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Trump Takes On Members Of His Own Party And Democrats; Sources: Trump's Hopes Of Striking Deal With Russia Faces; Senate Intel Dem: Trump Taxes Must Be Part Of Probe; James Comey: FBI "Not On Anybody's Side, Ever"; Lizza: Evidence Of White House, Nunes Coordination Is Clear; Backlash Over Ivanka Trump's New Role In White House. Aired 11- 11:30a ET
Aired March 30, 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. We begin with breaking news, President Trump threatening war against members of his own party and Democrats as well, despite his very recent comments saying he wants to work with them all. This is what we're talking about right now.
The president firing off a tweet this morning, and here it is. "The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team and fast. We must fight them and Dems in 2018." Fight them and Democrats? Is that a primary threat?
Just minutes from now, House Speaker Paul Ryan will probably be asked just that when he speaks with reporters. We're going to bring you that live when it begins.
So, let's go live right now to CNN's Phil Mattingly for much more on all of this. Phil, are you getting any reaction to the president's tweet and what it really could mean?
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so, that tweet wasn't subtle by any means, Kate.
MATTINGLY: But look, there was actually intent behind it and I think it's worth walking through what's happened over the last couple days to lead to this point. The basic rationale here is between House leadership, between House leaders that kind of watched the health care bill just implode last week, and the White House who saw the same exact thing.
There's a recognition that basically they need to figure out some way, somehow to get those Freedom Caucus members, those three dozen members who are kind of proudly intransigent on bills that they don't believe meet their conservative threshold to come into line.
If you listen closely to Speaker Paul Ryan this morning on an interview with CBS, kind of said the same thing. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPRESENTATIVE PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: That this Republican Congress allows the perfect to be the enemy of the good, I worry we'll push the president into working with Democrats. He's been suggesting that as much.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, have you reached out to the Democrats yet to work on this bill, Pelosi?
RYAN: No. I'm trying to get this bill passed. Nancy and I see things very, very differently. I don't want the government running health care.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, you guys are not on the same page. The president of the United States saying he's going to work with Democrats on this.
RYAN: Yes, I know he's been saying that. I don't want that, you know why? Because I want a patient-centered system. I don't want government running health care.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTINGLY: Slightly different tact from the speaker there, but the message is really the same right now, and that is that they need to unify their conference. What I'm told is behind the scenes this is a fairly deliberate campaign by both the speaker and the president to try to get everybody together.
The speaker's threat basically, look, we have a president right now who's not ideologically tied to conservatism. He certainly wasn't a Republican his entire life. The ideology doesn't necessarily flow through him, and so perhaps it is a very real threat that if this continues, he will turn his back and start to work with Democrats.
For a speaker in a conference that is very conservative, that won elections on conservatism, on repealing and replacing Obamacare that would be seen as very problematic. I think the president obviously takes his own kind of hard-edged way of maybe trying to interpret what that dual message is supposed to be.
But I think it's an important one right now. It is an effort right now to try and almost spook the Freedom Caucus back into line as they try and attack what is a very ambitious agenda going forward -- Kate.
KEILAR: Phil, great reporting. Thank you so much. Let's get some reaction to this. Joining me now is Republican congressman from Virginia, Dave Brat, a member of the House Freedom Caucus. Congressman, thanks so much for joining me.
REPRESENTATIVE DAVE BRAT (R), FREEDOM CAUCUS MEMBER: You bet, Kate. Great to be on.
KEILAR: Thank you so much. You've seen the tweet. You heard Phil Mattingly's reporting. Are you spooked by the president? BRAT: No, I think whoever's advising him, has his ear right now -- we all ran in the Freedom Caucus on exactly what President Trump ran on, right? Cleaning the swamp, repealing Obamacare. The bill in front of us doesn't fully repeal, so we can have that debate.
But the polling for the bill right now is at 17 percent of the American people, right? We can do better than that, and we are all getting to yes for President Trump on this bill, but we have to make it better. You have to lower prices.
Prices under our bill go up 15 percent to 20 percent through 2020. That's not good for the forgotten man back home and when you have the federal government in charge of one-fifth of the economy, that's not draining the swamp.
So, we all ran on exactly the themes the president ran on. We're with him, but someone's gotten into his ear. And yesterday, right, two days ago, the Senate also -- I can't believe this wasn't covered by the news -- Republican leadership in the Senate said they're not going to repeal Obamacare in this process.
KEILAR: It was covered. It was covered. We covered it. I promise you we did.
BRAT: I know, but that's huge, right?
KEILAR: Let me ask you this -- all of this is huge. You say that you're with him, you're with the president.
KEILAR: You read this tweet, Congressman, it does not look like the president is with you. He says, "The Freedom Caucus is going to hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team and fast. We must fight them and Democrats in 2018." Do you take that as a threat?
BRAT: No, I don't take it as a threat. All the conservative commentators know this bill is polling at 17 percent. All of the public policy think tanks, et cetera.
KEILAR: Right, but the president did not mince any words. He didn't say --
BRAT: I get it, I get it.
KEILAR: He's not necessarily mentioning health care. He's very specifically mentioning 2018.
BRAT: No, I'm getting with you and Newt Gingrich a couple days ago, everybody is saying we saved the Republican conference. When you put a bill on the floor that's at 17 percent favorable with the American people, we can do better than that, right?
[11:05:12]We'd better -- that's what will botch it for the Republican Party. We're trying to help the Republican Party and the president by getting it right. The process was artificially short, right? Three weeks to manage one-fifth of the economy. It's too short.
KEILAR: You say you're working with the president. What is he missing here? Because this does not look like a tweet written by anyone other than the president himself.
BRAT: Right. He is not being told that our group is working with all of the other groups who, by the way, was a jailbreak, right? It's all that we were against the bill. They were more moderates breaking from the bill than the House Freedom Caucus. None of that's been covered, right?
The good reporting has those numbers out there. And so, what he's missing is, if we bring the price down by negotiating between our groups, we can get him a great bill, and I don't think he's being told that's the case.
KEILAR: So, fellow member of the Freedom Caucus, Justin Amash, he had something to say in direct response to the president this morning. I want to read you the tweet that he put out. He wrote this -- "It didn't take long for the swamp to drain, Donald Trump. No shame, Mr. President. Almost everyone succumbs to D.C. establishment." Do you agree with Justin Amash?
BRAT: Yes. I never get into the personal stuff. I just stick to policy. We can make the policy better here. It is true that it is very hard to drain the swamp, and when you start managing one-fifth of the economy and all that goes with it up here, right, it's very hard to drain the swamp when you take on one-fifth of the economy.
And we're all OK, right, pre-existing conditions, the safety net piece, the $100 billion for high risk pools back home, the House Freedom Caucus is fine. There's been misinformation on that that I don't think has reached the president's ear.
BRAT: We're being constructive, but the one thing we have to have is free markets in the insurance space, or you end up like with the financial crisis ten years ago. We let the federal government run housing. That resulted in a financial crisis, and we're still dealing with the repercussions.
KEILAR: So, Congressman, Paul Ryan said in an interview, which is pretty linked to what the president's tweeting, that he's worried if you guys don't get on board, that the president is just going to strike a deal with Democrats to change Obamacare. Are you afraid of that?
BRAT: No, I'm not afraid of that. Paul's got it right, but he can get us on board like this, right? We were within two points on insurance regs. If the speaker says yes to those couple things, we're a yes, right? But you have to have --
KEILAR: Look, if you were that close, Congressman, what happened Friday never would have happened. Let's be honest.
BRAT: Say that again.
KEILAR: If you were that close to striking a deal, what happened Friday when you guys had been running on repealing and replacing Obamacare for seven years, letting it fail like that as it did Friday, if it was as close as you're saying right now, that never would have happened. Let's be honest.
BRAT: Logically speaking, you would be correct, but that is what happened. We were that close on the insurance regs. A few things tied together will lower prices. That was an offer of goodwill that was made in good faith to get to a yes. That package was not accepted because moderates were peeling off in the droves, right? And that is the underreported part of the story here. It's always the mainstream media, et cetera, likes to hit conservatives. I'm --
KEILAR: I promise you --
BRAT: -- with James Madison and Adam Smith --
KEILAR: I promise you, I'm talking to moderates as well. I've got to run, and I know you do, too.
BRAT: No, thank you, Kate.
KEILAR: How does it feel -- and I know you said you're not going to get into the personal, but let's talk personal, Congressman. How does it feel to be lumped in with the Democrats in an attack coming directly from a Republican president of the United States?
BRAT: I don't care who I'm lumped in with. I love everybody, everybody knows that. We get along with everybody up here. It's just a matter of getting good policy. So, the personal stuff just confuses and gets in the way of good policy, which is what we've got to get to.
KEILAR: Congressman, thanks so much for your time.
BRAT: You bet. Anytime.
KEILAR: I love the Dave Brat perspective. Everything is great up here. We are all getting along. I want to know what it looks like when you're not getting along if that's what it looks like, Congressman.
BRAT: Right, right.
KEILAR: Thanks so much for your time. I appreciate it.
BRAT: You bet. Thanks, Kate.
KEILAR: All righty.
Also breaking news right now, CNN now learning that President Trump is losing hope of striking a deal with Russia as questions mount, of course, over the president's and his campaign's ties to Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin is weighing in, was weighing in just a short time ago, calling the U.S. meddling allegations lies. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to be very clear about this. You and the Russian government did never try to influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, and there will be no evidence found.
PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): Ronald Reagan once, debating about taxes and addressing Americans, said watch my lips, he said no. Watch my lips, no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Of course, just a fact check of Vladimir Putin. Of course, it was not Ronald Reagan. It was President George H.W. Bush who said, "Read my lips, no new taxes," and then he did raise taxes, but I digress.
[11:10:10]Let me bring in White House correspondent, Sara Murray, for much on all of this. Sara, you've got some important, new information on why, what's behind the president's kind of fading hopes of restarting this relationship with Putin. What's going on?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: That's right, Kate. We know President Trump as a candidate had a very rosy view of Russia.
MURRAY: He wanted a better relationship with Russia. Now we're told by administration officials that those hopes are beginning to fade. They were initially hoping for some kind of grand bargain to deal with Ukraine, to deal with Syria, to deal with combating ISI, but now the president is sort of feeling a little bit more glum about the opportunity to do that.
It's not necessarily because his view of Vladimir Putin has changed, but because he just feels that the climate is not favorable to actually accomplishing a good deal. He files like there is too much media scrutiny surrounding Russia right now, combined with the House probe, the Senate probe, the FBI looking into Russia's meddling in the election, and also the Trump campaign contacts with suspected Russian officials.
And so, that sort of takes them back to the drawing board. It doesn't mean it's off the table, that there won't ever be any kind of negotiations with Russia, but we're told that's kind of on the back burner for now. It's also worth noting the president has not yet met face-to-face with Vladimir Putin.
Putin said today that he hoped maybe they could do that on the sidelines of the arctic conference coming up later this summer, but a senior administration official says they haven't even determined whether the president will attend that. And as of right now, there are no firm plans for when the two world leaders will be meeting face- to-face.
KEILAR: Arctic may be a fitting word for right now. Great to see you, Sara. Thank you so much.
Under way right now, the first public hearing by the Senate Intelligence Committee on the investigation into just this topic, Russia's meddling into the election. And moments ago, a witness just told Senator Marco Rubio he was a victim of Russian hacking during the election. See how the senator responded.
KEILAR: Now, a moment of truth, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes and the top Democrat on the committee, Adam Schiff, they will be soon sitting together, sitting down together for the first time since the committee effectively broke down last week.
Can they resolve their trust issues and more over the Trump/Russia investigation and get the committee back on track? While that's happening, a very different scene is playing out on the other side of the capitol.
The heads of the Senate Intelligence Committee -- the Senate Intelligence Committee -- are standing side by side and vowing to work hand in hand as the committee today holds the first of its public hearings into Russia's meddling into the election and any possible ties to the Trump campaign.
Let me bring in right now, CNN senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju, for more on this. So Manu, it's been interesting already this morning and an interesting moment just moments ago involving Senator Marco Rubio.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, indeed. I mean, these witnesses have actually been saying, going into length about how Russia has tried to foment unrest within the democratic process here in the United States, including potentially even impacting Marco Rubio, of course, who ran for president unsuccessfully, losing that Republican primary against now President Trump.
Now, one of the witnesses suggesting that perhaps Marco Rubio may have suffered anecdotally or as a result of what Russia was trying do. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINT WATTS, SENIOR FELLOW, FOREIGN POLICY RESEARCH INSTITUTE PROGRAM ON NATIONAL SECURITY: Through the end of 2015 and start of 2016, the Russian-influenced system began pushing themes and messages seeking to influence the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.
Russia's overt media outlets and covert trolls sought to sideline opponents on both sides of the political spectrum with adversarial views towards the kremlin.
They were in full swing during both the Republican and Democratic primary season and may have helped sink the hopes of candidates more hostile to Russian interests long before the field narrowed. Senator Rubio, in my opinion, you anecdotally suffered from these efforts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: Now, that same witness, Kate, also discussed how Paul Ryan may have actually suffered as well, saying that, perhaps that there was some Russian activity to go after the health care legislation that failed, saying this past week we observed social media campaigns targeting Paul Ryan, helping to foment further unrest among the House.
So, you know, this effort, Kate, here in the Senate Intelligence Committee to try to show they're trying to build a case, build the evidence on a bipartisan manner looking into how Russia has impacted the elections.
One thing is that there are flashpoints bound to come up in this investigation as they try to look into any of those alleged ties that could occur between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.
Take a listen to Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic senator from California, who sits on the committee, saying one thing that they do need to look into those ties are Donald Trump's tax returns.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: How important is it to get Donald Trump's tax returns at this point?
SENATOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: Well, I think they actually become more and more relevant as you look for connections. I'm not going to use the word collusion, but it's really regretful that he didn't seek his way clear to put them out there so they could be explained before we got to this point. And now we're at this point, and I believe at some point it's going to be important to ask for those tax returns, and if we don't get an answer, subpoena them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: So, the issue about subpoenas on this committee, actually, the minority party does have the power to subpoena those tax returns, but of course, that could create a partisan fight, and that's one thing actually John Cornyn, the number two Republican who sits on the committee, told me later, he said look, we don't want to go down this partisan road.
Let's keep on this bipartisan investigation. But as we know, as we start getting into some of the nature of these alleged contacts that occurred, we can perhaps see this partisan fight break out, and we'll see if it ever gets to the point where the House investigation right now is, where it's at a standstill -- Kate.
[11:20:01]KEILAR: Yes, I was going to say, they don't need to look very far to see if partisan politics bleed into their investigation, where it might lead them. All very interesting, though, and an important hearing is still under way. More to come. Manu, great to see you. Thanks so much. So, FBI Director James Comey doesn't care about political backlash, answering questions at a National Security dinner last night. Comey defended his agency's work taking on tough investigations like possible Trump/Russia ties and also, of course, Hillary Clinton's e- mails. Comey insists his agency is apolitical. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FBI DIRECTOR: We're not on anybody's side ever. We're not considering whose ox will be gored by this action or that action, whose fortunes will be helped by this or that. We just don't care, and we can't care. We only ask, so, what are the facts, what's the law, what's the right thing to do here? Now, we're not fools. I know that when I make a hard decision, a storm's going to follow, but honestly, I don't care.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Joining me right now, Ryan Lizza, CNN contributor and of course, he is also the Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker." Great to see you, Ryan.
RYAN LIZZA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Good to see you, Kate.
KEILAR: You have had important reporting this week that points to some evidence of coordination between the House Intelligence Chairman, Devin Nunes and the White House. Can you lay that out? What have you heard? What have you learned?
LIZZA: Well, the piece I wrote at newyorker.com, I think the news a lot of people have seized on, is that on the morning of last Monday's hearing, that was the hearing where Comey made the bombshell announcement that the Trump campaign and its associates were under investigation by the FBI. He confirmed that.
We sort of knew it and had been since last July that I was talking to a White House official that morning and that White House official was giving me guidance about what to watch for at that hearing.
And he essentially previewed Nunes's strategy of I would put it changing the subject from what Comey was going to talk about to the subject that the White House and Republicans sort of blew up over the course of last week, which was this idea of incidental election, which is what has now been used as a fig leaf to justify Trump's tweet that he was wiretapped by Obama.
So, I was told to watch the predicate that Nunes sets. That was the language. And after watching last week's events, I think my interpretation is that this was clear evidence that Nunes and the White House had a somewhat coordinated strategy on the events of last week.
And that all helped blow up the House investigation that culminated in canceling the public hearings this week. So, that's the piece and I lay all that out in an article at newyorker.com. KEILAR: I wonder what the White House, if you got any response from Sean Spicer, anyone at the White House on that. But also, Ryan, weave it into this. Because with that in mind, you have important reporting from Sara Murray that hopes are fading in the White House of the president being able to do what he had promised and hoped in terms of improving relations with Russia. Some of what she's pointing to, though, is continued scrutiny in the media.
LIZZA: Yes, look, I think that the climate -- I was actually talking to an ambassador from -- western ambassador, I guess is the closest I could describe him as, who was arguing to me -- and this is an ambassador who was very worried about Trump's reaching out to Russia.
And he was arguing that he thinks because the climate in Washington right now has become, frankly, so hostile towards Russia, right, and there's so much intrigue about Russian connections with the Trump White House, that that has pushed the Trump White House away from whatever their initial "raproche ma" strategy was going to be and it may have the opposite effect, right?
So, Sara's reporting is very interesting because it's confirmation that the White House is maybe starting to give up on any kind of reset with Russia, and I think that's partly because of these investigations, because of all the inquiries from the press, and that they can no longer be seen as being overly friendly with Russia, given all of the scrutiny.
KEILAR: Yes, yes and --
LIZZA: You know, I was going to say, the danger, of course, could be going too far in the other direction, right? You know, there are some voices, you know, that -- there are some voices that want to go to war with Russia over things like Crimea or Eastern Ukraine. So you know, there's a balance here. I think the danger is going too far.
KEILAR: Yes, and where really is the balance -- the White House position is not entirely clear, but we're getting some great, new insight from you as well as from Sara. Great to see you, Ryan. Thanks for bringing it.
LIZZA: Thank you, Kate.
KEILAR: Coming up for us, is the White House breaking anti-nepotism laws by officially having Ivanka Trump join the team? Her big announcement and now concerns and questions about what she'll be doing. We'll discuss.
[11:25:07]Plus, I'm old enough to remember, friends, when Paul Ryan said we can trust President Trump to push a conservative agenda, but now Paul Ryan says Trump could turn to the Democrats. We'll hear from Speaker Ryan live in just a moment.
KEILAR: It's official, Ivanka Trump will be joining the White House. Her title, assistant to the president. She will be an unpaid federal employee, so what does this change, and does this satisfy the ongoing criticism that the president has made the White House a family affair and that they are going against conflict of interests and good governance laws?
Let me bring in Larry Nobles, a CNN contributor, general counsel at the Campaign Legal Center and former general counsel at the Federal Elections Commission, and also Kate Bennett, CNN's White House reporter. Great to see you both.
So, Larry, Ivanka Trump is now an official government employee. What does this change?
LARRY NOBLES, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it may not change a lot. I mean, what it does do is it makes her legally restricted by the government ethics laws, where before she said that she was just going to voluntarily comply with the government ethics laws. So, this does put some legal weight behind it.
However, it doesn't address directly the conflicts of interest that she may still have. I'm not quite sure exactly what laws she thinks she is going to be covered by, because the laws do vary depending on what level you are in the government.
I'll give her the fit of the doubt and say she's going to be governed by the highest level of conflict of interest laws, which would involve public financial disclosure statements, and I think that is an important step in the right direction.
But really, we started it at a major step backwards, where she wasn't even acknowledging -- the White House wasn't even acknowledging that she was working for the government.
Now we've moved into a situation where, OK, now that we know she's working for the government, what rules is she going to be complying with and what conflicts does she have?
KEILAR: And Larry touches on an important point. It was not so long ago, Kate, that Ivanka Trump has said she would not be part of the administration. Here she is from just after the election in November. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People think that you're going to be part of the administration, Ivanka.
IVANKA TRUMP, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S DAUGHTER: I am -- no, I'm going to be a daughter, but I have said throughout the campaign that I am very passionate about certain issues and that I want to fight for them.