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Georgia Congressional Race; Republicans Crafting Secret Health Care Bill; White House Implies Obama to Blame for Otto Warmbier's Death. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 20, 2017 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:01]

MICHAEL ZELDIN, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: For them, these many weeks later, to still be showing no interest in it, I don't know.

(CROSSTALK)

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, it's an issue.

Michael Zeldin and David Jolly, gentlemen, thank you so very much.

DAVID JOLLY (R), FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN: Great to be with you.

ZELDIN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Let's roll along, next hour.

Top of the hour. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Breaking developments on a story that impacts each and every one of us, what is happening with the nation's health care. We are now getting word that the Senate should see text of its version of the American Health Care Act by the end of this week.

Remember that the House already passed its bill in May. Remember the victory lab there in May with the House Republicans and the president. All of this plays into the looming deadline that Republican leaders have self-imposed for themselves, a vote before the summer recess begins in July.

Right? So look at the calendar. That's eight legislative days remaining. Also moments ago, the White House in its first on-camera press briefing in eight days revealed this about the president's part in forming said legislation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Has the president seen a draft of the Senate health care bill?

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't know that. That's I know that there was some chatter today. I know the president has been on the phone extensively with the leader and with key senators, so I don't know if he's seen the legislation or not. But I know that they've been working extremely hard, and the president has been giving his input and has ideas, feedback to them.

And he's very excited about where this thing is headed.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Do you know if anyone on the staff has seen a draft of the bill?

SPICER: I don't. I know that they are up there working hand in glove with them, so to the extent that it's -- I don't even know, you know, where we are in terms of a final plan. I know that the staff has been working very closely with the leader staff, with Senate Finance and others, so I don't want to get ahead of an announcement on Senator McConnell saying when that final product is done, so I will refer you back to him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: What's more, the leader of the Senate Republicans seemed to confirm Democrats may get very little say on the text of the Senate health care bill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: When you say that Democrats aren't interested, but they're not invited into the...

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: Well, they wouldn't have -- they have made it clear earlier they were not interested in participating in this. They have no interest in it whatsoever. So, it makes no sense...

QUESTION: So are they invited into your planning sessions?

MCCONNELL: Into the Republican Conference? No. But they made it clear they're not interested in helping. They are not interested in what we are trying to achieve at all. And I do find it particularly laughable the complaints about process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Let's begin with our CNN senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, who was in that briefing.

Jim, so, the White House -- let's begin on health care and we know that the White House talked about how the president wants a bill that -- quote, unquote -- "has heart."

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right.

BALDWIN: Do we know that that means?

ACOSTA: Yes. That's in reference, Brooke, to some stories that came out last week from CNN and others that the president was saying behind closed doors to a group of Republican lawmakers that the bill coming out of the House to repeal and replace Obamacare was -- quote -- "mean" and needed to have some heart.

And so that was Sean Spicer acknowledging during the briefing today that the president did have that criticism of this health care bill. And so it is interesting that the White House is acknowledging that. It makes you wonder what they're going to say once this Senate health care bill, once it ever comes out, is scored by the Congressional Budget Office.

And I expect it to still show millions and millions of Americans potentially losing health care coverage as a result of that bill being signed into law. And so that's going to be another question for this White House to answer, but, as you heard, and you just played there a few moments ago, the president -- or at least Sean Spicer -- can't say whether the president has even looked at this legislation.

BALDWIN: Right.

ACOSTA: But it does appear he has an opinion on it, and he's expressing it.

BALDWIN: So, couple questions on health care, also a couple questions in the wake of Otto Warmbier's death, coming back after being, you know, 17 months detained in North Korea. This young American student, you know, dies yesterday. The president just tweeted about North Korea. What did he say?

ACOSTA: Yes, we can put this up on screen, if you have it. If not, I can just read it to you.

BALDWIN: We got it.

ACOSTA: He tweeted a few moments ago: "While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi in China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried.'

Brooke, that's in reference to what has essentially been the president's strategy since the beginning days of this administration, which is not to punish China on trade, which is something he promised to do during the campaign, in exchange for Chinese cooperation with respect to North Korea.

And what the president seems to be acknowledging there in that tweet is that that did not work. And so it is sort of interesting that, when you look back at what the president said earlier today in that meeting with the Ukrainian president, and then what Sean Spicer said during the briefing a few moments ago, where they -- they almost -- they're right up to the edge of blaming the Obama administration for not doing enough to secure the release of Otto Warmbier.

And yet right after this briefing is over, the president is saying, well, you know, this other thing I tried over here with China and prodding China to pressure North Korea, that didn't work. So, I think this is going to continue to be a question for the Trump administration moving forward.

[15:05:02] Was this the right idea, was this the best idea in terms of trying to

put pressure on North Korea? Because the president gave away a lot of trade sanctions on China that he promised during the campaign in exchange for Chinese cooperation on this issue. And he didn't get it.

BALDWIN: Jim Acosta, thank you.

Another big briefing, big topic in that briefing was Georgia, the Georgia 6th Congressional District. Voting has been under way in the most expensive House race in U.S. history. Much of America's watching this pivotal election, including President Trump.

Democrats are pushing this race as a referendum on his presidency. And President Trump certainly hasn't shied away from tweeting about the race. This morning, he took a shot at the Democrat trying to win the seat that has been solid red since 1979.

Here's a tweet from the president. "Democratic Jon Ossoff, who wants to raise your taxes to the highest level and is weak on crime and security, doesn't even live in the district."

Let's bring in someone who knows this race very, very well.

Greg Bluestein is back with us today. He's a political reporter for "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution."

And, Greg, you know, obviously, turnout is key. And I'm also hearing that you're dealing with some bad, bad weather in this part of Georgia.

GREG BLUESTEIN, "THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION": Yes, there's flash flood warnings today. There's traffic all over Atlanta's highways, which is not too big of a surprise, but the streets are clogged with rain.

So, there's a question about how that will dampen turnout today.

BALDWIN: What did you think? Just -- we -- just moving off of the weather and on to, you know, the president, we showed his tweet from earlier this morning, and yet you have Sean Spicer in the briefing moments ago saying don't read too much into it with regard to this, you know, mega-expensive 6th District race.

BLUESTEIN: Yes. By the way, we're at more than $50 million. We could get to $60 million when all the tally is counted up.

But, no, Trump has clouded everything about this race from really the beginning. Where both candidates are both talking about -- they're saying they're talking about local issues, really, it's a national debate and most voters are talking about Trump as well.

This is a district that Trump narrowly won just in November. It probably would not be competitive at all if not for questions about Trump, and Jon Ossoff, the Democrat in the race, has capitalized on that. He's used his make Trump furious platform at the beginning of the campaign to help raise $23 million-plus. BALDWIN: Wow.

Also, I think what really fascinates me about this district specifically is the women, that the suburban educated moms, you have a lot of them in the 6th District. And these are the women who, as we pointed out, for years and years had voted Republican, but, last November, a lot of them actually voted for Hillary Clinton.

BLUESTEIN: And that's what made this district so close in November.

And Ossoff, it's fascinating, because polls show a reverse gender gap. Karen Handel is running to be the first female Republican congresswoman in Georgia, and yet she's trailing Ossoff by as many as double digits in some of the recent polls, and she's leading Ossoff among men, and Ossoff is just assailing her on her ties, on her role at Susan G. Komen Foundation, the breast cancer charity, that she was there when they cut ties with Planned Parenthood.

So, there are ads all over the district about that.

BALDWIN: Polls close at 7:00. You have a big night ahead of you. We will be taking all of this live here on CNN.

Greg Bluestein, thank you so much at "The AJC."

BLUESTEIN: Thanks for having me.

BALDWIN: Once again, reports of shoddy paperwork is dogging fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. It appears there was another case in which Flynn was not entirely truthful about his interactions overseas.

The top Democrats on the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees are now looking into two trips Flynn made to the Middle East. In one case, the congressmen say that Flynn failed to disclose one of the trips on his security clearance form. In the other example, they say Flynn listed a hotel they say that just doesn't exist.

Flynn's lawyer declined to comment in an e-mail to CNN.

So, I have Nick Akerman with me, assistant special Watergate prosecutor, now a partner at the law firm of Dorsey & Whitney, and CNN chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

So, welcome to both of you.

And, Dana, let me just dive right in with you.

How -- we're seeing this trend with Trump officials forgetting or not disclosing the details, Jeff Sessions, Jared Kushner, and Michael Flynn. How does it happen, especially when we're talking about a campaign that has been so totally under scrutiny?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: How does it happen? You know, that's the big question, how and why these people, particularly somebody at the level of national security adviser, either doesn't know that he has to disclose these things or doesn't find people to work with him who do know.

And then the next question is, if that is -- if that is the case, how did it happen? And then sort of furthermore, Brooke, given the fact that we are where we are and these investigations are going forward, the fact that it is a series of problems that Mike Flynn clearly seems to have with regard to not disclosing meetings and business that he's doing, that puts him in legal jeopardy.

[15:10:19]

So, does that mean, as Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island has said publicly on CNN's air, he believes that Flynn is making deals with the special prosecutor, with the FBI? And what does a deal mean for either Donald Trump or other people in Trump's orbit? Could it be ominous for them?

BALDWIN: You read my mind.

(CROSSTALK)

BASH: All have a snowball effect.

BALDWIN: That is where I was going next. Let's listen to that sound with Wolf. This is Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: All the signals are suggesting that he's already cooperating with the FBI and may have been for some time. 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.

That's the conclusion from all of the evidence and some experience in dealing with this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: Listen, Nick, we don't know what Flynn knows or what he might have, if, in fact, he is talking. But would you agree with the assessment from the senator?

NICK AKERMAN, FORMER ASSISTANT SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR: Well, it's certainly possible.

But let me just say this about that national security clearance form. I just did one a few months ago. I had to certify that everything in that form, I didn't omit anything, I didn't lie about anything. It stated that, if I did omit anything or lie about anything -- it's all over the form. I mean, you would have to be a complete moron to miss this.

It says that you will go to jail, five years imprisonment. So the idea that all of these people came down with amnesia after meeting with Ambassador Kislyak, which I refer to as Kislyak-itis, it's kind of like the Dementors in "Harry Potter" just sucking all the memory out. And nobody remembers any of this.

BALDWIN: OK. So, you're having a hard time understanding how these different members within the administration weren't quite filling these forms out appropriately, number one.

But back to Sheldon Whitehouse, the Democratic senator who's saying, you know, listen, if you were a prosecutor, you would be telling your client, shh, because if you want a deal, if you don't want prison time, don't talk. And we haven't heard Flynn talk.

AKERMAN: That's right. But he may be. I mean, we don't know exactly what the prosecutors are doing.

There is a reason why Donald Trump went to Jim Comey and said, I want you to stop the investigation now, the reason being, Donald Trump is not a gratuitous guy. He doesn't go out and help people. He's not Mr. Pro Bono.

So, the idea that he's trying to get the FBI to stop this investigation into Jim Comey says to me, what is it that Donald Trump is concerned about? What does he think will happen if Mike Flynn is investigated, convicted, and sentenced to a lengthy prison term? What is his one get-out-of-jail-card free?

And that is whoever he knows information about.

BALDWIN: Yes, it was the -- he was apparently, reportedly, said to Comey, get it out there publicly that I'm not under investigation.

But, Dana, it's been interesting, and this is also something else that Senator Whitehouse pointed out in that interview with Wolf, was, even after the firing, the president has been in touch with Mike Flynn and he has said, stay strong.

Stay strong, what was your read on that?

BASH: Or at least got a message to Mike Flynn that he should stay strong.

BALDWIN: Got a message, yes.

BASH: We're not exactly sure. No, you're exactly right.

Who knows? You know, it could be that he's trying to be loyal to a friend and somebody who was extremely loyal to Trump during a campaign and at times where Trump had a lot of people fleeing his orbit when he made some pretty big mistakes.

And Michael Flynn did not do that. Now, on the flip side, I totally agree that Donald Trump doesn't generally just offer what seems to be almost unconditional support and loyalty just out of the goodness of his heart. There might be something else there that we just don't know about. But that is why the concept or notion of Flynn potentially talking to

the feds in order to get -- you know, to get either immunity or a lighter sentence for whatever it is that he may have done, may have done that is criminal is a big red flag for the White House and for the president himself, potentially.

BALDWIN: I mean, just quickly, do you think the president might be nervous?

BASH: Do I think so?

BALDWIN: Yes, that Flynn is not talking, there is this possibility that he's cooperating with the FBI?

BASH: Sure. I think absolutely.

But I think, even more so, I mean, we know from so many pieces of evidence, but even on this particular issue, that what he's most concerned with is his own reputation and being cleared of doing anything allegedly improper, but also anything that even suggests that he didn't win the White House without some help from the Russians.

[15:15:19]

So, I think that is probably what is paramount here.

BALDWIN: OK. Dana Bash, Nick Akerman, thank you both so very much here.

Moments ago, speaking of the president, he tweeted about North Korea, just a day after Otto Warmbier, the 22-year-old American student was released by the North Korean regime died. Hear what the president's now saying about China helping, as lawmakers pressure President Trump to do something.

Also ahead, first on CNN, did President Trump's nominee for FBI director, Christopher Wray, quietly alter his law firm biography online, specifically the part about dealing with the Russian government? We will show you what we uncovered.

You're watching CNN.

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[15:20:35]

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

Now to the just sadness and outrage over Otto Warmbier, the U.S. student who died just days after being released by North Korea. The 22-year-old Warmbier was brought back home from North Korea in a coma, and it's still unclear why he was detained in January of last year and sentenced in March of 2016 to 15 years of hard labor for tearing down a political poster.

Senator John McCain has called Warmbier's death murder, and President Trump says it is a -- quote -- "total disgrace."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a total disgrace, what happened to Otto. That should never, ever be allowed to happen. And, frankly, if he were brought home sooner, I think the result would have been a lot different. He should have been brought home that same day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: With me now, Bill Richardson, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He's also head of the Richardson Center for Global Engagement, which worked on behalf of the Warmbier family to help secure Otto's release.

He has been to North Korea several times, meeting with diplomats, helping win the release of an American detained in North Korea back in '96, as well as the release of the bodies of six American servicemen missing since the Korean War.

Sir, thank you so much for joining me.

BILL RICHARDSON (D), FORMER NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: I mean, first, I have to begin with this family. I mean, Otto was in college. They send their son away to Asia to study abroad. He ends up coming home, unresponsive, in a coma. Parents have no clue what North Korea did to him. How are they handling this?

RICHARDSON: Well, they're heartbroken.

I have been in touch with them. Mickey Bergman, my executive director, was with them over the weekend. We got close to them because we were working very closely to secure Otto's release.

We met 20 times with the North Koreans in New York, the United Nations representatives. I sent a delegation late last year to North Korea to try to get Otto out in exchange for some humanitarian assistance.

I mean, this is a personal tragedy. This is a young, good kid. He made a mistake. He shouldn't have taken that banner down. But to get 15 years? And then failure to disclose by the North Koreans that he was in a coma. Was he tortured? Was he abused? We don't know. And North Korea should come clean.

BALDWIN: Governor, Otto's father was very critical of the Obama administration's handling of his son's detention. Here he was.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRED WARMBIER, FATHER OF OTTO WARMBIER: When Otto was first taken, we were advised by the past administration to take a low profile while they worked to obtain his release. We did so without result.

Earlier this year, Cindy and I decided the time for strategic patience was over. And we made a few media appearances and traveled to Washington to meet with Ambassador Joe Yun at the State Department. It is my understanding that Ambassador Yun and his team at the direction of the president aggressively pursued resolution of the situation.

The question is, do I think the past administration could have done more? I think the results speak for themselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BALDWIN: So, let me just read. We have an Obama administration statement today.

"During the course of the Obama administration, we had no higher priority than securing the release of Americans detained overseas. These tireless efforts resulted in the release of at least 10 Americans from North Korean custody during the course of the Obama administration. It is painful that Mr. Warmbier was not among them, but our efforts on this behalf never ceased, even in the waning days of the administration."

Governor, did you have any conversations, you know, with the Obama administration, and, if so, what did they entail?

RICHARDSON: Yes, I did, Brooke.

And I met with Susan Rice at the White House. They were aware, the Obama administration, of our private efforts to try to get Otto out. They were very concerned.

You know, one of the problems was that the election was taking place, and the North Koreans obviously didn't want to deal with a lame-duck administration that was leaving. They wanted to deal with a new administration. So I think that caused a delay.

[15:25:00]

Now, I'm going to give credit to President Trump and the State Department for being aggressive by, as soon as they found out that Otto was in a coma, they demanded the North Koreans take Otto out and send him back to the U.S. They sent an airplane. So I'm not disputing their efforts.

But I think the issue has to be, what do we do now? There are three more Americans there. The North Koreans should release them unconditionally. There's one Canadian there.

They're used as bargaining chips. Let's hope that these three Americans are not abused the way Otto Warmbier was, neglected. It's a crime against humanity, what the North Koreans did. I have been dealing with them for years, and I have never seen it so bad.

BALDWIN: I mean, do you think, though, that Otto's death will make it more or less likely that those three come home?

RICHARDSON: If the North Koreans were smart, they'd realize what a disaster they have caused with the way they treated Otto. They should release these three unconditionally as an act of contrition, as a goodwill gesture, humanitarian gesture.

But I don't know what they're going to do, because Kim Jong-un, the leader, controls the entire decision-making process. And it's uncertain what they're going to do, but they should be punished in some way for the way they acted, international public opinion being the best vehicle so far.

BALDWIN: Well, Senator John McCain, I'm sure you have seen this today, he's calling this a murder. Do you see it as a murder?

RICHARDSON: Well, I see it as close to that, in that he might have been tortured, he might have been abused. It certainly was not botulism that caused the coma or taking a sleeping pill.

BALDWIN: Which is what North Korea said, yes.

RICHARDSON: So, they're covering up what happened.

Yes, the North Koreans said that. That's a lie. That's wrong. That's been medically disproved by Cincinnati doctors, by many others. So this is why North Korea needs to come clean. I wouldn't -- I wouldn't lose a lot of sleep over that, but I think this is something that involves the, not just mistreatment of an American, but a violation of the Geneva Convention of the treatment of prisoners.

And this is why it's so important that we do everything we can, the international community, the Security Council, to find these three other Americans, get them out, and the Canadian, and concentrate on humanitarian issues as a way to possibly start a dialogue with North Korea over missiles, over nuclear weapons. But I wouldn't -- I wouldn't hold my breath, Brooke.

BALDWIN: What about China? Just last question. U.S. and Chinese officials are supposed to meet in D.C. tomorrow, and the president just tweeted -- quote -- "While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi in China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried."

"China tried," Governor. What's your response to that?

RICHARDSON: Well, my response is that the president tried a new tactic, push China to do more, because they have done very little. They have major leverage over North Korea. They give them food. They trade with them, energy assistance, coal, oil; 80 percent of all commerce goes through China to get to North Korea.

They have the juice with North Korea, but they haven't been willing to use it. I think that China may have -- the president asked for their help with Otto Warmbier. They probably helped, it seems, from the tweet, but not enough.

And China needs to be more active, not just on humanitarian issues like Otto, but also on stopping the North Koreans from these missile tests, from these nuclear tests, from these -- bluster and instability they're causing in the Korean Peninsula.

So, China needs to step up, and I hope that the president and his team get a lot tougher with China and push them more, because it's not enough, what they have done.

BALDWIN: Former Ambassador to the United Nations, former Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson, thank you so much.

We are following some breaking news out of Brussels, a situation unfolding there at a train station. There is apparently a lot of police activity.

More when we come back.

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