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Interview With Washington Congressman Adam Smith; Republicans Trying to Ram Through Health Care Vote?; Trump Administration Tries to Shift Blame on Flynn; 98 Days of White House Power Struggles and Intrigue. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 27, 2017 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:02]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: But their hopes are colliding with another urgent goal, to keep the government running. Is a shutdown imminent?

Broad strokes. The president's bullet point plans for sweeping tax cuts leaves Americans guessing about the bottom line. Tonight, new questions about whether the middle class will pay more, while the Trumps pay less.

And palace intrigue. For nearly 100 days, the president's top advisers have been wrangling behind the scenes trying to consolidate their power. We're going to tell you who is up, who is down at this pivotal moment for the White House.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: We're following breaking news on the widening evidence that fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn may have broken the law by allegedly failing to report payment from Russia for a speaking engagement in Moscow.

The Pentagon has now launched a new investigation as just-disclosed documents show Flynn was explicitly warn back in 2014 that as a retired U.S. army general, he was barred from accepting foreign payments. The top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee says there's zero evidence that Flynn ever got special government permission for that Moscow appearance.

Congressman Elijah Cummings is accusing the White House of trying to cover up for Flynn. The president's spokesman, Sean Spicer, firing right back, passing blame on the Obama administration for renewing Flynn's security clearance.

Also this hour, partisan battling over health care renews the threat of a government shutdown. House Democrats now say they will oppose a stopgap funding measure to keep the government running if, if Republicans rush to hold a health care vote for the president's -- before the president's 100th day in office. That would be on Saturday. House Speaker Paul Ryan says there's no timetable for a vote on a new

GOP measure to repeal and replace Obamacare. Republicans still are trying to lock up enough support within their own party for a controversial compromise that would weaken several key Obamacare reforms.

We're covering all those stories, much more with our guests, including the top Democratic on the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Adam Smith. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.

First, let's go to our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju.

Manu, there are serious allegations now against Michael Flynn.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No question about it, Wolf, and also serious questions for the White House over its vetting procedures that led to the hiring of Michael Flynn as a national security adviser.

Today, Sean Spicer, the spokesman, firing back, saying that it was the Obama administration's fault for renewing his security clearance in 2016, but, tonight Wolf, Democrats are demanding documents from the White House to show any communications that occurred between Michael Flynn and the White House that led to his hiring.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU (voice-over): President Trump's former national security adviser now under a new investigation.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: We have no evidence, zilch, that he obtained permission from the secretary of the army and the secretary of state to accept any foreign government payments as required by law.

RAJU: New documents show the Pentagon warned retired General Michael Flynn in 2014 about accepting any foreign payments, suggesting he failed to get permission to travel to Moscow.

MICHAEL FLYNN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Thank you so much for inviting me and having me here.

RAJU: Where he was paid tens of thousands of dollars in 2015 by the Kremlin-backed news station R.T., where he also dined with Vladimir Putin. Now the Defense Department's inspector general announcing its own investigation into whether Flynn broke the law, this after Flynn also allegedly failed to disclose foreign payments on his security clearance forms, a potential felony.

(on camera): Do you believe that he may have broken the law?

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I don't know whether he did or did not. That's why we have an investigation.

RAJU (voice-over): But the House Oversight Committee's investigation now breaking down along party lines, with Democrats accusing the White House of stonewalling. The White House has refused to provide certain records it says are not relevant to the Flynn investigation, which prompted the top Democrat on the committee to accuse the White House of a cover-up.

(on camera): Why are they relevant to your investigation?

CUMMINGS: Spicer also said that they didn't have documents. Remember that? Come on. These guys are playing games. And when you see Mr. Spicer, you can tell him I said that today.

All of these documents are relevant because they go to what his relationship was with the Russians, what his relationship was with Turkey. Did they vet for the highest security position? I mean, we don't know.

[18:05:02]

RAJU (voice-over): At the White House, spokesman Sean Spicer said the Obama administration was to blame for providing the security clearance for Flynn in 2016, and pushed back on Cummings' attacks.

SPICER: All of that clearance was made by the -- during the Obama administration and apparently with knowledge of the trip that he took, so that's how the process works.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Michael Flynn.

RAJU: Democrats are calling for subpoenas to force the White House to comply, but they are running into resistance from Republican Chairman Jason Chaffetz.

(on camera): Are you satisfied with Chairman Chaffetz's push to get these documents?

CUMMINGS: No. No.

RAJU: Today, the president ignored questions about whether he regrets hiring Flynn.

QUESTION: Any regrets about Michael Flynn?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAJU: And tonight, Wolf, some pushback from the Republicans.

The chairman, Jason Chaffetz, a spokesperson criticizing Cummings for releasing their documents without their consultation that some of the Democrats dismiss. But also Mike Flynn's attorney pushing back as well, releasing a statement saying they disagree with Elijah Cummings' interpretation of that letter from 2014 about warning Michael Flynn from doing these speaking engagements and accepting these foreign payments, saying that that letter actually confirms that Mr. Flynn actually briefed the Pentagon before and after the trip. But they say there's some redacted information that the Pentagon has not yet released. They're asking the Pentagon to release that information, but, Wolf, the central question is, were they aware that he was being paid for that trip? That's the allegation, which is he did not get permission and perhaps he broke the law or at least Defense Department regulations -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, there could be some fireworks as early as next week when a couple of congressional committees launch their own open hearings. All right, Manu, thanks very much, Manu Raju reporting from Capitol Hill.

The Trump White House is pushing back tonight against any suggestion that it's covering up for Michael Flynn.

Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, you asked Sean Spicer about this today.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

White House officials are offering up a new explanation on the vetting of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, pointing out the retired general had a security clearance review last year during the Obama administration. I asked White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer why Flynn did not have an additional review before coming into the Trump administration earlier this year.

Spicer said that would not be necessary, comparing the security clearance process for Flynn to that of White House reporters who receive their entry passes renewed every couple of years and Spicer pushed back on that attack from Congressman Cummings, who you heard just a few moments ago, that the White House is engaged in a cover-up.

Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Congressman Cummings accuses this White House of a cover-up. You say what?

SPICER: I was frankly taken back by his comments today because they're frankly not true.

The Department of Defense was the issuing agency for General Flynn's SF-86. We referred them to the Department of Defense, who owns and issued his security clearance, and they got a copy of it. That's how the system works. The documents that he requested,he received, so with all due respect, he got the documents that he requested.

Our job -- they sent a form letter to multiple agencies asking for a copy of this. What we did was properly refer him to the issuing agency and department and said this is where you got it, and he got it.

ACOSTA: There are no other documents that you have at this point that could be turned over to this committee?

(CROSSTALK)

SPICER: Well, he asked for -- not that I'm aware of at this point. What they sent to us, they asked for the SF-86. That, we referred them to the Department of Defense. That's great.

Two, they asked for a contract, all copies of his speaking engagements from a speaker's bureau. I believe he was referred to the speaker's bureau for those contracts. And three is they asked for all foreign contacts that he may or may not have had.

Since the incident occurred that they're questioning before his employment with the White House, I think we have complied with every document that they have looked for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, one key sticking point here, Wolf, the House Oversight Committee is seeking Flynn's vetting documents, but a White House official told me that afternoon that information would be kept at the Trump transition offices, which are apparently still open, according to this White House official.

An aide on the committee members expect to see that information, whether it's from the transition team or from the White House, as Vice President Pence led the transition -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting.

All right, Jim Acosta over at the White House, thanks very much.

Let's get some more on all of this with the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Congressman Adam Smith.

Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.

REP. ADAM SMITH (D), WASHINGTON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: You heard the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, today say you know who is responsible for this apparent failure? The Obama administration, because back in 2016 they renewed Michael Flynn's security clearances. Your reaction?

SMITH: Well, that is a comment refrain. Everything is President Obama's fault. I guess they got used to it during the eight years, and now they're not used to actually governing.

[18:10:02]

And whatever may have happened back then, there are two big issues. Number one, what Michael Flynn did is apparently in clear violation of the law. When you are a retired officer, you are not allowed to take money from foreign governments. That's very clear and was made clear to him, and he did that. And then, second, I think all Congressman Cummings and Congressman

Chaffetz are both looking for are those vetting documents to find out, did Michael Flynn lie about it when he was vetted?

Now, whether or not President Obama should've cleared him back in 2016, they probably didn't know about this stuff. Now we do know. And the documents that are being asked for, it's pretty simple.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: They make a point -- the White House makes a point, though, Sean Spicer, in 2015, he went to Moscow. He was seen at that event with Putin at that R.T., Russian television event. He was paid for that. And then in 2016, the Obama administration went ahead and renewed his clearances.

SMITH: It's quite possible the Obama administration was wrong about that.

But the Trump administration actually hired him to be the national security adviser based on that same information. So, whatever clearance they may have given Michael Flynn, the Trump administration really upped the ante by making him the national security adviser. And now they won't give us the vetting documents to see what was said or not said.

BLITZER: When a lieutenant general retires from the U.S. Army, that lieutenant general keeps his or her security clearances automatically, right?

SMITH: I believe so, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So, those are the rules.

But is that a smart rule that somebody like that should be able to keep their security clearances? I guess they have to get them renewed every few years, but some people are wondering, why do they automatically get to keep those security clearances?

SMITH: That's something we definitely should look at.

I think, off the top, it's something that you look at certainly as, you know, like you said, it's reviewed and vetted later on, but I certainly think that is a policy that we should reexamine.

BLITZER: The other point that Sean Spicer makes -- and you're the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee -- is that there was really no need for the Trump administration after January 20 to run -- rerun a background check on Michael Flynn because he once was the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon. He had those high-level security clearances.

SMITH: Yes, like we just pointed out in the back and forth about whether or not retired officers should automatically have this, you have to constantly check.

And you vet everybody. I mean, look, we have had a ton of people through many administrations who have been appointed to Cabinet positions and high positions who had been in very important positions before that, and then all of a sudden stuff came out that you hadn't found before.

This is at a whole 'nother level. That's why you need to redo everything.

BLITZER: Tell us why the average American who is watching right now should care if Michael Flynn was paid $45,000 for a speech in Moscow or a half-a-million dollars from various Turkish elements and he didn't register as a foreign agent for Turkey. Only after he was fired by the White House did he retroactively register with the Justice Department as a foreign agent.

Tell our viewers why the average person out there should care.

SMITH: Well, two quick things.

First of all, there are a lot of other things going on in the world right now that are more important than whether or not Michael Flynn individually broke the law. I think as a rule of law matter, it's important that we investigate it, as it's important we would investigate all potential crimes of this level.

But I would certainly say to the American people, North Korea, Russia, a whole lot of things are more important. But -- and this is the second thing -- is Michael Flynn's connection to the whole question of the Russian influence over our election and whether or not people in the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians in that effort, that is being actively investigated by the FBI.

It's being actively investigated by the Senate Intelligence Committee. That's why they should care, is -- this is tied back in to what the Russians were doing here in the U.S. And I might also add what the Russians are doing globally in a lot of different elections.

BLITZER: Is there evidence -- any evidence you have seen, serious evidence they're doing it in France right now in advance of their presidential election?

SMITH: I have not seen serious evidence of that. I have heard it alleged. I personally haven't read up on it.

But I have seen very legitimate evidence that they were involved in the Brexit vote, that they were involved in the failed referendum in Italy which led to the fall of that government and that they have been involved in other elections in Eastern Europe.

BLITZER: What we did learn today, the inspector general of the Department of Defense is now -- has now opened up a new investigation into Michael Flynn, how he got those security clearances and all of that.

SMITH: He might be able to tell us more about that. That's the bottom line why we should care.

BLITZER: His lawyers have suggested he would like immunity in exchange for testimony. Would you accept that?

SMITH: That's not my call. I am not a prosecutor on that level. I don't know what the balancing act would be on whether or not to grant immunity.

[18:15:00]

I certainly would like to hear Michael Flynn's testimony to hear more about what he knows about all the issues we just discussed.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure it would fascinating.

Democratic Congressman, your colleague, Elijah Cummings, he goes one step further, and he says he believes the White House is covering up, his words, covering up for Flynn.

Do you believe the White House is covering up for Flynn?

SMITH: I don't have enough evidence to make that serious of a charge at this point. I believe in being somewhat cautious about making very, very serious charges like that.

I do think it would look better for the White House and for all involved if they would simply turn over the vetting documents.

BLITZER: He says that the cover-up -- he makes that accusation because the White House has not handed over all those documents to his committee. That's why he's saying -- Congressman, stand by.

I want to get your thoughts on this tension that exists right now with North Korea and other developments. Let's take a quick break. We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:20:10]

BLITZER: We're back with House Democrat Adam Smith, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee.

Congressman, stand by.

I want to get a quick update on the new Republican push for health care bill and renewed concerns about a government shutdown with just hours to go before the president marks 100 days in office.

Our congressional correspondent, Phil Mattingly, is following all the late-breaking developments for us.

Phil, what's the latest?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, House Democrats now saying they will tie their votes in support of a temporary government funding bill to the promise that Republicans don't vote on health care at all.

It might be an empty threat, though. At this point in time, I'm told Republicans don't have the vote for that newest push on health care, raising questions whether they will get there at all.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Tonight, Republicans renewing their attempt to push through the health care repeal and replace they have long promised.

RYAN: We have a moral obligation to prevent people from getting hurt, to stop damage from being continued.

MATTINGLY: Now with the backing of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, who opposed the original health care bill that stalled just hours before heading to a vote.

RYAN: I think we're making very good progress. Don't have -- we're going to go when we have the votes, but that's the decision we will make when we have it. I would argue that this is a bill that a moderate would more likely want to support.

MATTINGLY: The change, a new amendment negotiated by Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows and a member of the more moderate Tuesday Group Tom MacArthur would allow states to apply for waivers that could weaken several key Obamacare insurance reforms, including the price protections in place for those with preexisting conditions, what benefits insurers must cover in their policies, and the ban on allowing carriers to charge more based on a person's health background.

REP. TOM MACARTHUR (R), NEW JERSEY: My one and only goal in this has gone to try to make this bill something that helps the health insurance market survive.

MATTINGLY: But all eyes are now on the party's moderates, who are far from rushing to support the amendment, saying it will leave even more people without coverage.

REP. DAN DONOVAN (R), NEW YORK: It doesn't help the people I represent. One of the criticisms I had had about the Affordable Care Act was it made insurance so expensive that people who had it didn't even use it because their premiums were high, their deductibles were high, their co-payments were high. And people with preexisting conditions, you're right, we can't deny them coverage.

MATTINGLY: Democrats are quickly seizing on that opposition.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The new Trumpcare will allow states to decide whether or not insurers have to cover Americans with preexisting conditions. It is hard to come up with a crueler bill.

MATTINGLY: And ramping up their efforts to slow down the process altogether, now saying they will oppose a stopgap funding measure to keep the government open if Republicans push for a health care vote between now and Saturday, President Trump's 100th day in office.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: What you see in the GOP haste to pass the bill and Trump trying to cram it down in the last 100 days, I think President Trump is really making fools of the members of Congress, of his own party.

MATTINGLY: But House Speaker Paul Ryan pushing back, saying the blame for any potential government shutdown will fall squarely to Democrats.

RYAN: I'm confident we will be able to pass a short-term extension, and I would be kind of shocked if the Democrats would want to create a government shutdown because they have been dragging their feet.

MATTINGLY: White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer echoing that criticism.

SPICER: The Democrats at the last minute have come in and thrown a lot of monkey wrenches into the ability for this to get done, despite the president doing everything that he can to show good faith to keep this going. So, it's not just a question of -- it's they keep moving the goalposts.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: And, Wolf, just to give you a little bit of behind the scenes here on what's actually happening on health care, leadership has been whipping votes trying to get their members to come on board throughout the day.

Those meetings are actually ongoing between some of the deputy whip team members and members that have been hanging out so far. To this point, no decision has been made yet. They're leaving open the possibility that they do try something before they go home, but everything that I have heard up to this point both from lawmakers and aides is that they are still short and they're not totally clear what the pathway forward on this bill may be -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Phil, thank you, Phil Mattingly with the very latest up on Capitol Hill.

We're back with Democratic Congressman Adam Smith.

Congressman, before we talk about the possibility of a government shutdown, I want to get your reaction to some breaking news we're following. Just now, the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, he revealed that China has informed the North Koreans and informed the United States, but has told the United States it has warned North Korea not to conduct another nuclear test or China would impose sanctions against North Korea.

Your reaction.

SMITH: Well, I think it's a positive step, if China is willing to step up and do that. They have always been very hesitant to put any pressure on North Korea. Obviously, they're not happy that North Korea is such a destabilizing

influence in their region, but they're also mindful of the fact that if they sanction North Korea to the point of collapse, they don't want a failed state on their border. They don't want millions of North Korean refugees pouring across the border.

[18:25:08]

So, China has been -- said before they might do that, and they never have. So I will believe when I see it. But it's a positive step to put pressure on North Korea to hopefully bring us all back from the brink.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: You trust the Chinese to do the right thing?

SMITH: No.

BLITZER: Because you know that the president has repeatedly said he's going to lean on China to do the right thing.

SMITH: I don't trust them to do the right thing.

I think -- well, I'll agree with the president on this. He does need to lean on them to get them to do the right thing. I don't think we should count on it.

BLITZER: You shouldn't count on it.

But what happens if the North Koreans do launch a sixth and maybe then a seventh nuclear test right now and launches another intercontinental ballistic missile?

SMITH: Well, they haven't yet.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: No, but let's say they do.

SMITH: Yes.

These are all, you know, hypotheticals. I think the overarching issue with North Korea is, OK, we're worried about the capabilities they're developing. We're much more worried about the possibility they would use those against us or our allies.

Look, we need to make our deterrence 100 percent clear. If they attack us in any way, they will be destroyed, because Kim Jong-un is not a particularly stable individual, but he is not suicidal. And we need to make sure that if he takes those actions that would attack us that that is suicidal.

We will back up South Korea, we will back up Japan, we will back up our allies, and we will defend ourselves, and we are vastly stronger than he is. BLITZER: This is an incredibly tense situation right now.

Very quickly on what's happening up on Capitol Hill, you heard Phil Mattingly's report there. Do you believe there possibly could be a government shutdown this weekend?

SMITH: There shouldn't be.

And, look, the back and forth on both sides here is not particularly helpful. Obviously, I don't agree with what the Republicans are trying to do with health care. I think they're kidding themselves about the reality of what it takes to cover people with preexisting conditions, to cover the elderly and the choices that have to be made.

I don't support the direction they're going in on health care. We should not shut the government down because of the direction they're trying to go on health care. I'm still skeptical they will get the votes, but the real big point here is, this is just to get us the last five months of 2017. OK?

2018, the F.Y., the fiscal year, that starts October 1 of this year, that's going to be a monumental battle that's going to be even more difficult than the one we're having just to get us through the last I guess it's five months now of fiscal year 2017.

BLITZER: Let's say -- Phil Mattingly didn't think this was going to happen, our congressional correspondent. But let's say the Republicans manage to get 216 votes on repeal and replace over the next 48 hours or so in the House of Representatives.

You have heard your Democratic leaders say they will then vote against any funding and there will be a government shutdown.

SMITH: Yes, I disagree with my Democratic leaders on that. I don't think that that is the position that we should take.

We should do everything we can to stop the Republican health care bill and we should also be mindful of the fact that just because they pass it in the House, the Senate has said they don't like this bill at all. It isn't going to become law. So, no, I don't think we should shut the government down over that.

BLITZER: The Republican majority in the Senate is a whole lot less than it in the House of Representatives. So, they have problems there.

SMITH: Very true.

BLITZER: Congressman Adam Schiff, thanks so much for joining us.

SMITH: Thanks, Wolf. I appreciate it.

BLITZER: Just ahead: How much trouble is Michael Flynn facing right now and what does it mean for President Trump? And will there be a health care vote? Will there be a government shutdown? Lots of questions for our political and legal analysts. They're all standing by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news. A new Pentagon investigation of Michael Flynn's payments from Russia as Democrats reveal the fired national security adviser was clearly warned in advance not to accept money from foreign governments.

[18:33:33] Let's bring in our analysts. And Susan Hennessey you're our newest security and legal analyst. How much trouble is he in right now?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: So on the pure question of the Emoluments issue, he's really just in financial trouble. The penalty for violating that provision is that he'll have to pay part of his military pension back.

However, Flynn has also acknowledged that he wasn't in compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act. He had to retroactively register for a lobby he did on behalf of Turkey. And there are open questions about whether or not he reported these payments on his FS-86 security clearance form.

BLITZER: If he didn't, that's a felony.

HENNESSEY: It's a felony. It carries up to a five-year jail penalty.

BLITZER: Let me read to you the statement that his lawyers released, Flynn's lawyers. "DIA" -- Defense Intelligence Agency's -- "letter actually confirms, in a terse section that is partly redacted, that General Flynn provided information in documents on a thumb drive to the Department of Defense concerning the RT" -- Russian Television -- "speaking event in Moscow, including documents reflecting that he was using a speaker's bureau for the event."

What do you make of that defense?

HENNESSEY: Honestly, it doesn't really make much sense. Flynn didn't just have the obligation to notify DIA. He also needed to get permission from DOD in order to accept that payment. So there's nothing in these documents that suggest he did that.

There's also been a little bit of suggestion that the fact that he used a speaker's bureau instead of accepting the money from RT exempted him from the reporting or the permission requirement, that also doesn't hold up. Flynn knew that he was accepting money from RT. RT is controlled by the Kremlin, and so he had a constitutional obligation to get this permission.

BLITZER: What do you make, Gloria, of the White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, saying, "You know what? It's the Obama administration that renewed the security clearances last year. If there's a problem, go talk to them."

[18:35:09] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he gets an "A" for trying, but I don't -- it doesn't work. It doesn't work. First of all, he left the Obama administration. He was fired by the

Obama administration.

BLITZER: In 2014.

BORGER: In 2014, and Sean was saying, "Well, these clearances are good for seven -- five years," but you have to -- they're not. I mean, really. He's not getting briefed the way he was being briefed; and I think this really illustrates the fact that the White House's vetting process leaves a lot to be desired.

And, by the way, he was the national security adviser, so you would presume that, for a job at that level, you would need to have a different vet; and it's clear they didn't do it. So maybe the reason they're not handing over documents regarding his vet is that there aren't any, which almost seems hard to believe.

BLITZER: In 2014, David Swerdlick, he was told to leave the Defense Intelligence Agency. They weren't going to renew his tenure there. 2015, he went on the speaking engagement in Moscow. In 2016 the Obama administration at the time renewed his security clearances.

Do they have a point, the White House, when they say, you know what? We were just following what the Obama administration was doing?

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, they have a point that, if a security clearance was issued in 2016 that was inappropriate, then the DOD and/or Congress should look into that, too. But...

BLITZER: Well, the inspector general, the Department of Defense, is now looking in to it.

SWERDLICK: Exactly. But in terms of blaming this on the Obama administration, I think 2009 called, and they want their talking point back. Right? You cannot blame President Obama or the Obama administration for everything that goes wrong in the Trump administration or transition.

As Gloria said, this isn't some low-level position. This is national security adviser.

BLITZER: This is the national security adviser to the president of the United States. It's a huge, huge job.

The other allegation that Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat, Jackie, made today is that the White House is covering up for Michael Flynn by not revealing, releasing the documents that they have to the committee.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And Sean Spicer pushed back against that.

But to Gloria's point, it seems like either they had a faulty vetting process, and it didn't pick up on this or they didn't have one at all, which does seem a bit preposterous. With that said, those are the only -- there could be another

explanation; but those are the only two that make sense, and neither are good for the White House.

BORGER: And by the way, they kind of threw Flynn under the bus a little bit today at the press conference, because when Sean was asked about the congressional investigation, he said if they think there's wrongdoing then they should look in to it. Well, that's kind of throwing the guy under the bus.

BLITZER: When the inspector general of the Department of Defense opens up an investigation like this, you don't know where it's going to wind up.

HENNESSEY: Certainly. Look, there are serious questions here, but ultimately, this was conduct that occurred after he left the Trump -- or the Obama administration.

The other thing is that, you know, Flynn had access to classified information during the period he was lobbying for a foreign government because Donald Trump brought him into those candidate briefings. So the notion that Donald Trump isn't responsible for this is -- it's just absurd.

BLITZER: Do the Republicans have the 216 votes in the House of Representatives...

BORGER: I'm going to call Paul Ryan.

BLITZER: ... to repeal and replace Obamacare within the next day or two?

BORGER: Look, it's -- if they have the votes, we're going to know, because they'll bring it to the floor. And so far they haven't brought it to the floor.

And the problem is that, once they brought the conservatives on board, the moderates started saying, "No, no, no. We can't -- we can't go along with this, because the provisions you have would cost people with preexisting conditions more money for their health insurance."

And the Democrats are obviously now, that's their key talking point. And I think there are lots of moderates who are having second thoughts about this, if this could hurt them.

And don't forget: this isn't a president who's at 65 percent in the polls. He's at 45 percent in the polls, and so maybe they're less likely to go out on a limb for him.

HENNESSEY: Yes, and I think some of the moderates are just over it, frankly. They're over being the ones who get the short end of the stick.

I was talking to Charlie Dent today, who's the co-chair of the Tuesday Group, and what he said is, "I've seen this movie before. We get a bill that's the most conservative bill possible. We send it to the Senate. The Senate cleans it up. They send it back. And the people that leadership capitulated to in the first place, the conservatives, aren't on board at the last moment."

And yet it leaves the Tuesday Group out to dry because they had to take a vote that was unpopular and puts them in jeopardy with their constituents, and he said that dog won't hunt.

BLITZER: The president, though, would like a big-ticket success like this before day 100 on Saturday.

SWERDLICK: He would but what we've seen with health care and other legislative efforts by this White House is that they aren't putting in the effort to do what is a heavy lift. They want it to be an easy lift, and it's a heavy lift.

You know, if you think about to the Obama administration with health care, it went through the better part of 2009, the beginning of 2010. President Obama gave that joint speech to Congress. They had that meeting at Blair House where President Obama and Senator McCain went back and forth in a heated exchange. It was on C-SPAN.

[18:40:08] They haven't done anything like that to convince people in Congress to do this bill.

BORGER: You know, you get the sense that we're -- they're sort of crawling across the finish line here...

SWERDLICK: Right.

Borger: ... for 100 days. And they want to rack up everything they can.

You know, they -- they throw out a tax reform plan without any details that's one page -- one page long. They're trying to push health care reform through so they can have a press conference or a rally, as the president's going to do Saturday night, and say look at what we've done.

BLITZER: Look at the amazing success. The Congressional Budget Office, by the way, says they won't be able to score or report on the impact of this revised health care bill, not this week or next week, for that matter. So that's a significant thing. A lot of members don't want to vote on something that hasn't been, quote, scored.

All right, guys. Stand by. Just ahead, the president's top advisors in a nearly 100-day fight to enhance their political power. We're going to have the latest on the infighting that's going on and who's been bruised.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:45:46] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Ninety-eight days into the Trump administration, the president's top advisors are still learning the ropes and they're learning to play nice with one another.

Our senior Washington correspondent Brianna Keilar is taking a look at the biggest names in the White House, the behind the scene power struggles.

Brianna, we've seen some fortunes rise, others fall.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, Wolf. The first 98 days of the Trump administration have been full of twists and turns for top aides. Many who were held in great esteem on January 20th have seen their influence wane.

But one thing remains constant, Trump's reliance on those with family ties.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR (voice-over): She's one of the closest advisors, his eldest daughter Ivanka. But when Donald Trump won the White House, Ivanka's plan was to keep her distance.

LESLEY STAHL, CBS NEWS: People think that you're going to be part of the administration, Ivanka.

IVANKA TRUMP, FIRST DAUGHTER: I am -- no. I'm going to be a daughter.

KEILAR: And a mother settling her three children in Washington, D.C.

I. TRUMP: Every week, I take my children to a different museum or cultural institution.

KEILAR: Now, Ivanka has a seat at the table, an office in the West Wing, and her own chief of staff.

I. TRUMP: I realize that having one foot in and one foot out wouldn't work and the reality is it all happened very organically for me.

KELAR: Organically maybe. Unusual, most definitely. Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner are the ultimate Washington, D.C. power couple, in a building where proximity to the Oval Office telegraphs importance, Kushner's digs are prime real estate, sharing a wall with the presidential office suite.

Kushner heads up the White House Office of American Innovation.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, Jared, maybe I'll let you take over.

KEILAR: Moderating a meeting with CEOs in February.

D. TRUMP: I want to thank Jared Kushner who's been so involved in this.

KEILAR: And taking a key role in U.S. foreign policy with Mexico, China and Iraq, where he recently visited.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's a lot of relationships that Jared's made over time with different leaders. KEILAR: Trump envisions Kushner to broker peace in the Middle East, a

controversial proposal but one with buy in from Israel's prime minister.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Can I reveal Jared how long we've known you?

KEILAR: Kushner is ascendant in the White House. But it wasn't publicly anticipated. Asked in November what Kushner's role would be in his administration, the president-elect said, "Oh, maybe nothing because I don't want to have people saying conflict."

Next door to Kushner, Steve Bannon, White House chief strategist, close quarters despite a feud that recently prompted the president to tell the two aides to, quote, "straighten it out or I will." Bannon the loser in that fight, Trump referring to him as, quote, "a guy who works for me" to "The Wall Street Journal" -- a reversal of fortune for the Trump campaign CEO and former Breitbart chiefs.

STEVE BANNON, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: We never had a doubt and Donald Trump never had a doubt that he was going to win.

KEILAR: Labeled by "TIME" magazine as the great manipulator, Bannon secured a seat on the National Security Council, an odd place for a political strategist, only to be bumped when national security advisor, General H.R. McMaster, flexed his muscle.

Bannon is the top aide who appears to get along with few others.

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think the biggest misconception is everything you're reading. We --

KEILAR: Including Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, whose larger office is farther from the oval than Bannon's. Upstairs from the president, Kellyanne Conway, mocked as Donald Trump's cleanup artist.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This tweet is actually taken out of context. Of course Mr. Trump thinks that Mexicans can read and actually what he wants them to read the most is Hillary Clinton's 33,000 missing e- mails.

KEILAR: Recently, she's been sweeping up her own message like this one after the president alleged the Obama administration had tapped his phones at Trump Tower.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: You can surveil someone through their phones and through their -- certainly through their television sets. Any number of different ways and microwaves that turn into cameras, et cetera.

I'm not Inspector Gadget, I don't believe people are using the microwave to spy on the Trump campaign.

KEILAR: In the White House, she's described as an island unto herself. Those still in Trump's good graces if not always on the same page as her boss. Conway vouched for the National Security Advisor Michael Flynn in mid-

February.

CONWAY: Yes, General Flynn does enjoy the full confidence of the president.

[18:50:03] KEILAR: Trump fired Flynn that very day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Conway has bragged that she's one of the few aides with walk- in privileges. That's the ability to enter the Oval Office without an appointment. And even though she is a flight of stairs away from the president, her office is the same one that Valerie Jarrett used, as President Obama's longest serving adviser. Karl Rove before that, and Hillary Clinton once controversially occupied it while her husband was president, Wolf.

BLITZER: Interesting geography over there at the White House.

Excellent report, Brianna. Thank you very, very much.

We'll have much more news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:55:01] BLITZER: As President Trump passes the 100-day milestone, CNN will look at the hot button issue of immigration in a new way. It's the focus of the season premiere of the original series "United Shades of America."

W. Kamau Bell hit the streets of the nation's capital for Sunday's episode. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

W. KAMAU BELL, CNN HOST, "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA": We're here in D.C. talking about immigration. Young lady, you got any thoughts about this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't want to walk.

BELL: That's good. I like that, I don't want to walk. She said it better than all of us. I don't want to walk, no.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, I'm a Baptist pastor. So, I do believe we need to protect our citizens in the United States, but in the same respect, do we not all come from immigrants?

BELL: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, yes, let's protect our citizens, but let's not destroy families, dreams, and hopes either.

BELL: I say this to people all the time to people who are not normally pastors, but preach! (LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I thought that the American country is made of immigration. And now, they're saying, no, we don't want to do that. It's certainly like upsetting.

BELL: Yes, it seems disrespectful to this guy right here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know.

BELL: Yes, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This fine chap.

BELL: Yes, this fine chap. That's the first time I've heard MLK described as a fine chap. That's -- I think he'd be OK with that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I think he'd like that.

BELL: Look, his statue is starting to smile over it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Kamau is joining us right now.

Kamau, tell us more about the season premier of "United Shades of America."

BELL: Well, yes, we just wanted to really investigate immigration and also the refugee issues in this country. And so, we talked to a lot of different people and, you know, to get their stories and to put out a different narrative. During the campaign, immigrants and refugees were kind of demonized and so, we wanted to get out to show what this country is made up of and how these people really make the country great.

BLITZER: Looking forward to it. But tell us about some of the other highlights we can look forward in this new season.

BELL: Well, in this episode it's a highlight or a low light, depending upon your perspective.

We actually do talk to Richard Spencer who as we know is the man who's created with inventing the term "alt-right." And I thought it was important to talk to him because those ideas as we know in the White House as we saw on that last report about Steve Bannon.

And then the next week, we go to Chicago and talk to gang members about gang violence. A lot of time you hear people talk about Chicago, without actually talking to the people there.

So -- and then we actually went to Standing Rock. So, it's a really good season. I'm really excited about it.

BLITZER: Tell us a little bit of how you prepare for these interviews, these extraordinary interviews I should say? BELL: Lack of sleep and Red Bull I guess is how I prepare for it. I

really sort of like, I try to read up on the issues a little bit but I really try to go in listening. The big thing is just going in to listen to people's stories and then letting them talk. I really am a big fan of listening and letting people talk and shutting up, trying not to interrupt.

A lot of times in society, you want to get your point in. And for me, it's like, no. Let these people talk and tell their stories.

BLITZER: And what do you hope the viewers will take away from these episodes?

BELL: You know, I think we -- you know, things are contentious right now, Wolf. I don't have to tell you that. Things are pretty hectic and I think that we're not doing enough of listening to people and talking to each other and getting engaged in these uncomfortable conversations (INAUDIBLE) in the ad campaign.

We need to have these awkward uncomfortable conversations and listen to people who we may think think differently than us but lot of times we find out they're more like us than we realize.

BLITZER: Because I admire your willingness to feel uncomfortable in a lot of these changes you have because they're pretty extraordinary. Talk a little bit about that.

BELL: You know, I learned a long time ago that when you're feeling uncomfortable, it's actually your brain learning. So, like a lot of times, people think when you're uncomfortable, you should have pulled back or you should like ignore or you should interrupt or yell over. But I -- when things get uncomfortable, I learn, oh, I'm actually experiencing something new that I've never experienced before and that's why I think this country is what it is because we're able to regularly have uncomfortable conversations that I think we need to advocate for more of those.

BLITZER: What do you think of this debate that's going on on college campuses about allowing certain people to speak and not allowing others to speak. Talk a little bit about that.

BELL: Well, first of all, to be clear, Wolf, I should be honest -- I do live in the people's republic of Berkeley, California. So, I am right there in the middle of the thing. That riot actually canceled our farmers market, so we're pretty upset about that.

But the thing that I want to say is that, that's not about free speech. The reason why people's speeches are being canceled is because it's at safety issue. If your free speech leads to hate speech and makes people feel unsafe, then universities have the right to protect the kids on campus. So, that's not about free speech. That's about safety.

BLITZER: All right. We're looking forward to this new season. It's going to be excellent, I'm sure, Kamau. Thanks so much for joining us. BELL: Thank you. See you in the halls of CNN. You know, we hang out together.

BLITZER: I know those promos are seeing those often.

And be sure -- this is to all of our viewers -- be sure to watch the CNN premiere of "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA" this Sunday night, this Sunday night, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, only, only here on CNN.

And tonight, be sure to tune in for a special prime-time edition of "THE LEAD" with Jake Tapper. That will air at 9:00 p.m. Eastern later tonight.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.