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FBI Chief Briefs Top Congressional Leaders; Trump: Health Plan Doing 'Great'; FBI Investigation Continues into Computer Link Between Trump Organization & Russian Bank; WikiLeaks Warns It Has 'A Lot' More on CIA Hacking; Michael Flynn Registers as Foreign Agent for Pre- election Work. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 9, 2017 - 17:00   ET


TAPPER: Thank you to so much. That's it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over to Wolf Blitzer.

[17:00:06] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. FBI briefing. The director of the FBI goes to Capitol Hill to brief a handful of congressional leaders who have access to the most highly classified intelligence.

Computer link? CNN learns the FBI is continuing to investigate an odd computer link between a Russian bank and the Trump Organization.

All night long. With high-pressure sales pitches and round-the-clock committee meetings, the White House and Republican congressional leaders make a push for their Obamacare replacement plan. But amid fierce opposition, the White House says it's not trying to jam anything down anyone's throat.

And "grave concern." As WikiLeaks publishes what it says are CIA files about worldwide cyber spying and promises more to come, the White House voices grave concern about any release of classified information.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news: FBI Director James Comey goes to Capitol Hill and meets with top House and Senate leaders, the so-called Gang of Eight, members of both parties who have access to the most highly classified intelligence information. The meetings come as some of the lawmakers have said they were not informed about key investigations.

The ranking Democrat in the House Intelligence Committee vows very public hearings on President Trump's unfounded claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama. While on the wider Russia probe, Senate intelligence sources say they want all the Trump associates who allegedly spoke with Russian officials to testify.

All of that as CNN learns the FBI is continuing to investigate an odd computer link between a Russian bank and the Trump Organization.

And backed by the White House, congressional Republican leaders are trying to push through their plan to replace Obamacare. Speaker Paul Ryan today made a PowerPoint sales pitch, but House Democrats have put up stiff resistance and the bigger threat to the bill is strong resistance from Republican conservatives.

Some GOP senators are telling House colleagues to slow down or even start all over. President Trump has tried coaxing conservatives on board, but sources say he has a back-up plan: allow Obamacare to fail and blame the Democrats. We'll speak live with Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut.

He's a member of the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin right now on Capitol Hill where the FBI director, James Comey, has been briefing congressional leaders. Let's go straight to our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju.

Manu, what are you learning?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, right now James Comey meeting behind closed doors with top House leaders who have access to the most secret intelligence, most classified intelligence in the country. Those are four leaders, the top Republican and Democrat in the House Intelligence Committee and House Speaker Paul Ryan, as well as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Now, this came after a meeting that Comey had with top senators, four top senators earlier today, as well.

Now, we are told that this is all part of the larger investigation into Russia. Russia meddling, as well as any connections, if there are any connection between people in the Trump universe, Trump campaign and Russian government officials during the time of the elections.

Now, this all comes, Wolf, as questions are being raised about whether or not these Trump associates will come before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Some top senators on that committee are telling me they do want to hear directly from Paul Manafort, who was the campaign manager for Donald Trump, as well as other top Trump associates to come and testify before that committee behind closed doors.

And, Wolf, as James Comey does talk to these members, we are told this is an opportunity for them to ask directly about those allegations that Donald Trump leveled over the weekend, that he was wiretapped by President Obama, ordered -- President Obama had ordered to spy on the president of the United States, then the president-elect during that time, during the transition as well as during the campaign. We are told this is likely to come up. We'll see what Comey says at this private briefing that is happening right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Manu, we'll get back to you. Manu Raju up on the Hill.

It may take all of President Trump's vaunted deal-making ability to sell the Obamacare replacement plan being pushed right now by Republican congressional leaders. Democrats, obviously, they've been digging in their heels, but the real resistance is coming from plenty of Republican conservatives.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta. Jim, a very tough sell for the White House right now.

[17:05:00] JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. President Trump met with congressional Republicans today as GOP opposition appears to be building against the White House plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.

The White House claims the GOP is not trying to rush the bill through Congress when, in fact, that's exactly what they're doing.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Making only brief appearances in front of the cameras, President Trump is scrambling behind closed doors, along with top Republicans, to sell the GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare.


ACOSTA: Tweeting, "Despite what you hear in the press, healthcare is coming along great. We are talking to many groups, and it will end in a beautiful picture."

But that's not the picture painted by conservative critics, from Senator Tom Cotton who tweeted, "To my friends in the House, pause. Start over. Get it right. Don't get it fast."

To Tea Party groups that call the proposal "Obamacare Lite."

TIM PHILLIPS, AMERICANS FOR PROSPERITY: They're not going to be fully repealing Obamacare. If they vote for the House plan that was put forward just a couple of days ago. They're going to be breaking their word to the American people.

ACOSTA: Part of the frustration: the White House and Republican leaders are trying to race the plan through Congress, moving the bill through two House committees before the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has a chance to estimate the proposal's costs. A CBO score the Senate majority leader wants to see.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: I think we need to know that, yes.

ACOSTA: The White House insists there's no rush.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're not jamming this down people's throat. We're welcoming ideas and thoughts. We think this is a great -- the vehicle to restore a patient-centered healthcare bill, to drive down costs.

ACOSTA: House Speaker Paul Ryan bore the message of urgency on his rolled-up sleeves prodding lawmakers by PowerPoint.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Let's get into why this needs to happen and why it needs to happen now. Options are disappearing fast. This law is in the middle of a collapse, and people are quickly losing their choices.

ACOSTA: President Trump warned a group of rebellious Tea Party leaders at the White House they're helping their opponents. But sources tell CNN the president told the conservatives if the GOP effort fails he plans to let Obamacare collapse and then blame Democrats who dismissed the White House strategy.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Well, you know, it's indicative of the fact that the president really doesn't know what he's talking about when he talks about the Affordable Care Act.

ACOSTA: Now it's Democrats who have traded places with Republicans who bitterly opposed Obamacare when it was rolled out.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Trumpcare, simply put, is a mess that gives you less for more. And Trumpcare doesn't discriminate -- discriminate against which Americans it hurts.

ACOSTA: Healthcare is hardly the only headache for the White House, with press secretary Sean Spicer still struggling to answer whether the administration is aware that the president is under investigation over his campaign's contacts with Russians.

SPICER: I'm not aware, I don't believe -- look it up in a thesaurus, find some other ways. But I don't know that there's a distinction there that's noteworthy, but we're not aware. I don't believe that that exists.


SPICER: That's based on that I've not been aware of. I mean, but that's the answer to that. Someone is asking me if I'm made aware of something and the answer is no.


ACOSTA: The president's "Art of the Deal" skills are about to be put to the test. He is expected to hit the road to sell the GOP healthcare plan. That's in addition to what the White House is calling a campaign event in Nashville set for next Wednesday.

The problem for the businessman turned president, Wolf, is that he's selling a product many in his party aren't ready to buy.

And as for the wiretapping investigation, we should point out White House press secretary Sean Spicer declined to answer whether the president has spoken with FBI Director James Comey about the president's unfounded claim that former President Obama bugged him. That's a pretty relevant question now considering the FBI director is up on Capitol Hill, Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly is. We're watching that meeting as closely as we can. Jim Acosta, thank you very much. There is more breaking news right now. New information tonight about

questions around computer communications this summer between servers owned by a Russian bank and the Trump Organization.

Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, and our investigative reporter Jose Pagliery have been looking into all of this for us. Pamela, first to you. What have you learned about this investigation?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've learned that FBI investigators and computer scientists continue to examine whether there was a computer connection between the Trump Organization and a Russian bank called Alfa Bank. This is according to several sources familiar with the investigation.

This is the same server mentioned in a Breitbart article that a White House official said sparked Trump's series of tweets last Saturday, accusing investigators of tapping his phone. CNN is told there was no FISA warrant on this server.

But questions about the connection between the server and the Russian bank were widely dismissed four months ago as an attempt by Alfa Bank to block spam. But we have learned that the FBI's counterintelligence team, the same one looking into Russia's suspected interference in the 2016 election, is still examining it.

One official I spoke with said the server relationship is somewhat odd and perplexing, and investigators are not ignoring it, but the FBI still has a lot more work to do to determine what was behind this unusual activity and whether there's even any significance to it.

[17:10:10] The FBI declined to comment. The White House did not respond to the asks for comment.

BLITZER: Hold on a moment. Jose, explain to our viewers what's so odd about these communications.

JOSE PAGLIERY, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what's so odd about these communications is that this Russian bank repeatedly looked up the unique Internet address of a particular computer server in the United States being used by the Trump Organization. In the computer world, it's the equivalent of looking up someone's phone number over and over again. And while there isn't necessarily a phone call, it does usually indicate an intention to communicate. That's according to several computer scientists we spoke to.

Now, a group of computer scientists who obtained these leaked Internet records, records they were never supposed to make public, they were puzzled as to why a Russian bank was trying to do this so often. Was it trying to send e-mail to the Trump Organization? These scientists couldn't tell.

Now, last summer during the presidential campaign, the Russian bank looked up the address to this Trump corporate server some 2,800 times. That's more look-ups than the Trump server received from any other source. The only other entity doing that many look-ups for the Trump server was the Spectrum Health. That is a medical facility chain led by Dick Devos, the husband of Betsy Devos, who was later appointed by the U.S. president as education secretary.

Now, those two entities alone made up 99 percent of the look-ups. Computer scientists we spoke to found that just plain weird. All the corporations involved say they never communicated by e-mail with the Trump Organization, and they have different explanations for the server activity. But they haven't provided that proof; and they don't agree on what the explanations are.

For example, the Russian bank thinks it was receiving Trump Hotel marketing last summer, but it hasn't provided CNN with a single e-mail to back that up. Meanwhile, the American marketing company that would have been sending those Trump e-mails said it wasn't doing that at the time.

Alfa Bank, for its part, has stressed that none of its top executives have had any affiliation at all with President Trump or the Trump Organization. They said that "Neither Alfa Bank nor its principals, including Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven, have had or had any contact with Mr. Trump or his organizations."

So, in essence, this potential computer link remains a mystery.

BLITZER: Does remain a mystery indeed. Jose and Pamela, guys, thanks very much for that reporting. We'll stay on top of this development of course.

Joining us now Democratic congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: Let me get your immediate reaction to the reporting we just heard about this FBI investigation into a computer link between a Russian bank and the Trump Organization. Your committee is already investigating any Trump campaign contacts with Russia. Is this, as far as you know, related?

HIMES: Well, hard to say. You know, anything that is underway, any investigation that is underway is something that, A, the FBI may not tell us about, and we've sort of dealt with that on a couple of occasions. Or, B, it would probably be something that we could not talk about if it was the subject of an open investigation.

What I can tell you, Wolf, that is maybe helpful in thinking about this is that, when you think about the Russian government, when you think about the Russian leader, you know, we have three branches of government here in the United States: judicial, legislative and executive. In Russia, there's a fourth branch, if you will, which is the oligarchs and the business leaders who surround Vladimir Putin, who have been enriched over time by Putin's direction of lucrative state contracts or lucrative state assets to those oligarchs.

So the idea that there might be a bank or a business person or even a whole company which, from time to time, acts as sort of a proxy, if you will, of the Russian government is something that might sound strange to American eyes but is not strange to those people who know how Russia and the Russian government operates.

So the idea that there might be a bank involved here isn't, in and of itself, odd considering the sort of tie-ins between Russian business and the Russian leadership.

BLITZER: Were you aware, Congressman, this investigation into this bank and this Trump Organization computer server is ongoing?

HIMES: Well, I'm not, and if I were, I probably couldn't talk about it. Again, this is a point of some frustration. As you've heard from ranking member Adam Schiff, a critical part of us doing the investigation in the permanent select committee on intelligence is getting the information the FBI has. Because of course, the FBI, if they are doing investigations, they are the ones out there with the -- with these agents, with the capabilities to actually get the information.

And to date, as you heard Adam Schiff say, we haven't had entirely forthcoming answers from the director of the FBI on the nature of their investigations and certainly what those investigations have turned up.

So, as you pointed out earlier, there's a meeting right now between the Gang of Eight and Director Comey. It's possible that this is a topic of conversation. But as we do this investigation, we will continue to ask him those questions, because he's the guy with the answers.

BLITZER: As you point out, the FBI director, James Comey, is right now up on Capitol Hill. He's meeting behind closed doors with key lawmakers in a very secure room up at the Capitol. As of now, Comey hasn't made any public comments about President Trump's assertion that President Obama wiretapped him during the campaign.

[17:15:10] Is the FBI director addressing those claims, as far as you know, at this meeting? Is that a subject?

HIMES: I have no idea, and it's unlikely that I'll be told. As you know, the most sensitive classified material that the government has sometimes is not briefed to the broader Intelligence Committees themselves. Sometimes that material is briefed to the Gang of Eight. That is the ranking member and the chairmen of the two committees, Senate and House, and of course, the leadership of the Senate and House. That's the Gang of Eight. They see things and hear things that regular members of the committee like myself don't necessarily have access to.

That, of course, being another sort of awkward element of this overall investigation. So I don't know the answer to your question and, you know, we'll see if the broader committees find out and when.

BLITZER: Sources on the Senate Intelligence Committee tell CNN they want all of the Trump associates who spoke with Russian officials during the campaign to testify. That would include Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. Should the House Intelligence Committee call testimony from those individuals, as well?

HIMES: Well, I think the answer to that is a clear yes, you know. I mean, at the core of this investigation, there's a lot of aspects to it, broadly, questions around whether there was knowledge within the Trump campaign of the hack that the Russians engineered. There's all sorts of questions about what compromising information the Russians could have on our president. You know, there's a lot there.

But certainly, this is an easy one to get to. You know, have somebody come before the committees and say, "Did you talk to the Russians, and if so, what was the subject matter?"

Now it's quite possible -- look, people talk to the Russians all the time. So it's quite possible that a lot of those discussions were very innocent. But what makes it particularly important is we've now had two episodes, Michael Flynn and Jeff Sessions, where there were denials made about conversations. And you sort of say to yourself, why would those denials have been made if these were truly innocent things? And of course, those denials subsequently turned out to be not entirely true.

So with that as context, of course it's important for us to get to people who may have been talking to the Russians in front of us to make sure that we understand the full extent and content of those conversations.

BLITZER: Congressman, there's more information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. I need you to stand by. We're learning new details now about Michael Flynn, the president's former national security advisor. He's now registered with the Justice Department as having been a foreign agent of Turkey during the final months of the campaign and was paid more than half a million dollars. We'll have that and a lot more right after this.


[17:22:10] BLITZER: We're following breaking news. The FBI director, James Comey, he's up on Capitol Hill right now, briefing top lawmakers behind closed doors. We're standing by to see if he or any of the lawmakers will speak following that briefing.

In the meantime, Representative Jim Himes of the Intelligence Committee, he's still with us. Congressman, stand by. I want to get some background on some other important stories we're following before we get back to you.

Just days after WikiLeaks published what it claims are secret CIA documents on worldwide cyber spying, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange says there's a lot more where that comes from.

Let's bring in our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott. So what's the latest on this, Elise?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Julian Assange says he wants to give tech companies much more detailed information about these CIA hacking techniques before he releases that information to the public.

Now, these are tools WikiLeaks says the CIA uses to break into servers, smart phones, and computers and TVs of Americans. Now speaking from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he's been seeking asylum since 2012, Assange said he is giving the info to the Apples and Googles and Samsungs of the world so that they can, in his words, "develop fixes" and prevent others from being hacked.


JULIAN ASSANGE, WIKILEAKS: The Central Intelligence Agency lost control of its entire cyber weapons arsenal. The -- what appears to be the largest arsenal of Trojans and viruses in the world that attacks most of the systems that journalists, people in government, politicians, CEOs, and average people use. Didn't secure it, lost control of it, and then appears to have covered up that fact.


LABOTT: The CIA has not authenticated the documents. A spokesman said that the CIA collects foreign intelligence overseas to protect Americans and is prohibited from targeting individuals in the U.S.

But the FBI has launched a criminal investigation into who was responsible for providing this material to WikiLeaks. And the CIA, Wolf, is looking into the damage caused by the leak of these documents.

BLITZER: And what are we learning about Michael Flynn, the president's former national security advisor, now having registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for work he did just before the election?

LABOTT: Well, he just registered this week for work he did last fall for a Dutch consulting firm owned by a Turkish businessman with ties to President Erdogan. Now, he shut the firm just after the election, but his lawyer says he's registering now, because the work, which earned him about half a million dollars, may have benefited the Turkish government.

Now, part of that work was researching Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, which the Turkish government blames for last year's failed coup attempt, and on election day, Flynn wrote an editorial in a U.S. newspaper, calling Gulen a radical cleric and saying the U.S. should extradite him, something the Turks were looking for him to do.

[17:25:19] White House secretary Sean Spicer was asked about this today.


JOHN ROBERTS, FOX NEWS: Was the president aware that Lieutenant General Michael Flynn was acting as a foreign agent when he appointed him to be the national security advisor?

SPICER: I don't believe that that was known. I would refer you to General Flynn and to the Department of Justice in terms of the filings that have been made.

ROBERTS: Had the president have known that, would he have appointed him?

SPICER: I don't know, John. That's a hypothetical that I'm not prepared to ask [SIC]. I don't -- I don't know what he discussed prior to -- prior to the appointment in terms of his background, his resume, his client base. I don't know any of that.


LABOTT: Now, Spicer said Flynn was just talking to various individuals in the course of his job. But Flynn was not registered as a foreign agent while he was doing this work.

President Trump has had very strict vetting procedures for his cabinet and top advisors. He was against hiring any lobbyists, so if Flynn was registered as a foreign agent at the time of the election, doing work to benefit the Turkish government, it's very highly unlikely, Wolf, he would have set that high bar that President Trump laid out for his advisors.

BLITZER: Important development there. All right, Elise, thanks for your reporting, as usual.

We're back with Democratic Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut, a member of the Intelligence Committee. The WikiLeaks disclosure of these alleged CIA cyber-spying activities, how damaging is that, Congressman, to American national security?

HIMES: Well, first of all, we need to find out, as members of the committee, whether this is true. This, of course, is a story today. We will be briefed. We will be asking a lot of questions of the CIA.

It is not the policy of the U.S. government to confirm if particular bits of software, whatever, did in fact originate in an intelligence agency. But of course those of us who operate behind closed doors will be asking a lot of tough questions.

There's two things I'll say about it, though. No. 1, if this is true, if it is true that a whole series of tools, software tools that the CIA might have used to get into networks or whatever it is that they might -- first of all, it's important, as your reporter clarified, for Americans to know that the CIA, unlike what Assange is alleging, would not use those against Americans. The CIA is a foreign intelligence organization, and so they wouldn't do that.

But if it turns out that these stories are accurate, of course, this is a -- this is a terribly concerning thing. And it comes on the heel of a four-year period in which we saw, first, Edward Snowden make off with a lot of very, very sensitive information, and a couple of other subsequent events at NSA that have been much reported upon, where it just is starting to feel to somebody like me, who is an overseer, like it's pretty darn easy to walk out the door with some pretty sensitive secrets at our intelligence agencies. And that's something that we have obviously got to both get to the bottom of and stop. The other important thing here, Wolf, is it's important that people

know this. Look, WikiLeaks and Assange are not some objective transparency-oriented organization. This is a malevolent group. All Americans need to ask themselves is why is it that, time after time after time, there are embarrassing revelations out of WikiLeaks that are harmful to the United States? But oddly, there are not disclosures that are -- that are embarrassing to the Russians or to others around the world.

So this is -- people shouldn't be under the impression that this is some fair actor who is out there, you know, fighting for transparency. This is a malevolent group with a guy who is bad enough that he can't leave an embassy in London, because he is wanted by law enforcement. And need to judge the accuracy that WikiLeaks is coming from, based on that -- on that context.

BLITZER: Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut, thanks very much for joining us.

HIMES: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Still ahead, a new challenge from Vladimir Putin's Russia. A U.S. general says an illegally-deployed missile poses a threat to most U.S. and NATO facilities across Europe. How will the Trump administration now respond?


[17:30:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: We're following the breaking news. The FBI Director James Comey is up on Capitol Hill right now, briefing the leaders of the House and the Senate Intelligence Committees, plus, the top members of the both -- the top leaders of the Senate and the House.

Let's bring in our political experts. And, David Chalian, it's interesting he decided to go up to the Hill, meet with them there instead of inviting them to -- over FBI headquarters here in Washington. The suspicion is he wants to send a message.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, first of all, he wants to show that he's deferring to their oversight responsibilities here and going there. He wants to show that he is willing to share information. And my guess, because we don't know the content of what he says, but my guess is he also wants to get a little control of this story because it's spreading like a wildfire and he wants to contain it a little bit. And so, I think he's trying to keep Congress focused on fact versus fiction as all of these stories about Russia continue (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: There had been some complaints that he wasn't being forthcoming enough in past -- in the past few days. Now, he's actually meeting with them. Let's see what happens.

Gloria, our Congressional Reporter Manu Raju was reporting that the intelligence committees would like -- some of the former Trump associates like Paul Manafort, the former Campaign Chairman, Michael Flynn, former National Security Advisor, Carter Page, to actually come before the committees and testify. How potentially damaging could that be to the Trump administration?

[17:35:03] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think just the optics of it is potentially damaging. And I think, you know, President Trump has really lit a fire under Congress when it comes to this question of Russia and the question of wiretapping. And I think that by tweeting as he did last Saturday, he kind of started this rush to investigate. And members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, quite frankly, are becoming quite aggressive. And that is why James Comey is up there, because they want answers to questions, and that is why they are saying, you know, "We're going to subpoena some people who are in Donald Trump's orbit during the campaign," because, of course, the issue is, was there any collusion between the Russia and the campaign. And I think they're going to continue on this until they have satisfactory answers that they can report to the American public.

BLITZER: Let's talk about a repealing and replacing Obamacare. Mark Preston, as you know, a growing number of house conservative republicans are coming out against the speaker's legislation. He went into great detail explaining it today. But there are other problems in the Senate right now, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a republican, he tweeted this morning, "House health care bill can't pass Senate without major changes. To my friends in House: pause, start over. Get it right, don't get it fast."

So, even if it were to pass the House, you know, you lose three republicans in the Senate there, 52-48 majority, it's not going to go anywhere.

MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It's not going to go anywhere. And the problem with this bill is not only opposition on, you know, from conservatives, hard line conservatives, more centrist republicans as well are concerned that it might actually kick people off the health care roll.

So, folks such as Susan Collins from Maine, is not going to embrace this bill either. So you have this really weird marriage of conservatives and more centrist types of republicans that are not going to support this bill.

So, it has an incredible amount of work to do. And I will say this about Donald Trump, he talks about himself being such a great deal maker, well, if he gets this done, this could be one of the biggest deals that he makes certainly as president.

BLITZER: Yes. Yes. It's sort of like, David, you know, the House Speaker, Paul Ryan, the president, they're sort of wary of taking ownership of this legislation right now. Is it Trumpcare right now or Ryancare?

CHALIAN: Well, today, it was certainly Ryancare. I don't think Paul Ryan has been all that reticent to take ownership over it. In fact, the last three days, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday -- today, since the bill was released Monday night, Paul Ryan has been out before cameras in each of those days, talking about it, selling it, and today he did that whole PowerPoint presentation. So he, I think, is taking real ownership.

Donald Trump has been doing a little bit more behind the scenes. Mike Pence has been working the Hill, working some local television interviews. We'll start to see more Trump travel coming for it. But remember -- as you look at this whole thing, Wolf, each stage of it has its own psychology that goes along with it. So, if indeed they can get the bill through the House, all of a sudden, it's going to be a different animal, psychologically, on the Hill, because it will have passed a major hurdle as it moves its way to the Senate. And with each phase new negotiating points are in place.

BLITZER: So Gloria, is it Ryancare? It looked like that today, or Trumpcare?

BORGER: Well, I think it looks like Ryancare to me, and Ryan is out there doing his Paultalk. Is that what we call it? You know, explaining what it is and how it's in three parts. And this is why we have to do it under so-called "reconciliation" because we only need a majority of the vote, and the -- and the good stuff will come down the road. And I think part of the reason for the rush -- and I think Senator Cotton knows this very well -- is that they want to get this done before a big recess. So, members of Congress don't have to go home and get hit over the head by their constituents about the problems they have with this legislation.

So, I think they're pushing it because they know that the longer it sits out there, and you guys tell me if I'm wrong, the longer it sits out there, the more it really is in jeopardy.


PRESTON: Well, you know, but make no mistake, if it does go down, it will be -- it will be called "Trumpcare", because voters know who Donald Trump is. Probably, a lot of voters don't know who Paul Ryan is.

BLITZER: Everybody stand by. There's new information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM, as well as, a pretty surprising statement today about the U.S.-Mexico border wall from the Senate majority leader. We'll explain when we come back.


[17:40:00] BLITZER: We're showing you some live pictures from the -- from Capitol Hill right now. Behind the closed doors right at the back of the screen over there, the FBI Director James Comey is meeting secretly, privately with leaders of the House of Representatives right now, including leaders of the intelligence committee, and the leaders themselves, democrats and republicans. We'll see if they make statements once they walk by. We're standing by for that very important information, presumably, being passed along.

In the meantime, let's get back to our panel. And Gloria, let me start with you. The Department of Homeland Security right now says illegal border crossings are down 40 percent in the last month. As you know, Donald Trump campaigned on the promise of building a border wall. Whether he could take credit for this, it still is happening right now under his watch. Can he get some credit for this decline in illegal border crossings?

BORGER: I think he can because talk of tougher enforcement often leads to a reduction in flow. I mean, there are groups that have studied this and gone back to 1986, when you had Ronald Reagan's immigration reform, and the same thing happened, that there was a reduction in flow across the border because (AUDIO GAP) afraid of crossing the border, being deported, getting caught. And so, obviously, all the publicity about what's going on about illegal immigration now in this country, it would -- it makes a lot of sense that it has stopped some people from coming across.

BLITZER: Yes, he can presumably take some credit.

BORGER: Sure, yes.


BLITZER: I'm sure he won't be shy about doing that either. All right. Mark, the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was asked about that border wall, that the president wants to build along the border. Listen to the exchange he had.


JAKE SHERMAN, POLITICO SENIOR WRITER: Do you believe that Mexico will pay for it?



BLITZER: That was a pretty blunt answer. But I think a lot of republicans are coming to that conclusion right now.

PRESTON: Right. Mitch McConnell is a man of brevity, and -- but when he says something, it actually means something. And he's just speaking for everybody else out there, whether a democrat or republican. Perhaps, if you're a Trump supporter, you believe that Mexico is going to pay for the wall, but Mexico has always said, "We're not going to pay for the wall." You have republicans right now who acknowledge that a wall needs to be put up, but the fact of the matter is, there needs to be offsets in order to pay for it. And Mitch McConnell is just speaking the truth right there. Mexico is not going to pay for that wall.

CHALIAN: Of course, he didn't come up -- if Mexico is not paying for the wall, Mitch McConnell did not come up with the pay (INAUDIBLE) of to how that wall --


PRESTON: He certainly didn't -- he didn't come up with a list of offsets.

CHALIAN: Exactly.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: And it's not going to be cheap. But, David --

BORGER: And by the way --

BLITZER: Yes. Go ahead, Gloria.

BORGER: Wolf, we don't have the estimate about what health care reform is going to -- is going to cost, you know, the repeal of Obamacare. So, you put the $23 billion estimate of the wall, we'll see how much reform of health care could add to the deficit, and then you're talking real money, as they say. And that could be a problem for a lot of deficit hawks in the Congress.

BLITZER: Although, the Congressional Budget Office, presumably Monday, they're going to release their estimates. But you see, some republicans now are already -- I don't know if they're smearing the CBO, but they're making it clear, some of the estimates earlier were not very --

CHALIAN: Certainly laying the groundwork that they are going to call into question whatever the CBO says as not the be-all and end-all number.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure they will. All right, guys, thank you. Don't go too far away.

Coming up, we have details of a dangerous new military provocation from Russia. U.S. General says the Russians deliberately and illegally deployed a missile that puts U.S. facilities across Europe at risk.


BLITZER: We're looking at live pictures from Capitol Hill right now. The FBI Director James Comey is briefing top law makers behind closed doors. We're standing by to see if he or any of the lawmakers will speak on cameras. You see the microphones standby.

There's also growing concern tonight about what a top U.S. General says is a treaty-breaking missile deployment by Russia.

Our Brian Todd has been looking into this for us. Brian, what's the latest?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, U.S. officials are so concerned about Vladimir Putin deploying these dangerous weapon systems, that they're coming out and accusing Putin in the open of violating an important treaty. The Kremlin is denying everything. But experts say, this ramps up tensions, and is another instance of Putin testing President Trump.


TODD: U.S. officials tonight, openly challenging Vladimir Putin over a dangerous missile threat. General Paul Selva of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says the Russians have deployed a land-based cruise missile, violating a treaty between the U.S. and Russia, signed 30 years ago.

PAUL SELVA, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF VICE CHAIRMAN: The system itself presents a risk to most of our facilities in Europe. And we believe that the Russians have deliberately deployed it in order to pose a threat to NATO and to facilities within the NATO area of responsibility.

TODD: From the Kremlin today, an emphatic denial. Putin spokesman saying, quote, "We disagree and reject any accusations on this point."

The prohibited cruise missile is likely similar to a permitted ship- based version. U.S. officials told The New York Times, the new missile is called the "SSC-8", that the Russian have got two battalions. One at a test site, the other deployed somewhere else in Russia.

OLGA OLIKER, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES FOR RUSSIA AND EURASIA PROGRAM SENIOR ADVISER AND DIRECTOR: Cruise missiles do have certain capabilities, ballistic missiles don't. They're maneuverable, they hug the ground. You know, they're a bit like an airplane, right. So, it means that missile defenses ineffective as those are against a lot of ballistic missiles but they're even less effective against cruise missiles.

TODD: The alleged missile treaty violation could be the latest in a series of aggressive moves by Putin. In recent weeks, U.S. official say, he sent a spy ship to patrol in international waters, just off the coast of Delaware. And Russian warplanes buzz the U.S. Navy destroyer in the Black Sea, a move U.S. officials called "unsafe and unprofessional". The Russians denied it.

OLIKER: The signal is that the Russians can do this. "We're back, we are important, we're a great power. We can challenge you."

TODD: And analysts say Putin wants the U.S. and its allies to back off his door step.

KEITH DARDEN, AMERICAN UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: He would like Russia to have a sphere of influence. He would like the United States and other powers not to interfere in the territories that were once part of the Soviet.


TODD: A key question tonight, how will the U.S. respond to the new Russian threat? President Trump told an interviewer he is concerned about the alleged treaty violation and will take it up with Vladimir Putin if and when they meet. Analysts say the U.S. could pressure Putin by expanding missile defenses in Europe or deploying more nuclear missiles, which they say would be dangerous. Wolf?

[17:55:13] BLITZER: Certainly, it would be. All right. Brian, thanks very much.

Coming up, our breaking news. The FBI Director James Comey right now is up on Capitol Hill, briefing top House and Senate leaders, members of both parties with access to the most highly classified intelligence information.


BLITZER: Happening now. Breaking news. Secret briefing: FBI Director James Comey meets with top Congressional leaders who have the highest level of security clearance. Is he sharing classified information that could have impact on a high profile investigation?

Registered foreign agent: we're learning more about the overseas contacts of fired National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn.