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Angry White House Stands by Trump's Wiretap Claim; Health Care Bill Advances but GOP Deeply Split. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 16, 2017 - 17:00   ET


TAPPER: Alison Foreman from Michigan, where there are a lot of those forgotten men and women that President Trump likes to talk about. Thanks so much for your time, and thanks for what you do.

[17:00:16] That's it for "THE LEAD." I'm Jake Tapper, turning you over now to Wolf Blitzer. He's right in THE SITUATION ROOM next door. Thanks for watching.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news. In a tail spin. The White House lashes out after leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee say they see no indication of any surveillance at Trump Tower. Other top lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans, make similar statements about the president's claim. But the White House press secretary angrily reads from news stories and refuses to admit the president was wrong.

Blocked ban. Two federal judges reject the president's revised travel ban, and both say they took the president's comments about Islam into consideration when making their rulings.

Death spiral? The Republican health care bill staggers through another committee, but under attack by conservatives, is it already on life support? Can the house speaker, Paul Ryan, revive it? I'll talk to him live this hour.

And deep cuts. The president unveils his budget blueprint. It would put more money into the military but slash spending on agriculture, the environment, health, and housing.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news, an angry White House digs in to defend the president, saying he stands by his unfounded claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama. Even after top lawmakers one after another reject the president's assertion, the House Speaker Paul Ryan says, quote, "No such wiretap existed."

The leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee say they see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government. And their House counterparts say they have yet to see any evidence of wire-tapping. The top Democrat on that panel says FBI Director James Comey is likely to debunk the wiretap claim in a public hearing on Monday. The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, today was having none of

this, angrily reading passages from news reports and commentaries, which he insisted bolster the president's case that he was put under surveillance by his predecessor.

That comes as two federal judges reject the president's latest travel ban, both saying his past statements about Muslims impacted their rulings.

And the White House is also forced to watch as the Republican plan to replace Obamacare makes its way through another committee, barely. And the president's first budget blueprint is attacked for boosting military spending while slashing funds at key agencies. I'll talk about all of this with the House Speaker, Paul Ryan.

And our correspondents, analysts and guests, they're standing by with full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin over at the White House. The White House showing a siege of mentality today as the president's unfounded wiretap claims are dismissed by congressional leaders.

First up, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, an extraordinary briefing today with a visibly angry press secretary. You were there in the front row right in the middle of it.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. It was hard to figure out whether this was an episode of "Saturday Night Live" or an actual White House press briefing as an angry White House press secretary Sean Spicer refused to answer a question about a statement released by the top two members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

We can put this up on screen. It has to do with the president's wiretapping claims. It says here, "Based on the information available to us we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after election day 2016."

That is aimed directly at the president's unfounded, baseless tweet that former President Obama wiretapped him at Trump Tower. That statement from the Senate Intelligence Committee, Wolf, came out just minutes before the scheduled start of the White House press briefing, which was ultimately delayed for more than an hour, but when White House press secretary Sean Spicer finally came out, he was angry as we tried to press him for answers. Here's what happened.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's a statement out today. they have not begun this. As you know yesterday or two days ago, the Department of Justice asked for an additional week. So, they -- the statement clearly says that at this time that they don't believe that. They have yet to go through the information. The Department of Justice, as you know, has not supplied this.

But I've just read off to you -- it's interesting. When the "The New York Times" reports -- hold on, hold on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't let you do the whole long answer.

SPICER: Thank you, appreciate it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. So, are you saying that the president still stands by his allegation that President Obama ordered wiretapping or surveillance of Trump Tower, despite the fact that the Senate Intelligence Committee says they see no indication that it happened?

SPICER: But that's...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the president still stand by the allegation?

SPICER: No, first of all, he stands by it, but again, you're mischaracterizing what happened today. The Senate -- no, no -- I know...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly from their statement.

[17:05:08] SPICER: I understand that. And at the same time, they acknowledge that they have not been in contact with the Department of Justice.

So, again, I go back to what I said at the beginning. It's interesting -- hold on, hold on. It's interesting how at the same time where were you coming to the defense of that same Intelligence Committee and those members when they said there was no connection to Russia? You didn't seem to report it then. No, no. So, you want -- hold on. You want to comment and you want to perpetuate a false narrative when...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Actually, I did report that Clapper said that.

SPICER: When those individuals have gone out time and time again, when Chairman Nunes has said, No. 1, that there was no information that he's aware of that that existed, that got zero reporting.

No. 2, when he went out yesterday and said, quote, "I think it's very possible," you don't include that in the question Mark.

The bottom line is that the president said last night that he will be providing -- that there would be additional information coming forward. He -- there's a ton of media reports out there that indicate that something was going on during the twenty-six [SIC] election.

And I think it's interesting. Where was the questioning of the "The New York Times" or these other outlets when that was going on? Where was the question...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe he's going to be vindicated?

SPICER: I believe he will. Jim. ACOSTA: You were just quoting Sean Hannity there. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees are...

SPICER: I also quoted -- I get you're going to cherry pick.

ACOSTA: You're the -- you're citing Sean Hannity.

SPICER: You also look over -- you also tend to overlook all of the other sources -- because I know you want to cherry pick it. No, no. But you do. But where was your concern about the "The New York Times" report? You didn't seem to have a concern with that.

ACOSTA: We have done plenty of reporting on all of this.

SPICER: No, no, but you want to cherry peck one comment, one piece of commentary.

ACOSTA: The connections between the associates of the president to the Russians, that has all been looked at.

SPICER: How do you know all this? How do you seem to be such an expert in this?

ACOSTA: I'm saying that this has been looked at, Sean. We've all looked at it.

SPICER: How do you know it's been looked at? Hold on, hold. Where is -- I'm sorry. I'm afraid to -- where -- can you tell me how you know that all of this has, quote, "been looked at"?

ACOSTA: You're asking me whether or not it's been looked at.

SPICER: You made a statement and you said, quote, "All of this has been looked at."

ACOSTA: Other outlets have reported...

SPICER: OK, so we're supposed -- when your outlet says it's all been looked at...

ACOSTA: The contact between associates of the president and the Russians during the 2016 campaign. It sounds like, during the context of that investigation, there might have been some intercepted communications. The House Intelligence Committee chairman did mention that, and we have reported that. Others have reported that on our air and various publications.

But, Sean, what you are -- what you are refusing to answer, the question that you're refusing to answer is whether or not the president still believes what he believes...

SPICER: No, I'm not refusing.

ACOSTA: No, I just said it to Jonathan. I didn't refuse to...

ACOSTA: You have a Senate and House Intelligence Committee, both leaders from both parties on both of those panels, saying that they don't see any evidence of any wiretapping. So how can the president go on and continue...

SPICER: Because that's not -- because you're mischaracterizing what Chairman Nunes said. He said, quote, "I think it's possible." He is following up on this.

So to suggest that is actually -- and you're stating unequivocally that you somehow...

ACOSTA: Literally, you said if you take...

SPICER: I think we've already cleared that up. And he said exactly that. The president has already said clearly when he referred to wiretapping he was referring to surveillance. So that's...

ACOSTA: But that sound like -- but it sounds like, Sean, you and the president are saying now, "Well, we don't mean wiretapping anymore, because that's not true anymore."

SPICER: No, no.

ACOSTA: "So now we're going to use other forms of surveillance." What's it going to be next?

SPICER: No, no. Jim, I think that's cute, but at the end of the day, we've talked about this for three or four days. What the president had the, quote, "wiretapping" in quotes. He was referring to broad surveillance, and now you're basically going back. We've talked about this several days ago.

The bottom line is that the investigation by the House and the Senate has not been provided all of the information. And when it does -- but where was the concern -- hold on.

ACOSTA: ... information from news reports, not evidence...

SPICER: No, no. What I -- I think what the president addressed that last night and said there's more to come. These are merely pointing out that I think there is widespread reporting that, throughout the 2016 election, there was surveillance that was done on a variety of people. That came up...

ACOSTA: There was an investigation going on of whether there were contacts between the president's campaign and Russians.

SPICER: But how do you -- Jim, I find it interesting that you somehow believe that you...

ACOSTA: Of course, they're going to be looking at these various things.

SPICER: I get it. Somehow you seem to believe that you have all of this information. You've been read in on all of these things, which I find very interesting.

ACOSTA: I haven't been read in by the FBI. The House and Senate Intelligence Committees have been.

SPICER: You're coming to conclusions for a guy that has zero intelligence -- class...

ACOSTA: Give me some credit.

SPICER: I'll give you some.

ACOSTA: A little intelligence maybe. But no.

SPICER: Clearance. I wasn't done, clearance.

ACOSTA: Those two panels.

SPICER: Maybe both.

ACOSTA: Well, come on. Those two panels have spoken with the FBI director and told there's no evidence of this.

SPICER: I understand. OK. I think this question has been asked and answered, Jim.

ACOSTA: ... just have the president say it's wrong.

SPICER: It's interesting how you jump to all of these conclusions about what they have, what they don't have. And you seem to know all the answers.

But at the end of the day, there was clearly a ton of reporting...

ACOSTA: A week from now, you're going to be...

SPICER: Hold on, Jim. Let me answer -- I think that there has been a vast amount of reporting, which I just detailed, about activity that was going on in the 2016 election. There's no question that there was surveillance techniques used throughout this. I think by a variety of outlets that have reported this activity concluded.

So and I think when you actually ask those two people whether or not, as Chairman Nunes said yesterday, when you take it literally in wiretapping, the president has already been very clear that he didn't mean specifically wiretapping. He had it in quotes. So, I think to fall back on that is a false -- is a false premise. That's not what he said.


[17:10:17] ACOSTA: So, there you have it, Wolf. The White House is digging in and standing its ground, maintaining that the president does still believe that he was wiretapped or surveilled in some way over at Trump Tower during the course of the 2016 campaign.

And you heard at the top there, I said, "Well, you're quoting Sean Hannity." Before that entire exchange happened, Wolf, Sean Spicer was essentially going through a list of various news outlets that he was referring to to back up the president's claim. He referred to Sean Hannity from FOX News, Andrew Napolitano, another commentator over at FOX News. These are conservative analysts on that network. They're not news outlets, of course.

But we do want to point out that Sean Spicer did mention "The New York Times," but again, Wolf, as you know and I know, the president has time and again referred to the "The New York Times" as "the failing 'New York Times'." So, one of the outlets that they're falling back on to justify the president's claim is a news outlet that they have repeatedly described as failing and not reputable.

And, so, Wolf, this was a very surreal day in the White House briefing room, but it's very, very clear at this point that this White House is not backing down. There will be no apology from the president. But, of course, having covered Donald Trump for the last year and a half as both a candidate and as a president, we know that that's not really in his character, Wolf.

BLITZER: What's obvious, though, Jim, is that the -- so much of the focus of attention right now over at the White House is on the president's allegations, unfounded allegations about wiretapping by President Obama. It's taking away from their real priorities on domestic issues, national security issues. It must be taking away a lot of their time and energy.

ACOSTA: That's right. Before all of that unfolded, we saw Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, walk reporters through the next fiscal year budget that this White House is putting out. It's been described as dead on arrival up on Capitol Hill, but yet they still want to explain that to the press and the public.

Meanwhile, you have a healthcare bill that is being talked about up on Capitol Hill among House Republicans that this president has embraced that is really going nowhere at this point. It may not pass the House. It's unlikely to pass the Senate. So they have to go to the drawing board on that.

And you have a travel ban, the second attempt at a travel ban that this president has attempted is now tied up in the courts again. So you look all around them, when people inside this White House look all around them, all they can see at this point are -- are initiatives and bills and pursuits that have just fallen flat in the first 56 days of this administration.

And compounding the problems that this White House is experiencing is the president keeps making these unfounded claims via Twitter and otherwise. Whether it's about his inaugural crowds or whether undocumented immigrants are voting or that President Obama wiretapped him during the 2016 election. All of this under cuts to the credibility of the president of the United States. And it's something that is not just making people on Capitol Hill scratch their heads, including a lot of Republicans, but people all around the world. World leaders like Angela Merkel, who will be here tomorrow, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, there's going to be a news conference tomorrow with Angela Merkel at the White House, as well. I'm going to be speaking shortly with the House speaker, Paul Ryan.

We'll get his reaction to all of this. Jim Acosta, thanks for all your excellent work over there.

Let's bring in our political experts right now. And Gloria Borger, let me start with you. Just to reset right now, the chairman, Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr; the ranking Democrat, Mark Warner of Virginia, issued a joint statement saying, "Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government, either before or after election day 2016."

And just moments ago, a spokeswoman for Mark Warner said, quote, "The bipartisan leaders of the Intelligence Committee would not have made the statement they made without having been fully briefed by the appropriate authorities."

Yet somehow, we just heard Sean Spicer say the president is standing by his four tweets of nearly two weeks ago, accusing the former president of ordering a wiretap of Trump Tower.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: It's preposterous, Wolf. I don't know any other way to say it. It does remind me of the inaugural crowd issue. It reminds me of the, you know, the 3 million illegal votes cast during the election. And -- only this is about national security and intelligence.

And this is a time, if there ever was any, when you need to take the president literally. The court last night and today in -- on the travel ban issue, quoted the president and took the president literally. And now -- now the president's press secretary Sean Spicer is saying, "Don't, it is -- don't take him literally. He didn't mean wiretapping. What he meant was broad surveillance." And the more reporters ask the question, the more the White House says, "That's been asked and answered."

[17:15:17] Except it hasn't been asked and answered because all of those people who have seen more than we have, have come out, Republicans and Democrats, including the speaker of the House, and saying, "You know what? There isn't any evidence."

So, Sean Spicer was playing today to an audience of one, I believe, which is Donald Trump. And what he has to do is explain the indefensible. And he didn't do a really great job of doing that today, I'd have to tell you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And he still insists that he's pretty confident the president will be vindicated by all of this. But, you know, the White House is now using the word "surveillance" as opposed to "wiretap." "Wiretap" the president used in those four tweets, a couple of them in quotes, some of them not in quotes.

But in this statement that the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman and vice chairman put out, they use the word "surveillance" as if to deliberately tell the White House there is no evidence of either wiretap or surveillance.

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICS EXECUTIVE EDITOR: You know, in many ways I feel bad for Republicans on Capitol Hill. I feel bad for Paul Ryan, who you're going to be speaking with shortly, because he has a lot on his plate right now. He is trying to get through a health care bill. He holds a news conference today and is asked, you know, himself, you know, Do you believe this is happening?" And he says, no. I mean, Paul Ryan has to answer this question.

In addition to that just so he can just put this all in -- line it all up, you have the top Republican in the House and in the Senate, then top Democrat in the House and Senate, who have both said that they have seen no evidence. You've seen Jeff Sessions yesterday morning in Richmond, Virginia, the attorney general, said he has never briefed the president upon this.

And then, you know, of course, you have what we saw today. You have the White House doubling down and, quite frankly, Donald Trump extending the story another two weeks by saying within the next two weeks you're going to see something.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And it seems like this isn't something that they want to really wipe off the front pages of the newspapers, or do away with in terms of these press briefings where we saw Sean today having to engage.

This, I think, is another example of Donald Trump being on an island. And we saw him in many instances with birtherism, essentially be on an island. I think this whole tale that he began to spin on Twitter really gets at this sort of paranoid idea that his administration has about this deep state. Again, it demonizes Obama. And we know that his base very much is used to sort of characterizing Obama as the other, as someone who's out to get Donald Trump and somebody who is, in some ways, an enemy of America in some ways. So I think, in that way, he thinks it works to bind him to his base. And I don't think we're going to see him quit this theory.

BLITZER: Hold your thought for a moment. I want to take a quick break. There is a lot more coming up.

The Republican Obamacare replacement bill advances through another committee. But it's under attack from all sides. I'll talk about that. Health care, all the day's top stories, including the White House doubling down on the president's assertions against the former president. The House Speaker Paul Ryan standing by to join us live right after this.


[17:22:46] BLITZER: We're following the breaking news tonight. The White House angrily lashing out at reporters after the chairman and the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee publicly rejected President Trump's claims against President Obama for allegedly wiretapping Trump Tower.

The House Speaker, Paul Ryan, is standing by live. I'll ask him about that as well as the Republican health care bill, which made it through another committee today. But it's already gasping for some breath, mainly because of strong opposition from Republicans.

Let's go to CNN's Sunlen Serfaty. Sunlen, does this bill still have a chance of being approved in the House and then moving over to the Senate?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The bill in its current form, Wolf, does not look good at all. You have a growing number of Republicans up here on Capitol Hill opposing it, and the House Republican leadership is paying attention to that. They understand that.

And that is why we've seen them in the recent days really shift into a different gear, now saying that they are going to make some small changes and tweaks to this bill to make this bill into something that can actually pass on the House floor.


REP. DIANE BLACK (R), TENNESSEE: Those oppose no?




SERFATY: With opposition growing...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As of now, I'm still a no. We need some -- a couple big, big changes.

SERFATY: House Speaker Paul Ryan is scrambling, launching a furious behind-the-scenes effort to wrangle the Republican votes he needs to save the health care bill in the House.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Clearly, the main parts of this bill are going to stay exactly as they are. But we're making those improvements and refinements based upon the feedback we're getting from our members.

SERFATY: But the speaker's message not totally in line with President Trump.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are going to be negotiated. We've got to go to the Senate. We're going to see what happens in the Senate.

SERFATY: Ryan today trying to convince skeptics that they are on the same page.

RYAN: We are clearly in sync on this. We're working very hand in glove on this and the president's team.

SERFATY: Meantime, the White House is stepping up their sales pitch. DR. TOM PRICE, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: We believe

strongly, strongly that the plan that we put forward is so much better than the one that's there now.

SERFATY: Deploying Vice President Pence to Capitol Hill again today, but that has done little to convince wavering and outright dissenting Republicans to get on board.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The bill doesn't do what we said.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do I have some concerns? Yes.

SERFATY: The support on Capitol Hill is grim, with very little margin for error. According to CNN's latest vote count, 20 lawmakers are now flat-out opposed to or leaning against it. Speaker Ryan can afford to lose no more than 21 Republicans to pass the bill.

[17:25:11] Meantime, the conservative Freedom Caucus, Adamantly opposed to the bill, is going a step farther.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R), NORTH CAROLINA: I'm confident that there are not enough votes to pass this bill in its current form.

SERFATY: The group's chairman declaring he has 25 "no" votes, enough to kill the bill.

But on Capitol Hill today, the House bill did inch forward...

BLACK: The ayes are 19, and the no's are 17.

SERFATY: ... passing through the Budget Committee.

BLACK: The American Health Care Act of 2017 is ordered reported to the House of Representatives with a favorable recommendation.

SERFATY: All this as Senate Republicans continue to fire warning shots.

REP. BILL CASSIDY (R), LOUISIANA: As much as you want to say that this plan on the outside is absolutely what Republicans are doing, that's not true. I've got to tell you it's not true.

SERFATY: And remind the president that he's in the thick of this fight.

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: I brought them copies of "The Art of the Deal," because I think we're in the pre-negotiation stage.


SERFATY: This bill now goes on to the Rules Committee, and that's where Speaker Ryan can potentially make these small changes he wants. And this is where the hard part essentially starts, because he's got to make enough changes to attract new conservative support, but not make too many changes to lose the moderate support up here on Capitol Hill. Now, he has taken in recent days to calling this the sweet spot that

he's looking for, but, Wolf, that is a sweet spot that has been very elusive so far.

BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thank you. Sunlen Serfaty joining us from Capitol Hill.

Also joining us from Capitol Hill is the speaker of the House, Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. Mr. Speaker, thanks for joining us.

RYAN: You bet, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: I want to get to health care and repealing and replacing Obamacare in a moment. But let's talk about this major breaking news today, the White House reinforcing themselves saying they're sticking by the president's four tweets almost two weeks ago, accusing President Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower in New York.

You said today you do not believe President Trump's claims the Trump Tower was wiretapped on the orders of President Obama. If you don't believe the president on this, how can you trust him on other issues?

RYAN: What I said was I have not seen any evidence that this occurred based upon the briefings that I have seen. I think that's what you probably heard from -- I didn't hear what Devin Nunes and Adam Schiff said, but I think they basically said the same thing.

So I didn't say one thing about the president's tweets. I said I have not seen any evidence that this has occurred. The Intelligence Committee has not seen evidence that this has occurred. They have an ongoing investigation on all things Russia. They have not completed that investigation.

And so we'll see at the end of the day what that investigation turns up with respects to Russia, the campaign and everything else. But heretofore, we have not seen any evidence. There's nothing new here. I've been saying this for a few days.

BLITZER: But you've been briefed by the highest law enforcement and intelligence...

RYAN: Yes. That's the point I'm making.

BLITZER: ... officials. You're a member of that -- you're one of the leaders of that so-called...

RYAN: Right.

BLITZER: ... Gang of Eight. You've heard the most sensitive classified information. You've raised this issue with all of them, and they have provided you, you say, with no evidence at all to back up what the president tweeted.

RYAN: Yes. That's what I just said. I said we have not seen any evidence that there was a wiretap or a FISA court order against Trump Tower or somebody in Trump Tower.

BLITZER: So, should the president of the United States, you believe, apologize to former President Obama and apologize to the American people for making such an assertion?

RYAN: I'm going to leave it to him to make his decisions. I think he was responding to news reports and to some articles that were out there. Frankly, I didn't know about those articles until -- I don't know -- a handful of days ago. But apparently, there was some articles buzzing around newspapers and Internet and magazines suggesting this.

BLITZER: But don't you think...

RYAN: I think that's probably what he's responding to.

BLITZER: ... Mr. Speaker, before the president makes an accusation like this against his predecessor, instead of relying on news reports, he should speak with officials, speak with those officials who would know if there was a FISA warrant, who would know if there was any wiretap that was ordered against Trump Tower in New York City.

RYAN: Well, I can't speak to that. All I can say is I have not seen the evidence, because I have spoken with those people. And I don't know if he had. I don't think he had, actually, before then.

BLITZER: Well, he clearly hasn't spoken to anyone, and he got that information -- I don't know if you heard Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary today, but he made it clear that the president was relying on news reports that were making these suggestions.

RYAN: Right.

BLITZER: And they're still not backing away from it, even though there's no evidence to back it up.

Just to remind our viewers out there, let me read a couple of those tweets, because they're pretty outrageous when you hear it. "Terrible. Just found out that Obama had my wires tapped at Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism."

A few minutes later, "Is it legal for a sitting president to be wiretapping a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by a court order. A new low."

Few minutes later, "I bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October just prior to election."

And then a few minutes later, "How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process? This is Nixon Watergate. Bad, or sick guy."

Those are pretty outrageous, and two weeks -- almost two weeks later, there's no evidence to back up any of that. So, what's your bottom line message right now to the American people? PAUL RYAN, SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: My bottom line is that I have seen no evidence of this occurred. That's been given to me from, let's just say, members of the intelligence committee, the people who would be in charge of such things. But the intelligence committee is still doing an investigation, everything dealing with Russia -- all of their attempts to meddle in the campaign. Look, that's not a new story. We know Russia meddled in our election, tried to meddle in our election.

The question is let's go to the bottom of it. Let's make sure we can stop it from ever happening again, and let's give our allies the tools they need to prevent Russia from doing so. So, this investigation is still going through. I think that's what we just have to wait and see. Let it run its course and find out everything we can possibly know about it to make sure that things that need to be fixed get fixed.

BLITZER: But bottom line also, the false statements like these, like these four tweets, does it damage the president's credibility here in the United States and around the world?

RYAN: Look, I think -- I think the president is going to be marked and judged by his record. I think he's going to be marked and judged by the results we achieve. I think the president is going to be marked and judged and viewed around the world by whether we rebuild our military, regrow our economy, repeal and replace this health care law that's, you know, so damaging health care in America. That's what I think is going to matter to him. I think it's going to matter -- I meet with people from foreign countries all the time. I met with the Prime Minister of Ireland today. And I think what matters is results, policies, do we achieve our goals. That's what's going to matter at the end of the day.

BLITZER: I'm going to talk about health care, but you still personally trust President Trump?

RYAN: Yes.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about health care right now. The health care bill to repeal and replace Obamacare, you dispute the Congressional Budget Office numbers about how many people would lose insurance. What's your own estimate of how many Americans --

RYAN: I don't dispute it. I don't dispute it. I think what was important was CBO put a qualifier on why and how they arrive at that estimate. And that's what I point to, because I think it's pretty informative. What the CBO is basically saying is, if the government stops forcing people to buy something they don't want to buy, they're not going to buy it. If the government does not expand Medicaid in the future, that means future people won't -- less people will go on Medicaid. That's what they're saying effectively.

So, they're not saying that we're going to be taking away something from somebody next year or two years from now. It's that people, given the freedom of choice, will choose not to take this benefit, not to take this Obamacare. That's the point I'm trying to say, which is let's look at what CBO said and the reasons for their insurance coverage estimates. I would note that these coverage estimates are hard to nail down. They were -- they were pretty off by a pretty good margin with respect to what they thought people would be taking Obamacare today. They thought more and more people would be in Obamacare today than are, and it's because people don't like Obamacare. And the point I make in all of this, Wolf, is the law is collapsing. Five states have only one insurer left, one carrier left, over a thousand counties. One out of three counties in America, only one carrier left. They're leaving the market and premiums are skyrocketing.

BLITZER: Let me -- let me just press you on that one point. If that expanded Medicaid program goes away, let's say in 2020, how many people would lose their health insurance then?

RYAN: Well, we're giving the states the ability to control Medicaid and they can tailor Medicaid to meet their own needs. You -- I can't tell you how many governors we hear from democrats and republicans, who say, "Let me run Medicaid in my state. Give me the flexibility. I know my state better than you do in Washington."

BLITZER: But do you have an estimate of how many people would lose their health insurance?

RYAN: It isn't the CBO estimate. I can't remember the breakdown of that number, but the CBO says, if in the future states don't expand Medicaid, then that means fewer people won't go on Medicaid. By the way Medicaid is broken. Medicaid doesn't work. More and more doctors don't even take Medicaid in the first place. What good is your coverage if you can't even get a doctor? So the point we're making is, let's give the states the ability to take this program over because they know better how to fix and help health care for people who are needy. I can tell you, in Wisconsin, we could do a far better job of customizing and fixing Medicaid if we get the ability to do so from the federal government.

That's why we want to turn control of Medicaid back to the states, and give our governors the ability and the tools, and the flexibility to fix this problem, once and for all, because the system is not working. The system is unsustainable. And more and more people aren't even getting good coverage. So, we believe by giving governors more flexibility, by giving the states the ability to customize Medicaid to meet their needs of their specific populations that need Medicaid, and then replacing Obamacare with a patient-centered system, risk pools, tax credits, health savings accounts, we think those are the secrets to success of a viable market place that people can get affordable health care coverage.

[17:34:49] BLITZER: We look -- went back to 2009 when Obamacare was being debated, and this is what you said, I'll put it up on the screen. "Before Congress changes health care as the American people know it, we must know the likely consequences of the House Democrat legislation, including the number of people who would lose access to their current insurance, the number of jobs lost due to business taxes, the number of uninsured people who would obtain coverage, and the extent of the cannibalization of the employer coverage due to Medicaid expansion." So, why is that information not necessary this time around, although specifics you wanted in 2009?

RYAN: Far from it. I'm not suggesting -- we are the ones who asked for the CBO report. We're the ones who said, "CBO, please give us an analysis of this plan." And so, that's why I say, I'm actually -- I take solace in the CBO plan. What the CBO plan says is - or what the CBO estimate says is, "When our reforms kick in, premiums start going down." It's physically responsible. It -- so, that's -- we're the ones who asked for the CBO to do what you just described.

So, back then, by the way, I would say the government estimators got their way off on Obamacare. Remember what President Obama said? "If you like your plan you can keep it." Well, about what, 4.7 million people lost the plan that they liked. Remember he said, he was going to lower premiums $2,500 on average? It didn't do that, it went up about $3,000 on average.

So, I would simply suggest, Wolf, that Obamacare is a series of broken promises. Those estimates were way off. We've asked the CBO to estimate our bill, and this is what we're basing our legislation on. And the good news is, with this good estimate we have, we haven't even gotten to phase two and three of our three-part program here, which is get the secretary of Health and Human Services to open up market freedom. Let the states go back and offer plans and a new place, so more plans can come into the market. We want more insurers in the market, not just one.

And also, the other bills that we want to pass, association of health plans so small businesses can bulk buy insurance nationwide. Let people shop across state lines. Deal with medical liability reforms so that we can lower the practice of the defense of medicine. All those things dramatically lower the cost of health care, and so, we're comforted by the fact that we're on the right path here.

You mentioned -- I heard you're in -- the preview you had, this is legislating. We're listening to our members and making the kinds of refinements, the kinds of additions and improvements to the bill that we think, as I say, gets the sweet spot. Gets the bill that everybody likes, that everybody can support, because it's just really important we get this right. The reason it's really important we get this right is because Obamacare is collapsing. We can't just sit back and watch it happen. We have an obligation and a duty to do what we said we would do when we ran for office, and that is replace Obamacare with a much better system, and that is what we're trying to do.

BLITZER: I just want to remind our viewers that CBO's estimate is that, within a year, what, 12 million people would lose their health insurance, 24 million would lose it over the next decade, even if they're wrong,


RYAN: Because people would choose not to take Obamacare. Because we're not going to force them to take Obamacare.

BLITZER: But that's still millions of people losing health care. RYAN: Which will get access to tax credits and they'll be able to buy what they want to buy. So you're making it look like there's nothing replacing Obamacare. That's just not the case, Wolf. What we're suggesting is let's have state based (INAUDIBLE) with federal financing. Give straight coverage to people with catastrophic illnesses so they get good coverage and don't go poor if they get really sick. And then, by covering those people in risk pools, everybody else who buys health insurance doesn't have to cover that. You dramatically lower the price of their insurance. It works because I know it, because we did it in Wisconsin, before Obamacare abolished our risk pool. Then, give people refundable tax credits, who don't get health care from their job. We want to, once and for all, end the discrimination in the tax code against people who don't get health care at work.

Doing these things gives people access to choices. It gives them the wherewithal and the means to buy a health care plan of their choosing that they like. Obamacare doesn't do that, and CBO says, "Yes, you're not going to force people to buy Obamacare. A lot of people aren't going to buy Obamacare." What we're saying is we're going to give you the freedom to buy what you want.

BLITZER: You know, your critics have said that you're going way too fast. Right now, they said, yes you're -- and you have said, repeatedly, you're not jamming this bill down people's throats, that you're going to go through regular order.

RYAN: Yes.

BLITZER: But the bill has gone now through, what, three committees without any significant changes to those committee meetings were overnight. They were done before that CBO score. The Congressional Budget Office estimate the House Budget Committee, pushed through the bill, much more quickly than expected this morning, and several of your own members, republicans have complained they haven't been able to make any changes. So, how can you say this is not being jammed down members' throats?

RYAN: First of all, it's not. It's a four-committee process. The budget committee -- actually I used to chair the budget committee -- the budget committee can't amend the bill. It doesn't have that ability. The 74 Budget Act does not allow amendments to be made at budget committee. Amendments can be made at Rules Committee. So that's just the process that we have.

We didn't amend the bill in ways and means in commerce because we were waiting for the score. It's very, very common for authorizing committees to go before the score arrives. The score arrives, then you go to budget committee, and then you can make amendments at Rules Committee. So literally, this is the process we have here. It is the time, tested 1974 budget office -- budget process. We've been run on this for seven years.

[17:40:00] We built this plan starting last January, a year ago January to June. We gave it to the country. We said, "This is what we think is a better way to replace health care." We ran for election in 2016 on this vision of repealing and replacing Obamacare. Then, since the election, we've been working with our counterparts in the senate, with the White House to get this thing right, and now, we're listening to our members, which is what the legislative process does, is, requires, to get it right, to find the sweet spot so that people have a bill that they can enjoy, that they can support. And the reason I'm excited about this is because I think this is an opportunity for us. It's an opportunity for us to fix a broken system that is failing, that is crashing --

BLITZER: But you know --

RYAN: -- and to get at the goal of giving people access to affordable coverage, and we want to make sure we get it right. That's why we're not -- we didn't just take this to the floor. We didn't write this in Harry Reid's office on Christmas Eve like they did Obamacare and jam it through. We're going through regular order.

By the way, after we're done with all the stuff I just said, then it goes over to the senate and they start all over again. It goes to the senate and they amend it, and they do what they want to do to it. That's the legislative process. That's what we're doing.

BLITZER: But you know, in the senate, some of your republican colleagues say they don't even think they can get 51 votes, let alone 60. They will eventually need to really get this enacted, that everything you're doing in the House now is really for naught.

RYAN: Well, I could -- senators aren't helpless to what the House does. Here's the legislative process. I know you know this, but I'll explain it for your viewers. The House passes legislation. It sends it to the Senate. Then the Senate takes up that legislation. They'll have a bunch of amendments. They'll make changes if they want to. If they get support for changes they'll make those changes. And then, if there's a difference in the two bills, we go to a conference committee and we iron out those differences. That's the legislative process.

So, senators, if they want to make a change, they have a process in order to do that. When the bill goes to them and they do -- go through their legislative process.

BLITZER: I know you got to run. One final question, Mr. Speaker, you've been generous with your time. You said, today, the president has been helping to convince members of your republican caucus to support your bill. But each day is seemingly more members are coming out, and saying they're going to vote no. So, can you name specific members that the president has turned from no to yes?

RYAN: Oh, I'm not going to get into all that. Only that, it's not my bill, it's our bill. It's the American health care act. This is the bill we wrote with the administration, with our friends in the senate. So, this is a collaborative effort between the House, and the Senate, and the White House, and the president is the one who's doing a lot of listening from our members, mediating differences, getting ideas and we're working together to try and iron out these differences to make improvements. By the way, you know, there's one word to describe all of this, it's

called "legislating". This is what legislators do. This is our process. The reason you know about it, the reason it's all on T.V. is because it's open and transparent. People see what we're doing, these kinds of conversations. This is how bills are supposed to go into law. We call it "regular order", and the president is playing a very effective role. He's been very productive, very effective, listening to people's concerns, bringing them in to a table, talking at that table, and then now, we're trying to see what we can do to accommodate the people's concerns, to get what I call the "sweet spot," a bill that we can pass because it's just important we get it right.

If we sit back and just watch Obamacare crash, that does so much damage to so many people. We want to fix this problem by repealing a crashing system and replace it with one that works.

BLITZER: Mr. Speaker, thanks once again for your time. We hope you come back. I know you got your hands full right now, but after the final floor vote, we'd love to have you back here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

RYAN: All right, Wolf, good to be with you. Take care.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

Paul Ryan is the Speaker of the House. Let's get some analysis. Gloria, we just heard him say he thinks he's going to make it happen. Send it to the senate, they can then figure out what to do there, go to a conference committee, come up with some sort of compromise, and repeal and replace Obamacare.





BORGER: And by the way, the president is a full partner, and the president has been very effective and very productive as he said. I mean, here's the Speaker of the House who has been thinking about and trying to legislate for the past, however, many years, and he is a legislator. He is somebody who really didn't want to become speaker of the house. He really wanted to stay on a -- on a -- legislatively, and run the tax committee or the budget committee, or whatever it was.

Instead now, he's the speaker trying to get this legislation through. He must be driven crazy, I must say, by the daily questions about Donald Trump's tweets in the morning before breakfast, and he has spent the last couple of weeks having to answer questions about the wiretapping. And today, he just said to you he has not seen any evidence, but there is still an investigation ongoing into Russia. So, Paul Ryan lines up with the leaders of the intelligence committee in the senate, and Adam Schiff saying, you know, he hasn't seen anything yet. And he was pretty forthright about it. BLITZER: Yes, he would love to talk about the health care. I'd love to talk about legislation. But you could see, not very anxious to talk about these allegations that President Trump leveled against President Obama.

[17:45:02] PRESTON: Right. And for our viewers who don't really know a whole lot about Paul Ryan, he's very wonkish as Gloria said, began his career as an aide on Capitol Hill. You know, he would rather crunch numbers than try to herd cats, which is what we're seeing him do right now, and not so successfully because of -- because of the bill. What is interesting, though -- a couple things. One is, he said Obamacare is collapsing, which we've heard him say over and over again. He said, "We can't sit back and see it happen," which is diametrically different than Donald Trump saying, "Let's just let it collapse," right? So, this shows you how invested he is in this. And he also is giving as much room as he can to Donald Trump, to stay on in support of the bill. Because he knows if he loses Donald Trump, then he loses the bill.

BLITZER: Doesn't look like the president is being all that assertive, though, right now on repealing and replacing. He was in Michigan yesterday, didn't mention it, and he spoke about it a little bit later in the day, when he was in Tennessee.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, and we haven't heard him really tweet about it, right? I mean, Twitter is something he likes to take to and make all sorts of claims and boasts about all sorts of things. And so far, I think there's been essentially one tweet about this where he did call it "our health care plan". But I think today, we heard something new from Ryan, this idea that Donald Trump is in there, twisting arms and listening, and trying to come to some deal. We'll see if that happens. I mean, so far, you've seen people try to say, "Is this Trumpcare? Is this Ryancare? Is this Trumpryancare?" And, you know, basically they say, "Well, it's our health care bill". We'll see. I mean, there've been all sorts of, you know, kind of ups and downs in this, and we'll see if it passes the House.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens. It's going to be relatively soon that that floor vote moved through three committees already. Guys, stand by.

Coming up, he got to start with Richard Nixon, as a long-time advisor to Donald Trump. Will Roger Stone have to tell Congress what he knows about Russian hackers and the last year's presidential election?


[17:50:00] BLITZER: A long-standing confidant of President Trump, a veteran republican operative, may be facing questions, as law makers investigate Russian meddling in the U.S. presidential election. Our Brian Todd has been looking into this for us. Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this gentleman is Roger Stone, who's been a republican strategist and operative for decades, and has been controversial just about every step of the way. Tonight, members of Congress in both houses from both parties, want to bring Stone before committees investigating Russian hacking because of provocative comments he's made about his apparent ties to hackers.


TODD: He's a long-time Trump confidant -- a legendary republican operative, well-versed in trans-political warfare, who got his start with Richard Nixon. Tonight, key members of Congress want to hear from Roger Stone about his own admitted communications with hackers, who tried to disrupt the U.S. election.

JOHN MCCAIN, UNITED STATES SENATOR ARIZONA: Obviously, I think he and others need to be questioned.

TODD: The top democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mark Warner, tells CNN he's concerned about Stone's contacts with Guccifer 2.0., the online entity claiming to be behind the Democratic National Committee hack.

U.S. officials say Guccifer 2.0 was likely a front for Russian Military intelligence. One senate staffer tells CNN, it's very likely Stone will be called to testify when the Senate Intelligence Committee holds hearings on Russian hacking operations. House leaders aren't saying whether they'll call on Stone to testify, but the Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff is eager to speak to Stone.

ADAM SCHIFF, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE RANKING MEMBER: So, I tell you, that concerns me a great deal, because you have someone affiliated with the campaign having direct communication with two of the outlets apparently during the campaign


TODD: Stone left the Trump campaign in August 2015, but twice in 2016, during the campaign, Stone claimed to have had back channel communications with Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks which published some of the damaging democratic e-mails. Stone said this to Show Time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You, Roger Stone, have said I believe on multiplications publicly that you have a back channel to Assange, correct?

STONE: Yes. We just happen to have a mutual friend who move (INAUDIBLE) supported Assange and have some connection to him.

TODD: Stone has since explained he got his information from a friend who spoke with Assange, but it was not a communication. More than a month before Clinton campaign chair John Podesta's e-mails were published by WikiLeaks, Stone seemed to predict that would happen in a tweet.

SCHIFF: He probably did predict that John Podesta would be in the barrel, so I think it does beg a lot of questions that I would certainly like answers on. TODD: Stone told CNN's Gloria Borger, that prediction was based on his own research on Podesta, not on any communications with WikiLeaks. And Stone says that while he exchanged a few tweets and private messages with Guccifer 2.0., now described as Russia's online persona for hacking, it was nothing substantial. And it was after the hacking had occurred.

Stone told CNN any suggestion otherwise is a "fabrication". Now, Stone sees conspiracy in a hit and run accident Wednesday in Pompano Beach, Florida. He told the CNN affiliate, the driver of the vehicle which hit the car he was riding in had tinted windows, T-boned his vehicle and took off.

STONE: I have to guess that somebody doesn't want me to testify at those hearings.

DAVID DRUCKER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It just fits with Stone flamboyant political style. Maybe it's true, maybe it isn't. It's not so much about whether or not the accident happened, it's the motive behind the accident that Stone is alleging, and of course, that's what makes it entertaining at the very least.


TODD: Stone told that CNN affiliate if he testifies before Congress, he'll be able to prove that the narrative that the Trump campaign had ties to Russia is false. A narrative which Stone believes was the bases of Mr. Trump being surveilled. Wolf?

[17:55:09] BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thanks very much. Brian Todd reporting.

Coming up, an angry White House lashes out after top congressional leaders from both parties say they see no evidence that President Trump was wiretapped. The White House says the president stands by his unfounded claim.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news, President Trump refuted. The White House Press Secretary blasts the news media and angrily refuses to back down from the president's claim he was wiretapped, even as the heads of Congressional Intelligence Committee and the House Speaker Paul Ryan all now say they've seen no evidence. How long will the White House stand by the president's explosive but unsubstantiated allegations?