Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Endorses GOP's Obamacare Replacement Bill; Deputy A.G. Nominee Faces Tough Questions from Senate; Spicer Doesn't Say if Comey Still Has Trump's Confidence; Trump Surprises W.H. Tour with Clinton Portrait Behind Him. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired March 7, 2017 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: He's trying to clean up -- already trying to clean up those remarks, but are remarks like that going to come back to bite him?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think so. It might come back to bite him in terms of Donald Trump. Donald Trump has been the one thing that he wants people covered. He doesn't want to see people dying on the street and not having health care. So I think to his ears, that might not sound so great.

In terms of entitlement reform and being a compassionate conservative, in the way he has talked about Medicare, Medicaid, in social security, he has said he doesn't want to be cut on that. It's going to be a problem when he starts to hear people talk like that and hear all of it that people might be kicked off of Medicaid, the most vulnerable people in some of these states, and red states like West Virginia, red states like Ohio, red states like Kentucky who have expanded Medicaid.

This is the part of the Obamacare debate that hasn't been discussed as much. 10 million folks have been covered because of that Medicaid expansion. And it looks like when folks talk about it, the Congressman we heard today, they are focusing on middle class people. And Obamacare has been tough and toughest in terms of middle class people who don't necessarily qualify for the Medicaid expansion. Maybe in different states where they didn't expand Medicaid. So in many ways it seems like a lot of this is tailored to those folks. It also seems like seniors might have to pay more because, remember, the individual mandate was really designed to spread around the sort of expense and cost of this to make older folks be able to get into this system.

So, you know, Donald Trump is going to negotiate. He's going to figure this out. But a lot of what he's going to be hearing today, I think is going to be comments like Jason Chaffetz. He's been watching "FOX & Friends" and tweeting back at the screen, talking about expanding state -- so you can buy coverage across the states, which, guess what, is already offered. This idea that somehow that's going to be the quick fix to Obamacare and a quick fix to the health care industry and insurance industry is sort of ludicrous because that's already allowed, a lot of states have tried that, and it doesn't work. If you're in New York, you don't -- you're not going to want to buy health insurance in Mississippi because a health insurance plan isn't going to want to have the cost and sort of expense of putting together a network in New York. So it's -- the devil is in the details. We'll figure those out going forward.

BOLDUAN: With health care, the details of messy.


BOLDUAN: You have got Kevin Brady laying out this is a little over 100 pages versus 1,000 pages when it came to Obamacare. Democrats will acknowledge that Obamacare needed fixing but you also -


HENDERSON: Absolutely.

BOLDUAN: But this is where the rubber meets the road. This where one longtime Republican Rick Wilson tweeted out, "I think the House is learning the -- what the bumper tastes like when the dog catches the car."

RANA FOROOHAR, CNN CHIEF ECONOMIC ANALYST: Yes, that's absolutely makes a lot of sense. The thing that's interesting to me here. The iPhone comment made earlier actually underscores the whole problem. We have a global economic system in which things like iPhones keep going down in price. Jobs, everything can be outsourced. But health care is something you get at home and something that operates on a national level. Health care is something you need to be middle class. That's going up in cost. Education is going up in cost. All the things you need to be a middle-class person in this country are going up. But stuff like iPhones are going down and that's part of the entire economic backdrop of the election, really. And it's one of the reasons Trump was elected.

BOLDUAN: A bad metaphor on multiple levels.


FOROOHAR: But it's an interesting metaphor to think about in terms of the way health care and the economy work.

[11:34:48] BOLDUAN: Guys, a lot more to discuss. Stick with me.

Right now, the man who could be in charge of the Justice Department's investigation into Russia contacts and hacks into the election is facing tough questions on Capitol Hill as we speak. You see Congressman Lee -- Senator Lee right there asking questions there. Is this -- this is also important to point out. This hearing is getting a lot more attention than it normally would. We'll take you there. A lot more to discuss.

Plus, President Trump once said the FBI director had a lot of guts for investigating and coming out talking about the investigation into Hillary Clinton's e-mails. But now is that praise and trust on shaky ground?

And President Trump gets a rock-star welcome when he surprises the White House tour. It wasn't just schoolchildren in the room, though. Why was Hillary Clinton there? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)




BOLDUAN: In the hot seat right now on Capitol Hill, Rod Rosenstein. He is facing his Senate confirmation hearing to be the number two at the Justice Department, deputy attorney general under Jeff Sessions. Usually a hearing like this would go largely unnoticed. But today, because now that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself, Rosenstein will be the point person to oversee any investigation into the Trump campaign and Russia's alleged interference in the election.

One of the first questions Rosenstein was asked related to that situation. Listen.


SEN. AL FRANKEN, (D), MINNESOTA: Have you ever met with representatives of the Russian government?

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: Over the course of my career, from time to time, I've spoken to groups of visiting lawyers and judges from foreign countries and it's certainly possible there may have been Russian officials there, but I don't recall any such meetings, no.


BOLDUAN: CNN congressional reporter, Manu Raju, has been watching all of this.

Manu, this hearing has been going on. What's some important bits we've heard so far?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: It's about that independent prosecutor and whether or not Mr. Rosenstein would support an independent prosecutor. This is an issue that Republicans and Democrats have been pushing him on to get a commitment, given that, as the number two of this department, he'd oversee this investigation now that Jeff Sessions has recused himself. Mr. Rosenstein really not saying one way or another how he come down on that issue. Here's his exchange with Dianne Feinstein and Mr. Rosenstein. Take a listen.


[11:40:09] SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D), CALIFORNIA: Do you support the appointment of an independent special counsel to look into these matters?

ROSENSTEIN: Senator, my understanding of this -- and, again, it's based solely on media accounts at this point. My understanding is that at least one of your colleagues called for a special counsel for something related to this matter while Attorney General Lynch was in office in early January, and she rejected the request. And based on media accounts, I believe she said exactly what I said, that she had confidence in the career professionals at the department. But she had an additional piece of information. She presumably knows the facts, and I didn't, and she rejected that request.

Currently, Senator, we have an acting attorney general for this matter, Dana Boente. He was appointed U.S. attorney by President Obama. If there were a need for special counsel, he currently has full authority to appoint one.

So I don't know at this point if Attorney General Lynch or Acting Deputy Attorney General Boente are right or wrong but I certainly wouldn't be in position to overrule them without having access to the facts that are the basis for their decisions.


RAJU: So clearly, that's not an answer that Democrats are looking for.

Patrick Leahy, also a senior member of that committee, just emerged from the hearing room telling reporters he expects, he wants him to make a commitment to back an independent prosecutor.

And this all comes, of course, as the Senate Intelligence Committee is taking part in this investigation. On that committee is Senator John Cornyn, who also sits on the Judiciary Committee, saying, just moments ago, out here in the hallway, telling me he went to the CIA yesterday, got information about the help with his Russia probe along with the top two members on that Intelligence Committee.

So these investigations are going forward, but Democrats want a little bit more. They want that special prosecutor, but they're not getting any commitments as of yet -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: They sure are not.

Manu, great to see you. Thank you so much.

Let's bring back the panel for this side of the story.

Mark Preston, Rod Rosenstein is seen as a straight shooter. By and large, he worked for Bush, worked through Obama. He's seen as a straightforward guy. A conventional pick. Obviously, never thought he'd be in a position like this to have to deal with this kind of thing. Did Democrats really think they'd get him to come forward and say, yes, absolutely, I'll support a special prosecutor as I sit here before you.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EDITOR: If you don't ask, you don't get the answer. Right?


BOLDUAN: I'm told that all the time. PRESTON: I just want a little more. Just a little more.

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

PRESTON: Bottom line is that this is a political play by Democrats. And also, really trying to elevate the issue even more than it already is right now. And what better way to elevate it than to do it with somebody who is going to be Jeff Sessions and will eventually become Jeff Sessions' number two.

Now as you said, he is very well respected. I don't think that Democrats in bloc will not support his nomination. You'll get all the Republicans there anyway.

He is the longest serving U.S. attorney at the Justice Department right now. As you said, he's also very well respected. He's really become a proxy in this battle right now with the Trump administration.

BOLDUAN: And clearly, they're not there yet, Alex, in terms of the Justice Department is not there to say they are going towards a special prosecutor. Do you get a sense where the tipping point would be that there would be outcry or enough pressure from Capitol Hill that the Justice Department would feel the need to go that route?

ALEX CONANT, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the Democrats are in real risk of letting their politics get ahead of the process here. There are existing investigations, ongoing investigations in the Senate Intelligence Committee. The FBI has its own investigation. They need to let those investigations play out. A special prosecutor would only be appropriate if those investigations found something that was worth prosecuting. And we're not nearly at that stage. We have months to go before we get close to that stage.

The Democrats, by insisting on the special prosecutor at this early stage, are not only undergoing the non-partisan investigations, they're making this clear this is about politics for them, not about the actual results.

BOLDUAN: Paul Begala, Democrats overplaying their hand on this?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That's the -- CNN poll this week says two-thirds of the American people want independent counsel on this, and for good reason. Here's why. Operationally, I used to work in the White House. The deputy attorney general is someone you deal with a lot. Let's say that this man is appointed. First, let me just say, really intellectually dishonest to say Loretta Lynch, the Obama attorney general, didn't appoint one so we don't need one under Trump. Here's the different. Should he get this job, he'll be working every day with Jeff Sessions, who was a high-ranking official of the campaign, who met with the Russians and misled the Senate. He could be a witness in any investigation. He's work with him every day. And then you go to the White House and you're deal with Jared Kushner, a top aide to the candidate, his son-in-law, who met with the Russians during the transition. Even with President Bannon, who clearly was top aide and ran the campaign.


BEGALA: You are dealing with people who will be witnesses or maybe even subjects of the investigation. You can't be unbiased. You have to set this outside of your own decision-making. No matter how much hype you come in with, oh, I'm totally nonpartisan, it's just human interaction every day. This is why when Jim Comey was faced with the same choice in the Valerie Plame case, the first thing Comey did, brought in Patrick Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago. Brought him in to deal with that leak case because he couldn't deal with White House officials who he was having to investigate at the same time.

[11:45:34] BOLDUAN: We'll see if he gets confirmed. We'll see if his opinion changes when he becomes deputy attorney general.

All of this, of course, against the backdrop of the president's allegations against President Obama that President Obama wiretapped him.

Jamie Gangel, you have been talking to a lot of Republicans. It seems, by and large, the sense that I get, most everybody, probably everyone, was caught off guard by the president's -- the president's tweet, the president's allegation. What are you hearing from Republicans on how they are dealing with this?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Bewildered, frustrated. They all woke up Saturday morning and said, not again. Whatever happened to that guy who addressed Congress, who stayed on message? What about that that nice Gorsuch? They feel frustrated about it because they feel there are important things to do, to get done, and this is getting in the way of the message. They just don't want it, you know, going on. It interferes with it.

BOLDUAN: Kayleigh, you're shaking your head.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think President Trump has very fair points on this matter, particularly when you had a January 19th "New York Times" headline that read, wiretapped data used in inquiry of Trump aides.

Further, you look at Mike Flynn's communications, which were intercepted when they were allegedly monitoring Russian diplomats, which is a commonplace thing to do, but something also commonplace is minimization tactics. When you come across a U.S. citizen in the course of general monitoring of communications, you are supposed to minimize what you do in monitoring those individuals.


BOLDUAN: There's a lot of questions about -- there is a lot of questions about that minimization, if you will.

But I will -- I want to get to something fun and delightful. Is that in the end, do you really want a congressional investigation or just want the president to pick up the phone and talk to the Justice Department and get this figured out? This is knowable. This doesn't need a congressional investigation. I'm going to throw that out there as a wild idea.

All right. But then there's this. Please roll the video.




BOLDUAN: So President Trump surprises a White House tour as they are just reopening White House doors today. He surprises the White House tourists, as far as we're told by the pool. It's a big group of schoolchildren and chaperons and parent from Alabama.

I saw a couple of things. Let's start with this. First off, what I see is, Mark, do you remember when Kellyanne Conway said Donald Trump needs to do these rallies because they are his oxygen? This, to me, is a smart White House play to get that man the oxygen that makes him happy, get that support and that love that he needs to maybe keep him off Twitter.

PRESTON: Yeah, the adoration he's getting right now is the fuel. And for all the criticism that I have for Donald Trump, which has been, you know, quite a bit in the past few months, I like this. I like the fact that he would actually go out and meet with the people. And these kids will always remember it.

BOLDUAN: And, Paul Begala, you can't miss that we put the image and that Hillary Clinton was part of this surprise as well. Her portrait right there. Would you like to have a caption contest?


BEGALA: The caption should say "Trump with the woman who got 2.8 million more votes than he did."


BOLDUAN: Kayleigh, would you like to take a stab?

MCENANY: Yeah, "We won, and look who is in the White House."


BOLDUAN: And look who is watching over your shoulder as you speak.

All right. Great to see you.

GANGEL: President Trump is going to be tweeting -- President Trump is going to be tweeting his caption in about 10, nine --


[11:49:13] BOLDUAN: Exactly.

Thank you, President Trump. We always appreciate your viewership. OK, everyone, that was fun.

Coming up, President Trump praised the FBI's director's guts during the campaign. So why won't the White House say right now if James Comey currently has President Trump's confidence? That's ahead.



UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Why's the president's view of James Comey right now? Does he have the president's full faith and confidence to stay on as the FBI director?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SSECRETARY: I'm not -- I don't think -- we've only heard unsubstantiated anonymous sources make those claims. I don't think Director Comey has actually directly commented on anything he has allegedly said. I'm not going to comment on what people say he might have said. I think the director is more than capable of speaking for himself.

UNIDENTFIED REPORTER: But what about the president's view of the FBI director?

SPICER: I haven't asked him that yet. I think, obviously, is he focused today, first and foremost, on this -- this effort to keep the country safe.


BOLDUAN: That was Sean Spicer declining the opportunity two times to say whether or not the president has his full confidence in the FBI director James Comey. This is after sources say that Comey was incredulous over the president's allegation that former President Obama wiretapped his phones during the election. Comey was so concerned that his staff asked the Justice Department to publicly reject the president's claim, according to sources over there.

CNN senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is joining me with more on this.

Jeff, where do things stand at this moment, 11:53 on the east, between the White House and the FBI?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, excellent question. We don't know the answer to that. You can be assured that Sean Spicer will be asked about that again today in his White House daily briefing.

Now, we know the FBI Director James Comey was furious by this. We know there are divisions inside the FBI, the Department of Justice over this. What we don't know is how it will manifest itself, and will the FBI director ever go public with this? He will certainly have to testify in the House and Senate as weeks come along here.

But certainly, that was not a ringing endorsement from Sean Spicer there. It's a yes or no answer. Usually, the answer is, yes, you have the president's confidence, until you don't. He will be asked that again today.

Important to remember, the FBI director was appointed, of course, in 2013 by President Obama, but President Trump said he wanted to keep him on. He basically embraced him in the Blue Room of the White House earlier this year. Now it appears that he is incredulous. We'll see how that plays out -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: The status of that relationship is key on many fronts as many investigations are underway.

ZELENY: Indeed.

BOLDUAN: Jeff, great to see you again.

ZELENY: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: As Jeff points to Sean Spicer will be holding a briefing in a short time. Big interest in that briefing as they normal will are.

This also just in. A key moment at the hearing of Rod Rosenstein, President Trump's nominee for deputy attorney general who, if confirmed, would oversee the investigation into the Trump campaign's ties, alleged ties, to Russia, now that Jeff Sessions has recused himself.

Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, he asked about the president's claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama. Listen to this.


[11:55:20] SEN. PARTICK LEAHY, (D), VERMONT: The question is, does the president have the unilateral authority to wiretap somebody's phones?

ROSENSTEIN: I don't know the details and I'm reluctant, as a lawyer, to comment on that. In a criminal investigation, the answer would certainly be no.


BOLDUAN: You have that.

Joining me now is retired FBI special agent, James Gagliano.

James, great to see you. Thank you for being here.


BOLDUAN: I want to get your take. What is your sense of the relationship right now between the FBI director and the president? How critical that relationship is and what the statement that you heard -- non-statement that you heard from Sean Spicer there means?

GAGLIANO: Sure. Just to unpack that, a couple of things here, Kate. First of all, the FBI director, from everyone I have talked to in the FBI, has the trust and confidence of the rank-and-file agents as well as the folks, the senior executive at FBI headquarters. His relationship with the president, of course, that's something I certainly couldn't speak to.

In the history of the FBI, only one director has ever been fired, and that was Direction Sessions, back in 1993, when he served in the Bill Clinton administration. It's not unheard of. Obviously, it's happened one time before, but for it to happen, he would have to resign. The FBI director would have to be fired by the president. He serves at the pleasure of the president, so that could occur. Or Congress would have to impeach him. I can't see that happening. This director has a moral compass that points straight towards the North Star. He has unimpeachable integrity.

If you look at when he was the deputy general in the first Bush administration, if you look recently in the Obama administration when he pushed back and said, hey, there is a thing called the viral-video effect or the Ferguson effect, and that was, you know, refuting what the Obama administration was saying, he is an apolitical actor. I know this for a fact, and I --


BOLDUAN: Of course, a lot of folks during the election, they thought he did very -- he did enter into politics, in speaking out publicly about that investigation. Do you think that James Comey should speak out now?

GAGLIANO: I do not think he will. In fact --



GAGLIANO: I do not think he will for this reason. The Clinton investigation was a closed case at that time. Remember, the additional --

BOLDUAN: They reopened it.

GAGLIANO: They did, but at that time, it was a closed case as far as the FBI was concerned. And the attorney general had recused herself at the time, putting him in kind of an untenable position. In this instance, the Russian investigation -- which everybody knows that the FBI is handing on the counterintelligence end -- is an ongoing investigation. I can't see him seek speaking out on it.

BOLDUAN: If he doesn't speak out, though, how does that relationship work from here on out? That is critical. What the president is charging is that the FBI was involved while Comey was the director, was involved in tapping his phones.

GAGLIANO: Sure. I saw the director of National Intelligence, the former Mr. Clapper, speak out about that and say, absolutely unequivocally he knew nothing about that. Now, is there a possibility, in a FISA court, that the FBI could have

had a case that the director of National Intelligence might not have known about? Yes, but very unlikely. The rumors about the FBI director pushing back the Department of Justice to say, hey, you need to get out in front of this because I shouldn't be in the business of stepping out and saying we either had something to do with it or we didn't.

BOLDUAN: It seems as though something has to give, and I'm not sure what it is with the allegations and the silence from the FBI and the Justice Department.

James Gagliano, thank you for being here.

GAGLIANO: Thanks, to you, too.

BOLDUAN: Quick break. We'll be right back.


[12:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

House Republicans unveiled their Obamacare replacement bill and there are complaints galore, left and right.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Show us the numbers. Show us the numbers about what the impact is --