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Trump's Ex-Campaign Chief Offers To Be Questioned; GOP Health Care Bill Heads For Showdown Vote; Senior White House Official: This Is "Not Ryan's Finest Hour"; Frantic Race For Votes, GOP Health Bill In Jeopardy; Top House Intel Democrat: GOP Trying To "Choke Off" Info. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired March 24, 2017 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Two breaking stories this hour on what could be the most consequential day of the Trump presidency so far. A vote expected in just hours on the fate of the Republican health care bill.
And also this just in, the president's former campaign chairman now volunteering to be interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee over his potential ties to Russia. Paul Manafort, we are talking about here.
Listen to what the Republican chair of that committee just said about this investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPRESENTATIVE DEVIN NUNES (R), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: The counsel for Paul Manafort contacted the committee yesterday to offer the committee the opportunity to interview his client. We thank Mr. Manafort for volunteering and encourage others with knowledge of these issues to voluntarily interview with the committee.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: All right, let's get it straight over to Manu Raju, who is on Capitol Hill. Manu, we find you in that stakeout location quite a bit this week. What new did we learn from Devin Nunes? This is a big deal about Paul Manafort, but there are other headlines this morning.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right. The Manafort news certainly the biggest one. I followed up and asked him if this is going to be an open hearing with Paul Manafort or a private briefing. He said it's really up to Mr. Manafort, his decision whether or not to come forward publicly.
But at least having that discussion, which is a significant development, because before that Mr. Nunes had not committed to bringing forward any Trump associate that presumably had advertise ties or contacts with Russian officials. Also announcing that they have canceled a public hearing scheduled for next week and instead, we'll hear from James Comey, the FBI director, and Admiral Mike Rogers, the NSA director, in a private classified briefing.
One of the committee continue to question them on a range of issues as well as they expect more information to come from the NSA as part of a laundry list of questions that the committee asked the agency to provide to them.
But not clear on when Mr. Nunes will actually share with the committee what he revealed earlier this week that some Trump officials or some of their communications may have been intercepted from intelligence agencies, something that he went and of course, briefed the president of the United States on before Democrats on his committee, prompting uproar on his committee.
It's unclear when the rest of the committee will be able to see that information, Mr. Nunes saying that they're also not revealing, Kate, who his source was. Once again, we tried to pin him down if this came from the White House.
He says he will not even discuss who his source was on that issue, where that information on that surveillance intelligence came from. So that's a continued question here as they move forward on this investigation.
KEILAR: Yes, him saying very clearly, you can ask him any name you want, he's not going to confirm his source because he thinks those sources will then dry up. They won't bring the information that they're giving to him that he has received. Manu, big news on Capitol Hill on many fronts, on this one especially. I want to talk about this a little bit more. Manu, thank you so much.
Let me bring in right now, David Chalian, is CNN political director, of course, and David Drucker, CNN political analyst and senior Congressional correspondent for "The Washington Examiner." Gentlemen, quite a Friday already.
David Chalian, Paul Manafort, his attorney offering him up to come before the House Intelligence Committee. This is something that Democrats have been beating the drum on, that Paul Manafort and other names, that's who they want to be interviewing about these potential ties, connections to Russia. I do wonder, from the view from the White House, is this good news or bad news for this White House?
DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, you've got to believe that -- let's go to Paul Manafort's view for a moment because I think that will help inform what the White House's view is. This is clearly a legal strategy on the part of Paul Manafort and his legal team to try to show, I've got nothing to hide here, ask me any questions.
We'll see if he has nothing to hide because we'll see if that hearing is in public or not. But I would imagine that if indeed Paul Manafort thinks going to Congress is going to help clear his name, then what may be a short term headache for the White House on the day that he testifies may be a long term benefit if indeed he can do so. But as you know, Kate, Manafort is a central character in this entire Russia contact drama.
KEILAR: Absolutely, and was a central character in the campaign despite some of what we've heard from the White House in recent days on his role there. David Drucker, you have the Manafort element of this which is big news. When that interview will take place and how, we don't know, because that just came out from Devin Nunes.
You also were told by the chairman that they want the FBI director and head of the NSA to come back and speak with them in classified setting because they have more questions for them. All of this in the context of, this is a rough moment, has become a rough moment for this intelligence committee.
[11:05:08]We've seen a lot of strain between the Republican head and the top ranking Democrat, a lot of strain where people are thinking can this committee even operate. What does all of this mean for the committee?
DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, look, I think what Devin Nunes is trying to do has always been counter to what Adam Schiff and the Democrats have tried to do. I should say Devin Nunes has the chairman has the support of his Republican members. They have always been focused on leaks and unmasking of Americans, basically Americans associated with President Trump that were swept up in otherwise legal intelligence collections.
And that's what they tried to do in the hearing this week and that runs counter to what Democrats have tried to do which is to make an issue of the Russia connection and Russian meddling, even though that's also what the committee is looking into.
So I think the interesting thing will be whether or not in a classified setting both sides can get more answers to the questions that they have that we saw in the open hearing, either Admiral Rogers nor Director Comey were willing to answer.
When I spoke to Devin Nunes yesterday for a story that I wrote, what he told me is that there was a lot more intelligence gathering that swept up Trump officials based on documents he has viewed, but does not yet possess than people realize.
This is something that is not going to go away and I also think one thing should be clear, I don't really think that the chairman has much regret about how he handled things this week. There was an uproar of that, Democrats said he that apologized, but the sense I got from him was he would have done it the same had he had a chance to do it over again.
KEILAR: Since you spoke with him yesterday, I think your sense, I'll go with your sense on this one. Guys, great to see you. Thank you very, very much, keeping a close eye on that breaking news.
We've got other breaking news we need to get to right now. Right now, the Republican health care bill is in serious jeopardy. A vote scheduled just hours from now is becoming more of a showdown than anything else as the president and Republican leaders still don't seem to have the votes, at least not yet.
Behind the scenes, President Trump taking a page from the art of the deal, giving Republicans an ultimatum, vote yes or get stuck with Obamacare. But even before voting has begun, the blame game has already started.
Some White House sources are laying blame on Speaker Paul Ryan. Others laying blame on the House Freedom Caucus, the conservative block who are still not all a yes and they are at the center of it all, of course, is the president, his first legislative fight and a crucial campaign promise on the line.
The news on all of this is changing by the moment. So that's why we have correspondents standing by where all of the action is from the halls of Congress to the White House. Let's get over to Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill first. Phil, what's happening right now?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're trying to get that vote in a good place, Kate, but I'll tell you what, they're not actually working that well towards that direction. Here's what is actually happening at the moment right now. There has been a vote on the House floor on the rule to get to the debate on the health care bill.
That's doesn't necessarily matter. That was pro forma, but what happens during those votes is leadership gets an opportunity to whip their members, really get a sense of whether last night's dramatic ultimatum by Budget Director Mick Mulvaney had an impact.
Now leading into that vote, Kate, I was told that they felt like the conservatives were softening, not necessarily flooding into the yes column but they felt there was at least opportunity to get there. They're trying to figure out right now how real that opportunity is.
But I will tell you there are major, major warning signs on the other side of the ideological spectrum in the Republican conference. This has always been the case. A lot of sources have told me, keep a very close eye on the moderates, the northeastern Republicans because they could end up deciding this.
Well, if that's the case, this vote is in trouble. I want to read one thing really quickly, Rodney Frelinghausen, a member of Congress from New Jersey says, quote, "Unfortunately, the legislation before the House today is currently unacceptable as it would significant new cross in barriers care on my constituents."
Who is Rodney Frelinghausen? He is the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, an incredibly close position to House leadership. You get that committee because you are respected and trusted by leaders.
And basically it's an implicit endorsement that you will always be with leadership on big votes like this. At the moment, he is a no or at least a strong lean no. So that's where we are, Kate, they're still trying to thread that needle, but it's very clear they're not there yet and have a lot of work to do and only a few hours to do it.
KEILAR: Yes. I think I saw in an e-mail you wrote today, anyone who tells you they know what's going to happen today, they're lying to you. Phil, stay close to it. Thank you so much.
A source says President Trump is agitated by this process. I'm guessing that might be the "g" rated version of what he's actually saying right now, but I digress.
He now openly is targeting the House Freedom Caucus directly on Twitter and asked for the House speaker. A senior administration officials are telling CNN this is, quote/unquote, "not Ryan's finest hour."
Let's get over to Jeff Zeleny is at the White House with much more on that angle. So Jeff, what do things look like from that end of Pennsylvania Avenue right now?
[11:10:07]JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, no question the winds here in Washington are blowing up some rain, I don't know if you can see that behind me now and it's a cool morning there. They're also blowing around a lot of blame up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, which is very typical for this type of an uncertain outcome of a bill here.
There are people inside the White House here, most of whom did not like Speaker Paul Ryan in the first place, who are saying, look, some of this is his fault. We did hear the president directly say just a few moments ago in the oval office, when he was asked by reporters at the end of a different event, if Speaker Paul Ryan should stay if this fails.
He said yes, he should. So there is no question here that Republicans have locked arms and agreed to go down this route together. We'll see how it ends. I mean, as Phil Mattingly, was reporting earlier, we do not know the outcome of this. There are still undecided Republicans.
The White House is still going all out to get those people on board. They want a win today. The vice president was scheduled to travel to Arkansas and Tennessee today. He cancelled that trip this morning, he's staying behind here I'm told to work on this bill. The president is still making phone calls as well.
So even as the White House is trying to look ahead and turn the page to other things, they are deeply focused on this. They believe a vote will happen late this afternoon here. And again, they want a win regardless of what's in the bill. We don't talk enough about the substance of the bill. That's why people are having problems with it here.
They say they can work that out later as it goes to the Senate. But they do not want a loss today, because regardless of what the president says that he would like to move on to tax reform and other things, that becomes incredibly difficult after a loss like this, if it happens today. But again, there is more optimism inside the White House than you might think at this hour. They still think that some of these conservative Republicans will give the president what he wants --Kate.
KEILAR: Right. And Jeff, let's talk reality. It's impossible to move forward with something that's no small feat in and of itself, tax reform, when the fight is in Congress, in the House, and you need them to take up the tax reform fight next, you can't turn the page.
ZELENY: No question, tax reform is even more difficult than this. So I think we have to take a deep breath and step back. This is how legislation is made as you know from covering Capitol Hill.
KEILAR: It's so pretty.
ZELENY: This is the sausage. The reality here is that all of these house Freedom Caucus members who have issues with this come from Trump red districts here and they are worried about being on the wrong side of the president here. This will give us a big test for what the consequences are for defying their president. We don't know the answer to that question yet. But boy, Kate, I bet we'll find out, for those people who vote against this.
KEILAR: Exactly. Great to see you. Jeff, thank you so much.
ZELENY: Thanks, Kate.
KEILAR: All right, here to talk about the moving parts, Mark Preston, get off your phone, Mark, and Nia Malika Henderson is here as well. Not like he's pretending he's really talking to sources. OK.
One thing that struck me that Phil Mattingly said earlier today is that when it comes to last night, it was all about talking. The more you're talking, the more you're negotiating. Today, not a lot of talking.
The ultimatum has been laid out, no more talking, this is the bill. You get to deal with it. Is this just becoming a game of chicken that's going to play out on the House floor at this point?
NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I mean, it seems like it. It's ripped from the pages of "The Art of the Deal," this whole idea, when Trump is doing deals, he lets people know he's not afraid to walk away and that he doesn't get too attached to an outcome, right? That's what we are hearing. That's essentially what he's done.
If you guys don't do it, guess what, Obamacare stays in place. The problem is if you're part of the House Freedom Caucus, if you vote for this bill, it's letting Obamacare stay too much in place. What I'm hearing from folks on the Hill too is a lot of these bullying tactics aren't really working. You have people, particularly --
KEILAR: They have been used by House speakers in the past.
HENDERSON: This idea that -- KEILAR: We're going to lose everything. We'll never be in power
HENDERSON: But there is a little bit more to this, this idea that they'll find people to primary people in some of these districts. It's hard obviously to find someone to the right of a lot of these folks, but even the moderates are being told this, maybe they'll bring in a Trump type candidate to primary some of these folks. A lot of irritation I think, aggravation with those kind of tactics. We see some of that with Trump on Twitter, saying the House Freedom Caucus, they're being hypocrites, essentially.
KEILAR: I do want to get to that. The president has been on Twitter a couple of times this morning. It says, "The irony that the Freedom Caucus, which is pro-life and against Planned Parenthood allows Planned Parenthood to continue if they stop this plan. Do you see this as one step before he starts calling people out by name? And how real do you think the fear is among Freedom Caucus, among any Republican lawmaker, of being on the wrong end of a tweet? How big is that fear?
[11:15:12]MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: If they're not fearful, they're not good politicians, because you always need to know what your enemy, who might have your ally who is now your enemy, might do to you, right. So specifically someone like Donald Trump is not afraid of getting on an airplane and flying down to a specific state or district to try to put pressure on somebody.
What we're seeing this morning is parallel messaging at this point. You have Donald Trump who is using a stick in some ways, using Twitter, we understand he's on the telephone, trying to cajole people. Mike Pence has decided not to do his trip, he'll stay behind. So that's the stick, right, and it could get worse for House members.
The carrot is you have Paul Ryan and other leadership types who are saying, listen, this isn't the end-all/be-all vote. This is one vote. There are going to be more votes. If you don't like it, vote against it then but don't stop the process now.
HENDERSON: They're also hearing from the Senate, right, that it's DOA.
PRESTON: How dare you?
KEILAR: I mean, come on, you're one stop short of talking about reconciliation with me right now. Guys, stick with me, here.
Joining me now to discuss, though, is Republican Congressman Mark Walker of North Carolina, the chairman of the very important Republican Study Committee. Congressman, thanks so much for the time.
REP. MARK WALKER (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Sure, happy to do it.
KEILAR: For our viewers, when this whole process began, you were a no. You are now a yes. Was it the bill that improved or was it the president that won you over and got you there? WALKER: Well, I believe it was a combination. A week ago last Thursday evening, we negotiated throughout the evening for four major components. They were agreed upon. The next day to the oval office, we made a formal handshake on it with members of the steering committee. So because of their ability to work with us and back and forth that's what ultimately got us to a yes.
KEILAR: So you're a yes, but you've got nos coming from both angles, right?
KEILAR: You've got some conservatives saying this is still "Obamacare Lite," it doesn't bring down the cost of care. One of those Republicans is Mo Brooks. Listen here Congressman, to what Mo Brooks told me last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPRESENTATIVE MO BROOKS (R), ALABAMA: We're supposed to be doing this in order to make health insurance and health care more affordable. Unfortunately, this legislation, this massive Republican welfare plan, does not do that according to the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation. Health insurance premiums, if this Republican health care plan passes, will go up 15 to 20 percent over the next two years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Mo Brooks calling it a Republican welfare plan. That doesn't sound good for you.
WALKER: No, I strongly disagree with Mo's terminology there, just being frank with you. This is the largest Medicaid reform in 50 years. Five decades, $880 billion that it drives down. It repeals all the Obamacare taxes, repeals the mandates, not because of the talking points, but both on the employers as well as the individual.
It is time to vote yes. This is something that we've been working on for months. The president, the vice president, have taken lead on this. If we're going to get serious about repealing and replacing Obamacare, that day is today.
KEILAR: But you've also been on the other side of this, you've got moderates who say the way this bill has been constructed, especially in the late hours, it's getting further away, not closer, to where they need it on Medicaid, on essential health benefits. Listen here to Charlie Dent. He was frustrated last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Are you a yes vote?
REPRESENTATIVE CHARLIE DENT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I've declared my opposition to the bill.
BASH: And it's because of the changes that have been made to please the conservatives?
DENT: I was no before that, but that didn't help.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: I mean, Congressman, straight up, why is he wrong?
WALKER: I didn't get all that specific question, who were you quoting again, the sound clip?
KEILAR: It was Charlie Dent, his position, of course, is he wants the Medicaid availability to remain, he doesn't like that sunset date, plus especially the essential health benefits. Why are moderates on the wrong side of history here?
WALKER: Well, the moderates believe this particular legislation is too conservative and then you have the Freedom Caucus who thinks it doesn't go far enough. The leadership of Speaker Ryan comes into play, trying to thread this needle to try to get to 216, I believe it is today, to get this bill to the Senate. It's very challenging. There is no question about it.
KEILAR: Either way, moderate or conservative, what's the incentive to stick your neck out when on this bill, on this vote, when it's undoubtedly going to change in the Senate, and be a tougher vote when it comes back to you next time?
WALKER: Well, because it's about keeping our word. We've been promising this. I've been here a little over two years. There's been members that have been promising for five, six, seven years. In the words of Bill Clinton, this model, Obamacare, doesn't work here.
[11:20:05]We have to offer relief to the American people. This is not the most perfect bill. We get that, but it is a huge step in the right direction along with the work that HHS Secretary Tom Price can do, along with some of the things you've heard, we talked about the third phase or the third bucket, pieces of legislation like buying insurance across state lines, like tort reform. The process begins today, it starts now for us to be able to continue to fulfill that process.
KEILAR: If that process stops before it even begins, if this vote fails today, who is to blame? We've ticked through the various sides here. Who is to blame?
WALKER: It's hard to put the blame on one single individual, I guess it's spread around. Like I said earlier, people have different reasons, but I will tell you, it is a little bit of a defeat for the administration, a defeat of leadership, it's a defeat of all the Republicans for not being able to get to the place where we can follow through on what basically is a promise, probably our biggest promise, the number one promise that most of the Republicans, close to 70 percent read on over these last two or three elections.
KEILAR: So right now, is this a game of chicken on the House floor?
WALKER: I'm sorry?
KEILAR: Is this a game of chicken on the House floor?
WALKER: I don't think it is. Listen, I have not seen any of that. What I am sensing is this is a very authentic, a very genuine process for this President Trump, for Speaker Ryan. There's a resolve, we've tweaked it, we've made it better, the RNC, the Freedom Caucus have tweaked it. The Tuesday Group had their input as well. Now it's time to vote, though.
KEILAR: Congressman Mark Walker, thank you very much for your time. Congressman, appreciate it.
WALKER: Thank you very much.
KEILAR: All right, a loud day on Capitol Hill behind him, you can tell there are a lot of tourists standing behind the congressman there. We're keeping a close eye on the House floor there.
A very prominent conservative advocacy group now telling Republicans to go against what you just heard from Congressman Walker, they want Republicans to vote against the bill. We'll take you to the House floor, sure to be a wild day if it hasn't already. Stay with us.
KEILAR: All right. We're going to break in right now, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff taking to the microphone. Let's listen in.
REPRESENTATIVE ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: -- with Directors Clapper, Sally Yates, and Director Brennan. I think this is a serious mistake. Some weeks ago, the chairman and I signed a bipartisan written agreement that we would conduct this investigation in part in closed session and in part in open session.
[11:25:00]We have both recognized several times since we agreed to the scope of our investigation that it was very important to bring the public into the investigation as much as we could so the country would understand what we were looking at, what progress we were making, what the issues were, and most fundamentally, why the American people should care about how Russia intervened in our election.
And the seriousness of this issue, the challenge it poses not only for our own democracy but for democracies around the world. So we agreed that many of these hearings would be done in open session. And we invited five directors, four directors and Sally Yates, to come and testify. And they all agreed to come and testify in open session.
Because of scheduling, we ended up breaking that open hearing into two parts, the second part to take place on Tuesday. The three witnesses for Tuesday have all agreed to come and testify in open session, to share with the public what they know about this investigation.
Now of course there are many questions that they may not be able to answer in open session. But at the same time, as we saw on Monday, there is a lot the public can learn about this and should learn about this, and most fundamentally, all the different methods that the Russians used to interfere in democracy, in our own and as we see in Europe right now, that of our allies.
So it's a very important component and I think what we have seen this week is the following chronology. On Monday, we had the first open hearing at which the country really gets a glimpse of what's at stake. They get a sense of why we're so concerned about many things, but particular whether there were U.S. persons involved, whether there were people in the Trump campaign that were in any way, as Director Comey said, coordinating with the Russians.
We not only I think gave the public a real glimpse of why this is so significant but we also heard for the first time that the FBI is doing a counterintelligence investigation that involves associates of the Trump campaign.
And that investigation has been going on since July and it continues to this day. That of course was very significant information for the public. That was Monday. On Tuesday, Wednesday, the chairman, in what appears to be a dead of night excursion, obtains or reviews some documents that he has not shared with his own committee.
And it's not just that he hasn't shared them with Democrats on the committee. He hasn't shared them with Republicans on the committee. All of us are essentially in the dark. But what was most concerning about that whole incident is taking that information to the White House.
Now, it is associates of the president who are potentially the subject of investigation into whether they colluded in any way with the Russians. So to take evidence that may or may not be related to the investigation to the White House was wholly inappropriate and of course casts grave doubts into the ability to run a credible investigation and the integrity of that investigation.
That was Tuesday/Wednesday. We are here now on Friday. On Thursday, we learned that the chairman wanted to close the hearing set for Tuesday or cancel it altogether. Of course, that was not in our view in the public interest, and we resisted that. Today the chairman has announced that hearing is cancelled.
He has also announced that he wants to bring back Directors Comey and Rogers for a closed session. We welcome at any time bringing the former directors back in closed session. We don't welcome cutting off the public access to information when we have witnesses as thee three very important witnesses who are willing and scheduled to testify in open session.
We also made the offer, rejected by the majority, that we could have these three witnesses testify in open session and if there are questions members wanted to ask in closed session, that we could then go to a closed portion of the hearing.
In fact this is just what we do in the worldwide threats hearings often, where we have open testimony followed by testimony in closed session. The reason we do that in the worldwide threats hearing is because there are questions that can be answered in public.
It is in the public interest to know what threats the country faces, even if many of those questions cannot be answered in closed session. And of course, the session that follows is important to the members in our oversight responsibility to understand more of the details, more of the classified information behind those threats.
The same is true in this investigation. Some of this should be done, needs to be done in the public eye. So we strongly object to the cancellation of this hearing. We would still urge the majority to reconsider. The witnesses have made it clear to us that they are still available and we would urge that that hearing be allowed to go forward --