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White House Doubles Down On Trump Wiretap Claim; Cornyn: Trump Wiretap Will Be Part Of The Intel Inquiry; Comey: Incredulous Over Trump Wiretap Allegation; Senator Franken: Sessions Should Come Back And Explain Himself; Trump Tweets Inaccurate Gitmo Claim. Aired 12:30- 1p ET

Aired March 7, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS ANCHOR: But I would hope the current President of the United States understands that no president of the United States can snap his fingers and order a wiretap. But at least that's what the law says. So unless there's some mystical power we don't know about.

But reporters at the White House -- several of you spent a lot of time at the White House -- I did that once and I'll go back every now and then maybe. Were trying to get Sean Spicer, the press secretary, to lay out the evidence.


SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's no question that something happened. The question is, is it surveillance? Is it a wiretap or whatever? But there has been enough reporting that strongly suggests that something occurred.


KING: Is that the new standard of journalism? It strongly suggests. There's enough reporting that strongly suggests the Easter Bunny is using sugar free chocolate?


MARY KATHARINE HAM, THE FEDERALIST: Look, two things can be true. One that it's irresponsible the way he is talking about this, and, two, that he feels under siege because he is under siege from a campaign that is designed to undermine him, and the same way that if you have the evidence, bring it. I think he says sort of rightly to the Intel Community, if you have the goods, bring it. They're leaking everything else, but they have not leaked this alleged -- but -- so I think there's a reason for why he is saying what is there is there.

And by the way, it's not out of the realm of the possibility that the Obama administration might politicize arms of the administration to go after political opponents or even the press, James Rosen spied on A.P. reporters, gathered information on 100 of them. So, these are things that are within the realm of the possibility. His tweet doesn't have evidence even if it is connected to his feeling about these things. KING: Right. It's -- I don't disagree with that. My only point is that he is the President of the United States. We teach our kids in school to listen to the president of the United States. We teach our kids in school that there's a process for dealing with allegations. And so if he's going to level this charge, he should put some evidence with it, but listen here, here's the number two Senate Republican John Cornyn, just moments ago talking to our colleague, Manu Raju, up on Capitol Hill saying that the committee's investigation, the Intelligence Committee's investigation into Russian meddling in the election, whether there was any collusion with Trump campaign officials will now also include the wiretapping allegation.


SENATOR JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: The CIA has produced a massive amount of classified materials for members of the select committee to review.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: We also look into this allegation of wiretapping him, the President being wiretapped by President Obama.

CORNYN: I think all of that is part of the investigation.

RAJU: Do you believe the President when he says that?

CORNYN: Well, like I said, it needs an investigation, so we can find out what the facts are. So, we'll follow the facts wherever they may lead.

RAJU: I think, largely though -- largely, was it appropriate for him to say that, to accuse President Obama of this?

CORNYN: I don't know what the basis of his statement is, so I really can't comment on that.


KING: I don't know what the basis of his statement is. I can't comment on it. That's where a lot of Republicans are put in an uncomfortable position because now they're all being ushered (ph). You're the Republicans. You're in charge of the Congress. Do you have any reason to believe that is true?

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: I think now -- so now this exists on two tracks. One is what's happening in Washington and one is what's happening in the rest of the country? At least in the initial like days since this happened, there's no overwhelming evidence in polling or anything like that that this is an issue that, like, average Americans deeply care about. In fact, it might be confusing to a lot of people. We'll see how that emerges.

But now, in Washington the separate track has happened where Republicans are starting to distance themselves from the tweet itself. Some of them publicly seeking clarity. Others just saying I don't want to talk about it. And where it is going to empower the Democratic minorities in these committees that are doing the investigations to push on this front for disclosure of information that normally wouldn't be disclosed because it's under active investigation. So, that is a track that seems to be playing out separately from the way this debate gets conducted in public, where average voters are kind of like what are we, you know, what are we talking about?

KING: Right. When people are questioning the President's credibility, when people are questioning the relationship between the President and his FBI director, that can have serious consequences going forward. We are told from sources that Director Comey was incredulous when he saw the President say this. Now he says there's no such -- he says internally he hasn't said anything publicly, that there is no such wiretap, that there was no such case.

Somebody at this table put the question to the White House press secretary.


SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: What about the President's view of the FBI director?

SPICER: I haven't asked him that yet. I think, obviously, he is focused today first and foremost on this effort to keep the country safe.


KING: Nonresponsive.

MURRAY: We got a lot of wishy-washy answers from Spicer on that question yesterday. I asked him twice. He was asked also in the Gaggle. He was wishy-washy there. It will be interesting to see if he or the President or anyone from the west wing has spoken with the FBI director since then if they have a more coherent answer today.

Obviously, the relationship between these two guys is super weird already. If you just look at the back drop of everything that happened during the presidential campaign, I mean, Comey was an enemy of Donald Trump one day and a friend of him the next, depending on what he was doing really to Hillary Clinton. So, this is an interesting relationship.

[12:34:59] KING: And as this plays out on Capitol Hill today, the man who at the Justice Department will be in charge of this investigation if he is confirmed the deputy attorney general because, remember, the attorney general last week said I will have nothing to do with any investigation that has anything to do with the presidential campaign. So, Jeff Sessions has stepped aside. His incoming deputy will have to deal with this, and you have got to be surprised. Democrats had some tough questions.


ROD ROSENSTEIN, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND (voice over): As far as I'm concerned, every investigation conducted by the Department of Justice is an independent investigation.


KING: We can't get the tape on the air. We'll come back to that there as this plays out. But the new deputy attorney general will say that every investigation is independent. And Dianne Feinstein pressed her case that they still should have an independent counsel. That one does not have the gas right now. Even some Democrats privately saying why don't we let the Intelligence Committee investigations go forward first. We'll see if there's anything there, and at that point we have that conversation.

MATT VISER, THE BOSTON GLOBE: Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the committee, those are the first questions that were about Russia almost trying to clear the air, allow him to respond and say no. You know, I don't have background that's conflicting on this. You know, to sort of take the pressure off for any independent investigation which seems to be where the collective will right now is at least on the Republican side.

HAM: And I think the recusal happens for a reason, and then I think they should get a chance to go through this investigation first if you're just punishing the recusal from the beginning. I'm not sure what the point of that was.

KING: Well, the man in line to be deputy attorney, so he hasn't talked to Jeff Sessions about this, they have something to do with it and of course, he is not there yet. So he will be able to see. He has no idea what the evidence is. So let's see if he gets on the job there.

Another subplot of this, there are many layers to this onion. It is that Jeff Sessions recused himself, in part, because Democrats claim that his testimony to Congress during his confirmation hearing was not accurate. He said he had no contact with the Russians, and then he acknowledged that they did have two meetings with the Russian ambassador.

Now Senator Sessions -- now Attorney General Sessions, said he had those in his capacity as a senator and had nothing to do with the campaign, and so that he believes he was answering truthfully if perhaps not completely. He has corrected the record by sending a letter to the committee, explaining himself. But the man who asked the first question, today said not good enough. I want you to come back and testify.


SENATOR AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: I think Senator Sessions should come back. I think he owes it to this committee to come back and to explain himself.


KING: How likely? He will have to come back at some point. He is the attorney general at some point in the course of a year. He will come back before the Senate Judiciary Committee for oversight questions. That's what happens. All cabinet secretaries get called up. So he will at some point. Is it in his interest to try to do it sooner, to sit there and take there from the Democrats and then you say, OK, are you done? Put it away. Or will the Trump administration say don't give it to them?

HAM: Just politically speaking I think there will be three more outrages in the next week that will bury this idea and he can just move on. Like, I'm just being very bare-knuckles about it. Look I think --

KING: Based on the history of the last 46 days, you are probably correct.

VISER: And 48 hours.

HAM: I think the recusal (INAUDIBLE) his answer to be generous was lawyerly. And he thought he was answering maybe what was exactly at issue there and not giving anything else.

KING: To borrow a term for no rights (ph), I found his answer Clintonian.

HAM: Yes. That's -- I'll give you that one.

MURRAY: I do think this White House is just -- they are struggling with this Russia issue. They have not found a good way to navigate it. They have not really even embraced the fact that it is an issue. They just believe it's a political attack.

But, you know, we sometimes forget that backdrop of this which is that the Intelligence Community found that Russia tried to meddle in our U.S. elections, that they tried to do it to benefit Donald Trump. That sources have said there were contacts between Donald Trump's campaign officials and suspected Russian operatives that this campaign and this President have said repeatedly and people in this administration now that there were no contacts with Russian officials and now he found out that it wasn't just Michael Flynn who had contact with the Russian ambassador. It wasn't just Jeff Sessions who had contact with the Russian ambassador. There was also a meeting with Jared Kushner in the Russian ambassador that we didn't learn about until later.

And so, there are reasons that people want to look into this. It doesn't mean that the investigation will find anything, but unlike Donald Trump's wiretapping tweets, there are bread crumbs that lead us to want more answers to these questions.

KING: Right. And they say all these meetings were courtesy calls, and they were harmless. However, after saying for months there were no contacts, they could have helped themselves. They're hurting their own president. They don't like to answer questions from reporters. They don't think they should help -- they should have to answer these questions, but they've hurt the President more than they've helped themselves by being stubborn in disclosing this context. Everybody sit tight up next. The presidency hasn't stopped Donald Trump from tweeting things that just aren't true. More in that in a minute. But first, a remarkable feel good moment at the White House this morning. A presidential surprise for some tourists. Look carefully over the President's shoulder, though at who is watching.




[12:40:03] KING: Folks, he was with Hillary Clinton there. Hard to see. But right there over his shoulders (INAUDIBLE). We'll be right back.


KING: Welcome back. Through the first 46 days of the Trump presidency, Washington has wrestled with when to take the President's word seriously and literally. It's an ongoing issue because so much of what the President says is demonstrably false.

Take, for instance, an example from this morning. The President tweeted 122 vicious prisoners release by the Obama administration from Gitmo have returned to the battlefield. That sounds frightening. And like evidence of the Obama administration policies undermine national security. But it's also not true. One hundred and thirteen of those prisoners were released during the Bush administration. According to a report from the director of National Intelligence.

[12:45:07] President Trump has veered from the facts often. We'll spare you a checklist chronically his often casual relationship with the truth, the President's defenders say most of its just Trump being Trump. Speaking in a different way. Speaking in a non-Washington way.

But Democrats say the President's willingness in their view to distort reality on the little things has grave implications. Especially, they say, when the President makes evidence-free accusations like that his predecessor had Trump Tower bugged.


SENATOR DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Donald Trump is destroying the credibility of the Office of President 140 characters at a time. This charge that he has made about some wiretapping before the election without a Scintilla of evidence, no evidence whatsoever, has been refuted not only by the former president, but also by the former director of National Intelligence and head of the Federal Bureau Of Investigation.


KING: This is kind of two different issues here that are getting in the wiretap allegations that the President made. You can demonstrate dozens of occasions where what the President says, whether it's crowd size, FISA, or things like that, you know, little things that are trivial, or bigger things, like the Gitmo things -- the facts out right.

If he wants to complain about people being released from Gitmo, he can complain about people being released from Gitmo, but he should get his facts straight, right?

VISER: Yes. Or his accusation about the illegal vote. You know, 3 million illegal votes, which they've established a task force in the process of establishing. You know, they haven't -- they call for these investigations to sort of get to the bottom of a claim that the President has made rather than sort of investigate something and then come out publicly with something, and I think it's damaging. I mean, I think that facts are important right now, and I think it's important that we stand up for the facts.

KING: It's interesting when you talk to Republicans about this because they don't want to talk about this. When you go to them with these things, they just say, please. They literally say please, can we talk about something else. Because they don't want to be put on the spot. They don't want to criticize the President. A lot of them say -- a lot of them give him some grace saying he is from outside of town, he is from new, he's never done this before. Give him some grace to learn, and he'll get better, and then they have another example and they say, OK, he's not going to change.

HAM: Some of it there is too much uproar over, but some tweets are, to use a technical term, crazy town, right? They're not correct. It's a totally different way of doing business, but it does have politically occasionally this -- and this is why I think they keep doing it. But him being him was how he won, right? And he won with these historically low numbers.

And I think sort of mastering the media cycle is what he is comfortable doing. He is comfortable throwing things out there and having it be fairly chaotic. And I think to some extent, they see that helping them. Now, do they help them actually pass legislation, that stuff to pass, no, and whether that matters in the future. The open question I think probably done (ph).

TALEV: There is also -- and we're starting to see this play out the implications of this international -- on the international stage. There are series of summits coming up in the coming months whether it's the G7, the G20. There are already have been visits to foreign leaders. There are some big upcoming visits like with Angela Merkel of Germany.

If you're an outside nation, an ally of the U.S. or adversary or somewhere in between, you're not going to Sean spacer's briefing every day, and it's not just rough and tumble domestic politics. You need to be able to take an administration's word at something and I think that is an area of concern for a lot of these Republicans that are saying either I don't want to talk about this right now or are beginning to voice a little bit of criticism. Is there concern about the implications on foreign policy? KING: And people say listen to the cabinet secretary, listen to Secretary Tillerson. Listen to Secretary Kelly. Don't listen to the President of the United States, at least not literally on that point.

MURRAY: Yes. I don't think that's going to fly. I mean, I think that enough world leaders and enough members of Congress have watched enough rounds of this to know that the President speaks for the President and is not afraid of contradicting his top officials. Certainly, isn't afraid of contradicting Sean Spicer.

And I think that, you know, we're sort of getting into this pivot point. Can Trump be Trump and still govern and get things done in Washington? Or will he just stand in his own way? Will people spend so much time answering questions on the Hill about Donald Trump's tweet that they don't around to things like health care and tax reform and infrastructure that he actually wants to do. And we're now that we actually have a piece of legislation that they're looking at I think going to begin to get an answer that question.

HAM: Particularly in foreign policy -- by the way, the President's words, whether they're tweeted or said matter more than on domestic policy because they are more effectively policy.

KING: I think you're exactly right on that. Everybody sit tight. Our reporters shift in their notebook next including just how President Trump may be gutting (ph) Senator Elizabeth Warren.


[12:53:01] KING: Let's close as we always do. Head around the table, ask our reporters to share from their notebook and get you out ahead some big political news just around the corner. Sara Murray?

MURRAY: Well, President Trump could certainly use a win this week, but so could his chief of staff Reince Priebus. I'm told that in Monday staff meeting, Priebus tried to, you know, sort of regain control of the narrative and say, look, we're going to roll out the new immigration executive order, everything is going to be seamless. It was -- went pretty much OK, but there is no doubt that he is kind of in hot water right now. Things have been a little bit of a mess at the White House, and more people are aiming their knives at him and they're hoping they can turn to health care, turn to policy, be more productive that will benefit the president, but it will also help turn down the heat on the chief of staff.

KING: It's Tuesday. We'll check back Friday.


KING: Margaret?

TALEV: Shortly after yesterday's travel ban, executive order was announced. We got another little bit of news, which is that the Iraqi prime minister is going to be meeting with President Trump later this month on the visit to (INAUDIBLE) at the White House. That's a visit that most likely could not have taken place if not for Iraqis removal from that list of seven, now six countries. That's going to be an interesting meeting. We expect them to talk about ISIS, among other things.

And we'll see if there are some other leaders from that part of the world who are going to be coming over right about the same time, some more meetings (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Maybe the President will tell him next time you go to Mosul, don't give him a six month advanced notice. Right? Matt?

VISER: Inside Elizabeth Warren's office is a map of Massachusetts, and there is the law that created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. This is the area that Republicans are trying to gut, and Donald Trump is sort of after that bureau. This was also the motivating factor. She was passed over for that bureau. That motivated her to run for Senate in the first place. So watch that bureau. Watch Elizabeth Warren, and what happens if it gets gutted, and if that provides a motivating factor if she has presidential ambitions and she kind of met it, you know?

KING: I bet she does. Mary Katharine?

HAM: Interesting switch in the court path of a transgender student in Virginia trying to gain access to male facilities. It was supposed to go to the Supreme Court because of the Trump administration's vacating of the Obama ruling or sort of guidance on this.

[12:55:07] It will now go back down to a lower court. I think it's an interesting development because it seems the Supreme Court in the absence of that guidance isn't looking to make the grand sort of precedent-setting national standard on this. It may have to be done through the actual making of law someday. We'll see how the court case goes.

KING: The way it's supposed to work. God forbid on that one.

All right, we're out of time today. Thanks for joining us on "Inside Politics." Minutes away from the White House briefing, Sean spacer will be on camera today, we are told. Wolf Blitzer will bring you that live after a quick break.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here on Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.