Return to Transcripts main page
President Trump Holds First Cabinet Meeting; White House Under Fire Over Wiretapping Claims. Aired 3-3:30p ET
Aired March 13, 2017 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, top of the hour. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
Happening right now, a first for the Trump administration; 52 days in, the president is scheduled to hold his very first meeting with his Cabinet. We will bring that to you as soon as we have it.
In the meantime, just a little while ago, the White House dodged repeated questions about today's big deadline, the deadline being this. The House Intelligence Committee is demanding to see by today any evidence of President Trump's baseless claim that he was wiretapped during the campaign under former President Obama.
Now, remember, President Trump tweeting the accusation a little more than a week ago, right? That was on that Saturday morning. So here is what White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said about today's deadline.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: What I'm saying is, the request that was made from the House was to the Department of Justice. I think that that's an appropriate question to ask them.
What I'm telling you is, from a White House perspective, there is no question that there have been an abundance of reports regarding surveillance and other type of activities that occurred during the 2016 election.
QUESTION: And that leads us to believe that the president's only evidence is the -- are these reports.
SPICER: No, no, that leads you to believe that. I'm saying to you -- right, and I'm saying to you is that what we made clear on that Sunday was that the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have the means, the process, and the access to go in and look at the entirety of the evidence that's being presented to them and make a determination that they can report back to us.
QUESTION: This is a tweet from the president. Doesn't the president have an obligation...
SPICER: And he does. (CROSSTALK)
SPICER: Right. And we have made it very clear that we expect the House and the Senate Intelligence Committees to do their job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: All right.
Let's begin with Jim Acosta there at the White House for us, our senior White House correspondent there.
Jim, I mean, where to begin?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right.
BALDWIN: Just even you want to begin on wiretapping and those questions?
BALDWIN: Or what happens if there's no evidence out today from DOJ?
ACOSTA: And I'm hearing from a source up on Capitol Hill that the House Intelligence Committee has not received any information from the Trump administration as of yet.
Of course, that could change by the end of the day. And the question I think in terms of what we saw during this White House press briefing today, was this a walk-back that you saw occur at the podium today or was this just more walking around in circles, trying to explain what the president was tweeting about, when he said that President Obama wiretapped him over at Trump Tower?
Sean Spicer at one point said during this briefing he doesn't really think President Obama went and tapped his phone personally. But then he goes on to say that he doesn't think there's any question that there were actions about surveillance and other activities that occurred in the 2016 election. That is a widely reported activity that occurred back then.
Brooke, it was not widely reported that there was surveillance activity going on at Trump Tower or regarding then-candidate Donald Trump during the election. There were these questions about contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians, but we weren't out there on a daily basis saying, is President Trump being bugged, has he been surveilled and so on?
That really just wasn't talked about during the election. And so there was a bit of a walk-back today. But at the same time, we're being spun a little bit inside that Briefing Room. Surprise, surprise. And I think the moral of the story here, the bottom line here, Brooke, is that they just have not provided this evidence yet to back up the president's claim.
BALDWIN: And they're referring to the Justice Department on this, just so I'm crystal clear.
ACOSTA: That's right. What we're expecting to see by the end of today, if it in fact happens, is that the Justice Department on behalf of the Trump administration will provide something to the House Intelligence Committee.
That is what the House Intelligence Committee is expecting, so they can begin that part of the investigation. Of course, they're looking into all these other things about contacts between the Russians and associates and aides for then-candidate Donald Trump during the campaign.
But in the context of that investigation, they're expected to look into these wiretapping allegations. As of yet, at this moment, they have not received any information over at the House from the Trump administration on this, Brooke.
BALDWIN: OK. Jim Acosta, thank you from the White House.
Now to a new dimension in the wiretap story. This comes from the president's senior counselor, Kellyanne Conway. She is now -- speaking of walking back, she's walking back initial comments suggesting the president may have been subjected to even wider surveillance, perhaps through TVs or even microwaves.
First, you will hear from Kellyanne Conway, and then you will hear her explain what she meant when she was on this morning on "NEW DAY" talking to Chris Cuomo.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: There are many ways to surveil over here now, unfortunately.
QUESTION: Do you believe...
CONWAY: There was an article this week that talked about how you can surveil someone through their phones, through their -- certainly through their television sets, any number of different ways. And microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera. So, we know that that is just a fact of modern life.
CONWAY: It was about surveillance generally.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: He didn't ask you about it generally, though. That's just true in the transcript. You may have answered it generally, but you were asked specifically.
CONWAY: Chris, I'm not Inspector Gadget. I don't believe people are using the microwave to spy on the Trump campaign. However, I'm not in the job of having evidence. That's what investigations are for.
CUOMO: You answered it to a specific question about this. And it seemed to be an effective way of putting more doubt on a situation. That's what it came across as. That's why I wanted to talk to you about it.
CONWAY: Maybe to you and maybe to other people who don't necessarily want Donald Trump to be the president. But, to other people, they see it as what it was, talking about news articles and talking about surveillance generally.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Joining me now, Annie Lowrey, who writes about economic policy for "The Atlantic." Kevin Sheridan used to served as senior adviser for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. And Jon Selib, former chief of staff for ex-Senator Max Baucus. Jon also served as tax and investigative counsel for the Senate Finance Committee.
So great to have you all on. And we will get to numbers and CBO and that kind of thing in a minute.
But, first, just on wiretaps, Kevin, to you, and I saw you shaking your head, listening to the, what am I, Inspector Gadget, sound bite from Kellyanne Conway. But what do Republicans do if and when the DOJ has no evidence today on deadline today to present to these Intel Committees?
KEVIN SHERIDAN, FORMER ROMNEY ADVISER: Look, both the House and the Senate Intel Committees are looking at this, and that's where the investigation should be. They shouldn't really say anything until they get more information.
BALDWIN: But what if they don't get more information?
SHERIDAN: If the administration has information that he was actually referring to and it wasn't just from news reports, which we have heard it really just was news reports, from what we have heard so far, then they will get to the bottom of it. There may be something there, because there usually is a kernel of truth with what Donald Trump is talking about.
Now, whether or not it's a microwave spying on anyone, that's not going to happen. Right?
BALDWIN: On the microwave note, and on the Kellyanne Conway, senior adviser, she's speaking for the president there, and to hear what she's saying, isn't it a tad mind-boggling? It's kind of ridiculous.
SHERIDAN: Yes, I would let the congressional committees do their investigations. And if the Justice Department has any information, they should turn it over to them. This talk about microwaves and cameras is probably not all that helpful.
On the CBO numbers, because we were supposed to at some point this afternoon or early this evening get numbers on how much exactly this new Republican health care plan is supposed to cost, which is key, because that then translates into how many people could lose coverage. This is what Sean Spicer said about that today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: When he says something, can we trust that it's real?
QUESTION: Or should we assume that it's phony?
SPICER: No, no...
SPICER: It's real, absolutely.
QUESTION: How can we believe that it's real when you just told us that it was phony?
SPICER: I did not tell you that, Peter.
QUESTION: You told us On Friday that the president said -- the president -- you didn't -- the president said the numbers were phony then, but they're very real now.
SPICER: Hold on. Hold on.
I think the difference is the president was talking then and now about job creation, the number of jobs. The issue that he brought up in the quote that you're talking about was the percentage of people who are unemployed.
And there is no question that no matter how you look at this, whether he's talking about 4.7 or 4.8 or whatever the number is, that number fluctuates by how people calculate who is in the work force.
SPICER: Peter, let me answer the question. You're not. Let me answer it.
The bottom line is the percentage of people who are unemployed varies widely by who you're asking and the way you do the analysis of who is actually in the work force. The number of people who are working and receiving a paycheck is a number that we can look at.
Secondly, when you're asking about the validity of the CBO report, again, I will refer you to the CBO itself. The number that they issued that would be insured in 2016 was 26 million people. The actual number is 10 -- excuse me -- 24 million. The actual number is 10.4.
That's not a question of our credibility. It's a question of theirs.
QUESTION: Can you say affirmatively that whenever the president says something, we can trust it to be real?
SPICER: If he's not joking, of course. Every time that he speaks authoritatively, that he speaks, he's speaking as president of the United States.
QUESTION: More than three million Americans voted illegally?
SPICER: Yes. And he still believes that.
QUESTION: Was he joking?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Annie Lowrey, let me just go to you on how Sean Spicer answered this back and forth with Peter Alexander on the CBO numbers.
And what was the strategy, do you think, in discrediting the CBO before the actual numbers come out?
ANNIE LOWREY, "THE ATLANTIC": What he was referencing there with the CBO number on the coverage of the ACA being incorrect had a lot to do with the fact that there was that surprise Supreme Court ruling that said that the states could choose whether to expand Medicaid coverage to anybody up to 138 percent of the poverty line or not.
A number of states chose not to do so, including Texas, which has the highest number of uninsured folks. That's where that discrepancy has come from. The CBO has since changed its numbers over.
But I think that you have seen from this White House just a general tendency to try to discredit these kind of -- these institutions where there are yardsticks and to cast numbers and pick numbers that are favorable to them.
BALDWIN: You're nodding. I see you out of the corner of my eye. Why?
JON SELIB, FORMER CONGRESSIONAL COUNSEL: Yes, because it's critical to have the Congressional Budget Office around. Like any business that has to do planning, you need independent experts to look at what the effect of a certain proposal or an initiative will be.
It's how responsible people do business. It's how responsible people in government do government. BALDWIN: But he's telling the truth when he says that the estimates
were off on Obamacare, right?
SELIB: Well, I mean, no, not completely, because the numbers he's citing for coverage are wrong. There are more than 20 million people that have gotten coverage through Obamacare. Half of them got it through Medicaid and half of them get it through exchanges.
And, yes, the CBO projections weren't perfect, but they're very good. And, you know, just because -- look, we have a snowstorm coming to New York City tomorrow. It would be irresponsible for people who run airlines not to be checking with the weather forecaster and to be making plans based on how much snow we're supposed to get.
We may get 18 inches of snow, we may get 20 inches of snow, and both of those things are being predicted. But what CBO, just like the weatherman, is they provide a ballpark, so that we can make decisions and so you can judge plans or you can judge your future course of action based on facts that are researched.
BALDWIN: This is kind of a big deal, though, because it's not about how many layers you need to put on in a snowstorm. Right? This is about like how many people, based upon how expensive this thing is, Kevin, it's about how many people will be losing coverage, which goes against the campaign promise of Donald Trump, saying you will not lose coverage.
SHERIDAN: But if that's the metric, then that's telling a very incomplete story.
BALDWIN: Complete the story.
SHERIDAN: Well, Republicans have long -- of course it could be fewer, because Republicans have long said we're not going to mandate health insurance.
SHERIDAN: But what they're going to do is make access and affordability and quality the priorities. And so where you have people with insurance cards, like Sean Spicer was saying today, they may not have any options in their county, one insurer with bad plans and high deductibles and high premiums.
That's hardly insurance, that's hardly anything. That's like nothing to be happy about, if the CBO were to come out with those numbers. What we need to do is look at the whole picture. Paul Ryan is making that case. Congressional Republicans will have to continue making that case. It's one thing to get 218 in the House and 50 in the Senate. They're two different things. But they are going to have to come together.
And I think with the president's leadership, they will do that. BALDWIN: OK. We should be getting the CBO numbers. I think they
were saying this afternoon maybe this evening. And then we continue telling that story.
Annie, what about -- Sean Spicer today also made mention that Mulvaney was claiming that Obama somehow manipulated the jobs numbers. Did you catch that?
LOWREY: Yes, absolutely.
And this is something that Trump himself said during the campaign. There's absolutely no evidence that the nonpartisan staffers at the Bureau of Labor Statistics are manipulating the jobs numbers, absolutely none.
And it is true that they put out surveys that have some margin of error. It's true that they put out a number of different unemployment numbers that refer to different segments of the population and whether or not they're looking for work.
But, as a general point, these statistical agencies, the BLS, the CBO, their credibility is not in question. It's just that the White House quite astonishingly is arguing that they are.
BALDWIN: And, if anything, isn't CBO, the head of the CBO was appointed by Dr. Price?
SELIB: Yes, that's exactly right. The head of the CBO was appointed by Secretary Price and by Paul Ryan.
SELIB: And, look, the other thing that CBO is going to look at whether or not premiums are expected to go up, in addition to coverage and cost of this plan. Is it going to increase the deficit?
Those are going to be really important things for people to judge this plan on.
BALDWIN: OK. Jon and Kevin, thank you. Annie, thank you very much.
Just a quick programming note for us. This Wednesday night, speaking of health care, we have Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price taking your questions on health care in a live CNN town hall. Dana Bash and Wolf Blitzer will be moderating that for you. That is Wednesday night, 9:00 Eastern here on CNN.
Coming up, Republican Congressman Steve King doubling down on his controversial tweet where he said -- and I quote -- "We can't restore our civilization with somebody else's babies."
My next guest is taking issue with those words and says she is ready to challenge the congressman again for his seat in Iowa.
BALDWIN: The snowstorm that is about to bear down on the Northeast has seen President Trump's meeting with Germany's Angela Merkel postponed.
The two were set to meet tomorrow in Washington, but will now meet on Friday instead. Just a reminder here, this is a politician that the president once accused of -- quote, unquote -- "ruining Germany," OK?
But the diplomatic meeting that really everyone is talking about as well is happening next month, the president meeting with the president of China for the very first time, not at the White House, rather farther south. He will be hosting President Xi Jinping at his sprawling Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
Let's talk to Fareed Zakaria about that, host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS."
When we talk about China and how he's railed on China on trade and the South China Sea, what do you expect to come out of that meeting?
FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: It will be very interesting, because round one went to Xi Jinping.
If you remember, Trump began his presidency. During the transition, he said he was going to reach out to Taiwan. He did reach out to Taiwan, and he said, why should we not have relations with them, until I can resolve trade deals with China, the implication being he was going to use Taiwan as leverage to force the Chinese to do better on trade.
Well, Xi Jinping responded to that by essentially freezing all contact with the United States. He told all his ambassadors, all his -- the Foreign Ministry, don't deal with them on anything, whether it's North Korea, whether it's Iran sanctions, whether it's U.N. peacekeeping, nothing, until we get clarity on whether Donald Trump will personally affirm the one China policy, which is what the Chinese want to hear, that Taiwan is essentially -- that Taiwan is part of China.
Well, Trump had to buckle. Trump had to cave. And he called Xi Jinping, affirmed the one China policy. So I think Xi Jinping goes into this meeting feeling pretty good. Round one clearly went to him.
BALDWIN: Moving from that to Russia, you have a documentary that's airing this evening. Let me just play a clip, "Vladimir Putin: The Most Powerful Man in the World." Take a look.
ZAKARIA (voice-over): The country quickly fell in love with Vladimir Putin. The number one song in Russia was called "A Man Like Putin."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's just very -- he's a full man, you see?
ZAKARIA: But the biggest surprise? America also loved Vladimir Putin.
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was able to get a sense of his soul.
ZAKARIA: Even Hollywood fell for the new Russian president.
BALDWIN: So you talked to Putin's longtime aide and spokesman Dmitry Peskov? What did he say to you about your doc?
ZAKARIA: Well, he obviously hasn't seen it. He actually made some comments to the press in saying, Russia is always -- we assume this will be negative, except we know Fareed Zakaria. He's been to Russia many times, he knows the country, he's met Vladimir Putin, so we're hoping for the best or something like that.
Look, I think it's a fair and balanced documentary, to coin a phrase. The most interesting thing...
BALDWIN: Yes. Actually, let me interrupt you. We have got the pictures from -- we will come back to that in just a second, Fareed -- pictures of President Trump's first Cabinet meeting. Let's listen in.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Proud to welcome everyone to our first official Cabinet meeting.
I want to begin by updating the public on the severe weather situation. I have been receiving the latest information on the blizzard forecast. And I think we're in very good shape. We're prepared. Everybody in government is fully prepared and ready.
And the entire Northeast, it seems, is under a very severe winter storm warning. So, let's hope it's not going to be as bad as some people are predicting. Usually, it isn't. Chancellor Merkel and I have just spoken and she's going to be postponing the trip until Friday. She will be coming on Friday. And we look forward to that. That will be a very good visit.
I have spoken with my homeland security adviser. We have spoken with the acting FEMA administrator and instructed him to make certain that the federal government is ready to provide assistance to the states that need federal help. FEMA and the federal government are ready to assist.
They are literally waiting by the phones and ready to go. Everyone should listen to their state or local officials who will be providing regular storm updates. Take that advice very seriously.
This Cabinet is here to serve and protect the American people and that's what we're doing, even more so than anybody would understand. Folks in this room have done an amazing job, whether it's security or anything else.
I want to thank General Mattis. I want to thank -- who is now Secretary Mattis. I want to thank General Kelly, who is now Secretary Kelly. They have done outstanding work. You see what's happening. All you have to do is just watch, big difference. Unfortunately, not all of our Cabinet members could join us.
We have four empty seats, which is a terrible thing, because the Senate Democrats are continuing to obstruct the confirmation of our nominees who are at the Department of Labor, the Department of Agriculture, the director of national intelligence, and the United States trade representative, somebody I want very badly.
We're in the midst of getting going, Wilbur, and they won't approve somebody who has highly qualified. Everybody understands that. The main victim of this partisan obstruction is the American public.
Yet, in spite all of this, we have assembled a great team and already made historic progress in delivering results. We're rolling back job- crushing regulations at a faster clip than ever before by far.
And we're seeing companies like Exxon, Wal-Mart, Intel, Ford, Fiat- Chrysler and so many others announcing that they will keep and create tens of thousands of jobs in the United States. Many, many companies are not moving now, which normally they would have been out here a long time ago. They're not moving, because they understand there will be consequences. If they move, that's fine. But there will be consequences. It's not going to be so easy.
They are not going to fire our people and move and think they're going to ship their jobs back here and we won't be doing anything about it.
The first two job reports that have come out since my inauguration, we have already added nearly half-a-million new jobs. Right after this meeting, we will be signing a new executive order to begin the process of reorganizing the executive branch to make it less wasteful and more productive.
We're also working closely with the House and Senate Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare. Obamacare, all of a sudden, the last couple of weeks, it's getting a false rep that maybe it's OK. It's not OK. It's a disaster, and people understand that. It's failed. And it's imploding.
If we let it go for another year, it will totally implode. In fact, I have told the Republicans, why don't we just let it go for another year? That way, everybody will really understand how bad it is. But that would be the wrong thing for us to do and for the American people.
The House plan will expand choice, lower costs, and insure health care access for all when negotiating with everybody. It's a big, fat, beautiful negotiation. And, hopefully, we will come up with something that's going to be really terrific.
I want to thank Paul Ryan and everybody, Mitch, everybody. They're all working around the clock, and I think ultimately the big beneficiary will be the American people. We will end up with a really great health care plan.
We're also going to send Congress a budget request that will include one of the largest increases to defense spending in our history. And General/Secretary Mattis is extremely upset about that.
TRUMP: And it will be fully paid for, OK? Fully paid for. And I saved a lot of money on those jets, didn't I? Did I do a good job? More than $725 million. So, he's very happy with me.
In the first full month of my administration following the issuance of my executive orders, illegal immigration on our southern border fell by an unprecedented 40 percent. I want to congratulate General Kelly.
At the same time, I have issued a presidential memorandum directing the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security to undertake immediate steps to enhance our vetting process, so we're further enhancing our vetting process.
We want people in our country who love our country and have the potential to love our country and our people. That's who we want. My administration will work every day to serve and protect our great citizens and we will not rest until the job is done.
So, this is our first Cabinet meeting. I hope this is going to be a historic Cabinet meeting, historic in the sense that we're going to do a fantastic job for the American people, for our country and for the future of our country.
So, thank you all very much. We will see you later. Thank you. Thank you.
BALDWIN: Let's just take a moment. We will stay on these pictures as long as we can and just marinate on the moment.
Fareed Zakaria has been gracious enough to hang around. Just looking at all these Cabinet members, touting, again, the jobs numbers, this executive order he's going to be signing in just a little bit reorganizing the executive branch, talking about the big, fat, beautiful -- let me get this right -- the big, fat, beautiful negotiation on health care, that the numbers are down on the border of undocumented immigrants crossing over.
It's the first time he's met with his Cabinet there. What did you think?
ZAKARIA: Well, at one level, you notice that he's not quite used to this format, where he was sort of reading a lot from a script.
ZAKARIA: Normally, Trump likes to riff. He likes to just speak what's on his mind.
And he clearly had been told, these points, these facts, you want to get across. There was inevitably some vintage Trump, what he calls -- in his own book, he called truthful hyperbole.
BALDWIN: That's right.
ZAKARIA: But I was struck by the reality that you have in that room the two -- the two administrations, as it were.
You have got all these really serious, sober people, from Mattis at Defense, Tillerson