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Trump Contradicts on Comey; Comey Takes Shots at Trump; Mixed Reactions of Pompeo-Kim Meeting; Puerto Rico Power Outage. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired April 18, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:21] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

President Trump says he did not fire James Comey because of the Russia investigation. That's the same President Trump who, 11 months ago, said he fired James Comey because of the Russia investigation.

Plus, the CIA director makes a secret trip to North Korea, meeting face-to-face with Kim Jong-un to plan a summit with President Trump.

And mourning Barbara Bush, but celebrating a remarkable life. She was first lady, and the mother of a president, and her oldest son says she was much, much more.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: She was warm and wonderful, until you got out of line. Then she wasn't too warm and wonderful. She was awesome. We ought to be joyful that we had, one, such a wonderful woman in our lives, and, two, that she passed with such -- such belief, strong belief, and that she truly was peaceful.


KING: More on Barbara Bush in just a few moments, including a rare conversation with a dear friend, the former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

But we begin the hour with the president picking new fights on Twitter. One with Stormy Daniels. One with himself. Here's the president this morning venting again at the former FBI director turned author James Comey. Quote, slippery James Comey. The worst FBI director in history was not fired because of the phony Russia investigation, where, by the way, there was no collusion except by the Dems. Not fired because of the Russia investigation, the president tweets today. He needs to explain that to this President Trump with NBC's Lester Holt last year.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to do it. And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.


KING: With me on this day, maybe they can help explain that, to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, Michael Bender of "The Wall Street Journal," CNN's Phil Mattingly and Rachael Bade with "Politico."

Now the president is often inconsistent in what he says. But why at this moment tweet something that is directly contradictory to what you yourself said about this big issue and stir it all up again?

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": I think the main reason he's doing this is venting. I can tell you that we've reported at "The Wall Street Journal" that what they're telling Trump in the White House when it comes to Comey is, take it out -- take out your frustration on Twitter. Go in front of the cameras. Say what you want. Do not pick up that phone and start making calls to DOJ. Do not pick up the phone and start complaining internally about that. That is where we're going to get really in trouble. As long as you're on Twitter, as long as you're in front of the cameras, and it's in the public domain, that's good enough for this White House right now.

KING: That's good enough for the White House right now.


RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": It seems like there's been -- well, obviously, this is a change from what he said before where he was very open about the fact that he got rid of Comey because of the Russia investigation. But someone, it appears, has gotten to him and explained that you just can't get rid of people because of the Russia investigation or your own party at some point is going to have to turn on you.

It's interesting from Capitol Hill's perspective -- and, Phil, you can speak to this as well -- we've noticed a lot of Republicans trying to make the case against people that the president might fire, you know, go after Mueller, go after Rod Rosenstein, and they're doing it by not talking about the Russia investigation. They're making a case about documents and not turning over -- not working with Congress. And so maybe somebody has gotten to the president and said, listen, if you -- if you look at Russia for investigation, that could be potential obstruction.

KING: It stirs up conversations that are not favorable to the president. It is not favorable to the president of the United States when you say, here's what he said today. Here's the exact opposite that he said 11 months ago.

Another example of that is, the president so far on Twitter has not said a thing about Stormy Daniels. The only time he's spoken publicly is when he was asked on Air Force One if he knew anything about the payment to Stormy Daniels, $130,000, shortly before the 2016 election. He said, no. And he said, call my attorney, Michael Cohen. And yet today he retweets on Twitter an account where a person on Twitter, a Trump supporter, tweeted the sketch Stormy Daniels released yesterday of a man she says threatened her not to talk about her relationship with the president and the president tweets, a sketch years later about a nonexistent man, a total con job, playing the fake news media for fools, but they know it.

Again, it stokes more conversation about something that I would assume even the president understands is not favorable to the president.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, yes, and in some ways I mean you saw Stormy Daniels yesterday on "The View" and in some ways pretty credible appearance there. She was with her lawyer and showed this photo. And people have all sorts of ideas about who it looks like. But surprising that the president would sort of take that bait.

[12:05:02] It almost -- I mean to me it might be because she did seem very credible in that interview that she had with those ladies around the table there. And the president there just not being able to help himself to wade into this and kind of go man to Stormy over this issue, which again people hadn't really been thinking about. There's so many other things in the news. You even saw Stormy overshadowed on Monday when she was in the courtroom there.

But, again, I mean, he just can't help but wade into this and he sees some of the traffic obviously on Twitter and there it is.

KING: Other things in the news, a great understatement. The president's at Mar-a-Lago today. He's meeting with the Japanese prime minister. They have a lot to discuss. The trade relationship. More importantly, I think at the moment, the upcoming summit perhaps with Kim Jong-un. The Japanese have a different perspective than the South Koreans. We'll get to some of that in a minute.

But the fact that we're not talking about it first and foremost is because the president stirs things up every day, even if it's throwing dust on himself.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And I think it's, kind of to Nia's point, the most interesting element is my take on things from talking to people yesterday is they saw the sketch, there were no shortage of Twitter memes about who it may or may not have been, but nobody was really taking it that seriously to some degree. I'm not trying to underscore or to undercut what Stormy Daniels alleges, but just the idea of kind of like, this was a long time ago. OK, we're moving on. This kind of seems, to some degree, like a PR stunt.

And then the president tweets about it and everybody's automatically talking about it again. The president tweets about Comey and Russia and everybody's automatically talking about it again. It almost seems that he's just undercutting himself because he can't help it. And I think to Mike's point, this idea that you go to Twitter to vent,

which is the exact opposite of what all of our HR and PR people tell us, like, please, for the love of God, do not go to Twitter if you're anger. Take it -- or delete the tweet or put it in draft and leave it there. I think it clearly has paid off for him in terms of his supporters and his base, but it exacerbates issues that make him angry and the White House, frankly, wants off the table. And certainly Capitol Hill would just like to be tucked into a corner and never talked about again.

BENDER: I think he was specifically told not to tweet about Stormy Daniels. I mean we report that as -- at "The Wall Street Journal" as well. He's been shown polling that this is a fight he can't win. He's been told internally that this is not a fight you want to have with the first lady, bring attention to this. And, again, to Phil's point, and the drawback to the point about Comey, right, I mean, they're in another defensive crouch over this book. The first time they did this over the "Fire and Fury" book, that book has sold a million copies this year, right, and he's just bringing more attention to these issues that he's trying to -- when he tries --

KING: Right. And as we ask the question, is the president hurting himself, undermining his own efforts, his agenda by doing this, that same question was put to Mr. Comey today, who, because of some of the personal attacks on the president of the book, a lot of people are asking, why did Jim Comey decide he wanted to, if you will, get in the gutter in his fight with the president?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you enjoy taking those shots at the president?

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: No. I didn't think of them as shots and I still don't. I --


COMEY: Well, you've read the book.


COMEY: You see the description I give of my high school boss in the grocery store. I'm trying to be an author, something I've never been before, and bring the reader into that scene and describe in great detail what I'm seeing. And so I'm not trying to pick on President Trump or my boss from high school.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, but you're talking about his hair, stuff like that. I mean I guess some people are saying, wait a minute, James Comey, you just got into the gutter with President Trump, who, you know, is known for his name calling. He's called you a slime ball and a nut job and any number of things. Did you stoop?

COMEY: I really don't think so.


HENDERSON: Really? I know.

BADE: Of course he's taking shots at the president. I mean he -- Comey has elevated one of the juiciest parts of the dossier that a lot of people had never talked about publicly on television because it's incredibly salacious and suggested that perhaps these things actually happened and said there was no evidence that they -- that he had that they did happen or didn't happen. Nobody was talking about this -- that specifically on TV. That is absolutely a shot at the president and a very personal one.

HENDERSON: Yes. And he knows that the president is sensitive about the size of his hands, his skin tone, his hair, all those sorts of things. And this is what he was doing in the book. He was describing those things. So, of course, it was taking a shot at the president.

KING: Trying to provoke the president at a minimum, I would think, and probably, a, overriding, trying to sell some books.

HENDERSON: Yes, I think that's right.

KING: Up next, that secret meeting revealed. The man in line to be President Trump's next secretary of state, face-to-face with North Korea's dictator. How'd it go? And the bigger question, where does it go from here?


[12:13:29] KING: Welcome back.

The president today confirmed a dramatic secret, diplomatic mission. The CIA director, Mike Pompeo, traveled to North Korea for an Easter weekend meeting with Kim Jong-un. In a tweet from Mar-a-Lago, the president said, meeting went well -- went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed. Details of summit are being worked out now. De-nuclearization will be a great thing for the world but also for North Korea.

Now sources say Pompeo did not take anyone from the White House or the State Department. Instead, he was accompanied by intelligence officials. The goal, of course, to frame the agenda for a Trump-Kim summit that should take place in May or June. That summit is priority one in conversations with Japan's prime minister, who's golfing with the president today before some additional meetings and an evening session with reporters. Word of Pompeo's secret mission drawing mixed reaction today on Capitol Hill.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R), CHAIRMAN, FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: I like the fact that Pompeo met with him. I hope that a lot of other people will meet with him. And I hope there's huge amounts of precursor activity that takes place before the two of them meet.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: Director Pompeo is the wrong person to be engaging in diplomacy. We need a secretary of state and not a CIA director doing that work.


KING: Now, the point from Senator Blumenthal there, a Democrat, is that Director Pompeo is the nominee to be the secretary of state. We don't have one at the moment. Blumenthal is opposed. And he's saying we need somebody who's more diplomatic.

I want to come back to Senator Corker's point. He's the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. He's retiring. He was polite there, but he was also trying to send a message essentially saying, don't just have the president go in to meet with Kim Jong-un after one meeting with Pompeo. If you have to delay things a little bit to have more conversations so that you have a better sense of actually what they are actually willing to do, as opposed to before you give them a meeting with the president of the United States on the world stage, that was the message, right?

[12:15:18] MATTINGLY: Yes, it's important to read between the lines. He's saying exactly that. And I think the big concern on Capitol Hill -- and, frankly, with a lot of foreign policy hands, regardless of party is, you can't do something this seismic without preparation that matches up with it.

What does disarmament or nuclear disarmament actually mean? What are the guidelines? What are the things that are on the table from the beginning? Are 28,000 U.S. troops that are currently stationed in South Korea leaving? Is that on the table? Are you talking long range missiles or are you talking short-range missiles, because that's certainly what Japanese Prime Minister Abe would like to have a discussion with you about.

And I think so the idea that Senator Corker was laying out, complimenting Mike Pompeo for going. And I haven't talked to a lot of Republicans who are upset about this. I haven't talked to a lot of Democrats, frankly, who are upset about it. But really underscoring the fact that if this is actually going to happen in May or in June, please have everything lined up so this isn't some scatter shot, reality show, let's just get everybody together and make it happen.

And to be fair -- and, John, you know this as well as anybody -- behind the scenes, the bureaucracy is working to do exactly that. I think the difficulty they face and certainly the concern on Capitol Hill is, when you have a president that doesn't operate through normal channels, that they don't have the opportunities to do what they need to do.

KING: And to that point, listen to the president yesterday with Prime Minister Abe. A lot of people are worried this is a propaganda victory for Kim Jong-un, putting him in the same room as the president of the United States. But the president of the United States thinks he can do business.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I look forward to meeting with Kim Jong-un. And hopefully that will be a success. And maybe it will be. And maybe it won't be. We don't know. But we'll see what happens. But I can say this, they do respect us. We are respectful of them. And we're going to see what happens. I think it's a time for talking. It's a time for solving problems.


KING: I mean if you talk to the Japanese delegation, they're as nervous about this as people on Capitol Hill. Not that they don't want the meeting to go forward, but what is it -- to Phil's point, what are we talking about here? And if the North Koreans are willing to completely de-nuclearize, which no one things they will be actually, can you -- can you get something in the short term or are you just handing them a big propaganda win?

HENDERSON: Yes, that's the whole thing. Just the meeting for the North Koreans would be a success. If they came away with nothing, that in itself would be a big victory for KJU. This is something that the North Korea regime has wanted for a long time, legitimacy on the world stage. You see him meeting with other world leaders.

So it's unclear, do they need a sort of demonstrable deliverable each before the meeting, right? I mean is it -- is the meeting just going to be talking about de-nuclearization, something you, of course, said is unlikely to happen.

KING: Right. They would argue, they do have a deliverable in a sense in that there haven't been more provocative missile tests.

HENDERSON: That's true. Yes. Right.

KING: There hasn't been another nuclear test. And that -- you talk to Trump administration officials, they say that, you know, people criticized us for being bullies, by saying locked and loaded and fire -- you know, fire and fury and all that, but that he is, quote/unquote behaving in their view.

BENDER: Yes. I think you saw a little bit of that in Corker's remarks too. Remember, when Trump was presented with the idea of meeting with the North Korean leader, he wanted to do it this month, which was a little too quick, so he pushed it back one month, which is -- the concern is that it's still too quick. So the fact that the meeting with Pompeo happened, and that initially here it seems like a success, or at least there's -- it's been the sort of same warm tones from the -- from the U.S. and --

KING: There's reason to keep going anyway.

BENDER: Correct.

KING: My question is, does this impact the Pompeo confirmation? It doesn't look like he can get majority support in the committee, the Foreign Relations Committee. That's never happened, the nominee for secretary of state not getting majority support. The White House trying to take advantage at the moment, if you will. Smart politics. Smart politics, whether you agree or disagree. Sarah Sanders tweeting today, nothing could better underscore the important of getting America's top diplomat in place for such a time as this. Democrats have an opportunity to put politics aside, acknowledge our national security's too important and confirm Mike Pompeo.

Smart on the White House hand to try to say, hey, if we're going to have this summit, we need our secretary in place, vote yes.

BADE: Yes, the timing of this leak is particularly suspect, right? I mean this absolutely helps him.

There is an expectation on The Hill that he is not going to get a favorable recommendation, as you said, by the Foreign Relations Committee. He could very well still get confirmed in the Senate. And again, like you said, I don't think that's happened in something like a century.

But there's a reason why Democrats are really ticked off about this. And that's because it makes him look like a secretary of state already. I mean this is a guy who, I mean, when was the last time we had a secretary of state actually go to North Korea to meet with the top diplomat? It's got to be at least a couple of decades, right?

KING: I don't know --

BADE: To set up a -- to set up a meeting between the president of the United States and the leader of North Korea, something historic that has never happened before. So this absolutely helps him in his confirmation.

KING: We'll watch now.

I need to pause our conversation for a minute just to get to some breaking news.

We're learning that Puerto Rico has suffered an island-wide power outage. Puerto Rico, of course, still reeling from the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria seven months ago.

[12:20:03] CNN's Leyla Santiago has the latest. She joins us now from Mexico City.

Leyla, a horrible development.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, I have been tracking the developments for the last hour or so. Here's what we know.

There is an island-wide power outage in Puerto Rico right now. That means 1.5 million clients from the Puerto Rico Power Authority in the dark, unable to turn the rights on. The power authority telling me that it's going to take somewhere between 24 to 36 hours to restore this power.

So, what caused this? Those details still not available. We know that there was a line that went down on the southern end of the island, and that is where the trouble is. But exactly what caused that, we don't know. And here's the thing, John. Just last Thursday there was also another

outage. It wasn't island wide, but it was more than half of the island that didn't have power as a result of a line that went down. In that situation, last week the power authority says it was because of a tree. Now they did manage to restore power pretty quickly, but it wasn't as big as it is right now.

Right now, island wide, no power. And let's remember, John, we are 44 days away from the next hurricane season in Puerto Rico.

KING: Ominous words there.

Leyla Santiago, thanks for bringing us the latest on the breaking news. We'll keep our eyes on that.

A quick break. When we come back, Barbara Bush passed away last night. Some remembrance in a moment from a man we call secretary of state, we call general, Barbara Bush called him a friend. Colin Powell joins us in just a second.


[12:25:43] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: She had great faith. She truly believes that she is -- there's an afterlife, that she'll be wonderfully received in the arms of a loving God, and therefore did not fear death. And as a result of her soul being comforted on the deathbed, my soul is comforted.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Former President George W. Bush there paying tribute this morning to his remarkable mother.

Barbara Bush passed away yesterday at the age of 92.

She was home in Houston, surrounded by family, including her husband of 73 years, the former president, George H.W. Bush. Only Abigail Adams is her peer in history. Both the wife of a president and the mother of a president.

But to stop there would be grossly unfair. She was blunt, yes, but also side-splitting funny. Feisty and confident in public, yet someone not afraid to acknowledge deep bouts of depression, and who said she best coped with that by pouring herself into charitable causes, like her commit over the decades to literacy programs.

In her 1994 memoir, Barbara Bush wrote this of the man with us today to share some memories, there is no finer man, American, or friend. And we also love his wife, Alma.

The former secretary of state, Colin Powell, is with us today.



KING: Thank you for coming on, on this day.

I want to start at the very beginning because you write in your book about your first conversation with Barbara Bush. Maybe you'd seen her around the White House. You were a general then. He was vice president. Barbara Bush and you were at a reception, I believe, at the French embassy.

POWELL: We were at the French embassy. And it was shortly after I became deputy national security adviser. And I'd only been in the White House for a few weeks.

So she's sitting next to me at the head table and I'm very, you know, moved by this. And I said, well, I'm very pleased to be with you today, Mrs. Bush. And she said, don't call me Mrs. Bush. Ma'am? Don't call me ma'am. I have to call you Mrs. Bush. No, call me Barbara. I said, ma'am, I can't do that. I mean this is -- whatever your name is, I can't do that. It's not appropriate. And she said, call me Barbara! And I said, if I did that, my mother would kill me. And she said, if you don't, I will kill you. So, yes, Barbara, I got it.

And that was the beginning of a precious relationship until her passing with not only her, but of course the president himself and with the whole family.

KING: Right. We met, I'll stipulate for this meeting, it was two weeks ago when you were still a general. It's a little longer than that. But explain this to me because you're -- you're a general then. George H.W. Bush is vice president, then president. And you become friends.


KING: You read their books, you read your books, you see this friendship.

You're from different sides of the tracks, if you will. Your upbringings are very different. And it's not common -- it's not common for people to become friends like that. Why?

POWELL: We did become friends. First of all, when I was national security adviser in the last two years of the Reagan administration, my office and then Vice President Bush's office were separated by a bathroom that we both shared. When you share a bathroom with somebody else for two years, you get a little closer.

But, seriously, he's just that kind of guy. He was and is just that kind of guy. And we became very close. The family became very close.

And one story that is most important of all for me was, two days after he lost the election in November of 1992, I called him to just, you know, share the moment with him and tell him how I was feeling. And he said, thank you very much, Colin, and we talked for just about five minutes.

I hung up. And an hour later my wife calls me and said, Barbara just called. I said, about what? They want us to come up to Camp David this weekend. I said, this weekend after what just happened? Yes. And I said, but aren't they going to be with family and others. No, they want us.

And so, of course, we said yes. And then she called back an hour later. Barbara said bring the kids. So all my kids weren't available, but the rest of -- two of them were and we went. And it was a wonderful, wonderful evening. And we watched movies and we didn't talk a lot.

But late in the evening, the president wanted to take a walk through the woods around Camp David. And I said, of course. And we were walking, the president and me in front, and Alma and Barbara behind us. And I'm not asking him anything, I'm not saying anything. He just turned to me and he says, you know, it really hurt. I said, Mr. President, I know. But you could tell that the strength in that family and the strength that he had came from Barbara. She was that kind of a person. She was always there. She was always steadfast. She was a grand, grand woman.

[12:30:08] KING: And she said at the end of that, you write in your book, explaining as you were leaving, that they wanted to be with real friends.