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Trump Threatens Aid; Trump's Davos Message; Trump Calls out False Rumor; Trump Wants to Answer Questions. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 25, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:16] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

A dramatic day on the world stage for President Trump, who threatens to cut off aid to the Palestinians because he says they don't show him proper respect.

Big news here at home, too. The president says he's now willing to answer questions under oath from the Russia special counsel. His lawyers say, not so fast.

And just as the White House prepares to take a tough line in new immigration negotiations, the president embraces what many conservatives call amnesty.


QUESTION: Do you want citizenship for dreamers?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to -- we're going to morph into it. It's going to happen at some point in the future.

QUESTION: What does that mean? What does morph into it -- what does that mean?

TRUMP: Over -- over a period -- over a period of 10 to 12 years, somebody does a great job. If you do a great job, I think it's a nice thing to have the incentive of, after a period of years, being able to become a citizen.


KING: We begin a packed hour of breaking news with President Trump on the world stage, in Davos, proving once again his way is different and disruptive. Meeting with Israel's prime minister a short time ago, Mr. Trump threatened to cut off U.S. aid to the Palestinians because, he said, they are not treating him and his administration with respect. The threat came after the president bragged about his decision to move the United States embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the biggest reason the Palestinians are angry with the Trump White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When they disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice president to see them, and we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support, tremendous numbers, numbers that nobody understands, that money is on the table.


KING: CNN's Jeff Zeleny is live in Davos with more.

Jeff, remarkable, it's news anyway, but that the president choose to make it at a summit meeting where it's usually Kumbaya, let's get along, let's not disrupt things.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, perhaps it should be no surprise, but President Trump mincing no words here and taking a stand so different than other U.S. presidents who have tried to broker Middle East peace by not necessarily inserting themselves, but by trying to bring bother sides together. But the president said directly and clearly that he would withhold aid from Palestinians if they do not come to the negotiating table.

Now, this certainly breaks with precedent that the U.S. has had for decades trying to negotiate peace. The Trump administration would argued that has not worked, so he's trying to take a different approach here. But the whole point the Palestinians are angry at the Trump White House, John, as you mentioned, is the decision to move the embassy.

So this appears to be at somewhat of an impasse here. The president has not talked about Middle East peace much for a while. He mentioned it here because he was meeting a very friendly meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu as he begins his day here at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

But it certainly raises the question, John, how Middle East peace will ever become unfrozen, unstuck here. The president said he has a proposal. Did not say what that was. But certainly outrage across the Palestinian leadership and indeed the Arab world here about all of this. Middle East peace looks more elusive than ever.


KING: Jeff Zeleny live for us in Davos. Jeff, thanks for the reporting.

President Trump also met today with the British prime minister, Theresa May, and he delivers a speech to the annual meeting of global elites tomorrow. The America first president is somewhat of an odd fit at a gathering that extolls global trade and global cooperation, but he says his message in Davos, quite simple.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Peace and prosperity. Peace and prosperity. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights, Maggie Haberman with "The New York Times," Jonathan Martin also of "The New York Times," "Bloomberg's" Sahil Kapur, and Margaret Talev, also with "Bloomberg."

It's "Bloomberg" versus "The New York Times" today.

Again, just the idea that the president, number one, wants to say this publicly right now. Number two, at Davos, where people are saying, here comes America first, here comes the disrupter, here comes the guy who doesn't go by the normal rules. Big deal.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": It is a big deal, and it's also a way for Donald Trump to do what Donald Trump likes doing best, which is keep the focus on him. I mean I think what's interesting -- and I honestly think that that is basically the formula.

As a policy decision, doing this publicly where he is now is curious, suggesting that it is about a lack of respect. It's another reminder of his tendency to conflate himself with the institution he serves, but it is not a surprise.

It's also not a surprise that he wanted to go to Davos. So, I mean, you could make the argument if this is Mr. America first and this is going to be an odd thing here, a, he's been treated with adoration and attention. People sought (ph) selfies with him from what I saw. The room was crowded. People are referencing him in their speeches. This is a crowd of elites who never accepted him. They represent the type of people who did not accept him when he as a developer and reality TV star in New York and now they have to. And that, I think, is a huge draw for him personally.

[12:05:03] KING: And that's one of the reasons he's there. Sometimes when the president says things, especially on the foreign affairs front, his aides have to go out and clean it up and they say, that's not exactly what we're doing. That's the president's tweet or that's the president's view, but our policy is this.

But listen to Nikki Haley at the United Nations today. This was clearly an administration effort to put the Palestinians on notice that from the Trump White House perspective they've had enough.


NIKKI HALEY, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: In his speech, President Abbas declared the landmark Oslo peace accords dead. He rejected any American role in peace talks. He insulted the American president. But we will not chase after a Palestinian leadership that lacks what is needed to achieve peace. To get historic results, we need courageous leaders.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: It has always been, as Jeff Zeleny noted, U.S. policy to at least on paper be the honest broker. Of course, through past presidencies, Israel has always been a rock-solid U.S. ally. The United States (INAUDIBLE) was always going to lean a little bit toward Israel. But U.S. presidents have pick up the phone and say stop building settlements to the Israeli leaders, or you're being counterproductive right now, and try to bring the Palestinians in. Why this break from the Trump White House and what did they expect to get from it, just a more happy Benjamin Netanyahu, or do they actually think by breaking the old framework, they can build a new one?

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "BLOOMBERG": I'm not sure that it matters. I mean I'll tell you why. I think that what they say, what they've been saying is that the only way to actually restart the peace process is to take Jerusalem off the table, a lot of other things will fall into place. It sort of suggests that they're going to ask Israel to make concessions. It's unclear why Israel would do that, but that's what it suggests, they're going to make -- ask Israel to make concessions going forward.

But I think what seems to be emerging, it looks like the U.S. putting its thumb on the scale much more than it has in previous administrations, making the calculus that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, those being three of the countries, don't care as much anymore. They are not going to rally for the Palestinians the way they might have before because they're going to rally more around the anti-Iran issue and sort of regional gulf issues, right?

And that was part of what Mike Pence's trip was about, to kind of test the water. Of course, publicly, you saw Egypt and Jordan raising issues about the Jerusalem decision. But the real test was behind the scenes what kind of conversations were they having and were those countries walking away from intelligence sharing or that kind of thing. And the answer is no.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, and I think he's personal with this president, too.

KING: Right.

MARTIN: And, you know, the --

KING: Bibi says he's great. The Palestinians are at odds.

MARTIN: The Palestinians snubbed Pence.

KING: Right. Yes.

MARTIN: And Bibi is full charm offensive.

KING: Right.

MARTIN: Don't forget, there's an effort in Israel to name a subway station after President Trump. I mean they get the politics here domestically, and they are full-on flattery. And the Palestinians, obviously, aren't going to do that, especially after moving the U.S. embassy, or the capital to Jerusalem. So it's -- you can't detach Trump's impulses from his perception of slights or flatter. Everything is through that prism.

TALEV: And yet it's about --

KING: So U.S. -- so U.S. policy dating back decades, through Republican and Democratic administrations --

MARTIN: Yes. Yes, God know gracious (ph).

KING: Gets flushed with a personal love me.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG POLITICS": A novel approach to Middle East peace, to say the least, that would make sense that there's a strategy underling it. The United States' position has been not to prejudge the issue of Jerusalem, which President Trump has now done, because that has been one of the three issues that has hung up Middle East peace for decades, throughout attempts by Republican and Democratic administrations, along with the issue of settlements and along with the issue of right of return for refugees.

KING: And it's an excellent point because how he does it, how he talks about Jerusalem to me is fascinating, having covered this issue going back to the Clinton administration or late in the George H.W. Bush administration even.

Listen to the president here today describing his decision, again, there's criticism around the world for deciding you're officially going to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem now, which is putting your thumb on the scale, saying Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, always supposed to be a final status issue in the negotiations. Here's how the president describes it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There were never any deals that came close because Jerusalem would -- you couldn't ever get past Jerusalem. So when people said, oh, I set it back. I didn't set it back. I helped it. Because by taking it off the table, that was the toughest issue.


KING: It's -- number one, I think that's not accurate historically in the sense that there was a deal at Camp David in the Clinton administration that divided Jerusalem. Both parties signed on to it. Ehud Barak was the prime minister of Israel at the time. Yasser Arafat then walked away from it at the last minute. They had a deal. They thought they had it. It divided Jerusalem.


KING: IS the -- I always thought, when the president decided to move the embassy, if he said everybody knows Israel will not sign a deal that doesn't give it at least part of Jerusalem, therefore I'm doing this to be more honest and candid about this. That's one way to do it.


KING: Instead, he says, I've taken it off the table, essentially saying it's Israel's.

HABERMAN: Well, this is -- this is a -- this -- I mean I think that we have -- Jonathan was mouthing this to you before, but I think that we're missing a key name here, and that's Sheldon Addelson (ph), who was a major donor to the Republican Party and to this president, or certain Republican causes, and this is a signature issue for him. This is an issue that he has been pressing this president about since the day they took office. They kicked the can down the road for a while and now you are seeing the president talk about it openly.

[12:10:08] I also think that you can't really -- we all like to think that there's some deep criminology (ph) going on here. This is, number one, his impulse control and need to be loved and, number two, his paralytic fear of losing his base and what he constantly says is the evangelicals really care about this issue, his phrase, the evangelicals.

I think that is where he's coming at this from.

KAPUR: And let's not forget that the -- that Israel is one of two countries around the world where President Trump's approval hasn't risen since the end of the Obama administration.

HABERMAN: That's right.

KAPUR: And it's crashed almost everywhere else. The fact -- the other country is Russia. And President Netanyahu has a way with the president. He talks about the art of the deal when he's standing on the lectern. He knows how to reach him.

HABERMAN: Totally.

KAPUR: The world leaders who have been successful at getting through to President Trump and getting what they want from him are the ones who roll out the red carpet and shower him with praise.

KING: And to that point, the president loves to be loved. He's had to delay, and maybe indefinitely, a state visit to the U.K. because they're afraid of protests, they're afraid people will be in the streets protesting. And yet today, with Prime Minister Theresa May, he wants to say everything's great.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The prime minister and myself have had a really great relationship, although some people don't necessarily believe that. But I can tell you, I (ph) have tremendous respect for the prime minister and the job she's doing. I think the feeling is mutual from the standpoint of liking each other a lot. And so that was a little bit of a false rumor out there. I just wanted to correct it, frankly. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HABERMAN: Fake news!

TALEV: She sort of managed a shrug there, didn't she?

KING: Yes. She didn't exactly jump in there and say I agree.

HABERMAN: No, she did not. And she was making quite a face.

KING: Right.

HABERMAN: I mean, a, number one, this president often says something this false when it is true.


HABERMAN: And it is -- well, it's often -- it's often become seen as sort of the kiss of death in the White House when he gives a full- throated endorsement of a staff member because they tend to know what --


HABERMAN: They -- right. They tend -- John Kelly is doing a great job he said yesterday. They tend to know what follows.

I think that he is aware of the fact that perceptions are poor about the U.S. now, that it has changed dramatically. He is hearing that it is in part because of his rhetoric and in part because of a sense of uncertainty about a negotiating partner. Certainly something that we have heard from the Republican Congress as well about this White House.

He usually can only adjust it, again, when it is in the context of something like that, which is about him personally and a relationships basis. And I think that is why you saw him push back on that so that he could --

MARTIN: And when the person's sitting right there next to him, too, right?

HABERMAN: Right. That's right.

MARTIN: He always wants to please the person next to him.

HABERMAN: Correct.

MARTIN: And I can remember when he was sworn in, he had savaged (ph) Obama for a year and a half.

HABERMAN: That's right.

MARTIN: And after meeting with Obama --

HABERMAN: That's right. MARTIN: He said for days, I liked him a lot. I think he liked me, too. So he always wants to be liked in the moment, right?

HABERMAN: In the moment, and also, look, Lindsey Graham had, I thought, a really -- just sort of the key to distilling Trump the other day. Lindsey Graham, who has been all over the place with Trump, right? He had -- you know, was smashing his own cell phone during the campaign because Trump was reading the number aloud at a rally and then they became golf partners and then, obviously, they had a falling out over the president's comments about certain nations. He said, you know, essentially, as long as you are being nice to him, you're his best friend, and that is how he sees this.

MARTIN: Right.

KING: Right. Right. We'll continue this throughout --

KAPUR: Let's put this in some context --

KING: I'll stop you right there. We've got to sneak in a quick break, but we'll continue the conversation throughout.

Next, though, the president says, absolutely to a big date, under oath, he says, even, with the special counsel.


[12:17:25] KING: President Trump laying down an important marker and one his lawyers immediately tried to qualify.


QUESTION: Are you going to talk to Mueller?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm looking forward to it, actually.

QUESTION: You want to?

QUESTION: Do you have a date set?

TRUMP: Here's a story, just so you understand. There's been no collusion whatsoever. There's no obstruction whatsoever. And I'm looking forward to it.

QUESTION: Do you have a date set, Mr. President?

TRUMP: I don't know. No. I guess they're talking about two or three weeks. But I would love to do it.

QUESTION: In person?

TRUMP: You know, again, it's -- I have to say, subject to my lawyers and all of that, but I would love to do it.

QUESTION: To reach a higher standard, you would do it under oath? TRUMP: Oh, I would do it under oath, yes, absolutely.

QUESTION: You would? Yes?


KING: Absolutely. The president's lawyers say, though, he was talking hurriedly, off the cuff, and negotiations with the special counsel are still ongoing. As they try to save the president a little wiggle room, the lawyers, the White House is trying to make the case its cooperation with the special counsel has been, in the White House view, unprecedented. A list sent out to reporters this morning details more than 20,000 pages of White House documents, 1.4 million more pages of campaign documents, and nearly 50 interviews with White House and former campaign officials.

Suffice to say, many of the president's friends think all this talk of cooperation is, well, nuts! He should treat Mueller like a plague, Trump friend Christopher Ruddy told "The Washington Post." He should exert executive privilege in every opportunity he can.

Let's start with the president's words, absolutely looking forward to it, even under oath. Even in Donald Trump's America, can you back away from that?

HABERMAN: No, and they've tried to put it into the, that's just how he talks genre, which is always sort of -- this is what he said, but what he meant was, he was pretty clear. And I would say one thing that he seemed -- he was pretty clear except for this point. You are talking -- and he raised -- kept raising this issue. I asked the question about under oath. He kept raising this issue of Hillary Clinton and what did she do when she spoke to investigators during the e-mail investigation. Was she under oath? Was she under oath? She was not under oath. And do you want to know why? Because, among other reasons, it was not a grand jury. And if you lie to the FBI, that's a crime, regardless.

KING: It's a felony.

HABERMAN: So you don't need to be -- correct. And Michael Flynn could inform him of that, among other people.

So I don't think that he fully understands where this falls. But I think he can't help himself. And I think -- I do think it is true that he has been saying to people privately, because I've heard this for the last couple weeks, that he really wants to go talk to Mueller because he believes that he can sell someone. He believes --


KING: Right. Like Bill Clinton, he thinks he can convert the devil.

HABERMAN: Correct. And that's -- actually that's a very good analogy and so -- or comparison.


HABERMAN: But so -- I think that -- I think it is true that that is where he would like to go with this. The oath thing -- the under oath thing is (INAUDIBLE).

KING: But you make -- you make a key point, though, he doesn't need to be under oath. If he -- I assume his lawyers are going to fight that tooth and nail.


KING: But, if you lie in a conversation with the FBI, that is a felony.


[12:20:02] KING: And the fact that you just said, you don't think he quite understand it, after all this time, we're in this -- beginning of the second year in office, this prospect of an interview with Bob Mueller has loomed over him for months.


KING: If he still doesn't get the quicksand of that, that's why people like Chris Ruddy are saying over -- just do not do this, over your dead body do not do this.

HABERMAN: Correct. Correct. And it's not about being under oath. It is about the interview, period.

KING: Right.

HABERMAN: There is this big question about whether he will do written questions, which some people close to him think would make much more sense and are hoping it would turn out. I'd be very surprised if Mueller agrees to that entirely, but they are struggling --

KING: You could get a ghost writer to do that.

HABERMAN: Correct.

TALEV: But, fundamentally, either way, if you're in a deposition type of setting, what you're looking at is not broad strokes, like was there collusion? No, there was no collusion. It's very detailed things, like a timeline, like that lawyers are prepared for that the investigators are prepared for. Like you said in January that you did this, but then you said in March that you never did this, and then you said in May you did this, so which one is it?

KING: Right.

TALEV: And all of this stuff becomes lined up. And whether it's under oath or whether it's just with the stenographer and for the record, it becomes a timeline against which any case about obstruction, about testimony that conflicts with itself becomes placed on the record. It is -- there's an enormous vulnerability in participating in this.

KING: And this started, was there collusion, was there cooperation, were there conversations with the Russians during the 2016 campaign, and let's look -- never mind at the Trump campaign, let's look at the bad things the Russians did that every intelligence agency says they did during the campaign. Now it becomes about presidential behavior once in office.

Again, among the possibilities, we know the special counsel's looking into for possibilities of obstruction of justice, the firing of the former FBI director, James Comey, the Air Force One meeting to help Donald Trump Jr. come up with a statement. The initial statement was not truthful about the Trump Tower meeting where they met with Russians to discuss dirt on Hillary Clinton. Conversations with senior administration officials, including two FBI directors about loyalty, and conversations about the Michael Flynn investigation and the Michael Flynn firing.

This is the presidential conduct. Here is the president talking again yesterday saying, I'm not afraid at all because there's nothing there.


QUESTION: Do you think Robert Mueller will be fair to you in this larger investigation?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to find out. We're going to find out.

QUESTION: Are you concerned --

TRUMP: Because here's what we'll say. And everybody says, no collusion. There's no collusion. Now they're saying, oh, well, did he fight back? If you fight back -- you fight back. Sure (ph), you fight back. John, you fight back. Oh, it's obstruction. So, here's the thing, I hope so.


KING: So we know this president, and as a businessman, likes to think of himself as a counterpuncher. Somebody raises something against him, he wants to punch back. So that's what he says, I'm just fighting back. I'm just fighting back. That's one thing in the public arena and with the news media. It's a different thing if fighting back includes you fire James Comey because he won't pledge loyalty.


KING: It's a different thing in the legal environment if you keep Michael Flynn on the staff for a few more days and only fire him after it becomes public that he lied. And so that's the question. That's -- that's, I think, why people have such fear of the president doing this despite his confidence, because other witnesses that have come out have said that Mueller's staff is so meticulous -- and that's Bob Mueller's brand -- that they have essentially recreated meetings. You know, you said this at 9:27, you did that at 9:28, you left the meeting and sent that e-mail, and that they have a level of detail that if the president wanders, he's trouble.

KAPUR: And the timeline is crucial to building any kind of obstruction of justice case where you kind of need a paper trail of thoughts and intentions. The president has not helped himself by saying on nightly news that the Comey firing was, in his mind, somehow linked to the Russia investigation, the tweet in December about suggesting that he knew Flynn lied to the FBI. There is that dimension. And I'm sure Mueller's going to want to shake the tree on this. At the very least on the idea of prosecuting or nailing a president on obstruction of justice is an extremely high bar.

The other thing that I would bet a nickel that Mueller wants to look into, or at least poke around at, is money laundering. That is the whole ball game, if he can get something there. President Trump's finances are the one opaque -- the one black box aspect of his life that we don't know about.


HABERMAN: It's a ball game. I don't think it is the whole ball game. It is a ball game that certainly relates to the president and his son- in-law, Jared Kushner, and I think that is where you are going to see Mueller looking.

It's -- you raise a key point, though, which is that, this is a president who turns literally everything into an up-down referendum on himself. And so it becomes, you know, obstruction as fighting back. You know, oh, you know, you fight -- they say he fought back. Oh, fighting back, oh, that's obstruction. He has an inability, or at least has demonstrated an inability, to understand sort of nuance, gray area, shades of something not clear.

KING: Like asking the FBI directors for loyalty is different than asking your housing secretary for loyalty.

HABERMAN: Well, correct. And this is where when people -- and when people close to him will say that is just how he talks. And at times that is true. When you are confusing different contestants for the vice presidency, when you are making decisions on certain aspects of policy. This is completely different. And he's actually -- he's not someone who is unfamiliar with legal risk, which is why I find this very surprising.

KING: Right.

MARTIN: But this is the bar-lowering that we hear all the time from folks in his own party. We did a story a few months ago about how last year the president, in at least three different conversations with GOP senators, tried to get them to end the Senate Intelligence inquiry into Russia.

HABERMAN: That's right. That's right.

[12:25:07] MARTIN: And when we questioned the senators about these conversations, at least one of them, Senator Byrd, downplayed it. He said, he's just a business guy. He doesn't understand that that's inappropriate.


MARTIN: Well, he's the president of the United States. You can't keep grading him on a curve like that.

KING: Right. If that happened in January or February of last year, maybe, maybe you give him a little grace. Getting -- he's getting up to speed. Now, sorry, no, sorry.

All right, everybody sit tight.

Up next, President Trump throws a curveball during an in prompt to meeting with reporters. Why he now says he supports a path not just to status but to citizenship for the so-called dreamers.


[12:29:51] QUESTION: Mr. President. Mr. President, how --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think -- I think the real message is, we want great prosperity and we want great peace. And I think that really is the message. It's been going really well. A lot of people are coming back to the United States. We are seeing tremendous investment and today's been a very exciting day, a very great day, and great for our country. Thank you very much.