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INSIDE POLITICS

Whistleblower Raises New Questions About Trump Data Firm; Congress Must Pass New Spending Bill by Friday; Poll: Trump Gets Bump But Dems Widen Midterm Edge; Poll: 21 Percent Have Favorable View of Nancy Pelosi; Trump Unveils Opioid Plan in New Hampshire Today; Flake and Kasich Stir 2020 Speculation With NH Visits. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 19, 2018 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:02] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Look, big data is the wave of the future in every business, every business, period. But when you read these accounts and the new questions especially the idea that essentially a shell operation was set up and an academic gets all this information from Facebook because they somehow allow academics without triple checking their credentials to get it, then hands it over to Cambridge Analytica which uses it to target and sway voters.

A, a big deal. B, to some evidence that the guy who complained constantly about a rigged system was cheating, using information that he should never have had. Where are we going here?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, I mean, I think where we're going is Congress and the parliament asking a lot more questions about how Facebook allowed this to happen. Putting aside for the moment the very important question of what the Trump campaign was intended to do and how they were using this day in a way that was clearly not the reason that was presented to users on Facebook that it was going to be used for.

But there is the question now of what lawmakers are going to do about this. And is it going to be possible anymore, and it looks like it won't be. If members of Congress have anything to say about it for, for Facebook to just kind of take the word of user like Cambridge Analytica that this is what this is for. It's just a personality test, we're not going to be using any of this data for anything commercial, anything political, and just say yes, go ahead and, you know, have at it with all of our users.

I don't think that's going to be the case for much longer whether it's because a law or because of something that Facebook does on its own given that its stock now is plummeting on this report.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: And that's the question that I have too how much Mark Zuckerberg can avoid kind of the major scrutiny especially when you have calls from the Congress here and across the Atlantic and Europe about calls to testify.

You know, Senator Amy Klobuchar has been out there for the last several days calling for Zuckerberg to come before Congress. We just heard John Kennedy, a Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee making those similar calls. Now, Senator Ed Markey right before we went on air.

So it's the question of how much longer they can kind of avoid this.

KING: It is a giant, giant -- huge, to borrow a term the president likes, tech privacy, culture story. It's a culture story.

This is (INAUDIBLE), we always underestimate I think the ability to which they, including Facebook bigger than anybody and Google have all this information on you.

There's another question, so they want to call up Mark Zuckerberg as they should. He shouldn't be sending his attorneys, shouldn't be sending his deputies, he should have to come, bring them. Whether if he wants, but he should have the answer, he's the CEO.

Will they have any appetite? And how do we have this new information in these reports to bring the Trump campaign people back before Congress to ask, how did you get this data? How did you use this data?

If you were told -- were you told at any point it was inappropriate that you had it and if so, did you stop or did you keep using it?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, I think those are the questions because as we know, Brad Parscale, the digital media guy for the 2016 campaign who is now in charge of the 2020 re-election efforts was the guy who bragged about that and said that digital was the way to win.

He talks the president did not think that was the way to win. Digital ads that he thought T.V. was but then he had showed him that really digital and as you just saw there, he was saying that Facebook was the way to go.

And we've seen the campaigns trying to distance themselves from Cambridge Analytica, saying that they actually relied on research from the Republican National Committee. But we have Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and senior adviser on the record talking about how much of a benefit Cambridge Analytica really was to them.

So, it would be only natural that they would have a lot of question.

KING: And you make a key point. Often when these things come up, they like to blame somebody else. Cambridge Analytica's parent company based in the U.K., the say, call Mr. Nix, Alexander Nix who runs the company in the U.K.

However, they can't copy boy this one. They can't copy boy this one. Cambridge Analytica's setup because of Steve Bannon with the money of Robert Mercer and Rebekah Mercer, two big huge corporate donors (INAUDIBLE) the digital operation inside the campaign was the baby of Jared Kushner and it involves Brad Parscale who again, key in 2016, now the already appointed campaign manager in 2020.

They cannot say -- we didn't know anything about this, it's a minor operation. Some flunkie brought this to us. KAROUN DEMIRJIAN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Right, but the big question I guess left over from that is that just something that makes us all say, that's now how it's supposed to look. That's truly unethical or is there actually any sort of (INAUDIBLE) there's not really at this juncture unless Congress decides to make some changes to, you know, what the laws are, and that is something that has been really, really hard for lawmakers talking about even before the 2016 election.

This push and pull about how much can the government regulate what the social media companies are able to -- or required to share, where does privacy come into this? I mean, this is just re-opening up doors that they tried to push up to one side for years.

And now they got a really hard and fast example of why they can't push it away, and everybody wants to have more reckoning from Facebook, Twitter because of the Russian interference, and now this is now in the middle of, you know, both the Trump operation and probably will be again.

KING: And yes, we have seen the special counsel catch people lying about something tangental. When you catch a lie about something tangental that's how you turn (INAUDIBLE). They're asking questions about this, one of the things to keep on the radar screen is, one of the allegations if you read all these accounts is, for foreign workers actually helping the Trump campaign. That's a violation.

And so it might seem an (INAUDIBLE) violation, it might seem a small violation, the special counsel often uses those things as stepping stones to get to other issues shall we say.

[12:35:00] Up next, this one can't be easy. The outgoing secretary of state Rex Tillerson meeting this hour with the man who's about to take his job.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Checking in stories atop our political radar today.

Expect an awkward moment or two at the State Department this afternoon. President Trump's pick to be his new top diplomat meeting the man he's replacing. Mike Pompeo and Rex Tillerson is scheduled to talk with for about two hours. This afternoon, Pompeo then heads to Capitol Hill to meet with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker who will run his confirmation hearing. That's expected next month.

Ground hog day again on Capitol Hill. Lawmakers facing yet another government shutdown if they can't pass a new spending bill. Midnight Friday is the deadline.

[12:40:05] The legislation they passed last month allows them to increase spending by $300 billions but they didn't actually appropriate the money to the specific programs and agencies. Negotiations on who should get what are ongoing throughout the week. A mixed reaction around the world to the news Vladimir Putin now won a fourth term as Russia's president. The leaders of China, Egypt and some South American allies among the few to send along best wishes. Reaction in the West, mostly silence.

Putin meanwhile, already laying out his agenda, saying Russia will strengthen its defense posture while insisting the last thing he wants is another cold war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIA (through translator): We do believe that nobody has the intention of going in for an arms race. We want to be a peaceful state. We want relations with other countries which is based on peace and dialogue, constructive dialogue with our partners and obviously not everything depends on us. And it's just like love. Both countries have to be interested in the endeavor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's just say not a model democracy. We'll leave that one there.

OK, I'm going to be the geek nerd at the table here. Spending bills become the kitchen sink. They all want to pass this and go home, the Republicans especially to run for re-election. What is the biggest conflict that could set this off the tracks?

KIM: Take their several options, but the one that we're watching the most closely because it has gotten the president the most directly involved, is the funding for this relatively obscure infrastructure project in New York called the gateway project. President Trump has repeatedly vowed to veto the spending bill if this money -- and it's not a lot of money in the grand scheme of things, about $90 million in $1.3 trillion bill. So it's not supposed to be a big factor but the president is obsessed with it, he has vowed to veto it if it's in there. So we'll be watching to see if that is a real hang up by the time it needs to pass on Friday.

KING: All politics is local. That was (INAUDIBLE).

KIM: It seems like it, local (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Manhattan politics (INAUDIBLE) Washington.

Up next, so many negative headlines about the president lately. Get this, one poll shows his numbers are heading up. How might that affect the midterm election climate?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:46:35] KING: It's Monday and the new work week brings this interesting debate for Republicans. The midterm (INAUDIBLE) then you might say, is the glass half full or half empty question.

On the plus side, a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, you see it there shows the president's approval rating, the most critical midterm barometer, inching up a little bit. But here's the half empty part, the flip side, the same polls shows Democrats back to a double digit advantage when voters are asked which party should control Congress.

So, which is it? If the president's approval rating is going up, the Republican hope is eventually that other number changes. But so far, that other number of 10 points again in the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, if it's 10 points come election day, then Paul Ryan is no longer speaker.

KIM: And remember, approval ratings can go down which is the other problem for Republicans, that I think there is one takeaway that the GOP can take away from last week's Pennsylvania special election is that, if you're in a remotely competitive race, you have to build your own brand, build your own following, and you cannot rely on Trump or the national party to drag you across the finish line.

I think that's one major lesson from last week. A reminder of how Senate Republicans of 2016 were able to keep their majority because the national Republicans were advising their candidates to basically run as if you're running as county sheriff. Keep your head down, stay away from Trump if possible, and build up your following.

KING: Good point, because even though the president's approval rating is up a little bit, Republicans hoping it will trickle up. You know, he good economic news, the better, their tax cuts (INAUDIBLE) will keep going. He's still well below where President Obama was in 2010 and the Democrats got smoked and lost the House.

DAVIS: Well, and in the same way that, you know, that that advice about, you know, having a local brand was so important for Republicans the last time around. I think even more so than most Republican presidents or Democratic presidents, this president's popularity, there's many indications that it will not be transferrable to anyone else in the party other than himself.

So even if the approval rating continues to go up, there's no automatic rule that says that the generic ballot that you were just pointing to will also go up correspondingly. It may be the other way around. Donald Trump may gain in popularity and nationally Republicans in these critical races around the country may still lose.

COLLINS: And so far, we've seen the president unable to help pull people across the finish line, anyone he's not only endorsed in Twitter about but gone to their state and campaigned for have not been winners. So far, the White House has like twist a logic to say that the Democrat embraced the president's policies which is just not the case there. So that's the question.

The other thing is what this tax cuts that -- this big tax bill they've been touting, saying that's what's going to help them. Is it actually going to help them, because so far that doesn't seem to be the case which is not that surprising that tax cuts for the wealthy or for corporations are not motivating people to get out and vote.

KING: That to make the case as they go. Another interesting dynamic, Republicans tried this in Pennsylvania '18, the was the district President Trump carried by 20 points. The data hasn't been declared officially yet the Democrat winning there. That's the shockwave, that's why Republicans were scared of.

If Democrats can run and win in a Trump plus 20, what if I live in a Trump plus six or (INAUDIBLE), that's the big worry? What they'll try there and we'll see more of this is to run against Nancy Pelosi.

To say, don't like Democrats because Nancy Pelosi will be speaker, they will raise your taxes, they will hurt the economy, they will do whatever.

The one interesting footnote in the Wall Street Journal poll, the president had -- even those numbers are a little better, this is still bad. Thirty-seven percent have a positive image of the president, 52 percent negative. But Nancy Pelosi, only 21 percent have a positive image of Nancy Pelosi.

Now, a lot of Democrats, you see the New York Times had a great piece of people on the record, was the interesting part, people have been complaining privately about Nancy Pelosi for a long time.

[12:50:01] The number of Democrats willing to go on the record and say, I wouldn't vote for her, it's safe for me to run away from. But she says in that same piece she's not going to anywhere.

"I have a following in the country that apart from a presidential candidate, nobody else can claim. If I walk away now, this caucus would be in such a musical chairs scenario."

DEMIRJIAN: That's not --

KING: Poking the barrel a little bit (INAUDIBLE).

DEMIRJIAN: Definitely. But I mean, there is no immediate (INAUDIBLE) that has the same poll as Nancy Pelosi does in Congress. She's a master tactician, she's been in that leadership role forever. She knows how to kind of manipulate factions of the Democratic Party so that, you know, she stays in charge of it and she can actually kind of enforce discipline throughout the party as well.

Nobody else is waiting at the wings to actually do that as well as she does. But, but, how you work in Congress is not equal to how you play on the, you know, on the election, on the campaign trail, and especially in some of these districts where she's really been -- she represents something that many people find very frustrating, both about the way (INAUDIBLE).

She's a female figure that, you know, it's easy to kind of put a lot of, you know, blame on her for various things that have been ill to the Democratic Party as well. And she's not necessarily doing herself any favors by shifting because she still trying to, you know, play to appeal to the more liberal wing of the party and not move too much towards the Senate.

So that's what you got. KING: And you see her competitive side come out. She doesn't like this and she (INAUDIBLE) whether you like her or not, (INAUDIBLE) she was the first woman speaker for a reason. She works hard.

It's interesting to watch. The midterm elections are about the president, but there will be 10 or 15 races where Nancy Pelosi is an issue. We'll keep an eye on that as we go.

Up next, the president is heading to New Hampshire. But other Republicans also paying also paying close attention to that state. Let's see why.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:55:54] KING: A big policy road trip today that's also rich with politics. President Trump off to New Hampshire right now to discuss his ideas for combatting the opioid epidemic. Subjecting some drug traffickers to the death penalty is a piece of the administration's package.

This trip also comes as two potential 2020 Republicans challengers test the New Hampshire waters. Arizona Senator Jeff Flake was in the first in the nation primary state on Friday. The Ohio Governor John Kasich due back in two weeks.

So, an interesting back draft for the president. I was in touched with some people up there over the weekend, I said, look for some significant protests as well as the president goes back to New Hampshire.

He won the primary. It was a big deal. First big win for the president on his way to the nomination. Lost to Hillary Clinton in the general election. It's an important swing state, got some great congressional races this year in the midterm climate.

Obviously, New England is among the hardest hit. The whole country was hit, but New England has been incredibly hard hit by this opioid epidemic.

Let's start here with the policy. The president going on the road, something he hasn't done that often, to try to sell a big initiative that has a lot of controversy in it. And a lot of people, yes, get some money for treatment, yes, helps some people -- law enforcement as well.

The death penalty part of it is a sticking point for some.

DEMIRJIAN: A big sticking point.

DAVID: And it's not clear what -- you know, how much of the plan that constitutes. Is that, you know, the centerpiece of the plan? Is that a piece of the plan?

It's not completely clear even if the president travels to do this policy event what his full opioid policy is going to look like, how much funding he's going to request for it. And whether if he's going to continue to do these kinds of events which as you point out, he didn't do for other initiative that he said were big priorities.

And there's no question that New Hampshire is, you know, a focal point -- it has been horribly affected by the opioid epidemic and there's a lot that's going on there that, you know, he'll be able to talk about. And local people he'll be able to draw in.

But also no question that he wants to shore himself up in what could be a very important place for him politically especially as other Republicans who could be campaign rivals are making their way up there or finding their own reasons to go up there.

So, of course it's been a -- it's an official event, but there is clearly a political element to him going right now.

DEMIRJIAN: Right, and he gets a second benefit out of it, too, which is that there is discussions happening right now about criminal justice reform that take a really close look at, you know, sentencing for drug crimes. And, you know, that's supposed to focus more on kind of the middle man and not the lower-level crimes and the actually, you know, big kingpin dealers anything like that.

But, the president -- Jeff Sessions have come out very hard against that. So it's the -- both a chance for him to take the political stand as Julie was saying but also to roll out a policy that is going to set a lot of tenor for what the discussion is going to be, because that bill hasn't actually hit the floor in Congress yet. It's just been kicked around the Judicial Committee for a long time now.

And it's now of the Judiciary Committee but the president can set a tone here of kind of a counter push to it.

COLLINS: And the question is, is this really a sticking point, is this something the president actually pushes for this death penalty for some of these drug traffickers? Because as we know the White House did once declare the opioid crisis a national emergency and then never followed through on it.

So this is something that the president hawked like during the campaign in order to appeal to voters in New Hampshire, a state that he once referred to as a drug-infested den. So it certainly will be a question of if there are actually results here because it's certainly something that a lot of people cared about.

KING: And a, people are looking for help, they're desperate for help. And that, b, if you go back to the 2016 primaries, all the candidates were stunned by this, the Democratic side and Republican side. Go to town halls if you want to talk about taxes, if you want to talk about anything. And people were asking about this.

So, it was an organic issue. Hope that the president hears from people on the ground. If he does, what are (INAUDIBLE) in the 2020?

Governor Kasich has been keeping his options open for a long time. Jeff Flake, that good buzz up there. A of Republican say, humph. But if you look, this is not updated, but the University of New Hampshire Granite State poll, among Republican voters, 60 percent say they still plan to vote for Trump, 18 percent looking for another candidate, 23 percent don't know. So the president at this point has a strong base. There is a strong anti-Trump faction up there but can someone unite I guess is the question.

KIM: Sure, potentially. But I think that -- I mean, let's look at Jeff Flake first for instance, knowing Jeff Flake, I don't think he has any illusions that he's actually going to be the Republican nominee in 2020, but he has obviously been one of the most vocal Trump critics, and we've seen in history how, if there is a primary challenge to a sitting president, how much that can weaken the incumbent president in the general election going back to '92 with Buchanan-H.W. Bush.

And if that is Flake's ultimate goal, that's what he'll try to do.

KING: We still watch to keep an eye on the union leader of New Hampshire.

Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow.

Wolf starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 12 noon in Austin, Texas --