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THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Congressman Jason Chaffetz; Republican Health Care Bill in Trouble?; Trump Stands By Unsubstantiated Wiretapping Claims; Trump Meets With Merkel; Standing By for Intelligence Committee Statement on Justice Dept Info; Tillerson: Pre-Emptive Strike Against North Korea An "Option"; Trump Involves German Chancellor in Defending Wiretapping Claims. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 17, 2017 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Utterly ridiculous. In a rare statement, the British intelligence agency dismisses allegations it spied on President Trump, allegations that were repeated by White House officials. Were White House officials forced to apologize?
Sixteen minutes. Very disturbing new details of a White House intrusion, a fence jumper hiding from the Secret Service on the grounds of the executive mansion for more than a quarter of an hour before being caught. I will talk to the lawmaker who launched an investigation, Congressman Jason Chaffetz.
And arm-twisting. President Trump says he is persuading Republican opponents of the GOP health care bill to support it. But with less than a week before the House votes on the measure, more than two dozen Republican representatives still aren't backing the bill. Will last- minute changes to it get them on board?
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I am Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, new turmoil sparked by President Trump's claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama.
Mr. Trump stood by his unfounded allegation during a news conference with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, herself reportedly a target of the U.S. surveillance, with the president saying, and I'm quoting him now, "At least we have something in common."
The Justice Department has handed over documents pertaining to the president's claims to congressional investigators. Mr. Trump also refused to apologize for Press Secretary Sean Spicer's suggestion that British spies were behind the alleged surveillance, a notion that U.K. intelligence dismissed as -- quote -- "utterly ridiculous."
A source tells CNN British officials were livid at the accusation and Spicer apologized. The president said Spicer was only referring to allegations he heard from a conservative commentator on Fox News. Also breaking tonight, a U.S. Secret Service source tells CNN that the
man who jumped the White House fence one week ago tonight was on the grounds for 16 minutes or more before he was taken into custody just steps from the main door to the mansion.
Our source says the man set off several alarms, but was able to avoid other sensors. We're going to get the latest from the head of the House Oversight Committee who has launched an investigation. Congressman Jason Chaffetz is standing by live, along with our correspondents and expert analysts, as we cover this hour's breaking news.
Let's begin over at the White House with our senior White House correspondent there, Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, there is still no evidence still, but the president clearly not backing down on his wiretap claim.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president is standing by those allegations, now two weeks old, that President Obama launched some type of a wiretap on him at Trump Tower.
This all became a subject of a question today at a press conference the president held. This has been debunked across Washington, Republicans and Democrats alike. This could have been an opportunity for the president to sort of get this over with. But that's not what happened at all when he was questioned by a German reporter today. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Government officials in London rejected White House claims that the alleged wiretapping on you, on Trump Tower, on the Trump Organization or members of your campaign was -- that British intelligence was either responsible for it or involved in it.
And after these claims are rejected, what is your take on that? Are there other suspects, or do you think it was a mistake to blame British intelligence for this?
And, by the way, my second question, are there, from time to time, tweets that you regret?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Very seldom.
QUESTION: Very seldom. So, you would never wish...
TRUMP: Probably wouldn't be here right now, but very seldom. We have a tremendous group of people that listen, and I can get around the media when the media doesn't tell the truth. So, I like that.
As far as wiretapping, I guess, this past administration -- at least we have something in common, perhaps.
TRUMP: And just to finish your question, we said nothing.
All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television.
I didn't make an opinion on it. That was a statement made by a very talented lawyer on FOX. And so you shouldn't be talking to me. You should be talking to FOX, OK?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: So, the president there confirming that this whole thing started with an allegation on FOX, with a commentary on FOX and other news reports.
Well, about an hour after that report, FOX News actually issued a statement through anchor Shepard Smith. And he said this, Wolf. He said: "FOX News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano's commentary. FOX knows of no evidence of any kind that the now president of the United States was under surveillance."
The president there in the East Room of the White House passing the buck onto a legal analyst and they say there simply is no evidence here. At the end of the day here, Wolf, this allegation made some two weeks ago, yes, it has created a stir here in Washington, but it actually also sparked that international incident.
The British were infuriated by this. The White House expressed regret and I was told he this morning by an official indeed apologized. But then later on, Sean Spicer, after that briefing said we do not regret anything and we did not and do not apologize.
As we stand here on this Friday evening, Wolf, this still hangs over the White House and it has grown far more than something just here that Washington is talking about.
BLITZER: Yes, it's almost two weeks it's been hanging over the White House and seems to be getting worse.
Jeff Zeleny, at the White House, thanks very much.
More breaking news. The U.S. Justice Department has handed over documents about the president's wiretap claim to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.
Let's go to our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju, who is working the story for us.
Manu, you just had a chance to speak to the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. What did he say?
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he said that he does not believe that the Justice Department document will actually show what Donald Trump was been saying, that he was wiretapped under the orders of President Obama. I talked to him and also Devin Nunes, the chairman of the committee,
before they read the letter, as they were receiving the letter. Nunes too was very skeptical that it would back up any of President Trump's claims.
But Adam Schiff went a bit further, also being very critical of President Trump for suggesting, saying on the world stage alongside Angela Merkel that and the fact that he does believe he was wiretapped. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I'm not sure that we need in writing that which we are all too aware of, and that is there is no basis for what the president has said and what the president repeated today.
And I just have to express my mortification at the president's comments again today with Angela Merkel. For him to repeat once again in the presence of one of our most significant allies this outlandish claim that he was wiretapped by his predecessor, it really ought to appall Americans.
And it just reflects so poorly on the United States around the world. This should have never been a topic of debate, a flippant remark or discussion, and a flippant remark in that press conference. And it's just mortifying.
RAJU: How confident are you that that letter is going to show that there is no evidence of wiretapping?
SCHIFF: I'm absolutely confident. There's really no question about this.
The president's statements before and his tweets since leading right up today have no basis in fact.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, Wolf, Mr. Schiff also was expressing some frustration that actually the letter that was received by the Intelligence Committee came on a Friday afternoon, as most members were leaving town, including Mr. Schiff, who was on the way to the airport and was not able to review the one copy that was given to the House Intelligence Committee, but still expressing some confidence there that he does not believe there will be anything to back up what the president is saying.
Also Schiff telling me earlier that he believed that when Director Comey, James Comey, of the FBI comes before the House Intelligence Committee Monday on a public hearing, he believes he too will back down what President Trump has said, say there is no evidence behind it.
We will hear what they actually reviewed in this private setting. We're waiting for Devin Nunes, the chairman of the committee, to emerge. He has been reviewing these documents some time. But Nunes told me as he went in there, he believes this is a classified letter, so will see exactly what they can divulge publicly -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Manu, thanks very much, Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.
Meanwhile, there are some details tonight about the man who jumped the White House fence, sources now telling CNN he was on the grounds of the executive mansion for 16 minutes last Friday, before being captured.
CNN's Jessica Schneider is with us right now.
Jessica, we're told the man was able to avoid sensors.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Wolf, for 16 minutes or more, that 26-year-old intruder evaded detection by bypassing some alarm sensors and setting others off, but he was able to make his way through on the White House grounds and end up on the doorstep of the president.
SCHNEIDER (voice-over): Tonight, CNN has learned alarming new details about the White House intruder who got within feet of the president's residence last Friday night.
According to a Secret Service source, video surveillance shows 26- year-old Jonathan Tran hopped a fence of the grounds at the northwest corner by the Treasury Building, then crossed East Executive Avenue.
He jumped a gate near an unmanned guard post and walked along the driveway. Tran set off several alarms, but continued undetected. Sources say some of the alarms may have failed. Then Tran moved around to the South Side of the White House, through the first lady's garden.
He went undetected on the South Side grounds for 15 minutes or more before finally being caught at the entrance to the residence just below the president's bedroom. President Trump was inside the residence.
JONATHAN WACKROW, FORMER SECRET SERVICE AGENT: There were multiple failures of the security system, whether it was the physical security of the fencing, the technological security means and the human capital means. This absolutely should not have happened.
SCHNEIDER: The source says Tran was observed looming around Pennsylvania Avenue as early as 6:00 p.m., almost six hours before he was arrested.
WACKROW: That's disturbing that officers in the area didn't key on any of the pre-attack behavior that may have been present.
SCHNEIDER: It's not the first time, this video showing a previous security breach in 2014 when a 42-year-old Iraq War veteran armed with a knife made it all the way inside the White House into the East Room before being tackled just 29 seconds after he jumped the fence.
The day after this most recent White House breach, the president praised the Secret Service.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Secret Service did a fantastic job. It was a troubled person.
SCHNEIDER: And Thursday, another security breach, an agent's laptop with Trump Tower floor plans and evacuation protocols taken from the agent's car Thursday morning near her home in Brooklyn. Also stolen, lapel pins used by on-duty agents. Secret Service says that laptop is encrypted.
SCHNEIDER: But that laptop cannot be traced and it cannot be erased remotely.
As for that White House intruder, he was charged and he's now being monitored by federal authorities while wearing a GPS tracking device. The Secret Service does confirm there is now a comprehensive investigation. And the Secret Service adds the agents are extremely angry and disappointed with how all this transpired -- Wolf.
BLITZER: They should be. It's a really, really bad situation. Thanks very much for that, Jessica Schneider, reporting.
Let's get some more on all of these breaking developments.
The chairman of the House Oversight Committee, Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah, is joining us.
Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R), UTAH: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: I want to get to this latest Secret Service problem.
But you also heard President Trump in his news conference with Angela Merkel today once again imply that he had been surveilled or wiretapped by the Obama administration. He has no evidence to back up that claim.
What message does that send to our allies, for him to be making a claim like this with no evidence to back it up, especially in front of a world leader like Angela Merkel?
CHAFFETZ: Well, if the president has evidence, I wish he would share it with us.
Now, the House Intelligence Committee is leading out on this and looking into Russia. But I can tell you from the Oversight and Government Reform perspective, we haven't seen any evidence of this. I have not seen any evidence of mass voter fraud and I have not seen evidence of wiretapping by President Obama.
So, if there is something there, we will reiterate, please share with us. But we haven't seen it.
BLITZER: Do you believe the FBI director, James Comey, when he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee in open session on Monday will put this issue to rest?
CHAFFETZ: Well, I hope so.
I mean, he's but one agency, but he's certainly in a position to know. And I do think it's important in this country to have an open and transparent hearing and be able to ask tough questions and get those answers. And there are other agencies that could potentially be involved.
The president seems very insistent that this is true. I just would like to see the evidence of it. But I think the hearing that the Intelligence Committee is having on Monday is obviously a very important one.
BLITZER: Yes, we are going to have extensive live coverage of that on Monday.
Your Republican colleague Congressman Tom Cole, you know him. He said today that President Trump owes President Obama an apology for what he called his reckless claim of wiretapping. Do you agree?
CHAFFETZ: Well, let's get to the conclusion of it.
If the president is still as recently as today is saying that he believes it's true, that extends it. Again, we haven't come to the conclusion. And so we will let the facts take us where they are, but I haven't seen any facts in this case. I would like them to share them with us.
BLITZER: The White House today also insisted that it had offered no apology to the British government for accusing its intelligence agency of spying on the president at Trump Tower during the campaign under orders from President Obama.
The president and the White House press secretary were citing a report by Judge Andrew Napolitano, a FOX legal analyst. Was that a mistake to utter those words from the podium of the White House and for the president once again to repeat that report by Judge Napolitano?
CHAFFETZ: Well, I hope that people understand that just one account of one news story, particularly when some of these are just by anonymous sources, that's not nearly enough, doesn't rise to the level where you should be out and repeating those.
They have to be very careful that way. I have not seen all the facts in that particular issue. So I can't issue sort of my final judgment on it. But, again, they need to be ultra careful. This is the leader of the free world. And when you're at that podium,
you have got to be very, very careful with that.
BLITZER: Yes. You heard that statement from Shepard Smith on FOX News right after the president made that statement today at the news conference, saying FOX has no evidence at all to back up the assertions from Judge Napolitano or anything else suggesting that the president was wiretapped.
Here's the bottom-line question. Then I want to move on, Congressman.
Why do you think the president is reaching for a single FOX News story to back up his claims, instead of relying on the U.S. intelligence community or the law enforcement community? He's the president of the United States. He can just pick up the phone, and say, get over here, tell me what's going on. Instead, he's relying on these news reports. Why do you think that is?
CHAFFETZ: I'm not in a position to answer that. I'm really not.
You have to ask the White House, you have to ask the president himself. I don't know.
BLITZER: All right, let's talk about the Secret Service right now. This is a subject you have been working on for a long time.
BLITZER: And you wrote a letter to the Secret Service regarding this latest incident a week ago on March 10, when a man jumped the White House fence.
Among other things, you write this. And I will put it up on the screen: "The committee has received allegations of additional information that was not included in the affidavit. According to those allegations, the individual may have triggered alarms the U.S. Secret Service ignored, may have moved around on the White House grounds undetected for a considerable amount of time and may have attempted entry into the building. If true, these allegations raise questions about whether the agency's security protocols are adequate."
So, here's the question. If that's true, it seems like many layers of security at one of the most sensitive spots on Earth failed. How did that happen?
CHAFFETZ: It was complete and utter, total failure.
Look, they have concentric circles that radiate out from where the president is, no matter where he is. But the White House is probably the most targeted place on the face of the planet. We spend billions of dollars to secure it. The president was in the residence that night.
How some person can go up to the fence, jump it, be on the ground for what Secretary Kelly -- I got off the phone with him literally about an hour ago -- Secretary Kelly told me that this person was there on the ground for 17 minutes, went undetected, was able to get up next to the White House, hide behind a pillar, look through a window, rattle the door handle.
It's just beyond comprehension, especially because it is not the first time this has happened. I have been on your show talking to you about other fence-jumping incidents. The moment somebody jumps over the fence, they have to be taken down.
And it really -- this one scares me probably more than any because of the length of the time, the proximity to the president, getting right up close to the White House and going so long without being detected. It makes no sense.
And I don't know what in the world they're doing, but it's a total and complete embarrassment.
BLITZER: When you say rattle the door handle, I assume the door was locked, right?
CHAFFETZ: We don't know whether it was locked. The intruder did not get into the White House.
But to be able to touch the White House, come on. That's why we spend billions of dollars with personnel and dogs and technologies and fences and undercover people and video surveillance, and yet the person is able to get up close to the White House and spend 17 minutes before he's apprehended? That's just unbelievable.
BLITZER: Yes. That was not -- by the way, the rattling of the door handle, but, potentially, he might have even been able to get inside the executive mansion, the residential part of that mansion.
The president was inside. None of that was in the official statement released by the Secret Service. And all of us do remember that 2014 incident when that intruder ran through the North Lawn of the White House, got inside.
And we assumed, all of us assumed the Secret Service had learned lessons from that incident. Did they?
CHAFFETZ: We have been given repeated assurance by the Secret Service that the technology was working, that they had solved these problems, that they had gone through this.
Now, I tell you that I was impressed when I talked to Secretary Kelly. He has been out there. He walked the route exactly as the intruder did it. He's a very hands-on secretary.
And I think he's flabbergasted by this. I am sharing with him the past experiences over the last three years that we have looked at the Secret Service on this issue.
The men and women of the Secret Service, they are better than this, but how can they have such repeated, constant failures on this? I don't know how else to sound the alarm bell for the Secret Service and say, folks, I know it's boring and nothing happens maybe for days, weeks, months, but then when it does happen, you have got to pounce on these people. It's just common sense, and it's very frustrating.
BLITZER: Congressman, I have got to take a break.
But, very quickly, for 17 minutes, alarms were going off, but this guy was running around the South Lawn of the White House getting up to the South Lawn entrance to the White House?
CHAFFETZ: No, no, no, no. What I'm saying is, there are supposed to be alarms. There are multiple redundant systems that are supposed to trigger a response.
And so part of what we need to learn as part of oversight is, what kind of response did they get? The first excuse we heard in talking to the whistle-blower is that they may have thought it was an animal, maybe a raccoon or a squirrel or something like that. Maybe they did send somebody out there.
But, again, they went undetected. And so I don't think it was dealt with properly from top to bottom. I really don't.
BLITZER: I'm going to need you to stay with us, Congressman.
There is more breaking news coming into the THE SITUATION ROOM. We just learned that the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, is about to release a statement based on what the Justice Department has just informed the committee about. Stand by for that and a lot more on the breaking news.
We will be right back.
BLITZER: We're back with the House Oversight Committee chairman, Jason Chaffetz, as we follow this afternoon's breaking news.
And there's lots of it. We're also standing by for a statement now from the House Intelligence Committee chairman on information provided to the committee this afternoon from the Justice Department on surveillance activities during the presidential campaign. Stand by for that.
Congressman, in addition to that lapse on the grounds of the White House, the Secret Service reporting that this individual, what, got 17 minutes of free time to walk around the grounds of the White House a week ago.
We're now also learning that a laptop belonging to a Secret Service agent was stolen yesterday in New York City, and the laptop contained Trump Tower floor plans and evacuation protocols. Lapel pins worn by Secret Service agents were also stolen. Here is the question. Were protocols broken in this case?
CHAFFETZ: We don't know. But that's another question we have for the Secret Service. We're also concerned that a radio was also stolen.
You can replace lapel pins literally within an hour or two. The encryption, we hope, is in place on that laptop. But it would seem that there's a break of protocol to simply leave a laptop in a car when it's not on the scene of where you're actually working.
And so why was it just sitting there, so somebody can break into a car and steal that stuff? It just seems like it should be a violation of protocol. But we need the Secret Service to answer that as well.
BLITZER: Yes, that information you're sharing with us about a radio also being stolen, I had not heard that. That sounds new.
What can you tell us about that?
CHAFFETZ: Again, we're basing a lot of this on news reports at this point. We have some very difficult situations that are going on.
And I love the men and women of the Secret Service. They do a very difficult job. They're understaffed by roughly 1,000 agents and officers, but you can't have these catastrophic failures, particularly the fence-jumping incident.
BLITZER: While I have you, totally unrelated, a lot of us remember some contentious moments that you had during the last recess when you held some town halls in your district in Utah. You said you thought some of those protesters intended to bully and intimidate.
Here's the question. Was that a fair accusation to make about some of your constituents who came to simply have their voices heard?
CHAFFETZ: Well, look, after an hour and 20 minutes of yelling and screaming and flailing, look, I think a lot of people came to have a dialogue.
Most of them were Utahans. Most of them were not paid. But there were some agitators, and more than just a few, that you couldn't have the actual dialogue and discussion back and forth. And that's why I think it was a missed opportunity.
I went there. I don't suppose that everybody agrees with me on everything, but that's why you have town hall meetings is to have that interaction. But you can watch the video for yourself. It was so over the top.
And I do think it was bullying and intimidation not just to me, but trying to do it to other people who just don't want to be part of such an irate group of people. You have every right to protest and put up signs and disagree, but let's at least have a dialogue particularly on issues where we disagree.
It's helpful to me and I think it's helpful to the people I represent as well. BLITZER: How are you going to vote next Thursday when the legislation
to repeal and replace Obamacare comes up on the House floor for a final vote?
CHAFFETZ: Well, I'm encouraged by what happened today.
The president's interaction with the Republican Study Committee, Representative Mark Walker, Mia Love and other members were there. They were very encouraged with some of the alterations that are happening.
Look, for me, Obamacare is a complete and total disaster. I have heard story after story after story about how expensive it is, how the deductibles have gone up, the coverage is worse, the access to competitive products is way down.
We all know that Obamacare is in a death spiral. So, I'm excited about this package. I do think it's going to offer the right solution. I look forward to the final product, and yes, we're going to have a big vote on Thursday.
[18:30:17] BLITZER: So it sounds like you're inclined, at least as of now, to vote "yea"?
CHAFFETZ: Oh, yes. At this point I am -- I am leaning towards a yes. I've got to read more of the final details. There is a three-pronged approach to this.
But what it does in terms of helping the deficit, making sure that we get away from this mandate that I just think is a violation of who we are as an American. But also making sure that people have access to good quality healthcare products and services. I mean, that's what we've got to do, no matter where you are in the socioeconomic scale. And that's what we're trying to do, and I think we've gone a long way to making this much better for Americans.
And to do nothing is -- would be the absolute worst thing in the world we could do.
BLITZER: Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah, thanks so much for joining us.
CHAFFETZ: Thanks, Wolf, appreciate it.
BLITZER: The president will be happy with what he just heard on the vote.
Just ahead, President Trump uses the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, to press his wiretap claim.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As far as wiretapping, I guess, by, you know, this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[18:36:10] BLITZER: The breaking news. We're standing by for a statement from the House Intelligence Committee on information provided to the committee late this afternoon from the U.S. Justice Department on surveillance activities during the presidential campaign.
Devin Nunes, the chairman of the committee, about to release a statement. We'll have live coverage. Stay with us for that.
In the meantime, let's dig deeper with our experts and analysts on the breaking news of the day. And Mark Preston, let me start with you.
During the news conference with Angela Merkel today, the president once again, at least cited this totally unproven report by a FOX News commentator that a British intelligence service had spied on him at the orders of President Obama during the campaign. When asked about that, he said, "You shouldn't be talking to me. You should be talking to FOX."
MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: Right.
BLITZER: And so an hour later, this is what we heard from Shepard Smith of FOX.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: FOX News cannot confirm Judge Napolitano's commentary. FOX News knows of no evidence of any kind that the now president of the United States was surveilled at any time, in any way. Full stop.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. So where does the president go from here?
PRESTON: Well, first of all, could you imagine if you had to do that? I feel back for Shep Smith that he has to go out and insert himself into a story that he has nothing to do with.
The president goes nowhere to do here. He's already placed the blame on FOX News. We've already seen Sean Spicer do the same thing, as well. He will never apologize about this situation, no matter what we hear from the House intelligence chairman, which we should hear that soon. Nunes has already come out himself, just a few days ago, and said that he's seen no evidence so far. And we suspect from these documents that the FBI, Department of Justice have given to the Intelligence Committee that it will remain the same. But Donald Trump is not known for apologizing, and I wouldn't expect it this time.
BLITZER: He sort of doubled down, making a joke out of the whole thing, Jackie, when he was with Angela Merkel, whose phone had been tapped when -- by the Obama administration, by some intelligence services during the Obama administration. He was joking, "Oh, wiretapping, at least we have something in common." Insisting, in effect, he was wiretapped.
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And the look on her face was sort of -- I think it was German for, "What"? Because she really -- she did not look amused.
And this kind of false -- if he was making a joke, it's too soon. It just -- it doesn't really -- it's not funny, because think about all the man-hours that have gone into looking -- looking into this. Think of all the time and energy that has gone into something that he started. This is completely started with Donald Trump, and it doesn't seem like it's going to end with Donald Trump. And you certainly can't laugh it off at this point.
PRESTON: What about just embarrassing, though, the previous administration? I mean, as well? Dredging up something from the past.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, we now have the bipartisan leadership of the House Intelligence Committee. We have, on Monday, the director of the FBI likely to knock this down. You have the head of the British intelligence service. You have FOX News, who he blamed it on today. I mean, you know...
KUCINICH: All of his allies that he's blaming.
LIZZA: You have -- and you have the former DNI. Right? So there is -- there's nobody in a position who would actually know about this that has given any credence.
BLITZER: The president is not backing -- he's doubling down, Bianna.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO! NEWS & FINANCE ANCHOR: Well, and it's becoming harder and harder to give him the benefit of the doubt. Look, under any other circumstance, out of the summit, we would have heard talk about ISIS; we would have heard talk about cooperation; we would have heard talk about North Korea; we would have heard talk about how tomorrow is the three-year anniversary of Russia annexing Crimea. None of that came up.
Instead, we have Angela Merkel basically defending the western order and -- and the president campaigning, in campaign mode.
This is the same president who said that it was hard for him to believe the results of 17 investigations, 17 intelligence agencies reporting that Russia infiltrated our elections; yet because of one judge on FOX News and because of one newspaper article, he's doubling down on saying that his predecessor and our closest ally tried to spy on him.
[18:40:09] BLITZER: But Bianna, people all over the world, average people and world leaders, they're watching the United States right now. Fifty-seven days into this new presidency, and they're wondering what is going on? What does this do to the credibility of the president?
GOLODRYGA: Well, I think people here at home, in Washington, a few blocks from where this was happening, are wondering what's going on, as well. But you're absolutely right. You know, we can say, look, this is uncomfortable; this is unprecedented.
But at the same time, we have to have an administration and a president that we can hold accountable and who we believe. Facts do matter. We may be sending troops into Syria within the next couple of weeks. Lives are at stake here. So suggesting and doubling down that, "Yes, I do believe I was wiretapped and evidence to come," is not going to cut it.
BLITZER: And the last thing, Jackie, that Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, wanted to bring up at a news conference is when -- when her cell phone was tapped. That was an awkward moment in U.S./German relations. I'm sure she didn't want to be facing that kind of issue today.
KUCINICH: This entire visit was an awkward moment. And I just -- I'd like to remind everyone that nothing -- nothing unexpected has happened yet to this administration, God forbid, a crisis. And we don't know how they're going to react, because they've sort of been mired in crises of their own creation that they can't get out of. So what happens when something actually happens?
BLITZER: Yes. All right. Everybody stay with us. Don't go too far away.
Just ahead, the vote on the Republican healthcare bill now set for next Thursday. But more than two dozen Republicans in the House, they still are not on board. Will President Trump be able to persuade them before the critical vote?
[18:46:26] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Air Force One has just landed in West Palm Beach, the president on board. He's going to spend the weekend once again at his estate Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.
We're also standing by right now for a statement from the House Intelligence Committee late this afternoon. The U.S. Justice Department gave the committee some information about what is known about surveillance activities during the presidential campaign. The statement, when it comes, will be our first indication of what the Justice Department is giving that committee, Devin Nunes, the chairman, is going to be having a statement. We'll have that for you as well.
In the meantime, let's talk about the repeal and replace of Obamacare legislation.
Jackie, there's going to be a final vote on the House floor next Thursday. But all accounts it will be close. The president is working hard to get it approved. What's your analysis?
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, so, they -- it seems like he's made inroads with certain conservatives, not all conservatives. And part of the deal that he reportedly made today has to do with imposing work requirements on some Medicaid recipient and giving lump sum to states instead for -- instead of the amount increasing by the number of beneficiaries.
Now, this does not solve the complaints of the Freedom Caucus who say they still have enough votes to sink this thing because they still think this doesn't do enough and is still Obamacare light.
BLITZER: How do you see it, Mark?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I see it that it needs 216 votes and if it gets 216 votes and goes to the Senate, it's still dead on arrival because over in the Senate, there's obviously more power given to the individual lawmaker, and you're going to have centrist over there, such as Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins and others. And, quite frankly, you want to even get some Republican senators who are a little bit more conservative that looks at this and says, I can't go back to my constituents with this.
BLITZER: This is a major struggle now for the Republican leadership, the speaker and the president, Bianna.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO NEWS & FINANCE ANCHOR: Yes, that's right. And the irony is that he's going to have to veer far to the right to get this into the House. But as you mentioned, he's going to have to turn to the left to get this passed in the Senate. So, he seems to be in a pickle right now.
He says, of course, that he's the man behind the art of the deal, right? He can close deals. He seems very confident right now. It's the words coming out of his mouth. Of course, we'll jave to see whether or not this will actually come through.
BLITZER: Listen to what the president said today on this very issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We met with 12 pretty much noes in Congress. You say that a little while ago, and they went from all noes to all yeses. And we have a lot of yeses coming in. It's all coming together.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: It's all coming together. He sounds pretty optimistic.
PRESTON: He's good.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: You know --
LIZZA: I'm not sure that those were all -- those were public noes, if they were privately no, and he twisted their arm, and yes, he got some votes. If you notice his language throughout the day when he was talking about that, sometimes they were noes, sometimes they were semi-noes. Anyway, he does seem to have the center of the Republican conference in the House on board with this.
The fundamental tension is any time you restrict Medicaid a little bit, you win over some conservatives and you lose some moderates. That's the simplest way to explain this. The Freedom Caucus, the most conservative, some 40 members in the House, that is the group that has still not come on board.
BLITZER: He can't lose more than 21 Republicans, Mark. Right now, our estimate based on phone calls and information we're getting.
PRESTON: It's about 25 right now and that can go either way. But to the point about him being such a great deal maker and he talks about that, he's not negotiating one-on-one. He needs to basically cut a deal with 535 different people.
GOLODRYGA: By the way, he's sort of distancing himself from this as well.
GOLODRYGA: This isn't his top priority.
KUCINICH: Although he has had more buy-in today and over the last --
BLITZER: Certainly a lot more today than yesterday.
[18:50:01] KUCINICH: Yes, absolutely. And Mike Pence has been up there talking to these guys for several days.
LIZZA: There's stuff going -- there's stuff going on behind the scenes. I was at the White House Saturday night doing some interviews. And who did I see? Mark Meadows, the head of the Freedom Caucus. He was in deep negotiations for several hours at the White House with Steve Bannon and other White House aides, and that's the linchpin. Those 40 members of the Freedom Caucus, Mark Meadows is the head of the Freedom Caucus.
BLITZER: What is he saying now after those meetings with Steve Bannon, the chief strategist?
LIZZA: They're still saying -- a senior White House official told me that meeting on Saturday night was the beginning of a larger deal but I don't think that deal has been consummated yet. The Freedom Caucus is not coming out publicly saying they're on board in any way.
GOLODRYGA: And you can't help thinking about the bridges he's burned with his predecessor, with President Obama. Of course, President Obama had been hoping to work with President Trump in forging this and getting more Democrats on board, at least. I can't imagine the two having a conversation about this right now or anything.
BLITZER: Tomorrow morning, just get back to this, and let's remind you, tomorrow morning, it will be exactly two weeks at 6:35 a.m., he started tweeting those four tweets concluding at 7:02 a.m. with the tweets that says "this is Nixon/Watergate, bad or sick guy", Bianna. Referring to the former president of the United States -- bad or sick guy.
GOLODRYGA: Yes, and it doesn't seem like President Obama sweat much at least publicly, but this is something I can't imagine him being able to tolerate.
LIZZA: It's haunted him ever since and this is not going away and I don't think this is going away until Donald Trump --
BLITZER: He doesn't like to say he's sorry, I made a mistake.
PRESTON: No, he doesn't.
Can I make a really bold prediction?
If this -- if this one incident happened in any other presidential administration, that's what that administration would in part be remembered by. I think we're going to forget about it because he's going to do something more outrageous down the road.
GOLODRYGA: We spent two weeks talking about it day in and day out.
BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more coming up.
We're standing by once again for our statement from the House Intelligence Committee, just received new information from the Justice Department related to President Trump's wiretapping claim.
We'll be right back.
[18:56:30] BLITZER: The Trump administration is taking a more aggressive stance against North Korea.
Our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is joining us.
Elise, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says military action against the Kim Jong-un regime is an "option".
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Of course, Wolf, no leader takes military option off the table. But it's important that he said this on the eve of his visit to Beijing where Secretary Tillerson is expected to warn Chinese leaders that the Trump administration is serious about combating the growing North Korean nuclear threat and expects them to do the same.
LABOTT (voice-over): After coming face-to-face with the enemy, the chief U.S. diplomat gave the clearest sign yet that the Trump administration would consider a preemptive strike against North Korea.
REX TILLERSON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: Certainly, we do not want for things to get to a military conflict, but obviously, if North Korea takes actions that threatens the South Korean forces or our own forces, then that will be met with an appropriate response. If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table.
LABOTT: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson toured the DMZ, the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea still in a state of war. The region on edge as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inches closer to having a nuclear tipped missile that could reach the U.S. mainland.
Donald Trump said during the campaign he would be willing to meet with Kim Jong-un.
DONALD TRUMP, THEN-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What the hell is wrong with speaking to him?
LABOTT: But today in Seoul, his top U.S. diplomat signaled a new U.S. strategy, one that did not include negotiations or waiting for the government of Kim Jong-un to collapse.
TILLERSON: Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended. We're exploring a new range of diplomatic, security and economic measures.
LABOTT: And he wouldn't rule out a controversial idea President Trump raised on the campaign trail, to give Japan and South Korea a nuclear weapon.
GORDON CHANG, AUTHOR, "NUCLEAR SHOWDOWN: NORTH KOREA TAKES ON THE WORLD": That ditches seven decades of U.S. settled proliferation policy, and that shows the anxiety in Washington right now, that they are willing to consider almost anything in order to keep North Korea in the box.
LABOTT: Tillerson's muscular tone comes on the eve of his arrival in Beijing Saturday. He will warn Chinese leaders to use more leverage over North Korea or face new sanctions on Chinese companies doing business with Kim's regime.
The tougher line echoed today by President Trump who tweeted, quote, "North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been playing the United States for years. China has done little to help."
Tillerson weighed into tensions between China and South Korea over Seoul's decision to deploy the American THAAD missile defense shield, which Beijing sees as a threat to its own nuclear deterrent. Beijing now banning South Korean imports and preventing Chinese tourists from traveling there to change Seoul's mind.
TILLERSON: We believe these actions are unnecessary and we believe they're troubling.
LABOTT: And while in Beijing, Tillerson will also set up the visit for the first-ever meeting between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping next month. North Korea will definitely be at the top of that agenda, Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly will be.
All right. Elise, thanks very much.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.