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No Evidence of Wiretapping; Feds Charge Russian Spies with Yahoo Hack; Trump Health Care Rally. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 15, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] BOB BAER, CNN INTELLIGENCE AND SECURITY ANALYST: Great an indictment. We should keep -- we should keep doing it.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Amazing. A lot playing out this hour. Thanks for being along for the ride, everybody. Really appreciate all you offered. Thank you for joining us AT THIS HOUR.

"Inside Politics" with John King picks up right now.


And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

Another busy one here in the nation's capital. The Republican family feud over replacing Obamacare is intensifying. House Speaker Paul Ryan under fire from Trump loyalists who say it is a mess of the speaker's making. Well, the speaker today reminding anyone who asks, the president helped draft the bill and, he says, it's time for Republicans to stop complaining and start governing.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We've got to make sure we hit the sweet spot so we keep consensus and we've got to get it done. We don't want to have some endless, dragged out thing where we never get this done. It's been seven years long. We've got to make good on our promises. We got to make sure that we keep consensus so we actually pass this bill.

I feel like we're in a good place, but of course we want to listen to our members --


RYAN: And make improvements to the bill so long as those improvements don't -- don't make the bill harder to pass.


KING: The speaker is, as you just saw, ever the optimist there.

And just moments ago on Capitol Hill, well, remember those tweets from the president a week ago Saturday saying he believed President Obama had wiretapped his phones at Trump Tower. Both the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the committee's ranking member, again, just moments ago, saying there's absolutely no proof of that.


REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: 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've talked to, I don't think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: To date, I've 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.


KING: No basis for that whatsoever.

With us to share their reporting and their insight, Ashley Parker of "The Washington Post," Laura Meckler of "The Wall Street Journal," Michael Shear of "The New York Times" and Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast."

Let's start right there with what we just heard last hour. Significant. The Republican chairman -- this is not just the Democrats saying there's no evidence. They have now said they've gone to the intelligence community, to the FBI, to the CIA, to the director of national intelligence. They've spent the last week working on this. What is the significance that they publicly stand there and say, there's absolutely no evidence the president of the United States was telling the truth when he sent a series of tweets accusing his predecessor of Nixonian behavior?

ASHLEY PARKER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, it's a huge blow to the White House because, keep in mind, Chairman Nunes was one of the people who was a Trump supporter. He was involved in the transition. He was even one of the people the white house put out to knock down other stories they didn't like about Russia. So for him to sort of publically come out and say, you know, if you take these tweets sort of literally, or frankly even seriously, the president is clearly wrong, is sort of the last line of defense on The Hill falling down for the White House.

MICHAEL D. SHEAR, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Yes. I mean -- I mean, absolutely. I think, look, what we -- what everybody wants to hear is to hear it directly from the Justice Department, the FBI, right? And what the -- both the Democratic and Republican lawmakers said today was that we are likely to hear more of that on the hearing on Monday when the FBI director is expected to testify. The question is, how much detail will we get in public session and they talked a little bit about the likelihood that a lot of that is going to end up in closed session. And that's going to be the question for transparency is, how much of that can happen in front of the cameras. JACKIE KUCINICH, "THE DAILY BEAST": Well, and perhaps this is why we

were hearing about -- we were debating about quotation marks the other day about what wiretap meant based on what Sean Spicer was saying. Maybe that's why they're backtracking, because they're realizing that they can't back up what the president tweeted so they need to make it about something else in order to keep his credibility intact. And, frankly, that's a really -- it's going to be a tough turn for them.

LAURA MECKLER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": And, I mean, this is really the -- the peril of having your president who, you know, the -- some refreshing part is he says what he thinks on Twitter. It's unfiltered. But there's a reason why past White Houses have seen value in a filter to stop the president from doing something that he may regret later. So, you know, this is a thought that came to him early one morning last -- you know a week -- a week and a half ago and now it has consequences. It continues to spiral. And you can't just say something like this and expect it's just going to disappear.

KING: But just yesterday at the briefing, Sean Spicer was saying, believe me, there's something there. The vice president of the United States did an interview with Fox News in which he said, there's something there. So the president has put his team in a bad spot, including the nation's chief law enforcement officer, Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, who, again, just moments ago this morning, was asked a question. You're the attorney general. You would have access to this information. Have you told the president there is any evidence, sir, at all, that the president was wiretapped?


QUESTION: Attorney General, 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?

[12:05:00] JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Um, look, um, the answer is no.


KING: He -- he's the attorney general of the United States. He's incredibly loyal to this president. One -- as a senator, one of the first to sign onto the Trump campaign. Look, the answer is no. Is there any sanction for the president of the United States for doing this or it's just public embarrassment?

MECKLER: Well, that's the question is, I don't know that there's an actual legal sanction. The question is, does this catch up with him at some point or do people just sort of say -- because ultimately it's voters who -- and members of Congress who decide whether this is something that bothers them or not. He's putting his own people in a terrible position, including Jeff Sessions, including Sean Spicer, who are forced to answer these questions, and then the question is, you know, at some point do people who like him, who support him -- obviously people who don't like him just say, well, this is more of the same. But what about people who do like him? Does this affect them at all?

SHEAR: But the great irony here is that if he -- so he -- so obviously a president doesn't want to be proven to have been, you know, misleading or lying or saying something that was wrong, which looks like where we're headed. Butt on the other hand, if he were proven to be right, that's not good for him either --

KING: Right.


SHEAR: Because if you were proven to be right, then that would suggest that somewhere in the government the FISA court or the Justice Department or the FBI, they found reason to tap his phones and to tap his -- to tap Trump Tower --


SHEAR: Which would lead in a direction he doesn't want this to lead either. So --

KING: And to that point, the Republican chairman, again, Devin Nunes, who said, there's no evidence that the president was wiretapped. He said -- he did go on in the answer -- Ashely mentioned earlier -- he said, it depends on whether you take the tweet literally.

Listen to this answer because he's not done asking questions. He says the president was not wiretapped. He says he's convinced that didn't happen. But is there -- is that, to your point about the air quotes on the wiretap yesterday, is the White House retreating to try to say, well, the president meant something else. Let's listen to the chairman.


REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: So now you have to decide, as I mentioned to you 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 -- we want to find that out.


KING: Two very significant things there. One, again, the Republican chairman of the committee, a longtime Trump defender, saying clearly the president is wrong to what he directly said in those tweets. But they have said -- the committee has sent a letter to the intelligence community saying they want information about other people close to Trump who may have been somehow caught up in intercepts.

Now, we know that former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had to resign, he was caught up because he was in a phone conversation -- a series of phone conversations, with the Russian ambassador to the United States, who is routinely monitored, his phone conversations. They want to know, when we've heard about these other Trump associates who have had contact with the Russian ambassador during the campaign, were they caught up and the committee wants to know, if they were caught up, how were they caught up and was it done legally? So this part of the drama is not over.

PARKER: Well, and also keep in mind, back to Mike's point, that even if it turns out that through this broader lens the president is technically correct that either he or other people in his administration were maybe inadvertently wiretapped because they were listening -- the government was listening in on a foreign agent, this is not necessarily great for the White House. Again, this White House keeps on forgetting all these Russians they talked to and met with to have this drip, drip, drip of, oh, we weren't eavesdropping on you, we were eavesdropping on -- on someone we found very troubling, you know, a Russian foreign agent, and you just happened to be chatting away with them. That's not exactly a great talking point.

MECKLER: It's -- I mean that's -- that's the irony. If you kind of like dig ourselves out from underneath this question about what -- what the president tweeted and about him being wiretapped, which is sort of got us all in a stir, you know, at the base of the investigation about what the, you know, the Trump campaign's relationship with the Russians and what's underneath that. So if now -- let's like take Mike's point and extrapolate it. Let's say he wasn't wiretapped but somebody else was. Well, why? Why?


MECKLER: If you're going to wiretap an American citizen, it doesn't matter whether it's a presidential candidate or not, you have to have evidence. You have to have a reason to do that. So what's behind that?

KUCINICH: Well, and to your earlier point, this is why usually presidents don't have unfettered access to Twitter, to this communication, because there are -- it redirects everyone back to Trump -- the Trump administration and Russia. And they don't want to be talking about that. Nine times out of ten, if they're talking about their relationship with Russia, they're losing.

KING: Right. And we should note, the FBI director, James Comey, is going to Capitol Hill today to brief the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has been complaining that they don't have enough information. This will be a private briefing, but we'll see if anything comes out after.

Everybody sit tight because amid all this in the political sphere, sound and fury over hacks and wiretaps, the Justice Department today charging two Russian spies and two other people in the 2014 hack of Yahoo! e-mail accounts. A fascinating case.

CNN's Jessica Schneider joins me with that.

And, Jessica, let's just start with the headlines. Who exactly is charged and with what? JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this is a criminal

indictment affecting four people and the notable two are Russian officials. They are FSB officials. Of course, that's the Russian intelligence agency. Those two have been indicted. The first time the U.S. government has ever indicted Russian officials. So, obviously, that, the big headline.

[12:10:03] They're also being indicted with two other alleged criminal hackers. And the scheme, the government says, went like this. The two FSB officials directed these two hackers to go into Yahoo! and Google accounts and they did it all to get account information, also to get personal information, like credit card numbers, gift card numbers and then use that to line their pockets. The government saying that this affected 500 million Yahoo! users. All of this a scheme that dated from 2014 to 2016. And the assistant -- the acting assistant attorney general talked about how this scheme unfolded. Take a listen.


MARY MCCORD, ACTING ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: The defendants targeted Yahoo! accounts of Russian and U.S. government officials, including cybersecurity, diplomatic and military personnel. They also targeted Russian journalists, numerous employees of other providers whose networks the conspirators sought to exploit and employees of financial services.


SCHNEIDER: So all of this unfolding as these investigations into Russian meddling in the U.S. election happens on Capitol Hill. But right there Mary McCord, the acting assistant attorney general, saying that this particular indictment, accusing these two Russian officials of paying and directing these hackers, they say that right now there is indicated in this indictment no connection to the hacks of the DNC computers. They say right now that's a separate issue.

But, you know, John, all of this swirling and all of it tying back to Russia.

KING: And, Jessica, you say no connection, but what in this case, are there any clues, any hints about Russian spy craft, how they go about their business and whether or not the U.S. -- whether it's the government or private sector -- has any good defenses against this?

SCHNEIDER: Well, you know, this has been the rallying cry of FBI Director James Comey repeatedly over the past few months and past few years. The fact that is the U.S. equipped to handle these types of cyber intrusions and the fact that cybersecurity should be really beefed up in this country because this is yet another example as to the Russian government looking to hack into systems, whether they're personal or government, right here in the United States. So the question again looming, is the U.S. prepared to deal with this? We saw in this case 500 million Yahoo! users affected by this. Information stolen. All of this leading to Director Comey's rallying cry and plea that the U.S. should be beefing up its cybersecurity. Maybe it's just not cutting it just yet. John.

KING: Jessica Schneider with the latest on this big indictment today. Jessica, thanks very much.

Up next, President Trump back in his element today, out on the road, on the trail. Just how much will he try to sell that House Republican health care plan? You know the one Speaker Ryan says he worked with hand and glove with the president? We'll see.


[12:16:54] KING: Welcome back.

President Trump is on the road today, in the air as we speak. He's heading to an official event focused on the economy this afternoon in Detroit. And an evening rally in Nashville that's paid for by his campaign organization. One thing to watch for as the president travels, how direct is he about the health care debate. Congress leaders, the Republicans, want his help winning over skeptical lawmakers. Meaning, they want him to be a lot more specific than this. This is the president last month in Florida just before the House leadership released its proposal.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It will be repealed and replaced. And for those people, the people that are put into rooms where Republicans are talking about the plan, and it wouldn't matter what they say, for those people, just so you understand, our plan will be much better health care at a much lower cost. OK. Nothing to complain about.


KING: Now, some of the details of what the president has promised on the campaign trail are at odds with what's in the Republican bill. But let's talk first about the president as salesman. Speaker Ryan, Leader McConnell, when this gets to the Senate, they need his help. They need him out there saying, I'm the president, I need this, you have to do it for me. Will he be that specific? Will he be that -- what's the right word -- arm twisting?

PARKER: Well, we all know the president is a wonderful salesman. That's largely -- or in part how he got elected. But one thing that's been telling to watch is that Sean Spicer and some of his other aides, when they have been asked, you know, is this plan Trumpcare, is it the president's health care plan, they sort of refuse to say yes. And, keep in mind, this is a man whose name and branding is on -- is on steaks, is on huge golden buildings. So the idea that he doesn't want to put it on this health care plan that he worked hand in glove for is sort of a telling detail in how involved we may see him.

KING: And to that point, let's listen to Sean Spicer, because, you're right, Donald Trump likes his name in big print. However, maybe he understands the political history of Obamacare, right? That wasn't the president's term for it. The president -- President Obama, late in his term, embraced that. But Republicans labeled it that. They won the 2010 midterms on it. They won the 2014 midterms on it. Donald Trump is president, in part, because of at least Republican anger about Obamacare. So Ashley has a point, why won't the president, Sean Spicer's asked, call it Trumpcare?


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't -- I mean, I don't think the Obama administration didn't label it Obamacare. They called it the ACA. I mean this is the American Health Care Act. The president is proud of it. The president's proud of the fact that we're working with Congress. But this is a bill that's -- it's not his. It's a joint effort that we've worked with the House and the Senate on. He's proud of it. He's proud of the impact that it's going to have on American patients. So I don't think this is about labels and names. This is about getting a job done.


KUCINICH: But here's the thing.

KING: This is about, please don't ask me that question again.

KUCINICH: Well -- well, right. But, remember, Obama -- it took President Obama a while to own the Obamacare name.

KING: Right.

KUCINICH: And right now it seems like -- and they know that at the White House. And so --


KUCINICH: But it seems like Trump, right now, is worried that this is going to be more like Trump University than some of the Trump golf courses.

[12:20:03] MECKLER: I -- I actually if --

KUCINICH: In terms of things he's put his name on.

MECKLER: If you look back to 2009, when President Obama was trying to pass the ACA, he -- it wasn't called Obamacare at that moment, but he was all in on it.

KING: Right.

SHEAR: Right.

MECKLER: I mean he was -- and those deals to bring interest groups along, to bring lawmakers along, were hatched at the White House. This is something he was intimately involved in. Now the term Obamacare was meant derisibly. So for -- it took a while for him. Finally in the 2012 campaign, he said, yes, Obamacare. Go ahead and say it. But -- KING: But you make a key point because the president had quit a lot of Democratic criticism that it wasn't liberal enough, that it wasn't single payer.

MECKLER: Exactly.

KING: And he did that. President Obama was all in. President Trump has endorsed the Republican bill, but he's given mixed signals about when he's ready and willing to negotiate about it. If he does not make it his bill, given the family feud within the Republican Party, can they pass it and -- he doesn't have to call it Trumpcare, but for him to make crystal clear, this is mine, you must do this?

SHEAR: Well, I think it -- I think it may not pass regardless, right, at least as it stands now. There's a lot of opposition from all sides. But the thing that's striking, I mean Laura and I were both at the town hall, the rallies that the president -- that President Obama held in 2009 and 2010, he went on the road all the time, and the difference is that it was detailed. I mean there was one health care answer that we mocked the former president for, which went on for 18 minutes literally without stopping to a --

KING: Right.

SHEAR: To a person who asked him about health care. I mean this was -- this was Obama in his most professorial, in the weeds. He did it over and over and over and over again. And so, you know, I think there's unlikely ever to be anything like that from this president. That's not how he operates.

KING: Right.

SHEAR: And he wants -- he doesn't -- he wants to be more careful (INAUDIBLE).

KUCINICH: But he owns it either way.

SHEAR: He does.

KING: He does own it either way.

SHEAR: Absolutely.


KING: He does own it either way.

MECKLER: But another big thing to keep in mind, the difference here, and this is one of the reasons I think this health care plan has -- is -- has a big challenge to get past, it's just that President Obama ran for office on a plan that was very similar to what the ACA became. Not only that, but so did Hillary Clinton and John Edwards back in 2008. Not only that, the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Max Baucus at the time, he had a white paper, which was very similar.

The Democratic Party, as a whole, had already coalesced around the basic ideas that underlined the law. They were -- there was a lot of consensus over many, many years. It was hard fought, going all the way back to the Clintons, but they had come around to the basic idea. And when it came time to legislate, they were all more or less on the same page. This time, Trump did not run on a particular health care plan. You know, the -- Paul Ryan had some ideas, but nobody was really paying attention to him. No really thought they'd have a chance to do this. So --

SHEAR: They coalesced around repeal.

MECKLER: Right, not on the replace.

SHEAR: That was essentially all they coalesced around.


MECKLER: So the fact is right now they're in more of a situation that I think is much more similar to 1993.

KING: Right. And so what does the president do? He's going to be in Michigan and Tennessee. Again, the Michigan event is supposed to be about the economy, auto emissions and the like, but he understands what they want to talk about there. What does he do when the Democrats are trying to tell in two states and across the country but those are two states Trump won. Democrats, listen to Elizabeth Warren here, trying to make the case, this president told you he was going to fix health care for you. Instead, he's cutting a deal to cut taxes for rich people and help the insurance companies.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: So who does President Trump fight for? Candidate Trump said he would fight for working people. But talk is cheap. The real question now is, look at their actions. And what President Trump is doing, once again, is fighting for millionaires and billionaires and not for working people. Trumpcare is one more way to help the rich and powerful get richer and more powerful and kick dirt in the face of working people.


KING: If you didn't notice, the Democrats have named it. But does he deal with that on the road, that the Democrats are trying to stir up -- that, you know, he said one thing in the campaign but this isn't your kind of a bill?

PARKER: Well, I think if history is any indication, and with President Trump it often is, What he does is he doesn't get in the weeds, he doesn't get into the specifics, and he sort of sticks to the top line about how big, how beautiful, how wonderful his plan is going to be. It's not dissimilar from when he went to West Virginia to promise to bring coal mining jobs back, but didn't really explain how he would do it.

And I would also add to Laura's point is this idea that while everyone sort of coalesced around repeal, President Trump really does not have an affirmative vision for the plan. And what he has said is very out of line with Republicans. He's said he believes in health care for all Americans and he won't touch entitlements. So that's sort of the antithesis of what Paul Ryan is working on, on The Hill.

KING: All right, everybody, sit tight. Up next, more of this health care debate, including some Trump loyalists who say this is Speaker Ryan's problem and Speaker Ryan needs to go.


[12:28:38] KING: Welcome back.

Pictures -- these are just moments ago, Air Force One landing in beautiful Detroit, Michigan. Looks like a wintry day there. You'll see some snow on the tarmac as the plane gets a little bit lower there. The president in Detroit today for an economic event. Moves on to Nashville, Tennessee, for a political rally tonight. Again, these pictures just moments ago. We'll keep an eye on the president now he's on the ground as he gets off the plane. We'll keep an eye on it as he makes it through this day. Always great to just watch the majestic Air Force One land.

As the president travels, conservative House members are still complaining about the Republican health care plan. So are moderate House Republicans. And then, if the House can pass the measure, and that's still an if, there's the challenge of navigating the tiny Republican majority over in the Senate.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: And we're trying to do too much too quick as Republicans. We're running through stop signs like the CBO letter. Much like President Obama did. Slow down. Get it right.


KING: Senator Graham had his coffee this morning. You see that there. The debate is so messy, the blame game is in full swing with many Trump loyalist turning on Speaker Paul Ryan, if they were with him to begin with, and some of them even calling for Ryan to step aside. Sixty days in, folks. So listen closely here as the speaker makes clear, his aren't the only fingerprints on this legislation.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER (voice-over): We wrote this bill with our friends in the White House and the Senate? We work -- we worked on this --

LAURA INGRAHAM (voice-over): Which friends in the White House? Which friends?

RYAN: Meaning the Trump people.

INGRAHAM: But which ones? RYAN: The Trump White House. The --

[12:30:00] INGRAHAM: Bannon?

RYAN: Mick Mulvaney. Tom Price. All those guys. The health care people. The point I'm saying is -- and, by the way, I talked to Reince and Bannon about this a number of times. We are all on the same page. I mean absolutely. With the president.