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Interview With Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal; Puerto Rico in Crisis; HHS Secretary in Danger of Being Fired?; President Trump Unveils Tax Plan; Sources: Trump Infuriated Over Backing Losing Senate Candidate; CNN Exclusive: Russians Bought Black Lives Matter Ad On Facebook. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired September 27, 2017 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: Tax and defend. President Trump unveils a sweeping proposal to overhaul the U.S. tax system and defends his backing of the losing candidate in a GOP Senate race, while deleting a series of tweets.

And, tonight, the president is also claiming he does have the votes to repeal Obamacare. Do his numbers add up?

Who targeted -- who was -- who Russia targeted, I should say. We're learning exclusive new details about a Facebook ad purchased by Russians to influence the presidential campaign by touching on a very hot-button racial issue. Which voters was the ad designed to sway?

The Price is wrong. President Trump says he's not happy about the use of private jets by his health secretary, Tom Price, a practice other Cabinet members have engaged in as well. And the president is being cryptic about Price's future. Will he fire him?

And hurricane help. We have exclusive new reporting tonight from storm-ravaged Puerto Rico. The island's more than three million residents are growing more desperate for water, food, and fuel by the day. And now critically needed aid is just offshore.

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: We're following breaking news.

President Trump unveiling a Republican tax reform framework that includes reducing the number of tax brackets, increased standard deductions, a sharp cut in the corporate tax rate, and eliminating the estate tax.

The president calls the plan a historic chance to bring jobs and wealth back to the United States. The president is also claiming tonight Republicans do have the votes to pass health care, just 24 hours after Senate leaders conceded defeat, at least for now. Mr. Trump appears to be depending on the vote of a GOP senator who is

out sick, but whose vote leaders had already counted in their tally. The president says the GOP may try again to repeal Obamacare in January or February of next year.

And we're learning exclusive new details tonight about Russian interference in the presidential campaign. Sources are telling CNN that at least one of the Facebook ads bought by Russians during the 2016 race referenced Black Lives Matter. And it was specifically targeted to audiences in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, both cities rocked by racial tension.

We're covering all of that, much more this hour with our guests, including Senator Richard Blumenthal of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees. And our correspondents and specialists are also standing by.

Let's begin with the president's unveiling of the Republican tax reform plan.

Our White House correspondent, Sara Murray, is standing by with the latest.

Sara, the president officially unveiled the proposal just a little while ago in Indiana.


The president is headed back to the White House after touting this tax reform plan in Indiana, and it comes at a time when this president could use a political victory, coming on the heels of an embarrassing defeat, throwing his weight behind the wrong guy in the Alabama Senate race.


MURRAY (voice-over): President Trump trying to shrug off another defeat today, after putting his political capital on the line for the losing candidate in Alabama.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a man who's going to be a great senator. And I I'm very happy with that.

MURRAY: Trump lavishing praise on Roy Moore, the winner of the Alabama Senate primary, even after Trump endorsed Moore's GOP opponent, Senator Luther Strange.

TRUMP: I have to say, Luther came a long way from the time I endorsed him. And he ran a good race, but Roy ran a really great race.

MURRAY: Trump's happy talk on Wednesday a far cry from his livid response as election results rolled in Tuesday evening.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: CNN is actually now calling the race. MURRAY: Sources tell CNN Trump angrily vented that he was misled by

his political team and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who all urged the president to campaign for Strange. Trump not only held a rally for the failed candidate, but he also flexed his Twitter might with a series of complimentary missives, words of praise that were deleted without explanation overnight.

The results in Alabama coming on the heels of another embarrassing blow to Trump's agenda, the latest failed attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare.

TRUMP: The point is this. Health care, we have it, we have it, we have the votes. Because of reconciliation, we have to wait until January, February, or March, which we will do. But in the meantime, I will negotiate with Democrats to see if we can make a bipartisan bill.

MURRAY: Today, the president is insisting he has the GOP votes to pass health care, even though members of his own party killed the effort earlier this week.

Now Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price's job could be in jeopardy, not because of the latest health care fumble, but because he repeatedly chartered private planes on the taxpayer dime, a move that's under review by the inspector general at HHS and that's irking the president.


TRUMP: I will tell you, personally, I'm not happy about it. I am not happy about it.

QUESTION: Are you going to fire him?

TRUMP: I'm going to look at it. I am not happy about it, and I let him know it.

MURRAY: All of this on a day when Trump is supposed to be touting tax reform, traveling to Indianapolis.

TRUMP: You just want massive tax cuts. That's what you want.

MURRAY: And rallying support for a plan to pare back individual tax rates from seven tax brackets down to three, 12 percent, 25 percent, and 35 percent. The president also vowing to fight for a 20 percent corporate tax rate, a sharp decrease from the current 35 percent rate, but higher than the 15 percent corporate rate Trump had originally been vying for.

TRUMP: I wanted to start at 15, so that we got 20. It's just the numbers were -- 15 was so low, we didn't take in the revenue. But I wanted 15, so we got 20; 20's my number. So I'm not negotiating that number.


MURRAY: Now, even though Trump is touting tax reform, he's clearly still stinging over this health care defeat. He has said over and over again today that they have the Republican votes they need to make this happen.

But the reality is, even the bill's sponsors have said the votes are just not there -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sara Murray at the White House, thanks very much.

And there's more breaking news. New details emerging about one of the Facebook ads bought by the Russians to influence the 2016 presidential campaign.

Our senior media and politics reporter, Dylan Byers, has exclusive reporting on this.

Dylan, tell our viewers what you're learning from your sources.


At least one of the ads that was bought by this Russian troll farm on Facebook was a Black Lives Matter ad that was targeted specifically to the cities of Baltimore and Ferguson, Missouri, obviously, two cities where by that point in either late 2015 or earlier 2016, two cities which had been the site of some of the largest and most violent protests over the police shootings of African-American men.

This is the first example we have to date of where these ads were specifically targeted. Again, this is one ad out of more than 3,000. So we shouldn't infer that every single ad or most of the ads, even, were about the Black Lives Matter issue.

But what it tells us is that the Russians who bought these ads were sophisticated enough to understand that targeting a Black Lives Matter ad to the communities of Baltimore and Ferguson would help sow political discord, which we believe was one of the motives here with these ad buys.

BLITZER: I want to get into that a little bit more, Dylan, this ad. The Russians actually thought that by using this ad in this platform and targeting these people in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, that it would have a positive, from their perspective, impact the meddling in the election?

BYERS: That's right. You know, we tend to want to think about this as these ads maybe promoting one candidate, criticizing another candidate. It's not that simple.

What we understand -- and this is based off of my conversation with my sources -- is that the goal here was really about creating chaos, creating a climate of incivility, a climate of political discord and partisanship, effectively to sort of undermine the American democratic project generally, to undermine America's strength at home, also to sort of weaken the argument that may have tempted old Soviet Bloc states that Western democracy was sort of the be-all, end-all and the grand goal of where they should be heading. Doing this, basically promoting Black Lives Matter while at the same

time maybe, you know, to other residents of Baltimore and Ferguson, a Black Lives Matter ad might seem as though the group is a threat, contributes to that sort of culture and atmosphere of divisiveness, of incivility, of chaos.

And when we look at as more of these ads come out and we understand more of where those ads were targeted, we might begin to sort of get a fuller picture of how Russians thought they could create that climate here in the United States.

BLITZER: And, as you point out, Dylan, this is, what, just the tip of the iceberg, this one ad that you you're reporting on. Do you expect that we will learn more about how these ads were targeted?

BYERS: I do.

But, Wolf, the way I expect that will happen is through leaks like these. I do not anticipate that Facebook is going to want to leak these ads. They haven't even given the ads over to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees yet, which is something that they promised they would do last week.

Once Congress has its hands on those ads, they might want to review them before releasing any of the ads themselves. So it's one of these things, as we see so often in Washington, where it's sort of a drip, drip, drip, and we get more details as the days goes on.

BLITZER: Why won't they release the ads publicly? They were public information before. Why not release them?

BYERS: It's a great question, Wolf.


And when we put that question to Facebook, the answer we hear back is privacy concerns. I think Facebook also understands that it's sort of a slippery slope when you start acquiescing to government demands about releasing certain information.

If you start doing that here in the United States, what other governments around the world does Facebook have to start responding to with certain requests about releasing information?

But, look, as a civilian, it's a very hard argument to swallow. These ads were public. They did influence voter sentiment during the course of the 2016 campaign. Obviously, they were meant to sort of throw our political system into turmoil. Why can't we see these ads? That's a question that Congress has, and I think it's a question many American citizens have.

BLITZER: We're also hearing the Senate Intelligence Committee is going to have a hearing with Facebook, Google, Twitter executives. That's coming up, what, November 1.

Dylan Byers, excellent reporting for us. Thank you very much. Let's get some more on all of this with Democratic Senator Richard

Blumenthal. He's a member of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committees.

Have you seen, Senator, any of these Russian-bought Facebook election ads? Very disturbing.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Not only disturbing, but absolutely appalling and astonishing.

I have seen some. They contain, for example, fake reports about sexual assaults and rapes by refugees, totally false, designed to sow discord, divide us, and as Dylan reported so well, to destabilize our democracy, and also, very likely, to meddle in our election.

And they should be made public. Absolutely, the American public deserves to know what these ads are.

BLITZER: And how did the Russians know? Because these ads apparently were very specifically targeted. Did they have that capability, that political awareness, that political knowledge to target these ads in a place like Ferguson and Baltimore, because there's a specificity there that requires some knowledge.

BLUMENTHAL: This microtargeting required sophistication, knowledge, and a great deal of data and research. And the real question, as you have just asked it, is, how did they know how to microtarget?

BLITZER: Did they know -- have that information on their own, because this is the key question, or did they have help? And if they had help from Americans, who was helping them?

BLUMENTHAL: There is speculation, to be absolutely blunt, that they received that help from the Trump campaign, which had a great deal of digital information to enable its own targeting.

So the question is, was there collusion between this Russian Internet research agency, a St. Petersburg firm of trolls, and the Trump campaign?

BLITZER: Who in the Trump campaign do you suspect was helping them?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, again, the public reports are that Jared Kushner was in charge of that digital operation, but a lot more investigation needs to be done before we can say with any certainty whether he or others in the Trump campaign were involved.

BLITZER: But have you seen evidence that Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, now a senior adviser to the president, specifically provided that kind of information to these Russians?

BLUMENTHAL: I can't talk about the evidence that may exist, but I think it is an area of investigation that needs to be pursued.

BLITZER: You have seen the ads, at least some of these ads, right? Can you describe some of -- how many, first of all, have you seen? And can you describe what you have seen?

BLUMENTHAL: Well, to give you an example, the ad that I found most shocking was a report about refugees engaging in rapes or sexual assaults on young girls and women in a place in the country, Twin Falls, Idaho, where potentially it could have had impact, but also may have been sent to other places, either directly or indirectly.

And it was done by a site called Secured Borders, which, again, may well have been concocted, and Facebook should have known the origin of the funding for these ads and now should make public these ads, all of them, in my view.

BLITZER: But you know for sure that Russians were responsible for posting that specific ad?

BLUMENTHAL: That is the best evidence that we have right now. And if Facebook cooperates with the investigation being conducted by congressional committees and presumably also by the special counsel, we will know more about how the Russian troll firm, Internet Research, was able to target in the way that it did, where it derived that information.

BLITZER: Because U.S. intelligence officials have said, they have told me and they told you and they have told others that the Russians, in meddling in the U.S. presidential election, were trying to cause chaos in the U.S. democratic process. That was one objective. A second objective, to hurt Hillary Clinton as much as possible, that if she were elected president, she would be a weak president.

And a third objective, to actually help Donald Trump become president of the United States. They didn't think that was going to happen. They were surprised when that happened. Those were the objectives, but these ads, how do they fit into that?


BLUMENTHAL: These ads spawn and support the misconceptions that may have also supported the Trump campaign, the misconceptions about immigrants, about possibly other social movements, all linked to one candidate or another, in this case, Hillary Clinton, may have sowed chaos, as you put it quite well, but also divided Americans generally, and created and supported the misconceptions that supported Donald Trump's campaign.

So it is part of a massive propaganda campaign, which is totally proved and accepted by the intelligence community. There's no question about it. The only question is whether the Trump campaign colluded with it, and whether there's been an obstruction of justice since then. And we're a ways off from proving those elements.

But, clearly, the Russian propaganda and misinformation campaign is evidenced by this report and other ads that we have seen.

BLITZER: If there is evidence of collusion between Trump campaign officials and the Russians, is that a crime?

BLUMENTHAL: It could well be a crime.

BLITZER: What is the crime?

BLUMENTHAL: And the crime...

BLITZER: Because you're a former attorney general of Connecticut.

BLUMENTHAL: Well, the crime could be cooperation, acting on behalf of a campaign, collusion, conspiracy to disrupt our democratic process, false statements, money laundering.

There are a variety of crimes that could be proved. We are a ways from that proof. And we should be cautious about how we talk about it.

BLITZER: You said this week that you are, and I'm quoting you now, 99 percent sure that Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, and General Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser to the president, will face criminal charges resulting from this Russia investigation.

I want you to elaborate on that.

BLUMENTHAL: I said I'm 99 percent sure. I think there's a high degree of certainty that there will be criminal charges, based on the web of foreign entanglements.

BLITZER: Against these two individuals?

BLUMENTHAL: I don't want to predict against individuals, but, clearly, they are the most likely candidates, based on potential charges of money-laundering, as well as false statements and failure to register as foreign agents.

And that's the result of evidence that is growing and may result in criminal indictment.

BLITZER: And criminal charges leveled by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is that what you're suggesting?

BLUMENTHAL: That would be the source of those charges. He's the one conducting the criminal investigation. Our investigation, the Judiciary Committee, cannot produce criminal charges, nor can the Intelligence Committee.

BLITZER: Has Facebook handed over all of those thousands of ads that the Russians planted on Facebook? Has your committee received all of those ads?

BLUMENTHAL: My hope is that the Intelligence Committee has received or will receive them.

BLITZER: What about the Judiciary Committee?

BLUMENTHAL: So far, to my knowledge, we have not received them.

BLITZER: Do you want to see those ads?

BLUMENTHAL: I definitely want to see them. I think they should be made public. I think the American people should them.

BLITZER: And the explanation they give, that it would be a violation of confidentiality if they made it public, you buy that?

BLUMENTHAL: Whose confidentiality and whose privacy? The Russian troll firm?

I think that there is no principle that can justify keeping those ads confidential, when the fundamental objective is to destabilize our democracy and do harm to the American electoral process.

BLITZER: The ranking Democrat, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dianne Feinstein, tells CNN that an agreement has been reached to subpoena Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, to appear to testify in a public hearing. When will that happen?

BLUMENTHAL: I hope soon.

I have called for some time that Paul Manafort should be subpoenaed. He may not appear because he faces serious legal exposure, but he should be subpoenaed. And all of the relevant documents should be subpoenaed, not only from him, but also from Donald Trump Jr. and everyone involved in that June 9, 2016, meeting with the foreign agents that offered, at least offered to provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

And that includes Jared Kushner, as well as Donald Trump Jr., who should also be subpoenaed.

BLITZER: Is the special counsel hindering your committee's investigation?

BLUMENTHAL: Not in the least.

We have worked to deconflict is the term of art, but essentially avoid any conflicts or inconsistencies. The special counsel's work should be given serious respect, because Bob Mueller is the one who's going to vindicate our democracy against criminality.

BLITZER: Let me ask you another question on the breaking news, the targeting of these Russian ads on Facebook. We heard from Dylan Byers that some of these ads were targeted to Baltimore, Ferguson, Missouri, where there were these racial tensions, as we all know.

You had one ad that was targeted to Idaho, what, you said to Idaho, is that right? Where else were they targeted?


BLUMENTHAL: I'm not going to talk in detail about the other targets of these ads, but it is not so much the places where they were targeted, but the substance of the false representation, the lies in these ads that would spawn and support the kind of discord and misinformation and propaganda that might support the Trump campaign.

BLITZER: Has it become so politically tense right now that even when the evidence is out there, people might not necessarily believe it?

BLUMENTHAL: I hope that people will believe credible explanations for how the Russians sought to meddle and interfere in our elections.

Again, it is a matter of consensus in the intelligence community. Every intelligence agency says that there was this overwhelming, well- financed, and well-thought-out effort to interfere in our election.

The only question is whether there was collusion by Americans. And the Russians need to be made to pay a price, and so should any American who supported or colluded with them, because they will do it again, 2018, 2020.

And that is a matter of bipartisan consensus.

BLITZER: So, it's so important that, if there was this collusion, that we learn all about it, learn from those blunders that may have occurred and make sure it doesn't happen.

BLUMENTHAL: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Again, we have a lot more information coming in.

Senator, I want to take a quick break, resume this interview right after this.



BLITZER: We're back with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal. He's a member of the Judiciary and Armed Services Committee. We want to talk to him about the crisis unfolding in the hurricane-ravaged island of Puerto Rico, where the situation right now is desperate.

But, first, let's get the very latest from our senior international correspondent, Ivan Watson. He's in San Juan for us tonight.

Ivan, the U.S. Navy is now delivering some critical aid. You saw the mission up close.


They have been here since before this hurricane struck, and they're trying to help. And the military, the Department of Defense, says that the number of troops deployed here is expected to double in coming days from about 2,500 active duty now to about twice that in coming days.

But, quite frankly, for an island of some 3.4 million people stricken by this hurricane, that may just not be enough.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WATSON (voice-over): Citizens of Colombia escaping the U.S. island of Puerto Rico, evacuated by their government to board a Colombian air force plane. And it's hard to blame them.

Aboard a U.S. Navy helicopter, you get a sense of the scale of the damage here. A week after Hurricane Maria barreled across Puerto Rico, transport, electricity, drinking water, and telecommunications are seriously, if not completely disrupted.

This devastated island still needs so much help. And the U.S. military is uniquely positioned to assist.

The USS Kearsarge is an amphibious assault ship, but here it's a floating assistance hub.

(on camera): The USS Kearsarge is supporting Puerto Rico on land, sea, and air, not only with these vertical takeoff Ospreys, but also with boats and trucks and bulldozers on the ground.

ADM. JEFF HUGHES, U.S. NAVY: We continue to do search-and-rescue on an alert posture, so we're able to respond if we get a call.

WATSON (voice-over): The Kearsarge shipped out last month to help with the destruction caused by the back-to-back hurricanes, Harvey, Irma, and now Maria.

HUGHES: We're doing a lot of work to move logistics on those critical life-sustaining supplies, water, food, medical supplies, to different parts of the island, where they may not necessarily be accessible by ground.

WATSON: Among the men and women helping with this effort, Puerto Rican sailors with families on the island.

(on camera): Have you been able to speak with your families since the Hurricane Maria? None of you?

RAFAEL REYES, U.S. NAVY: To be this close and see what the island is going through right now and the condition that she's in, not have that liberty to just go over there and help out, and put hands on whoever and help out whoever, that's the most frustrating part. But we have a job to do on board the ship.

WATSON (voice-over): Everybody plays their part here.

(on camera): The ship has two parking garages like this full of heavy vehicles. And it's ferrying them to Puerto Rico on landing craft via this well deck.

(voice-over): In recent days, sailors and Marines have moved a desalinization unit to the island to distribute clean drinking water and bulldozers to open up roads blocked by debris, each delivery accompanied by hopes and prayers from the sailors left on board the ship.

REYES: We will see. I mean, we're here. We will stay here as long as we have to make sure this island gets back up on its feet.


WATSON: Wolf, the military can help, but so many links in the supply chain have been broken by this hurricane, that you just need so much more.

You can bring fuel in, you can bring food in, but what do you do if there aren't drivers for the trucks or there isn't fuel for the trucks to supply some of the 3.4 million people here? What do you do when many people describe what Puerto Rico has returned to being a cash- based economy, because credit cards machines don't work, because the telecommunication systems don't work?

What do you do when -- one man just came up to me recently and said he waited in line for three hours for gas, and then couldn't get any to perhaps fuel his car or run his generator. Huge questions that this island is struggling to deal with.

[1830:19] BLITZER: Yes, those 3.4 million Puerto Ricans, they are all U.S. citizens, as well. Ivan Watson in Puerto Rico for us. Thanks very much.

Let's get back to Senator Blumenthal.

So what can you, members of Congress, what can you do to help these people?

BLUMENTHAL: There's a need for an immediate relief package, just as we did for the Gulf Coast, and we should do it for all Americans who were struck by these kinds of natural disasters.

But this road to recovery, Wolf, is going to be a long one for Puerto Rico. Because it was essentially bankrupt, in $74 billion debt, even before this natural disaster. So, what's needed, really, is a long- term Marshall Plan for the island. A rebuilding, a recovery, so that people can put their lives back together and the infrastructure can be put back together, as well. And that requires an immediate relief package that Congress could do this week or next.

BLITZER: And it also requires a massive deployment of U.S. troops to help those people right now. They're ready. They can move if given the order.

BLUMENTHAL: I spoke to General Dunford, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, yesterday, at his confirmation hearing. I asked him, pointedly, is the military ready to do more? And he confirmed, unequivocally, they are ready, willing, and able to devote whatever resources are necessary to their great credit.

And many Puerto Ricans have served in our military. They are patriotic and dedicated Americans.

BLITZER: Yes. They deserve the help that they desperately need right now. Lives are at stake, as well.

Senator Blumenthal, thanks so much for joining us.

BLUMENTHAL: Thank you.

BLITZER: There's breaking news coming out. President Trump touts an historic opportunity for tax reform, but how much of the plan is still very much up in the air? And we'll take a closer look at his surprise claim that Republicans do have the votes they need to repeal and replace Obamacare. But does his math add up?


[18:36:55] BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, fresh off the GOP's latest failed effort to repeal Obamacare, President Trump is insisting tonight -- and I'm quoting him now -- "We have the votes." And he says Republicans may try once again to pass a health care bill in January or February or March of next year.

Let's dig deeper with our specialists and our analysts. And Gloria Borger, why is the president insisting that they have the votes? They clearly did not have the votes.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: No, they don't. Have you ever heard the phrase, "truthful hyperbole," which is a phrase that was invented by Tony Schwartz when he wrote "The Art of the Deal" with Donald Trump to kind of explain how Donald Trump doesn't always tell the truth? And so they came up with this phrase.

He doesn't have the votes. He, at very most, I think, would have 49. That's assuming that every other Republican would vote for him, aside from the ones who have come out and said absolutely no.

But I think it's his way of saying, "OK, we're going to get this in the future." You know, when he used to sell apartments in Trump Tower, he would take people around and he would say, "You know, Princess Diana is buying an apartment here. Michael Jackson is buying an apartment here," to get them to kind of join the bandwagon.

So I think he believes that nothing succeeds like success. So if he keeps telling you he's got to votes, that maybe he can just make it happen.

BLITZER: He also said, Rebecca, that not only will they have the votes in January, February, March of next year, but in the meantime, before then, let's work with the Democrats and try to fix health care. That's another element of his talking points right now.

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, sure. And that sounds great, but the devil is always in the details, Wolf, as we know, having worked in Washington.

And the question is, what measure of reform is he actually talking about? If we're talking about Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray sitting down on the Senate Health Committee and working out some small changes to help keep the law afloat for now, that's one thing, and that's something that's being talked about. Actual, big reform that Republicans wanted to get done, I don't think

that's going to happen on a bipartisan basis, at least not in the short-term.

BLITZER: He says he is going to sign an executive order, David, next week - This is what he says -- next week, that would allow people to purchase health insurance across state lines, making it more competitive, even though that has been determined you can't just do that, at least by some scholars, through executive order. You need legislation to make a major change like that.

DAVID SWERDLICK, ASSISTANT EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Right. And if that was -- the fix to our health care problems in this country, were that simple, someone would have thought of that and proposed it as legislation a long time ago.

I just want to go to one point that Gloria made about President Trump trying to preserve his options for going down the road to March. I don't know if he has factored in the idea that the closer we get to the 2018 midterms, the harder it is -- it's going to be to convince senators and representatives to take a vote on anything major.

BLITZER: You know if it was hard this year, wait until next year.

SWERDLICK: Wait till next year.

BLITZER: And we get closer to the midterms.

You know, Bianna, the -- I guess it was very hard, very hard, impossible, at least so far, for the Republicans to repeal and replace Obamacare. What about tax reform? How does that look?

[18:40:05] BIANNA GOLODRYGA, YAHOO! NEWS: Well, Senator Corker said that tax reform is going to be -- that health care is going to be a walk -- a piece of cake, a walk in the park compared to tax reform.

Look, we saw a blueprint, a basic outline from the administration today. One thing that the president promised on and seems to be delivering is simplifying the tax code. But of course, he leaves the difficult part to Congress as far as the specifics and as far as what this means when it comes to the deficit, how many trillions of dollars this adds to have the deficit and how we're going to pay for it.

The president says that this will cause a boom in the economy. He was talking about 4 percent economic growth. I think there are a lot of economists who question that math and extrapolating to those terms.

But the president had also on the campaign trail promised many other things, specifically closing loopholes. We didn't see much of that from this plan today. He said he was going to be going after hedge funds and the capital gains loopholes. We didn't see any of that, as well.

So, when it came to some of the more -- the larger promises that we saw on the campaign trail, more of the protectionist proposals, we didn't see much of that today. The president, of course, saying that this will be implemented, and he's hoping to bring Democrats along. We're hearing from Republicans, though, that amongst themselves, they're already working on ways to get this through without Democratic votes.

BLITZER: The president just back at the White House on the South Lawn. He just spoke to reporters, and we have the videotape. Watch this.



DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think Rand will be there for us. You know, he was there for me two times before, for a plan that isn't as good.

I like Rand Paul a lot, and I think he'll be there for us.


TRUMP: I think he's going to be onboard. He was there before. And nobody thought that was going to happen. He's a good guy. And he wants what's good, also, for the party. No, I think Rand will be there. OK?


BLITZER: All right, very quick, one question, Senator Rand Paul, who said he would vote against this latest effort to repeal and replace Obamacare. He says Rand Paul will be there. He's a good guy. He wasn't there this week.

BORGER: No. He wasn't. And Rand Paul is saying that, you know, "I don't want to vote for Obamacare-lite," which is what he considers all of this to be. So we'll have to see how this bill gets changed so dramatically so that it would get Rand Paul's vote.

I think what the president is trying to do is say publicly, "I like Rand Paul. I support Rand Paul. He's one of my guys, and I'm going to -- I'm going to get him to be with us at the end."

Whether that will work or not, I mean, we just don't know what -- what the substance of it will be.

BLITZER: You know, he's -- I don't know what his optimism is. As you point out, next year's an election year, a midterm election year. It's going to be even more politically complex.

SWERDLICK: Yes, he likes Rand Paul, Senator Paul, except for all those times he tweeted about him, trying to browbeat him into voting for legislation that he really didn't want to support.

I think the president is trying to make this last-ditch sales pitch, because he knows it will be harder to do tax reform and harder to say that he had a successful first year if health care reform isn't accomplished. But it's just going to get harder and harder as we go along.

BLITZER: In the meantime, let's see what he can do with Democrats, working with Chuck and Nancy, as he likes to call them.

BORGER: I'm going to predict a couple of rounds of golf between Rand Paul and President Trump.

BERG: They've already been out on the golf course.

BORGER: Exactly. Exactly.

GOLODRYGA: The question is, will they be fruitful.

BLITZER: All right. Guys, stand by.

BORGER: If Trump wins. If Trump wins.

BLITZER: There's a lot more coming up. The president speaks out about the health secretary's use of private jets. It's an awkward comment. We'll be right back.


[18:48:30] WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: President Trump is said to have been infuriated that the candidate he was backing lost Alabama's GOP Senate runoff despite the president's personal appearance at a rally in Alabama and multiple tweets endorsing Senator Luther Strange, that he was the establishment candidate.

How much does this sting, this loss, how much does this sting for President Trump?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Loser is not his favorite word when it applies to him. So, I think it does sting.

And our White House team has been reporting all day that the president excoriated some of his aides about this. You know, he didn't want to say that it was his mistake, it was Mitch McConnell's mistake and other people who asked him to endorse Luther Strange, I think he felt uncomfortable about it clearly, because Moore was more Trumpian and his populist lone star, Steve Bannon, no longer in the White House, of course, went out there and campaigned for Moore.

So, it took a nanosecond for the president to kind of switch horses and say, OK, I'm with you Judge Moore and I'll be with you in the election. But it doesn't make him happy to lose, no.

BLITZER: How much of what Steve Bannon and others did going against the president's candidate is a model for what could happen down the road?

REBECCA BERG, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Steve Bannon, certainly believes that this is a model, Wolf, and he said as much. He said he plans to take on the establishment in 2018, he considers the Republican establishment to be congressional leaders, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, incumbent members of Congress. [18:50:00] And so, basically, anybody who's currently a member of

Congress is a target for Steve Bannon and his allies, Breitbart and others, and he seems to believe rightfully now that the establishment is toxic, that members of Congress and congressional leaders are toxic for the Republican base, and I think the conclusion that a lot of people are drawing from last night's result with Moore winning, including the super PAC aligned with Mitch McConnell, the Senate Leadership Fund, has included that it was an anti-establishment vibe in the base that drove this election result.

BLITZER: And we're getting this reporting , Bianna, that the president deeply irritated with Senate Republican leader, the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, at this private conversation, calling him weak.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, Mitch McConnell, arguably having a terrible week, I don't know who had a worse week, him or Tom Price. We'll see what happens with Tom Price.

But Mitch McConnell now has to be concerned about other senators in races to come in the next few months and years to come. And remember, he lost health care as well, so all of the praise he got earlier in the year for Gorsuch has now seemed to fade and now they're focusing on what happens next in the internal rift within the Republican Party.

And I do have to say, remind you of the argument that Bannon made that he would be more powerful out of the White House than in the White House. It's much easier you could say to be a populist outside of the White House and Bannon does seem to have this approach that he knows what's best for the president, even more so than the president knows what's best for himself. So, he's sort of work this out to say, we're still on the president's side, I'm doing what the president may be too confined to do right now by endorsing this candidate.

But once he does win and comes out the victor, you'll see the president come around and support him as well. And, by the way, Wolf, when was the last time we saw the president delete any of his tweets. So, that clearly gives you an indication. I don't know if it was the president that deleted them, but they faded. So, it gives you a sense of how upset this president was and how much he wants to ignore the previous comments --

BLITZER: All right. Everybody, stand by. We're getting some more information on Facebook, on the Russian ads that were placed there. Stand by. We'll be right back.


[18:56:59] BLITZER: The breaking news tonight, exclusive new details about Moscow's meddling in the U.S. presidential election. Sources are telling CNN that at least one of the Facebook ads bought by the Russians during the 2016 race referenced Black Lives Matter and it was specifically targeted to audiences in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, cities that had faced some pretty sharp racial tensions.

Bianna, you're an expert on the Russians. What were they hoping to achieve?

GOLODRYGA: Well, this has been the Russian M.O. for years, before Vladimir Putin, before Donald Trump, before Hillary Clinton -- specifically exploit the racial tension and racial divide within the U.S. between whites and blacks in this country. It's been a way of embarrassing the U.S. and sort of calling them hypocrites for years when it comes to exporting democracy to other countries.

Vladimir Putin talked about this in a "60 Minutes" interview with Charlie Rose a coupe of years ago when he talked specifically about Ferguson and he talked about Baltimore as well.

So, when it comes to issues that pertain to internal rifts, or cultural rifts within the U.S., the Russians are very in toned to it. And I guarantee you, Wolf, on their news programs, they're not talking as much about what's happening domestically in Russia. They're talking about what's going on here. So, they were very much focused and aware of the political discord in Black Lives Matter and I would argue exactly where to target a certain Facebook users when it came to the election.

BLITZER: Yes. Bianna is absolutely right, Gloria. For years, I remember when I used to go to the old Soviet Union, we would always here, we would complain about what's going on with the communists in Russia, the Soviet Union, they would immediately talk about racial tensions in the United States.

BORGER: And how terrible it is in this country.


BORGER: And I think what we ought to do is we ought to be able to see these ads, as Senator Blumenthal was saying. I think we ought to be able to look at how nefarious they are and how they were trying to divide Americans and to kind of sow the dissent so they can broadcast it back home and to take situations that were very tense and make them even worse. And set the United States up not as an example of something good, but as an example of something evil.

BLITZER: One of the objectives that the Russians had was to cause some chaos in the U.S. democratic process.

DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right, and it's not that hard to do if you read newspapers and watch TV to see where controversial tense issues are coming from in our politics over the last several years. I think the issue and the challenge now is how state election officials, how the federal intelligence agencies, how the media, how companies like Facebook will get a hold of this before the next election cycle.

BLITZER: I suspect sooner rather than later.


BLITZER: We'll see those ads, Facebook is not releasing them yet.


BLITZER: But at some point, we certainly will see those ads and have a better appreciation of what the Russians were up to.

Stay with CNN for a live CNN town hall, "Patriotism, The Players and The President". Anderson Cooper moderates the town hall, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, later tonight, only here on CNN.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.