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Trump: House Intel "Left No Doubt" There Was No Collusion; Kellyanne Conway Called Out for Taking Pricy Flights; GOP Braces for Upset in Pennsylvania Race; Police Believe 3 Package Bombs in Austin Connected; 3rd Nor'easter to Pummel Northeast. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired March 13, 2018 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] MICHAEL ALLEN, MANAGING DIRECTOR, BEACON GLOBAL STRATEGIES: I think we're going to have to really look at how they came to this conclusion. I think they're going to concede there was Russian interference, but that it wasn't on behalf of the president. They're going to say -- and they'll cite social media outlets and the rest -- that Russia was trying to stir the pot. I think they've got a steep hill to climb because the intelligence community has been very clear that they did intervene on behalf of President Trump. We'll have to wait to see the text and until we make a conclusion about whether that was justifiable or not.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: You heard Congressman Stewart there. At least one Republican, though, Tom Rooney of Florida, did acknowledge that Russian efforts favored Trump. And last night, on CNN, he openly criticized how political this investigation has become. Let's listen.


REP. TOM ROONEY, (R), FLORIDA: We had gone completely off the rails. We're now basically a political forum for people to leak information to drive the day's news. So we, as you alluded to, we've lost all credibility and we're going to issue probably two different reports, unfortunately.


KEILAR: That's pretty stunning to hear a Republican say that, Shawn.

SHAWN TURNER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think so. To be clear here, it is not the case that the fact that Russian meddled in the election is a strong case. It is a factual case. We know without a doubt -- without a shadow of a doubt that it happened. The fact that, you know, we're going to have another report issued, you know, it is really kind of speaks to something that is bothering the people in the intelligence community now, this politicization of intelligence. At this point, I think that, you know, this report, for what it is worth, should probably be taken with a grain of salt. And that's not to say that the finding that there was no collusion is not a good and legitimate finding. A lot of people believe there was no collusion. We set a terrible precedent when we say to the intelligence community in a case of fact that we don't believe that this happened. We really need to be careful here. KEILAR: Michael, what do you think about that? When the Intel

Community is looking at Republicans, some of whom very clearly this is a -- it is not even some of them actually believe it, it seems this is more of a political argument they're making -- how does the Intel Community receive that?

ALLEN: Not well. Look, part of the serious job of these committees is to do oversight over the CIA and the NSA, who are right up there on the edge. We need this for our democracy. And when we're fighting on a partisan basis over Russia, it sends a terrible message to the community and to the world. I think it is best that this House Intelligence investigation be put out to pasture. We got two other vehicles by which we can get serious work done. The Senate Intelligence Committee and ultimately Mueller will publish a report. So, the House Intel just became sort of a vehicle for leaks and partisanship on both sides, and it is probably best that it end.

KEILAR: So you have, though, you have the independent counsel. And it is going to be so interesting to be able to see if this Senate Intel Committee can cross the line in a bipartisan fashion. A lot of people I think doubt they'll be able to do that, even though so far it has been a much better model of bipartisanship.

Either way, Shawn, do you think that when Mueller's report comes out or when his findings are made public that it is just going to be another partisan football?

TURNER: I think the groundwork is kind of already being laid forward, the idea that it will be a partisan football once the report is released. Unless, of course, the report finds there was no collusion between the campaign and Russia. But, you know, the truth is that, you know, if these investigations -- if the Senate investigation and the Mueller investigation are consistent in their findings, we already know there have been problems with the House Intel investigation, there is a stronger case for the findings of those investigations, and perhaps we will find some bipartisanship if we have two reports that are consistent.

KEILAR: Having covered Congress, I was always so interested in something like the House Intelligence Committee, where you would look at members of Congress, who were so partisan, but they would put that aside for country first.

ALLEN: That's right.

KEILAR: And you saw that. And it was -- an amazing thing to behold.

I wonder now, looking at this, with your background on the House Intelligence Committee, do you worry that what has been this entire circus when it comes to this investigation does permanent damage to that committee?

ALLEN: I do worry about that. The committee has had its ups and downs. We had shining moments, I think, after 9/11, and in the Iraq WMD episode, where the committee was able to put partisanship aside and give real reports on what happened. Now we have a situation where people aren't going to trust this particular committee, and that's bad for the democracy. And it is bad for the community because it is a largely nonpartisan group of people. And we need to have the people's representatives be in a situation where they can share and do the important work of oversight so that they can do their jobs better. So I think it has been an unfortunate episode in the committee.

[11:35:12] TURNER: And, likewise, this is going to cause people to question the intelligence community. When the intelligence community gets it wrong, we need to look at why they got it wrong and make sure we do better going forward. But in a case that is so strong and so factual, to say that the intelligence community got it wrong really does represent a startling development here, sets a bad precedent.

KEILAR: Shawn Turner, Michael Allen, thank you so much to both of you.

Coming up, the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee today calling out counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, for pricey flights. We'll have that next.


[11:40:06] KEILAR: We have breaking news. A ranking member of the House Oversight Committee now says counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, was on board some of those expensive private flights alongside former Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price. Price resigned last September after facing criticism for spending tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars on charter flights.

I want to bring in CNN aviation and government regulation correspondent, Rene Marsh, who has been reporting all about this.

What do we know?

RENE MARSH, CNN AVIATION & GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: Ranking Member Elijah Cummings, with the House Oversight office, he put out a letter saying they have now been able to review documents, they went to HHS and reviewed documents, and they see that counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, was on multiple flights with Tom Price. Remember, HHS Secretary Tom Price who came under fire and was eventually fired for all of those private flights on the taxpayer's dime. Well, it turns out that Kellyanne Conway was along for the ride on some of the flights with Tom Price. According to the letter, four trips, 11 flights, costing tens of thousands of dollars to taxpayers. Cummings essentially is saying, look, he's been asking the White House for documentation on her involvement, participation on these private jets, as well as information on whether she has faced any repercussions for flying on these private flights, as well as has she decided to pay or reimburse taxpayers back for any of this. He says he's not received that information. So the reason why he's putting out this information today, publicly, is because he wants the chairman of House Oversight to subpoena this information from the White House, which they say they haven't been receiving.

KEILAR: So I mean, this was arranged by Price's office, these flights, right? The idea is that Kellyanne Conway would have known if she's on a private flight, they're not flying commercial, they're not flying government, they're on a chartered aircraft, which is always expensive.

MARSH: Right. That's the thing. We don't have any indication right now to suggest that Kellyanne Conway essentially booked these private flights. But what this letter is laying out is she was very much there. She flew on these private jets with Tom Price on a number of occasions, costing tens of thousands of dollars. And the main question that the Democrats on House Oversight has is, has she repaid taxpayers for those flights, and has she faced any repercussions. Again, they point out the fact that Tom Price is no longer in his role, so they want to know what the White House has done.

Side note, Brianna, also a part of this letter, we now know that Tom Price has repaid the Treasury Department $60,000 for his portion of those private flights.

KEILAR: Good to know.

Rene Marsh, thank you so much for that report.

In Pennsylvania, the heart of Trump country, Republicans are bracing for a possible upset. Right now, voters are hitting the polls in the special election to fill a House seat that is too close to call, and both feel it could be the bellwether for the midterm elections happening later this year.

We have CNN's Jason Carroll in Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania.

Jason, you just spoke to Democrat Conor Lamb. How is he feeling about this race in a district that went for Donald Trump by 20 points?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And you'll remember, Brianna, Conor Lamb is not a person who has made his -- made himself available to the national press, but he did this morning. I asked him about a number of questions and he spoke on a number of topics, why the race is so close. He also offered up his thoughts on Donald Trump.


CARROLL: Do you believe the race is a referendum on the president and his presidency?


CARROLL: What did you think of the president's speech this weekend?

LAMB: You know, I didn't think a whole lot about it. By that point, we were executing a plan that we came up with a long time ago that had nothing to do with the president. So I just tried to stay focused on the people that I've gotten to know around here during this campaign and doing what we need to do.

CARROLL: Can you describe why you think the race is this close at this time, when all predictions said should not have been this close? LAMB: We worked really hard for it. And I think it paid off.


CARROLL: Well, Rick Saccone, by any sort of measure of what happened here in the past, this should be a shoo-in for him, Brianna. But as you know, also the race is neck and neck. That, given all the money the GOP has put in the race. The president has been here not once, but twice. His son was here yesterday. Kellyanne Conway, here as well. Yet, and still, the race is still too close to call.

Saccone himself making some headlines, we should mention, when he said that the Democrats hate God and hate the country. He was asked about that earlier today. I also asked Conor Lamb about that earlier today. When I asked him about that, he said I don't want to talk about that. He said he just wants to focus on the race -- Brianna?

[11:45:08] KEILAR: Jason Carroll, in the very beautiful Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania, behind you there, Jason. We'll be checking in with you later.

CARROLL: Yes, and it's still snowing.

KEILAR: Coming up, the race -- yes -- to stop a possible serial bomber. Police are searching for whoever is setting off explosive packages in Austin, Texas. Two people are dead. And now there are new reports that there may be a connection to the race of the victims. Stay with us.


[11:49:58] KEILAR: It's a race against time to find a possible serial bomber before the killer strikes again. Austin, Texas, is on edge after three package bombs exploded, two of them within hours of each other yesterday. Authorities are trying to determine if the bombing should be investigated as hate crimes because the victims are all minorities. The "Washington Post" reports that both people killed in the explosions are relatives of prominent African-Americans in the community.

CNN's Ryan Young joining us now from Austin, Texas.

Ryan, people are scared to even go near delivery packages that they're receiving. That is not surprising at all in this environment. What's the latest on this investigation?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, that's quite understandable. You think about the idea, you go out to your front porch and you see a package, you normally pick it up. Sometimes that's not the case here. They've had over 150 calls now of suspicious packages in this area because of this. Right now, in the neighborhood we're in, we're surrounded by ATF and FBI agents. They're going door to door trying to talk to people and figure out if they saw anything yesterday that could lead them to try to find a suspect.

When you talk about this case, over the last 10 days, you think about three bombings, on March 2nd, the first bombing. Someone goes out in front of his house, a 30-year-old African-American male, picks up a package and has it explode right there in his hands. You heard neighbors talk about the idea of them running over trying to give him assistance but there was nothing they could do for him. Then you go to yesterday where you have two separate bombings. A 17-year-old takes a package and takes it into the kitchen and that explodes and kills him and injuring a woman. And the other package going off just about half a block around the corner here. A woman picks up the package and has it explode. She will survive. When you think about this, this has really rattling the community.

Now, the ATF and the FBI and the police department are saying they believe whoever is doing this is the same person. They're not sure if they're calling it a hate crime yet. But from what we've seen, the amount of people coming into the area, just to look, to try to see what's going on. People ask us, is there any change, understanding there is a difference. Even as we stand here now, city officials have arrived trying to tell everybody to remain calm.

What they want is for people, if they see anything to say something. We know, so many times, Brianna, that is the key to these cases. Right now, they're trying to put the pieces together, but everybody is looking for whoever is dropping these packages off. The police chief did say these are not coming from UPS or the postal office, so that's what they want to be sure, that these are packages that are being left by someone on these porches.

KEILAR: Have they said that there is anything distinctive about them or what they look like? You hear all these people, 150 reports of suspicious packages that turn out to be nothing, of course, because they're so concerned. But is there something authorities are telling folks so that they can better discern if they're just getting a normal delivery or not?

YOUNG: That's a great question. And one of the things we wanted to ask before, is there any fingerprints left behind? Are the packages white, are they brown? They're not putting any of that information out. We're can be pretty sure they're keeping that close to the vest as they do this investigation.

One of the things that stands out when you have you have someone that has been sort of successful in terms of the bombing, the fact that they've gone off when somebody is picking them up, it shows someone has skill. When did the person learn how to put this together? That's one of those questions that I'm sure they're asking, so they're trying to figure that part out. And the idea that the bomb squad here has been trained by the ATF, even the police chief admitted that he needs the extra help because this is such a complicated investigation.

KEILAR: Ryan Young, in Austin, thank you so much.

Millions of people are bracing and bundling up as the third nor'easter in two weeks pummels the northeast. Right now, Boston really getting the brunt of the bitter winter blast. We have some live pictures coming in to us there. There are blizzard warnings up and down the east coast from Massachusetts to Maine. Snow could pile up to two feet in some areas. If you're thinking or flying into or out of the region today, well, you might want to forget about that.

CNN Correspondent Alison Kosik is on the ground for us in snowy Boston.

Tell us what you're seeing, Alison?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're right about that. Traveling today definitely difficult. On the streets, a nice thin coating of snow there forming. Some cars are going back and forth, but a lot of people just heeding the warning to stay off the roadways.

Amtrak has suspended service between New York and Boston, so good luck getting around there by train. Logan Airport has canceled hundreds of flights as well.

We're watching the snow pile up. One to three inches per hour expected at least through late afternoon for a total of one to two feet of snow in and around the Boston area and, obviously, throughout the state as well.

We are seeing more blizzard conditions kind of increase, conditions kind of deteriorating as the hours go on. Right now, it's a pretty postcard picture, right now. But around the state we have had hundreds of reports of limbs down, just to illustrate just how strong those winds are, because those winds are expected to gust up to 60 miles per hour in some areas of Massachusetts.

If you're counting the snowfall and looking at those records, Brianna, today could break a March snow record for Boston if we see the totals get over 13 inches today. That could break a record that was set in 1956 for the snowiest day in March.

Back to you.

[11:55:30] KEILAR: Wow. And I could see, as your cameraman was zooming in on those trees, there's snow stuck all on one side of the tree.

KOSIK: Right.

KEILAR: So it looks pretty but it also looks really cold.

Alison Kosik --


KEILAR: -- thank you very much for that report.

Coming up, President Trump's firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sparking a new wave of changes in an already chaotic administration at a moment when President Trump is preparing to meet the nuclear arms dictator of North Korea. What does this mean for those talks? We'll have much more ahead.