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CNN NEWSROOM

New Plan to Replace Obamacare; Government Wiretapped Manafort; Trump Lawyer Testifies on Capitol Hill; Last-Ditch Obamacare Repeal; Hurricane Maria Tears through Caribbean; Trump Speaks at U.N. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired September 19, 2017 - 09:30   ET

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


[09:30:00] SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), WISCONSIN, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: In place that reduces the cost of health care, increases the quality of health care, and I don't think that's a Republican only issue or a Democrat only issue, but it's something that we're all interested in.

BLITZER: Senator Gardner, thanks for joining us.

GARDNER: Thanks, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Cory Gardner of Colorado.

Coming up, we're going to have more on our exclusive reporting of the government wiretapping of Paul Manafort.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: So here's what we know. The U.S. government wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort before and after President Trump was elected. So what does that mean? What could the feds have found out? Joining us now, our chief national political correspondent, Dana Bash.

You know, Dana, this is a major development right now because it's not easy to get a FISA, a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, to approve surveillance of a top U.S. -- a top U.S. personality along the lines of a Trump campaign chairman.

[09:35:03] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's hard to get a FISA warrant for anybody who is an American citizen, much less somebody who is as high profile as Paul Manafort. Our amazing team, Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz, and Pamela Brown did report that before Paul Manafort went into Trump world, this was -- this was going on.

And so, you know, it sort of begs the question, you know, obviously we have no idea if anybody from the president on down knew that he was under this kind of investigation. Certainly it is impossible to think that they did. But if you take a step back and think about the whole question of Russian interference in the election, and then, poof, suddenly this guy, who was, you know, so under surveillance that they got this warrant, which as you said is so hard to get, and then just appears in the Trump campaign after not really working in politics for decades, is very, very curious.

BLITZER: And, you know, and our excellent reporting, we've shown it. But "The New York Times" has also got some very strong reporting suggesting that the Manafort, you know, that the special counsel, Robert Mueller and his team, really were engaged in what they describe as a shock and awe series of tactics to try to scare some of these individuals, including Manafort, including going into his home, unlocking his lock, going through his closets, taking all sorts of documents. This is big time.

BASH: It is big time. And the question is not only what do they have on him, but what do they hope to get from him about other people. I mean, you know, it tends to be the case that when you have situations like this you're not only going after somebody like Paul Manafort, who obviously they feel that they have a lot of stuff on, but going after him as somebody who could potentially turn on other individuals.

Whether it is strictly about his business dealings or whether it bleeds into the question -- the core question of the Mueller investigation, which is, was there any kind of coordination, collaboration between Russian government officials and the Trump campaign and whether they can use Paul Manafort, with all of these tactics and potential really damaging information that they got from this FISA warrant and that raid to get other information from people closer to the president.

BLITZER: I want to bring in Jeffrey Toobin, our senior legal analyst.

Jeffrey, how do you see this -- this development that we've been reporting now that Paul Manafort was actually wiretapped with authorization from a FISA court, both before and after President Trump was elected?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's obviously a highly significant development at several levels. First of all, prosecutors and FBI agents can't just walk into a FISA court and ask for a -- for a warrant. They have to present evidence, probable cause, that an individual is involved with foreign surveillance. So that means on two occasions the FBI had enough information already to persuade a judge to grant a warrant, which suggests that there is evidence out there that Paul Manafort was involved with Russians or Ukrainians or some foreign forces who were under investigation.

The other thing is that, you know, the timing, especially of this second warrant, raises all sorts of questions about who else is on these tapes and what are they saying? This is a time, as Evan Perez and others have reported, that Manafort and the president, and the president-elect, Trump, were still -- were talking. Does Trump's voice appear on these tapes? How significant could that be?

You know, I think tapes are always enormously important evidence if there is some underlying crime. And I think it's important to emphasize that we don't know that Paul Manafort or anyone else committed a crime. No one's been charged yet. But this is obviously a very intense and serious investigation. BLITZER: And "The New York Times" reporting that there's the so-called

shock and awe tactics and the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his team of prosecutors are going through to send a strict message, not only to Manafort and others. Talk about that.

TOOBIN: Well, the striking thing I thought in "The New York Times" story is that Manafort was told that he will likely be indicted. And, you know, the formal term for that in federal law enforcement is that he's a target. And federal prosecutors are taught not to threaten idly, not to just say that and then not indict people. If you are told you are a target by a federal prosecutor, as Manafort apparently has been told, you are almost certainly going to get indicted. So that suggests that this investigation will move into an entirely new phase.

[09:40:13] Obviously, as well, the Mueller team is hoping that they won't have to indictment him and try him, that he will plead guilty to something and flip. He will become a witness against other people.

The fact that they used a search warrant is really unusual in a white collar investigation. White collar crime is almost always investigated through the use of grand jury subpoenas, where compliance is essentially voluntary. That there is a certain level of trust. A search warrant is very unusual, not unprecedented, but unusual in white collar cases because it means that Mueller's team didn't trust Manafort to turn over documents and information and computer files that they had subpoenaed that they felt like they had to go search for it. And that just shows that they are -- they are playing hardball with Manafort and we'll see whether it produces anything.

BLITZER: Yes, I want Jeffrey and Dana to both stick around. There's a lot more developing.

There's other major stories unfolding right now, including up on Capitol Hill here in Washington. A possible health care bill revival. The Senate's final push to repeal and replace Obamacare.

And one of the president's closest business advisers, his personal attorney Michael Cohen, he's testifying right now up on Capitol Hill behind closed doors. We're following all these fast-moving developments.

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[09:46:02] BLITZER: We're following two major stories up on Capitol Hill here in Washington this morning.

Right now, long-time Trump attorney, his associate, Michael Cohen, testifying behind closed doors before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Cohen agreed to talk about his contacts with Russian authorities at the height of the Trump campaign. We're watching that.

Also another important story, Senate Republicans making a new push to try to repeal and replace Obamacare. In a crucial meeting just hours from now could lay the groundwork moving forward.

CNN's MJ Lee and Ryan Nobles are joining us live from Capitol Hill right now.

Let's start with you, Ryan. What's the latest?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we -- as you just showed, Michael Cohen entered Capitol Hill about 45 minutes ago to begin his testimony in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee. As you mentioned, this is behind closed doors and it's expected that Cohen will be answering questions from committee staff, not directly from senators.

It's also not expected that he will take an official oath. Instead, he will just be answering questions. Now, that doesn't necessarily mean he can't tell the truth. If you're appearing in front of a congressional committee, you still have to tell the truth according to the law.

So Cohen expected to face some tough questions about his role, not only in the Trump campaign, but also his ties to Trump's business world. Cohen is a central figure in Trump world. Someone that has been with the president for a very long time, played a very important role in the campaign. But also is heavily involved in his business activities, including the possibility of setting up a Trump Tower in Moscow. So it's expected that Senate staffers will ask Cohen about those specific business dealings that he had.

It's also important to point out, Wolf, this is someone that the Senate Intelligence Committee has wanted to talk to for a long time but Cohen himself volunteered to appear this morning. So, as you mentioned, this is behind closed doors so we won't know exactly what took place, but this is certainly an important part of the Senate Intelligence investigation into the Trump campaign's connections to Russia during the campaign.

Wolf.

BLITZER: Right. Good point.

The other big development on Capitol Hill, a last-ditch effort to try to get health care -- the Obamacare repealed and replaced.

MJ Lee, what's the latest on that front? You just heard Republican Senator Cory Gardner this hour tell us he's one of the undecided Republicans.

MJ LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Republicans are about to find out whether they can revive their Obamacare repeal efforts. Remember, this Graham-Cassidy bill, even until about last week, most Republicans on Capitol Hill had thought that this was a dead process and now all of a sudden there is some new momentum with Mitch McConnell basically indicating that if they can deliver the votes, that he will bring the bill up to the Senate floor.

Now, just to be clear about this, this is a bill that would fundamentally dismantle Obamacare. It would repeal the individual and employer mandates. It would change the subsidies in Obamacare into block grants. And it would also end the Medicaid expansion and also make further, deep cuts to the program.

Now, Wolf, I have to point out that there are two things that make this an incredibly difficult exercise, and that is math and also the timeline. Keep in mind that the math is very, very daunting. The math has not changed for Mitch McConnell. He needs 50 yes votes, which means that he can really only lose two votes in his caucus. And already Senator Rand Paul has said that he is a no. And others have expressed a lot of concerns, including Senators John McCain, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski. Those are the three, remember, last time in July, they all voted no. And so far they are being noncommittal.

Now, in terms of the timeline, Republicans really do not have a day to waste. They have until September 30th to try to do this on a bipartisan basis. And just to give you a sense of how rushed this process is, the Congressional Budget Office said yesterday that they will not be able to put out anything more than essentially a preliminary survey of the Graham-Cassidy proposal. So really they are trying to get this under the wire, just in the nick of time. And as always, it's a Tuesday, and so we are watching that policy lunch very, very closely to see what the Republicans senators coming out of that meeting say and if we get any indication that things are moving in the right direction for Republicans.

[09:50:12] BLITZER: President Trump and his motorcade leaving Trump Tower in New York City. You can see the motorcade now departing Trump Tower. They're heading over to the east side of Manhattan, over to the United Nations, where the president will be delivering a major address that's coming up fairly soon. The first time the president will be speaking before the United Nations General Assembly. We'll, of course, have live coverage.

MJ Lee, thanks very much. Ryan Nobles, thanks to you as well.

There's another major story we're following, including Hurricane Maria. Right now it's passing by Antigua on its ways to Puerto Rico. But this category five monster storm is so strong, even the outer bands are producing 40-mile-per-hour wind gusts on various islands out there.

Let's go to CNN's Michael Holmes. He's on Antigua for us right now.

You're beginning to feel at least some of this, right, Michael?

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, for hours now Antigua has been pounded. And you can see the conditions behind me. The sea is boiling and the palm trees are bending and many have broken. There's been some minor damage done around here that we have seen and trees down.

But the thing is, bear in mind, we are 120 miles or more away from the main track of Hurricane Maria. So just try to imagine what it must have been like for Dominica, which was hit dead-on.

We got word from a journalist who had spoken to somebody on the island somehow and they were told that the police station has been flooded out, the prime minister's residence has been damaged, the hospital roof has been torn off. A lot of concern of what might be the situation on Dominica. All telecommunications are down. We tried to tune in via the Internet to the local radio station. It is down. So no word coming out of Dominica at the moment as to what the situation is with casualties and damage.

But it took a full hit. And as I say, have a look at this. This is absolutely nothing to what they went through. So at the moment it's going to take several hours for this to pass through this area as it moves on, a course, to the U.S. Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands and on to Puerto Rico, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a monstrous storm, Maria. We're watching it.

Michael, be careful over there where you are.

Once again, we're only moments away, right now, from President Trump's address before the United Nations General Assembly. He'll be delivering an America first message we're told with some harsh warnings for both Iran and North Korea. We're following all the late- breaking developments, the speakers at the United Nations continue. The president of the United States on his way over to the U.N. right now.

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[09:57:04] BLITZER: To address the United Nations General Assembly. We're told he will be very harsh, for example, on North Korea and Iran. He'll reach out to the United Nations in other areas.

As he's walking in, maybe we can hear some chatter with reporters. Let's listen in

(INAUDIBLE).

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE).

BLITZER: And he's joined by his wife, Melania, as you see over there going up the escalator. He'll be heading towards the General Assembly very soon. We'll, of course, have live coverage of the president's speech.

We're told, Jeff Zeleny, the president and his team, they've worked very hard in crafting the language to be as specific as possible. What are you hearing?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We are told that, indeed, Wolf. In fact, the president spent considerable time yesterday afternoon in between meetings with world leaders at Trump Tower working on this speech. He worked on it with Stephen Miller, a chief speechwriter and policy adviser. And really this is the biggest foreign policy address, at least on this stage. And I am told it will be in the vain of previous speeches we have heard the president give in Saudi Arabia earlier this summer, then in Warsaw, Poland, as well, really shaping what he sort of short-hands America first, but essentially calling on other nations to do their share.

But, Wolf, I am also told by a senior White House official, the president will also use very strong language on North Korea and will call on other world leaders to, quote, not be bystanders to history. That will be one of the takeaway lines of the speech, I am told.

Of course talking about the nuclear provocation, the rising nuclear threat from North Korea. That is one of the centerpieces of this speech. The president, of course, I'm told, not going to offer any really clue into what his intentions are, if he'll use military options or diplomatic options, but wants to sort of bring the world community together.

And he was also going to rebuke and perhaps chastise other world leaders for not doing more on North Korea. Of course, China front and center in that and Chinese President Xi Jinping is not here at this U.N. meeting, Wolf. But no question, North Korea will be the thing, main threat to watch for in this speech that will go around 40 to 45 minutes, we believe, really filling in some more of the blanks of the Trump foreign policy that we're still seeing evolve, of course, Wolf.

But a much more measured tone than we are used to hearing the president. He is going to be using a teleprompter, of course, in a carefully crafted speech here that, indeed, will be watched by 170 leaders sitting in the general assembly audience, Wolf. Certainly on the edge of their seats to hear this president delivers this new U.S. foreign policy, as we continue seeing him evolve in office, Wolf.

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