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Trump To Campaign In Pennsylvania; Bannon At Odds With Kelly Over "Gag Order"; Trump Lawyer: President Very Eager To Talk To Mueller; Trump And Obama Haven't Spoken Since Inauguration Day. 12:30- 1pm ET

Aired January 18, 2018 - 12:30   ET



[12:30:11] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump leaves the White House in a few minutes. He's headed off to Pennsylvania. Remember, one of those blue states he turned red in 2016?

Let's take a look because the president is trying to make a big point about 2018, trying to convince Republicans he's not as toxic as many of them now worry.

The president, again, going to Pennsylvania, remember, this was one of the stunners. A narrow win but a big win. One of the reasons Donald Trump is president of the United States flipping this.

Let's go back and look at the House districts here I want to show. So this is where the president is going.

Western Pennsylvania, House District PA-18. I'm going to draw it quickly here so I can go back to the presidential race for you. We trace that map right here. The Republican who had this seat wasn't even opposed last time so we didn't even bother counting the votes.

There's a special election now to replace him, and again, let's go back to the presidential map. This should be Trump country.

Look at this, 64%, Westmoreland County. Come over here, 60% in Washington County. Only in this slice here Southern Allegheny County, Hillary Clinton carried that part of the district there. A lot more Democrats there but this is by and large, look at the district demographics, Trump country, 93% white, only two percent African- American, 2% Asian, 3% other.

This is the kind of place where in 2016, Donald Trump turned them out and turned them out big time. He goes there today to try to prove, I can help the Republican candidate in the special election here. The message the president is trying to say, if things go the Republican way, is that as we go into the primaries and beyond to November, I can be there for you.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They want me to be involved. And we're going to be very involved. In fact, not only with the Senate but also with the House.

I will be actually working for incumbents and anybody else that has my kind of thinking. I think it's going to happen and we're going to make a lot of trips. We'll be very involved.


KING: The president wants to be very involved. He has to be invited to be very involved.

Let's talk specifically. Jonathan, you just wrote about this race. This should be a Republican win, but Republicans look at the other day in a legislative race in Wisconsin, last month at the big Senate race in Alabama. We can look at Virginia, we can look at New Jersey, we can look at a whole bunch of legislative seats that they flipped this year, and Republicans are losing in places Republicans are supposed to be winning.

What happens if the Democrat wins there?

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It'll be a huge embarrassment for the GOP. And, you know, more of the point, it would create the sort of a map problem. They have, you know, a 24-seat majority and there are at least that many seats that are up for grabs. So, they can't afford to lose any seats.

But more than that, it will be a symbolic setback. Because as you pointed out, John, this is the picture of Trump country. For those viewers who saw "Deer Hunter" back in the 70s, this is "Deer Hunter" country. This is cold and steel, Western PA, very, very pro-Trump, a few apple and packets New York, Pittsburgh but largely this is Trump country, numero uno.

I think that's why he's going there because the president and the House GOP knows a lot of these seats that are up for grabs, John, he can't go to this year. This is somewhere he actually can be more of an asset which is why he's there today. And which -- if I had to guess, I would say he'll be back there before March for more of a campaign rally because he is actually is an asset there.

Here's the challenge for the GOP, their candidate is not raising a lot of money. They're having to prop him up. And the Democrat unlike in some of these other races last year, is a pretty solid candidate. Thirty-three years old, former prosecutor, former Marine, very prominent local family and is somebody who is a capable candidate. And that will go I think a long ways in making this a close race.

KING: And again, if it's a close race, let's just go back again, Donald Trump won this district by 20 points. Forty percent of the residents high school degree, that's the Trump base. Forty-one percent making $50,000 a year. You want to hear the president talking today about how, I'm trying to keep my promises. I just give you a big tax cut.

And it's not just the president team were going to be watching this, Speaker Ryan's team is going to be watching this, Leader Mitch McConnell's team is going to be watching this, because if the Republicans lose this district, what is already a panic is -- what's the next word, what's the next big word if it's beyond panic?

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: You've got all these members of Congress who are in the 23 districts that were Republican- held seats that were won by Hillary Clinton who are trying to figure out exactly how much to distance themselves from the president, how to run their campaigns.

I mean, as we were talking about in the last block, there is no Republican message right now. It's all over the place about, you know, what they're doing. And so it's going to be really fascinating to see whether or not he can actually pull out a win in this district so that they can also calibrate exactly how close to run to him.

KING: Republicans are beginning to see what happened during the Obama years, essentially the mirror image of it. During the Obama years, yes President Obama is reelected but in addition to losing the House and then losing the Senate, a thousand state legislative seats switched hands during the eight years of the Obama presidency.

[12:35:06] Republicans pick up a thousand seats. That's the bench for next year, the year beyond, and the year beyond. Democrats think maybe we're going to start this out.

Look at this, just since 1/20/17, sine Donald Trump became president of the United States, 34 legislative seats have flipped to the Democrats, only four have flipped to the Republicans. So the Democrats are starting to think, we had this happen to us for eight years, maybe we're getting the beginning of this.

MARTIN: Right. Backlash politics was clearly on display in the Obama years and now the shoe is on the other foot. And I think in some ways the energy is perhaps even more intense now than it was then. Because I think the right was deeply uncomfortable with President Obama, but in some ways this is a different scenario for a lot of reasons that all of us are very familiar with it.

And the challenge for the Republicans is that, going to this fall, there's not going to be a lot of these kinds of seats in the House where Democrats are trying to go on offense. If you talk to, you know, Democrats in Washington, they're not terribly enthusiastic about this seat because it is a Trump district. There's a lot of places that are non-white, upscale suburban districts where Democrats are going to feast, because in those districts, the Democrats is basically going to run against Trump entirely.

I talked to Conor Lamb yesterday briefly who's the Democrat running in this seat. And he wouldn't go there at all when I ask about Trump visiting Pittsburgh today because he doesn't want to go after Trump because, again, this is one of the places where it's not helpful for a Democrat to attack Trump. Guess what, most of (INAUDIBLE) this year, it is.

KING: He's hoping he doesn't have to.

MARTIN: Correct.

KING: In those affluent areas, now again, he kind of --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It does itself.

KING: Republican suburbanites don't like Trump and they don't come out.

We'll continue to watch this one. We have until March.

Up next, Steve Bannon says the White House gave him a gag order. The White House chief of staff says he hasn't heard from Bannon in months.


[12:41:24] KING: Welcome back. Few big stories on our political radar today. President Trump now accusing Russia of helping North Korea get around international sanctions. The president telling Reuters, "Russia is not helping us at all with North Korea." That's a possible reference to reporting telling Russia has been passing oil, fuel to North Korea by a cargo ship. A no-no on the United Nation sanctions. Russian officials dispute the accusation.

The confidence in the United States as a world leader now at a new low. A Gallup poll surveying people in 134 countries finds only 30 percent of them have a favorable opinion of America's global leadership. That's below China's 31% and lower than at any point during the Obama or the Bush administration. Germany came out on top in that poll.

The House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, is holding a news conference this hour, right now, less than 36 hours away from a possible government shutdown. Listen here to some colorful language when it comes to the negotiations.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: This is like giving you a bowl of doggie do, put a cherry on top and call it a chocolate sundae. This is nothing -- this is, you know, the CHIP -- this CHIP should have been done in September, first of all. Second of all, we wanted ten years. We wanted permanent CHIP, which, by the way, saves $6 billion. Republicans rejected that even just on the terms of CHIP. They rejected the 10-year saving $6 billion.

Doing it for six years saves $1 billion. That's good. Doing it for 10 years saving $6 billion is better. In fact, it's best.


KING: A little math from the Democratic leader there after a doggie do reference. Your government at work.

Steve Bannon has to go back for more House Intelligence Committee testimony, but it won't be today as scheduled. President Trump's former chief strategist now gets until the end of the month to sort out what he's willing to say to the Intelligence Committee behind closed doors.

Bannon irritated both Republicans and Democrats on Tuesday when he refused to answer certain questions about his time as the president's right hand man. The White House chief of staff says nobody he knows is telling Bannon what to say or what not to say.


BRET BAIER, HOST, FOX NEWS: Did the White House tell him to invoke executive privilege?



KELLY: No. Steve has had very, very little contact with the White House since he left.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D) INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: And it's interesting what the White House tried to do yesterday through Secretary Kelly, and that is say well, we never asked him to invoke executive privilege. Now, technically that's correct, but they did tell him keep your mouth closed.


KING: It's an interesting debate as we try to get inside in these congressional committees try to keep going is Adam Schiff saying, OK, it's technically, probably correct that they didn't have guidance from the White House who don't invoke privilege.

But apparently, from all accounts or accounting from inside the room, Bannon's lawyer was in touch with somebody and saying the White House is saying don't answer these questions. I don't think they'll be able to get away with that very long, are they?

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: I don't think so. And it matters less if whether Bannon has been in contact with the White House about this than it does the fact that he is purely a treasure trove of information regarding a lot of things that investigators, whether it's in Congress or on special counsel Mueller's team want to get their hands on. He was the chief strategist during the campaign. He was one of three people who ran President Trump's transition team as chief strategist in the White House for about seven months. He knows a lot.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And what makes it worse for them is that another official, a current White House official testified and was apparently incredibly forthcoming. He didn't refuse to answer questions, and so lawmakers are probably rightfully asking, why is it that a current White House official can answer questions about his entire tenure and a former White House official can't answer questions about anything at all.

[12:45:07] KING: And they're all also asking, then why did you give all those quotes on the record to a book? PHILLIP: Yes.

KING: He don't like the Wolff book and you welcome -- just I don't want to dwell on Steve Bannon's assessment, but this tells you everything you need to know about the mood. Peter King, the House Republican and member of the House Intelligence Committee, said he might support a contempt citation if he came to that if Bannon doesn't come back and don't want testify. As he said," I have contempt for Bannon, anyway." So, this is not a beloved figure, even among a lot of the Republicans involved.

RESTON: Right. And, you know, the White House should be very concerned about what he's going to say. I mean, as, you know, he made it clear with the Wolff book that, you know, he's made his bed and he's not afraid to say anything at this point. And so, the idea that there isn't communication back and forth, that's just -- that's not credible.

KING: And back to the "where is the president" question. We started the show, where is the president on the short-term spending plan, we moved on to where is the president on immigration. Where is the president when it comes to his willingness to sit down with special counsel Robert Mueller?

Early in the week, remember, the president a year ago or sometime earlier in the year he said, absolutely, 100% I'm willing to take his questions. At the press conference with the prime minister of Norway, the president said, I don't think there's a need for interview here, they haven't proven anything. Listen here, Major Garrett of CBS News talking with the president's lawyer and it appears things have changed again.


MAJOR GARRETT, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, CBS NEWS: The president is very eager to sit down and explain whatever is responsive to the questions. Do you have any fear of a perjury trial?

TY COBB, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: No, but I think it would be foolish to, you know, not proceed without considering that possibility.


KING: The last part is good legal advice. It would be foolish to proceed without considering that possibility, especially when you have a history of saying things that are all over the map and inconsistent with each other and often inconsistent with the truth. But to the first part, the president is very eager to sit down. That's the president's lawyer. The president at that press conference with the Norwegian prime minister did not sound very eager.

PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, this is the dichotomy that has existed in the White House for a while. The strategy from the attorneys is we are cooperating. We are going to give Mueller what he needs. There's nothing there, so as cooperative as we can be, they're not going to find anything.

But the president is in a different place. He wants to believe that there is nothing there, but deep down inside, it's very clear based on his own public statements. He doesn't trust the direction that Mueller is going. He thinks it's a witch hunt and he's more reluctant to be in that position than his lawyers are.

MARTIN: And if there's anything covering Donald Trump, is that you just can't pay attention to what spokes people or lawyers for himself. All that matters is what he says about his views on things. But if we just -- from -- one fast moment here, I mean, props to Major Garrett for the gutt (ph). But the fact that the president's lawyers is doing a podcast and talking candidly about like strategy to special counsel --

KING: He also said, Ty Cobb, God bless his optimism. God bless his optimism. He says he believes the Mueller investigation will wrap up in four to six weeks. Anybody want to take a stab at that?

MARTIN: It was the end of the year last year, right?

PHILLIP: He said that six weeks ago.

KAPUR: And the way to stress that it was supposed to be thanksgiving --

MARTIN: Calendar year.

KAPUR: -- end of the year. And now it's a little beyond that again.

KING: We'll have four to six weeks from some date on the calendar.


PHILLIP: That is also --

KAPUR: There is success in keeping him from doing anything --


KAPUR: -- rush by convincing --


KAPUR: -- that is going end soon, and it's not ending soon.

PHILLIP: It's a strategy to manage the boss.

KING: Right. Well, it's kind of working kind of no. All right. As we go to break, I'm going to show you live pictures of the president as at the Joint Base Andrews just outside of Washington, D.C. You see Marine One there. The President about to make his way to Maryland -- I mean, to Pennsylvania. It wasn't supposed to be an official campaign trip, but the President on Twitter's twitter saying he's happy to go to there and campaign for the Republican in a special election. Up next, not exactly pen pals. Why President Trump and the former president, Barack Obama, have not spoken since inauguration day.


[12:53:02] KING: You've seen pictures here just a moment ago. The president of United States at Joint Base Andrews just outside of Washington climbing up the step there to Air Force 1. He's on the way to Pittsburgh. He wants to promote his tax cut plan, his 2018 agenda, and also put in a plug of a Republican candidate in a very important House special election, a big test of the Republican strength or weakness in the 2018 midterm year.

You see the president there boarding Air Force 1. He got the tickets, the privilege, the keys to Air Force 1 360 days ago. And let me show you some images 360 days ago almost to the minute. That's the incoming and the outgoing of first couples on inauguration day 2017. Former President Obama leaving the Capitol just after President Trump swearing in. Lot's of smiles, lots of hugs. But the goodwill or maybe it was just a good show ended right there.

The current and the former president have not spoken since that moment. Like so many things that Donald Trump at Washington, that's a dramatic break from tradition at least dating back to the 1970s. The Trump-Obama chill also a break from what we were told to expect.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I very much look forward to dealing with the president in the future, including counsel.

We get along. I don't know if he'll admit this, but he likes me.

BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS COMMENTATOR: How do you know he likes you?

TRUMP: I like him, because i can feel it. You know, that's what I do in life. It's called like "I understand."


KING: What happened?

PHILLIP: It deteriorated pretty quick. I mean, the transition was an incredibly tense period for the two administrations. And I've spoken to former Obama administration officials who talk about how -- when they came in, they felt like the Bush administration had given them such a good handover and had continued to be available to them into the administration. That has not been the case with the Trump folks. And I think a lot of it has to do with the lack of trust that was established over several real policy issues.

I remember the U.N vote over Israel that really caused a lot of tensions, the allegations of spying. It was pretty bad.

[12:50:02] MARTIN: Yes, tapping my wires.

PHILLIP: Yes, tapping my wire.

MARTIN: I think probably a lot there. He was suggesting that the last president had tapped him was probably -- had a chilling effect, I would say.

KING: And the flip side of that is President Obama very rarely uses President Trump's name, but right after Charlottesville when there's a lot of horror, it's what the president said, a lot of horror, bipartisan horror is what the president said.

President Obama tweeting a Mandela quote, "No one is born hating another person because of the color of their skin or his background or his religion." That was a shot at President Trump. Not mentioned there but no (INAUDIBLE).

KAPUR: It was a brief (INAUDIBLE) because it was bounce (INAUDIBLE). These are two men who have no love for each other, and it President Obama said -- so different in every way, personality, in terms of policy, world deal all that stuff.

I'm reminded of one thing President Obama said before leaving office which was kind of subtly giving advice to the incoming president in his own way saying, think through your decisions, think through point A, B, C and D, think through your endgame and realize that everything you say, everything you do is going to have that impact.

And clearly, President Trump as we've seen today is not going to (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Do you think he's followed that advice?


KING: That's it for today. Thanks for joining in the Inside Politics. Wolf Blitzer takes over after a quick break. Have a great day.