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NYT: McConnell Doubts If Trump Can Save Presidency; More Republicans Speak Out Against Trump; Ex-Russian Diplomat Downplays Trump Campaign Contacts; Clinton Describes When Her Skin Crawled At Trump Debate

Aired August 23, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:02] MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Made that, you know, he get a respect for McConnell. He's an age peer, right? I mean, he's roughly the same age. You know, he had a long record of accomplishments. Trump admired his sort of -- his political acumen. He punched through Gorsuch, which is really one of the main accomplishments of this administration.

But the moment that, you know, he comes up short for Trump, it's, you know, it turns into this. I mean -- and this relationship has been one of the more kind of fascinating ones to watch. You know, I mean, McConnell is the one who brings in notes into a conversation, has a checklist of what he wants to get off on the agenda and talk about in the agenda.

And I've been told he had to sort of wait out Trump on the phone while Trump, you know, kind of winds out, you know, news of the day, gossip in the office, talk about the SPs (ph) last night, while McConnell just going to sits there silently on the phone waiting, you know, waiting to get, you know, connect to the bill.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Right. That's interesting and very telling. I think, Julie, that the Russia probe, really at least according to Manu's reporting seems to be the real source of tension. He has this appointment about Obamacare and the failure to repeal and replace, although to be frank, President Trump was really not much of a help on that, alienating key Republican senators as he did, but wanting to be more protected.

JULIE DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE REPORTE, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Absolutely. And I mean, I think this is like if you look at how Donald Trump went after Jeff Sessions, his own Attorney General, who was supporter of his during the campaign and very outspokenly so, versus Mitch McConnell who hang back more and was has been much less than ally of his, he clearly feels like this is a responsibility in a Senate Majority Leader, you're a Republican, you should be protecting me, I'm the President.

But I also think -- and I think that has been the key for some time and it just have to comes in the fore. I think what pushed it to the fore, in addition to a number of things, including the failure that the, you know, the latest failure of the health care effort, was Mitch McConnell making a speech in Kentucky, publicly saying that he wasn't sure that Donald Trump really understood how this legislative process worked and that they were setting expectations that were, you know, impossible to meet.

And Donald Trump does not like to hear that. He wants to hear, I asked you to get me this bill and you get me this bill. I need you to defend me on the Russia investigation and you're going to do that. And I think those two things together had just made it impossible for him to feel like he can work with Mitch McConnell even though he have to.

TAPPER: Mary Katharine, he's not the-- McConnell is not the only senator with whom the President is meeting. Take a look at what he and other members of the Republican Caucus had to say about each other in just the past couple weeks.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Our new President, of course, has not been in this line of work before. And I think had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process.

SEN. BOB COCKER (R), TENNESSEE: The President has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.

SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: We've got to get away from calling our opponents losers or clowns, or things that make it difficult to sit down and work with them.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: It's far too early to tell now, there's a long ways between now and that point.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think he will end up the party's nominee in 2020?

COLLINS: It's too difficult to say.


TAPPER: Too difficult to say that Donald Trump will be for Republican nominee in 2020.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, THE FEDERALIST: Well, Republicans in Congress deserve a lot of blame for not having pushed these things. To the point about Ryan versus McConnell, I think Ryan showed him something on health care. He was surprised that he was able to get that through and he was like, OK, that's a mark in your column. McConnell did not on this very big issue.

That being said, he makes it very hard to work with him. As Flake was pointing out, both rhetorically and just sort of in back rooms and having these discussions. And that's why I think -- I've said this many times, I apologize for repeating it, but if there is repeating, the GOP and probably won the presidency while going through a giant ugly divorce. There's still going through it and they're saying if they can concurrent America together in some sort of peaceful way and that is the way it will reign.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: And the division. I think is not between conservatives and moderates as it has been traditionally. It's been between pluralists and nativists.

TAPPER: Coming up at CNN, an explosive interview with Russian at the center of the probe into the Trump campaigns Russia contact. Stay with us.


[12:38:28] TAPPER: A stunning conversation with a man at the center of some of the controversies between the Trump team and Russia, the former Russia ambassador to the United States. He's breaking his silence in an exclusive CNN interview. Sergey Kislyak dismissed allegations that he was a spy recruiter is nonsense. He also downplayed his meetings with members of the Trump team.

Our Matthew Chance track down Kislyak in Russia.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Mr. Ambassador, two questions. Did you discuss the thing sanctions with any members of the Trump team when you were in the United States?

SERGEY KISLYAK, RUSSIA'S FORMER AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: With your respect, I'm here to talk to Russian people.

CHANCE: I understand that. You say you've got no secrets.

KISLYAK: I said everything I wanted prior to this.

CHANCE: Did you discuss opening secret channels with the Kremlin, with Jared Kushner, for instance?

KISLYAK: I've said many times that we do not discuss the substance of our discussions with our American interlocutors out of respect to our partners.


TAPPER: And Matthew joins us now live from Saransk. Matthew, CNN, the media, all to get this exclusive interview. How did you track down Sergey Kislyak?

CHANCE: Well, that was a long convoluted story, Jake. Basically with 400 miles away from the Russian capital Moscow, it takes 15 hours to get here on train. There's no operating air force.

The local administration, they basically lied to us. They said he's not here. Kislyak is not here. He's in a village three and a half, four hours drive from here. You know, but we have other sources. We waited around this central location in the middle of Saransk where he was meant to be giving a press conference. And we get a tanks (ph) on him as he arrived in the -- at the theatre in the center of Saransk to address actually a youth school (ph).

[12:40:10] I asked him about those allegations about collusion, also asked him about that meeting in May with President Trump alongside the Russian foreign minister. Take a listen.


CHANCE: When you met Donald Trump, the President, were you surprised when he disclosed secret information to you about Syria?

KISLYAK: I'm not sure that I heard anything that would be secret. But it was a good meeting and we were discussing things that were importantly open (INAUDIBLE).

CHANCE: What about this allegation that you're a spy master, a spy recruiter so to speak?

KISLYAK: Nonsense, nonsense.

CHANCE: Did you seems recruit any members of the Trump administration?

KISLYAK: You should be ashamed, because CNN is the company that keeps up pointing to this allegation. It's nonsense.

CHANCE: But it's U.S. security officials, intelligence officials that made it, of course.

KISLYAK: I've heard that statements by them, and also by former head of the FBI who said that that was a diplomat. I have no reasons to divulge that he knew what he said.

CHANCE: OK. Just one last question.


CHANCE: What was your prediction for the future of U.S.-Russian relations?

KISLYAK: I'm afraid it is going to be difficult. And it's not because of us, it's because of the U.S. political dynamics. The anti- Russian law certainly isn't going to help Russian-American discussions.


CHANCE: All right. So it was interesting to get some facetime with Sergey Kislyak. Of course, he's not the Russian ambassador to the U.S. anymore. He was relieved to that duty just a couple of days ago, but it's a diplomat to the end that he was very much following the Kremlin line on all those responses to those important questions, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Matthew Chance, thank you so much. Great work. Let's turn back to the panel here. So, of course we wouldn't expect, the spy master to admit to being one. But U.S. intelligence sources do say that Kislyak was a spy and not only that, an excellent one and a spy recruiter.

KAPUR: Right. He was playing -- I mean, I think when you look at the two broader aims that intelligence officials believe that Putin had in meddling this election. One was to saw disorder and chaos in United States system. He seems to have achieved that. The other was to improve U.S.-Russian relations on his terms. He has not achieved that because there is a Congress. They have a separation of powers and there are Veto approve majorities to ensure these sanctions.

So I think, you know, I wonder -- I would love to look inside Putin's mind right now and see how he really feels about this really.

TAPPER: Well I want to listen that I supposed. Mary Katharine, we heard from Manu's reporting that one of the things that President Trump is mad about when it comes to Mitch McConnell and the Senate, is the fact that one of their big signature achievements is a bill that ties his hands when it comes to Russian sanctions.

HAM: Well, again, this is something that sort of Trump brings on himself by making it seems as if he needs his hands tied. And the same goes for his public protestations about collusion, which is that -- which is to say like if you're not hiding something, you look very much like you're hiding something. Or there is no collusion that there's a black and white e-mail that says, yes, we're willing to work with you on this.

So he puts himself in this situations and I think the same goes for the sanctions saying which I have no problem with that. It is a right leaning person because he was acting as if he needed his hand ties.

TAPPER: And one other thing that Russians -- that Republicans have said to the President about the Russian probe is if you're not guilty, stop acting like you're guilty.

DAVIS: Absolutely. And, I mean, I think one of the big reasons we saw the Senate take such resounding vote on that sanction votes because they needed to show, they need to distinguish themselves from the way that Donald Trump has acted which is to say he has said nice things about Putin. He has seemed to cozy up to him. He has really pushed back in a strange way against some of the collusion allegations in a way that makes him look like he may something to hide.

And so, they wanted to take that vote. They, in fact, needed to take that vote and Mitch McConnell knew that. So that they could be on the record as where Republicans and most Democrats were that, no we are not friends with Russia. No, it's not OK if we just let these sanctions and exchange for some undisclosed relationship that they're may be with the president.

And the House push back a little bit more. I think Republican leaders in the House side probably did more in Trump's mind to try to protect him from that. But there was no really rolling that back, because I think there was a sense that they needed to go on the record if the President wasn't going to.

HAM: And a lot of the old time Russia hawks are in the Senate and then sort of more hardcore on that issue in particular than the House who were young because --

KAPUR: It wasn't even just Mitch McConnell. He went after Attorney General Sessions for apparently not being loyal enough and protecting him enough from the Russia probe. This is a pattern. I think the President sees these figures, you know, these Republicans and people in his administration. Their job is to protect him. And I think if you're McConnell or if you're Sessions, you realize that you live in a constitutional republic and your duty is not just to the man, it's to the country.

[12:45:02] TAPPER: And Mike, one other thing that's interesting and Mary Katharine talked about is we have evidence that there was a willingness to commit collusion, even though collusion isn't in itself a crime. That whole e-mail scandal that I guess has blown away and then forgotten about except not by Bob Mueller is the President's son and campaign chairman and son-in-law, meeting with Russians being told the Russian government has dirt on Hillary Clinton.

BENDER: Yes. I don't think that's -- we haven't heard much about it in the last week but it's been a pretty news packed last week and a half or so. I'm sure we'll hear more about that soon.

Unfortunately, Kislyak didn't give us any insights into his version of events there. But I did think he it was pretty -- it was a final interview to watch and watch his back forth. And I think -- I thought it was most sort of telling he was -- I mean he's upset about the sanctions bill. He's upset about the sanctions bill. Trump's upset about the sanctions bill.

And I can't imagine Mitch McConnell is happy to be at this point heading into the midterms, having passed no other major legislation, other than a sanctions bill that handcuffs his own President.

In North Korea, the President said he believes Kim Jong-un is starting to respect the United States. He said this last night. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Kim Jong-un, I Respect the fact that I believe he is starting to respect us. I respect that fact very much. Respect that fact.

And maybe, probably not, but maybe something positive can come about. They won't tell you that. But maybe something positive can come about.


TAPPER: Maybe something positive can come from them. I just told them that. Reporter Ben Jacobs tweeting, after President Trump said that, "Pretty sure Trump has been nicer to Kim Jong-un than John McCain tonight." And again, Sahil, that fits in with what we have been discussing, if the President feels like you might like and respect him, he's inclined to say nice things about you, even if it's Kim Jong-un versus John McCain.

KAPUR: Right. And he is also not personally criticized or insulted Putin for that reason because he's gotten this sort of legal of deference from him and his Russian agency. So, Kislyak going after the media, going after CNN, it's like he's trying to speak directly to the President and gain his favors.

TAPPER: Fake news. Coming up, Hillary Clinton gets candid about sharing the debate stage with Donald Trump. She says that her skin crawled and she considered telling him to quote back up, you creep. More from her new book about the2016 campaign next.


[12:51:49] TAPPER: We're now getting some sense of exactly what might be inside Hillary Clinton's new book that is due out next month. The book is called, "What Happened." And MSNBC obtain some excerpts from the audio version voiced by Clinton herself. At one point, she describes an awkward moment during the second debate when she felt as though Donald Trump was invading her space.


HILLARY CLINTON, FORMER UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF STATE: This is not OK, I thought, it was the second presidential debate and Donald Trump was looming behind me. Two days before, the world heard him brag about groping women. Now, we were on a small stage and no matter where I walked, he followed me closely, staring at me, making faces, it was incredibly uncomfortable. He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled.

It was one of those moments where you wish you could hit pause and ask everyone watching, well, what would you do? Do you stay calm, keep smiling and carry on as if he weren't repeatedly invading your space, or do you turn, look him in the eye, and say loudly and clearly, back up, you creep, get away from me.


TAPPER: Now the President's defenders point out that she was technically standing near his lectern on his side of the stage. And then candidate Trump told a different story. Here's what he said a few days after the debate.


TRUMP: Get my lectern. I was standing at my lectern.


TRUMP: And all of a sudden, from nowhere, she walks right in front of me. So I never walk near her, you know. She stands right in front of me. The next day, I was in her space, I was standing at my chair, my lectern.


TAPPER: I can't believe that we're talking about this. But this is the excerpt he released.

DAVIS: It is. I mean, you know, one of the things that you practice for when you practice for a debate is like where you're going to stand, and how both in words and in physical, you know, demeanor you're going to try to outwit or sort of outsmart or put off balance to your opponent. I'm sure there is something that's going on in both sides. I do remember watching that debate. And it did look like he was kind of looming over her in this.

TAPPER: And there was a whole jazz thing at SNL that I remember.

DAVIS: Yes. I mean, and it was an awkward moment. It is a little bit strange that out of all the moments in this campaign, that this is the one that's coming to the fore. But I do think that, you know, in retro respect, it was -- the fact that it even went through her mind. If it's true that he went through her mind that she would stop and say, back off, you creep. It really spoke to the bareness and sort of the drama of the relationship between them here. And like --


HAM: Yes. I think this is also as a fancy word for those with experience, do they? Where she is thinking of a come back a year later and putting it on the book.

TAPPER: The jerk story?

HAM: Yes. This is somewhat (ph) she did. And, you know, like, I'm not surprised that Trump acted that way on the stage. I don't think it was quite as dire as she describes it. And I'm sort of surprised that this, like you said, in the excerpt. It is something that happened. It's not the most exciting thing.

TAPPER: Well, I mean, and there's this whole Russia probe and obviously we know that Clinton also blamed FBI Director Comey quite a bit also, but this is excerpt.

[12:55:02] BENDER: Yes. And I think even -- a bigger point here is the Wall Street Journal at a poll about a month ago, counties that Trump won. And in those counties among independent, Hillary Clinton's favorability, even now, eight months after the election was 14 percent, 13 percent or 14 percent. These are not -- this is not necessarily Republican country.

Bernie Sanders favorability in that same poll was in the 40s. People just didn't like her. We have the election results that we do -- I mean, there's a strong argument to be made that Clinton lost this just as much as Trump won it.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. I'll see you back here at 4:00 p.m. Eastern for the "THE LEAD." My colleague Wolf Blitzer will pick it up right after this quick break. See you in a little bit.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 10:00 a.m. in Arena, Nevada, 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Moscow, wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.