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Trump: Mueller-Comey Friendship "Bothersome"; Washington Post: Putin Directed U.S. Hacks to Help Trump Win; Sen. Rand Paul: Senate Bill is "Not Repeal"; Sen. Collins Against Increasing Premiums, Medicaid Cuts; Senate GOP Leaders Have a Uphill Climb For Votes. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired June 23, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: -- people often saying he's undisciplined. He seems actually quite disciplined in that part of it. And that -- when he says about the investigation, about those questions, he says that and he moves on.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right, he says that in an interview, although he still tweets when he gets angry about this and says it's a witch hunt, that the whole thing is a hoax, you know. And to that, that can get him into trouble that his lawyers really can't control. I mean, the interesting thing about what he's saying about Mueller, it reminds me of the vast right wing conspiracy during the Clinton years. I mean, this is a clearly an effort on the part of the president and his supporters to paint this all as just kind of partisan witch hunt, this is not -- there's no substance there.

But the fact is that Comey and Mueller are not best friends. I mean, that is just a narrative that is false. They work together, they worked closely. They were in some really tough situations together during the Bush administration when Comey was the deputy attorney general and Mueller was head of FBI. But it's not like they hang out on the weekends.

I mean, this is not, you know, a pal situation. And even though it may make the president uncomfortable that they are close, putting that out there, it's just not right. I mean, just not true.

MATT VISER, THE BOSTON GLOBE: Yes, we did a fair amount of reporting as others did on their relationship and couldn't find -- I mean, as Julie is saying where they -- you know, they worked professionally close, they had a lot of professional respect for each other, but they didn't vacation together, they didn't have dinners together. Their families didn't get together. There was not a close, tight-knit relationship.

Even the word "mentor" as has been use sometimes, is not universally thought of between those two men, you know. So they are -- they have respect for each other but they're not, you know, close.

KING: That's clear enough by the president to show doubt among his own supporters at least at a minimum that this investigation can be trusted. Everybody sit tight. Up next, top secret packets, situation room briefings, proof of the direct line to Vladimir Putin? New details of the spy game's twist of campaign 2016.


[12:35:45] KING: Ask the president or one of his aides about Russian election meddling and what you get, usually, something like this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.


KING: Or this.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: This didn't have an impact on the electoral result. Not a single vote was changed and we're going to stand by that. We know Donald Trump won fairly and squarely, 360 electoral votes and had nothing do with interference.


KING: What Team Trump almost never talks about is the crime at the root of all this. The unprecedented Russian interference in the 2016 election. If you like crime and punishment stories read today's Washington Post. It features a detailed story about how the Obama administration came to realize the extent of the Russian plot and how it came to realize they could trace it definitively to President Vladimir Putin.

(Inaudible) like a spy novel but novels are fiction. This account is full of eye-popping reality. Like how the intelligence linking the interference to Putin were shared with President Obama. Quote, The CIA package came with instructions that it will be returned immediately after it was read. To guard gets leaks subsequent meetings in the Situation Room followed the same protocols as planning sessions for the Osama bin Laden raid.

The Post account painstakingly details the election year debate about how to respond. Aggressive options were set aside for the most part. Little done before the election. Quote, it is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend, this what one former top Obama administration official told the Post. "I feel like we sort of choked."

It is a riveting story. And again, if you haven't read it at home, go online and read it. What was your major take away when you could just say how this played, how sensitive it was? How careful, only a very few people, about as many as this table has sort of the eyes-only access to it at the beginning?

DAVIS: Well, I mean, what was striking was that, they were under -- the Obama administration was under a huge amount of political pressure and also security pressure. I mean, they were watching the reality of this unfold and how deeply Russia had been able to infiltrate into the election. And on how many fronts Putin was able to sort of carry out this plot. And yet they somehow felt handcuffed by the fact that there was ongoing election. And by the fact that some of the sanctions and some of other retaliatory measures they were considering they were afraid were going to prompt action by Russia.

And this was, remember, all at a time when Donald Trump was talking how the election was rigged. And so what really I think tie the Obama administration hands in the end was a sense that if they were to do some of the more dramatic actions and retaliation to try to stop this, that they would in a sense be playing even further into Putin's hands. He would escalate and then they would be accused of trying to rig the election for Clinton.

VISER: It was an indication of -- you know, you hear from senators and people who've been in these classified briefings, no doubt about Putin's involvement. And this sort of made -- we've sort of understood that but this made that even more clear. The other thing that came out was Obama -- it was a reminder of his slow and painstaking deliberations that you know? He was very slow a lot of times to make decisions that got him into trouble with Syria. This was another example where they had some clear evidence and the response was fairly slow to take place, perhaps because of the political complications of an election.

KING: I think in part because they thought Republicans would push back if they do anything and also in part because I think they were fairly confident Clinton was going to win.


KING: They thought Clinton was going to win and they figured why stir this up if she's going to win anyway? I just want to read some of the details of this because the CIA was out ahead of other intelligence agencies in linking it to Putin. We have some of the other agencies took a while to get there. They're all there now, just about everybody in Washington although we don't hear this directly before the president, just about everybody else talks about this but here is it.

"The intelligence captured Putin's specific instructions on the operation's audacious objectives. Defeat, defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and help elect her opponent Donald Trump." And it talks about again one of the packets send over to the White House.

[12:40:05] "Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government, that detailed Russian President Vladimir Putin's direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race. But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin's specific instructions about the effect of that."

The specificity here about Putin is more -- we have people say, we traced it to the Kremlin. We have people say, there's no way this could happen without Putin. But the specificity of this with intelligence deep inside the Russian government, if (inaudible) going to looking over his shoulder today.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, THE WASHINGTON POST: Seriously, this is why you (inaudible). But -- I mean, this confirmation of everything President Trump didn't want to hear and he's been trying to deny that -- which has been almost consensus with everybody else in the intelligence community for a long time. I just want to point out that there's two other things in there that are fairly striking. And Matt was talking about the Obama administration's characteristic indecision. They wanted a bipartisan backing to actually do anything and didn't do it.

The other thing that is interesting is that, in that article it says, until they commissioned that study to look back, the intelligence communities are quite to come out in early January didn't realize what the full picture was. They're only seeing it through blinders. They didn't realize going back how this just another step and would been a litany of steps taking to do these active measures. And how they known that?

Had they had peripheral vision, might have changed the decision- making. And it's also interesting to see that they put in these implants. That this revelation about these implants in the Russian infrastructure, which President Trump has not taken away. Because the way that they did it, it takes another presidential act to undo it.

And the fact that Trump hasn't undone that given everything else he's been saying, all of the smoke he's been throwing in this direction also notable. And probably more difficult for him politically to do it now given that this is public information.

KING: Right, and that's going to be part of (inaudible) with Trump administration. The president himself doesn't like to talk about this because he somehow sees it as making his win illegitimate, that somebody else was meddling the election. But his national security team in their public testimony has been quite firm. A, that they accept the conclusions of the intelligence community, and B, that things need to be done about it.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, THE FEDERALIST: Yes, I think he's concerned about the legitimacy part. I'm not it's correct that he thinks there's no Russian involvement at all. He's mad about the collusion part and those allegations.

In fact, Comey testified that he was telling him, well, if someone on my staff did this I would like to know about that. So let's get to the bottom of it. So I think there's a distinction there.

There's also the distinction that sometime this going to made in media which was that the Russians hack succeeded in changing the media story and changing the news story of the election but not the actual vote totals, which is an important thing to note. Because surprising numbers of people when polled think that's the case.

KING: Right.

HAM: But here we have, you know, this was a bombshell. This is something that's really important for national security. Trump is assisted by senior Obama official who used one of his favorite tweetable words "choked" to say that, look, I should have done something about this. But they were in a very hard situation just as Comey was. Just like the way you take these actions during a heated election is tough, but I do think this is bombshell, they didn't move on it.

DEMIRJIAN: Right. And just one another point which is what you're saying it's important to distinguish that they didn't actually mess with vote totals. It's an important distinction but what is also important to realize is that, we knew Russia did this in other countries and we never thought that they would do it to us. Changing the media environment with changing the understanding of people of what's going on. And the fact that and this is their M.O. (inaudible). And people didn't realize that until way too late.

DAVIS: And the fact that we still have a president who uses the word "if" when he refers to this whole campaign that we saw laid out in such, you know, striking detail. He still -- casts doubt on the fact this actually happened, that it was actually Russia and Putin that did this. And he never asked Comey in any of those private meetings about any of this.

The lack of concern that he's shown and it'll be interesting to see if there's going to be a response from the White House to this story. But to the degree to which they infiltrated our electoral system is amazing, given that he's the president. And this is a -- it's a huge national security breach.

VISER: And either he's been briefed on all this and knows all of this in great detail or he hasn't been curious enough to sort of figure some of it out.

DAVIS: You have to imagine some of that was briefed to him in January.

KING: Right. That was what Kellyanne Conway in T.V. this morning said, this story exists in the paper today, we need to read it. While the president has access to every piece of information in this story and has had for five months now if not longer and more. The president has access to everything. So that's not a genuine answer that we're just finding about these things in the newspaper.

Up next, 52 minus four, it goes defeat for the Senate Republican health care plan but the final math test is next week. So there's still plenty of time for horse trading.


[12:48:33] KING: Welcome back. Mitch McConnell has a tough choice to make. Should he try to win over conservatives like Rand Paul? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: The bill has to get better and has to get more to our liking. The current bill keeps the fundamental flaw of ObamaCare. We have more government subsidies in our bill than perhaps ObamaCare bill has. Our bill may cost more in the first two years than ObamaCare costs. That's not repeal.


KING: Or should McConnel (inaudible) to speak to moderates like Susan Collins.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I can't support a bill that's going to greatly increase premiums for our older Americans who are out of pocket costs, for those who aren't quite old enough for Medicare yet. And I cannot support a bill that's going to make such deep cuts in Medicaid.


KING: Leader McConnell, it's as crafty as they come. But his health care math is (inaudible). He can only afford to lose two votes and at the moment, CNN counts shows four senators are no votes. Unless they get big changes, four more senators say they're concerned and not ready to commit. Another 27 Republicans say they're still reviewing the legislation before making a decision.

We're talking about this during the break. If anybody in this town can pull this rabbit out of a hat it's Mitch McConnell. But, it is hard if you can only lose two votes and you have Rand Paul likely and Ted Cruz on the right, and Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, they would prefer they're in the middle and not the left, but in this debate, they're on the other side. How does he do this? What is the legislative compromise because the policy differences are so big to get you to 50?

[12:50:03] DEMIRJIAN: They may not be in the bill. (Inaudible) some of them may be in the bill to (inaudible) if you can (inaudible). I don't know how you would fix (inaudible). I don't know how you would manage to the millions (inaudible) their insurance to get back on it at the stage through a few amendments.

But you can probably get them through -- people like Portman through certain additions. People like Cruz and Lee, maybe through other incentives or, you know, threats? I mean, but I don't know that you can't get everybody.

People like Rand Paul don't particularly care if the leader approves of their vote or not. And people like Susan Collins, if they're go away from the party, they're going away from the party. So they're going to lose some people. The question, do you lose more than two?

KING: And it would (inaudible) the policy so far which we're talking about the politics and these personalities. But the reason you can't get to 50 is because the policy divide much like in the House, (inaudible) conservatives want full ObamaCare repeal. You just heard Senator Paul say that. That means less government involved in this.

They want to shrink the subsidies, people get to buy insurance. They want to shrink Medicaid funding. They want no federal funding of abortion. That's what the conservatives want.

The list is longer. Those are some of the highlights. But on the flip side, the moderates want more generous coverage. They want that opioid addiction treatment coverage you talked about and some of say, you should not strip Planned Parenthood funding in this legislation which the Senate bill does for one year. Those are apples and oranges and how do you -- to get one, if you get one over here you lose three over there.

VISER: And the question is sort of how much so far is posturing and negotiating early on from people like Rand Paul and how much is legitimately going to be opposition? And I think the difference in the House was that you had a group of 20, 25 people, and it's easy to be in a gang of 20 or 25. As this thing narrows and there's one or two senators who are holding this up, the whole party is going to be pointing at them. Not only Mitch McConnell in back rooms but you know, President Trump and others to drop your opposition and let's pass this. So I think that will ratchet up probably next week.

HAM: Yes, it is a different situation. I will remind everybody that we were having the exact same conversation about the House bill --

KING: Right.

HAM: -- and thought, there's no way this is coming together. McConnell is I think clearly better at bringing these things together than leadership in the House just as a matter of course. And then there's the part where -- this was always going to be ugly. It was always going to be complicated. And it was never going to look like a full ObamaCare repeal.

Which also makes the arguments against it as if it is the apocalypse look very silly because it is not anything close to ObamaCare repeal which why conservatives are going to be upset about it. Pass or not. But I want to thank Senator Warren for taking on the Palin death panel role in this debate very early on so we know where she stands. It's going to be tricky.

But the underlying problem will still exists whether this bill passes or not, which is premiums going up 105 percent in four years. Insurers dropping out of many of these exchanges so one-third of American counties, people in the individual market have one or fewer choices and it will get worse if it's left alone.

KING: That's a key question because of the collapse of ObamaCare in some places. Democrats say it's working here, it's working there. Maybe. But in a lot of trouble in other places.

But the question is, if the Senate bill fails, then what happens? Or even if the Senate bill passes, remember, they have to reconcile with the house. Good luck. If the whole thing collapses as Republican- only initiative.

It will be interesting to see what the conversations then are about (inaudible) are necessary. Our key player in this of course is President Trump. From day one of this campaign, he said he want to repeal and replace ObamaCare. Listen to him now saying the people who are saying why isn't this already done, are wrong.


TRUMP: ObamaCare is a disaster and we're trying to do something in a very short period of time. It's interesting. I've been here only five months. People sayings where's the health care? Where's the health care? Well, I've done in five months what other people haven't done in years.


KING: I just want to make clear for the record. And here it is, in his own words, Mr. President, we're not holding to you some fault standard made up by the media, we're holding you to your standard.


TRUMP: We're going to win on health care. You're going to end up with great health care for a fraction of the price. And that's going to take place immediately after we go in, OK? Immediately, fast, quick.

It's over for ObamaCare.

ObamaCare has to be replaced. And we will do it, and we will do it very, very quickly.


KING: Depends on your definition of very quickly, I guess.

DAIVS: Nobody knew it would be this so complicated, right? I mean, this is not something that I think he took a lot of time to figure out how he was going to do or once he got into office really work or building a coalition for. One that it's interesting now as we see -- he did tweet yesterday that he was very supportive of the Senate bill but he said we're going to make it really special. And then he said something at the White House yesterday about how, you know, we're going to do some negotiating.

[12:55:01] And it's very clear here he's leaving himself some room to negotiate, but that puts Republicans who are really on a wire on this measure, both conservatives and the moderates in a really awkward position where they don't know if the president is going to, in the end say, oh, well, this is mean and this is not enough. Or going to be there right behind them saying, this is great, I'm going to sign this and, you know, you've delivered the really special bill, or law that I talked about. And that is, you know -- that's a strange tactic for a president who really needs a legislative accomplishment here. I mean, leaving aside which we shouldn't, the question of whether this bill is going to do what they say it's going to do and improve things. He needs to get this across the finish line. And if you want to do that, you have to do some very careful maneuvering and it's not clear that living himself an out is going to really accomplish that for him.

KING: And if you live in a state with a Republican senator, help us out. If their home this weekend, let us know how the reaction is back home. We'll see what happens next week. But if you have a Republican senator back home, drop us a note, be on social media. Let us know how are things playing back home?

Thanks for joining us in the Inside Politics. I'll see you Sunday morning. Back here in Monday. Wolf Blitzer --