Return to Transcripts main page


Kushner and Gorkov Meeting; Comey Testifies Next Week; New Unemployment Rates; Tax Bill in Congress; Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 2, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your Friday with us, or, listen here, as Vladimir Putin says -




KING: Yes. That actually happened. That's not fake news. That actually happened. This is colorful too. President Trump's decision to abandon the Paris Climate Accords gets the hometown tabloid treatment. "French toast" says "The Post." "Trump to the World: Drop Dead" is "The Daily News" take.

We begin, though, with several new and important developments in the Russia election meddling investigation. Among them, President Putin shrugs off questions about why his ambassador to the United States had so many election year meetings with top members of team Trump.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Our ambassador met someone. What did the ambassador have to do? That's his work. He is getting paid for that. He must meet. He must discuss current affairs. He must make agreements.


KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights, Margaret Talev of "Bloomberg Politics," Michael Shear of "The New York Times," Michael Scherer of "Time" - yes, that's our version of the National Spelling Bee - and Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast."

Follow the money is a trademark phrase from the Watergate investigation. Now also courtesy of "Washington Post" reporting, let's try a little follow the plane (ph). Remember, former FBI Director James Comey is set to publicly testify before Congress next Thursday. Issue number one for Director Comey, of course, will be conversation in which he says the president tried to get him to pledge his loyalty and then tried to get him to shut down key aspects of the Russia meddling investigation. But it's also a pretty safe bet Comey will also be asked what he knows about a mysterious December meeting between presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and Sergey Gorkov, a Russian spy turned banker who's tight with Vladimir Putin.

That's where the plane comes in. "The Post" reports today that flight tracking data show a plane routinely used by Gorkov traveled from Moscow to Newark in mid-December. A day later, it flew from Newark to Tokyo, where President Putin was at the time. What was on the Kushner/Gorkov agenda?


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Gorkov, a quick question. What did you really speak to Jared Kushner about in New York when you met him in December?


CHANCE: Did you talk about sanctions? Excuse me.

GORKOV: No comment.

CHANCE: Well, what was discussed? The White House says it was a diplomatic meeting, that Kushner met you as part of the transition team. You - your bank says it was a business meeting.

GORKOV: No, thank you so much. Sorry. I'm sorry.

CHANCE: Were you a conduit - were you a conduit to the Kremlin, Mr. Gorkov?


KING: That's CNN's Matthew Chance giving it better than the college try there. Mr. Gorkov not answering.

How important are the answers, though, to this in the sense that Mr. Gorkov's bank, they won't talk anymore, but they stand by a statement where they say the meeting with Jared Kushner was about private business, the Kushner companies, real estate, New York investment. Gorkov's bank invests Russian money in the United States. That's what they say it was about. The White House, on behalf of Kushner, says it was about normal transition business and just building relationships for once Jared Kushner became a senior adviser to the president.

Now, was Jared Kushner trying to cash in on his about to be senior adviser role? That's one question Democrats are going to push. Or was he trying to have some conversation about sanctions is another question because Gorkov's bank at the time was under Obama administration sanctions. What's the answer? And when do we find out?

MICHAEL SHEAR, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, look, I - I don't know that we're going to find out the answer at this - at this hearing, though everybody's going to be on the edge of their seats, obviously. But there's a lot of investigation to go and I think Comey's going to be very careful about what he shares.

I think that the real thing that underscores why it's all so important is that this is the direct connection to the current White house. This is not Paul Manafort, who was connected in the campaign but is no longer here. It's not even Flynn, who was in the White House and is gone. This is not only the current White House and the senior adviser to the president, but the son-in-law. And so I think that makes all of these questions all the more important. And I think, you know, not to mention all of the other questions about what Director Comey said to the president and what the president said to him. But, I mean, it's a huge hearing. I think we're all going to be watching carefully.

KING: Right.

MICHAEL SCHERER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There's also the distinction between whether improper things were done at these meetings and whether illegal things were done at these meetings. Now, if he was trying to trade on his business with his incoming position, chances are that's improper but not illegal without a clear quid pro quo for some policy. If there's something else going on here and, you know, a lot of this Russia investigation has just been more smoke every time and we don't know what's behind it. We don't know why the president's been trying so hard to stop these Russia investigation, to take the heat off Flynn. We don't know exactly what Flynn's motives were in these meetings. Then you have, you know, an attack dog, Bob Mueller, who's investigating this. And - and I think there's broad confidence that he will get to the bottom of it.

[12:05:07] KING: Right.


KING: And just before you jump in, I just want to say, Jared Kushner's attorney, Jamie Gorelick, says he's eager to tell his story.

SCHERER: That's right.

KING: And we should take him at his word, that he's eager to tell his story. However, there's a Republican controlled Congress, I would assume a senior adviser to the Republican president, if he wanted to tell his story could get that hearing scheduled pretty quickly.

KUCINICH: Yes, the only thing I was going to add is that you've also seen other members of the Kushner family use the - their connections to the White House as a way to learn business and learn investment. And so, was this a part of that? We don't know that. That's what the Russian bank says. But it's not without precedent in this current administration for the Kushner's to do that.

KING: Right. And he's on the cover. I should note, Jared Kushner's on the cover of "Time" magazine this week. And this, in the past, we know when Steve Bannon was on the cover as the great manipulator, that did not sit well with the president. Now, Steve Bannon, we'll get to this in a bit, Paris climate, he seems to be back up. He was down after that.

But when you see this, you hear from time to time, of course he's the president's son-in-law, of course he's the, you know, ambassador of everything or secretary of everything. He has a pretty broad portfolio. But that this president, like any politician, also has sort of a line that if you become a liability to me then things get different.

MARGARET TALEV, "BLOOMBERG POLITICS": That's true. And we're all still at this table getting to know Jared Kushner and Donald Trump and the entire administration sort of week by week, month by month. But one thing that I would say about my observations on Jared Kushner so far is he's a deliberate, cautious, sort of behind the scenes operator and perhaps better than anyone else in that White House, this is his father-in-law. He understands the nuances of what we're talking about, that if you put person "x" in the spotlight, it's likely to, you know, anger the president and so on and so forth.

I think one question we've had with Michael Flynn is, in terms of his conversations with the Russians, did he ask whatever he asked about sanctions or anything else at the president's behest or completely on his own? With Jared Kushner, it seems much more likely that anything on that front was something that he would not have done without the president's knowledge. And I think that's part of where some of these questions are going to go now.

KING: Right. To that point, the first meeting with Ambassador Kislyak took place at Trump Tower. We don't know exactly where the Gorkov meeting took place. We know that plane came. There's no confirmation he was on that plane. But we know it came and we know they met. Jared Kushner confirms that they met. He said it was just, you know, normal transition business. And the question is, why do you have normal transition business with a bank under sanctions from a guy who's a former spy who's close to Vladimir Putin. It's a legitimate question.

You mentioned the Comey - I mentioned the testimony. One of the big questions is, would the president of the United States try to block it? Comey was an executive branch employee at the time. The president has the right to private conversations with executive branch senior officials. He could exert - try to exert, at least executive privilege. Now, some people say he's already talked about it himself. The president has so much that that would be thin ice to walk on.

But listen here, Kellyanne Conway, on television this morning, is this the answer to the question, will the president try to stop it?


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Well, we'll be watching with the rest of the world when Director Comey testifies. The last time he testified under oath, the FBI had to scurry to correct that testimony for thousands (ph) and that (INAUDIBLE) were classified.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And so the president's not going to invoke executive privilege?

CONWAY: The president will make that decision.


KING: So, the president will make that decision, but she does seem to suggest that they will be watching and she takes an opportunity to smack Director Comey there too a little bit. SCHERER: Yes, I think there's going to be a lot of smacking of

Director Comey next week. I don't think you could silence Director Comey. Now, you could exert executive privilege, but much of what he's going to testify about we already know because colleagues of - former colleagues of Comey and friends of his have already leak it to the press. So this is a guy who has a long history of saying what he thinks needs to be said. And so I don't think, as a play, they could maybe try and do this. It may not work. But it wouldn't have the effect they want in keeping anything quiet.

KING: Right. There's sort of a rule to Washington, when you attack senior officials in the intelligence community, then we all go to sleep and wake up. And within one or two - one or two good nights, there's something on the front page of a newspaper. I mean they are going to be aggressive against him. They are going to challenge his credibility. But is that a smart move?

SHEAR: Well, I mean, what they can't do, I think, politically is actually try to stop his testimony. I would think the city would kind of explode.

KING: Right.

SHEAR: You know, so I think, like Mike says, I think we're going to see them try to undermine his testimony, call into question some of the things that he's saying, his spin on things. But I think the idea of exerting executive privilege would - I mean, look, I've been surprised before with this administration, but I think it would be surprising if that - they tried to do that.

KUCINICH: Well, the other problem is the president himself has talked about the conversations and characterized them -

SHEAR: Right.

KUCINICH: Which could be - could have waived his executive privilege already. That could be argued if he tries to stop. Now, he might try to slow it down. I wouldn't - I mean nothing surprises me anymore. But in terms of silencing Comey entirely, as you said -

KING: It's - it's - and I have a fascinating question going forward in the sense that we know the - what the Democrats want to do. They want Comey to read his memos, if he can, or at least discuss his memos if he can. The president had dinner with you and asked you to pledge his loyalty. Please, explain. The president met with you and, you know, sent everyone else out of the Oval Office and asked you to shut down the Flynn investigation? Please, you have the floor, sir. That's what - that's what the Democrats want to do.

[12:10:00] My big question is, what do the Republicans do? Do they aggressively come to the president's defense or is this one where they say, no thank you?

SCHERER: They talk a lot about unmasking. The pattern has been that they try in all these Russian hearings to talk about how other leaks have gone out and whether it was anything improper about the part of the Russian investigation the president most wants to talk about.

KING: And leaks. And leaks into - which are legitimate - which are very legitimate avenues of inquiry.


KING: I want to come back to hearing President Putin because it is - it is interesting that, you know, the Russian - first the answer from the Russians was, we had nothing to do with it. You people are making this all up. It was absolutely nothing. Then yesterday it became, well, the government had nothing to do with it, but there might be some patriots, Russian patriots who decided they want -

TALEV: Young heroes (INAUDIBLE) -

KING: Yes, the heroes and artists, they wanted to help the state.

Listen to President Putin today where he sounds a lot like Donald Trump. He says, look, Hillary Clinton lost and she's looking for an excuse.


VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): They voted for him and the other team, they made a mistake and they don't want to recognize this mistake right now. They don't want to say that they were not wise enough. It's easy to say it's not our fault. It's all - it's the Russians. They intervened. They interfered. It's like anti- Semitism. The Jews are to blame. You are - you're an idiot because the Jews are to blame.

KING: Comparing blaming the Russians to anti-Semitism.

To the - to the idea that suddenly Putin is talking more about this himself, is that just coincidence, or as we get further from the election, but also closer to some of the huge moments in the investigation and in the public testimony like Comey, that he's deciding he wants to be in the mix?

SHEAR: I think there's a level of gloating going on.


SHEAR: I think - I think he's bragging to the world that he got away with this. I mean the idea that an authoritarian state, a guy who's very proud of his powers there, whose opponents end up getting jailed or killed mysteriously, doesn't know what the hobbyists with Internet connections are doing with the U.S. government, or that - or he - I think he said another point, that Russia doesn't have much of a cyber capability. I mean it's like, they're absurd claims. But he's making jokes and everybody's enjoying the fact that he's now on the Russian stage at a - on the world stage at a far higher level than they were before.

KING: Obviously no question. Everybody sit tight. And it's next Thursday, remember, you can hear what the fired FBI director has to say, Jim Comey, right here on CNN. CNN's coverage of James Comey's testimony will begin next Thursday, 9:00 a.m. You see it right there.

When we come back, the unemployment rate dips again but job growth stalls. And whatever the president says, well, the numbers don't lie.


[12:16:53] KING: Welcome back.

The economy is critical to any presidency and it's the first Friday of the month, which means the government released its jobs report for last month. How you view this one depends on whether you see the glass as half empty or half full. One hundred and thirty-eight thousand jobs created in May, down a bit from April, up a bit from March, which is a sluggish month. Here, you start February, March, April, May. These are the Trump months, if you will. Barack Obama was still president back here.

Job growth has decidedly slowed in the early months of the Trump presidency. That would be a concern to any president there. Look at those numbers. Up but not up in a robust way. However, if you want to look at the gas as half full, the unemployment rate is down to 4.3 percent. That is a remarkably low number as the president takes office and gets going.

Look through the sectors here, manufacturing jobs down a bit last month. That's troubling to a president who says he's going to revive manufacturing. He also talks a lot about, though, mining and the logging industry, the lumber industry. Those jobs are up. Health care continues to be a huge driver in the economy right now. Keep an eye on this one as the health care debate makes its way through Congress.

Yesterday, even before this report came out, the president was in the Rose Garden. His top priority was to talk about climate change, but he also put in a plug for his record on jobs.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The economy is starting to come back and very, very rapidly. We've added $3.3 trillion in stock market value to our economy and more than a million private sector jobs.


KING: That's among several things the president said at that event that would not quite pass the fact check. He was talking yesterday, he said, more than a million private sector jobs. Even if you include today's new numbers in private sector jobs during the Trump presidency, they're up to 601,000. So he is more than 400,000 off in that math. The president clearly wants to - you know, any president wants to say, hey, I'm in office, the economy's going to get better, but it's actually been a mixed picture so far if you've got your 401(k), you're look at Wall Street, pretty good. If you're looking at that job's growth, it's up. You're going - it's above - it's not negative, but it's not great. TALEV: The - this is a Bloomberg stat, right, but this is the weakest

three month payroll gain since 2012. It's not to say the jobs aren't growing. It's just to say that this is not the pace of the past in terms of that. When you offset it against unemployment, a lot of other factors, it is a mixed bag, exactly as you said.

The problem for President Trump is that it's in so many of his policies, the explanation for withdrawing from Paris, the explanation for why he wants to do all these tax cuts, on the notion of 3 percent, 4 percent, maybe more, 5 percent GDP growth. And, on the one hand, you can look at these numbers and say, that's why we need all these policies to get to 3 or 4 percent. On the other hand, it makes getting to 4 percent that much harder.

SHEAR: Well, and I guess I would also say that maybe more than most presidents, this one made dramatic promises during the campaign about what would happen to people's jobs. Coal -manufacturing jobs were going to come racing back. Coal. Everybody was going to get - be employed that wanted to be employed. Again, as Margaret says, you've got to wait a little bit until some of his policies are given a chance, but it sure doesn't look like if you're one of those steelworkers or one of those coal miners, this isn't - you're not feeling the effects of the Trump presidency yet.

[12:20:11] KUCINICH: And it could catch up with him because of those promises because if those jobs aren't coming back, I mean, we all know other presidents who have talked about major job growth and if they're not feeling it on the ground, which is one of the things that really fueled President Trump's rise, is that Obama kept talking about increasing jobs and in the Midwest, in the rust belt, they weren't - they weren't seeing it where they lived. So if they're not, that's - all of his promises are going to catch up with him.

KING: That's a great point, especially, and we're going to get to the math in a little bit, because the president used it to make his climate change agreement. But if you're - if you look at the states Trump won, he tapped into that. The president keeps telling you, things are getting better. Hillary Clinton it just another term of Obama. You lived this. You know it. You don't feel it. The question, when you listen - here's the vice president of the United States. If they keep saying this and those numbers don't improve, they run the same risk.


MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's a reason why the month of May we just found out a quarter of a million new jobs have been created. This economy -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over a million now.

PENCE: It's - it's remarkable, Sean.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Over a million.

PENCE: As I travel around the country, the confidence, the enthusiasm, I tell - you know, people from the shop room floor to the board rooms in this country know that they've got someone in the Oval Office who gets up every day and is fighting for them.


KING: That - I just - I - when I first came to Washington, I covered the labor beat. And the vice president there made a fundamental rookie mistake and he should know better. Number one, he know he's on a cheer leading show with Sean Hannity, but he was quoting from an ADP, a private sector, you know, guesstimate that comes out every month that thought the numbers were going to show a quarter million. Then the government comes out the next day and tells you 138,000. So the vice president was wrong, number one. Plus, you get back to that point. If you keep telling people, we're here now and everything's great, if they don't feel it, you've got a problem.

SCHERER: That's a - you know, the animal spirits matter. And Donald Trump is nothing if not a salesman. And he has convinced a lot of people, it's hard to know exactly how much of this is him and how much of it is other things that are happening in the economy, but he has convinced a lot of people to invest more, to double down on the economy right now, and I think they're going to do everything they can to keep - that's something they can (ph) control. They can't get tax reform through right now. They can't get Obamacare through right now. The regulatory stuff is still tinkering on the edges. They can't really hit the economy where - in the mainstream, but they can keep talking about it (ph).

KING: You make a critical point, because the psychology of Trump is what helped the markets early on.

SCHERER: That's right.

KING: Businesses thought he's going to lift regulations, and he is doing that. And they can do a lot of that administratively. So we have this conversation now in June, July, August, September, October, November, we will likely see a lot more of the Trump administration using its executive power to roll back regulations. But repeal and replace Obamacare, Congress. Listen to the president yesterday saying tax reform, great.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our tax bill is moving along in Congress and I believe it's doing very well. I think a lot of people will be very pleasantly surprised. The Republicans are working very, very hard. We'd love to have support from the Democrats, but we may have to go it alone. But it's going very well.


KING: Again, it's our job sometimes to check facts, even if it's the president of the United States. He doesn't have a tax bill. He has a piece of paper.

KUCINICH: Yes. KING: He has a piece of paper with some bullet points on it that says, I'd like to do this. And that's fine. That's a defensible way to do it. If Congress is writing the legislation, you can send them up guidelines and say, here, make sure it fits this and, you know, you guys fill in the blanks. There's nothing wrong with that. But when he stands in the Rose Garden and says our bill is doing great and it's fine, and we know that his own Treasury secretary is up on Capitol Hill trying to convince House Republicans to abandon their speaker and the centerpiece of the Paul Ryan tax reform proposal, their bill's in trouble.

SHEAR: And psychology is - psychology - political psychology is a lagging indicator, right? So there will be a lot of, sort of people still hoping businesses, still hoping that tax reform is moving ahead the way the president says it is and that health care might somehow get a revival or whatever. But eventually it's going to catch up. And eventually there's going to be a realization two, three, four or five months that the 2018 cycle is upon us, that some of this stuff is not going to happen. And then the question is, does Wall Street, do these businesses bake that all of a sudden into - and the confidence fades.

TALEV: And there are a lot of Republicans who would either like to see that White House plan or get permission to begin moving their own.

KUCINICH: And like health care, all Republicans don't agree on tax reform.

KING: Right.

KUCINICH: They can't count on all of them to get it through.

KING: You mean, who knew?

KUCINICH: Who knew?

KING: It's complicated.

Everybody sit tight.

When we come back, the big Paris climate decision. Number one, there's global outrage. Number two, the president in making his decision was not relying so much on climate data, or even his views on global warming, but on that map that got him the White House.


[12:28:45] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio, Detroit, Michigan, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, along with many, many other locations within our great country, before Paris, France. It is time to make America great again. Thank you.


KING: Visitors on the Oval Office say the president gives them his version, a paper version, of a map like. This when he makes big decisions, especially about economic issues, he looks at this map. Particularly, the president looks at this, the former blue states he turned red in last year's elections. The climate change decision he made yesterday actually is risky for the president politically because if you look at the data, it's not what the American people want. Ninety percent of Democrats, as you see, think climate change is real. A majority of Republicans think climate change is real, 54 percent there. And what about the specifics, should we stay or should we go when it comes to the Paris climate change deal? Well, millennials, generation x, so younger voters, their support for the Paris deal is higher, but, look, it runs across the spectrum. Baby boomers, World War II veterans. Nearly seven in 10 - or higher than seven in 10 say we should stay in the deal. So, why would the president get out?

[12:30:00] And let's look at it from a more political perspective. Slide this over here. Eighty-six percent of Democrats say stay in the Paris Accord. But even a narrow majority, 51 percent of Republicans, say stay in.