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NSA Chief: Trump Hasn't Said to Stop Russian Meddling at Source; Parscale to Run Trump 2020 Re-election Bid; HUD Staffer Demoted After Refusing to Top Legal Limit for Office Decor; Corker Won't Run for Re-election; Will Young People Show Up to Vote in November; New Tension Between Kelly and Ivanka Trump. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 27, 2018 - 12:30   ET



[12:30:03] SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLANDS: So you would need basically to be directed by the president through the secretary of defense?

ADM. MIKE ROGERS, NSA DIRECTOR: Yes, sir. In fact, I mentioned that in my report.

REED: Have you been directed to do so given the strategic threat that faces the United States and the consequences you recognize already?

ROGERS: No, I have not.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Somebody help me. That to me is just stunning. Again, I don't care your politics, I don't care your views about Bob Mueller, I don't care your views about collusion, forget all that.

The idea that the agencies who are capable of getting in the Russian's face in cyberspace have not been told by the president to do it.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: There we see, I think, what happens when there's no presidential directive from above for all agencies to take all the steps they need and have all the resources at their disposal to go after this threat. And a lot of this has been theoretical because people have said, you know, do you (INAUDIBLE) on its own on cyber security and things like this. And we know the reason for this. We know that the president in his mind has a tough time separating his own insecurity about the legitimacy of his election and how it's going to be perceived from what he needs to do, which is why these steps aren't happening. There are a lot of experts who are very concerned about.

What it mean for 2018, what it means for 2020 if these attacks on -- or actions go unanswered?

JOHN MCCORMACK, SENIOR WRITER, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: But there has been some -- I mean, there has been a lot of tough action on other aspects. I mean, providing relief for Ukraine, that's not a cyber war for that's a real world. And so I think there has been some (INAUDIBLE) on the Russia question where (INAUDIBLE) these very tough things. The president sometimes denying the extent to which Russia tried to influence the elections.

KING: If you pick up the phone call, Admiral Rogers say, I never going to say this publically but do everything you do, go get them, stop them, whatever. But, OK, maybe I'm nuts here.

Quickly, Brad Parscale who is a digital -- key digital aide in the Trump 2016 campaign, the president already -- what year is it, announcing he will be the manager of his 2020 re-election campaign.

You see there who Brad Parscale is. This is an interesting one. Donald Trump who never been into politics, he's president of the United States. Brad Parscale had never worked in politics but he was a key player in one campaign, now he's going to run the next campaign. Why is this a big deal?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a big deal because the president -- if you just look at the official statement that they put out, it tells you everything you need to know. That he's a trusted adviser. He quotes from Eric Trump who he worked for at the private sector, and Jared Kushner about the fact that he is basically like family. It is very typical for Trump to do this.

I will also say that Brad Parscale was new to politics in 2015, was only the digital director. But he had a very significant, under-the- radar role in the campaign, quietly doing the deals to get digital advertising, doing a lot of a data polling and questions about where they're doing well and where they are at. And he has said that he actually saw a data at the end of the campaign showing Wisconsin and Michigan as not really in play, convinced everybody to move, resource is there and it turns out that he was right.

But I think that it is very noteworthy that a guy -- as I said never works in politics and even now lives in Florida, doesn't even live here, has been tapped to be a campaign manager for a presidential re- elect.

KING: But you're right, there are three ones. Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan.

BASH: Yes.

KING: That's all it takes. The president keeps those maps handy. He remembers.

BASH: Winning helps.

KING: Before we go to break, the Attorney General Jeff Sessions often a target of the president. You might remember that. And the president won't let it go but Jeff Sessions says, it's OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thank you for the opportunity to serve in this office. I appreciate the president allowing me to do so and asking me to do so. It is a challenge every day.



[12:38: 07] KING: Welcome back. An important story here.

A whistleblower at the Department of Housing and Urban Development is sounding off. And ex-staffer said she was demoted after refusing to spend more than the top legal $5,000 limit to redecorate Secretary Ben Carson's new office.

In a formal complaint obtained now by CNN, the former staffer said she was told to, quote, find money, despite voicing her objections.

Let's bring in CNN's Rene Marsh who's tracking the story. Rene, more trouble for Ben Carson. Fill us in.

RENE MARSH, CNN GOVERNMENT REGULATION CORRESPONDENT: You're certainly right. So we spoke exclusively to this whistleblower. She is an employee at HUD, and as you mentioned off the top, she filed this complaint with the office of the special counsel.

Just for the viewers, the legal cap for decorating your office, around $5,000. It is exactly $5,000. And so in this complaint that she filed in November of 2017, she says that she was told to, quote, find money beyond the legal $5,000 limit for redecorating. She went on to say in one instance, she says her supervisor told her, quote, $5,000 will not even buy a decent chair.

She says that the pressure continued for her to, again, quote, find the money, find a way around this legal cap of spending only $5,000 for redecorating the office.

We did reach out to HUD on this story and we did get a statement from HUD Spokesman Raffi Williams, and he tells CNN and I'm quoting now, when it comes to decorating Secretary Carson's office, the only money HUD spent was $2,050. So he is actually pushing back on the whistleblower saying they did not indeed spend $5,000.

The whistleblower though saying, that's not true. We do know according to this woman that the office of special counsel reached out to her. She tells us that they also interviewed her about these complaints. Back to you.

[12:40:06] KING: Keep in touch, Rene as this one plays out in the middle of the investigation,. You can come back when you have a finish line. Thank you so much. Rene Marsh there.

Time to check some other stories on our political radar. President Obama takes a veiled shot at the Trump administration. It happened on Friday during private remarks to a crowd at MIT in Cambridge.

In leaked audio obtained by Reason magazine, Obama gives himself a pat on the back for what he says was a relatively drama-free White House.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One of the things I'm proud of in my administration was the fact that -- and I think these things are connected, we didn't have a scandal that, you know, embarrassed us.

There were mistakes. We would screw up. But there wasn't anything illegal during eight years. And that's -- I know that seems like a low bar but, during the presidency that's no small thing.

Generally speaking, you didn't hear about a lot of drama inside the White House.


KING: A final answer finally from Senator Bob Corker. He's sticking to his decision to retire. The Tennessee Republican announced last year he would not seek reelection this year, but that was after months long feud with the president. Then he said he was reconsidering in recent weeks and he had make some efforts to repair his relationship with the president. His decision now, it's a likely general election race between Republican Congressman Marsha Blackburn and the former Democratic governor of Tennessee Phil Bredesen.

Country Music legend Dolly Parton visits the nation's capitol. Today she donated the 100 millionth book to the Library of Congress which is part of her non-profit program called the Imagination Library which donates books to children. The book of choice, "Coat of Many Colors", book about anti-bullying that Parton wrote.


DOLLY PARTON, SINGER: Hello, kiddies! You want me to read a book to you? You do? Well, I'm going to.

In my coat of many colors that my mama made for me. Made only from rags but I wore it so proudly. And although we had no money, I was rich as I could be, in my coat of many colors mama made for me.


KING: A great cause. Always good to get some music in the program as well. Parton stressed the importance of education and encouraged children to make time for reading.

You can't beat that advice. No partisanship there.

Let's come back to Bob Corker, Hamlet of Tennessee about his decision. Yes, we first reported this a few weeks ago here. He suddenly started talking to colleagues about getting back in.

Now he's home this weekend and a lot of people thought he's going to announce he was getting back in. He did not. Now he's out for good, right? KAPUR: Sounds that way. The X factor here seems to be Marsha Blackburn. He had a very credible challenger who's raising a lot of money, who was supported by the conservative wing and the establishment. In more cases than not, incumbent two-term senator would be the strong preference to run again for that seat in a year that could end up being away for the other side.

The difference was that Marsha Blackburn was that she wasn't going to back down.

KING: That he has said from the beginning he was staying and he would have the leaderships backing. Once he said he was out, I was told that he got back in this time, the conservatives were ready to step forward, Joni Ernst, Marco Rubio, and a few other Republican Senate colleague were going to come forward and endorse her not him.

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes, it's really a lesson I think and how quickly the political winds can shift once a senator has indicated that, in Corker's case that he's getting out of the race, somebody else steps into the breach and there was no undoing that for Corker who was on the more liberal side of the Republican spectrum in the Senate.

BASH: And just remember, this is a Republican seat that Democrats are at least hoping that they can get Republicans to spend money in, because they have a very popular former governor on the Democratic side who is going to run and could give Marsha Blackburn a run for her money.

KING: Stretches the map a little bit. But for now, Blackburn could fell this clear because the other Republican candidate dropped out.

All right, we'll keep an eye on that as well.

Up next, the most vocal voice in the aftermath of the Florida massacre, the kids. An open question, whether that passion translates to votes come November.


[12:48:19] KING: We'll take you inside some new CNN polling that shows at the moment, long awaited election but that's the moment Democrats have a big advantage when it comes to the 2018 midterms in the battle for control of Congress.

But first, let's look at the headline number. Who would you vote for if the election were today? Democrats 54 percent, Republicans 38 percent. Democrats reopening a very big lead. If it's anything close to this come November, the House will change hands and Nancy Pelosi will be speaker. It's only February but that is a big lead for the Democrats.

Let's take a closer look at some of the reasons. Choice for Congress among men, relatively evenly split. Democrats had just a slight advantage. This is a big advantage for Republicans right now. Anti- Trump sentiment among women, 62 percent to 32 percent. If that holds up, it's a huge advantage for the Democrats. Democrats also at the moment, a decent edge among independents. The combination of these two is why right now, right now, it's looks like a huge Democratic advantage.

Let's dig a little bit deeper. The president's approval rating always priority factor number one in a midterm election year. Among all Americans, the president is back down again on another poll, 35 percent approved, 58 percent disapprove. That's a recipe for Republican disaster.

Let's look more closely among just registered voters. You see the president's standing is a little bit better. But still 39 approve, 46 percent disapprove. Look at the gender gap, men, about evenly split.

That is what is driving the Democratic advantage. Anti-Trump sentiment among women in America driving the Democratic advantage.

Here's another big question. If Democrats can hold that, what if they can also get this? These are younger Americans. They traditionally don't vote in midterm elections, older Americans do. They're not a split.

Look at the sentiment among those between 18 and 34. Only 26 percent approve of the president's job performance. That's his lowest standing there.

[12:50:03] So, when you see the energy from the Parkland, Florida students today. Will it carry over to November? Will it spread nationally? A lot of people are skeptical. The parents and the students say, yes it will.


NICOLE HOCKLEY, SON KILLED IN SANDY HOOK SHOOTING: I think there is a difference between adults advocating for their children versus children advocating for themselves. And these are articulate teenagers sharing their experience and demanding that the adults listen to them.

DAVID HONG, SURVIVED PARKLAND SHOOTING: Honestly, it's our generation. Ever since -- Columbine was about 19 years ago, and now that you've had an entire generation of kids growing up around mass shootings and the fact they're starting to be able to vote explains how we're going to have this change. Kids are not going to accept this.


KING: What do we think now? The biggest dynamic for the Democrats is the advantage among women. You see more candidates coming out, got 30 points advantage in the generic (INAUDIBLE) is eye popping. It would tell you that if those women turn out to vote, but let's answer the question about the younger Americans first.

Because we've seen them on Capitol Hill, we've seen them in their home state of Florida, we've seen them across the county to different degrees having protests to support the Parkland students. History says they won't be there in November. Will this year be different?

KAPUR: Well, history does suggest that the progressive side, especially on the issue of guns, does not translate the passion to vote and that's why they end up losing to the NRA and the gun right side.

In 2013, the Senate tried to pass a modest background checks bill that were polling around 1910. Not one of the senators who filibustered that lost the re-election the following year. Not a single one.

Meanwhile, three Democrats, Kay Hagan, (INAUDIBLE) and Mary Landrieu voted for that bill and end up losing their reelection. The only two Democrats voted against that bill and lost their re-election, lost to pro-gun Republicans.

This is exactly the question that needs to be answered. Can they translate to votes?

BASH: That's true, but if you look at the broader context of history, it shows that this is exactly the age of -- the age group that tends to make a difference and tends to usher in major social change or major political and policy change.

Obviously, the Vietnam War, it was this age group, maybe a couple years older, or maybe when they come of age in the next presidential election. If you look internationally are the Arab Spring, it was young people. It was this kind of age group who has the passion, who have -- you know, still have the optimism, aren't jaded.

So, we'll see. It does fly in the face of more recent history on this particular issue, and the reality of gerrymandered districts and a whole host of other cultural issues.

KING: When you look at it, whether it's the younger voters or the women voters, it's Trump. It's an anti-Trump animus -- I was going to sentiment, but it's an animus among those two groups.

If you're a Republican and you're Paul Ryan, you're a Republican running for re-election in districts somewhere out there in America, how do you escape that. How do get off under the umbrella and make it about you not about him?

JOHNSON: Well, I think in the same way that Democrats -- you see Democrats campaigning in these special elections, trying to distance themselves from Nancy Pelosi. You're going to see Republicans campaigning in the midterm elections very likely trying to distance themselves from the president and say, this election is about me.

KING: But Democrats in 2010 though, they ran from Obama and got punished.

JOHNSON: I think Republicans will have an uphill battle in 2018. We'll see how it works for these Democrats in the special elections coming out. KAPUR: And, you know, the solution from the president have long created the gun control issue -- on this point, you know, if gun control advocates wants to accomplish something on the assault weapons licensing, they need to get involved in Democratic primary politics. Like blue state Democrats like in New Mexico, Colorado who voted against (INAUDIBLE).

KING: But then they don't have the votes now. They don't have the votes now. My question (INAUDIBLE) whether they show up in November. We'll see.

Up next, a new tension in the West Wing between President Trump's chief of staff and the first family.


[12:57:49] KING: Some new twists today in a constant Trump West Wing drama.

High level resentment at the special standing of the president's daughter and son-in-law. Chief of Staff John Kelly is central to the new plot twist. Sources telling CNN, Kelly was annoyed Ivanka Trump was chosen to lead the U.S. delegation to close out the Winter Olympics. And sources tell us in private conversations, get this, he has referred to the president's daughter as, quote, playing government.

Kelly of course also is central to giant questions involving Ivanka's husband, Jared Kushner. The White House still won't detail just how Kushner's sensitive work his proceeding after Kelly's deadline last week to roll back intelligence access for those like Kushner who've been unable to get a security clearance. A permanent security clearance.

Playing government? If I was the president's daughter, I don't take I would take that too well.

BASH: No. And look, this is some really good reporting from our team here including Jeff Zeleny and Jeremy Diamond and others. I will just say, anybody who didn't expect something along these lines to happen on a pretty regular basis when a president, any president, puts members of their family, their children, in senior positions in the White House, of course this is going to happen.

JOHNSON: Exactly. And I think we saw that play out yesterday when Ivanka Trump was asked, do you believe your father's accusers, the women who have accused him of sexual harassment. This is case in point and why you don't have your children come work in the West Wing for you, because they're going to be asked to answer some very uncomfortable questions.

But to the point about John Kelly and his tension with Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, I think Ivanka's leading the delegation to the Winter Olympics is the least of his problems. He's now been delegated by the president a decision about whether Jared Kushner should be granted a waiver and given a permanent security clearance. And the president -- that essentially leaves both Jared Kushner who's waiting on a permanent security clearance, and John Kelly who's not going to recommend a waiver for him in sort of an uneasy state of existence.

KING: It was the most interesting delegation, though, where the president says, I like vanilla ice cream. The chief can decide whether I get vanilla or chocolate ice cream. It's up to the chief. And I like to know if that's how he handles (INAUDIBLE) if that one plays out.

Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. See you back at this time tomorrow. Wolf starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1 p.m. here in Washington, 9 p.m. in Moscow, 2:30 a.m. Wednesday in Pyongyang --