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Breitbart VS Ryan: Audio Leaked of Speaker Ripping Trump; White House Walking Back Trump Wiretapping Claim; New York A.G. Investigating Tillerson Use of Private E-mail Address, Alias. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired March 14, 2017 - 11:30   ET



[11:32:17] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: "I'll no longer defend Donald Trump" -- do you remember that headline from the House speaker back in October? He was talking to fellow House Republicans on a conference call during the fallout over the leaked "Access Hollywood" tape about then-Candidate Trump. The conservative website "Breitbart," though, has just released audio of that conference call. Listen to this.


REP. PAUL RYAN, (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE (voice-over): His comments are not anywhere in keeping with our party's principles and values. There are basically two things that I want to make really clear. As for myself, as your speaker, I am not going to defend Donald Trump, not now, not in the future. As you probably heard, I disinvited him from my first congressional district VIP event this week, a thing I do every year. And I'm not going to be campaigning with him over the next 30 days. Look, you guys know I had real concerns with our nominee. I hope you'll appreciate that I'm doing what I think is best for you, the members, not what's best for me.


BOLDUAN: So CNN reported on this news on that call on what Paul Ryan said right when it happened. Again, in October. Why is it back in the headlines today? Good question. Why now?

Joining me to discuss, CNN senior media and politics reporter, Dylan Byers.

Dylan, great to see you.

Do we have any idea how long "Breitbart" had this audio and why they posted it now?

DYLAN BYERS, CNN SENIOR MEDIA & POLITICS REPORTER: We don't know exactly how long they had it. It seems like they've had it for quite some time. As to why they did it, yes, it's hard to ignore the timing of this. This release comes as there's immense scrutiny over Donald Trump's health care plan. The CBO numbers, obviously, are not favorable. There seems to be at least an attempt to sort of tie the failures of this health care proposal around the neck of Paul Ryan. And that shouldn't be surprising coming from "Breitbart," which used to be run by Trump's now chief strategist, Steve Bannon. He's always been in an open warfare with Paul Ryan and, indeed, with establishment Republicans. He's never made any secret about that. Obviously, there have been some attempts to project a cozier relationship since Trump took office. But the fact that this is coming from "Breitbart," the timing, when it's coming out, it all points to sort of an effort to distance the Trump administration from this controversial health care plan and tie it around the neck of Speaker Paul Ryan.

BOLDUAN: If you talk to Paul Ryan's team, and when you talk to them, they'll say, this is ancient history. And it is. Do you get a sense this is going to change anything of where things are now?

[11:35:02] BYERS: Look, I mean, there's -- depends on who you believe. It's ancient history. The tension between Steve Bannon and the Trump White House and Paul Ryan perhaps is ancient history. It's certainly not ancient history for "Breitbart." And "Breitbart," by the way, has shown some signs of being willing to sort of go its own way, even go against the Trump administration, despite the wishes of Steve Bannon.

That said, given the close ties Steve Bannon has to that media outlet, it's very hard to imagine there isn't some sort of conversation going on, there isn't some sort of directive to continue the attacks on Paul Ryan in a way that might benefit or might at least deflect some of the negative attention that's going towards the president.

BOLDUAN: Though the White House has said and will say that Steve Bannon has cut all ties with "Breitbart" and that's where things stand now.


BYERS: They will most certainly say that.


BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Dylan. Thank you so much.

BYERS: Good to see you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, the wiretap walk-back. No, not a new dance move. It's what the White House seems to be doing right now. You could also call it the air-quote defense as they work to defend President Trump's accusation that President Obama wiretapped him. Details on that ahead.

Plus, new today, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson used an alias to e- mail while he was the CEO of Exxon. What it has to do with climate change and now New York's attorney general. That's coming up.


[11:40:55] BOLDUAN: When it comes to the president's claim he was wiretapped by President Obama, it now comes down to air quotes, wiretap or "wiretapped." That's how it played out in the press briefing room yesterday with press secretary, Sean Spicer. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: When should Americans trust the president? Is it phony or real when he says that President Obama was wiretapped?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Again, let's get back. I think there's two things that are important about what he said. I think recognizing that it's the -- he doesn't really think that President Obama went up and tapped his phone personally. I think--


SPICER: But I think there's a -- there's no question that the Obama administration, that there were actions about surveillance and other activities that occurred in the 2016 election. That's a widely reported activity that occurred back then. The president used the word wiretap in quotes to mean broadly surveillance and other activities.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The bottom line is -- can --

SPICER: I have answered it.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you say whenever the president says something we can trust it to be real.

SPICER: If he's not joking, of course.


BOLDUAN: So according to the White House, of course, you can trust the president if he is not joking. I just want to make sure everyone is clear.

With me now, Tim Miller, a former communications director for Jeb Bush's presidential campaign. And political consultant, Harlan Hill, is here as well.

So gentlemen -- Tim, this gets to something I've been lighting my hair on fire for weeks, I think, in front of you about this.


BOLDUAN: Thanks. Don't butter me up. It never works.

When it comes to this president, should we take him seriously or literally? The argument I'd make, and I think many would agree, is when you are president, you should take the president both seriously and literally. But is this White House now saying neither? Don't take the president seriously or literally?

MILLER: This is like one of the dumbest cliches about Donald Trump that's come to popularity is that you shouldn't take what he says literally. Take it seriously. It doesn't -- I don't even really know what that means. If you look at what he said over the campaign and compared to what he's done in the first 50 or so days in office, it's clear we should have taken him both. Sometimes Trump people brag about that when they talk about how he's following up on promises made. This is an excuse Trump folks make to allow him to use hyperbole, to make attacks, to distract the media, to say things that aren't true, to change the subject. And that's the excuse they use to justify it.

BOLDUAN: Harlan, you're laughing. Is it because Tim Miller is so funny or for some other reason?

HARLAN HILL, POLITICAL CONSULTANT: It's funny coming from somebody that got the last election so wrong that he's lecturing us on what's right and wrong.

But Donald Trump speaks in a populist vernacular. That's largely why he won. People talk him out of context and don't quite understand what he's saying. He's trying to speak in clear terms to American people that may not understand the nuance of surveillance and surveillance state. And so, yeah, he said wiretapping in quotes on Twitter. And, you know, there are multiple ways to interpret that.

BOLDUAN: But you are -- is he trying to have it both ways, that's my point. Take him seriously until he's joking. It's not clear when the president is joking because, from that same podium, Harlan, Sean Spicer has multiple times, since Donald Trump has sent out that tweet, said this is something President Trump firmly believes.

HILL: Well, you know, I don't think the White House suggested we shouldn't take Donald Trump's accusation seriously or as a joke here. I think what Donald Trump said was serious and it was meant to be taken as serious. It wasn't a joke. We should believe him to this point. The White House hasn't backed off this claim that he was the subject of surveillance under the last administration.

BOLDUAN: But it sure seems they were trying to walk things become or broaden things out from where this started. But why now? Why not start this walk-back, if you are the White House, Harlan, the moments after the president tweeted this explosive claim?

HILL: Well, I think it was probably an inelegant word to use the word "wiretapping." He should have just said he was the subject of surveillance to be clear. But we've seen time and time again with this White House that some of the communications errors are unforced errors. This is another example of it. If he had just been more clear from the very start, we would have avoided this entirely.

BOLDUAN: Would we have avoided this entirely, Tim?

[11:45:12] MILLER: I don't think this is an unforced error. This is the strategic value of Trump. And if you are a Trump supporter, like Harlan, I think you would just own it and defend it. Donald Trump doesn't really value truth or accuracy or facts. He doesn't really value a sort of philosophical view of government. What he values is winning. And he sees the media as the enemy. He sees the Democrats as the enemy. If he can use untruths or lies or exaggerations in order to win, he's going to do that. His spokespeople and allies have to go out and defend it and sometimes in awkward ways. It worked for him in the election. But how long is that going to work as a presidency when it presents different challenges and when there's certain times when you are relied on that you trust what the president says is true, that kind of remains to be seen.

BOLDUAN: And this all could come to a head.

Harlan, I'll start with you, because I want you to play a game with me here. This all could come to a head Monday. The Justice Department asked for an extension from the House committee before they could turn over any evidence, if they have any, on wiretaps. The FBI director will be testifying on Monday, and he is likely, of course, going to be asked about this. So this could all be answered. Even, you could argue, should have been answered earlier, but could be answered very soon.

Let's play this out. If this comes to a head on Monday and there is no evidence, if there's nothing "there" there, then what?

HILL: Then he's got a problem. But I believe, without a question, we know there are members of the campaign that were the subject of surveillance. People like Mike Flynn were captured and --


BOLDUAN: Because they were on the other end of a conversation of someone who is a subject of surveillance.

HILL: It's certainly possible that Donald Trump's communications were also captured in that wide-sweeping net cast by the intelligence community.

BOLDUAN: On the other side of this --


MILLER: We don't need to wait until Monday. Kate, we know there's no "there" there. There's no there, there. He made it up. His spokespeople are basically admitting that at this point. So what you have until Monday is what you saw what Harlan did, you sort of change what the accusation was and pretend like it was about something else. And so that's what we're going to expect next week from the administration.

BOLDUAN: Good thing is we'll all have some answer, of some kind, come Monday.

Great to see you both. Thanks so much. Tim, Harlan, thank you.

Coming up for us, why did Secretary of State Rex Tillerson use an alias when CEO of Exxon? Paging Wayne Tracker now. Details ahead.


[11:52:10] BOLDUAN: The New York attorney general is accusing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson of using an undisclosed e-mail address and alias while serving as CEO of ExxonMobil. The New York Eric Schneiderman says the pseudonym Wayne Tracker is what Tillerson used to send e-mails related to important matters, including climate change.

Let's go to our diplomatic correspondent, Michelle Kosinski.

Michelle, they're investigating whether Exxon misled investors about climate change, but another important question, what does it mean for Rex Tillerson as secretary of state?

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Having the second e-mail address, that raises eyebrows given the use of alternate e-mail devices and addresses in a number of cases that we all know about.

To use a separate e-mail address within the Exxon system while he was CEO, there's nothing wrong with that. Rex Tillerson -- in a statement from a spokesperson for Exxon, they said he used an alternate e-mail address because his normal Exxon e-mail got to be too busy. There were too many e-mails. When he wanted to have specific communications with other executives, he used a separate name and a separate e-mail address, Wayne Tracker.

The problem is the New York A.G. says when they asked for all the communications from Exxon, discussing climate change and other important matters, as they put it in a letter to the judge, Exxon only turned over his main e-mails primarily. It was in the e-mails that the A.G.'s office found out he was using a separate e-mail. So they're saying that Exxon failed to disclose that Rex Tillerson used this alternate e-mail. The thing is, for that to ever affect him, it would have to be proven that he tried to basically obstruct the investigation. And that would be a pretty tall order, at least at this point -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And at this point, they're not there yet, right?

KOSINSKI: Yeah, definitely. The A.G.'s office is saying, why didn't you turn over all of these e-mails? We don't know the answer yet. For Rex Tillerson to be held accountable for doing something wrong -- because, remember, nothing wrong with using two e-mail addresses -- they would have to show he intentionally tried to obstruct an investigation.

[11:54:29] BOLDUAN: We'll see if the State Department has anything to say about that investigation.

Great to see you, Michelle. Thank you.

Coming up for us, right now, the commandant of the Marine Corps is briefing Congress after a private Facebook group posted hundreds of nude photos of female Marines. We'll bring you those remarks live, what he's saying now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BOLDUAN: This just in. Republican Senator Bill Cassidy says the Republican plan to replace Obamacare is, quote, "not what President Trump promised." Cassidy, a doctor himself, is speaking out and reacting to the CBO's blistering analysis that came out overnight that some 24 million Americans could lose coverage in the next decade under the Republican plan. So far today, after this very important report comes out, the president has been silent on the CBO report. The White House, though, putting other folks out to discuss.

Just a reminder, his Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price will appear on CNN tomorrow night in a town hall answering questions about the bill. That's 9:00 p.m. eastern. Wolf Blitzer, Dana Bash will be moderating.

For now, thank you for joining us AT THIS HOUR.

"Inside Politics" with John King starts right now.

[12:59:57] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Kate.

Welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

It's a snow day in most places in the northeastern United States. A later winter storm makes for beautiful images and more than a little disruption.

DAN MALLOY, (D), CONNECTICUT GOVERNOR: The storm will bring very heavy snow, and the kind of snow you want to stay ahead of.