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Sessions to Testify Publicly Before Senate Intel Tomorrow; Graham: Trump Could "Go Down" if He Keeps Talking; Gingrich Now: "Delusional" to Think Mueller is Fair; Opportunity Knocks for Dems But Unity Elusive; Ivanka Trump: White House Focused on Fulfilling Promises. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired June 12, 2017 - 12:30   ET



[12:32:06] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.

The president's political strategy in dealing with James Comey is abundantly clear. Try to turn the tables by labeling the former FBI director as the one who isn't telling the truth and the one who is acting improperly. The latest Trump's salvo was Sunday morning, quote, I believe James Comey leaks will be far more prevalent than anyone ever thought possible. Totally illegal? Note the question mark there. "Very cowardly." And team Trump knows just how to stay in the boss' good standing.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: This is a man who admitted he leaked a memo to hurt this president and that he admitted to agreeing to Loretta Lynch's request to downgrade essentially something that was an investigation to be calling it a matter.


KING: Kellyanne Conway there on Fox News. Comey did admit he leaked information about his conversations with the president but the last part of what you just heard there is yet another White House lie. Comey did not agree to then Attorney General Lynch's request. In fact Comey used the term "investigation" 13 times just in his opening statement at the July 2016 press conference describing Hillary Clinton's use of a private e-mail server. Fourteen times if you count the big giant word investigation on the press release the FBI released.

At that, why do you have to make lying a part of your strategy? If you want to attack Jim Comey, that's a judgment call. You can make that call. But why say things and where it was said tells me it's just a way to stoke up the Trump base by trying to tie Jim Comey to Loretta Lynch and Hillary Clinton.

But is that it that it's OK to lie, to -- that is the -- you go any search engine if you're Trump voter and you don't believe me, do it yourself, go to a search engine. He did not take Loretta Lynch's advice, in fact, he said it concerned him greatly. When he gave that news conference he said investigation, investigation, investigation, investigation.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: It's hard to attack James Comey as a partisan actor given the way he -- the actions that he took during the campaign which significantly hurt Hillary Clinton not just days before the election but also that July press conference where he called her extremely careless about the way she handled the e-mail servers and then testified for hours before the House Oversight Committee. And Trump himself will repeatedly praised Comey on the campaign trail. So, the turn around now and attack him is being partisan just does not pass the smell test.

And on top of that there are a lot of Republicans who are quick to defend James Comey. They believe that he's credible. They think his testimony last week was credible. So the White House in a lot of ways is isolated in their attack lines within their own party.

KING: If you're trying to keep your base which is important, especially if you're a president whose approval rating is somewhere around 35 percent, it's very important to keep your political base. I get that part. But if you're making a political argument that is going to a, unnerve, less people use a polite word, members of Congress because they found Comey credible, b, Bob Mueller, the special prosecutor is a very close friend of James Comey. I don't think trashing James Comey especially if you're trashing it in ways that are demonstrably false is going to help your legal case.

[12:35:03] JACKIE KUCINICH, THE DAILY BEAST: But you're already seeing Trump -- people who are affiliated with Trump start to trash Bob Mueller. So this is a part of -- maybe it's a couple step strategy to try to make this look like a partisan witch hunt and pull him into it. Now, no one on the Hill is going to -- very few people on the Hill are going to buy into that. But to rally the base, to keep that 37 percent loyal, they're going to keep on doing that.

CAROL LEE, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: One of the curious parts of this is the president saying I've been vindicated by James Comey and then calling him a liar. And, you know, if you look at the way that James Comey delivered his testimony, he made it very hard. And I think he even said this in his testimony. You can't cherry pick what you want out of this. And that's what you're seeing them try to do.

KING: And the American people, more than 19 million people saw it on television, I don't know the numbers for streaming more of it. Jeff Sessions gets to sit in that chair tomorrow. He is the first Trump rebuttal to James Comey in that kind of a setting. It's going to be fascinating to watch the credibility test there.

Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary under George W. Bush, he's trying to give some advice. He's normally pretty actually friendly to the president on T.V. From a communications standpoint though, he sees some trouble.

"Advice for POTUS. You have not been vindicated. You won't be unless Bob Mueller says so. Stop talking. You're heading into a giant perjury trap." And listen to Lindsey Graham here. Again, Lindsey Graham, not a fan of Trump during the campaign. But since then in recent weeks, he said I like the president. I've had dinner with the president. He has a good agenda, he should focus on that. When it comes to the investigation, Lindsey Graham, I'm paraphrasing, he wants the president to shut up.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I like him. He's got a good agenda. But here's a question, can you be a street fighter on all things all the time and still be a good president? My advice to the president, everyday you're talking about Jim Comey and not the American people and their dneeds and their desires, their hopes and their dreams, you're making a mistake.

What the president did was inappropriate. But here's what's so frustrating for Republicans like me. You may be the first president in history to go down because you can't stop inappropriately talking about an investigation that if you just were quiet would clear you.


MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG NEWS: So what Lindsey Graham is trying to signal to the president and other Republicans were trying to signal the president is, we want to stick with you because we know that that's good for us also. And that if we go our separate ways, the midterms become a grab bag and everything is in crisis but you have to help us stick with you. I mean, that's what they're trying to tell him. Help us help you.

KING: You're making it hard. And, you know, at the moment you're making it really hard.

LEE: Yes. And if you look at this from when it started from January until now, there was one set of issues which was the Russia investigation which obviously is looking at collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Then there's this whole set of problems that the president created himself and this is what the Republicans find increasingly frustrating. And this is now something that the White House is having to contend to or a series of self-inflicted wounds that it could have real consequences.

TALEV: Right. It's overtaken the other stuff as the investigation as if everybody knows it.

KING: But, in part because conduct as president is a lot more interesting and, you know, before it was what did Trump calls them satellites, what did people do during the campaign. It was the 2016 question, it wasn't close to the president. Now it's about the conduct of the president of the United States including in the Oval Office.

You mentioned some people starting to attack Bob Muller from the Republican side. Among them is the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich who tweeted out this, "Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair. Look who he is hiring. Check FEC reports, time to rethink." That is from Newt Gingrich about Bob Mueller.

Now, just for a little historical context, we try that every now and then in Washington which is probably a (inaudible). Here's Newt Gingrich just a short time ago, May 17th. "Robert Mueller is a superb choice to be the special counsel. His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity. Media should calm down."

So we had our staff, look, there is one person on the staff so far and we're going to look at them all who gave about $18,000 to Democratic causes over the years. She's (inaudible) for the Clinton Foundation. That's one person. This is Washington.

Is that reason enough for Newt Gingrich to suddenly turn and say Bob Mueller, a guy who was FBI director under George W. Bush, Barack Obama, a Democrat extended his term so that he could stay on. That Bob Mueller is someone become a partisan hack overnight?

RAJU: No because Bob Mueller is the one who's in charge of this investigation. Ultimately to decide exactly how to proceed and there is some oversight over him by Rod Rosenstein even though there is a special counsel. So he can't really just do whatever he wants in this investigation. (Inaudible) money, can't just do whatever they want.

So the question is -- you know, the jury's out about how Bob Mueller conduct conducts himself? Right now, he has tremendous respect on both sides. But who knows? We'll see which way he takes us. Maybe it will become a witch hunt and maybe the Trump team will be right. We just don't know that yet.

KING: We don't know that yet but we do know that on this day most of those Republicans on Capitol Hill who have 10, 15, 20 years of experience with Bob Mueller and they view him as a pro. And so if the White House starts attacking him it's going to raise alarms among Republicans as to why are they doing this.

Everybody sit tight. Next, we'll shift gears. The battle for the soul of the Democratic Party. It's a national fight and it's just across the Potomac in Virginia.


[12:44:06] KING: Welcome back. Yes, you know this if you pay attention to politics, Donald Trump is a unifying force for Democrats. But don't for a second take that fact and make the leap to saying Democrats are unified.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Our ideas and our progressive vision, we are the future of this country.

The current strategy of the Democratic Party is an absolute failure. The Democratic Party must finally understand which side it is on.


KING: That rallying cry loved by many progressives, but it's also viewed as an offensive lecture by many other Democrats who by the way like to note that if Bernie Sanders wants to save the Democratic Party, maybe he should start by becoming a member of the Democratic Party. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City put it this way to the New York Times.

[12:45:01] "We are going to lose every possible winnable seat in a year where there are many winnable seats if we come across as inflexible left wingers. I respect Bernie. I just don't think we can become the party of Bernie."

Emanuel Cleaver is not exactly way right of center. He's a liberal in his own right. But what are these tensions and do Democrats have just a basic standing when they say Bernie, if you want to keep lecturing us about what we should be, why don't you stop being an independent and be a Democrat?

KUCINICH: But they don't do that because they need his people. There is this interview very early on --

KING: They do it privately. I don't mean to interrupt but --

KUCINICH: No. It was Bernie Sanders and Tom Perez, the head of the DNC and they're sitting next to each other. And I can't remember where the interview was but they asked Bernie Sanders whether he was a Democrat, he's like no I'm not a Democrat. And Tom Perez just shifted really uncomfortably in his seat and you can see it all over his face and I feel like that was a perfect snapshot.

He didn't say anything. He didn't say, come on over because they know that the energy is with Bernie Sanders. At least a big part of it that could really help them in the midterm elections. But they need to figure out how to harness that in a way for good for the party itself.

KING: And we see an example in the Virginia governor's race particularly in the Democratic primary. The Republican primary is sort of a Trump versus establishment race. The Democratic Primary is essentially Clinton/Sanders all over again.

You have the Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam who has the governor support, both Democratic senators support. You have former Congressman Tom Perreillo has Bernie Sanders' support, Elizabeth Warren's support so it's kind of the grassroots versus the establishment. I just want to give you a sample of an ad in the end. Again, they're unified by Trump but they have many differences.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: He's somebody who says I am going to make change and I want to make change. Not for the richest. Not for the most powerful.

RALPH NORTHAM, LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR, VIRGINIA: I'm listening carefully to Donald Trump and I think he's a narcissistic maniac.


KING: So both Democrats playing on the Donald Trump for the wealthy in the case of Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam (inaudible). But again, you have this race where you have Warren and Sanders with one candidate and the -- I'll call it Hillary Clinton establishment crowd with the other. And it's a very close race. Primary is tomorrow.

RAJU: Yes, indeed. And I think we're just seeing also largely that this is a -- the party in general is shifting dramatically to the left because the leadership of the party knows they need to be in line with the base which just wants to oppose and stop Donald Trump at every turn, the resistance as they call themselves. I mean, Northam who is supposed to be the establishment candidate in that Virginia governor's race called Donald Trump a total authoritarian in one of his ad. Actually he called him a maniac. I'm sorry it was Perriello who called him authoritarian.

So --


RAJU: So, you know, the point is that that's where the leadership and these candidates are trying to move even if some of them are not willing to move as part of the line.

KING: So to Congressman Cleaver's position that if everybody goes way left, you know, there are parts in the country, Donald Trump is the president of the United States, the Republicans control the House, the Republicans control the Senate. If you're going to win back the House, you're going to take red seats away. And if you're going to take red seats away, can you be that far left including just as we're sitting here, Brad Sherman, a Liberal member of Congress is distributing articles of impeachment.

TALEV: Which is great (inaudible). So if you look at the last November's results, it reminds you that Wisconsin is important, that Ohio is important, that Pennsylvania is important. And as President Trump's approval ratings dip more sourly into the 30s, it creates (inaudible) an opportunity for Democrats, but it creates an opportunity for like, Joe Munchin Democrats not Bernie Sanders Democrats, right? So I think the party has not figured out this yet at all.

LEE: They haven't figure it out and, you know, perhaps I think there are Democrats who hope that these initial elections will help them sort it out so that when they head into the midterms you're not having this sort of still very divisive, very obvious divide among Democrats.

RAJU: And the challenge for the leadership to take back the House is that, to win back the House, they don't necessarily need to move to the center. It's going to be probably be a base election in the midterms that are roughly two dozen seats that Hillary Clinton won that Republicans have occupy those seats in those districts. So if the base turns out, the Republican bases turnout, maybe they win back the House in the midterms. But the question is, what does that mean for 2020, what does that mean for the future of the party even if they do well in 2018? That's not -- I mean, there's still be a lot of questions to be answered.

KING: A lot of questions. Trump unifies them to a degree but I just leave it there. Up next, a White House surrogate we don't often hear from back in the spotlight. The president's daughter Ivanka.



[12:51:57] IVANKA TRUMP, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: With all the noise, with all the intensity that -- of the media coverage and obviously what's -- what makes headlines, ultimately we're really focused on why the American people elected Donald Trump as their president. At the end of the day, if you want to think about difficult, it's the factory worker who's been laid off. Difficult is, you know, the mother whose lost a child to opioid abuse. So these are the real challenges. And I think that does put it in perspective for me.


KING: Presidential daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump on Fox and Friends this morning. An important spokeswoman for the administration. A very effective as a communicator on television trying to say that the administration will plow through what she called the noise there. She also said she's been surprised by the viciousness of Washington but making the case that she believes they can, enact much of the agenda.

That's a big TBD or big question mark at this point in the sense that none of the big initiatives have made it to the president's desk yet. Is her role -- is she going to be more out there? Is here role -- can she lay point to anything and say, here's progress advancing key elements of at least my subset of the agenda?

LEE: This is an effort for her to -- for them to try to reintroduce her publicly and I think you will see her take a more visible role. She's kind of settling in and she's focused on very narrow kinds of issues like women and paid leave and things like that. And, you know, we don't know exactly where those issues are going to go. But I thought her comments about viciousness were interesting given that her dad ran a very aggressive and continues to be very aggressive.

RAJU: Some would say vicious.

LEE: Some would say vicious, I didn't say vicious. But, you know --

KING: People are saying (inaudible).

LEE: Some say. So that was striking.

KING: And her husband is a central role. Jared Kushner is a central person in these investigations as well. But can they sell a paid childcare, paid leave proposal to a Republican Congress at the same time they're asking them to pass an increase in the debt ceiling, to somehow reconcile their differences in ObamaCare in a way that's going to ask conservatives to move for (inaudible) position? Can they sell that?

RAJU: I don't know. It's going to be very expensive to do that. I mean, they want to do this as part of the larger tax overhaul of package tax reform and tax reform is nowhere right now. They have to go a long way to get to that point. And so that's one of her central things that she's pushing.

They may not get that through (inaudible) she wants. And they of course may not get repealing and replacing ObamaCare through which would be a huge problem for this Congress.

KUCINICH: It's hard to see a Republican Congress adding something that they would characterize as another entitlement. It's hard for me based on what they cut from their health care bill, based on what they talked about cutting elsewhere. It just -- it's hard for me to say -- to think that they're going to make that leap just because the first daughter is pushing it.

TALEV: Inside the beltway, Ivanka's mojo as an ability to get things done has suffered from what happened with climate change. Ultimately, I don't have a good sense of how that translates outside the beltway. I think outside the beltway around the country especially with women. She's an eloquent spokes person. She's younger, she's very appealing to listen to.

[12:55:05] So she still has some potential in some of those lanes that we had talked about like women pay and that sort of thing. But when it comes to translating that into policy, I do think in the sort of early months, climate change was a huge test and ultimately the president did what he thought he had to do for his base.

KING: It will be interesting. S he talked about helping people with opioids (inaudible) Democrats were saying her father (inaudible). A lot of Republicans are saying her father's budget eviscerated those, we'll see. Also an important program she mentioned, the president going to hit the road later this week to talk about apprenticeship and training programs in some of these communities hard hit (inaudible) manufacturing jobs.

That's an issue where you would think we could have some bipartisan support especially in those blue collar communities. We'll see how that one plays out.

Thanks for joining us today in Inside Politics. Just minutes away from the White House press briefing with Sean Spicer. Wolf Blitzer ready to hit the chair, bring you that one when it happens. He's in the studio after a quick break.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. We're following Breaking News right now in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has just issued a ruling in the legal --