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White House: Possible Answer This Week On Recording; Dems Demand Documents On Flynn Middle East Trip; Dems To Block Senate Business Over GOP Health Care Secrecy; Former North Korea Detainee Otto Warmbier Dies. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired June 19, 2017 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[17:00:05] WOLF BLITZER, HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: Happening now, breaking news. End of the week, the White House now says it is possible President Trump will have an answer by the end of the week on whether there are Oval Office recordings more than a month since he hinted there may be tapes with his talks with fired FBI Director James Comey.
New Flynn questions. Top Democrats want more documents on former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, saying he failed to disclose a 2015 Middle East trip that was followed by a Saudi-Russian nuclear deal and failed to give details on another trip.
Senate blockade. Furious Democrats are vowing to block all Senate business in response to Republican secrecy in drafting Obamacare replacement bill. Will GOP leaders hold a vote without hearings and without saying what's in the mystery bill?
An American detainee dead. Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who was held in North Korea for nearly a year and a half, has died, according to his family. Warmbier was returned to the United States only last week in a coma. He had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in "The Situation Room."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN Breaking News.
BLITZER: Breaking news, amid another round of mix the messages in the Russia investigation, the White House now says, and I'm quoting, it is possible there may be an answer by the end of the week on whether the president has made secret recordings. It's been 10 days since the president promised an answer and well over a month since he hinted in a tweet that he may have tapes of his conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey.
That's about all the White House is saying, refusing to answer most questions on the Russia probe even as a lawyer for the president contradicts President Trump's own declaration that he's being investigated for firing Comey.
And first on CNN, top Democratic lawmakers are now demanding more documents on former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. They say he left important information out of a security clearance application, failing to disclose a 2015 Middle East trip that was followed by a Saudi-Russian nuclear deal.
And there's a showdown on Capitol Hill this hour as Democrats vow to block business in the Senate over Republican secrecy in putting together an Obamacare replacement bill. Senate GOP leaders won't say what's in the bill. Even many Republicans don't know the details and they're pushing for a vote by the July 4th recess without holding any -- any hearings.
I'll talk to Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of the Judiciary Committee. Our correspondents and special guests, they're standing by with full coverage of today's top stories. Let's begin with the mixed signals coming from President Trump and his lawyer on whether he's under investigation in the Russia probe. And a possible answer on whether the president recorded his talks with fired FBI Director James Comey. First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta. So mum is the word at the White House, Jim.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right Wolf. The White House once again stonewall reports today hiding behind an off camera briefing to sidestep questions on the Russia investigation. We're coming to you live right now from the White House briefing room, something White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer refuse to do earlier today.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, are you under investigation?
ACOSTA (voice-over): No surprise that President Trump offered no answers on whether he's under investigation on the Russia probe, though he had this to say to the president of Panama.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Panama Canal is doing quite well. I think we did a good job building it, right? We did a very good job.
ACOSTA: Even though the president raised the spectre that he's under investigation himself when he tweeted "I'm being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man who told me to fire the FBI director. Witch hunt."
JAY SEKULOW, DONALD TRUMP ATTORNEY: Let me be clear, the President is not under investigation.
ACOSTA: One of the president's personal lawyers, Jay Sekulow, oddly insisted the president is not under investigation. Then he often admitted he can't be sure.
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: No one has been notified that he is.
SEKULOW: You don't know whether he's under investigation or not.
ACSOTA: A contradiction he repeated on CNN. CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: And why you haven't picked up the phone and
find out is a little odd. If I hired you, I'd want you to make that phone call.
SEKULOW: Well, you haven't hired us. We represent the president of the United States.
ACOSTA: The stonewalling continued in the White House briefing room, which was the scene of an off-camera/no audio briefing where Secretary Sean Spicer provided more non-answers. When the president fires special counsel Robert Mueller, Spicer, "I think the broader point here is that everyone who serves the president serve at the pleasure of the president." Mr. President have recordings of his conversations at the White House, Spicer, "I will tell you I believe the president commented in the next couple of weeks. It is possible we have an answer on that by the end of this week."
Members of Congress want to know where are the tapes.
[17:05:03] REP. JIM HIMES (D), CONNECTICUT: They have not been turnover but the House Intelligence Committee has asked that those tapes if they exist be produced.
ACOSTA: The information blackout comes as the White House begun what is calling technology weak, by rolling out the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner to top the administration's innovation of government services.
JARED KUSHER, SENIOR ADVISER TO THE PRESIDENT: By modernizing these systems, we will meaningfully improve the lives of tens of millions of Americans.
ACOSTA: Kushner is now seeking additional attorneys for his own legal team after discovering his personal lawyer once worked with the special counsel. That personal lawyer, Jamie Gorlick, said in the statement, "After the appointment of our former partner Robert Mueller as special counsel, we advised Mr. Kushner to obtain the independent advice of a lawyer with appropriate experience as to whether he should condition with us as his counsel."
(on camera): And speaking of Sean Spicer, CNN has confirmed that the White House is looking to moving Spicer into a different role in the West Wing, a move that would create a new opening for the White House press secretary, the person who stands behind this podium during these briefings when they are on camera, Wolf. And of course we would hope for better treatment from the next White House press secretary than we got today. Sean Spicer took a question during this off-camera briefing from a Russian reporter, a reporter from Russian news outlet and not from CNN. Wolf?
BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House Briefing Room. Jim, thank you very much. There's more breaking news right now. Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who was held by North Korea for nearly a year and a half has died just days after being returned to the United States in a coma. Let's bring in our Chief National Security Correspondent Jim Sciutto. Jim, what have you found out about this? JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, we
learned about this just in the last few moments based on a statement from his family, a sad statement, saying that just after 2:00 this afternoon, that Warmbier died. I want to quote from that statement now. "When Otto returned to Cincinnati late on June 13th, he was unable to speak, unable to see and unable to react to verbal commands. He looked very uncomfortable, almost anguished. Although we would never hear his voice again within a day, the countenance of his face had changed, he was at peace, he was at home, and we believe he could sense that."
But certainly extremely sad news for the family. You may remember he was held in North Korea for some 17 months accused by North Korea of stealing a propaganda banner from the hotel. That account challenged by fellow travelers on his trip. He went to North Korea with an adventure travel company.
Wolf, he was captured there as he was leaving Pyongyang by flight. He was taken away. It was a couple weeks later that North Koreans accused him of this. You may remember. There was a show trial, a tearful confession by Warmbier there that was presumably under duress. And we didn't hear about it. And it was a couple weeks ago when we understand that the U.S. State Department learned of his medical condition, that he was in a coma. He was returned, sadly, close to his death and today we learned that he did die.
BLITZER: Yes. Now the Trump Administration has to make a major decision what, if anything, does the U.S.do about this as far as North Korea is concerned?
SCIUTTO: That's exactly right. In effect North Korea detained a young American without cause, and he died. Not in their custody, but he was returned very close to death, and by any measure, North Korea responsible, in effect, for his death. I've reached out to the White House for comment. How are they going to react to this? We haven't got that yet but it is a big test for U.S.-North Korea policy going forward.
BLITZER: It certainly (INAUDIBLE). There's another breaking story we're following right now. It involves the president's former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn. You're learning that key members of the House of Representatives now are demanding more information about some business dealings he may have had involving Russia and Saudi Arabia?
SCIUTTO: That's exactly right. In an undisclosed foreign trip. Of course, this is not the first time we've heard of questions going to the fired national security adviser, the retired general, Michael Flynn. I have the letter here. It comes from Democrats on the House Oversight Committee as well as the Democrat on the Committee for Foreign Affairs, Eliot Engel, Elijah Cummings from the Oversight Committee.
I want to quote from that letter because it raises a specific trip that the Democrats and the committee say, that General Flynn did not report when he is applying for the reissuing of the security clearance before he came the national security adviser.
It says in the letter, quote, "First it appears General Flynn failed to disclose a trip he took to the Middle East in the summer of 2015 to pursue a joint U.S.-Russian business venture to develop nuclear facilities located in and financed by Saudi Arabia. So to be clear there, the trip to Saudi Arabia, but Russia involved yet again here, a deal between Saudi Arabia and Russia to build a number of nuclear power plants there.
This is based in part on a story that appeared in "Newsweek" with some details of this trip, but also on testimony from General Flynn that he gave in June 2015 before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs where he referred to a trip that he had just returned from at the time. But when they looked at his form that he submitted before he became national security adviser, he reported a trip later that year, in October of 2015, but not crucially this trip in June.
[17:10:10] And as you know, Wolf, we talked about this a number of times on these security clearance forms, you have to report all of your foreign travel each trip by date, who you met with, et cetera, and they're saying he did not report this trip. They also say he did not report any of the foreign officials he met during some seven years before he applied for this security clearance. I've reached out to his lawyer. He would not comment. This is Michael Flynn's lawyer. He would not comment on the letter. He did confirm that he has received the letter. I reached out to Democrats on the committee. They say that they reached out to Republicans of the committee, they decline to sign on. But I did speak to one Republican staffer who said that they did not have an opportunity to see this letter before it was released.
BLITZER: And if you're not honest on these security forms that you're filling out to get security clearance, that's a crime.
SCIUTTO: It is a crime. It's a federal stature that requires you to report all foreign travel as well as contacts with foreign officials.
BLITZER: A new development on that front as well. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much. Joining us now, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. He's a key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator, thanks for joiniung us.
SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHOSE ISLAND: Good to be with you all.
BLITZER: Let me get to the news on the president shortly, but first I have to ask you. What would be the appropriate U.S. action to take in response to the death of Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student, as a result of his treatment by North Korea after 17 months in a prison, hard labor. He returned to the United States in a coma and is now dead.
WHITEHOUSE: I don't know exactly, but it certainly looks as if his condition and his ultimate death was caused by the brutality of the North Koreans, and there needs to be a sanction for that of some kind. They simply cannot be allowed to seize Americans, brutalize them and send them home in a coma to die. That is not acceptable. And I think all across America, there are a lot of broken hearts for the Warmbier family.
BLITZER: What would you like to hear from President Trump?
WHITEHOUSE: Well, I wish I had more confidence in him, but I think, to give him credit, he responded very decently to the shooting of Representative Scalise and the others at the baseball game, and I'm hoping that he'll respond in an appropriate fashion to this.
BLITZER: We're standing by for White House reaction to this very, very sad news. Senator, the president's lawyer, personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, is reverting back to the original explanation by the White House that President Trump was only sort of following his own justice department's recommendation in firing FBI director James Comey. Does that argument stand up in light of the president's own public comments, including his statements to Lester Holt of NBC News?
WHITEHOUSE: I think a lawyer creates a problem when he makes assertions of fact that run directly contrary to things that his client has actually said in public that everybody heard him say. So both as to the rationale for firing Comey and as to whether or not he was under investigation, you now have a lawyer denying things we've all heard out in the plain air. So, I don't think we can get these people in front of a situation where they're under oath quickly enough. A lot of this nonsense disappears when people have to be under oath or speaking to a judge with their license to practice law potentially at risk.
BLITZER: As you know, Jay Sekulow, the private attorney representing the president those various TV appearances sent mixed messages about whether the president is or is not under investigation. First of all, would he be in a position to know for sure?
WHITEHOUSE: Well, at some point the Department of Justice would let the target of an investigation know that they were a target. But there is a lot that can be put together before that's the case. And it is clearly the case that the president is the subject of an obstruction of justice investigation related to his comments about letting Flynn go. I mean, that is a prima facie case of obstruction of justice out of the mount of the president of the United States. And I think any prosecutor would say, OK, you have a case, now let's button it down. And I think they're probably in a let's go button it down phase of that investigation. But the notion that after having said that, knowing what obstruction of justice law is, to say the president is not under investigation, it just doesn't make any sense at all.
BLITZER: That's your conclusion, senator, correct me if I'm wrong. Has someone told you from the Office of the Special Counsel that he is under investigation as part of an obstruction of justice case?
WHITEHOUSE: No, I'm not getting any inside information out of the Office of the Special Counsel. This is just looking at what he said, putting it against the law related to obstruction of justice, and understanding that basically he has made out a complete case of obstruction of justice, and that is enough to have an investigation go forward. [17:15:09] Put it the other way around, the Office of the Special Counsel would be derelict in its duty if it were not investigating the president for that.
BLITZER: The White House it's possible President Trump could clarify if there are tapes of his conversations with the fired FBI Director James Comey. They say they could do that potentially by the end of this week. Why has the president left this question unanswered for so long? What's the issue here?
WHITEHOUSE: I don't know. It doesn't seem to make any sense. It could be that like with so many things he says, he begins with a lot of big talk that has absolutely nothing factually behind it and there are, in fact, are no tapes, but -- you know, we'll have to wait and see. We do not know. It doesn't make a lot of sense. It's not what one would consider to be normal behavior.
BLITZER: Because he himself raised this issue back on May 12th. He tweeted this.
BLITZER: He put it on the screen. He said, "James Comey better hope there are no tapes -- tapes in quotes -- of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press." A lot of people saw that as a potential threat from the president to Comey.
WHITEHOUSE: I think it's -- it is a threat. I mean, bear in mind this is a guy who comes out of a New York developer business world where you bully people and try to push them around through your lawyers. He's never been up against anything like the Department of Justice or a special counsel before, so I think he's just reverting to form r and trying to make nice and charm people and have Comey over to a little private dinner and then bully when he doesn't get his way. That's his manner, but it doesn't work against the Department of Justice.
BLITZER: Why haven't you, your committee, subpoenaed the tapes, if there are tapes?
WHITEHOUSE: We've requested them and we're waiting to see what the responses are.
BLITZER: It's one thing to request, it's another thing to subpoena, as you well know.
WHITEHOUSE: Well, the chairman controls the subpoena, so you'll need to ask Chairman Grassley about that.
BLITZER: You want him to do it, correct (ph)?
WHITEHOSUE: I think it would be sensible and cut through a lot of the nonsense.
BLITZER: All right, Senator, stand by. There is more information coming into "The Situation Room." We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
[17:21:41] BLITZER: All right, breaking news first on CNN. Top Democratic lawmakers demanding more documents on the former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. They say he left important information out of the security clearance application failing to disclose a 2015 Middle East trip that was followed by a major Saudi- Russian nuclear deal.
We're back with Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island. Key member of the Judiciary Committee. Senator, what's your reaction to the news that your colleagues on the House side are seeking this information on General Flynn's work in Saudi Arabia, that he didn't disclose it when he's applying to renew his security credentials?
WHITEHOUSE: Well, if you draw conclusions as a prosecutor about what we can see from the Flynn investigation, all the signals are suggesting that he's already cooperating with the FBI and may have been for some time. First of all, they had him dead to rights on a felony false statement for the statement that they took from him in the White House about his Kislyak conversations. Second, Comey reported that one of the things the FBI does with cooperators is to get him to go back and clean up areas of non-compliance, and Flynn, who will never be hired by a foreign government again, went back and cleaned up his foreign agent register filings. Third, all of the reporting on the Eastern District of Virginia subpoenas is one hop away from Flynn. He's like the hole in a donut of subpoenas.
And finally, one of the more talkative people in Trumpland has gone absolutely dead silent, and that's what prosecutors strongly encourage cooperating witnesses to do. So this would be just another bit of leverage for the prosecutors to make sure that he was cooperating and giving truthful testimony in order to avoid lengthy imprisonment.
BLITZER: So it's your assumption, your conclusion, that he's cooperating now with federal law enforcement authorities, but you don't know that for sure, you're just looking at the evidence and that's your conclusion?
WHITEHOSUE: That's the conclusion from all the evidence and some experience in dealing with this.
BLITZER: And if he is cooperating, the upshot is that could be a huge deal.
WHITEHOUSE: It could be a huge deal, because who knows what Trump has said to him, both during the campaign and during the early days of the presidency, and then apparently Trump has been in touch with him after his firing from the White House to tell him to stay strong, which, in some circumstances, could be looked at as manipulation of a witness or obstruction of justice.
BLITZER: Well that would be a major development, certainly, if that's confirmed, that he is now cooperating with the FBI, another law enforcement. (CROSSTALK)
WHITEHOUSE: That's the conclusion. The tea leaves all read that way.
BLITZER: I see the evidence you're pointing to, of course, and I thank you for joining us, Senator Whitehouse. Thank you, as usual.
WHITEHOUSE: Good to be with you.
BLITZER: Coming up, the White House says it is possible there may be an answer by the end of the week on whether the president has made secret recordings in the Capitol Hill showdown. Furious Democrats vowing to block all Senate business in response to Republican secrecy in drafting an Obamacare replacement bill in the Senate. Stay with us. You're in "The Situation Room."
[17:29:23] BLITZER: We're back with the Breaking News. More mixed messages from the president's team on the Russia investigation. President Trump's personal lawyer directly contradicting the president's claim that he's under investigation for firing FBI Director James Comey, and the White House press secretary floating the possibility that President Trump could confirm whether or not he secretly taped conversations with Comey as early as later this week. Let's discuss with our specialist and experts.
And Dana, the mixed messages coming from the president's personal attorney versus the president himself on whether the president is under investigation. It's pretty stark.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is stark. But the president's message came from a tweet which it's very -- it's difficult to say everything you want to say in a tweet. That's the main reason -- well, one of the many reasons, I should say, why his aides would really prefer him not tweet as much, particularly on issues like this. Never mind the political consequences but the legal consequences. So clearly, he sent his legal adviser out to try to beat back the notion that he's under investigation, and the fact that it contradicted the tweet that he was sending, which probably did come in response to the Washington Post article that said he was under investigation and he was trying to sort of you know, play off of that, but it wasn't clear in the tweet. And when you're President of the United States, you've got to be clear, period.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM HOST: Yes. These are official statements, these tweets. That tweet, you know, Mark, is that "I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director. Witch hunt." He didn't say the Washington Post is reporting that I am being investigated. He said it flatly, "I am being investigated."
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: And he wasn't talking about Rod Rosenstein or Mueller at that point. We weren't quite sure who he - who he was exactly directing his ire at. You know, Mueller being, of course, the one who is the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller. The problem for Donald Trump, though, and I've been thinking a lot about this over the past couple days, is that he becomes very vague in his statements and they're very, very powerful. For instance, he talks about tapes, and you know, in the Oval Office but he's very vague about that. We still don't know the answers to that. He talks about him being under investigation but then he puts his lawyer out there who then comes out and says, well, no, he's not under investigation. He puts his Press Secretary and Deputy Press Secretary out there to refute things that he wants them to refute, and then he goes back and then he refutes them. It's just a mess over there right now.
BLITZER: Because the President's personal attorney Jay Sekulow, says they have not been informed by Mueller that the President is under investigation which doesn't mean he isn't under investigation. But couldn't the White House Counsel simply call Mueller or someone in the Office of the Special Counsel and say, by the way, is the President under investigation?
PHILIP MUDD, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRROSISM OFFICIAL: What the heck would Robert Mueller say? He wouldn't answer that. Not yesterday, not today, not never. He's going to follow the facts. The facts may relate to what happened with Russia during the campaign. The facts may relate to obstruction, I guarantee you, with the legal team he put together, and it hasn't been that long, they don't know what the end of this game is. If he ever answers the question about whether the President is under investigation, no, don't worry about it, you're OK. And if the facts take him someplace else within a week or two, what's he supposed to say then? All these people around the country think the President just picks up the phone and says, what's going on? Mueller -
BLITZER: Comey testified on three different occasions. He did tell the President he was not under investigation.
MUDD: Sure, that's before he got fired which is one of the facts in my judgment that leads someone to say maybe the President wasn't obstructing the investigation. So we got months of information since Comey has left office and a lot of investigation. I think there has been a lot of water under the bridge since then.
bash: But the thing to keep in mind, the big picture here, is that every moment that the President spends tweeting about this or sending his legal adviser out to talk about it, we're talking about it because it is - it becomes a bigger deal because it becomes a Presidential moment. They're doing that and not talking about health care or finding the people who voted for him jobs or you know, you list the things that he ran on, and that is what is frustrating people who want him to succeed in the White House and over - you know, down Pennsylvania Avenue on Capitol Hill. They're tearing their hair out over and over and over again as they try to move the agenda forward, try to take another step, and then they're diverted and distracted by the President's own making.
BLITZER: You know, Sean Spicer, the White House Press Secretary, today says "it's possible that by the end of the week we'll have an answer whether or not there are tapes, recordings, of the President's private conversations with Comey." Why is this such a difficult - it's been a month now since the President himself first raised the issue. Why is it - why is it taking so long?
PRESTON: It's ludicrous. I mean, the idea that he says or puts out there that, hey, I may have tapes, I may not have tapes, and it's been a month that we don't know if he does or he doesn't? I suspect he doesn't, and I suspect he's just throwing up another smokescreen and he looks kind of silly having done so. But the fact of the matter is, his inability to try to work with this investigation, to try to get it over with quickly, could end up to be as downfall when it comes to trying to get you know any policy items done. Quite frankly, what history will look at him for when he leaves office, and really, to try to get this investigation going?
BLITZER: The only thing I can imagine Phil, and you used to work in intelligence and law enforcement, if there are tapes, maybe there's a possibility it could interfere disclosing the information about that there are recordings in law enforcement or intelligence gathering. That's the only explanation I could even you know, surmise.
[17:35:01] MUDD: I don't think so. If there's tapes, I'm going to fall out of my chair. Part of the reason is because people talk about conspiracy theories outside Washington. Let me tell you, inside the Beltway, I can't remember a single secret out of those intense days after 9/11, 2002, 2003, 2004. Hundreds of people know about this stuff. And this hasn't leaked? I don't buy it. I think the answer is more straightforward.
BASH: Well, you're thinking about a tape - a taping system. Is that what you're talking about?
MUDD: That's right.
BASH: Yes, but this could also be him recording on his - on his own.
MUDD: Could have been. But still, somebody - I think somebody would know. My point is, I think a more straightforward explanation is he stuck himself in a trap and now, as the tough guy, has to figure out, how do I say that I never meant that in the first place?
PRESTON: And he's done that -he's done that with several other issues including saying he's going to release his tax returns. You know, he put himself kind of in a corner, "I'm going to release them," never released them. He said he was going to sue the accusers who accused him of sexual misconduct. He's never has done so.
BLITZER: We're standing by to hear from the President himself. He's meeting with a tech representative, CEO's major tech representative including Jeff Bezos of Amazon there at the White House right now. We're going to hear from the President. Hear what he says much more coming up on that. Also a young American man has died just days after returning to the United States from North Korea. Otto Warmbier held in detention for more than a year and a half, sentenced to hard labor for allegedly stealing a propaganda poster just arrived back in the United States in a coma. We'll update you. That's coming up.
[17:40:00] BLITZER: Breaking news, we're standing by to hear from President Trump as he meets with Tech CEOs in the White House. We expect him to be asked about the death of the American Otto Warmbier just days after returning from North Korean captivity. We'll have more on the breaking news in a moment but right now there is a showdown unfolding up on Capitol Hill. Furious Democrats are vowing to bring Senate business to a complete halt over Republican secrecy in drafting a health care bill. Senate Republican leaders are pushing for a vote before the July 4th recess without even holding any hearings, at least so far no hearings and without disclosing what's in the ministry bill, at least not yet. Let's go live to our CNN Congressional Correspondent Phil Mattingly. So Phil, walk us through what the Democrats are planning.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're trying to utilize procedure to their advantage, Wolf. And look, you said it, Senate Republicans are planning, according to Senate GOP aides, to have a vote next week. That is still the goal, that is still the plan and that has certainly sparked urgency among Senate Democrats on kind of two levels, Wolf. First and foremost, they haven't been involved in this process. As such, they're going to try to slow things down in the Senate. A place where you can't get anything done if not all Senators approve on moving anything forward. So, that means, they will try and shut down committee hearings, they will try and shut down floor proceedings and throughout the night, and likely later on this week, you'll have Democrats Senators taking to the floor talking about the process, decrying that process. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer giving us a hint of what we're going to see earlier today. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: Why were my Republican friends engaging in this farce of a legislative process? Why Republicans willing to engage in such blatant hypocrisy contradicting all of the things they've said about good procedure in the Senate? What are they afraid of? There's only one reason why Republicans are doing this. They're ashamed of their bill. The Republicans are writing their health care bill under the cover of darkness because they're ashamed of it, plain and simple.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: And Wolf, there is a strategy behind what Republicans are trying to do. They saw what happened in the House, obviously where a lot of these debates played out very publicly. The blowback was very fierce. That's the rationale behind it for the most part up to this point, keeping everything behind closed doors, but that certainly has opened them to attacks from Democrats. Attacks that are only growing more fierce as days goes on, Wolf.
BLITZER: What do you know about what could go into this Republican Senate bill?
MATTINGLY: Look, it's amazing when you consider the House Process which I covered kind of throughout how little has actually come out. But we do know one thing in particular. There has been a big sticking point on Medicaid, both the expansion that the Affordable Care Act provided and also the growth rate in the program as well. I'm told under consideration right now, according to two Senate GOP aides, is changing the growth rate in 2025, from medical inflation, how it's currently calculated now, how states get their funding, to a standard inflation. Now Wolf, the House bill as it currently stands would reduce spending in the Medicaid program by $800 billion over the course of ten years. The Senate would be moving to a more drastic shift in reduction of spending through this program.
This is something that does not make moderate Republican Senators happy. Senator Rob Portman of Ohio has already made clear he's opposed to this idea but this is something conservatives would be happy with. Again, (INAUDIBLE) caution, this proposal isn't final, but as you see things start to come out, you recognize how Senators inside this conference, the conference that has very diverse ideologically when it comes to health care, are trying to position themselves as the calendar shuts, closes down, they move towards this vote. Wolf, a very important point here, as this debate has going on behind closed doors over the last couple weeks, Senators have really had a lot of space, I'm told to try kind of hash out their ideas. That will be coming to an end. Soon Senate Majority Mitch McConnell is going to make very clear at some point this week, it's time to move forward. They want to have that vote next week, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes. They only have about 52-48 majority of Republicans in the Senate, not a whole lot of flexibility there as far as making sure those moderate Republicans stay on board. All right, Phil, thanks very much. Let's bring back our experts and specialists. Actually, guys, I want you to stand by because we're getting some more information that I want to discuss. We'll be right back.
[17:45:00] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: -- flexibility there as far as making sure those moderate Republicans stay on board. All right. Phil, thanks very much.
Let's bring back our experts and specialists -- actually, guys, I want you to stand by because we're getting some more information that I want to discuss. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Senate Republicans are busy drafting a bill to repeal and replace ObamaCare, a special bill to hold a vote before the July 4th recess. But the process has been shrouded in complete secrecy and angry Democrats are threatening to grind the Senate to a halt.
We're back with our experts and specialists. So what's the end game here, Dana, for the Democrats?
[17:50:00] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, for the Democrats, they're trying to shine a light on it, and they're trying to signal to their supporters and people who are very, very unsettled by the notion of repealing ObamaCare, even some Republicans out there, independents as well, you know, that they're on it. But the bigger question, I think, is before the blockade happens,
something needs to be blockaded, you know. And the question is, what is going to happen in those closed-door discussions with Republicans? Can they come up with a deal? And it's still TBD.
I mean, we talk a lot about the moderate Republicans and trying to negotiate the idea of the Medicaid expansion and, you know, kind of, if that's going to be phased out, doing it in a slow way so that governors have a chance to figure out how to pay for health care in their states, especially many who have this opioid crisis and rely on federal dollars for it.
But then you also have some of the more conservative members, Wolf. I mean, Ted Cruz, for example, who made his name in politics by railing against ObamaCare and being the outsider. He's in these meetings, but he's not necessarily going to sign onto something unless he's comfortable with it.
And then you have maybe five other Republicans on the more conservative side who might not sign on. And they can't afford to lose more than two or three votes, or else this isn't going to happen.
You know, the Democrats are trying to get headlines. But before that happens, it's a big question about whether there's really going to be a deal amongst Republicans.
BLITZER: How will the Republican leaders justify one of the most important pieces of legislation affecting so many millions and millions of Americans, their health care, changing, repealing, and replacing ObamaCare without allowing any hearings to even take place before the relevant committees and letting there to be a real debate and a dialogue? Because no one knows what's in this legislation.
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's the beauty with the United States Senate. You don't necessarily have to justify your actions because you are given so much power when you are in the majority.
Now, the minority has power as well. But in this case, you know, the majority will eventually win if, as Dana says, they can keep all of their Republicans together.
Listen, the Republicans, when they're looking at this bill, aren't necessarily very happy with it, right? I mean, they're not saying, like, let's ride this one to victory in 2018 and beyond. What they're saying is, let's just get through this, and let's just try to get it over with.
And I do think that the calculation would be hard on behalf of the Republicans is, listen -- and Republicans, I say Mitch McConnell and other Republican leaders -- we need to get past this hurdle or we will get nothing done this year.
BLITZER: So let's talk a little bit about what happened in London last night, this vehicular attack against Muslim worshippers leaving a mosque at the end of Ramadan. A dozen or so Muslims in London were injured.
This is a terror attack. But this was an attack against Muslims not an attack committed by a Muslim. When there is an attack committed by a Muslim, the President reacts right away.
In this particular case, at least as far as his tweets or statements are concerned, he is silent and he is being criticized for that. You understand why.
PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I do. We have a little bit of an issue here.
He's gotten sideways not only with the Mayor of London. He went full frontal with the Mayor of London. But he also forced the conservative lead in the British government, Theresa May, to come out and support the Mayor of London. That is somebody, Theresa May, who he should be allied with.
Any President, when you see a loss of life with our closest ally, ought to be out there with a sentence or two saying, we're with you. We're with you for 16 years. We're with you for 200 years. We're with you for the next 200 years.
I think he's got an issue here. We've seen an increase of hate crimes as well. This comes within the context of an increase of hate crimes in the United States against Muslims and Jews. He ought to be out there saying something.
BLITZER: Why isn't he?
BASH: I have no idea. I mean, you point out a growing pattern that he hasn't addressed in public statements and Twitter where there are issues and incidents of terror attacks where it has been perpetuated against Muslims.
There is also kind of a two-day delay, one or two-day delay, in the President of the United States reacting to the fact that seven members of the United States Navy died in an accident.
Now, they tweeted out over the weekend that he was monitoring the situation from Camp David. But it wasn't until mid-afternoon that we heard anything from the White House about that.
So I think it's a broader issue of kind of trying to figure out how their communication strategy is working when it's not the President himself tweeting about what he feels in the moment.
BLITZER: Yes. This should not be that complicated.
BLITZER: Not a difficult statement to release from the President of the United States. All right. Everybody stand by. There's breaking news we are
following. An American college student, who was held by North Korea for nearly a year and a half, has died just days after being sent back to the United States in a coma.
[17:55:00] Now, President Trump is speaking out.
BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, possible answer. The White House says the President may finally end the suspense about whether there are Oval Office tapes maybe this week, with the emphasis on "maybe." Press Secretary Sean Spicer refusing to appear on camera once again as he sidesteps key questions about the Russia investigation.
Stopping the Senate. Right now, Democrats are ramping up the fight over health care, trying to bring the Senate business to a grinding halt, a move to force Republicans to end the secrecy surrounding efforts to repeal and replace ObamaCare.
[18:00:02] Russian jet threat. Moscow warns it will consider U.S. and coalition aircrafts as targets in an angry response to the downing of a Syrian warplane.