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INSIDE POLITICS

DNC Files Lawsuit; Comey Memos Released; Giuliani joins Trump Legal Team; Romney Not Shoo-in for Senate. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 20, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:05]

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thank you, Kate.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your Friday with us.

One set of memos, two very different takes. Trump allies say James Comey's notes vindicate the president. Others see proof the president was nervous about what the feds knew and wanted the FBI director to make it all go away.

Plus, Rudy to the rescue. The former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani, joins the president's legal team with trademark swagger, suggesting he can get the special counsel to close the books in a matter of weeks.

And students across the country staging more walkouts, this time on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine massacre.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And why is it so important that you guys continue to have these events?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So no one forgets about it. You know, so no one forgets to change the law, that something needs to be done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Live to New York in a bit for more on those dramatic school walkouts across the country today.

First, though, some big developments in the Russia meddling debate. The latest, the Democratic National Committee now filing suit against the Trump campaign, the Russian government and WikiLeaks, alleging it was damaged by a conspiracy to hack its e-mails and then use them to undermine Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign. "The Washington Post" first reported news of this lawsuit. Republicans already calling it a gimmick and a publicity stunt. But there is a present of sorts from back in the Watergate days.

CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz is working this.

We also have with us CNN legal analyst Paul Callan.

Shimon, to you first. Explain this suit.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right, John.

So this lawsuit, this 66-page lawsuit, was filed in a Manhattan federal court just a short time ago, and it really lays out sort of what we already know, some of what's been out in the public domain, and how they allege and they assert that Trump curried favor in Russia through their family business and how Russia worked with Trump advisers before the presidential election to disseminate some of the hacks, the e-mails that they were able to obtain from the DNC.

Now, the Democratic Party says this is all part of a conspiracy and that the hacking and the other activities hurt their relationship with voters, chilled donations, disrupted their political convention and subjected staffers to harassment. And then the lawsuit goes on to outline a lot of what we already know, some of the known communications between Trump advisers and Russians and really the lawsuit names everyone whose name has been out there, who's come up in this investigation, from Roger Stone. Also they're suing folks like Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos and others all alleging a grand racketeering, hacking and fraudulent conspiracy here, John.

KING: All right. Shimon, stand by as we continue to track this lawsuit.

Paul Callan, let me bring you in.

Is there a federal case here?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think there's a very unusual federal case here. The real question, John, is it will be -- will it be thrown out by the federal court? There are 11 different causes of action in the case. I think the most interesting theory is what we call a Rico (ph) theory. That's the Rico racketeering section that was designed by Congress originally to go after organized criminals. And they're using that as a theory to go against various members of the Trump family, and people like Roger Stone, and, you know, the Committee to Elect Donald Trump.

It's a very, very unusual suit. There is some precedent because back in the Watergate era, as you will remember, Nixon's committee was CREP, the Committee to Re-Elect the President, and they were sued in a lawsuit, but it was a very different lawsuit because all of the sections of law that are invoked here are different ones. They're computer fraud ones, they're hacking, they're Rico ones, they're all things that really didn't exist back in Nixon's time.

I think, in the end, though, it's a publicity stunt to get information, to get depositions and discovery that you can generate some headlines with, and I suspect it will be tossed out of court eventually.

KING: And we'll keep an eye on that.

Paul, appreciate the legal insights.

We'll watch this one. Yet another development.

Shimon, you stay with us. We'll be back to you in just a second.

Now to another big debate and divide over the same issue. The Comey memos leaked within seconds of being sent to Congress last night. Trump critics see evidence of a president and top aides, nervous, they said, from the very beginning about the Russia meddling investigation, and a president feeling out not only what his FBI director knew, but whether he would be willing to just make it all go away.

But the president and his allies see nothing. James Comey memos out just out and show clearly there was no collusion and no obstruction. That's the president tweeting this morning. Also, he leaked classified information. Wow. Will the witch hunt continue?

Also this from the president. So General Flynn's life can be totally destroyed, while shady James Comey can leak and lie and make lots of money off a third rate book. General Flynn looms large in these memos and the debate over what they show.

[12:05:03] Shimon Prokupecz still with us.

Shimon, this is your life, this investigation. As you read these memos, now public, what's the most significant takeaway?

PROKUPECZ: So certainly the Michael Flynn -- the -- all the conversations that the president had with the former FBI director about Comey, though not new, there was some new details. Not completely new. There was some new information.

One of the thing that sort of came to my attention was how the president raised this issue of Flynn's judgment, questioning Flynn's judgment. Of course, this all is related to his conversations with the former Russian ambassador.

The other thing that I found particularly interesting was the president's continuing preoccupation and fascination with the salacious details of the dossier. We know that that really bothered him, that conversation. He repeatedly, in conversations with Comey, denied that any hookers were involved in any of these situations, denying that there was anything to do with a golden shower.

You know, at one point, John, he told -- the president told Comey that the hookers thing is nonsense but that Putin had told him, we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world. I found that to be particularly eye-opening. Though it does not say -- Comey does not say in these memos whether or not the president actually spoke to Putin about this, but I -- it's certainly an interesting line of questioning and answers between him -- between Trump and the former FBI director.

KING: Very nice, kind mild word, interesting.

Shimon Prokupecz, appreciate the double duty. With me to share their reporting and their insights today, Eliana Johnson of "Politico," Carl Hulse of "The New York Times," "The Weekly Standard's" Michael Warren, and "The Washington Post," Seung Min Kim.

Interesting, the president of the United States talking to the FBI director. What do we make of this? And let me read that line. The president brought up the golden showers thing and it really bothered him if his wife had any doubt about it. He then explained, as he did at our dinner, he hadn't stayed overnight in Russia during the Miss Universe trip. Twice, during this part of the conversation, Reince tried to interject a comment about -- it's redacted, whatever that was, Reince being the chief of staff at the time, Reince Priebus -- and why it was even in there. But the president ignored him. The president said the hookers thing is nonsense, but that Putin had told him, we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world. He did not say when Putin had told him this and I don't recall -- and then there's more redacted.

Is this relevant to the investigation in any way, or is this just James Comey walking out of the room with the president saying, why is he talking about this?

MICHAEL WARREN, SENIOR WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": Yes, I think it -- those are some salacious details or some interesting, to use the word, details from his recollection of it happening, you know, a few moments after it happens. But the memos themselves largely just sort of confirm what James Comey's already testified under oath that the president said to him, and it's really just a reminder of his side of the story, which is that the president asked him, in many words, can you please make this thing go away for Mike Flynn?

I don't know what else in here is really new. And I'm not quite sure what House Republicans on the Intelligence Committee were really going for by pushing for these memos to get out, although I think for the public record it's good to have them out.

KING: And to the point about General Flynn, which is the more significant part in the investigation. The president's national security adviser, served less than a month on the job. He has admitted lying to investigators about when they tried to get him to answer questions about his dealings with the Russians. He is now a cooperating witness in the investigation that the president calls a witch hunt and a hoax.

This is interesting. This is Jim Comey talking about -- talking to the president about then-national Security Adviser Michael Flynn. He then went on to explain that he has serious reservations about Mike Flynn's judgment and illustrated with a story from that day in which the president apparently discovered during his toast to Theresa May that -- something has redacted -- had called four days ago. In telling the story, the president pointing fingers at his head and said the guy has serious judgement issues. I did not comment at any point during this topic and there was no mention of acknowledgement of any FBI interest or contact with General Flynn.

This is one of the big questions in the investigation. If the president had questions about Flynn's judgement, a, why did he hire him and put him in one of the most sensitive jobs in the United States government, and, b, why did he let him stay on the job for a couple weeks after it was clear that he was subject to a counter-intelligence investigation?

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": Well, let me just say first, I don't understand all of the media attention to Comey's allegation that Trump was obsessed with all of these salacious details in this dossier. I think if any of us were briefed on a dossier that the FBI deemed important enough to brief the president on or brief any of us on that contained these explosive details about us, whether true or not, I mean I would be obsessed with that, even if it were not true. I would be obsessed with it.

So I don't really understand that. And I do think the most noteworthy thing about the Comey memos are that they don't say Trump has any -- has done anything blatantly illegal.

On the Flynn thing, I think it goes to Flynn's argument that the president isn't crazy or losing his mind. He's not senile. He's somebody of above average intelligence who's capable of accessing the strengths and weaknesses of the people in front of him.

[12:10:12] And I do think it raises questions about why he put Flynn in this job. But it's very clear, as we've seen in a number of jobs, that he's not hiring the best people and he makes decisions and turns on people quickly. He's very aware of their weaknesses and I think he likes to put people around him whose weaknesses he can poke at and who he can dismiss in an instant. I think he's sometimes threatened by excellent people.

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, he turned out to be right about Flynn because he did have bad judgment on several levels, right? So give Trump some credit there.

This reminds me, a little bit, the release of these memos of how the House Intelligence Committee handled the report on the FISA warrant. They thought that this was going to come out and somehow exonerate the president. And, of course it doesn't. I mean there's -- he immediately tweets, no collusion, but there's no proof either way in there. And I think that's just the president's technique, you know, keep hammering this message, hammer this message, no collusion, because that's really not at the center of these memos.

And I do agree that they pretty much are in line with what we already knew, but they do make for pretty interesting reading, right, about how the White House operates in the inside here. But I don't think it changes the dynamic of anything in any way.

KING: But -- but in an odd way, Comey, like the president, is now, as I like to put it, in the eye of the beholder. If you're inclined -- if you support the president, the tweets, you'd prefer he wouldn't do it, but, hey, he's cutting taxes, they're cutting regulation, you people stop obsessing about the tweets. If you're suspicious of the president, why is he -- you know, is he trying to feel out James Comey there, like trying to bait him, essentially? I think Mike Flynn's got bad judgment, too. What do you know? You know, trying to get information.

Further on that front is, there's a -- Comey also writes about a conversation with the chief of staff, Reince Priebus, who comes to him -- this is a little bit later, right after Flynn was fired, or Flynn left. They told him he was going to have to go and he resigned. And Reince Priebus asked Jim Comey, do you guys have a FISA warrant? Do you guys have a FISA warrant on Michael Flynn? Meaning, are you listening to his conversations? Come was asked about that last night by Rachel Maddow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES COMEY, FORMER FBI DIRECTOR: Is there current electronic surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of the national security adviser?

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Uh-huh. And you did give him an answer?

COMEY: Correct. And then told him that the way that should work is, you should go to the -- ask the Justice Department. They'll figure out whether they can answer the question, and then they'll get back -- White House counsel should.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So Comey gave him the answer and then said, but I'm not supposed to. You're supposed to go through a different process. And he defended that by saying, these guys were new. I figured I'd give them the answer in this case because he was going to get it anyway if he went through proper channels. Then I told him to go through proper channels. So you could take that as, Reince Priebus is a political guy. He doesn't know how this works. It's a perfectly appropriate question to the FBI director until he found out there's a different way to do it, or you can take it as, the president's chief of staff trying to help the president find out, what does Comey know about General Flynn and who else has been recorded if they're tapping these conversations? Which is it?

WARREN: Well, I mean, if you look further in the memos, there is another scene where Reince Priebus and Comey are in Reince's office and talking and sort of talking through, how is this supposed to work. So you do get a sense that this is sort of at the very beginning of the administration, these people who have -- who have never served in a White House, who are feeling all of these things out.

But I think it does reveal the sort of chaos that was there at the very beginning that all of us who cover it know.

JOHNSON: Yes. I mean that's what transition is for.

WARREN: That's right.

JOHNSON: I mean once you're in the White House, you should actually know how these things work.

WARREN: Fair. KING: Yes.

JOHNSON: And once somebody tells you how these things work, I think you should go through the proper channels. I don't really think the corner cutting on Comey's part or on Priebus' part is acceptable.

KING: Right. And to the point you made a moment ago, and I think Carl echoed as well, Congressmans Goodlatte, Gabby and Nunes, three of the House conservatives who defended the president on this issue in a joint statement last night essentially saying there's no there there about the Comey memos. And that's the debate that goes from here on, if you're going to watch the conservative media say, there's nothing there, Comey actually exonerates the president. You know it's the other people raising questions about it. The person that matters most is Bob Mueller. We'll see where the investigation goes.

Up next for us, start the countdown clock. Rudy Giuliani adds star power to the president's legal team and says this could all be over in weeks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:18:36] KING: Welcome back.

It is Rudy to the rescue for President Trump's legal team, but is the former New York mayor already setting himself up to disappoint the boss? Weeks of searching for legal star power brought this big announcement yesterday, Giuliani taking a leave of absence from his New York law firm to help the president.

Now, Giuliani, get this, tells CNN, his job, most of all, will be to serve as the go-between between the White House and the special counsel's office. Giuliani knows Robert Mueller from his days as mayor and even before that. They both served as federal prosecutors at the same time. But is he setting the bar too high? Listen to this.

Quote, Giuliani said he's going to get a list from Mueller of what is needed to comply with the rest of the investigation. As soon as he can, and depending on what is on that list, that compliance might go quickly, even as soon as a couple of weeks.

Raise your hand if you think that Rudy Giuliani can make Bob Mueller close the books, say thank you very much, and go away in a couple of weeks?

JOHNSON: I don't think this will be over in a couple of weeks. Nonetheless, I don't think this is the most terrible hire on Trump's part. I actually think it's pretty savvy.

Trump has been wanting a lawyer who can -- you know, a TV lawyer. And Rudy both has a sort of 1980s legal mindset. Trump's head is in the 1980s. And Rudy is that. And he knows the southern district of New York. He comes out of there. He will defend Trump capably on TV. Trump trusts him, which I think is important in terms of having trust with your lawyer. I think it's a good hire on Trump's part. [12:20:06] KING: I agree completely, at least in the communication --

from the communication standpoint. You have a known face who's a good, combative on TV to defend the president. The question is, what about in the court of law. And, again, I think relationships matter.

JOHNSON: If he can serve as a capable go between with Mueller, I think this is a win for Trump.

KING: And relationships matter. This is -- now you have someone in the room, they were both U.S. attorneys at the same time, Mueller in Massachusetts, Rudy in New York. They worked on some cases together in the region. Rudy, obviously, was mayor on 9/11. Bob Mueller was the FBI director. They worked together in that aftermath of that crisis. So they know each other. And one would assume they have a professional relationship.

The question is, to what end? Will it speed up at least the resolution of will or will not the president answer questions?

WARREN: I don't -- I don't know. I think it's -- there's a risk here of overpromising, right? And for all the good relationship that the president has with Rudy Giuliani, you know, I think he sours very quickly if he feels like he's being had, or he's not being -- he's being misled by people who are supposed to be helping him out. So that could be a problem.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And I think clearly how Giuliani approaches the issue of the Trump sit-down interview with Mueller is something that we're going to have to watch because we've seen the shift in Trump's mind over the last several days after the raid on his personal lawyer's office last week, that he's kind of soured on sitting down with the special counsel for an interview. So does he change his mind now? How does Giuliani handle that, will be something to watch.

KING: And just to the point -- a lot of people are saying that, you know, Rudy wanted this. That Rudy loves the spotlight. Rudy wanted this. Your colleague Maggie Haberman tweeting this last night. There's a belief Giuliani was like the Kool-Aid man, bursting through the wall to join the Trump team. Four people close to the White House say he resisted joining, but Trump, wanting a big name who he's comfortable with, pushed for it.

HULSE: Yes, I think it's part of the -- I agree with everything you said, it's part of a TV aspect of the Trump defense team.

But here's the problem. One, I don't think Bob Mueller is going to be swayed by any sort of relationship that he may or may not have had.

Two, this has been the White House approach the entire way. Oh, we're going to give you everything that you need and then you just need to go away. And they keep giving it and Mueller's not going away. We don't really know where Mueller's going. But I think that the idea that Rudy Giuliani can step in here and bring a conclusion to this is way out there. KING: Way out there, you think.

Here's Christopher Ruddy's take, "Newsmax" executive. Somebody the president calls quite frequently. In "The Washington Post," Seung Min, he says, you know, what we've been seeing with the president is that he's picking a-level people that he knows are experienced but also know him well. One of the problems in the first year -- we just went through this in the over conversation -- one of the problems in the first year was that people didn't work out because they didn't know him and they didn't have experience for the position.

So there's a comfort -- the president, in a lot of his choices recently, wants a comfort level. The question is, comfort's one thing, good legal representation and a resolution has been the giant thing the president can't get.

KIM: Exactly. And I'm not sure Bob Mueller cares too much about how comfortable Trump is with his own lawyers. So certainly it helps when the president is strategizing with his legal team about what to do. But in the context of the Mueller investigation, Bob Mueller is going to do what Bob Mueller is going to do. He's going to go on his own time frame and I'm not sure how much the new representation changes that at all.

WARREN: But there has been some talk among people who talk with the president out -- outside of the White House and the West Wing in the last couple of weeks, some feeling that the president was getting very angry, getting very upset at a level that had -- had not -- they had not seen in a long time, or maybe ever. Maybe having somebody, as Eliana said, somebody who's very close to him and who the president trusts in many ways helps calm the president down. All this talk about, is he going to fire Rod Rosenstein, is he going to try to fire Bob Mueller. This is the kind of thing that might tamp down any gestures toward that the president is making.

KING: And this is a dangerous question because it's the president we're talking about, this president we're talking about, but does the -- does he -- is he boxed in, in a sense, at least on the Mueller question, because Rudy Giuliani is on the record saying he's a man of great integrity, I've worked with him, he's trustworthy, he won't go rouge, he loves his country, that if you're going to -- Rudy says, I don't want to have a special counsel, but if you're going to have one, this is the guy for it. Does that box the president in?

JOHNSON: Well, I think the president's legal team needs somebody to play the role of what Jim Mattis is doing in the cabinet, somebody who can tell the president things he doesn't agree with, but also bring the president along with him. So Mattis goes in to talks to the president and tells him, look, I know torture, I've seen torture, torture doesn't work. And Trump actually shifted his opinion on it. He said Mattis was very persuasive.

Nobody knows quite why Mattis has this effect on the president. Part of it is that he's a general. Part of it is that he doesn't air his disagreements in public. It's not clear to me if Rudy can actually play this role. And I think he'll have some ability to maneuver because he can now say, well, I've seen the details of the Mueller investigation and I think he's made these missteps, and I think that will sort of allow him to loosen him and free himself from his past public comments.

But somebody on the legal team -- that's the role they've been missing, somebody who can dislodge the president from his previous views and move him toward a more reasonable position.

KING: Oftentimes, though, guys who have a history of being the CEO, which Rudy had as the New York mayor, have a hard time going back to being on the staff. So we're going to watch -- it will be just an interesting dynamic to watch as this one plays out.

[12:25:08] Up next, we go west to Utah, where the map looks reliably red, yet the GOP civil war primed for a big weekend skirmish.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Utah Republicans have a big convention this weekend, and you might say it's testing time for Mitt Romney. The 2012 GOP presidential nominee is now running for Senate. And in a year where they have so many challenges, one would think this would be a no-brainer for Republicans, rally behind a tested candidate with a great fundraising network. Just check off Utah as a safe GOP hold.

But Utah Republicans have a quite rowdy anti-establishment faction and Romney not getting a free pass.

CNN's Maeve Reston in Salt Lake City for the convention.

Maeve, help us understand Romney's big challenge this weekend.

[12:30:00] MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: So we're expecting a potentially wild GOP convention this weekend because the party basically has been at war with itself for quite some time.