Return to Transcripts main page


White House Communications Director Resigns; Trump Spokeswoman: President Makes "People Feel Special"; Pomp and Circumstance and Politics. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 30, 2017 - 12:30   ET



[12:32:31] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. Michael Dubke is out as White House communications director. Of course most of you watching at home likely had no idea Michael Dubke was the communications director. It's supposed to be that way. It's an important but largely behind the scenes role.

The person who thinks for example what should be the president be focussing on public events this week or next week and how the staff can help and maybe the cabinet help sell administration priorities. Why Mike Dubke is out though is important. The president blames his staff for all the headlines about the Russia election meddling investigation. And is looking to shake things up a bit at the White House.

We're told not to look for a big flood of departures. Press Secretary Sean Spicer for example stay with CNN, he's delivering an on-camera briefing today after being virtually invisible during the president's international trip. But we are told to look at some key additions. Two former Trump campaign aides have been around the White House a lot. Former Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski and former Deputy Campaign Manager Davie Bossie.

Dubke and Spicer come from the GOP establishment wing of Washington. Lewandowski and Bossie who you see right there, anything but establishment. So what does that mean? What does that mean?

The president going back to people who worked for him in the campaign who he believes like he fashions himself are counter punchers. That if there's something in the media or something in the conversation in Washington that's anti-president, you know, harmful headlines, that these guys are going to fight back. But how? What are their specific jobs? What do they do?

CAROL LEE, THE WALL STREE JOURNAL: I don't think we exactly know except this is a president who feels he's not being served well by letting in people who weren't original and weren't with him from the start. And, you know, what these individuals bring is that and he feels very comfortable with them and they can, you know, defend him. However, you know, Corey Lewandowski in particular, these are combative people is exactly the way he wants to, you know, conduct his administration which is already combative. You know, I guess so, if he brings him in, certainly that's going to be the case. PERRY BACON, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: It's a hundred percent he has a press coverage problem and he's going to hire Corey as a solution to that. I mean, Corey known for grabbing a reporter. I mean, that actually happened during the campaign. These are combative people -- the campaign coverage of Trump he won, but it wasn't because he had good press coverage. So it's odd to think that these guys are going to solve that. They may solve the problem of being much more combative and they may have more aggressive, quotes rebutting stories, they may yell at reporters more, they may yell at their colleagues more in terms of defending Trump.

[12:35:02] But it sounds like he's hunkering down a little bit, going with people he trusts. But he's not in the thing that I thought he would do which was -- you know, you would think he would -- (inaudible) have thought in the beginning if he were to govern and really get things accomplished he would have brought in people who knew about governing, who had relationships on the hill, who could help pass a health care bill. It's hard to see these guys really helping with governing as opposed to -- unless the view is governing can't happen until you knock the Russia story off the front page.

KING: Does that part come to it because the president's mad at Mike Dubke and the staff at large for the Russia election meddling investigation. You -- where you (inaudible) on Capitol Hill, you talk to Republicans up there and they're constantly critical not of Mike in particular but of the White House communications and political staff saying, you know, why isn't the president troubling to help us on health care. Why isn't the president going to this district or that district not doing a big rally there?

So there's been a lot of criticism of how these guys work. My question is, what's the end goal here and if you're going to hire more people maybe you get to Perry's point. But I lived through the Clinton White House, Mike McCurry at the podium talked about government, Joe Lockhart His deputy did Monica Lewinsky, Ken Starr. They brought in Lanny Davis, a very aggressive combative attorney to fight back on these things. But Bill Clinton was still impeached. He still had to go before a grand jury because the basic facts were the basic facts. No matter how good your team, you can't change the facts.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, THE FEDERALIST: You know, I think -- the White House I think is as preoccupied with the story line as its critics are and this is perhaps a reflection of that. The guys they're trying to bring in are not just counter punches but sometimes first punchers. And I think the thing they may have over the folks that are here now and I don't know if it ends well for the Trump administration or does them a lot of good, they may have a closer relationship with Trump himself. Because they -- he feels like they aligned with him.

But I don't think a shake-up helps him unless the person brought in can tell him no in a credible way sometimes. And we have not seen the person who can do that on a regular basis. So I'm not sure these guys are -- even if they're close to him.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So the interesting here and kind of as you laid out with the Clinton model, the idea of having a dual track operation here is one that I think a lot of people would be very effective. You have Corey and David on the outside kind of working hard attacking people. I think we've all probably been on the other end of some of those phone calls at one point over the course of the last 15 months. There's value to that.

I think the interesting part about Mike's departure -- Mike Dubke's departure is anybody who's covered a White House knows, and you laid it out very well, communications director, in terms of the things that are very lacking right now in the White House for pushing their ambitious agenda forward, that's the communications director job. And while Mike never settled in with the team, he never gelled with the operation by all accounts, didn't gel with the guy who sits in the Oval Office by all accounts, that should be a crucial component of whatever they're doing next. You don't leave that job open or have a slow transition period. That job is what lays out the opportunities for you to succeed on Capitol Hill on the things that you want to keep your head down and keep working toward as your outside team is fighting to not back any news about investigation.

KING: But it's hard to do that job to plan where is the president would be next week? I'm told -- the White House (inaudible) talking infrastructure next week. Where is he going to be next week? What's he going to say in the weekly address. What he's going to do in the big speech here? It's hard to do that when Reince Preibus tells you one thing, Steve Bannon tells you something else, and Jared Kushner tells you something else?

So this isn't a staff problem.

LEE: This is -- and it's also not the James Baker reset, but it will be interesting to see if they have someone with that kind of a figure come in and do some of those things. Because as -- you have -- you mean, you're on the hill all the time and there's really a desire for that to have, you know, isolate this Russia stuff and have some sort of traction on a legislative agenda that, you know, where you can talk to people in the White House and get a very clear answer and it's consistent and they don't have that right now.

KING: The consistent part is the thing. The answer you get on Monday holds up on Wednesday. Everybody sit tight. Next, turmoil? What turmoil? If you listen to the president's friends and long time confidants, he makes people feel inspired like a million bucks.


[12:42:34] KING: Welcome back. Snubs and slights are part of the job in Trump's White House. That's the online headline of a piece in "The Washington Post" detailing how the president's brusk style sometimes means awkward if not embarrassing or humiliating moments for his aides, staff, and advisors. It's a well-sourced peace and well written by the Post Ashley Parker, a frequent guess here on Inside Politics. And it includes this priceless pushback from Trump's spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, quote, President Trump has a magnetic personality and exudes positive energy. He has built great relationships throughout his life and treats everyone with respect. He is brilliant with a great sense of humor and an amazing ability to make people feel special and aspire to be more than even they thought possible.

In politics, special here in Washington, loyalty is to be applauded. But at a minimum, to treats everyone with respect part, well, that would break the fact check machine.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'd like to punch him in the face I tell you. Knock the crap out of him would you? Seriously. He's got the temperament of a loser. I have the temperament of a winner.

She's a total lightweight. Bush says, I do not believe he's a true conservative. These people are stupid. I never attack him on his look and believe me, there's plenty of subject matter right there.


KING: I don't know what to say. Well, let's not have a low energy conversation here. Again, you applaud loyalty. It's a White House in crisis. It's a piece that's very well-sourced about things the president has said and the president -- the nicknames he gives people, some things he's said to take them down.

And anyone who's been around this president knows the sharpness, the sarcasm and sometimes the meanness comes with the territory. He does have some of those other positive qualities like a magnetic personality for example, but that quote was just beyond priceless.

LEE: Well, as you saw, it just doesn't jive with the facts and it suggests that he's one dimensional which he is not. And -- but during the campaign he was known for this. He would -- everyone who stood on that stage with him during debates had a name. There was a label, you know, low energy and everything else. And so, you know, it doesn't -- when you have that much evidence to the contrary or you're not acknowledging your boss's faults to a certain extent, you know, it just kind of lacks credibility.

KING: But does it tell you Hope Hicks knows the president. She worked for private businessman Donald Trump. Does it reflect that she knows well at a time when he's mad, at a time when he's frustrated, at a time where there's a cloud over his White House that's that what he not only wants but demands to hear from the people who work for him?

[12:45:05] BACON: I was a little surprised by the quote and honestly I think of Trump as being as someone who is tough on people. The story went of him insulting not just Paul Ryan, Reince Preibus, and Nikki Haley, but also insulting Jared occasionally. He pokes at everyone. He always makes clear to everyone I am in charge and you are not.

And so I was a little surprised that his spokeswoman (inaudible), he's really nice. I don't think that's what he's trying to do. I think he's trying to be -- shake up Washington, shake up things. That maybe he needs to be told how nice he was but it's not going to convince anybody. I don't think.

HAM: I think he likes to hear good things about himself. That's probably why he appreciated the Saudi Arabia part of the trip versus the NATO part of the trip where folks were tougher on him. But the thing that gets me about this and it seems out of line with his brand is that, the mean streak is actually partly what a lot of voters voted for. They thought they needed that on their side sometimes with really good reason. Felt sort of culturally bullied.

KING: They wanted a bull. This is -- Washington is the China shop. They wanted him because (inaudible).

HAM: And so it's seems sort of counter to what many of his voters like about him in some ways.

KING: It seems in my mind that, you know, she understand it this moment that you've talked to friends and they say he's mad, he's frustrated, he doesn't know who to trust and so she's trying to pump him up I guess and saying that. Here's Chris Ruddy, another friend of the president, the CEO of NewsMax, a conservative news site. "I think it's more New York swagger than he's trying to belittle them. I always say he makes people feel like a million bucks." Again, another Trump friend saying things at times I'm sure are true. It just not -- shall we say, fully contextual.

MATTINGLY: Look, I think people that have worked with him for a long time understand him, and Hope is of those people and obviously look, the statement itself is rather absurd as a communications person will tell you and that's not a shout at hope. I think that we've seen a lot of statements that are very clearly dictated by the president or somebody in his inner circle that kind of relates to that.

Look, how he operates in the Oval Office and his barbs and how he deals with people that are employed by him is the same way he's been operating based on anybody that I've spoken to over the course of his entire career. He's 70 years old. This has been very effective up to this point and he's not going to change. And I think people that have been with him for long periods of time grasp that. Probably don't take it as personally as others.

Those who came in a little bit later I think -- and I've spoken to some of them, they are really taken a back by it. They don't expect it in that forum. I will note that in watching that video, it's a reminder that the 15 months of the campaign, there were so many surreal -- completely surreal moments that I completely forgot about.

KING: We're going to see in a little more than an hour here Sean Spicer at the podium at the White House. And talk about treating everyone with respect. The president did not treat his press secretary with respect on the international trip. He didn't allow him to brief. He was allowed to introduce Tillerson and McMaster.

If you're the White House press secretary, it's the president's first international trip, it's a big deal. It's an important job. He didn't get to do that. There's been all this talk that he might be out. Is this a sign that the president has taken a deep breath and decided Sean Spicer is here to stay, period, or Sean Spicer is here to stay comma for now, dot, dot, dot.

LEE: I think what we saw on the foreign trip was beginnings of probably what we'll see a little bit more in the White House which is this layering of where you would have, you know, Sean Spicer was visible. He was around. Those of us that were on the trip saw him and spoke with him. But they had -- you know, Rex Tillerson was briefing us on the plane and then you had, you know, other senior administration officials who were coming out and briefing us. And, you know, I think that you'll probably see a little bit more of that in the White House.

KING: Also a lot of off camera stuff on the trip which I think is a reflection that the president sometimes thinks he's the only person who should be out speaking on camera for the administration.

Everybody sit tight. Up next, caps, gowns, popcorns. Speeches of this year's graduation ceremonies, (inaudible) guys political and nasty.


[12:52:54] KING: Welcome back. As you probably know, it's commencement season. There's pomp, circumstance and a lot of politics. Commencement speeches have always doubled. These opportunities for political discussions but in this new Trump era, well, listen in. More (inaudible) maybe than discourse.


ROBERT DE NIRO, ACTOR: Well, the country's gone crazy. In movie terms, when you started school the country was an aspiring uplifting drama. You're graduating into a tragic (inaudible) comedy.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: We must never allow demagogues to divide us up by race, by religion, by national origin, by gender, or sexual orientation. Black and white, Latino, Asian-American, Native American, Christian, Jew, Muslim and every religion, straight or guy, male or female, we must stand together. This country belongs to all of us.


KING: From a Trump perspective, they would say sour grapes by liberals out there. But it is interesting listening to -- and Mike Pence has been out there speaking on the president's behalf. The president gave his speech to Coast Guard Academy. More to come (inaudible). But it is interesting how the president's critics are looking for big high profile platforms to make this case.

BACON: Yes, Hillary attacked him pretty hardly at the speech last week. I mean, college students are young. People voted for Hillary. So I think it's also natural that you have these liberal actors and so on going (inaudible) and attacking Trump and getting loud cheers. Mike Pence graduation speech gets booed and people walk out. I think (inaudible) natural audience and not that courageous of a move honestly to (inaudible) from college students. HAM: I mean, I want to applaud the students of Brooklyn College and the people who brought him in to speak for really thinking outside the box, pushing the envelope with the Brooklyn native socialist liberal. On the upside he got on honorary degree which is the only kind of free college that is actually is free. So that -- and I actually -- I do -- I want to applaud the Notre Dame audience. A lot complained that some of the students walked out. But that is actually how college should work.

[12:55:06] A speaker comes you disagree with, you lodge that complaint. People note your complain, the speaker speaks. Everyone hears the address which is ironically about being open to other viewpoints and we all move on with our lives. So that was well done college students. You have learned something.

KING: And the speaker speaks part is important. Whether that speaker be from the left or from the right. If a speaker is invited on your campus, they should get to speak.

Do we time, to sneak this one really quickly. Bob Mueller, the new special counsel, real quick. Let's do it.


ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL IN RUSSIA INVESTIGATION: In regardless of your chosen career, you're only as good as your word. You can be smart, aggressive, articulate and be persuasive, but if you are not honest, your reputation will suffer. And once lost, a good reputation can never, ever be regained.


KING: I wanted to sneak that in because it's the first we've heard from the new Special Counsel Bob Mueller, former FBI director since he took the job. He's laying down a little bit of a marker there in his advice to young people.

Thanks for joining us today in the Inside Politics. See you back here tomorrow. Wolf Blitzer in the chair after a quick break.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1 p.m. here in Washington, 8 p.m. in Moscow. Wherever you're joining us from around the world, thanks very much.

We begin with exclusive CNN reporting on the investigation --