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INSIDE POLITICS

Bomber Spent Time in Libya; Trump Arrives for NATO Meeting; U.K. Bombing Highlights Terror Threat; Tillerson on NATO Message; U.K. Home Secretary on Leaks; Trump Meets Pope; New Subpoenas for Flynn. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 24, 2017 - 12:00   ET

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


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[12:00:07] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

President Trump is in Brussels for his first NATO summit, a gathering with fresh urgency because of the terror bombing in England. Just moments ago, the president met with the Belgian prime minister. He called what happened in Manchester, England, unthinkable. But we will win, the president went on to say. We'll bring you those remarks as soon as we have the tape back to our studio.

Fresh tensions at this meeting, too. British officials, mad. Details about the suicide bomber were leaked by American sources.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMBER RUDD, BRITISH HOME SECRETARY: It is irritating if it gets released from other sources. And I have been very clear with our friends that that has -- that should not happen again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Big news back stateside too. The president is getting new lawyers because of the special counsel investigation and his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, faces new pressure, too. More subpoenas today for documents detailing his election year Russia contacts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The walls feel like they are closing in on the Trump administration right now and I'm not sure that they can hold them up for much longer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Plus, today's an anxious day for Republicans. A new report card on the new GOP health care bill is due any minute. And the big spending -- big budget cuts, I'm sorry, proposed by President Trump being framed by Democrats now as heartless and has more promises broken.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: Simply put, the Trump budget takes a sledgehammer to the middle class and working Americans, lavishes tax breaks on the very wealthy and imagines all of the deficit problems away with fantasy math.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights on this busy day, Ashleigh Parker of "The Washington Post," Perry Bacon of FiveThirtyEight, Kelsey Snell of "The Washington Post," and CNN's Dana Bash.

As I noted, President Trump is in Brussels this hour preparing for a big NATO summit with new urgency because of yet another terror attack in Europe. The United Kingdom remains at its highest terror threat level and authorities today said the 22-year-old suicide bomber who killed at least 22 people at a concert in Manchester was known to security services and suspected of extremist ties.

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CHIEF CONSTABLE IAN HOPKINS, GREATER MANCHESTER POLICE: I think it's very clear that this is a network that we are investigating.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Barbara Starr reports that military officials assigned to the Pentagon's African command believe Salmon Abedi traveled to Libya for three weeks and returned to the U.K. just days before the Manchester bombing.

CNN's Muhammad Lila is in Manchester with the very latest for us.

Muhammad, what are authorities saying?

MUHAMMAD LILA, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, good afternoon, John.

Authorities are saying that that is just one of the leads that they're looking into. A very fast-moving investigation. We now know that there are four people who are currently in custody as part of this investigation. And we also know, as that sound clip mentioned earlier, that police are no longer treating the attacker as a lone wolf. They believe there was a network behind this. And what that means is that there is now a frantic scramble to find any possible co-conspirators, co-collaborators, anyone who might have been involved, anyone who might be potentially planning another attack.

And to that end, we know, as you said, that the terror alert now is at the highest that it's been in almost a decade and the effect of that is that there are now armed soldiers patrolling parts of the United Kingdom. One thousand armed soldiers, in fact. The police say that those armed soldiers are there to protect some high profile sites and their presence also frees up investigators to pursue other leads in terms of this possible terror network that they're waiting for.

And, of course, while all this is happening, unfortunately, the very real human toll is starting to be revealed, as well. We're getting more names of more victims, including a young schoolgirl who went to school about an hour away from here. She was just -- her school was just told today the terrible news. And we know that there are parents who were involved as well, who leave behind children who have now been named among the 22 people confirmed dead.

John.

KING: Muhammad Lila for us in Manchester. A very important point at the end there as we try to figure out this investigation and where it goes, this network they talk about. We should never forget the victims of that.

Muhammad, thank you very much.

Let's bring the conversation in the room.

This plays out. It's a horrible event in Manchester that happens by coincidence just as the president prepares to go to his first NATO summit. In a sense, we know there's skepticism of the president among the allies and we know the president is skeptical that they're willing to -- that NATO countries are willing to put up more resources for the fight. He says they're not paying their fair share. Does much of that, the sort of reviewer mirror skepticism, doubts, even animosity from the campaign, does that get set aside now as the president goes in and you would think the other European leaders, primarily the prime minister of the U.K., with this is an urgent concern. We need to figure out how to adapt the NATO alliance, not to a war in Afghanistan, but to a war in the central cities of Europe.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he laid the groundwork for the changing in tone on NATO in the White House when he had the NATO leader there and he said, point blank, I said during the campaign, NATO is obsolete. I no longer think NATO is obsolete. So he goes in with that change already.

[12:05:07] My sense is that it's much more -- the sort of confusion and concern about the Trump administration is much more about where they are right now and what's going on and whether or not they can really believe what he's saying now about NATO or anything else given, frankly, the chaos that everybody in the world sees happening on the home front for President Trump.

Having said that, look, I mean, these countries understand that there is a very big threat on their soil and it, unfortunately, happened in the most horrific sense, just a few days before this meeting is going to take place. So there's no question just from, you know, our experience in covering these summits that that is the kind of thing that can focus leaders, no matter their differences, no matter their past like nothing else.

ASHLEY PARKER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And to Dana's point also, Vice President Pence, the president sent him ahead very early on in his administration to Brussels to go over to reassure these allies, to reassure sort of some of the strength towards NATO. This does match with the president slightly changing tone, although again we never know what will happen and you do have diplomats calling back to the U.S. trying to understand, you know, if the president tweets something or if he says something, what exactly does it mean?

But I also think you're right that there is nothing like terrorism to sort of focus alliances and allies. And in a way this is something President Trump is very strong on with his base back home. On the early portion of his trip, you saw him hitting these points in Saudi Arabia and Israel. And in a way it makes this latter part of the trip that had the potential to be a little more contentious and awkward easier for the president because it's territory he's comfortable on.

KING: Right. And even as we expect to focus on terror, I want you to listen to the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, this is on Air Force One, on the flight from Rome to Brussels, that a lot of the diplomats rolled their eyes during the campaign or got squeamish during the campaign when the president said NATO was obsolete. His point there was that he thinks the NATO countries are not paying their fair share, not keeping their commitment to spend enough of their budget on defense spending. Listen to Rex Tillerson here. He says, yes, we're going to talk about terrorism, but the president means it. He's going to make sure that the allies pony up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, as the president has said, you know, he really wants to persuade NATO members to step up and fully meet their obligations under burden sharing. The 2 percent of GDP is -- was a target they all agreed to. I think you can expect the president to be very tough on them saying, look, the U.S. is spending 4 percent. We're doing a lot. The American people are doing a lot for your security, for our joint security. You need to make sure you're doing your share for your own security, as well. So I think, you know, that's going to be the core of his message to NATO.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Get tough on them. You hear it from the secretary of state. Some of this was already happening. Some of this -- President Obama complained about this. President Bush complained about this. Some of it was already happening. But there's no question that President Trump's heavy public focus on this has convinced some of the European allies, OK, we have to do more.

But that plays well back here at home too. The president essentially saying, we're not footing the bill all the time.

KELSEY SNELL, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, and the president sent a big message this week with his budget saying, I'm going to do even more to spend on military and on defense. That is a major focus of the noncutting side of the budget that they put out this week. They're trying to send a message to the allies that, you know, we want you to pay more but we're also going to pay more. And that does really well for his base who, you know, they are very focused on this anti-terror fighting ISIS and feeling the sense of security back home.

KING: And they're -- if you're a Trump voter, and Democrats cringe at this, but if you're a Trump voter, you believe President Obama was somehow weak, he withdrew from the world, and President Trump is this strong leader who, yes, wants a strong NATO alliance, but on his terms.

PERRY BACON, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: Right. And it sounds like this NATO meeting is not going to discuss Russia, which is an issue the NATO allies are concerned about, but they don't think the president wants to talk about on this trip, but it's something that will be -- it was already going to be heavy on terrorism before and I guess it will be even more so now.

KING: And so -- let's talk about one of the subplots here, which is, a lot of people have asked, does this president get it, in the sense that he's the commander in chief. He gets every day the world's most sensitive intelligence brought to him. And there have been questions about how he handles it. And now there are questions, not about the president, but about the FBI or other U.S. intelligence agencies.

Let's start there. The home secretary in the U.K., their homeland security secretary, is furious. She says as this investigation was playing out, that there were reports attributed to American officials naming the suicide bomber, saying other things that in the early intelligence sweeps about who is this guy, where's he from, what does he know, is he part of a network. She says that there were details leaking out attributed to American officials that were compromising the British investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): The Americans, of course, you talk about the not wanting to compromise the investigation, a lot of information has come out from America rather than from the British police or security services.

AMBER RUDD, BRITISH HOME SECRETARY (voice-over): Yes, quite frankly. I mean the British police have been very clear that they want to control the flow of information in order to protect operational integrity, the element of surprise. So it is irritating if it gets released from other sources. And I have been very clear with our friends that that should not happen again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:10:11] KING: This is remarkable. It's remarkable. I mean the -- number one, it's the victims. Number two, the investigation. But to have a cabinet secretary of the closest American ally in the world really on the big stage in Europe essentially saying, you know, what are you doing? Stop. That is remarkable.

BASH: So it's remarkable on its face just on that level if there was nothing else going on with regard to complaints about leaks on intelligence. But if you look at that and then know what we have been reporting about the president going bonkers on the former FBI director and others about leaks, which he felt really hurt him vis-a-vis classified information about the investigation into Russia ties, it's -- there's an irony there that is almost unbelievable.

KING: And then there's the added wrinkle of the president himself, the Israelis being furious --

BASH: Right.

KING: That the president himself, in an Oval Office meeting with the Russian foreign minister and the Russian ambassador to the United States sharing code word Israeli intelligence about ISIS. Now, everyone's trying to put the best light on this because Israel is a good ally. The prime minister very publically helping the president out saying, you know, we'll just push this one behind. But listen to the Israeli defense minister on Israeli radio today. "I will not confirm or deny" that it happened," Avigdor Lieberman says. But then he says, "we have made a pointed correction. There is unprecedented intelligence cooperation." It's in the middle of the sentence there, "we have made a pointed correction." Gee, what's he mean?

PARKER: Well, one thing that's fascinating about President Trump and intelligence in general is that he has a very fraught -- he started with a very fraught relationship with the intelligence community. And then as he came into office, we've learned that he really values the presidential daily briefing. It often runs over. It's scheduled for about 30 minutes in the morning. It often runs far over that time and he likes to have his top people there in person. So Director Pompeo, Director Coats, General McMaster, they're all in the Oval Office almost every single day giving him this information. He's asking questions. He's engages.

But the wrinkle, of course, is that, a, sometimes when he does retain the information, he divulges it to the Russians, which it seems like it's his right as president to do but it certainly raised some questions, and sometimes he fails to grasp the nuance. So, for instance, all intel points that Russians meddled in our elections and the other day the president, who's getting these briefings said, well, maybe it was China. So that still dos raise some concerns with the intelligence community.

KING: Right. Still says "if" on the question of Russia. A lot more to think about. We'll follow this NATO meeting over the next couple of days. Everybody sit tight.

Up next, a few months ago, Donald Trump called the pope's comments about him disgraceful, but today's face to face meeting was, in the president's words, fantastic.

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[12:17:09] KING: Welcome back.

Proof today at the highest levels that talking is better than tweeting, even if you have big differences, maybe especially if you have big differences. Pope Francis welcomed President Trump at the Vatican. You see the pictures there. And while we have scant details of their private conversation, the president made a promise as he left.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

POPE FRANCIS: Thank you very much for your time.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. I won't forget what you said.

(INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: Anything I can do, let me know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Always fascinated to see those pictures.

Later, white meeting Italy's prime minister, the president said this of his time with Pope Francis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He is something. Is he really great. We had a fantastic meeting and we had a fantastic tour. It was really beautiful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Given the history, most of that history played out on Twitter, a fantastic meeting was hardly guaranteed. The pope, among other things, tweeted during last year's campaign that someone who wants to build walls and restrict immigration is not Christian. The president, in turn, labeled the pope's sleight disgraceful.

So, this is diplomacy. And having been at a presidential meeting with a pope, it's just something else. I don't care whether you're Catholic, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Agnostic, atheist, the pope, the president, there's just -- there is something magical about it.

BASH: Look, and the fact is that he didn't tongue lash the president in public. And that has happened in the past.

KING: Yes.

BASH: We were covering George W. Bush during the Iraq War and Pope John Paul was one of the first, if not the first, world leader to come out and really slam him, you know, sort of face-to-face about the Iraq War. I do -- I do think that this is remarkable. And, you're right, I mean to see these pictures, it's, you know, I think you have to have absolutely no sense of awe to not say, wow, it's really cool to see a pope and a president, no matter who they are, together.

KING: And a president who does not often seem genuinely humbled seeming humbled.

BASH: Yes. Exactly. Exactly. But I do --I do recall when we were talking about this in the break back during the campaign, it was during the primaries, some of the now president's Republican opponents sort of shrugging their shoulders when the two of them, Donald Trump and the pope went up against each other. And from their perspective, Donald Trump won. They said, OK, we're done.

KING: An interesting -- you know there's been a lot of questions about the president's first trip on the world stage. A lot of the president's critics are already trying to finds moments to criticize. I think you have to, if you look at these pictures, again whatever your political persuasion, whatever your religious persuasion, give the White House props here. This was very well handled, including the exchange of gifts. If you remember, when the pope spoke to Congress, he quoted from Martin Luther King. The -- part of the president's trips -- gifts, excuse me, were five original bound books from Martin Luther King, one of them signs by Dr. King. The pope, in turn, gave the president a medal with an olive on it -- an olive branch for peace and also a signed copy -- here's where politics does play in -- a signed copy of his encyclical on the environment and climate. And we are told Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, confirming after the fact that in the private meeting the pope did bring up climate change and urged the president to stay in the Paris climate accord. So the pope doing his politics, just privately.

[12:20:14] PARKER: Well, the pope seems to understand what a lot of Donald Trump's top advisers have learned, which is that oftentimes if you are the last person to talk to the president on an issue, you can kind of sway him. And I -- and who knows what will happen with the president on climate change and the Paris accords. He's been very critical. It's a debate roiling the administration. But it was a very savvy sort of subtle move by the pope to sort of get in Donald Trump's ear, plant this document with him and you saw, you know, President Trump saying, I'm going to read this. And we know this is not a president who reads a ton. So it remains to be seen. I think it was a very smart move by the pope.

BACON: Well as striking as it sounds, like Trump was not necessarily excited about going on this trip. But now that he's there, he's being treated like the president. People are meeting with him.

KING: Right.

BACON: People who used to criticize him and call him unchristian and now, you know, having (INAUDIBLE) and like really and dialing down a critique. So I think he might be -- I'll be curious if he wants to go on more foreign trips now because he's escaping some of the criticism that he gets every day here.

KING: Right.

SNELL: Right. And people in Washington have been watching this so closely because there was this idea that the president was going to learn on the job and that we were going to see the evolution of this president. And I heard a lot of people saying that they're seeing that evolution happening in real time while he's abroad. KING: Well, the job brings gravity (ph). You mentioned that Pope John

Paul did tongue lash President Bush in his presence, also tongue lashed Dick Cheney once on a Dick Cheney visit to the Vatican. But President Bush never dwelled on that because he understood -- he understood, a, the power of the pope and his respect for -- his respect for the Vatican and for the holy father, but also the power of catholic voters back here in the United States. And so President Bush was not going to publically pick a fight. Donald Trump tweeting after the meeting today, "honor of a lifetime to meet his holiness Pope Francis. I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue peace in our world." A very different tone from candidate Trump quotes. And, again, I don't want to over politicize this, but, number one, that's respect. And I do think you see the president genuinely humbled to be in the presence of the holy father, but then also a very smart president understanding that you want to point out back home this was a good meeting and it went well.

BACON: Yes, that tone from him. So, I mean, think about the number of positive tweets like that he sent out this -- in this (INAUDIBLE) president. So you can tell that he seems moved from it. He seems to have enjoyed the experience. And I think he seems to be viewing himself in a different way now. He is really like the leader of the world right now in this moment.

KING: Right. And you remember, you make -- you made an interesting point about the last person who speaks to the president. Remember when he met with then President Obama, President-elect Trump met with him during the transition and President Trump left that meeting and goes, wow, I learned a lot. I listened a lot. He had so many good things to say. Most of that -- most of that, if not all of that, but I think most of that has been since discarded by events.

PARKER: That's a fair assessment.

KING: Trying to be nice.

BACON: Right, a little bit of wiretaps. Just a little bit.

BASH: I was thinking the same thing in that it's true but Barack Obama is not the pope, meaning --

KING: Well, that's my point in the sense that --

BASH: I mean in terms of the impact.

KING: Yes. Does this -- does this, though, if you're -- if you're in the meeting, you know, next week or while you're sitting at the NATO or at the G-7 and Paris comes up, does Donald Trump channel his inner Steve Bannon, which is get out, his inner -- his EPA secretary administrator, which is get out, pull out of the Paris accord, or does he channel the pope and say, you know what, the holy father asked me to think about this and I'm going to think about it.

BACON: To make Ashley's point (INAUDIBLE), in some ways Steve Bannon is going to talk to Donald Trump more than the pope is, my guess, over the next -- PARKER: Right.

BACON: So I think the problem is, of course, Trump tends to hear people and listen to what they say. He thought Obama was smart when he met with him, but then he got away from him and I think --

BASH: But it's already clearly so strained and it's so unclear which way the president wants to go on this Paris accord, on the climate change issue, because they've delayed the decision so many times.

PARKER: Right.

BASH: So it's not as though he's going to do a complete 180. He's already clearly torn.

PARKER: And it's worth mentioning the president -- there's so few people he truly respects. Many of them are billionaires, people who have as much or more money than he does. That's one of the parameters to get respect.

But the pope is another one of these people. Even when you saw them feuding during the campaign, you could tell the president would kind of walk it back --

KING: Right.

PARKER: And he wasn't totally comfortable going -- appropriately going to war with the pope.

BASH: Yes.

PARKER: That was (INAUDIBLE) on his part. But I do think the pope will loom large in his mind, at least for the next few weeks as he goes forward.

BASH: I agree.

SNELL: But there's something so insulating about being gone, is that he isn't in the presence of all the people who have his ear normally and he's not in these meetings with his cabinet secretaries who were chosen for their conservative bona fides or for their billionaire bona fides. And I wonder how much that changes things.

KING: Right. And that is one of the -- you can count them on one hand -- places on earth where you're in that place and everything changes. You realize you're in a unique and special place on the planet.

Everybody sit tight. Up next, new developments in the Russia election meddling investigation, including new subpoenas for former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and the House speaker's take on a man the president calls a nut job.

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[12:28:48] KING: I'm going to give you a quick update on some breaking news just into CNN related to the Manchester bombing. British police now say a fifth suspect has been arrested in connection with the bombing. They will not release the suspect's name or say how he was connected to the bombing. Our understanding, he has not yet been charged but has been taken into custody by Greater Manchester Police.

You'll remember earlier today they said they believed a network was involved. A 22-year-old suicide bomber but the British police now making a fifth arrest in conjunction with that attack. We'll bring you more new details as soon as we can get them.

Back here in Washington, several new important developments in the Russia election interference investigation, even as the president travels overseas. CNN has learned the president is moving ahead with a recommendation to hire an outside legal team to assist him, now that actions he took as president are part of the special counsel investigation. New York based attorney Mark Kasowitz, who has represented Trump in several cases over the past 15 years or so, is in line, we are told, to be a senior member of the new team with more hires likely very quickly.

And in Congress, pressure ratcheting up today on the fired National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Let's get to CNN's Phil Mattingly live on Capitol Hill.

Phil, both in the House and Senate Intelligence Committees developments focusing on Michael Flynn. Legal problems aren't going to go away any time soon. What's new?

[12:29:56] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right. Look, if there was any question at all whether or not either of these committee would start ratcheting things back a little bit because of the appointment of a special counsel, that has more or less been blown apart over the course of the last 24 hours. First, take a look at the Senate Intelligence Committee.