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Interview With Oklahoma Senator James Lankford; President Trump Says No Oval Office Taping; Senate Republicans Finally Reveal Health Care Plan. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 22, 2017 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Was it bluster, witness intimidation, a desire to pressure Comey to be as truthful as possible?

Either way, the plan seems to have backfired. Comey later testified that that tweet prompted him to have an associate share with a reporter some details from a memo that Comey wrote describing President Trump asking him to let the investigation into Michael Flynn go.

But the notion of tapes for Comey, that tweet, that made him excited. And he says he wanted to get that conversation out there.


JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I woke up in the middle of the night on Monday night, because it didn't dawn on me originally, that there might be corroboration for our conversation. There might be a tape.

And my judgment was, I needed to get that out into the public square. And so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with the reporter. Didn't do it myself for a variety of reasons, but I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel.


TAPPER: And Comey's plan worked. That tweet began a course of actions that resulted in the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, Washington, D.C.'s Inspector Javert. So, not a great strategy, President Trump.

After the president's admission today, the White House held a press briefing in which cameras were banned, and the audio was not provided live. Rather, it was released after the fact, which is odd and unusual.

And this is about more than just one weird claim of tapes. This is part and parcel of a White House trying to operate in something close to an accountability-free zone, where they don't have to go on TV live and defend aberrant behavior on Twitter or explain the false things that the president says at rallies before supporters, things like this said last night in Iowa about the Paris climate deal.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And they all say it's nonbinding. Like hell it's nonbinding.


TAPPER: It's nonbinding. It is. That's just a fact. You know who told me that? A really good senior administration official source.


TRUMP: As of today, the United States will cease all implementation of the nonbinding Paris accord.


TAPPER: The nonbinding Paris accord.

I would ask the president about this inconsistency, but he is limiting his interviews, generally excluding all but the friendliest of media outlets. At the same time, his White House is limiting televised press briefings and answering basic questions, instead, saying the president has been very clear, when he has been anything but, or responding, the tweet speaks for itself, when the tweet most certainly does not, as was made clear just today.

CNN's Sara Murray now takes a closer look at the tale about a tape.


SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After 41 days of dodging the question, today, President Trump is finally admitting he did not tape his conversations with fired FBI Director James Comey, an answer Trump delivered, fittingly, via Twitter.

"With all of the recently recorded electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking, and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea whether there are 'tapes' or recordings of my conversations with James Comey. But I did not make and do not have any such recordings."

The off-camera press briefing today offering little information as to why the president kept this mystery alive.

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, DEPUTY WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the president's statement via Twitter today is extremely clear. I don't have anything to add beyond the statement.

MURRAY: The saga beginning back in May, when Trump fired off this Twitter mission. "James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press."

It's a move Republicans close to the White House have begun to view as severe misstep, an angry outburst that set off a chain reaction Trump couldn't unwind. COMEY: Lordy, I hope there are tapes.

MURRAY: The tapes tweet ultimately inspired Comey to leak the memos documenting his interactions with Trump.

COMEY: I needed to get that out into the public square, and so I asked a friend of mine to share the content of the memo with a reporter. I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel. And so I asked a close friend of mine to do it.

MURRAY: All of this creating the situation Trump most hoped to avoid, a special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation. Trump's tapes tweet set off a firestorm among members of Congress, who demanded that the tapes be turned over by tomorrow, June 23.

Today, some members of Trump's own party made clear they're not amused by the president's antics.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I think he will learn that his words matter.

MURRAY: As for the Russia investigation, Trump is decrying it as a witch-hunt.

TRUMP: They have phony witch-hunts going against me. They have everything going, and you know what? All we do is win, win, win.

MURRAY: Today, the president called into question once again whether Russia was behind the effort to interfere in the election, tweeting, "By the way, if Russia was working so hard on the 2016 election, it all took place under the Obama admin. Why didn't they stop them?"


Seventeen U.S. intelligence agency agree Russia orchestrated cyber- attacks during the 2016 presidential race. The White House says Trump probably believes it was Russia.

HUCKABEE SANDERS: I think he's made it clear and been consistent that, while everyone agrees the result of the election wasn't influenced, he thinks that it probably was Russia.


MURRAY: Now, Sarah Huckabee Sanders also dismissed questions about the Russia investigation, saying it's just Democrats trying to delegitimize President Trump's win.

It's comments like that that have intelligence experts concerned, saying that this administration really hasn't taken any real steps to secure the U.S. election systems because they're too wrapped up in the politics -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thank you so much.

Big news on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue today, with a draft of the Senate Republican health care bill finally revealed to Republicans and Democrats and you, the public.

And the legislation appears in jeopardy before official debate has even begun. At least four Republican senators have announced they do not support the draft released today as it stands. Since Democrats and independents are already opposed to the bill, Republicans need 50 votes, and can only afford to lose two members, with the vice president as the tie-breaking vote, of course.

That means if the vote were held today, this version of the Senate health care bill would die.

Let's go to CNN's Phil Mattingly, who is on Capitol Hill for us.

And, Phil, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants a vote next week. Tell us about the substance of this bill, especially what senators are objecting to.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, there's no shortage of issues.

One thing that's been underscored in the 6.5 hours since rank-and-file first got a look at this behind closed doors, the path forward to 50 votes, the path forward to passage is anything but clear.


MATTINGLY (voice-over): After weeks behind closed doors, the Senate Republican health care draft revealed.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: We debated many policy proposals. We considered many different viewpoints. In the end, we found that we share many ideas about what needs to be achieved and how we can achieve it.

MATTINGLY: The draft plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act that has significant limits on how much it repeals and replaces, and already running into significant internal problems.

Senator Dean Heller, a key moderate Republican, noting serious concerns with the draft. A spokeswoman for another moderate, Maine's Susan Collins, noting -- quote -- "a number of concerns with the proposal."

And on the other side of the party's ideological spectrum, sources tell CNN that conservatives made clear in a closed-door meeting this morning their displeasure with the direction of the draft, Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Ron Johnson, and Mike Lee all putting out a joint statement saying they can't support the current draft, but are open to negotiation.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: We can do better than this. And my hope is not to defeat the bill, but to make the bill better.

MATTINGLY: Even as many senators continue to push for action immediately. SEN. PAT ROBERTS (R), KANSAS: You know, people have different

opinions, and they have a lot of ideological opinions as well. And -- but it's time to put that aside and move.

MATTINGLY: The bill cuts back on Obamacare's taxes and individual mandates. It provides more generous subsidies to purchase insurance than the House-passed bill. And it takes a different path to cutting back Obamacare regulations, a key priority for conservative aims to drive down premiums, dropping the House effort to grant states waivers from rules like 10 essential health benefits required by Obamacare and the price protections for preexisting conditions.

The bill also institutes a slower phase-out of Obamacare's Medicaid expansion and its House counterpart, a key ask for moderate senators, but like the House bill, the Senate version fundamentally reshapes the Medicaid program, though it institutes dramatically deeper cuts than the House version by proposing to shift a funding growth rate to a more draconian measure, Republicans defending the proposal as necessary to sustain the program, Democrats infuriated.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The Senate Republican health care bill is a wolf in sheep's clothing. Only, this Wolf has even sharper teeth than the House bill.

MATTINGLY: And these protesters, disabled Americans who say they rely only the program, holding a sit-in on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's office, until dragged away by Capitol Police.


MATTINGLY: And, Jake, it's worth noting that for senators that are coming out and voicing opposition, voicing problems now, this is also a time to kind of lay that out as a negotiating tactic.

They know there are issues that they want. This is a way to try and get them, at least, even though they have a compressed time schedule. And it's worth noting they won't be the only ones negotiating, the White House coming out today saying they will be involved in this process going forward, even the president himself today publicly saying he thinks there's going to be some more negotiations, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill for us, thanks so much.

So with the health care bill in possible jeopardy, what does leadership need to do to get at least 52 Republicans in line? We will talk to one key Republican senator next.



TAPPER: Welcome back.

Continuing with our politics lead, earlier today, the Senate Republicans finally made public their draft version of the bill to repeal and replace Obamacare.

Joining me now to discuss it is Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma.

Senator, thanks for joining us, as always.

Will you support the legislation as currently written?

SEN. JAMES LANKFORD (R), OKLAHOMA: I'm actually going through it as currently written. I have a lot of questions still of a lot of things that we talked about.

So, I have not made decisions. It's 142 pages of text, but there's a lot of things that are piled into that text that we have got a good chance to decipher. So, put me down as a solid undecided. We're reading, reviewing.

And I'm quite confident we will have quite a few suggestions to be able to make changes over the weekend on.

TAPPER: Do you see anything right off the bat that you want to make a suggestion about, something you're concerned about?

LANKFORD: Well, there are several things that we're trying to be able to work through. I don't want to be able to go through all of them now here with you.

I want to be able to work it through with our team. But I have already sat down and identified about six areas where I have problems and suggestions. None of those are showstoppers, but things that there are obviously there are problems that we need to be able to fix before we get this into law.

[16:15:01] TAPPER: Obviously, you're expecting also a report and analysis from the Congressional Budget Office.

What is an acceptable number in terms of how many fewer Americans will have insurance, either voluntarily or not? The House version as you know that initial health care plan was 23 million more uninsured by 2026. Is there a number you're looking at that I can accept this many, but not this many?

LANKFORD: Yes, so it's hard to tell because there's a lot of detail on that. So, we're going to get two levels. We'll get a CBO score and then we'll get the detail.

I hope we get all the detail at this time -- the time we get the score as well. I met with the director of CBO yesterday and reminded him that last year, literally a year ago, he said he would release the model for how they score health care bills. We're now a year later, he still hasn't released that model and won't tell us how they make decisions. That's very difficult.

For instance, they determine four million people from the House plan would lose their health care insurance this year on Medicaid, but never explained how that would be when the House plan made no changes to Medicaid at all for 2017 or '18. So, we still don't understand how they came to that decision and they won't explain it.

So, it's difficult to be able to determine how they get to a number and they won't release the model and their assumptions. So, there's two levels there. Yes, I want to know the number, but, yes, I want to know how they got to it so we can talk about how to fix issues. You can't fix it if you don't know how they made the decision.

TAPPER: Speaking of Medicaid, more than 800,000 Oklahomans are on Medicaid.


TAPPER: What do you say to those watching who are worried about it being cut or reduced under the plan?

LANKFORD: So, the current plan as it lays out, as I see it at this point in reading back through it, it looks out about eight years out and reduces the growth of it. There is no cut in Medicaid. In fact, there's a pretty dramatic increase in Medicaid over the next eight years. And eight years from now, there's a reduction in the growth.

So, right now, Medicaid is growing at a much lower rate, about -- around 2 percent or so. This actually increases Medicaid spending to about 4 percent -- 3.5 percent to 4 percent a year. So, it's a pretty dramatic increase in Medicaid for multiple years out and then slows down the growth at some point, hoping that it will catch up.

As you know, Medicaid has been cut pretty dramatically over the last several years and not had the opportunity to catch up. So, if they catch up eight years from now, that will make a difference to be able to try to catch up. So, it's equal or closer, at least, to what Medicare spending is.

TAPPER: So, Senator Ted Cruz, one of the Republicans opposed to the current tax text as of now, he suggested that insurance company should be able to offer more low cost, so-called catastrophic --


TAPPER: -- plans so as to bring down the price of premiums. Is that a solution, do you think, though? More Americans with just these bare-bones insurance plans?

LANKFORD: So, he's not wrong in this and let me tell you why. One of the issues, and I've raised them multiple times as well. If you go back to pre-Obamacare small businesses could negotiate what their insurance company when rates started going up and they give you a chance to negotiate to be able to bring rates down, that went away entirely. Now, insurance companies cannot negotiate with small business owners anymore.

And in the individual market, you were very limited in what you can choose. If you can't afford what's there, then you have no other option other than pay the fine. That's come out. That's been a problem for millions of Americans, literally, 6.5 million Americans that many used to have insurance that don't have it anymore. They just pay the fine because they can't afford it and don't have other options other just than to be able to pay the fine.

They've got to have some other options. You want more young and healthy people into the insurance market, that helps protect it. The way that typically happened in the past was individuals were able to get cheaper policies that are younger, get more catastrophic policies.

TAPPER: All right. Senator, stay right there. We have lots more to talk about including the latest on the Russia investigation. We'll be right back.



TAPPER: We're back with more on our politics lead and Republican Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma who serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Senator, I want to turn to the Russia investigation. And obviously this conflict between President Trump and FBI director, fired FBI Director Comey, the president admitting that he neither made nor possesses any tapes of his conversations with Comey. It took him 41 days to clarify this after sending out that initial, shocking tweet.

When President Trump does things like this, makes wild claims and refuses to clarify and consumes all the oxygen in town, does it bother you at all?

LANKFORD: It does seem a little unusual. He just randomly sent out a sarcastic e-mail saying Comey better hope there aren't tapes. And everyone then said, wow, are there really tapes? We could ask the questions.

It doesn't seem like it would take long to be able to retweet back out, just kidding, there aren't any tapes. For some reason, it took over a month to be able to get it. So, I don't know if it bothers me, it definitely consumes all the oxygen and distracts everybody from the priorities. But I'd like to be able to remain more clear on what we have and what we don't have and let's move on.

TAPPER: In terms of the investigation, your part of one of the investigations that president Trump is constantly attacking. The White House said this afternoon, that President Trump thinks the 2016 election meddling probably was Russia. This comes after the morning when he seemed to question it saying if Russia was doing this and he also called it a Democratic hoax.

As someone who serves on the committee, A, do you have any doubt of Russian meddling? And B, does it bother you when he accuses these investigations of being a hoax, of being a witch hunt, et cetera?

LANKFORD: Yes, it's certainly Russia. There's no question we have. This is not only Russia doing this. We're very engaged and know very well that this is Russia doing it. But we also see Russia doing the exact same thing in multiple other countries. So, it not only fits their M.O., it also -- we have a trail that leads right back to Russia.

The issue about whether it's a witch hunt, I would tell you, the best thing that can happen for the president is to get all the facts out, deal with everyone on the facts and let everyone gets a chance to see it, let's resolve all the issues, go through all the interviews, let the facts go where the facts need to go, and then that gets this resolved and we can move on.

I think it's best for the president and for the presidency, for just the United States, period, to be able to get this issue resolved and so we can all move on. There are a lot of important issues need to be resolved.

TAPPER: Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma -- thank you so much, sir. Appreciate it.


TAPPER: What does the president's tweet about the lack of tapes mean for the other investigations on Capitol Hill?

Senator Al Franken is on the Senate Judiciary Committee conducting its own Russia investigation. He's in the green room there. You can see him live. And he'll join us live, next.


[16:29:01] TAPPER: Welcome back.

Turning now to a CNN exclusive in our politics lead, two of the nation's top intelligence chiefs told investigators that President Trump suggested that they say publicly that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. That's what multiple sources have told CNN.

CNN's Jessica Schneider joins me now.

Jessica, these are more incidents of course raise the question, was the president trying to interfere with an ongoing investigation?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, and we knew that the president requested Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and NSA director, Admiral Mike Rogers, to make public statements denying any collusion. So, the real question here is, does this or could this rise to the level of obstruction of justice?

Now, interesting to note, both Coats and Rogers told investigators that they didn't feel the president pressure them to do anything improper. But really, in terms of the law, it doesn't matter how they perceived it, what really matters is whether the president acted with corrupt intent to influence or obstruct. And getting to the intent, it's really difficult making any obstruction charge tough to prove, but, of course, this is likely an issue that Mueller and his investigators will continue to probe.

TAPPER: So, President Trump, of course, had another tweet storm on Russia in light of former Homeland Security Department Secretary Jeh Johnson's congressional testimony yesterday.