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INSIDE POLITICS

FBI Chief Holds Classified Briefing on Russia With Senators; Pence: 'Disappointed to Learn' Flynn Misled Me; Trump: Outlines First Month Accomplishments in Memo. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 20, 2017 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: -- even less than the usual small talk. The only hint? A tweet not long after the meeting from Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, who tweeted this, "I am now very confident, Senate Intel Committee, I serve on will conduct thorough bipartisan investigation of Putin interference and influence." Those words, interesting interference and influence from Senator Rubio. But you guys were on the hill.

I was struck trying to communicate with people. I was out of town trying to communicate with people. They would say nothing. The one that they give you, it was about the Russia stuff. I can't talk about it, it's about the Russia stuff. But I'll give you a little small talk and banter. Unusually how stern and sober and silent.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, absolutely. Phil and I, we're both were outside that room and nobody would really talk to us about it afterwards. This was members of the full Senate Intelligence Committee sitting in this room. In addition, a leadership was there as well as Senator Chuck Schumer of New York.

They did not announce this. This was just happened right before their -- they went on to their week long recess clue as part of this expanding Russia investigation. What we do know is the same day, in Friday, the intelligence committee sent over a dozen of letters to key agencies, individuals, organizations, including in the Trump administration to preserve records related to Russia. Not wanting to destroy any records.

We don't know exactly they're going to after specifically, but we have -- we know from what the Intelligence Committee had said before that they're looking to contact, any contacts between political organizations, every campaigns and Russian officials. And, of course, we know that's having to do with Donald Trump.

So, there are a lot of questions, but clearly this investigation is broadening and we'll see how much of this actually gets divulged publicly because it's all happening in the classified setting right now.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I was struck -- we saw Jim Comey walk into the room. We weren't expecting it. We were just kind of outside and around. And the Senators coming out wouldn't even confirm that Jim Comey was there. And that was kind of one of those like -- (CROSSTALK)

MATTINGLY: Yes. Exactly. But here's why this matters. If there's an investigation that has the potential to have teeth, if there's an investigation that can be most problematic to the Trump administration, it's this investigation. It's a bipartisan investigation. It's a historically bipartisan committee. They made very clear, as Manu have said, as they rolled out the intent of this investigation, that contacts between campaigns and they expanded it to the transition as well. So this includes Mike Flynn's contact with the ambassador.

This is the one committee, not the House Intel Committee, not even the Lindsey Graham Staff Committee that's looking into this. The one committee that could do real damage depending on what they unearth here. And my understanding from talking to people, again, like you, like Manu, no one has been forthcoming about what this meeting actually was, but besides the fact that it was about Russia.

The importance of having Jim Comey in there grasping what they think Comey understanding that this is a very serious investigation being undertaken in a bipartisan fashion on Capitol Hill, that this matters, that all the agencies will be cooperating, whether they're forced to or not. This committee has subpoena power, has made very clear they will use their subpoena power to compel individuals like Mike Flynn, like former Obama Administration Intel officials to come testify before them. This is an important committee. That was an important meeting.

KING: The important meeting. It came only hours after the President's Chief of Staff went on national television, the Fox News, Fox and friends and said he had been given clearance by senior officials in the Intelligence Community to essentially say publicly this isn't a big deal. And so that -- it's clear that the committee thinks it's a big deal.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. And -- I mean, just odd. Like their ongoing investigations that presumably haven't reached a conclusion yet. So for him to go out there and say that, I think strengths cordiality a bit. And I think it also comes as we have these investigations going on. And as Donald Trump really is trying to undermine the press, right? They essentially they say that the press is an enemy of America. This is I think the furthest he's gone in terms of talking about the press.

I mean, it's almost as if he sort of priming the pump in terms of, perhaps, there's going to be bad news, but who you going to believe. Me, Donald Trump or what you read in "The New York Times", "The Washington Post" are here on CNN.

KING: Right. No question. The attacks on the news media are designed to -- if it's a bad story about this or anything else, don't believe it.

HENDERSON: Right.

KING: Don't believe especially if you're Trump supporter, consider me your only good source. That's what the president is trying to make.

The man at the center, as you mentioned General Flynn, he was forced to resign by the President. Staff told us that, and then again, we have some different answers on that one for. But because he misled Vice President feels he was lied to. The official word is he misled the Vice President about his contacts with the Russian Ambassador during the presidential transition. Mike Pence talked about this a short time ago in Brussels.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was disappointed to learn that the facts that have been conveyed to me by General Flynn were inaccurate. But we honor General Flynn's long service to the United States of America, and I fully support the President's decision to ask for his resignation. It was the proper decision. It was handled properly, and in a timely way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The last part is interesting because handled properly in a timely way. Again, we talked about Secretary Kelly earlier taking one for the team. The Vice President that was in for two weeks.

[12:35:02] HENDERSON: Yes.

KING: This went on for two weeks, and he was only asked to resign after became public that he had misled, we'll use the polite term, the Vice President.

RAJU: And it came after, you know, while after Pence learned himself. I think that was part of the thing too is -- was Pence kept out of the loop on this decision. And also -- it also underscores, you know, questions about whether or not Pence has the ear of the President while he's driving the decisions, helping drive the decisions in the White House. If he wasn't told about the fact that he's national security adviser, potentially could have been blackmailed by the Russians. That's kind of a big deal especially after you've been on national T.V. for vouching some of that.

HENDERSON: And it's still not clear why Flynn thought like he had to mislead Vice President Pence or Elect-Vice President Pence at that point if it was ok that he could talk about sanctions with the Russians. Also -- I mean, the more they talk about Flynn, the less kind of clear it is what exactly happened here and why.

KING: And I'm sure a lot of the people that the Vice President is meeting overseas are wondering if you were kept out of the loop for a couple of weeks. Are we supposed to buy in what you're telling us here? Everybody hold tight.

A little breaking news we need to share just into CNN. Russia's Ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, has died in New York. In a statement, "Russian foreign ministry of the government says with great sadness informs us on the 20th of February, a day before his 65th birthday, the New York rep as Russian representative for the United Nations dies suddenly. The outstanding Russian diplomat died while he was in his current working role." That a statement from the Russian government about the death of Russia's Ambassador to the United Nations. Vitaly Churkin more on that story as it comes into us. We'll be back after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:40:53] KING: For one month into the Trump presidency, the new White House wants to show voters tangible progress. To that affect, the White House sent about a long list of accomplishments this morning. A memo spread out after the entire White House press con listing things the President has done in the first month. But the administration still has a lot of convincing to do even among Republicans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK TODD, POLITICAL DIRECTOR FOR NBC: How much confidence do you have in the current Commander-in-Chief?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, I worry. I worry about the President's understanding of some of these issues and his contradictory articulations. And I think the rollout of the, "immigration reform" was an example of a need for an orderly decision making process in the White House. And that I think is probably what's plaguing them more than anything else right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, a Trump supporter is going to say McCain is a constant critic. So, a Trump supporter would say consider the source there. But you do hear this a lot that the President wants credit. The President signed all these executive actions. Now, they don't, you know, you sign executive action about the wall, wall is not there yet. You sign an executive action telling the government can start to give waivers to Obamacare, that doesn't happen in a day.

But the President says I'm getting started and I'm keeping promises. A lot of people in town say, no, you've signed a lot of papers. What's the truth?

RAJU: He has signed a lot of papers. And he need to -- I mean, the travel ban was one that actually had an immediate impact and we saw around the world that you mentioned -- I mean, the Obamacare, one for instance, that as to be implemented. They have to find funding for that wall along the Mexican border if Mexico is not going to pay for it in order for that thing-- the wall to go forward.

The real test is going to be the major centerpieces of his agenda that he has been why he wants to get through Congress. Repealing and replacing Obamacare. Not going to be easy. We've already seen that. In tax reform, that also is going to be a huge fight. If he can get those two things done in the first two years, it will be a massive accomplishment. It's not --

KING: Frustrating for a man who'd used to be in the CEO, used to running his own business. That he has to wait for the Congress on these things.

REID WILSON, THE HILL: He is rapidly proving that the old axiom that government should run more like a business is not true. The government is not fundamentally like a business that a CEO doesn't just get to say something and that takes place.

I'll give you a good example. One of the executive orders he signed would require that two regulations be repealed for every new regulation that is enacted. Well, that sounds great. However, if you're going to try to do something, there are a number of people who want to remove certain species from the endangered species list, a gray wolf in various parts of Montana and Wyoming. But to do that, you have to promulgate a new regulation.

It's not like you can just take the wolf off of the list. You have to actually add in a new -- so to get rid of that regulation, you have to get rid of two other regulations. It gets really complicated really quickly.

And, by the way, if you don't follow every step exactly in the same way that the original rule is promulgated in the first place, you're going to get taken to court and the case is going to be locked up for 10 years. So the rule you wanted to get rid of is going to have another 10 years. So --

KING: I was a little nervous the wolf was going to take us back to the DeVos confirmation hearing.

WILSON: I will go ahead and do that before you.

MATTINGLY: I think the interesting thing is, you know, the White House puts out this large document. The White House constantly criticizes the media for not covering their perceived successes of the Trump administration. You talk to Republicans on Capitol Hill, and I know Manu has too.

They -- if you look at what the President has done for the most part are very happy with what he has done. They like his cabinet a lot. They like the direction he's headed in when it comes to regulations. The things is -- the small-bore things they've done on the House and Senate floor on the congressional review are cutting back on regulations, that's a huge thing for them. It's why you see optimism on the business side of things picking upwards.

Their frustration is that it's the President himself who is not focused on these issues. He's the one that's taking everybody off in the different direction right now.

If he had patience and would focus on the things that his administration is doing, whether they're executive orders that have real impact or just on paper only, they're executive orders that line up with what congressional Republicans want to see. He is the one that's taking everybody's eyes off that ball, despite what they're doing. I think that's where you hear a lot of frustration.

[12:45:02] KING: He says they will have a tax plan soon. We'll see if they actually put it on paper. We'll just let the congressional Republicans write it and negotiate with them with just preferably defensible strategy. He says they'll have an Obamacare replacement plan soon now that he's health secretary. Now, listen to Governor Kasich here. Governor Kasich while the Republican governors who took a lat of grief because he took the Medicaid money ---

HENDERSON: Yes.

KING: -- from the Obama administration and used it to give healthcare to more of the citizens. He says on the Congress's home this week. So they're going to hear this at home and what to do about this. We'll watch the Town Halls are like. But listen to Governor Kasich saying be careful.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: I believe there is an ability to reform, to repeal, and replace Obamacare which also includes a reform of Medicaid that will make the program more affordable, that will put us in a position of where we can continue to cover 20 million people and 700,000 in my state, and I'm not going to sit silent and just allow them to rip that out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, you know, Governor Kasich making his case there. But a lot of other conservatives and some of the Republican Governors wouldn't do that. They say what he's saying there, which he says it's the compassionate thing to do, they say its heresy.

HENDERSON: Yes.

WILSON: And let's not forget though that those governors like Kasich who accepted Medicaid expansion and yet are Republicans, Governor Rick Snyder in Michigan, Brian Sandoval in Nevada and Mike Pence in Illinois took it or they called it something else -- but it was essentially Medicaid expansion -- are going to play a huge role here. I mean they have --

KING: The word -- you read the program for Mike Pence is now CMS director which is a --

WILSON: Right.

KING: And so I think she's in the job that's actually get cast (ph) to the nuts and bolts of this.

WILSON: And among those states, they have about -- around about half of the Republican conference that will play, I will come from those states. They are going to play, you know, those members of Congress don't want their states to suddenly lose --

MATTINGLY: Yes. Here's some exclusive breaking news we must attribute to CNN. Repealing or replacing Obamacare is hard.

RAJU: I think it's going to be that hard, but on Thursday morning House Republicans were meeting behind close doors with Tom Price. They're walking through the process of repeal and replace. We've heard a lot of unsettled Republicans reconcile guys who know they have to go home and face some of these protestors. Don't feel like they have any way forward on the plan. There was strategy. No question there's a strategy of leadership holds, but on specifics of the replace.

Medicaid is one of the big issues.

HENDERSON: Yes.

MATTINGLY: So they're just simple as no agreement on and you -- to find why. You listened to John Kasich. You've mentioned the conservatives who believe that that they did take it different path.

There is no clear path forward right now on repeal and replace, and that's not going to get any easier. We talk about the small boar items that the President has absolutely accomplished on the big picture items. They don't have an answer yet. They have ideas. They have certainly have a strategy and a path forward, but they don't have answers yet. And that's problematic when you go home to the town halls and there are lot of --

(CROSSTALK)

RAJU: I just ask Orrin Hatch, the finance committee chairman, Greg Walden, he's the chairman of the energy and commerce committee, they come with a plan with those Republican governors who have expanded to --

KING: Two guys not necessarily loved by the Tea Party based on the Party tough.

RAJU: That's exactly my point. Whatever deal they may cut, it's not -- may not be the deal that conservatives like.

KING: Right. All right. We'll take a quick break. Everybody sit tight up.

Next, reporters share from our notebooks, including a key Senator who says Trump's border wall won't work. And guess what, that senator's heading to the board.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:51:25] KING: All right let's close as we always do. We put reporters around this table, not pundits for a reason. Let's ask them now to dig deep in their notebooks. Get you out ahead of the big political news just around the corner. Nia-Malika Henderson?

HENDERSON: One of the things that's going to be interesting to watch over this next weeks is the way the G.O.P. looks at 2018, and whether or not they are able to fill candidates particularly from the House to get into some of these races.

Two people, Sean Duffy out of Wisconsin, and Pat Meehan out of Pennsylvania, have decided not to run in a Senate race, in the Senate race in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania in 2018.. When looking at 2018, a lot of these Congress folks are going to be looking at the health of the President in terms of whether -- the health of his agenda, I should say, and whether or not he's popular. Now he is at about 39 percent approval rating.

They're going to be trying to figure out is it worth it to give up a congressional seat to face somebody in a Senate race, which is very expensive and obviously going to be competitive? And so that's going to be interesting to watch who they're able to field out of the house to get into some of these races.

KING: They got to make that decision fairly early if you have to make that decision fairly early if you want to raise the money and run a campaign. So, a bit of a gamble. Phil?

MATTINGLY: We've be talking about big agenda items for the President on tax reform, no question. One of the big is, it's dead currently. It's first death if you will. And that's because of this.

There is the central funding component of that border adjustability, $1 trillion over a decade. There are a lot of Republicans who have major problems with it. This is Speaker Ryan's proposal. This is house what it means, Chair Kevin Brady's proposal. There are Lindsey Graham over the weekend said they couldn't get 10 senators to support this.

Gary Cohen, key economic advisor of the White House. Not sold on it yet. But in talking to House Republicans who are supportive of this, they make clear tax reforms going to die 1,000 deaths before it actually gets through. Find another way to fund $1 trillion to get the rate cuts that you want. One doesn't exist, at least as they have it. So far, right now a coalition of major companies. People like GE's building up going to pour million of dollars into this. It's a first death, not the final death. Keep a very close eye on this going forward.

Right now it doesn't look good. Republicans saying keep an eye on it.

KING: Bring it back from the dead eight, or 10, or 12 times. Reid?

WILSON: We've talk a little bit about governors, the National Governors Association meet this coming week here in Washington. It means that President Trump will not get to go down to Florida. He'll have to host the traditional dinner. h And this is going to be a key moment because he'll be in a room answering questions from governors who -- it will be a close press event. It's not going to be -- well, will it be a contentious meeting? This is going to be the President talking to, you know, other members of government. It will be fascinating to watch. And I think we'll start to see some early moves in sort of the 2020 Democratic primary field coming up.

KING: Close meeting but they tend to talk after that one. Manu? RAJU: John, this afternoon a Key Senator is going to be touring the border between Mexico and the U.S., John Cornyn of Texas and number two Republican in the Senate. He is going to be a key pointer to watching this debate. Giving his influence in the Senator Republican conference and the fact that he hails from Texas, but he has been skeptical about the wall after telling me last month that he doesn't think that they can dissolve border security alone with the physical barrier, and also saying that he has concerns about adding even a penny to the deficit of a wall that can cost roughly $20 billion.

So his remarks today will be pretty telling whether Donald Trump can achieve the central campaign promise, because already right now he's getting some resistance from his own party.

KING: Beautiful wall. Remember, it's a beautiful wall.

I'll close with this. I was in New Orleans this weekend from the NBA All-Star Game. And among those on hand was one of President Trump's favorite twitter sparring partners, the Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

The President recently tweeted that Cuban wasn't smart enough to be president. Cuban's retort, look at him right there, wearing a jersey with thee number 46 in a celebrity basketball game. Remember, President Trump is the 45th president. So he's 46 there, Mark Cuban, preparing to challenge Donald Trump in 2020? Cuban told anyone who asked no, no, no. He said it with a smile too.

[12:55:12] He said he was just looking to stir things up and get under the President's skin. Further developments in this story will be found exclusively on twitter.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Thanks for joining us today. Hope to see you back here tomorrow. Quick break, then my colleague Wolf Blitzer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:59:40] WOLF BLIZTER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer. Its 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 6:00 p.m. in London, 8:00 p.m. in Baghdad, wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.

We begin with brand new details of a new travel ban executive order being drafted by the White House. The Trump administration could roll out the new order as early as this week. The Homeland Security Secretary says the President is considering what he calls a tighter. More streamlined version of the first executive order of that first order was put on a hold by U.S. courts. We'll have details ahead in a live report. Stand by for that.

We'll also --