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More Troops to Mosul as U.S. Investigates Civilian Deaths after Air Strikes; Democrats Discuss Universal Health Coverage after GOP Obamacare Repeal Failure; Democrats Want Database for Trump Visitors Trump Outside of White House. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired March 27, 2017 - 11:30   ET



[11:30:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. military is investigating claims that more than 100 civilians have been killed in recent coalition air strikes in Mosul, Iraq. If confirmed, the air strike would mark the most civilian casualties since the U.S. began fighting ISIS back in 2014. An Iraqi commander reports at least 112 bodies have been pulled from the rubble. But there are still a lot of questions about what exactly happened here.

This, as defense officials are announcing that they will soon be sending hundreds more troops to that very place.

Let's get more of the details that we know, at least understand right now, from Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Barbara, what's the very latest?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's just deal with those additional troops first, very quickly, going to Mosul, Iraq. These are a couple hundred troops or more from the 82nd airborne division at Ft. Bragg. They are going to Iraq, to Mosul, to beef up the ability of the U.S. to advise and assist Iraqi forces there. They will work as military advisers.

The fighting in west Mosul, which is a heavily populated neighborhood, is getting very grim, because there are thousands of civilians there on very narrow, crowded streets, crowded neighborhoods.

So now we come to this situation on March 17th. What the U.S. knows is that an air strike was called in at the request of the Iraqis. It hit somewhere in this neighborhood, where you're seeing this utter devastation. More than 100 bodies pulled out of houses so far, and it is believed there will be more to come.

The investigation now centering on how did this all happen. If the people were being held as civilian shields by ISIS, the U.S. says it did not know that they were there.

But this is going to be an ongoing situation in such a crowded neighborhood. ISIS continues to hold people essentially hostage in their homes in these neighborhoods. The target was said to be a suicide-bomber truck filled with

explosives. So what we don't know, did it hit the truck, and were there secondary, massive explosions that brought down these houses, killing all these people, or was there some mistake in how they targeted it -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Very key questions here, Barbara.

Thank you so much, Barbara Starr, for us.

I want to ask these questions to the spokesman for the coalition executing the air strikes. Colonel Joe Scrocca is joining me from task force headquarters in Kuwait.

Colonel, thank you so much for your time.

Barbara laid out the estimate is over 100 bodies being pulled from the rubble. What is the estimated death toll right now of civilians? Do you think reports of 200 people seem possible?


You know, the death of any number of civilians in war is a terrible tragedy and weighs heavily on our hearts, and that's why we take any allegations such as this extremely seriously, and why we're currently conducting an assessment to determine the facts of the case. And one of the facts that we'll look into is exactly how many civilians died in that incident and if we had anything to do with it.

BOLDUAN: Right now, the number 200, you can't say that's possible, though?

SCROCCA: No, at this point, I couldn't say. You know, that territory's been, until just very recently, held by is. The Iraqi security forces have just recently liberated it. Coalition forces are not on the front lines fighting, but we are going to do an assessment on the case, take a look at the strikes we did in that area, and determine the facts and determine the credibility of the allegation.

BOLDUAN: So, there is a lot of confusion surrounding those air strikes. Is it your understanding right now that the air strike brought down buildings with civilians in them, or do you think something else brought those buildings down?

SCROCCA: Well, again, that's why we're in the assessment stage. We can determine for sure that we conducted -- the coalition conducted strikes in that area, a number of strikes throughout that neighborhood, and one fairly close to the place where they have indicated that they have civilian casualties. But you know what, the coalition takes human life very seriously, as opposed to is, who is actually using humans as shields and is using protected sites, such as schools, mosques, and hospitals as weapons storage facilities and as fighting positions, and that's what we're seeing here. We're seeing is, the evil that they are, use people's houses where they're in as fighting positions, and it makes it extremely difficult to target them when they're doing that, but words taking all the precautions necessary to ensure that we minimize any collateral damage and we never target civilians.

BOLDUAN: Some of the reporting is that the air strike, at least one of the air strikes, was targeting a truck packed with explosives, a suicide truck, if you will. Do you believe it's possible the truck targeted blew up just before the air strike?

[11:35:06] SCROCCA: I've heard that as one of the possibilities. We did target a suicide vehicle in that neighborhood during that time, but I couldn't say for sure whether that was what brought down that house. Listen, we want to be very specific. When we make an announcement to say we're responsible for civilian deaths, that's something very serious, and we want to make sure that we have our facts straight. So we're not going to speculate on whether we have them or haven't. We're going to make an assessment, which is going to take some time. And when we come out and say something, it will be definitive.

BOLDUAN: Do these air strikes in question and everything that we're talking about in this very heavily packed, populated area of Mosul change the strategy on how you go forward in assisting and helping to retake Mosul going forward?

SCROCCA: Well, you know, we want to protect civilians at all costs. We always adhere to the law of armed conflict, and our Iraqi security forces are doing everything they can to protect civilians, their countrymen. So, when we look at hitting specific targets, we want to make sure that we only use precision munitions, and we want to make sure that the type of munition is proportional to the target. We don't want to use something that's too large to take down a specific target. We're trying to eliminate fighters, snipers, say, in a building or on a top, we're going to use a smaller munition that just kills those fighters, rather than take down the entire structure. We want to protect that infrastructure. We want to be able to return Mosul to the people that live there.

BOLDUAN: So, bottom line, with these air strikes, did you hit your targets?

SCROCCA: Well, that's what the assessment is currently looking at. There were a number of targets in that area. We are going to take a look at the strike videos that are available, and we will determine if there was any collateral damage to any of those strikes or if that building was, in fact, a target at all. I can't say that for sure until the assessment is complete.

BOLDUAN: OK. An investigation, as we mentioned, is under way.

Colonel, thank you very much for your time. We sincerely appreciate it.

SCROCCA: Thank you for having me.

BOLDUAN: Of course. Coming up for us, back to the president's first 100 days. Democrats

smelling an opening of sorts after the GOP's big health care failure last week. But is the left getting a little too confident as some lawmakers discuss a potential move toward universal health care now? We will discuss.

We'll be right back.


[11:41:54] BOLDUAN: New video, new pictures just in of President Trump meeting with small business owners at the White House earlier this hour, all female, women business owners, small business owners.

This comes after the stunning defeat of the Republicans' health care overhaul plan.

Some Democrats, after that, see an opening, not to rework Obamacare, but to perhaps take it even further.

Here's Senator Bernie Sanders.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS, (I), VERMONT: Obamacare has serious problems. Deductibles are too high, premiums are too high, the cost of health care is going up at a much faster rate than it should. Ideally, where we should be going is to join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee health care to all people as a right. And that's why I'm going to introduce a Medicare-for-all single-payer program.


BOLDUAN: A single-payer program. How far is that going to get in a Republican Senate and Republican House? I'll leave that to you to decide.

Minority leader, Chuck Schumer, meanwhile, has something to say about talk of the White House working with Democrats on health care going forward. There is a catch.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: As long as they say no more repeal -- that's a loser -- 17 percent of Americans like Trumpcare, that's it. They didn't want it. And stop undermining ACA, and we'll work with them. We have ideas, they have ideas to try to improve Obamacare. We never said it was perfect. We always said we'd work with them to improve it. We just said repeal was off the table.


BOLDUAN: Repeal is off the table, friends.

Joining me now is Alice Stewart, CNN political commentator, former communications director for Ted Cruz's presidential campaign; and Jon Selib, former chief of staff to Democrat Senator Max Baucus, who had an integral role in crafting Obamacare the first time around.

Great to have you.

Let's talk about where we are right now.

You now have the White House chief of staff saying that they're looking to basically try to pick up some support from moderate Democrats to try to find some way to work on health care going forward. Do you see any incentive that could happen?

JON SELIB, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO SENATOR MAX BAUCUS: Yes. Clearly, if the White House is ready to drop repealing the law full stop and fixing where it needs to be fixed in order to make the law work better and make the health care exchanges work better --


BOLDUAN: But if we're honest, what we were looking at was the House plan, and that's why conservatives didn't like it is that it wasn't a repeal, it wasn't a repeal. It was a fix. But it's in the labelling. Why does the labelling matter so much? Because --


SELIB: I think it's substantive, actually. So, this would have to -- you'd have to go back to the old days where, you know, the speaker actually had to put together votes from Democrats and Republicans in the house in order to put a bill together that meets everybody's expectations of what health care delivery should look like.

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think what Senator Sanders is doing is we saw mastering "The Art of the Deal" by saying we want to go so far to the left, knowing that that's not going to happen, and then trying to negotiate someplace in the middle. Look, Republicans in the House and the Senate campaigned on repealing and replacing, period.


STEWART: No ifs, ands, or buts about it. So for them to do anything less, at least in this first attempt out of the gate would be going back to the promises they made. So, those that were firm, especially the house Freedom Caucus members, say this is what they promised their constituents. And despite all the arm-twisting by the White House, they could not go back home and do a thing short of what they promised.

[11:45:16] BOLDUAN: What do you think would bring a Democrat to the table right now, though? It seems that they've seen very successfully what just saying no does. It succeeded here.


BOLDUAN: Do you --

(CROSSTALK) SELIB: I think it's time to ratchet back expectations a little bit about what's possible. And I think --


BOLDUAN: What if the law starts collapsing like Republicans think it's going to?

SELIB: Well, the Congressional Budget Office differs with that view. So, they said the exact opposite. They said that markets were going to be stable. Now, if the White House decides they want to sabotage the law by, you know, holding back money in order to market the insurance exchanges to individuals, then you know, there could be some negative impacts there. But you know, let's get back --


BOLDUAN: It's not going anywhere, you're thinking.

SELIB: Yeah. It's not going anywhere. Let's get back to the basics and make it work for the American people. That's why people send people to Washington, to make government work.

BOLDUAN: That's what everyone says they're trying to do. But they all see it from a different perspective. The Freedom Caucus says they were sent there to repeal this thing, and what they saw was not a fix, was not a repeal, was not fix. After all this has played out and the president calls the Freedom Caucus out on Twitter, as Phil Mattingly fittingly put it at the top of the show, do you think this has chastened the Freedom Caucus or emboldened them?

STEWART: You speak to the members of the Freedom Caucus, this has emboldened them. This showed them, if they stand by their promises and stand by their constituents, first of all, they have no fear in terms of re-election efforts, but they knew they were doing this on principle and this is what they promised the people they would do.

And more than anything, I just have a piece put up on, the opinion page. Look, when we're talking about one-sixth of our nation's economy and revamping of our health care, we have to slow down. We can't draft a bill which --


BOLDUAN: A lot of Republicans think that. 18 days, that's all the time you're going to give health care?



BOLDUAN: How slow do you want to go, though, Jon? That's the big question. One word, is tax reform easier than health care policy?

SELIB: No, it's much harder. So, tax reform is going to be very, very difficult. And again, I think we need to get back to basics. Government funding needs to be fixed by the end of April. You have a debt ceiling increase that we need to get through in the fall.

BOLDUAN: I'm starting to have the shakes again, thinking about government shutdowns and a debt crisis. OK!

SELIB: Let's focus on the basics.

BOLDUAN: Here we go, guys. This is how to keep the government open.

Great to see you. Thank you so much.


BOLDUAN: Ah, so exciting, looking forward with those things in the future.

Democrats are raising the red flag on Trump's Winter White House guests, demanding the visitor log of people going into the president's Florida resort and meeting with him. Is that a fair request? We're going to discuss that next.


[11:51:49] BOLDUAN: Who's taking office. The president has spent eight consecutive weekends away from the White House, at his various Trump resorts, including what has been deemed the Winter White House, his Palm Beach resort, Mar-a-Lago. Mar-a-Lago is also the name now, or the acronym, for new legislation the Democrats have just rolled out in the House and Senate. They want to know who's meeting with the president when he's away from the White House. Here is the actual name of the legislation for you. Prepare yourself. It is the Making Access Records Available to Lead American Government Openness Act. Yep, that's it. It would force the White House to create an online database of every person who visits anywhere the president conducts official business.

Getting past the ridiculousness of the name, let's talk about what they're asking for.

Joining me now is CNN contributor and "Washington Post" reporter, David Fahrenthold.

David, it's great to see you.


BOLDUAN: From everything that you've seen, David, is this a fair request? Have other presidents rolled out visitor logs of their weekend travel in the past?

FAHRENTHOLD: Other presidents have not had a parallel situation. President Obama did release some of the visitor records, people coming to and from the White House, although not all. He didn't release guests at parties and things like that. Mar-a-Lago is where Trump lives and he does business, but it's also sort of a semi-public place. A place with its own members, it rents its ballrooms out for gatherings, galas, weddings. Trump himself seems to treat it like the party guests as sometimes people he'll meet with. He doesn't maintain a bright line between what he's doing as business and doing as sort of pleasure. So if you got this, you'd get a whole lot of people who had nothing to do with the president, but you might get a few people who had real contact with the president while they were there.

BOLDUAN: This, of course, comes back to transparency and how transparent a White House or any administration is. The argument for providing names of visitors is the public deserves to know who the president is meeting with on government time, on taxpayer money. What is the argument against providing this information?

FAHRENTHOLD: Well, I think in this case it would be that Trump goes to these places as sort of retreats, that they're not -- everyone who walks in the door is not there to meet with him, and it would invade a lot of people's privacy who are going to a wedding or to play tennis. I think he would say the visitor log of Mar-a-Lago is not analogous to the visitor log at the White House --


FAHRENTHOLD: -- which also is not provided.

BOLDUAN: That's very true. But what information do you glean from it? Your paper also crunched the number and is reporting he has spent one out of every three days since taking office at a Trump-owned property. Your specialty has been investigating potentially conflicts of interest. Does this pose one?

FAHRENTHOLD: Well, we don't know enough yet. Certainly, Trump promised at the beginning of his administration that he would stay away from running his businesses, that he would not participate in sort of the administration of his businesses, which he still owns. And this may be a sign that pledge was not very ironclad if he's spending all of his time at the businesses. He certainly has done nothing physically to separate himself from the businesses. It's kind of hard to believe he has totally separated himself in terms of management from the businesses. But we haven't seen enough yet to know and the access that the members of Mar-a-Lago or members of his golf clubs are getting.

If we start finding out some of these members are getting big government contracts or that they're finding special purchase at the White House because they see the president in the context of the club, then I think we'll know more about the conflicts of interest.

[11:55:21] BOLDUAN: David, great to see you. Thank you.


BOLDUAN: Back to some of our breaking new this hour, why did former Trump surrogate and current Republican in charge, and the current Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes, why did he have some mysterious meeting on White House grounds the day/night before releasing information on potential Trump surveillance? There's new details pouring in. More on that next.


[12:00:02] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

Back to work at the White House after a devastating defeat. And in Washington, the blame game rages. The House speaker gets public love after a bizarre presidential --