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INSIDE POLITICS

Withdraw from Paris Agreement; Business Impact of Climate Deal Withdraw; Tel Aviv Embassy Waiver; Trump Slams Russia Probe; Spicer Dodges Question. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 31, 2017 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your time with us.

It's a busy day. Fresh tweets from the president calling the Russia investigation a witch hunt and attacking the former heads of the FBI and the CIA.

Plus, the alternative reality that is the White House Briefing Room.

But, we begin with big, breaking news in Washington that has big, global implications. President Trump, we are told, will pull the United States from the Paris Climate Change Accords. This is a decision that keeps a big campaign promise and one the president's America first team insists will create millions of new jobs here at home. It is also a decision that rejects advice from Pope Francis, every major European ally, and, importantly for those of you who track White House tug of wars, against the advice of the president's daughter and son-in-law. And with the policy fallout comes a feisty political debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, it means that the leader of the Republican Party is in a different spot than the rest of the world. It would be taken as a statement that the climate change is not a problem, not real. That would be bad for the party, bad for the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia- Malika Henderson, Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times," CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Margaret Talev of "Bloomberg Politics."

Live first, though, to the White House and CNN's Sara Murray for more on this long awaited presidential decision.

Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

Well, yes, we are hearing from sources that the president is expected to withdraw from the Pairs Climate Accord. Now, the mechanism by exactly how he will do this is still being determined. And, of course, plans could change a little bit. And the president himself has not announced this decision. He took to Twitter earlier today to say he will make his announcement in the next couple of days.

But sources are saying this is where the president is headed. This is where his head is at. And that's certainly the impression world leaders got after meeting with President Trump at the G-7 and at NATO.

And this is a very monumental decision. It is, you know, moving us in the exact opposite direction the Obama administration was moving in. It also isolates America from much of the world, of basically every other country had agreed to this to try to put a global effort forward to curb global warming. And a number of countries have said that they're going to stay in it no matter what the United States does. It's interesting to see how leaders are perceiving America's standing in the globe and President Trump, as a result of this, expected decision coming out of the meeting with President Trump last week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel essentially said the U.S. is abdicating its role as a global leader and now it's time for European countries to step up.

So there will be big ramifications for this. And as you noted, big ramifications right here at the White House. Not all of President Trump's advisers were on the same page about this decision.

KING: Sara Murray tracking the breaking news at the White House. Sara, thank you.

Those pushing the president to withdraw from the climate deal say one benefit will be a coal country jobs boom here at home. Could that happen or is that unrealistic? CNN's Alison Kosik is here with the economic debate.

Alison.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, you know, it is kind of hard to see how coal jobs that don't exist now can actually come back because the horse has already left the barn. You look at the number of jobs in the coal industry, that number has fallen tremendously. The total number of coal workers has fallen 70 percent since 1985. And plus you've got the fact that hundreds of companies, everyone from Microsoft to Apple to Starbucks to big energy companies like Exxon Mobil, they are supporting staying in this agreement because you've got these - especially these companies - these energy companies already focusing on the future. Their focus is actually what's in the Paris agreement already, and that's natural gas over dirtier coal. So, realistically, it's hard to see how they turn their money and reinvest back into coal.

Now, experts actually say the natural gas boom is the primary reason you've seen the coal industry in decline. So you've seen energy companies, they've made these big investments in natural gas because that's the future. So the concern is, with America backing out, as it seems, companies say the U.S. will wind up losing its competitive advantage and that's because they can't cash in on the new markets for clean technology.

Now, you've got the flipside to this. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce saying if the U.S. stays in this agreement, it would cost the American economy $3 trillion and 6.5 million industrial sector jobs by 2040. And the reasoning behind that is they say you take away those emission restraints that are in this Paris climate agreement, you take those away, that could help a resurgence in coal. But, once again, John, with so much investment already on the future by these big energy companies - and when I say the future I mean natural gas - it really is hard to see how that resurgence in coal jobs can actually happen.

John.

KING: Alison, we'll keep an eye on that. Still pressure on the president. We'll wait, of course, for the final language. And that's an important point as we come into the room that Sara Murray made. Sources saying the president is going to pull out. This White House, if we have learned anything, especially we know on this one, there have been competing factions, and that's being kind. There's been a very tough fight, a fierce fight within the White House.

The final language will matter. But what does it tell us that by all indications the president is going to dramatically retreat, if not completely withdraw, from a signature Obama administration achievement?

[12:05:09] MARGARET TALEV, "BLOOMBERG POLITICS": Well, yes, I think one thing that it tells us is that the president does feel like in its current form the U.S. commitment under the Paris climate agreements does not fit with what he has campaigned on and run on early in his presidency and he's looking for a way to dial back the U.S. commitment. I think the question that they're still struggling with right now is whether or not they can do that and still stay in the agreement or whether they just need to get out of it entirely.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. It's also a very Republican thing to do, right? I mean if you look at Republican presidents who come into office after Democratic presidents, they have typically made moves like this, rolling back emissions regulations, which is what Bush did, Reagan famously ripping off the solar panels that Carter had put on the White House.

I do think the difference here is the size of this agreement, this historic agreement with all of these countries. And that business is on a different page. We heard from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They seem to agree with pulling out. But you had, you know, dozens and dozens - hundreds of businesses saying that they wanted the U.S. to stay in. And even some fossil fuel companies saying they wanted the U.S. to stay in because if they stayed in, they may be able to renegotiate some of the terms of the agreement.

KING: Right. JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: At a macro level, I mean this is a repositioning of the United States really in its position around the world. This is more than just rolling back an Obama regulation. Yes, you expect this president to do that. And he is doing that. But this is something more than that. This was a landmark agreement that was reached really and the success of this depended on the U.S.' involvement in it as well and other countries are looking to the U.S. for leadership here, India, China, others. I think this is a dramatic repositioning of the U.S. in terms of the strength. It's taking people backward.

You heard what Lindsey Graham said there at the beginning of the show from Sunday. All Republicans don't agree with this actually. So this is a very big deal. I would argue one of the biggest things that the president has done.

KING: The geographical divide on - sometimes of the politics on what's in the ground, what does your - where does your state get its energy? Lindsey Graham's not from a coal state. But there's also a generational argument that older voters are more skeptical about climate change and the Republican Party is going to dig a deep - deeper ditch with millennials if the president goes forward with this.

I'm sorry.

JONATHAN MARTIN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": No, it's fine.

We got so used to, I think, the president flipping on some of his campaign promises over the last few months or at least hedging, whether it's moving the embassy to Jerusalem or whether it's ripping up NAFTA, that I think this is more of a surprise to some of us because we had gotten used to, well, he'll flip to whatever the kind of saber - the sort of conventional position is ultimately. And he didn't do that this time. He actually stuck to his campaign promise.

And so I can't say that I'm actually all that surprised. The incentives for his base are entirely to pull out of the agreement. Yes, there are some sort of moderate to liberal folks in this White House who want him to stay in. But I think his near term and even longer term political incentives are to pull out of this.

TALEV: But there isn't -

KING: You mentioned - you mentioned the embassy. I just want to say, CNN's Elise Labott is now reporting that the president is expected to renew the waiver that keeps the embassy in Tel Aviv. The president of the United States faces a deadline, renew the waiver, which they passed the law saying they should move the embassy to Jerusalem, but presidents before this president too, routinely sign a waiver because they understand how that would upset the politics of the region. We'll get more into that later. But since you brought it up, I wanted to mention CNN's Elise Labott moving - that President Trump now expected to renew that waiver.

MARTIN: Yes.

KING: You were about to come in on climate change.

TALEV: I was going to say, there's a geopolitical like element to the climate change question, which is, even if all the policy inside the administration supports either drastically dialing back the U.S. commitment or just pulling out entirely, the question is, does that weaken the U.S. position who - globally who fills that gap, right? Does this strengthen China's role? Does it strengthen the E.U. if what the president wants to do is weaken the E.U. and this actually strengthens the E.U. Where does that fit?

So I think in the final kind of like 48 hours or so of the deliberations inside the White House on this, these are going to be - it's not just the environmental argument that's going to be made. It's the political implications on the world stage.

HENDERSON: And the national - and the national security argument, as well. I mean that's also something that's different. You have the military talking about climate change as a very significant threat to national security because climate change destabilizing regions and complicating the fight against terror and just stabilizing some countries. And so that's a new argument, as well.

KING: And what was founded as a republic, a lot of people think we've gotten away from being a republic, but you're going to see a competition. You're going to see the governor of California, Jerry Brown, saying, sorry, Mr. President, my state is going ahead with its very aggressive policies.

HENDERSON: Right.

KING: And I think you'll see some Republican governors say, I think clean energy's the future of my state, both from an energy perspective and from a jobs perspective. So it will set off an interesting debate.

But you mentioned you're not all that surprised. Let's go back and just listen. This was a signature Trump campaign promise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to cancel the Paris climate agreement and stop - unbelievable. And stop all payments of the United States tax dollars to U.N. global warming programs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:10:09] KING: At different times, this is different things to the president. That is an America first supporting, cash, your tax dollars going to the United Nations.

MARTIN: Right.

KING: You know, President Obama linking us up in this elitist, chardonnay sipping, European, you know, agreement. And it works with the Trump base. I don't mock that the politics of it were quite strong. MARTIN: Yes.

KING: At other times the question was, you know, he says climate change is a hoax manufactured by the Chinese. But I think you mentioned earlier the isolation this leads (ph). Let's just look at it. Established in 2015, 147 countries have ratified this agreement. The goal is to reduce temperatures, climate change, global warming, climate change, reduce carbon emissions and bring temperatures down. Countries at the - countries have to submit emissions assessments every five years and it requires the countries to set up this $100 billion in climate related financing. That was one of the president's complaints, it was a bad deal for the United States. The United States was putting up much more than the others.

But here's where, if the president completely withdraws, here's where the United States is, in a very lonely club that includes Syria, Nicaragua, and the United States. And I should note, Nicaragua says it is not a party to the agreement because it doesn't think the agreement is tough enough.

ZELENY: And that's what's so striking here. So what is going on right now we're told inside the West Wing is exactly how he's going to withdraw. Is it going to be an immediate withdrawal or something a little bit shorter.

But the headline without question is that that's where his head is and that's where he's leaning.

But yesterday in the press briefing Sean Spicer was asked if the president believes that human activity is responsible for climate change. You know, for warming the climate. He said, honestly, I haven't asked him.

MARTIN: Extraordinary.

KING: Yes.

MARTIN: Yes.

ZELENY: So that is something that - where you don't know exactly where the president stands. And when you talk to other advisers, Margaret and I were both traveling with the president last week, you saw his top economic adviser say the president is -

TALEV: Evolving.

ZELENY: Right, is evolving and learning on this.

KING: Right.

ZELENY: And he said he's going to listen to what Pope Francis said. So I think more interestingly is the decision making about who's up and who's down in the West Wing at this moment is critical to this decision.

MARTIN: And Gary Cohn, by the way, that same adviser, this guy overlooked because of a holiday, I think, but he was talking down coal.

KING: Right.

MARTIN: And he was sort of saying, coal is not the future. That's extraordinary, right, for basically one of the top advisers in this White House to be running down the coal industry like that, given, a, the financial support, and, b, the political support from the coal industry this president got. Not to mention the fellow who actually runs the Senate, who I think's pretty pro-coal himself.

KING: Mitch McConnell for you -

ZELENY: That man from Kentucky?

MARTIN: Yes, exactly.

KING: Pretty pro-coal.

Everybody hold the thought. More on this as we continue the conversation.

Ahead, what this Paris decision tells us about who's up and who's down in the Trump inner circle as he prepares to make several other big decisions.

But next, Congress kicks its Russia meddling investigation into high gear and demands records from a who's who of Trump loyalists.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Witch hunt is back in the president's Twitter feed. It came this morning in a tweet defending Carter Page, a man the White House for months has insisted the president does not know. And in siding with Page, the president adopted his take that former CIA Director John Brennan and former FBI Chief James Comey gave false and misleading testimony to Congress.

The president's new attack comes as the investigation reaches closer to home. We've been talking about for the past few days son-in-law Jared Kushner now getting attention from FBI investigators. And it's now also clear the congressional committees investigating possible collusion between team Trump and the Kremlin are shifting to a new phase. In recent days, more Trump loyalists and campaign advisers have been asked for any records related to Russia context. Those asked or subpoenaed for documents now include former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, long time Trump confidante and personal attorney Michael Cohen, campaign adviser Michael Caputo, campaign adviser Page, friend and outside adviser Roger Stone, and former campaign manager Paul Manafort and former White House press aide and campaign aide Boris Epshteyn.

In Flynn's case, he now says he's prepared to surrender documents covered by a new subpoena. Cohen calls the investigation a joke and is refusing to cooperate for now, but he does say he would comply if he gets a subpoena.

A lot of names there. A lot of people watching at home probably don't understand who they all are. But in terms of Michael Flynn now saying I will comply with the second subpoena and Michael Cohen getting first a request and we'll see where this escalates, someone who's from the Trump Organization, not the Trump White House, but someone who was part of bringing to the president or not brining to the president but involved in meetings about some Ukraine peace deal, I mean what does this tell us when you look at the list of names? Number one, it tells me the investigations have moved from sort of the background phase into the witness phase, but what else?

ZELENY: I think it tells you that everyone who is, you know, within arm's reach of this president and before he became president is likely going to have to turn over information or be hauled up before the House or Senate or they can always refuse to. But, I mean, look, the reality here is, now this is steps from the Oval Office, at least the investigation, the inquiry is, and this is something that is going to sort of, you know, drag down this White House or complicate every agenda item going forward here.

I mean this is something that is consuming the White House. People who are inside the West Wing, who are working on other things, are, you know, having a hard time sort of trying to focus and stay concentrated on them because this is something that is consuming everything. And once the House and Senate resume next week on these things, it is just dragging down everything. Health care, not happening.

HENDERSON: Yes.

ZELENY: Tax reform, not happening. So the consequence of this is, the Trump presidency is running out of time to get a lot of things accomplished in the first year or so. But, substantively, it's a big problem. People are lawyering up.

HENDERSON: Yes.

ZELENY: And, you know, it's - even if nothing comes of it, this is a, you know, you presume innocence here (INAUDIBLE)

[12:20:00] HENDERSON: Yes, and it's certainly consuming the president's thoughts in Twitter feed, right? I mean if you look at his tweets over the last couple of days, a few have been about like tax reform, health care, Paris climate deal. Most of them have been about Russia and fake news, which he kind of links to the Russia story. And it also is clear that this is something they can't control. Like the most he can do so far at least, and this is his playbook all the time, is go to Twitter. At some point they want to set up this war room. I guess the question is whether or not his team can compartmentalize this and whether he can compartmentalize this and try to get some of those things done that he claims they're close to doing in terms of tax reform and health care.

TALEV: This tells me two other things though. In part because there's been some carryover between the Trump business world and the Trump politics world and throughout the campaign that was true also. Some of the people in that list you mentioned -

MARTIN: Putting it mildly.

TALEV: Yes. Some of the people on that list stretch back to Trump's real estate days. So you now have investigators talking to people who are familiar with Trump family real estate business deals, as well as the discussions throughout the conversation, as well as some of the discussions in the early weeks of the administration. And it also goes to the idea that on some level, when these folks come in to talk to investigators, whether they're federal investigators or whether they're congressional panel investigators, comes the question of, what did the president know about who they were talking to and why. And that's when things get very interesting.

KING: And when you talk about the expansion, not just campaign people. Jared Kushner, inside the White House, who was a campaign person but a friend, adviser, knows the business dealings. Michael Cohen, as close to Trump as you get in terms of the family business and loyalist. That this is how you get from a land parcel in western Arkansas to Paula Jones to Monica Lewinsky. And I don't say that lightly. It's just these investigations have a way, once you start bringing in a broad net, of moving around and new things surface.

MARTIN: Yes.

KING: To this point, Jared Kushner is paid by the taxpayers. He's the president's son-in-law, but he's a senior adviser, the secretary of everything some people say because of his portfolio at the White House. And so it is a fair question to ask the White House press secretary, who is paid to speak for you, the taxpayer, what did the president know if anything about this alleged back channel. When Jared Kushner met with the Russian ambassador, then at the ambassador's recommendation met with a Russian banker on a sanctions list close to Putin who used to be a spy, did the - was the president aware of those meetings and was he aware that some - there were some conversation about a back channel?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not going to get into what the president did or did not discuss. But it - what your question assumes is a lot of facts that are not substantiated by anything but anonymous sources that are so far being leaked out.

QUESTION: Does he approve of that action?

SPICER: You're asking if he approves of an action that is not a confirmed action. That being said, I think Secretary Kelly and General McMaster have both discussed that in general terms back channels are an appropriate part of diplomacy.

QUESTION: So does the White House dispute that that happened?

SPICER: I'm not going to get into it. But your question presupposes facts that have not been confirmed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Does he have any obligation to answer? I - look, there's an investigation going on. Everybody involved has to be careful. Even if they did absolutely nothing wrong, you need to be careful so the consistency of your statements and we should give them the grace of that. And, you're right, innocent till proven guilty. However, he is the president's spokesman. He works for the American people. Should he at least answer the basic question of, has the president talked to Jared about this?

ZELENY: I think he should answer that. But, look, they're not going to answer that.

HENDERSON: Right.

ZELENY: But he didn't deny it.

HENDERSON: Yes.

ZELENY: I mean that was also interesting there. Like, he didn't say, no, that didn't happen. So that's the reason right there in that 30 seconds why we're going to see much less Sean Spicer on television doing the briefings.

HENDERSON: Yes.

ZELENY: He's not having a televised briefing this afternoon. Frankly, the answers aren't good. Regardless of what you say, if you're explaining, you're losing. And in this context, it's not good for the White House to explain.

HENDERSON: He also - and he also seemed to say, if it did happen, then maybe it would be OK, right, relying on some of the responses from Kelly and some of the folks in that section of the White House. So, yes, I mean it was sort of two - a non-denial denial and then saying, if it happened, maybe it's OK.

KING: Maybe we'll come back to that at another point. Hold the thought.

Next, a deadly attack in Afghanistan just as the president faces a big decision on troop levels.

And, back to the breaking Paris climate news and what the president's decision tells us about the current state of play in the Trump White House game of thrones.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:28:15] KING: Welcome back.

Sad news today out of Afghanistan. Afghan officials say at least 90 people are dead and another 400 wounded after a suicide bomb ripped through central Kabul at the height of this morning's rush hour. At least 11 U.S. citizens among the death toll, all of them U.S. government personnel. The bomb rocked the diplomatic core that is home to the Afghan presidential palace in an area near the German embassy. At the time of the explosion, officials say the streets were packed with commuters, school children and morning shoppers. Those pictures are terrible.

Afghan troop levels is one of the big decisions sitting in President Trump's to do folder. As a candidate he often said it was time to end America's longest war. But his top national security advisers are now recommending even more troops.

We also just learned, President Trump likely to punt on something else in his to-do list, another big foreign policy debate, whether to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The president, we are told, expected to sign a waiver that delays that decision another six months.

As interested parties try to handicap those big decisions, they will undoubtedly factor in today's word that the president plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords. Now, be careful, these things are often usually overanalyzed and consistency is not a Trump White House trademark. But here in Washington, this is the buzz, that the Paris decision, and other events in recent days, suggest that the president's America first or more nationalist advisers have the upper hand again over the more establishment voices around the president. In "Games of Throne" language, this is house Bannon versus house Manhattan. Chief strategist and America first architect Steven Bannon and his allies against more moderate New Yorkers. A group that includes top economic adviser Gary Cohn and significantly includes the president's daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law Jared.

[12:29:54] Are we over - are we overrating this? If you look at the president's trip, a public lecture for NATO, a public chat - private chastisement and then when he got home public tweets going after Germany on trade issues. Now retreating, if not completely withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accords.