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Border Crossings Dropping; Republicans Attempt to Revive Health Care Talks; Trump-Russia Probe Continues. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired April 4, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:01]

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We are told that people such as Paul Manafort, Carter Page, former Trump advisers like Roger Stone all on the list of interviews that -- witnesses to interview.

Now, the question is, will any of these be public? A lot of these will be private. Now, this comes, as, Brooke, you know, these Democrats have been calling for Devin Nunes to step aside as chairman of the committee, in light of the recent controversies, but Nunes is saying that he's not going anywhere.

And he wants to plow ahead with this investigation. As a result, Democrats say that they want to participate in this investigation, too. That's one big reason why it's moving forward. Now, when Adam Schiff talked to Wolf Blitzer earlier this afternoon, he explained the reason why this investigation is going forward this way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: I think to the degree that the White House still won't explain its role in providing these materials to the chairman, to the degree that that still remains shrouded in secrecy, why did the White House want to hide its hand on this, that cloud persists.

But, nonetheless, we're not going anywhere. If we were to walk away from this investigation in the House, it would literally cut in half the resources devoted to the Russia investigation, and it's just too important that this go forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now, Brooke, on the Senate side, the investigation is going forward itself, including interviews with witnesses who are part of the intelligence community, discussing any additional information that was not included in that January assessment from the intelligence community that said that people in the Kremlin to the highest level, including Vladimir Putin, tried to sway the election for Donald Trump.

Those interviews have happened privately. I have talked to the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, who has said that they have gained -- quote -- "a lot of information" as part of their interviews. They plan to have more interviews tomorrow, going forward.

We're seeing some progress on both the House and the Senate side. But the big question is when they have to make some key decisions, will they be able to come together on both the House and the Senate side? We don't know that quite yet. But at the very least, both sides seem to suggest that the investigation is moving forward, Brooke.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: OK, good. Manu, thank you so much.

Let me bring in Dana Bash, our CNN chief political correspondent, along with one of the writers of that incredible "Washington Post" story this morning, Greg Miller.

Thank you both so much for being with me.

Greg, we will get into your exclusive reporting here in just a second.

But, Dana, first to you just on Manu talking about the Wolf interview with Mr. Schiff. And these are two investigations, right? It is the unmasking investigation and the documents that now the entire committee should be looking at, not just Chairman Nunes, and this investigation into potential Russian ties.

Schiff says it's -- the first investigation is a distraction. Do you think so?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think the answer to that question depends on a lot on where you sit.

It is not a surprise that Adam Schiff, the lead Democrat, even though they say it's nonpartisan, bipartisan, you know, these are partisans. They are elected officials elected to specific parties. And it is not a surprise that he thinks that the notion of somebody inside the Obama administration, Democratic administration potentially, or I should say allegedly, not potentially, allegedly by Republicans doing something to reveal the identity of Trump officials for political purposes, that is the Republican allegation.

That's the president's allegation. Of course, they say it shouldn't be looked into, particularly since this whole thing started, this whole investigation started with an eye squarely on Donald Trump and his associates and any connection at all that they had to, obviously bigger picture, the most important thing here is how Russia tried to influence the United States and this election in 2016.

So I think the answer is, you know, probably it's not for me to say, but if you're looking at this investigation from the point of view of Adam Schiff and other Democrats, then, of course, yes.

BALDWIN: Yes. Yes.

So, on your latter point, and, Greg Miller, thank you so much for being with us with this piece of yours. You write about Erik Prince of Blackwater notoriety. This is someone who had donated, what, $250,000 to the Trump campaign, someone who would not, because of his history, have been involved in the transition team or the administration, yet he holds this meeting in the Seychelles off of Africa, which is all brokered by the UAE.

Why did this go down?

GREG MILLER, NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, he's also -- other connections, right?

So, he shows up in the Trump transition headquarters in New York in December, when there are discussions with the UAE, when there's meetings with the Russian ambassador happening and senior Trump advisers at the time.

And, you know, then weeks later, you have this weird encounter out in the middle of the Indian Ocean. And, you know, I can't tell you that we are looking at the full agenda for this thing or understand its full agenda, but one of the shared points of interests between the Trump team and the United Arab Emirates is searching, probing for a way to separate Russia from Iran, to try to compel Moscow to back away from its support from Iran in Syria and, more broadly, in the Middle East.

[15:05:25]

BALDWIN: So, you have this quote in your piece. I think it was the secretary of state for foreign affairs of the Seychelles, who you quote as saying: "The Seychelles is the kind of place where you can have a good time away from the eyes of the media. That's even printed in our tourism marketing, but I guess this time you smelled something."

You take that, though, and you juxtapose that with the point of someone I was talking to last hour, former CIA, saying, on some level, you will have these sort of back-channel communications. This is what government is about. How do you reconcile the two?

MILLER: Yes. Partly, I don't know how I ended up with the short end of the stick and didn't get the assignment to go to the Seychelles to try to get to the bottom of that question.

BALDWIN: Yes, totally, by the way.

MILLER: But it's this resort place. It's really popular with Russian wealthy individuals, as well as members of the UAE royal family.

And I don't know if that's completely true. I mean, I suppose that there are at times back-channel communications like this, but this one is really puzzling. And I saw that the -- this is not the most impartial source here, but a knowledgeable one.

Michael McFaul, who was the -- served as U.S. ambassador to Russia and was adviser to President Obama during his transition periods, said that they had zero conversations or contacts with Russians during that whole stretch.

So the impulse to have these communications is part of what makes this story so odd. I mean, the repeated communications between Michael Flynn and the ambassador, the communications between Jared Kushner and the ambassador, the impulse to suppress or hide those communications and not be forthcoming about them until they are exposed in the press, and now this latest one about Erik Prince meeting with a wealthy Russian individual in the Seychelles.

BALDWIN: What do you think, Dana?

BASH: No, I think Greg is exactly right.

I think that the fact that these meetings took place, OK, you can explain that away on many, many different levels, as an incoming administration trying to figure out who is who and what is what and getting its sea legs.

But then when you dig into not only the content, but, to Greg's point, on the denials and then having to admit it, it just makes -- they're creating -- let's just say there's no fire. They're creating smoke themselves, which that is really, really baffling.

BALDWIN: Good point.

BASH: And then, of course, there's the next layer, a different layer that you didn't mention, which is Carter Page, somebody was on the letterhead of the Trump campaign as a national security adviser, who did business, lived in Moscow for a while, and now is telling CNN, admitting to CNN and others that he did have a meeting with somebody who he didn't realize at the time turned out to be a Russian spy propositioning him to work with him.

So -- and that was years ago. But, regardless, if you add all of this up, I mean, even that in and of itself, it is just a dramatic story. But then you include him with the Trump world and everything else that's been going on, you know, it's -- I will add to Greg, it's just -- it's very perplexing.

BALDWIN: Perplexing. I think you said it perfectly. If there is no fire, they are the ones that creating the smoke. Greg pointed out in his piece, no one is learning of these meetings, of these interactions until they are out in the media, and then they are forced to comment on them.

Greg and Dana, thank you so very much.

MILLER: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next here on CNN, the White House full-steam ahead on resurrecting these health care talks, trying to forth a new deal, as they attempt to deliver on their promise to Americans to repeal and replace Obamacare.

What kinds of compromises could be on the table in round two? We will talk about that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:13:15]

BALDWIN: There are vital signs showing the Republican health care plan is not entirely dead.

Vice President Mike Pence holding new conversations with members of the House Freedom Caucus last evening. That's a conservative wing of the Republican Party that helped really bring down the first version of the bill. The vice president discussing possible changes to the bill that would give the state actually more control.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, he also weighed in on these conversations today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I don't want to put in some kind of artificial deadline, because we're at that conceptual stage.

We have very productive conversations occurring among our members. But those are productive conversations. That doesn't mean that we have language and text that's ready to go and the votes are lined up. But that's what you need to do in order to get that, meaning get members talking. That's happening. Get everybody engaging with one another. That's happening.

Now we're throwing around concepts to improve the bill. That is occurring right now. But that is not to say that we're ready to go, because we want to make sure that, when we go, we have the votes to pass this bill, we've got the consensus that we have long been looking for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: All right, Phil Mattingly, let me begin with you on this whole health care bid on Capitol Hill.

What would be new in these talks that might make some of these House Freedom Caucus members happy?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, their big issue, Brooke, kind of from the very beginning is the insurance regulatory structure that's in place because of the Affordable Care Act. They want it gone, completely repealed.

Here's what has been put on the table, what Vice President Mike Pence told members in that closed-door meeting last night, that they would essentially offer two things, the ability for states to opt out via waiver of those essential health benefits.

Brooke, you and I have spoken about them a lot, really kind of the 10 floor items that need to be in any insurance plan based on the Affordable Care Act. It would also give them the opportunity to opt out of the community ratings. And what that basically is, is a requirement that insurance companies not be able to increase premiums based on age, gender or your health.

[15:15:08] Now, these are two crucial components of the Affordable Care Act.

These are two things that the Freedom Caucus has made very clear they believe it drives up premiums and it is in large part the reason why in some places health care has become too expensive.

And the proposal, the potential compromise that has been put on the table, as opposed to pulling them out entirely, which would not be acceptable to a lot of the moderate members, they will give states the opportunity, kind of a federalism pathway here that we could look at.

Here's what kind of the reality right now, Brooke. While that's on the table, the Freedom Caucus has not accepted that compromise yet. And there is a bigger problem here. And I think this kind of brings us back to where we were 12 days ago, when this all fell apart.

If you move the bill to the right, if you move the bill towards the Freedom Caucus members, are you able to maintain the support of those moderates. Are you able to maintain the support of those kind of endangered Republicans that come from swing districts, maybe some of these districts where the Affordable Care Act isn't super unpopular or where the essential health benefits or community ratings are very important to some of their constituents?

Is that something where you can kind of thread that needle and keep them on board? And I can tell you right now, over the course of the last 24 hours, talking to members, talking to administration officials, they don't have an answer on that yet.

And I think that's why you heard so much caution from Speaker Paul Ryan. If your baseline is where they were 11 years ago, where health care was dead and they were moving on, things are in a much better place. But if your baseline is getting to the floor, getting the requisite 216 votes to actually move this forward, they are not quite there yet, Brooke.

BALDWIN: Yes. OK, Phil, thank you so much.

I'm going to begin with your final point on appealing to the moderates with my panel.

I have got Matt Bennett, good enough to be with us today. He used to serve a deputy assistant to the president for intergovernmental affairs in the Clinton White House. David Hoppe, former chief of staff for Speaker Ryan, and CNN national politics reporter M.J. Lee, who's been all over health care.

So, M.J., let me just turn to you on Phil's point. It's like this slide, right? If you slide a little bit left, you're going to alienate the folks, the more moderate Republicans. How do you get them on board and these folks?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Right.

It's such a delicate balancing act. You add a little bit to one side, the other side goes up and the other way around. And I think Phil did a great job explaining sort of the political dilemma that leadership still finds itself in.

BALDWIN: Totally.

LEE: I think the community provision rating is very interesting and potentially so important. Health care is very complicated, as the president himself has said.

I think when people talk about Obamacare and think about Obamacare, one thing that a lot of folks do understand is that it eliminated the possibility that insurance companies can discriminate against people who have preexisting conditions, whether it's someone who has had cancel, someone who has had diabetes.

These people can still get coverage and not be overcharged or dramatically overcharged compared to healthy people. The fact that they are now discussing the possibility of states being able to opt out of that is a huge, huge deal.

And I think the point that Phil was trying to make, if you go this route, if the White House decides to go this route, how do they actually get the members who already have concerns about the first version of that bill, how do they get them on board if they are taking the bill even more to the right?

BALDWIN: Let's talk to, David, can I call you the Paul Ryan whisperer? You were with them, I think you told me last week, what, as recent as December.

If you are Paul Ryan, Speaker Ryan, what are you doing right now behind the scenes realizing this sort of delicate dance between all sides of the spectrum of Republicans?

DAVID HOPPE, ONE NATION HEALTH COALITION: Well, as the adage goes, once burned, twice shy.

Everybody is being a little bit more guarded than they had been. Their statements are more guarded. There are more qualifications in all of the statements.

But what they are trying to do is serve with the White House and especially the vice president, working to say, OK, here's how we might do it. Here's what the language might look like. There are other things we have to look at.

In addition, they are also looking at the Tuesday Group, because what happened almost two weeks ago is that not only the Freedom Caucus was able to put a veto on this, but the Tuesday Group had enough members to make it so that they couldn't get to 216.

(CROSSTALK)

BALDWIN: This is the more moderate Republicans.

HOPPE: Correct.

So now you have a situation where, as you balance one way, you have got to look the other way. There is an idea out there which would appeal I think to many of the Tuesday Group people, which instead of just being a flat program, it would rate it on how much income you have or how much you spend on health care.

And those people who spend more on health care would get a larger credit. That's one of the ideas that's been floating out there I think that many of the Tuesday Group members might be inclined to support.

So, there are a number of issues that are being discussed here. And as they go back and forth, there's once again a very delicate balance. But the reason everybody is being more guarded is because they have been out there on the edge already one time and they don't want to get to the edge again.

They want to move up to it very slowly, carefully and so that everybody is in the line together.

BALDWIN: What a difference too -- I'm marveling at what a difference a week makes, right? About a week ago, we were talking about how President Trump on Twitter was calling out Chairman Meadows of the House Freedom Caucus and other members by name on Twitter.

[15:20:02]

Felt like this verbal war of words, also calling out Democrats, I won't work for you and that sort of thing.

And flash forward to now and you have the vice president meeting with the House Freedom Caucus and, Matt, the president did an interview with "The Financial Times" where he said -- quote -- "If we don't get what we want, we will make a deal with the Democrats. If that happens, we will have, in my opinion, not as good a form of health care, but we're going to have a very good form of health care and it will be a bipartisan form of health care."

As a Democrat, is that encouraging for you? Should Dems be open to that?

MATT BENNETT, FORMER CLINTON ADVISER: Well, obviously, the details matter enormously.

But he has shown absolutely, positively no inclination to want to negotiate in good faith with Democrats. Everything that you have heard so far in this segment has been about trying to piece together enough Republicans to pass this bill without a single Democrat voting for it in either the House or the Senate.

So, sure, if he completely scrapped the Ryancare bill and came with some completely new, then Democrats would talk to him about it. But there's no evidence that he's ready to do that.

You know, the other thing I think we should keep in mind is that it's not just the House. Last week, the number two Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn, said that they are simply not going to do health care on reconciliation, meaning they can't do it with just Republican votes.

I don't know what the plan is, if they get this thing out of the House, but they don't seem to have one.

(CROSSTALK)

HOPPE: Well, you have to do it in two bills, because the ACA passed in two bills with all Democrat votes. But it was a regular order bill and a reconciliation bill.

They are only going to be able to undo it and move in a different direction, a market, doctor-patient relationship direction, through, one, a reconciliation bill, secondly, a regular order bill, which means obviously you are going to have to have Democrat votes at least in the Senate, if not in the House.

But that is what they are trying to put together here and I think that is what Senator Cornyn meant. It can't all be done through reconciliation because the ACA did not pass simply as reconciliation. It was two bills.

BALDWIN: OK. Let me just jump in, because you have all of that, which is the perfect discussion and a microcosm of what should be discussed on Capitol Hill, but then you have the issue of ticktock, ticktock, the clock, right?

We know tax reform is coming too and infrastructure, but they have to get this done.

M.J., Speaker Ryan said he doesn't want to set any sorts of artificial deadlines, so what are they looking at?

LEE: I think when you're in Paul Ryan's position, he is very aware of the fact that he represents the broader GOP Conference.

We're about to go into a two-week recess, and the very tricky thing about trying to reform the health care system is that the members who came out against the bill in the first place, they are going to get a lot of heat from their constituents.

The members who supported the bill are going to get a lot of heat from their constituents. No matter where you stand, the idea of reforming such a big law is going to be controversial either way. And I think Paul Ryan understands that.

BALDWIN: More town halls?

LEE: More town halls.

BALDWIN: More town halls.

M.J., thank you. Matt and David, gentlemen, I appreciate both of you as well. We will stay on that, as they have a couple more days before this recess.

Meantime, coming up next, illegal crossings at the U.S.-Mexican border now down dramatically. And officials are giving credit to President Trump's tough talk. We will get into that.

Also, former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer joins me live. Hear what he thinks about how the Trump administration is responding to this Russia investigation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:27:53]

BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We're getting word today that there's been a substantial drop in illegal crossings at the border between the U.S. and Mexico. The number is 67 percent, down 67 percent over the first three months of this year. That is compared to last year.

The reason for the drop? Donald Trump. That's according to testimony presented to a Senate committee just a short while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID AGUILAR, FORMER CUSTOMS AND BORDER PATROL COMMISSIONER: This administration has said we're going to address illegal immigration. ICE has started working in the interior unlike other times. That message resonates. The problem is that it doesn't hold for long unless those substantive actions continue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's talk to Rene Marsh, our CNN government regulation correspondent.

Rene, when you look at the numbers down, illegal border crossings down 67 percent, that's a big deal.

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: It is. It's quite significant, 67 percent drop.

Again, that's in illegal border crossings. That's through March 31. That's as compared to last year. Again, that's the testimony of former acting Customs and Border Patrol Commissioner David Aguilar told senators today.

CNN asked CBP to confirm that number. We're still awaiting confirmation. However, a source did provide CNN with data that shows a 63 percent drop. It's unclear what the discrepancy is, the 63 percent vs. the 67 percent.

But, either way, that's a dramatic decrease at the southern border. And that's truly noteworthy. This is a trend that we have been seeing, Brooke, in the first two months of the year. DHS said there was a 40 percent decrease in illegal crossings.

And when you look at the raw data, crossings traditionally increase during the month of March and they have done that actually almost every March for roughly the past 17 years. The decrease that we're talking about today is pretty substantial.

BALDWIN: Just quickly, then, what is DHS saying on all of then candidate Trump's talk on the border? Is that at all having an influence on these numbers?

MARSH: Aguilar told senators today that he actually credits the Trump administration's stance on immigration for the drop.

The Trump administration is proudly taking credit for this, saying that it's due to