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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Unleashes in Unscripted Campaign-Style Rally; Trump on North Korea: We May Make the "Greatest Deal for the World"; Normally Safe GOP House Seat Up for Grabs Tuesday; Trump's Lawyer Used Trump Organization E-Mail to Facilitate Payoff; Florida Governor Breaks with NRA, Signs Gun Control Bill. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired March 11, 2018 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[08:00:12] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. To our viewers in the United States and around the world, thank you for sharing your Sunday.

President Trump unplugged. At a campaign rally last night, he bragged about his first 14 months in office, took trademark digs at his critics and said he's all set for the 2020 reelection slogan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our new slogan when we start running in, can you believe it, two years from now, is going to be keep America great, exclamation point. Keep America great!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That rally was supposed to be about this year's campaign and a big special election Tuesday.

The president did give the Republican candidate an enthusiastic boost and he warned of the broader midterm stakes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: The bad news is they ant to take it away from us. They want to take it away. They're doing everything they can to take it away. And that starts with the election coming up in a few months. And we have to win it.

They're going to take away your taxes, your tax cuts, they're going to take away your Second Amendment rights.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Politics aside -- for a moment, anyway -- the president patted himself on the back for his chance to make history, plans now for an unprecedented meeting wit North Korea's Kim Jong-un.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Who else could do it? Honestly, when you think. They're not going send missiles up. Think of it. They're not sending missiles up.

And I believe that. I believe that. I really do. I think they want to do something. I think they want to make peace.

I think it's time and I think we've shown great strength. I think that's also important. Right?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With us this Sunday to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Hirschfield Davis of "The New York Times", Karoun Demirjian of "The Washington Post", Eliana Johnson of "Politico", and CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson.

It was part 2016 revival, part 2020 preview. President Trump on the road last night doing what he does best, ditching the text, ignoring the facts, scolding his critics, and pondering his place on Mt. Rushmore.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: If we coasted for two and a half years, we did a hell of a job, you know that.

We have done more than any first term administration in the history of our country. We have. We are doing a great, great job. We are loving it. We're making tremendous progress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, whatever you think of the president, it was great political theater on stage for more than an hour, lashing out at the media, past presidents of both parties, the European union, Hillary Clinton, Oprah, Senator Elizabeth Warren.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Can you imagine covering Bernie or Pocahontas? Pocahontas, how about that?

I'd love Oprah to win. I'd love to beat Oprah. I know her weakness. No, no, I know her witness.

I look forward to 2020, because I want to see how far left the person is going to be that we're going to run against. I look forward to it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Yes, he did also put in a strong plug for the candidate he was actually in western Pennsylvania to support, we'll get to that big race in just a moment.

But the bigger issue is the giant divide over just what we saw last night. Most Republican strategist believe rally Trump, meaning Trump bragging about Trump is a recipe for a midterm debacle. The president could not disagree more. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: You like me? I think so. I like you too. I love you.

Is there any more fun than at a Trump rally?

Don't forget this got us elected. If I came like a stiff, you guys wouldn't be here tonight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It's that last part, again, great theater. It's that last part that's a lot of Republicans worried because he thinks do it again. He thinks 2018 is 2016. He thinks he goes out and does what worked for him, and give him credit, this worked for him, he surprised everybody in 2016. He's not on the ballot in 2018, but he is the issue and Republicans watch that and they get nervous.

JULIE HIRSCHFIELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: For sure. There's two issues. A lot of Republicans who do not want Donald Trump to come into their districts, who can't have him coming to their district, just given the political makeup and the fact that he does have this, you know, coalition of core supporters who are very high on him but it's not clear that that translates to support for other Republicans.

And then, of course, the other question, too, is whether -- I mean, a rally like that is going to appeal to his most beloved voters but will that then carry over to Rick Saccone? Will that be able to carry over to any other Republican other than him? He's not out there as Donald Trump, leader of the Republican Party.

[08:05:01] He's out there as Donald Trump, Donald Trump, you know? And it's not clear that that's helpful to a lot of Republicans.

KING: Yes, and we'll get more into the Pennsylvania. The details of it in a second.

But the track record for the president so far at least in 2017, not so good. Luther Strange in the primary, then Roy Moore in the general election in Alabama, Alabama, Republicans lost in Alabama Senate the race now Republicans say they're about to lose a district Trump carried by 20 points.

To the bigger question of his role, it was great to watch but --

NIA-MALIKA HENDRESON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: We'll get more into the specifics of this district but it could be that in this district this is all they have, right? I mean, the candidate isn't that charismatic. So, in some ways, he might be the only energy that this candidate actually has.

I mean, it would have been nice if he talked more about the candidate, if he talked more about that district in particular but this is what Donald Trump likes to do. Donald Trump likes to talk about Donald Trump. He likes to talk about his critics and he likes to talk about Oprah at this point, and Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren and Maxine Waters at some point.

So, this is what you get if you're bringing Donald Trump into your district. They couldn't have thought that he was going to do thinking else.

KING: The results of 2017 suggest the establishment Republicans strategists are right when they say that's dangerous, that in much of the country, if not most of the country, he's toxic and he's underwater.

But let just me put it under the table, we were all wrong about him in 2016. Is it possible they're wrong about him again?

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLIITCAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Right. The convention wisdom is that you've got to go into these districts and explain to voters why they need to get out and vote for the particular candidate running in that particular election. Now, the responses that special election are different, they don't hold -- the wisdom doesn't hold for midterms as a whole.

But I think when you watch Trump in the clips you showed I think are pretty representative of what he did in 75 minutes last night and you push yourself in the position of voters at that rally, do you think that message would get me out to vote for Rick Saccone, who's the candidate in Pennsylvania? I'm not sure. The conventional wisdom was wrong in 2016. But it is hard for me to believe that you would be motivated to go out and vote for a candidate who's name he mentioned two or three times in a 75-minute speech last night.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: There's also the question were Democrats watching and will it motivate Democrats who do not like this president to actually turn out in greater numbers, because the polls are so close in this district, that it is going to be a turnout question. And also, because it's a midterm election where turnout is normally low, it matters who gets up off the couch and goes to vote.

So, will the president actually motivate Democrats or will the president motivate Republicans because he's a pretty polarizing figure at this point and we don't know how many people are watching on a Saturday night?

KING: It's a great point and a great test as we go forward. Let's stop politics for a second. We'll come back in a moment to that Pennsylvania.

But the other giant news of the of week is that the president of the United States has said he will meet, we'll see if it falls apart, but the current plan is to have a meeting, unprecedented in history, with the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. That the White House, the South Korean delegation after meeting with Kim, came to the White House, said he wants to meet with you. Everyone's debating it, should do this. The president said, let's do it.

Last night on the road, he helped explain his reason why.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: A lot of people thought we were going to war and, all of a sudden, they come in and say we'll have a meeting and there's no more missiles going off and they want to denuclearize, nobody had heard that.

Who knows what's going to happen? Hey, who knows? It happens, if it doesn't happen, I may leave fast or we may sit down and make the greatest deal for the world and for all of these countries, including, frankly, North Korea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Listen to that. You listen to the part we played at the very top of the program, I think they want to make peace. He thinks this is the time.

Take us into the calculations at the White House -- I can understand why to do this but it's a huge gamble.

JOHNSON: The president hit the nail on the head, who knows what's going to happen. Anybody knows what's going to happen in this meeting. I think it's important to stress that none of the presidents, North Korea experts at the State Department, at the Department of Defense, had any idea that he was going to agree to this meeting and two months, it seems like a long period of time now, but the president said he wants this meet to go happen by May.

It's an extremely short period of time for which to plan a meeting between two heads of state and there's a lot of except six about whether this is actually going to come off in that period of time or come off at all but a lot of trepidation among the president's advisers who were absolutely shocked that he agreed on the spot to this sort --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Just one second. I want to go quickly the roundtable, but before he do it, there's a lot of skepticism. But there's also, listen here, some praise or at least also, OK, give it a shot, Mr. President, from unlikely sources.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I think this is a great opportunity here to mainly profoundly change the seven- decade long paradigm on the peninsula of abject animosity.

SUSAN RICE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: Diplomacy in my judgment in this and most instances is better certainly in this case than the status quo where North Korea has been able to pursue its nuclear and missile ambitions unchecked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[08:10:06] KING: Eliana is right. Who knows where it goes but once again, Donald Trump hasis upset the applecart.

HENDERSON: Yes, he has and that's what he promised to do. And that's -- you can imagine in that moment when they're talking about the possibility of a meeting, he was thinking that no other president had done this in the kind of -- in this case opportunity that it will present. I think going back to the point, who knows what's going to happen?

A lot of people say, well, he kind of gave away so much early on. This is a platform for the North Korean leader that would legitimize him in many ways. That's what he has wanted, that's what his father had wanted before him. You know, he gave away the store in some peoples' eyes before he even got anything.

KING: But if they don't test missiles between now and the planned meeting, if they don't test another warhead, if they don't object if the South Korea and United States have military exercises, essentially, if they keep their promises to South Koreans, why not, right? Nothing else has worked, why not have at least have a meeting? Then you can walk away.

DAVIS: Right. I mean, I think one of the reasons you're hearing some of the reviews that you played is because people are happy not to hear talking about fire and fury and raining down grief on the Korean peninsula. I mean, that was a terrifying thought.

So, you know, to the degree that he is now talking about diplomacy, that I think that is inspiring to people. This is vintage Trump, though. I mean, this is -- he makes a statement that's all the way out there, I'm going to meet with Kim and then almost instantly, thereafter, the White House starts to inch it back, we have to figure out what the preconditions are going to be, we have to figure out where the meeting is going to be, what the North Koreans are willing to do in the run-up to the meeting.

And I think one of the harsh realities here as Eliana was mentioning is his advisers have been doing a lot of planning and a lot of thinking about sanctions and about military action, but they haven't even begun to determine a diplomatic strategy here and now they have a very, very short window of time to try to figure out what that looks like and how to make this something that isn't a huge concession to the North Koreas and is actually a path toward progress.

DEMIRJIAN: You have to define what progress is also is the problem, because our main objective has been denuclearization. There is to evidence the North Korean regime is actually very interested in denuclearization. They saw what happened in Ukraine. They saw what happened in Libya. They know what happens when you completely give up the store.

So, they are in a talking mood and South Korea wants the talks to happen as well, which they have until the end of May, to clarify on that.

But what is we're trying to get out of it, right? Are we talking, you know, unification of the peninsula? Probably not. Are we talking total denuclearization? Probably not.

But does that mean it's a mistake to hold the talks? No. I mean, if you end up with a North Korea that has nuclear weapon but isn't going to use it, because now they're actually a little bit more part of the fold of nations that are not isolated, they're part of this talking circle, that may be a good thing in itself. We haven't defined what our final objective is, and we may not be able to until you get into the talks based on what the potential reality is.

KING: After the rhetoric of the last 20 years, hard to see any American president saying, I will accept a nuclear North Korea.

DEMIRJIAN: Of course not.

KING: That will be a huge one. But we'll see. Let's (INAUDIBLE) play out. So, the president optimistic, but who knows, as he said last night.

Up next, back to politics, that big special election Tuesday and the big question, will the president's visit save Republicans from what would be a humiliating defeat?

First, you don't need a Twitter account to know that politicians, even Russian politicians, sometimes say the darnedest things?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGYN KELLY, NBC NEWS: Do you ever read his tweets?

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): No.

KELLY: Do you ever tweet?

PUTIN: No.

KELLY: Well, why not?

PUTIN: I have other ways of expressing my point of view or implementing a decision. Donald is a more modern individual.

KELLY: Would you say he's more colorful than you are?

PUTIN: Perhaps.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[08:17:34] TRUMP: Go out on Tuesday and just vote like -- you got to get out there. The world is watching. I hate to put this pressure on you, Rick, they're all watching because I won this district like by 22 points. It's a lot. That's why I'm here.

Look at all those red hats, Rick. Look at all those -- (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Rick, from the president there is Rick Saccone. He's the Republican candidate in Tuesday's special election in Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district.

If Saccone loses, most Republicans think he will, watch for more Republican retirements and panic.

Let's take a look. Again, this is the 18th congressional district, south of Pittsburgh, in the southwestern corner of Pennsylvania. Let's go back in time. This is why the stakes are so important.

The president carried this district, that's the statewide, let me come in, by almost 20 points. He just barely carried Pennsylvania, but he carried this district by almost 20 points. Look at it down here, a lot of red.

Here's the big question, this should be Trump country. Look at the demographics, 93.7 percent white in the 18th congressional district. This is where Donald Trump runs strong, blue collar, white workers, Rick Saccone should win this district.

An interesting though, here's the question, is Donald Trump campaigning in a district from 25 years ago not today? When he talks about the economy, education and health care are most of the jobs here now. Professional services, retail trade, arts and entertainment.

Steel makes up only 5 percent of the employment in the 18th district now. This is not 25, 30 years ago. Agriculture and mining, 2 percent. So, mining jobs when the president talks coal, less than 2 percent in this district.

Still, when with the president went last night to try to boost Rick Saccone, he talked about the big tariff plan he announced earlier in the week, telling voters in Pennsylvania 18, support me, vote for Rick.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We're saving the steel and a lot of steel mills are now opening up because of what I did and, not all of my friends on Wall Street love it, but we love it because we know what it does. Many plants have just announced over the last few days that they're expanding, opening, steel is back. It's going to be back too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: In this district and in the midterm elections, again, Donald Trump defying the wishes of his party, adopting an economic policy that is not mainstreamed Republican. He thinks, it turns out his base and his coalition, a lot of other Republicans aren't so sure.

[08:20:03] This is a great test on Tuesday.

HENDERSON: Yes, and the thing about the tariffs in particular is that both of the candidates agree with the president, so you talk to Democrats down there. It's kind of a wash. It's not clear that it's necessarily doing anything for Rick Saccone that he supports it, because Conor Lamb does too.

You also talk to folks down there, they just think Rick Saccone is not a great candidate. Republicans criticize him sometimes on the record about his lackluster performance and even him standing up there. You could see there's this kind of charisma deficit, if you will, in terms of his presentation.

So, you know, in some ways, you have Democrats who come up with a pretty good candidate, this guy Conor Lamb, 33, he's a marine, he's a Catholic, which is what they're telling voters that he's one of you. He's not with Nancy Pelosi, even though that's been what Republicans have tried to do, tie him to the establishment.

KING: And so, if Republicans lose this race, they'll blame the candidate, they'll blame the party, some will blame the president. It's going to go cause at least three, four, five, some people six to ten, more Republicans will say, forget about it. The climate is so bad out there, if we can't win the district Trump carried by 20 points. So, the president did his part last night and a lot of these speeches, even last night, he spent most of his time talking about himself. But he did take a good chunk of time to promote Rick Saccone and to try to criticize Conor Lamb.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: And Conor Lamb, Lamb the sham, Lamb the sham, he's trying to act like a Republican so he gets -- he won't give me one vote. Look, I don't know him. Looks like a nice guy.

I hear he's nice looking. I think I'm better looking than him. I do. I do. I do. And he's slightly younger than me, slightly.

No, I heard that. He's OK. He's all right. He's OK. Personally, I like Rick Saccone. I think he's handsome.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The question is does it work in a district he carried by 20 points. We saw this in the Obama administration. President Obama was not able to turn people out in places where he did very well in midterm years when he was not on the ballot.

The question is, can the president do it? Especially against to your point, a Democratic candidate who says I won't vote for Nancy Pelosi. I think the president's doing a right thing here on trade. I'm for the Second Amendment.

DEMIRJIAN: I mean, it also -- it depends on what people are listening to. Yes, they're more similar than different in this particular district but again, Trump is trying to paint, this is a war between the two parties, support me versus support the Democratic leaders. Politics is a lot of, you know, what you imagine the layout to be whether you're talking about tariffs or the politics than actually drilling into the substance of the policies and the candidates.

So, it's again a question of if it's going to turn people out. And for Trump, as much as he's not on the ballot, like you made the point, this is a question of a bit existential if you start to see Republicans in Congress leaving because, yes, you can lose a race here or there, but if you start having retirements in places which are arguably swing districts, then you have a serious problem because you may be talking about flipping the House and it really is about Nancy Pelosi. It's just a few steps out from where we are now.

KING: You also have a disconnect and we saw a very public disconnect between again, the Republican establishment and the president on the trade issue. I just want to show you "The Economist" cover this week because it's fascinating. It's a global issue, it's not just an American issue.

"The threat to world trade", the president as a hand grenade essentially on the cover there. If this race, if the Democrats were in this race, number one, Republicans are going to think it's a horrible if not disastrous midterm climate. Number two, is it going to further embolden them to challenge the president on policy?

JOHNSON: Two things here. The first I think is, it's absolutely true. If there's any place where the president's message and policy on trade and his tariff policy should resonate, it's in a district like this, Pennsylvania steel town. If it doesn't resonate in this town, absolutely Republicans are going to be emboldened.

Number two, I think this race has a lot of parallels with the Alabama Senate race where the president won by a double digit margin but 20 some points the state of Alabama. The Republicans put up a lackluster candidate and Democrats won with more conservative Democrat candidate.

A lot of parallels in Pennsylvania where Republicans have a lackluster candidate, Democrats have a good candidate. I think, really, you're going to hear Republicans start talking about the importance of candidate quality. It doesn't matter if Donald Trump goes and campaigns for you, but Republicans just haven't recruited quality candidates in the post-2016 era.

KING: In part, it's hard for Republicans to understand the climate. If you're a mayor or governor or state rep somewhere, they say jump in for Congress this year, you might say, I'm going to wait a little bit.

DAVIS: Right, and they're already facing a lot of retirements in very prominent Republicans, committee chairman in the House saying not this year. So, they know that the climate is very difficult.

We talk about this every election cycle. Nationalizing an election like this, which is clear what Trump did last night when he made it about him and his policies, is not always a good thing and it can activate the other side.

[08:25:00] No question the Democrats in this district are going to see this visit as a direct challenge and it probably motivates them at least as much as it motivates Republicans. And also when he was on that stage with Rick Saccone, the endorsement

was almost -- it was very hard edged. It was like, well, I won this district by 22 points. What are you going to be able to do? And you know that's in Trump's mind, that this is a risk for him, putting himself out there and that people will read a lot into the results.

KING: We're always looking for agreement in politics. The Democrats agree with the president, midterm elections should be about him. They agree.

Up next, two very different legal battles facing the president, the new attorney perhaps for the Russia probe and a new court challenge from a porn actress.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:30:24] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome back.

There's word this Sunday the President is now poised to shake-up his Russia meddling legal team; that as Washington debates -- yes, debates this question will a porn actress get President Trump in the witness chair before the Russia special counsel?

Stormy Daniels is the adult film actress who says she had an affair with the President more than a decade ago and that her deal to keep quiet about it is invalid now because the President never signed it. She's suing in a Los Angeles court and the documents include a side letter to the nondisclosure agreement that says she has text messages and other media sent by the man involved in the relationship.

We knew the President's personal lawyer Michael Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 just days before the 2016 election but as the parties now joust over the new suit we have this e-mail showing Cohen managed the payment and the negotiations using his Trump organization e-mail account.

He insists he used his money and that the President didn't know about it. "The funds were taken from my home equity loan and transferred internally to my LLC account in the same bank," Cohen said in a statement Friday. "I sent e-mails from the Trump Organization e-mail address to my family, friends as well as Trump business e-mails. I basically used it for everything. I'm certain most people can relate."

That statement by Cohen then lashed out at the media, called all this a witch hunt; that, of course, the President's favorite term for the Mueller Russia election meddling investigation.

Whether the President will agree to answer Mueller's questions is an ongoing negotiation. If the Daniel suit gets standing in a California court, the President could be compelled to testify which is why some people just say, tabloid story, why are you spending time on this.

Now having covered the Clinton White House in the days of the Paula Jones suit, the Supreme Court is on the record. If it is a suit with standing and the President is a relevant witness, then the President has to testify.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, that would kick it up a notch for all the various dramatic things that we've seen coming out of the White House lately.

But yes, that would -- I mean look, there's legal questions here about whether campaign money was spent on this. There's all kinds of fallout that could come not jut the fallout of seeing the President on the stand in this type of trial which in the first place could jeopardize his standing in certain groups of voters. It could be a moment for evangelicals that have stuck with him this whole time, to say wait a second, this is now too much for us to take.

But then also it does raise all these legal questions, so clearly there's kind of the -- there's blocking motions that are happening. I mean if Michael Cohen did it by himself then it doesn't raise the question of whether this came out of the campaign funds or was part of the orchestration of the election.

But if that's not true, if he has to testify otherwise, if there's evidence otherwise this could be complicated.

KING: And there are various accounts that the President was mad, steamed, upset, disappointed in Sarah Sanders, his press secretary, this week because standing at the White House podium she lent a lot of credence to this saying the President's lawyer, one of the President's private lawyers, was in an arbitration hearing about this document.

She says he won. The other side said he didn't win or at least they weren't there to be represented. But the fact that she confirmed a president's lawyer was in a hearing about this document, the document confirms there was a relationship. The document is a nondisclosure agreement saying you can't talk about a relationship.

And so this is the new attorney for Stormy Daniels saying we need this case to proceed because we need answers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS LAWYER: The American people deserve straight talk, not spin, on this issue. Did Mr. Trump know about the negotiation of this agreement? Did he know about the payment? Did he sign the document? Did he facilitate or pay the money or did he have somebody else pay the money and what was that relationship?

This could be cleared up very, very simply. And quite honestly, I don't know why it hasn't been cleared up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Look, I think this is a really dangerous story for the President for the simple reason that it's very easy for the average person to understand the story line is incredibly simple. And it has the sort of seedy tabloid aspect that is I think inherently interesting to people and that makes people want to turn their eyes to it and follow. And I would put that in contrast to the Russia investigation that I

think has become increasingly complex and difficult and that people are sort of losing the story line too. And so I think -- I actually think that this Stormy Daniels story poses a bigger threat to the President potentially than the Russia investigation.

KING: Do they see it that inside the West Wing?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I mean they clearly were worried or someone was worried about this story getting out back in October of 2016. Of all the stories that were floating around about the President, folks around him, Michael Cohen took steps to suppress this and to suppress this woman's story.

[08:35:01] So it's clear that as much as you hear Republicans get on TV and say, oh, this won't matter to the voters. They're concerned about everything. At some point they thought it would be damaging and took steps to mitigate some of that damage.

KING: And the record is just full of evidence that the President is not a control freak and that people do things on their own without Trump all the time.

Let's come back to that Russia investigation. You're right, it's very complex. It's also not over. One of the President's lawyers, Ty Cobb, infamously kept saying this is going to be over in a month. It's going to be over in a month. It's going to be over in a month.

It's not over. A "New York Times" reporting today that the President -- let me just read it to you.

"Two people close to the President said it appears the overture to Mr. Flood -- a new attorney -- did not include any new concerns about the inquiry. Still it appears at least to be an acknowledgement that the investigation is unlikely to end any time soon. Mr. Flood would not replace Ty Cobb, the White House lawyer who last summer has taken a lead role in dealing with the special counsel.

But Mr. Cobb has told friends for weeks, he views this position as temporary. He does not expect to remain on the job much longer."

And it's a big deal in and of itself that you're going to an attorney who had some experience in the Bill Clinton impeachment, sending a signal you think this is going on for a while and that it's at a pretty high level.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, and the President and his inner circle have been actually considering this move for quite some time. There's been some dissatisfaction with his legal team with John Dowd and Ty Cobb.

Clearly the inquiry is not over. They kept saying that it was going to be over and now they're looking, you know, several months down the line, if this is still going on when the midterms happen and if Democrats were to take back the House, they understand very clearly that they could be facing impeachment proceedings so they may end up in a realm where they need someone like Mr. Emmett Flood who has experience with that on the team.

I would also just say, I mean I agree with Eliana that the Stormy Daniels story actually is potentially more damaging or just as damaging given the potential that the President might be compelled to testify and might not testify truthfully on a matter that's clearly embarrassing and something he doesn't want to talk about.

But I don't think it's seen that way inside the West Wing. Think that they continue to regard this Russia investigation as an existential threat to the President. And they understand now that it's not wrapping up any time soon. And there is still the question of whether the President is going to testify or meet with Bob Mueller in any capacity and what that will look like and whether that's wise to do.

KING: I think that the evidence is that Mueller's still going up the hill, not down the hill. And if they think that the Stormy Daniels thing is not a threat to them it might not end up even before the special counsel. All the tracks from Paula Jones and the civil suit to Ken Starr -- it's in the history books. >

Up next, a major NRA defeat as Florida passes new gun controls. Will that have any impact on the inertia here in Washington?

[08:37:30] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Florida is now an important and quite fascinating laboratory in the national debate over guns and gun violence. Just three weeks after the Parkland school shooting massacre, Governor Rick Scott on Friday signed a new law. It raises the minimum age for buying guns from 18 to 21, requires a three-day waiting period on all gun sales, outlaws bump stocks, gives police more power to seize weapons, and allows schools to train and arm certain staffers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: There's been vigorous debate on all of these issues. I believe every side has had their chance to share their views and that's truly what makes our democracy great.

At the beginning of this process I said that we should give -- all have to give a little and make compromises and that includes me. I know that many wanted more gun control than what is included in this bill. And I know that many believe this bill has too much gun control. I respect the sincerity and the validity of both of these view points.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now the fight moves to the courts in Florida and to the 2018 campaign. Among the big political questions -- what cues, if any, will Washington take from Florida and will being in favor of the new Florida law help or hurt politically?

Governor Scott now Exhibit A. He's preparing to run for the Senate in one of this year's most important contests. Let's talk about this and we can start in the state of Florida. Governor Scott, who twice won election in big Republican wave years by less than one point even though they were big Republican wave years, he just barely won twice -- clearly making a political calculation here that moving to the center, angering the NRA is good for him or right for him. Is he right?

DEMIRJIAN: I don't see how he wins without doing that. This is so much of a huge issue in Florida and you cannot just kind of put your fingers in your ears and say no, I'm going to keep doing things the way they've been.

And the ask from all of these people in Parkland is to do something on gun control. He didn't give them everything. He didn't give away the whole store but he did more. And it's something that, you know, has been endorsed by various Republicans. Like the things he chose to do raising the age, the bump stocks.

There's enough out that you've got arguable cover, political cover in the GOP except for some of the diehards who are going to, you know, support the NRA in this lawsuit. But whether that actually paves the road for changes like that to happen in Washington is a very different question because you do not have people that are answering to the same sort of constituency that is really fired up about this and where it's such an emotional issue that you can't ignore it.

KING: Right. And everybody here in Washington is going to watch for it. Number one, they're going to watch Governor Scott which means they probably won't do anything until they got to the election.

Number two, their Florida Republicans legislators all who voted for this, will they get primary challenges now? We're still early enough in the calendar season and you can get people on the primary ballot.

HENDERSON: Yes. And that's the thing we don't know. At some point the President is going to rollout what, you know, his kind of pillars in terms of what he thinks should happen on this. He's been on the record talking about arming school teachers, talking about raising the age limit.

You do see some Republicans like Marco Rubio, obviously Rick Scott too, who want a political future running for Senate. And who knows, Marco Rubio might run for president one day. They are kind of testing the winds and suggesting that the issue has moved partly because of those kids, right, who were so articulate and persuasive in some ways in terms of their arguing their side of the issue.

And these corporations, right, that also made certain decisions in terms of selling firearms and their connections with the NRA after this tragedy in Florida.

KING: But that's the key point. Is this it? Is this the tipping point or is the NRA right saying Governor Scott, you should have just waited? Let in every other past shootings, just wait, let the clock tick and the mood will change. [08:45:04] That's the defining debate both as we watch what happens in Florida. And the President -- you mentioned the President's plan. We're told it will come this week. There's some good "Wall Street Journal" reporting from our friend Michael Bender, saying it essentially leads the raising age question of the states. The White House is going to say states should talk about this.

DAVIS: Right. I mean I think it's right that, you know, you have to do something given the political climate in Florida and not doing that would be a big liability. But it's also a huge risk both for Rick Scott and for the President and other Republicans who might embrace these measures given that the NRA is so intense about these issues. They're not backing down even after the tragedy that happened in Parkland and we'll have to see how activated they can get their membership.

In the past, they have really been able to turn people out, to get people riled up about these issues. And if there is a sense, if they can build up the sense that, you know, they're trying to take your guns and this is the camel's nose under the tent, which is always the case that they make that there could be a big risk and a big price to be paid for the Republicans.

And the President knows that. The White House knows that. That's why they are backing off some of even the smaller measures that are being embraced in Florida.

JOHNSON: You know, I think -- I continue to think that we're more likely to see changes happen on the state level with Florida leading the way and in other states than we are on the federal level where making changes even after dramatic events that seem to produce a ground swell of support for major changes. With the continue frustration, so while we're seeing big change in Florida, I think that may signify simply that this stuff is going to be a test case for -- the case in point for federalism and the federal system.

KING: I think you're right about the likely inertia here in Washington. You did see the Justice Department yesterday saying they're moving ahead with regulation to ban bump stocks.

We'll get the President's plan this week. We'll see what happens up on Capitol Hill. We'll keep an eye on that, see how it plays out through November.

Up next, our reporter's share from their notebooks including an update which I had on -- the White House search for a new Hope.

[08:47:00] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Let's head one last time around the INSIDE POLITICS table, ask our reporter's to share a little something from their notebooks, get you out ahead of the big political news just around the corner. Julie?

DAVIS: One thing we've seen a lot of with this White House is the blurring of the lines between the political and the official and with the President having now declared his reelection campaign, he's getting more involved in the midterms, the White House is actually grappling with how to get officials in the West Wing and throughout the administration to comply with the Hatch Act which bars federal employees, not the President or Vice President put the whole rest of the administration from mixing their political and their official roles.

I'm told that Kellyanne Conway who was reprimanded last week for having violated the Hatch Act is not likely to be disciplined by President Trump but White House lawyers have sort of stepped up their warnings and reminders to people in the West Wing, even going so far as to send around individual e-mails when the President tweets saying this one is a political one don't re-tweet.

KING: We'll see if they follow orders there.

Karoun.

DEMIRJIAN: Well, I'm going to return like a broken record to the Russia probe because there's always something to watch. And now it's reports especially out of Congress.

So the Senate is expected to put out some sort of guidelines on election security in the next week or two before Congress leaves for the congressional recess.

We're also watching the House because lat week with the Corey Lewandowski interview that's the last scheduled interview that we know of. They could turn at this point to actually start report writing which is what many people in the GOP want them to do because they want this to be done.

But if they do that's of course going to inspire incredible political backlash from Democrats and there's still an open question because they haven't firmly declared, ok game over, we're done. It doesn't matter what Mueller is doing we're going to move on.

So the question is will the GOP decide to go there under political pressure to do so and what's going to result after that. So these next two weeks are pretty critical for watching where Congress is going to go and that's going to set a tone for what sort of debate there's going to be about the Russia issue going forward into the political season.

KING: Lot of fun to come.

Eliana.

JOHNSON: I'm watching who's going to replace Hope Hicks, the White House communications director. She's been perhaps the most important White House aide, extremely close to the President. A search now under way for her replacement and the leading contenders are Mercedes Schlapp who is a veteran of the Bush administration. She is internal favorite of John Kelly; but also Tony Sayegh of the Treasury Department and John Kelly also looking outside the administration. And the question in my mind is whether it matters who replaces Hope Hicks. It may matter internally but I think the President is likely to continue to call on her as he accumulates advisers outside the White House, as people leave and he continues to call them on the phone. So something to watch as the search continues.

KING: I think you're right. I think Hope's going to end up on the speed dial list, shall we say.

Nia.

HENDERSON: On Tuesday with the results of this special election on Pennsylvania '18, I'm going to be looking for unions. How they vote? There are about 80,000 union households in that district. I talked to some Democrats on the ground. They want to see unions make -- union members make up about 30 percent of the electorate. Obviously a Democrat hasn't been on the ballot there the last two cycles in that district.

Republicans say Saccone is really strong with actual members, rank and file, if not the leadership. So it'll be a real test of the political muscle of unions and will certainly have some lessons going forward for the rest of the cycle.

KING: Without a doubt. Sort of battleground with in the battleground.

I'll close with this. The White House chief-of-staff John Kelly has staged a fire drill of sorts in recent weeks, calling in a handful of cabinet members who have generated bad headlines for the White House because of questionable spending, travel or management.

Among those demanding the White House crack the whip are GOP congressional leaders -- stories about first class travel. $31,000 dining room sets are easy for voters to understand and they help feed the idea of an administration full of chaos but short of common sense.

[08:55:05] Kelly and other top officials warned the cabinet members to be more careful but Republicans outside the White House, say the fact that it took more than a year for this to get proper West Wing attention is proof to them the management, the political teams at the White House are still not up to snuff.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Again, thanks for sharing your Sunday morning. Remember we're here at noon weekdays as well. Hope to see you tomorrow then.

Up next, "STATE OF THE UNION" including an interview with Massachusetts Democrat Elizabeth Warren.

Have a great Sunday.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:00:06] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rousing rally, President Trump unleashes on his critics -- DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know how easy it is

to be presidential?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But says be nice to Kim Jong-un --