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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Attacks Judge Over Travel Ban; The Legal Battle over Travel Ban; GOP Senator Rebukes Trump; Trump Defends Putin; Pelosi Calls for FBI Probe. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 6, 2017 - 12:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:00:30] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

President Trump in Tampa this hour, visiting the headquarters at the U.S. Central and Southern Commands. You see the pictures there. That's MacDill Air Force Base. On tap for the president, lunch with service members, as well as some briefings. We'll take you there in a bit. Should get some tape of the president meeting with troops. We'll see what else happens there. Stay with us.

The president begins week three on the job under fire from fellow Republicans. One flash point, equating the United States with Vladimir Putin's Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: Putin is an enemy of freedom of religion. The U.S. celebrates freedom of religion. Putin is an enemy of the free press. The U.S. celebrates free press. Putin is an enemy of political descent. The U.S. celebrates political descent and the right for people to argue free from violence about places where ideas are in conflict. There is no moral equivalency between the United States of America, the greatest freedom loving nation in the history of the world and the murderous thugs that are in -- in Putin's defense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Remember those words from a Republican senator.

Another source of GOP frustration, the president is again insisting, with zero evidence, there were millions of illegal votes cast in November.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: There's no evidence that it occurred in such a significant number that would have changed the presidential election. And I don't think we ought to spend any federal money investigating that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Today is also a big legal test for the new administration as it asks a federal appeals court to reinstate its travel ban asserting a lower court wrongly interfered with presidential power.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's simply no question under the Constitution, and frankly under federal law, that the president of the United States has the authority, in the interest of national security, to determine who has the right to come into this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia- Malika Henderson, Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times," CNN's Manu Raju, and "The Atlantic's" Molly Ball.

The Trump Justice Department has until this evening to make its case that the president's travel ban should be reinstated. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is the current stop for the high stakes legal battle, but the losing side almost certain to appeal, meaning the question of whether the ban is constitutional is likely to ultimately reach the Supreme Court. As this battle plays out, the president is ignoring pleas from his legal advisors to tone down his attacks on the judge who issued the order halting the ban. Quote, "just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril," the president tweeted Sunday. "If something happens, blame him and the court system. People pouring in. Bad."

There's a legal argument here. And as the legal argument plays out in the courts, you have this political argument where a lot of Democrats are saying it publicly, and a lot of Republicans privately, that it's not appropriate for the leader of the executive branch to be so personal, so pointed, so critical of the judicial branch.

MOLLY BALL, "THE ATLANTIC": Well, and it -- it is very clear -- like you said, a lot of Republicans critical of this as well. Very clear that Trump is not very respectful of the separation of powers in this regard and he believes that he can, you know, bully this judge the same way he thought he could bully Judge Curiel during the campaign by attacking the judge personally, leveling personal insults, and thus trying to get public opinion on his side.

The problem is public opinion isn't the way the judiciary works. And these judges are going to issue the rulings that they're going to issue based on their ruling of the law, whether or not Trump makes fun of them or blames them for things.

KING: And what is the answer to a Trump supporter out there in the country who says, so what? This is who he is. This is what he does. You guys in Washington should get over it.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, and -- and I think that's how they feel, really. I mean if you look at a lot of the polling, his overall approval rating isn't so good. In the 40s or so. But among Republicans, it's quite good. And you hear from Trump supporters this idea that this is what he was brought to Washington to do. He's the grand disrupter. I think at some point the question, though, becomes to what end, right? I mean sort of, what are the results of this disruption? Is it just sort of disruption for disruption's sake or all the things he promised to do, this travel ban for one, ending Obamacare and replacing it with something fantastic, ripping up the Iran nuclear agreement, all of those things. I think at some point people want to see results and not just disruption.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: And, John, you can sense some discomfort from the White House, the government officials who -- over these attacks over to the judge. That statement that came out Friday night where they said it was -- it was an outrageous decision that they -- immediately afterwards they scrubbed that from their press release after issuing it publically and then afterwards Trump going on Twitter attacking the judge. So there's that inherent conflict between Trump's gut instincts and what people in his administration feel is the right message to be putting out from the White House.

[12:05:14] JONATHAN MARTIN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": It's a good thing that they scrub (INAUDIBLE) outrageous given the fact that Trump had two days. (INAUDIBLE) Bannon (INAUDIBLE).

(CROSS TALK)

KING: Well, that's --

MARTIN: But the stat (ph) ended the statement out (ph) so it's all good.

HENDERSON: Yes.

RAJU: Right.

MARTIN: I -- this is sort of the long running Trump show is that the staff and his advisors try to Trump-plain (ph) his comments and sort of walk on eggshells and then he just upsets the apple cart entirely by going, you know, full bore. It's remarkable to watch. Mike Pence, who is every bit the conventional, you know, politician that Trump isn't, try to explain, you know, I -- what the present meant here -- and it's in no relation to what the president said at all.

HENDERSON: Right.

MARTIN: Whatsoever. And, you know, it doesn't bother Trump supporters because they're looking at this through their own world view, and it's going to take a lot more. But the fact is that the separation of powers matter before Trump was here, and it's going to matter after he leaves.

HENDERSON: Yes, and it will certainly come up in those confirmation hearings for Gorsuch. And I talked to somebody and, you know, they say he's prepared for this. He's got a good answer for this idea of whether or not he's going to be unduly influenced or whether or not he understands the importance of the independence of the judiciary.

KING: Right. And you mentioned the vice president, whose job sometimes, you know, we make jokes about it, but he's out there, clean up on aisle two. You know, he's out there --

MARTIN: Sure.

KING: He gets asked tough things. He was asked yesterday about the moral equivalency of the president seemed to make in the interview with Bill O'Reilly, with Vladimir Putin and the United States. We'll get to that in a minute. He was out there, you know, so-called judge, why is he critical of the judge? Is that appropriate? Whether you like Mike Pence, whether you don't like Pence -- Mike Pence, he did a lot of the Sunday shows yesterday and just watch here to see how consistent he is. You can ask him anything you want. He knows what he wants to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: From the outset of his campaign for president and the outset of this administration, President Trump has made it clear that our administration is going to put the safety and security of the American people first and the executive order that he signed suspending travel from countries that have been compromised by terror is consistent with that objective.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It is, if you go through the transcript at home, folks, if you want to see it again. Maybe you support them, maybe you don't. Maybe you like him, maybe you don't. As a communicator, he is remarkably consistent and disciplined, even when people are trying to get him to answer for some of the things his president, his boss, says that are a little out there.

HENDERSON: Yes.

MARTIN: But it leads him to extraordinary places, though. When he was talking to John Thurston (ph), for example, yesterday, he said on a repeated questioning about, you know, is the United States morally superior to Russia, he wouldn't say yes or no. And the reason -- of course Mike Pence thinks the answer is yes.

HENDERSON: Right.

KING: Yes. We know from his history he does.

MARTIN: Yes.

HENDERSON: Yes.

MARTIN: Of course he does. And Pence is someone who reveres the United States and Ronald Reagan --

KING: Has been a hawk on Russia.

HENDERSON: Yes.

MARTIN: Oh, my gosh, absolutely. But he -- he doesn't want to say anything that will even offer the slightest hint that he is running from the president, who has sort of given him a job that he probably would never have gotten.

BALL: Well, and that's the important point here, right, is that for so many conventional Republicans and conservatives, Mike Pence is the one in the White House minding the store. He's the one that they are counting on to make this.

MARTIN: They hope.

HENDERSON: Right.

BALL: They think that Pence can just sort of make this a conventional Republican administration, while Trump puts on sort of a side show over here that doesn't matter. But Trump has already proven, number one, he can do things. He can sign executive orders that actually have an effect in the world. He's not just out there tweeting and causing outrages. And, number two, that Pence is very careful, very diplomatic, very careful to be speaking for Trump. He is not going to be out there freelancing and -- and, you know, sort of giving a wink and a nod to conventional Republicans saying, don't worry, we're on your side.

RAJU: And that's a question I hear a lot from Republicans on The Hill is that when they're talking to Mike Pence -- and they do talk to Mike Pence. He gave out his cell phone number out to every Republican senator -- is that what -- is what Mike Pence is reassuring them on these things is that what Donald Trump actually believes?

KING: Right.

RAJU: Will Donald Trump change his message? Will he be in line with what Mike Pence is saying, or is Mike Pence just trying to reassure them hoping that Donald Trump will come that way?

KING: It's remarkable, though, we're in the third week of a new administration and his own people, including the vice president, their message to people is, watch what we do, not what the president says.

HENDERSON: Right, which is --

KING: Now that's pretty -- that's pretty striking.

HENDERSON: Yes.

KING: It's pretty striking. It's --

MARTIN: (INAUDIBLE), John. I mean it's both, though, right?

KING: Yes. Yes.

MARTIN: Because, look, Donald Trump, in saying all kinds of things on Twitter that are inflammatory, but he's also doing things that are sort of testing the norms of American politics. Stopping people with green cards from coming into the country is not something that a president Mike Pence would have done. And Mike Pence can sort of like, you know, try (ph) Trump's play all he wants, but that is not something that a -- Pence would have done.

KING: And to that point --

MARTIN: (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Once the stay was issued by the district judge, the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security went, boom, --

HENDERSON: Yes.

KING: Opened the borders. Opened the borders, let people in.

HENDERSON: Yes.

KING: They went back to a traditional world where we know that's not what the president -- we know that's not what Steve Bannon and the White House wanted as we go forward.

But to the point what has been interesting I think the last 72 hours, maybe it goes back to about 100 hours, you had the story on the border wall. We had so many Republicans openly on the record, names attached, criticizing the president. We had Mitch McConnell at the top of the program trying not to say, I think the president's wrong, but then making clear he thinks the president's wrong on issues like Russia, on issues like voter fraud. You saw conservative Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska in the open of the program about Russia. Listen to him here, Donald Trump tweeting so-called judge. The point -- Democrats think it's a constitutional crisis to have the executive meddling with the judicial. Republicans don't go that far, but they do get into this point of respect for institutions. And if the president is poo-pooing institutions --

[12:10:40] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BEN SASSE (R), NEBRASKA: I don't understand language like that. We don't have so-called judges. We don't have so-called senators. We don't have so-called presidents. We have people from three different branches of government who take an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, and it's important that we -- we do better civics education for our kids. So we don't have any so-called judges. We have real judges.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Again, that's a conservative Republican senator. We know he was not a Trump fan during the campaign. Let's be honest and open about that. But, still, to go on -- go publicly on television and essentially say the president of the United States needs a civics lesson, yes, it's remarkable.

HENDERSON: Yes, it is remarkable. And I think we remember very well Donald Trump's speech where he said that he alone can fix it. He didn't necessarily talk about the three branches of government, one of which at this point is checking him in providing some balance. But, yes, I mean I think Republicans obviously troubled by this a great deal. What it means in terms of what they'll actually do -- I mean it's one thing to sort of publicly criticize the president, but what does it mean for what they do in terms of policy and working with (INAUDIBLE)?

MARTIN: Yes.

BALL: Yes. Well, and here is the big question. It is already becoming clear that Donald Trump cannot get everything he wants. That's normal. No president gets everything he wants, even when his own party controls all of the branches of government. He's not going to get everything he wants and he's being blocked on multiple fronts. He's not getting the travel ban that he unilaterally signed. He is not getting the Congress to do the things that he wanted done right away, like on Obamacare.

The question is, he -- and it's clear that he finds that very frustrating. How is he going to respond? Because there are a couple paths he could take here. Number one, he could just pretend he's getting everything he wants and talk up the things he is getting and downplay the things he's not getting and make it seem like he's being very effective, or he can continue in this vein where he makes it clear how frustrated he is and goes to war with everybody else in Washington, and that would be a real conflagration.

KING: And if he does the latter, and his approval rating stays in the 40s, they won't worry about it because they'll think, we can go home and do better than him. It's an interesting question going forward. Again, we wait the legal developments. The briefs are due tonight. We don't know when the Ninth Circuit will rule. They could rule as early as tonight. They could ask for a hearing or they could rule in the next day or two based on those documents. We'll keep an eye on the fate of the travel ban in the courts.

Up next, though, to Russia with love. President Trump, again, speaks warmly of Vladimir Putin, but this latest version crosses a new line.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:17:20] KING: President Trump, live pictures there, MacDill Air Force Base. The president is there this hour. That's home of the military's Central and Southern Commands. His briefings there presumably will such on Syria, where Russian war planes are part of the slaughter. Maybe, just maybe, he will hear something to make him reconsider this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O'REILLY, HOST, "THE O'REILLY FACTOR": Do you respect Putin?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I do respect him, but --

O'REILLY: Do you? Why? TRUMP: Well, I respect a lot of people, but that doesn't mean I'm

going to get along with him. He's a leader of his country. I say it's better to get along with Russia than not. And if Russia helps us in the fight against ISIS, which is a major fight, and Islamic terrorism all over the world --

O'REILLY: Right.

TRUMP: Major fight, that's a good thing. Will I get along with him? I have no idea. It's possible I won't.

O'REILLY: He's a killer, though. Putin's a killer.

TRUMP: A lot of killers. We've got a lot of killers. What, you think our country's so innocent? You think our country is so innocent?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A striking comment there. The president's Putin fetish has long frustrated his fellow Republicans. But the last part, equating the United States with Putin's Russia crossed the line.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Putin's a former KGB agent. He's a thug. He was not elected in a way that most people would consider a credible election. The Russian's annexed Crimea, invaded the Ukraine and messed around in our elections. No, I don't think there's any equivalency between the way the Russians conduct themselves and the way the United States does.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Again, Leader McConnell, one of the most disciplined men in Washington, not saying the president's wrong, but then going on to make crystal clear he thinks the president is very, very, very wrong.

To your point earlier, you were saying they hop -- they keep hoping the vice president sort of pulls the president away from where he is, which nobody can quite understand where he just refuses to say -- you know, to -- to -- that he won't criticize Putin is one thing that drives people on The Hill particularly a little crazy, shall we say. But the fact that he equated the United States with Vladimir Putin's Russia has them all spinning now.

MARTIN: It was like -- yes, it's like a sort of, you know, lefty college professor --

HENDERSON: Yes.

BALL: Well, it's also a line straight out of Russian propaganda, right?

MARTIN: It's -- right (ph).

BALL: I mean you can watch all the shows on RT, that is always their message.

KING: Yes.

MARTIN: That's their message, right, oh, you're so clean here, America?

BALL: Right. The United States is a human rights violator.

MARTIN: How about your own Central Intelligence Agency? Yes.

BALL: There's no standing to criticize.

MARTIN: Yes, after all you've done. Look at -- look at Chile and Kissinger.

No, of course, I mean they -- but Trump doesn't know that.

HENDERSON: He doesn't -- he doesn't --

MARTIN: He doesn't know that he's reprizing of an RT talking points. He doesn't know that he's doing a Howard Zim (ph) impression. It's just his go to line. And he's not made the jump --

HENDERSON: Right.

MARTIN: From citizen or candidate to president. And he thinks that I can just basically say the same thing that I told, you know, Joe Scarborough a year and a half ago --

[12:20:02] HENDERSON: Yes.

MARTIN: When I was asked the same question. And it's different now and he doesn't quite get that.

HENDERSON: And that's what's remarkable. I mean if you read the transcripts of Donald Trump from that interview, I mean he sounds like candidate Trump, right? I mean he doesn't seem like -- he clearly has access to enormous amounts of information now that he's president. He can call on anyone and do some sort of briefing. He clearly hasn't done that. So he keeps going back to these same ideas about Putin, about ripping up the nuclear agreement. It just doesn't seem to have moved off of it. Maybe he will at some point. It's not clear. I think --

RAJU: Look, it's clear -- it's clear that the Republicans on The Hill are not comfortable with his rhetoric.

HENDERSON: Right.

RAJU: The question is, do they confront him legislatively --

MARTIN: Yes.

HENDERSON: Yes. Yes.

RAJU: On the sanctions, in particularly. There is a bipartisan push to stiffen sanctions against Russia. People -- everyone from John McCain, Lindsey Graham, to Democrat Ben Cardin, Chuck Schumer is involved in that too. Does Mitch McConnell bring the sanctions bill to the floor of the Senate and confront Donald Trump on this issue? We don't know where the administration stands. That is -- to what -- what pushes them to go after this issue -- go after Trump on Putin? Is it comments like these, or do they stay and, you know, let Donald Trump clean it up himself?

KING: Yes, and when -- and when you ask people about this, whether they're members of Congress who are deeply involved in national security and foreign policy, whether they're people who have served in prior administrations, Democrat or Republican, their -- people are divided. Some people say he just doesn't get it, doesn't understand it, and hasn't taken the time to learn it as president, hasn't taken the time. Other people say he's just stubborn. He doesn't want to say he was wrong about Putin after spending a campaign saying all these nice things. Democrats, though, are starting to be more open, suggesting there's something nefarious at play?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: I want to know what the Russians have on Donald Trump. I think we have to have an investigation by the FBI into his financial, personal, and political connections to Russia and we want to see his tax returns so we can have truth in the relationship between Putin, whom he admires.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, I get it, it is hard sometimes when you play this to just realize where we are. We're three weeks into a new presidency. We have Republicans on the record publically criticizing the president (INAUDIBLE). That's the Democratic leader of the United States House of Representatives. That's not a back benching rank-and-file member of Congress who is saying, I want to know what the Russians have on him.

MARTIN: Have on.

HENDERSON: Yes.

KING: Now, is she speaking from some knowledge because we do know there are investigations going on, on Capitol Hill about alleged connections between the Trump campaign and the Russian government? Or --

RAJU: She gets classified briefings.

KING: She gets classified briefings.

HENDERSON: Right.

KING: Or is she just appeasing the Democratic base that wants their lawmakers to just throw the kitchen sink at the president?

RAJU: I think it's a lot of the latter, to be frank.

MARTIN: Yes.

RAJU: Maxine Waters, who's the top Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, today and last week suggested that Trump should be impeached. This is not anywhere near where Pelosi is at this point. In this press conference this morning, I asked Pelosi, do you agree with Maxine Waters, should Donald Trump eventually be impeached? he said, well, only when and if he breaks the law, but I'm not there quite yet. So there is that part of the base that is dragging the leadership to align themselves in this very aggressive push against it, but the Democratic leadership does not want to overreach.

KING: Yes, we'll talk more about the Democrats later in the program, but have they not been just as guilty, if Donald Trump is undermining trust in institutions by saying so-called judge, are they not doing the same thing by -- you know, by -- if there are investigations and something turns up, whatever, but to publicly talk about impeaching a president his third week in office, to publically have the Democratic leader say, I want to know what the Russians have on him on national television?

HENDERSON: Well, I mean, there were these, you know, investigations that are going on, right?

KING: Right.

HENDERSON: I mean 17 intelligence agencies basically came out and said the Russians meddled in this election. There is obviously reporting about the dossier. So it's not for nothing.

KING: Right.

HENDERSON: I mean this isn't some like conspiracy theory that she's basing it on. I mean Maxine Waters is one thing, but I think Nancy Pelosi is looking at this and saying, you know, to borrow from Trump, there is something going on. I mean it's so utterly bizarre. It's --

KING: People are saying --

HENDERSON: Exactly, people are saying this fetish and obsession with Putin. I mean it's the thing that he has been most consistent on throughout his time on the political stage.

KING: To your point about what Republicans confront him with legislation about the sanctions or some other -- listen to Marco Rubio this weekend. You heard from Mitch McConnell. You heard from Ben Sasse, two conservative senators. Here's Marco Rubio tweeting over the weekend. "When has a Democratic political activist been poisoned by the GOP or vice versa? We are not the same as Putin." Signed MR, to make clear the senator sent that one himself. This --

MARTIN: Tough talk but, you know, when do they cast a vote that contradicts President Trump?

HENDERSON: Yes, yes, what do they do?

BALL: Yes. MARTIN: Because, you know, Marco Rubio, obviously, really went after Tillerson hard during the confirmation hearings, wound up voting to confirm him.

HENDERSON: Folded like a cheap suit eventually.

MARTIN: Yes. He voted to confirm I think every single one of the president's nominees. So the big question is, when do they actually, you know, either go to the White House to actually have an intervention with him, or oppose him by actually casting a bill? Or (INAUDIBLE).

BALL: Or do they just paper over the whole thing by pretending that they agree, because that is obviously the path of least resistance for everybody. And what happened, as you say, in the Tillerson confirmation.

[12:25:03] KING: I think the more the president talks, the less likely it is they just try to paper it over, try to let it go, but that's what -- we'll see what happens.

MARTIN: He's made it harder on them, yes.

HENDERSON: Yes.

KING: Make it harder on them.

All right, everybody stand tight.

Up next, sharp elbows and intriguing leaks. Is team Trump already in turmoil?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

President Trump this morning tweeted something rather cryptic. Quote, "I call my own shots, largely based on accumulation of data, and everyone knows it. Some fake news media, in order to marginalize, lies."

So why the need to remind everyone he's the boss? Maybe, just maybe, this magazine cover had something to do with it. Top aide Stephen Bannon dubbed the great manipulator by "Time." Or maybe -- maybe this "Saturday Night Live" skit struck a nerve.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, ACTOR, "SNL": Well, Mr. Trump, thank you for still accepting our refugees.

ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR, "SNL": Homey (ph) say what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Obama said America would accept 1,200 refugees. Your country's compassion will not be forgotten.

BALDWIN: No, no, no, no refugees. America first. Australia sucks. Your reef is failing. Prepare to go to war.

[12:30:03] Steve, I think that was bad. Was that bad?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, ACTOR, "SNL": No, it went just according to plan.

BALDWIN: Whose plan? Your plan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, your plan (ph).