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Interview With Senator Lindsey Graham; Health Care Bill Showdown; Four People Killed in London Terror Attack; Trump Scrambling for Health Care Support on Eve of Vote; Growing Anxiety Over North Korean Threat After New Missile Test. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 22, 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: Tonight, a key Democratic says he has grave doubts.
Terror in London, panic and bodies in the streets as an attacker barrels towards the entrance of Britain's Parliament using a car and a knife as deadly weapons. We're standing by to learn the killer's identity.
In business with Putin? Former Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort and his ties to Russia are under even more suspicion tonight after a report alleging he earned millions of dollars by helping the Putin government.
And razor's edge. President Trump is racing against the clock to win support for the House health care bill and flip the votes of fellow Republicans who may hand him an embarrassing defeat just hours from now.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following two major breaking stories this hour here in Washington and London.
Right now, an urgent terrorism investigation is under way into an attack of the heart of Britain's government that killed at least three people, forced Parliament into lockdown and sent people running for their lives.
It began when a car mowed down pedestrians and crashed into the gate outside Parliament, causing at least two deaths there and multiple catastrophic injuries. The driver then ran toward the House of Commons, stabbing and killing a police officer before he was shot dead by police.
Authorities believe there was only one attacker, but a frantic search extended into the night.
Also breaking, a stunning new disclosure by the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee that he shared with the White House just a little while ago. Republican Devin Nunes says U.S. investigators picked up conversations potentially associated with President Trump during apparently legal surveillance of foreign officials not related to Russia.
Tonight, the committee's ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff, said he was blindsided by this information. He says he now has grave doubts about the way Nunes is handling their committee's investigation of Russia's election meddling. Schiff and Nunes agree there is still no evidence to support President Trump's debunked claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama.
But, tonight, Mr. Trump says he feels "somewhat vindicated."
I will talk about all the breaking news with Senator Lindsey Graham. He's a top member of the Armed Services and Judiciary Committees.
Our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju. He's covering a stunning new curve ball from the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the very angry reaction from the panel's top Democrat.
Manu, walk us through the breaking story.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, tonight, Devin Nunes, the chairman of the committee, creating an uproar by going public with what he had learned privately from a secret source, that some of Trump transition team's communication with officials were picked up incidentally in communications that were surveilled by the United States intelligence community.
Today, tonight, Democrats are concerned that Mr. Nunes went public without briefing them first and then he briefed the president of the United States about these communications just as the House Intelligence Committee is conducting its own investigation into Russia, Russia meddling and any improper contacts that may exist between the Trump campaign and the Russian officials.
The question tonight, Wolf, is who exactly was picked up by the incidental collections by the Intelligence Committee? When I had a chance to ask Mr. Nunes directly, was the president of the United States picked up, this is what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: And was the president also part of that incidental collection, his communications?
REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CALIFORNIA: Yes.
RAJU: They were?
NUNES: Yes. RAJU: You said that the president's communications were incidentally
collected, but then you said it's also possible. So, was it collected or is it possible it was collected?
NUNES: I just don't know the answer to that.
RAJU: So, you don't know if the president's communications...
NUNES: I know there was incidental collection regarding the president-elect and his team. I don't know if it was actually physically a phone call.
RAJU: And you don't know if it was the president himself, his communications?
NUNES: I do not know that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, members of the Intelligence Committee tell me, Wolf, some of the communications were picked up from the Trump transition team discussing how the new administration would start to form its new government and the that information was "unmasked" and then spread widely within the intelligence community, but not the president himself.
There was also some discussion apparently about the president's own family, family issues that were also part of that incidental collection. But, Wolf, nothing in here is vindicating the president's own claim that he was wiretapped under the orders of Barack Obama, Devin Nunes saying there is nothing in here that does support that claim.
They can't even say that any of this happened at Trump Tower, as the president himself alleged, Wolf.
BLITZER: Manu, I spoke just a little while ago with the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff. You spoke with him earlier as well. He's really upset and he's fuming about all this. Tell our viewers why.
RAJU: He believes this could undermine this bipartisan investigation into Russia. He says they did not learn about any of this information until Devin Nunes briefed reporters on this. And he's also raising questions exactly why Mr. Nunes went to the White House and talked to President Trump about this, raising the question, is Devin Nunes the chairman of this committee or is he a surrogate of the White House?
Here is what he said earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RAJU: Are you planning on pulling out of this investigation the way that you did during the Benghazi inquiry? And, two, did Chairman Nunes reveal any classified information today by his disclosures to the press?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: We actually stayed on the Benghazi Select Committee, but we knew from the outset that it was essentially going to be a political instrument to tear down Secretary Clinton's numbers.
And, of course, we will have to analyze what this development means. I do think that, if there is any chance remaining for us to conduct this investigation, we need to do it.
As I said earlier in the week, we could do a tremendous service to the country if we're able to do a credible investigation and at the end of the day provide a report to the American people that has Democrats and Republicans on the same page.
But if you have a chairman who is interacting with the White House and sharing information with the White House, when people around the White House are the subject of the investigation, and doing so before sharing it with the committee, it may -- it throws a profound doubt over whether that can be done credibly.
RAJU: Did Chairman Nunes reveal any classified information today?
SCHIFF: Well, it certainly -- it is certainly inappropriate for us to be discussing whether specific people were the subject of collection or incidental collection to any degree that can divulge who the targets of that surveillance may be.
So I'm not prepared to say that what the chairman said was classified or unclassified. I can say that it is beyond irregular to receive any evidence that's within the scope of an investigation -- and, clearly, if the chairman is right about the content here, it's within the scope of the issues we're looking at about whether masking procedures are followed and whether things are being leaked.
And I would say that the most profound concern here I have is that these actions simply raise enormous doubt about whether the committee can do its work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: The question now, Wolf, is where does the committee go from here, can it conduct a buy partisan bipartisan investigation?
As you noted, the House Intelligence Committee and Senate Intelligence are conducting separate investigations. Tonight, Wolf, the Senate Intelligence chairman, Richard Burr, the Republican, not commenting on this, saying he's going to worry about his own investigation.
But one member of the Intelligence Committee on the Senate side, Ron Wyden, saying that Mr. Nunes may have disclosed classified information, saying that it appears that he may have revealed classified information, which -- quote -- "would be a serious concern" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Manu, thank you, Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.
All this is adding a new layer of controversy to President Trump's claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama.
Let's check in with our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.
Jeff, you had a chance to ask the president about all this. Tell us what he said.
JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: We did briefly, Wolf.
This is all coming as something of a lifeline, at least an immediate one here for the White House which has been under siege all week for this, of course. But we did ask the president briefly what his view was of this afternoon. Let's watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
QUESTION: Do you feel vindicated by Chairman Nunes?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I somewhat do. I must tell you, I somewhat do. I very much appreciated the fact that they found what they found.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZELENY: They found what they found. But we tried asking him as he was meeting with some other lawmakers this afternoon what did they find, and he would answer any more questions about this.
Again, Wolf, this is all -- this whole extraordinary development from Capitol Hill really shocking all of Washington is simply raising more a certain about all of this.
It is beginning on a day when the president was trying to move beyond all these questions of his credibility. But it certainly is now raising more of a concern here, particularly if an independent investigation comes out of all of this here.
But the White House at least in the short term was receiving all of this as a bit of good news in a week that has not had much of it, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, good point. Thanks very much, Jeff Zeleny over at the White House.
Let's talk about all of these breaking story developments.
Senator Lindsey Graham is joining us. He's a former Republican presidential candidate, but he's also right now a top member of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committee.
Senator, thanks for joining us.
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: You see what's happening on a pretty slow news day. Let's talk about two very different versions of the story.
The House Intelligence Committee chairman, Devin Nunes, saying President Trump may have been surveilled. The ranking member, Congressman Adam Schiff, saying most names were masked. Our own Manu Raju says the content of the conversations that were unmasked, if you will, were just simply gossip among the transition team. What do you think the real story is?
GRAHAM: That's a really good question.
One, I don't know. But I guess here is the question for me. Does this fall into the category that the Trump campaign was surveilled? I don't think so. Does it fall into the category of being unlawful? I don't believe so.
Is it disturbing? In this regard, it is. I meet with foreign leaders all the times as a senator. I wonder if my meetings are being surveilled by intelligence community. If so, I think when I'm involved that may be inappropriate because I may be talking of things of policy that I don't want the executive branch to know about.
BLITZER: The FBI director and the National Security Agency director, they were testifying up on Capitol Hill before the House Intelligence Committee on Monday and said none of this. What does that tell you?
GRAHAM: It tells me that there is no evidence of surveilling of the Trump campaign where a warrant was issued or requested by the FBI, that the NSA was never involved in surveilling the Trump campaign ordered by the Obama administration.
Now, we surveil foreign agents all the time, foreign leaders. We surveil people as part of the intelligence gathering. The one thing that is a bit disturbing is that a transition team, you expect to be talking to other countries. What I want to know is when a transition team member talks to a representative of another country, what are the procedures to make sure that that is confidential in terms of the interaction between our government and a foreign nation?
BLITZER: Because you said there was no surveillance that was authorized, surveillance of Donald Trump or his transition team, but information may have been collected because they were in conversations with others who were then being legally surveilled.
BLITZER: Is that a problem from your perspective?
GRAHAM: Well, it's a problem in this regard. No, I'm glad we're surveilling people to make sure we can keep our country safe and have good intelligence about what's going on in the world. But there is a legal process.
So from what I understand is that Trump members were talking to people that were under legal surveillance. Here is the question I think for the country. Should the executive branch, should be the intelligence community be surveilling conversations between transition team members, members of Congress about policy, not intelligence gathering?
That's a good question. I don't know the answer to that. I would like to think that when I spoke to the prime of Iraq, that I wasn't being surveilled.
BLITZER: But, you know, some are suggests that Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman, is actually providing some sort of political cover for President Trump as the health care bill is in trouble right now, reports about Paul Manafort's ties to Russia. He was the Trump campaign chairman.
You have served in Congress. You have been on committees for a long time. Was it appropriate for Nunes to rush over to the White House and brief the White House and the president on this before even briefing his own committee, especially his ranking member?
GRAHAM: I certainly wouldn't have done that. That's for him to explain.
But Senator Whitehouse and myself have been conducting an investigation in the Judiciary Committee. We try to work together. We talk to each other. We sign letters together. Senator Burr and Warner have got a good relationship. I find that a bit odd, quite frankly.
But at the end of the day, I don't see any evidence from this story that the Obama administration had the Trump administration surveilled, that they were being followed or wiretapped.
What is odd about this story is that there is incidental collection going on between members of the transition team and foreign governments. And my question is, how routine is that? And as a member of the Senate, can I feel comfortable talking to a member of the foreign government knowing that my conversations are going to be private?
BLITZER: It's a good question. Do you think it's time for an independent investigation right now?
GRAHAM: No. I think what we're doing in the Senate is working.
We had a really good hearing in the Judiciary Committee. I think Senator Burr and Warner are making great progress. Quite frankly, I thought the House Intel Committee hearing was terrific.
It was clear to me that the FBI director and the NSA director could not verify that there was a legal surveillance of the Trump campaign. That has really put that to rest for me. The FBI director did say there was an investigation of Trump campaign ties to Russia, and I think we should honor that investigation.
BLITZER: That committee hearing on Monday was a very powerful committee hearing. There seemed to be excellent points made across from Republicans and Democrats. But that seems to be in trouble right now, based on what happened today, as you well know.
Here's a few questions. Do you believe Paul Manafort, who was the Trump campaign chairman, needs to testify about his ties to a Russian billionaire?
GRAHAM: I think what was reported about his activities are very disturbing to me, that he did, if you believe this report -- and I don't know if it's true or not -- receive millions of dollars from a Putin associate, a billionaire in Russia tied to Putin.
And the story goes that he was trying to advise this billionaire and, in a sense, the Putin government how to stop the spread of democracy. I don't know if that's true or not. But I hope somebody is looking into it. And the reason I'm reluctant to call him before our committee is, I don't know if the FBI is looking into this or not. So I don't want to get into their lane.
BLITZER: The FBI in the statement that Comey put out on Monday, said, "As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed."
There is this criminal investigation now hanging over the White House, right?
GRAHAM: Well, yes.
Here is what I would say, that the FBI is investigating potential collaboration between the Russians and the Trump campaign that may be legal. It may not be legal. Director Clapper said during his time there he saw no such collaboration, but the FBI director did confirm there is an ongoing investigation.
As to Mr. Manafort, I think it would be appropriate to question him about this story. Maybe there is nothing about it. But if you believe this story, if there is some truth to it, that's pretty disturbing. That's not to say that President Trump knew about this association with the Russians, but it certainly is something worth looking at.
BLITZER: Certainly is.
All right, Senator, we have much more to discuss, including the terror in London today, the confirmation hearings for Judge Neil Gorsuch. There is a lot happening here in Washington and in London, around the world.
Much more with Senator Lindsey Graham right after this.
[18:21:46] BLITZER: We're back with Senator Lindsey Graham. He's standing by
Senator, I want to get back to you in a moment.
But we have breaking news on the terror attack in London today.
Our senior international correspondent, Clarissa Ward, is here with us.
Clarissa, update our viewers on the very latest.
CLARISSA WARD, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we do know now that the parliamentarians, the lawmakers who were being sequestered way in Parliament and Westminster Abbey, they have now been allowed to leave the building.
It appears that the lockdown portion is wrapping up. And it's important for our viewers to remember, Wolf, that this took place in one of the busiest, most bustling parts of London. It would have been buzzing with students, with lawmakers, with politicians, with schoolchildren, and all different sorts of people would have been thronging in this area, a lot of tourists, when the attack began.
Take a look.
WARD (voice-over): Tonight, London police are investigating what they say is a terror attack on Britain's Parliament, the area placed on lockdown as it unfolded.
GERALD HOWARTH, MEMBER OF BRITISH PARLIAMENT: It's confusing, but what we've been told is that one police officer here has been stabbed. And it would appear that what happened is a car was coming over Westminster Bridge. They were mowing down pedestrians on the way. And it seems that then the driver had -- it appears he came in and got access onto the estate, the parliamentary estate, and stabbed a police officer.
WARD: Official reports confirm that account, at least 20 people hurt, some with "catastrophic injuries," as witnesses say a car plowed into pedestrians and bystanders on Westminster Bridge.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were bodies literally, must have been about 10 bodies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ten to 10 bodies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There were bodies literally 10 bodies.
RADOSLAW SIKORSKI, FORMER POLISH FOREIGN : I saw in all five people down, mowed down by a car, including one person bleeding heavily from the head, and another person lying down unconscious.
BLITZER: These five people you saw lying on the ground on that bridge had been hit by this vehicle, is that right?
SIKORSKI: So it looked like the car was -- I am now assuming, I'm now speculating -- as if the car was swerving between the pavement and the road to hit people.
WARD: Seconds later, the vehicle crashed into a Parliament gate. Authorities say the assailant then attempted to enter the grounds and reportedly stabbed an officer before being taken down.
MARK ROWLEY, METROPOLITAN POLICE ACTING DEPUTY COMMISSION: Sadly, I can confirm that now four people have died. That includes the police officer who was protecting Parliament and one man we believe to be the attacker. He was shot by a police armed officer.
WARD: Prime Theresa May was inside the building at the time of the attack. Eyewitnesses say she was rushed away as gunfire was heard.
THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME : The location of this attack was no accident. The terrorist chose to strike at the heart of our capital city, where people of all nationalities, religions and cultures come together to celebrate the values of liberty, democracy and freedom of speech.
But let me make it clear today, as I have had calls to do before, any attempt to defeat those values through violence and terror is doomed to failure.
WARD: The assistant British police commissioner said this is the day we have planned for, but we hoped would never happened. Sadly, it is now a reality.
And, Wolf, the terror threat as been at the level of severe for some time and it will continue to be so, according to British Prime Minister Theresa May -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, that's understandable right now.
Clarissa Ward, thanks very much.
Let's get back to Senator Lindsey Graham.
Senator, you're on the Armed Services Committee. First of all, have you been briefed on this attack today? Is there any intelligence, for example, about similar plots here in the United States?
GRAHAM: No, I have not. I have been in the Judge Gorsuch hearing most of the day.
But, one, condolences to those who lost their lives and their families and to those injured. So, it's heartbreaking. But what I would want to know, as the leader of our nation, was this a coordinated terrorist attack, was this person being directed by ISIL or some other terrorist organization, or was it a lone wolf attack, somebody bent on killing themselves and as many people as they could in the process, in the name of jihad?
I don't know the answer to that, but, to me, that's the most compelling question. Was this a coordinated, directed terrorist attack or sort of a self-inspired lone wolf attack?
BLITZER: Yes, this terrorist used a knife and a car.
And ISIS has told its supporters out there, if you don't have a bomb, get a gun, if you don't have a gun, get a knife, if you don't have a knife, get a car. But just go out there and start killing some people.
Here's what worries me, copycat attacks. Is that a serious concern?
GRAHAM: Yes, you have got some mentally disturbed people who want their 15 minutes of fame.
You have somebody who may be inspired to become radicalized because of this person's actions. But the one thing we can do is destroy ISIL. So, I like the fact that President Trump is going to have a more aggressive military plan.
If you can destroy ISIL, that's a step in the right direction. But we live in a world where if somebody wants to take their own life and are willing to do it this way, then it's just hard to prevent this stuff. You need good intelligence. But my big worry is, one day, it won't be a car and a knife. It will be something worse.
BLITZER: Let's talk about some of the other breaking stories happening right now.
As you know, tomorrow, there will be a vote on the House floor on the repeal and replace of Obamacare.
BLITZER: In the Senate, by our count, at least six of your Republican colleagues are leaning no on this Republican health care bill. Are you going to vote for this bill if it comes to the Senate?
GRAHAM: Number one, I have no idea what is in it. I have a lot of colleagues in the House who I respect who believe it is not where it should be.
The most embarrassing thing for the Republican Party is to repeat the mistakes of the Democratic Party, pass a bill that is not really sound, pass it because somebody tells you, you have to, not really understand how it works.
And the process that I see in the House reminds me a lot of what happened with Obamacare. And I can tell you, as a United States senator, I'm not going to vote on this bill until I understand it, until I can ask questions about it, and maybe change it. So, the process we're engaging in, I don't think is our best effort
here to repeal and replace Obamacare. And I want to do that. I want to help the president. But going over to the House and saying you got to vote Thursday, most people have no idea know this thing works in the Senate. Not what I want.
BLITZER: Yes, I have heard similar comments from Senator Cotton of Arkansas, Rand Paul of Kentucky. You're not alone in the U.S. Senate when it comes to that among Republicans.
Let's get to Judge Neil Gorsuch. You said earlier today that if the judge isn't confirmed with 60 votes, it means politics have replaced qualifications.
But you believe President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, he was also qualified, but Republicans even refused to let him have a hearing. And a lot of Democrats, they are seeking, I don't know if they want to say revenge, but they're really upset about that.
Why should the Democrats listen to you now when you say vote on qualifications? Garland wasn't even given a vote.
Well, number one, I would be glad to tell you. I voted for Sotomayor and Kagan because I thought they were qualified. In February of 2016, Judge Scalia died. There were primaries already in the books. We're running for president. It was an election year.
If you look at the history of the United States Senate, there has been one time in the last 100 years where somebody, a replacement for the Supreme Court was filled in the last year of a presidential term when the president was of one party and the Senate was of another.
And if you don't believe me, ask Joe Biden. In 1992, he told the Bush administration the last year of Bush 41, do not send a nominee over here if somebody retires. The election season is in full bloom.
To my Democratic friends, you're manufacturing this issue. There is no doubt in my mind that if the shoes were on the other foot, you would have done what we did, which is to say, since the campaign season is afoot, we are going to let the next president pick. I didn't think Trump would win.
Garland is a good pick. I expected Clinton to be nominating somebody, but it didn't work that way.
[18:30:25] So I have done my job as United States senator. Twice I voted for qualified nominees. This man is beyond qualified, 2,700 cases decided, one reversal, 10 and a half years as a judge, unanimously well- qualified, rating by the American Bar Association. Not to vote for him is not revenge, it's that you're more worried about your base, who's telling you to vote "no."
I got the crap beaten out of me when I voted for Sotomayor and Kagan, but you know what? I'm still standing. And I'm glad I voted for those two qualified people, nominated by President Obama. But when it comes to Garland, he's a fine man, but I don't expect anybody to be confirmed in the last year. The last 100 years, we haven't done it that way.
BLITZER: You've often made that point, and you're making it again now, that you voted for Democratic nominees even if you disagreed with him. But you believe they are qualified.
BLITZER: Elections have consequences. The president has a right to nominate individuals, whether a Democratic president or a Republican president.
So here's a question, and I'm curious to get your answer.
BLITZER: In the Senate right now, who is the Democratic Lindsey Graham? Who is the Democrat that you believe will stand up and vote to confirm Judge Gorsuch and say this transcends politics?
GRAHAM: You know, I really don't know. And I don't want to be hard on my Democratic colleagues. The times that we live in are very difficult. Remember the theory of the Senate was that we had six-year terms; we're the saucer that cools the coffee cup, that we can have the long view. The pressure on all politicians, including senators, is enormous and immense.
And here's what I can say. That I haven't voted for a winning presidential candidate in 12 years. I didn't vote for Obama twice; I didn't vote for Trump. But I did honor the fact that President Obama won. And all I'm asking you is let's honor the fact that President Trump won. And from a Republican conservative point of view, he picked the most qualified among the 21 that I could have thought of. He's extremely well-qualified, a good man. And you want to reward President Trump for picking well-qualified people, because at the end of the day I was worried he'd pick somebody else.
So I would just ask my colleagues to look to the long term here. There will be another Democratic president. The Democrats will be back in charge of the Senate. What goes around comes around. And if we can put Judge Gorsuch on the bench without changing the rules to the Senate, it will be good for the body; it will be good for the court.
BLITZER: Yes, and as you point out, the American Bar Association ranked him as highly qualified...
BLITZER: ... for the U.S. Supreme court. All right. Senator Lindsey Graham, as usual, thanks so much for joining us.
GRAHAM: Happy birthday. BLITZER: Thank you very much.
More breaking news coming up on the House Intelligence Committee chairman's new claim about surveillance related to the Trump team. Did Congressman Devin Nunes cross a line?
[18:37:39] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. The death toll continues to climb in the wake of today's terror attack in London. Police have just announced four people, in addition to the attacker, were killed. The number of injured has also doubled to at least 40 people. Police in London tonight say they believe the attack was international terrorism. They also believe they know the identity of the attacker. They're not revealing it to the public, at least not yet. We'll update you with more information once it comes in.
Our other breaking news tonight: Truly remarkable developments in the House Intelligence Committee's probe into Russian election meddling here in the United States. The committee chairman, Devin Nunes, says intelligence reports given to him show President Trump's personal communications may have been incidentally picked up by U.S. intelligence agencies.
His decision to immediately go over to the White House to brief the president before sharing that information with his own committee, including the ranking Democrat, has angered a lot of Democrats. The ranking member, Adam Schiff, says he was blindsided by the information. He now has grave concerns, he says, about the committee's investigation.
Let's dig deeper with our experts and our analysts. Was he out-of- bounds, Jeffrey Toobin today, the chairman, for rushing over to the White House and briefing the president before briefing his own committee?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Completely. Because he looks like he is trying to defend the president and help the president, rather than conduct an independent investigation.
I'm not sure how much he actually helps the president, because these disclosures just add another question. Who is he talking to, about what? In the context of an investigation that is focused on Russia, if they are Russians, that may well be of interest.
BLITZER: And Adam Schiff, the ranking member, Phil Mudd, says he worries now that the House Intelligence Committee investigation is not going to be fair, given the behavior of the Republican chairman. It was supposed to be nonpartisan, bipartisan, if you will, but now he fears that that is an illusion, and it may be time for an independent commission. Would that help?
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think that makes sense to me. Look, let's make this even simpler; take the names out. Take the committees out. The judicial branch of government in our system is looking over an intelligence investigation, Democrats and Republicans. They're getting highly sensitive information, some of which relates to the executive branch.
In this case the executive branch, the president of the United States and his advisers. The judicial branch has an umbrella. Members of the committee talk to each other. What did we say today?
[18:40:16] TOOBIN: You mean -- you mean the legislative branch.
MUDD: The legislative branch, I'm sorry. I get my branches...
TOOBIN: That's right. That's right, yes.
MUDD: So what do we have today? One branch of government goes over to the other branch, executive branch and says, "Look at what's happening in the investigation," without talking to his counterpart?
I think you have to step back and say how do we confirm that this is a fair oversight process when the first conversation isn't within the members of the community; it's with the president of the United States?
BLITZER: And this incidental information that was picked up, Nunes himself says it had nothing to do with Russia. So where do -- where do we go from here, David?
DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think we go from here so far where we've already gone today, first with Congressman Schiff coming out and responding very rapidly to Congressman Nunes, partly because he -- as he said, he feels like he was blindsided. Also, you have a situation where now you're going to have Democrats calling for this, you know, separate, outside, independent investigation. And then I think we're going to have to wait and see how the White House responds.
President Trump seemed to indicate -- he had that quote today where he said he felt partially vindicated. I'm paraphrasing there. But I think there's more to come on that.
BLITZER: Rebecca Berg, will there be an independent investigation?
REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The pressure is going to be, I think, mounting after this, because Republicans are going to be hard pressed to defend what Nunes did today as something that was nonpartisan, as something that wasn't trying to help the president or influence the process.
And when you have the chairman of the Intelligence Committee in that situation, it becomes difficult for leaders in the House or the Senate, what have you, to defend this as an independent investigation. And so the next step, if you can't defend this as independent, is to do a select committee or something else. BLITZER: There -- there is a criminal investigation, Phil. James
Comey, the FBI director, announced it on Monday. He said this FBI criminal investigation has actually been going on since last July.
MUDD: And if you're sitting in the FBI, what are you are saying today about that criminal investigation, when you have members of Congress playing -- saying, "Please give us the details. This is important for American national security"?
After what we saw this afternoon, if I were at the FBI, I'd be saying, "You mean you want me to reveal details of this investigation to you," which the FBI shouldn't do anyway, "when you're suggesting to me that your first response is to go over to the entity, the White House, that's under investigation?" That's not going to happen.
This is another reason why I say an independent council or independent investigation might work. Because people on the intel side are going to say, "I'm nervous about going up to Capitol Hill and being open in my conversation."
BLITZER: You used to be an assistant U.S. attorney. Isn't the FBI investigation an independent outside investigation?
TOOBIN: It is. But it has a very different purpose than a congressional investigation.
I worked on the Iran-Contra investigation for Lawrence Walsh, who was a prosecutor. At the same time, there were the Iran-Contra committees that were -- it was actually a joint House and Senate committee. Their mission was to disclose to the public what really went on. Our mission was to identify and prosecute any crimes that might have taken place.
Here, you could have that same structure. It was the same situation in Watergate. You had prosecutors and you had legislators investigating. But what -- but what was common in both of those and not here was that they were independent congressional investigations. They were not, you know, run by partisans. They were joint House and Senate committees that, I think, really did fair investigation.
BLITZER: It's very interesting, because amidst all these investigations, David Swerdlick, as you well know, as I know and all of the journalists know, there are a lot of journalists who are investigating all of this right now, as well. And you never know what they're going to pick up.
SWERDLICK: Right. What we know is that there -- Congressman Nunes is coming out here and saying, essentially, that there's more information that he believes he has than what seemed to be the case on Monday during the hearings. We don't know who's going to get picked up in all this discussion.
BLITZER: Everybody stand by. We're also getting some other breaking news. We're getting new details of last-minute arm-twisting by the White House to get enough votes to pass the Republican healthcare bill. We'll update you on that right after this. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[18:48:52] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're getting new information right now about President Trump's 11th hour campaign for the GOP health care bill on the eve of a very high stakes vote.
Let's immediately go to our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty. She's up on Capitol Hill.
Sunlen, it's crunch time for the president and the Republican leadership.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It absolutely is, Wolf. The situation right now is very fluid up here on Capitol Hill. There is certainly an intense pressure now forming on the Republican leadership and the White House as this bill now barrels towards a potential final vote tomorrow in the House. They still have to work over a few members to get the votes that they need for this bill. This next 24 hours is absolutely critical.
SERFATY (voice-over): It's the final stretch. House Republicans scrambling for winning votes.
REPORTER: If the House bill fails, will you keep trying?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll see what happens.
SERFATY: With precious few hours left on the clock, House Republican leaders and the White House are making the final push --
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Thursday is the big day.
SERFATY: -- before their bill faces a vote in the House tomorrow.
TRUMP: It really is a crucial vote for the Republican Party and for the people of our country.
[18:50:01] SERFATY: House leaders locking in at least one new vote today, Congressman Lou Barletta, who was leaning against the bill, declaring he's now a yes vote.
RYAN: We're adding votes by the day. We're not losing votes. We're adding votes. And we feel like we're getting really, really close.
SERFATY: But the bill is still in serious jeopardy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We still haven't seen the movement we want.
SERFATY: According to CNN's latest vote count, at least 23 House Republicans have said they'll vote against the bill. Four more have indicated they'll likely oppose it.
Speaker Ryan can't lose more than 21 votes or the bill fails, which means they have absolutely no margin for error. SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's no plan B. I mean,
this is -- there's plan A and plan A. We're going to get this done.
SERFATY: This reality setting off an aggressive last-minute offensive to make deals and change minds before the vote. In public --
RYAN: This is called legislating. And so, there are people who want various provisions in the bill, but what's important for us is we have to broker compromises to make sure that we draft legislation that can actually pass.
SERFATY: And behind closed doors today. President Trump ramping up his personal pleas to some of the holdouts. So many members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus to the White House today.
TRUMP: Big vote tomorrow.
SERFATY: Sources tell CNN the president is telling skeptical members, "I'll have your back" if they sign on.
TRUMP: Obamacare is making their lives so much more difficult as we know.
SERFATY: But that presidential arm twisting for some isn't enough.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think the votes are there today.
SERFATY: After the White House meeting today, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus is still a no.
REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-NC), FREEDOM CAUCUS CHAIRMAN: We believe the best approach is to actually start over and do something that actually lowers premiums.
We need changes to the underlying bill before we vote on it in the House.
SERFATY: Today, the House Rules Committee taking the last key step before bringing the bill to the floor, marking up minor tweaks to the bill.
REP. KEVIN BRADY (R-TX), WAYS & MEANS CHAIRMAN: This legislation answers the president's call to action in a thoughtful, deliberate way.
SERFATY: Democrats today countering with their own celebrity to celebrate the seven-year anniversary of Obamacare.
JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: This is a big (EXPLETIVE DELETED) deal.
SERFATY: Even as it potentially faces its last gasp.
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: It will be as our former vice president once said, a BFD.
BIDEN: I just want to tell Governor Brown be careful what he whispers to me.
SERFATY: And some cautious optimism and some potential softening here coming from Mark Meadows, the chair of the House Freedom Caucus. Spokesmen for Meadows saying that they're working with the president and his team tonight to make changes. They're hopeful, in his words, they can get something done. That a shift in tone, a big shift in tone, Wolf, from just only even an hour ago -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, potentially very significant moment. All right. Sunlen, thanks very much. Sunlen Serfaty up on Capitol Hill.
Just ahead, a new missile launch pushes concern over the North Korean threat to an all-time high.
[18:57:21] BLITZER: Concern over the threat posed by North Korea is growing in the wake of the country's latest missile test.
CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr reports.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): U.S. anxiety about North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs is at an all- time high even with a just-failed test launch of one medium-range ballistic missile.
JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We see the reckless behavior north of the DMZ on the Korean peninsula as unsettling the Northwestern Pacific, East Asia area.
STARR: Tonight, a highly classified U.S. aircraft is in the region, ready to move in to take air samples if North Korea conducts another underground nuclear test. Classified satellite imagery shows that test, it would be the sixth one, could happen at any time with no warning.
North Korea also appears ready to launch missiles that could eventually hit the United States.
MATTIS: North Korea's reckless rhetoric and provocative actions continue despite United Nations censure and sanctions.
STARR: The U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson joining military exercises with South Korea in an American show of force. And U.S. Air Force B-1 bombers joining South Korean fighter jets in more training.
REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: If they elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, that option is on the table. STARR: Military action now openly discussed. But it's putting the
Pentagon in the position of figuring out whether a war against North Korea and the continuing war against ISIS can really both be carried out if it comes to that.
MAJ. GEN. JAMES "SPIDER" MARKS (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: If there was a hot fight on the peninsula, if the United States and its allies decided to go against those missile and nuclear development facilities in North Korea, that would be priority number one.
STARR: It would put huge pressure on U.S. satellites and drones to conduct surveillance both on the Korean Peninsula and in the Middle East at the same time. The Air Force already needs up to 500 more drone pilots.
ISIS may be the threat that is somewhat set aside.
MARKS: Everything we are doing vis-a-vis ISIS, everything we are doing to try to contain the caliphate in the Mideast would become a secondary effort.
STARR: Just how busy is North Korea with its weapons programs? The Pentagon calculates it has increased its missile launches by more than 80 percent over the last year -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Barbara, thank you.
Kate Bolduan picks up our special coverage on "ERIN BURNETT OUFRONT".