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WH: "Trump Delivers in First Jobs Report"; FBI Dir, Congressional Leaders Hold Closed Meeting; Medicaid Expansion Timeline May Complicate Repeal; Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 10, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- and fully a priest, if that should come to pass. We'll have to wait and see.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Delia Gallagher, for us live in Rome. Delia, thank you so much for that. A lot ahead, let's get started.

Good morning, everyone, I'm Poppy Harlow.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm John Berman. Jobs, lots of them. The breaking news this morning, the new jobs report from February. This reflects the first full month of job growth since Donald Trump took office.

HARLOW: Right. And the president retweeting some reporting on it, the Chief of Staff Reince Priebus tweeting this, "President Trump delivers in first job report 235,000 new jobs and unemployment rate down to 4.7 percent. Great news for American workers!"

But let's remember, he didn't tweet this. Let's remember, this is from a president, he didn't believe the job numbers, basically called all the numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics bogus. I think he likes these numbers. Let's bring in our chief business correspondent Christine Romans.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I would say so, because if he's going to create 25 million jobs over the next ten years, he needs to see more months like this. So let me show you what it looks like. 235,000 net new jobs in month. It was a very strong January as well.

And when you look all out over the past last year, this number, interestingly, almost exactly what this number was last year, when it wasn't the animal spirits of Donald Trump, you know, fueling business optimism, but it was just an economy that was starting to roar. Unemployment rate 4.7 percent, ticking down. I think it would've done a lot better. The jobless rate would have even fallen further if people weren't coming off the sidelines.

BERMAN: Which is always good news.

ROMANS: More people coming in, you want to see that. That's job growth over the past year. You can see February matches exactly February of last year. The jobless rate down steadily from those terrible old days in 2010 when we saw about 10 percent unemployment. So this has been a steadily improving labor market.

You will hear, though, people say, oh, wait. There's another job number that's terrible, the underemployed. Those count people who are working part-time but would like to be working full-time. Look at how nicely that has come down as well. Even in good times, you have an underemployment rate. People in the labor market who feel like they're not being utilized well enough. That number getting better and better.

Where are the job gains? In business, 37,000 net new jobs there. Those are higher paid jobs. Those are office jobs. Those are information technology, lawyers, architects, construction, 58,000, manufacturing, 28,000. I'm going to keep watching that number.

Because you have a president who is cajoling companies to add jobs in the United States. You have a debate in Washington about tax reform. That would penalize manufacturing jobs overseas that ship that stuff here. So maybe you'll start to see ahead of tax reform adding some manufacturing jobs to the United States. We'll have to wait and see.

BERMAN: All right, Christine Romans thanks so much. The market up about 78, 80 points out on this news --

ROMANS: That's going to raise rates next week. That's why.

BERMAN: All right. Good to have you here with us. We'll cover that with you when it happens.

All right, any minute now, actually soon, in the next hour or so, we are going to hear from President Trump. I imagine he may want to talk about jobs. But it's also possible he might, might take questions for the first time since his evidence-free claims about being wiretapped. He's said nothing so far out loud in public about it, at least so far.

He'll be meeting with chairs of House committees when he's going to be talking about, the plan is to discuss the ideas to repeal and replace Obamacare. As far as that goes, there are new signs he might be willing to support changes in that plan.

HARLOW: And on Capitol Hill, FBI director James Comey going behind closed doors meeting once again with the gang of eight, those top lawmakers. He met with senators. He met with members of the House. What was said about Russian hacking in the election, meddling in the election? And also, what was said about any evidence behind the president's claims of being wiretapped?

Also, CNN has new reporting about investigations into a, quote, "odd link" between a big Russian bank and the Trump organization. Our Joe Johns is at the White House covering all of this for us this morning. Good morning, Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. The president is expected to meet with the chairs of five committees that are handling the health care situation on Capitol Hill with a view, as you said, toward making good on the president's key promise during the election to repeal and replace Obamacare. Those are committee chairs from the Budget Committee, the Ways and Means Committee, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the Education and Workforce Committee, and the Judiciary Committee, just keeping that full-court press on health care going.

Meanwhile, as you said, behind the scenes on Capitol Hill, they have started to ramp up the investigation into the Russia and its interference in the last election, including questions of contacts between people in the Trump campaign and people connected to the Kremlin. Jim Comey, the FBI director on Capitol Hill meeting with the gang of eight, that bipartisan group of leaders including the House and Senate leadership from both parties and the top two members of Congress on both of the Intelligence Committees. Comey has not said much about what was going on, despite the fact that some House members are complaining, he hasn't been forthcoming enough.

[10:05:03] He's in a situation where he's dealing with what appears to be a criminal investigation, and he doesn't want to give up a lot of information that could jeopardize that investigation. Still, we do have the report and the plan of a March 20th open public meeting of the House intelligence Committee. And the question is just how open and transparent will that be. John and Poppy, back to you.

BERMAN: All right, Joe Johns for us at the White House. Of course, we'll have the new developments this morning, this report from CNN that there is an investigation into what's called "odd links" between a Russian bank and the Trump organization. One of the reporters who broke that story CNNMoney investigator reporter Jose Pagliery. He joins us right now. Jose, what do you learn?

JOSE PAGLIERY, CNNMONEY INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: Now, Poppy and John, what we've got is news about this investigation, Joe just talked about. This investigation led by the Counterintelligence team at the FBI, extends to looking at potential communications between a computer server in Russia belonging to a Russian bank and a computer server here in the United States that was used by the Trump organization.

What's so odd about this potential communication is that this Russian bank repeatedly looked up the internet address of a computer server in the U.S. used by the Trump organization. In tech terms, that's the equivalent of looking up someone's phone number over and over again. And while there isn't necessarily the phone call that usually indicates an intention to communicate. That's the information we got from several computer scientists we spoke to.

Now, a particular group of these scientists who obtained these leaks internet records. Records that they were never ever supposed to make public. They were puzzled as to why in the world was the Russian bank doing this. Was it trying to send e-mail to the Trump organization, some other communication? These scientists couldn't tell.

Now, let's remember, when this was, last summer, during the presidential campaign. So, the Russian bank was looking up the address to this Trump corporate server some 2,800 times. For perspective, that's more lookups than this server received from any other source. The only other entity doing internet lookups like this, as frequently, was a server owned by Spectrum Health. That's a medical facility chain led by Dick DeVos, the husband of Betsy DeVos, who was later pointed as U.S. Education secretary by President Trump. Those two entities alone made up 99 percent of these lookups.

Now, these computer scientists we spoke to said that that's just plain weird. As a response, all the corporations involved have told CNN they've never communicated by e-mail with the Trump organization. And they do have competing theories and explanations about what actually was going on. But they don't have proof that they provided to CNN.

For example, the Russian bank thinks it was receiving hotel marketing e-mail from the Trump organization last summer. That's a pretty reasonable response. But it hasn't provided CNN with a single e-mail to back up that theory. Meanwhile, the American marketing company that would have been sending those Trump hotel e-mails says it wasn't doing so at the time.

Now, Alfa Bank for its part stressed that none of its top executives have any affiliation at all with the Trump organization or President Trump. In a statement to us, they said that, "Neither Alfa Bank nor its principals, including Mikhail Fridman and Petr Aven, have or have had any contact with Mr. Trump or his organizations." So, in the end, what we have here is a potential computer link that remains a mystery, nothing nefarious necessarily, just a bunch of questions that haven't been answered.

HARLOW: And a bunch of questions that you asked the administration and the organization as well. Let us know if you get those documents and answers, -- Jose, thank you very much. Let's discuss all of this and more. Of course, the fight over Obamacare, repealing it and replacing it, with David Fahrenthold, CNN contributor and reporter for "The Washington Post." Alex Burns is also here, CNN political analyst and national political reporter for "The New York Times."

And Alex, let me begin with you because Jose points out very importantly, there is no smoking gun here. -- What this is being called is just an "odd" connection, a number of lookups between, you know, the Trump organization's server and this Russian bank, Alfa Bank server. There may be no "there" there, but the context of it all matters.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST AND NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Sure. And you know, I think Jose was very careful, very precise in describing what we know and what we don't know. And this is, you know, really should be seen as one in a growing pile of question marks that the administration is confronting on Russia, that the Congressional investigators are going to be asking about later this month, that the FBI reportedly is looking at.

But the truth is, you know, it's sort of beyond looking for smoke and looking for fire. It all feels like this incredibly dense and extensive bog right now. And this is kind of what happens when you don't have the same kind of public scrutiny and public transparency that you had for a lot of those investigations conducted by the Republican Congress during the Obama administration, by the Democratic Congress during the Bush administration. BERMAN: And the first time this will be done out in public, David, will be March 20th, when the Intelligence Committee - the House Intelligence Committee will hold hearings, much of which will be open. And the last question there, to me it's interesting that the FBI director James Comey was up on Capitol Hill yesterday meeting with Congressional leaders.

It seems to me that they must know at least some of the answers to the questions, the burning questions out there. Did President Obama order wiretaps on President Trump, you know, something for which there is no evidence of. I would think they would have flat out ask, the FBI director that. So, I kind of wonder what happens, these - you know, these next ten days before this public hearing, how much of this might leak out.

[10:10:04] DAVID FAHRENTHOLD, CNN CONTRIBUTOR AND REPORTER "THE WASHINGTON POST:" It's a great question. So, we've seen leaks from within the FBI few days ago, where it apparently, Comey told the Justice Department, he wanted them to sort of publicly disavow this theory from President Trump that President Obama had wiretapped him or wiretapped Trump Tower before the election.

The Congressional folks that have talked to Comey have been very tight-lipped so far. They've been sort of communicated concern. They're unusually not talkative for members of Congress after they've met with Comey. We don't really know anything about what they've learned from Comey so far.

HARLOW: So, I think there is somewhat of a tie, If you will allow me to make the tie between this wiretapping investigation -

BERMAN: An odd link, as it's called. --

HARLOW: And an odd link to -- there you go, to Obamacare and the president's cell. And give me a moment to do this. I just wonder because the senior source tells our Jim Acosta, "The more this thing is shaky, the more people can back away." That source also told Jim, where is Trump, he should absolutely be more visible on this one.

I wonder if you think that the reason the president isn't out as much in front, being the salesman that he is or the deal man that he is on Obamacare, Alex, is because he knows the first time he is in front of cameras taking questions, the questions aren't going to be about that. They're going to be about where's the evidence for the wiretapping claim you made. Did he hurt himself? Did he put himself in a corner?

BURNS: I think he clearly did put himself in a corner. Whether that's driving the fact that he's so cloistered right now, I don't know. When you talk to Republicans in Washington, people I have spoken to over the last few days, they say that you know, they're biggest concern on the president and health care is that he might not in his heart of hearts want to fully commit himself to selling this thing.

So, it's a combination of these other issues that are swirling out there that the White House doesn't particularly want to have the bait dangled in front of the president on. And then just the substance of the health care issue that, what happens if a reporter asks him straight up, you know, you committed never to cut Medicaid, do you stand by that. What would he say?

HARLOW: But he's going to have to answer that question.

BERMAN: Sooner or later, you expect he will. You know, the questions is David, that Alex brings up is, does the president support this plan or does the president support a plan? It seems like he wants to get something through but he may not care as much as say, Paul Ryan does about exactly what's in it. That could be a problem. We're learning overnight from sources inside the meetings, maybe the White House will be willing to give on sun setting the Medicaid expansions earlier. That would be a pretty big concession and one that may change the vote calculus on Capitol Hill.

FAHRENTHOLD: Yes, but it certainly that's true, the reports coming out of those meetings yesterday was that President Trump seemed more inclined to move to the far right position on the Capitol Hill, the House Freedom Caucus's position, which basically cuts access to Medicaid two years earlier than the Paul Ryan plan.

That would bring some House Freedom Caucus folks on board. But it might alienate a lot of people, more moderate Republicans. And it might alienate a lot of folks in the Senate. There's Republican senators who note that their states are now very dependent on the expansion of Medicaid, a lot of people in Arkansas, Kentucky, Alaska, depend on that kind of expanded coverage. And if they take that away, especially if they take it away sooner, it's a penalty for them. So I don't think it makes it more likely to pass overall.

HARLOW: It helps him arguably in the House. It hurts him with moderates in the Senate. And you got to get through both. We're hearing from Sara Murray's reporting Alex, that the president is going to go on a charm offensive of sorts. He's going to use his charm more than he's going to try to strong arm people on this one. But they said he's not going to put his bowling shoes on. He's not going to be bowling with these guys at the so-called bowling summit. Have we seen the president really turn on the charm? And what can we expect from him if he does that?

BURNS: We've seen only the very beginnings of that this week. And, you know, what my colleagues and I have heard from sort of folks who have been involved in those conversations, it's really kind of these you know, Atta boy conversations, right? The, you know, we can do this. We ought to win this one, more than the sort of LBJ style arm-twisting. The, you know, give me this win or else, right?

And I do think what the Obama White House certainly found was that in order to get health care across the finish line with more votes in the Senate than Donald Trump and the Republicans have right now. It required, you know, sort of incredible negotiation and coercion of fellow Democrats. And Trump has really never faced that kind of test in a complicated legislative process clearly at any point in his career.

BERMAN: All right. Alex Burns, David Fahrenthold, great to have you gentlemen with us. We should add, you know, we're going to get the president in a little bit. He is going to be holding this meeting. Maybe he will take questions. Maybe he will take questions on wiretaps, maybe on Obamacare. I bet he wants to talk about jobs too.

So, stay tuned for that. Still to come for us, Paul Ryan, he also is keenly involved in this. He says, now is the best chance Republicans might have to repeal and replace Obamacare, maybe the only chance. So, why do some of his colleagues refuse to support that plan?

HARLOW: This, as the White House is privately pushing a more conservative change that we just talked about, to the health care law, sun setting that Medicaid expansion much, much sooner. And for you, on this Friday, something very special, real love and robots. Seriously, can humans find love in a machine? Laurie Segall will take us inside a sex robot factory whose founder says human connection is not needed for happiness. It is all part of her new series, "Mostly Human." She will join us live.

[10:15:10] BERMAN: A sex robot factory - manufacturing jobs are going --

HARLOW: They're all going away.

BERMAN: Next robot, boom.

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HARLOW: This morning GOP leaders in the House trying to marshal support within their own party for their own plan, the promise to do what they promised for a really long time, repeal and replace Obamacare. There could though, be an even bigger showdown in the Senate.

BERMAN: Yes, especially if they change the plan. Right now, there's some indication the White House might be willing to back off on some of the Medicaid parts of the bill, sunset Medicaid earlier in some cases.

[10:20:00] That would upset moderate Republicans in the House but mostly the Senate. And that could be a real problem passing this. I want to bring in CNN congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly live on Capitol Hill. Phil, what are you hearing?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a delicate balance, John, as you kind of nailed right there. And the most interesting moment I think I've seen in a couple of days, happened right behind me a few minutes ago where the House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said, "Any proposed changes to Medicaid to that repeal date just would be too difficult at this time."

And I think that's really important, because as you note, the White House is starting to hear from a lot of conservative groups that feel like the expansion, that Obamacare piece, that 32 states accepted, covered more than 11 million people as it currently stands in the bill. It would sunset in 2020. So individuals would be able to continue to enroll, the states would have a transition period. What conservatives want, they want that reduced to 2017. This is something that President Trump, sources say, has been amenable to. Not so much when you talk to House Republican leaders who say, look, this is the bill, the White House bought into this a few days ago, and most importantly, this is a lengthy process. Take a listen to what Chairman Greg Walden had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. GREG WALDEN (R), OREGON: This is just the first step though. This has to be looked at not in isolation but across the board with what Dr. Price can do at HHS, what we will do legislatively going forward in the traditional legislative process outside of reconciliation. This is going to take time to get all those other pieces in place, but we are committed to reforming this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: And guys, that's really the crux of their pitch right now. Look, they get it, not everybody likes what this House bill represents right now, but it's just the first piece of a three-step process. Legislatively they'll be addressing more, later. Obviously, HHS secretary Tom Price can do a lot unilaterally on his own on the regulatory side of things. But the dynamics here are still very, very complicated. Conservatives obviously want changes. Moderates if those changes come could jump overboard. One thing I would like to point out, guys, this is the legislative process. It's not always pretty. It's going to be ugly. This is far from a dead issue right now, but there are clearly some hurdles that remain.

HARLOW: It is the sausage-making process. Thank you Phil Mattingly on the Hill. Keep us posted.

We do want to get some breaking news right now. Also, from Capitol Hill, our senior Congressional correspondent Manu Raju just spoke exclusively with Congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. This is about their meeting - their second meeting with FBI director James Comey. Does he feel stonewalled this time again?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, he didn't say that. He didn't want to talk at all about the meeting explicitly. But I did talk to him about that issue of wiretapping that the president raised over the weekend when he accused Barack Obama of spying on him last year during the presidential election. I asked Adam Schiff explicitly now, have you seen any evidence, whatsoever, of wiretapping. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU (on-camera): Is there any evidence to substantiate what he's been saying about President Obama spying on him?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I haven't seen any evidence whatsoever to substantiate that. And I think when Sean Spicer isn't even willing to talk about it. You know there's a real problem.

RAJU (on-camera): Do you think that March 20th, that hearing, Comey is going to be prepared to talk about this issue?

SCHIFF: He's certainly prepared for the question. And I don't see any reason why he can't answer it. He may even welcome the opportunity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: So, interesting there, two things there. They had this meeting yesterday, this classified meeting. He was in this, one of the eight members who got a chance to talk to James Comey. He still has not seen any evidence of wiretapping. And we know James Comey from our CNN reporting was not happy with the fact that the president accused Barack Obama of wiretapping.

So this is a topic that you would assume came up in this meeting. And also, saying that Comey may welcome the opportunity to discuss this at that march 20th hearing. That's the first public hearing of the House Intelligence Committee where Comey is expected to testify. Perhaps he may rebut the President of the United States in that hearing. Now, one other point, I asked him if he's seen any evidence of contacts between Russian officials and the Trump campaign during the election. He would not comment on that either, even as Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman, has dismissed that idea.

BERMAN: It was interesting though, maybe some Congressional foreshadowing there about what the FBI director maybe saying. --

HARLOW: We would welcome the question.

BERMAN: Fascinating, Manu Raju, great reporting.

HARLOW: Great job.

BERMAN: Thanks so much for being with us. Before we go back to the battle over repeal and replace Obamacare.

Joining us right now is Republican Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina. Congressman Wilson, we know as of now you support the bill as written. We also learned overnight that the White House may be now willing to support some changes in this bill that conservatives are asking for. Conservatives are asking for perhaps halting the expansion of Medicaid earlier, cuts to Medicaid earlier, more quickly than before. Would you support those changes?

REP. JOE WILSON (R), SOUTH CAROLINA AND ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Well, John, actually I appreciate what Poppy pointed out, we're living up to the promises we made to repeal Obamacare.

[10:25:01] And now, I appreciate the explanation that we're in a three-step process. We have legislation now. We had the administrative actions that the secretary of HHS, Tom Price, can make. And subsequent legislation in fact this week, Virginia Foxx led the fight on Education workforce successfully, for association health plan. So, we are following through, Poppy, on the promises we made to the American people.

HARLOW: But not totally, if you go with this bill, you're not, because what was promised -

WILSON: Well -

HARLOW: What was promised by the president is a complete repeal of Obamacare and some of the key parts are going to stay in this bill. And that's why members of the Freedom Caucus and others don't like this one at all.

WILSON: And Poppy, you're right, and that's how we addressed it, but it's three steps, and indeed, to face the requirements of reconciliation, so that we can get anything through the Senate, I'm really grateful, it's step by step, we're into this, we're going to fulfill the promises that were made. We're going to provide a better health care system for the American people that cover everyone, where they have choices and options with tax credits.

HARLOW: But Congressman, just to be fair, you say we're going to cover everyone. Brookings came out and said, with this Medicaid expansion, if you do away with it right away, you're going to possibly have 15 million Americans not covered. S&P Global just came out. The reports this week said 10 million Americans might not be covered. Are you sure you can make that promise to the American people?

WILSON: We can, Poppy. And good people can come up with different definitions. But I know that I'm working with the community health centers in the district I represent, people who are so talented and truly care about the citizens of our community. So over and over I see ways to assist persons who need help. And we're going to provide that. But we're also going to repeal Obamacare.

BERMAN: But Congressman, again, to my very first question here, if the Medicaid provisions are changed, you know, rolling back Medicaid more quickly, do you support that change? Do you think it's a good move to get this bill through?

WILSON: Well, actually I'm very proud, Governor Nikki Haley, my home governor, pointed out the flaws of the Medicaid expansion. It was not sustainable. So from the beginning, it's not going to work. And so I'm delighted that changes are coming. And we get the give and take, the input from different members of the Republican Conference, and bipartisan, I hope too. And we can come up with changes that actually do address the concerns of the American people.

HARLOW: But again, just to get to the core of John's question, do you believe that that solves the problem? That you know, if you sunset the Medicaid expansion, you know, within a year from now would be -- does that help get it through the House, but then what do you do in the Senate with the moderate Republicans?

WILSON: Well, the good news is it's a legislative process. I'm confident the leadership of Speaker Paul Ryan, we've got extraordinary leadership, that we'll get it through the House. And then, I look forward that we have input obviously by the U.S. Senate, and then we'll get a bill to the president to repeal Obamacare.

BERMAN: Congressman Joe Wilson of South Carolina, great to have you with us.

WILSON: Thank you, best wishes.

HARLOW: Health care reform. This is where the art of the deal needs to kick in for the president. Can the man who -- literally wrote the book on it make it happen?

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