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Trump Aide Touts "Alternative Fact"; WH Spokesman Makes False Claim About Crowd Size; Trump Slams Media At CIA Visit; Key White House Posts Vacant As Trump Starts Work; Trump's CIA Pick Open To Waterboarding; Senate Dems Won't Rush Vote on CIA Nominee. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 23, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:02] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: You know, that would be behind this in a few days. But what if it's about policy? What if it's about foreign relations? Can Iran suddenly come forward with alternative facts about its nuclear program?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that's one of the things that reporter -- White House reporters (inaudible) any reporters, they're not -- it's not abnormal to have an adversarial relationship with your sources. We all do with that -- we do our job just fine some days are better than others.

But I do think it's a question of, you know, Sean Spicer is now supposed to be the bridge between the government that people elected and the free press which shares with the American people what this government is doing.

And so there is a certain level of honesty the American people have to be able to get from the person in that role. And you're right, it doesn't really matter when it comes to crowd size, but it does matter when we talk about a terrorist attack. It does matter when we talk about moving American ships. It does matter when we're talking about a number of these other issues that are imperative in the coming years. And I think that's what's concerning about.

KAREN TUMULTY, THE WASHINGTON POST: And this is worth pointing out that he's now in a position where the American people are paying his salary. It's not the Trump campaign. It's not the RNC.

And I actually thought the single most unsettling, chilling part of the entire performance was after he spews out essentially of, you know, fire hose of misinformation he says and this is what you should be reporting and covering. And for someone in his first outing at that lectern to stand there in a society with a free press and a government official ordering them what to be reporting and covering is -- it's just so far beyond the norm.

KING: That he -- and we all know Sean. He's not new here. And let's just say he was told to say that and we know that from reporting to be true. He doesn't -- I don't think he personally believes and that body this job and his credibility is at stake. And this is all part; let's listen to the president himself. The president of the week went to CIA headquarters and as part of his speech there, he discussed his running war with people like us.


DONALD TRUMP, (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As you know, I have a running war with the media. They are among the most dishonest human beings on earth. And they sort of made it sound like I had a feud with the intelligence community. And I just want to let you know the reason you're the number one stop is exactly the opposite.


KING: Now, of course that's not true. That's not true. He started the fight with the intelligence community with his words and his tweets including at one point saying they're like Nazi, Germany, we live in Nazi, Germany that they were leaking on him.

Let's leave that aside a little bit. We did learn in the campaign if Donald Trump disagrees with you or they thinks you are a threat to him like his opponents, he tries to undermine you. Is that what he's doing? Essentially if, you know, if you don't hear it from me, it's not true?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: It's, you know, they're trying to tarnish the credibility of the news media because as any president will experience, most of the press is negative press. You get pretty hostile, as Sara said, adversarial relationship with the press corps that does investigate, that does report on things you're not doing that you promise on the campaign trail, things to the conflicts of interest, et cetera. And Trump had his fair share of bad press.

So, if he can say that everything we're saying is not accurate, then perhaps what he's saying that no one will listen to us and listen to him. That's what they hope (inaudible) than he needs an enemy and word of the enemy.

TUMULTY: And he's also fully aware that the press isn't exactly in great standing with the American people. We can't worry about our popularity.

ED O'KEEFE, THE WASHINGTON POST: But neither is he. And that's what all of this is about. From everything he signed today to everything he said over the weekend, it's designed to shore up his base of support. Just pretty soon that may be all he has. He went into the presidency last week with a rating no bigger than the 40s, the worst rating of any new president in modern history.

If he starts to lose that even more, it's going to be very difficult for him to get done in the next few weeks and months. So he went after us because, you know, we're just this unpopular as Congress these days frankly and that's fine. We'll continue doing our jobs. He's got to do his which means throwing us under a bus.

MURRAY: One thing I will say in their defense which is a difficult thing to say after that Sean Spicer briefing over week end and all those falsehoods. Look, today they do have their reporters at the White House, they letting them in (inaudible) at the top of this meeting with business leaders to see the executive orders, that part is encouraging. This is still the people's house and press should still be let in to broadcast to the American people at least a part of what he's doing in the White House. That part is encouraging with. Let's see what else --

KING: And it's a feeling out process shall we say early on, we'll see how this goes. One of the -- so many fascinating moments over the weekend in the early days of the new administration. One of them was the president had a reception for first responders and law enforcement, among those there, the FBI director. You might remember his fight with the intelligence community started over these reports that the intelligence community, including the FBI director had presented him dossier of alleged Russian "kompromat" as they call, you know, compromising information. But -- so James Comey, the FBI director, is in the room and Donald Trump decides he wants to greet him.


[12:35:19] TRUMP: Jim is more famous than me.


KING: What makes this moment rather delicious is the Democrats are furious at James Comey for how he handled the Clinton e-mail investigation during the campaign. But we know as the FBI is as we speak investigating possible contacts between Trump associates and the Russian government during the campaign. And so here you have the FBI director getting called out by the president of the United States whose associates are under investigation.

RAJU: I don't think Comey liked that probably. It undermines his credibility among liberals and Democrats who don't believe he has any credibility left. It really reminds folks of the Bill Clinton meeting with Loretta Lynch on the tarmac in the middle of the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation. So, I'm sure people will point back to this moment if they don't like the results of this investigation.

KING: And there's a question about whether Comey stays even?


O'KEEFE: Some dispute about who was hugging who there? I think it's pretty clear the president was pulling in the director.

KING: It's a fun early days here in this new one. Up next, a big week for team Trump on Capitol Hill beginning with today's debate about whether the new president is trying to bring back water boarding.


[12:40:38] KING: Welcome back. There are a lot of empty desks as the Trump' administration begins its first week in office, but busy week on Capitol Hill good still to some of them.

Today for example the Senate setting aside six hours debate, President Trump choice of Congressman Mike Pompeo to be the new director of the Central Intelligence. The White House is angry. The confirmation vote was in scheduled sooner but the Senate Democratic leader wouldn't budge.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: That's ridiculous. Number one, we have never had a CIA Director confirmed on the first day. Number two, there are very capable people watching over the CIA and third and most important, Pompeo is going to have huge, huge power, and there are issues that have been very vexing to the congress.


KING: All right, very vexing to the congress, at his hearing and Congressman Pompeo I think it will be overwhelmingly confirmed in a few hours, but at his hearing he said he would follow the law. The law says you can't waterboard but there's been some conversation that the administration, including Director Pompeo, might be looking for some backdoor way to reinstate it, like if what get a legal opinion that says you can do this or?

RAJU: Yeah, it seems though and he issued a response to written questions about this over, you know, last several days and suggested that he would consult with attorneys to see what's allowed under the law. Much different than what he said at the hearing and he said, absolutely he would not go forward with water boarding pretty emphatic about that.

But, yes, he has going to be confirmed tonight. The question is going to be Rex Tillerson is the Secretary of State, good news for Donald Trump (inaudible) Marco Rubio saying that he would suggest Tillerson's nomination and also John McCain, Lindsey Graham saying that over the weekend. So he'll get the secretary of state.

It will be for us to see what happens with some other of the nominees including Mick Mulvaney, the budget director nominee who had his confirmation hearing tomorrow. He has some tax issues. Didn't pay taxes for several years on a household employee and since he acknowledged that, as well as Tom Price heading to second round of confirmation hearings tomorrow for the Health and Human Services secretary.

So Trump may get some of these nominees confirmed. Not on the time line that he wants. We'll see the impact that has on the rest of his objective.

KING: You mentioned Rex Tillerson. He is the ExxonMobil CEO, former ExxonMobil CEO, President Trump's choice to be Secretary of State. And Marco Rubio was the big obstacle as you know it because he said he had a lot of concerns that he was too soft on Russia. Other concerns as well wanted some commitments on Cuba policy. But Hamlet played over the last 13 to 14 days and on Facebook today Senator Rubio said this, "Given the uncertainty that exists both at home and abroad about the direction of our foreign policy, it would be against our national interest to have this confirmation unnecessarily delayed or embroiled in controversy. Therefore, despite my reservations, I will support Mr. Tillerson's nomination in committee and in the full Senate."

Well, if it would be a distraction to unnecessarily delay or embroil, then why not say it from the beginning, I have some reservations but it would be a distraction.

O'KEEFE: Because he's Marco Rubio and he lives for the attention. And that's his reputation on Capitol Hill. We all say it and we don't say it but it will be enough, but that's what he does. He tries to do this. He sticks his head out there a little bit and then he pulls back and he becomes a good soldier here again. That's what he did here.

RAJU: And he really got out far on the limb here during that hearing. He was going after Tillerson probably more than most Democrats even on the committee. So that's what suggested that he could vote against Tillerson. But he said, his aides said that they had in private meeting with Tillerson last week to the White House along with Mike Pence, Reince Priebus (inaudible) to the White House where they had a private meeting. And they discussed these issues at 90-minute meeting. This one is a blunt meeting. There is a hundred written questions and answers, and perhaps some of these concerns are alleviated. But it does feed a lot of criticism of the way Rubio played this.

O'KEEFE: Tension will shift to other nominees now that Tillerson is through. I mean tomorrow we may see the confirmation of Elaine Chao to be Transportation Secretary and maybe Nikki Haley to be the U.N. Ambassador, Pompeo will go tonight. Democrats keep honing and however on Betsy DeVos, the education secretary nominee. A billionaire whose family owns Amway among many other things is given hundred and millions of dollars to Republicans.

Just this hour again, more news Democrats are asking for another hearing with her, saying that now that we've seen her ethics paperwork which conveniently it was released Friday night in the middle of the inaugural festivities, they found some more problems that they'd like to ask her about in public and if I get knock down -- but this is all Democrats can do, is try to delay things as long as possible, because now you only need 51 senators. Republicans have 52. And there's no sign of Republican opposition.

KING: And the quick confirmations were General Mattis for Defense Department and General Kelly for Homeland Security, you mentioned Nikki Haley.

[12:45] They voted through some of the non-controversial picks. I want of ask -- you mentioned McCain who is also skeptical of Tillerson has come around. He says, he talked to him several times and Tillerson actually sounds tougher when it comes to Russia than President Trump does. But I want you to listen. He was on with ABC this morning. George Stephanopoulos asking Senator McCain straight up after the voice confidence in the Trump team, this question.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: And I have the utmost confidence in General Mattis, General Flynn, General Kelly, Dan Coats, I couldn't have picked a better team. And so I'm confident that he will listen to them and be guided by them.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: You say you have utmost confidence in his team. Do you have utmost confidence in President Trump?

MCCAIN: I do not know. But, George, I do not know, because he has made so many comments that are contradictory.


KING: This is sort of one of the defining themes of the early weeks of the Trump administration, that even leading members of his own party say, "I don't know.'

O'KEEFE: Yeah. Go ahead Karen.

TUMULTY: Consistency is never been, you know, sort of the hallmark of the Donald Trump style. I mean then when you brought up waterboarding a few moments ago. Even on that issue Donald Trump told the "New York Times" almost immediately after the election that General Mattis sort of made him rethink this. Maybe it doesn't work so well.

And when you listen to some of these confirmation hearings, Rex Tillerson said during his confirmation hearing that he and Donald Trump had never discussed Russia. That his department of --

KING: He's only the secretary of state.

TUMULTY: That his Department of Homeland Security Chief is not part of the immigration discussions. It's extraordinary.

RAJU: Yeah. People don't know who Donald Trump is going to listen to within his camps with the people that are very close to him, if it's his family members, and his cabinet Secretaries? Many of whom have very different views and Trump has not necessarily as Karen said been consistent on these views so where does he come down? It reminds me when I asked Marco Rubio in October, "Do you think that Donald Trump will keep America safe?" He said "I think the military will keep America safe." So, I think you're hearing some of that from Republicans even in the early days of the new White House.

KING: Watch as it plays out nervousness in town. But, again, candidate Trump, transition president-elect Trump, and president Trump proving, the disruptive force keeps everyone on their toes.

Up next to our report, (inaudible) including the most important story about President Trump, that most people are not paying enough attention too.


[12:51:45] KING: We surround our table with reporters, not pundits, and ask them every day at the close of the program to share a nugget from their notebooks to help you that you had a big political news history on the corner. Sara Murray?

MURRAY: We know the Trump administration is woefully understaffed at the moment. They're working to staff up. But as they struggle to do this, Donald Trump had some of his own policies to blame for the fact that it's hard to find employees like officially saying we'll pull out of TPP, like saying he wants to renegotiate NAFTA.

When it comes to trying to hire for top spots in places like treasury, Republicans are saying, "No thanks. I'm going to pass" because they feel like they cannot go out there and defend Donald Trump's economic policies. They believe it's an isolationist agenda. And even though Republicans are in the White House, they can't bring themselves to join the administration.


O'KEEFE: So we had that big march on Washington this weekend organized by various women's groups. It was not organized by the Democratic Party but a lot of big stars that maybe thinking about 20- 20 were there, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy (inaudible), Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, (inaudible) one in Boston, interesting to see them show up. Remember, these tea party rallies began a few years back were proving ground for a lot of folks that got elected into Congress, got elected governor in some states if these keep up would be interesting to watch.

One thing I found interesting it was only one official congressional candidate on the official list of speakers. A woman named Wendy Greuel who is running in the 13-person Democratic primary in Los Angeles to replace Xavier Becerra who tomorrow becomes Attorney General of California. She will use that appearance no doubt as a cheat no armour in a race again with 13 people.

KING: Thirteen person primary. Fun, fun, fun, fun. Yes.

RAJU: Well, John, like it or not, the 2018 midterm cycle is upon us and that means the retirement watch is upon us too. A number of Senate Democrats and Republicans, people looking at possibly not running for re-election including some veterans like Dianne Feinstein of California, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Bill Nelson of Florida, Tom Carper of Delaware, all coming to the top of the list.

Now, Feinstein I asked her specifically about that. She said she dodged a question when I asked Hatch who said he would retire after his last re-election and now suggesting that he may run again saying that, well, he's getting encouragement to run again and Bill Nelson is running like a "jackrabbit."

People can change their minds but one person to also look out for Bob Menendez who is been indicted on corruption charges running for re- election at this point. We'll see if that changes if that indictment turns into a conviction.

KING: So no youth movement in the United States Senate is what you're trying to say there. Karen?

TUMULTY: So mine it's just a little reminder in President Trump's news conference a couple weeks ago he said he would have a Supreme Court nominee and ready for us within a few weeks. This is the -- the size of this fight is going to dwarf anything that we have seen. And this really is going to be his test among other people the evangelicals who sort of put aside what they don't like about his personal life and what they don't like about his past positions because to them the Supreme Court was everything. I think for a lot of these people that we saw marching on Saturday, the same could be argued.

KING: That's a great point. And Democrats still mad the Senate wouldn't consider President Obama's picks. There could be playback there.

[12:55:04] I'll close with this payback -- now playback, payback, now close it. But sometimes silence speaks volumes. Take major business groups like the Chamber of Commerce, for example. Most of the business organizations like the Chamber, the National Association of Manufacturers, the Business Roundtable among them are supporters of the trade agreements President Trump plans to abandon or renegotiate. But they are largely silent today as the president takes the first big steps in enacting his America first promises.

One reason, they like other parts of the Trump agenda like slashing corporate taxes and regulations. These groups are also hoping Republican allies in Congress will prevent the Trump White House from enacting that border tax the president talked about this morning.

But there's another big reason too. Trump loves getting into fights with establishment groups so keeping quiet, not provoking a Trump counterpunch is viewed as the smart tragedy early on.

Thanks for joining us on "Inside Politics." We'll be back right here in (inaudible) tomorrow. My colleague Wolf Blitzer warming up will be here after a quick break.