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Secretary Tom Price Resigns. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired September 29, 2017 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I want to turn to Russia's interference in the U.S. election, which, of course, took place while you were director of national intelligence.

[16:30:01] CNN has learned there was a Twitter and Facebook account with the name blacktivist that's been linked to the Kremlin recently. It appeared very real and attempted to stoke racial tensions with posts such as this one that showed a video of police attacking an African-American man with a message, quote, watch another savage video of police brutality. We live under a racism and police are directly letting us know how they feel and where we stand.

Were you aware of -- not specifically this one, but of the fact that Russia and the Kremlin and those linked to them were actually taking out ads and assuming fake identities on Facebook and Twitter?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It was alluded to in our intelligence community assessment that we published last January, January 6th. I think, though, that was merely the tip of the iceberg. And as things have unfolded subsequent to this, I think we have seen the magnitude and the depth of this penetration, the use of social media, fake news implants, the RT propaganda which was quite sophisticated and sleek, in addition, of course, to the well-known hacking.

So, this is serious problem. And it's one of the things that concerns me has been the Russian assault on the very fabric of our democratic system. That's what people should be alarmed about. And what we are seeing now is more depths of the efforts they went to, to skew the campaign.

TAPPER: Twitter says they've disabled 200 Russian-linked accounts. Facebook says it shut down more than 400. I'm sure you don't think that that's enough?

CLAPPER: Well, I think it's a good sign because I think the philosophical issue this raises is what is the extent of the providers, these companies, what is their civic responsibility here to weed out or even better, prevent the dissemination of these fake news items, which are designed to undermine our system. And that, by the way, was the Russians first objective was to sow discord and discontent in this country and they succeeded to it fairly well, and now, we're seeing the depth of their -- the efforts they've made, which by the way I believe will continue.

TAPPER: Former director of national intelligence, retired General James Clapper, it's always great to have you on. Thank you so much.

CLAPPER: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: Appreciate it.

Minutes ago, President Trump said he's going to decide the fate of cabinet secretary Tom Price tonight. Will the cost of those pricey charter jet flights be the cost of his job? That's next.


[16:36:33] TAPPER: We're back with breaking news in our politics lead.

Moments ago, President Trump told reporters that he will decide sometime tonight whether or not to fire his department of health and human services secretary, Dr. Tom Price. Price has been experiencing some, shall we say, turbulence after the press learned of his extensive use of private charter planes on the taxpayers' dime.

CNN senior White House correspondent Jeff Zeleny joins me now.

Jeff, I guess just the basic question, is Tom Price going to survive this?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, it is very unlikely that Secretary Price will survive this. There are two options right now. He can resign and the president could accept that resignation or he could be fired.

I am told by officials here that that first option is more likely that that's likely what the president was referring to when he said there would be an announcement this evening. But, Jake, the president made clear repeatedly, again and again calling him a fine man. But I asked him specifically if he had lost confidence in his secretary.

Let's watch.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's not a question of confidence. I was disappointed because I didn't like it, cosmetically or otherwise. I was disappointed. So, I don't like to see somebody that perhaps is the perception that it wasn't right.


TRUMP: Well, I don't want to say. But we'll be announcing something today. We'll be announcing something today.


ZELENY: And, Jake, just as soon as we said that, we do indeed have breaking news here that the Secretary Tom Price has indeed resigned. Just as we were told it would happen, that he would resign, I'm told the president is prepared, of course, to accept this resignation here. This again as we heard was about optics, was about the whole idea of

draining the swamp, saving taxpayer money simply was not done in this case. The president was disappointed furious at him. He was also, of course, Tom Price was the long-term House member, the physician who was supposed to lead the health care reform effort. That, of course, failed. He never was able to get that off the ground and out of the House or the Senate, did not play that big of a role.

So, he now has offered his resignation. He has resigned. And, of course, the president we are expecting to accept that resignation, and, of course, the search once, Jake, begins for another senior adviser, a new member of the president's cabinet, again happening on a Friday as we've seen so many of these before, Jake.

TAPPER: Well, Jeff Zeleny, just an example of how great your reporting is. You're there telling us that Tom Price is not going to survive. And literally as you are doing it, the White House press secretary is sending out a note. And let me just read this from the White House press secretary.

Secretary of Health and Human Services Thomas Price offered his resignation earlier today and the president accepted. The president intends to designate, Don J. Wright of Virginia, to serve as acting secretary effective at 11:59 p.m. on September 29th. Mr. Wright currently serves as a deputy assistant secretary for health and director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

But let's keep talking about this for a second, Jeff, because --


TAPPER: -- this has been a lot of turbulence in this administration, a lot of resignations. I wasn't prepared for this. But I mean, just off the top of my head, we had the national security adviser, Anthony Scaramucci, we had Sebastian Gorka. He fired, of course, James Comey.

He fired -- we've had a number of communications director. In addition to Scaramucci, there was Mike Dubke. Who else am I forgetting? Sean Spicer.

ZELENY: I mean, Steve Bannon, of course, the chief strategist.

TAPPER: Steve Bannon.

ZELENY: Of course, the chief of staff, Reince Priebus.

And it's important to point out, Jake, that all of these private flights, these charter flights, the issue here, it happened during the tenure of Reince Priebus, the chief of staff. And there was a sense that the controls were not being as closely monitored here.

But this is an example. The president is making an example of Tom Price here. In fact, he told us earlier when he was leaving the White House, that there would be no more private flights at all. He added a caveat, he said, if you can afford your own plane, then that's fine. So that's ironically. Secretary Price is a wealthy man by any

measure. His net worth is upwards of $10 million or so. Not as wealthy as some other members of the cabinet who have their own fleets of planes or planes. So, he was using taxpayer money for these private planes, Jake.

But you are right, this is a long list of advisers here. I would not put Tom Price in the higher echelon of someone the president listened to on a lot of matters but he, of course, was an early supporter. And he was one of those members of Congress who was brought over to join the -- this administration, to be confirmed, and help get things through Congress. That simply has not happened at all here.

So, the president as he left today seemed like he was not sweating this too much, Jake. He wanted to -- he said, look, he's a fine man, he's a nice man. Whenever you hear that on a Friday, it's a kiss of death.

TAPPER: All right. Jeff Zeleny, I'm going to let you make some phone calls and do some reporting and come back to us.


TAPPER: If you are just tuning in, let me reiterate the news. We just got this from the White House press secretary. Secretary of Health and Human Services Thomas Price offered his resignation earlier today and president accepted. The president intends to Don J. Wright of Virginia who's a deputy assistant secretary to serve as acting secretary effective at 11:59 p.m. this evening.

We have lots to talk about with our panel.

Amanda Carpenter, let me start with you. Price was trying desperately to do damage control on this. Although he never did the number one rule in Washington, which is when there is a bad story, get out all the information, get it all at once, be contrite, and get it out on your own terms.

He let there be a drip, drip, drip. Politico has been working tirelessly on this story for days and days and days. First it was one trip, then it was two trips, pretty soon, you have more than a million dollars worth of those flights. And he was, by the way, never contrite.

AMANDA CARPENTER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Nope. And also, don't do it. I mean, as a conservative, I just think --

TAPPER: That's the first thing.

CARPENTER: Yes, I look at this and think what an utter total waste. This guy knew better. He was chair of the budget committee. He was chair of the Republican Study Committee. He was chair of the Republican Policy Committee.

He knew better. And conservatives expected him to be a fiscal conservative. But also in this role, get to work on the regulations with Obamacare.

This was the selling price of Tom Price. He was a physician. He had been built up in Republican circles for so long and you finally get the chance to do good -- to do good in Washington, show that we can execute on the fiscal conservative stuff and he starts getting on private jets the second he gets there.

And you know when you're getting on a private jet, it's not like, oh, I just skipped the TSA line the last 14 times. You know how extravagant is. All members of Congress knew because when they get one, it's a big deal.

So, it's sad. I'm angry. And I think Republicans in Washington better look at Tom Price and see how quickly they can blow the opportunity they have, because we are at the end of the year. Nothing is getting done. And this is a big setback.

TAPPER: And, Kirsten, let me say, I thought it was surprising when I heard he took a charter flight, a private jet to Philadelphia. I'm from Philadelphia. So I go back and forth to Philadelphia all the time. I have never flown anything to Philadelphia. It is an hour and a half on a train. It is a --

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He could have had his driver take him there, right?

TAPPER: It's a three-hour drive.


POWERS: Yes, I mean, truly, most cabinet secretaries have a car and driver. He could have driven if it really was, I'm afraid that I'm not catch a flight. But we all know we live here, this is insane. Even if you wanted to fly, there are plenty of flights to take. You know what I mean.

But most people take the train. You know, I go back and forth to New York every week for CNN. I -- it's just -- it's insane to even say something like that, to think anyone would fall for it. And I just -- I think that, you know, what he did is just inexplicable.

I don't -- you can understand like you're saying, this isn't somebody who was new to Washington and didn't know the ways, the way things were done. He would know that that's not how things are done. It's not appropriate. It's extremely expensive.

If you -- you know, if you ever are using a private plane as a cabinet secretary, it's usually for international travel, which he did do some of it. But it's usually because you have all of your staff with you.

TAPPER: The other thing is if you're a national security official --

POWERS: Right.

[16:45:00] TAPPER: -- the Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff. Then people said, well -- KIRSTINE POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. They're (INAUDIBLE)

HHS Secretary.


POWERS: There's no reason that he needs -- you know --- So I think that you know, even the thing with his wife where it's not -- he's saying he's going to reimburse for it, but it sort of -- since he won't say when he reimbursed, it sort of implies that he didn't. And that again is just a major no, no. You would never not reimburse for your spouse traveling on official travel.

TAPPER: And the other thing about the reimbursement, I've to go to Jeff Zeleny one sec because he has some reporting, is yesterday when he said I'll pay for the -- and no taxpayer should have pay for my seat as opposed to the flight and there's this crazy thing in Washington where they let people take charter flight and then the reimbursement is the equivalent of a business class commercial flight, which is nothing like flying on a charter jet, nothing like it. Let me go back to Jeff Zeleny who's going to try to explain a little bit more how this all played out. Jeff?

ZELENY: Well, Jake, really in less than 24 hours' time I'm told that it became clear to Secretary Price that he had to leave. When he was leaving Capitol Hill office building yesterday, he told one of our Producers Greg Wallace who was out there talking to him that he would absolutely stay on. Well, of course, after the latest round of stories about the military planes was adding onto this last evening, even though that was approved by the White House, he was given word that he was not going to stay. So today, all day long, I'm told that this is not coming as a surprise to the Secretary. He knew that this was coming.

And you can certainly see it in the President's body language, that this was not something that he wrestled with as has done his Attorney General. If you think back to how the -- how the President deals with these things, often he will let his advisers sort of hang and be in this uncomfortable purgatory if you will. That was not the case on this. I am told because the President was offended by it. But, Jake, also he found what you were just talking about, to be typical Washington. $52,000, paying that amount of money does not even begin to cover the amount of jet fuel or anything else here. So the question we have tonight Jake, that we have not yet got an answer, will Secretary Price or former Secretary Price after midnight, will he still cut that check for $52,000? We don't know if he will or not. We'll have to see, Jake.

TAPPER: I would -- well, I'm not going to guess. But let me ask you a question, Jeff. There are other people in the Trump administration who has been reported in the last week flew on private charter jets, including the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and the Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin who is worth -- Mnuchin, at least $300 million. Does this mean that these three individuals are also on the bubble or does the administration just want to make a sacrificial lamb out of Price? ZELENY: I do not believe that those three individuals are on the bubble. Ryan Zinke, the one who you mentioned at the beginning, he is the latest to come under fire on this. He was flying on something again that his office approved, the Ethics office approved that he was flying from Las Vegas to his home in Montana. And he is being unapologetic at this point. He, you know, suggested that all of these reports were in his words BS, excuse me language. And he said that look, these were appropriate flights. He was trying to get to a rural part of the country there. So I do not believe that any of these three are on the cups like Tom Price. But I can tell you, the President was pretty clear in saying that there will be no more private travel like this in less than you know, unusual circumstances here. So I think Tom Price is I guess being made an example of it but he certainly had many, many more flights than all of these three other gentlemen combined.

TAPPER: Well, the first eight or nine months of the Trump administration are like the red wedding just in terms of how many people in the Trump administration do not actually end up leaving the room at the end of it. At some point, I do have to wonder if you're looking at the -- here's a list -- just -- not just a small list. Steve Bannon, Anthony Scaramucci, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer --- I can't -- I can't see everybody in this. My eyes are -- oh, that's Dubke, that's Dubke, Flynn, Sebastian Gorka, and Dr. Tom Price. That doesn't even include all the members of the National Security Council who have been ousted since Flynn left. At some point, does it become difficult for the Trump administration to hire somebody?

CARPENTER: Sure. And also get through confirmation. The Price personation this is point in time is particularly troublesome because we're getting into open enrollment season for ObamaCare. And there's already issues with Liberals and Democrats complaining that the government isn't doing enough to promote the ObamaCare open enrollment season. And now you're down --

TAPPER: They're not doing anything. I think they're not doing anything.

[16:50:02] CARPENTER: And now they are down a cabinet secretary and there are still lots of questions that are coming -- going to come into that sphere when Republicans are talking about repeal. (INAUDIBLE) said, discussions doesn't end. And now, that position is empty, huge problem.


POWERS: I mean, people were never really lining up to work in the Trump administration, to be honest, I mean, because he's not an establishment candidate and most of the people who want these jobs are establishment people, but I think it's even worse now, right? So we already -- we already started out with not a lot of people wanting to work for him. And now it's so chaotic. I mean, after you look at all those people lost their jobs and you're somebody thinking of going to work for Donald Trump, it's going to make you think twice, like, am I going to uproot my family and move and do all these things and six months be out of a job. CARPENTER: And this case, this was within Price's own doing.

POWERS: Now, this is a different situation.


CARPENTER: So I mean, it just gets back to Republicans, if you are going to get into position of influence and power, do what you said. Things will change, you will be discovered, you will be found out, cut it out.

TAPPER: That's a good point. I will say though, I mean, Tom Price was perhaps the most beloved member of the Trump cabinet by House Republicans. Now, that probably doesn't matter very much to President Trump who has a chance relationship with Republicans on the Hill or at least Republican leadership on the Hill. But he did -- and he did give up his job. He had a -- he was going to have the congressional seat from the suburbs of Atlanta for the rest of his life probably.

POWERS: Yes. But this is one of those things with Donald Trump, I mean, people who have followed him for a long time, even before he was in office know he is very frugal, would be one way to put it, you know. He hears a lot about how money is spent, if you talk to people who negotiated with him, who worked on his campaign, they'll tell you that. I mean, that he just doesn't -- you know, even when people have tried to negotiate contracts, or work on a campaign and want to fly business class, he will not go for it. He makes his kids fly coach you know. And if they want to --

TAPPER: But there's a lot of criticisms -- a lot of criticisms of him flying to Mar-a-Lago.

POWERS: Oh sure. Yes, it's more with other people. That's my point.

TAPPER: Oh, other people spending money.

POWERS: He flies -- yes, yes, -- he flies on a -- obviously on private jet. But no, I mean, he sort of famously, his kids --

TAPPER: Which is selective for gallery is all I'm saying.

POWERS: When his kids travel for business, they have to fly coach and if they want to fly business class, they can upgrade but even working for him Trump Tower, they didn't get paid -- you know, didn't get a business class seats. So if he's not going to do it for kids, he's not going to put up with it with Tom Price.

TAPPER: This is a tremendous amount of tunnels though in the administration, and you know, it has -- it's not easy to build a cabinet, to begin with, and not easy to go through the vetting process. And I mean, they still don't have a full-time director or secretary, rather, of the Office of Homeland Security, Department of Homeland Security because General Kelly is now Chief of Staff. They still haven't filled that. Now they have another opening that's pending as of 11:59 p.m. this evening. And we've also seen -- and it's not just a matter of staffing. There is an ideological thing going on here too because Tom Price was one of the -- we thought he was -- the fiscal conservative, and -- which he is except in terms of his jet travel, I suppose. But then there was also Steve Bannon, losing him, and he was an important voice for that part of the Trump coalition. So this could have effect on a lot of things, not just staffing wise, but in terms of where the administration goes from here.

CARPENTER: Yes. I mean, I think, the big question that will come up through the next person's confirmation hearings is what the actual future of ObamaCare? We keep having this big fight among Republicans, I think Republicans and Democrats, are we truly repealing this bill or not? That could be determined by the next cabinet secretary how these confirmation hearings go because those questions have not been fully worked out. I actually think I don't like to admit this as a conservative that the consensus is ObamaCare is not going to be repealed. They've already decided that in many ways. They don't want to come out and say that. The future confirmation hearings that are coming up could determine the course for ObamaCare through spring, through summer, and what Republican Party actually does for it. The votes for him in the Senate or her, whoever that person may be, may actually get everybody on the same page.

TAPPER: That's interesting.

CARPENTER: Possible.

TAPPER: Yes, no, Jeff Zeleny is back with us from the White House. Jeff, as opposed to individuals like Mike Flynn or Steve Bannon, Tom Price was not a particularly vocal campaign supporter of President Trump. Tell us what you can about their relationship before the news today obviously that Tom Price has resigned, looking as though he was resigned before he could be fired?

ZELENY: Yes, there's no question about that, Jake. And before we get into that, just a quick bit of news. The President has now arrived in New Jersey and he did answer a reporter's question that was shouted to him if he had accepted the resignation. We're told by Politico reporter there that he gave a thumbs up so of course, this is playing out even before prime time. And so, the President said it would be announced tonight. But we do know that -- Tom Price was never particularly close to this President. He was on a list of names of people to serve in the administration because of his expertise on health care. He was the author, the architect of several House Republican efforts to repeal and replace ObamaCare during the Obama administration. So at the time of the people who were sort of organizing the west wing here, Reince Priebus and others thought that he would be a good choice.

The President liked him, I'm told, he respected him. But after it became clear that health care was not going to happen, and that the Secretary Price was not particularly even playing a central negotiating role, I'm told that the President did not have all that use for him. He --it was in the words of one aide, more indifferent than anything else. So you get the sense that the President, of course, likes his generals, he likes someone with strong command and in control of things. Tom Price was a Georgia Member of Congress who is served for a long time and as a physician but never necessarily warmed, I'm told to this President. But I think actions matter here and the health care, the lead agenda item never happened. So I think this may have been a whole different situation if this have been a rock star member of the cabinet, if this has been a James Mattis or this have been someone else here. But of course, at the end of the day, Tom Price is pretty easy to expend.

Now the question is who is going to replace him? Keep your eye on Seema Verma, she's a top official in the Health and Human Services Department. She came from Indiana. She plays a central role in a lot of the back and forth on the bill. I'm told the President respects and likes her. So, of course, a new round of job openings, I guess, if you will, Jake. But again, one more opening. So this is the second cabinet that I can think of. Homeland Security and Health and Human Services that now as we head into October will not have a full- time cabinet member.

TAPPER: That's a good point by Jeff. Thanks, Jeff. It's a good point by Jeff, that if ObamaCare repeal -- replace and repeal had worked, and also if Secretary Price, soon to be ex-Secretary Price had been the rock star on that issue, had been the leading voice on that issue, this might have turned out differently. But maybe President Trump has figured he had nothing to lose. He didn't really care.

CARPENTER: Yes, I think this is going to help Trump. I mean, quite honestly, he has a great example of how he got rid of a cabinet member because wasting taxpayer dollars.

TAPPER: He was being swampy.

CARPENTER: That is a home run. And also it solved the administration's flyboy problems as I call it because coming up at some point and other, the government investigators are going to conclude their examination of what happened with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin trip to Kentucky during the eclipse. That, more than likely is not going to be a good report. Now Trump can look back and say we solved the plane problems, it's over, it's done, I sent Tom Price packing, the end.

TAPPER: Interesting. So it's like fell in a grenade for Steve Mnuchin. We do have some breaking news on this story. A source with knowledge of the Inspector General's probe into Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's air travel on government planes now tells CNN that the probe appears to be shifting. CNN's Rene Marsh is following the story. Rene, what can you tell us?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION & GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you from the source, they say what they are looking into. And remember, just to reset, they are looking at all of Steve Mnuchin, Treasury Secretary use of all government planes. But now specifically what they're now focusing on is the approval process as well as the justifications given for why these government planes were needed. They are asking Treasury, I am told, for more information, specifically, forms that were filled out that detail the requests. They also want information on who reviewed the forms, who approved the forms. They are looking very closely at this process. The concern is, and what they are looking into is, is whether flimsy justifications were given as an excuse to allow them to use these government planes. Again, this is something they are looking into and asking for more documentation so that they can make that assessment, Jake.

TAPPER: Well, that's interesting. Rene Marsh, thanks so much. Just as we were talking about the pending report from the Inspector General. And do you agree with Amanda that it's bad news in that report for Steve Mnuchin, President Trump will be able to say we had a problem with this and taken care of, you saw I fired Tom Price?

POWERS: Yes, I guess so. But I think it's more of the point of -- I mean, there's always the sort of balancing act when do and this kind of things happen. And so it does -- it does matter how important the person is to the President. There just are going to be different rules. And so, if you put it in the case of Tom Price's, they weren't that close. ObamaCare hasn't -- (INAUDIBLE) where it's supposed to go and now this. And so, he goes. Steve Mnuchin isn't on the kind of shaky ground that Tom Price is.

TAPPER: No, and that's right. And obviously, tax reform is going on right now. Kirsten, Amanda, Jeff, Rene, thanks one and all. Be sure to tune in this Sunday at CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." My guest will be the Director of the Office and Budget, Mick Mulvaney plus Senator Bernie Sanders and Ohio Governor John Kasich. It all starts at 9:00 a.m. and 12:00 Eastern. That's it for THE LEAD, I'm Jake Tapper. Turning you over to Brianna Keilar in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Have a great weekend.