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Johnson Testifies on Russia Meddling; States Shunned Warnings; Republicans Meet on Obamacare Replacement; Planned Parenthood Funding. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 21, 2017 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:02] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

Republicans are giddy and the left despondent after a big GOP win in a Georgia House race the Democrats had framed as a referendum on President Trump.


COREY LEWANDOWSKI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN MANAGER: They have a terrible message. They want to make this all about Donald Trump. Great, it's about Donald Trump and he's winning.


KING: Senate Republicans meeting this hour to hash out their Obamacare replacement plan. There are big policy differences and big complaints about leadership secrecy.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I always like to move forward with legislation that I haven't seen. That's one of the practices I've enjoyed around here.


KING: Sarcasm noted, senator.

Also moments ago on Capitol Hill, a stern warning about Russian hacking of state election systems.


JEH JOHNSON, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: In 2016, the Russian government, at the direction of Vladimir Putin himself, orchestrated cyber-attacks on our nation for the purpose of influencing our election. That is a fact, plain and simple.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights, Abby Phillip of "The Washington Post," Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times," Michael Warren of "The Weekly Standard," and Margaret Talev of "Bloomberg Politics."

That was former Obama Homeland Security Chief Jeh Johnson in the witness chair on Capitol Hill. He's still up on Capitol Hill. Some interesting new insights from Jeh Johnson into the spy novel saga that was our 2016 presidential election. The questions from members of the House Intelligence Committee often tracked partisan lines. Democratic Adam Schiff, for example, listen here, making clear he thinks the Obama administration waited too long to warn the American people last year about Russian cyberattacks aimed at influencing the election.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Why did we wait from July until October to make that statement?

JEH JOHNSON, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Well, congressman, I'm going to disagree with your premise that there was some type of delay. This was a big decision, and there were a lot of considerations that went into it. This was an unprecedented step. First, as you know well, we have to carefully consider whether declassifying the information compromises sources and methods. Second, there was an ongoing election and many would criticize us for perhaps taking sides in the election. So that had to be carefully considered. One of the candidates, as you recall, was predicting that the election was going to be rigged in some way.


KING: Republicans like Trey Gowdy enjoyed recalling how the Democratic National Committee refused to cooperation with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security despite being warned Russia had hacked into its computer system.


REP. TREY GOWDY (R), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The DNC never turned the server over to law enforcement. If you're investigating, either from a law enforcement or from an intelligence standpoint, the hacking by foreign hostile government, wouldn't you want the server? Wouldn't that help you, number one, identify who the attacker was? Why would the victim of a crime not turn over a server to the intelligence community or to law enforcement?

JEH JOHNSON, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I'm not going to argue with you, sir. That was a leading question, and I'll agree to be led.


KING: Interesting. At the end, "I'll agree to be led." If you don't speak court speak, that was Jeh Johnson, a cabinet secretary in a Democratic administration essentially saying the Democratic National Committee, during the Clinton campaign, was stupid. That it would not allow the FBI to come it. It would not accept the warnings to do something.

Why is this significant today? And I'll start with this. Much of the investigations, much of the conversations in Washington is about, you know, did Trump -- people in Trump's orbit collude, coordinate, have inappropriate conversations in any way with the Russians? And then after the firing of James Comey, is there some case to be made about obstruction of justice? This is more about, back to the basics, back to what happened. What did the Russians do? Why did they do it? And what was the response by the then Obama administration and the incompetence at the Democratic National Committee? Why is it important to look back at this?

ABBY PHILLIP, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, for starters, this is a reminder of what this is all about in the first place.

KING: Right.

PHILLIP: I mean the collusion questions are in some ways secondary to the underlying motive for this investigation, which is -- which is outlined in the ways in which Russia investigated. But it's also notable because just a day ago, when this question was put to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, they asked him, OK, does the president believe that Russians interfered in the election and that it was a significant thing? He said he hadn't talked to the president about it. And the president keeps tweeting, calling it a fake investigation, a witch hunt. The idea that Russians interfered in the election is something to him that is an excuse by Democrats who should have won the last election, to re-litigate the outcome.

It's important because the commander in chief seems to not believe that a very significant incursion by a foreign power, an adversarial foreign power, actually happened. And that's something that I think is alarming to a lot of people, both in the intelligence committee and on The Hill.

KING: Right. And to your point, as we go back, and it is important to go back and see how this happened, who detected it, how it was detected, what computer systems, because, as Jeh Johnson said, and as James Comey said a week or so ago, they're still doing it, they're going to try to do it in 2018, they're going to try to do it in 2020.

[12:05:10] Now, he's still in the chair, so perhaps since I sat in this chair it has happened, but the thing that's interesting, to your point, is that every Republican who asks these questions, there's a dispute about the collusion, there's a dispute about, you know, is there really obstruction of justice or is it just the president, whatever, but nobody -- nobody disputes that Russia did this. The only person that won't answer that question directly is the president of the United States or his press secretary because he says five months into the administration, he somehow hasn't talked to the president about the issue that has dominated everything.

MICHAEL WARREN, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes, I think the president has muddied this because he views any investigation into what Russia actually did, any kind of cyberattacks, as a criticism of him or somehow saying that he didn't properly win the election. And I think that muddying has extended into this -- the secondary questions about questions of collusion and sort of tertiary questions about whether or not the president tried to do anything to stop or hinder an investigation. As -- I think that muddying has also sort of migrated as well over to the Democratic side and nobody actually kind of remembers what it is we're all investigating here and I think bring it back to that basic point, that question --

JONATHAN MARTIN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Carter Page is on cable a lot. Carter Page I think is --

WARREN: Yes. Yes. Exactly.

MARGARET TALEV, "BLOOMBERG POLITICS": But it also speaks to the perils of either being afraid of being found out that you were hacked, or of sort of thinking, well, come on, I don't want the government intruding in my communications systems because by this account it's basically, Russia knocked on the door. It turned out the door was unlocked, right? And --

KING: At the Democratic National Committee without a doubt.

WARREN: Right.

TALEV: That's right.

KING: Right.

TALEV: And so when you are looking forward to those 2018 races or the big one, 2020, this is a reminder that it's happening, it's going to happen. And pretending it's not going to happen or trying to figure it out yourself or thinking it's not that big a deal can happen to Democrats and it did, and it can happen to Republicans also.

MARTIN: Trump has effectively made this, though, into one more partisan issue in our tribal, polarized times. And we talk to voters about this. If they're right-leaning, they'll echo what Trump is saying. They'll even say the word "witch hunt."

Now, the political elites who actually work in government or national security, who themselves are Republicans, will differ and say, no, this is a very troubling issue. The Russians are bad hombres and they were, in fact, trying to intervene in our election. But Trump, you know, to his credit, has blunted the politics of this and just made it like most everything else nowadays, red or blue.

TALEV: But one thing is, as a political issue, it doesn't make it go away as an actual issue.

PHILLIP: An actual issue.

KING: Right. It doesn't, absolutely.

WARREN: Absolutely not. KING: And Jeh Johnson was very clear in saying that he was in touch, the department was in touch with states as the election was playing out. He says some states are more willing than others. He says -- that he recommends that states don't like Washington telling them how to run their election system. That's the purview of the states, saying maybe some grants to help them improve their security there.

One of the interesting things, when Adam Schiff was essentially politely, because Jeh Johnson served in the Democratic administration, saying you guys should have done more, Jeh Johnson essentially said, I'm paraphrasing and connecting the dots but, that they issued the warning at the very same time that "Access Hollywood" tape made it public. The tape that we thought could destroy the Trump candidacy, in some ways may have oddly helped the president? Can you actually make that sentence? Can you make that statement? Because it blew this story down below the fold and took it off television?

WARREN: It's 2016, so of course you could have make that statement.

PHILLIP: I mean not to -- my newspaper reported the "Access Hollywood" video first, so as a caveat there.

KING: Right.

PHILLIP: But , Jeh Johnson seemed very annoyed that this like 11-year- old video had sort of blown this out of -- off the front pages.

KING: Right.

PHILLIP: But, I mean, as someone who was also in the midst of covering the campaign at that time, it was pretty clear that all of this talk about Russian interference in the election was for a long time not breaking through. I think people weren't really engaged on it, in part because it was turned into a partisan issue from the very beginning.


PHILLIP: And -- and Jeh Johnson --

WARREN: People assumed that it wouldn't matter because Hillary Clinton was supposed to win.


MARTIN: Yes, right.

PHILLIP: And Jeh Johnson actually acknowledged that, that they were very concerned about the partisan dynamics of the election overall and how their actions would be viewed in that frame.


PHILLIP: And at the time, I think that there was a lot of talk about Russia and all of it was considered to be partisan, I think.

KING: And to the point that, you know, you're president, you've been president for five months, no one's going to take the president away. Jeh Johnson was trying to make the point, and there was other testimony on Capitol Hill as well today from the Department of Homeland Security on the point that, they did this -- they've done this for a long time, but they accelerated in 2016 in a way that hadn't been done before, including probing into state election, the database, seeing if there's somehow to get in. Now there's zero evidence. No one has put forward one ounce of evidence that they changed a vote, changed the outcome of the election. But listen here, clear evidence that in 2016 they tried with the warning they're going to try again.

[12:10:06] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEH JOHNSON, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: State election officials are very sensitive about what they perceive to be federal intrusion into their process. I heard that firsthand over and over. This is our process. It's our sovereign responsibility. We're not interested in the federal takeover.


KING: Do we know, as the committees investigate, you know, again, possible collusion, possible obstruction, and members of both parties occasionally said, let's not forget this, the foundation of this, which is a foreign state actor somehow meddling in our elections. Forget your partisan label. That's a big deal. Is there evidence that new steps, concrete steps, are being taken to improve voter files at a state level, to improve at least the sharing of information, because states, rightly so, the Constitution says elections are their business not Washington's?

MARTIN: No, I -- there's not been any sort of big push in the wake of this election. Certainly not compared to what happened, John. As you recall, after 2000 --

KING: Is it a resource issue or is it states don't take it seriously?

MARTIN: Well, there was an entire federal law passed after the recount in 2000. I think it was called how to help America vote, something like that. There's nothing like that this time around. I think part of the reason is because again it's become such a partisan issue in red states and blue states, take this much, you know, differently. And so, no, there's been no sort of cross state effort to coordinate, to improve voting standards.

PHILLIP: And the current attorney general, Jeff Sessions, being so close to President Trump, who we know kind of doubts the voracity of this whole thing, I don't think there's any evidence that Jeff Sessions is taking this as -- as something that he needs to lead on to sort of help states coordinate or even convene states on this front. He would have to deal with his counterparts on the state level in order to do this. And I think we haven't really seen much evidence that that's being done.

KING: Although Jeh Johnson did have kind words about his success with Homeland Security. So maybe a take -- maybe on that front there. TALEV: Although what you see -- what you have is a Republican- controlled Congress that, number one, is not overwhelmingly intent on making this a priority if -- if the president wants to diminish (ph) it as the talking point. And, number two, is, stuck still at the starting gate trying to get health care out of the gate, tax reform out of the gate. If 2018 proves a testing moment for the sort of sanctity of voting systems, this could become a big issue in 2019, but it doesn't appear poised to like sort of take off in the next three weeks.

KING: All right, we continue to monitor the testimony on Capitol Hill, developments in the investigation as well.

Up next, though, to that agenda Margaret was just talking about, Senate Republicans want to make their Obamacare replacement plan public tomorrow. Tomorrow. First, they have to sell it at a private GOP lunch underway right now.


[12:17:16] KING: Welcome back.

Senate Republicans meeting as a group this hour, hoping to reach consensus on an Obamacare replacement bill. A smaller group has been working on an outline for weeks, a secret process even many Republican senators find counterproductive, especially if the leadership is going to push for a vote before next week's July 4th recess.


SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: What I've told leadership very clearly is, I'm going to need time and my constituents are going to need time to evaluate exactly how this is going to affects them. So I personally think that pass -- or holding a vote on this next week would definitely be rushed. I can't imagine, quite honestly, that I'd have the information to evaluate in just five (ph) --


KING: That's Ron Johnson.

CNN's Phil Mattingly live on Capitol Hill as the senators meet.

Phil, are we going to get a bill by tomorrow?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's, by all accounts, the plan. I actually just spoke with the number two Senate Republican, John Cornyn. He made clear, tomorrow the bill is supposed to be out, at least a draft proposal. And he said, when that comes out, all of the concerns about transparency, all of the concerns about the process will, quote, "evaporate." We'll see if that actually ends up being the case.

But I think a key element here, John, that you hear from Senate leadership right now is, look, we've had a lengthy process. It's time to move on this. Everybody knows where everybody stands on things. Now's the time to make a decision. Take a listen to what Senator Cornyn told me just a short while ago.


SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: You know, you can only talk about things so long, and we've been debating this, I think, for about seven years.

A working draft will be released tomorrow. I think all of the concerns people have had about the process will evaporate.


MATTINGLY: We'll have to see if that's the case. Obviously Senator Johnson, whether he -- or not (INAUDIBLE) because the reality remains, if just three (INAUDIBLE) Republican senators tell Republican leadership they don't want a vote before next week, they don't have a choice. They have to push this off. They need 50 of their 52 members to vote for this in order for it to move forward. So if process is that big of an issue that they're willing to vote no because of how this has all gone, that's severely problematic.

But, John, we've been talking about this a lot over the last couple of weeks. The real issue remains the policy. I'm told behind closed doors yesterday there was a very tense, very contentious meeting about -- with several members who are concerned about the direction of where this draft is going to go, conservatives who don't feel like this bill goes far enough to cut back on Obamacare regulations, moderates who are very concerned about the Medicaid piece, whether or not it will include a fund for opioid addiction, opioid recovery. All of these things still up in the air. We should get some answers tomorrow.

But, John, there's one thing we know for sure, they need 50 votes. They don't have 50 votes yet. And the pathway to get to them is still up in the air.

KING: All right. Phil Mattingly on The Hill. I suspect to your point, the process will become the excuse to push for delay if there are a lot of policy things that don't quit get resolved.

Let's bring the conversation into the room.

To Phil's point, there's been a lot of theater here about the secretive process. A lot of complaints. And that's good drama. That's good politics. Now the task is, what are they actually going to put in this bill.

[12:20:06] And let's just show our viewers, much like on the House, the debates here are the same. There are severe, philosophical, ideological policy differences within the Republican family. And it's an all-Republican conversation right now. How much to change Medicaid and Medicaid reform, including the House bill I think has about $800 billion in savings, they call them there, how do you deal with that. The Obamacare insurance regulation waivers. How much freedom do you give insurance companies to get away from some of the rules of Obamacare. Tax credits, the Republicans want to subsidize some choices. Exactly what? How much will it cost? Planned Parenthood funding will be a huge deal in this. And a lot of states, a lot of senators saying, well, wait a minute, you can't make opioid or other drug addiction treatment plans optional. So if you're going to allow insurance companies to opt out of that, maybe we need to create a federal fund to subsidize that. But if you create federal spending, then you lose the conservatives. So this is a big, big, policy debate. Can they really pull the rabbit out of the hat by tomorrow and get a -- what's -- it's important to listen to what Senator Cornyn, how they're working.


KING: A working draft. He did not call it a final bill.

MARTIN: And floating -- I think Cornyn floated separately the possibility of doing this before the August recess. You're starting to hear the first hint of pushing it back to the next recess, not the current one, which is always a sort of giveaway on Capitol Hill.

I think it's going to be tough to go from a draft bill to a final vote this quickly. Even with Mitch McConnell's deft skills there when it comes to the Senate for the reasons that you mentioned. I just think it's going to be hard to gather the Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Ted Cruz on the right, and then keep Murkowski and Collins, plus the Portmans of the world in the center right on the same page.

WARREN: But, you know, is this a question of policy or process? I think they're so interrelated right now. I mean that -- that debate over policy is what these republicans think ought to be happening. And I was struck by what Senator Cornyn said about, you know, we've been talking about this for seven years. I mean Democrats have been talking about their health care plan since the 1950s in Congress. I mean this is a long process. So Republicans have been slow to get on board and sort of talking about health care. There were a lot of interesting ideas. It will be the kind of thing that might benefit from an open process where people are discussing this instead of leaving everybody in the dark and having everyone go to their ideological corners.

KING: And it's a great line from the Republican leadership. We've been talking about this for seven years, we need to vote now. But let's be honest -- and I think they would be honest if you put them on truth serum, most of that talk was fake because they had a Democratic president and they knew they were never going to pass a bill that was going to get signed by a Democratic president. So they could say all they wanted to because they were in a safe zone, if you will, that there were -- there were no consequences to their talk. (INAUDIBLE)


WARREN: Now they have a Republican president, but it's a president who doesn't really have much of an interested in that (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Right.

MARTIN: And let's be honest, the reason they're rushing this things through and they don't want to have -- this is because McConnell knows that politically it's a dog, right? I mean it's an unpopular bill and they don't want to run on repealing health care. They want to tell their base that because that obviously is what the base wants, but they want to run on economic growth, tax cuts, America is booming again. And this is more of -- taking care of a promise to the base. Let's get it done. We have to move on, you know.

TALEV: The president's own new threshold, which is that it must have heart and not be mean, also adds some complications to it because the version with heart that's not mean costs more money or, you know, covers more people. And so it goes back to that ideological cleave.

But I think at the very least what McConnell is trying to do is not lose momentum on this.

MARTIN: Right.

TALEV: If they take a little July 4th break and come back, there's even less time. And the clock is ticking and this does have an impact on the midterm. You can set aside special elections and what happened in Georgia and all this stuff. When it comes to midterm time, if there's not a repeal of Obamacare and the replacement with something works (ph), that's not in progress, on track, it's going to be very difficult for Republicans to have a message to run on.

MARTIN: But it is easier though, given what happened in Georgia last night. I mean, like, I think if Ossoff wins last night in Georgia, and especially if he wins by two or three points, I think you would have seen a couple of Senate Republicans say, I'm not going there but --

TALEV: I can't touch it, right.

MARTIN: But -- Dean Heller comes to mind from Nevada, for example, you know?

KING: Yes. Yes. So we're going to talk about Georgia in more detail in a minute. But let's assume you're right and that the -- at least the Republicans decide, let's keep the process going. A lot of House Republicans are like, this isn't going to be the final bill. Let's get it to the Senate. If the Senate decides let's -- you know, I don't like some of this but let's vote on it, let's go, then what happens, because you mentioned Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, two of the Republicans who've said, you cannot strip funding from Planned Parenthood from this bill. So if they leave -- if they strip it, then they lose those two votes, we assume, unless they change their mind.

MARTIN: Right.

KING: If they leave it in, though, listen to Mark Meadows, one of those conservative Freedom Caucus members in the House. They got the bill through the House finally by catering it to the Freedom Caucus. Mark Meadows says, if the Senate sends that back over, sorry.


REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: If Planned Parenthood is pulled out of there, they will lose too many votes in the House. There's no way that they would get consensus. So the message needs to be clear to our Senate colleagues, that needs to stay in place. So that shouldn't be the litmus test on passing the repeal and replacement. But if it were pulled out, it would have major implications here in the House.


[12:25:15] KING: So we're back at that conversation. It was a big if and they finally did pass the House bill. The president celebrated it, then called it mean. Now the question is to whether they can get a bill out of the Senate. Even if they do, which would be a Harry Houdini trick by Mitch McConnell, that still doesn't guarantee that the House and the Senate can actually pass what becomes a law. We're talking about bills.

TALEV: Yes. Yes.

WARREN: I'm going to go out on a limb and say maybe that Rose Harden celebration was a little bit premature. I don't know. No, it --

PHILLIP: Or may not.

WARREN: Exactly.

PHILLIP: I mean everybody seems to think in the public that they passed something and that's all that matters. But --

MARTIN: Well, the argument is -- please, go ahead.

PHILLIP: Well, no, I mean the one thing I would say about this process and this timeline is that they really do actually need to get this done by the fall. They cannot move on to other items. That growth agenda that J Martin was just talking about cannot happen unless they resolve this health care issue. So it's kind of a must. I mean for Paul Ryan's agenda, for Mitch McConnell's agenda, they've got to get this out of the way.

KING: Well, tomorrow will be a big day. Everybody stay tuned. We'll see if we get the bill and then we go from there.

Next, about last night, a big win for Republicans in Georgia and a big relief for the Trump White House.