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INSIDE POLITICS

President Trump VA Speech; Trump Signs VA Bill; Tapes Swayed Comey; Mueller-Comey Friendship. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 23, 2017 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:00:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Given the wrong medication, given the bad treatments, and ignored in moments of crisis for them. Many veterans died waiting for a simple doctor's appointment.

What happened was a national disgrace, and yet some of the employees involved in these scandals remained on the payrolls. Outdated laws kept the government from holding those who failed our veterans accountable. Today, we are finally changing those laws. It wasn't easy, but we did have some fantastic help to make sure that the scandal of what we suffered so recently never, ever happens again, and that our veterans can get the care they so richly deserve.

So you just heard from Sergeant Michael Varardo (ph). Great. I didn't get to shake your hand, Michael. Huh? Get up, Michael. Get over here.

He gets up better than I do.

Thank you, Michael.

Michael lost two limbs in defending our country, and yet he had to wait 57 days to get his prosthetic leg repaired - that's a long time, Michael - and over three and a half years for modifications to make his house more accessible.

What happened to Michael is happening to many, but it's rarely happening under our leadership and David's leadership anymore. That I can tell you. Our wounded warriors have given everything they have to this nation, and we owe them everything we have in return. And we're taking care of it.

Today, we are taking a very historic action to transform the VA by enacting the VA Accountability and Whistle-blower Protection Act. This was not easy. This was not an easy one. And it's one that they've wanted to do, Michael, you know, for a long time, for many years. Couldn't get it done. We got it done. This is one of the largest reforms to the VA in its history. It's a reform that I campaigned on, and now I am thrilled to be able to sign that promise into law.

VA. accountability is essential to making sure that our veterans are treated with the respect they have so richly earned through their blood, sweat and tears. This law will finally give the V.A. secretary who is, by the way, just doing some job, and he's doing it with this and with the heart. Believe me. It gives the secretary the authority to remove federal employees who fail and endanger our veterans and to do so quickly and effectively. It's been a long time since you've heard those words.

Those entrusted with this sacred duty of serving our veterans will be held accountable for the care they provide. It's a big statement. At the same time, this bill protects whistle-blowers who do the right thing. We want to reward, cherish and promote the many dedicated employees at the VA. This legislation also gives the VA secretary the authority to appoint new medical directors at VA hospitals, something which was almost impossible to do in the past. And these are going to be talented, talented people.

I applaud Chairman Phil Roe (ph) and the members of Congress here with us today, which we have many, who fought so hard for this legislation. And I want them up here when I sign. And I just want to thank the members of Congress. They have been really dedicated to getting this done. It was not easy for them either.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

[12:05:02] Now, very sincere gratitude as well to the veteran service organizations who have joined us for this tremendous occasion, and for everything they do for the veterans and for so long. They've been fighting for this and other things so long. And, by the way, other things are happening. We've done a lot. This is a big one. We have a lot of good ones coming.

I also want to express our appreciation for Secretary Shulkin, who is implementing the dramatic reform throughout the VA. It's got to be implemented. If it's not properly implemented, it will never mean the same thing. But I have no doubt it will be properly implemented. Right, David? Ah, it better be, David.

Ah, we'll never have to use those words. We'll never have to use those words on our David. We will never use those words on you, that's for sure. That one never fails, does it, Tom?

Since my first day in office, we've taken one action after another to insure our veterans and make sure - we have to make sure that they get world-class care and the kind of care that they've been promised by so many different people for so many years. We've created a new office of accountability at the VA, which will empower and really has been empowered by this legislation. We've launched a new website that publishes wait times at every VA hospital. We've delivered same-day mental health service at all 168 VA medical centers. That's a big operation when you think of it.

We've announced that the VA will finally solve a problem that has plagued our government for decades, seamlessly transfers veterans' medical records from the Department of Defense to the Department of Veteran Affairs. Now that doesn't sound like such a big deal. It is. Believe me. That was a big one. We thought this would be easy, but the people like David and all that have been here and understand the system, he said, that's going to be a tough one. We got it done. So that was a good one. But it is something we're very proud of, to have been able to do it this quickly. I've also signed the Veterans Choice Improvement Act so that more

veterans can see the doctor of their choice. Already this year, using the choice program, veterans have received nearly double the number of approvals to see the doctor of their choosing. And this is only the beginning. We will not rest until the job is 100 percent complete for our great veterans.

We can all be inspired by the story of a retired Air Force veteran named Earl Morris (ph), who served as a physician's assistant at the VA centers in Ohio and Indiana. Thirteen years ago, Earl began asking his patients if they planned to visit new World War II Memorial, which is beautiful, right here in Washington, D.C. Nearly all said they planned to visit, but when he saw these patients at their next appointment, almost none of them had made the trip. One day he had an idea. Earl is a private pilot. He asked one of his patients, who was a World War II veteran, if he could fly with him to the memorial. He was so honored to do it. The 80-year-old veteran wept, openly cried. He never imagined he would see that beautiful monument to his service. That is how the first Honor Flight was born. Honor Flight. A very beautiful thing.

Since then, over 100,000 veterans have been greeted with cheers of gratitude as they arrive in our nation's capital. We want all of American veterans, all of them, every one of them, to experience and to at least have the opportunity to experience that same gratitude every time they walk into the VA. That's what today is all about, keeping our promises to those who have kept us free, kept us happy, saved our lives, and saved our families.

[12:10:23] So I just want to thank you, our incredible veterans. We stand with you. We salute you. And with this new legislation, we strive to better support and serve you every single day.

Thank you. God bless you. God bless our veterans. And God bless America.

Thank you very much. Thank you.

Come on up, folks.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. We're going to stay in the room here at the White House. The president of the United States inviting members of Congress, some veterans up as well. He's about to sign the Veterans Accountability and Whistle- blower Protection Act of 2017. Let's listen.

TRUMP: It's a tremendous honor for me. It's a tremendous honor for everybody on stage. And we're taking care of our veterans. And we're taking care of them properly.

Thank you, David. Congratulations. Thank you, again. Congratulations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, sir.

KING: OK, and you're watching the president of the United States in the White House there, a signing ceremony. He considers this a big achievement early in his administration. It is the Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistle-blower Act of 2017. We'll keep an eye on the room as the president hands out some pens there to the invited guests. Key members of Congress there, some veterans there, his Veterans Affairs secretary. You see the president now applauding them.

With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Hirschfeld Davis of "The New York Times," Karoun Demirjian of "The Washington Post," Matt Viser of "The Boston Globe," and Mary Katharine Ham of "The Federalist."

There were a lot of days in this town where we're debating big partisan issues. We will get, in a moment, to the Russia investigation. We will get, in a few moments, to the Senate Republican's health care bill. This is a - pretty much a bipartisan moment for the country and for this president. He says he's following through on a big campaign promise. This legislation is something Republicans wanted to pass before Donald Trump hit the scene. That doesn't mean it's not part of his accomplishments. He's the president. He gets to sign it.

Essentially the big reforms designed to improve the disaster of veterans health care were signed in the Obama administration. They're being implemented. The president says he's going to make those even better.

This particular legislation allows the department, makes it easier to fire people for misconduct. One of the things they learned after the scandals was people had these jobs that were in place. They were found to be incompetent. But federal government rules prevented the administration, then the Obama administration, now the Trump administration, from saying a favorite phrase of this president, I don't mean to make fun of it here, "you're fired." So this deal today, an accomplishment in what way?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, I mean, it's, as you say, it's a bipartisan achievement for the president, which he hasn't had very many of those. He hasn't had any of those. He hasn't had any major legislative achievements yet. So for the - for him to be able to showcase something like this is a win for him in a lot of ways.

I mean the big complaint after President Obama signed his Veterans Affairs reform bill was that even with the enhanced disciplinary action that could be taken at the VA, they were still having trouble firing people and holding people accountable who had been responsible for that. So for Trump to be able to point to that and say, you know, we took this a step further and did what was needed is really important for him. That said, I'm not sure how much momentum he gets out of this to put toward what he really needs to do next, which is the health care bill, which is a very heavy lift. I mean he talked about this being a heavy lift. That's a really heavy lift.

KING: Right. And on this particular issue, he said they're rarely happening. He said the bad things are now rarely happening in his administration. Let's hope that's true. Let's hope that's true for the veterans. So let's hope - this should not be a partisan issue, the issue there is, this has been a problem for a long time, Democratic administrations, Republican administrations. The irony is here, David Shulkin is a holdover from the Obama administration. H's the one holdover in the cabinet. He was the number two at the Department of Veterans Affairs and it was recommended to the president, keep this guy, we think he is part of the solution. Now, some people say, wait, you were there when there was a problem, but that relationship is a fascinating one.

[12:15:00] MATT VISER, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": This is also something that candidate Trump talked about almost every time he was on a stage was veterans and veteran affairs and fixing the VA. So I think in that sense he is able to point to something that he's able to sign here. How much credit he gets for developing it, you know, is maybe another matter.

And the only discordant note during that whole ceremony was him sort of joking about firing, you know, Shulkin, you know, his cabinet secretary, you know? So - who was the Obama holder. He said, you know, we love our David. We don't have to say that. You know, we're not going to fire you. You know, it was kind of an odd moment.

KING: But for - but for a president who most of the moments we see him - and, again, we're going to get to them in a couple minutes, but I just want to - this is important for the country, this piece of legislation. Any emphasis we can put on reminding politicians that they should double check, triple check, quadruple check to make sure those promised improvements in veterans care are being made, we should.

But for a president to normally, in our conversations about him, and, again, will be in a minute about big partisan fights or the investigations, these have been rare moments?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, "THE FEDERALIST": Well, look, this was a nice moment. It's a bipartisan bill. It seems to be a common sense reform. It - some of the care at VA facilities for years has been very, very bad. The idea that people who were overseeing the Phoenix situation could stay in place is ludicrous. One of them, the head of the hospital, actually just won a court battle to appeal for her job again. She was padding her own bonuses by making up these fake wait times. It's insane that she should stay in that job and that you would get better results as a result. So I'm glad this happened and he had a nice little ceremony there, which was what you want as a president.

KING: That's what you want as a president. Everybody sit tight. We'll be back in a minute and move to some other issues here in Washington, including the president essentially saying he made up a story about having White House tapes so that Jim Comey would tell the truth.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:21:22] KING: Welcome back.

If you believe the president, which is often a risky bet, he deliberately misled the country to make sure James Comey told the truth.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't tape. And I don't have any tape. And I didn't tape. But when he found out that I - you know, that there may be tapes out there, whether it's governmental tapes or anything else, and who knows, I think his story may have changed. I mean, you'll have to take a look at that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You'll have to take a look at that.

At the root of all this, you remember, that tweet launched by the president a little more than a month ago. Here's how it read. "James Comey better hope there are no tapes of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press." Now, the president, along with his aides and his attorneys, call it a brilliant strategy because Comey did end up confirming publicly that he told the president he was not personally under investigation. OK. But that White House spin also ignore as long list of damaging things Comey says he put in the public record only as a response to the tapes tweet, including memos detailing how the president asked him, in Comey's words, to shut down the investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I don't think there is any other explanation, other than he's a bully and he doesn't want this Russia investigation to continue. But at the same time, just the way he conducts himself, he's like - he only is matched by Wile E. Coyote in terms of self-inflicted wounds. And he just keeps acting this way. And - and I think the American public can see what's going on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Senator Ed Markey there, or Ed Markey, if you want to do it from where I'm from.

A couple things to come at here. Number one, is it OK for the president of the United States, or anybody, to deliberately mislead people if your clock is - internal clock is telling you, if I mislead people here, somebody's going to tell the truth? Really? Do we believe - a, do we believe that that's why he did it and, b, really?

DAVIS: Well, I mean, it's hard to believe that he - that this wasn't at least in part a fit of pick on his part.

KING: Right.

DAVIS: I mean he - there had been a story that ran in "The New York Times" that talked about this exchange that he had had with Jim Comey and he was angry about it and he - you saw in the wording of the tweet, he better hope. That's - that's the way you word a threat. And he wanted to send a message to Comey that he was not going to stand for him talking about their private conversations in a way that was unflattering.

But in terms of a self-inflicted wound, I mean I think you can only - you can only say that that's true because, of course, what has happened in - you know, in the - in the aftermath is that Comey saw that, said, you know, I really hope there are tapes, and then set about this process in motion to make sure that the public knew what had happened in those conversations. And it's so striking that the president is willing to say, and to admit that he said something that was completely untrue.

KING: Right.

DAVIS: Even in the interests of making sure someone else told the truth. I mean that's just an extraordinary thing for a president to admit openly.

KING: And it's an extraordinary thing for anybody to admit. But he's the president of the United States. To say, I deliberately lied or I deliberately misled or I deliberately mischaracterized?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, and you have to kind of figure out what's his zero sum here, right? Is it better to look like he wasn't in control the whole time or better to kind of acknowledge that, yes, he was spinning this? Andi guess the right or wrong question, yes, you can make a moral judgment about lying, bad, we shouldn't do that.

KING: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: Especially to an entire country publicly. But you could also say, well, politically, does it matter, right? Did he get - does he feel like he got what he wanted out of it? And, I mean, I think that, you know, looking at the whole spectrum of this, it's not just that Comey put out information in those memos that didn't reflect well on the president. It's also that he did that with the intention of trying to get them to appoint a special counsel, which they did and now Trump is going after that special counsel and he's the next target of his side comments about, you know, not appreciating Mueller's relationship and Mueller and Comey are too close friends and all of that stuff.

[12:25:10] So, yes, I mean this - this is - it seems like this is cleanup after six weeks of letting this run. It didn't go so well. I mean you're the guy in charge, right? Well, that was always my plan, right?

KING: Well, at least -

DEMIRJIAN: (INAUDIBLE).

KING: In this case at least he's cleaning it up himself. Often he sends other people out to do the cleanup for him.

I want to listen a little bit more - this is - it's from that same part of the interview. He was interviewed last night by "Fox and Friends." The interview aired this morning. Here, again, talking about how he thinks Comey was more of a truth teller after he put out the fake word about tapes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My story didn't change. My story was always a straight story. My story was always the truth. But you'll have to determine for yourself whether or not his story changed. But I did not tape.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was a smart way to make sure he stayed honest in those hearings.

TRUMP: Well - it wasn't - it wasn't very stupid, I can tell you that. He was - he did admit that what I said was right. And if you look further back, before he heard about that, I think maybe he wasn't admitting that. So you'll have to do a little investigative reporting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Well, let's set asides the tough probing questions on state TV there. But my story was always the truth. Well, we haven't actually heard the president's entire story, have we?

VISER: No. And I mean if he's sort of suggesting that Comey was only telling the truth because of this threat, the truth that Comey told was not a good one for President Trump.

KING: Right.

VISER: I mean once he detailed what was in these memos, testifying under oath, before Congress, it was pretty damaging news for President Trump. So, I mean, if he was sort of moving him towards the truth, it didn't end up so well.

KING: Right. At a minimum, if you believe Comey, the president acted grossly inappropriately with the director of the FBI. Democrats say it's obstruction of justice. There are several investigations underway that we'll get into the details of that.

But at a minimum, if you believe Comey, the president kept bringing up things with the FBI director that the president's not supposed to bring up with the FBI director.

DEMIRJIAN: Right, which doesn't seem to be that good of a thing if you're the president right now trying to explain that. But we also have to ask, which story was it that he told consistently exactly because is it the thing about him not being under investigation? I suppose that was true as far as Comey did come out and corroborated that later. But was it that he, you know, that - you have to take into account everything he said about the firing of Comey too. Was it about the Clinton investigation? Was it about the Russia thing? I mean he has gone back and forth in his own words even. I mean it's his surrogates, but then it's also his words, his tweets that self- contradict. So maybe he's telling two stories consistently, but they don't exactly match.

VISER: The other thing is that it's odd, I mean this whole episode, but it's not out of character for Trump, you know? I mean the birther stuff went on for so long. The questioning of Ted Cruz and was his father involved with JFK's, you know, assassination, you know? Trump has done this throughout his public life. So I don't think it's unusual what he's - what he's doing here.

KING: Right. Well, he's become good friends with Ted Cruz.

VISER: Right.

KING: So you're saying he's going to become good friends with Jim Comey. No (ph), I'm sorry.

HAM: I mean he's always - he's always been part executive part troll. Like this -

KING: Right.

HAM: And I would like to take him seriously when he tweets, but I do not.

KING: Right.

HAM: I'm not surprised that there aren't tapes. I'm not surprised that this is the outcome here. And he did seem to pay a price for having done that, which is, you know, maybe discourages of that in the future.

But, on the point about telling a consistent story, on the point about Comey assuring him that he was not under investigation, he has told a more consistent story than leakers or the media on that.

KING: Right.

HAM: And he was correct. So on that one, I'll give him.

KING: Yes, on that - on that - on that part of it, he was correct. And I think that's what he's focused on there because that was so important for him to get that into public record. That he, at least as of when James Comey left the FBI, the president of the United States was not directly under investigation.

It is striking, though, to hear Jay Sekulow, one of the president's attorneys, saying that's not an illegal act, by the way, getting someone to tell the truth. No, it's not an illegal act to lie or to mislead.

DEMIRJIAN: (INAUDIBLE).

KING: But it's interesting that you defend a president of the United States doing that.

In the conversation, Bob Mueller is now the special prosecutor. Some Republicans have said, you know, Bob Mueller has hired people who have made contributions to the Clinton campaign. Newt Gingrich, who said it was a bold move the day it was done, since then has said this is a horrible, terrible thing. This is a Democratic partisan investigation. The president was asked, does he think Bob Mueller can do the job?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's very, very good friends with Comey, which is very bothersome. But he's also - we're going to have to see. I mean we're going to have to see in terms - look, there has been no obstruction. There has been no collusion. There has been leaking by Comey. But there's been no collusion, no obstruction and virtually everybody agrees to that. Robert Mueller's an honorable man, and hopefully he'll come up with an honorable solution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He goes around a bit at different things in part of that answer, but the thing that strikes me is that whether you agree or disagree with the president, when he talks about this now, he's repeating the same line, no collusion, no obstruction, which I think his attorneys have talked to him many times, if you're going to talk about this, keep it short, keep it tight, keep it on basic points.

On that part, for a president people often saying he's undisciplined, he seems actually quite disciplined in that part of it and that's - when he talks about the investigation, about the questions, he says that and he moves on.

[12:30:09] DAVIS: Right, he says - he says that in an interview, although he still tweets when he gets angry about this, that it's a witch hunt, that the whole