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GOP Holds Advantage On Taxes & Economy; Security Chief Among Two Pruitt Aides Leaving EPA; Trump Delays Steel, Aluminum Tariffs For Key U.S. Allies; NBC: Trump's Former Doctors Says Office 'Raided' For Medical Files; Cohen Responds To National Enquirer Cover. Aired 12:30- 1p ET

Aired May 1, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:02] PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- are putting up good fundraising numbers. And I think it's question we saw -- you've seen in past seconds of Democrats too. Raise your money if you want to defend yourself. No seat is safe right now.

I talked to one top Republican official who said, look, we know to keep the House we essentially have to pitch a perfect game. It doesn't mean it's out of the realm of possibility. The idea that there is zero chance that Republicans keep the House, it's just not the case. They've got money, they've got super PACs, they can finance what they're trying to do.

And because of the way the lines are drawn right now, it's not going to be may the type of wave we saw in 2010. But the reality is particularly move aside the weak fundraisers. Look at the Democratic challengers and the money that they are raising. They are outraising in districts. People that have no political experience at all are outraising Republicans by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

You add the enthusiasm, you see the numbers that we've seen in special election which is completely parallel but certainly mean the energy is there. And frankly, Democrats have to royally screw some things up if they don't want to win this right now and Republicans would have to pitch for --

JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: And so to that point, the Republicans who are -- the smart Republicans who have been through waves both ways, good for them and bad for them are studying every last data point.

Here's one I want to show you. This is shared by Bill McIntyre of NBC Wall Street Journal polling, he's also a Republican strategist. And he looks at these numbers and says, hey wait a minute, we have a chance here.

Look at 2006, 2008 and now. 2006 and 2008, big Democratic years. One of the presidential year, one of the midterm year. Democrats had an advantage on taxes in the economy.

This year, despite all of the Democratic momentum, the Republicans have an advantage on taxes and the economy. That is why you have Republicans and here's Paul Ryan the Speaker saying, Mr. President, please put down the phone. Mr. President, please stop attacking the Special Counsel and the Justice Department. Mr. President and everybody else who's a Republican, please just talk taxes and the economy.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), SPEAKER: If you look at the generic ballot today -- that's one of metrics all of our data guys look at -- it actually looks pretty good. We believe that if the election were today, we would keep the House Representatives. And we believe we will have a good story to tell come the fall because of the economy, because of our accomplishments.

Because while the country was very much distracted in the media on this other stuff, we were busy focusing on people's problems.


KING: The Speaker is being polite there. He would tell you privately or these people will tell you privately the President is also distracted by the Speaker calls other stuff. And the President thinks he's right about this. I mean, the President -- all these people come in to the President and says, you all told me this in 2016, too, you told me I was going to lose and I didn't so go away.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think President Trump has never really understood the difference between his political fortunes and the vast amount of Republicans out there who running different kinds of races. They're not running the type of campaign that he ran in 2016. On top of that, in addition to taxes and the economy more broadly, one of the reasons Republicans were so against the President throwing a curveball in the economy by going after tariffs and really up ending some of the confidence that had been in Wall Street, for example, is that that really put at risk a lot of the economic growth that they had tried to put together in the last half of last year. So there's been some stuff.

In addition to Mueller, it's also some of the wilder things the President has been doing when it comes to foreign trade that Republicans are just uncomfortable with because it has resulted in the sentiment that people are feeling like, we were going up for so long and now every single day they're talking about losses on Wall Street. That does matter to people. Especially people close to retirement.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: It is a constant struggle for Republicans on the Hill and for White House advisers to get the President to stay on this message, economy and taxes, economy and taxes. They can set up events, they can set him around the country to travel on that messages, he shows up, he said something completely different distracts for multiple days. It is just hat is one of their great frustrations.

KING: As we see the President do literally. Script?

PACE: I'll sit out.

KING: Up next, as Abby just noted, the Trump economic team trades one trade battle for another and its latest move on tariffs.


[12:38:23] KING: Checking our political radar now, bragging rights for a year in a big White House visit today for the Army Black Knights football team. Just moments ago, President Trump presenting the squad with the commander in chief trophy for winning their games against Navy back in December. At one point, the President saluted the five branches of the service and said there just might be room for another.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You will be part of the five proud branches of the United States armed forces. Army, navy, marines, air force and the coast guard. And we're actually thinking of a sixth. And that would be the space force. Does that make sense? The space force, general. You probably haven't even heard that. I'm just telling you now. This is, perhaps, as we're getting very big in space.


KING: I wonder where they'll put the academy. Two top aides of the EPA administrative Scott Pruitt are leaving the agency including his head of security, Nino Perrotta. He's among those the House Oversight Committee wants to talk to about Pruitt's expensive travel habits and controversial security measures.

Also leaving the EPA, Kell Kelly, a long-time Pruitt business associate who's been running the agency's important Superfund program. And now it's not new, the coal executive Don Blankenship doesn't think much of the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. But Cocaine Mitch, that's the tag line of a provocative new ad as Blankenship tries to revive a West Virginia Senate campaign that by all accounts is struggling.


DON BLANKENSHIP, WEST VIRGINIA SENATE CANDIDATE: But if you want jobs, if you want to end the drug epidemic and you want to protect the unborn, you need to vote for me. One of my goals as U.S. Senator will be to ditch Cocaine Mitch.


[12:40:05] KNG: Now Blankenship's campaign points to a shipping company owned by the Senate Majority Leader's father-in-law that it says once got caught smuggling cocaine. No comment from leader McConnell's office.

The White House now postponing its decision on steel and aluminum tariffs. The Trump administration now giving U.S. allies an additional 30 days to try to work things out. CNN's Chief Business Correspondent Christine Romans here explains the delay.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. President Trump delaying those tariffs for key U.S. allies, at least for now, you know, the White House introduced middle tariffs in March with several temporary exemptions and they expired at midnight with just hours to spare. The administration extended exemptions for the E.U., Canada and Mexico until June 1st and agreed to permanent exemptions for Argentina, Australia, Brazil and South Korea.

The White House says it's now focused, John, on quotas to both curb import and protect national security. South Korea, for example, is going to cut its steel output to United States, still shipment to the United States by like 30 percent. Now, this decision comes just days after French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel lobbied Trump not to slap tariffs on the E.U. If he does, the E.U. will retaliate. It will target $8 billion in U.S. exports including strategic items from the home state of Speaker Paul Ryan, think Harley Davidson, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, think whiskey.

Now, the U.S. and E.U. have more time to negotiate, another month. This also allows the White House to focus on its other trade battle China. Opt is sending his top economic officials to Beijing this week for trade talks. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Economic Adviser Larry Kudlow and hawkish on China trade adviser Peter Navarro. Both China and the U.S. threatening each other with billions of dollars in tariffs, the high states meeting that starts on Thursday, John?

KING: We'll track the delegation in China, track the decisions come up. Christine Romans, thanks. Quick break, we'll be right back.


[12:46:14] KING: Yes, sometimes life is stranger than fiction. New NBC reporting this hour says the President's former doctor claims that in February 2017, top White House aide Keith Schiller, the top lawyer of the Trump organization and the third man showed up at his office in New York without notice and took all the President's medical records.

Dr. Harold Bornstein was on MSNBC early this hour talking about what they were looking for.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What exactly were they looking for?

DR. HAROLD BORNSTEIN, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S FORMER PHYSICIAN: All of the medical records, his pictures, anything that they could find. I must have been here for 25 or 30 minutes. I would create a lot of chaos. I couldn't believe anybody was making a big deal out of a drug to grow his hair which seemed to be so important. And it certainly was not a breach of medical trust to tell somebody they take Propecia to grow their hair. What's the matter with that?


KING: So like so many stories about this administration, there's some hilarious TV there. Dr. Bornstein saying I can't believe anybody, meaning the President, would be upset that he publicly that the President took, you know, drugs to help him grow his hair. That's funny, I guess, but Keith Schiller worked at the White House at the time. He was a top aide to the President of the United States, Director of Oval Office and security operations, something like that.

If White House say the lawyer and somebody else shows up unannounced, without notice to take a doctor's records and he didn't seem like he had a choice in the matter, what?

PACE: There's a lot to unpack in that story. I mean, you're right, the actual act that he is describing is so bizarre that I think it's important to just walk through the sequence of this. This happened when Trump was in office, February of 2017, so shortly after he took office. You had Keith Schiller who was working in the office, but also Alan Garten who was working for the Trump organization, a business that Trump said he had separated himself from. We all know that that is a bit of an overstatement, how much he has separated from his business.

But the two of them together going to get private medical records from the President's personal physician? It's a wild story in a year and month where we've had just so many wild stories. Sometimes you kind of wake up and think, this can't possibly be happening, and yet, it continues to happen.

KING: Right. And we were all introduced to Dr. Bornstein during the campaign, you know, when he's a strange, eccentric kind of guy when he said Donald Trump, you know, he's most healthy man he's ever met in his life. So again there's strange, eccentricity of it. But then it's a pretty serious deal for somebody who works.

Taxpayers paid Keith Schiller at the time. You make a great point about the President supposed to severed (ph) from his relationship with the Trump organization. The Trump organization's top lawyer showing up unannounced, apparently not trusting this doctor to turn over the President's records.

PHILLIP: I mean, yes. And not to mention that this could be done in a fairly normal way. I mean, doctors' offices do it all the time. You go to a new doctor, you sign a form, they turn over the documentation. That is probably something that happens with every president.

They chose to do it this way. They chose to show up unannounced, to seize whatever they chose to seize, and then also tell him, apparently according to the story, to take a photo of him and the President off their wall. It just suggests that the point here was to send a message to the doctor for revealing something about the President that was perhaps unflattering in his view, or maybe overly personal.

The President wants his doctors to say he's the healthiest person alive, which this doctor did at one point, but he also revealed, apparently in this New York Times article, that he was taking drugs to grow his hair, that he was taking drugs for cholesterol, that sort of thing. OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUSXM: Which is relatively mild as the doctor pointed out, cholesterol drugs --

PHILLIP: Fairly normal actually.

KNOX: A lot of doing that. I mean, it does -- because it take decision (ph) of the pictures, because of the decision of a (INAUDIBLE), what would be a routine procedure, it does feel retaliatory.

[12:50:02] It also feels a little bit like, well, where their reasoning, if he's willing to reveal this, is there something else he'll not be willing to reveal.

PACE: Yes.

KING: Is there something else he'll going to reveal. So maybe show up and politely say the President wants his records back with the coming (ph) of the Trump organization and the White House is what's taxpayers' dollars used to intimidate somebody, I don't think that's --

PHILLIP: Absolutely, yes. The use of Schiller as an enforcer while he was working in the White House is a really interesting story. I mean, remember that Keith Schiller was also the person who was sent to deliver the letter firing him. When President Trump fired James Comey, he sent Keith Schiller to the FBI even though Comey wasn't even there. There's been some questionable uses of that office in the presidency that I think this just fits into that pattern.

KING: It is bizarre. More questions to answer. We shall try. We just talked about a message there to the President's former doctor.

Next, what do you think? The President's favorite tabloid targets the President's long-time fixer. Will Michael Cohen get the message?


[12:55:12] KING: Here's a question that is both bizarre and relevant. Should Michael Cohen be more worried about Robert Mueller or the National Enquirer? The President's long-time lawyer and fixer comes up several times in the Special Counsel's long list of questions he would like to ask President Trump.

Here's one. "What communication the President have with Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the 2016 campaign?" Cohen seems to be everywhere this week, everywhere with a supermarket or new stand any way.

The National Enquirer attacks him in a cover story. There it is right there. And no one knows better than Cohen this tabloid is owned by a close friend of the President, who also often uses its pages to help the President.

CNN's Jim Acosta asked Cohen what he thought the flattering cover you just saw was a deliberate message. His response is priceless. This is Michael Cohen. Quote, what do you think? What do you think?

PACE: I think that the National Enquirer has often been used to a biblical for Trumpzone opinion on things, we've seen that during the campaign, when Trump is a private citizen. So, I would say that if I was Michael Cohen, I would be fairly worried about the posture of the National Enquirer.

MATTINGLY: I think if there's one thing we've all learned throughout the last 15 months or you can include the campaign as well is that everything ends up connected to one another, like bizarrely. You think like some random figure who comes out in a story three months will somehow be connected to something bigger that's moving this one day.

So when the connections seem brutally obvious as they do in this point, you might as well just believes that they're true particularly when Michael Cohen himself appears to think that's the case as well. I think the interesting element of it is a why? Why would you attack somebody, or why would you want people that you consider allies to deploy an attack on somebody who right now a lot people are little bit kind of wary of.

KING: And if you're a publisher of the National Enquirer, why would you guarantee a phone call from the Feds? Now, what do you up to here?

PHILLIP: Well, I mean -- OK, we should make sure we reference to a piece of information. Last week the President gave an interview to Fox News in which he said, Michael Cohen? Michael Cohen who? Pretty much. He said, this guy doesn't do any legal work for me. He's in trouble for his own business problems.

And then also, you know, the President has basically tried to separate himself in all other kinds of other ways from Cohen. Cohen is this headline that says lie. That's I think a really important word in this case.

If Cohen has something to say about President Trump, the President probably wants him to be characterized as untrustworthy. And so the message is pretty crystal clear here. He's trying to cordon himself off from something that could become a Pandora's box for him not a number of personal, you know, business lies and politically as well.

KING: I get that's the President's strategy, but that's -- let me trying to say that this hand and this hand are not attached to the same body. I mean, Michael Cohen has worked for Donald Trump forever.

PACE: Absolutely.

KING: Forever. If Donald Trump thinks he can separate himself from Michael Cohen, then maybe Donald Trump can fly. To that point, there is new reporting that CNN -- ABC News reporting overnight that the Trump's reelection campaign, the President's reelection campaign as paid a lot of Michael Cohen's legal expenses.

Now they're making the distinction this was only for the Russian meddling investigation, not for the new investigation which involves his business practices and things, but still they paid more than $228,000 in his legal expenses. You can't say, oops.

KNOX: No, you can't. The answer to your first question is he should be more worried about the southern district of New York which is looking business dealings more than Mueller, I think. We've already seen some other interesting messaging. You know, I don't think anyone has watched the President pardoned former Cheney aide Scooter Libby without thinking, huh. You know, this came out of the blue. They sort of come out (ph) of a pardon process.

This certainly sent a message either intentionally or not to the people who are caught up in these investigations facing federal charges that they've got some problems. But this, I don't like the idea of the Feds calling up the National Enquirer and saying what are you doing for sort of obvious reasons, but it does raise questions about like are trying to sticking Mr. Cohen? Is that what they're trying to do?

KING: And you mention the southern district of New York looking into his business practices. Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, took that away from Robert Mueller, when he came through with some evidence. He said, that's not your mandate, hand it off to the prosecutors in New York. That's one Michael Cohen worry and it appears to be a big one.

But in the list of questions that Robert Mueller want to ask the President includes this. "What did he know about a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to Mr. Cohen in 2017?" Now the stories been in a long time, but if Bob Mueller still wants that's the President about it, Bob Mueller seems to think that some pro-Russian Ukrainians came to Michael Cohen with a deal and said, can you get this to candidate Trump? They have to think there is something nefarious about this.

PACE: And it shows how interconnected all of this is to that point. That, yes, southern district of New York seems to be Michael Cohen's big problem here, but it doesn't mean that Mueller can't be looking into Cohen in other ways. That Ukrainian proposal has always one of the most bizarre episodes in all of these that Cohen actually came to the White House with this proposal, very bizarre.

KING: Michael Cohen, global peacemaker.

Thanks for joining us in INSIDE POLITICS. Wolf starts right now.