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Russian Spies Indicted; Republican Health Care Bill in Trouble?; No Evidence Trump Tower Was Wiretapped. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 15, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:01]

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: What did not hear from President Trump is any mention of his wild accusation that his predecessor at the White House, then President Trump Barack Obama, had ordered wiretapping of Trump Tower. Didn't hear that.

A top-ranking Republican who has been in unenviable position of trying to explain and defend the president has just made a surprise turnaround.

He is Devin Nunes, House Intelligence Committee chairman, who this morning appeared alongside his Democratic counterpart to say there's just no evidence of the president's claims.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: The evidence still remains the same that we don't have any evidence that that took place. And, in fact, I don't believe just in the last week of time, the people we have talked to, I don't think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: To date, I have seen no evidence that supports the claim that President Trump made that his predecessor had wiretapped he and his associates at Trump Tower.

Thus far, we have seen no basis for that whatsoever.

NUNES: President Obama wouldn't physically go over and wiretap Trump Tower.

So now you have to decide, as I mentioned to last week, are you going to take the tweets literally? And if you are, then clearly the president was wrong. But if you're not going to take the tweets literally, and if there's a concern that the president has about other people, other surveillance activities looking at him or his associates, either appropriately or inappropriately, we want to find that out.

I think it's all in the interpretation of what you believe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Sara Murray, let me begin with you there, our CNN White House correspondent. Listen, a lot happening today on the Hill, including a Senate

Judiciary hearing happening right now. You tell me what you're hearing.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Brooke, that clearly isn't the kind of backup that the White House was hoping for when Donald Trump put out his wiretapping tweet and then they kicked it over to Congress, saying essentially we want you to prove what the president is alleging here.

So it's striking to see the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, out there saying essentially we have seen no proof of this.

We may get more details on March 20. That's when FBI Director James Comey is expected to testify in front of the House Intelligence Committee hearings, so he may have more details to offer up then. But it's also worth noting that there are other Republicans that have come out today and said, look, the president needs to walk back this allegation, the notion that President Obama wiretapped him in Trump Tower.

And the president himself was asked about this by the pooler who is with him in Detroit today about whether he should be apologizing to former President Barack Obama for making this claim. He dodged the question, so we will see how the White House does respond to this.

Remember, Brooke, just yesterday, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, was out there saying he was very confident that there would be some evidence emerge that would vindicate the president in this wiretapping claim. So far, no sign of that, though.

BALDWIN: Extremely confident in the vindication.

But let me just ask you, because the president didn't touch on this, and I'm sure he's had many a conversation with his lawyers not, but tonight he will be at this campaign rally in Nashville. Does he say anything then and how?

MURRAY: That's a great question, Brooke.

This is supposed to be an event for him to tout the Republican health care plan, repeal and replace, but as we know from watching him on the campaign trail, when he gets fired up in front of the crowd, he can tend to veer off subject.

We will see if that happens tonight. They have been very disciplined so far in essentially saying, look, we've asked Congress to look into this, we're going to wait and see what they come up with.

But I'm sure that Devin Nunes' comments have been brought to his attention, so we will see if we get teleprompter Trump or off-script Trump tonight.

BALDWIN: Sara Murray, thank you so much.

Let me bring in some additional voices here.

Matt Schlapp is the chairman of the American Conservative Union and former political director for President George W. Bush. I have got Bill Press is back, host of "The Bill Press Show." And Maeve Reston is with us, our CNN national political reporter.

Before we look ahead to Nashville and beyond, Maeve, just starting with you. This was a tweet, or a tweetstorm, two Saturdays ago that put this entire administration in such a predicament.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I believe you used the word pickle earlier, Brooke, and I think that was the perfect word.

Nobody knows so far exactly what was in Trump's mind when he put that tweet out, but it obviously has put everyone in the White House in a very awkward position. And Congress now, you see both parties coming out and saying there's no evidence to support this claim, taking this very, very seriously.

And this may end up being a very hard lesson for President Trump that when you're the president, what you tweet really matters and there better be evidence behind it to back it up, because he's going to potentially face this very awkward hearing on Monday, where you have members of both parties drilling FBI officials about what's going on and intelligence officials about whether there is evidence for this.

[15:05:10]

And, of course, we also could have the outcome where they say there's a broader investigation going on, so we can't get into details. But all of this is very awkward and potentially embarrassing for the White House if no evidence emerges.

BALDWIN: On the evidence bit, one of the questions has been what led the president to tweet this or what kind of information perhaps did he have to allege wiretapping?

And so the A.G., Jeff Sessions, was in Richmond today and he was asked about this, did he give the president any information? This is what the attorney general said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Did you have a chance to brief the president on investigations related to the campaign, or did you ever give him any reason to believe that he was wiretapped by the previous administration?

JEFF SESSIONS, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Look, the answer is no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: In a word, in a word, Matt Schlapp, no.

So he did not get any word from his attorney general. The president is in Nashville tonight. He is talking about his -- I should not say his -- the Republicans' health care bill. But he's been so uncharacteristically quiet on this issue.

Does he address it? Do you think he should?

MATT SCHLAPP, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF POLITICAL AFFAIRS: No.

I think the question is this, which is on the lead-up to the campaign on Election Day and in the aftermath of the Trump victory, there were all these articles about how Trump and his associates were so close to Vladimir Putin and Russia that there were investigations going on about those close ties.

And "The New York Times" and other papers talked about even surveillance of associates of his. And so was all that reporting incorrect? I don't know. We're going to find out.

BALDWIN: Well, he didn't initially say surveillance, right? He said wiretapping and then Sean Spicer later broadened it out. And he said surveillance.

And you may be right.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHLAPP: Wiretapping is like a 1930s version of what maybe more high- tech people...

BALDWIN: I'm just using the president's word.

SCHLAPP: That's fair.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Even Chairman Nunes says there's no evidence.

Didn't his credibility take such a hit?

SCHLAPP: No, I think Devin Nunes doesn't have any additional evidence.

The question is this. Why did these premier media outlets talk about at length that these people were being investigated and surveilled if it wasn't true? So what am I doing, Brooke?

BALDWIN: That is not true.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHLAPP: I'm waiting to see the information that does get disclosed and what we do know to be true.

BALDWIN: That's not true.

Bill, go ahead. BILL PRESS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Brooke, if I may, first of all, we have heard this nonsense about all these articles, about all this reporting on this surveillance before Donald Trump's tweet.

It did not happen. Glenn Kessler, "Washington Post," examined it, looked at every single article. There was zero reference, zero mention of any role that Barack Obama played in wiretapping Donald Trump.

And I'm going come back, like you, Brooke, word for word. Donald Trump accused the former president of wiretapping, called him a bad guy and a sick guy. That was his tweet.

And I think it's very remarkable that now add the attorney general to the list, that not one single Republican inside the White House or outside the White House has defended Donald Trump on this or presented any evidence.

And I think it's very close to the time when President Trump is going to have to either retract that and apologize to the president or put up his evidence. Put up or shut up. It's time.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHLAPP: Can I just ask this basic question? Which is the articles that I have read -- and I would agree with you when you say Barack Obama wiretapping, I quite honestly don't even know if wiretapping is an operable word anymore.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: But it's the word the president used. Let's just work in fact.

SCHLAPP: OK, but let me try to put this into context.

Do you think that the Obama administration had any role in surveilling people in Trump world? I think the answer looks to be, according to "The New York Times" and other media outlets, that there is something that there is smoke there and there could be truth there.

PRESS: May I respond to that, Brooke?

SCHLAPP: Yes.

PRESS: Yes, there was surveillance going on.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: There's always going surveillance going on.

SCHLAPP: Thank you.

PRESS: For example, for example -- wait a minute. There was surveillance of the Russian ambassador's phone calls.

SCHLAPP: Right.

PRESS: And Michael Flynn was talking to the Russian ambassador about sanctions, when he should not have been. So, he got caught.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHLAPP: That's not true.

PRESS: It is true. He got fired. He got fired

PRESS: He got fired for dissembling about the conversation, not for talking about sanctions.

BALDWIN: OK, hang on, hang on, hang on, hang on.

Let me cut through this.

Maeve, I'm talking to you. Let's just -- on the facts, it is possible -- and, listen, we're going to hear from Jim Comey, the FBI director, Monday, public hearing. We just heard from Senator Whitehouse and Senator Graham.

[15:10:01]

They want to know if there was an investigation and if there would have been a warrant and was there was probable cause, all of this. But at the end of the day, is it possible that, to use Sean Spicer's words, that the president could be vindicated if they can prove that there was this overarching, if there was this investigation into Trump campaign ties to Russia?

Let me add to that, though, isn't that very different than the president though making this walloping massive allegation of the president wiretapping?

PRESS: Yes.

RESTON: Absolutely different.

PRESS: Yes.

RESTON: The conversation that we just were listening to here is an exact example of what the White House will have to be doing.

Trump's tweet was very specific.

PRESS: Yes.

RESTON: And so the White House can try to walk that back. They have already a little bit. They believe he ultimately will be vindicated.

But the judge will be the American people, who can look at the tweet, look at whatever evidence we end up getting, and then decide whether or not to take the president seriously or literally or whether to just look at his tweets as an entirely different realm.

PRESS: Brooke?

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Go ahead, Bill and then Matt.

PRESS: Yes. I was just going to make one final point, which is I think that the president and the White House really made a big mistake in trying to get rid of this by saying, well, let's let Congress investigate.

Congress takes this seriously when you accuse a former president of -- quote, unquote -- "wiretapping." And so they are looking into it. And now I think you're going to have the Congress of the United States, two Intelligence Committees come up and say, it did not happen, the president is wrong, and that is going to put Trump in a very embarrassing position.

BALDWIN: Matt, let me just ask you this, because I think, at the end of the day, this is about trust. This is about the American people trusting the president, taking him at his word.

SCHLAPP: Sure.

BALDWIN: I realize that you're trying to say, well, maybe not. Wiretapping is this old-school phrase, and it would have been surveillance.

But you look at White Houses past, they parse their words, words matter. It's about trust.

SCHLAPP: It is.

BALDWIN: Can they trust President Trump?

SCHLAPP: Yes, and it is about trust.

Think about me. I'm a Republican, I'm a conservative. And if there is proof that the Obama administration like "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post" and other people have written were surveilling people in the Trump campaign, in the Trump world, I think that is a big breach of trust.

They better have a damn good reason for doing it, because I think we've crossed a line in a presidential campaign they should not have crossed.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: Where's the evidence? Give it up, dude. It's not there. You know it. It's not there.

SCHLAPP: Bill, I will give you a -- make a fair wager with you. Let's both look at the evidence. And if the Obama administration did that, it was a step too far.

(CROSSTALK) BALDWIN: Are we seriously wagering on the evidence of a previous president wiretapping the current president?

(CROSSTALK)

SCHLAPP: The bet is, did Barack Obama do what Donald Trump said? Did Barack Obama order the wiretap of Donald Trump's phones at Trump Tower?

You know as well as I did he did not.

(CROSSTALK)

RESTON: It's about credibility, as we're saying.

SCHLAPP: That's right. And Barack Obama's credibility and the Obama administration's credibility as well.

PRESS: You don't have to worry about that.

BALDWIN: Matt and Bill and Maeve, thank you all so much. Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: Let's talk too about this breaking news.

Russian spies today indicted for this massive hacking of Yahoo e-mail accounts. We have those details coming up next.

Also ahead, the Republican health care bill in serious, serious trouble right now, as some Republicans backing off, and the White House today makes a big admission.

I'm Brooke Baldwin, and you're watching CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:17:53]

BALDWIN: Welcome back.

More breaking news here. Russia is now responding, slamming the Justice Department's indictment of these two Russian spies in connection to a massive hack of Yahoo e-mail accounts.

U.S. Justice officials are calling it one of the largest data breaches in U.S. history, compromising some 500 million accounts.

So, Jessica Schneider, let me start with you on this one, these two Russian men, these cyber-hackers, how did they pull this off?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, at the helm of it, two Russian intelligence officers working out of Moscow for the FSB, so at the same time they were working for the government, U.S. officials say they were directing and paying for a hacking heist here in the U.S. and in Russia. They allegedly rewarded these two hackers to unlock all kinds of data, breaching 500 million Yahoo accounts. And now these Russian officials and one of the hackers are now wanted by the U.S. government.

One of the hackers was apprehended in Toronto, Canada, yesterday, but the U.S. now saying that Russia is not helping out with the other three. Russian state media, however, has countered, the top officials saying that the U.S. has never reached out on this case.

But Justice officials today making clear whatever the case may be, that there's no tolerance for any kind of Russian interference. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARY MCCORD, ACTING ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: The involvement and direction of FSB officers with law enforcement responsibilities makes this conduct that much more egregious.

There are no free passes for foreign state-sponsored criminal behavior.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHNEIDER: So this is really an intricate, widespread scheme.

And one the hackers, Brooke, he's been on the FBI's most wanted hackers list since 2012. He was even arrested in Europe in 2013. But somehow he was allowed actually to go back to Russia, where he has evaded law enforcement all over the world ever since.

BALDWIN: Until now.

Tell me this, Jessica. Are there any sort of ties between the DNC hack and this hack?

SCHNEIDER: That was one thing that U.S. officials stressed at that press conference today, that this case is not connected to an alleged Russian hack during the election or any of the intrusions into DNC computers.

[15:20:01]

But it really does, Brooke, point to the wider issues here in the U.S. about beefing up cyber-security. FBI Director James Comey, he has spoken out extensively on this topic.

And he stresses continually that the U.S. really needs to get serious about these exact types of threats, especially like we're seeing here -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Jessica Schneider, thank you so much.

Let's talk a little bit more about this with Amy Pope. She's a former deputy homeland security adviser for the National Security Council and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. Amy, nice to see you again.

When I hear Jessica say that one of these guys was one of the FBI's most wanted in cyber-crime, this is obviously a huge, huge win for the FBI.

But how did this even happen? Let me ask you. Just you're the professional. How did this even happen?

AMY POPE, FORMER DEPUTY HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: So, look, cyber- security is one of the hottest issues around.

And what you have here is an allegation that the Russian government is actually colluding with criminals to get access to this information.

BALDWIN: yes.

POPE: This is really significant. And it's a reason why there's been so much concern about the DNC hack, et cetera.

What we are seeing is intrusion into Americans' lives, not just Americans, but people around the world, trying to figure out who they are, what they're doing, whether there's compromising information about them.

And that's serious information. When you see this kind of cooperation between a state actor and a criminal, that's something we should all be worried about.

BALDWIN: How do the folks at the FBI, the cyber-crime teams actually trace the hacks like this one?

POPE: Well, there are a variety of different ways.

One, there are sort of forensic footprints that they can trace to identify where the hacks are coming from. Sometimes, also, they have human sources that may give them information about how a hack has happened, or who is getting information from it.

There's also a very important relationship that needs to happen between businesses that are hacked and the federal government. That's basically how the FBI is going to understand what's happened and how to untangle who is at the bottom of it.

BALDWIN: Amy Pope, thank you.

POPE: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next: the growing divide within the Republican Party over their effort to repeal and replace Obamacare, as more and more Republicans are backing away from this current plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: If Republicans take this opportunity and blow it, we will rightly be considered a laughing stock. (END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:26:43]

BALDWIN: The Trump administration is plotting major changes to the health care plan, the very same plan that the White House the president was proud of just a day ago.

What is more here, a Senate aide tells White House officials that they have acknowledged the bill now winding its way through the House will not pass the Senate.

That should be good news to this crowd gathered in Washington today by the Tea Party group FreedomWorks, ralliers, including Senators Rand Paul, demanding repeal of Obamacare, but also insist the current bill in play is not the right plan to replace it.

And the Kentucky senator is pointing a finger very squarely at the speaker of the House, Paul Ryan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I think Paul Ryan is selling him a bill of goods that he didn't explain to the president, that the grassroots doesn't want what Paul Ryan is selling.

QUESTION: Doesn't that suggest that the president doesn't understand health care policy?

PAUL: Not at all. I think that when you're president, that the leadership -- the rules are -- the laws are written by Congress, so I think it's very appropriate that the president goes to Congress and says, write this bill.

And then he gets the leadership coming back to him and saying, oh, yes, we're going to write it and everybody loves it, this is what we campaigned on.

We did not campaign on Paul Ryan's plan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's go to Sunlen Serfaty, who is live on Capitol Hill.

And, listen, we're hearing these senators. They're grumbling over their iteration of this bill. And even the White House acknowledging today, you know what? This thing is not going to make it through the Senate without changes.

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brooke.

And it was notable that a lot of these conservative senators today trying to really ratchet up the intensity of their opposition today by holding that big to-do, that big rally in the shadow of the Capitol here essentially to send a big warning sign to their colleagues in the House that, look, this bill in its current form simply cannot pass, it's dead on arrive, they believe, here in the Senate.

And they're calling for changes to be made on the House side before it's even sent over. And this is the sentiment beyond just the conservative group of Republicans that is really growing over here in the Senate.

Our producer Ashley Killough caught up with Senator Grassley earlier today. And he send basically to the House, send us something we can actually work with.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: They aren't only writing a bill for 218 votes in the House of Representatives. They have got to be writing a bill that gets 51 votes and Republican votes in the United States Senate, and that all of this has to be done within the very tight rules of reconciliation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: Now sources telling CNN that the White House is privately acknowledging that, yes, changes should probably be made here, an acknowledgment that, yes, the House bill likely cannot pass in its current form.

It certainly could not pass in the Senate in its current form. But, as you have White House officials privately saying this, you have speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, standing firm. He has said that he is pushing ahead with little or no changes to his bill, and arguing that this is just phase one of a three-phase approach. They're going to do what they can right now.

But you have a Republican senator, Brooke, today calling that pure fantasy.

BALDWIN: Senator Graham calling it a fantasy.

Sunlen, thank you very much.

Let's have a bigger conversation.

I have financial expert and former Wall Street executive Alexis Glick with me today, and Tevi Troy, the president of the American Health Policy Institute, who also served as the -- once upon a time -- the deputy secretary of health and human services.

So, great to have both of you on.