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INSIDE POLITICS

U.S. Officials Info Suggests Trump Associates May Have Coordinated With Russians; House Intel Chair Sets Off New Political Controversy; White House: "No Plan B" On Health Reform; Trump In "TIME": I'm President And You're Not. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 23, 2017 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:00] EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPODENT: ... who is connected to Trump that is being investigated for possible coordination. But we do know that the FBI has already been investigating four -- at least four former Trump campaign associates, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone and Carter Page for contacts with Russians that are known to U.S. Intelligence. Now, all four of these men have denied improper contacts.

And one of the interesting things here is that the FBI is running into some obstacles in trying to find any conclusive intelligence that communications between Trump's associates and Russians was meant for coordination. Some of that communication that the FBI knew about has ceased in recent months given the public focus on Russia's ties to the Trump campaign. And also some of the officials at the FBI was keeping an eye on have changed their methods of communications making it that much more difficult for the FBI investigators, John?

JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: Evan Perez, fabulous reporting by union colleagues (ph), also an indication this one is going to on for a while.

Let's come back in other room. Let's start on that point. Now, it's clear from the FBI director's public testimony that he even admitted and acknowledged the investigation. It was very specific the investigation included possible -- possible, underline possible coordination, was the word he use. That if you're a new president and your hope -- and this was going to away -- go away quickly, no.

RON BROWNSTEIN, THE ATLANTIC: The quote from the law enforcement official that Evan reported was the finish line, I think, in the worst case scenario for Republicans as this story has developed. They're not there yet, obviously, as he said. They have not yet proven this. But the fact that they feel they have enough evidence to -- that someone with knowledge said something that strong about circumstantial evidence or even more than -- Adam Schiff said more than circumstantial, pointed to collusion.

You know, we're talking about the stakes potentially raising very rapidly -- very quickly. One other point, in other scandals at least in my adult lifetime in Washington, things often move forward when individuals begin to face possible legal jeopardy and they have to make choices about what they are going to say either in congressional testimony or to federal investigators. And the fact that there are specific individuals that they were citing as being the areas of focus of this investigation means that things could happen potentially to move this forward more rapidly than seems possible.

KING: And as this plays out, the FBI investigation, which as you can tell by Evan's choice of words there. We're being very careful about what we know and what we don't know. The FBI clearly has evidence, travel records as he noted, other documents, phone calls, scheduled meetings and the like that lead them to believe this is something they need to explore.

As that plays out, we don't know how long it will take. The FBI director was quite clear, I don't know how long this is going to take. We have both on the House and the Senate side, Intelligence Committee investigations and the head of the House Intelligence Committee caused a bit of a stir yesterday.

Devin Nunes said that he reviewed some intelligence that showed him that members of the Trump transition team were under some form of surveillance. He said it was incidental meaning that someone was legally under surveillance, had a conversation with members of the Trump transition. He would not be much more specific, that accept (ph) Devin Nunes said that he believed it had nothing to do with Russia, nothing to do with the issue under investigation by his committee at the moment.

Today he came out from a meeting. The Democrats were mad about this. Devin Nunes took that information and talked to reporters and then he went to the President of the United States and briefed him on information before he talked to any other members of the committee. Republicans and the Ranking Democrat. Devin Nunes emerged from a meeting this morning saying that was his judgment call.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPRESENTATIVE DEVIN NUNES (R), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It was a judgment call on my part. And that's at the end of the day, sometimes you make the right decisions. Sometimes you make the wrong one but you have to stick by the decisions you make.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And here before we jump into the politics of this and the fascinating part of this, here's what he said yesterday. Remember, he's the chairman of what is supposed to be an independent investigation of possible inappropriate activity by associates of the President of the United States. That's what they're investigating. Here's what he -- why he said he went to the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NUNES: Because what I saw is -- has nothing to do with Russia and nothing to do with the Russia investigation. Has everything to do with possible surveillance activities, and the President needs to know that these intelligence reports are out there. And I have a duty to tell him that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Does he have a duty to tell him that?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITIVAL CORRESPONDENT: No, he doesn't. That's actually not his job at all. The duty when it comes to the President is from the Intelligence Community.

The -- now the CIA director, the director of intelligence and so forth. What the duty of the House and Senate intelligence committees are is oversight of those communities. It is not to be the person to keep the President inform. He's got an entire intelligence apparatus to do that.

One thing I just want to add to the reporting here is that now he's saying he made a judgment call. I am told that before he went out to do his initial press conference, first he talked to reporters on the Hill and he went to brief the President then he came out and talked, in that clip you just showed, that he was actually very upset, steaming mad about whatever it is that he said he saw or was told about.

[12:35:10] And that at the time, there were members of the committee, Republican members of the committee, trying to calm him down saying couple of things. One is, don't go out and do a press conference about this. This is going to throw the entire investigation about, you know, Russia in the garbage, basically. And two, don't you want to talk to Adam Schiff, the top Democrat before you do this? And he was so mad, he said no.

And one of the reasons I'm told by a source familiar with this meeting is because he said, well, Adam Schiff at the hearing on Monday, where they had James Comey, had a 15-minute monologue trying to connect dots that weren't there and he was upset about that. But it's pretty clear in what he said today that he realizes now that he's calm that he probably should have heeded the advice of those Republicans --

BROWNSTEIN: Like your mother told you, count to 10.

BASH: Exactly.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: And one of the reasons for that is not only is this not his role as the Intelligence Committee chairman but particularly when this investigation is going on. The fact that he came out and did this now taints the investigation which is what Adam Schiff came out and said. And so it only amplifies those calls for an independent investigation, a select committee or even a committee outside of Congress to really look more deeply into this. And that is something that President Trump doesn't want.

And so to the degree, if Devin Nunes thought that this was going to help the President by refuting some of what's been out there, I think it's only done the opposite. KING: But he has a legitimate concern that he believes the Intelligence Committee is too quick to "unmask" people. That if you speak to somebody overseas who is being monitored and you get caught up and that your name should not be put in an intelligence report and moved around if you didn't do anything wrong. He has a legitimate concern about that. But by running to the President, he looks like a partisan. He looks like defender of the President, not an independent chairman of an important investigation.

BROWNSTEIN: And apparently no one else has yet seen the actual evidence.

DAVIS: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: And, you know --

DAVIS: Republicans or Democrats.

BROWNSTEIN: Or Democrats. Either side. And Adam Schiff in his statement yesterday contradicted what the chairman said. And he said, in fact, that people were not unmasked but it was possible to tell who they were from the descriptions.

So, there's a lot that we don't know and more important that members of the Intelligence Committee don't know, but I think Julie is right. I mean, the biggest point is that that investigation has now been, I think, permanently clouded and does raise the question. If the Senate Intelligence Committee is not able to kind of credibly do this, then who will be able?

BASH: The FBI.

BROWNSTEIN: The FBI.

KING: The FBI, but if you go back to past investigations, these are not apples and apples -- yes, but you have the law enforcement investigation continue there and then the congressional investigation usually to sort of inform the American people --

BROWNSTEIN: Right.

DAVIS: Yes.

KING: -- that the -- if the criminal investigations or law enforcement investigations deal with were there crimes committed and the congressional investigations deal with what can we filter through the classification process and inform the American people in a democracy about what happened. If those are compromised, then Democrats will keep saying let's have an independent investigation. The question is --

PERRY BACON, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: I think John McCain have been --

(CROSSTALK)

BACON: I think we're getting a little beyond that -- yes. KING: Right. Select committee. We'll see. John McCain is a lonely voice still on that issue. But we'll see how this one plays out.

Next, let's make a deal. The President trying as we speak to win the votes necessary to get a big health care bill through the House. But are the concessions dooming its chances over in the Senate? Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:42:33] KING: Welcome back. This is a critical day of the young Trump presidency. The President at this hour meeting with a group of House conservatives who are a giant obstacle to his number one legislative priority. Repealing and replacing Obamacare.

The President in that private closed meeting trying to cut the deal to get the votes necessary to get the legislation through the House today. That would be step one. It would then have to go to the Senate. Before this private meet, the president taking to his favorite media and twitter this morning to send a video out hoping his supporters will pick up the phone and help him get the votes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You were told that you could keep your plan and keep your doctor. You were given many, many false stories. The fact is you were given many lies. Go with our plan. It's going to be terrific. You're going to be very, very happy. Call your local representative. Call your senator. Let them know that you're behind our plan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's an interesting test. We have not seen the President, both the inside and outside game. He's in the room right now trying to twist arms and get a deal. Also the question is how much will he give? How much can -- members are also learning how much can we get out of him, right? And then there's the outside game. Can he get his supporters to pick up the phone? To call these members and say, hey, be with the president.

DAVIS: A lot of Republicans who have come out this week as nos on his bill have cited the fact I'm getting 400 calls no for every two calls yes. They know that their constituents do not feel good about this bill and that's why it's losing support.

And somebody at the White House has, obviously, told the President that it's important that these members hear not just from you that they need to vote for it but also from their constituents because he did go to the hill and have this, you know, and sort of threaten them earlier this week and say, you know, it's your political hides (ph) on the line here if this thing goes down. This is his way of demonstrating that.

BROWNSTEIN: You know what so like stranger things upside down about all this is, is that the members who are giving him the most trouble are the ones that he theoretically has the most leverage over. Freedom Caucus are from districts where he was strongest.

If you look at the polling that's out today from Quinnipiac University, it's really the people on the other side of the caucus that should be the most -- 23 House Republicans in districts that Hillary Clinton carried looking at a bill that according to Quinnipiac today, 17 percent of college whites, 18 percent of millennials and 10 percent of nonwhites support. And among independent -- and by the way, among that 50 to 64-year-old age group in the poll which is the group most in the crosshairs of the insurance changes, 62 percent opposition.

So, you know, yes, the focus on the Freedom Caucus and their concerns is obviously front and center but you do have to wonder how far many of these more moderate members will go given the kind of reaction to this bill in the -- among the voters prominent in their districts.

[12:45:11] KING: Yes. And the President is trying to get it over hurdle number one, then it will be hurdle number two in the Senate, then hurdle number three, getting the Senate and the House to come together as he does. So, you make a point that a lot of people don't like this bill. They didn't know a lot about it but they know it's going to change something and rip the floor out from under them. They don't like it.

The President's own standing in that Quinnipiac poll, 37 percent approval, 56 percent disapprove. But among Republicans -- this is interest -- among Republicans, he is at 81 percent support among Republicans. That's good, but it's down from 91 percent two weeks ago. So that, if you are the president, and you didn't win the popular vote and you know your coalition is to keep your base together, if you are Donald Trump and his political team you got to look at that number and say, whoa, we need a win.

BASH: They need a win big time. And more importantly, they can't afford to lose. And a lose of such monumental proportion as the key promise that swept Republicans into the majority in the House starting back in the Tea Party, you know, fight of 2010 and then on and on and on until the White House now. I mean, obviously there were lots of other factors but the promise to do this was front and center.

The problem is that you have, as we were talking about the Freedom Caucus who were in the White House right now, then you have Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in from --

BROWNSTEIN: Yes.

BASH: -- from South Florida. I saw her yesterday. Any chance you can change? No. She said the only regret that she has is that she can only vote no once because she's so much opposed to this. Because -- and because she's hearing it from her constituents.

BROWNSTEIN: Isn't the complication here, though, obviously, losing would be devastating. There's something they promised for so long. But this is so -- winning has its own problems because in substance, this is so against the brand that he has established, that he has not -- in a different kind of Republican, he's going to protect programs that protect older working age adults. Just put out a budget and say we're going to exempt Medicare and Social Security from any cuts. Focus all the cuts on domestic discretionary programs and then to come back with a health care bill four or five days later that hammers basically the same people that you say you are protecting and, in fact, are protecting in your budget. How does that add up? I mean, this bill is like kind of more of an -- in the end, more of a Ryan, House Republican, small government (INAUDIBLE) than the kind of Bannon-esque redesign of the party.

BACON: So usually a first year president gets something done. Clinton '93 get the budget done, Bush got the test (ph) done, Obama got the stimulus (ph) done. You have a president here who has local ratings one and he is selling a bill that's really unpopular among everybody too. So, those two things combine make it hard. If he was popular, he could sell something. If he was popular itself, he could sell it. Those two combined make it really hard to be done.

KING: The Republican Party has changed a lot in the last 10 years. We had eight-year Democratic presidency. This is the first chance they've had to govern and they have a non-ideological Republican President. They have a big family anyway on Capitol Hill than they an unpredictable president. Stay tuned. We'll see if they have this vote today.

Up next, President Trump speaking out to "TIME" magazine defending his own credibility by saying, even if it doesn't back up by the facts, I'm president. You're not.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:52:29] KING: Welcome back. Webster defines fact as "the quality of being actual." Meaning real. But who needs the dictionary when we have President Trump.

In a remarkable interview with "TIME", on the subject truth telling, the President stands by some of his greatest hits, or greatest misses like Muslim celebrating in New Jersey on 911. Or 3 million or more illegal votes for Hillary Clinton this past November. And he suggests you skip the fact check because, "I can't be doing so badly because I'm president and you're not." That is one indisputable fact. He is president. You are not.

As for the rest of the interview, well, good luck finding facts. "The Washington Post" facts checker detailed 14 statements made by the President in the "TIME" interview that were demonstrably false. And again, this was a conversation about truth telling.

Its highest or lowest award was bestowed, that would be four Pinocchios. But remember, he's the president and you're not. You have to focus on -- I mean, everyone here has read it. And anyone at home, please go online and read it.

BASH: Can we just -- before we talk about the substance, talk about yet another example of the President being obsessed with "Saturday Night Live." From generation or two ago, Chevy Chase -- OK. Sorry. Carry on. BROWNSTEIN: You know, I -- I'm going to name check two of your colleagues. I remember a classic Tom Friedman, Maureen Dowd -- "New York Times" magazine cover story 25 years ago, about the contentious Jim Baker-George H.W. Bush relationship. And if I remember correctly, George H.W -- they quoted George H.W. Bush as saying, "If you are so smart, how come I'm president." So, it may be something that infects once you get into the Oval Office.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: Part of the briefing on day one, absolutely.

DAVIS: You know, we can laugh about it and this was a remarkable interview in a lot of ways. But the thing that strikes me about this is that this idea of "I'm president" and this enables me to say basically whatever I want to say, this lies I think at the heart of the credibility issue for Mr. Trump. Because his view is for all of these months on the campaign trail, he would say things that were demonstrably false and we'd do fact checks and he would say them again.

And unlike other candidates, he would not back down from things when it was demonstrated that they were false. And he kept on winning primaries and then he won the general election. And I do think that there's a core sense that he has that it means that people don't care if it's true or not. They just want to hear me own what I think and he talked about himself as an instinctual person and that's what people like about me and he has no apology for that.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: I'm an instinctual person but my instinct turns out to be right. Yes.

[12:55:02] BACON: I'm amazed in a week like this that Donald J. Trump, that interview with "TIME" magazine about truth telling. What message was that? What was he going to think (INAUDIBLE) get out of that? Was he going to prove to "TIME" magazine that he's right and they're wrong? It was a very strange decision. He goes to the "TIME" calling members or something.

KING: He knew he was going to be on the cover and he wanted -- so therefore, he wanted to be in the story and he wanted to say he has the record for covers, except --

BASH: Again, SNL lifetime magazine, the intense (ph) --

BROWNSTEIN: Right. Right.

BASH: -- friendly like us and yours, the "New York Times."

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: I mean, there a lot of elements of his agenda that's pretty controversial right now. But you'd have to say the reason he's so much lower that any president, public opinion at this point (INAUDIBLE) is mostly about personal characteristic.

KING: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: Sixty percent of that Quinnipiac poll said he was not honest. He's like passing his former opponent in the campaign.

KING: He is president.

BROWNSTEIN: Honestly --

KING: You're not. Got to go. Got to go.

BASH: OK, never mind.

KING: That's it for "Inside Politics." I want to tell you, we're keeping an eye on the White House briefing is up next hour, also waiting for those conservatives to come out of that meeting with the President of the United States. That might delay the briefing a bit.

I hope to see you back here tomorrow. After a quick break, Wolf Blitzer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 5:00 p.m. in London.