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Trump Threatens China with $100 Billion More in Tariffs; Dozens Killed in Apparent Chemical Attack in Syria; CNN: Trump Prepping for Possible Mueller Interview; EPA Head Clings to Job amid Growing List of Controversies; McConnell: 2018 Could be Category 5 Storm for GOP. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired April 8, 2018 - 08:00   ET



[08:00:14] JOHN KING, CNN HOST (voice-over): U.S.-China tensions rock Wall Street and Trump country, but the White House says not to worry.

LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISER: We're not running a trade war. Nothing's happened. Nothing's been executed. There's no there there yet.

KING: Plus, major moves by the Russia special counsel and new information about the president's legal jeopardy.

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I do think you should sit down with special counsel Mueller. If you did not rob the bank, there's no reason for you not to sit down and talk to the FBI about the bank robbery.

KING: And a week of surprises, including a call for troops on the border from a president not interested in following the script.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, this was going to be my remarks. It would have taken about two minutes but the hell with it.

KING: INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories source by the best reporters, now.


KING: 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.

An alleged chemical weapons atrocity in Syria draws a swift global condemnation and poses a new test for President Trump. A year ago, he responded with a barrage of cruise missiles. This time, the controversy comes as the president makes clear he wants to end the U.S. military role in Syria.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If you leave Syria now, ISIS will come back like they did when we left Iraq. How much money has the world spent, the United States spent due to the withdrawal from Iraq? So, if you're looking at this from dollars and cents, it's going to cost a thousand -- a thousand times more to leave and let ISIS come back, than it will to hold their territory once we destroy them.


KING: Plus, it was the back-to-basics weeks for the president. Tough talk on immigration, and China trade, disrupting financial markets and surprising at times even some of his own top aides.


TRUMP: We're going to have our wall and we're going to get it very strongly. The military is going to be building some of it, but we're going to have very strong borders and we have to change our laws and we're working on doing that.


KING: And CNN is now told the president is preparing for a possible interview with a Russia special counsel. That's a risky decision as we learn more about efforts to prove collusion with the Kremlin and to crack down on Vladimir Putin's inner circle.


MARK LEVIN, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: Let me tell you, I wouldn't allow him to speak for his sake and for the sake of the office of the presidency, because this is a rogue prosecutor who's investigating nothing. You understand that? He's investigating nothing. There's no underlying crime.

If I were Mr. Trump, I'd say, you know what, I didn't do anything wrong and that's exactly why I'm not talking to you.


KING: With us this Sunday to share their reporting and their insights, Molly Ball of "TIME", Josh Dawsey of "The Washington Post", CNN's Manu Raju, and Eliana Johnson of "Politico".

The shock first, write the policy second approach can be messy. As we saw this week on immigration, and China trade, the president teased a big announcement about the border and his cabinet had to scramble to find out what he meant. We now know 2,000 to 4,000 National Guard troops along the U.S.-Mexico border, though exactly what they will do is still in a flux.

And then there's China trade and Larry Kudlow's interesting first week as White House economic advisor. A first round of tough new tariff talk had two markets rattle. Kudlow calm them by noting nothing takes effect for months and predicting Washington and Beijing could talk this out. Then, the president suddenly upped the ante, threatening an additional billion dollars in Chinese tariffs on Chinese goods. Take a look at this, that drop right there, that's how the stock

futures market took the surprise news from the president. Markets are nervous, business groups nervous, Republicans worried about a 2018 blue wave nervous. But the president says getting tough with China is long overdue and worth any short-term price.


TRUMP: We've already lost the trade war. We don't have a trade war. We've lost the trade war.

I'm not saying there won't be a little pain but the markets gone up 40 percent, 42 percent. So, we might lose a little bit of it, but we're going to have a much stronger country when we're finished.


KING: The third piece of what we saw this past week about the president going with his impulses and his reflexes, sometimes over the advice or to the surprise his advisors -- immigration, China and then Syria, where the president very publicly said a couple of times, it's time to get out. Now then he told his military advisors, you can stay for now, but I want a plan to get out.

How does the morning news today, "New York Times", doesn't suffocate in Syria as the possible -- Syria government accused of another chemical attack? It was just a year ago plus a day or two, President Trump responded to a chemical weapons attack, was an interesting early administration moment with a barrage of cruise missiles. What now?

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: I don't think we know, and as you say, there have been -- he has responded differently at different times based on different people he's talked to. His advisors have been pushing him toward more engagement, even as his impulse seems to be less until it's more.

[08:05:03] His stance toward conflict and foreign policy is this mix of, on the one hand, he says, you know, I'm the most militaristic person you've ever met and he wants to use force -- he wants to use the power of the American military. On the other hand, he has this -- he wants to get us out of these conflict zones where he feels were overextended.

So, it will be interesting to see how he reacts to this news and which sort of side of Trump wins out.

KING: And the State Department says and the administration official I texted with this morning says, we need more information, we need to verify exactly what happened, but aid groups are blaming the Syrian government, the British governments already criticized the Syrian government.

We're not going to show you the pictures this morning. They've been on CNN, in other hours this morning. It's horrific, it's children again as we remember from a year ago, needing desperate medical attention. The interesting question for the president and I should note, he's tweeting already this morning, but he's tweeting about a Fox News report about Hillary Clinton, he's attacking "The Washington Post". We'll get to some of that in a little bit later. We haven't heard from on this.

But it was actually -- it was fascinating moment a year ago when, you know, the president does have those America first instincts, the president has said let's not be involved in the Middle East, what good has ever come of America. But it was a poignant, personal moment when the president reacted a year ago.


TRUMP: A chemical attack that was so horrific in Syria against innocent people, including women, small children and even beautiful little babies. Their deaths was an affront to humanity. These heinous actions by the Assad regime cannot be tolerated.


KING: Do those words and the result that came from them a barrage of cruise missiles, did the president draw a line that he's now going to have to think about as he responds to this one?

ELIANA JOHNSON, POLITICO: What preceded the president's words a year ago was the same thing that we saw today, which was videos and images of dead children. And that's something that we've seen sort of consistently with this president. I think Molly is exactly right that there's a tension between Trump, Trump's sort of isolationist instincts, but also his, you know, desire to respond forcefully and his message that America will be strong and won't take guff from, you know, various countries around the world.

What we've seen in recent weeks is Trump -- he's aware that the sort of military campaign is over in Syria and hearing from his military advisers that we've moved to a stabilization phase. And he seems not to want to do that. I think that these in images are likely to help his advisors convince him that America's needed and I wouldn't be surprised if there's military response.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And remember how, he actually got bipartisan praise last year when he did move forward with those attacks. Democrats and you know hawkish Republican establishment types were aligned and supporting what he did here. If you were to pull back particularly in light of these this new news -- these new images that criticism would be rather fierce, and you have to think that's part of them one of the things that the president is weighing what to do and how not just his people outside the administration will react, but also some people inside the administration. As we know, the Pentagon does not -- it was not even quite clear and what the president means in terms of pulling back from Syria.

KING: And I say this all the time not just about this president, being president is a lot harder than running for president. You have to face these difficult choices. But he repeatedly, President Trump, he mocked President Obama for not enforcing his red line in Syria. President Obama said there was a red line that he didn't enforce it when Assad crossed it.

Was his reaction a year ago, was that his own red line?

JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I don't know that it was his own red line. I think it was as Eliana said, kind of a visceral reaction to photos that he had been shown and have a coterie of people around him saying, you know, if you don't do anything here, this is going to happen again.

I don't think there's kind of a traditional group -- there's not a traditional foreign policy orthodoxy with its president, he kind of responds to situations kind of ad hoc and in the moment. And I think your point John that being presidents harder than campaigning, we're seeing that on a number of issues with this president. He said, I alone can fix it.

He's trying to go to border. He's trying to get the military to do it, not getting Mexico to do it like he wanted, repealing health care they've been unable to do that. You know, the trade in China, a hundred billion dollars in tariffs, now a new war. At first, he said this is going to this was going to be easy, it hasn't been easy for him.

KING: It's not easy --

JOHNSON: The other I think is at play in Syria and you alluded to this, John, is that Trump sees a chance to differentiate himself from President Obama.

DAWSEY: Correct.

JOHNSON: And he says repeatedly that, you know, President Obama did nothing on this, his -- he didn't enforce his red line and I think we'll hear from President Trump if he does respond that he is responding and Obama didn't.

KING: And that's much of the same argument on the China question, where the president says, you know, look, you know, the past presidents, not just Obama, George W. Bush, go back to Bill Clinton, they did nothing. They just let this happen. China cheats in the world markets, nobody disputes that. China's not a fair actor when it comes to intellectual property, nobody disputes that.

[08:10:03] The question is, is the way the president is doing this by announcing tariffs which disrupts the markets, has a lot of people in Trump country, farm states in the United States nervous, they said -- then Larry Kudlow comes out says, but no -- don't worry, even though the markets are doing this. Larry Kudlow says, don't worry, this doesn't take effect for months.

Here's Larry Kudlow's take on saying, this is not President Trump's fault.


KUDLOW: Blame China. Don't blame the administration, don't blame Japan, don't blame Europe -- blame China, because they have to put their best foot forward and act like a world power.


KING: So, what it -- what are we seeing is the president think this is going to get Beijing to the table. Is the president trying to please his base here, no matter what happens?

BALL: I think this is actually the way Donald Trump understands the economy. He really believes that the way you fix the trade deficit which he sees as a problem is to put tariffs on and make them respond. And there's a lot of people around him who don't subscribe to that theory.

But you heard Trump in that radio show saying, yes, stock markets going to drop for a while, then the markets will see that this is working and they'll stabilize and the -- you know, people the -- all those Wall Streeters who doubt this strategy, this economic theory will come back once they see that it's working, that we've brought China to the table, that we are bringing them to heel as previous presidents didn't.

We'll see if that happens. But in the meantime, you have this odd dance going on where the White House is trying to yell at China, we're putting tariffs on you, whereas where's Larry Kudlow is whispering to the market, we're not really doing it, we're not really doing it.

But the Chinese can hear what Larry Kudlow is saying, and the markets can hear what the White House is saying. And so nobody knows, quite what to believe. The trade war hasn't started yet, but nobody knows if the threat is real.

KING: No one knows that the threat is real, and let's close -- again, the president go back to his impulse, his 2016 playbook on the border, saying, I'm going to have a big announcement. His whole cabinet looking around the room saying does anyone know what he means?

And then we get the announcement and we still don't know exactly what it means but the National Guard is going to be deployed in some fashion along the border. Will they be armed or unarmed? What exactly will they be doing? Will they be fixing vehicles? Will they actually be building a wall?

What is the point there? The president at one point tweeted out, you know, we're sealing up our southern border. The people of our great country want safety and security. The Dems have been a disaster on this very important issue.

Is this again -- does the president -- they've only allocated so much money for the wall. The National Guard can't build a wall. What is the goal here?

RAJU: I mean, there are mixed messages again on this coming out of the White House. He constantly touts low -- illegal immigration is dropping to an all-time low, or it's gone down substantially since he's come into office, so then why the urgency now?

And yes, there has been some money that was appropriated in the last omnibus bill to help fund, construct from the wall, but not nearly enough that to build what he promised he would do along the campaign trail. It's not quite clear what he wants. I don't think his own advisers are quite clear either, John.

KING: Would --

JOHNSON: I do think that Trump is hearing some restlessness from his base about why he hasn't moved on immigration. He's done nothing on DACA.

KING: And why he signed the spending, why he signed a spending bill that didn't give him much on immigration?

JOHNSON: Right, I think we've heard it's been a while documented that he was surprised to hear on Fox News which you know but their host serve as a sort of informal coterie of advisers for the president, that they were very negative and he got a lot of criticism for signing this spending bill without any concessions on immigration. And so, I think he's coming out and going back to his message on building the border wall.

RAJU: And when he says Congress needs to do something about it, they're not going to do anything about it. It's really going to be months until he'll have leverage to fight about this again, which is the next spending bill in September. So, in the meantime, he can ratchet up the rhetoric.

KING: I want to note as we're talking, the president continues to tweet as he often does on Sunday mornings. He's tweeting on one of the subjects we just talked about, China. He has not tweeted about Syria, very interested how the president reacts to this alleged chemical attack. But the president tweeting just seconds ago that he and President Xi of China will always be friends despite these current trade tensions. We'll see how that plays out.

A quick break. Up next, presidential practice for possible Q&A with the Russia special counsel, and tough times for the oligarchs Vladimir Putin calls friends.

But, first, politicians say the darndest things. Here's "SNL's" President Trump talking tariffs.


ALEC BALDWIN AS PRESIDENT TRUMP: Hello, hi, how's it going? Let's make this quick, because I've got a lot of trade wars to escalate here, OK? That's why I just announced tariffs on more Chinese products, including fireworks and finger traps. We've also expelled the infamous Chinese billionaire P.F. Chang.


[08:18:24] KING: Welcome back.

We got a few rare and informative inside peeks at the special counsel investigation this past week. One, a new court filing detailing just how the Trump Justice Department authorized an investigation of possible illegal collusion with Russia by the Trump campaign chairman. There was new reporting the special counsel is pressuring Russian oligarchs for information, and the tantalizing word that special counsel Mueller has told the president's attorneys the president is not considered a target at the moment but that his conduct remains the subject of investigation.

And with that in mind, add this, CNN is told the president is taking time to begin practice sessions in case he decides to sit down for an official interview with Mueller and his team. Now, that is still a big if and the subject of a big debate.


GOWDY: I do think he should sit down with special counsel Mueller. I think he's uniquely well-positioned to answer some of the questions that not just special counsel but also the American people have.

ROGER STONE, TRUMP ALLY: I think it is a very dangerous for the president to do so. I think Mr. Dowd who I read had advised against this was correct. I think it's a bad idea.


KING: A bad idea.

Now, the big question before us because it is such a big question that's will the president actually agree to do this. The fact that he has at least started to have some we're told they're in their infancy, but conversations sit down with, OK, what would he ask, how would I answer?

But that tells you he's still inclined to do it, will inclined to do it get him in the room and in the chair?

DAWSEY: Well, the president has said time and time again, he wants to do his interview and his lawyers have advised and repeatedly it's not a good idea. There should be some terms on it, maybe you do written questions. Maybe you only agree to certain parts of it.

[08:20:00] But the president is that ever the salesman really thinks he can convince him he has done nothing wrong.

And what we've seen play out is a number of his lawyers even the ones who don't agree, Don McGahn, John Dowd, Ty Cobb, have all had reservations about this interview. They think the president could go in and potentially perjure himself or hurt himself when he goes instructive special counsel Mueller. But the president does not seem to share those same concerns, and

whether the president, as he's done recently goes with his own instincts and does what he wants to do, or whether he takes advice from others, may play out on a pretty pivotal stage here.

KING: Right.

RAJU: We do know from last week just seeing what the special counsel is looking into, he has a lot of information that presumably the president doesn't know about. There is this investigation when you look at that Rod Rosenstein memo that came out last week, there was a whole page of redacted material about what exactly Mueller has been authorized to investigate. So, he has a lot of information. Of course, the president's team wants it to know exactly what they're going to ask, but what if they come in they armed with some information, ask him something that he's not prepared to answer, answer something that is contracted the facts that they have gathered. That could be problematic.

KING: And there have been some tweets from the president, he doesn't specifically mention the Russia probe, he's talking about something else, mostly about the Clinton investigation. But he's been attacking the Justice Department and the FBI again, I suspect in part because if he looked at that Rod Rosenstein memo, his deputy attorney general, authorizing Mueller, we only had two paragraphs, and as you mentioned, all that redacted, what is behind the black in that memo?

Here's how Saul Eisenberg, he was a Ken Starr deputy back in the Clinton-Lewinsky investigation days, and he said there are plenty of instances where a guy walks into a grand jury of subject, he gets out and is told guess what, you're a target now.

That's the point that Josh was making in the sense that it's just a fact that this president has a casual relationship with the facts and the truth at times, and he thinks -- he thinks, let's assume he thinks he did nothing wrong. But you put him in that chair, they have every last minute of every last meeting, it's risky.

BALL: It could be. This all comes in the context first of all of the president shrinking legal team. He still has not after a one false start replaced John Dowd since he left.

And so, the advice that he's getting is somewhat limited in that regard. And then on top of that, you have the push and pull over the interview, he may not end up having a choice, although that would certainly be its own legal battle. And then this news this week about the subject versus target thing.

You did have a lot of people, a lot of Trumps supporters saying that this was a victory for him, saying this was a good thing, saying this means, see, he's not a target, that's a -- that's a good for him. If he interprets it that way, that may emboldened him to want to do the interview, saying, hey, look, I'm not a target of the investigation. I should go do this.

KING: Right, there's so much we don't know that it's fascinating when there are court filings and the Mueller filing with the Rosenstein memo, again most of it blacked out, but just saying that yes investing investigate Paul Manafort for possible collusion, the president always says there is none, the fact that there's been reporting that they're literally stopping jets, Russian oligarchs fly into the United States, the jet lands at the airport and the FBI is knocking on the door for information about money . Well, how have you spent your money in the United States, trying to influence elections? So, where do we see the investigation going as we learn these new things?

JOHNSON: I still don't think we know, but what's very clear is that Mueller has taken a liberal view of what his purview is, and what he's investigating, and he's casting a very, very wide net . And so, I think for Trump considering whether he's going to go and sit down, it would clearly behoove him to narrow the topics about what he wants to discuss because Mueller would clearly want to talk with him about the -- you know, the widest array of things possible.


RAJU: And his business practice, too.

JOHNSON: Exactly.

RAJU: We now know that not just subpoena a Trump organization for records, but also actually interviewing, some Trump business partners themselves, part of investigation.

KING: If you agree to discuss A, B and C. But then in the answer to one of those, you wander off into D, F and G, then they have every right to add and jump in and follow up.

But I just want to sneak this in before you need to go to break is the president also did something interesting this week. He has been incredibly quiet about Stormy Daniels. This is hard -- you got to read the subtitles on Air Force one. The audio is not great, the president for the first time was asked about what did you know about that hundred and thirty thousand dollar payment your lawyer made the Stormy Daniels, the porn actress, just before the election.


REPORTER: Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

TRUMP: No. No. What else?

REPORTER: Then why did Michael Cohen make those, if there was no truth to her allegations?

TRUMP: You have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney and you'll have to ask Michael.

REPORTER: Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

TRUMP: No, I don't know.


KING: He passes the buck back to Michael Cohen, his longtime personal attorney known as a fixer for Mr. Trump. But he had to know when he came back on Air Force One that was likely to be asked of him and he came back, which tells me that he knew at some point he was going to have to say something and he decided that was it. Why?

BALL: Well, I mean, this is not a man who really knows the words no comment.

[08:25:02] When Trump gets lobbed a question, he usually answers it, I mean somewhat to his credit, right?

KING: Right.

BALL: But this is consistent with the line that Cohen has taken, that this was something that Cohen did on his own, Trump had no knowledge of it. That's the argument that they've consistently made. Whether or not you find it believable, Trump has been remarkably disciplined and remarkably circumspect on this issue.

And even in his live comments there on the first time he's directly commented on it, I believe, he's still stuck to that line of really not wandering off in to, say, insults.

KING: Say insults. He's done that once or twice before.

Everybody, sit tight.

Up next, the chief of staff thinks the EPA administrator should be fired. Rush Limbaugh thinks the EPA administrator is awesome. So, whose opinion does the president value most?


[08:29:57] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: We know the President is not a fan of bad headlines or bad optics so logic says Scott Pruitt should be in trouble -- a $50 a night condo rental from a lobbyist, first class travel, high security cost, even asking the motorcade driver to flash the lights and cheat traffic so he could get to a restaurant.

Yet this Saturday tweet from the President, "While security spending was somewhat more than his predecessor, Scott Pruitt has received death threats because of his bold actions at EPA, record clean air and water, while saving U.S.A. billions of dollars. Rent was about market rate," the President says, "travel expenses, ok. Scott is doing a great job."

That embrace from the President even more interesting because we now know from sources that the White House chief of staff John Kelly thinks Pruitt should be fired for that growing list of ethics and judgment lapses. But the President is rejecting that advice in part because Pruitt gets raves from the right.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: Scott Pruitt is himself unraveling a whole lot of regulations that Obama's EPA implemented.

He is basically just taking a knife and whacking things from the EPA that were implemented during the eight years of Obama. And he has become, outside of Trump, the single biggest target of the American left. I just hope Scott Pruitt hangs in -- bottom line."

KING: So we know where Rush is. We have seen letters from conservatives to the White House, you know, letters from conservatives to newspapers, op-ed pieces.

Is that it? Is the policy progress in the President's view? I know a lot of Democrats and progressives out there don't like Scott Pruitt. They think he's, you know, doing everything wrong. But from the President's standpoint implementing the agenda, does that outweigh what normally affects this president -- bad news, bad headlines, bad optics?

JOSH DAWSEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "WASHINGTON POST": You've certainly seen a crescendo of conservatives come to Scott Pruitt's defense and say hey, President Trump, this guy is doing what you wanted at EPA -- a lot of senators on the right, a lot of groups on the right. You have McConnell outright saying I don't think we can confirm anyone else, Mr. President.

And I think you see unlike some of his other secretaries and cabinet officials and top aides who've kind of wilted on the vine before they were unceremoniously fired you see the defense of Scott Pruitt. And the President watches that.

I mean our reporting indicates several times this week he said to folks in the White House, this person likes Scott. I heard from this person. He also likes the administrator.

So I think for the President you have his tendencies and his days of bad headlines, he has gotten rid of several folks -- Tom Price, David Shulkin, who he didn't like that much anyway.

For Scott Pruitt who he actually seems to like and is sort of defensive he is more willing to take some of these optical issues that are kind of the swamp that he has decried.

KING: The question is are we -- how long -- what is the shelf life on that in the sense that we do know the White House still says it is looking at condo rent deal and looking at some other issues. We do know the chief of staff thinks Scott Pruitt should go. The question is, is this policy?

And the Saturday tweet pretty extraordinary. The President also spoke on Air Force One saying when I was in West Virginia, I heard good things about him. Does that outweigh the history of other people, listen here, other people who the President has said is a good man?


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Michael Flynn, General Flynn is a wonderful man. Reince Priebus, a good man. Thank you very much.

I like him. He is a good man. We will see what happens with Mr. Bannon. But he is a good person.

Secretary Price is a good man.

Rex is a very good man. I like Rex a lot.


KING: So if you're Scott Pruitt and you're thinking ok, the President just tweeted. I'm good. I'm good to go, are you good to go?

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: Well, but he went beyond just saying he's a good man -- right.

KING: Right, he did. You're right.

BALL: Yes. The "good man" thing is sort of Trump's "bless his heart", right. But he went beyond that when he took on the actual details of the scandal.

KING: Right.

BALL: I think that is why Scott Pruitt can take so much heart from that tweet because he is not just saying despite some bad actions he is doing a good job in the EPA. He is saying I don't think the scandal is a big deal.

I think that substantively on its face, the scandal is nothing. So we still don't know, one should never predict what Trump is going to do. He can always wake up in a different mood and fire someone in a tweet.

But at the moment I think Scott Pruitt's stock has risen immeasurably since last week when this was really starting to bubble up and there were rumors that he was on the rocks.

ELIANA JOHNSON, POLITICO: I also think the fact that John Kelly is pushing Trump to fire Scott Pruitt is helping Pruitt. And I think we're seeing Trump's contrarianism at play here.

The previous people who have left the White House, Steve Bannon -- well, not Steve Bannon but Reince Priebus, Rex Tillerson, H.R. McMaster -- those three White House aides were really pushing Trump to keep them on and so he fired them.

MANU RAJU, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We'll see also what -- that one is going to be more -- there will be more shoes to drop too, involving Pruitt. There are people that are investigating his past behavior.

And also when the ethics chief of the EPA initially cleared him and said that there was no issue with this $50 a night rental. Now we have now learned that they did not have the full information for them. So what is going to be the ultimate judgment that EPA's ethics -- internal ethics watchdog -- says on this issue?

[08:35:04] But also one other point -- I think going back to what we said earlier about how Trump feels -- is upset about signing that omnibus bill because of all the pushback from the right. He does not want to get that same pushback from the right, right now if he were to get rid of Pruitt.

KING: It's a great point.

I loved your reporting during the week about the condo owner owned by an energy lobbyist. Pruitt says don't even ask me the question. It's not a fair question.

It's a fair question how anybody in the cabinet lives, how they spend their money. But did they change the code on the locks because it was time for him to go and he was behind on his payments. I love that. They've changed it.

To this point, it brings up -- you brought up the influence of John Kelly. Brought in, the former general brought in from Homeland Security, supposed to be the adult, somebody Trump treats with respect because of his military background.

I'll read you a line from a reporting, Josh, that the President is attacking this morning on Twitter in the "Washington Post". You're one of the reporters. It's damn good reporting but the President is just attacking it -- that's what he does -- about Kelly.

"He has not been fully consulted on several recent key personnel decisions and he has lost the trust and support of some of the staff as well as angered first lady Melania Trump who officials say was upset over his sudden dismissal of Johnny McEntee, the President's 27- year-old personal aide."

That aid was dismissed after he couldn't get permanent security clearance because of some personal conduct issues.

But to Kelly's standing, how big of a deal is that? You see in various reporting that he's threatened to quit again. Secretary Mattis has had to come in and calm him down, his friend.

What does that tell us about A, the President; and B, just the power structure?

DAWSEY: He's at a declining arc, John Kelly. He came in as this regimented disciplinarian that was going to get a wayward West Wing back on track. And for a while he did. He shut the door to the Oval Office. He brought meetings down to smaller size.

He really got a number of people out of the White House -- Steve Bannon, Omarosa, others that were seen as kind of disruptive thinkers.

But the President has begun chafing at Kelly's restrictions and Kelly, in his turn, has been chafing at the President's kind of mercurial whims and his willingness to fire people on Twitter and his policy shifts and not going through the processes on tariffs. And as we reported today the President has complained about Kelly. Kelly's threatened to quit several times, once over Rex Tillerson, once even as recently as last week. This is a situation that was never going to be a perfect marriage because you have a disciplined military man in John Kelly. You have a president who does basically what he wants when he feels like it.

And when he came in wanting to put all these controls on Donald Trump, one of the Trump campaign aides, allies said this won't last very long and they were correct.

KING: Well, something else to keep an eye on in the week ahead. It kind of has the President's attention on Twitter this morning -- something else that does too.

A quick update on this morning's top story. President Trump, we are told by his homeland security adviser, says the President has now been briefed on that apparent chemical weapons attack in Syria. We will keep you posted on whether the President says anything, any other further developments from the administration.

Up next for us though, Republicans see a big blue wave on the horizon and they want the President to follow a careful midterm election year script. Don't bet on it.


KING: On the road in West Virginia the other day, this signature Trump moment.


TRUMP: You know, this was going to be my remarks. It would have taken about two minutes but -- what the hell -- that would have been a little boring.


KING: Guys -- not breaking news. The President hates sticking to the script. And he trusts his political instincts. Others Republicans however worry Trump 2016 play book is not the best plan for them in 2018.

In Wisconsin this past week, a big liberal win in the state's Supreme Court race brought this from the Republican Governor Scott Walker. "Tonight's results show we are at risk of a blue wave in Wisconsin."

And while back home in Kentucky this week, this from the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, "This is going to be a challenging election year. We know the wind is going to be in our face. We don't know whether it is going to be a category three, four or five. I'm hoping," McConnell says, "we can hold the Senate."

It is interesting to watch in West Virginia the President is the gold standard, it's the safest place in the country for him to go. He throws out the script. He is loose. But Republicans watching from other places where the President's base is not so strong see that guy and get worried because they wanted to talk the economies up. Tax cuts are good. They don't want him to be doing tariffs. A lot of them don't want him to be stirring up immigration talk if they live in more above the Mason-Dixon line in suburban districts.

BALL: Yes. Well, think about the substance of those remarks. Trump was supposed to be talking about tax reform. That was the boring script that was in front of him because that is what the Republican establishment wants him to be hammering every day.

They feel like the only way they're going to be able to use their signature policy achievement so far, tax reform, as an election platform is if the President is talking about it constantly. They need him to be reinforcing this message to bring back dispirited, discouraged Republican voters who so far in special elections and so on have seemed inclined to stay home.

But Trump throws that out because his political instincts tell him what the people in the room want to hear and so he says tax reform is boring. I want to talk about immigration.

That is the red meat for his base but it probably is not, according to the Republicans, who are somewhere between panicked and resigned at this point particularly in the House. They would prefer that he stick to the script that they give him.

KING: Right.

RAJU: And we look at in West Virginia also, it's one of the most at risk Democratic senate seats -- Joe Manchin. He could have really pursued a very aggressive attack line against him if he chose to do that but instead he's making points on immigration and saying things that completely distract from the message like millions of voters voting illegally without, of course, offering evidence to back up his claim and becomes the new story instead of his attacks against Joe Manchin.

[08:45:04] It really underscores Trump's risk for Republicans and the reward for him. They need him to come to energize the base because this is going to be a base election ultimately and Republican voters are dispirited.

KING: Right.

RAJU: But at the same he comes there and does these rallies and he could --


KING: I want to have a little bit of fun here in the sense that in the Republican primaries, you don't want to be against President Trump. There's a lot of places where President Trump come November, Democrat-Republican races might not play well.

But look at this, in the Indiana senate race. We want to show you an ad and then we'll talk about why.


TODD ROKITA: Luke Messer, he plotted with the never Trumpers to steal the nomination from President Trump. You've got to be kidding me.

I'm Todd Rokita. And I'll proudly stand with our President and Mike Pence to drain the swamp.


KING: Todd Rokita who puts the Trump hat on there during -- early in the primaries called Donald Trump "vulgar", criticized his candidacy. Now, he's like I'm Mr. Trump.

RAJU: Yes. I mean it shows you exactly, you know, especially in a primary how significant it is. How important it is.

When you talk to Republicans, one thing that you often hear what their base says when they go back home is do you stand with the President? That's what a lot of voters, Republican voters want to hear which is one reason why you don't hear a lot of pushback from members of Congress going against the President when he does things.

KING: Here is why Democrats are so happy at the moment. The President's poll numbers are up a little bit. Republicans see that and say can they keep going?

But Democrats look at the number of women running for office and AP put out some new numbers this week now that some filing deadlines have passed. Three hundred nine women from the two major parties have filed candidacy papers to run for House seats. That tops the previous numbers but if you look at the numbers, a lot more Democrats than Republicans.

Democrats think that this, the quality of their candidates especially getting women candidates in the middle of this political environment we're in is going to help. And early on the results would suggest they've got a chance.

DAWSEY: One of the probably fears I hear from Republicans is that the President will turn off a lot of moderate voters and a lot of the folks who only came in 2016 to vote for him while energizing his opponents in the kind of so-called resistance movement. And I think you have seen a lot of that.

We had a poll this week in the "Washington Post" that looked at the super uptick in people's protest, activism -- you know, one in five Americans are out at protesting rallies because of this President, either supporting him or opposing him.

And the cross-current that the President could, you know, really alienate some Republicans while driving folks on the left to the polls in record numbers is potentially damaging.

KING: We start to get into busier primaries coming up soon so we're going to learn a lot more about the 2018 landscape.

Coming up for us next, our reporters share from their note books including what the White House is expecting now that H.R. McMaster is out and the new national security John Bolton on the way in.


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


JOHNSON: I'm watching the three nominations that President Trump has sent up to the senate for CIA director, Secretary of State and Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Republicans in the Senate are annoyed and fatigued at having to push these through. And Democrats have a real opportunity to energize their base by opposing these.

I'm looking at which one they're going to try to oppose, one or more. And I think that one of these has a real chance at failing.

KING: Interesting weeks ahead.


RAJU: Speaking of nominations, Mike Pompeo, as Eliana was saying, facing his confirmation hearing on Thursday, already in trouble in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Rand Paul has announced his opposition. There's just a one-vote advantage for Republicans on that committee.

But there are two Democrats who voted for him for CIA director when he was confirmed by a 66-32 vote. That's Tim Kaine, Jeanne Shaheen -- they both sit on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Of course, being State Department Secretary versus being CIA director -- much different positions. A lot of questions about whether or not they will support him going forward.

That is why this (INAUDIBLE) confirmation hearing is so critical. But we'll see if any Democrats decide to jump ship because otherwise he could be in trouble on the floor.

KING: If it gets to the floor. Mike Pence might have to stay around.


DAWSEY: I'm looking at the beginning of John Bolton's tenure as national security advisor. He begins Monday in the White House and you have seen a whole reshuffling of the President's team. You have seen McMaster out, Tillerson out and you have John Bolton who's coming in with a more hawkish world view.

You have the Iran deal decision the President has decided he's going to rip it up. You have North Korea talks that the President wants to do. And you have someone with a different idea in many fronts than the President on foreign policy but someone the President seems to have some charisma and some bonding with.

So how he shapes the West Wing, I think (INAUDIBLE) of the NSC and at the State Department possibly on John Bolton but I think it will be interesting to watch.

KING: "Interesting" is I think a polite word there. Keep an eye on that one.


BALL: I have been following state-level politics and following the teacher strikes and walk-outs that have been happening previously this year in West Virginia, still going on in Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Arizona could be next.

We talk a lot about the House and Senate, of course, but there are 36 gubernatorial elections this November -- a majority of them Republican held. These teachers -- surprising even the teachers unions by rising up demanding better pay.

And Democrats are looking at this thinking this could be part of the wave of activism that they expect to power any success that they have. Particularly think about it, this is about women. The teachers are mostly women. It affects moms. A lot of teachers are even running for office.

So to the extent that this feeds the wave that has been driven by women voters this fall, it could help them with that.

KING: That's interesting. Fascinating point -- we'll keep watching that.

I'll close with this.

[08:54:54] Congress comes back from an Easter recess tomorrow and John McCain will still be at home in Arizona. The Republican senator has been absent since mid-December. He's home receiving treatment for brain cancer. His staff no longer discusses a return time table after a promise that would be in January, turned out to be too optimistic.

Now the Senator's friends will be happy to know McCain was highly- annoyed by a "Washington Post" story last week noting that there are quiet conversations in Arizona and in Washington about replacing Senator McCain if he cannot return and decides to retire.

McCain told several friends in recent days, "I'm not going anywhere". He is said to be in good spirits working on building his strength and determined to return to work. We certainly hope that turns out to be the case.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Again, thanks for sharing your Sunday morning.

"STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper up next. Jake sitting down with Larry Kudlow, the President's new top economic adviser, to talk about the prospect of a trade war with China.

Have a great Sunday.