Return to Transcripts main page


A Surprising Revelation; Messy Intel Committee. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired March 23, 2017 - 22:00   ET


[22:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Thanks for watching 360. Time to hand things over to Don Lemon. CNN Tonight starts right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: We have breaking news on the FBI's Russia investigation to tell you about.

This is CNN Tonight. I'm Don Lemon.

The revelations coming fast and furious. CNN has learned the FBI has information that indicate Trump associates communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign. That according to U.S. officials.

Let's get right to that breaking news now. Pamela Brown and Shimon Prokupecz they both joined me, they broke the story along with our justice correspondent Evan Perez. Good evening to both of you. Pamela, first, I'm going to start with you, what are you learning?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: So, Don, we learned that the FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging the Hillary Clinton's campaign, according to U.S. officials.

Now FBI Director James Comey made his bombshell announcement as you recall on Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign's ties to Russia.

So, the FBI is now reviewing this information which includes human intelligence, travel, business and phone records and accounts of in- person meetings according to these officials.

And the information is raising the suspicions of FBI counterintelligence investigators that the coordination may have taken place, though, officials have caution that the information is not conclusive and that the investigation is still ongoing.

The FBI would not comment nor with the White House. Though, Trump officials have denied that there is any evidence of collusion. Don.

LEMON: All right. Well, Shimon, to you now. This gives us more insight into what Comey knew when he spoke on Monday, correct? SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN PRODUCER: Absolutely, Don. It certainly does.

If you recall in addition to Comey saying the investigation includes looking at connections to Trump associates, he also explained what investigators are looking at, what exactly they're doing and how they come to this point. Take a listen.


MIKE TURNER, (R) UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: Don't you need some action or some information besides just attending a meeting, having been paid to attend a conference, that a picture was taken or that you traveled to a country before you're open to investigation for counterintelligence by the FBI?

JAMES COMEY, UNITED STATES FBI DIRECTOR: The standard is I think there's a couple of different at play. A credible accusation of wrongdoing or reasonable reason to believe that an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.


PROKUPECZ: Well, that's right, Don. So, one law enforcement official said the information that they now have suggests quote, "people connected to the campaign were in contact and it appeared they were giving the thumbs up to release information when it was ready." We're told by sources.

But other U.S. officials who spoke to CNN say it's premature to draw that inference from the information that they've so far gathered. It's largely circumstantial and there is still a lot more work to be done.

And we're told that the FBI cannot yet prove that collusion took place. But the information suggesting -- this information is now suggesting that collusion is a large focus of their investigation, the officials said.

LEMON: OK. Pamela, I want to get back to you now and ask you, what sort of coordination is under investigation here?

BROWN: So, we're told, Don, that most of the FBI is focused on the stolen and published e-mails by WikiLeaks, including the DNC and Clinton campaign's John Podesta that all started last July as you recall.

And the U.S official said the information being investigated was not drawn from the leaked dossier of unverified information compiled by a former British intelligence official compiled for Trump's political opponents. But the dossier also suggested coordination between Trump campaign associates and Russian operatives.

LEMON: Shimon, do we know who is -- who exactly is being investigated?

PROKUPECZ: We don't. Our sources and the officials and the investigators that we've spoken to who are familiar with this investigation have not told us. But we do know that four people, some of the people who have been scrutinized, that were sort of part of the Trump campaign, and sort of part of the Trump world, Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and obviously Carter Page, they have had some contacts with the Russians we're told by U.S. officials.

And the intelligence community sort of became concerned about it. And their communications, their contact with those folks are now being scrutinized. All four have denied improper contacts.

And also, Don, I want to say that some of the issues that FBI investigators are now facing is that it's become a little more difficult to learn what the Russians are doing. Some of the intelligence gathering has become difficult because the folks within the Russian community sort of out in Russia have changed the way they're communicating amongst each other and with some of the folks here.

[22:05:03] So, that created some problem for investigators. We're trying to sort of gather more intelligence, figure out what was going on here. Don?

LEMON: All right. Shimon Prokupecz with the breaking news, Pamela Brown and our Evan Perez, also breaking this information. Thank you all. We appreciate it.

And when we come back -- now I want to bring in, I should say, political analyst, Kirsten Powers, political director, David Chalian, Jack Kingston is a former senior adviser to the Trump campaign, CNN political commentator, Ryan Lizza, and CNN counterterrorism analyst, Philip Mudd.

My goodness. So much to unpack here. David, let me start with you. This is a stunning development tonight. The lingering question out on all of this is what if anything did the president, President Trump know and when did he know it.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, those are certainly two key questions that will, you know, sort of be going at for long duration of this investigation. There's no doubt about that, Don. But it is a really significant story because this entire story since it started has been about has there been coordination between Trump campaign officials or Trump associates and Russia, geared at Russia's interference with the American election to defeat Hillary Clinton and get Donald Trump elected?

This is the first step in really seeing that some of that potential coordination is indeed under investigation. We learned from Comey on Monday that this is what they were looking at but this now even goes a step further to say they have some suggestion that this does potentially exist.

This is just, again, very early in this process. There's a long road to go here, but I think you're right. That each drip, drip, drip of information begs the question what did President Trump or then- candidate Trump know, if anything at all and when did he learn of it.

LEMON: yes. And to be clear, Phil, I want to go to you, but the report says is that the coordination may have taken place. Officials cautioning that it's not conclusive yet but what kind of trouble may they be in?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: Let's step back here. Let's look at both sides of the coin, depending on which side of the political aisle you're on. Let me read some of the words we head. People connected with the campaign. Information that suggests something. Information that suggests that people may have coordinated. Very loose language, Don.

LEMON: Right.

MUDD: If you want to poke a hole in this you're going to say, I need evidence, I don't need supposition. On the other hand, let's talk about something that nobody is talking about. This investigation has been going on for many months. The FBI director got burned in the fall and going back to last summer when he exposed, revealed an investigation into Hillary Clinton then opened it and reclosed it.

Now he goes back to the Hill, months after this investigation has been opened and again says we have information that we have to tell you has led us to open investigation against President Trump's team.

I look at that and say there is no way he did that unless after months he looked at the information they're collecting and saying this is pretty ugly. There is smoke here but he does not reveal that unless he's saying this has to be exposed to the American public. That's serious.

LEMON: Ryan, the fallback for the White House and for the administration has been, well, the leakers. How do you think they're going to respond to this? Can't they -- they can't just simply blame the leakers this time.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think they'll respond saying, well, this is nothing enough. We know that the FBI has been looking into this. You know, this all week they've just basically been dismissing any kind of reports.

You know, Don, I, and maybe Phil can help with this, I have sort of naive and maybe counterintuitive question about this, is, if you're one of these people that the FBI is looking at, at what point do your actions trigger or move from just being normal political activities to collusion with a foreign power that is illegal?

In other words, you know, I'm not going to name any names because it's just throwing out a theory. If you did have prior knowledge that the Russians were going to release those e-mails, is that illegal? Right? And maybe Phil has a sense of that.


LEMON: Let him answer that. Phil, go ahead.

LIZZA: When does -- when does it trigger -- when do you trip into outright collusion and espionage? Because look, if I was a journalist, what if we had published, you know, the famous e-mails, I don't think anyone would have said that that would have been, you know, a chargeable offense. So, I think we get, as we get closer into sort of figuring out exactly what's going on here, you're getting in some tricky areas about what exactly the line is.

LEMON: Let's let Philip responds to that. Philip, what do you, how do you respond?

MUDD: Let me not play a lawyer on TV. We've got a brother and a father who are lawyers but I'm not. But let me take you in...


LEMON: The rubber meets the road though when people start to -- when prosecution becomes possible.

MUDD: Yes. Let's go inside this for just a moment and let's flip it. I think it is perfectly appropriate for members of the Trump campaign to speak with Russian officials. Can you imagine if the Trump campaign would come into the office and said we were nervous about talking to Russians because of potential wiretaps on the Russians, and so we don't know how they think, completely inappropriate.

[22:10:02] I think they should have talked to the Russians. Here is the rub, if they were involved in conversations that involved passing Russian information to Guccifer, one of the people involved in revealing the e-mails, or participating in conversations with Russians about how to influence the election, that's an agent of foreign power. You can't do that.


MUDD: Conversation is fine, influence in the election not fine.

LEMON: OK. So, I want to get the congressman and Kirsten. They've been sitting by patiently.

So, Congressman, you first. Sean Spicer maintains that there is no evidence to suggest any collusion took place, but then you hear that people connected to the campaign appeared, appeared to give the thumbs up to release the information. The FBI can't prove collusion took part, took place yet. Is that troubling to you, though?

JACK KINGSTON, FORMER UNITED STATES REPRESENTATIVE: Well, I think at this point we have Clapper who was very clear and he said there's no evidence of collusion, Morell said there's no evidence of collusion.

As I listen to Comey, and as you --if you listened to him for five hours he kind of was all over the place with lots of different answers. He was very clever at times and then when he wanted to talk, he seemed to have no problem talking. Other times he said, no, I can't answer that.

But I felt like he said there's no evidence of collusion. I think he may have at one point said yet, to probably to please some of the gallery. But, you know, the... (CROSSTALK)

LIZZA: Congressman, I don't think this is right what you're saying here.

KINGSTON: The question might, though, is who are these U.S. officials who say they may have been, and how, why are these U.S. officials talking to the press and not to the committee of jurisdiction?

And let me say anything to what...


LEMON: You know what? It's interesting that you would say that, because a lot of people are saying that about Nunes today. You know, why was -- why wasn't he talking to officials and his committee talking to the press, but that's a whole another show, that's another subject.


LIZZA: But wait, Don. Don, can I just say one thing?

LEMON: Go ahead.

LIZZA: Comey did not say that there was no collusion.

LEMON: No, he said.

LIZZA: He actually went up to the Hill and said he's investigating collusion. That was the whole groundbreaking...


LEMON: But he said so far he hasn't found any.


LIZZA: Right.

LEMON: He said he is investigating the possibility.

LIZZA: The point, the whole investigation is about collusion.


LIZZA: So he did not rule it out obviously.

LIZZA: Well, let's hope it also about leaks, too.

LEMON: OK. All right.

LIZZA: It is.

LEMON: Yes, it is.

LIZZA: He made that clear too.

LEMON: Yes. But the initial investigation started about with collusion, not about leaks. I think the republicans made it about leaks because the president wanted the leaks investigated.

So Kirsten, does this White House, does this White House have to find a way to deal with this Russia story in a more credible manner? Because the revelations aren't going to stop here, you know, with shooting off tweets about his predecessor, and on and on and on.

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that this is probably the best they can do. I mean, they don't -- they don't want to acknowledge that any of this is happening. And so, the only thing that they can do is keep, sort of attacking the messenger, complaining about anonymous leaks.

Pretending that Paul Manafort and General Flynn were basically interns on the campaign. You know, General Flynn was a volunteer now we're hearing. He wasn't -- I mean, that these people were not integral to Donald Trump's campaign. And it's just all kind of preposterous, you know.

But I also do wonder with this, you know, setting the legalities aside, that if they were doing what has, what Pamela Brown was reporting, you know, what that means in terms of was there a quid pro quo, right?

Russia is helping and they're -- and they're working -- if the allegations are right and they're sort of helping with this disrupting of the election, was Russia getting something in return for it? Right? Why does Donald Trump never criticize Russia? Why did they indicate General Flynn indicate they're going to lift sanctions? You know, was something going on here there a quid pro quo.

LEMON: When people hear circumstantial evidence, they may say there's no conclusion yet, but circumstantial evidence absolutely mean that there is nothing there? We'll talk about that when we come right back.


LEMON: The chairman of the House intelligence committee going rogue today with an unexpected White House meeting and what he claims is new information on surveillance of the Trump transition team.

I'm back with my panel now. So, David Chalian, the House intelligence committee Devin Nunes surprised everyone by running over to the White House to inform them that some Trump team communications were picked up through normal incidental collection before speaking to his own committee. The ranking democratic member Adam Schiff and others are fuming. And to be clear this is not wiretapping, it's not related to Russia. So, bring us up to speed on what took place today?

CHALIAN: Yes. And it's not just democrats, even republican Jeff Flake, Senator from Arizona saying that this seemed to be sort of against protocol here. Devin Nunes, you're right, did catch everyone by surprise. But as you

said he got a hold of information from a source. And we do not know what is the content of that information other than he says it was completely legal. So, you know, sort of FISA court approved surveilling of foreign entity and an American gets caught up in that conversation, that the incidental collection, that person is usually not known unless somebody goes and asked for that person to be unmasked.

But he seemed to think that either Donald Trump or some family members or other people pertaining to Trump were involved in this and got caught up and this he wanted to get that information to the White House. As you know, Donald Trump took this as some, he said somewhat vindicated, he felt somewhat vindicated by this information from Devin Nunes, even though it doesn't really vindicate. Because there's nothing to do with...


LEMON: Doesn't vindicate him at all.

CHALIAN: ... what Donald Trump was tweeting about that Saturday morning, in the early morning.

LEMON: It doesn't even say that any - by the way, and I keep hearing this and it infuriates me. None of this information, not even Nunes it doesn't say that Trump people or U.S. citizens targeted. It's saying incidential -- incidental collection of information.

That someone else, a foreign agent was the subject and that other people's information or their conversations were incidentally collected or listened to which is not illegal, which happens all the time. So, I'm trying to figure out what is new about this and how is it pertinent to this investigation?

KINGSTON: Well, Don I can say, I think one thing that the press missed in his press conference were his very, very first words. If you go back and listen to his tape what he said is yesterday at the beginning of our hearing, I asked people to come forward if they had any information on surveillance of American citizens.

That was a -- that was a warning shot to the FBI because I believe that they had things they had told the Intel committee privately that were acceptable to be told and publicly -- but publicly but Comey did not say that.


[22:20:02] LEMON: But there is nothing that shows in this information, congressman, with all due respect, that U.S. citizens were being targeted or that they were the subject of this.

KINGSTON: But he said -- he said it had nothing to do with Russia. He said the information that he had seen had nothing to do with Russia. So, the question was...


LEMON: But he's also -- but the information he has seen has nothing to do with U.S. citizens being targeted or surveilled.

KINGSTON: Yes, they do.

LEMON: No, it doesn't.

KINGSTON: They were Trump -- they were Trump transition people why would they spy on?

LEMON: It was incidental communications. Mr. Mudd, can you please...


POWERS: I don't know why this is so hard.

LEMON: ... explain this to people it's not that difficult. And Jack, you're spinning. That's not what he said. Go ahead, Philip.

MUDD: Do you mind if I break down into tears first? Let me...


LEMON: Please.

MUDD: Let me look at the two pieces of this. The president of the United States indicated in tweets two weeks ago that his predecessor illegally collected information against American citizens in Trump Tower. That's illegal. That does not involve a U.S. court and that involves directing federal agencies to do something that people like me would resign over.

OK. Stop for a moment. For decades, foreign diplomats, officials will be intercepted by American intelligence agencies. When that individual is intercepted, that is occasionally approved, depending on the circumstance by U.S. court, by U.S. FISA court.

When that interception of that foreign individual takes place, occasionally they're talking to an American citizen. That is collateral collection, incidental collection that American citizen is not surveilled. The foreigner is and the American called them. When that happens...


KINGSTON: But that get unmasked.

MUDD: That's correct.

KINGSTON: They don't get unmasked right, Philip?

MUDD: Yes, they do. Yes, they do.

KINGSTON: But who asked them to be unmasked?

LEMON: Jack, let him explain and then you go in. Go ahead. Please.

MUDD: When there's an investigation underway, for example, by the FBI against that foreign official, the FBI obviously is going to say who is that F -- who was that Russian, Chinese, Iranian official talking to as part of the efficient -- as part of the investigation, we have to know. That process is formal, it's called unmasking. I now need to know the name of that U.S. person. And that happens, Don, all the time.

KINGSTON: OK. Philip, but why would they need to be unmasked if it had nothing to do with Russia? Because supposedly this is about Russia.


MUDD: Time out. We don't know that they were unmasked. Time out.

KINGSTON: We do know that they're unmasked because that's what Devin Nunes said.

MUDD: (Inaudible) this Conversation. No.

KINGSTON: He said they were unmasked.

MUDD: No, he didn't.

KINGSTON: And remember...

LEMON: Maybe Devin Nunes is the one who unmasked them because no one knew this information.

KINGSTON: His question was, why were they unmasked and who ordered them to be unmasked.

LIZZA: Can we just --can just stand a second and look at the absurdity of the chairman of the House intelligence committee going to the White House and making a public statement and making all of this public today? I mean, that -- this is not how you conduct an investigation when you're the -- when you're the head of the House intelligence committee.

KINGSTON: It's not -- it's not -- what about the head of the FBI going public with all the stuff he's been doing, frankly starting with Hillary Clinton and the investigation of herself. There are...


LEMON: Now you're upset about Hillary Clinton, Jack?

KINGSTON: It's not like the ranking member...


LEMON: mark your calendars.

KINGSTON: ... it's not like the ranking member and other members, democrat and republicans, aren't going out publicly and talking either. I mean.

POWERS: But even if that's true, Jack, you know, two wrongs don't make a right. I mean, really that's not an argument. You have to admit the way he handled this it's completely unorthodox and not appropriate.


LIZZA: He says the president, the White House is the subject of the investigation.

KINGSTON: I think a member of Congress is going to be on the show tonight.


KINGSTON: He's on the Intel committee.

LEMON: Yes. Stand by, stand by, everyone. Here is John McCain.


JOHN MCCAIN, (R) UNITED STATES SENATOR: Why I think the reason why I'm calling for the select or a special committee is I think that this back and forth and what the American people have found out so far, that no longer does the Congress have credibility to handle this alone. And I don't say that lightly.


LEMON: David Chalian.

CHALIAN: I mean, this -- that is a man of authority, obviously, who perhaps can begin to sway his own party. I still think it's going to be a tough sell for a lot of republicans who want to protect Trump and the White House on this still right now to call for a special committee or somehow outside independent investigator, because that goes in ways they can't always control.

But I do think what Devin Nunes did today was basically gut the House intelligence process. I think it's very hard for an American voter, citizen at home watching all of this unfold after seeing the antics today to actually trust anything coming out of the House intelligence committee as sort of an impartial arbiter.

LIZZA: He blew it off.

LEMON: I was watching it, I have to tell you, Jack, I was watching it and I was sort of cringing for the guy. But you know the saying as kids say he played himself.

KINGSTON: Well, Don, I really think it goes back to the fact that he was extremely irritated that Comey didn't come forward with this information yesterday.

(CROSSTALK) [22:24:57] LEMON: So why wouldn't he go to the investigating

committee first before going to the White House, which is the subject of the investigation, and going to the press which the Trump administration and his surrogates always say the stuff gets in the media, why did he go to the media, why is everybody spreading this.

Why not go to his investigating committee and say to Mr. Schiff, hey, listen, we have this information we need to discuss it, and what do -- how do we move forward from here? Instead, he left everyone in the dark. Are you -- are you OK with that? Because it seems like his credibility is in question now.

KINGSTON: Well, Don, I'm going to assume that Adam Schiff and all the committee members already knew this information. And I can tell you...


LIZA: He did not. He did not.

KINGSTON: Hold on. I don't have...


LEMON: They say they did not know. Each of them, every single one of them said they did not know this information. And what's mind-boggling to me, is that the man who is sitting in the White House who is the leader of the free world did not have access to this information when all he has to do is pick up a phone or...


KINGSTON: Yes, but the minute he does that and he's interfering. And the minute he does that he accused of interference. It's like Bill Clinton if he ever does arbitrarily got on an airplane with somebody like an attorney general.


LEMON: You don't think he's interfering in American business by tweeting a false tweet about the former administration committing a felony, the president. You don't think that's not interfering in the American judicial or the American democracy?

KINGSTON: I think a tweet that goes out publicly is not the same as calling somebody privately like the attorney general or the FBI or the Intel committee.

LEMON: It's much worse.

KINGSTON: But let me say this. I'm really...


LEMON: Because it's misinformation. Isn't that much worse?

KINGSTON: I have spoken to a senior member of the Intel committee after the hearing yesterday. And they were very...


LEMON: Did they leak classified information to you? Should you spoken to them, was it on background or what?

KINGSTON: No. I don't want to be a felon. We already have enough leakers in this town and enough felons, but and I'm accused of all the other things already.

But what they were very displeased with this, the fact that Comey had been saying some things privately that he could have said publicly and he didn't say them for reasons unknown. Comey is a very clever guy. And you know, one week he's the democrat's guy, the next week he's the republicans guy.

LEMON: What are you talking about, Jack?

POWERS: What does that have to do with him not sharing it with Adam Schiff? That doesn't make sense. He's upset with Comey...


KINGSTON: Because I...

LIZZA: And I know what Jack is talking about here. I know what you're talking about, Jack here. That Nunes and others are upset because they got a private briefing from Comey and Comey -- excuse me, Nunes and Schiff had a private briefing from Comey, they know with a lot of detail what the FBI investigation is all about.

And I think Nunes was a little miffed on Monday that Comey when asked, when he was asked questions would not rule in or rule out certain subjects of the investigation how high up it went. And I think Nunes obviously couldn't say what he knew because he had a private briefing from Comey. And I think that's what you're talking about, Jack, right, correct?

KINGSTON: Yes, yes. And saying that was public.

LIZZA: Ok. How does that justify what he did today, though? He's mad at Comey?


LEMON: Someone who was on the transition team, as someone who is trying to lead a nonpartisan investigation, it made him look like a shill for the White House.

KINGSTON: I believe that Devin Nunes is a man of honor. I think right now and I say the same for Adam Schiff. But I do believe that the whole Intel committee has been way to public with this whole thing.

The political bait is out there. That, you know, that opportunity to go out and talk about something. I know how it is. I've seen it go on over and over again in all kinds of committees. And I think they really should be sequestered into some private room and everybody got to get out there.


LEMON: Do these guys come back? Maybe we'll come back, right. We have another block for these guys. OK. Because I'm wondering if all the timing and all of this seems a bit shifty too.

POWERS: The timing of?

LEMON: The timing of this.

POWERS: Some game.

LEMON: And but let's talk about this when we come back.


LEMON: This is going to come out in a couple of weeks. You know, what's going on here?


[22:30:00] DON LEMON, CNN HOST: And we're back. A new headache for the White House. This time it's about President Trump's former campaign chairman.

Back with my panel now. So, Kirsten, let's talk about before we move in to Paul Manafort, let's talk about the timing in all of this.


LEMON: What we're going to, in an interview the president said in the next couple of weeks we'll see what will be released. Sean Spicer said let's see how the week ends.

POWERS: But that was the first thing I thought when I heard this. It's like, I thought right back with the interview with Tucker Carlson where he said that. And then all of a sudden this information comes out.

We don't know where the information came from after hear -- all we ever hear about is how terrible anonymous information is, you know, let us know where this -- how did you come to get this information now, right? Why, why was this information before? They've been doing this investigation.

LEMON: Do you think this is coordinated?

POWERS: I don't know but I think it looks very suspicious, you know, that the president said something would come out and then comes out and acts like this is now vindicated him, right? Which is of course it hasn't vindicated. I think we've established that that's not even what Devin Nunes said but that somehow all the Trump supporters are taking this as a vindication.

And so, I guess, maybe someone should just ask Sean Spicer tomorrow was this the information you were referencing.


POWERS: Like is this the information you're waiting for?

LEMON: David Chalian, people are saying that there seem -- they're thinking that it looks like a coordination between the White House and Devin Nunes. That is an allegation.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: You know, I can understand why people would make that allegation when the president in a national interview says just wait, some information is going to come out. And then some information, well, I guess we don't actually have the information. But some...


LEMON: Not to mention he was on the transition team, the Trump transition team.

CHALIAN: Yes, some development occurs, and remember, this is Devin Nunes, who at end of that Comey hearing on Monday was the one that said there is now a gray cloud hanging over this White House, that generated a slew of negative headlines out of that hearing from one of the president's own team members in Devin Nunes.

So, watching him run down to try to clean that up for them and give them some political cover, I don't think it goes beyond the realm of possibility that the White House could have been in on this.

LEMON: Why would he go to the White House first?


RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: And I don't think meant -- I don't think Nunes meant it the way we all are interpreting it. I think Nunes meant is...


CHALIAN: I think he is urging on the quick closure of this that he wanted Comey to move on quickly, right?

LIZZA: Exactly.


LIZZA: I think he was basically saying this is unfair to the White House that they're now, that there's this cloud around them.

[22:34:59] When you know, just reading between the lines, I think Nunes was sort of hinting that this is an investigation about people outside the White House but Comey would not even confirm that so it creates this cloud.

LEMON: Yes. I wonder if today if we misunderstood him too. Because the information may be so damning. I'm just guessing here that maybe the White House should know about it. Maybe that's why he went to the White House first.

But listen, I got to go a -- I got to get -- let's talk about Paul Manafort here. Because President Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, pushing back against the Associated Press report alleging that he earned millions to help the political interests of Vladimir Putin. Here's what the White House said on that today.


SEAN SPICER, UNITED STATES WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Nothing in this morning's report references any actions by the president, the White House or any Trump administration official. I think that's got to be clear from the get-go. The report is entirely focused on actions that Paul took a decade ago.

Regarding -- he's a former adviser to the campaign, and the actions that came to light this morning are about a client that he had last decade.


LEMON: Philip Mudd, how serious is this report?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think incredibly serious, but I think Mr. Spicer is right on this. If you had an association with an entity a decade ago that involved a transfer of money over something that's legal, I don't see that as a significant problem.

But let's be clear. Months into an investigation that is highly sensitive, the most sensitive things I saw at the FBI were political investigations. The FBI director chooses to speak publicly about it and acknowledged that he's investigating this.

He doesn't do this unless he has information over the course of months. It's not a week on this over the course of months that suggests to him that he has to talk to the American people.

I read into this, reading to tea leaves that they've got a lot at the FBI that says there's more fire here and it's not just smoke. I would be worried if I were at the White House.

LEMON: All right. Thank you. We'll continue to talk. Thank you, Philip Mudd. Philip is got to get out of here. But we'll continue our conversation when we come right back.


LEMON: So we're hearing the president on the phone tonight personally calling members of the House Freedom Caucus, trying to persuade them to support the GOP health care bill with tomorrow's the scheduled vote just really hours away. Can he make the deal? Can he make the deal?

Back with my panel. And David, as I understand may be some movement because they've been trying to work with the House Freedom Caucus to work on some bill. This is a big 24 hours. Work on changes or compromise, right.

Big 24 hours for the president. Nonstop meetings with GOP lawmakers the past few days, frantically lobbying for this GOP backed bill. Is there a sign that a deal might be in the works and that he can get over the hump?

CHALIAN: Well, as he say, they're certainly working for it, Don. I don't think it's too much, I don't think we can overstate how big this vote is for Trump. I really do think that tomorrow may be -- I think we're on the eve of one of the real definitional days of this Trump presidency.

Because if he is on the eve of a victory here, it is going to be a hard-fought won victory. Even I know it's got go through the Senate and the bill will have problems there. But this alone, if he's able to piece this together and get this through the House, it will be a demonstration that he can do the job.

He can cut these deals and he can move his goal forward. I -- that is no small thing. On the other hand, if it goes down, I do think that that is going to be a body blow to this young presidency.

LEMON: Yes, but, you know -- and you know, I hate to predict things. But I get the feeling that this is important to the president, it's going to be important to republicans. And if they can come to some sort of compromise, I think that he will get this passed. That's just my gut. But I could be wrong.

But Ryan, the potential deal with conservatives is the -- excuse me, the elimination of essential health benefits.


LEMON: Some of it includes emergency services, hospitalization, preventive care, and so on. If they get this done and they come to some of compromise about this, how important do you think that will be to win these votes over?

LIZZA: Well, that's one of two issues. It's my understanding, that the House Freedom Caucus holdouts are demanding and that that's already been settled. And they sort of given, they've given them that. There's another issue on some other regulations that is more -- that is, you know, before I came on air I'm talking to someone in the Freedom Caucus, that is still up in the air and they're going to work on overnight.

But just on the policy, think about what they're talking about here, right? This was an Obamacare provision that required insurers to provide a bottom line package of benefits. Right? Now conservatives don't like that because they think the insurance companies should be able to design whatever package they want and as consumer you should be able to buy it.

But there will be some moderate republicans and certainly most democrats who vehemently oppose that because there are arguments that you can't stabilize health insurance markets if you allow too young healthy folks to buy their, you know, basic packages like that...


LIZZA: ... because it will shoot up premiums for people who are much sicker.

So, anyway, that's the policy part of that. And I think you're probably right, Don, that because this is such an important vote it gets done because Ryan and Trump and McConnell will do what it takes.

LEMON: The are going to be up all night whatever and they are going to -- I think they are going ditch make whatever changes and compromises to this, because they can't let the president's his first piece of legislation go down. I just don't think that that is...


LIZZA: But that's going to be rewritten in the Senate. The Senate is not going to pass this bill. Whatever the version the House passes the Senate, it's going to be dead on arrival in the Senate.


LEMON: Kirsten doesn't necessarily agree with that.

POWERS: Well, the problem is that what the House Freedom Caucus, some of the things they're asking for, will they make it, then they will lose the moderates.

LEMON: They are going to lose the moderates.

POWERS: Right. So they have this problem. And so the House Freedom Caucus people are saying they now have 28 solid no's and that they will not move unless they move on what was Ryan was talking about this other, the title one regulations.


POWERS: And so that would include like keeping 26-year-olds, keeping people on their parents' plans until they're 26, which some of the president promised he would keep.


[22:44:58] POWERS: And so leadership sees this as no go, I think the White House sees this as a no go, but House Freedom Caucus guys say they won't move on it. So it's basically a game of chicken right now between the White House, Ryan's office and the House and House Freedom Caucus people, you know, are they going to blink? And so the question...


LEMON: Yes. And speaking of which, speaking of moderates, Jack, and I'm going to get in here. But you're right. Representative Charlie Dent who is a moderate saying he's still a no. He's just coming and saying I'm a no right now.

POWERS: Right. Yes, well, there are couple that already no's, but they could also if they then give the House Freedom Caucus what they wanted, that they can then lose other moderates off of that.

LEMON: Moderates.

POWERS: But then there's also a calculation if they can get all the House Freedom Caucus, then they might get it through.

LEMON: Yes. Listen, Jack, this is just what we had before and I want your -- I want you to weigh in on this, because you -- because you know this. You worked there before, right? So, but this is according to our ongoing whip which could have changed by now.

But this is the last count. Twenty three House republicans have flat out said that they will vote against the current version of the bill, four more have indicated that they are likely to oppose it. That's 27 lawmakers and then you have Charlie Dent now. And then you have, as Kirsten saying they may lose some moderates now. So that may be even more, what is your gut telling you? What are these folks saying to you?

KINGSTON: I think they'll get it passed. Because I think it's going to become a kind of a come home to your team moment.

LEMON: Right. I agree with you on that. I do.

KINGSTON: But I do think Kirsten is right on two accounts. Anytime you cut a deal with the moderates or the conservatives there's a net gain because there's a loss. It's not like you picked up all of them and then that was the net gain because you lost some moderates on the other side.

The other thing that she's right about is there is a certain element of chicken that's going to be played. When I was in House leadership and on the whips team, often and we had a five vote majority. We would go on the floor with big pieces of legislation not actually knowing if we had the votes or not, and then you leave the clock open.

You know, you get 17 minutes to vote. We famously, democrats and republicans have often left the clock open for sometimes an hour until you can get that last vote. And you try to win all votes by two votes so somebody is not accused of being the vote that broke the tie.


KINGSTON: But you don't know really who is going to come home until you get up there. And then there's senior members been there eight or nine terms and you are going to say to him, look, you are going to make a freshman walk the plank just so you can have vote purity with some interest groups off campus? Is that really what being a team member is about? And I've seen those conversations over and over where people switch back. LEMON: OK. I've got to go, Jack. I've got to go, everyone. Thank you,

and who better to talk about this than the former secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, next.


LEMON: Breaking news, Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows saying tonight he is really optimistic a deal can be reach on the GOP health care plan. He tells Fox News that they are not there yet but they have come to an agreement in principle, on issues with President Trump. He says there is still work to be done, but sounded optimistic that this could be worked out tomorrow.

So joining me now, an Obamacare veteran, Kathleen Sebelius, the former Health and Human Services Secretary.

Good evening, Secretary. Thank you so much for coming on. So there are signs there are a deal in principle, and this could mean the end of Obamacare as we know it and as the republicans promised voters years ago. What's your reaction?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, FORMER UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Well, I think first of all, this is -- this is a first step. This is a republican House who's going to jam republican members to vote to take away about 24 million people's health insurance while they enjoy their own government health insurance, I find it a really troubling time in this country.

I listened to the discussion a little bit ago that you all had and I gather one of the issues is whether or not they would allow insurance companies to once again sell health insurance that doesn't fully cover somebody when they get sick.

And that's a very dangerous place for a person to be. Millions of policies in the individual market didn't have maternity coverage, which you can't buy once you get pregnant. Millions of policies had no mental health coverage.

Opioid overdose is a huge issue in this country. Lots of people had no substance abuse. They didn't have hospital coverage. They couldn't take an ambulance. Now they didn't know that. They were sold something that said it was health insurance but it did not have the benefits that you would get in your workplace.


LEMON: Well, these are the essential benefits that the House Freedom Caucus don't want to.

SEBELIUS: That's what the big deal is for the Freedom Caucus.


SEBELIUS: That's what I'm saying.

LEMON: Yes. SEBELIUS: That their deal now. That isn't the health insurance that they have. They and their families have full benefits, full coverage, but they're saying that should be really what's marketed to the American public.

And I have to go a step farther. As former insurance commissioner you might say we no longer will let companies deny people on preexisting condition. But if you begin to pick and choose packages of benefits. If I'm 26 years old and totally healthy, I buy very skinny benefits and at a very low cost.

If I'm 55 years old and have a chronic heart condition and I'm a cancer survivor, I'm desperate for the full package. So, that way the insurance companies actually market different plans to different populations based on their health.

LEMON: Yes. So what they're saying, though, is that why do I need these services if they are - if they don't pertain to me, why should I be forced to buy these services?

SEBELIUS: They fundamentally don't understand insurance. Insurance is about a pool. It's about risk bearing where some people use it, why do I have fire insurance if my House has never burned down or I've never been hit by a tornado. Why do I have a car insurance if I'm a safe driver? It's about protecting you from the unexpected and it's about a policy where everybody pays a share.

Everybody is in and then when you -- the lottery comes up with your number and you get hit by a bus or get a cancer diagnosis or have a child with a special need, you have a pool of coverage to rely on.

[22:55:02] It's what happens in a workplace every day to people. They're on health plan. They don't pick and choose based on, you know, they may have bad genes for their heart or they might have torn a ligament. They're in an employee health plan. That's what the goal was for an individual market.


LEMON: And they're choosing costs. Yes. They're choosing cost rather than what they cover.

SEBELIUS: You bet. Well.

LEMON: But I've got to ask you before our time runs out. The Obamacare exchanges are in trouble, Secretary, in some states and some states the premiums have skyrocket -- skyrocketed. Do you think that's a legitimate problem with Obamacare and doesn't that need to be fixed?

SEBELIUS: Well, definitely there needs to be more competition in some states. And that's fixable. The kind of stability pool that the republicans have just announced will be part of this act would have been great to have in place four years ago.

We would have loved that, to allow states without a lot of competition to open a new market, to stabilize their competitors, to help insurance companies pay a high cost. This republican Congress wouldn't work to do that. There are ways to do that without taking away insurance from 14 million people next year and 24 million people eventually and shifting the cost to older, sicker, poorer workers in America. That's just a really bad deal.

LEMON: All right. Secretary Sebelius, thank you. I appreciate your time.

SEBELIUS: Sure. Good to talk to you.

LEMON: We'll be right back.