Return to Transcripts main page

INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Blames "Both Sides" For Charlottesville Again; NYT: Trump Berated, Humiliated Sessions At May Meeting; North Korea Defies Warnings, Fires Missile Over Japan; U.N. To Hold "Urgent Consultations" After North Korea Launch. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 15, 2017 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:02] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He just recognized that that's who the President is. And John, it's probably not going to change any time soon if ever.

JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: Phil Mattingly live on Capitol Hill with that important reporting.

Let's start the conversation there. African-American senator, the only African-American senator who spend some time with the President trying to nudge him along. No grand expectation. Trying to nudge him along. That's who he is, it's so who he has been. That's a pretty damning statement if you think about the context of it in terms of the President's views and sensitivities to the history of the KKK and white supremacist and the neo-Nazis.

Yes, Antifa has done some things that any leader and any body has every right to say look at this event, look at that, that's horrible. But it's the apparent moral equivalency. That's who he is, it's who he has been.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: And it shows that Senator Scott does not believe what the White House has been saying. And what the President tried to say when he gave his speech reading through a script in a teleprompter that he was condemning simply the white supremacists. He was not equating them with the anti-counter demonstrators. Senator Scott said that it's who he is. He does believe that the President did equate these two groups.

KING: That's the troubling part in the sense that this might sound weird or demented, but he just hope as a human being. This is just a stubborn President. He doesn't want to admit he was wrong or doesn't want to admit he did something bad. But it's broader -- is it broader than that? This is who he is?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Look, at minimum, I don't know what in his heart, right, and I don't think that Tim Scott is saying that he does either, but certainly that he is showing no either ability to change or inactive just interest in changing. He is a 71-year-old man from heavily white queens back in the 50s and 60s in New York City. When people think of somebody coming from New York City who is a politician, usually it tends to be a Democrat on the national stage and it usually tends to be somebody who is aware of the city's multicultural history. So you do not expect some of -- what Trump said it's a lot of why he has been -- a lot of the business leaders who take down from his pulse now that he's president had no interest in taking his pulse when he was a businessman living in the New York City.

KING: Right.

HABERMAN: Those are the people who are recoiling from what he has said as much as anyone else, and yet he will -- when you say to him part of this is not just, I think -- and I don't know how Tim Scott can really begin to address this. There's nothing anybody else could do on this. But when you say to Trump, you know, can you condemn this remark, this was throughout the campaign. He would say I'm not a racist.

KING: Right.

HABERMAN: Well, that's not what we're asking you here. We're not saying you're racist. It's just speaking out against somebody who is making a racist remark. And that is where he just says this inability.

And when you think about the idea -- I was thinking about when you're reading the senator's statement, the idea that the White House had billed this meeting as, you know, the President responds better to personal stories when he hears them directionally. He is 71 years old and grew up in New York City. He has not heard of the stories directly?

New York City during -- he came of age, you know, at the time of bonfire of the vanity is when New York was just a racial cauldron. So it's hard to imagine that he certainly wouldn't be aware of these stories, but I think it is true that he has not heard many of them personally. That said, he did hear a bunch during the campaign. They're lots of groups of -- a lot of pastors who went and met with him. He has heard these stories. I don't know what difference it's making on this perspective.

KING: And then you think of it just in terms of the -- this is the glimpse into his character. This is a -- when you talk like this, when you repeat this, when you are told by people, Mr. President, no, no, no, no and you repeat it again, this is a not a glimpse to wide open window into his character. But he's a politician. He knows what's this did. He knows to dust-up this caused.

HABERMAN: Yes.

KING: So, there's another context. This is a politician. If somebody asked this question, what is the President going to say? We're done. Not talk about it or just -- but instead he repeats it again. Why?

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I think he believes that there is some benefit with some of his voters. And I think also, again, a lot of cable TV. In a weak sense, he has seen features about -- KING: Steve Bannon on 60-minute saying the President is right?

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: In Berkeley, California. Clips of Antifa. And so, he is just repeating that. But I --

KING: But you can you say I want to separately criticize Antifa. This has nothing to do with Charlottesville. Look at the Berkeley there, fair game.

MARTIN: Yes. I just think that that's will a bit more nuance.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, THE FEDERALIST: I'm not sure that would actually fly with people either. I actually think that would be a reasonable position and I think part of what he's responding to is that when he should have said what we were all talking about unequivocally and, you know, even throwing some nasty insults in the direction of nazis would have been nice. After that about, you know,, couple of days, week after in the new cycle, you did saw this flood of stories addressing other kinds of political violence which I think would be and appropriate way to deal with that after we had dealt with the real tragedy in this attack in Charlottesville. I think he is putting those two together in the same argument again because it is what he wants to be proven right again.

(CROSSTALK)

[12:35:02] RAJU: When he asked directly about this during the Air Force One gavel, he brought it up himself. He is putting this back in the news cycle. He did the same thing in that Phoenix rally too. Earlier, he just decided to bring back to Charlottesvilles issue even though as they were trying to move past the controversy.

KING: It's one of those maps you talk about.

HABERMAN: One of the things that he does, one of the things that we have heard a lot of stories about this President doing in recent weeks is, he constantly proactively brings up the Russia investigation with people. Can you believe this nonsense? He tend to just blurred out what is on his mind. This is on his mind because he sees it as an unfair attack on him.

And I guess the only that I would say is we spend a lot of time on trying to get to the bottom of why he is doing this. And it ultimately doesn't matter, because it is what he is doing.

KING: I'm the idiot who asked that question. So I apologize to that.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: I get your point. We are looking for answers that may not exist some times. Everybody sit tight. Up next, just how bad did things get between the President and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions and have they finally made up?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:40:10] KING: A new chapter today on the ongoing humiliation of Jeff Sessions by his boss. Maggie Haberman with us right here in the New York Times today with new details of a meeting back in May where President Trump berated his Attorney General and told him he should resign. The President's outburst came as he first heard news of the appointment of Robert Mueller to oversee the Russia probe.

The Times writes, "Ashen and emotional, Mr. Sessions told the President he would quit and sent a resignation letter to the White House. Mr. Sessions would later tell associates that the demeaning way the President addressed him was the most humiliating experience in decades of public life." After the story appears online yesterday, a source familiar with the matters telling CNN the President relayed a private message to Sessions that in the President's view he is now doing well as Attorney General. We'll get to the psychology of that in a minute.

But back to the story --

HABERMAN: Then it's a psychology that's worth exploring.

KING: Yes. But back to the story, the level of detail is, forgive me if I do not there close folk, but this is what separates good reporting from great reporting and the level of detail. The President called his Attorney General an idiot and he said that he was incompetent and he should resign. Take us inside the meeting.

HABERMAN: Sure. He also -- this is a partnership with my colleague, Mike Schmidt, who has been a lead on a lot of these stories. Look, some of this we knew that Jeff Sessions had written a resignation letter and we knew that -- and actually we, at the Times, first reported that what was going on with Trump is he was being able to take his hot shots with Sessions publicly. Beleaguered, he called him on Twitter. Was because he was still fuming over what he saw as this original sin of the Russia recusal.

This all jailed in this Oval Office meeting in May. Because it was not only the Russia recusal which the President have been fuming about for a while. That day they were discussing FBI director candidates because James Comey had been fired at that point. And during this meeting, there was a phone call from justice saying that Robert Muller had been appointed special counsel.

The President, Jeff Sessions was there in the Oval because they were talking about candidates, couple other people. The President unloaded on Sessions just in front of everybody. And I think that the version that we have in the paper is cliff notes and perhaps even the P.G. version.

But the word that he used that I was most struck by was he called him disloyal. That I think gets it beyond sort of a cruelty, you know, effort. And it takes it into something about in the President's mind and to the point about psychology, what he viewed the job of the Attorney General of the United States in terms of an investigation as it relates to the President and his campaign. And that I think is where you were going to have a lot of picking apart of this.

It was very upsetting to Sessions of the President said you should resign. Sessions said fine. Left very upset, went to the west executive parking lot, got in his car. He got pulled back out, hence played some major intervening role in trying to tamp things down.

So Sessions I think was calmer, but then in a short time later, he still sent his resignation letter. And the President was urged not to accept it by his advisers who said to him, it will be calamitous for your administration if you shaving out your Attorney General in amidst of all of these right after you have fired Comey. But he said he was going to hang on for a while. He was convinced to finally give it back. He scroll the, you know, we have both seen those sharpy notes from the President. Some version of that that he was not going to accept this and off we went.

But then a few months later in July, he was upset about something else about Sessions and sort of using that he wanted another resignation letter and his aides kind of waited him out on it. And then he moved on to something else. And Sessions was believed to be in sort of a better situation recently. But in reality, I think the person who was Jeff Sessions's advocate inside the West Wing was Steve Bannon.

KING: Right.

HABERMAN: And I think without Bannon, the President is just kind of free to be angry.

KING: And so, the loyalty thing comes up time and time again for the President. With the context of an attorney general, it is supposed to be a separate and distinct, a unique position in cabinet because of the law enforcement responsibility. But what does this tell us about the temper of the President of the United States? The lashing out, calling somebody an idiot who's a -- you can be a Democrat out there, but Jeff Sessions has a distinguish career in public service. He's a former member of the United States Senate. He was the first Republican senator to endorse your campaign. Talk about loyalty. We want to bring in the loyalty question. But to scream at him in the presence of other people in the Oval Office to call him an idiot --

RAJU: He's a transactional President. If there's someone who is not doing something for him that moment that is helping him or perceives it to be hurting him, he will let them know. He's not always with his cabinet members also some of his staff members, and also members of Congress too. His own party.

KING: And before we jump in, I just want to, you know, I was going to say it's snarky (ph). I'm just going to say here's Hillary Clinton talking about this last night I'll say it's snarky (ph).

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[12:45:07] HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is a man who engages in humiliation and domination as a tactic of control. I think the goal might well have been psychologically to really make Jeff Sessions who's a very proud man. I served with him in the Senate. Didn't agree with him on anything, but i served with him. To make him just be more dependent on pleasing the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Does she have a point?

HABERMAN: I mean, certainly I think that -- I do think that a lot of this would get seen as winning with the President is about dominance. I don't know that I'm going to go as far as she did psychologically which I think is not a great idea. But I was think about something that many was talking about.

There were two issues with this President. One was that people who work for him can describe, you know, funny behavior, charm, you know, and his crowd certainly saw that. Kindness very rarely seen on the day that you can get some kindness, but then they also describe in the closer you are to him. The more likely he used to do this, cruelty, badgering. He can be an incredibly difficult boss.

And then the other point that I would make and something we're talking about transactional president who sees, you know, things as obstacles to getting done. The way he runs the west wing is the way he seems to think government runs is the view of a real estate developer in New York City in the 80s and 90s. Or getting anything built for city hall was about removing obstacles, and that's just his whole world view.

MARTIN: And I think we have seen president who erupted at staff before one of them -- President Clinton who was famous for having that.

HABERMAN: Yeah, he was not shy.

(CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: And LBJ mixed in to. What you don't see is this kind of casting side of decorum and convention when it comes to how you address peers or even principals. I mean, the story that bit Maggie and Mike had yesterday recalled two other stories recently. One of them was John Kelly's chief of staff, a retired four-star Marine general who said he had never been treated like that in his life by Trump.

And then the story that we have last month about how Trump treated Mitch McConnell on the phone, who said the same thing. And all of his years in the Senate, he had not had that kind of abusive treatment from certainly a president. And I just think it's a reality check for a lot of people who deal with him that he doesn't care about decorum. It's just whatever his -- in the moment, he's going to express that.

HABERMAN: He recently grab (ph) cell phone number from a rally stage. Is anybody surprised by this?

Ham: Well, and by the way, all of his voters are gentilian (INAUDIBLE). I don't agree with that though.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: You're right. They're like a lot of -- he drives this town crazy and a lot of people out there. I think that's just fine.

When we come back new United Nations sanctions against North Korea. Well, the regime just let the world know what it thinks for those.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:52:16] KING: The President is in extended meetings for this national security team today. High in the agenda, the latest bracing act of defiance by Kim Jong-un. North Korea fired another ballistic missile over Japan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's the sound of sirens ringing out in northern Japan earlier today warning citizens to take cover. The latest launch marks the second time in less than a month North Korea has fired a missile over Japan, also comes just days after the United Nations OK'd new sanctions against the regime.

The President is under a lot of pressure to do more specially after this latest act of defiance. This is Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. "Clearly, North Korea does not give a damn about U.N. sanctions or tough talk. It's time to more forcefully back up our diplomatic efforts with the threat of a credible military option."

The President gives a big speech at the United Nations general assembly next week. Kim Jong-un has just pretty clearly demonstrated what he thinks of the new sanctions and what he thinks of the global community, what he thinks of just about every nation on earth telling him to stop. But there is no credible military option. What -- that options -- what can the President do, if anything, to advance this ball. Is it just call out China and Russia to be even tougher out of the black market dealings over the, you know, in public oil transactions from China and Russia? Is that what's next? Is that it?

HAM: I think -- I mean, rhetorical battle with them is part of what he has been trying to do. And with this U.N. sanctions vote you see, unfortunately why this has been an intractable problem for so long in trying to get these guys on board. China and Russia were the ones who next the most powerful and the sanctions which would come up, huge would come up. Offers assets that he has. And that is the problem we were going to continue to run into. Although I do think rhetoric can push them a bit.

KING: But this administration, past administration they had to deal with this. This is not unique to President Trump. The pace of the testing, the improvements of the North Korean missile capacity is new to President Trump, but the secretary of state strategic patience is over. The President fire and fury, locked and loaded. Have they backed themselves in the corner to do something?

RAJU: Resist the fire and fury comments, there have been two tests that went over Japan and nuclear test as well. And the President initially, we talked, he was speaking in Phoenix that everything is OK because for a couple days, Kim Jong-un did not do anything. The question is when he goes before the U.N. general assembly? Does he back off that rhetoric? I don't think he will. But does he go as far as fire and fury? I'm not sure because that did seem to paint him into a corner of that.

HABERMAN: Yes.

KING: But the international community so far, the President by to say, what we're doing here is not working?

MARTIN: The most revealing moment in this last few months in the conversation about the North Korea situation, what Steve Bannon said he was fired where he called the long time liberal journalist and just unloaded.

[12:55:02] And people will threat a bomb of the zone (ph) if you will and he said there is no military option. I mean, the time the senior adviser on the President and the President himself was threatening the military option and his own staffer undercuts and says, of course we can't do anything. And that's the real challenge. The risk of human life. But American military and South Korean civilians is so severe.

KING: It will be fascinating to watch one of the many challenges. Watch the President goes to New York next week, the general assembly. Thanks for joining us in INSIDE POLITICS. Hope to see you back here on Sunday morning.

Meanwhile, we're waiting for a White House briefing to begin soon. At it, North Korea certainly come up. The U.S. Ambassador to United Nations Nikki Haley, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster will be briefing. Wolf Blitzer will be here to bring you that after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)