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House Intel Committee just Met; GOP Struggles to Secure Votes on Health Bill; U.S. Officials: Info Suggests Trump Associates may have Coordinated with Russians. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 23, 2017 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

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MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Did this come from the White House? Did this information that you got came from the White House?

NUNES: As you know, we have to keep our sources and methods here very, very quiet. I've told the American public several times that we want people to come to us, to bring us information if they have it. And over the course of this investigation, we've had many sources who have come to this committee. And as you can imagine, some, many, don't want you to know, they don't want anyone to know who they are. And I think you guys in the press understand this, you have your own sources.

RAJU: But there's suspicion that this is engineered by the Trump administration to muddy the waters, give them some political cover.

NUNES: Yes, look, I came out here and briefed you guys, yesterday. I said this is what I'm going to go do, so that you knew. The president didn't invite me over. I called down there and invited myself. Because I thought he needed to understand what I saw and that he needed to try to get that information because he has every right to see it.

So, anyway, I have a health care meeting I have to go to. So, I apologize. I'm sorry.

(INAUDIBLE QUESTION)

NUNES: Just a judgment call. I mean, you know - where there was a lot going on yesterday, and it was a judgment call on my part. And that's -- at the end of the day, sometimes you make the right decision, sometimes you make the wrong one, but you've got to stick by what you -- the decisions you make. All right, thank you, guys.

RAJU: You deny that any of this information came from the Trump administration?

NUNES: I'm not going to -- look, on this committee we are not going to ever reveal sources or if not, who's ever going to come down to the committee. Thanks, guys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. That was House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes, the day after he made this big announcement that he's seen data that members of the Trump transition team were picked up on incidental conversations during the transition. Then he went to the White House to tell the president that.

A couple of interesting things here that we should point out, just that he would not reveal where he got that information. Reporters were asking directly, did you get that information from the White House. Devin Nunes refused to say where he got the information.

And one other thing is our Manu Raju. I think I recognized Manu's voice. Manu asked him directly if he showed the other members of the Intelligence Committee that data -

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: That he saw yesterday.

BERMAN: That apparently made him so angry.

HARLOW: And he said we don't have it. I believe those were his words. I think we have Manu Raju. Do we?

So, Manu, is that how you read it, what John was just saying?

RAJU: Yes, he did not show the members of the committee this information. It looks like it was just a discussion about what he actually saw. So he said that we don't have those documents. When I asked him, do you have those documents, have you shown those members. They don't -- they didn't have those. And also, he refused to say how he got this information.

Now, as you know, there's been a lot of suspicion, particularly among Democrats, that perhaps this was engineered by the Trump administration, by the White House to give him some information, to muddy the waters, to make and create a narrative that President Trump was being surveilled, he's being spied on, and to give him some political cover. Now, he did not quite -- he didn't say where this is coming from because he said we need to protect our sources and methods. He said that we, as an Intelligence Committee take that very, very seriously, which is why that we can't reveal exactly how this came from.

And of course, he defended his move to actually go and talk to the press - talk to the president before discussing it with Democrats, even the ranking Democrat on the committee. He said it was a judgment call to do that the way that he did. So he's still a bit on the defensive, but this coming after this meeting, which is actually still ongoing, as they discuss this key issue. And it sounds like that they want to continue moving forward with this investigation even as a lot of Democrats believe that he may have compromised it.

HARLOW: All right, Manu Raju, thank you very much. I think it is interesting that he didn't show this to the committee and he says he saw it yesterday.

BERMAN: I don't think we even know what "this" is. -

(CROSSTALK)

HARLOW: There's something -

BERMAN: It's something. There's some physical thing that he saw.

HARLOW: -- that he saw why wouldn't he share it with the full committee.

We'll see if we get any response from Democrats on the committee, including the ranking Democrat, Adam Schiff. As we wait for that, let's bring in our congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty with him. Guess what? There's more than one big story going on in Capitol Hill today. The other is this is the day. This is the day the House is supposed to vote on the GOP health care bill. How are things looking?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is indeed the day, Poppy. But I have to say, there is still so much left up in the air at this point, so much left to get done before they hold that vote. So, the situation is best described as fluid. We have the House Republican leaders who were going to brief their full caucus this morning about the bill. That meeting has been delayed, postponed until potentially later today. That indicates that a deal has not yet come together.

[10:05:06] So, you have this push to get to a vote at some point tonight. But there's no time for that. There's no framework for the bill. It has not gotten out of the Rules Committee.

And the CBO has not scored this thing yet, which of course a lot of members want to see that score before they head to a final vote here in the House. So, certainly, a lot needs to come together in a very short amount of time. Now, you have this frantic effort up here on Capitol Hill to pull together and cobble together the votes they need.

Meantime, you have President Trump really trying to make some more personal pleas. We know he is calling members on their cellphones, lobbying for votes. Even at this point. And out with a new Twitter video this morning.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You were told that you could keep your plan and keep your doctor. You were given many, many false stories. The fact is, you were given many lies. Go with our plan. It's going to be terrific. You're going to be very, very happy. Call your local representative. Call your senator. Let him know that you're behind our plan.

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SERFATY: Now, a lot of last-minute moves in the wheeling and dealing up here on Capitol Hill. Leadership worked well into the night last night briefing members about potential changes that are being considered. A lot of those revolving around essential health benefits, eliminating those would bring in a lot of conservatives, a lot of members of the all-important House Freedom Caucus.

We're about to head to the White House later this morning. But eliminating those essential health benefits would also risk losing moderates. We already saw one moderate. Charlie Dent, come out and say he was a "yes" before, now he's a "no" with these potential changes.

Speaker Ryan met with moderates last night, one member telling CNN - after that meeting, it was very tense last night and indicating, so we're going to railroad this thing through. A lot of moderates, not happy with the changes, it really indicates two steps forward, one step back, as they inch toward a potential final vote tonight. John, Poppy?

BERMAN: All right. Fascinating to watch this as it develops, Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill for us. We have a lot going on in Capitol Hill between health care and Devin Nunes, the House Intelligence Committee Chair just coming out and talking about his meeting.

Joining us right now, Doug Heye, CNN political commentator, a Republican strategist, former RNC communications director, Salena Zito, CNN contributor, reporter for the "Washington Examiner," columnist "The New York Post" and former Democratic Congressman from New York, Steve Israel, he also a CNN political commentator.

Doug Heye, I want to start with you because in addition to working for the RNC, you worked for leadership on Capitol Hill. And you have the scars to prove it, right? So you must be having a nervous tic today watching this internal battle going on right now. Where do you think it stands? I mean, the idea that the White House and leadership might give the Freedom Caucus what they want on essential benefits. Will that get this bill over the finish line or might it alienate too many moderates?

DOUG HEYE, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: We don't know yet. Obviously, the news that the conference meeting this morning has been cancelled means that the situation right now to use Sunlen's word is very fluid.

And I can tell you, we had fluid situations in trying to get votes. That meant that I was usually losing a lot of bottled fluids because it was such a tense time. And as Congressman Israel knows very well, I'm still trying to forget, we have a long history in the GOP House Majority of losing votes and pulling votes and not being able to get the 218 votes.

There's one difference right now in what we see right now versus the past. That dynamic is the Republican president. Obviously, Donald Trump has been on a massive charm offensive. The White House bowling alley has been in overdrive. We've seen the YouTube video from this morning.

If Donald Trump pushes this through, it will be a massive success for him. If he's unable to, it means that not only his agenda imperiled, certainly tax reform will be much harder, but it also means that moving forward, Republicans are going to have a real problem demonstrating whether they can govern and also, whether a charm offensive turns into scorched earth. Watch President Trump's Twitter feed.

HARLOW: So -- we always do. Salena Zito, to you, when we talk about stripping some of these essential benefits -- let's pull from the screen what we're talking about. These are things like covering maternity care, ambulance services, things like -

BERMAN: Mental health coverage.

HARLOW: Mental health coverage is another big one. This may help them with those more conservatives like the Freedom Caucus. This may help them through the House. The question is, what happens to them in the Senate.

And let me just read you some reporting from our Lauren Fox, a House GOPer, coming out of that meeting with Paul Ryan last night saying this, "So we're going to railroad this thing through and there's going to be even more people pissed off -- our constituents, our stakeholders." That's what they're up against.

SALENA ZITO, CNN CONTRIBUTOR AND REPORTER "WASHINGTON EXAMINER": Yes, absolutely. I mean, this thing is, as we've talked about before, the sausage making is always a mess. There are so many moving parts. These guys come from so many different districts with you know, diverse needs and diverse populations. And I agree with Doug, if Trump is able to get this over the finish line, I think that is an incredibly big win for him.

[10:10:03] It shows that this sort of disrupter that they put in -- to the White House is actually very effective when it counts. You know, the last whip count that I've heard is, it's really close but it's leaning toward being able to pass. -- The problem I think for the president with the Freedom Caucus is, they have a tendency to move the goalpost once they get something that they want and then, they're like, no, no, no. We want something more. So, I mean, I think that's his biggest challenge right now.

BERMAN: Steve Israel, you are a Democrat, yet if the president is able to work with the Republicans and get this through the House today, just the House today, because God knows what happens tomorrow once it gets to the Senate, but if it gets through the House today, does the president deserve some credit for twisting arms?

STEVE ISRAEL (D), CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR AND FORMER NEW YORK CONGRESSMAN: Well, there's no question if the House passes it. I don't think today. I think tonight. And there are all indications that it will be a late vote. But if the House passes it that is a tactical win for the president. But then, the hard work begins. It goes to the Senate. You've got some senators who cannot tolerate a reduction in Medicaid in their states. And so, it becomes repackaged, reformulated there, comes back to the House.

Look, I've been talking to my colleagues most of this morning and here's where we stand, from what I'm told. Number one, the bottom-line is, nobody knows what the bottom-line is. We do know that now you need 215 votes to pass with one Democratic absence. We do know that the Rules Committee has been meeting for 12 hours. They still don't have a bill. So we can expect a late vote.

This, John and Poppy, will be like a marathon college basketball game that goes back and forth but it's the last two minutes that count. Doug lived through those two minutes. I've lived through those two minutes. That's where it's going to get interesting.

HARLOW: But you know, you've also said granted they're coming from the Democratic point of view, but you've said the force of party discipline is incredibly strong, only in the rarest of instances has party discipline failed to prevail. So what's your net on tonight? Does party discipline win the day?

ISRAEL: Nobody can predict what's going to happen with any certainty including the Speaker of the House and the President of the United States. But if history is any lesson at all, party discipline usually prevails. The only vote -- consequential vote that I remember that was put on the floor that they couldn't get the votes for was the T.A.R.P. Bill. When the bill was put on the floor, the votes weren't there, -- the bill went down, so did the Dow Jones and it had to be voted on together.

Here is what I really think counts. Here is where you see the drama. In that last two minutes, you're going to see a lot of the vote count just slow down to a crawl. Democrats will put their votes on the board very early. Republicans who are voting yes will put their votes on the board very early, they want to try and show there's quick action to get to 215 votes. But then, it slows to a crawl. That's where the carrots come out, the sticks come out, that's where if you're a lean yes, you're leaned on. That's where you get that last minute horse trading.

And what it comes down to is this. If you're one of those members who are looking at that voting board, not sure where you're going to go, it comes down to are you going to vote with your party or are you going to vote the politics of your district? That's where it gets interesting. Usually when that happens, party discipline does prevail.

HARLOW: Or are you going to vote with your pocketbook and if are you going to think, "Oh-oh, the Koch Brothers aren't going to give me any money in 2018 if I don't vote for this thing." We'll see. Guys, thank you very much. Doug Heye, Salena Zito, Steve Israel.

All right, still to come for us. CNN's exclusive reporting on the FBI investigation into links between the Trump campaign and Russia. Also -

BERMAN: Breaking news out of London. ISIS is now claiming responsibility for the attack that killed three people. We'll have the very latest ahead.

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[10:18:01] BERMAN: All right. CNN has learned new details of the FBI investigation into potential links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

HARLOW: Let's bring in our crime and justice producer Shimon Prokupecz. He broke this story along with Evan Perez and Pamela Brown. What have you learned?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Well, Poppy, U.S. officials tell CNN, the FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign. FBI Director James Comey made his bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign.

The FBI is now reviewing that information which includes human intelligence, travel, business, and phone records and accounts of in- person meetings. The information is raising the suspicions of FBI counterintelligence investigators that the coordination may have taken place. Though officials cautioned the information was not conclusive. The FBI would not comment, nor would the White House, though Trump officials have denied there is any evidence of collusion.

HARLOW: So, Shimon, I mean, this gives us a lot more insight now into what we heard FBI Director Comey say in his testimony just on Monday.

PROKUPECZ: That's right. If you recall, in addition to Comey saying the investigation includes looking at connection to Trump associates. He also explained the legal standard for the FBI to look into this. Take a listen.

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REP. TURNER (R), OHIO: 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, FBI DIRECTOR: The standard is I think there's a couple different at play -- a credible allegation of wrongdoing or reasonable basis to believe that an American may be acting as an agent of a foreign power.

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[10:20:00] PROKUPECZ: One law enforcement official said information 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." But other U.S. Officials who spoke to CNN say it's too early to tell from the information gathered so far, since at this point it' mostly circumstantial. The FBI cannot yet prove that collusion took place. But the information suggests that collusion is now a large focus of the investigation.

BERMAN: So, Shimon, what about who is being investigated? Do we know exactly at this point?

PROKUPECZ: We don't know exactly, John. What we do know is that four people who have some attachment into the Trump world, to the Trump orbit, -- have been under scrutiny. So, it's Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Carter Page, for their contacts with Russians known to the U.S. Intelligence. All four have denied improper contacts.

We've also learned that one of the issues the FBI now faces is that communications between Trump's associates and Russians have stopped in recent months, given the focus of all the media coverage on Russia. We've also been told that some Russian officials have changed their communications methods, making it a little more difficult for the FBI to conduct their surveillance.

BERMAN: All right, Shimon Prokupecz for us with this reporting. Thank you so much Shimon.

HARLOW: All right. So happening right now, we know that the House Intel Committee just wrapped up this meeting. You saw Devin Nunes, the chairman, come out and make those brief remarks. So, here's the background.

Yesterday, he runs over to the White House after he says he learned a communication from President Trump and his team may have been "incidentally collected." Now, to be clear, "He wasn't talking about anything," he says, "having to do with Russia." And he claimed this was normal, incidental legal collection. "This does not have anything to do," he says, "with the wiretapping claims, that President Trump made against President Obama." Nunes says, "There is still no evidence of that."

But this is a drip-drip of information, the middle of this House investigation. And now, it is fueling calls this morning for an independent investigation into the Trump campaign team and any potential ties to Russia. Athena Jones is live in Washington with more on all of this. Do we know what drove him to go to the White House? Did the White House call him? Did he call the White House?

ATHENA JONES, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Unclear if anyone from the White House reached out to the chairman. But we know that he said he was alarmed by what he found in these intelligence reports. One associate said he was steaming. And that may partially explain why he decided to talk to the press, and then to the White House, and then to the press at the White House, before talking to people, to Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee.

But I can tell you guys that right now, according to my colleague Manu Raju, the meeting is still ongoing. So it's possible that more could come out. It's possible we could hear from the top Democrat on that committee.

But chairman Nunes did come out and speak to reporters briefly. He said that -- he told reporters he did not show the committee the records of what he received. He refused to say how he got the information. And he said when asked why he went to the White House, that it was a judgment call on why he told the press and the president before he told Democrats. Here is more of what he had to say about that yesterday. Let's take a listen.

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NUNES: It concerned me enough to have to notify the president because it was him and his transition team that were involved in this. It's not fair for him not to know what's in these reports while the past administration and many agencies do know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: So he was arguing it was fair for the president to be told about this. That still may not answer the question of Democrats on the committee who say, fine, tell the president but certainly tell us. And you also of course have Democrats raising questions about just why he did feel the need to personally brief the president. Here is the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, talking about that. Take a listen.

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REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The chairman will need to decide whether he is the chairman of an independent investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House, because he cannot do both.

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JONES: He cannot both chair of this committee that is tasked with looking into Russian meddling in last year's election and to any potential ties between Trump associates or surrogates and Russian officials while at the same time heading over the White House to keep the president abreast of every development.

Adam Schiff in that same press conference said that this makes an even stronger case that there needs to be an independent commission, an independent investigation into all of this. Nunes' actions raise questions about whether that committee can credibly look into this.

And one more thing, guys, Chairman Nunes' statements also raise other questions. Who are these other foreign officials or foreign persons that members of the Trump team were in contact with that would have been subject to what he called "multiple FISA warrants?"

[10:25:01] So, in the end, it doesn't seem that Chairman Nunes' actions helped out the White House in the way it seemed he was trying to do.

HARLOW: Athena Jones, thank you very much. It's also odd that he didn't show whatever he was reading to his committee in an hour-long meeting just this morning.

BERMAN: Just had a meeting, you know, Manu Raju asked him outright, did you show everyone else what you read, he says, "No, I don't have it." Very confusing, we'll talk about that and much, much more right after the break.

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BERMAN: All right. U.S. officials tell CNN the FBI has information that indicates that associates of President Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign. I want to bring in Bob Baer, CNN intelligence security analyst. Bob, thank you so much for being with us.

That news broken last night by a terrific CNN reporting team, my question to you is very simple. How serious is that if in fact it's true, and how difficult would it be to prove?