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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Blames Democrats for Health Care; Sessions to Testify in Public; Lawsuit Against Trump. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 12, 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] LINDA MCMAHON, SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATOR: Good morning, Mr. President. Thank you for the opportunity to serve at SBA. And I can tell you that as I haven't been traveling internationally, but I've been traveling around the country, and what I'm continuing to hear is this renewed optimism from small businesses. It's higher than it's been in about 16 years. So those people returning to the workforce, a lot of them are because small businesses are creating new jobs. So the loan (ph) portfolios are up. Mentoring and our outreach (INAUDIBLE), their other programs that are being so successful. So, thank you. We're on - we're on a good trajectory and still a lot of work to do.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: OK.

REINCE PRIEBUS, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: On behalf of the entire senior staff around you, Mr. President, we thank you for the opportunity and the blessing that you've given us to serve your agenda and the American people. And we're continuing to work very hard every day to accomplish those goals.

MIKE POMPEO, CIA DIRECTOR: Mr. President, it's an honor to serve as your CIA director. I - it's an incredible privilege to lead the men and women who are providing intelligence so that we can do the national security mission. And in the finest tradition of the CIA, I'm not going to say a damn thing in front of the media.

(INAUDIBLE).

DAVID SHULKIN, SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: Mr. President, thank you for your support and commitment to honoring our responsibility to our - to America's veterans. I know that this is personally very important to you. I have the great honor of being able to represent the 21 million American veterans that have done such great things for this country and I work every day to make sure that we're honoring that responsibility. Thank you.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much.

BEN CARSON, HUD SECRETARY: Mr. President, it's been a great honor to - to work with you. Thank you for your strong support of HUD and for all others around this table (INAUDIBLE). We're making tremendous progress and converting to a business model. I've already seen tremendous savings there. And this month is National Homeowners Month and therefore I'll be ringing the bell at Wall Street at 4:00, which means I've got to leave at 12:00. Thanks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning, Mr. President. While we're bragging about international travel, I just got back from Mississippi. They love you there. And I want to congratulate you on the men and women you've placed around this table. But the holistic team working for America is making results in each and every area. Working with Secretary Ross and Ambassador Lighthouse (ph) and Secretary Mnuchin and Tom Price and Scott Pruitt. This is a team you've assembled that's working hand in glove with - for the betterment of America. And I want to thank you for that. These are great team members and we're on your team.

TRUMP: Thank you, (INAUDIBLE). Thank you.

STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: Thank you, Mr. President. It is a great honor traveling with you around the country for the last year and an even greater honor to be here serving in your cabinet. On behalf of everybody at the Treasury, I can assure you we are focused on creating sustained economic growth, sweeping tax reform, and fighting terrorism with sanctions and all other programs within our control.

TRUMP: Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Mr. President, are tapes of you -

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King.

You've been listening there for 23 minutes. The president of the United States in the Cabinet Room at the White House with his full cabinet. The president at the top noting the first time he's had his full cabinet in the room. He blamed that on Democratic obstruction with his nominees.

A fascinating statement from the president. Then he went around the table. Make no mistake of what's happening here, the president of the United States under siege because of the Russian investigations, in Congress and by the Special Counsel Bob Mueller, trying to make the case that he is back to work and that he will not be distracted as he promotes his agenda.

We'll discuss what the president just said, then we'll move to some other big breaking news this hour. One of the cabinet members at that table, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has agreed now to testify in public tomorrow before the Senate Intelligence Committee. Over the weekend, the attorney general tried to arrange that testimony in private, but after public objections from Democrats, some public, some private objections from Republicans, the attorney general has finally agreed to testify in public tomorrow about questions about the ethical cloud over him, the nation's top law enforcement officer.

With me today to share their reporting and their insights, Carol Lee of "The Wall Street Journal," Margaret Talev of "Bloomberg Politics," CNN's Manu Raju, and Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast." Let's start - I want to spend most of our time at the top of the show talking about the Sessions news. But the cabinet meeting is part of that. The president understands what is happening. He understands in town, forget the media, Republicans are increasingly worried when it comes to health care, when it comes to tax reform, when it comes to other Republican initiatives that nothing has reached the president's desk, none of the big stuff, and they're worried it won't because of the constant cloud of investigation.

So at the very top, let's listen to the president. If you joined during that meeting, one of the issues he focused on the top, remember, we are almost 150 days in. Obamacare is still the law of the land. The president says they're still working at it and he says the problem is not the Republicans but the Democrats.

[12:05:08] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we had the greatest bill in the history of the world on health care, we wouldn't get one vote from the Democrats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, that's not exactly true. He may be right to the point that Democrats don't want to sign on. But at the moment, and this is a big week, especially among Senate Republicans, at the moment the problem here is not the Democrats, it's the Republicans. And how much - Manu, you spend all your time on The Hill, how much is it just the Republicans can't work out their differences and how much is - is it - is it any harder to work out those differences because of the cloud of questions over the Trump White House?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Well, I think it's very hard. The health care is incredibly difficult, as we all know. Republicans in the House and the Senate have a lot of different views about what should go in a bill and whether or not there should be a full repeal, partial repeal, how to reform some of the key aspects, like the Medicaid expansion, for instance, particularly difficult in some state like Ohio where a Republican senator serves, Rob Portman, but where they expanded Medicaid, but where conservatives want to gut the Medicaid expansion. Issues like that are fundamentally dividing the conference.

There is a push to try to get a vote in the Senate before the July 4th recess. But even if it does come to the floor before the July 4th recess, it will be very difficult as it stands right now to pass it because you would have at least two objections from the right and the left of the Republican conference, Rand Paul, Susan Collins, the moderate, and then you can't lose any more, John, and there are a lot of people who are concerned about where this is going.

KING: Right. And so - so beneath the legitimate policy and philosophical differences, sometimes the glue to get things done is party loyalty. The president has a problem there right now.

Let's turn to the news. As Jeff Sessions was at this cabinet meeting, the Justice Department sent word he was now prepared to talk publicly tomorrow before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He was trying to, forgive me, pull a fast one. He had two public testimonies planned between two other committees on budget matters when he realized Democrats are going to ask me - and even some Republicans are going to ask me about the Russia investigation. He tried to take those two public commitments and turn them into private testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee and the pushback was, no way, sir, you've got to do this in public.

This is a big deal now. He's going to be asked, was there a third meeting that you did not disclose with the Russian ambassador during the campaign? And he's also going to be asked, if you recused yourself, as you said publically, from all things Russia related, how then were you a central player in firing James Comey, who was leading the Russian investigation?

CAROL LEE, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: And he's also going to answer questions about - if you - we all recall what James Comey said, that he left him alone in the room with the president.

KING: Right.

LEE: There's a number of things. This is really - their - he's going to be forced to answer questions that everyone has had for months now in a public setting. And, again, you know, this is something that's happening that's going to overshadow the White House's effort to get out from under this Russia cloud.

KING: Right.

LEE: It's supposed to be work force week. Last week was infrastructure week. And we had James Comey. And - but, you know, I - Republicans and Democrats, I think, have - increasingly have questions, particularly after James Comey suggested that there's a lot more to what Jeff Sessions - his - what - more to what he has had, contacts he had had or involvement in - after he said he would recuse himself.

KING: Right.

LEE: And so it's going to be a must - another must watch.

KING: And you make a great point because obviously Jeff Sessions was not in the room when the president of the United States had a one-on- one conversation with James Comey in which James Comey said the president looked him in the eye and said, can you find it - I hope you can let go of the Flynn investigation. Now - now defenders of the president say he said hope. He didn't say you have to do this. He didn't say I order you to do this. But Comey says I took it as a directive. Now, Sessions wasn't in the room, but you know one of the questions is going to be, Director Comey says, as you were leaving, even you got that this was inappropriate. That you were lingering at the door of the Oval Office, Mr. Attorney General, before you left. That's high drama.

MARGARET TALEV, "BLOOMBERG NEWS": I think we know what questions he's going to be asked. I don't think we know which questions he's going to answer. I mean there is another answer and you saw a preview of it when Dan Coats was before the panels last week, but executive privilege is an option and when and how -

KING: That's a huge, political risk for the nation's top law enforcement officer to invoke executive privilege for the president of the United States and for his conversations?

TALEV: I think we have yet to understand what all the rules of the road of tomorrow are. I know it's tomorrow and we're going to know soon enough, but my understanding is everything is essentially fair game in terms of what ground could be covered, not just Jeff Sessions tenure as attorney general, but his work during the campaign and in the transition. But in terms of what he is going to be released to answer by the White House and how he will choose to answer those questions, I don't think we really know that yet.

KING: Including, will the White House finally allow someone to answer the question, yes or no, are the - is there a white House recording system, or at least if there's no recording system, were conversations with James Comey somehow recorded. The White House has refused to say yes or no. Maybe they'll give Jeff Sessions the brief to go up and tell the Congress that finally.

JACKIE KUCINICH, "THE DAILY BEAST": You know, I think Jeff Session is going to be under an extraordinary amount of pressure to defend this president because he hasn't been - Trump hasn't been happy with Jeff Sessions because of the dealings with the Muslim ban. He was tweeting - he was criticizing the Justice Department openly on Twitter just last week. So - and so he -

[12:10:13] KING: He's mad he recused himself in the first place because he thinks that sent the snowball down the hill.

KUCINICH: Well, and that did send another snowball down the hill and that - that's what made - that's what started the president tweeting about Obama wiretapping him at Trump Tower. So I don't know that - I think Jeff Sessions is going to be very careful because falling out of favor with this president is not something you want to do if you want to stay in the mix. At the same time -

RAJU: And, remember, John, this is the first time that he has testified publicly since he was confirmed by the Senate.

KUCINICH: Right.

RAJU: And this after - remember, he had to amend his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee to tell the Senate that he did have two previously undisclosed meetings with the Russian ambassador. So this is the first time we're going to see him on the record, under oath and talking about this third meeting, that there have been a lot of questions about and - so this is a huge risk for Sessions. If he misstates anything now, that would be a huge problem maybe not just politically but also possibly legally.

KING: And to your point, he did not disclose those meetings in his testimony to the Congress. He had to go back and he did not disclose them on his original form filing for security clearance. He had met with a foreign interest, which is one of the lines on the form. He didn't disclose it. Jared Kushner didn't disclose it. General Flynn didn't disclose it. Which is one of the questions people have.

I want you to listen here. Remember last week one of the questions everyone here has raised, what will Sessions answer, what will he maybe refuse to answer or say, can we take this into a private session. Remember the exasperation last week, not with James Comey, but when Admiral Rogers, the head of the National Security Agency, and Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence, thy both said they weren't pressured by the president to intervene, or to publically downplay, but they would not talk in detail about conversations and they left a very clear impression the president asked them to do something, and apparently did pressure (ph). The senator who pushed them on that, saying that's not acceptable, and are you invoking executive privilege here in public, was Angus King, independent of Maine. Here he is this morning saying I'm looking forward to a chance to question the attorney general.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: He was certainly a member of the Trump campaign. What were his contacts, if any, with - with Russian officials during the - during the period of the campaign. I think that's - that's certainly a question that we need to ask. Secondly, a question I'm interested in is, what role did he play, if any, again, in the Comey firing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That last part - the last part is interesting in the sense that, yes, there were very legitimate questions about Jeff Sessions during 2016, what the Democrats want to say is at least there's smoke about collusion, why were you meeting with the Russian ambassador, was there a third meeting you didn't disclose? That would be a big deal. But the fact that he had recused himself from all things Russia and then, as the White House put out, was directly involved in firing the person leading the Russia investigation has created a giant ethical cloud over the chief law enforcement officer of the United States. That's going to be a big part of the hearing.

LEE: How he answers that question is going to be key, because, you know, he could - the White House's first argument was that they were firing James Comey because of the way he handled the Clinton investigation, which presumably may or may not fall under with the attorney general's decision to recuse himself, but the president, which James Comey hung around his neck in his testimony last week said, I did it because of the Russia investigation. And so that raises all sorts of questions.

The other thing I would say is that, if he go there and does what Dan Coats and Mike Rogers did last week -

KUCINICH: Oh, my gosh.

LEE: I think these - we're going to see an outcry and it will get a lot of backlash. And so, you know, learning from that, it will be interesting to see if the White House and Jeff Sessions can get on the same page to avoid a situation like.

KING: Right. Yes, I leave obstruction of justice to the lawyers, but there was obstruction to accountability when coats and Admiral Rodgers refused to answer that question. And I think you will get - the Republican wall will start to come down if Jeff Sessions does as well.

But let's talk about more his - about his unique role, though. After Comey, the Justice Department did put out some statements critical of Comey, of FBI Director Comey, saying that he didn't exactly get some things right and they wanted to push back on the facts here. Jeff Sessions, probably next to President Trump, if you're a Trump voter out there, Jeff Sessions is an ambassador to the Trump base. He happens to be, at the moment, the attorney general of the United States. But during the campaign, he was a very loyal, important political deputy to this president. Is he going to sit there in a public setting and say Jim Comey's a liar? When Jim Comey says the president's a liar, it's Jim Comey that's lying. Is he going to say that?

RAJU: I don't know. You know, Sessions is very careful, actually. He's a very cautious politician. He's doesn't - he actually not really a flame thrower the way a lot of people who may be in his line ideologically are. But he does have to stick up for the president. And underlying all this, John, are the questions about the - Sessions' own relationship with the president. We have not heard the president off any sort of full throated defense or say that he has full confidence in the attorney general, so how will that affect Sessions' testimony?

I suspect he will be loyal to the president and try to defend the president, try to deflect questions and try to do what he can to suggest there's nothing untoward about his meetings with the Russian ambassador. But the questions about their relationship will be part of the line of questions as well I think.

[12:15:10] KUCINICH: He might just say, I wasn't a party to the conversation because according to James Comey, he was not. He left.

KING: But is it - but I agree, and that's one great out. I wasn't there. But you can ask, were you and Mr. Kushner linger at the door.

KUCINICH: Yes.

KING: Was James Comey's characterization of you looking uneasy when the president asked you to leave, is that fair?

KUCINICH: Right.

KING: If you weren't uneasy, what were you, Mr. Attorney General? That's where we're going to go tomorrow. A very dramatic day now that the attorney general has agreed to testify publically.

Up next, we're going to hear from attorneys general, state attorneys general, Maryland and District of Columbia. They have just filed a lawsuit against President Trump. We'll tell you why. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:20:11] KING: Welcome back.

There's more braking news this hour. Just moments ago, the attorneys general from Maryland and the District of Columbia announcing a federal lawsuit against the president of the United States. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL RACINE (D), DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Good afternoon, everyone, and thank you for being here.

My name is Karl Racine and I'm the attorney general of the District of Columbia. Attorney General Brian Frosh and I are here today to announce that earlier this morning the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia filed a lawsuit in federal court against the president of the United States. The suit alleges that President Trump is flagrantly violating the Constitution which explicitly bars presidents from receiving gifts or inducements from foreign or domestic government entities. Never in the history of this country have we had a president with these kinds of extensive business entanglements or a president who refused to adequately distance themselves from their holdings.

President Trump's businesses and his dealings violate the Constitution's anti-corruption provisions, known as the emoluments clauses. The framers included these two anti-corruption provisions to prevent foreign and domestic entities from seeking to influence the president by bestowing money or other things of value on him.

Why did the framers include these clauses? It was all about corruption. As Alexander Hamilton wrote, "one of the weak sides of republics among their numerous advantages is that they afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption." The framers knew that government entities, foreign and domestic, would of course try to use things of value to influence or induce the president to do their bidding instead of that of the American people. And now we see it every day.

My office window is just a few floors above where we're sitting today and I can tell you that as I look out the window and see the tower of the Trump International Hotel, we know exactly what's going on every single day. We know that foreign governments are spending money there in order to curry favor with the president of the United States. Just one example, the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, whose government has important business and policy before the president of the United States, has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at the Trump International Hotel. And that hotel is but one example of how President Trump's vast global businesses and that empire he has is entangled with foreign and state government interest.

We are a nation of laws and no one, including the president of the United States, is above the law. No one, not even the president, can be allowed to endanger our democracy and erode our faith in our institutions. But just as - at the time they're needed the most, traditional checks and balances are failing us. First, by not divesting from his businesses, the president has chosen to put himself and our country in the situation we find ourselves today. And every time the president has spoken about drawing a line between his presidency and his businesses, he's walked his promises back. Second, the Republican-controlled Congress has wholly failed to fulfill its responsibility of serving as a check and balance on the president and has thus far given the president a total pass on his business entanglements. State attorney generals answer to the people of their jurisdictions and we have a duty to enforce the law and that's why we're taking action today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's Karl Racine, the Democratic attorney general of the District of Columbia. Brian Frosh, the Democratic attorney general of the state of Maryland standing at his side. A lawsuit, as you heard laid out there, challenging the president of the United States, essentially saying the president has not kept his word to separate himself enough from his businesses. They are alleging here that the president's in violation of the so-called emolument clauses, anti- corruption clauses, because the Trump International Hotel here in Washington, other Trump properties around the country and around the world are getting a lot of money from foreign governments and they say that's a violation. Is this a real test of ethical standards of whether the president's drawn the right lines or is this a Democratic stunt?

[12:25:05] LEE: I think we don't know where this - it's a very - it's something that we haven't really seen before, obviously, like a lot of things with President Trump because of his business ties. The fact that it's Democratic attorneys generals adds a certain element of partisanship to it and allows them to push back in a -

KING: Will allow them to push back certainly, right.

LEE: And cast this as a political stunt. But, you know, we don't know where this lawsuit will - will actually go. And the questions that it raises are interesting ones to think about.

KING: And one of the question it raises again, the question is, do they get standing? The first challenge is, does a federal judge in this federal district court give them standing? And if they get standing, then they move into the discovery phase. And the discovery phase they want the president's tax returns to show that he has financial interest here. And that's why, if you're on team Trump, they say this is a stunt. Democrats have been trying to get his taxes forever. This is yet another attempt to go at that.

However, you have seen ethics experts, Republicans and Democrats, saying this is a gray area and if the president wanted to say, I'm not going to give up all of my businesses, a lot of ethical advisors from past administrations say he has not built a strong enough firewall to block it off. And I'll just note, he sometimes shows publicly that he doesn't care for this conversation. This past weekend was the 17th time in the Trump presidency he went to a Trump property on the weekend. That, to that ethics folks, is a kind of, in your face. KUCINICH: Which advertises that the president might stop by your event if you're in town. There was a report this weekend that said that. But they - and it looked initially like they were going to try to deal with some of these questions by donating the foreign money that was given to Trump properties to the Treasury. Well, now they're saying, oh, it's kind of hard and we'll do it at the end of the year and they said a couple different things and tried to, I don't know if I would say walk it back, but it certainly isn't being done yet. So there are various - while Carol's right, this could be cast at a part - under a partisan lens, there are very real questions about the president, you know, as you said, going to his properties and using his stature to promote them.

RAJU: And if this advances beyond - it doesn't get dismissed outright, then, you know, when we get into the discovery phase, they produce documents, like who's going to these Trump properties, who's spending money, we could learn a lot, because, as we know, this administration has shut the door on any sort of public scrutiny about who's actually going to these Trump properties and who the president himself is meeting with.

KING: Who the president himself is meeting with.

TALEV: I this this really goes to - this has always been an issue. We have always know since the election and since the transition and since the opening weeks of the administration that these are questions that some folks wanted to tackle through the legal system if necessary. But now you have the president's vulnerability, a moment of softness or exposure that Democrats want to seize on. And so I think you have the combination of underlying issue plus potential opportunity. And this is what a lot of Republicans are afraid of inside and outside the White House is, is the president now going to be vulnerable to like a thousand cuts, you know?

KING: Right. And we'll track the suit out and see if it makes its way through the court. Next up will be a response from the president's legal team. We'll keep an eye on that as well.

Up next, it's a tried and true strategy, attack the messenger. But will that work when the messenger is the former FBI Director James Comey?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)