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INSIDE POLITICS

Christie Visits the White House for Lunch; House Democrats Respond to Flynn Resignation; Dems Ask: What did President Trump Know, and When?. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 14, 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: Back to the White House just lunch, or another twist in the early Peyton place drama that is the Trump west wing?

The Jersey Governor Chris Christie is at the White House this hour for lunch with the President of the United States. You might recall Governor Christie was passed over for attorney general or for White House chief of staff as the President built his new team. In addition to the resignation of the National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, there are daily if not hourly leaks out of the White House about west wing rivalries, turf battles. Governor Christie says, though, it's just lunch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Donald Trump, the president of the United States, has been my friend and Mary Pat's friend for the last 15 years. And whenever he calls and -- or I call him and we have conversations, I'm always willing if he asks to give my opinion on things, but I have absolutely no intention nor any understanding that I'll be asked to be in the administration in the years to come.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Even if it is innocent, just lunch, Governor Christie and Mary Pat Christie coming down for lunch given everything that's going on the White House. If you're one of those people who's kind of doing this, every -- after house (ph), I mean what are you thinking about this timing-wise?

JONATHAN MARTIN, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I don't think there's much mystery that people expect Governor Christie to be in the next wave of Trump staffers. It's just a matter of when it happens. Is it going to be later this year or is it going to be next year? But -- because I've talked Republicans in Washington and beyond that sort of like an open assumption that Christie is coming down here after he finishes up.

You know, he did want to make some money, I think, but his wife works in finance. They're pretty comfortable, I think, economically. So, I would be surprised actually if Christie wasn't in the next wave.

KING: Amy has mentioned this earlier. So let's put it up on the screen. If you go to Breitbart News, which during the campaign was a friend of Trump, now has a couple of friends of Trump -- friends of Breitbart, his very senior position inside the west wing. And so Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart CEO is a senior advisor of the President. He brought in the senior editor from Breitbart news to help him organizationally. And there you go, low and behold on the front page from Breitbart Today if you log on. As Flynn resigns, why don't we get Reince next is what they're saying. This is stunning to me. Again, these are supposed to be his friends.

KAREN TUMULTY, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, look, chief of staff is not exactly a job that is generally associated with long tenure. I mean even the --

MARTIN: A month?

TUMULTY: OK. OK. This is short even for that.

MARTIN: Trump want to be there.

TUMULTY: That even successful ones that aren't there for more than two years. It is like -- it is the hardest job in Washington next to the presidency. Plus, you don't get all the support that the president gets. And so -- and it is always the job that if something's going wrong, the chief of staff is going to be the first guy in the line of fire in, you know, with everybody saying get rid of this person.

AMY WALTER, COOK POLITICAL REPORTER: So what about if this is the best news for Trump, though, is that this all happens now, right? All -- These are all early stumbles. And people who were part of the campaign, they weren't quite ready to get into the government jobs, the dysfunction, we get this over, get this out of the way early, and then you get the next few months to right the ship.

TUMULTY: But what --

WALTER: The question is at the top --

KING: Right.

WALTER: -- does the person, the President of the United States, want to right the ship and how -- yeah.

TUMULTY: And what evidence is there that he adjusts? I mean he is still talking about voter fraud. It's -- he just can't sort of -- he can't stand up and make a course correction and sort of acknowledge that he was wrong about something. It does not seem to be part of his mission.

KING: But in the campaign and it looks like in this case as well in letting General Flynn go whether he was nudged or just came -- mysteriously came to conclusion on his own, that when it becomes about the President, or becomes about his personal credibility in his standing, that is when he invokes the you're fired. So I think you make a great point.

Look, General Flynn came in with a lot of controversy. A lot of people thought he was toxic to begin with.

TUMULTY: That's right.

KING: We're going to get up to Capitol Hill. Are they ready for us here? Let's go to Capitol Hill. You see that there's Adam Schiff, leading Democrat on the intelligence voices. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CALIFORNIA: -- of any contacts between the Trump campaign and any Russian officials during the course of that campaign. Among I think the very serious allegations have been that there were a course of contacts that is within the scope of the House Intelligence Committee will be investigating. And think those are among the most serious allegations because if there was any form of collusion with the Russians during the course of their illegal activities, that would obviously be of the utmost gravity. So I think that is a part of the context here. That is a set of allegations that can and must be investigated.

What has taken place most recently, though, surrounds the issue of Flynn's contact with the Russian Ambassador at the end of December. And to me, the salient point here is if, in fact, the Justice Department alerted the White House -- alerted White House Counsel weeks ago that Flynn had lied about his discussions with the Russian Ambassador. It is inconceivable to me that the White House Counsel would have kept that to himself.

[12:35:12] And so others in the administration were aware that the National Security Advisor of the United States had misled other administration officials who had, in turn, misled the American people. And they were ok with that. The administration was ok with the fact the American people were laboring under the falsehood that they had not discussed the sanctions with the Russians.

The resignation of Michael Flynn was brought about not by discovering the falsehood, but by the fact that the falsehood became public. And that ought to be deeply disturbing to everyone, that the White House would have even contemplated tolerating a national security advisor who would lie to them and to the American people through the vice president. This obviously begs lot of questions about whether those conversations between Flynn and the Russian Ambassador were sanctioned by the President himself or others in the administration, whether they were knowing of those conversations, and why those who were knowing did nothing to correct the record when the American people were told otherwise. All of this merits investigation.

That investigation, I believe ought to be done in part, through the intelligence committee as part of the investigation we're doing now. And I was very disappointed to see the speaker today unwilling to commit to investigate these communications between Flynn and the Russian Ambassador. My feeling is if the speaker is not willing to commit to this, he ought to allow the formation of an independent commission and get out of the way, because these questions are far too important to go unanswered. I'm also -- I want to say that I'm pleased to see at least some Republicans stepping forward today to call on the President, to speak directly about whether he authorized these communications between Flynn and the Ambassador, whether he was aware of these. The President I think owes the American people an explanation. And he ought to do that directly and not through dissembling aides. And with that, let me introduce Elijah Cummings, the ranking member on the government reform committee.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: Let me begin by asking everyone in this room a very simple question. Do you hear that? Do you hear the silence? This is a town of House Republicans conducting no oversight of President Trump. Zero.

That is what it sounds like when they abdicate their duty under the constitution. We've been asking for months for a basic oversight. The President and his advisors, and their ties to Russia, but our Chairman Jason Chaffetz has not lifted one finger. He has not requested a single solitary piece of paper, and think about where we are right now.

General Flynn flew to Moscow to have a lavish dinner with President Putin and celebrate the Kremlin-backed media outlet R.T. According to our own U.S. Intelligence Officials, R.T. is "The Kremlin's principal international propaganda outlet." Flynn now admits that he got paid for that trip. But he refuses to say how much he was paid. He may have violated the constitution in the process. As a retired officer, he may not except for an emoluments. The Pentagon is investigating this, and we may hear back from them this week.

Flynn was secretly communicating with Republican -- with Russian officials at the same time Russia was attacking our democracy. Let me say that again. Flynn was secretly communicating with Russian officials at the same time that Russia was attacking our democracy. Flynn may have violated the Logan Act by discussing the sanctions imposed by the United States in response to Russia's attacks. We had no idea why Flynn was doing all of this and why he was trying desperately to help Russia. And I know he is now resigned, but he's not going to get off that easy. We need some answers to a whole lot of questions.

[12:40:10] But the obvious questions are what did the President know, and when did he know it? Was the President aware of Flynn's efforts? Did he support them? Last night we learned that the Justice Department warned the White House Counsel three weeks ago that Flynn secretly talked with the Russians about sanctions and may have lied about it to the Vice President. The department warned that the National Security Advisor was at risk of being blackmailed by the Russian government, and that was three weeks ago, three long weeks ago, 21 days ago.

So why did the President say on Friday he did not know anything about Flynn's calls with the Russian Ambassador? Did the White House Counsel really never tell the President? Because if that's true, if that is true, I cannot see how the White House Counsel could stay in his position. That would be a major National Security breach not to inform the President of such a serious charge.

Another question, why did Flynn continue to sit in on most -- the most sensitive classified meetings until just two days ago? Ladies and gentlemen, something is wrong with that picture. Who at the White House -- and I want the press to press these questions. Who at the White House decided to do nothing for three weeks as Flynn sat in on meeting, after meeting, after meeting. Did the President decide the way, did Counsel decide the way? Something is wrong here.

Madam leader, just this morning Flynn tweeted "scapegoat." Scapegoat. He basically described himself as a scapegoat. And so I believe we need to hold a public hearing with Flynn to get to the bottom of this. Our committee held three or four hearings, emergency hearings on Hillary Clinton in a matter of a week or two. And if there was any emergency at this moment in the history of this country, this is the moment.

And so we need to get his security and clearance documents, I want to see him. I want to see what he put in those documents. To find out if he was honest on those ones, and we need to know how much he got paid to have dinner with Putin. But that is only they'll be getting.

The press has asked us over and over again, I know they asked Mr. Schiff and asked the leader. Does it end here? Should things end here? No, they cannot end here. Ladies and gentlemen, we are a fight -- in a fight for the soul of our democracy. The question is, is whether we will clearly understand that this is our watch.

And let's be clear. Schiff said it quite e eloquently. The Republicans need to join us. This is not a Democratic issue. This is not a Republican issue. It's not an Independent issue. This is an American issue for the soul of our democracy. Now it gives me great pleasure to introduce the Chairman, the Ranking Member of the judiciary committee Mr. Conyers.

REP. JOHN CONYERS (D), MICHIGAN: Unless we want to yield to the leader.

CUMMINGS: Oh, I'm sorry.

CONYERS: OK. All right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our ranking members.

CONYERS: Thank you so much.

The overdue resignation of General Flynn last evening does not resolve this matter. I want to make that clear because I've been trying to get my Chairman of the judiciary committee to hold a hearing immediately today, certainly not later than tomorrow. What did President Trump knew and when did he know it? What did Vladimir Putin know and when did he knew it? How is it possible that the White House Counsel knew this for about three whole weeks and did nothing?

Now, the American people deserve answers, and they're not receiving them from either the Trump administration or from the Republican Congress. So we will do everything within our power to continue to get to the bottom of this very serious breach and trust and security.

[12:45:09] We have not heard back from our leadership today, and we've called repeatedly to Chairman Goodlatte about this matter.

Now, why is it that the Flynn resignation does not resolve this matter? We need to know and to find out who authorized Flynn to speak to the Russian. We need to know why he lied to the administration and the American people, and why the White House Counsel's office sat on this information for three weeks. Now, it would surprise me to find out that Flynn was acting on his own. He seems to speak to the president of the United States almost every day. And so we want everyone to know that this is just the beginning of an inquiry that we're not making accusations. We're just trying to find answers to these very vexing problems. Thank you. Mr. Thompson.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bennie.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D), (MISSISSIPPI): Good afternoon. I'm Bennie Thompson, ranking member of Homeland Security. From what you've heard from other members, this resignation only starts the issue. There are a lot of unanswered questions. You can't blame the press for a person's resignation. The press, just like the people, have a right to know. There are a lot of unanswered questions that go with this resignation, that as members of Congress we're duty-bound to try to find answers too. So, I'm looking forward to the leadership should they desire on Republican fair (ph) to step forward and do the right thing for this country.

Russia, under any circumstance has demonstrated that they are a bad actor and complicity in a lot of what's going on. The people have a right to know. And so we're here today to put front and center that while this is the people's house, the people just like members of congress have a right to know what's exactly behind the resignation, who knew what was going on before the phone calls, were there transcripts available? We understand there might be. But that's why congress can get engaged in this as well as the people so we can finally get some answers. Thank you.

REP. ELLIOT ENGEL (D), NEW YORK): Good afternoon. I'm Elliott Engel, I'm the ranking member of the house foreign affairs committee. Thank you, madam leader and thank you fellow ranking members. Good afternoon.

The National Security Council is at the top of the foreign policy decision making apparatus. If the council is dysfunctional, if its leadership is compromised, it puts our national security at risk. So it's a good thing that General Flynn stepped down.

But his departure raises more questions than an answers. What promises did General Flynn make to Putin's Ambassador, and who else was involved? How deep were the connections between Russia and President Trump's campaign prior to the election? Why did the White House ignore the warnings of the Justice Department and allow someone subject to Putin's blackmail to remain in a critical national security role? This problem, therefore, is far from resolved. We need to pursue, punish, and protect. Pursue the answers about Russia's interference in our election and Putin's ongoing ties to this administration, a thorough investigation by a nonpartisan commission. Punish those responsible for trying to undermine our democracy from overseas, and protect future elections from this sort of unlawful interference. Legislation introduced by Ranking Member Cummings --

(END VIDEO TAPE)

KING: Listening here to House Democrats. House Democrats pressing their case demanding a congressional investigation into the circumstances that have now led to last night's resignation of President Trump's National Security Advisor General Michael Flynn, put bluntly, the Democrats say they want to know what the president knew and when he did it.

[12:50:05] That's a simple way of saying they want all the detailed information about why General Flynn resigned, when they knew inside the White House that he had had contact with the Russian Ambassador in the final days of the Obama administration, was the president aware of those contacts, and when did the president become aware that in saying he did not discuss the issue of sanctions against Russia with the Ambassador. But that was simply not true that he had indeed discussed sanctions even though he had told officials inside the White House, including the Vice President that he had not discussed those sanctions.

Let's come back to the room and discuss this. The Democrats say let's have a thorough investigation. One of the Democrats saying if the House Republicans won't empower the intelligence committee to have a robust investigation that the speaker should "get out of the way" and name an independent commission. The Democrats have legitimate questions here. They also have some political questions here. But they -- the questions is do they have the -- is this issue big enough, because they don't have the votes. Is this issue big enough to get the Republicans' attention and have the Republicans say we have no choice but to do something?

MARTIN: It's a truism of Washington that there's nobody with less political power than those who are in the house minority, and there's a reason for that, right? They don't have subpoena power. They don't control the committees. Sure they can have press conferences and they can, you know, make statements like they just did, but this is really a matter of what the Republicans do in the house majority and in the Senate. Where I think, you know, Democrats do have some more power because of the rules of the Senate.

So look, they were going to maximize this and they're going to get out there and neutral (ph) hide, dodging, and understandably so. But the real question is how far do Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell let their colleagues go in digging into this story? That's --

KING: And how much pressure can the Democrats bring in the sense that it is a fair point for the Democrats to say, you know, Hillary Clinton had resigned as secretary of state, and you were still looking into her e-mail server. The presidential campaign was over, and some Republicans were saying we should still look into her e-mail servers. So can the Democrats at least create the political environment to convince the Republicans or were there Republicans just at least on the house side, and again they made a key point earlier, the house is a very different piece than the Senate. Can they just say we don't have to yield to this pressure because we're safe?

TUMULTY: Well, I think what this event, this cast of characters that we saw in front of the microphone demonstrated among other things is that the House Democrats lack this sort of talent at this that you might have seen in, say, a Henry Waxman in his prime.

KING: Right.

TUMULTY: That just standing in front of the microphones reading statements like this is not going to get them where they want to go.

KING: Right. It's a great point about they have their own dysfunction within the Democratic Party about who's in-charge, and who's the future leader, and to not see whether it's Nancy Pelosi herself, the Democratic leader, or to pick one or two spokesmen for the Party and present a coherent message just like everybody has to have their say.

TUMULTY: Right.

WALTER: That's right. And this has to come from house members sitting in their conference meeting saying we have gotten 250 calls in my office about this Russia thing. I went home this weekend, and that's all I heard about was Russia.

MARTIN: They are crushing it half right.

WALTER: That's what it takes in order to bring it up to that level. Until then if they're -- if they go home and people are, like, this isn't such a big deal, it's the media picking on Trump, he's going to be fine, then they're not going to --

KING: But let's pull away from the Democrats for a minute. Let's bring you to the closing of the program.

But there are legitimate questions that the President has not answered. A, did he know during the transition when he was President- Elect Trump, not President Trump, that his National Security Advisor designee on the very day the Obama administration was announcing sanctions was talking to the Russian Ambassador, did he know that? When did he find out that in those conversations the issue of sanctions came up and the possibility apparently some conversation about potentially easing those sanctions? When did he know that? When the Justice Department three weeks ago gave a heads up to the White House, that if Mike Flynn is telling you he did not do this, everything -- we're getting to -- we have stop on this. I'm totally have to go. Thanks for us joining us INSIDE POLITICS today, my colleague Wolf Blitzer will be up after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:58:09] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Where ever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us. We begin with breaking news.

The White House is about to face a barrage of questions over the resignation of President Trump's National Security Advisor. Take a look at live pictures coming in from the White House briefing room where the Press Secretary Sean Spicer will be taking questions any minute now from reporters, questions about the resignation of Michael Flynn certain to be the main focus on this day.

Flynn came under enormous lawyer for discussing U.S. sanctions with the Russian Ambassador to the United States before President Trump took office, and then misleading the Vice President Mike Pence about the conversation. Flynn's departure raising even more questions for the Trump administration. A source now telling CNN the Justice Department warned the White House last month that Flynn misled the administration. And that he was vulnerable to being black mailed by the Russians.

Just this morning top members of the National Security Counsel held a meeting with staffers, looking to try to ease concerns after Flynn's ouster.

Our reporters and analysts are all standing by to break down all of the news that's coming in right now. We'll of course have live coverage of the news conference from Sean Spicer. Republicans on Capitol Hill, they are reacting to the news about Flynn supporting the President's decision to accept his resignation. But some were also pushing for Congress to be brief on what exactly Flynn said, and if anyone in the White House actually directed him to make that call to the Russian Ambassador.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I think the President made the right decision to ask for his resignation. You cannot have a National Security Advisor misleading the vice president and others.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: We're talking about some sensitive issues. But for the most part I think it's important for the president to, you know, lay out what happened, yes.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CALIFORNIA: So I think Congress needs to be informed of what actually General Flynn said to the Russian Ambassador about lifting sanctions. And I want to know did General Flynn do this by himself, or was directed by somebody to do it. But we do have allegations now coming from the media that the Department of Justice informed the White House --