Return to Transcripts main page


Trump on Paul Ryan; Trump Tackles Tax Reform After Health Care Failure; House Intel Committee Chairman's Source; Kushner to Face Questions. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 27, 2017 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:02] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

Back to work at the White House after a devastating defeat and as Washington the blame game rages. The House speaker goes public -- gets public love, excuse me, after a bizarre presidential tweet.


REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: He doesn't blame Paul Ryan. In fact, he -- he thought Paul Ryan worked really hard. He enjoys his relationship with Paul Ryan. He thinks that Paul Ryan's a great speaker of the House.

REP. MARK MEADOWS (R-nC), CHAIRMAN, FREEDOM CAUCUS: There is no conversations going on right now with regards to replacing the speaker. It's all hands on deck with regards to Obamacare, tax reform, the border wall.

MICK MULVANEY, DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF MANAGEMENT AND BUDGET: Never once have I seen him blame Paul Ryan. The folks who voted no are the folks who are to blame.


KING: Hope you get that. The conservative group that would not help the president loses one member who says it's time to govern, but others are defiant.


REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH), FREEDOM CAUCUS: We did the country a favor because this bill didn't repeal Obamacare. This bill didn't do what we told the American people we were going to do.


KING: And talk of post health care debate bipartisanship is everywhere. But don't buy it. Fights over the Supreme Court, Planned Parenthood and climate change are just ahead. And Democrats, well, they see no need to play nice.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), MINORITY LEADER: The first is basic lack of competence. You cannot run the presidency like you run a real estate deal. You can't tweet your way through it.


KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights, Margaret Talev of Bloomberg Politics, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast," and CNN's Phil Mattingly.

Just moments ago at the White House, the president met with women small business leaders. No mention of last week's big health care setback. Instead, the president just wants to turn the page.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's my pleasure to welcome such incredible women, including my daughter, and unbelievable entrepreneurs and small business leaders to the White House. And also, Linda, thank you very much. You've been doing an amazing job. And you're working 24 hours a day is what the word is, right? OK, I'm not surprised.


TRUMP: I'm not surprised.


KING: The president trying to turn the page there, but as he does, what does he see as the big lessons to be learned. Friday afternoon, just after the Obamacare repeal disaster, President Trump said members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus were his friends. By Sunday morning, though, he had decide they were his problem. At that same Friday event, the president praised House Speaker Paul Ryan. The next day he urged his twitter followers to tune in to Judge Jeanine and the Fox personality began her program by demanding that Speaker Ryan step down.


PRIEBUS: I will go on record. We do love Judge Jeanine and so does the president. I think it was more coincidental. There was no preplanning here. The president -- the president is the president.

CHRIS WALLACE, "FOX NEWS SUNDAY": No, but you (INAUDIBLE) -- why would he say watch her and then that's the first thing out of her mouth?

PRIEBUS: Because he loves Judge Jeanine and he wanted to do Judge Jeanine a favor.


KING: Got it? Got it? He loves Judge Jeanine and he wanted to do a favor. Look, I actually -- let's say the president just wanted to promote Judge Jeanine's show. He thought it was going to be about wiretapping. He thought it was going to be good for him and he did that. He could have cleaned this up very quickly himself. Instead, this one went on for hours about what was the president up to. He could have, very quickly, popped out a tweet saying, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, no, no, I love Paul Ryan. He didn't. They took a while.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: : Yes, and I think that's the surprising thing here because I think a lot of us have heard this, over the course of the last three or four days of the health care fight, the president and the speaker, one to one, were on very good terms, in terms of a number of phone calls every day. Obviously a very long lunch meeting. Phone calls over the weekend.

Their staff, not so much, have been going back and forth and sniping. But the president and the speaker by all accounts have a very good relationship and one that really evolved, I've been told, in a positive way throughout the health care fight. A lot of lessons learned. A lot of kind of figuring out how one another worked.

And then you have the tweet. And then you have the opening segment. And then you have pure silence from the White House. It took the speaker's office to come out and say, they had another call. Everything's good. It's very clear.


MATTINGLY: He was not trying to direct anybody to Judge Jeanine's opening statement. And I think -- or Judge (INAUDIBLE) opening statement. I think it's just kind of a -- one of those things where everybody's kind of scratching their head because everything leading up to that point, it seemed like they were OK.

KUCINICH: And it certainly doesn't help that the history between Bannon is Paul Ryan. I mean Trump's right hand guy has set his sights on Paul Ryan, and getting rid of Paul Ryan, I think by spring that was a report last year. So you can't discount that whenever there is this friction between the two that a very high ranking official is not Paul Ryan's friend.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, and if you looked on Breitbart the days after this happened, it talked about Paul Ryan being on shaky ground. And all throughout this whole conversation about health care, the grass roots have very much singled out Paul Ryan as to blame for what was put forward. People like Sarah Palin said this is Paul Ryan's mess and thought that Donald Trump would come in and clean it up. The Tea Party Patriots, same thing, blaming the House leadership. So there very much is an appetite for this administration to blame Paul Ryan, or at least give a wink and a nod to what Jeanine Pirro said.

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: During the campaign and the early months of the administration, the reporting about kind of how does Trump work has always suggested that he sort of thrives on a little bit of chaos and competition among the internal channels. And so the test or the question for him is, is it productive at this point or not productive and are we going to see kind of a reining in of this, a more consistency of message, or an encouragement of these different channels to send different and sometimes conflicting signals. On the one hand, Paul Ryan's on his heels a little bit, cautious, careful to make sure everything's going OK. On the other hand, if what he really wants is a rock steady appliance between the two, this is not productive.

[12:05:30] KING: Well, that's the key conversation today. We can look back and have a lot of fun as political reporters because there's a lot of chaos, a lot of mess and a lot of fingerprinting. The question is what lessons are each of the key individuals, key groups learning as we go forward? The president says he wants to get to tax reform. Number one, the map's a lot harder. You needed health care reform, the reason they went first, is there was a lot of money in health care reform to help you pay for tax reform.

Number two the question is, what about the dynamics? The Democrats are not going to rush to embrace giant tax cuts for corporations and wealthy Americans. So all this talk about bipartisanship, we'll get deeper into that. He needs Republicans on this issue. And so Friday he said the Freedom Caucus is my friends. I'm told, I think you guys all would agree, the speaker told him, don't trash these guys. I don't like them either. I'm disappointed in them, but I need them going forward. Don't trash them.

But then the president starts tweeting Sunday morning, "Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus, with the help of Club for Growth and Heritage, has saved Planned Parenthood and Obamacare." The president was wounded. He thought he could get these votes. He ran strong in all their districts. They all cheered the president. They all said he was great and almost all of them said no. But how does it serve the president, going into tax reform, going into other big fights, to -- that's 20 something -- somewhere in the ballpark of 30 people depending on how many people stay in the Freedom Caucus, that help or hurt.

KUCINICH: I mean here's the thing, though. He's got a better shot of making friends with the Freedom Caucus again than he does of making friends with Democrats --


KUCINICH: Who's he's trashed over and over again.

KING: Right.

KUCINICH: Who he blamed initially for this going down. So in terms of who can he convince more to his side, I -- you know, I --

KING: Before you jump out, I just want to play Ted Poe. Ted Poe was a member of the Freedom Caucus. Now, he was going to vote yes on the health care bill, but he was a member of the Freedom Caucus. Most of those members said no, sorry, Mr. President, and they just didn't believe it repealed Obamacare. They thought it left too much government in place and they're getting cheered back home, most of these members. And the conservative groups are cheering them for standing up to the new Republican president. But Ted Poe says, hey, we run all of the government now, we have to govern. He stepped out of the Freedom Caucus. Here was his message.


REP. TED POE (R), TEXAS: I got the opinion that there's some members of the Freedom Caucus, they'd vote no against the Ten Commandments if it came up for a vote. It is so easy to sit back, cross your arms and say, no, I'm not going to support that and then -- then what do we have? We have a situation where we are not making positive changes in the country or leading. And that's the problem we have. We have to lead. We're the party in power.


KING: You walk around with these guys every day and were with them through this debate, it's hard for them because the speaker and the president are saying, be a loyal Republican, give me your vote. These guys are saying this bill does not do what I said I was going to do when I came to Washington.

MATTINGLY: Right, and I think -- I've been actually very surprised as jaden (ph) syndical as I am about how candid both the White House officials and the speaker was in this press conference afterwards about how this was a learning experience. One of the greatest things they learned is that the key cog in this to close this deal was President Trump was going to get the Freedom Caucus guys to go along. H ran great in their districts.

Guess what, they ran better than he did in their districts. They were getting calls to their office 100 to one against this bill. So this idea that the president, through his bully pulpit, through his salesmanship could bring them along, that's now burst into flames. And I think what that means actually going forward, I think what Congressman Poe, a great quip, very quotable no doubt about it, but he's on outlier in the caucus right now.

Everyone that I'm talking to that's involved with the Freedom Caucus, with the exception of Congressman Poe and maybe a couple others feels very good about what they did.


MATTINGLY: And they recognize that they took a stand that they needed to stand -- to take. And the big question now is, are they chasing or are they emboldened.


MATTINGLY: And I'm telling you right now it's the latter, it's not the former.

HENDERSON: Yes, I mean, they -- you know, the salesmanship wasn't really very good, right? I mean it was essentially, if you don't come with me, then, you know, I'm going to threaten you, I'm going to come after you and that you owe the president -- KING: And don't worry -- and don't worry about the little stuff, the president said.

HENDERSON: Exactly. Exactly. He's not getting into the details --

KING: The president didn't use the word "stuff." Well, that matters when you try to pass an incredibly complicated piece of legislation that goes to the core of the Republican Party's philosophy.

HENDERSON: Yes. Exactly. And one of the things they were worried about were premium hikes, right? I mean how do they go back to their district and say that they voted for a bill that not only didn't repeal Obamacare, but would lead to premium hikes among seniors particularly. So there wasn't -- I don't think there was much salesmanship by this president despite what you hear from Spicer, this idea that he left everything on the field.

KING: Well, he thought just his -- just him being for it, the personality to do it.

HENDERSON: The personality, yes.

KING: There's an impact on this as we go forward. We'll do this throughout the hour. But let's look at the Dow real quickly. The Dow is down 49 right now. The markets were down on Friday a little bit last week as well. Trump had this boom coming in from post-election through inauguration, the earlier weeks of the administration. That was his friend, the markets. Now the markets are saying, wait a minute, we bet on tax reform. I think the president still has regulatory roll back powers as an executive. But what lesson does the president learn from this? Does he learn now in tax reform he's going to have to sweat the small stuff or does he think he can just talk big still?

[12:10:01] TALEV: His advisors should be, and I believe are telling him, that this stuff matters probably more in terms of the implications on business and the market when it comes to tax reform than it did to health care. For constituent purposes, for middle America, you could argue for moral purposes in terms of whether people have health care, that test really did matter. And what they do in the follow-through, how Obamacare is administered as they figure out if or what to do about it, all that does matter. But the implications in the business world and the investing world matters very much that they show real planning and methodical steps forward in the weeks to come.

KING: And we're --

TALEV: And there's also -- don't forget, there's a CR coming up -- yes, right. I mean it's sector (ph) 25 (ph). There's a continuation of government rule (ph).

KING: Right. (INAUDIBLE) they've got to keep the government over. They have a fight over Planned Parenthood coming. That's just the beginning of the list. All things that, again, divide the parties and then divide within the Republican Party on these issues. What is the sense from the Republican leadership on The Hill side? What do they hope the president learns from this?

MATTINGLY: That dealing with the Freedom Caucus early on, if you give them an opening, they're going to keep asking for more. And I think that what I've heard over and over throughout the course of the --

KING: (INAUDIBLE) negotiation --

MATTINGLY: The second he opened the door. And, look, I think you have to understand, when the president -- I've talked to dozens of people who were in these closed door meetings with him and this is how he works, right? He's not saying no negotiation. He's just -- this is part of his kind of conversant nature. Repeatedly when the Freedom Caucus guys were trying to get in the details, he would brush it back and, no, this is about the politics. This is about -- sure, we can talk about whatever you want to talk about. There was never supposed to be a negotiation on this bill.

KING: Right.


MATTINGLY: That's just the period, end of story. It wasn't supposed to help. And the second the president opened the door and his team kind of followed through and continued to act like there were negotiations going on, that's what short circuited kind of the very careful, kind of make sure the conservatives have enough, make sure the moderates have enough, that disappeared. And if you talk to people that are involved in the process who are for the bill, who drafted the bill, they feel like that deserves a lot of the blame for what happened. I think the big question now is though, is the lesson that you need the Freedom Caucus guys in earlier and drafting it, or is the lesson you cut them out altogether and entirely? And I don't think anybody has a good answer to that yet.

KING: Hard to cut them out, then you lose that many votes.

MATTINGLY: Exactly. That's exactly right.

HENDERSON: Yes. Right.


All right, everybody sit tight. Much more of this to cover as we go through.

But next, spy novel intrigue right here in Washington. Questions for a member of the president's inner circle and new information about the whereabouts of the House Intelligence Committee chairman the day before he revealed key information about his investigation.


[12:16:37] KING: Welcome back.

New plot twist today involving two key players in the Russian election meddling investigation. The president's son-in-law and close advisor, Jared Kushner, has agreed now to be questioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee about his election year contacts with two key Russian players. We'll get to that in a moment.

First, though, the spy drama within the spy drama. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has some explaining to do. Nunes is already under fire for running to brief President Trump last week about intelligence reports that Nunes says show Trump transition officials were in contact with people under U.S. government surveillance. Nunes raced to meet with the president to tell him before sharing that information with other committee members, Democrats and Republicans.

Now, Nunes has refused to be more specific about the intel reports, except to say they don't have anything to do with Russia. He's also refused to say how he learned about them. Now, though, CNN has learned, and Nunes now confirms, he was at the White House complex the day before his big announcement.

CNN's Manu Raju joins us now from the Capitol.

Manu, Democrats already were saying he was trying to protect the president, not conduct an impartial investigation. I assume, for the Democrats, this is another log on that fire. What is the chairman's explanation?

MANU RAJU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we're learning more about his whereabouts the night before that bombshell announcement. Nunes' spokesperson actually just putting out a statement, giving a little bit more information, saying that Chairman Nunes met with this source at the White House grounds in order to have proximity to a secure location where he could view the information provided by the source. He said that the chairman is extremely concerned by the possible improper unmasking of names of U.S. citizens and he began looking into this issue even before President Trump tweeted that assertion that Trump Tower had been wiretapped.

Now, why is this significant? Because Nunes has not been saying whether or not this information came from the White House. In fact, multiple times last week I asked him, can you categorically rule out that this information came from the White House? He would not do that. He said, I cannot reveal my sources and methods. But the reason why folks are concerned about this, particularly on the Democratic side, is that part of this House Intelligence investigation is looking at White House Trump team contacts with Russian officials during the presidential election. They believe there should be a firewall of sorts between what Capitol Hill is doing and what the White House is doing and the possibility here that Mr. Nunes may have received this information from the White House and then briefed the president of the United States without telling his committee staff and then revealing this publicly to attempt to apparently muddy the waters on that allegation of wiretapping raises a lot of questions.

Now, Speaker Ryan has full confidence in Devin Nunes. Actually a spokesperson putting out a statement just moments ago saying that Ryan believes that Mr. Nunes can run a credible, fair investigation. But last week, John, on Friday, Nunes also came under fire when he abruptly canceled a Tuesday public hearing on Russia where John Brennan, another intelligence -- former intelligence officials were going to testify. I am hearing today that James Comey, who was going to have a classified briefing tomorrow instead, may not actually appear before the House Intelligence Committee. They may not actually go forward with that. That was never confirmed on the books. We're trying to get more information if in fact that Comey brief is going to happen. But a lot of questions about whether this -- this investigation can produce a credible report on the issue of Russia ties and the Trump campaign, particularly in light of these latest revelations, John.

[12:20:04] KING: I think that certainly is a fair question on this day. Manu Raju, thanks very much.

Let's come into the room here. Somebody help me. It's just -- it's -- you know, if the chairman has something, if the chairman has something that is significant and he has a legitimate beef he says about the unmasking, if somebody gets picked up in a phone conversation that it's not that important but somehow their name gets disclosed in an intelligence report, that's being shopped around the government, he says this is happening late in the Obama administration. OK, that potentially a big deal.

But this isn't the way to deal with it. To raise questions about, are you protecting the president? Why are you doing it? But help me -- there's a -- there is -- you're up on The Hill all the time. It's been a while since I spent my days up there regularly. There's a secure area. That's where the intelligence committee meets.


KING: So let's -- that tells you that his source is either inside the White House complex or near the White House complex.


KING: I don't think the White House -- or if the White House is, it adds a whole nother layer -- will let you bring an outside source into a White House security facility? I think not.

KUCINICH: I mean, yes, it raises a lot of questions.

MATTINGLY: I -- no, this is a nightmare for the -- any idea of a non- partisan investigation.


MATTINGLY: This is a nightmare for House leadership who wanted this to be just seen -- like they obviously don't want to move it into an independent panel. They don't want a special prosecutor. They want the two intelligence committees to do this.

Also important, this is a nightmare for the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is working forward and moving forward on a bipartisan effort here. Everything that's happened really -- and I was kind of stuck in the weeks on the health care debate, but then randomly got a phone call out of the blue saying, did you hear where Chairman Nunes was the night before this all happened? And there's lots of stories and intrigue. Everybody's trying to track down the source and where he went and how it happened. And every piece of this, as it's come out, I've heard pieces -- bits and pieces of it and thought, man, that's absurd. There's no way that's actually possible.


MATTINGLY: And then they confirm it.


MATTINGLY: A few days later or a day later. And so I think the difficulty here is everybody trying to focus on what the chairman wants you to focus on, which is the unmasking of these individuals is a very bad thing that is very concerning to him. It's very concerning frankly to members of both parties if this is what's actually happening. You can't focus on that with everything that he's done in the wake of finding this stuff out over the course of the last couple of days.

KUCINICH: And at the end --

HENDERSON: Yes, and that's the thing. I mean you would think -- at least Democrats think that he's out there trying to help Donald Trump and sort of run point for him or run interference for him, but this is also a nightmare. I mean you talk about the nightmare scenario for all of these different committees. This is a nightmare for Donald Trump. I mean every day we're talking about Russia and intelligence and unmasking in any sort of spotlight on whether or not there was collusion between this White -- or Trump as a candidate or his aides and Russian intelligence officials or Russians just in general. That's a bad, bad day for him. I think if Nunes' goal is to undermine the credibility of the house Intelligence Committee, good job in doing that.

KING: Undermine --


KING: If his goal is to undermine his own committee, he's doing a great job.

TALEV: Exactly.

HENDERSON: He's doing a real great job.

KUCINICH: And to make the case for a special prosecutor.

HENDERSON: Yes, because --

KUCINICH: I mean because he's making a great case for one. Who knows if we'll ever have one.


KUCINICH: But Nunes is doing a good job making the case.

KING: Well, what -- in any line of work, but especially in politics when your boss -- in this case the speak -- has to issue a statement saying he has full confidence in you, that's just not a good day.


TALEV: If the -- if the -- knowing what we know now, which obviously isn't that much, if someone at the White House or the National Security Council was his source for this information, it raises the obvious question of, why couldn't that person just tell the president?

KING: Right.

TALEV: Either they could and he already knew or lines to him already knew or they couldn't for some other reason, in which case why did the chairman --

KING: Launder it through Nunes --

TALEV: Right. Right.

KING: He then runs back and tells the president even though the information is coming from -- yes.


TALEV: There's just a lot of unanswered questions and it's hard to get to the bottom -- I mean it's hard to get to the bottom of what is actually going on here.


MATTINGLY: And not enough people -- not enough people are in the loop on what actually happened.

KING: Right.

MATTINGLY: You noted, the committee members aren't aware of what's going on. And what that's doing is speaking -- I can just tell you, the e-mails and texts and just running into people in the halls on The Hill, all of these theories about what could have happened, what couldn't have happened, obviously responsible reporters aren't putting them out there --


MATTINGLY: But, like, they're around. And they're not just around amongst staff. They're around members on the House Intelligence Committee are -- that is what --

HENDERSON: The specter of needing to investigate the investigator.

KING: Right.

MATTINGLY: Right. HENDERSON: I mean its --


KING: And so let's move to the Senate side, which you say is worried that it's going to get blamed for some of this or caught up in the fallout of this. The Senate Intelligence Committee now has a deal to question Jared Kushner, who's the president's son-in-law, a very, very important White House official. We're going to talk in a few minutes about some new things he's doing as part of the White House role. He is going to go up.

Now we learned recently that he had a meeting with the Russian ambassador at Trump Tower during the transition. It could be nothing, right? He was in charge of the White House -- let's put the statement up right now and get it over with. Chairman Nunes -- I'm sorry, "throughout the campaign and transition, Jared Kushner served as the official primary point of contact with foreign governments and officials. Given this role, he has volunteered to speak with Chairman Burr's Committee, but has not yet received confirmation." That's from the White House.

Could be absolutely nothing. The president's interested in having better relations with Russia. It's nice to meet you, sir. Here's my e- mail. Here's yours. What's the best way to get in touch with you? Who are your deputies on this issue, on that issue. Could be absolutely nothing. Except we were asking the Trump transition, and then Trump administration for months, who did you meet with from Russia during the campaign. They didn't disclose it. Then we find out.

Today, as this testimony is scheduled or this questioning, I should call it, is scheduled, it turns out he also met with the head of a state run Russian bank, who just happens to be incredibly close to Vladimir Putin. Now, again, could be innocent. Could be about economic contacts. But this bank is under sanctions by the Obama administration. They didn't disclose it. So by not telling us things, they raise suspicions.

[12:25:18] KUCINICH: The drip, drip, drip is what's hurting this administration. It's not -- it's not -- it's not what happened. It's that we're finding out about it later. And to Nia's point earlier, the fact that we're still talking about Trump officials and their contacts with the White House, if they had put this all out there initially there would have been a frenzy. We would have talked about it for a week or two and -- but not the first two months of the administration, which is the case here.

HENDERSON: Yes. And this idea that Jared Kushner is voluntarily going before this committee, yes, I voluntarily file my taxes every year, I mean, it's essentially the same thing. I mean he's, at some point, this was going to happen because there is such a spotlight on all of these folks who were around the president, who have been very close to the president.

And it also just points to the fact that they don't have a strategy in terms of how the deal with Russia and all of the things that are coming up. It's no proactive strategy. It's all reactive. You know, weeks ago they could have put out a list of this person met, this is what the conversation was, this is how many times it happened, this is when it happened. None of that.

KING: That's how Washington traditionally works.


KING: But they are untraditional in many, many ways, this one included.


TALEV: And Jared Kushner's role at the White House is untraditional, as we all know. He's a young man, doesn't have government experience, but has earned the president's trust and he and his wife, Ivanka Trump, obviously care a great deal about their personal reputations, their professional reputation, not just in this current role in government, but beyond kind of before and after the Trump administration. He's got his hand in a number of ventures as we're discussing, you know, Mideast peace, international relations all over the world. So his credibility on this has ripple effects and beyond. So I think that's part of the reason why he --

KING: Ripple effects and let's -- the art of the segue, we're talking about Jared Kushner going up to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee at some point.

Next, the president on priority one, the economy, is turning to Jared. How the Trump White House lost the health care battle and what it sees as the lessons to be learned.