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Trump on Sessions Recusal; Sessions Continues as Attorney General; Trump on Russian Money; McCain Diagnosed with Cancer. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 20, 2017 - 12:00   ET



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

There's bipartisan shock and considerable sadness today here in the nation's capital. One of its most colorful and influential voices, Senator John McCain of Arizona, is diagnosed with an aggressive brain cancer.

Plus, back to the bargaining table, but so far the same result, President Trump nudges Senate Republicans to try again to resolve health care differences, but more talking does not resolve the giant policy divide.

We begin, though, with an angry, frustrated president, six months to the day after taking office. Remarkable does not do justice to the words and the tone of the president of the United States in an interview with "The New York Times," especially when it comes to the investigation of Russian election meddling and broader questions about possible collusion and obstruction of justice.

The president, in that interview, lashes out at the former FBI director, the current special counsel, and the number two in his own Justice Department. But his harshest words aimed at the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, long a Trump loyalist, now on the outs with the president because he recused himself from any decisions related to the Russia meddling investigation.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sessions gets the job. Right after he gets the job, he recuses himself.

BAKER (ph): Was that a mistake?

TRUMP: Well, Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he would -- if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.


KING: I would have picked somebody else, the president says of his own attorney general.

With us to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, Abby Phillip of "The Washington Post," CNN's Sara Murray, and Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times."

The attacks on anyone and anything related to the Russian investigation are, of course, trademark Trump. So, in character, the policy context gets lost, though, in the personal drama. In one interview, the president of the United States, who has the power to fire these people, ignores long-standing protocol and not only discusses details of an ongoing investigation, but takes shots at those leading it, or leading the agencies that are assisting it in the case of the Justice Department. His venom at the attorney general is particularly telling.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Zero. So, Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself. I then have -- which -- which, frankly, I think it's very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, thanks, Jeff, but I can't -- you know, I'm not going to take you. It's extremely unfair -- and that's a mild word -- to the president.


KING: It just jumps out at you. The attorney general of the United States has a big job. It's about a lot of things. Not just about the Russian investigation. But twice, extremely unfair to the president.

It sounds as if Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions' job as attorney general, was that he -- Donald Trump views it as protecting the president, which is not the attorney general's job. But that is how in that interview the president is portraying it. How dare my friend step aside and follow the advice of the attorneys, follow what everybody says is the good law and step aside because of the involvement in the campaign. How dare he do that. That's extraordinary.

ABBY PHILLIP, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, and I think it really raises a lot of questions about what would happen if Jeff Sessions did step down and Trump were to find someone else to fill that job. Is he looking for someone who is going to involve himself in this investigation, which would break all sorts of rules and protocols and ethics. And it suggests that that's what he wanted from Sessions. And when Sessions couldn't do that for him, he soured on him very quickly.

It is -- I think we have to really underscore how dramatic this is. This is someone who was essentially the only person in the Senate to endorse Donald Trump in the -- in the early stages of this campaign. He has been loyal to him. He has installed loyalists in the White House. And now their relationship is toxic. And it's almost non- existent. And it's reflective of how powerfully -- powerful this Russia thing has become (ph).

KING: And, again, it's the president of the United States saying it's unfair to the president.


KING: It's about -- it's about -- but that it's about him.

BASH: Right.

KING: That the chief law enforcement officer of the United States is not supposed to follow the facts, not supposed to follow the law.

BASH: Yes.

KING: He's supposed to be fair, or partial, is what you read from the president's tone, to the president.

BASH: This is something that the president has been spewing about and ruminating about and angry about for months, since the day that Jeff Sessions recused himself. I mean there was, you know, a famous, I guess now infamous, blowup in the Oval Office that day that we reported on real time with --


BASH: When the president was around his staff. He was absolutely furious. And that has not stopped. The anger has not slowed, has not diminished. And, you know, from, you know, our reporting, we've been talking about this I think for a while, that he has been saying this, even asking, you know, some random people he talks to. So, what do you think? Do you think that he needed to recuse himself? People with and without a law degree. It is something that he cannot let go of.

[12:05:21] And he was clearly comfortable with your colleagues at "The New York Times" sitting in his office --

MARTIN: With one staffer.

BASH: With one staffer.

MARTIN: One staffer, right.

BASH: With Hope Hicks.

MARTIN: And the rest of his staff has to listen to the interview after the fact on a tape recorder, because they don't know what he said.

BASH: Yes. Well, and that's -- yes. But -- exactly. And he just -- and he gets --

KING: But that is -- that is as in character, is lashing out at his own people.

MARTIN: Yes. Yes, right.

BASH: Oh, yes, there's no question. No question.

MARTIN: Let me just make two other comments here. We have been covering this president for over two years now as a

political actor. We have gotten used to him breaking norms, deviating from long-standing protocols. But what is so striking about this moment is that it's not just his behavior. It's the behavior of more traditional politicians. Have you heard one leading governor or senator in the Republican Party stand up today and say, this is outrageous conduct. We are a nation of laws.

KING: But let me jump in on that very point. They're just -- they're just telling me that Senator Orrin Hatch, a senior Republican in the United States Senate, just said that these words will come back to haunt the president.

Chuck Grassley, who's the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, just said that the attorney general must be independent.


KING: So they're stepping out to a degree.

MARTIN: But there's a pattern to this. Those comments come as one offs in response to a discreet moment. You have not seen any gathering of senators or governors, party leaders, to collectively confront this president about his conduct. That has not happened. That did happen eventually in Watergate.

KING: Well --

MARTIN: It took a while.

Secondly, what's amazing, Jeff Sessions, today, as of noon, is still the attorney general of the United States of America. So he saw and heard the president's words last night. He doesn't care about the president's words enough to step down today?

KING: Let's listen to that, because the president goes after Jeff Sessions. You heard that twice there, saying it's unfair to the president what he did, and we know he's mad about it. He also goes after Rod Rosenstein, the number two at the Justice Department, who decided to appoint Robert Mueller as the independent counsel. He mocks him. If you understand Donald Trump, though, he's from Baltimore, you know, he's like the only Republican -- you can't find Republicans in Baltimore. If you understand the history of Trump, you understand the insult of that.

Both of these gentlemen who are trying to be the number one and the number two, at a very important agency in the United States government, enforcing the laws of the land, have to step forward today in making what they viewed as a big case announcements and defend staying on the job.


JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have the honor of serving as attorney general. It's something that goes beyond any thought I would have ever had for myself. We love this job. We love this department. And I plan to continue to do so as long as that is appropriate.

ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: As the attorney general said, we are working here every day to advance the priorities of the Department of Justice, the administration. I am as proud to be here yesterday. I'm proud to be here today. I'll be proud to work here tomorrow. And we are spending every minute working to advance the interests of the department.


KING: I -- maybe the answer is self-evident, but does the president of the United States not understand that he is not supposed to influence the work of the attorney general and the deputy attorney general of the United States?

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I don't think he cares. I just don't think he cares. I don't think that we should be surprised that loyalty is the ultimate barometer in the president's eyes. That was very clear throughout his presidential campaign. And there was no shift for these -- this team when they got to the White House. There was no, you know, oh, now you're the president of the United States. Now we are working in the West Wing. Now we represent the American people, whether they voted for you or not. That's not the way this president is thinking about it. That's not the way his team is thinks about it.

I mean one of the things that I think was so telling about this interview in "The New York Times" is that it's so clear how much the White House has been lying to cover up for the president. Oh, he's not obsessed with the Russia investigation, he's focused on his agenda. No, he stands by his Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Trump went out during the transition and railed against CNN as fake news for reporting about this dossier that now the president has confirmed that interaction and James Comey has confirmed that interaction under oath. I mean the full-time job of trying to cover up how angry the president is about this, how angry he is about the Russia investigation, I mean, it's tying these people in knots.

KING: And -- and so then the question is why. And having covered past administrations in -- under investigation, one of the things you listen for is, they know more than we do. The president of the United States knows a lot more about this investigation than we do because he's getting briefed by his attorneys on what documents are they asking for, who do they want to question, who else are they talking to. He knows a lot more about it than we do, which is why this part of the interview at "The New York Times" is quite telling.

Listen to them asking the president here, what if Bob Mueller's not just interviewing Russian election meddling, not just interviewing, sir, whether your aides had improper meetings with the Russians during the campaign, but what if he's looking into your personal finances?


SCHMIDT: Mueller was looking at your finances and your family's finances, unrelated to Russia -- is that a red line?

[12:10:03] HABERMAN: Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I would say yes. Yes, I would say, yes.


TRUMP: I would say, yes. I would say, yes, when asked if that would be a breach.

Michael Zeldin, who's a CNN legal contributor, veteran attorney in the town, who's been part of special investigations in the past, is looking at all the people Bob Mueller hired and he says he has no doubt that this is a money laundering financial transaction investigation, much more than it is about a hacking investigation when he's looking at the caliber of the people he's brought in.

One more point from the interview. Donald Trump, on his own, brings up this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't -- I don't -- I mean it's possible that there's a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody -- somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don't make money from Russia.


KING: I don't make money from Russia. He talks about perhaps a condo sale or two to Russians. That tells me a lot about the mindset of the president of the United States as he understands where this investigation is headed.

BASH: That was a tell.

KING: Right.

BASH: I mean there's no question that was a tell, that he does have a sense of where it's headed. He does have a sense that perhaps Bob Mueller may be already looking into the financial situation and the financial ties that his company and his family may or may not have had in Russia. The fact that he brought that up unsolicited, very interesting.

MARTIN: Well, and speaking of red lines, I'll make the point again, is it a red line for the congressional lane of the Republican Party if this president does eventually fire Bob Mueller? Is that finally their red line to collectively confront this president about his behavior because, again, so far, if they do these one-off comments but there's not been collective action, if he does that, and there is a kind of reprise of the Saturday Night Massacre, when Nixon did the same thing, does that then prompt more folks on The Hill to go to the president?

KING: Interesting question.

Again, this interview, it is beyond remarkable. If you haven't read it or heard it, you should go do that as soon as you can, or throughout the day. It's worth listening to. I don't care how you voted, it's worth listening to understand the mindset of this president.

Ahead, we'll have more of the president's words on that interview on Hillary Clinton, on parades and on long handshakes.

Next, though, emotional and bipartisan sadness as lawmakers get word Senator John McCain is battling an aggressive brain cancer.


[12:16:32] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What was he like on that trip?

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Tough as a boot. And ready to go at every moment. I'm telling you, when you're traveling with John McCain, you get up early and you work until late at night. Because that's who he is. He's there -- he's there to ask questions. He's there to probe. He's there to find out information and he's there to push hard.


KING: That's Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren there praising Senator John McCain, praising especially his toughness and tenacity. That's a sentiment heard across the political spectrum today as Washington processes word that John McCain, the Republican senator of Arizona, now fighting an aggressive form of brain cancer.

That diagnosis was first reported here on CNN last night by our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay is with us now live with the latest on -- Sanjay, let's start with what the doctors discovered, then we'll move on to the prognosis.


Yes, you know, you remember, John, last Friday Senator McCain went in for a routine visit. It was a scheduled visit, but he did complain that he'd been feeling fatigued over the last few months. He had had a bout of double vision. Whatever it was, the doctors were concerned enough to get a CAT scan. That showed that blood collection right here, left frontal area just behind the forehead there. He had an operation just a few hours later. They were concerned enough to urgently perform that operation. They found the blood collection and they thought that they saw something else at that time in the operating room but they weren't sure. It take as few days for the final diagnosis to come back, which is, as you point out, John, a tumor. A type of brain cancer known at glioblastoma.

This is a brain cancer. It starts in the brain, as opposed to starting somewhere else in the body and spreading to the brain. I think it was a surprise certainly for the senator and his family, but also for the doctors. They thought maybe this was just a blood collection. They thought, if anything, maybe this was related to his melanoma, which he's had in the past. But, in fact, it is this glioblastoma, John.

KING: An 80-year-old man, stubborn as they come, as tough as they come. But every American, Sanjay, has a family story about cancer. And this particular type of aggressive brain cancer, in Washington when you mention it, Beau Biden, Ted Kennedy come to mind. What is the prognosis for the senator?

GUPTA: Well, you know, numbers and data and stats are something doctors are sometimes reluctant to talk about because every patient is different, John. As you just talked about different patients. But if you do look at the literature, which you'll see is median survival is about 14 -- 14 1/2 months. About 10 percent of patients will survive five years or more. And all of that is with additional treatment. So in addition to the operation.

Now I'll tell you, talking to the doctors yesterday, they believe that they were able to remove all the tumor. A postoperative scan did not show any evidence of tumor still being there. After that operation, you still have to assume, though, that there is microscopic bit of tumor there and, therefore, additional therapy in the form of chemotherapy and radiation is typically what happens.

And there's a few weeks between the operation and that therapy starting because you just want to let the patient, in this case Senator McCain, recover and heal from his incisions, for example, before starting that. But my guess, talking to his doctors, is that within the next few weeks that's likely to be the course of action, John.

KING: Dr. Sanjay Gupta reporting. It's sad news, Sanjay, but thank you for the very important insights as we look forward and wish Senator McCain the best.

And if you follow politics even just a little, you know Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is McCain's closest friend in the Senate.

[12:20:06] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The truth of the matter is that no one saw this diagnosis coming. You know, I started getting a little emotional on the phone because I can't think of anything that I've done since 1999 politically, in many ways personally, that was worth doing without John. So that sort of hit me last night and I -- I just -- I can't think of anything I've done, any fight I've been in, that I haven't been there with him or he's been there with me.


KING: There's a lot of faux emotion and faux friendship in Washington. That is not faux. These are two very close men.

And it's interesting. I don't want to make this an obituary conversation because we all expect Senator McCain to be back. He tweeted out himself this morning, "I greatly appreciate the outpouring of support. Unfortunately for my sparring partners in Congress, I'll be back soon, so stand by."

Amen. That is who he is. That is his character, the crusty sense of humor. But he is -- and, you know, we use -- we throw adjectives around too often, but he is a unique force and a unique voice in Washington because of his history as a P.O.W., his military service. He's an American hero because of his role as a Republican presidential nominee. And because he, whether you like him or not, calls it like he sees it and he can be a thorn in both parties' sides from time to time.

MARTIN: Yes, I -- two thoughts. I don't think a lot of viewers really recognize this because it's been fairly quiet. But during every recess this year he has gone abroad and basically has become the sort of de facto chief diplomat for this country. And what he's been doing is reassuring people across the world that America is still America. And that you might have some concerns about what's happening back with the Trump administration, but we're still the country that you know. Oftentimes joined on his trips by Senator Lindsey Graham.

The other thing that I think it -- is tough for folks in Washington when they hear this news is that it's not just about one senator, as famous as he is having a tough diagnosis. It's the symbolism of somebody who represents an earlier country, and somebody who reflects an earlier time in this country, and the possibility that that era might be coming to an end.

BASH: Yes. And --

KING: Elizabeth Warren, who you saw at the beginning of the block, she holds the seat once held by Ted Kennedy. So it was a bit there. And she was on the trip with John McCain to Afghanistan. You mentioned him taking all these trips. He delayed going home to Arizona to see his doctors to take that Afghanistan trip.

And to the point that he's home, so you won't see him on the floor of the United States Senate. But while we were in commercial break, John McCain proving, don't count me out.

BASH: Absolutely. He sent out a press release going after the administration, going after the Trump administration, because of reports, in quotes, that the administration is playing right into the hands of Vladimir Putin by apparently thinking about reducing the assistance to the Syrian opposition. I mean this is the kind of thing that John McCain has been -- you know, to say that he's a leader. I mean a leader means that you have people even close to you and following. I mean he is so out there on issues like this, aggressively, not letting go.

And I can tell you, just in talking to people around him yesterday, even as he was getting this diagnosis, he was still calling the press office, dictating press releases just like this. I mean, remember, he didn't have the diagnosis, but he had just had surgery when he released a pretty, you know, consequential press release on health care. He helped to torpedo the health care bill. And just to kind of give you also a sense. I mean we've all covered John McCain for years. We covered his presidential race -- races, and him in the Senate. But just to kind of give you a sense of how he is revered in a bipartisan way. I talked to a Democratic senator, ended up telling him the news. This is a Democrat. A very partisan Democrat. Broke down in his -- crying. Crying hysterically. Not just because he loves John McCain the man, but because of what you said. Because this is a guy who has such leadership on both sides of the aisle. And he's one of the few people around who can still get people to stop and listen and put down their partisan --

MARTIN: Yes. And to America --

KING: Right. I want to -- I want to -- I want to sneak in -- I want to -- I just want to sneak in one moment this point making about the generational differences, philosophical difference that John McCain, from a past era of politics, which is not too far in our rearview mirror, but we forget in in the days of Trump --

BASH: Yes.

KING: In the days of the blogosphere. In the days of the hard partisanship in the media. President Obama tweeting out -- the former President Obama. "John McCain is an American hero and one of the bravest fighters I've ever known. Cancer doesn't know what it's up against. Give it hell, John." That's from, remember, his 2008 opponent. And in that campaign, the first African-American leading candidate for president of the United States, an iconic moment for John McCain was this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I got to ask you a question. I do not believe in -- I can't trust Obama.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have read about him and he's not -- he's not -- he's a -- he's an Arab. He is not --



MCCAIN: No. No, ma'am. No, ma'am. He's a -- he's a -- he's a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on -- on fundamental issues. And that's what this campaign is all about. He's not. Thank you. Thank you.


KING: Didn't win that election. Was never going to win that election. It was a big Democratic year.

MARTIN: Right.

KING: But just not willing to take the bait on issues like that. It's a signature of a different kind of politics and on John McCain.

MURRAY: Quite a difference from the tone of politics that we're in today where, you know, our current president questioned for a very long time whether President Barack Obama was, in fact, born in the United States. I think that's -- you know, when you're talking about a different era of politics. Yes, John McCain embodies this kind of service to our country, but does embody a sort of political discourse that I think people miss a little bit.

MARTIN: He's an Annapolis grads, so he would hate this, but he reflects the West Point motto, duty, honor, country.

BASH: Oh, you are so screwed, dude.

KING: Right. Yes. If you're watching, senator, we had nothing to do with that. That's just Martin going rogue on us down there.

Up next, Republicans leave a White House meeting with the president, try again to find an Obamacare repeal compromise, but they fail again.

And Americans watching at home think this debate maybe should try something different.


[12:30:08] KING: Welcome back.

The Obamacare repeal and replacement debate, well, it's dominated the first six months of the Trump presidency.