resignation of General Flynn as national security adviser. He said, the Speaker said, "you cannot mislead the vice president or others in the administration." He thinks it was the right thing for the national security adviser to resign. He may have misspoken though. He said that the president asked for his resignation. I do not believe that is the case. We've been told --

HARLOW: He also said that as soon as the president found out about this, you know, he made sure that he resigned. And the timeline that we have in terms of when the White House knows that is murky at best because they were told by the Department of Justice more than two weeks ago.

BERMAN: Let's bring back our panel right now. I want to start with Ryan Lizza from "The New Yorker". Ryan, you know, we've been here before where House Speaker Paul Ryan is asked to justify something that the president has done or not done.