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Missile Tension Rising on Korean Peninsula; CIA Leaks; Will Republicans Investigate Wiretapping Allegations?; Obamacare Replacement Bill; House to Probe Trump Wiretap Claim in Hearings This Month. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 7, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:03]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: work in progress. The president publicly embraces the House GOP's health care bill, with many crucial details like the cost still a mystery. Tonight, rebel Republicans are blasting their own party's plan as Obamacare-lite. Is it dead on arrival?

Not backing down. The White House says Mr. Trump has no regrets about claiming President Obama tapped his phones during the campaign. The accuser in chief still failing to offer any proof, as Congress agrees to investigate.

CIA breached. WikiLeaks claims to reveal the agency's secret hacking operation using high-tech phones and TVs to spy on people worldwide. I will ask the former CIA Director Leon Panetta for his response to this truly stunning allegation.

And Russian dressing down. The president's nominee for deputy attorney general feeling the heat at his confirmation hearing. Did Democrats get anywhere in demanding a special prosecutor investigate the Trump campaign's contacts with Moscow?

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news this hour: The House Intelligence Committee chairman sets a date for the first public investigation of Russia's alleged election meddling and potential ties to the Trump campaign.

The chairman, Devin Nunes, announcing a hearing will be held on March 20 that will also look into Mr. Trump's claim that President Obama had his phones tapped during the campaign. Nunes joining other top Republicans in acknowledging that he's seen no evidence that the wiretaps actually happened, this as the White House says Mr. Trump has no regret about making the truly stunning claim without offering a shred of proof.

Also breaking, President Trump says he's proud to support the House Republican health care bill. He's warning fellow Republicans that the party will suffer a bloodbath in the 2018 midterm if they fail to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Republican opposition is growing, though, with conservatives coming forward to push for changes in the legislation they're dismissing as Obamacare-lite. The fate of the measure is now in question, as both parties seek critical details, including a price tag and how many people would gain or lose coverage.

Tonight, there are also urgent new questions about CIA spying techniques and the agency's security after the latest bombshell from WikiLeaks. The group posting what it claims are internal CIA documents that describe software used by the United States to break into computers, smartphones and even Internet-connected TVs.

I will talk about that and more with former Obama Defense Secretary and former CIA Director Leon Panetta. And our correspondents and expert analysts, they are also standing by.

First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president is ramping up his public show of support for the House Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he is, Wolf, but this was not a united Republican front on health care today. President Trump did throw his support behind the House Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, but some influential conservatives were howling over the proposal, with some calling it Obamacare-lite.

And barely after the ink was dry, conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation and FreedomWorks announced their opposition along with the House Freedom Caucus. But sitting down with House Republicans who are backing the plan, the president said he does favor the proposal. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: But the House is only one half of the equation. More evidence of the split inside the GOP over health care, four Republican senators announced they're concerned about plans to scale back Medicaid coverage. That, of course, is a key pillar of Obamacare.

And Ohio Governor John Kasich, one of the president's old campaign foes, said today is a bad idea to scale back Medicaid as part of this effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. Wolf, the new HHS secretary, Tom Price, was over here at the White House today calling all of this a work in progress. Indeed, it is. BLITZER: Jim, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, held his

first on-camera briefing in about a week. You were able to press him on the president's claim that his phones over at Trump Tower in New York were tapped under the direct order of President Obama. Explain what happened.

ACOSTA: That's right.

[18:05:00]

Well, simply put, Wolf, the White House once again declined to provide any evidence to back up the president's claims that he was bugged by former President Obama. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the president has no plans to withdraw the accusation, insisting he has no regrets about making this allegation.

I asked him about all of that earlier today. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: The president made a very serious allegation over the weekend, and I think we would all be remiss if we went through this briefing and not try to get you on camera to at least offer some evidence.

Where's the evidence, where is the proof that President Obama bugged President Trump?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I answered this question yesterday on camera on your air, so just so we're clear, I know this will now be twice. But I think I made it clear yesterday...

ACOSTA: Since yesterday?

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Nothing has changed. No, it's not a question of new proof or less proof or whatever. The answer is the same.

And I think that -- which is that I think that there is a concern about what happened in the 2016 election. The House and Senate Intelligence Committee have the staff and the capabilities and the processes in place to look at this in a way that's objective. And that's where it should be done.

And, frankly, if you have seen the response from -- especially on the House side, as well as the Senate, they welcome this. And so let's let the Senate do their job, and the House, Intelligence Committees, and then report back to the American people.

ACOSTA: Will the president withdraw the accusation? Does he have any...

SPICER: Why would he withdraw it until it's adjudicated? That's what we're asking. It's for them to look at this and see if there is... (CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: No regrets from him about raising this accusation?

SPICER: No, absolutely not.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, the White House was also being very careful today about questions of confidence in the FBI director, who privately raised questions of his own about these unfounded claims from the president of bugging Trump Tower.

Asked if the president still supports Jim Comey, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, Wolf, said he has no reason to believe that the president does not.

But, Wolf, you have to question whether the strategy that the White House is implementing here is the right one. Keep in mind, earlier today, the House Republican Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, said he plans to hold hearings on this coming up, and that if you look at the slew of people who may be invited to testify, from the DNI, Jim Clapper, to John Brennan, the former CIA director, Jim Comey, the FBI director, this could really open up a Pandora's box up on Capitol Hill and implode in ways that the White House never intended -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, and both Republican chairmen of the two Intelligence Committees say they have seen no evidence yet to back up what the president said. All right, Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on the president's wiretap claim and the pressure to offer up at least some evidence, even as Congress prepares to investigate.

CNN's Jessica Schneider is with me here.

Jessica, the Trump White House clearly not backing down from this allegation.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, they're not backing down. But they're also not backing up their claims with any evidence.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer today saying the White House will not offer specifics on the wiretap allegations and will only continue to call for those reviews and the congressional investigations.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, the White House refusing to comment on the president's accusation that, as president, Barack Obama ordered Trump's phones tapped when he was a candidate, but the White House reiterating the president's desire to investigate leaks to the press.

SPICER: As the president said in a statement on Sunday, we believe that that investigation, as well as the investigation of other classified leaks and other important information that threatens our national security, be looked into by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

SCHNEIDER: The House Intelligence Committee announcing public hearings on the Russia charges, including wiretapping, beginning March 20. Witnesses will include FBI Director James Comey and former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who was fired by Trump.

The House Intelligence Committee chairman saying he hasn't seen the wiretap evidence.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: I have not seen that evidence. As you know, I think a lot of that was maybe a little bit -- the multiple tweets were, perhaps, a little bit strung together, but I think the bigger question that needs to be answered is whether or not Mr. Trump or any of his associates were, in fact, targeted by any of the intelligence agencies or law enforcement authorities.

SCHNEIDER: The wiretap accusations now also part of the Senate Intelligence Committee's comprehensive investigation.

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, saying it's up to the Intelligence Committee to investigate. When asked if he's seen evidence the former president wiretapped Trump, his response?

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: No, I haven't.

SCHNEIDER: The Justice Department staying mum on the issue. Earlier today, Attorney General Sessions refused to refute the president's allegation.

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Sorry. No comment this morning.

SCHNEIDER: All of this as Rod Rosenstein was grilled on Capitol Hill in his confirmation hearing to become Sessions' deputy. Now that Sessions has recused himself from the investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election, Rosenstein would be the one in charge.

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: ROSENSTEIN: I certainly did read about the tweets that were reported over the weekend, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was your reaction?

[18:10:01]

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: Rosenstein also facing relentless questioning on whether he would appoint a special prosecutor, but he danced around numerous questions on whether that special counsel is necessary.

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?

ROSENSTEIN: Well, I don't know, Senator.

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.

SCHNEIDER: Republicans seeking to shut down the questions. Rosenstein also confronting lingering anger toward Attorney General 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And Senator Al Franken tonight telling CNN he has come to the conclusion that Attorney General Sessions -- quote -- "perjured himself" when Sessions said he had no contact with Russian officials.

Franken did point out that he never even directly asked Sessions a question on that subject during his confirmation hearing. Senator Franken tonight also saying that Sessions' response letter addressing the discrepancy was -- quote -- "ridiculous," Wolf, and he does want Sessions to come back before the committee to explain himself.

BLITZER: At some point, he will have no choice. He will have to come back before the committee which oversees the Justice Department. Jessica Schneider, thanks for the report.

Let's get some reaction to all of these dramatic developments.

Leon Panetta served as the defense secretary of the United States and the CIA director under President Obama. Mr. Panetta is joining us now.

Thanks so much, Secretary, for joining us.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Nice to be you, Wolf.

BLITZER: The president called it a fact. He used the word fact. And Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly told me last night that if President Trump is making these claims, "He's got his reasons to say it. He's got some convincing evidence that took place." That's what Kelly said.

Do you believe there's any evidence to back up this assertion that President Obama illegally wiretapped Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York during the campaign?

PANETTA: No, I don't.

You know, we have heard directly from the head of intelligence, former head of intelligence, the DNI, who said that no such wiretap took place. And we have heard stories from the FBI that indicate that they did not engage in any kind of wiretap.

Those are the two agencies that have the responsibility to request wiretaps. They didn't do it. So, there is no evidence to support what the president has alleged.

BLITZER: What could the consequences of President Trump's claim be?

PANETTA: You know, Wolf, I -- I just find it very difficult when someone who's president of the United States engages in throwing out these kinds of allegations without any evidence to support it.

I mean, this is the president of the United States, and he has a responsibility to speak the truth to the American people. And when he engages in these kind of tweets and throws out these kinds of allegations, I think he weakens the office of the presidency.

So I'm very concerned. I sense that the White House is in a bunker mentality in which, you know, they think everybody is against them. And the president feeling that way is now tweeting out anything he wants to say in an effort to try to divert attention from, I think, their concern about what's happening with the investigation on the Russian situation.

BLITZER: The Senate -- the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, he just said this a little while ago. Let me play the clip for you, what he said about the president's claims and his tweets.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NUNES: The president is a neophyte to politics. He's been doing this a little over a year, and I think a lot of the things that he says, you guys sometimes take literally.

Sometimes, he doesn't have 27 lawyers and staff looking at what he does, which is I think at times refreshing and at times can also lead us to have to be sitting at a press conference like this answering questions that you guys are asking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[18:15:10]

BLITZER: All right, you just heard the chairman call him a neophyte, new to politics, said sometimes he's taken too literally. Is that fair for him to say that?

Is there room not to be taken literally when you are the president of the United States and you make these statements on Twitter or elsewhere? "Terrible. Just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism."

Should we not take the president at his word?

PANETTA: You know, I think President Trump has to understand that he is now president of the United States, that he won the election in last November and he became president of the greatest country on Earth.

He's not the head of "The Apprentice" show. He's not a TV personality. He doesn't have, you know, the convenience of basically saying whatever he wants to the American people and to the world without substantiating that there is any kind of truth to what he's saying.

He just -- he can't do that as president of the United States, without damaging the office of the presidency and without damaging our country. So, look, presidents of the United States have a staff. They're supposed to have people around them who are able to determine what the truth is.

And a president who is responsible will take the time to ask that staff and the people who are working for him, what is the truth and what can I say? And when they provide that truth, then the president can speak. But for him to just throw out these kinds of accusations without any, any bit of evidence to support it, I think, creates a very dangerous precedent in the office of the presidency.

BLITZER: Because you would think that before he would make a serious charge like this against President Obama, he would at least consult with his FBI director, James Comey, who would know, if, in fact, it were true. We're told there was no consultation, no conversation then or even in the days since.

CNN has reported, you probably know this, that Comey was incredulous when he found out what the president was tweeting very early, 6:30 in the morning, Saturday morning. Here's the question to you, Mr. Secretary. Should Comey speak publicly about this and release the facts?

PANETTA: Well, I'm assuming that the FBI director has made clear that this was not the case and has asked the attorney general and the Justice Department to indicate that.

He's going to he's going to be called to testify, and I assume he will have the opportunity to say just that. But to have to go through these kinds of games that are being played right now -- and they're dangerous games, where the credibility of the FBI and the credibility of our intelligence agencies are called into question -- is just sending a terrible message, not only to the American people, but to the world.

I mean, everybody's asking, what the hell is going on in Washington, D.C., right now? And when that happens, it weakens us. It weakens our country. Now, look, the president is going to have to try to get legislation through the Congress. He's going to have to try to deal with, you know, the whole issue of the Affordable Care Act.

He's got to deal with the issue of whether or not we're going to fund infrastructure. He's got to deal with tax reform. If a president undermines his credibility by doing what he did over these last few days, he's going to weaken his power to be able to have any influence over the legislation that he wants to get through the Congress. That just puts us in a very dangerous moment in the history of this country.

BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, I want you to stand by. There's a lot more happening right now, including WikiLeaks releasing what it says is hard evidence of CIA espionage techniques. We will have that and a lot more when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:23:31]

BLITZER: New tonight, WikiLeaks claims that it's exposed highly classified CIA ability to break into smartphones, computers, even televisions to spy on people around the world.

We're back with Leon Panetta. He's the former defense secretary, former CIA director in the Obama administration.

Mr. Secretary, it appears that this WikiLeaks release, this very sensitive, highly classified CIA information about this ability to crack into phones, computers, even smart TVs, if authentic, how damaging is this leak?

PANETTA: I think these leaks are incredibly damaging to the ability of our intelligence people to do the job that they're supposed to do, which is to gather intelligence in order to protect our country.

And when those kinds of leaks are made and can damage the -- not only the sources, but the techniques that are used, and turn that information over to our enemies, that is extremely dangerous to our ability to be able to protect our country.

[18:25:03]

BLITZER: You were the CIA director, so how much could this breach impact other allies, close U.S. allies' trust in the U.S. in handling sensitive, very sensitive information?

PANETTA: Well, obviously, this is all very highly classified information. And when these kinds of leaks are made, and other countries see that this kind of very sensitive information is being leaked, it can impact on our relationship with other intelligence agencies around the world, because they're going to be very cautious about sharing the kind of sensitive information we may need in order to be able to protect our security.

BLITZER: What's shocking to me, and maybe to you, is, after Snowden and earlier leaks, it's happened again. I thought they took steps at the CIA, the NSA, other intelligence agencies, the Pentagon, to make sure this doesn't happen any longer, but, if it's true, it has happened. And that's pretty shocking.

Your reaction?

PANETTA: Wolf, you know, my understanding is that there are literally thousands of pages that were hacked and that WikiLeaks has, and they have been kind of drip, drip, dripping this stuff out, not only during the campaign, but obviously are continuing to do it.

So it is -- you know, it is extremely worrisome that this kind of very sensitive information is just being thrown out there by WikiLeaks and, as a consequence, is making it that much more difficult for our intelligence agencies to be able to do their job.

BLITZER: Speaking of the campaign, during the campaign, the president, then the candidate, he was supportive of WikiLeaks. I want you to listen a few of the comments he made during the campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: This just came out. WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks. Did you see where, on WikiLeaks, it was announced that they were paying protesters to be violent $1,500? Did you see another one? Another one came in today. This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove. Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: All right, when you hear that, what's your reaction? Because the accusation is he was actually encouraging these leaks.

PANETTA: As we have seen, President Trump is very concerned about leaks that indicate what's going on in the White House or what's going on within his administration.

What WikiLeaks is doing and continues to do is to leak the most sensitive information about how our intelligence operations conduct their business. So, I would think that, if the president is truly concerned about leaks, he would not support WikiLeaks, nor would he support any other kind of intelligence leaks that damage our country.

BLITZER: Leon Panetta, thanks very much for joining us.

PANETTA: Nice to be with you, Wolf. BLITZER: Just ahead: The president is trying to ramp up support for

the House GOP's health care bill. But will conservative Republican critics buy it?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The head of the House Intelligence Committee has announced that the first public hearing on Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election will take place. It's scheduled for March 20. The chairman, Devin Nunes, the says the panel will look into President Trump's wiretap allegations against President Obama as well.

[18:33:48] Phil Mudd, the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, he once again refused to provide any backup, any evidence at all to this assertion that the president made in those tweets Saturday morning. Does that suggest to you there really is no evidence to back up what the president claims the former president did?

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Come on, Wolf. It's not an assertion. It's a lie. And the Trump chump-in-chief, that's the spokesman, has to defend his boss.

We went through the beginning of this, where the president lied about accusations that the former president wasn't an American citizen. He lied when he said he'd rip up the Iran nuclear deal. He lied when he said he'd lock up Hillary Clinton. He lied when he said he'd reinstate waterboarding. He lied about the size of his crowd at the inauguration. We've seen lies that are now regarded as accusations.

Let me ask one question to Mr. Spicer that nobody's asked. The predecessor -- Republican, George Bush, Democrat, Barack Obama -- met repeatedly typically weekly with their FBI director to discuss what Mr. Spicer says is the top concern of the president of the United States. That's the security of his country. Those meetings were to discuss terror threats to the United States.

A, is the president meeting his FBI director regularly along with the attorney general weekly? And B, if he is, did he ask him a simple question before he tweeted? "What happened at Trump Tower? And did the former president authorize anything?"

[18:35:12] What's going on with contacts with the attorney general and the FBI director? I don't know, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. We heard from the White House, apparently there have been no conversations between the president and the FBI director before the president made this assertion Saturday morning in those four tweets, 6:30 in the morning, or since, for that matter. But we'll double check that.

David Swerdlick, the White House does say it wants Congress, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, to investigate whether or not the former president wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign. Both of these chairmen, the Republican chairmen of both Intelligence Committees say so far they've seen no evidence to back up what the president claims. They really don't want to investigate, do they? But they have no choice now.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Right. The committee chairmen, like everybody else, like all of us, have not seen the evidence to back up the tweets. And as everyone has already said, Wolf, the president has the power, the authority to get to the bottom of this if he wants. He can declassify any information he wants.

And he's putting it to Congress, it seems to me, to -- to give himself some space from the accusations that he made. There probably is more to this than has already been reported, but there's nothing that has come out that in any way matches the tweets that came out Saturday.

BLITZER: We go to Bianna. Bianna, we did learn today from the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, that they will have an open hearing with a lot of senior intelligence, law enforcement officials, former and current, testifying in open session on Russia's hacking into the DNC, Russia's efforts to affect the U.S. presidential election right now.

Presumably, we're going to learn more about it, but in the declassified statements already, the intelligence community says there's no doubt what Russia was trying to do.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO! NEWS & FINANCE ANCHOR: The intelligence community has been saying that for weeks before this president was officially inaugurated.

And what's interesting is that it goes against what Vladimir Putin -- remember we were talking about the champagne corks that were popping after inauguration? It goes against everything Vladimir Putin and the Russians had envisioned as far as where the relationship with the U.S. would go. And it goes against everything that Donald Trump and his associates thought as well.

And now you're hearing drips and drips left, right and center. There's a report today that Carter Page, an associate, had been given the green light by the Trump administration to go to Russia last summer. There's even speculation as to whether or not the president during the campaign had met with the Russian ambassador.

All of this separate, on their own, would not be something that would cause alarm, but the fact that we haven't heard of this, the fact that we're talking about this every single day, it seems that the pendulum has swung so far to one direction that any Russian you know is somewhat now suspect.

BLITZER: I'm sure we're going to be learning a lot more about all of this. Ron Brownstein, listen to the House Intelligence Committee chairman,

Devin Nunes, describe the president of the United States and his early Saturday morning tweets. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Deputy team, that would be very important...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I don't think we have that clip, but I'll read it to you. At least a sentence or two. This is what Devin Nunes said: "The president is a neophyte to politics."

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

BLITZER: "The president is a neophyte to politics. He's been doing this a little over a year. And I think a lot of the things he says you guys sometimes take literally. Sometimes he doesn't have 27 lawyers and staff looking at what he does, which is at times refreshing, at times can lead us to have -- have to be sitting at a press conference like this, answering questions that you guys are asking."

BROWNSTEIN: You know...

BLITZER: It's pretty shocking to hear the Republican -- a House Intelligence Committee chairman call the president of the United States a neophyte.

BROWNSTEIN: And he's echoing that argument from Trump supporters during the campaign, that the press took him literally but not seriously; and his supporters took him seriously but not literally as a way of explaining away his more outrageous comments.

Look, the president of the United States needs to be taken literally. It is the most powerful office in the world. You know, the words of the president as a saying goes, can move markets and send armies marching.

And I think it is pretty clear, if you look at public opinion, that the biggest headwind facing Donald Trump now, the reason why his approval rating is so much lower than any other president at this point in their presidency is not primarily about his agenda. Not enough as happened yet on the agenda. Starting to but not enough.

But what's happened is there are many Americans who have doubts, who had doubts on election day about whether he had the qualifications, the temperament to succeed as president. He is not assuaging those doubts. He is deepening those doubts in office.

And I think there's no question that this idea that he is someone who is not behaving with the discipline and the control that people usually expect in a president is part of the reason why his numbers are lower than we've seen other presidents at this point in their tenure.

SWERDLICK: The way those tweets came out Saturday morning, they came out as if he was still leading a movement outside of the seat of power. He's now in charge of the government.

GOLODRYGA: And...

[18:40:08] BLITZER: Very quickly, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: And Wolf, at best, this is irresponsible. You think back to during the campaign, where he'd been called out for an interview he had with Howard Stern supporting the war in Iraq. He said, "You know what? I was a private citizen then. I wasn't a politician. I wasn't privy to the information that politicians or the president would have."

Well, now he is privy to that information. So either let us know what it is, or stop these tweets.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by, because there's a lot more coming up, including President Trump today backing the Republican plan to replace Obamacare, while some Republican conservatives now are slamming it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:45:23] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're following the breaking news. Sharp criticism of the newly unveiled Republican health care plan by some congressional Republican conservatives who call it "Obamacare light". President Trump says he's proud to support the Republican leadership plan.

Let's dig deeper once again with our experts and analysts.

Bianna, a lot of unanswered questions. Can they really vote on this very, very sensitive legislation if members don't know how much it's going to cost, how many people will actually be insured, what happens after 2020? Because a lot of these questions as of now are still unanswered.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS & FINANCE ANCHOR: Yes, you'd think they would have had these questions answered before coming forward with the plan. The CBO has not yet scored the plan. So, again, don't know how many people ultimately this would affect, though, S&P said as many as 10 million people could lose their insurance over time.

So, a lot of Republicans even behind closed doors are scratching their heads wondering why the rush? Because they know that they're inheriting something that will now become their issue, their problem, and their agenda as opposed to the Democrats'.

BLITZER: You know, Ron Brownstein, the White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, he said today, I'm quoting him, "This is the Obamacare replacement plan that everyone has been asking for."

But just a few hours earlier, the Senator Mike Lee of Utah, other Republicans, said, "This is not the Obamacare repeal bill we've been waiting for."

How is the White House going to bridge this gap? Because it's a serious gap.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, they've got splintering on two sides. You have conservatives who say the bill does not go far enough in repealing Obamacare and then you have Republicans, more moderate, mainstream conservatives, particularly in states that expanded Medicaid who says that it goes too far in undoing, leaves too many people out in the cold.

As Bianna said, 10 million -- the first estimates that we have. We don't have the definitive Congressional Budget Office estimate because they're moving forward without that. But the first estimate that we had today was about half of all the people who gain coverage under Obamacare would lose it under this bill. And the other key thing, as we talked about before, this bill would shift cost and risk from younger and healthier to older and sicker. A majority of Republican -- Donald Trump's votes in 2016 came from whites over 45. Sixty percent of the House Republicans are in districts where the median age is above the national average. And yet this bill by three different estimates today would raise premiums on people in their 40s and 50s by about 30 percent.

And, again, in the estimate of the S&P, over half the people in that age group who are covered under the exchanges, they expect to lose coverage because they couldn't afford it. So, you have ideology, you also have interests that make this a very complex field to get through.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting, David, because by all accounts this legislation was crafted, was put together strictly by Republicans in the House of Representatives. Doesn't look like any Democrats were involved, but if it's going to pass, presumably, you might need some Democrats especially in the Senate because phase two and phase three will require 60 votes. Republicans only have 52.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Republicans only have 52. I think the test for Democrats is whether they hang together and force Republicans to pass this on their own, as Republicans forced Democrats to do back in 2010. That's on the politics.

What Democrats know from the painful experience of 2010 is that whatever Republicans do, regardless of whether it's too left or too right, they will own whatever comes out, whatever is passed and they're keenly aware of it.

BROWNSTEIN: Real quick, the coverage losses are potentially so big that not a lot of Democrats are going to feel pressured to be a part of this.

BLITZER: You know, Bianna, if it doesn't make it, if conservative Republicans and some moderate Republicans in the Senate, they don't like it, if it fails, is it a failure for the speaker, Paul Ryan, or is it a failure for the president, Donald Trump? GOLODRYGA: Well, it's at least somewhat of a black eye for the

speaker who today called it an act of mercy. This is something that in theory, the Republicans have had, what, seven years to come with. President Trump even in the campaign, early on in his administration, had been somewhat wary about wanting to inherit this, knowing that this would be his problem as well.

So, for now, I mean, you're even hearing now from the American -- the hospital association saying that they cannot accept this bill in its current form. So, a lot of different organizations having different problems with this bill, internally amongst the Republican Party, itself.

BLITZER: Phil, I want to get your reaction, you're a former CIA analyst, officer. This WikiLeaks releasing all these very sensitive highly classified documents from the CIA on how the CIA hacks smartphones, televisions, electronic devices, all over the world for espionage purposes. Your reaction to this bombshell.

PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think there's a couple broad pieces we need to look really painful for an intelligence officer.

[18:50:02] First, look at our traditional adversaries, people like Iran and North Korea. You've got to assume that technical experts in those countries are asking two questions tonight. Are we learning information from these documents about what might be isn't the systems today? And number two, are we learning things we should be defending about tomorrow? They are schooling themselves on this.

Second, Wolf, let me caution everybody who's watching about listening to technologists who say there's not a lot of detail revealed in the documents. Therefore, we shouldn't worry about it.

Not every terrorist I followed was a rocket scientist. We followed a lot of idiots out there. They didn't know a lot about technology and they made a lot of assumptions. They're going to look at this and even a seemingly simple revelation like what apps might be stolen or be available to collection by the intelligence government. They're going to learn from that.

So, don't assume because there's not a lot of detail always that somebody is not going learn, not everybody out there that we chase knew a lot. They're going to read this and learn.

BLITZER: What does it say -- Bianna, go ahead.

GOLODRYGA: I was just saying it's interesting WikiLeaks has yet to penetrate the FSB.

BLITZER: You know, very quickly to you, Phil, because I just want your reaction. After Snowden, this wasn't supposed to happen again to the U.S. intelligence committee, was it?

MUDD: It wasn't. And I think we're in a fundamental place in American history. Back in the 1970s, Wolf, you'll remember the American people started

saying Congress has to exercise better control over the intelligence communities. And that's when there was an executive order saying the CIA can't say assassinate people anymore. That oversight exists today.

In the 21st century, citizens, people at the National Security Agency, defense intelligence are saying, "We don't trust Congress anymore." Individual citizens are going to say, "We're going to dump all this stuff out in a world that says that people should provide the oversight, not even the Congress." I think this is a bigger revolution than people understand.

BLITZER: Yes, serious, serious development indeed if all this is true.

Just ahead, escalating missile tension between the United States and North Korea.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:56:31] BLITZER: Tension in the Korean Peninsula is rising with the arrival of the U.S. anti-missile system in South Korea and following North Korea's launch of a barrage of Scud missiles.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is working the story for us.

Barbara, the United Nations now calling for reduced tension but clearly the opposite is happening.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: It is indeed, Wolf, today the Senate Intelligence Committee briefed behind closed doors about the North Korean threat. This as there are growing signs. North Korea could be preparing for more missile launches and another underground nuclear test.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE0

STARR (voice-over): For the first time, North Korean Scud missile all launching simultaneously.

JU YONG CHOI, NORTH KOREAN DIPLOMAT: The DPRK is firm in its determination to further bolster its defense capabilities with nuclear deterrent as a pivot, so as to put an end to danger of nuclear war caused by the United States.

STARR: U.S. officials say the message here, Kim Jong-un is trying to show Donald Trump a swarm of his missiles can challenge the best of U.S. missile defenses.

North Korea even releasing photos it says show Kim watching the launches. North Korea claiming the missiles were headed for U.S. bases in Japan. The White House quickly reassuring Tokyo.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president reiterated the United States' ironclad commitment to stand with Japan and South Korea in the face of the serious threat posed by North Korea.

STARR: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson headed to the region to discuss the crisis.

MARK TONER, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: It's getting to the point where we do need to look at other alternatives and that's part of what this trip is about.

STARR: The U.S. THAAD anti-missile system is being unloaded in South Korea. It could be operating in weeks.

U.S. officials insist it will protect Japan and South Korea and the more than 28,000 U.S. troops on the Korean Peninsula from a North Korean ballistic missile attack.

The Scuds launched this week are not the big U.S. concern. What worries Washington much more is the missile test last month for the fist time a hard to track mobile missile with solid fuel and capable some day of carrying a nuclear warhead flew landing in the Sea of Japan.

But even as the White House reviews further military options, a U.S. strike on North Korea could result in regional war.

JAMIE METZL, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: Preemptive strikes on North Korea would be extremely dangerous. The North Koreans have already demonstrated that they have the ability to survive that kind of strike and to create tremendous problems and tremendous destruction in major cities like Seoul and Tokyo.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: Millions of civilians would be at risk in both South Korea and Japan, more than 28,000 troops in South Korea, 52,000 U.S. troops in Japan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's really, really a crisis that's going on with North Korea and it's one of the reasons why President Obama told President Trump, North Korea remains the number one national security threat facing the United States right now.

All right. Barbara. Thanks very much. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.