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Trump Unveils National Security Strategy; NTSB: Train Was Traveling 80 MPH In 30 MPH Zone; Trump Takes Place On Big Stage At Disney; Trump's Lawyers to Meet With Special Counsel This Week; CNN: Trump Expects Special Counsel To Exonerate Him Soon. Aired 12:30-1pm ET

Aired December 19, 2017 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: -- Kirby joins our conversation for this discussion.

When you were listening yesterday, if you read the report, it doesn't get into detail about Russian election meddling in 2016 for example but it is pretty clear. And it's pretty clear, it says in the report that Russia meddled, you know, that this is what Russia does. You would think yes, the President can't read the whole report. Yes, the President can't touch on everything in the report, but this is such a defining issue in our country and around the world right now. You would have thought he would have mentioned it, he did not.

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET,), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes. Look, there's essentially the top three national security stories and issues of the year. The rise of China, North Korea and Russia and their cyber activities, in particular the election meddling. It was a great opportunity for him to lay -- to rest forever any doubts that people think he might have about what they did and he didn't do it.

In fact, the segue which he had a natural segue at the top of the speech, instead, he used that to praise his partnership with Putin over, you know, this potential terrorist attack in St. Petersburg and intelligence sharing. A missed opportunity. I think it was -- it's a big story and he should have mentioned it.

KING: And so it's a document that Congress requires, it'll be read in foreign capitals all around the world. It will also be read in congressional committees that are relevant to these questions. And it will be read in all the agencies across the government that are relevant to these questions.

If you have the report and you think this is the Trump administration blueprint but then you listen to the President on some of these issues, and let's just say they're not in sync, what do you do?

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, that's what the -- that's kind of the point the White House makes privately. They think that Trump's unpredictability is his biggest asset here and they're trying to figure out a way to turn that into an asset. So, I -- reading between the lines from some of the folks I talked to over there, this does seem -- it doesn't to be some -- a deliberant movement here for Trump to very publicly praise President Xi, to have a warm relationship with Vladimir Putin while back home, strong actions are taken. And I think the calculus there is that their relationships will prevent anything from escalating.

There's a long way for that to unfold and as we saw, there's some pretty harsh reactions last night and this morning from China and Russia to what was in the report not what President Trump said during his speech yesterday.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: But, you're right that there is some confusion. I mean, this is something that usually the President -- the President usually doesn't give a speech on this. Usually, it's Susan Rice, the National Security adviser. But Trump has kind of created the situation where unless he is saying it, diplomats and, you know, people at large don't know what the actual policy is because he contradicts. He spokes on, you know, Tillerson, Nikki Haley. It's not uncommon for him to undermine his secretaries.

KING: But one of the question is, diplomacy with North Korea --


KING: -- whether it's enforcing fully or slow walking Russia sanctions, whether it's issues like NAFTA that are more economic. What the President says and what his team says and now what it's in this book are often apples and oranges.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. Look, I mean, I think -- and I'm sure the Admiral would agree like even past presidents, there's always some distinction between the verbal kind of discussions that a president does and what's written down. And often times, the written policies are more specific or more targeted or more nuanced than whatever then what comes out of the mouth of the President.

But I think this must be the least surprising story of the month, right? Like the fact that, you know, President Trump is going to sort of diverge from kind of -- and use kind of verbal or tweets to make a point that doesn't sort of match with the rest of his administration and with the -- I mean, that's what he's done for, you know, 11 months. I mean, that's not -- I mean -- so, I think if you're a leader in a foreign capital, you're probably paying a lot more attention to the words that come out of his mouth and a lot less attention to the written word. Because that's what you've learned is where policy has made.

KING: If you listen to the President's speech, it sound like he essentially was taking eight years of Barack Obama, crumbling them up and throwing them in the waste can. That's the way the President described it. He says President Obama was too weak. He says President Obama was too trusting. He says President Obama didn't stand up for America in the world. That's what the President said. When you read the document -- I read the piece you wrote yesterday. When you read the document, you don't see as clear or break. You actually see relative continuity and a lot of bigotry.

KIRBY: I do. I mean, look, national security strategies are kind of like, you know, the old spaghetti sauce commercial, right. It's in there. You know, they have to have so much in there, you know, to cover all the bases. Because people are worried about getting accused of why we miss and we miss that.

So this strategy isn't really on the big issues. U.S. engagement, leadership, even values, isn't all that different from President Obama's. And President Obama wasn't all that -- on paper, wasn't all different from his predecessor either. That's not a bad thing.

Now, I do have problems with it. I think he should have mentioned climate change as a national security threat because it is. Even the Defense Department says that. And there are some other issues there too, but it's not all that radically different.

[12:35:00] And in that idea, I think there's some hope. The problem is -- the question is what Michael said which is, does the President adhere to that. And I think you're right. I think foreign leaders are going to put a lot more stock in what the President says going forward and his tweets than they are in that playbook.

BENDER: And part of the reason why there is -- is this the President that defines everything in victories, right. The winning is the most important and you can't have wins without having a loser or someone losing and that's how -- and that's where his rhetoric comes from previous presidents. And -- I mean, he basically accused Obama putting these international relationships ahead of economic growth at home which we haven't heard from President Obama about that one, but I'm sure he disagree with that.

KIRBY: Yes, there was a lot of falsehoods I think when he opened up his speech yesterday. But one of the things that really bothered me about the speech, not so much about the strategy, is that he seems to look at international relations, nation, state relations as a zero sum gain. Winners and losers. He even talked about that yesterday and that's just not the way the world works. And it's a recipe for failure.

KING: We'll see it as it goes. I appreciate you joining us for the conversation. Admiral, appreciate it.

Up next, it was like being inside an exploding bomb. That's how one witness describes the moment an Amtrak passenger train careened off the tracks. Now investigators want to know why, why it was traveling nearly three times the speed limit.


[12:40:43] KING: Welcome back. Investigators now are trying to figure out why an Amtrak passenger train was traveling 80 miles per hour in a 30-mile per hour zone when it flew off an overpass in Washington State. This was the scene, a horrible scene in Monday after 13 train of the 14 train cars were thrown off the track. The accident left at least three people dead, more than 100 injured, including 78-year-old, Beverly Heebner who survived the crash along with her husband.


BEVERLY HEEBNER, TRAIN CRASH SURVIVOR: There was this body lying there. I mean, he hardly had any clothes on the clothes had just been ripped off of him. And he was obviously dead.


KING: Authorities hope to speak with the train's engineer and crew by tomorrow.

CNN Stephanie Elam is live on the scene in Washington State. Stephanie, any indication the crew was aware they were operating nearly three times the speed limit?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's actually the question that everyone wants the answer to at this point, John. We know that that interview with the engineer should be coming up soon, but we also know that there's a lot of talk about this positive train control, this technology that's been around for decades that was not implemented yet.

We know on this rail here it was on the train track, but it was not operating on the train cars yet. It was supposed to be implemented in this upcoming spring and around the nation in a year from now in December of 2018. That is a cause for a lot of concerned. In fact, take a listen to what one of the board members from the National Transportation Safety Board had to say about it.


BELLA DIHN-ZARR, NTSB BOARD MEMBER: It's a great disappointment that positive train control is not been implemented in every single railroad across the country because it can prevent these exact types of accidents. It actually was mandated but unfortunately the deadline was moved further into the future. And every year that we wait to implement TTP to full of extent means that more people are going to be killed and injured.


ELAM: And just to give you an idea of what's happening here on the ground, John, I just spoke to Washington State patrol and they said that they're expecting for the freeway here to be closed into the evening hours. That they need to inspect the roadway and the bridge above to make sure it's safe for cars.

KING: And Stephanie, we know investigators so far have recovered one of the train so-called black boxes the event data recorders as they officially called. What kind of information are they trying to pull from that? ELAM: Right. That's how we know about the speed, about how fast this train was going at the time. They're looking for all indicators. They'll be looking for, you know, the cameras that are on the train.

They're also going to look to the engineer to find out whether or not he or she was distracted, whether or not there was something going on as far as inability to operate the train at that time. All of these things are going to be investigated as they further this investigation down the line for the NTSB but they're saying it will take seven to 10 days before they really conclude what happened here. But we do have that bit clue with the fact that the train was going too fast, John.

KING: Stephanie Elam right near by the scene. I appreciate the reporting right, upfront, and close. Stephanie, thank you very much. Time for a look now at some of the other stories on our protocol radar.

And the Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and the Housing Secretary Ben Carson will visit Puerto Rico today where more than a third of the population is still without power now three months after Hurricane Maria. Last night, House Republicans unveil an $81 billion storm relief package that includes funding for Puerto Rico as well as hurricane hit areas. The administration says getting Puerto Rico to help it needs is a top priority.


TOM BOSSERT, WHITE HOUSE HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: Housing is a major challenge for us in Puerto Rico. The governor is doing a great job, but he's got a large problem here. But Puerto Rico is on my mind on a regular basis and the President's as well. And he sent Kirstjen Nielsen and Ben Carson down.


KING: Moving on, the White House trying to tackle a major perception problem, party brought on by the imminent departure of Omarosa Newman. When she leaves the White House next month, the west wing will no longer have an African-American serving in a senior role.

We've just learned that Chief of Staff, John Kelly met with Black Republicans this week to talk about hiring more African Americans to work in the Trump administration. We'll keep you updated on that.

And President Trump now part of an elite group at Walt Disney World. Starting today, visitors to the quite popular Hall of Presidents attraction will get to see and hear his animatronic likeness along with all of his predecessors from Washington to Obama.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: From the beginning, America has been a nation defined by its people. At our founding, it was the American people who rose up to defend our freedoms and win our independence.

[12:45:11] It is why our founders began our great constitution with three very simple words. We the people.


KING: You think, take the show to Disney World? OK, no comment. Up next, the number two guy at the FBI on Capitol Hill facing questions about Russia. And if you agree with the President, the investigation is wrapping up. Reality check just ahead.


[12:50:01] KING: Welcome back, live pictures here. That's the floor of the House of Representatives gearing up for a big vote on the Republican tax cut plan. That vote will take place in the House the next hour and it lose onto the Senate with plans to vote today. Big action on Capitol Hill, but not the only action.

The FBI's number two also on Capitol Hill today to face questions about his role in both the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation and the early phases of the Russia election meddling probe. The Deputy Director, Andrew McCabe has viewed suspiciously by many Trump allies, in part, because his wife is active in Democratic politics in Virginia and in part, because of what some on the right allege is an anti-bias at the top of the FBI.

McCabe's appearance on Capitol Hill comes at a critical juncture and Congress was the debate about how long to keep the Russian meddling investigations up and running. Plus, and this is more significant, the President's legal team scheduled to meet with the Special Council before the week is out.

Now sources who speak to the President say he has this grand expectation, Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel, will signal the investigations and soon and sent the President the letter saying, he's exonerated. But the Washington Post today quoting officials who said the investigation could continue on for another year at least the fair amount of some in the White House this morning. What happens if and when the President realizes he is not going to get his wish at least any time soon?

I think that is a big question. Where you had the President's lawyers who to the dismay of a lot of outside Trump political advisors who said, Mr. President, let's cooperate. Yes, the President, you know, questions the integrity of the FBI sometimes, but he hasn't attacked Bob Mueller himself in a long time directly.

And the word has been, let's cooperate and we're going to meet with him at the end of the year and we're pretty sure he's going to be wrapping up. There is a zero indication of that. What happens when they tell the President, sir, we meant December of 2018 maybe?

BENDER: Well, I think we know what can happen when the President is met with bad news, but I kind of think that this can play out for a little well longer. We've seen the President is very comfortable sort of previewing the next commercial break and staying tuned and teasing his audience and -- which is now the American public. But, you know, and he's had a lot of these promises over the past year of, you know, in a coupe of weeks we'll get, you know, we'll get to this and in a few months, we'll get that done.

And I think he'll be able to extend this for a while longer. You know, first, it was Thanksgiving and his lawyers are talking about now at the end of the year. You know, then, it will be, you know, Valentine's Day and the fourth of July. And I think they have a way to sort of keep this rolling at least for a little while.

KUCINICH: And I think it also depends on what else is going on. Right now, there's tax reform to distract him. It's a win and he's going to be talking about that a lot. And at this point, there is something to distract him. If he doesn't have that, if next year's legislative agenda is a slog, if things are going badly and if the midterms look like they're going to be a disaster, you know, I think you might have a lot more grousing from the President.

And then there is the question of who decided that there was a letter exonerating him. The exoneration letter, I'm just didn't familiar with that. We have --

KING: Not familiar with it. But to that point, I mean, you know, the President's attorneys are going to have this year end sit down and one thing I always say to everybody in history, they know a lot more -- the President's team knows a lot more than we know. So, when you see the President lashing out, when you see some reactions that don't make any sense, they know a lot more than we know about what the Special Counsel is asking for. Who is interviewing, what documents is he looking for?

They're going to sit down and I don't how -- I don't think the Special Counsel given his experience to be all at forthcoming. But if you're in the President's legal team, you want to know this cooperation deal with former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, what is that about. What is he telling you?

George Papadopoulos, the say he was a coffee boy, he's cooperating as well. Jared Kushner's lawyers are hiring a crisis management firm. What's going on there? I can see this getting the President more than a little curious.

SHEAR: Well, look, and part of -- the best way to understand or to predict what President Trump will do, let's say, on Twitter is probably to look at where he gets his information. And where he gets his information is not just from his aides and his lawyers and people who are telling him things privately. It's from Fox News, it's from Breitbart.

And so, you do have this idea that members of Congress like the folks that are holding the hearing today with McCabe are stalking a -- the suspicion and the accusations about the Mueller investigation being biased. That's going -- getting covered in Fox News, that's getting hyped on Breitbart and that's piped directly into the President of the United States who then, you know, sort of reacts to that.

So, you know, let's see what happens over the course of the year, at the beginning of the year as, you know, does the sort of, you know, conservative press really go to town on the investigation being unfair, because if they do, the President will not let go that.

KING: In that point, before you jump in, let's listen quickly to Rush Limbaugh who makes the point Mr. President, you know, we've done a pretty good job undermining confidence in Mueller.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW HOST: If Trump believes the public opinion polls, and Mueller is no doing well in these public opinion polls. These investigations is not polling well. If Trump believes that whatever this investigation produces that 45 percent, 48 percent of the American people are not going to believe it, what tamper with that?


[12:55:05] KING: It's a misconception I would say there between a political conversation about what might happen and if the Special Counsel comes forward with it. He has two indictments and two plea deals if he comes forward with more specifics in a court of law. How the court of political spin not changes everything.

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Sure. And, you know, the fact that the President has somehow convinced himself that he is going to be exonerated in some official way, you know, not to put him on a (INAUDIBLE) but I do think it's just this perfect telling example of how he is so able to build this fortress around him and believe exactly what he wants to believe.

You know, there's no clear indication that the Mueller investigation is falling down or nearing an end. In fact, it is clearly deepening, it is broadening in scope. But the present is choosing to believe that he's going to be exonerated sometime soon. And I think his advisers and his allies have every reason to be concerned about that.

KING: Interesting week. We'll get some reporting on what happens to Deputy Director McCabe up on the Hill. Obviously, looking forward to meeting with the President's lawyers later this week.

Thanks for joining us in INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow. Don't go anywhere. The House should be voting soon on tax reform, big tax cut.

Wolf Blitzer picks up our coverage after a quick break.