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Interview With Indiana Congressman Andre Carson; House Intel Chairman Under Fire; Trump at War With GOP?; Israel Approves First New Settlement in 20 Years; Secy of State Signals Major Shift in U.S. Syria Policy; New Moves to Build National First Responders Network. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 30, 2017 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, growing questions about the actions of the House Intelligence Committee chairman and the Trump administration.

Pervasive interference. The first Senate hearing on Russia's election meddling underscores an ongoing Kremlin campaign to disrupt the U.S. political system. Former presidential candidate Marco Rubio is now revealing how he was targeted.

At war with the GOP. The president just unleashed new tweets in his battle with the conservative Freedom Caucus that doomed the health care bill. What does it mean for the next big items on his agenda?

And backing Assad? The U.S. Navy dramatically changing its policy toward Syria's brutal strongman. We're going to tell you what Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is now saying during a pivotal trip overseas.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news tonight on the House Intelligence Committee chairman's mysterious trip to the White House grounds to view secret reports about alleged surveillance of the Trump team.

"The New York Times" now reporting that two senior White House officials helped provide Representative Devin Nunes with the information that Nunes later shared with the president. It's adding more fuel to concerns that Nunes has been trying to give political cover to the president for his debunked claim that he was wiretapped by President Obama.

The Trump administration is refusing to confirm or deny the "New York Times" report or discuss where Nunes may have received his information. But Press Secretary Sean Spicer says the White House has invited leaders of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees to view materials related to potentially improper surveillance and leaks. Tonight, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee says he

wants to know if the White House is belatedly offering up the very same information that already was shown to Chairman Nunes. Congressman Adam Schiff says he has profound concern about the administration's actions, this as the Senate held its first hearing on the critical issue right at the center of all the controversy, Russia's election meddling.

Witnesses underscoring that Moscow still is trying to interfere in American democracy, including a recent social media campaign targeting the House speaker, Paul Ryan.

We also learned that aides from Senator Marco Rubio's presidential campaign were the target of two Russian hacking attempts, including one just yesterday. This hour, I will talk with a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Andre Carson. He's standing by, along with our correspondents and analysts, as we cover these breaking stories.

First, let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Jeff Zeleny.

Jeff, the White House press secretary once again raising more questions than he answered just minutes after that "New York Times" report was released.


The White House has sent a letter to the top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. Sean Spicer said it was sent earlier this morning, but it became public just around the time that that "New York Times" story was released.

And it was inviting these leaders on Intelligence Committee to come over and look at some information the National Security Council found.

Sean Spicer this is all, of course, in relation to the Russian investigation. Wolf, but the timing here is so interesting. It was just nine days ago that the Republican chairman alone came over here to the White House, certainly raising so many questions about who invited him in. That's something that Sean Spicer had said earlier in the week that he would explain.

He would try, he said, to get to the bottom of who invited him here and who showed him the documents and authorized all of this, but this is what he said today.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Please don't put words in my mouth. I never said I would provide you answers. I said we would look into it. The responsible for thing for us to do is to provide the individuals and the committees who are doing the review the materials that they are looking for, or some of them.

We don't know exactly what they're looking for and what they have seen and what they haven't. Our goal is to be as forthright as possible. They asked the include -- or the intelligence communities and others in a March letter for information. We are willing to provide them with the information that we have -- the materials that we have come across.

And I think that is an important step. Again, it is not -- our obligation is to make sure the review is done both in the House and the Senate as we asked for a few weeks ago, not to make sure that we illegally leak out information to you.


ZELENY: So, again, Wolf, the timing of this also interesting.

It was on March 15 in an interview with FOX News that the president suggested the committee would suddenly be getting at some point some new information on all this. We don't know if this is the information he was talking about or not, but he certainly raised that possibility.


Now, the Democratic Intelligence ranking member, Adam Schiff, said, look, he would come to the White House and look at this information, but he also wondered if it was a distraction from all of it.

As for the Senate investigation, they said this could simply be a sideshow. They're conducting one of their own, Wolf.

BLITZER: Jeff, thank you, Jeff Zeleny over at the White House.

Also tonight, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee has a very skeptical response to this new White House offer to review documents. Once again, as we just heard, Congressman Adam Schiff speaking out about that and about his very tense meeting today with the committee chairman, Devin Nunes.

Let's go to our senior congressional reporter, Manu Raju, who is up on the Hill.

What did we hear, Manu, from Congressman Schiff?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Schiff's raising questions about how the National Security Council staff apparently was the source of this information, or at least sort of helped Devin Nunes get access to this information at the same time as they came across this information in -- quote -- "ordinary course of business" and now is allowing just Mr. Schiff, but other leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committee to review this information at the earliest date.

We said, well, if this is coming forward now, does that mean that this was the same information that you provided to Mr. Nunes in that private briefing that he had before briefing the president of the United States on the surveillance information suggesting the president may have been incidentally collected, some of the communications involving the Trump team may have been incidentally collected through the United States surveillance efforts? Now, Mr. Nunes does not and Mr. Schiff does not have an answer to that question, but also raising questions about whether or not the White House may have been involved in trying to slow down or stall this investigation. I asked him directly, so, Mr. Schiff, do you believe that the White House in any way was trying to slow down this investigation?

This is his response.


QUESTION: You're suggesting it, but you're not saying it. Do you personally believe the White House has been working with Chairman Nunes to undermine and undercut this investigation?

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: The only thing I will say is, again, trying to keep the focus on what's the best route to doing a credible investigation, if there's been a substantial question about whether we can do that, then we need to take whatever steps are necessary to restore credibility to the investigation.

And I don't want to speak for the chairman. I think you can and have asked him these questions. I do want to try to keep my focus on what's the path forward here, and to do my best to cordon off any distraction, keep our eyesight on what's truly at stake here.


RAJU: Now, Mr. Schiff and Mr. Nunes did meet privately earlier today to discuss how to move forward, discussing possible witnesses that could come forward either in a private setting or in a public setting.

The one thing that Mr. Nunes did not reveal to Adam Schiff was how he got on to White House grounds, who the source of his information was and whether or not that information that they are going to see in the coming days was the same information that Mr. Nunes briefed the president of the United States on.

And, remember Wolf, this all stems, potentially stems back to that unsubstantiated claim that the president made that he was wiretapped under the orders of Barack Obama.

A lot of suspicion that the White House perhaps potentially provided this information to Mr. Nunes to help push back against those criticisms that the president had no basis for making those allegations, so questions about not just whether or not the White House tried to use Mr. Nunes to push back on those claims, but also whether or not they're trying to tamper with this ongoing House investigation into Russia and any of those contacts that may have occurred with the Trump campaign -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Manu, thank you, Manu Raju up on the Hill.

Let's get some more on all of this.

A Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Andre Carson, is joining us.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. ANDRE CARSON (D), INDIANA: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you know yet who at the White House gave the House intelligence chairman, Devin Nunes, those intelligence reports?

CARSON: Well, I have seen the public reports, as you have seen them.

I think what is clear, Wolf, is that what Chairman Nunes has done -- and I know Devin -- I have traveled with Devin. He's a good person, aside from this.

But what he has done has been a tremendous fumble and a tremendous mistake. And as a member of the committee, along with other Democrats , we're calling for his -- we're calling for a recusal, simply for the fact because we know how damaging his actions are and have been.

BLITZER: "The New York Times," as you know, reports that two White House officials gave Chairman Nunes this information. They were high- level officials, the senior director for intelligence at the National Security Council and a lawyer who was working on the National Security Council in the White House Counsel's Office.


Can you say if these people gave Chairman Nunes these intelligence reports on their own, or were they authorized at higher levels to do so?

CARSON: No, sir.

BLITZER: Because that's a key question right now from the standpoint of your investigation, who authorized these individuals to share this information with the chairman; is that right?

CARSON: I think what's most disappointing, Wolf, is that he did not consult with the ranking member, Adam Schiff.

And I think in a very real sense, Speaker Ryan will make the call or should make the call. He has refused to so far as to remove him, at least from the position of chairman, so we can move forward with this investigation.

We have to remember it was the House Intelligence Committee -- and it is the House Intelligence Committee that has gotten us this far in terms of unearthing the necessary truths that are needed to get to the bottom of this madness. And so it has put a taint on the committee, without question, but moving forward, I think in order do so in a healthy way and an effective way, he should recuse himself.

BLITZER: If, in fact, the "New York Times" report is true and these two individuals gave this information to the chairman, he suggested in various interviews, he called them whistle-blowers. Do you see them as whistle-blowers? CARSON: Well, at this point, absolutely not, but, however, as we go

forward, we will see, which is why a special commission is necessary in dealing with this matter.

I will say that the Intelligence Committee is a place, a safe haven for textbook whistle-blowers. But I think what has happened right now is very questionable. The way it was handled is very questionable.

And so the questions that you're raising are so important. As a part of the fourth estate, it's so critically important, because, as we're dealing with a president who is accusing President Obama of things that are very unfortunate, we have a president who is saying things.

And his impulsivity is really bringing down the reputation of the United States and I think it's bringing down the moral of those staffers on both sides of the political aisle in the administration, in the intelligence community who work so very hard.

And I think it's darkening the cloud that already exists over not only the White House, but of Congress. And the American people are disillusioned and disappointed and they're distrustful of our political process.

BLITZER: Chairman Nunes told me during a lengthy interview on Monday here in THE SITUATION ROOM when I asked if he was coordinating with the Trump administration, and he said that wasn't the case.

Do you believe Chairman Nunes was telling the truth when describing his sources?

CARSON: Well, you know, I can't speak to that at this point.

But what I will say, he made a huge -- he made a bad judgment call in going to the White House. I think that he has shown himself to lack the objectivity needed to chair the Intelligence Committee. And I think, in reality, going forward, we need someone else to lead this effort, along with Ranking Member Schiff, so we can continue doing the phenomenal work that the members who serve on that committee, that the staffers on both sides of the aisle do each and every day to really do the hard work that we have been doing.

Remember, Wolf, were it not for the House Intel Committee and Senate, we wouldn't have unearthed the truths that have gotten us this far.

BLITZER: If these two senior officials at the National Security Council, the White House Counsel's Office released this information to Chairman Nunes on their own without clearance from their supervisors, the White House counsel or the national security adviser to the president or the vice president or the president, should they be fired?

CARSON: Absolutely.

I think they have they have really jeopardized the integrity of the process in terms of delivering information, transporting information and really breaking the chain of command, if this happens to be true. BLITZER: If it happens to be true.

Stand by, Congressman. There's more to discuss. We're following several breaking stories right now. We will be right back.



BLITZER: We're back with a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Andre Carson.

Congressman, stand by for a few moments.

Right now, I want to get an update on the Russia investigation that's under way in the Senate.

A hearing today drove home the gravity of the Kremlin threat to the American democracy.

CNN's Jessica Schneider was there watching it all unfold.

Some very serious issues came to the floor.


You know, the Senate Intelligence Committee today, Wolf, all business and the experts sending a clear message. Russians orchestrated widespread hacking during the campaign and it is still happening right now.


SCHNEIDER (voice-over): The Senate Intelligence Committee investigating the details of Russian meddling throughout the 2016 election.

SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), NORTH CAROLINA: Our community has been a target of Russian information warfare, propaganda and cyber-campaigns and still is.

SEN. MARK WARNER (D), VIRGINIA: This is not fake news. This is actually what happened to us.

SCHNEIDER: Ranking Democratic Mark Warner stressing the bipartisan aim of the process.

WARNER: I want to make clear, at least for me, this information is not about whether you have a D or an R next to your name. It is not about re-litigating last fall's election. It is about clearly understanding and responding to this very real threat.


SCHNEIDER: The first open hearing features disclosures on experts from Russia and cyber-security. They have deduced Russian interference may have been more wide-ranging that previously believed.

CLINT WATTS, CYBER-SECURITY EXPERT: Russia's covert media outlets and covert trolls sought to sideline opponents on both sides of the political spectrum with adversarial views towards the Kremlin. They were in full swing during both the Republican and Democratic primary season, may have helped sink the hopes of candidates more hostile to Russian interests long before the field narrowed.

Senator Rubio, in my opinion, you anecdotally suffered from these efforts.

SCHNEIDER: Republican Senator Marco Rubio revealing for the first time attempted hacks of his staff occurred last July and again yesterday.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: A second attempt was made again against former members of my presidential campaign team who had access to our internal information, again targeted from an I.P. address from an unknown location in Russia. And that effort was also unsuccessful.

SCHNEIDER: Clint Watts, a senior fellow at national security think tank, said during the campaign, Donald Trump repeated claims also pushed by Russian media.

WATTS: He denies the intel from the United States about Russia. He claims that the election could be rigged. That was the number one theme pushed by R.T., Sputnik News, white outlets all the way up until the election.

SCHNEIDER: Senator Ron Wyden now urging the committee to call for President Trump's tax returns as part of the investigation.

SEN. RON WYDEN (D), OREGON: The committee needs to follow the money wherever it leads.

SCHNEIDER: Russia is also accused of launching an online smear attack against House Speaker Paul Ryan following the fallout from his failed health care plan.

WATTS: This past week, we observed social media accounts discrediting Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, hoping to further foment unrest inside U.S. democratic institutions.


SCHNEIDER: Those experts say the Russians seem to be winning in cyberspace, because they have great propagandists and they have the best hackers out there.

In the testimony today, they stressed the U.S. government needs to change its methods to start attracting top technical talent -- Wolf.

BLITZER: No doubt the Russians are pretty happy about all the dissent that has developed here in the United States.

Thanks very much for that, Jessica Schneider, reporting. Let's get back to our Representative Andre Carson of the Intelligence


Congressman, the Senate is now making a point that they have a bipartisan effort to find the truth. The House speaker, Paul Ryan, today called the process in the House a little political, but that's clearly an understatement. You're on that panel. How do you fix it?

CARSON: Well, I think we fix it by first pushing Speaker Ryan to allow Chairman Nunes to recuse himself and get someone in the chair seat working alongside Ranking Member Schiff.

And I think also we have more open hearings now. Because of the classified level and the sensitivity of a lot of the information that we deal with and many of the folks in the intelligence community, we have to have these settings in a classified area.

However, I think the public needs to know, the public needs to see this played out. This is unfortunate for our democracy at this time. And I think, Wolf, in a very real sense, it is time for the American people to be engaged in what's taking place, given low levels of congressional approval, even lower levels of presidential approval.

The American people have become disillusioned to a degree that is very troubling. And so now we have to launch an influence campaign of bipartisanship to win back the American people.

BLITZER: Do you believe the Republicans on your Intelligence Committee will allow an open public hearing with Sally Yates, the former acting attorney general, former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

It had been scheduled for this past Tuesday, but the chairman suddenly canceled it. Will it happen?

CARSON: I don't want to speak on behalf of my Republican buddies on the committee, but I will say that they are just as disappointed and embarrassed as the Democrats are.

BLITZER: They clearly are frustrated that that hearing was canceled, is that what I'm hearing?

CARSON: Frustration, along with a bit of embarrassment, in terms of impacting the reputation and the integrity of the Intelligence Committee process.

And I think, moving forward, Speaker Ryan has to be bold in this regard and make sure that Devin, if not removes himself from the committee, because I know Devin personally, but recuses himself as chair and over this investigation.

BLITZER: But you're saying that some Republican members of the committee have expressed these same fears to you about him and about where this committee is going?

CARSON: I can't speak on behalf of my Republican friends, but I can say that, outside of our political posturing, outside of some of our political statements, we all want what's best for this country.

BLITZER: Congressman Andre Carson, thanks very much for joining us.

CARSON: What a pleasure. Thank you.

BLITZER: Just ahead, more confusing statements from the White House, as critics find new ammunition to allege a cover-up.


We will have more on the breaking news right after this.


BLITZER: Breaking news tonight, The White House is refusing to confirm or deny a new report that two White House officials helped provide House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes with the secret report that he viewed on White House grounds, the "the New York Times" offering new details about Nunes's mysterious visit to the White House compound that prompted him to go public with his claim about incidental surveillance of the Trump transition team.

[18:30:14] Let's bring in our political and legal analysts. And Gloria, let me start with you. It's very confusing.


BLITZER: Walk us through how we got here.

BORGER: So let's go back to March 4, Wolf. That was when the president initially did his tweet storm about how President Obama had been wiretapping him.

And then let's -- let's take a look at this time line here, because on March 15, in an interview with Tucker Carlson -- you see it there -- the president suggested that, "Gee, you're going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks," when he was asked about these wiretaps.

Then on March 21 -- and we remember the whole cloak and dagger stuff about Devin Nunes getting a text on his phone. And he goes and visits the White House complex. Wouldn't tell us who cleared him in, but he visited the White House complex. He got some clearly important information, at least so he thought.

On March 22, right in between the 21st and 22nd, he holds a press conference. He says, "I've seen this incredible stuff." He goes and meets with the president.

And then on March 23, Sean Spicer is asked about it and was asked, "Well, where did Devin Nunes get all of this information about unmasking and leaks?" And he -- and he was asked whether it came from the White House. And Sean Spicer said, "You know, coming from the White House doesn't make a ton of sense."

So you have the question here about where Devin Nunes got his information. "The New York Times" today reports that it did, in fact, come from two aides on the National Security Council staff inside the White House.

And it leaves us all asking the question: Did the president know about this before Devin Nunes informed him of it? Was the national security staff talking to Nunes on its own? Was it told to give Nunes this information? Why didn't Devin Nunes bring down Adam Schiff with him to the White House to see this information if it was so important? I think these are questions we need answers to.

BLITZER: You know, Jeffrey Toobin, I want to play a little clip, short clip. I had a lengthy interview with Devin Nunes here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Monday, and we had this exchange.


BLITZER: Meet with the president or any of his aides...


BLITZER; ... while you were there that night?

NUNES: No. And, in fact, I'm quite sure that people in the West Wing had no idea that I was there.


BLITZER: Well, if that's what he said on Monday, if you believe "The New York Times" report, he met with two senior White House officials, a top official of the National Security Council and a top official in the White House counsel's office. Those were White House officials.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: In his interview with you, he also said he couldn't reveal what went on at the White House complex, because it would reveal sources and methods, which is the language that spies use.

So Nunes was claiming that he was spying; he was on a mission, like a clandestine mission to the White House to uncover this material, and he's the chairman of the House Judiciary -- House Intelligence Committee. That's not his job, is to be a spy. This guy is so far out of his depth, he has no idea what he's doing. The question about whether he's clueless or corrupt or both is really the only question left in this investigation, at least as far as he's concerned.

BLITZER: Jackie, the story in "The New York Times" headlined two White House officials helped give Nunes intelligence reports. Interestingly, at the White House briefing today, Sean Spicer, the press secretary, refused to confirm or deny, but you know he's not shy. When they want to deny something, as they did yesterday in "The Washington Post" story, 100 percent wrong. In this particular case, that silence is thundering.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Whether or not they are accurate, I might add. But yes, you're absolutely right. He did try to sow seeds of doubt,

because when the first reporter in the briefing asked a question, he said, "Well, you're assuming that it's accurate."

And the reporter said, "Well, yes, I am." And then you're right. He did -- he did kind of go back and forth but wouldn't outright say it, which makes me think more is coming and he didn't want to put himself again in that situation where he's saying something isn't true and then it turns out in 24 hours that it absolutely is true, so...

BLITZER: Jeffrey, quickly has the White House lost control of this entire story right now?

TOOBIN: Yes. Do you have another question?

BLITZER: A very succinct answer. So what do they do, Gloria?

BORGER: There's another thing about Sean Spicer, first of all, today, where he kept saying over and over again that all of us journalists were concerned about process. The process of how this occurred rather than the substance of what Devin Nunes has learned.

[18:35:09] In fact, the process is quite important here. It's very important here, because Devin Nunes, as Jeffrey was saying, refused to reveal who gave him this information, made it sound like it was some kind of cloak-and-dagger operation. And we need to know whether, in fact, all of these gyrations were to prove, in the end, that Donald Trump's tweet on March 4 was even remotely accurate, which is what they may be trying to prove.

BLITZER: Go ahead.

TOOBIN: And Wolf, if I can just add very quickly, all of this illustrates is that, when you have a substantive investigation, as we do now, of Russian influence in the election, the risk of a cover-up, the risk of not telling the truth about what ultimately went on, is often bigger than the risk of underlying misconduct being discovered. And that's the problem here, all this -- that no one can get their story straight, either the White House or the Republicans who are supposedly investigating the White House.

BLITZER: And let me get back to that exchange, that brief exchange, Jackie, that I had with Devin Nunes on Monday, and I'll be specific. "Did you meet" -- I asked him, "Did you meet with the president or any of his aides while you were there that night?"

Nunes, "No. And I'm quite sure people in the West Wing had no idea I was there," which suggests to me that these two aides may have been acting maybe on their own. Did they have authority from General McMaster, the national security adviser, or the chief White House counsel to brief Nunes on all this information?

KUCINICH: Well, let's not forget one of these aides, McMaster's tried to have removed and was rebuffed by Bannon and Donald Trump. So this isn't exactly an individual that is someone that's really shining in the light of McMasters to begin with. BORGER: So the two choices are either they went rogue and they

shouldn't have gone rogue, or they were directed by their higher-ups. Which is worse?

BLITZER: What do you think, Jeff?

TOOBIN: Directed by their higher-ups.


TOOBIN: I think that's worse. I mean, you know, the question in all of these Washington scandals, if this turns into a scandal, is who determined the course of conduct? And the higher up the responsibility goes, the more troublesome it is.

BLITZER: And it gets back to what you first said, Gloria, on March 15.


BLITZER: The president himself suggested, get ready within the next couple weeks. You're going to learn a lot more information.

BORGER: Well, the president foreshadowed it and now looking back, you look at it and you go, "Well, gee, is this what he was talking about?" And did he know this? And were people trying to figure out a way to get it out? Or what else was he talking about?

BLITZER: There was an interesting question that was asked at the White House briefing today, Jackie. Maybe the president should tomorrow have a full-scale news conference so we can deal with these issues. You anticipate he would do that?

KUCINICH: Um, no. I don't think he's going to do that, because when he's tried -- he's just gotten himself deeper into this every time he's tried to answer this question.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Jeffrey.

TOOBIN: And remember, it all started, at least this chapter, all started because of that ridiculous false tweet...

BORGER: March 4.

TOOBIN: ... that Barack Obama had something to do with wiretapping Donald Trump.

BORGER: Right.

TOOBIN: If he had never made that completely false allegation against Barack Obama, lots of this, maybe all of it never would've happened.

BLITZER: And he was the one who said he wanted a full-scale investigation, go ahead and investigate. That's what -- he called for it.

BORGER: Exactly.

TOOBIN: How's that going?

BORGER: Exactly.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Don't go too far away. We're going to take another quick break. We have much more right after this.


[18:43:33] BLITZER: We're back with our political team. In a new round of Twitter attacks by President Trump targeting members of his own Republican Party.

Gloria, let me read to you a tweet from him earlier this morning. "The Freedom Caucus" -- those are conservative Republicans -- "will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team and fast. We must fight them and Dems in 2018."

And just an hour or so ago, he started tweeting naming names: "If Rep. Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, Raul Labrador would get on board, we'd get on board. We would have both great health care and massive tax cuts and reform. He then said, "Where are Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, Raul Labrador?

Repeal and replace."

He's not mincing any -- he's willing to fight members of his own party.

BORGER: Those three men are probably going home to their safe districts, which are -- you know, they won by -- by substantial margins. And if they want to buck the president, they may not be so afraid of his -- of his ire, although nobody wants to be primaried.

But they were also -- you know, those are guys who were out there early for this president, so it's kind of stunning to me that he would take them on like that.

BLITZER: Jackie, how unusual is it for a president to be naming names like this, going after fellow members of his own party?

KUCINICH: Incredibly, but he also doesn't -- this isn't the way to get to the Freedom Caucus, by threatening them. I can tell you what a Freedom Caucus source told the "The Daily Beast" today, quote, "Meh, meh, meh" was the comment when asked if this mattered to them.

Not only are they in safe districts, their constituents largely support what they did. This is not -- you hear them over and over again on CNN and elsewhere, saying this bill had 17 percent approval.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, Wolf, he also has a bigger problem with moderate Republicans. I mean, they haven't been as vocal but the one -- they are the ones who really are in danger of losing their seats if health care went through in the form it was proposed. You know, 24 million people according to the Congressional Budget Office losing health insurance. Senior citizens, raising their rates.

It wasn't just the Freedom Caucus that was rebelling, it was the more moderate members and they're the ones who are going to be running from Trump the fastest if he remains -- if he remains unpopular at the level he is now.

KUCINICH: But the Freedom Caucus say larger bloc and there could present a problem on tax reform and several other issues because they like to say no.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: And he will need them on tax reform which is why its so striking that he was calling them out by name and calling them out by group, because, you know, you have to go to the well again and he's going to want them on tax reform, on corporate tax reform, in particularly, and they would be likely allies.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And you heard --

TOOBIN: What can he really do to the members of the Freedom Caucus? As Gloria, you pointed out, in theory there could be primary battles against them but they're not in any danger.

BLITZER: Here's what he could do because the Speaker Paul Ryan said the president is threatening to do this, namely work with Democrats on this and the speaker doesn't want the president to be working with Democrats as far as repealing and replacing Obamacare.

TOOBIN: What depends are going to work with Donald Trump to repeal Obamacare? Like not one.


BORGER: It's an idle threat. I mean, Democrats have nothing but disincentive to work with this president. I mean, he is not popular among -- with the Democratic base, they don't like a lot of his policies. Obamacare is more popular than ever right now. What's the incentive?

KUCINICH: He can't force work with Democrats. Doesn't really work that way.

BLITZER: Very interesting, Jeffrey. I want to get your reaction to this, because according to South Carolina Congressman Mark Sanford, the president sent his budget director, also from South Carolina, former Congressman Mick Mulvaney, to deliver a message on the president's behalf. Here's what Sanford says Mulvaney, the budget director, told him, quote, "The president asked him to look you square in the eyes and to say that he hoped that you voted no on this bill so he could run against you in 2018."

How do you think Republicans are going to respond to a threat like that?

TOOBIN: I mean, it's just silly. This is not how politics works. I mean, you know, Mark Sanford has nothing to fear from Donald Trump running a primary campaign against him. I mean, it's just not going to happen, and he's not going to get their votes that way.

Now, I don't know how he's going to get their votes but threatening to run nonexistent primaries against him is simply not going to work.

BLITZER: Does the president, Gloria, have the capital to deliver on a threat like that?

BORGER: Look, he's at 36, 37 percent approval rating right now. Yes, he's more popular among Republicans, but a president might be able to make that threat if he were over 50 percent popularity but this one is not.

KUCINICH: If representing their constituents and the constituents approve of what they're doing, Trump doesn't have much of an argument to make in this district.

BLITZER: All right, guys. Everybody, stick around.

We have much more on the breaking news coming up.


[18:53:09] BLITZER: Israel's security cabinet today unanimously approved the construction of a new West Bank settlement, the first time in more than 20 years. The new settlement to be built north of the Palestinian city of Ramallah is meant for settlers evacuated from an unsanctioned outpost destroyed last month by Israeli authorities. Plans were also advanced today to build 2,000 homes inside existing settlements.

President Trump last month asked Israel to hold back on settlements, but a White House official says today's move doesn't act as a defiance of the president's request because the approval, this official says, was already in the pipeline.

Also tonight, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson maybe signaling what could be a major shift in U.S. strategy on Syria. He says the long- term fate of strongman Bashar al Assad will be decided by the Syrian people. That's a contrast to Obama era policy that Assad must go. Tillerson speaking to reporters during a very challenging visit to Turkey.

Our global affairs correspondent Elise Labott is covering the secretary of state's trip.


ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Secretary Tillerson will be in Brussels tomorrow where he'll be meeting with NATO allies and Russian aggression in Ukraine is going to top the agenda as well the fight against ISIS.

But today, the secretary of state is here in Turkey on what is arguably his most difficult diplomatic mission since taking office. He met for two hours today with Turkish President Erdogan, Turkey obviously the most critical ally in the war against ISIS. U.S. airstrikes are being launched from Turkish airbases. And as the U.S. gears up its military operations in Syria and the push against Raqqa, the ISIS self-proclaimed capital, there was a deep divide that was on display today with Turkey about how to go about it.

And officials tell me, Secretary Tillerson was here to deliver a very difficult message, which is the U.S. is prepared to cooperate and partner up with Turkey's sworn enemy, the Kurds, because the U.S. feels they're the best fighters to go against the group.

[18:55:14] And Turkey feels that the Kurds are really a threat to its existence. They consider the Kurds terrorists and the foreign minister warned Secretary Tillerson today that partnering with this militia, the YPG, would harm President Trump's efforts to go against ISIS and also to restore ties with Turkey.

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: What we discussed today are options that are available to us. They are difficult options. Let me be very frank. These are not easy decisions. They're difficult choices that have to be made.

LABOTT: And, Wolf, one of the most surprising things to come out of the talks today were some comments by Secretary Tillerson that appeared to be a dramatic change in U.S. policy towards Syria, the policy of the Obama administration was that the President Assad must go, and that's also the position of Turkey and U.S. Arab allies. The argument is that Assad's brutality against his own people, the bombing of civilians was making Syria and President Assad a magnet for terrorism and the civil war that's been going on for six years now was really creating a vacuum and that had helped fuel ISIS's rise.

But today, Secretary Tillerson said that Assad's future over the long term will be decided by the Syrian people. So, it's clear that the Trump administration is read to put Assad aside for now because they want to focus on the fight against ISIS, which is also fighting Assad's forces and they seem to indicate that perhaps Assad could help in that fight -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Elise Labott, reporting for us from Turkey -- thanks very much.

Back here in the United States, the federal government now is taking a major step forward to create a national network for first responders to communicate during a crisis. It's an idea recommended by the 9/11 Commission more than a decade ago.

Our congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty has got details.

Sunlen, what are you learning?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this was a problem first identified by the 9/11 Commission that the communication network for first responders needs some drastic improvement. So, today, the Department of Commerce announcing a public-private partnership with AT&T to start making that happen, that will potentially create tens of thousands new jobs.


SERFATY (voice-over): During emergency response of the 9/11 terror attacks, it was one of the biggest problems first responders faced. Massive communication issues with the networks jammed.

WILBUR ROSS, COMMERCE SECRETARY: The administration is now prepared to deliver on the 9/11 commission's recommendation.

SERFATY: Today, the federal government teaming up with AT&T are taking a big step forward.

ROSS: We now officially --

SERFATY: Setting the wheels in motion for AT&T to now build and operate a new national broadband network that will dedicated exclusively for use by first responders, creating essentially a fast lane of their own, where police, fire, EMS and other first responders will for the first time be able to communicate on the same network with a broadband capacity that will support them.

ROSS: It's building infrastructure and bringing infrastructure to some rural areas that didn't have it before.

SERFATY: Officials estimate this will create more than 10,000 jobs in the first two years, with the potential for tens of thousands more over the 25-year contract.

RANDALL STEPHENSON, AT&T CHAIRMAN & CEO: These are technical jobs. These are people who climb cell towers. These are people who lay fiber optic cable. These are people who do logistical coding.

SERFATY: AT&T, which has agreed to acquire Time Warner, the parent company of CNN, has invested more than $40 billion to the effort.

STEPHENSON: This kind of partnerships will attract capital, will track capital investment. And make no mistake: when businesses invest, businesses hire.

SERFATY: Creating one of the largest public-private feels the government has ever done.

ROSS: They're putting in six times as much as we're putting in. That's a very good pattern for private-public partnership. Private sector is not the enemy. Private sector is the real reason why government exists.

SERFATY: The payoffs for first responders are huge, too, increasing their ability to share critical information between networks and with their own department.

JEFFREY JOHNSON, VICE CHAIRMAN, FIRSTNET BOARD OF DIRECTORS: We believe this will affect every responders life every shift they come to work.


SERFATY: Now, the next steps to all of this, each state will now have an opportunity to opt-in or opt-out of this network. And as soon as they opt in, AT&T says they are ready, they are shovel-ready to begin deploying cell towers to improve coverage and putting people back to work to make this happen. The goal here is to see this, Wolf, all up and running by the end of the year.

BLITZER: All right. Very good, thanks very much for that, Sunlen Serfaty reporting.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.