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NYT: Russian From Trump Tower Meeting Says She's "Informant"; Manafort Loses Effort To Challenge Mueller Authority In Civil Court; Trump Hosts Winter Olympics, Some Athletes Decline Invitation; Speaker Ryan Asks House Chaplain To Resign". Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 27, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:31:26] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome back. New details now about that infamous Trump Tower meeting in 2016 between top Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer who promised she had dirt on Hillary Clinton. The New York Times now reporting that in a new interview with NBC News, Natalia Veselnitskaya, who you see there, says, "I am a lawyer and I am an informant. Since 2013, I have been actively communicating with the office of the Russian prosecutor general." That is a direct contradiction to what she told Senate members.

Now the Trump Tower meeting is one of many points of contention on the divided House Intelligence Committee. Majority Republicans today releasing a report that says the panel found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians. Committee Democrats say the Republicans deliberately didn't look very hard.

Let's bring in CNN Crime and Justice Reporter, Shimon Prokupecz. So Shimon, the big question about this attorney and her connections with the Kremlin is, was she playing the Trump campaign? Did she get access to them and they were unwitting, they didn't know what was happening, naive, foolish, reckless maybe or were they playing along? Did they know who she was and this was all part of a conspiracy?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, John, for me that is the big question. And as we know, Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel, has been asking questions about this meeting of people who've appeared beforehand. He has been seeking records about meetings, e- mails, phone conversations, text messages.

You know, this meeting really created a lot of headaches for the President, for his family, right, the big one in this meeting that happened in June 2016 was Don Jr. It was set up through an intermediary that he was involved in. So certainly this meeting, the questions surrounding it and what this was really about, has been a focus of the Special Counsel investigation.

And quite honestly, while people in the meeting said, well, initially it started out as her promising dirt on the Hillary Clinton campaign, it then turned into questions about the sanctions in the Magnitsky Act. So there were lots of questions here that really have yet to be answered, and hopefully, you know, the Special Counsel concludes his investigation, and we may get more answers on exactly what this meeting was about.

KIING: And we see in this NBC interview, she's now being much more open saying, yes, I do deals with the Russian attorney general, I'm close to the Russian government. It might be surprising to those of us to hear we delete that on the radio. Is that going to be a surprise to Bob Mueller or do we suspect he's long known this?

PROKUPECZ: Yes. No, John, he's long known this. Investigators have long known this, people in the intelligence committee, and as you said members of Congress who have been looking at this have known this. This is not a surprise to certainly anyone that we have talked to about this.

What is surprising is that she has admitted this, right? I mean, for so long, as you said, she has been denying that she was working for the Russian government in any capacity. In fact, she has claimed that she was there as a private attorney in the end concerning sanctions. But to have her admit this, finally, is certainly the news here and certainly a different stance than what she's been saying for quite some time.

KING: Shimon Prokupecz, appreciate the reporting and the context there.

Let's bring it back in the room. It is, again, if you're a Trump critic and you believe there's been collusion, you say, aha. Now she admits she's close to the Kremlin. She's in the room with Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr., got you.

We do know, when Mueller served the search warrant to Manafort's house, this was among the records he was looking for, anything about this meeting, anything about knowledge of her and what she does and all that. But the House Intelligence Committee comes out with a report today that says, "While the committee found no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded, coordinated or conspired with the Russian government, the investigation did find poor judgment in ill-considered actions by the Trump and Clinton campaigns. For example, the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between members of the Trump campaign and a Russian lawyer who falsely purported to have damaging information on the Clinton campaign demonstrated poor judgment."

[12:35:14] So House Republicans saying, dumb, shouldn't have done it, naive, but not a crime, not treason.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's no question it was poor judgment. We knew that as soon as we heard the -- that we saw the e-mails and heard the story, now it's just more pretty stunning evidence that it was poor judgment, because -- we might say stunning it's because we have her admitting the obvious, admitting that she had worked hand in glove with the Kremlin.

KING: I want to go back to the top of what they're trying to show me here. Here's some new breaking news just in related to all of this. Paul Manafort has been in court challenging the legality of the Mueller investigation. He has just lost authorities, his civil lawsuit, Manafort losing his lawsuit claiming the Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, and Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel exceeded their authority in charging him.

The judge says Manafort cannot use this lawsuit to stop the Special Counsel investigation from continuing. So, again, the two tracks we've been on for a long time, they do seem to be moving. The House Intelligence Committee report which the Democrats say it's a partisan waste of time led by the Republicans. That's out. They deal with these issues. Manafort still under investigation and the court now saying, back off. Bob Mueller has the authority to keep doing what he's doing.

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: And that, to me, is potentially important in the future, because as we've discussed a lot, Mueller can only be fired for cause, and one of the causes that has been talked about critics of the investigation has been this idea that he's exceeded his mandate, that he's gone too far afield, that he's not doing strictly what he was authorized to do. So now that you have a court saying, no, we don't find that, that could be relevant if and when the President tries to take action against Mueller or again Rosenstein.

KING: And that's -- the paradox at the moment, I don't know the right word for it, the President has exceeded to a degree with all his attacks on Mueller, with all his attacks on Rosenstein, with all his attacks with the investigation, the witch hunt, the hoax. If you look at polling, Republicans especially more and more skeptical to the Special Counsel. So the President is shoring up his base.

Now, if there are charges, whatever ends up in a court of law, all that could change once you're actually in legal proceedings. But at the moment, the President is exceeding it. And here in the Oval Office a short time ago, the President is not going to listen to Democrats who say the Republicans didn't try too hard, the Republicans didn't ask top questions, the Republicans didn't bring in the witnesses we wanted to talk to. The President sees the conclusion of the House Intelligence Committee report and says this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We were honored. It was a great report. No collusion, which I knew anyway, no coordination, no nothing. It's a witch hunt, that's all it is. There was no collusion with Russia, if you can believe this one.

There was -- You probably can't believe it, who can? But the report was very powerful, very strong. There was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian people. As I've said many times before, I've always said there was no collusion, but I've also said there's been nobody tougher on Russia than me. With that all being said, if we can get along --


BASH: Actually, Mr. President, I can believe it.

KING: Yes.

BASH: Because it's happening all over Europe that Russians are --

KING: Right. The lean into Merkel that was priceless because the Russians are meddling in just about every election in Europe and meddling with boundaries and borders in Europe. But to that other point, to the audience the President speaks to most, it's, for him, a day to celebrate.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is, but I honestly think we are at the point in this where people's views on the Special Counsel and this Russia investigation are just so closely tied to their partisan identification. There is almost nothing that can come out at this point that will change people's minds, certainly not the President. He's made up his mind and has had it made up for quite some time now. Nothing is going to change that.

BASH: Can we briefly bring it around to how you started the segment with this Russian lawyer, Veselnitskaya -- did I do that right -- that she's admitting that she, you know, is in cahoots with the Kremlin. That is at the core of this investigation which is, was there a collusion. And the fact that, as Shimon was saying, we didn't know that it was clear, Mueller knows it's clear, is another indication that we just don't know exactly where Mueller is going. And he could get further to the core of the question of collusion than we think.

KING: Right, right.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: And the thing is that what we see and what the House Committee decided to accept was just individual instances that they like this one that they -- who claim judgment on. What Mueller is doing is connecting dots.


KING: Right.

SHEAR: He's creating a narrative, he's following a thread that has all sorts of dots and then coming to a conclusion.

KING: Yes. Mueller matters much more in the long run. The President politically in the short term, the question is this, how much does Mueller advance before the election, the President in the short term, politically, kind of short his base which does matter in the midterm election climate? We'll see this one plays out.

Coming up, the Chaplain and the House of Representatives given his walking papers by Speaker Paul Ryan. The Speaker just explained why he did it. Some of Ryan's colleagues aren't buying it.


[12:44:31] KING: Topping our political radar today, the economy. The U.S. economy growing at a rate of 2.3 percent in the first quarter of this year. That's a little bit slower than the fourth quarter last year. Shy of the 4 percent President Trump has promised since the campaign, but still a solid showing beating economists' predictions. President Trump showing Americans Olympic and Paralympic change (ph) around the White House today. Some of the biggest stars of the winter games said no thanks to the invitation to photo op. For example, Lindsey Vonn, Gus Kenworthy, Adam Rippon, among others say their political differences with the President keeping them away.


[12:45:05] TRUMP: You performed and you made us very proud and many of you came home as champions wearing a bronze, silver or gold medal. And you have very big crowds and I have to say without certain back in those crowds we're not looking good, but all of a sudden those crowds got very, very big, very powerful, and it became a very, very successful Olympics, aside from everything else.

They had a lot more people show up than they thought. And you think you know why, right? But a lot of good things are happening right now over there, literally as we speak.


KING: Controversy on Capitol Hill. The House Speaker Paul Ryan explaining today why he's getting rid of the House Chaplain. Father Patrick Conroy has been the chambers' prayer leader, spirit counselor for seven years now. Father Conroy telling the New York Times he doesn't know why he's getting fired.

Sunlen Serfaty live on Capitol Hill. Sunlen, the Speaker has just addressed this?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. He has, John, and he really has had to defend himself that controversial decision to go ahead and fire the House Chaplain. Two sources tell me that in a closed door meeting with the Republican Caucus this morning, Paul Ryan was directly confronted by at least two Republicans in that meeting asking why this happened, asking for a fuller as to why he decided to force him to resign. And Paul Ryan, according to these sources, explained that it was not political as some have suggested this could be.

Paul Ryan said that some members had approached him with some concerns about the House Chaplain specifically that they felt they weren't getting their needs met in his counsel. At least one Republican, though, is not buying it. Pete King from New York tells me that's an unsatisfactory answer. He said this is such an unprecedented move, something very serious would have had to prompt it. So clearly many more questions, John, not only from lawmakers but certainly from the House Chaplain himself.

KING: Sunlen Serfaty live on Capitol Hill, appreciate that. And you come and through most American don't know who the House Chaplain is, so any of us can walk the halls. At least some point, important to the members, someone who becomes friendly to the members and around the members. Paul Ryan on his way out. He's created a little bit of a controversy here. BALL: Yes, this when we came out nowhere. I don't think anybody was expecting this wasn't coming. It was on anybody's radar as a problem, including people in Congress. So -- And I think we should say that we don't really know all the facts.

And partly because Paul Ryan is not fully explaining himself or not explaining himself in a way that even many of his own colleagues find satisfactory. So there probably is more to the story, and we can certainly speculate, and there is a lot of speculating about what was behind it, but I would say there's going to be more facts to come out about this.

BASH: I was just going to say, what's interesting is that both Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi are practicing Catholics, the leader of the Democratic and Republican Caucuses in the House. And while it's, I guess, you know, not unusual these days to have a Catholic chaplain, it was a big deal when the first one came on in the House. And so the fact that this is happening, and again, we don't really know all the facts about why, it's certainly noteworthy given the fact that Ryan and Pelosi are the same religion as this guy.

KING: It's bizarre. We'll see what the reporting shows us. I tried to poke around a little bit today, and was told about somebody close to the speaker, he's comfortably did the right thing, go away. Well go and get any new details. We'll see where this one goes here.

When we come back, Ronny Jackson out as the President's pick to lead the Veteran Affairs Department? The White House says it's character assassination.


[12:52:51] KING: I want to shift gears to some important developing news out of Brussels, Mike Pompeo, his first full day on the job as Secretary of State, met with the NATO allies, then how the press conference, listen here. The new Secretary of State making clear he believes the President of the United States in two weeks, at the moment any way based on everything he knows today, will walk away from the Iran nuclear deal.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: There's been no decision made. So the team is working and I'm sure we'll -- lots of conversations to deliver what the President has made clear absent a substantial fix, absent overcoming the shortcomings, the flaws of the deal, he's unlikely to stay in that deal past this May.


KING: Left himself some wiggle room there. Time for fixes. But it's his first day on the job, what he says, the tone of what he says, what he leaves with is going to be looked at quite importantly as the world tries to get a sense of who is Mike Pompeo. That's a big deal.

SHEAR: Great. And importantly the fix that Macron offered is not something that's a short-term fix. You know, this sort of big overarching deal that deals with, you know, the other issues in the region and the other -- those were things that happened over months, if not longer, not something you can do in two weeks.

KING: And it took years to put this together and the Iranians are part of it. They looked somewhat skeptically on the Obama administration. They looked completely skeptically on the Trump administration. So those fixes two weeks likely (ph)?

BALL: It would be hard to do. It's certainly technically possible. I'm interested to know whether Pompeo was, in fact, had decided in advance to deliver that statement on behalf of the President or whether he was getting out a little bit over his skis, getting maybe a little bit ahead of the White House given the meetings that Donald Trump is taking this week.

KING: And a big of swagger here from the new Secretary of State. Obviously, big achievements on the Korean peninsula today. Mike Pompeo says President Trump gets credit.


POMPEO: Let there be no doubt, we would not be where we are today without President Trump's maximum pressure campaign and the work that has been done all around the world. I just met with a great group, of State Department officers who work here at the mission. They may have been demoralized but they seemed in good spirits. They're hopeful the State Department will get its swagger back.


[12:55:05] KING: Swagger is a word the thing that Mike Pompeo, President Trump at the moment, a little swagger.

BALL: Well, that's kind of an ironic thing to say about Rex Tillerson, who, I think, when he first came in to the State Department, was seen as the embodying in a swagger, right? This is big hard-charging Texon (ph). And then in practice, that was not exactly what he embodies.

PHILLIP: The only swagger that matters in this administration is the one that you have when you have the President's confidence.

BALL: Right.

PHILLIP: Tillerson didn't have that at the beginning. Pompeo has it now and he know it and he's acting like --

BASH: And let's just say that he's right. The President should get credit for at least where we are now. Who knows if it's going to end up in a deal, but those pictures, the idea of the North Korean leader stepping over the line of the DMZ is remarkable.

KING: Let's say big deal today. We'll see where we go from here.

Thanks for joining us today. A lot of breaking news on INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here Sunday morning, I hope at a.m. Eastern, if not on Monday.

Jim Sciutto is in for Wolf Blitzer today, he'll be in the chair after a quick break. Have a good weekend.