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Cost To Taxpayers For HHS Secretary's Flights Reportedly Grows To More Than $1 Million; Sec. Zinke Calls Travel Controversy "A Little B.S."; Twitter Shuts Down 200 Russia-Linked Accounts; Bipartisan Talks To Fix Obamacare Back On The Table; Roy Moore Wins GOP Senate Runoff In Alabama. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 29, 2017 - 12:30   ET



[12:33:47] JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: Welcome back. The Trump cabinet likes to fly in style at your expense. And we're told in at least one case, the President is more than a little angry.

The Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price reportedly now racked up a travel bill on private jets topping a million dollars, a million dollars. And Secretary Price has attempted damage control backfiring. Price releasing a statement yesterday billed as an apology. It did not include the word sorry or apologize but Price did offer to write a personal check for the travel, promising taxpayers, "Won't pay a dime for my seat on those planes but my seat part is important."

Taxpayers won't pay a dime. That much is true. They'll pay hundreds of thousands of dollars. Because the personal check only amounts to some $52,000, that's a fraction of the total cost of getting those jets that you paid for. From a budget hawk, remember, budget hawk when he was in Congress, told Fox News, he's being generous.


TOM PRICE, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SERETARY: By paying for my portions of these trips, I think it's a huge demonstration. It's unique. It's never done before, unprecedented, as I'm told.


KING: Also under review now in part, thanks to the scrutiny on Price, API Administrator Scott Pruitt, the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, also taking some private trip. The Interior Secretary just said the focus on all of these is quote a little B.S. Again, Public Relations executive will tell you not to say that.

[12:35:08] Let's start with Secretary Price in a statement which says, "I regret the concerns this has raised regarding the use of taxpayers dollars. It is clear to me that in this case, I was not sensitive enough to my concern for the taxpayer." OK, why don't just say sorry, I made a mistake? CARL HULSE, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I mean, this is the kind of that really riled people up. People get this. They might not understand the health care policy that Price is working on but they understand this. This --

KING: It does not equal draining the swamp.

HULSE: This administration ran on the theme of we're going shake-up Washington and do things different. We're here for you, the regular person and then they go and do this. And I just think it's a horrible mistake. People expect the President to fly an Air Force One and he's got security issues. They don't expect the HSS Secretary to charter a jet to Philly which is we were talking about is the most accessible place from Washington.

KING: Yes. Philadelphia, you can get there on the bike faster than flying in some cases. But, to that point, number one, they don't expect this from a President to campaign. Everybody in Washington has been screwing you. I'm the business man, I'm going to help you, number one. So, it's outrageous anyway, but in Secretary Price's case, there's also his own personal history.


PRICE: Don't you fly over our country in your luxury jet and lecture us on what it means to be an American. Washington does not need to take more from hardworking Americans. It needs to start living within its means.

We must be constantly asking how we can deploy the precious resources that we have in people and in treasury to the most efficient and effective use on behalf of the American people.


KING: 25,000 grand for jet to Philly as supposed to maybe 150 bucks on a train ticket. You make the call.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: And what so striking about the story to me is it reflects many things to as just how different this administration is from past administration for a Democrat and Republican. Look, if this kind of P.R. nightmare was happening on a daily basis and we should tip our hats to Politico that's away from --

HULSE: Yes, I agree with you.

MARTIN: -- put your stories on this but Bush or Obama, Clinton, I don't care who the president was. They would have launched the ball, right? They would have had Tom Price spending more time with his family in short order. And the fact that this is just drift everyday and there's no movement and told us yesterday for his semi-apology, it's just -- it's striking and it shows that so much of what this President cares about, of what he sees on cable TV. And I guess, once the sort of penetrated cable TV, then he'd cared. And I think that's what prompted the Price apology that Trump said he was not happy about it. But he still isn't this happy to the point where -- unhappy to the point where he is going to fire this. And so, you had now about 10 days of stories about this. But this go on, it's just I don't get it.

KING: Right. It's part of it. They don't want to be pushed into it by the media.

ABBY PHILLIP, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right, yes. I mean, as usual with Trump there's a combination of factors. He rarely wants to actually fire people --


PHILLIP: -- even in moments like this.

MARTIM: But you're fired (INAUDIBLE) and you're fired.

PHILLIP: That you're fired. I definitely like to do it himself. And beyond that, to your point, he doesn't want to be pushed into it by the fake news media and he's hearing from people like Ryan Zinke, this is all B.S. But it's really not. I mean, I'm old enough to remember four months ago when, you know, Trump administration officials were going up at the podium and talking about cutting community developments black grants pays for, you know, lunches for kids in rural America and in urban America and saying that they had to do it because they had to explain to the American people how they were spending their money responsibly.

This is not consistent even with Trump administration officials. But the President is not really focused on that right now. He is thinking, I don't want to have to replace a Health and Human Services Secretary, which is going to be quite difficult in this political environment among other challenges that they're facing.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: And remember crisis right now especially because health care reform did not work in Congress. Price is presiding over the drip, drip, drip of dismantling what part of the Obamacare they keep dismantle from the inside and Price is really unbarred with that. Do you to rock that boat a little bit? I'm sure they could fine somebody else within the administration.

But, you know, it's inconvenient especially when the entire push to force Congress to do something about Obamacare depends on that HHS Secretary taking little chips out where they can take little chips out. And his apology was for concerns not for what his actions were is a little bit weird.

KING: If you're really sorry, say you're sorry.


KING: If you really believe you screwed up, say I believe I screwed up as suppose to a lawyerly statement that says I guess I got caught and need to do something about this. In Secretary Zinke's case, and let's speak clear. Every now and then this is necessary. To get to far-flung places or to get to a certain places in a hurry, they have to do this sometimes. That's why when you are going to Philadelphia, that's why it's outrageous to people because there are a thousand ways to get to Philadelphia without spending $25,000 on a private jet.

But Zinke who says -- Zinke who says the focus on this is quote/unquote a little bit B.S. recently just early today at the Heritage Foundation. One of the planes he took, maybe he needed to take the flight, but it's an oil executive's plane.

[12:40:05] That's the -- those are the people he oversees. That's -- this is where you get into. That's not draining the swamp.

PHILLIP: Yes. The ethical issues are really enormous here. I mean, and I think this one is going to be a little bit harder because, sure, it's not taxpayer money. But there was a time in -- even in this town when, you know, flying on a plane paid for by the people you are supposed to be over, you know, regulating or overseeing or being watch out for would have been seen as part of Washington as usual, the sort of special interest control in Washington. These stories are not to J. Martin's point really penetrating in this administration maybe because there is so much else going on. There is so much, other big stories and crazy stories but in a past life, these things would have been a big deal.

KING: And it's a relatively small amount of money, relatively, if you're looking at the federal budget, right? If you look at the family budget of somebody else --

HULSE: I don't understand Secretary Zinke. I mean, why damp play it like that, you know, because I don't understand why he even makes that kind of comment. Because these two people just matters, you know, and this is the kind of thing that can really go wrong for an administration and stick with them.

KING: Stick them, I think it's an interesting. But we'll see if this passes or if the President's anger chins up as we watch it.

Up next, an entire fake social media campaign link to Russia. How the account try to sway 2016 presidential election using race as debate?


[12:46:00] KING: Welcome back. Some of you are probably happy to see this, others brings back painful flashbacks. Why am I showing you this? Because we're beginning to learn more details how Russia linked accounts, use social media and helps of influencing Americas in the final weeks of this, the 2016 election.

Twitter executives up on Capitol Hill yesterday, some key members of Congress not thrilled of what they view as a lack of full cooperation. The Special Counsel also looking into this question, mapping out where and how Russian link accounts on Facebook and Twitter, targeted voters. I want to show you now some research. The research is at Oxford University. They looked at a slice of this. They looked at a slice of this. I'll explain this in a second. About 7 million tweets of political content shared just before and just after the election. About one and five tweets, 20 percent of them came from accounts traced back to Russia, WikiLeaks and junk news sources.

And the researches say that's what the shading is about it. They were disproportionately targeted the some swing states. The darker the shading, the more of the junk news, the fake news, the Russia linked accounts, the WikiLeaks tweets going into the states. See how dark Pennsylvania is, moderately dark here, Michigan and Ohio. Very dark here in Florida.

It's not exactly lot of these other states solid Republican states like West Virginia and Kentucky, Alabama, Missouri and the like. But if you just look at those few right there and go back to the actual results, this is what the Special Counsel and Congress were trying to figure out. Why was the disproportionately targeted the states but in the end, helped swing the election. Was it a coincidence? Russia just studying the Electoral College? Democrats like this one? I think the Russians got help.


REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: What these platforms have become, both Twitter and Facebook, are toxic brew for news pollution. As we do know that less than 100,000 votes in those primary states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, 100,00 votes turned the tie in this election. And the targeted fake news went predominantly to those states. Now, how did Russia gain that sophistication? They gain that sophistication with help.


KING: She says that it's a declarative statement. Congresswoman Speier there saying they got help, but we don't know that, do we? It is a suspicion, it is certainly Democrats believe it, they want to believe it. Have we seen any -- and I know, I know for fact the Special Counsel is looking at this. Looking at a targeting of the map, the Russian Jew (ph), going back to look at the Trump campaign's Facebook and Twitter and social media targeting and the like. But does anybody know that it's a fact like that or is it an open question?

DEMIRJIAN: I think it's still an open question. It's the most important question right now for the investigators to figure out if they can look at the data (ph) analytics of, you know, Facebook and Twitter and look at those of the Trump campaign and if they're going to do any matching. But the things is, like, to there main, well have been some sort of direct help or this is kind of -- America is going to this education process right now of how Russia's been using us for a long time.

A lot of these fake accounts push things that we're poking at issues that are defensive in this country. You mention in the lead (ph) in that race is one of them. I was living in Russia when the Ferguson riots were happening and they were obsessed with that. It was on the news 24/7. During the Soviet Union, they were obsessed with the idea of American races in being the great hypocrisy in America. Now Russia does not have very many black people and Russians are kind of racist too.

Just to with their -- yes, they are. So this is like -- so it's a hypocritical thing could have to say but they have been harping on this since the '60s. They have been watching and saying this is a weak point, this is why America isn't good, you say you are.

KING: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: So the idea is that they would have noticed this? Of course, they notice this. Of course, they saw that there's an exploitable thing. Also, it's not like you didn't have since the Soviet Union broke up. A whole bunch of Americans going-over there. There were experts in business, experts in politics, they do have people that can be paid, you know, in dollars or rubles that can tell us on how American politics work.


DERMIJIAN: And they are pretty good. The one thing that Russians are really good at doing is controlling a message. They don't block the internet and people but they do know how to manipulate what you put on the internet and what you put on TV.

[12:50:03] So there's like the perfect -- of course, this is how this is going to come together and maybe they have more directed help to get this specific and these places or maybe this is the combination of every effort, you know, years and years and years.

PHILLIP: It seems not that hard frankly to figure out like which states you need to win a presidential election in this country. So, there is definitely the possibility that maybe they had help and maybe they also just did their research. And I think that they would have given the amount of money and effort and manpower. They put behind this.

You know, and one other thing about some of this account is like you have to remember also that there are all these fake accounts pushing all of this stuff, but they're also being amplified by real people and real accounts who are out there. That's what makes it really effective. So, we have to keep that in mind as we think about what was the actual impact of the fake stuff on the internet? It was only impactful because real people were also pushing it into the places where they needed to be in order for them to be --

MARTIN: Right. Think about how people who'd share on Facebook to the fake story about the pope endorsing Donald Trump. I mean, real people are seeing what is being put out by some kind of a bothered impressions.

HULSE: Yes. I don't know if they need to tell, but they need to got encouragement and, you know, there might be a nuance there. I think that Facebook and Twitter are starting to come to grips with how bad this was for them. And Mark Zuckerberg is finally said, you know, he shouldn't have said that right after the election that this couldn't have played any role. I think this is, especially the Senate Intelligence Committee stopped those reports come out. We're going to see how pervasive this really is.

KING: How's taking in the meantime? It's very important for the Democrats not to get out of their seats. The American people need to believe the findings of these investigations, of their credible investigations. They need to believe them. And when people are drawing the conclusions before we get all the evidence, it's a bit dangerous.

Since it's Friday afternoon before you guys go, I want to close with this. Republican setting what I call a little taste of the Jetters at the end of what's been interesting tumultuous week here. Their efforts to repeal Obamacare, collapsed again.

There are some bipartisan talks now bipartisan. That was a little boast, I'm sorry, little bipartisan talks now to try to see if they can get together some of the fixes for where Obamacare is struggling out in the country but let me ask you this. Would the Republican leadership allow a vote on something that could be fairly and rightly described as fixing Obamacare especially after what happen there in Alabama? You wrote about it.

Roy Moore, the rebel upstart wins the primary over the establishment candidate. You write in your column this week, beating week, "Bipartisanship took a beating" is to how you put it in your column. Can Mitch McConnell bring before United State Senate a piece of legislation that fixes Obamacare?

HULSE: It's not a huge fix that they're talking about. I honestly don't know if he will but one thing we have to watch there. Lamar Alexander is the person behind that. He is really close with Mitch McConnell and that is the wild card here. But, you know, it's a fair question. Do they want to do something after failing to repeal and seeing Roy Moore just really killed their candidate down there and (INAUDIBLE) down there and bring it out. I don't know if they would do it.

KING: It's one rise but it has caused a serious sense of looking over the shoulder of Republicans. Bob Corker probably going to retire anyway. He probably made this decision before what happen to Alabama. But, Bob Corker in Tennessee retires now. People are looking around, you know, will Susan Collins make a more serious look at the race for governor in Maine.

Orrin Hatch, will he decide, you know what, either I don't want a primary challenger. I just don't want to be here. This isn't that fun anymore. Steve Bannon saying, you know, yehaaw, I'm going to build on Alabama and find primary challenges for everyone. What is this doing to the party?

MARTIN: I think that what has been scary for this now is Mr. Trump is not the great inoculator that they have hoped. I mean, there was this topic that Trump is the new decider in the party that if he lays hands on the (INAUDIBLE), the deal is done. But that wasn't the case in Alabama in part because Alabama had a couple hitched situation given the nature of how Senator Strange got his appointment, but this wasn't close. This wasn't towards their points.

It was nine and change and that Trump couldn't change for his popularity. So, if you're Dean Heller in Nevada or if you're Roger Wicker in Mississippi and you are an incumbent senator and you get the Trump endorsement, is that still enough to overcome a primary challenge on the right that Steve Bannon and the mercers (ph), that don't appear, are helping to fund and that is the great question.

You mentioned Tennessee, this could really be the stage for (INAUDIBLE). If the governor there, Bill Haslam, who is on the center right popular figure in Republican Party runs -- very wealthy family by the way -- if he runs, he will have a fierce challenge from the right and that primary will be -- it will be lit as we can say.

HULSE: It's getting fired up for the races to come.

MARTIN: National is (INAUDIBLE).

PHILLIP: We may also make a note that President Trump did endorse in Alabama, but he didn't really try all that hard. He went down there and he gave voters a permission slip to vote for Roy Moore. And that seemed to be undermining everything that was being said giving lip service to that endorsement. I think we don't know what it does when Trump really is all in on a race. And I don't he really was.

[1255:05] KING: But to your point that has caused its own internal for the secular firing squad. The Republican said the White House is saying this wasn't the President's fault. Mitch McConnell was so toxic that race was gone. A lot of people down there saying we were making up ground and the President comes down and give this speech that, you know, well if I got losses I'll be here for the other guy.

MARTIN: Real fast on that point. I talked to somebody working for Strange's campaign after the event last Friday in Huntsville very update, very enthusiastic. About Trump really came through because people saw the event live or heard about it on social media. And Trump obviously did read from a script and endorse Strange.

But the sort of, you know, earned media that the press coverage three days later was so full of coverage about Trump hedging and said hoping for more too. Did I make a mistake that -- this Strange person said to your point that people on Tuesday heard that part of Trump speech and said, you know what? This is not a vote against Trump. This is a vote for Moore.

KING: They confuse Republican Party at the moment. See how things go for everybody. Enjoy the weekend. Thanks for coming in. Thank for joining us in INSIDE POLITICS. Hope to see you Sunday morning 8:00 a.m. back here on Monday as well. Brianna Keilar in for Wolf, she got back after a quick break.