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Trump Breaks Eleven-Day Silence on Wiretap Claim; Trump Hits Campaign Trail, Doesn't Mention Health Plan; Justice Dept.: Russian Agents Behind Yahoo Cyberattack. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 15, 2017 - 17:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. Classified briefing. As top Republicans openly dismiss the president's claim that he was wiretapped, the FBI director gives lawmakers a private briefing on the investigation. But President Trump is now hinting that wiretapping doesn't necessarily have to mean wiretapping.

[17:00:18] Russian takedown. The Justice Department indicts members of Russia's intelligence agency in the Yahoo! Cyber-attack which briefed at -- breached at least half a billion accounts. But why is one of the suspects being held in Russia?

Open to changes. With the GOP's health-care plan in danger, the White House suggests it's open to changes. But when President Trump hits the road to rally supporters, he doesn't even mention health care.

And prostitutes and bribes. Senior U.S. Navy officers and a defense contractor known as Fat Leonard are named in a grand jury indictment shedding new light on a bribery and sex scandal.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news. The FBI director briefs senators on the investigation into the president's claim that he was wiretapped. But President Trump now says cryptically that, quote, "Wiretap covers a lot of different things," adding, "You're going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront," he says, "over the next two weeks."

That comes as the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, says he never gave the president any reason to believe he was bugged by the previous administration, and the leaders of the House Intelligence Committee say they've seen no evidence to support the wiretap claim.

The Justice Department says two Russian intelligence officers have been indicted, along with two other people in what it calls one of the largest data breaches in history. The cyber-attack on Yahoo! compromised at least -- at least -- half a billion accounts. The FBI says it was directed by a Russian officer using criminal cyber mercenaries.

And President Trump hits the campaign trail, presumably to drum up support for the endangered GOP health-care plan. But at his first stop, he fails to even mention the topic, even as the White House hints the bill will need major changes simply to survive.

I'll speak with Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they're standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

Key lawmakers from both parties are now pouring lots of cold water on the president's charge that he was wiretapped even as the FBI chief briefs senators on the investigation. But President Trump has just broken an 11-day silence on the wiretapping claim. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But "wiretap" covers a lot of different things. I think you're going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's go straight to our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju, is up on Capitol Hill. So what's the latest, Manu, on all of this?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, James Comey, the FBI director, just left the classified briefing with two top senators, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Senator Chuck Grassley. They just talked to reporters, said they could not discuss what they actually were talking with Comey about other than it was about, quote, "sensitive matters." Even question that I asked, did you discuss whether there's an FBI investigation ongoing into Russia, the connection between Russia and the Trump campaign, they would not discuss that.

And the Intelligence Committee chairman just told me moments ago that he has seen no evidence to support President Trump's claims that he had been wiretapped and, Wolf, he's not alone.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU (voice-over): Today members of President Trump's own party are openly challenging his claim that Trump Tower had been wiretapped under the orders of President Barack Obama.

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

RAJU: And Senator Lindsey Graham said official answers over Trump's allegation of wiretapping may soon be coming.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Today they said they're extremely confident there was some kind of surveillance of the campaign. I have no evidence of that. Apparently, the FBI has contacted my staff that they will be, at some date in the future, providing us an answer to this in a classified manner. RAJU: This comes as FBI Director James Comey privately briefed

senators about its ongoing investigation, a move to diffuse tensions with the Republican judiciary chairman, who is holding up a key confirmation of a top Justice Department official until he gets more answers.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R-IA), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: I expect people to respond according to what they told me. And in this particular instance, we were not given the respect that the constitutional gives us of oversight of the executive branch of government. And so that's very irritating.

[17:05:42] RAJU: The House Intelligence Committee is calling on the Justice Department to immediately provide any information to support President Trump's allegations that were made during a Saturday morning tweet storm 11 days ago.

(on camera): You said pretty clearly that you do not think that Trump Tower was tapped. What gives you that confidence to say...

NUNES: President Obama wouldn't physically go over and wiretap Trump Tower. So, now you have to decide, 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.

RAJU (voice-over): But Nunes and the top Democrat in the committee, Adam Schiff, disagree on one key piece of their investigation: whether the Trump campaign had any improper contacts with Russians who were meddling in the elections.

(on camera): Do you have any evidence of that?

NUNES: Not that I'm aware of.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: You know, I wouldn't answer that question as categorically as my colleague. And, you know, we're not privileged to talk about the contents of the investigation, but I -- you know, I think we need to be very precise when we talk about this, and I just don't think we can answer that answer categorically and not in this forum.

RAJU (voice-over): And one Democrat said Comey failed to meet a Wednesday deadline to confirm this central question: Is the FBI conducting a criminal probe over any Trump campaign contacts with Russia?

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D-RI), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: We needed to know by then whatever the FBI wanted to tell us about an ongoing criminal investigation so as not to bump into one another. We gave them the date, and today is the day.

(END VIDEOTAPE) RAJU: And, Wolf, that answer did not come before this afternoon's deadline that apparently Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, according to him, agreed with FBI Director Comey to confirm whether there's an investigation ongoing.

But Comey will have an opportunity to address that at a Monday hearing at the House Intelligence Committee. And at that hearing, Wolf, one issue that may also come up is something that Adam Schiff wants to bring up, those contacts that occurred allegedly between Roger Stone, a top Trump advisor, as well as Russians and a Russian hacker during the presidential election. That's something that Schiff is pushing on, but Devin Nunes said he was not as concerned about, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Thanks very much, Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.

President Trump is back on the campaign trail. But will he campaign for the ailing Republican health-care plan? Or is he just getting as far away from it as he can?

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Sara Murray.

Sara, a good time for the president to leave Washington?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Perhaps. Well, Wolf, this is an issue that President Trump campaigned on on an almost daily basis. And even today House speaker Paul Ryan says the president is all-in on repealing and replacing Obamacare.

But you certainly would not have guessed it by his first stop today, making absolutely no mention of health care.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY (voice-over): Tonight Donald Trump is hitting the road, looking to sell the GOP health-care plan that may already be in jeopardy. But at his first stop in Michigan, Trump made no mention of the top item on his legislative agenda: repealing and replacing Obamacare. Instead, focusing on its economic plan.

TRUMP: Let us put American workers, American families and American dreams first once again.

MURRAY: All as vice-president Mike Pence to sell the plan to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. White House aides are saying it's now or never when it comes to repealing Obamacare.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is the only vehicle that seeks to achieve what people on our side of the aisle have been talking about since 2010. This is it.

MURRAY: It's a promise Trump made on a near daily basis as a candidate.

TRUMP: If we don't repeal and replace Obamacare, we will destroy American health care forever.

MURRAY: But now that he's president, questions linger about whether Trump can close the deal.

The president's second stop today in Tennessee, an opportunity to sell a health care repeal and replace plan that's come under fire from all sides.

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.

MURRAY: The criticism only growing after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office determined 24 million more Americans would be uninsured by 2026 under the GOP health care bill than under Obamacare.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Let Obamacare collapse, and it will. Then try to replace it on a bipartisan fashion. That's what I would recommend he do.

[17:10:03] MURRAY: In a meeting with lawmakers on Tuesday evening, a White House advisor acknowledged the challenging path ahead, admitting the health care bill in its current form can't pass the Senate and will need significant changes. House Speaker Paul Ryan says the Senate is just the place to make those tweaks.

RYAN: The senators aren't helpless to the House. Once the House is done with a bill, we send it to the Senate, and they take it from there. So, if a senator doesn't like a provision in this bill or this bill at all, the senator can amend the bill.

MURRAY: But the legislation's perilous path to passage is giving some lawmakers misgivings about whether to back it at all.

REP. LEONARD LANCE (R), NEW JERSEY: I'm leaning no, because I don't think the current bill can pass in the Senate, John. And I want to make sure that the legislation is able to pass in both houses of Congress.

MURRAY: Democrats are already seizing on divisions among Republicans.

REP. LINDA SANCHEZ (D), CALIFORNIA: If their bill fails, it's basically akin to saying, "We didn't have anything better. Our bill sucked. And your bill, which is pretty darn good, although there are some areas that need work, we're going to kill it because we're mean- spirited."

MURRAY: In the meantime, Americans aren't abandoning Obamacare. More than 12 million people signed up for Obamacare for 2017. About half a million less than a year ago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, advisors to President Trump have made it clear this is a guy who views himself as a deal maker who's willing to make changes to get the support he needs. But it is still an open question, Wolf, whether he will be able to cobble together the support he needs, not only for moderates but also from conservatives in the House and then on to the Senate.

MURRAY: Sara Murray reporting from the White House. Thank you very much.

Joining us now, Congressman Eric Swalwell of California. He's a member of the Intelligence and Judiciary committees.

Congressman, thanks for joining us.

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: So, you just heard President Trump saying that a wiretap covers a lot of different things. Do you think he's backing away from his initial claims 11 days ago in those four tweets, when he repeatedly said, "My wires were tapped in Trump Tower"; he blamed President Obama for that, President Obama was wiretapping? He kept referring to that. But now he says it as a broader definition. Do you buy that?

SWALWELL: Whether it's the president talking about a birth certificate, talking about illegal immigrants voting, and now being wiretapped, he's not credible. And this is nothing more than the president throwing a smoke bomb into an investigation around Russia. And the smoke has cleared, and what we are finding is there are more and more questions about the ties between the president, his team, personal, financial and political, with Russia.

BLITZER: His aides are saying the words "wiretap" really could mean surveillance; there are other forms of surveillance going on there. Is that possible in your mind?

SWALWELL: He's provided zero evidence for that. But what -- what I hope is going on is an investigation into individuals on his team who were traveling over to Russia as the interference campaign took place. Carter Page, for example, one month after it was reported that Russia was attacking us, he with permission of the campaign, as a senior foreign policy advisor, traveled over to Russia. Those are the types of relationships we want to find out if they extended to working with Russia as they were attacking us.

BLITZER: But the president also said he thinks, in his words, "very interesting items" will be coming out -- coming to the forefront over the next two weeks. What do you think he's talking about?

SWALWELL: Well, again, can't get into the president's mind. And teasing something that's coming out a week from now or two weeks from now is something that the president often does. If you remember back to the Muslim ban that he put in place, he promised that that -- a new ban would come in place within a week, and it ended up being about a month later. So he likes to just kind of tease things. You know, he's a showman, and I think this is part of his craft.

BLITZER: The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, the Republican Devin Nunes, he says it's possible the president could have been swept up in what they call some incidental collection of data; someone else was being surveilled. For example, do you believe that? SWALWELL: Well, again, we haven't seen evidence of that. Director

Comey will be before our committee on Monday. And what we want to know is whether any U.S. persons were involved in working with Russia as the interference campaign took place. And so, we would hope that they would be looking, if that took place, at any individuals who were talking to Russia. And if that included the president, certainly, Americans would want know about that. But right now we have seen zero evidence up to that point.

BLITZER: Chairman Nunes also said he has not seen evidence of wiretapping, but then said it's all in the interpretation of what you believe. Those were his words. So, he's leaving the door open that the president may believe this, even if there isn't any evidence. He says he certainly hasn't seen any evidence. No one apparently has seen any evidence. But go ahead and react to that.

SWALWELL: Yes, again, this was nothing more than the president defaming the former president, who was nothing but gracious and helped President Trump throughout the transition.

And again, it was -- it was purposeful. This wasn't the president, you know, wearing a tin hat and being conspiratorial. This was somebody who did this because he wanted to deceive us and take away the focus on the questions about his involvement and his team's involvement with Russia as they were attacking us. So this was -- this was an obstruction of an investigation.

[17:15:13] BLITZER: If on Monday when FBI Director Comey comes before your Intelligence Committee, and he says there's no evidence President Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower in New York City, do you see the White House accepting that? What do you see the president doing?

SWALWELL: No, President Trump didn't accept the proof of President Obama's birth certificate when he made that outrageous claim, and actually it took him over four years to even, I would say in a watered-down way, acknowledge that President Obama was born here. So, no, when confronted with evidence, rarely does President Trump acknowledge it. And I don't expect anything to be different here.

BLITZER: Do you believe Republicans will hold his administration, the president's administration accountable if those allegations he levelled 11 days ago in those four tweets are proven baseless?

SWALWELL: Wolf, they have to. They need to put country over party. I'm calling for an independent commission to look at what happened with Russia, whether U.S. persons were involved and what we can do to protect future elections. Every Democrat has supported that bill with myself and Elijah Cummings, but only one Republican has, Walter Jones, and he was the first one to oppose the Iraq war. So, we need more courageous people like him to come forward if we're going to make progress in this investigation.

BLITZER: But, Congressman, have you seen any solid, clear, hard evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians in connection with their hacking, in the connection with their cyber- attacks against the Democrats?

SWALWELL: There's a lot of dots that continue to connect. And if -- I invite people to go to my website, Swalwell.house.gov, where we lay out why Russia is not our friend, the extensive Trump ties. In addition to Carter Page, who I just pointed out, Roger Stone, as you reported earlier, was communicating with Guccifer 2.0 as they were hacking us. And so -- as the Russians were hacking us.

There's a number of people on his team who are working with Russia, whether through political and business ties. And what Americans want to know is were they working with them in this interference campaign they were running? And that, I think, requires an independent commission. Because the Trump -- the Trump team cannot be impartial with this, as we've already seen with Jeff Sessions.

BLITZER: But you know -- you know, Congressman, what the former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said about two weeks ago. He says he hasn't seen any evidence of direct collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

SWALWELL: And, Wolf, what I would say to that is that it's likely that Director Clapper may not have been read into that. And what I mean is that oftentimes when the FBI conducts an investigation, until it is closed, they may not be reporting to other members of the intelligence community; and that's so they can, with a close hold, pursue all leads and not exploit what they're doing or compromise their investigation. But hopefully we'll get more answers on that on Monday.

BLITZER: Congressman, stand by. There's more information coming into THE SITUATION ROOM. I want to get your reaction. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:22:29] BLITZER: Our breaking news: President Trump breaks his 11- day silence on his claim that he was wiretapped, suggesting the word "wiretap" covers a lot of different things.

We're talking with Congressman Eric Swalwell. But first, the Justice Department has indicted two Russian agents and two other people in the cyber-attack on Yahoo! which compromised at least half a billion accounts.

CNN's Jessica Schneider has been tracking that story for us. Jessica, what are you learning?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Wolf, justice officials pointing squarely at the Russians today, warning they will not tolerate state-sponsored cyber-attacks. This is the first time Russian officials have ever been charged with a cyber hacking crime by the U.S. government.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The FBI says these two men are Russian spies, and tonight they're wanted for pulling off one of the largest cyber thefts in U.S. history, accused of stealing personal and financial information from more than 500 million Yahoo! users. The Russian intelligence officers, Dmitry Dokuchaev and Igor Sushchin, were indicted today for a breach the U.S. government says stretched over two years in both the U.S. and Russia.

MARY MCCORD, ACTING ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Department of Justice is continuing to send a powerful message that we will not allow individuals, groups, nation states, or a combination of them to compromise the privacy of our citizens.

SCHNEIDER: The FBI said some of the hacked Yahoo! accounts belong to U.S. government officials, as well as to employees of a U.S. airline.

Yahoo!, which has more than a billion users worldwide, cooperated with the investigation and, in a statement today, praised the FBI and pointed to Russian involvement, writing, "The indictment unequivocally shows those the attacks on Yahoo! were state-sponsored."

The scheme, allegedly directed and paid for by the two Russian spies, was allegedly carried out by two criminal hackers, including this man, Karim Baratov. Baratov was arrested Tuesday morning in Canada. His Facebook and Instagram feed show a passion for partying, fast cars, and a love of computers. This picture of one of his tattoos is written in binary code.

Last month he posted he was suspended from school four years ago, and he cashed in, saying, "I was well off in high school to be able to afford driving a BMW 7 series and pay off a mortgage on my first house."

The other man allegedly hired by the Russian spies, Alexsey Belan, has evaded law enforcement around the world since 2011. Belan is listed as one of the FBI's most wanted hackers. He's been indicted twice in the U.S. for computer fraud and is the subject of an outstanding Interpol red notice. Still, U.S. investigators say he somehow made it back to Russia in 2013, despite being arrested by police in Europe.

[17:25:07] JACK BENNETT, FBI: FSB knew this. There was [SIC] red notices up on him. And they've known that he's been in their -- in their country. Yet they still allowed him to operate unfettered there.

SCHNEIDER: Tonight in a strange twist, one of the alleged masterminds of the hacking, FSB Officer Dokuchaev, is in custody in Russia, according to a defense lawyer. He's charged with treason, allegedly for working on behalf of the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: And the FBI believes the other FSB officer, Igor Sushchin, is also in Russia.

U.S. officials stress this case, though, is not connected to election hacking by Russians, but tonight a lot of questions about why that former spy wanted by the U.S. is also charged with treason by Russia -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jessica, thank you. Jessica Schneider reporting.

We're back with Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell of California, a member of the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.

Do you have an answer to that, Congressman? Is it a positive sign that Russia has made at least one arrest?

SWALWELL: No, Wolf. This is the same thing they did after the interference campaign. If you remember back in December and January, they announced arrests of their FSB officers from their computer unit there. And this is the team that was responsible for hacking us during the election. And we think it was just for show.

And I applaud the U.S. attorney's office in the northern district of California, my hometown district, and the FBI team there. But what their work shows is that Russia continues to attack us -- and that's what the intelligence report showed -- after the interference campaign last election was that they're going to continue to sharpen the knives, go at us, and also our allies.

And so France and Germany, who have upcoming elections, they should be very worried about Russia's capabilities.

BLITZER: What does it tell you, Congressman, that two of those involved in this attack on Yahoo! were actually, or still are, officers of the Russian Federal Security Service, the FSB, the successor to the KGB?

SWALWELL: That Russia is not our friend and that we should get tough on them and not embrace them.

BLITZER: And what would you do?

SWALWELL: Well, I would increase the sanctions that have already been put on place, not intimate that we would roll them back as President Trump has done. I would try and do everything I can as a president to work with NATO to increase our capabilities and bring in more countries to protect the Baltics and the Balkans.

But President Trump has demoralized other NATO countries by suggesting that maybe the role isn't what it needs to be or isn't what it was in the past.

And, so, the policy towards Russia is shifting, and I think it's very interesting that people like U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions had spoken out his whole career against Russia. Then after the interference campaign meets twice with the Russian ambassador and changes his position. And that's what is so concerning to so many Americans, is whether these political, personal and business ties extended to not just changing the position on policy towards Russia, but also working with Russia.

BLITZER: We're all going to look forward to that House Intelligence Committee hearing on Monday where Comey and others in the intelligence community will be testifying in open session.

All right, Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. Eric Swalwell of California.

Coming up, a widening scandal involving U.S. Navy officers and allegations of bribery, lavish gifts, parties with prostitutes and more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're counting down to CNN's town hall on replacing Obamacare. But we're also following the breaking news.

[17:32:52] President Trump in a new interview broke his silence about his claim he was wiretapped by President Obama during the campaign. The FBI director, James Comey, meanwhile, was up on Capitol Hill this afternoon, secretly briefing lawmakers who are demanding answers about the president's claim.

Let's bring in our experts. Lots to discuss. Mark Preston, President Trump weighed in, as we say, just a little while ago. It's been 11 days since he tweeted those allegations against President Obama.

In the interview with FOX News, he was asked why he tweeted about wiretapping before actually producing any evidence. Listen to what the president had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But "wiretap" covers a lot of different things. I think you're going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, Mark, does -- does he seem to be reopening all of this after the White House had been trying to walk it back?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Yes, no doubt, Wolf. What he's done is that he's continuing to breathe oxygen into the story as it seemed to be petering out. And he's only doing it to himself at this point.

We've seen, as you said, from the Republican and the Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, the leaders of that committee have said that they've seen no evidence. We saw Attorney General Jeff Sessions this morning down in Richmond, Virginia was asked this question, if he had ever briefed Donald Trump on this, and he said no.

What Donald Trump has done is that he has extended this story at least another 14 days, where people are still going to be looking for answers. But at this time, there doesn't seem to be any answers, because it doesn't seem that Donald Trump had accurate information, if any information at all, that in fact, Trump Tower was wiretapped. BLITZER: Yes. In fact, Rebecca, we heard the Republican chairman of

the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, say there is no evidence to back up President Trump's wiretapping claim against President Obama. So, how significant is it for all of these congressmen, especially top Republicans in the House and the Senate, to come out and say the president is wrong?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, for the Republican lawmakers especially to be saying this publicly, Wolf, it's hugely significant. It's really unusual. And it really tells us, I think, two major things.

[17:35:02] First of all, you have bipartisan public agreement now from people who are read into this, who have the clearance to know, that the president is just wrong, that he is factually inaccurate, that the president -- former President Obama didn't wiretap him. So, there's that.

But it's also reflective, I think, of how huge that the gravity of this issue. For Republicans to come out and publicly dispute something the president of the United States has said just shows you how important this is. And really, what President Trump is doing is not only accusing President Obama of a felony, but he's calling into question the presidency as an institution, calling into question the intelligence community as an institution, and this matters. And I think that's why you're seeing this response very publicly from Republicans and Democrats alike.

BLITZER: Mike Rogers, you were once the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Devin Nunes is now the chairman. He says he remains concerned about what he calls the incidental collection of data and the unmasking of names like General Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor.

He sent a letter to the FBI director, James Comey, the CIA director Mike Pompeo and NSA director, asking -- asking for all of those names. Why is that information so critical to this investigation? And Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat, cosigned that letter.

MIKE ROGERS (R), FORMER HOUSE INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: Yes, so, one of the things an investigation, in any investigation where there's an electronic wiretap either for data or voice, there will be incidental collection, meaning that person engaged in that intercept was never intended by, under the warrant, to get collected on, if that makes sense.

So those are all very, very well -- there's a record kept of that. They have to go back to the judge and talk about incidental collection.

So, I think what the chairman was saying is, "Hey, those names should never come out in those investigations, because they were likely not guilty of anything and shouldn't be tied to that investigation in that way."

So, collecting all of that information this is good, looks like a bipartisan effort to say, who was collecting and was that information leaked? That is serious, and that in and of itself could be a criminal action by somebody in the Department of Justice.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody stand by. There's more information coming in.

Also another important note, our CNN town hall special with the Health and Human Services secretary, Dr. Tom Price. That will be tonight, Obamacare. What comes next? Join Dana Bash and me, 9 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

We'll take a quick break. Much more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:42:13] BLITZER: We're back with our political experts. Mark Preston, CNN just spoke to Paul Ryan. He wouldn't say if the bill would be able to pass the House as-is if the vote was held today. Are they going to have to amend this bill in a major way?

PRESTON: I think so. Look, and the problem for them is by amending it to try to mollify the concerns of the real conservative side of the Republican conference in the House, is going to raise even greater concerns from the more centrist wing.

Now, they perhaps, if they're able to get conservatives on board of the bill by putting in certain amendments that would make conservatives happy, when it gets over to the Senate specifically, they're going to have a very hard time getting that through. Specifically, when you're talking about Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski and others who are looking at the Medicaid part of this bill; and they don't like the fact that it's going to go away.

Now, one of the things that conservatives want to do is they want to try to strip Medicaid by 2018, basically end it and change how they end up servicing more of the lower-income folks. But right now, they are in deep trouble, and it was interesting to hear during that interview just a short time ago, Wolf, is that Paul Ryan said the White House and his team is still working hand in glove. I just wonder when the White House decides to split in a more public way with Paul Ryan on this bill.

BLITZER: You know, Rebecca, when Jake Tapper in that CNN interview that just occurred spoke with the speaker, he asked him pointedly, "You were out -- the president was out in Michigan just a little while ago and he spoke about car emissions, spoke about other issues, never once mentioned repealing and replacing Obamacare. Didn't even raise the issue." And that sort of is a thunderous silence, from -- from my perspective.

BERG: It really is. Certainly, Republican leaders in Congress who are trying to push this legislation forward heard that silence loud and clear. They need the president right now to be using his bully pulpit as much as possible to try to move this legislation forward, and especially to rally public support behind it and explain it to the voters who supported him. Because the problem that they are facing right now in Congress is that

you have these conservatives on the right, these more centrist Republicans on the left who are having trouble explaining this as a good thing to their constituents. Ultimately, that's what this is going to come down to, because these lawmakers, frankly, want to get reelected. They don't want to be walking the plank on this bill, as Tom Cotton said over the weekend, and putting themselves in political peril. And it helps to have a president out there supporting it.

But frankly, the White House at this point, Wolf, is just not totally supportive of this legislation. They're kind of agnostic about the bill as it stands. Donald Trump, we know, is not a huge policy guy to begin with. And they had a meeting, actually, yesterday in the West Wing with a group of senators who are more on the conservative side of the spectrum. And the takeaway from that meeting, I was told by one source, was that the White House is still in negotiating mode on this bill, and they're thinking about fixes that can be made. So I think, once they have a final bill they're happy with, maybe they will get to that bully pulpit stage, but a lot of Republicans are wishing that they were there right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it was really surprising, though, that the President didn't mention health care in that speech in Michigan.

Mike Rogers, while I have you, put on your hat as a former intelligence committee chairman. I want to get your reaction to the two Russian spies now being indicted by the U.S. Justice Department for that Yahoo! hack back in 2014, half a billion accounts hacked. The Justice Department said they hacked Yahoo! to gain access about individual users, including Russian journalists and U.S. and Russian government officials.

This is the first time the U.S. has actually charged Russian officials for cyber offenses. Does this speak to how much of a threat Russian hacking operations are to the U.S. and others right now?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: Oh, absolutely. And this is why this is important. If you remember a couple years ago, the Chinese government broke into our OMB and stole thousands, literally millions, I think, of classified files. That was government espionage on a government target, and they took that information and are using it for bad purposes in China, to target Americans for certain things.

Think about what -- this happened in the Russians, and this is why this is so important and why this indictment is so important. They've become far more aggressive in cyberspace of recent than we've seen them in the past. And one thing this confirms is that Russian intelligence services are working with individual criminals and criminal organizations to accomplish this theft.

Why do we know that? Because information that was stolen from Yahoo! is now on sale in the deep and dark web. That's criminal activity, not necessarily nation state government espionage activity, so the Russians took advantage of it. And I think DOJ is making a very important statement by indicting

them, along with these other cyber criminals, to finally show this connection between the Russians and criminal groups operating around the world.

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by. Speaking of indictments, we're getting word, two new indictments of top U.S. naval officers. Stand by for details of a scandal involving bribery and sex in exchange for classified U.S. naval information.

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[17:51:50] BLITZER: Critical moments in the effort by Republicans to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

Mike Rogers, who used to be in the House of Representatives, looks like a big battle brewing among Republicans themselves. How do they get out of it?

ROGERS: Well, I think they're going to have to rework the bill. I think they're going to have to take it step by step. You know, one of the things is, this is the beginning of the process. So if leadership comes out and is married to this bill, I think they're going to be in for big trouble.

It doesn't seem that way to me. It seems what they're going to have to do, take into considerations the concerns, both in the Senate and in the House, from members who have concerns about the direction of this bill.

And I think, candidly, what they're going to have to do, Wolf, is decide that it may take steps to undo what took steps to get into in health care. Meaning, they're not going to get everything they want today. They're going to have to push it out as long as they have a plan over several years that minimizes the impact on families who might lose coverage and maximizes the economic side and gain for the savings in this.

If they do it over years and talk about it, I think they'll be okay. And to do that, they're going to need the President out using his bully pulpit and then leaders in both chambers using their bully pulpit. They're not even close to that happening now.

BLITZER: But do you know during the campaign, Mike, the President, as a candidate, almost on a daily basis, said this is the top priority, repeal and replace ObamaCare, get rid of it immediately. It's disastrous. It's got to be removed.

If they can't do it, that they're going to spread it out over years, that's a major failure on the part of the President and the Republican leadership in the House and Senate, right?

ROGERS: I don't think it's failure. It's the realization that the tentacles of the Obama health care plan got into health care and is collapsing markets today. And this is the biggest concern. There are real markets, healthcare markets, that are collapsing where people are losing choices rapidly, and companies are saying they can't sustain it.

So if they don't do something, we're going to have a huge mess in health care in the coming years. So I think they can say, listen, we are going to get rid of it, and we're going to come up with a plan that's responsible so that you don't have the left versus right attacking each other for the next two years about a very personal issue, somebody's healthcare.

I think if they look like adults coming through this process and say, yes, we're going to replace it and here is how we're going to do it, I think that they could gain a lot of support --

BLITZER: You know --

ROGERS: -- both in the Congress and from Americans.

BLITZER: And quickly, Rebecca Berg, if the Republicans lose 19 Republicans, they can't get to that 216 majority they need to pass it and move it over to the Senate. And already, what, that's 21 Republicans if they lose. Already 19 Republicans have said they either will oppose it or they're not inclined to go along with it right now. They've got a big problem.

BERG: They do. And one of the reasons, Wolf, that this is so difficult, at least right now as the bill stands, is you have a number of centrist Republicans who are usually loyal soldiers, who usually go along with what their leadership wants to do, what Paul Ryan wants to do, who are concerned about this bill because they're in districts where there's a high proportion of elderly people or where Medicaid expansion has gone into effect.

[17:55:03] And they're in this very difficult political position of having to explain to their constituents that their government subsidies or their government health care is going to be reduced or completely taken away under this legislation. And that is very difficult to do. That's why you're seeing this bill face such an uphill battle at this point with those Republicans.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Thanks.

Coming up, as top Republicans openly dismiss President Trump's claim that he was wiretapped, the President breaks his silence, saying, quote, "Wiretap covers a lot of different things."

And with the Republican health care plan in serious danger right now, the White House suggests it's open to changes. But when President Trump hits the road to rally supporters as he did earlier in the day, he didn't even mention health care.

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