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INSIDE POLITICS

Monica Mowley To Forgo White House Post; Trump Calls Syrian Refugees "Illegals"; Obama: Leaving Is "Bettersweet"

Aired January 17, 2017 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:02] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's Case File doing some extensive reporting about plagiarism by Monica Crowley, including in a 2012 book she wrote. The Trump transition initially defended her, but we are now getting word she will not be joining the Trump staff at the White House, will not be joining the national security council staff as a key spokeswoman. It's a staff job, but in terms of getting pushback, getting somebody out, is it significant?

MOLLY BALL, THE ATLANTIC: I think it's, it's a scout for the Democrats or for opponents of Trump to show that, you can dig thins up on somebody and it actually does matter, you know. And it has seemed I think for a lot of opponents of Trump that it doesn't matter what they throw at him because they just ignore it. And they issue very defiant statements like the one they initially issued in defense of Monica Crowley, but it turns out that if there's enough of an accumulation of stuff, I mean, it happened also for Jason Miller of the Trump team. That there are some things you cannot survive in Trump world, and from the outside it can seem arbitrary?

KING: We have some tenacious diggers at CNN, including at the Case File. So Kudos for them for finding this, but shouldn't a personnel shop that's bringing people into the administration of a president of the United States, be able to do this work too?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Sure no doubt about it. But they are bringing in a ton of people here. So I think to their defense, I mean she is someone who is a known quantity. She's on television. She talks a lot. So I think that, you know, this is one example. My guess is what she had told people inside the organization probably ended up not being accurate. Plus her first statement was it shouldn't plagiarize anything. Well then, you know, countless examples of other news organizations as well have come in since then. So I think it's probably a good sign that the transition is willing to, you know, follow some protocol and deal with a problem.

KING: All right. Let's move on to this one. The rest of the world, now getting a taste of what we have been through the past year plus, here in the United States, this question, what to make or how much to make of the outlandish sometimes offensive things that Donald Trump says? Angela Merkel is the chancellor of Germany, a critical U.S. ally on economic and security issues. Vladimir Putin you all know is the president of Russia. He bullies his neighbors and provides the war planes killing civilians in Syria. Asked who he trusts more Merkel or Putin, here's Trump's answer to European journalists. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT-ELECT: Well, I start off trusting both, but we'll see how long that lasts. It may not last long at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I start of trusting both to make -- I know he says we'll see how long it lasts, but to even for a half a sentence essentially equate Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin is a slap in the face and an insult to a critical U.S. ally and a key figure in the western alliance. He goes on in the same interview to say again as he did during the campaign, he thinks NATO is obsolete. He contradicts himself a bit and says, but there are parts of it that are good. But as a -- we talk about the tone in Washington, the uncertainty in Washington the town on edge. What about the world?

JACKIE KUCINICH, THE DAILY BEAST: Let's go back and remember what Trump has said about Angela Merkel throughout the campaign. He has been very critical of Germany's refugee policy, and he is continuously. And then she asked, Hillary Clinton said that Angela Merkel was her favorite European or favorite world leader. So there is a little bit of history there. I'm not saying its excuse, but that's kind of where he is coming from. This is not someone that he has been -- he has revered in the past. And he definitely has nicer things to say about --

KING: Hang on just one second. So Jackie's point about the refugee crisis and we should have known. This is the interview from the times of London and Bill the German magazine. Listen to Donald Trump talk about Merkel and her decision to let Syrian refugees into Germany.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TURMP: I have great respect for her.

BILL PALMER, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR: Yeah.

TRUMP: I thought she is a great, great leader. I think she made one very catastrophic mistake, and that was taking all of these illegal's in, you know, taking all of the people from wherever they come from. And nobody really knows where they come from.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Well, it's striking to me, and it could be a slip of the tongue, but they're refugees. He uses the term illegals as if he is -- says if we're having the immigration debate here in the United States. As our nation decided and they have paid some price for it it's gone quite a bit of political controversy to let them in. It was the humanitarian thing on her part. But to call them illegal suddenly it just tells me something about his mind set.

BALL: Well through out the campaign Trump equated the refugee issue with the immigration issue. Basically saying these are all scary foreigners that were not doing enough to tell where they come from or to keep enough of them out. And so and I think his world view also has been very consistent in this sort of populist nationalism that he espouses which he sees as of a piece with the Brexit movement in the U.K. and of a piece with a lot of the nationalist movements across Europe that oppose, you know, the centralization of power in the E.U., that oppose alliances like NATO, as taking away countries national sovereignty.

So how that plays out, I think, to your point the world is at least as on edge if not more so as Washington D.C. about how this will translate into policy for Trump, because he has gone so far from the norms in terms of diplomacy and in terms of the things you are and are not allowed to say.

[12:35:05] The people you are and are not allowed to call upon the phone. And so, do they decide, okay this is just the way he is and we're going to disregard it. Or do they -- do all of these things have consequences because that's how diplomacy --

MARU RAJU, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: And we now already also the warning of a terrifying German car manufacturers. 35 percent tariff, this is part of his putting tariffs on companies that ship jobs overseas. This time saying that for German cars selling them back into the U.S., if they're making their cars in Mexico. They're going to get hit with a 35 percent tariff. I mean, that -- this is causing a lot of tension with some of America's key allies.

KING: Key allies, it's also causing a lot of -- Mexico is one of our key allies. It's causing a lot of -- tension in Mexico too. The Chinese are mad about -- more about the Taiwan language, in the one China policy, but also about trade. Angela Merkel saying she would not respond to Donald Trump saying as it's only polite to wait until he's actually president, which I think is the response actually. But to your point earlier is this you have the diplomats are horrified.

This is not the way you're supposed to do business. You're not supposed to have your national security by calling the Russian ambassador, you're supposed to wait. One president at a time you're supposed to be nice to our friends and tough on our foes, but is this part of the Trump M.O. That he stirs everything up, makes everybody nervous because he thinks eventually that means were going to come his way because they're afraid of him going way out they that so give him half of what he wants of part of what he wants.

ZELENEY: I think without question, but we're also entering a totally new moment here. We can say, oh this is how we did it in the campaign. This starting Friday at high noon, this is a very different moment if there were, everything has changes is a clean slate. So I was talking to a couple of George W. Bush Republicans worked in his administration horrified by those comments of Angela Merkel, because as we know President Bush had a very strong relationship with her, as has President Obama.

KING: Michael Gersten a Bush speech writer writing in the Washington post today expected narcissism, his fight with John Lewis and other things. Everybody sit tight. Up next, President Obama says it's a shame he has to leave because, his words, I'm the best president I've ever been right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:41:13] KING: Welcome back. Four days and counting. Now, President Obama says he won't set an alarm Friday night so that he can sleep in on Saturday, and he is looking forward to living outside the bubble, but, well, isn't there always a but?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, (D) U.S. PRESIDENT: There's some bettersweet feelings about leaving the people here because even though all the team you assemble, you know, you're going to stay in touch with them. It's not the same, you know, the band kind of breaks up. And I think I'm -- I'm the best president I've ever been right now, and I think the team that is operating right now functions as well as any team that I've had, and so, you know, there is a part of you that thinks, man, we're pretty good at this stuff right now. And you hate to see that talent disburse.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So extend the clock a little bit. This is the best he has ever been Jeff. We give him another week, another month?

ZELENY: Well, he tried that, and the voters said something different back in November. So I think, you know, I think what he was saying "I'm the best president I've ever been". He acknowledges really, you know, this is a job where you learn on the job, and so I think that is kind of the irony that he knows how the processes work now and thing, but the reality here is that the same change that brought him into office is the same change that is blowing him out of office.

Historians will look at that for a long time, but I'm the best president I've ever been right now. You know, that's pretty loaded. We could sort of dissect that.

RAJU: And what a difference a couple of years that makes. Remember, 2013 they try to get the immigration bill through after the election. That failed. Then there was the Syria red line that became a huge controversy. Then the healthcare.gov which he said in that same interview that the failure of healthcare.gov was one of his biggest mistakes or concerns coming into office, and then the 2014 midterms. Democrats wanted nothing to do with President Obama, he did not campaign with any of them. They didn't -- He stayed away from the campaign trail. They lost the Senate, yeah, year of course, and then -- but they did turn around in 2015-2016, his numbers were on the up swing, the economies are looking healthier, he was huge on the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton. So he has reason to believe that things are looking good.

KING: That he is very different than Donald Trump. I could say that 1,000 times. President Obama is very different than President-elect Trump, and, yet, like most politicians, both of them seem to have a hard time saying I got that one wrong or I'm sorry. Listen to the President here defending, although he says he's not getting defensive, defending or explaining you choose the word on his decision as Manu just noted back early in the Syrian civil war to draw that red line about Bashar al Assad and chemical weapons.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I don't regret at all saying that if I saw Bashar al Assad using chemical weapons on his people, that that would change my assessments in terms of what we were or were not willing to do in Syria?

STEVE KROFT, 60 MINUTES HOST: But you didn't say that. Well, you said you drew the red line.

OBAMA: No.

KROFT: Would you take it back if you had the opportunity to take it back?

OBAMA: The reason I'm hesitating is not to be defensive. It's simply, Steve, that I would have, I think, made a bigger mistake if I had said, chemical weapons, that doesn't really change my calculus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Perhaps, that last part is true, but even a lot of Democrats and just about every Republican will say if our president of the United States, whatever his or her name, whatever his or her party, says if you cross this line, there will be consequences. And then that line is crossed and there are no consequences, a lot of people say that's led to an escalation. The Middle East was a mess to begin with, but that it's worse because of that.

ZELENY: No question. And I think that was his inexperience at the time. That was a spontaneous answer to a question about the red line, but there's no doubt about it.

[12:45:02] Yes, he is popular, but there are deep questions that only history will have to answer about his foreign policy. It was not as strong, I think, and as successful as he had hoped, obviously, but just watching him saying I'm not being defensive. When a politician says I'm not being defensive --

BALL: Right.

ZELENY: -- it's like when a politician says I'm being honest.

KING: It's a no.

BALL: No.

ZELENY: It's not entirely true.

KING: But it's not that there were other good options on the table.

ZELENY: No, there were. KING: That there were no good options. No. But he did in all constraints from horrible to terrible. But he did put the credibility of -- not only of his own personal credibility but of the country on the line, and he said that, and then he didn't follow through.

RAJU: Yeah, that's right. And that's been one of the huge criticisms from the Republican, and the hawks and people in his own party and one of the blemishes on his record, which is why he was stuck defending that last night in that primetime interview.

KING: And this answer here is both honest and a little funny. I don't mean that in a mean way at all. The President might have mentioned this a minute ago. Remember back when Obamacare the Affordable Care Act passed. Remember as it was launching they had a little problem with healthcare.gov. That gave Republicans a great opening to say this is the gang that can't shoot straight. Keystone cops. They don't know what they're doing. Listen to the President trying to explain it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: You know, if you know you got a controversial program and you're setting up a really big complicated website, website better work on the first day or first week or first month. The fact that it didn't, obviously, lost a little momentum. That was clearly a management failure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZELENY: There's no argument with that.

BALL: And, yet, look at the tone that he says -- I mean it is in a way kind of mind-boggling to see the mood that Obama appears to be in as he leaves office. He has suffered a historic repudiation. His party has suffered historic losses over the entire time that he's been in office. The successor that he tried to get elected did not get elected. Many of his accomplishments are in doubt in the face of a new administration coming in that wants to undo everything, starting with all the executive orders that they can do pretty much right away, and on down through pretty much every significant policy achievement he passed, and, yet, he feels pretty good about himself.

KING: He is kind of chill about it, isn't he?

BALL: He's pretty happy with himself. I mean considering the sort of shock and dismay that so many of his own party and others who oppose Trump are feeling across the country, I got to think it's a little jarring to see how good President Obama seems to be feeling about everything.

KING: The door we go. Everybody sit tight. Four days to the inauguration. Our reporter's shifting their notebooks next, including a warning from Republicans to President-elect Trump if he tries to keep that big campaign promise on NAFTA.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:51:54] KING: Welcome back. We lined -- I'm used to say surround, but were alined. Our table with reporters is not funded, so we can ask them at the end of our program everyday to share us a little nugget from their notebook, get you out ahead of the big political news just around the corner. Mr. Zeleny?

ZELENY: With four more days left for President Obama, one thing that is still living over him are pardons and commutations. It always happens at the end of every presidential time in office. One of the big request of the many, many that are out there, Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor who is serving a long prison sentence I believe it was for 14 years or so in a Colorado facility for corruption. His advisors and friends and everyone he knows has been lobbying this Illinois president native -- adapted Chicago president to not pardon him, but to shorten his sentence. We'll see if that happens. I would be surprised if it happens because I remember from all those early days back at the "Chicago Tribune", there was not a lot of love lost between these two, but that's one of the many requests out there. Shorten my prison sentence on this.

KING: It's always one of the, I call it crazy things in the final days. I remember Mark Rich --

Zeleny: But there going to be a list.

KING: Marc Rich inauguration in the Clinton administration. Molly?

BALL: Well, only one member of the cabinet has not yet been nominated by the incoming Trump administration, and that is the secretary of agriculture. May seem like a lower profile cabinet appointment, but it is incredibly important to rural America which, of course, was the strongest source of Trump support in the election. They're watching this very closely, says and a lot of confusion and anger over the fact that there still hasn't been an appointment.

The name of former Governor Sunny Purdue of Georgia was floated at one point. No announcement was made, and Trump and his team have continued to see different candidates for this position. Not only is it important as the administrator of so many programs that help rural America, but a lot of Trump's policy stances that will be hugely controversial in the agriculture space. Number one, if we get into a trade war with China, that hurts farmers more than absolutely anyone else in this country. Number two, immigration. If there is an attempt to deport a lot of the illegal immigrants currently living in the United States of America, the place it hits hardest is farm work. So whoever gets that job is going to have a tough road ahead.

KING: Last certainly but not least. Jackie.

KUCINICH: Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz said yesterday that he wasn't going to look into any possible conflicts with Donald Trump and his businesses, but he did say that he is willing to look into and has requested Trump's contract that he has with the GSA about the old post office business where the Trump international hotel is. Now, that contract says a government employee, which Trump will be in just a couple of days, cannot have a contract with the federal government. Talked to Chaffetz yesterday. He said that they haven't received the contract yet, but reiterated when they do receive it, that is something that they're going to look into to see if that list is still appropriate.

KING: Manu.

RAJU: John, Republican leaders I've talked to are concerned about Donald Trump's threatening pulling out of NAFTA. Of course, this is something he threatened to do on the campaign trail.

[12:55:00] So we need to renegotiate the trade deal and if not, we're willing to walk away, but John Cornyn of Texas who does a lot of business -- his state does a lot of business in Mexico, says that Donald Trump should not go that route. Same with Orrin Hatch, the finance committee chairman who oversees trade deals. So if Trump does do actually go that rather extreme route, expect significant pushback from his own party.

KING: Fun to watch that one. I'm going to close with this. Word one of President-elect's cabinet picks might be having second thoughts. Andy Puzder is the choice for labor secretary. He is the CEO that owns Carl's jr. and Hardee's fast food chains and he's been taking a pounding from Democrats, Labor Unions, and other liberal groups since being unveiled as Trump's choice to lead the labor department.

His required financial and ethics paperwork, also has not yet been posted by the office of government ethics. I'm told Puzder in recent days has voiced second thoughts about whether it's worth the bruising and the public scrutiny. Word is though, that he is being urged from the tier at Trump Tower to stay in the fight. For now his confirmation hearing is on hold, likely not until next month, and his critics promise to keep up the barrage. Thanks for watching and joining us on "INSIDE POLITICS" today. Wolf starts after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[13:00:12] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington wherever you're watching from around the world.