Return to Transcripts main page


Will Republicans Investigate Wiretapping Allegations?; Obamacare Replacement Bill; Interview with Senator Al Franken of Minnesota. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 7, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The one issue that once united Republicans is currently dividing them.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The replacement. President Trump backing the House Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, but we still don't know the answers to the two biggest questions, how many people will be covered and how much will it cost?

Is your smart TV watching you? WikiLeaks releasing what appear to be stolen CIA documents loaded with cyber-secrets -- why you may want to watch what you say around your television or smartphone.

Plus, they protect our ports and our waterways, not to mention the president at his Mar-a-Lago getaways. But now President Trump could leave the Coast Guard high and dry to help pay for his immigration crackdown. But is the bigger border problem actually the one at sea?

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

We're going to start this afternoon with politics. This afternoon, President Trump formally endorsed the health care repeal and replace plan that Republican leaders hope to pass through Congress. It's a plan taking a lot of heat from conservatives for not being a full repeal and for being what some conservatives are calling Republican welfare.

Meanwhile, Democrats are assailing the plan for any number of reasons, including the fact it phases out expanded coverage through Medicaid, replaces subsidies with tax credits, and bans funding for Planned Parenthood.

All the while, the Trump administration is playing defense not just on this bill, but on the various controversies dogging his young administration.

We have reporters covering all angles from the White House to Capitol Hill.

We're going to start with senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny, who joins us from the North Lawn. Jeff, reporters were briefed by the secretary of the Department of

Health and Human Services, Dr. Tom Price today. And the president just met with more than 20 House Republicans. What is the headline from the White House today on Obamacare and the repealing of it?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: He did, Jake. The headline from this is that the president supports the House GOP plan.

I just came from the East Room a few moments ago, as we saw there, and the president was meeting with a lot of rank and file GOP leaders, the people who are in charge of getting the rest of the rank and file on board. And the president expressed to the greatest degree he has yet that he does indeed support this House GOP plan.

He also said that he was elected to help repeal and replace Obamacare and he said, "I suspect many of you were as well." This is what his message was to the House Republicans.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm proud to support the replacement plan released by the House of Representatives and encouraged by members of both parties.

I think really that we're going to have something that's going to be much more understood and much more popular than people can even imagine. It follows the guidelines I laid out in my congressional address, a plan that will lower costs, expand choices, increase competition, and ensure health care access for all Americans.

This will be a plan where you can choose your doctor. This will be a plan where you can choose your plan, and you know what the plan is. This is the plan. And we're going to have a tremendous -- I think we're going to have a tremendous success. It is a complicated process, but actually it's very simple. It's called good health care.


ZELENY: I think he was right, though, when he said it was a complicated process, Jake. The White House realizes that.

The 20 or so House GOP members in the room there meeting with the president are already on board. They are already supportive of this. The harder challenge here comes from many of those rank and file fiscal conservatives who say it simply is not acceptable.

So, the question here is, how much will the Trump organization use its strength from all those campaign rallies, use the muscle of its movement to get behind this plan? We will have to watch that in the coming weeks. But, Jake, the president said he is squarely behind this House GOP effort -- Jake.

TAPPER: Jeff Zeleny at the White House, thank you so much.

As President Trump meets with House Republican leaders, he is embracing their new bill to repeal and replace portions of Obamacare. Here is a look at some of the proposed changes. First, Republicans want to scratch subsidies paid to insurers based on income and replace them with what they call refundable tax credits given directly to you based on age and income. Instead of the individual mandate which requires everyone to get insurance or face a penalty, under the proposed plan, someone with insurance who lapses in payments would face a 30 percent surcharge by insurance companies.

Republicans also want to overhaul Medicaid expansion and lift taxes that Obamacare imposed on the rich, insurers and on drug manufacturers.

CNN's Phil Mattingly is on Capitol Hill, where House Republicans are now trying to sell the plan not only to their colleagues, but also to Democrats and to the American people.

Phil, do you see any potential roadblocks for this bill getting through the House and Senate as it stands right now?


PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No shortage of them at this point, Jake.

"We have got work to do." That was the text message I got from a GOP official who supports the plan just a short while ago. The help that Jeff Zeleny was outlining coming from the Trump administration certainly appreciated, there's no question about it.

This is a numbers game and right now work is certainly on the menu.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is Obamacare gone.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Less than 24 hours after the House GOP Obamacare repeal bill finally saw the light of day:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the first and most important step to giving relief to Americans from this terrible law.

ZELENY: House and Senate conservatives are already threatening its very existence.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I think the bill as it stands really is dead on arrival. I don't think it's going to ever arrive in the Senate. I think it's dead on arrival in the House.

ZELENY: Bolstered by pressure from outside conservative groups, including this rally from Koch brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity, just a football field away from the Capitol Building.

TIM PHILLIPS, AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY: They are going to have the shortest lived majority in the modern era if they fail to fully repeal Obamacare. ZELENY: Moderates have long been wary of looming Democratic attacks

on how many people the bill will actually cover, something sources tell CNN the Congressional Budget Office has told GOP leaders will likely fall far short of Obamacare's projections.

(on camera): Is it your view that the metric of how many people are covered is not the proper way to gauge the success of a health care proposal?

REP. GREG WALDEN (R), OREGON: Well, you know, it's interesting because if you go back to what CBO predicted would be covered on the exchanges today, they are only off by about a 2-1 ratio. There were 21 million they projected would be covered. Ten million are actually covered.

ZELENY: Conservatives remain increasingly skeptical of the refundable tax credits that would replace Obamacare subsidies and provide aid for individuals without employer insurance to purchase plans.

PAUL: Conservative across the country aren't going to accept it. It does a couple of things we find unacceptable. It keeps the Obamacare subsidies, but just renames them as refundable tax credits.

ZELENY: Then there is the restructuring of Medicaid, a hot-button issue across the country, given the program's expansion many states took under Obamacare. Four GOP senators said they will oppose any bill that doesn't protect enrollees in their states.

WALDEN: What we're trying to do is what we pledged we would do, is not pull the rug out from anybody.


ZELENY: And, Jake, I got into journalism explicitly not to do math, but math here is very important. If you look kind at how things stand right now in the House, House Republican leaders can afford to lose 21 Republicans.

And keep in mind Democrats are unified in their opposition to this bill. Over on the Senate side, they can only afford to lose two of the 52 Republicans they have in the majority over here. That is not a lot of room to work with and it's worth noting they are moving quickly on this.

Committees expected to take up these bills tomorrow. House Republican leaders say they want this bill on the floor before the end of the month. Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell today telling reporters he's just going to take up the House bill, try and get this done within the next couple of weeks.

The reality is with the amount of work to do, with the limited amount of space they have, in terms of losing members, that push both from the Trump administration and Republicans on Capitol Hill to try and solidify the support very, very important, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill for this evening, thank you so much.

Elsewhere on Capitol Hill today, Democrats grilled the nominee for deputy attorney general over how he might handle a Justice Department probe into Trump campaign advisers' contacts with Russia, given that he would be the one in charge, since Attorney General Sessions has recused himself from the matter.

He was also asked about President Trump's evidence-free allegations that President Obama wiretapped him during the presidential campaign, a charge that the FBI director says is false.

CNN's Jessica Schneider is live in Washington for us.

Jessica, Democrats had some more pointed questions today than one would regularly, typically expect for a deputy attorney general nominee.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, this would typically be a low-key, little-noticed confirmation hearing for the number two spot at the Justice Department. Well, instead, it was a fireworks- filled, tense showdown over what to do about Russia's election meddling and the president's own wiretapping allegations.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Russia and wiretapping dominating what would normally be a routine confirmation hearing. Deputy Attorney General Nominee Rod Rosenstein today confronting lingering anger toward Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: I think Senator Sessions should come back. I think he owes it to this committee to come back and to explain himself.

SCHNEIDER: Senator Franken still stewing seven weeks after A.G. Sessions told him he was not aware of Trump campaign contacts with Russia.

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: And I consider what Senator Franken asked Sessions at that late moment that that story just came out as a gotcha question.

FRANKEN: It was not a gotcha question, sir.

GRASSLEY: It was, from the standpoint he didn't know what you were asking about.

SCHNEIDER: Rosenstein facing relentless questioning on whether he would appoint a special prosecutor. Now that Sessions has recused himself from the investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election, Rosenstein would be the one in charge.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: So, I'm trying to figure out what your bottom line is. I interpret that as a no. Is that fair? ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: Well, I don't know,


I think the answer is, I'm simply not in a position to answer the question because I don't know the information that they know, the folks who are in the position to make that decision. I view this as part of -- it's a political issue and it's a completely legitimate issue for you and I respect your right to consider it.

But my view is that I have a responsibility when I take that oath, if I become deputy attorney general, I cannot take it conditioned upon having committed how I'm going to handle a particular case.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans seeking to shut down the questioning.

GRASSLEY: Any talk of a special counsel is premature at best.

SCHNEIDER: Sessions today refusing to answer questions on President Trump's tweets accusing former President Obama of wiretapping him. Senators grilled his would-be deputy.

ROSENSTEIN: I certainly did read about the tweets that were reported over the weekend, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was your reaction?

ROSENSTEIN: I don't think it's appropriate for me to share my reaction, Senator. If the president is exercising his First Amendment rights, that's not my issue.

SCHNEIDER: Trump's wiretap charge is now part of the comprehensive investigation by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

RAJU: Do you believe the president when he says that?

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Well, like I said, it needs an investigation so we can find out what the facts are. So, we will follow the facts wherever they may lead.

SCHNEIDER: Spokesman Sean Spicer saying the White House will no longer comment.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think if we were to start to get involved, you would then write stories about how we are getting involved. So, it's a no-win situation. I think the smartest and most deliberative way to address the situation is to ask the House and Senate Intelligence Committees who are already in the process of looking into this.


SCHNEIDER: And breaking in just the past few minutes, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, seen there, announcing the first public hearing on the Russia investigation. It will be March 20. So, he has just announced that, the latest information coming into us.

Of course, this has gotten all members of Congress talking. In fact, the most recent, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell joining that correspond us of congressional members who say they have not seen any evidence backing up the president's wiretap claims.

So, a lot of questions swirling, Jake, but, of course, that first public hearing just announced, it will be set for March 20 -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jessica Schneider, thank you so much.

He grilled Jeff Sessions over Russia. It's a question that helped lead to Sessions' recusal. So, what does Senator Al Franken think of the attorney general's latest answer about his contacts with the Russian ambassador? We will ask him next.



[16:16:26] SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: I consider what Senator Franken asked a at that late moment came out was a gotcha question.

SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: It was not a gotcha question, sir.

GRASSLEY: It was. From the standpoint that he didn't know what you were asking about.

FRANKEN: But I said that as I was asking the question. I said, you don't -- haven't heard this and I don't expect that you have heard it.

GRASSLEY: Senator Tillis --

FRANKEN: Look at the tape, Mr. Chairman.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Fireworks between Senators Chuck Grassley and Al Franken during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this afternoon over Attorney General Jeff Sessions' explanation about why he testified that he, quote, "did not have communications with the Russians," unquote, last year, despite the fact that the truth is he met with Russia's ambassador twice, though he insists he did so in his capacity as a senator not as a Trump campaign surrogate.

And Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, joins me now.

Thanks so much for joining us, Senator. Appreciate it.

FRANKEN: You bet.

TAPPER: So, yesterday, Attorney General Sessions sent a letter defending what he told you during his confirmation hearing. Just to bring our viewers back to what this is about, your question talked about the story CNN broke at that moment about whether there may have been contacts between Trump campaign advisors and Russians known to U.S. intelligence and whether U.S. intelligence had been monitoring it.

Here is the end of your question with then-senator, now Attorney General Sessions.


FRANKEN: If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign, and I didn't -- did not have communications with the Russians. And I'm unable to comment on it.


TAPPER: Since then, it came out that he had actually met with the Russian ambassador twice although he said he did so in his capacity as a senator and not a campaign surrogate. President Trump even went on to say that, Sessions, quote, "could have stated his response more accurately." Sessions yesterday amended his remarks to the committee saying that his answer was correct and that he, quote, "did not mention communications he had with the Russian ambassador over the years because the question did not ask about them."

What's your response, sir?

FRANKEN: That's a ridiculous response. It's not a clarification at all.

Of course, the question didn't ask about the Russian ambassador. I didn't ask him -- he answered a question that he asked himself, which is, did I meet with any Russians, and he answered it falsely. He said, no, I hadn't.

So, this response -- listen, I've been cutting him a lot of slack. I've been refusing to say that he lied. I've wanted to wait for this letter to come out. It's hard to come to any other conclusion than that he just perjured himself.

TAPPER: So, you think he perjured himself. What do you think the penalty should be, do you think he should resign?

FRANKEN: I think he should come before the committee and explain this. Of course, no one asked him about the Russian ambassador. He is the one who volunteered that information that he didn't speak to anybody and it turned out he had met twice with the Russian ambassador, once a private meeting.

And he had seven weeks to just notify us. This is about the Russian government hijacking our election. And this is about whether there was any collusion in that interference by the Trump campaign.

[16:20:05] And it raises all kinds of questions. What do the Russians have on Trump? Why is he being so complimentary to Putin all this time? His son said in 2008 that we have a lot of Russian money coming into our operation or in our organization, our business organization.

We need to see the president's income taxes. He lied about that. He said you can't release your income taxes if you're under audit. Yes, you can.

TAPPER: Uh-huh.

FRANKEN: Also, we asked -- he was asked to produce a letter from the IRS saying you're under audit. He can't produce that.

TAPPER: Senator, let me ask you, you have been criticized by Republicans, Senator Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said your question was a gotcha question. Folks on "Fox and Friends" -- I'm not sure if you saw it -- but they criticized --

FRANKEN: I don't. I don't watch "Fox and Friends". It's in the morning and I'm usually getting off to work.

TAPPER: Just to bring you up to speed, I think they criticized some of the individuals there criticized your question as meandering and confusing.

Bottom line, is it possible that Senator Sessions, Attorney General Sessions thought that you were talking about talking to Russians in the capacity as a campaign surrogate versus as a senator?

FRANKEN: I asked him a very clear question, which is that if this information turned out to be true, that members of the Trump campaign were -- had been talking to the Russians, what would you do, meaning, what would you do as attorney general? And he just answered in a completely different question and said, I haven't talked with the Russians, and that answer was false.

I -- listen, these people on "Fox and Friends", they can say anything they want. It's very clear that I did not trick him into saying "I didn't meet with the Russians".

TAPPER: The nominee for deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, would not commit today to supporting the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate contact between Trump campaign staffers and Russians. Are you satisfied that he could lead a fair Justice Department investigation given that the attorney general has recused himself? And will you support him for deputy attorney general?

FRANKEN: I really haven't decided yet. I was a little unhappy with the fact that he had not read the intelligence organization's -- even the unclassified report on the Russia interfering with our elections. And that seemed to me odd, seemed to me he deliberately did that so that he could say I don't know anything about this. But I thought that was odd.

But I'm not exactly certain how I'm going to vote right now.

TAPPER: All right. Senator Al Franken from the great state of Minnesota, thank you so much, sir. Appreciate it.

FRANKEN: Jake Tapper from Washington, D.C.

TAPPER: Breaking news coming from Capitol Hill right now. The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee saying there is no evidence, at least not yet, on President Trump having been wiretapped by then-President Obama. We'll talk about all of this with the panel, next.

Plus, leaked documents showing CIA spying tactics. Can technology in your own home be used as listening devices? That's ahead.


[16:27:47] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Continuing with our politics lead, we have lots to talk about with my panel so let's get right to it.

Charles, let me start with you. Republicans unveiled the replacement plan for Obamacare. You tweeted, "Maybe someone can convince the ninth circuit to strike down this health care proposal so the House GOP has to work it from the ground up." Why the opposition?

CHARLES COOKE, EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE: Well, I think it was introduced badly and I think the substance is not great. The poor introduction, it seems that the parliamentary procedures here are going to be very complicated.


COOKE: There are some things they can do with 50 votes, some things they need 60 votes. And then because the bill delegates so much of the executive branch, they need the executive to be involved, too. But they didn't explain that. And so, when they released this bill, people thought, oh my god, this was the whole thing. So, there's been some pushback.

But there's also the substance of it. It's not going to please conservatives because it doesn't go far enough. It doesn't do what conservatives wanted either, which was to not just reset America to the status quo ante, but to make the insurance market so there was more portability, more flexibility.

And it seems to me if they do pass this, which I don't think they will, they are going to end up owning the problems Obamacare continues to have without really getting a great deal for it. I think that is why there's been so much push back.

TAPPER: And, Governor, Democrats obviously oppose it. They have the exact opposite problem with it. They think it takes away too much.

JENNIFER GRANHOLM, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it -- I mean, it takes a huge -- gives a huge tax break to people at the very top, the 0.1 percent will get on average a $200,000 tax break. CEOs for companies will not get -- their income will not be taxed. And it causes people to lose their health care.

And I would just say this, as a governor, the notion of the expansion going away --

TAPPER: The Medicaid expansion.

GRANHOLM: Right, the Medicaid expansion going away is horrible when you consider who it serves, people who -- the expansion part of it, people who have incomes under $16,000 a year.

So, Democrats are saying, who are we that we would be giving to the rich and taking from the poor when what we ought to be doing is fixing the things that need fixing with Obamacare, but don't throw the baby out with the bath water.

TAPPER: Abby, let's talk about the politics of this. It looks like there are a lot of hurdles. The conservative block, you heard Rand Paul earlier in the show, very opposed to this. They think that this refundable tax credits are Republican welfare they're calling it.