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Russia: ISIS Leader Al-Baghdadi Possibly Killed in Strike; Trump Dismisses Obstruction, Lashes Out at "Crooked H"; GOP Senators: Trump Should Be More Careful; Feinstein Concerned Trump Will Fire Mueller, Rosenstein; Trump to Redefine U.S. Policy on Cuba Trade, Travel; Trump: Two Years Beyond the Escalator Ride. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired June 16, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: -- over there at the Pentagon, what are they trying to do to verify this.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, what we do know is the Pentagon has been a -- the U.S. military has been able to verify that the day before they did have one of those deconfliction conversations with the Russians. The Russians said that on May 28th, the subsequent day, they'd be flying in this are, they'd be conducting air strikes.

In fact, the indications are that the Russians did conduct some air strikes in the general area that they're talking about. But, were there 300 ISIS operatives there along with the leader? As everyone is making the point, he is not someone that carelessly goes out and about. He is very, very secretive about his movements. That's how he supposedly has stayed alive all this time and away from U.S. drone and aircraft strikes.

You know -- and this is back on May 28th with 300 ISIS people be dead and Baghdadi and no one in the world would have noticed? These are some of the big skeptical factors if you believe it was at that location. But as Paul Cruickshank on air was just saying, U.S. intelligence believes that ISIS leadership, they don't know if Baghdadi is part of it, has largely moved south out of Raqqa and they are now in a town called (inaudible). John?

KING: Barbara Starr, live at the Pentagon. Barbara, keep in touch as your reporting continues on that big one.

It is the social media age version of wearing your emotion on your sleeves. Today, we air our emotions on Twitter. Our president is exhibit A. "Why is that Hillary Clinton's family and Dems dealings with Russia are not looked at, but my non-dealings are?" That was yesterday afternoon.

Thirteen minutes later, this add, "Crooked H destroyed phones with a hammer, bleached e-mails, and had a husband meet with A.G. days before she was cleared and they talk about obstruction?"

The political strategy there, it's pretty obvious. Rally the Trump base by casting the multiple investigations as unfair and politically motivated. That ignores of course that the congressional investigations are all led by Republicans and it ignores it was Trump's Justice Department, Trump's Justice Department that named the Special Counsel Robert Mueller but also ignores the advice of just about every lawyer alive. The less said during -- the less said the better during high stakes investigations. Trump aides say the president though believes this political fight at the moment outweighs any legal risks. That view, among the many things Republicans wish the president would reconsider.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: Imagine in hindsight if they had to do it over again, they probably would have avoided this February 14th meeting in the Oval Office. Not because it's illegal (inaudible) but it would have avoided this interview.

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: I think it would be good for Donald Trump to watch his tweets a little more carefully.


KING: Little (inaudible) laugh the more you're out there.

JONATHAN MARTIN, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It's fascinating -- it's not just the Hill Republicans, you see this among the die hard Trump folks and the grassroots too. They'd like to focus on the medium of Twitter itself and the fact that, I wish he would tone down these tweets and I wish he would tweet less. It's so revealing because they know that something here is a mess but they kind of rationalize it by portraying it as just some product of his Twitter account.

Twitter is just a medium, right? He's actually thinking and saying these things. Who cares how he's saying and doing it? But to minimize as just a Twitter problem I think is a bit delusional right now for some of these (inaudible).

PERRY BACON, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: Anger is not one of the reasons. Impeachment is about politics, not about law. Ultimately, most legal scholars think the president -- even if the presidents cannot be indicted by DOJ, by Mueller. Ultimately, the Senate and House are going to decide his fate. And if he's already -- in legal, if he's already sort of done bad things which we can discuss with the Comey firing was obstruction or not, his real jury and audience is Republicans in Congress and therefore the Republican base. So I think in terms of thinking about Hillary and talking about Hillary more is actually pretty smart approach.

KING: You talk about the Republican base and if, if -- let me say if about a million more times. If there was some Bob Mueller report that referred to Congress and then somebody they were talking about that word and I'm going to underscore the "if" in that, the Republicans run the place so it be critical. Here's a new Associated Press poll out today.

How is the president handling his job among Republicans? Twenty-five percent of Republicans now disapprove. Now 74 percent approves, 74 is a pretty strong number in today's age but 25 percent of Republicans disapprove the president up from 16 percent in March.

So you're seeing some erosion of the president's Republican base. So that is very much worth keeping an eye on. Members of Congress, we know the president watches the polls very closely.


BACON: Obama was about 90 percent approval among Democrats when he was leaving office, so most presidents are around 90 in their own party.


KING: Again, you can see the pictures on the right of the screen. That's Air Force One, the president is there (inaudible) in Cuba policy. I want to come back to the -- I showed you the tweets attacking Hillary Clinton essentially saying, you know, why isn't everybody else being investigated or why isn't she being investigated? Why am I being investigated?

[12:35:01] You know, this morning we talked about at the top of the show, was this tweet, "I'm being investigated for firing the FBI director by the man who told me to fire the FBI director. Witch hunt." We are told by White House officials that this anger is directed at his own deputy attorney general whom he appointed. Rod Rosenstein, who made the decision after the firing of James Comey to name the Special Counsel.

Dianne Feinstein, she's on both the intelligence committee, she's the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee issued a statement saying, "I'm growing increasingly concerned the president will attempt to fire not only Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating possible obstruction of justice, but also the Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein who appointed Mueller. The message the president is sending through his tweets is that he believes the rule of law doesn't apply to him and then anyone who thinks otherwise will be fired. That's undemocratic on its face and a blatant violation of the president's oath of office."

That gets back to, Jonathan, to your point about some people just say -- there you see the president getting off the plain in Miami where you now see a crowd (inaudible) for him there in Miami to announce the shift in Cuba policy. But some people just -- and even his own staff says don't pay any attention to his tweets and his tweets are presidential statements. They are snapshots of his mood, his thoughts and his emotions at the moment. And sometimes they are critically important.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sometimes. I'm sorry I would say more than sometimes. I think that they're the most genuine lead that we have on what actually going through his head. And the fact that at so many points -- I mean, just take the Russia investigation. The president's comments out of turn, whether it's via Twitter or via in NBC interview have been able to shed light on this and actually got him, ironically into the situation he's in right now where he (inaudible) he was not when Comey left the FBI under investigation himself. Now, he kind of is. And so -- and it's entirely by him undercutting himself, undercutting his surrogates by going out there and saying what's on his mind. So we have to take that.

MARTIN: Senator Feinstein by the way is no wild line liberal. This is someone who is actually viewed with a real degree of unease by California liberals because she's seen as a moderate out there. And the fact that she would go as far as she did in that statement I think is extraordinary.

KING: And to her credit, she said they should bring Loretta Lynch to testify in Congress about what Comey said about the Hillary Clinton investigation.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Trump does move on Rosenstein and Mueller, I think you're going to see for the first time a real, real expression of concern among Hill Republicans and maybe something beyond that. Maybe an actual confrontation with him going to him and saying, you're imperiling your presidency. But we had concerns before, we have not had efforts by folks on the Hill to go to the White House and say stop this, you're hurting your presidency and you're hurting us.

CAROL LEE, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: We've already heard a little from Republicans when they're making noise about Mueller about this would be a really bad idea, that it would be harmful to the president and that, it would just expand something that's already causing a lot of problems. Now, go back to your point, Perry, earlier where we're looking at the politics of this might be good. The politics of this are terrible for him if he can't get anything else done because this is hanging over him. And that's what you're seeing happen.

KING: Right and that rose to support among Republicans would be critical. They're already nervous about whether it's health care, tax reform or other. To the point about tweets, they are -- sometimes the most raw, genuine snapshot into what the president is thinking at the moment. But the question is, when you send out a tweet like that, that clearly, clearly, you know, goes after a senior government official who has a very sensitive role in these investigations. Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, a Democrat, so take it as a Democrat, he says those tweets, don't just listen to the words, think about the intent.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: I'm in fact calling it a witch hunt and his continuing tweets are almost themselves a continuing course of obstruction because they are transparently an attempt to put pressure on the special prosecutor and the FBI to abandon a lawful investigation.


KING: I don't know if Bob Mueller would agree entirely with the senator there. But Bob Mueller, the special counsel obviously is watching this and he has to ask the question, why? Why is the president constantly doing this?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. I mean, he's -- Blumenthal is not wrong. Intent matters when you're trying to build a case toward obstruction of justice. And as we saw -- I mean, this is the central part of the debate when Comey was testifying on Capitol Hill because the president said, I hope you can make this go away or I hope you can -- I forget the exact wording. And everybody is fixated on that "I hope" with Comey saying I knew what that meant and Democrats believe in him and Republicans saying, well, you can hope for a lot of things but it doesn't mean that you're going to get them or that you're directing anything, so.

MARTIN: The GOP thought the Mueller thing would be a good step because it would compartmentalize this question. OK, serious law man, respected on both sides of he aisle. He can go over there and do this investigation (inaudible). Meanwhile, we can pursue our agenda up here.

And the idea was maybe Trump, (inaudible) himself would also go along with that approach and let it go. Well, Trump is not going to just let an investigation go into him and he's consumed by this clearly. And that's going to be a problem for their agenda too.

KING: I just want to add some reporting. As we're sitting here, CNN Producer Kevin Liptak, one of our White House producers is saying he spoke to a source familiar with the president's tweet this morning, some are those familiar with the intent. The president tweeted, I am being investigated for firing the FBI director, and it goes on. He says the president was not confirming so the president was referring to news reports and it was not the president confirming that he's had any contact with the special counsel saying that he's directly under investigation.

[12:40:05] That from a source familiar with the president's tweet.

BACON: That's actually an important thing to say if the president actually doesn't know why he's tweeting about it is always a great question. But the president is not confirming that he knows anything.

KING: Not confirming any contact with the special counsel's office doesn't mean there has been or hasn't been. They're not confirming that he's basing I am being investigated on news reports.

DEMIRJIAN: One thing (inaudible) is that a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill and the party in general were okay with Mueller because they actually thought this was still about Russia collusion and they really did believe that the investigation would exonerate the president. They are being driven further and further into a place where they're not as comfortable with the assumption that it will exonerate the president from being, you know, from the obstruction of justice question. And a lot of people I was talking to yesterday who are stunned Trump supporters were even saying, well, he'll have to prove it. OK, he may get to that conclusion but he has to prove it to us and proven in a court of law which is Congress. I mean, it eventually does come back to them but this is a difficult thing for them to sit on. KING: And the man, Bob Mueller has served in different administrations, mostly as the FBI director but he inherited some Republican pedigree, a solid citizen in town. People have been in this town for a long time feel he's a man of complete integrity. So potentially if it gets to that point is where it would an issue for Republicans.

Up next, the president as you just saw is in Miami. He's poised to roll back a big Obama administration diplomatic move.


[12:45:32] KING: As I showed you just moments ago, President Trump is wheels down in Miami and off to little Havana for a big announcement. A roll back of President Obama's diplomatic opening with Cuba. It was a big Trump campaign promise and one he is convinced helped him to his narrow Florida victory in election night.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will cancel Obama's one-sided Cuban deal made by executive order. If we do not get the deal we want and the deal that people living in Cuba and here deserve including protecting religious and political freedom.


KING: Now, what we will hear next hour is not a complete reversal. The new Trump policy puts limits on travel to Cuba by Americans. Prohibits transactions with companies controlled by the Cuban military and will not name a U.S. ambassador. The president will not do that but these Obama changes will stay in place.

Rules liberalizing business travel. The U.S. embassy will stay open just no ambassador. Direct U.S.-Cuba flights will stay. And there's no limits on Cuban rum and cigars.

So, it's a partial -- all politics is local? Is that what you're telling me?


KING: We're laughing about this, but this has been one of the contentious issues in American politics for decades. And Jeff Flake, a Republican of Arizona who worked with the Obama administration on this and sided with the president, the former president on this, just issued a statement saying any policy change that diminishes the ability of Americans to travel freely to Cuba is not in the best interest of the United States or the Cuban people. Well, the Trump policy does do that.

So, as this one Republican senator. Marco Rubio, who's not always a fan of Trump is going to be there for this announcement, Republican of Florid who supports this is change. Actually he wanted the president to go even further to have a complete -- so why a partial roll back? LEE: Well, because as the Obama's administration policy was intended to do, it's hard to undo because of a lot of businesses have gotten entrenched in there. The most significant thing that the policy does is it gets rid of this what they call individual people to people travel. Meaning you as an individual can go to Cuba and have a people-to-people exchange and basically be a tourist. And they're really going to enforce that and say that's not allowed. Now, you have to go as a group.

What that does is hurts actual, like, Cubans who are, you know, running (inaudible) or smaller -- you know, running out of their homes -- I mean, people say, small restaurants. And so it's going to cut off that financial pipeline. You know, the politics of it is interesting because -- if the politics have been shifting, it's not necessarily that Cubans are younger, they don't remember the Castro regime or pre-Castro and so -- and that's what the Obama people tried to tap into which was get -- energize that younger generation and people who are newer to Florida, to Miami, and get them to come over to the Democratic party.

So the politics are a little split t split but also it's just harder in doing. The president was under a lot of pressure from businesses and from some of his own cabinet members.

KING: But the president believes this was part of his win in Florida. And as we know and I don't say this cynically, he's often driven by, he looks at that map and (inaudible) on election night and he was -- when he's making big policy decisions, he has fidelity to that map.

MARTIN: And not to be cynical but he also thinks that the idea of action and having an event in Miami, you know, saying things could actually Trump the substance of his actually policies. Still --right -- I mean, we've seen his pattern now, these big events in the White House on, you know, infrastructure and you actually look at the fine print and there's not much there.

KING: On the health care bill you later call mean.

MARTIN: But that actually substantive bill. He's not doing that much actually here because his own cabinet, business type don't actually want to change the policy. So he makes American tourists go with tour groups. He said it by himself, that's where the policy change.

BACON: He also likes headlines that says he rolls back things Obama does.

KING: Rolls back (inaudible) or keep campaign promises (inaudible). And to that point, flashback two years, the escalator ride that changed America.


[12:53:52] KING: Two years, a world of difference and just think about it. It all started with an escalator ride. Donald Trump rode the slow descent from the upper tier of Trump Tower. He rode it into history in the Oval Office. Since that day, the president's fortunes have changed of course not as often as his policy position but there are some constants. His penchant for a big interest. Look at that. And his tone.


TRUMP: They're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems with us. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists. And some I assume are good people.


KING: On that day, very few people said Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee let alone the next president of the United States. So as we have debates about Cuba policy, about health care policy, about his tweets on the investigation, you have to give the man his due. He shocked us and shocked the world with disruptive politics.

LEE: When he took that escalator ride, nobody except for Melania Trump who said that if you run you will win according to the president. And -- but it was obvious moment to changed the direction of the country and wind up being very significant.

[12:55:02] MARTIN: Speaking of Miami where the president is today, I was in Miami the day that President Trump announced his candidacy two years ago because there was also at that day a big announcement. Jeb Bush was getting in the race, son of a president, the brother of a president. And here was the sort of face of the Republican establishment, making an official hat in the ring and that far over shadows the real estate magnate-turned-reality T.V. star in Manhattan who was out for more P.R. It turns out he got a lot of attention in two years but he also won the presidency.

And John, I'm with you. Hats off. He changed American politics.

KING: (Inaudible) the low energy Jeb.

BACON: I really think I've never seen a day that rapist lines would kill him. He couldn't get past that and boy, was I wrong. He said a lot of things since then too but I was wrong even that day.

KING: It's disrupted just about everything including (inaudible) integrated.

DEMIRJIAN: Two years ago, I was still living in Russia and so I was watching this from very far away and kind of just seeing it as a detached spectacle. But I do remember my mother shortly afterwards predicting that he would be president and she doesn't work in politics. She teaches Latin and music in Massachusetts. But, you know, listen to your mom.

KING: Not if she wants to take a detour from Red Sox nation, she can come sit in this chair. She sounds pretty qualified. Congratulations on that prediction.

Thanks for joining us in the Inside Politics. Wolf Blitzer in the chair after a quick break.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1 p.m. here in Washington, 6 p.m. in London, 8 p.m. in Raqqa --