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Kushner to be Questioned on Trump/Russia Ties; GOP Blame Game Ramps up Over Health Care Failure; Priebus: Trump Is Not Going To Be "Partisan"; Trump: Never Said I'd Replace Obamacare In 64 Days; GOP's Poe Quits Freedom Caucus In Health Care Protest; Stock Market Starts Lower At Opening Bell. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 27, 2017 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:00] POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: -- and Trump associations, but now that he's very close to home at the White House.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, very close to home. The "New York Times" is reporting that senators want to question President Trump's son-in-law and trusted advisor, Jared Kushner, about meetings he arranged with the Russian ambassador and one that he reportedly attended with a Russian banking official.

We want to get right to CNN's Sara Murray at the White House because, now, Sara, we understand the White House is responding.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The White House is responding, and the news is sort of coming in quickly this morning. So this originally began with "The New York Times" story pointing out that the Senate Intelligence Committee had some questions for Jared Kushner.

Now, this would be the person who's closest to the President to be questioned in regards to his ties to Russia and his meetings with Russian officials. Now, we know from previous reporting, our previous reporting, that Jared Kushner had met at one point with the Russian ambassador. This was December, it was during the transition. And that's sort of the extent of what we knew about his meetings with Russian officials.

Now, the White House is confirming that there were additional meetings. There was a meeting with a deputy to Jared Kushner and the Russian ambassador. And there was an additional meeting between Jared Kushner and the head of a state-owned Russian development bank.

Now, the White House is downplaying all of this. They said, in a statement today, throughout the campaign and the transition, Jared Kushner served as the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials. Given this role, he has volunteered to speak with Chairman Burr's committee but has not yet received confirmation. Chairman Burr's committee would be the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Again, "The New York Times" was the first to report this. And it's worth pointing out that there is no real problem with the fact that Jared Kushner had these meetings. The real question is, is this in the context of these investigations in the House and in the Senate into ties between Donald Trump's presidential campaign and Russian officials?

And again, it's yet another story catching the White House a little bit flat-footed. We have asked them repeatedly whether there were other contacts with Russian officials, whether they had tried to go through officials in this administration and determine if anyone else had had additional contact. They really down played this.

But, John, you really can't overstate how much this White House does not want to be talking about Russia, particularly coming after last week which is a very rough week for them.

HARLOW: All right. Sara Murray at the White House with the breaking news. Thank you very much.

We're going to get back to all of that in just a moment, but also this big news. Consider it the art of no deal, I suppose. President Trump assigning blame, pointing a lot of fingers, shifting focus from the ObamaCare replacement debacle and his first legislative embarrassment.

Just four days after trying and failing to win over the ultra- conservative Freedom Caucus, the President now lashing out at them. Just minutes ago, we heard from Texas Congressman Ted Poe who quit the hardline group over the weekend for abandoning the GOP signature promise to truly repeal and replace. Listen to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TED POE (R), TEXAS: I got the opinion that there's some members of the Freedom Caucus, they'd vote no against the Ten Commandments if it came up for a vote. And so I think it's time that the Freedom Caucus work together with other members of the Republican Party, have input, which we did with the speaker, the President of the United States, and then, at the end of the day, compromise to get something done. Now we have ObamaCare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So how can the President bring this party together? Does it want to be brought together? The big question is, what now?

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill with that question. Sunlen?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, John. Yes, there certainly are a lot of pieces to pick up within the Republican Party right now after the failure last week. And quite simply, a lot of the oxygen being sucked up right now is a blame game. People are pointing fingers at each other.

Most notably, over the weekend, President Trump calling out specifically the House Freedom Caucus, that group of conservatives, one of the factions within the Republican Party that largely stood in the way of the health care bill going through. He tweeted out, "Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club for Growth and Heritage, also have saved Planned Parenthood and ObamaCare."

There is certainly also a lot of attention right now being paid to the relationship between President Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in light of their failure last week. And there was an eyebrow raising moment over the weekend when President Trump tweeted out, on Saturday, to watch a specific Fox News show.

At the top of that show, the anchor immediately launched into a call for Speaker Ryan to step down. Now, White House aides say this was just coincidental, that he did not know the anchor was going to do that. Here's, first, that moment and then the White House push back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE JEANINE PIRRO, FOX NEWS HOST: Paul Ryan needs to step down as Speaker of the House. The reason? He failed to deliver the votes on his health care bill.

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think it was more coincidental, Chris. I --

[09:05:00] CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Oh, come on.

PRIEBUS: I did not talk to the President about the tweet. I'm just telling you the truth. There was no pre-planning here. The President --

WALLACE: No, you didn't but --

PRIEBUS: The President --

WALLACE: -- why would he say watch her and then that's the first thing out of her mouth?

PRIEBUS: Because he loves Judge Jeanine and he want to do Judge Jeanine a favor.

WALLACE: So does he want Paul Ryan to step down or not?

PRIEBUS: No, he doesn't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SERFATY: Now, Trump and Paul Ryan spoke twice over this weekend. One of those conversations, during that, an aide said the President made very clear that his tweet had nothing to do with the Speaker. So both sides here, guys, really trying to emphasize that everything's OK, that they are in a good place in terms of their relationship, but such an important one going forward, especially as they move to other big- ticket items on their agenda -- John and Poppy.

BERMAN: All right. Sunlen Serfaty on Capitol Hill, a busy morning up there.

HARLOW: Yes.

BERMAN: A busy morning on the White House. Lots to discuss.

We want to bring in our panel right now. Joining us, David Swerdlick, CNN political commentator, assistant editor at "The Washington Post"; Matt Lewis, CNN political commentator, senior columnist at "The Daily Beast"; and Rebecca Berg, CNN political analyst and national political reporter for Real Clear Politics. Welcome, one and all.

Let's start with this news just into CNN, the idea that the Senate Intelligence Committee wants to question Jared Kushner.

Now, I need not state the role that Jared Kushner plays in this White House. He's a senior advisor to the President, maybe the closest advisor for the President, and he's his son-in-law, David. So, look, we don't know the specifics too much of what they want to discuss, meetings with the Russian ambassador, meetings with the Russian banker, but the fact that the Intelligence Committee wants to talk to him is problematic for the White House this morning.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, I think it's problematic at least because they have to come up with an explain, again, as to why folks so close to President Trump, to President-elect Trump at the time, were, you know, engaged in these series of meetings with the Russian ambassador, with other high-level Russian officials or folks close to the Russian administration.

Whether or not anything is found later on to have been done that was illegal or wrong or even inappropriate by Jared Kushner, I just don't think the administration has been able to provide a good answer as to why there was so much focus on Russia in the early stages of their transition, leading into the early stages of the administration.

And until they're able to sort of change the narrative on that, with everything else swirling around the investigation in the House and the Senate and the, now we know, FBI investigation, they are going to be sort of on the backs of their heels trying to respond to these kinds of reports.

HARLOW: You know, Matt Lewis, a really interesting nugget at the end of this "New York Times" reporting, this says that even some senior administration officials within the White House, when they learned about the additional meetings that Kushner and his deputies had with Kislyak and also with this big-time Russian banker, they were caught off guard. That says a lot, does it not?

MATT LEWIS, SENIOR COLUMNIST, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes, I think it does. And I think, you know, possibly just speaks to the lack of coordination, the lack of experience, maybe some incompetence in the White House. I don't think it necessarily speaks to anything nefarious. This was part of his job. Jared Kushner's job was to be the liaison during the transition to foreign governments --

HARLOW: Matt Lewis, I would just say, you say maybe much to do about nothing, but he did not come forward with this. It's "The New York Times" that is presenting this to the world, even after the sort of hoopla around these other meetings. You know, couldn't Kushner and the White House have come forward and say, OK, there were these additional meetings as well?

LEWIS: Yes, and maybe that speaks to them trying to hide something or maybe it's just the fact that they're not terribly organized, terribly together. And clearly, they probably thought, hey, if we volunteer that we had another meeting, we looked at our record and there's a meeting with more Russians, that's going to look bad.

Here's my personal take. If there is some "there" there, if there was some coordination going on that's nefarious, I would suspect it came from people -- the Paul Manaforts of the world, the people who were sort of in Trump world but not necessarily involved in the campaign during the transition. That's my gut.

But, look, let Jared go and testify, and let's have a full hearing on this. I think it would probably be in the best interest of everybody, including the Trump administration, to, you know, have a full airing of this.

BERMAN: Yes. And, Rebecca Berg, just to be clear, the White House says that Jared Kushner's only meeting with the ambassador took place during the transition. Of course, that doesn't explain the meeting with the Russian banker, which we had not heard about yet.

And one of the things "The New York Times" is reporting that the Senate Committee wants to ask about is whether or not that meeting discussed Jared Kushner's business interests, which he hadn't separated himself with yet. He was looking for funding, you know, to buy or sell part of, you know, his real estate holdings here in New York City.

You know, again, Jared Kushner, very close to the President, the only current White House official, we believe, being called in for questioning from either committee.

REBECCA BERG, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, REAL CLEAR POLITICS: I mean, it's definitely significant, John, there's no question about it. Whatever we learn from this testimony or whatever the Intelligence Committee learns from this testimony, it might not be made public for us to know or hear about, but it's going to be a big deal in this case.

[09:10:03] I mean, Jared Kushner is obviously the closest person in the administration to the interviewed as part of this process so far. He had multiple meetings with the Russian, some of which he didn't disclose.

And this point you raise about his business interests during the transition, the possibility that "The New York Times" raises, that he could have been discussing his own company and their future investments, future developments, with these Russian officials, that's a really big deal. And it will raise further questions, if not about ties between Russia and the Trump team, it will raise questions about conflicts of interests in general with this administration because Jared Kushner, as we know, is certainly not the only person in this administration with business ties that have been mentioned as potential conflicts of interest. Just last week, Mnuchin, the Treasury Secretary, was at an event, and

he plugged a film that his company had produced and said everyone should go see this. So this is going to raise a lot of potential questions for the administration, obviously not the kind of turf they want to be on now.

HARLOW: So one of the big differences between meeting with this major Russian banker and meeting with, say, you know, a U.S. bank CEO is that members of the President's team and inner circle don't usually sit on those bank boards, whereas "The New York Times" is reporting the people who are on the board.

BERMAN: One other point I would make here is that, this is a bank that was sanctioned, that was under the sanctions from President Obama for the Russian, you know, role in Crimea. So it --

HARLOW: Exactly. And you've got Putin's, you know, guys on the board, including Dmitry Medvedev, David.

SWERDLICK: Yes. I mean, I think this is the step-back issue here, right? We're going to know in time what the investigations in the House and Senate turn up. I think that you can't get too far ahead of yourself and say, OK, just because Jared Kushner is going to be questioned, that some, you know, smoking gun is going to be appear out of this meeting, but it does raise that question.

The posture of the United States leading out of the Obama administration and into the Trump administration was that we had a sanctions regime that we placed on them with our allies, the E.U., Australia, and Canada, going back to 2014 when Russia invaded Crimea.

Then when the Trump administration came in, forget what we don't know, just what we know, that there were all these overtures and all these rhetoric about mending fences with Russia, even though the big issue, Crimea, had not been resolved in any way. There was no progress on that. Why is there so much smoke, if not fire, about sanctions and about mending fences with Russians? I don't think the administration has answered that satisfactorily.

HARLOW: I get --

BERMAN: One last point. "The New York Times" says the FBI has not reached out to talk to Jared Kushner.

HARLOW: Exactly.

BERMAN: It's just the Senate Intelligence Committee right now.

HARLOW: Right.

BERMAN: So that could tell you something.

HARLOW: And the White House is saying this is just, you know, what the President asked him to do during the transition, nothing to see here, folks. We will learn more, but, again, the breaking news, that the Senate Intel Committee does want to question Jared Kushner. Guys, thank you very much. Stay with us. We have a lot still to

come.

The next hurdle for the President, obviously health care. What comes next the big loss for them? And could they be dealing with a government shutdown in 34 days?

BERMAN: Yes. And what does the stock market think about all this? We're due to open in just a few minutes, and you get the sense that investors now, a little jittery now that health care reform went down. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:17:21]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REINCE PREIBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: This president is not going to be a partisan president. I think it's time for our folks to come together. I think it's also time to potentially get a few moderate Democrats on board as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Get the Democrats on board, is that possible? Back with us is our panel, David Swerdlick, Matt Lewis, Rebecca Berg. OK. Matt Lewis, he's blamed the Democrats. He's blamed the Freedom Caucus.

Some behind-the-scenes blame of Paul Ryan although everyone around the president says he is -- everything is kumbaya with the president and Paul Ryan, but he is even sort of rewriting history. Listen to the president on healthcare.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I never said repeal and replace Obamacare. You've all heard my speeches. I never said repeal it and replace it within 64 days.

On my first day, I am going to ask Congress to immediately send me a bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Immediately repealing and replacing the disaster known as Obamacare.

Immediately repealing and replacing Obamacare. We will be able to immediately repeal and replace Obamacare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: I didn't say 64 days, I said immediately. The words speak for themselves, but how specifically do you think, Matt Lewis, that this changes the road ahead for this administration and the White House? MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, look, I think the good news is, we talk about the blame game. The fundamental problem is it was a bad bill. It was a bad bill that the only people who supported were people who were loyalists, apologists for Donald Trump or Paul Ryan. It had no natural constituency.

So the fact that this bill was defected, I think that actually could be good for Donald Trump and Republicans. Because, number one, it could have dragged on. There could have been a Senate fight it would have gotten uglier probably and then been defeated or had it been passed, would have had premiums rise, 24 million people kicked off insurance eventually.

Republicans might have suffered the same electoral fate that Democrats suffered after passing Obamacare and losing all of those House and Senate seats. So on one hand I think it's not necessarily that bad that it died.

The problem is that this is a harbinger of things to come. It's is a story about larger problems, which is to say if they can't pass healthcare, how are they going to pass tax reform or infrastructure or anything? I don't think there's a reason that Democrats now would work with them. They have no incentive.

[09:20:00]In fact, I think their incentives are all perverse. They should be obstructionists. They will do to Republicans what Republicans did to them. So this could be very ugly. We are looking at a possible government shutdown coming up. Man, who would have thunk it that it would end up this way.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: You know, you raise a whole bunch of issues. We want to get to the Democrats and the government shutdown possibility in a second. But Rebecca, I want to stay on the president for a moment, which is that, you know, he said a whole lot of things are going to happen that haven't happened yet.

He said he would repeal and replace Obamacare, that didn't happen. This travel ban thing that he proposed, that isn't happening. You know, he's not building the wall right now with Mexico. When he does, Mexico won't pay for it. So does he have a delivery problem here politically especially with Republicans?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, well, here we see the difference, John, between campaigning and actually governing. It is very easy to promise something on the campaign trail, just look at all of the House and Senate Republicans who ran on repealing and replacing Obamacare.

And now you actually meet the realities of governing, and it becomes much more difficult. Things take time in Washington. You have to form coalitions with, as we see now, people who don't necessarily want to move forward or compromise.

You can look at the House Freedom Caucus on the one hand or Democrats on the other. They all have their incentives or disincentives to compromise on things like this. And so the president is meeting with that reality of how difficult governing he can be.

He ran as an outsider, that was very appealing from a political perspective, but from a practical perspective when you come to Washington with no experience whatsoever, working with Congress, pushing legislation through, working on even minor pieces of legislation, much less major ones, then you see this happen.

You see yourself run up against these blockades, really, and it's very hard to get these things done with no sort of experience whatsoever.

HARLOW: His major blockade, the House Freedom Caucus lost a man who was a loyalist up to the end of last week, that is Congressman Ted Poe. Here's what he said this morning on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPRESENTATIVE TED POE (R), TEXAS: I got the opinion that there are some members of the Freedom Caucus would vote no against the ten commandments if it came up for a vote. And so I think it's time that the Freedom Caucus work together with other members of the Republican Party, have input which we did with the speaker, the president of the United States, and then at the end of the day compromise to get something done. Now we have Obamacare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: He also said, look, I'm the most conservative guy out there. We should have done more. We should have compromised. Do you think, David, the House Freedom Caucus in the end here is emboldened or are they weakened?

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think it depends on the issue. I think they're going to be emboldened on some fiscal issues. I'm not sure where they'll stand on infrastructure or foreign affairs. They'll feeling their own power, though, and I think what you see with Congressman Poe leaving the caucus is going to be this re-choosing of sides among the Republican Party.

You know, normally when we use the phrase, "elections have consequences," we use it to chide the party that lost the election. In this case that phrase applies to the party that won. Republicans are in charge now.

This was a major setback because they couldn't get something through with Congress and pass into law with controlling the House, Senate and White House, and now it's a reshuffling of the decks.

Congressman Poe seems to be saying, look, I sympathize with the conservativism of the Freedom Caucus but not with their methods. I think that's going to be the continued shakeout as we go to the debt ceiling and to tax reform. This is the challenge for Republicans right now. Democrats are on the sidelines.

HARLOW: On tax reform, I don't know if they are emboldened because Meadows is already signaling that he is going to give a little bit on tax reform. BERMAN: He would give a little bit in the sense that he won't require the spending cuts. He'll give a little bit in ideology. I don't think politically. I think he's willing to get something through there. Rebecca, Democrats, any incentive for them? Matt Lewis, says, you know, if they learned anything over the last eight years is that maybe they're better off just being obstructionists.

BERG: Yes, well, publicly, they are projecting that they would be open to working with the Republicans. Chuck Schumer said last week after the bill fell apart in the House that he would be willing to work with Republicans on healthcare reform if full repeal were off the table.

Well, that sounds, it's certainly a welcoming tone to take, but they don't have much of an incentive to help Republicans succeed on healthcare or really any other issue. Because when it comes to running for reelection, running in 2018, Democrats want Republicans to look as bad as possible, the president and congressional Republicans.

And so it's kind of this -- it's a conflict between governing and politics once again so that's going to be very difficult for Republicans as they try to work with Democrats on things like infrastructure spending, which would be a natural Democratic issue for them to team up on. They really don't have a political incentive to help Republicans succeed.

BERMAN: All right, Rebecca Berg, Matt Lewis, David Swerdlick, thanks guys for being with us.

The news this morning, the Senate Intelligence Committee wants to question the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, senior adviser about meetings he had with Russian officials during the transition.

[09:25:11]We'll have a member of the House Intelligence Committee also investigating possible contacts between Trump associates and Russia coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Could be a rough/interesting day ahead on Wall Street as the stock market reacts to the failure of the healthcare bill, and they're looking ahead to what that might mean for the prospects of tax reform.

HARLOW: We're 30 seconds away from the opening bell on Wall Street. CNN Money's Cristina Alesci is here with more. What you are looking at this morning?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN MONEY BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, investors' patience is wearing thin on Donald Trump's agenda, and they're questioning whether he's able to really pull it off. The healthcare repeal and replace should have been relatively easy, right?

The Republicans control the White House and Congress. It should have gone a lot smoother than it did. Now the skepticism is showing up in certain pockets in the markets. That's really indicative of how investors feel.