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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger; Republican Health Care Bill; White House Under Fire Over Wiretapping Claims; U.S. Detects Russian Assets Close to Libya. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 14, 2017 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:05]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Sean Spicer said the CBO is consistently wrong, but his boss used to think otherwise.

THE LEAD starts right now.

The price tag -- fallout on Capitol Hill from Democrats and Republicans after the CBO finds that the Republican health care plan would fall well short of the president's campaign promises.

The White House now saying the president is extremely confident that he will be vindicated on his claim that President Obama wiretapped him. Maybe they found that microwave cam?

Plus, dangerous winds, sleet and snow coming in sideways, shutting down cities, and the danger is far from over.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jim Sciutto, in for Jake.

We begin today with our politics lead. This afternoon, the White House was forced to defend the Republicans' proposed health care overhaul by once again lashing out at the source of some inconvenient information. This time, the target is the Congressional Budget Office, after the CBO's analysis found that the GOP bill would cause a dramatic drop in coverage, a projected 24 million fewer people insured by the year 2026, and older Americans facing especially high premium increases.

Democrats are seizing on the report's findings and some Republicans are getting nervous, talking about slowing down the repeal and replace that they promised during the last election, but the GOP leadership and the White House are holding fast.

CNN's Phil Mattingly is live on Capitol Hill.

So, Phil, do the Republicans have a plan to sell this bill after these numbers, really discouraging numbers for the GOP?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question about it. There's a good reason Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price were dispatched to Capitol Hill today to meet with really kind of palpably uneasy Senate Republicans. They recognize the top-line numbers are bad, that they need votes to

move this process forward. But it is a process that even the most optimistic Republican leaders will tell you has a lot of work to go.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Republican leaders are now scrambling to contain the fallout from a devastating Congressional Budget Office report.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Given the freedom to make a decision that is consistent with your own economic interests, and you decide -- may decide not to buy it.

MATTINGLY: As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell today made clear, changes will come. They will come in the Senate.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MAJORITY LEADER: It will be open to amendment in the Senate, like all reconciliation bills are.

MATTINGLY: As the Trump administration continues to attack the veracity of the numbers altogether.

MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: This is exactly what we thought the CBO would come forward with. They're terrible at counting coverage.

MATTINGLY: For GOP leaders, a hint of good news in the report, most notably the deficit savings, $337 billion over 10 years, and the projection that overall premiums would drop by an average of 10 percent by the time the GOP plan fully takes hold.

But the top-line number of uninsured, 14 million by next year, 24 million by 2026, sparking new Democratic attacks and mockery of the Republican Party.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: No one wants to claim this bill. If it's so good, why aren't they rushing to have their names on it? Trump wants to call it Ryancare. Ryan wants to call it Trumpcare. It's classic Abbott and Costello. If it's so good, why don't they want their names on it?

MATTINGLY: The political fallout, from newspaper headlines across battleground states, to inside the GOP Conference itself, leading to accusations that the GOP's three-step strategy, an initial bill, regulatory actions followed by regulatory action requiring Democratic support, is fiction.

SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: There is no three-step plan. That is just political talk. Some mythical legislation in the future that is going to garner Democratic support and help us get over 60 votes in the Senate, if we had those Democratic votes, we wouldn't need three steps.

MATTINGLY: And exacerbating the tenuous balancing act between conservatives and centrists inside the Republican Party, with some far-right members hardly sounding anywhere close to compromise.

REP. MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA: The fact that the Republican welfare plan is not as bad as Obamacare does not mean that it's good.

MATTINGLY: And Republican senators from states that expanded Medicaid under President Obama calling for a total rewrite.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: My state, no matter what the CBO says, it has had -- it is going to have real problems because we were one of those that expanded Medicaid.

MATTINGLY: But the White House making clear this is the only game in town and it's now or never.

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: This is the only vehicle that seeks to achieve what people on our side of the aisle have been talking about since 2010. This is it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTINGLY: And that's really the underlying point you're hearing from Republican leaders. These are the issues that Republicans campaigned on cycle after cycle. If they want to actually get this done, this is the bill they need to coalesce around.

The question now, Jim, is what are the changes that will kind of make each side happy? I will tell you one thing. According to GOP leadership aides I have been speaking to in the House, those changes aren't coming in the House.

[16:05:07]

They may shift things around a little bit, but the underlying legislation will stand. That means all of the onus will fall on the Senate, where they expect a number of amendments to come up and perhaps some of those changes actually to take hold -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: And do those make voters happy in the midterm elections?

Phil Mattingly, thanks very much.

It has been more than a week now since the president made the explosive and as yet unsubstantiated charge that President Obama wiretapped his phones during the campaign. Late today, the White House said that President Trump is confident that he and that claim will be vindicated.

CNN's Sara Murray joins me now live from the White House.

Sara, a pretty extraordinary statement there from Sean Spicer, but also one -- I suppose the question is, will they have the information to back that up?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are still waiting to find out, Jim. As we know, even though the president is the one who made this claim, they then kicked it over to Congress to say, we're asking you to look into this. We're asking you to provide proof.

Congress has then asked the Department of Justice to provide proof of these claims. So far, no proof has emerged. But that did not stop Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, from making this statement today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SPICER: I think he is extremely confident.

There's been -- I mean, I have mentioned this before. I'll let them do their job. I will let the House and Senate and I will let the DOJ report this.

But as I have commented in the past, I think there is significant reporting about surveillance techniques that have existed throughout the 2016 election. I'll leave it to them to issue their report.

But I think he feels very confident that what will ultimately come of this will vindicate him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MURRAY: You see Spicer there saying the White House and the president firmly believe that there will be proof to back up these claims. Still a little bit confusing, Jim, as to why the White House doesn't just provide that themselves.

SCIUTTO: Well, now that the Justice Department, Sara, has been given a week extension by the House Intelligence Committee, which is investigating these claims, let's be clear here that that can't be a particularly good sign if the president went this far out there and said his predecessor wiretapped his phones specifically.

What happens if we don't see any evidence here?

MURRAY: Well, that's certainly what we're waiting to see. The House Intelligence Committee had asked the Department of Justice already to pony up some proof. They asked for an extension.

They said they needed more time to sort of dig up evidence. And so the House Intelligence Committee said, OK, we will give you until we're having this hearing on March 20. But if you can't offer up anything by then, we are going to compel you to provide something. They're even saying they may subpoena the administration.

Obviously, this is a secondary storyline, something the White House is not necessarily planning on talking about, but something they're in now by virtue of the president's own tweets.

SCIUTTO: Sara Murray at the White House, thanks very much.

Joining me now for more, Adam Kinzinger. He's a Republican from the great state of Illinois.

Congressman, thanks for being with us here on this snowy day. You heard that there. You're well aware of what the president charged

more than a week ago, certainly explosive, as yet unsubstantiated, charge that President Obama specifically wiretapped his phones, not some sort of general charge of some sort of surveillance of someone during the campaign, but that Obama wiretapped President Trump. Still no proof.

From your seat, is there proof of this?

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R), ILLINOIS: I haven't seen it, and I think frankly the administration probably should come forward with whatever proof they have, because, again, leveling a charge like that is a huge deal.

That's like Watergate, basically, if, in fact, a prior president was spying on a campaign. Now, what it could be, of course, is, you know, a legitimate FISA warrant. Maybe they will listen to what General Flynn was saying or somebody like that. There is a legal process to do that. Or it could have been overheard conversations as part of normal intelligence gathering.

But I think making a statement like, you know, President Obama wiretapped me, this is illegal, this is criminal, is a really big deal. And that's frankly a place we ought not to go in American politics unless we have proof of it.

So, I'm interested in seeing what that proof is.

SCIUTTO: The fact is, as you know, this is not the first time that, as president, Donald Trump has made a claim without evidence, and there's been a promise of an investigation that, for instance, if we talk about the allegation of millions of fake voters during the presidential election in 2016.

Again, as a Republican, are those claims, if they continue not to be backed up by evidence, are those damaging?

KINZINGER: I think they're damaging, and probably even broader, it really takes us off our game.

I think President Trump has a good agenda he's laid out, restoring America's role in the world, talking about reforming health care, tax reform, regulatory reform. These are things that I'm frankly excited to work with him on.

But when you do things like this wiretap tweet or you talk about the millions of illegal voters, it really takes the news cycle off of what we're trying to do and onto that. It basically changes the conversation away from where we want it to be.

[16:10:04]

And I think it can ultimately can damage somebody's credibility. So, as a Republican, not only am I disturbed by a charge that a former president committed a felony. Beyond that, I'm disturbed because, again, it's really harming President Trump and our ability to move forward and get things done and get our message out, which I think the American people wanted and is really important.

SCIUTTO: You talk domestic policy there. I know you, as many Republicans, have been a critic of Obamacare in the past.

You know these CBO estimates that 24 million fewer Americans could be insured by 2026 under the Republican bill. Savings on the other side, projected savings of some $337 billion from the federal deficit, is that an acceptable trade-off in your view?

KINZINGER: Well, look, I would take issue with some of the scoring.

Now, let me say I don't think the CBO was sitting around trying to figure out how to come up with a bad score. They work with the inputs they have. They do the best job they can.

But one of their assumptions basically said everybody is going to come off of Medicaid immediately. Well, look, we have actually said that anybody even under the expanded Medicaid program can stay there until 2020. States can add people to that and they can stay on beyond that in perpetuity until they cycle off.

And then when they cycle on, that's when the state has to come in and make that up. So, look, it sounds like the Senate wants to make changes to this. For me, I'm open to any kinds of changes, discussion if people have better ideas.

But there's no doubt people have skyrocketing deductibles right now, skyrocketing premiums. Something has got to be done, especially when half of the counties in the 16th District of Illinois only have one provider. That's a real concern.

SCIUTTO: Your colleague -- you're not alone among Republicans concerned perhaps about the pace of this change. Congressman Bill Cassidy, he says this plan isn't the one that President Trump promised in January.

You are aware the president said he wanted a plan that had insurance for everybody. Congressman Cassidy, he wants the party to sit down, slow down these changes, make changes to the bill.

Would you agree with that, delaying this a bit before proceeding with Paul Ryan's plan?

KINZINGER: Well, I want to press forward. I voted for this on committee.

From what I have seen of it, I like. We can make some changes in step two, which is, again, Tom Price's regulatory reforms. And then three we know is going to be a tougher lift. But these are going to be less controversial issues. It's a broader one, two, three plan.

But, look, it's become very obvious that the Senate is wanting to deliberate this, have some discussions. I think it's a good plan. I think it's good as part of a three-step approach. But if anybody has ideas to make this better, then I think we're always open to it, and it sounds like the president has expressed his willingness to do that as well.

SCIUTTO: But if the CBO numbers are correct, 24 million people would lose their insurance under this, would you still vote for this plan?

KINZINGER: Well, look, I have concerns about whether those numbers are correct.

Again, that also takes into account people that will not be covered by an individual mandate that choose then not to buy insurance, which right now you have millions of people that choose instead to take the penalty. And, again, what you have is, I could write insurance on a piece of paper and give it to you.

But if the first $30,000 of insurance costs, which is your deductible plus all your premiums, you don't even see a dollar of insurance, it's not effective and it's not working. I want something that is going to work for people and that is going to have higher quality, better quality health care, and I think this is a good first of three steps to get there.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Adam Kinzinger, thanks very much for joining us.

KINZINGER: Any time, Jim. Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Top U.S. military commanders are growing concerned about Russia's latest movements overseas. What does Vladimir Putin have planned this time?

That's right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:25] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Turning to our world lead now -- the Russian military is flexing its might far from its borders once again. This time in Libya, a country full of warring factions and like Syria with U.S. forces on the ground there as well. CNN has learned that the U.S. has recently spotted a Russian transport plane and a large reconnaissance aircraft at an air base in the far west of Egypt that's right on the border of Libya.

CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon.

Barbara, what do U.S. officials believe Russia is trying to accomplish here? Do they foresee Russian military operations inside Libya?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, this is the big question right now. The Pentagon and U.S. intelligence community urgently trying to figure out why there may be Russian special forces about to go into Libya.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): The Trump administration firmly keeping the door open to cooperating with Vladimir Putin to fight ISIS in Syria. SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president has been very

clear in the past that the country shares our commitment to defeating ISIS and we can work with them in an area of shared mutual concern, then we will do so.

STARR: But Russia is already moving beyond Syria, launching a new effort in Libya to exert its influence and change the security landscape in a country where there is still no central government more than five years after Moammar Gadhafi was ousted.

Top U.S. commanders now increasingly concerned.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: What is Russia trying to do in Libya, General Waldhauser?

GEN. THOMAS WALDHAUSER, COMMANDER, U.S. AFRICA COMMAND: Senator, Russia is trying to exert influence on the ultimate decision of who becomes and what entity becomes in charge of the government inside Libya.

GRAHAM: They're trying to do in Libya what they've been doing in Syria?

WALDHAUSER: Yes, that's a good way to characterize it.

STARR: U.S. officials tell CNN in recent weeks, reconnaissance revealed at an air base in western Egypt, just 60 miles from the Libyan border, Russian drones, aircraft and personnel have arrived. Across the border, Libyan oil installations are not far away. Fighting has erupted between rival groups for control.

The Russians deny they are in Egypt. The U.S. is trying to figure out how deeply involved Moscow will get inside Libya.

HAIM MALKA, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: This doesn't only give them greater power in Africa, but it gives them a foothold in the Mediterranean, on the southern edge of Europe where they can potentially threaten U.S. interests and those of U.S. allies. So, this is a big deal.

STARR: Russia's influence is moving fast. Earlier this month, the U.S.-backed leader based in western Libya was in Moscow meeting with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

[16:20:04] TAYEZ SERAJ, LIBYAN PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Our relations with Russia are strong and deep rooted. So, we plan to intensify relations at all levels and in all areas, including the economy, politics, security and military affairs.

STARR: More worrisome for the U.S., Libyan strongman Khalifa Haftar, who is fighting extremists to get the eastern oil fields under his control. Haftar has already visited Moscow twice and those Russian planes and personnel are close by if he needs them.

(END VIDEOTAPE) STARR: Now, the U.S. has shied away from working with Haftar who is even closer to Moscow, but this may be another case where the Russian agenda takes the lead -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, we see those little green men there as well. Barbara Starr, thanks very much.

Just call him Wayne Tracker. That's the secret e-mail alias of the secretary of state that he used while he was CEO of Exxon/Mobil. Our panel weighs in on exactly what he was e-mailing about under that name.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:25:30] SCIUTTO: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Lots to talk about today with our political panel and I want to start with this juicy bit of audio released by Breitbart. Just remind our viewers, Breitbart, once founded by the current chief strategist, Steve Bannon, of course. This is never before heard audio of Speaker Ryan refusing to defend then presidential candidate Donald Trump when that "Access Hollywood" video came out.

Have a listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: His comments are not anywhere in keeping with our party's principles and values. I am not going to defend Donald Trump -- not now, not in the future.

You guys know I have real concerns of our nominee. I hope you appreciate that I am doing what I think is best for you, the members, not what's best for me. And, so, I want to do what is best for our members and I think that this is the right thing to do. I'm going to focus my time on campaigning for House Republicans.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Interesting timing for this to be released. Wouldn't you say? Can we have some theories there? I mean, there are no accidents, right?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It could be a coincidence or it could be it took some time for Breitbart to verify the authenticity of the tape and it could be any number of factors that -- what it shows more than anything is it exposes Ryan's loyalty to the president or lack thereof. And that's a concern.

And if anything, my understanding is Bannon is completely separate from Breitbart now and the timing of this is coincidental given where we are with the health care debate. But, look, Ryan is completely not indicating any type of desire to budge when it comes to health care and it could be possibly that Breitbart feels that someone else, a member of the freedom caucus might be better suited to help push this health care legislation through. SCIUTTO: That's what I -- I mean, are you trying to undermine him and

lay the groundwork for a more friendly speaker? I saw -- I'll give you a chance, I know you were shaking your head.

ANA NAVARRO, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I guess I'm just too old, jaded and cynical to believe in coincidences in Washington at this point. Look, I think it's a warning shot across the bow for Paul Ryan.

I think if you change the words Donald Trump to Paul Ryan's health care plan, you could hear Donald Trump saying that. I'm not going to defend Paul Ryan's health care plan. I'm going to do what I think is best for Americans. I'm going to do what I think is best for my members.

So, you know, I think that this is Donald Trump, Breitbart, the conservatives sending a message, hey, you know what, remember when you dumped me? I could very well dump you if it doesn't become convenient.

JEN PSAKI, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And we took your predecessor out essentially. A lot of people did. What it's also a reminder of is that Donald Trump's support in the Republican Party is about an inch deep. And, so, there are things that people like Paul Ryan want to get done, repealing health care, getting tax reform done. There is a short halftime line for that as we get closer to the end of the fiscal year in September, and becomes harder and harder. So, it will be interesting to watch how those rifts go.

SCIUTTO: Is it also possible -- I mean, does the Trump White House, again, you know, assuming there are no accidents, no coincidences in Washington, because Breitbart just dug this up now. But is it possible the Trump White House is setting him up for a fall here? In other words, they know that this plan isn't going to work so well and they can lay the blame at his feet?

STEWART: I would like to think that this is more as an indication that, hey, you might need to compromise a little bit more. Paul Ryan has pretty much dug his heels in and said that's the plan. It's binary, take it or leave it.

But we're hearing more indications specifically from members of the Freedom Caucus that say, look, you have to compromise with us. You have to listen to our ideas and if nothing else, I think this is a warning shot that it's time to listen to the Freedom Caucus.

This is not going to pass without members of the House Freedom caucus. There's at least 50 members there, pretty strong. Without their support, this is going nowhere.

SCIUTTO: I'm sure Donald Trump heard that audio as well and I can't imagine it pleased him too much.

NAVARRO: Well, look, Donald Trump gets a lot of credit for having his pulse, his finger on the pulse of the base. It's something that helped him win this election. I think he's going to protect that, you know, just vigorously, and I think if he realizes that he's pregnant with an ugly baby, he's going to deny paternity.

It's not going to be his baby. It's going to be Paul Ryan's baby. You're going to see him handout that hot potato.

SCIUTTO: I'm not going to stretch that metaphor out anymore. I'm a father of three.

(CROSSTALK)

SCIUTTO: Understood.

CBO -- so, the CBO comes out with a fairly catastrophic estimate of how this would hurt 24 million people, would be off health care under this Republican plan. Of course, now you have Sean Spicer of the White House attacking the CBO.