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Trump Considering Firing Special Counsel; Sessions to Testify in Senate; Ryan on Mueller; Health Care Repeal; Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 13, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

There are a lot of big moving parts here in Washington this afternoon. The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is the day's star witness on Capitol Hill, set to give public testimony about his election year meetings with Russian officials and his controversial role in the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I'm going to ask him questions about essentially what he knew, when he knew it, and what happened in that February 14th meeting with the president when he was asked to leave the room.


KING: The deputy attorney general also testifying before Congress officially to discuss budget matters, but there is no escaping the Russia cloud.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is there anything to some secret plan that's out there from you or anyone in the administration to try to go and remove the special counsel?

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: There is no secret plan that involves me.


KING: And President Trump, after venting on Twitter in the breakfast hours, is about to have lunch with Republican senators and getting an update on their very difficult Obamacare repeal negotiations.


MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Donald Trump is going to keep his promise to the American people and working with this Congress we're going to repeal and replace Obamacare.

This will be the north star of our administration.


KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights, Abby Phillip of "The Washington Post," Olivier Knox of "Yahoo! News," John Yang of the PBS "Newshour," and Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast."

Here's one of the many questions for Jeff Sessions, is the president really debating whether to fire the new special counsel leading the Russia election - Russia meddling investigation. Excuse me. Of course not, most White House aides say. Political suicide is the reaction from most Republicans outside of the White House. And the deputy attorney general, the man who would have to carry out such an order from the president, says he believes Special Counsel Bob Mueller is doing a fine job.

So, why, then, is this an issue? Why is it a question? One of the certain questions the attorney general will be asked later today. Because the president who surprised us all by firing the FBI Director James Comey has been complaining fiercely to friends of late about Bob Mueller in much the same way he complained about Comey.


CHRISTOPHER RUDDY, CEO, "NEWSMAX MEDIA": I think he's considering perhaps terminating the special counsel. I think he's weighing that option. I think it's pretty clear by what one of his lawyers said on television recently. I personally think it would be a very significant mistake.


KING: And so that is a good friend of the president, Christopher Ruddy, who is also the CEO of the conservative "Newsmax" site. He was over at the White House yesterday. He says he did not talk to the president, but he was talking to other administration officials. Then he goes on the PBS "Newshour" and other programs today, but PBS first last night, and says, I think the president's thinking about doing this and I think it would be a really bad idea. You can put that into with friends like these file, but he's doing this for a reason. Christopher Ruddy is trying to tell the president, don't do this. And he thinks the best way to tell him is to start a conversation on television about it.

ABBY PHILLIP, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, and he's not wrong about that. I mean I think this has produced a sort of avalanche of cries from the outside, from the inside to say to the president, really, don't do this. And this is all in the context of President Trump being someone who doesn't really like being told what he can and cannot do. So I think a lot of his allies feel kind of hamstrung in moments like this when they know that he's kind of ruminating over something that could be very politically damaging to him It's hard to tell him no and for him to listen to that. And so sometimes the idea from some of these people, including Ruddy, is that you get it out there in the public sphere and you let the sort of political dynamics overtake the situation and then he's maybe forced into going the right course.

KING: What does the attorney general say this afternoon when he is questioned about this? I guess he can say I've recused myself from these issues, so I can't talk about it. What does he say?

JACKIE KUCINICH, "THE DAILY BEAST": Except for the whole I helped fire Comey thing.

KING: Right.

KUCINICH: I mean that - that will open up. I mean he's going to be asked about that anyway, no matter what, whether he truly recused himself or what that means for his recusal.

But I - you know, the attorney general is going to have to walk a very fine line and will - I think will do so even on this question to avoid upsetting the president because he's - he's in a little bit of a spot with the president right now.

KING: That's right.

JOHN YANG, PBS "NEWSHOUR": And he's also one of the great supporters of the president.


YANG: He was one of the early - the first - first senator to endorse him. And I also think that he's got to sort of weigh the question off executive privilege. Yes, he can claim executive privilege on his conversations with the president, but his conversations with Comey, when Comey said, don't ever leave me alone with the president ever again.


YANG: That's not covered.

OLIVIER KNOX, "YAHOO! NEWS": And there's a funny tug of war now between Chris Ruddy and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who's out there publically saying the president should, in fact, act - should fire Bob Mueller. He doesn't think it's going to be a fair investigation. So we've got two friends of the president, two early advisors, two senior figures, trying to speak to the president via the television.

KING: All right, the former speaker of the House, who when Ken Starr was the special counsel, the independent counsel in the Bill Clinton days, repeatedly went after Democrats whose went on television questioning the integrity or the - the viability of the, you know, whether Ken Starr should stay in his job is now (INAUDIBLE). But that's a little history lesson. We'll save it for another day.

[12:05:09] Let's come back to this question of, would the president do this, for a minute. Would the president - and, again, he surprised us all by firing James Comey. The conversations about Comey he was having with his friends and associates right before he fired him are very similar, I'm told, to the conversations he's having now about Bob Mueller. I can't control this. When is it going to end? It's going on forever. You know, how did this happen? Well, Rod Rosenstein, by law - Jeff Sessions has recused himself - and

so by law it would be the deputy attorney general who actually had - if the president called and said I want him fired, it would be Rod Rosenstein who had to do that. So Susan Collins, Republican senator from Maine, brought that issue up this morning to Rod Rosenstein, who's still on Capitol Hill.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Has the president ever discussed with you the appointment of the special counsel or discussed the special counsel in any way?


COLLINS: And, second, if President Trump ordered you to fire the special counsel, what would you do?

ROSENSTEIN: Senator, I'm not going to follow any orders unless I believe those are lawful and appropriate orders. Under the regulation, Special Counsel Mueller may be fired only for good cause and I am required to put that cause in writing. And so that's what I would do. I - if there were good cause, I would consider it. If there were not good cause, it wouldn't matter to me what anybody says.


KING: It's the last part there that Republicans wanted, and Democrats too. It wouldn't matter to me who told me. If there's not good cause, it doesn't matter to me.

But you see Republicans putting this question to him. Not the Democrats, the Republicans rushing to put the question to Rod Rosenstein. In part because they have tried, many of them, even though they're holding their noses a bit or they're nervous, they've tried to stay by the White House or say at least the Democrats are trying to get way ahead of the facts, everybody calm down, let the investigation go forward. But when they wake up on a day and hear the president's thinking of firing Bob Mueller, it causes a bit of panic among Republicans.

PHILLIP: And this is the reason why this is such a bad idea, is that Republicans need a special counsel. They need someone who they can say is over here and is working on this investigation and it's going on in a professional way and so they don't have to deal with it. And to get rid of that would be to basically throw them to the sharks. And so that's why Republicans are looking at the situation and they're saying, don't shoot yourself in the foot because this is something that will help at least shield them in some small measure from the full brunt of what - of what this whole Russia investigation and scandal might end up being.

KUCINICH: But they also know that if the president is dead set on something, it's going to be very hard to convince him not to do it. Look at Twitter. I don't know many senior advisers who haven't told him to dial back what he says on Twitter. And that hasn't happened. He's even gone as far to say, I don't care what the lawyers say or something like that. So it really is that feeling of unpredictability that is causing so much nervousness on The Hill and elsewhere.

YANG: And also where this anger comes from. It seems to be coming from Comey's testimony last week -


YANG: That he put out his memos to try to trigger a special counsel. So I'm sure that the president feels like he got played by Comey. We know what he thinks about Comey to begin with.

KING: Right.

YANG: So that just makes him even angrier.

KING: No question about it.

And, again, I just want to get you more of the Republican reaction. Here's the House speaker, Paul Ryan, who would like to talk about health care, he'd like to talk about tax reform. Instead, first question at his weekly news conference is about Bob Mueller and -


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I think the best thing to do is to let Robert Mueller do his job. I think the best indication for the president is to let this investigation go on independently and thoroughly. That, to me, is the smartest thing to do, the best thing to do, and that's what I think - hopefully will happen.

Yes, I don't know his team. I know Bob Mueller and I have confidence in Bob Mueller.


KING: So I think if nothing else, Mr. Ruddy has achieved his goal. You have Republican senators, Republican House members essentially saying, Mr. President, don't do this or you'll open - underneath yourself you'll open a trap door politically.

KNOX: Yes, the trial balloon, this novel 2017 Trump reaching trial balloon has, I don't know, has it shot down? Has it flown free? I'm not really sure what the image should be here. But, yes, he has, on some level, had his mission accomplished moment, but we're still having this conversation. Newt Gingrich is still out there. The president is still very frustrated with this investigation. And heaven only knows how he's going to respond to Jeff Sessions' testimony.


KING: And we know, to your point, we know the president's frustrated with Jeff Sessions because he thinks Jeff Sessions' decision, which all the legal experts said was his only choice, but Jeff Sessions said, I'm going to recuse myself because I was involved in the campaign, because I was a surrogate, because we know - and we'll talk more about this later, he had meetings with the Russian ambassador in 2016. He says, I have to recuse myself. The president got mad about that. It caught him by surprise. Believes that's what got you in the special - first the aggressive Comey investigation, then the special counsel.

You brought this point up. Let talk about one of the issues that will come up when Jeff Sessions is testifying. Jim Comey told last week the story of being at the White House with the president in a room with several other people, including the attorney general. The president says, everybody else leave, including the attorney general of the United States. I want to talk one-on-one with the FBI director. Now, everybody in the room, everybody in America, knows this investigation is going on at this moment. Jim Comey says it made him nervous and he says he thinks that Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner felt the same way.

[12:10:05] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: My impression was, something big is about to happen. I need to remember every single word that is spoken. And, again, I could be wrong. But I'm 56 years old. I've been - seen a few things. My sense was the attorney general knew he shouldn't be leaving, which is why he was lingering. And I don't know Mr. Kushner well, but I think he picked up on the same thing. And so I knew something was about to happen that I needed to pay very close attention to.


KING: That something, James Comey went on to say, and he took memos about this, was he says the president asked him - the president told him, I hope you could let go of the Michael Flynn investigation, the fired national security adviser. James Comey says he took that as a directive. Trump lawyers were saying the president said he hoped. He didn't say, do it. He didn't order you to do it. But that's part of the debate.

So Jeff Session is going to get asked about that moment today. You're all in a meeting. The president says, shoo, I want to talk to Jim Comey. I - does Jeff Sessions have any privilege to not at least confirm Comey's versions of events or say, you know, I wasn't lingering, I left, I was just saying goodbye to the president. Does he have any shield to not talk about that?

PHILLIP: Well, it sounds like they are gearing up to refute some of what Comey said because in addition to that meeting, there was another conversation between Comey and Sessions in which Comey basically said, what happened here should really never happen again. He - his - by his accounting, Jeff Sessions said nothing. And Jeff Sessions is probably going to say that that didn't happen. That he did, in fact, have some kind of reaction. So it ends up being another really important he said/he said situation. As the head of the Justice Department, Jeff Sessions is technically James Comey's boss. He should have been a way between - between Comey and the president. The question remains, why wasn't he? What was his reaction? Did he have any follow-up to the president when Comey explicitly said to him, that kind of situation shouldn't really happen. You should be between me and the president. And we still don't know the answer to those questions.

KNOX: And remember why James Comey described that story. In order to make a case for obstruction of justice, you need to prove the intent.

KING: Right.

KNOX: And so the idea was that not only was James Comey aware that it was going to happen, but Jeff Sessions was aware that something big was going to happen. Jared Kushner was aware that something big was going to happen. And so James Comey's kind of looped them all into, you know, conspiracy's kind of a big word here, but he's kind of looped them into this idea that there was a motive here.

KING: Right.

KNOX: That it was unseemly and there was a motive behind it. It was a very clear legal argument.

KING: It's going to be interesting to hear from the attorney general on that and other subjects ahead. We'll get back to that story as well.

But up next, 13 Republican senators at the White House for a big lunch with the president. It could be a make or break moment, at least they hope, for repealing or replacing Obamacare.


[12:17:01] KING: Welcome back.

Thirteen Republican senators are at the White House for lunch with President Trump. A meeting that comes at crunch time in the Senate GOP effort to craft an Obamacare repeal plan that can somehow bridge giant ideological differences and win 50 votes. Among those at the table, conservatives Ted Cruz and Mike Lee, and more moderate voices, like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski. The White House meeting is certainly important, but private GOP meetings later today on Capitol Hill are viewed as even a more critical test of whether Senate Republicans can begin to put pen to paper, turn weeks of talking into an actual piece of legislation.

We expect to hear from the president momentarily as that lunch gets underway. Yesterday, he said anyone frustrated with the pace of Obamacare repeal should blame the Democrats.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will have zero backing from the Democrats, even though they should get in and do something. But we expect to get zero. If we had the greatest bill in the history of the world on health care, we wouldn't get one vote from the Democrats because they're obstructionists. That's what they want to do. That's the game. They think that's their best political game. They're looking to '18.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: It would be a stronger case from the president if the Republicans actually invited the Democrats in at this point and invited the Democrats to be any part of this. They're not part of this. I get the president's political argument and the Democrats certainly have been against the Republicans on health care so far, but there has also been no Republican effort to do business with the Democrats. The Republicans want this to be a Republican-only bill.

How important is this today for the president in the sense that the senators have to go up on Capitol Hill and write this piece of legislation? But what's the big ask for the president and maybe what's his big ask of them?

PHILLIP: Well, it's - one of the things you always have to be mindful of in meetings like this is that this is not a president who is diving deep on the details of this bill. So, on some level meetings like this are sort of about being like a cheerleader for the process. And I - I find it just hard to believe that anything coming out of this meeting will be substantive moving this negotiation forward.

On the other hand, it will give him a better sense of where the moderates are on this legislation because they're the ones who hold the key to this entire process and - and I think that it's as much about kind of bringing him into the process as it is about sort of having them at the table and having him be a sort of convene of all the various factions on this - on this - this bill.

KUCINICH: What I think -

YANG: Not only does he not dive deep into the details on this bill, I really get the sense that when you hear him talk that he doesn't really care about the details. I got the sense during the campaign that this was not a big deal for him, but he signed on to it because it's sort of Republican doctrine that they - you have to repeal - repeal Obamacare. I don't think he's enmeshed at all in the details of this legislation.

KUCINICH: And I think the Senate - the Senate leadership would be happy if the White House stayed out of this -


KING: Right.

KUCINICH: Because they really hurt the House process by throwing things out there that weren't necessarily true or were ahead of their skis a little bit. So the fact that they're bringing him in, that totally makes sense. But the fact - when the White House starts getting involved with this, Senate leadership is sort of like, we got this.

[12:20:01] KNOX: Yes, that's a really good - that's the key here. The House - when the House was debating this, the White House was a net negative at every step.

KUCINICH: Yes. KNOX: Whether it was threatening House members or saying, take one for the team, which is really popular for someone who's, you know, about to be - face the voters again in 2018. They - the White House screwed up the process during the House debate. It's going to be interesting to see what lessons they learned from that as they - as they sit down with the Senate.

KUCINICH: Mitch McConnell is not Paul Ryan.

KNOX: That's true.

KING: Yes, one of the - one of - Mitch McConnell's - yes, and Mitch McConnell's not there, which is interesting, but he's leaving it to the working group for now.

But one of the senators who is at the lunch told me, part of his message to the president, he said he would deliver it politely, was that if the Senate gets a bill, do not tweet that now we negotiate, because that's what happened -


KING: Speaker Ryan had the House bill and the president said, great, now the negotiations begin. Their point is if they can somehow get to 50 votes in the Senate with Mike Pence being the tiebreaker, that that thing is going to be so fragile that there will be no room to go back and more a semicolon and that the president needs to just let them do - to your point, let them do their business.

I want you to listen here, though, as they say they're trying - they say they're getting closer and they say they're working this out behind closed doors. They say their hope is to vote before the July 4th recess. But, again, you'll believe it when you see it. And that means when you get a couple hundred pages of paper with the actual bill on it.

Here's Rand Paul. This is the hard part. You have senators like a Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, they don't want to cut Planned Parenthood funding. They have some other concerns that you would describe as more moderate conservatives, if you will. Here's Rand Paul on the Tea Party side saying -


SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: My current impression is they've taken the House bill and it's probably going to include more subsidies, probably going to include more federal money and more federal involvement in health care. That's the wrong direction and that will lose me. But I'm still in the mix. I'm still open to voting for something, but it's got to get better, not worse. The House bill would have to improve, not get worse.


KING: There are only 52 of them, the Republicans. There are 52 of them. So if you lose Rand Paul, and you're at 51. I mean this math's not hard. And if you lose Rand Paul, I assume you're losing Mike Lee. That puts you at 50. So now you're done. You - that's it. Or, what? I mean can they pull this off?

PHILLIP: Well, I mean, they have to. And I think just to your earlier point about the president always talking about Democrats, it really shows an underlying lack of understanding of how this process works. He personally has done almost nothing to bring Democrats into either the health care process or the governing process overall, engendering almost no good will. And then you have a Republican caucus in this House, Republican caucus in the House and the Senate that have moderates and they have conservatives and you have to bring those people together. That is just how governing is.

And, ultimately, that's why the president really needs to stay out of it because he is assuming, if you have an "r" next to your name you need to sign on to this bill because this is what we promised them to do. But every state, every senator has their own concerns. Mitch McConnell is someone who understands that. I actually am not - you know, I have a certain amount of confidence in Mitch McConnell's ability to sort of twist arms and get things done. I just don't think that the president really understands how that process works and that's why he's kind of been sidelined here.

KING: One of the big challenges is going to be is, anything they can put together in the Senate, can they look people in the eye and say that it's Obamacare repeal. Is it - you know, that's their - their mantra is repeal.

KNOX: That's the problem with Rand Paul and Mike Lee, right?

KING: Right. They want to pull it out, right.

KNOX: They want a complete repeal and this is a tweet. This is a - there are very heavy modifications, but this is not a full on repeal process.

I did like Rand Paul saying he's in the mix because, of course, what you say I think it the minute you're not in the mix, no one's talking to you. They don't need your vote anymore. You're done. So that was really shrewd of Rand Paul. Correct me if I'm wrong, didn't Rand Paul run around the House side during the House process looking for the secret bill?

KING: Yes.

KNOX: So he's - he's been pretty involved this whole time. I rather wonder whether he's going to do the same thing where, you know, to get a bloodhound through the Senate and sort of find the bill that they're working on.

KING: I think they will wait and hear. We're going to leave - we're going to hear some remarks from the president we're told in just two minutes. They brought the travel pool reporters into the meeting at the top of the lunch. The president delivered some remarks. We're told in about two minutes we'll see that tape.

So let's continue the conversation as we wait to hear the president on health care.

Another setback on his agenda, health care is on hold is the kind way to put it. We'll see how - fi they can pull this one out. He lost again in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday. Yet another appeals court ruling against his travel ban. The Ninth Circuit saying immigration, even for the president, is not a one person show. The president's authority is subject to certain statutory and constitutional restraints. The president not happy with this, tweeted out this morning, "well, as predicted, the Ninth Circuit did it again. Ruled against the travel ban at such a dangerous time in the history of our country." And the president continuing to call it a travel ban, which his attorneys have asked him not to do.

KNOX: Did again, right? And the Ninth Circuit quoted his Twitter - his Twitter feeds -


KNOX: Which I think is - I mean, I don't know, I guess it's probably not a first. I'm sure someone else quoted a presidential tweet but -

KING: But it becomes very significant because they're viewing those as official presidential statements.

KNOX: That's right, which they obviously are. I mean they are. They obviously are official presidential statements. Although it was good to get the White House to confirm that. But, I think, I mean they're just angling to get him quoted in more (INAUDIBLE).

[12:25:00] KUCINICH: He's his own worst enemy on this issue. As much as he is pushing it, he is the one who's setting it back by doing just that. It's not like he's not aware that it's hurting this process and it's hurting their argument. He's - his lawyers have told him and he's said - he's rejected that advice.

PHILLIP: But the idea that he's setting this up as kind of like, it's such a dangerous time, they are stopping us from protecting the country is something that I think we need to sort of keep at front of mind here because that's a pretty deliberate strategy and it's one that I think actually kind of sets them up for trouble because the question later on I think is going to be, why haven't the - hasn't the administration done more to actually tighten, you know, vetting procedures.

KING: Let's go to the president of the United States in the Cabinet Room having lunch with 13 Republican senators.

Let's listen.

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

Very happy that you're all here today. Republican senators, we're going to be discussing the urgent need to repeal and replace the disaster known as Obamacare. It was just announced yesterday that two million people have dropped out of Obamacare. Two million additional. They are leaving fast. Premiums have increased by an average of more than 100 percent nationwide. In North Carolina, premiums have gone up 176 percent. In Arkansas, premiums have gone up 128 percent. In Pennsylvania, premiums have gone up by 120 percent. And I hate to say this to you, Lisa, but in Alaska, they've gone up 207 percent on Obamacare.

You know, I used to mention only Arizona because they were up 116 percent in Arizona. Now Arizona is, like, good by comparison to some of the numbers. But they're way up in Arizona also.

Insurers are fleeing the market. Last week it was announced that one of the largest insurers is pulling out of Ohio. The great state of Ohio. That could mean another 20 counties, at least 19,000 people in Ohio will have no plan at all. Nationwide, one in three U.S. counties have only a single insurer and many of those insurers, as you know, have announced that they're leaving.

Obamacare has been broken and it's been a broken promise. One after another, Americans were told that if you liked your doctor, you'll keep your doctor. That was a lie. They were told that if you liked your plan, you'd keep your plan. That was a lie. Americans were told the premiums would go down by $2,500 per year, and instead their premiums went up to levels that nobody thought even possible.

The House has passed a bill and now the Senate is working very, very hard, and specifically the folks in this room, and I really appreciate what you're doing, to come out with a bill that's going to be a phenomenal bill for the people of our country. Generous, kind, with heart, that's what I'm saying. And that may be adding additional money into it. Going to come out with a real bill, not Obamacare. And the results are going to be fantastic and hopefully it will be announced at the appropriate time and everyone's going to be happy.

But by contrast, Republicans in Congress, as hard as they're working, you have the Democrats on the other side who truly have become obstructionists. Even their new motto, resist, and I guess it's a pretty accurate motto. Every time I see it, I say, that's right, that does represent the Democrats, called resist, and it's very unfortunate. And I actually said, if we came up with the greatest health care plan or tax cut, because we're coming out with massive tax cut and tax reform, but if we came up with the greatest health care or tax cut ever in our country's history, we wouldn't get one Democrat vote. It's an obstruction.

So the Republicans are working hard. We passed and signed 38 pieces of legislation, which nobody likes to talk about. I think probably seldom has any president and administration done more or had more success so early on, including a record number of resolutions to eliminate job killing regulations. And we see it all over the country where jobs are starting that would never have started ever under any circumstances.

So I'd like to thank our great vice president for being here. I'd like to thank all of the senators who I have so much respect for. I've gotten to know and love some of them and know and like others. But I have great relationships with every one of them. And I tell you what, I do have a lot of respect for the people in this room, I can tell you that very much, and I appreciate you being here.

[12:30:05] Just a little bit on the economy. Unemployment has fallen to a 16-year low and manufacturing confidence is at an all-time high. Just came out with the report. The highest