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Interview With New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries; Trump Administration Under Fire Over Flynn Controversy; Does Trump Believe Job Report Numbers?; Top Commander Details Deadly Navy SEAL Raid. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 10, 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: Did Flynn disclose that information while his security clearance was being vetted?

Ready to answer. New hints that FBI Director James Comey may be preparing to publicly counter President Trump's claim that he was wiretapped by President Trump. Tonight, the White House is refusing to say if Mr. Trump will apologize if his allegation is officially debunked.

Eyewitness accounts. Harrowing new details about the U.S. raid in Yemen that killed dozens of civilians, as well as an American Navy SEAL. How does the information square with the president's claim that the mission was a success?

And job growth. The White House is giving the president credit for a new drop in the unemployment rate. Why does Mr. Trump believe the government's numbers now, when he once called them phony?

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

The former national security adviser who was fired for apparently lying about his Russia contacts now creating more controversy for the Trump administration, the White House bombarded with questions about Michael Flynn and his work as a registered foreign agent representing Turkish's interests, even as he was advising then-candidate Trump last year.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer confirming that the president was in the dark about this and dismissing allegations that Flynn's foreign lobbying work should have raised red flags.

We're also following new developments in the investigation of Mr. Trump's claim that his phones were tapped by President Trump during the campaign. The top Republican and Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee say they still have not seen any at all evidence to support Mr. Trump's claim even after their closed-door meeting with FBI Director Comey.

Democrat Adam Schiff telling CNN that he believes Comey is ready to answer questions about the president's allegation and might welcome the opportunity when he testifies before Congress this month.

On the jobs front, the president says the unemployment numbers he dismissed during the campaign may have been phony then, but they're very real now. The White House passing along Mr. Trump's take on the new numbers showing the economy add 235,000 jobs in February, his first full month in office.

We're covering all of that and much more this hour with our guests, including Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. He's a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. And our correspondents and expert analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, Michael Flynn coming back to haunt the Trump administration tonight.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, indeed.

It's been about a month since Michael Flynn was forced to step down from his post as national security adviser. Now, since then, the president has praised him as a good man and the White House thought they had moved on. But tonight new questions are being asked about the president's judgment in hiring him in the first place.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY (voice-over): The White House is back on defense tonight over Michael Flynn, the retired Army general forced to resign a month ago as President Trump's national security adviser. This time, it wasn't his contacts with the Russian ambassador, which got him into hot water in November, but whether the president knew Flynn registered as a foreign agent, representing the government of Turkey.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Just to be clear, General Flynn fired with the Justice Department two days ago.

ZELENY: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Flynn's lobbying business was private and took place before he joined the administration, although at the same time he was advising the Trump campaign last year.

SPICER: This is not up for the government to determine. There are certain private citizens' activities that you conduct and you seek counsel on or professional advice on. That's not up to the government. And that's exactly how the system worked.

ZELENY: Flynn's contract with the government of Turkey ended after the election. Spicer dismissed a series of questions about the lobbying disclosure.

QUESTION: The person who is in line to be the national security adviser may need to register as a foreign agent, and that doesn't raise a red flag?

SPICER: No, it's not a question of raising a red flag, John. It's a question of whether or not they gave them the advice that they're supposed to.

ZELENY: On day 50 of the Trump presidency, this was the latest distraction at the White House. It's been a full week now since President Trump leveled the explosive accusation that President Obama was spying on him at Trump Tower, but again today still no evidence.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you all very much. We're going to get to work. Thank you.

ZELENY: Asked many times, the president wouldn't say whether he had any proof to back up his unsubstantiated charges. The White House is now trying to keep its focus on health care.

TRUMP: And that's what people now. They want repeal and replace.

ZELENY: Yet Washington is consumed by Russia and the widening investigation into any connections between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives.

[18:05:00]

The congressional probe includes allegations of presidential wiretapping, which no one seems to know about but Mr. Trump. Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN's Manu Raju today he has seen no evidence, but suggests the question will come up when FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill later this month.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: 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 is a real problem.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Do you think that at March 20, at 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.

ZELENY: The top Republican on the committee, Chairman Devin Nunes, echoed his comment from earlier this week that he had not seen any proof to back up the president's claims.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: We want to find that out.

But, at this point, I just don't have anything new to tell you.

ZELENY: Vice President Mike Pence did not answer a question in a FOX News interview about whether he believes the president's accusations.

QUESTION: Do you think it's possible that President Obama ordered the wiretap on candidate Trump?

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we will just let the congressional committees review that and answer those questions. Those are knowable answers and the bipartisan congressional committees can appropriately review the facts.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZELENY: The vice president, of course, was central to the dismissal of Michael Flynn a month ago, because Mr. Flynn apparently misled the vice president over his contacts with Russian officials.

But, Wolf, the president says he did not know about that. At least his press secretary said he did not know. But this was certainly on the mind of Donald Trump last fall when he was campaigning. In October, some three weeks before the election, he said that he wants to issue a ban on any senior officials in his administration who would lobby foreign governments.

Indeed, that's exactly what Michael Flynn did -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, thank you, Jeff Zeleny reporting.

Tonight, the top Democratic in the House Intelligence Committee is seizing on the new Michael Flynn controversy. In a tweet, Congressman Adam Schiff asking if Flynn disclosed he was a foreign agent in his security clearance before he became national security adviser.

Let's talk about this with our global affairs correspondent, Elise Labott.

Elise, I guess the key question is, shouldn't questions about Flynn's connections representing Turkish interests have been known to this administration going into the administration?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, one would think that it definitely would, Wolf.

Not only was he doing these lobbying with foreign companies, which certainly would have come out in the questionnaire, but certainly if it was a foreign government, I don't know if that would have disqualified him for the job legally, but President Trump did set out this very high bar for his officials in his Cabinet and top advisers, saying he didn't want any lobbyists.

So, certainly, if it wasn't disqualifying, you would think that the Trump administration would have asked about this in this very extensive questionnaire and that Mike Flynn, everybody knew months before he was appointed, that he had these foreign clients. So, you would think it would have come up.

BLITZER: When he finally formally registered the other day with the Justice Department, it became clear he was paid $530,000 for a few months of that foreign lobbying work.

LABOTT: And the last payment came just days before -- days before the election.

BLITZER: Another issue I want to -- you have covered, what, five secretaries of state, Democratic secretaries of state, Republican secretaries of state.

The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, was asked today to comment on this decision, which is a stark decision by the new secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, who is going on an important trip to Asia in the coming days, to not take along reporters on the plane. Listen to the answer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: This isn't about blocking anybody. This is -- they have gone above way and beyond. Not every plane can accommodate every member of the claim.

QUESTION: Can't they get a bigger plane?

SPICER: It's not a question -- there is an element of tax -- I understand that, and there's an element of cost savings at this point that the secretary is trying to achieve.

But at the end of the day, there's been a press component to every stop of the secretary's trip. He's doing everything he can to logistically support the press who wants to cover him and they are being open to make sure that the secretary is available throughout the trip.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Have you ever seen this kind of access on a flight with a secretary of state denied?

LABOTT: Well, Wolf, as you said, I have covered a lot of secretaries of state. And I won't say that the press is on every leg of every trip of every secretary of state.

But there is a general practice of a secretary of state taking a press contingent, depending on the size of the plane, whether it's a small pool or a full kind of dozen or so reporters, along with them on the trip.

And this particular trip, Secretary Tillerson won't be taking any journalists. It's disappointing that that won't be happening. We hear that there might be one journalist that is going in a unilateral capacity.

BLITZER: But is there any truth to this notion that they're saving money, there will not be room on the plane even for a small pool of reporters?

[18:10:00]

Because, when those reporters travel with a secretary of state or travel with a president, their news organization pay the U.S. government for those seats.

LABOTT: That's right.

And sometimes we even subsidize the seats of the U.S. government. Look, fuel-wise, if you take a smaller plane, it does save U.S. tax dollars because that fuel costs a lot of money and you're using less fuel.

But I think it's more of a situation of Secretary Tillerson wanting to take very a small footprint. Not is he only not taking a lot of journalists. He's not taking a very large contingent. This is a man who was the CEO of ExxonMobil, has notoriously operated very low-key.

And now he's the secretary of state and there is a certain public diplomacy aspect of that. And I think he wants to do his diplomacy quietly. The journalists are hoping as he gets his sea legs in the job that he will reconsider his decision and let the journalists cover him to cover the important diplomacy of the U.S. government, because this trip to Asia, obviously, the North Korea issue very important.

I understand that Secretary Tillerson has a large strategy that he wants to roll out. And that, in fact, is an important story for the Trump administration's foreign policy. We're hoping that he will reconsider his decision.

BLITZER: Even if there's limited space, he should take a small pool representing the news media, so that information could be made available.

Thanks very much, Elise, for the report.

Let's get some more on the national security questions dogging the Trump administration.

We're joined by Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York. He's a member of the Judiciary Committee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), NEW YORK: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's begin with this report that the president's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has now retroactively registered as a foreign agent for Turkish interests for the work he did during the campaign.

Should these new developments now be investigated by Congress?

JEFFRIES: Well, absolutely.

The more that we learn about Michael Flynn and the fact that he was hired as the nation's top national security individual, the more troubled we should all be. It appears that there was not a significant amount of vetting that was done when a decision was made by Donald Trump to hire Michael Flynn. He obviously lied about his contacts with the Russian ambassador last

December, misinformed the vice president, who then misinformed the American people. And it's very troubling that we now learn that he has apparently failed to provide accurate information with respect to him being a foreign agent.

BLITZER: And a lot of this was actually disclosed in this letter. Your colleague Elijah Cummings wrote this letter to then Vice President Mike Pence back on November 18, 2016, explaining Michael Flynn's connections with these Turkish interests, his connections with Russia, but apparently people didn't pay a whole lot of attention to Congressman Elijah Cummings's letter.

Your quick reaction to that?

JEFFRIES: It's incredibly inconsistent in the terms of the fact that Michael Flynn was working as a foreign agent with Donald Trump's agenda of putting America first.

Apparently, you have got individuals like Michael Flynn who may have been more inclined and incentivized, based on the hundreds of thousands of dollars that he received, to put Turkey first. You have other individuals who have very questionable contacts with the Kremlin and the Russian government who seem like they may be more interested in making the Kremlin great again, not making America allegedly great again.

And so Elijah Cummings is an incredibly well-respected member of Congress on both sides of the aisle. I think that the Trump administration would do well to pay closer attention to anything that Representative Cummings has to say moving forward.

We're all interested, Wolf, in just getting to the bottom of what is going on. We want to make sure we can protect the integrity of our democracy and let the facts lead us to the truth.

BLITZER: He's the ranking member of the House Oversight Governor Reform Committee, Elijah Cummings.

You introduced a measure yesterday, Congressman, that might force the House of Representatives to vote on whether to seek documents from the Trump administration detailing contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.

What specific information do you want to see?

JEFFRIES: Well, it is a resolution of inquiry, which is a vehicle by which the House can request a set of information from the administration, in this case, both the White House, as well as the Department of Justice, that would detail any contacts that exist between Jeff Sessions or Donald Trump, members of the administration, and either Russian intelligence officials, the Russian ambassador, any individuals working at the direction of the Russian government as part of our effort to try to figure out what exactly has gone on.

We know that 17 different intelligence agencies concluded that Russia interfered with our election for the purpose of helping Donald Trump. We also know that, at the same time, many high-level Trump allies and cronies engaged in community with the Russian government during the same time when Russian intelligence agencies were hacking into our election.

[18:15:21]

Folks like Michael Flynn, we know now the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, Michael Cohen, who was Donald Trump's personal lawyer, Carter Page, who was his top foreign policy adviser, Paul Manafort, who was Donald Trump's chairman, these are very troubling indications that there may have been something beyond a mere coincidence based on these contacts.

And we're just seeking information, so we can clarify for the American people what actually may have occurred.

BLITZER: Congressman, some senators have expressed interest in using a subpoena to force the release of President Trump's tax returns. They want to know if those returns contain any information about financial ties between the president and Russia.

Should your committee demand those documents as well?

JEFFRIES: Absolutely.

And, in fact, the Judiciary Committee does have subpoena power, which is, of course, Chairman Goodlatte has failed to exercise at this point, which is why we have decided to move forward with the resolution of inquiry vehicle, which will at minimum force either the entire House of Representatives of take a vote, so we will know where members stand in terms of providing transparency to the American people, or the Judiciary Committee will have to consider this resolution of inquiry and we can have a debate about how to proceed.

BLITZER: Very quickly, the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, says he hasn't seen any hard evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Have you seen any hard evidence to back that up?

JEFFRIES: Not as of yet. But there is still a lot of information that hasn't been disclosed to us as members of Congress.

We know that there have been closed-door meetings between members of the Intelligence Committee and other individuals who are involved in this investigation that has taken place. At some point, I expect that we, as members of the Judiciary Committee, will hear from the FBI director and the Department of Justice about what exactly is going on with the investigation.

BLITZER: All right, Congressman, stand by.

We're getting some new information on the push by the president for legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare, new information coming in we will discuss with you when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:20:44]

BLITZER: We're back with Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries.

Congressman, I want you to stand by for a moment.

We're learning about a new endorsement of the Republican health care bill by a major insurance company, Anthem.

Let's bring in our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly.

Phil, how significant is this endorsement?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's certainly a big boost for House GOP leaders, after a week, Wolf, when they were largely pilloried from all sides, the American Medical Association, hospitals, the AARP.

Now Anthem, the second largest insurer of all, the largest insurer involved in the Obamacare exchanges, mostly coming out in support of the bill. It did have some constructive changes that it asked for, but its support overall brings a big name and potentially big money to side of Republican leaders.

I want to read what the CEO said. "The time to act is now. The American Health Care Act addresses the challenges immediately facing the individual market and will ensure more affordable plan choices for consumers in the short-term."

Wolf, I will say, one of the big issues we have seen over the last couple of days as some of these outside groups, very powerful outside groups, have come out against this bill, is the questions what will they bring to the table, will they spend money to try to defeat it?

If they do, the support of groups or companies like Anthem extremely important going forward. The coalition supporting this idea will be extremely important if Republicans want to actually get this done, Wolf.

BLITZER: Very interesting.

Phil, CNN is reporting that President Trump is open to moving up the end of Medicaid expansion, as it's called, up from 2020 to the end of this year. How is that playing out there where you are up on Capitol Hill?

MATTINGLY: It thrills conservatives, Wolf. This is one of the primary issues they have had with the House Republican bill up to this point.

They believe the Medicare expansion as provided by Obamacare should be repealed entirely and as quickly as possible. That's not how it's currently set up. When you talk to House leadership, they say no changes are coming any time soon. When the leaders, when the chairmen actually met with the president today, the president actually touted what's in the bill. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: It eliminates the Obamacare mandate that forces Americans to buy government-approved plans. We all know that one. It provides states with flexibility over how Medicare dollars are spent, giving power from Washington and back to local government, which we all want to see. They're going to do a much better job.

And the plan empowers individual Americans to buy the health insurance that is right for them, not the plan forced on them by government.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Now, Wolf, I'm told when the press left that meeting and it continued behind closed doors, Chairman Greg Walden, the individual responsible for the Medicaid piece of this bill, made very clear to President Trump the language that was drafted as it currently stands was drafted in consultation with all sorts of different outside individuals, from governors to members of Congress to the White House itself.

The White House staff actually signed off on that language going forward. The point being, you guys were on board with this, this isn't changing anytime soon, at least in the House, we need your support going forward, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Phil, thank you, Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill.

Let's get back to Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries.

Congressman, you sit on the House Budget Committee, which will be the final committee to review the Republican health care bill before it faces a final vote on the House floor.

Still lots of unanswered questions right now, how much will this bill cost, how it will be paid for, how many people will it cover. Are we much closer, any closer to learning those details?

[18:25:10]

JEFFRIES: Not at all.

And this is part of the problem with this rush to try to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which is based on political promises that had been made by Donald Trump and Republicans in both the House and the Senate.

But they have realized that repeal and replace is really nothing more than a cute slogan, but it's not a solution. And once they have gotten down to actually trying to enact a health care law that would benefit the American people in ways that Donald Trump promised during the campaign, they have had tremendous difficulty in trying to get that accomplished, because, simply, you have got fractions of the Republican Party, some of whom could care less if tens of millions of people were actually robbed of the insurance that they currently have.

They could care less if premiums or co-pays or other things go up, which would be the byproduct of this reckless bill, to the extent that it was actually enacted into law.

BLITZER: As you just though, Congressman, the Republican plan did get a boost this evening. Anthem, one of the nation's largest health insurance companies, endorsing the bill. Will that major endorsement help convince some of the skeptics up there that this bill is the right thing to do?

JEFFRIES: I don't think so, because what you have is a conflict that exists between the right wing, the far right, and the extreme right within the House Republican Conference.

And the most conservative members have indicated that there is no chance that they're going to support this legislation, so-called Freedom Caucus and others. And without their support and the outside groups such as Heritage Foundation and others are encouraging this sort of outright revolt that is existing right now on the Hill, it's not clear that the GOP will be able to put together the 218 votes necessary to get it over to the Senate.

BLITZER: I want to quickly switch gears very dramatically, Congressman, take advantage of you.

Last night, you paid tribute on the House floor to the great hip-hop star Biggie Smalls, who died 20 years ago. I want to play a clip for our viewers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFFRIES: It was all a dream. I used to read "Word Up" magazine, Salt-n-Pepper and Heavy D up in the limousine. Hanging pictures on my wall. Every Saturday, Rap Attack, Mr. Magic, Marley Marl.

Those were the words of the great late Notorious BIG, Biggie Smalls, Frank White, the king of New York. He died 20 years ago today in a tragedy that occurred in Los Angeles. But his words live on forever.

I have got the privilege of representing the district where Biggie Smalls was raised. We know he went from negative to positive and emerged as one of the world's most important hip-hop stars.

His rags-to-riches life story is the classic embodiment of the American dream. Biggie Smalls is gone. But he will never be forgotten. Rest in peace, Notorious BIG. Where Brooklyn at?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Very nice words, Congressman.

What inspired you to actually go to the House floor with a tribute to the late, great Biggie Smalls?

JEFFRIES: One of the great privileges we often have as members of Congress, Wolf, as you know, is to deliver one-minute speeches on behalf of prominent people from the communities that we represent who have either done tremendous things and are still alive or who have passed on and we are acknowledging those accomplishments.

And given the fact that people all over the country and indeed throughout the world were marking the 20th anniversary of Biggie's untimely passing, I thought it was appropriate, given that I represent the community which gave Biggie Smalls to the world, that I at least give him the same level of respect as other significant cultural figures have been given in the history of the United States Congress.

BLITZER: Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, I'm glad you're a congressman. Rap artist, I don't know so much. But I'm glad you're a United States member of the House of Representatives.

Thanks very much for that tribute. Thanks for joining us.

JEFFRIES: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Next Wednesday, CNN's Dana Bash and I will moderate a town hall on health care reform. Our special guest will be Dr. Tom Price, the health and human services secretary. Please be sure to join us Wednesday night 9:00 p.m. Eastern only here on CNN.

Just ahead, will there be fallout for President Trump over Michael Flynn's work as a registered foreign agent? Our analysts standing by to discuss that and whether there's really a so-called deep state here in Washington that is working to bring down President Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: -- standing by to discuss that and whether there's really a so-called "deep state" here in Washington that's working to bring down President Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:34:50] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. There's anger over the firing of 46 U.S. attorneys, a law enforcement source telling CNN -- and I'm quoting now -- "This could not have been handled any worse, because there was little warning."

Our Pamela Brown, our justice correspondent, reporting that some of these U.S. attorneys were simply told to clean out their desks the same day, effective midnight tonight. There are people, she is reporting, traveling on official business; and they were just told they're fired. The deputy attorney general, the acting deputy attorney general, Dana Boente, was in the beginning stages, she is reporting, of calling each of these U.S. attorneys individually to tell them they had to resign. But the -- several of them didn't get the word. They learned about their dismissal in the media.

Let's discuss with our panel. And Jim Acosta--

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

BLITZER: -- new presidents, you know, get rid of U.S. attorneys when they take office.

ACOSTA: Sure.

BLITZER: There's a process that goes forward. President Obama did it with U.S. attorneys previously appointed. But it's unusual to do it in a way where these U.S. attorneys learn about their dismissal in the news media.

ACOSTA: That's right. But from what we understand, and I think Jeremy can attest to this, as well, over at the White House there is a sense of urgency in this administration to bring their own people in. They're off to a very slow start in terms of filling a whole slew of positions up and down the government. And so it's not surprising that they would do it in this fashion.

However, when you're dealing with U.S. attorneys -- and these are law enforcement roles -- one would think they would have handled it better.

BLITZER: Yes, the ranking Democrat of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Diane Feinstein, says she was told by the White House counsel it would be done in an orderly -- orderly fashion, and she's apparently very concerned about the way it was done.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And this is not the first time we've seen sort of messy rollouts or messy firings in some way or another. You know, we saw this. This is the same issue that is affecting this administration that affected it during the travel ban coordination. Right? This is a lack of coordination and perhaps a lack of respect for prior precedent and protocol and the way that things were done in past administrations, where they're really throwing out the playbook and doing whatever they prefer to do.

BLITZER: A lot of investigations, Susan Hennessey. You used to be an attorney at the National Security Agency. What, it took Ronald Reagan about two years to get rid of the U.S. attorneys that he wanted to get rid of. President Obama did it much more quickly, but it was an orderly way. So there's concern about the way this was done.

SUSAN HENNESSEY, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY ATTORNEY: Once again, it's about the process and not the substance. It's not unusual for a president to dismiss political appointees, a few people held over to ensure continuity. That's why this group of individuals was still in office, because they do really important work. And so anytime chaos is inserted into that process, it can have serious consequences for the everyday functioning of law enforcement and criminal justice system.

BLITZER: And George W. Bush did dismiss about 90 U.S. attorneys, but he did that in mid-March. There's a whole issue right now unfolding.

Will it hurt the ongoing criminal investigations that are underway right now with the dismissal of these 40-plus U.S. attorneys?

HENNESSEY: It's relatively unlikely. They have highly competent career staff of the Justice Department. They'll move into those acting roles. Of course, like anytime that a principal leaves, especially without sufficient notice and process to prepare for it, that can compromise ongoing investigations. It just sort of -- it makes the job more difficult. And it's already a hard job.

BLITZER: Yes, and the issue is, you know, a U.S. attorney has said, "You know what? It's over, clean out your desk by midnight tonight. Move on." I guess that's -- I guess that's--

ACOSTA: To do it all in one day, though--

BLITZER: Yes, to do it in one day is--

ACOSTA: Very strange.

BLITZER: Well, you know, let's move on and talk a little bit about another irritant for this administration.

The -- Adam Schiff, who's the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, he met -- he was among those Group [SIC] of Eight that met with James Comey, the FBI director. He came out today and said he still has not seen any evidence to back up President Trump's assertion that President Obama was wiretapping Trump Tower, wiretapping him.

If there is no evidence, what does this new president do?

ACOSTA: Wolf, I think it cuts to the credibility of President Trump. If it turns out that there was -- there was no basis for him to make this allegation.

I just spoke with a senior White House official a few moments ago who confirmed to me that the president has not spoken with the FBI director all week since the president made this explosive charge on Twitter. I think that's notable, given the fact that Comey went up to Capitol Hill and met with all these lawmakers, the fact that President Trump held meetings at the White House, met with the CIA director.

There appears to be some kind of barrier in between the president and the FBI director, at least for the moment. They're not talking to each other. They haven't spoken, despite the fact that the president said something that perhaps he could just pick up the phone and call the FBI director and say, "Hey, I need proof of this." The president hasn't done that.

BLITZER: And the criticism, Jeremy, as you well know -- you cover the White House for us -- is that why didn't the president call up the FBI director before he started tweeting last Saturday morning?

DIAMOND: Absolutely. And you know, this is something very simple for the White House to get. If they want to find out if there is a FISA warrant, they could do that. The president could actually not only find out, but he could declassify the information and put it out there for the American public to find out.

So, while Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, has called every single day this week, saying, you know, "Listen, Congress is going to investigate this. We want to move past this initial tweet," really, what they'd want to find out could be found out within a few hours, if even that, where he could simply go to the Justice Department and ask for this FISA warrant or declassify it. It's actually pretty simple, and the congressional investigation is--

[18:40:22] BLITZER: Susan, let me get your thoughts.

HENNESSEY: Right, so I think it's important to note that President Trump's tweets actually accuse the FBI of criminal conduct. Right? He said that he was wiretapped improperly or illegally. That is a significant accusation. This is, of course, an FBI that serves the president, who is the head of the executive branch. So it really is incumbent upon him to show his proof or explain to the American people why he made these very serious allegations against his own government.

BLITZER: Let me talk to you about something else, and you guys cover the White House -- and I want to make sure that we fully understand this whole deep-state conspiracy notion out there, that there are Obama officials still lurking inside the government, working to promote President Obama's agenda and undermine President Trump's agenda. I want you to listen to what Sean Spicer, the press secretary said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: I think that there's no question, when you have eight years of one party in office, that there are people who stay in government, who are affiliated with, you know, joined and continue to espouse the agenda of the previous administration. So I don't think it should come as any surprise that there are people that burrowed into government during eight years of the last administration and, you know, may have believed in that agenda and want to continue to seek it. I don't think that should come as a surprise to anyone.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I want to get Susan, first of all, your reaction. You worked in the top-secret National Security Agency. When he says there are these people that burrowed into government during eight years of the last administration.

HENNESSEY: All right. So there is no deep state. And the term itself is incredibly problematic. It's used to describe something that happens in authoritarian regimes and not democracies. So this really is a smear against hard-working civil servants, patriots who serve their government and do an incredible mission of national security.

The -- what Trump appears to be describing or what critics appear to be describing here is just the ordinary national security bureaucracy, people who show up and do the work, day and day out, no matter who's president. And they do it in a nonpolitical manner.

BLITZER: Who's behind, Jeremy, this "deep state" conspiracy notion?

DIAMOND: Well, it's hard to tell exactly, but one thing that we do know is that Steve Bannon, the president's chief strategist, has talked in recent weeks about the deconstruction of the administrative state. And that goes to the deconstruction of regulation and of other parts of government.

But he also said that it goes to this idea of the power that intelligence agencies have in the U.S., or at least the power that he perceives them to have. Because the notion of the deep state is not just political appointees, as you said, but it really goes to a deeper fury that there are intelligence officials in the United States who have broader power than -- than they should and power over the happenings in government.

ACOSTA: Wolf, I think when you're complaining about the deep state, you're probably in deep something else. And I think that's -- I think maybe what we're witnessing right now.

I mean, yes, have there been Obama holdovers who have been leaking information since the early days of the administration? Probably so. There are people in various agencies of the federal government who just didn't like what President Trump was doing as he was coming into office.

But Jeremy knows this: a lot of the leaks coming out of the administration these days are coming from these rival factions inside the White House. And sometimes those leaks are embarrassing to the president, embarrassing to certain people at certain times in this administration. But to blame it on some deep state, it sounds like a Tom Clancy novel that never got published.

BLITZER: What I don't understand -- you worked in the government, you were a lawyer at the NSA, the National Security Agency -- why the administration would want to irritate career civil servants, whether in the law enforcement community, whether in the intelligence community, in the judiciary, for example, "so-called judge." What's the point? Because you only anger these folks, and it could backfire.

HENNESSEY: I don't think that he has -- he's at risk of sort of the intelligence community taking its revenge, right? They'll serve the president, no matter what. I think the issue here is Donald Trump has again and again besmirched the work, the integrity, questioned the expertise of the intelligence community.

And so really, the question is these are people who serve him, who have valuable expertise, helping him be the commander in chief, make decisions on behalf of the country. And so it does raise sort of the question of why he is so committed to this frankly bizarre line of attacks, and why he is so concerned about undercutting the integrity and legitimacy of those -- of those institutions.

BLITZER: On repealing and replacing Obamacare, deal or no deal?

DIAMOND: Well, it's difficult to see at this point. Certainly, the president is conducting what I term to be a charm offensive, I think, where he's meeting with a lot of these conservative groups. And one thing that I was told yesterday by several senior administration officials was that the president, certainly the White House is lining up privately, at least, behind conservative proposals. And one of those proposals is this idea that they want to sunset the Medicaid expansion approved under Obamacare sooner than 2020, which is what the current calls for.

So, Sean Spicer today during the briefing said that the president supports the current bill, but he also said that the president is still open to making changes to that and while they've ruled out making major changes to the tax credit portions of this bill, they haven't ruled out changes to Medicaid. So, I think that's something to keep in mind.

BLITZER: Yes. My own sense is the president is less interested with all the nuances.

DIAMOND: Sure.

BLITZER: All the details. He wants to be able to say "we repealed and replaced Obamacare".

ACOSTA: He wants to cut a deal. This is going to go to the heart of what happens in 2018. The Republican control of Congress may rise and fall on whether or not he can follow through on these promises, repealing and replacing Obamacare, building a wall on the Mexican border and so on. When I talked to a senior congressional Republican source who had heard what Jeremy was reporting about, the president being open to all these changes and this person was saying, listen, once you start to move these pieces and these parts around, you invite more chaos into the process, and it makes that much harder to get it done.

BLITZER: It's going to be a tough, tough sell. But we'll watch it very closely.

Guys, don't go too far away.

Just ahead, a top commander speaks publicly for the first time about the terror raid that left a U.S. Navy SEAL dead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:51:06] BLITZER: New tonight, disturbing details of a deadly U.S. raid on al Qaeda in Yemen that cost the life of a U.S. Navy SEAL.

Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has been working the story for us.

Barbara, a top U.S. commander now speaking out.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Speaking out and offering new details, Wolf, but there are still very conflicting views about what happened that night.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEN. JOSEPH VOTEL, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I am responsible for this mission. STARR (voice-over): General Joseph Votel, the top U.S. commander for

Middle East operations offering the first details publicly of the January Navy SEAL raid in Yemen that remains a military controversy.

VOTEL: We lost a lot on this operation. We lost a valued operator. We had people wounded. We caused civilian casualties.

STARR: Navy SEAL William "Ryan" Owens and as many as a dozen civilians were killed during a firefight as the SEALs raided a compound looking for intelligence on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

Journalist Iona Craig collected eyewitness accounts from villagers.

IONA CRAIG, THE INTERCEPT: I spoke to a 5-year-old boy who described running from that helicopter gunship fire as he was shot at from behind as he ran with his mother and his mother was subsequently killed.

STARR: Officials with direct knowledge of the mission offering new details. The SEALs don't think they were compromised because they were in the village for some time before the firefight broke out. But once seen, many villagers quickly armed themselves and fired along with al Qaeda.

The U.S. thinks villagers likely thought they were under attack from rival tribal factions. Fire came from all directions and multiple buildings.

Two officials say once surrounded, the SEALs had to call in air strikes. They insist the U.S. only fired at legitimate targets. Civilians were caught in the middle.

CAPT. JEFF DAVIS, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: We had U.S. service members who were pinned down and needed help to get out. Had that not happened, we likely would have had greater tragedies on the American side.

STARR: Villagers spoke of withering fire from the air.

CRAIG: There were more than a dozen buildings that I walked into that had been hit or destroyed by those helicopters and air strikes.

STARR: Votel also offering new details on an after-action review he says satisfied him.

VOTEL: I have presided over that. I am looking for information gaps where we can't explain what happened in a particular situation or we have conflicting information between members of the organization. I'm looking for indicators of incompetence or poor decision-making or bad judgment throughout all of this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: U.S. officials tonight insist they still got valuable information about al Qaeda in doing that raid and that contrary to reports they were not looking for any top leadership of al Qaeda there that they really were going in looking for intelligence -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Barbara. Thank you.

Just ahead, more on the new revelation that fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn worked as a registered foreign lobbyist while advising the Trump campaign. Why was the president kept in the dark?

Plus, the life of America's most unexpected first lady. A CNN special report on Melania Trump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:58:46] BLITZER: She was a fashion model, an immigrant, now America's most unexpected first lady. Tonight, a CNN special report looks at the life of Melania Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In September 1998, at 28, two years after the future first lady arrived in New York City came a chance meeting that would change her life forever.

MELANIA TRUMP, FIRST LADY: We met at a fashion party. It was a big fashion party that my friend organized, Fashion Week and he invited me. That's how we met Donald.

KAYE: Donald, as in Donald J. Trump. She met her future husband and the man who would become the nation's 45th president at a party at Manhattan's the famous Kit Kat Club.

D. TRUMP: I was actually supposed to be to meet someone else. There was a great supermodel sitting next to Melania. And I was supposed to meet this supermodel, and they were saying, look, there's so and so. I said forget about her, who's the one on the left? And it was Melania.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Be sure to watch our special report "Melania Trump: The Making of a First Lady", tonight 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.