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Mattis Warns Trump About Risks Of Aggressive Syria Response; White House Official: Trump May Pardon Scooter Libby; Trump Again Interested In TPP 'Out Of The Blue'. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 13, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: He has asked the Pentagon to prepare. And that's where we are, again, a remarkably blunt, longer statement. We'll play a little bit more in a minute if we can from Nikki Haley saying, this is not just on Bashar al-Assad, this is on Vladimir Putin and the Russian government.

It's quite striking how clear, candid, and aggressive. She wasn't attacking Russia. But this National Security Council meets again this afternoon. The president has publically said, he wanted to get out of Syria. Now, Olivier, the defense secretary is telling him, if you do what you're asking me to do, if you initiate or issue the orders what you've asked me to prepare, you're going to be involved in Syria for weeks and months.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUS XM: Right. Two things from Nikki Haley's statement, one is the president has not yet made a decision. You wouldn't necessarily know that from the president's Twitter account a couple days ago.

And the other is that if we act, we're acting in defensive or principle we all agree sort of anticipating a legal challenge to the justification of his action. The biggest problem that we have now is that they've to gauge how Russia is going to respond.

Russia, Bashar al-Assad patron has come and said very bluntly, if do you this, if you go ahead with a missile strike, one, we'll blow the missiles out of the sky -- OK, maybe. But we'll also target the launch sites. Launch sites are either planes or guided missile off the coast of Syria. That's where the risk of escalation comes in. How do the Russians respond to this if the president goes ahead with kinetic action?

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: And yet, one of the president's biggest central most consistent criticisms of President Barack Obama in terms of his prosecution on foreign policy was to get this close to a strike on Syria in 2013 and then blink. And make it Congress' choice or whatever.

And he didn't do it. And he said, that that has paved the way for everything that has come. So the president himself said, look out, Russia, they're coming or I'm paraphrasing this basically what he said, and intimated that within 48 hours the decision on how that was going to play out with our thought. Now, obviously, everyone in the world and in the White House thinks this is important to be sure about what you're doing and to understand the implications before you do something like that. But it was in fact that language on Twitter that is now created this kind of economy. And also the last time the president acted on Syria which was considered an effective sign of U.S. willingness to a draw line, to act on it.

The U.S. acted unilaterally, key U.S. allies especially France and the U.K., then somebody said Germany saying, hey, we want to be part of the decision next time, bring us in on it. They have brought them in on it. The president having this continuous phone calls with leaders of these three countries. But that has created another element in terms of multilateral action.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In the last time too, even though he was praised for initially going forward this praised generous in the U.S. He's also criticized for not having a policy afterwards, a longer-term policy and a strategy. Criticized by a lot of members from his own party.

It's just, the position of the president name with his own words, his own tweets, is excruciating. Some members want him to act immediately, right. Bob Corker, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, told me that he's concerned the longer this drags out, and then if there is a military conflict, it is going to get much more catastrophic. And the president may be risking potentially more lies by waiting longer.

KING: And yet listen to the defense secretary, a former general, the man who's responsible for the troops, the airmen, the people on the ground and on the ships, in the skies, this in the other day talking publically about the advice totally he's given the president privately.


JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: Our role in Syria is the defeat of ISIS. We are not going to engage in the civil war itself. We're trying to stop the murder of innocent people. But on a strategic level, its how do we keep this from escalating out of control, if you get my drift on that.


KING: I think everybody should try to get his drift on that to the point you made the point. Russia has said, you know, we'll shoot down the missiles or fire back where they came from. That could be an exaggeration.

But if they launch anti-aircraft, if Russia is responsible, or at least on the basis where anti-aircraft is launched at U.S. planes, if there is a provocative action in the sky just with fighter jets shadowing each other, and there's a miscalculation and something happens then you're not just talking about tomahawk missile launch in Syria, you're talking about a military competition with Russia. SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And I think the president learned from the first time around that this isn't as simple as he had hoped it would be. You don't just fire a bunch of tomahawk missiles and all of the sudden that sends a message to Syria and Russia to back off. And everyone decided to play nicely after that.

It maybe more than what Barack Obama did. But it certainly wasn't enough to come anywhere near fixing the problem. And I think that he's beginning to realize the complications involved in any avenue you take at this point.

KING: And then so, there are no good answers for the president. Here again, we'll watch this National Security Council meeting at the White House today. The president tweeted on Wednesday. They will be coming in terms of the attacks. We'll see if we get a decision today.

Coming up, why is President Trump planning to pardon Scooter Libby? A decade after President Bush decided he would not do that.


[12:34:56] KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Many people think Scooter Libby was the victim of a special counsel gone amok.



KING: Topping our Political Radar today, the competition to replace Paul Ryan as the leader of House Republicans, the Freedom Caucus member Jim Jordan now being floated as a possibility for that.

Ryan of course stepping down as House speaker, he says he'll leave at the end of the year. There's a possibility there could be an election before then, Republican Congressman Mark Meadow who chairs the Freedom Caucus saying, Jim Jordan of Ohio, possible candidate. Let's keep an eye on that.

President Trump, late last night ordering a full financial review of the U.S. Postal service, you can connect the dots. That review comes after a spree of presidential tweets attacking Amazon. The president accuses Amazon of taking advantage of the Post Office. And thinks the Post Office is losing too much money on Amazon deliveries.

[12:40:05] Postal officials said today, they welcome that review. And if they hope some good can come of it. The federal task force will be led by the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

And the White House official says, President Trump likely will very soon pardon Scooter Libby. You might remember Libby from the George W. Bush administration. He was convicted of perjury for his involvement in leaking the name of cohort CIA operative Valerie Plame. She spoke about it earlier today and says, this pardon in her view less about Libby, much more about current events.


VALERIE PLAME, FORMER CIA OPERATIVE: This is in the past. But for Donald Trump this has everything to do with this future because what Donald Trump is floating, what he's putting out there is the idea that you can pardon people for serious crimes against National Security. And I think he has an audience of three, perhaps more. And that would be Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and Jared Kushner.


KING: Certain, is where the conversation around town today. Why would a frequent critic of the George W. Bush administration, meaning President Trump, go back in time to pardon Scooter Libby? Is he trying to send a message to potential witnesses today?

RAJU: It's possible. I mean he announce the president went after Comey for leaking classified information and should be prosecuted. Well, you know, this is a person who lied the FBI whether or not he leaked informing to uncover this identity of this CIA operative.

Look, I mean the other issue here is that the president came in and saying that he's going to drain the swamp. But I mean this can be another indication where a political ally, with some people in the administration is getting a pardon without any sort of Justice Department review, which is typically customary.

KING: I'm just going to say, normally at the end of this, there's a file about yea thick at the Justice Department of the pros and cons and all the consideration. The president did this on his own.

KNOX: Whether he's trying to or not, he is sending a message because you're saying this person who wasn't on anyone's radar, right, this person who was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, if memory serves, what we're going to pardon him, we're going to cut out the DOJ. We're going to pardon him. It's all going to be OK for him. I don't know how you don't get a message if you're one of the many figures in the Mueller probe.

KING: And but you could see in the, right, we've played from Kellyanne Conway, she gets a little gleam in her eye when she says he was the victim of the special counsel gone amok.

KNOX: One appointed by Jim Comey.

KING: One appointed by Jim Comey, everything circles back, right. Some circles you can't square.

Coming up next, Trump and trade, why the president now might want back in on a deal he once called a disaster. And yes, a rape of our country.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) [12:46:53] TRUMP: The Trans-Pacific Partnership is another disaster done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country, just a continuing rape of our country. That's what it is, too. It's a harsh word. It's a rape of our country.


KING: That was the very blunt speaking Candidate Trump. And he followed through quickly after taking office as President Trump, officially withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP.

Now, though, the president says he's reconsidering that as he faces pressure from foreign states not happy with talk of a trade war with China. The man the president tasked with looking again was surprised, to say the least.

This is Larry Kudlow, the top president's top economic adviser telling this to the New York Times, "There's out of the blue, and there's, I guess, out of the dark, navy blue. This was dark, navy blue." By that he means the president's suit, no advance warning.

But is the president actually reconsidering? The president tweeted this last night, "The U.S. would rejoin only if the deal were "substantially better" than the deal offered to President Obama."

So, where are we? Number one, the president again makes that process -- makes a policy on the fly, stuns his economic team. Number two, a lot of people have left meetings with the president thinking he agreed to do this, and then the president does speak out last night tweeting say, "well, maybe". Are we going to reconsider or is the president just trying to get out of a difficult meeting with foreign state interest who aren't happy?

TALEV: Yes. It's hard to say whether this is like the DACA kids that he was before he was again -- before he was living --


TALEV: -- right, or the Paris climate talk. But there is one big difference. And it is this, the president has very much hung his hat on being a good businessman and on being able to post gains and show strength for the economy.

What we've seen over the course of the last few weeks, if you watch it, you know, this tracks fairly closely is when there is a lot of tensions over trade, a lot of threats over tariffs, you see the markets react. When there is an easing of that rhetoric both by president and by Xi in China, the markets go up again.

And so, for the president heading into midterm elections, wanting to be able to post a strong economist message and understanding that in the Midwest and some key parts of Trump country, there's a real resistance to these tariffs. You begin to see the controversy of why he would at least want to float this and see how his face might react. Whether he could sell it as -- the TPP was weaker before, it would be stronger now us holding back has made it stronger and now we're in a stronger position.

KING: You mean you don't see the president coming out and saying, you know what, the entire campaign I was completely wrong about this. I kept saying this with somehow a gift to China when it was actually quite the opposite.

TALEV: Right, that part is never going to happen.

RAJU: It's just as stunning about this. I mean this was one of his central campaign messages. Remember, Hillary Clinton did back flips, twisting herself in a pretzel and trying to determine, you know, get away from the TPP. Because she had once called of the gold standard then she got it criticized in the campaign, she walked, away from it. And Trump criticize her saying, of course she's going to join the TPP. And he said he would not. So this is just unbelievable to see this about -- they think he does carry through.

MURRAY: People say crap during campaigns. I mean we know this. People say all kinds of things during campaigns, and then when they're stuck having to actually govern and having to actually see what happens in the real world when you try to do these things.

[12:50:08] They're facing the real world impacts and you have to bet that in addition to watching the stock market go up and down, there are people that are in that White House Kellyanne Conway included who are, saying, look, everyone's talking about Russia, everyone talking about Russia.

But as we get to the midterms and as we get to the reelection, the numbers that are going to matter are the job numbers. The numbers that are going to matter are economic growth, the stock markets all going to matter. You should focus on that, you should focus on your progress there and people at home will forget about all of these Russia stuff as long as they're feeling good in their pocketbooks. And that could be the kind of thing that ultimately moves him --

KING: And look at your map, you want Wisconsin again. You need Iowa again, you need this farm states. But this is easier said than done. Here's the Australian trade minister, "We've got a deal already. I can't see all that being thrown appease the United States."

Japan's minister in charge of the trade deal called the current deal a "balanced one, like fine glassware". Malaysia's international trade minister said "renegotiation would alter the balance for the benefits for the parties", decisions have consequences. These deals are difficult to negotiate, and you can't just walk up and say, never mind.

KNOX: Right. And this is not the first time the president has entertained rejoining TPP. He's actually coupled. He's dropped the rhetoric from the campaign for the most part since taking office. And he is floated on multiple occasions, the possibility of rejoining under never released stated explicitly better terms.

We don't know what the concessions are, but it's really, really hard. He's trying to negotiate NAFTA. That's not going anywhere. And these other countries are actually basically pricing out a lot of American producers. So they would have to be making concessions that they don't want to make to the United States, which is the acting party this time.

TALEV: But TPP offers an alternative to the tariff sprout. It clearly does. And I think the press corp was in with the president for a portion of this meeting with these Midwest leaders, but didn't hear that part explicitly which is why I think we saw Ben Sasse come to the microphone afterwards and to say very explicitly and repeatedly --

KING: Trying to hold the suit, because that --


KING: Because those lawmakers, remember the DACA kids and guns and other issues in which the president has gone from minute to minute and moment to moment.

All right. We'll continue to watch that one as well. You have to do it, I promise you. Well, up next, the White House plans to discredit two key players in the Russia investigation. But first, listen here to one person who absolutely does not miss questions about the president. That would be the former house speaker, John Boehner.


SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC NEWS ANCHOR: Do you think it was a mistake for the president to fire Comey? Are you worried about Republicans losing control of the House? How much do you miss politics?

JOHN BOEHNER, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I've not have a moment of regret or remorse. Every morning it's hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah. This is not my problem.



[12:56:48] KING: Welcome back. Two very telling headlines out of the Trump White House in just the past 24 hours. One, a west wing led campaign to discredit the former FBI director. Two, a west wing led campaign to discredit the deputy attorney general. That's James Comey and Rod Rosenstein. Together, they have a combined nearly 50 years work in federal law enforcement across Democratic and Republican administrations.

Both have Republican pedigrees, but team Trump says they are the enemy, not to be trusted. Comey at the moment is priority one because his book is out. Listen here Kellyanne Conway on Fox this morning.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR FOR THE PRESIDENT: We find that Mr. Comey has a revisionist view of history and seems like a disgruntled ex- employee. After all he was fired, it's not like he came to the conclusions that are in his book while he was on the job as FBI director in the president, in the company of the president and said, you know, I just must resign. I can't deal with this anymore, I must resign.


KING: And the driveway of the White House, not on Fox this morning over the Party's national headquarters. Look at this. This is a doctored book cover, a mock book cover, Jim Comey's book, "A Higher Loyalty To Me, Myself and I". And they covered highlights "Wide spread accord for Comey's ego".

I get and the president has every right and every reason on the facts, on the merits or in areas of dispute to challenge James Comey and Rod Rosenstein. But when you talk to the people behind these campaigns, it's about -- it's personal. It's discredit. Again, they're not perfect. They've both made mistakes, so they've both done things that could be called into the public debate.

But essentially acknowledge that we're going to spend taxpayer dollars White House aids, or political donations that a lot of Republicans who should do spent on 2018 elections to protect the president by discrediting people who have given five decades of their lives combined to federal law enforcement tells you what?

RAJU: It tells me -- it just shows a big distraction that this is causing no matter what ultimately happens with the Mueller probe or whether the Comey thing goes from here. This is a major distraction in the middle of the key election here when his Party is trying to get on message ahead of a difficult environment when they could lose the house.

Potentially the Senate and this is why ultimately it has a political impact no matter how much -- how effective they are in ultimately discrediting Comey and Rosenstein. And Rosenstein is separate because he's running an investigation to the president, so that could presumably to legal issues too if you were to actually interfere with Rosenstein in any way.

KING: And this is from our CNN story on this. "The plan calls on President Donald Trump's allies to cast Rosenstein as too conflicted to fairly oversee the Russian investigation. Already a number of Trump's associates have called for Rosenstein's firing in appearances on television and in public remarks over the past few days, not all of them did so at the request of the White House."

Again, go to court if he's done something wrong, challenge him publicly on the fact why, why?

MURRAY: The other interesting thing is that, you know, after the president just fired James Comey, Sarah Sanders came out of the White House and called Rod Rosenstein the gold standard from what you would expect from a Justice Department official. And now all of a sudden there are some at the White House who are saying, well, he's too conflicted to oversee this Russia investigation because he wrote the manual we use to help dismiss James Comey. That's wasn't a problem at the time.

KING: Rod Rosenstein now preparing to present arguments with the Supreme Court next week. Let's see if he has his job to do that. Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLTIICS today. We'll see you here Sunday morning as well, 8:00 Eastern, hope you wake up. If not, Monday back noon. Wolf starts right now.