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President, Senators Discuss Replacing ObamaCare; Sessions to Appear Before Senate Intel Committee; Comey: FBI Felt Sessions' Recusal "Inevitable"; Pass the Praise: Cabinet Takes Turns Thanking Trump; Top Democrat Parodies Trump's Praise-filled Meeting. Aired 12:30-1p ET
Aired June 13, 2017 - 12:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[12:30:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- a lot of respect for the people in this room. I can tell you very much and I appreciate you being here.
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 a report. The highest level of confidence in the history of the reports which are in particular statistics for many, many years I tell you.
And in the history of this report, the confidence level is at the highest point it's ever been. Companies are moving back into the United States. You see that Michigan where the auto companies are coming back in and they're expanding their existing plans. And they're saying well, maybe we're just going to have to build in the United States. And that's the way it's going to be.
I was also really thrilled last week and had a lot to do with even their opening ceremony wherein Pennsylvania they're opening a brand new coal mine. That's the first coal mine that's opened in this country in a long time. It's brand new. Many of them are being reopened. But this is a brand new mine that hasn't happened for many, many years.
So we're keeping our promise to the American people. And that's why it's so important for the Senate and the senators that are with us today to come up with a great health care plan. And I really believe they're going to be able to do it. We're really close and I really believe they're going to be able to do it.
So, the economy is great. Everything seems to be working really well. And a very big focus for us over the next short period of time are going to be tax cuts, tax reform. We're going to be putting in a very major infrastructure plan and for this group in particular we're going to be focused on ObamaCare repeal and replace.
I've been talking about repealing and replacing ObamaCare now for almost two years. Don't forget on June 16th, June 14th is my birthday, but June 16th was the day I announced I was running. Some people said really? That going to happen? And it happened.
But it's been exactly -- so in three days, it's exactly two years. So we're very happy about that. And from day one I said we're going to repeal and replace ObamaCare. And that's what we're going to do.
So we've kept our promises. We've gotten rid of the regulations. The economy is going really well and going to get even a lot better. Numbers for the quarter are going to be very good I believe.
When the numbers are announced, the GDP numbers I think they're going to be shockingly good based on all of the facts that we're hearing and based on the enthusiasm from the businesses because they're doing well. And we've just started.
So I want to thank you all and I want to thank you senators for being here. We appreciate it. And now what we'll do is we'll start talking about the replacement for ObamaCare which will be far better than ObamaCare. Thank you very much.
TRUMP: As soon as we can do it. Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.
KING: The president refusing to answer some questions at the end including somebody shouting at him, one of the reporters, should Bob Mueller be fired. So the president not taking the bait on that question. One of the -- that's the special counsel.
It's one of the conversations in Washington today because it's some of the president's friends. Well, let's talk about what we did hear from the president there.
He started off by talking about health care then he wanted to plug the administration's other goal. Says the economy is doing great. Says the infrastructure bill will be coming. It's tax reform -- he says it is tax reform negotiations are moving along. I think he'll get pushback from that. Even from some Republicans in that room (inaudible). But specifically to the issue of ObamaCare, we talked a little bit beforehand about his potential role for the good or for the bad of the Republican cause in this. What did we learn there?
ABBY PHILIP, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, not a whole lot. Let's start with that. I mean, I don't think we learned anything much of substance except that he thinks it's going to be a really great bill. And that perhaps he thinks it needs more money which I think, you know, maybe Mitch McConnell would have something to say about that.
You know, I think this is about the president basically telling the world that he's working on it. That things are going seemingly in his administration. They are very eager to show progress here. And that's what these sort of photo op moments are all about this week.
KING: A 150 days in to an all-Republican Washington, ObamaCare is still the law of the land. It gets hard at some point to keep making the case that things are going seemingly. But I do get sometimes psychology matters as you're trying to move negotiations forward so (inaudible) at some ways we understand the president's focal strategy.
But to your point, before we got to the president, we played Senate Rand Paul. Again, there are 52 Republican senators. They can only afford to lose two if Mike Pence is there to break any tie. And he said one of his concerns was that already they were putting too much money in and the president of the United States says it might take more money. Is he knowingly or not undermining the very sensitive negotiations that are going on at this very moment?
[12:35:01] OLIVER KNOX, YAHOO NEWS: I don't know because I don't know whether Rand Paul listens to President Trump or to leader McConnell more closely. And we don't know what that final bill is going to look like. The other thing I would say is for the last 10 days or so the Trump White House has taken a page from the Clinton White House where they were upset by scandal. And has been making the case while you guys are focusing on this other thing we are at work.
Last week was, you know, infrastructure week right. It didn't end up being infrastructure week because Comey's testimony swallowed up the entire six, seven-day span. But they've been making this argument steadily and that's what he is doing today. He is saying, we are getting things done, we are making progress. I have a real agenda, everything else is (inaudible).
JACKIE KUCINICH, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes, but he undermines himself that usually what White Houses do is do stay on message. He undermines himself by tweeting about the Russia investigation. And I'm sure he'll -- I mean, I can't imagine him not responding to things that Sessions is asked or says this afternoon.
KING: We will find out. Jeff Sessions in the chair just a little bit. And up next, we're going to return to that story. This big question for the attorney general, how can he be recused from the Russia meddling investigation and yet still play a role in firing the man leading that investigation?
[12:40:04] KING: Welcome back. One big area of questioning this afternoon for Attorney General Jeff Sessions will take us back to 2016 in his election year meetings with Russia's ambassador to the United States. And as he is asked to detail those meetings, here is the related issue of explaining this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: And if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn't have -- not have communications with the Russians.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Remember that, did not have communications with the Russians? We later learned he had at least two meetings with the Russian ambassador to the United States. He says it was Senate business, it wasn't Trump campaign business. That's the distinction he made then. We'll see what happens this afternoon.
Another big focus getting Sessions to explain how he can justify being essential part of the decision to fire James Comey after he had promised in March to have nothing to do with any aspect of the Russia election meddling investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SESSIONS: Since I had involvement with the campaign I should not be involved in any campaign investigation. I have studied the rules and considered their comments and evaluation. I believe those recommendations are right and just. Therefore, I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Let's take these in reverse order. How does he explain that? If you read the papers put out by the White House on the day of the Comey firing, there was the memo from Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general in which he said he believed James Comey lost the faith of FBI. And then there was a short letter from the attorney general of the United States recommending the president fire him. How can a man who has recused from all things involving the Russia investigation write a letter to the president of the United States saying fire the man leading the thing I'm recused from?
KUCINICH: I can't wait for his answer. I really can't because it's going to be asked.
KNOX: But don't you think he's going to answer by saying that if you look at the memo by the deputy attorney general, it was all about Comey's management of the Clinton investigation in 2016? Isn't he going to say something like I wasn't acting base on the Russia investigation?
Now we know the president contradicted that. And I was acting in that, I was acting in my capacity as someone disciplining someone who is involved in the 2016 Hillary investigation? It's going to be a nightmare. There's going to get questions like this up and down except that I don't know that the average person watching this really gets what recusal means and why it matters.
PHILIP: Well, I mean, I think we should also just pay very close attention to what he did say in that press conference. He said he's recusing himself from all things related to the Trump campaign because of his involvement in the campaign. Comey's firing, if you read Rosenstein's letter, is about his conduct during the campaign as it relates to Hillary Clinton's e-mails. So I guess it depends on how far Jeff Sessions is taking his sort of involvement in the campaign and what that means as it relates to other things related to the campaign over at the FBI.
But that -- I think that is going to be brought out in this question and answer because Sessions is trying to draw a line between what he recused himself for and why and what he can be involved in. And I think because they pinned this so heavily on Comey and what he did in the campaign and how that affected the campaign in terms of Hillary Clinton's e-mails, he'll have a lot of questions about that part too.
KING: And he's going to -- to your point, the question is they're going to ask him so you're saying this is just about Clinton., Comey's conduct there. Did you discuss this with the president who said it was about Russia? And that's where I think executive privilege will come in if there are any conversations with the president.
Let's go to the other issue which is, how many times did Jeff Sessions meet with the Russian ambassador during the campaign? Number one, how many. And number two, why didn't he disclose that on his form when he was applying for security clearance which asks you, have you met with representatives of foreign governments.
This came up when Comey was testifying, when Comey told the senate there were some things, significant things, they did not tell Jeff Sessions about and Comey explained why he -- let's listen. Comey explained why he did not tell the attorney general of the United States about big things in the investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: I don't remember real clearly. I have a recollection of him just kind of looking at me and there's a danger here I'm projecting on to him so this may be a faulty memory, but I kind of got his body language gave me the sense, like, what am I going to do.
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Did he shrug?
COMEY: I don't remember clearly. I think the reason I have that impression is, I have some recollection of almost imperceptible, like, what am I going to do. But I don't have a clear recollection of that. He didn't say anything.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Well, that's not the sound I was looking for but let's talk about this one first. This goes back to the other issue of the -- at some point Jim Comey saying he told the attorney general you can't leave me alone with the president of the United States, that's uncomfortable, it's improper, it's wrong. Then with Kamala Harris, senator from California says Jeff Sessions kind of like what am I going to do.
[12:45:04] KNOX: The Justice Department has contradicted that account and said that Attorney General Sessions said that in fact the FBI and the Justice Department should maintain the proper amount of communication and contact. So they're directly in conflict on that.
PHILIP: Yes, but how does he explain that? I mean, saying that they should follow the protocols and then doing nothing about it is the same as doing and saying nothing. So I think we need more information about what happened next. What did Jeff Sessions do as a result of being confronted with this problem by James Comey?
Did he go to the president? Did he go to the White House counsel and say hey, we need to establish a protocol to fix this level of contact? Nine one-on-one contacts between Trump and Comey in five months. That's a lot of contact.
KING: And if there were such conversations, who relayed it to the president? Did the attorney general relay to the president? Did the White House counsel relay it to the president, that's how it supposed to work?
Let's go back to the early (inaudible). This is Senator Ron Wyden in exchange with James Comey in which James Comey floats the idea of something we don't know.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. RON WYDEN (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: What was it about the attorney general's own interactions with the Russians or his behavior with regard to the investigation that would have led the entire leadership of the FBI to make this decision?
COMEY: Our judgment as I recall was that he was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can't discuss in an open setting that would make his continuing engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're not -- he said they were aware of facts that he wasn't able to discuss in an open setting. We're told from sources later that was the possibility that there was a third Sessions meeting with Ambassador Kislyak. I have to assume that the attorney general understands the cloud over the nation's top law enforcement officer and if anything, he is prepared today to say meeting one, meeting two, if there was a meeting three or forcefully pushback and say there was not. But to finally put on the record the meetings, what they were about, what they weren't about and lay it out. Or is he not going to answer those questions?
JOHN YANG, PBS NEWSHOUR: This goes back to his confirmation hearing we heard earlier where he said flatly that he hasn't had any contacts with the Russians. And this is also why I think there is so much smoke here, so much concern here. If all these meetings were innocent and there was nothing to them, why not just tell us about them to begin with? Why not just come clean instead of this drip, drip, drip.
KING: And we should note there's been a controversy, remember James Comey said he gave a good friend of his, a law professor his memos, a copy of his memos about his conversations with President Trump and members of Congress have been asking for those memos. The friend has just told CNN he is turning those memos back over to the FBI. So we'll see where that controversy goes from there.
Up next, high praise for President Trump like we've rarely seen. And a cabinet meeting like we've rarely seen.
[12:51:59] KING: Welcome back. You know the old saying, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But flattery for flattery sake works just as well if you're a member of the president's cabinet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you Mr. President. Greatest privilege of my life is to serve as vice president to a president who's keeping his word to the American people.
TOM PRICE, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Mr. President, what an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership. I can't thank you enough for the privilege that you've given me and the leadership that you've shown.
REINCE PREIBUS, 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: The Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer just couldn't resist and in this example here, imitation is not the sincerest form of flattery.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: I want to thank everybody for coming. I just thought we'd go around the room. Lucy (ph), how did we do on a Sunday show yesterday?
LUCY: Your tone was perfect. You were right on message.
SCHUMER: Michelle (ph), how did my hair look coming out of the gym this morning?
MICHELLE: You have great hair. Nobody has better hair than you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, before we go any further, I just want to say thank you for the opportunity and blessing to serve your agenda.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: All right then. Little "B" movie there from Senator Schumer. But they're trying to just get the Democratic base. Have a little fun with that. But back to the president's cabinet meeting.
I covered the White House for almost 10 years. Did a lot of cabinet meetings. Yes, there are times when someone around the table is trying to curry a little favor with the boss. But I have never seen anything, anything anywhere close to that. Am I wrong?
KUCINICH: The backdrop also makes this particularly interesting because I don't know with the percentages of people around that table that have been directly undermined by something they've put out and then the president have put out after them but it has to be 25 percent at least. So knowing that, it also made it even more interesting to watch.
PHILIP: Everybody also knows that, you know, the easiest way to Donald Trump's heart is to flatter him. And it's not just his cabinet, it's world leaders. It's, you know, Pence. It's everyone around him.
They know -- Sean Spicer, you go up there and you say the nicest possible thing. You talk about strong leadership. You give him credit for everything. And that's the way business is done in this White House.
KNOX: John, you've led this conversation with incredible eloquence. A lot of wisdom and I think Inside Politics is a tremendous vehicle for views and analysis.
Look, part of it goes back to the point that -- they're making the point that they're at work, that they're not being distracted. The fact they are being distracted, their agenda is undermined. But that was part of this whole ongoing projection of the White House that they're not -- this Comey thing is a side show. This Mueller thing is a side show, focus on what we're doing. It was wildly over the top but that's part of their message.
KING: But isn't there a way to say we are implementing your aggressive plan to get America back to work? Implementing your plan to fix roads and bridges. You know, doing your plan for energy and independence whatever it is without, like, wow.
[12:55:01] PHILIP: There wasn't much talk of work as far as I was concerned. It was just a lot of talk about --
KNOX: No, but they're unified behind their boss. That was the message.
YANG: I was speechless.
KING: I think that's grace. You're showing great grace. That's good.
Thanks for joining us in the Inside Politics today. Remember, a big afternoon ahead. Jeff Sessions, the attorney general of the United States will be in the witness chair before the Senate Intelligence Committee. A number of important questions in the Russia election meddling investigation. And his recusal in the Russia election but then involvement in the firing of James Comey. A very consequential afternoon ahead. Thanks for joining us in the Inside Politics. Wolf Blitzer with more of our special coverage leading up to those hearings after a quick break.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1 p.m. here in Washington, 1:30 a.m. Wednesday in Pyongyang, North Korea. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.
Up first, Jeff Sessions in the spotlight and under oath. The attorney general of the United States testifies next hour before the Senate Intelligence Committee in an open hearing. You're looking at a live picture coming in from the hearing room right now. Sessions arrives on Capitol Hill this hour --