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Trump Threatens Veto on Spending Bill; Opposition Sees Opening; Details of Alleged Affair Revealed. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 23, 2018 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:24] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

The president now threatening to veto a big spending bill his White House promised he supports and would sign. Now top aides say, no worry, pay no attention, just an angry boss tweeting a tantrum. Oh.

Plus, John Bolton in, H.R. McMaster out. The third Trump national security adviser in 14 months is on the record saying bomb Iran and North Korea. But now he says, forget all that.

And, testing time. Will the president keep mum as women who claim they were paid to keep silent about affairs speak out in new, high-profile interviews?


KAREN MCDOUGAL, ALLEGES AFFAIR WITH DONALD TRUMP: I know it's the wrong thing to do. When I got with him, actually, you know, there was a -- there was a real relationship there. There was a real -- there were real feelings between the two of us. Not just myself. Not just him. There was a real relationship there. And I kind of, out of sight, out of mind with everything else. And, you know, and deep inside I did have a lot of guilt, but I still continued.


KING: Back to that story in a little bit.

We begin, though, with fresh West Wing chaos originating on Twitter, of course, and by a president again described by those who work for him as angry, steaming, fuming, lashing out. It is the Republican-led Congress at the source of this morning's surprise tweet tantrum.

The president is threatening to veto the big spending bill that passed overnight because he's mad he's getting so little of what he wants, especially on immigration. His frustration, more than understandable. The president is getting very little of what he wants from a Congress controlled by his own party.

But the veto threat, not so understandable, unless maybe you're the parent of a volatile toddler. All the compromises were explained to the president the other day and he promised to eat his peas. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICK MULVANEY, WHITE HOUSE BUDGET DIRECTOR: But let's cut right to the chase. Is the president going to sign the bill? The answer is yes. Why? Because it funds his priorities. We've talked for the last, I don't know, three, four, five, six months about trying to get the president's priorities funded. And this omnibus bill does that.


KING: That's the president's budget director in the White House Briefing Room, the logo behind him. So, given that, a veto threat just hours before the government runs out of money is remarkable.

Even more remarkable, tracking senior aides to the president this morning, senior aides to the president of the United States, telling reporters and members of Congress to pay no attention to the president's veto threat. Just a tantrum. It means nothing. As if they were describing a child.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny tracking all this at the White House.

Jeff, is the president going to put down the phone and pick up his pen? And if he picks up the pen, a blue pen or red pen?


I was in the briefing when Mick Mulvaney said, make no mistake, he's going to sign it. Some 24 hours after that, I do expect the president to sign that bill. One senior adviser here told me earlier this morning, John, this is the president venting. He's been watching news coverage of this, reading news coverage and seeing that his priorities are not being funded as much as he would want here. So he's letting off some steam, if you will.

Also trying to blame Capitol Hill and Congress. Of course they have a much lower approval rating than he does. So trying to shift some blame to them.

At the end of the day here, John, no one expects the president to actually veto it. If he would, that would set a cascading series of events here. The House and Senate are not in Washington. The members are back home or elsewhere. The reality here, the president fuming.

But there is one question -- I was talking to a senior Republican up on Capitol Hill who said, why wasn't the president more engaged on this at the front end? He has been focusing on a variety of other things, hiring lawyers, firing staffers, not that engaged in this process.

So, John, we will find out. I'm done making predictions here. But I would be surprised if he would veto this bill.

John. KING: Smart man. Money man Jeff Zeleny at the White House. Make no --

make no bets but keep an eye. See which pen gets picked up later today.

ZELENY: Indeed.

KING: So what moved the president, as Jeff just noted, from a yes to hopping mad? Well, here's a good bet. The president may be turning into cable television hearing he's being played.


LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST: This is not what the president promised. He vowed to build a wall. It is not complicated. And now we have the biggest spending bill in history and it sets aside $640 million to supposedly fund wall construction for one year? My friends, I hate to say this, but as I see it right now, tonight, the wall is never going to happen. Put the big bienvenidos welcome mat at the border, because it doesn't matter.


KING: It doesn't matter, last night on Fox News.

[12:05:01] Here with me today to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Pace of "The Associated Press," CNN's Manu Raju, Rachael Bade with "Politico" and Margaret Talev of "Bloomberg."

Help me. It's a question I ask too often, but the thing that's, a, it's irresponsible to threaten a veto hours before the government runs out of money, after you've promised to sign it. Members of Congress, based on that promise, have left town. It's irresponsible. If you were going to do something, yesterday or the day before was when you should have raised your objections and stopped the train. That's, number one, the governing issue.

Then, how do we, 14 months in, process a senior aides to the president of the United States, some of whom have cabinet level jobs, telling us as reporters, and just as importantly, maybe more so, telling the leadership in Congress, pay no attention to the president. He's a child venting, it's a temper tantrum, he'll get over it.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": It's amazing what was coming out of the White House this morning. Aides are saying, he just needs to get this out of his system. But we're talking about funding the federal government.

And to your point, there was ample opportunity for him to put this position out there yesterday. Now lawmakers have left. So if the president were to perhaps be watching cable news right now, which I think is probably a decent possibility, and hearing that his aides are saying, ignore him, don't pay attention to him, and actually then, as a result, follows through on the veto, there's nothing lawmakers can do right now. They are gone. They will have to come back and the government will shut down.

It is as if he doesn't -- you know, more than a year into office, doesn't grasp the magnitude of the decisions that he makes.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And two things here, John. I mean the Republicans yesterday were trying to make a show that the president did win on border security. You heard Paul Ryan, the House speaker, come out and say yesterday that they gave money -- that's a year's worth of funding in six months' time. This actually meets the president's request to deal with the border wall. It was a big thing that Paul Ryan said, the president is behind this. He said he talked to the president. That was the argument. The president, obviously, does not feel that way. So that undercuts that message, number one.

And, number two, how many times has a president completely contradicted, in fact humiliated, his senior advisers on a number of issues? When they say one thing, he supports the bill, and, obviously, he's now -- he says he's considering a veto. They say he's not going to fire -- that H.R. McMaster isn't going to leave. He leaves. They say that Rex Tillerson isn't going to leave.

He leaves. They say that John Dowd broke that statement about ending the Mueller investigation without -- on his own accord. Well, it turns out that the president was behind that. So how many times can the White House officials go out and say something to be undercut by the president? It undercuts their credibility.

KING: Right. And to that point, it's a sad thing to say, but you should pay no attention -- you at home and us in the business -- to people who get paid to speak for the president. And it's not their fault, or at least we don't think it's their fault. They will go out and say what they think the president believes at that moment. That's the budget director, Mick Mulvaney, saying the president will sign this. He's supposed to have credibility.

PACE: Who has a very close relationship with the president as well.

KING: Right. Right. Right.

PACE: Is actually a very trusted adviser. (INAUDIBLE)

KING: Yes. I could understand if he was upset with this bill because Mick Mulvaney used to be a balanced budget guy. This is a big spending plan that you could never send -- President Obama would have died for a spending plan like this and he couldn't get one out of the Republican congress.


RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": I was going to say, this uncertainty, though, even though lawmakers are hearing from the White House right now that they don't need to panic, that this is Trump just venting and that he's eventually going to sign this document, they don't know that for sure. I was just talking to somebody on the phone, a Republican -- senior Republican saying, we're hearing that it's all going to be OK, but how do we actually know? We don't know. And as you mentioned, republicans have left town, Democrats -- lawmakers have left town. A lot of them are going on (INAUDIBLE) abroad because they have two weeks of recess right now. The House has adjourned until, you know, April, mid-April. And if he decides to go through with this right now, it's going to be total chaos to try to get lawmakers back to work.


KING: And he's bringing courage -- forgive me for interrupting -- but he's -- I just want to -- he's being encouraged. This is Mark Meadows, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, the most conservative members of the Freedom Caucus, they didn't vote for this. They won't vote for any spending bill. That's why they had to make the compromises with the Democrats. Republicans have the majority, but some conservatives won't vote for just about any spending bill.

Mark Meadows tweeting this morning, the Freedom Caucus would fully support you in this move, Mr. President. Let's pass a short term CR, that's a continuing resolution, while you negotiate a better deal for the forgotten men and women of America.

So now conservative forces seeing an opening, seeing the president threatening to veto this are saying, go for it.

TALEV: Yes. And when you hear aides on background saying just let him get it out of his system, he's not really talking to reporters -- they're not talking to reporters, they're not talking to the American public, they're not talking to the Republicans in Congress, they're talking to the president because they're hoping that he really is just getting it out of his system and they're trying to create a path for him to go forward and go ahead and sign this thing. They understand what the implications of this would be if he doubles down his own bet (ph) and loses.

And so, you know, I think part of what you are seeing -- and this is important about the staff is -- is a real problem in terms of the confidence of being able to take high level steps word (ph) for things. It's risen a question how much control John Kelly has as chief of staff. Mick Mulvaney is someone who's been talked about as a potential future chief of staff. How much control would Mick Mulvaney have as the future chief of staff? If you are the press secretary for the White House, you need to be able to go out and conduct these briefings and have it mean something, and that puts Sarah Sanders in a difficult position. As we all know, there is now a vacuum of leadership in the communications director position. That makes what happens there a little more complicated.

KING: But the shelf life of what the president says, even to his most trusted senior aides, is minutes. Minutes. That's the hard part here.

And here's the problem now. Now, again, you created this opening. The president probably watching conservative media last night saying this is more spending than Obama ever got out of the Republican Congress, so why is this happening with a Republican president, a Republican House and a Republican Senate?

Conservatives are upset about it. Listen to Chuck Schumer, the Senate's top Democrat. He thinks this is a great deal.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: We Democrats are really happy with what we were able to accomplish on a number of priorities that Democrats have fought for all along. At the end of the day, as the minority party, we feel good about being able to succeed in so many ways. We don't have the House, we don't have the Senate, we don't have the presidency, but we produced a darn good bill for the priorities that we have believed in.


KING: A little bit of spin there, but, you know, Democrats didn't get the DACA deal they wanted, but they think they can deal with that in the election year. It might actually help them politically.

But they came out of this pretty good. Now, part of it is the Senate's evenly divided. You do have to make some compromise. So the president can't get everything he wants. But he gets, what, $600 million for the beginning of some border fence construction, when he wanted $25 billion. He wanted a giant piece of infrastructure spending. He got pennies on the dollar.

If you're the Republican president, and this could be the last big bill, especially if the Democrats take back the House, again, I understand his frustration. The question is, why did he wait till the morning of the bill to suddenly read and find out the details?

RAJU: You're seeing a conflict between presidential priorities and congressional priorities. And in this bill there are a number of things that are actually helpful to Republican and Democratic members up for re-election in very tight races. And one reason why there was significant support last night for a bill that was unveiled -- a 2,200-page bill that was unveiled on Thursday night that went through Congress on Friday that nobody read is because a lot of these provisions were designed to help members up for re-election, which is why the leadership got behind it. And the president is viewing it from his lens on he's not getting his central priority, the wall, fully funded. And, remember, he said Mexico would pay for it. Why are the taxpayers doing it?

KING: He's not getting his central priorities. And we're in a midterm election year when your base turnout is the number one critical thing. The divide in the Republican Party, again, I get the president's frustration. He had weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks to deal with it. And instead he comes in at the last minute, after he signed off on a deal that he now hates. Kind of reminds me of the House health care plan, which gets a Rose Garden ceremony and then it's mean.

But Ben Sasse, a conservative senator, often a critic of the president, saying every Republican would vote against this disgusting pork bill if a Democrat were present. This spending kegger is a wildly irresponsible use of taxpayers' money and the president should not sign it. What is this -- yes, individual members get something they can go home

and campaign on. But if the idea is to turn out conservatives, how can you make a case to a conservative voter? Hey, look, we won the White House, after we got the Senate back, we kept our House majority and we gave you a bill Obama would love?

PACE: You can't make that argument, which is why you're seeing the Freedom Caucus trying to seize this opening right now. And the reality is, it's not just on spending, it's across the board on policy. The president is not an active player on a day-to-day basis.

So this could have been perhaps turned in a different direction if we were discussing this with the president two weeks ago, but he was off in Pennsylvania having an hour long rally where he was talking about all kinds of other things, or firing one of his lawyers, or focused on firing H.R. McMaster. But he was not singularly focused on this budget bill.

BADE: And to be sure, he could have gotten perhaps way more money on the wall. And Democrats over the weekend floated an idea, 25 billion for your wall as long as you do something you said you were going to do for months to begin with, I mean, which is find a pathway for citizenship for these 1.8 young adults who came here as kids.

TALEV: That deal was there if they --

BADE: It was there. It was -- it was within his grasp and he turned it down.

KING: He won. He could have had compromises that gave him more. Instead now he's angry about compromises he signed off on that give him a lot less. Keep your eye on this one throughout the day, folks. That's all we can say. Will he sign it? Will he not? His aides say he will. It's an open question.

A quick break. Then, a former playmate says the president tried to pay her for sex, but then he later said he loved her.


[12:18:42] KING: Welcome back.

A former Playboy playmate is apologizing to Melania Trump and says Donald Trump told her that he loved her. That exclusive interview aired right here on CNN last night. And on Sunday, "60 Minutes" will air its interview with Stormy Daniels, the porn actress who says she too had a relationship with the president after he married Melania. Daniels' lawyer is now hyping the Sunday interview, suggesting Daniels has proof tweeting, you see the DVD right there, if a picture is worth 1,000 words, how many words is this worth. He moves on to say in his hash tag there, please, deny it about the president.

Now both Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal are talking despite accepting money to stay quite. Daniels' was paid by the president's personal lawyer. McDougal, by a tabloid owned by a Trump confidant. Both are now suing to be free from those deals. McDougal, though, isn't waiting for a court ruling to talk.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, "AC 360": Were you in love with him?


COOPER: And do you think he was in love with you?

MCDOUGAL: He was. Yes.

COOPER: Did Donald Trump ever say to you that he loved you?

MCDOUGAL: All the time. He always told me he loved me. Yes, of course.

COOPER: Did he have any nicknames for you?

MCDOUGAL: He would call me "baby," or he'd call me "beautiful Karen."


KING: To what end, what effect, is this going to have? Number one, Karen McDougal, if you watched the interview last night, the president previously, through Hope Hicks I believe, is on the record saying it never happened. She sounded very credible. She's very calm, very composed. She tells her story. We're going to see Stormy Daniels on "60 Minutes" Sunday night.

[12:20:16] What is the take inside the West Wing about this with the footnote that the president himself, someone who often lashes out at people who criticize him or who challenges him, has been silent on Twitter about this?

PACE: Well, that's what's been particularly notable about this. Even when you had other women coming forward during the campaign with sexual harassment, sexual misconduct allegations, the president was very aggressive in going after them, threatening lawsuits. He's been completely silent. The White House has issued the barest of statements from the podium about these incidences which I think actually probably lends to -- if not the credibility of the actual allegations, it lends credibility to the notion that this is causing some tension inside the White House.

I mean this is -- this is not just a short-term distraction. What we've seen is that these stories, in part through the legal strategies that these women have been employing, have some staying power. And there -- these women are not holding to these NDAs, which Trump has used to great effect in various ways throughout his career. They're coming forward and telling their stories. And that's putting the president in a situation that he doesn't find himself in both in his previous life and in this White House.

KING: In an odd way, using tactics similar to he has -- that he has used, blow through what would normally be barriers and rules, like a signed agreement, and saying, you know what, I'm going to tell my story, and let's see if he has the guts, essentially daring him, to respond.

TALEV: The approach in the sort of early going of this was to say, look, all these issues were aired during the campaign. Voters had information they needed to have in order to cast their vote and this is just rehashing old news.

And the approach to this has changed, it seems to me, in recent weeks. And I think when you have these two women at the same time out there, even though they are -- obviously have different personalities, different approaches, one is kind of still in business and using this for publicity a little bit, you know, more than the other. Even so to have both of them out there at the same time kind of is a ping-pong effect that builds one another's credibility and puts the president in a more difficult position where you really -- you can't talk about it, but then by not talking about it, it creates this, you know, vacuum where the story feeds.

And coming at the same time that the Mueller investigation is going forward, it suggests the possibility that what would be kind of a side show or a personal crisis could, you know, bleed into more substantive (ph) territory.

KING: It could bleed, especially if the president's deposed in any of these cases or just, if for some reason there's money involved, the special counsel (INAUDIBLE) the money.

But you mentioned an interesting point. Stormy Daniels, her attorney's very aggressive. Mark Avenatti tweeting a picture of that DVD, essentially saying, trying to, you know, suggest -- and one of the agreements does suggest, one of the non-disclosure agreements, that she has texts or photos or other evidence. He's tweeting that photo out.

Listen so Karen McDougal here. A very different approach when asked by Anderson Cooper, how about you? Do you have evidence?


COOPER: Do you have any text messages, photographs, videos, anything that would dispute the -- Hope Hicks' statement that this never happened?

MCDOUGAL: Let me just say this. If you're in a loving relationship, do you try and collect evidence?

COOPER: That's not what you were thinking about?

MCDOUGAL: No, not at all. But when you care about somebody, you don't try and set them up in any way, shape or form.


KING: It's just an odd thing in the sense that this could potentially be very damaging to the president. And yet she actually speaks kindly of him and says he treated her kindly. And --

TALEV: But she kept a journal.

BADE: Yes.

RAJU: Yes. I mean, yes. I mean this is a different situation than Stormy Daniels for certain.

The question I think -- the legal issue is going to the -- not just those two suits, the third suit as well from the former "Apprentice" contestant who said that she too was harassed by the president. If the president does get deposed, a real issue.

And the other thing is just the payments, too. I mean were any of these payments in-kind contributions in violation of campaign finance laws? That's something that is a real concern for the president. So it's not just having an extramarital affair and being unfaithful to your wife, it's the legal issue. And that has to be one reason why there's a tension that you've seeing in (INAUDIBLE). One reason White House -- the president may be spouting off in different ways and doing different things because this is getting under his skin.

BADE: And that legal issue, that's where a lot of the Dems on The Hill think that perhaps they can find a way to use this against him and hurt Republicans, right? There's obviously a debate right now about how much they want to talk about this. Republicans want to totally bury this. I was talking to a senior Republican on the Oversight Committee about, would you guys ever look into the campaign finance angle of this? And they were like, heck, no, leave this to the FEC, which, as we all know, doesn't really do anything anyway. So who's going to investigate this?

KING: That would be an interesting point. I suspect you will see as part of the chaos narrative, the Democrats want to present in their ads some of these faces, if not long cooks (ph) of interviews, faces flashing by in the ads. We'll see as this one plays out.

[12:25:06] Up next, President Trump hires the guy candidate Trump said he loved watching on TV.


KING: Welcome back.

Today, a national security team shake-up and renewed questions about just what the president wants on the world stage. H.R. McMaster is out as the White House national security adviser. The Bush administration veteran, hawk on everything, John Bolton, is in. The switch comes after a leak that infuriated the president. A leak he suspects was McMaster's doing.

The change also comes ahead of a key presidential decision on the Iran nuclear deal and ahead of promised summit-level talks with North Korea's Kim Jong-un. Those are supposed to be in the next month or two. If Bolton holds sway, should we expect the president's already hard line instincts to attack even further right?

[12:30:02] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOHN BOLTON: There's an all-purpose joke here. Question, how do you know that the North Korea regime is lying? Answer, their lips are moving.

What I would recommend to him, if I were there, is to get out of the deal completely.