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Blankenship in West Virginia Primary; Blankenship Comments on McConnell; Trump Decision on Iran; Trump on Giuliani. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 8, 2018 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

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

There's breaking news on several fronts today.

The president is poised in just two hours to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal. The tug-of-war over just how to do that continues to the very end.

Plus, New York's democratic attorney general is resigning today. He fashions himself as a national star in the fight against the president and for the Me Too movement, but he is done and under investigation after four women accused him of violence that includes beating and choking.

And it is a giant day in politics. The first multi-state test of the midterm election mood. A convict who closed the primary campaign with race-baiting ads is among the Republican Senate candidates in West Virginia. The president says Don Blankenship is a problem. Blankenship says he's more Trumpy than Trump.


DON BLANKENSHIP (R), WEST VIRGINIA SENATE CANDIDATE: It's really sad that the pressure on the president and the misinformation and the untruths that he's been given would cause him to suggest that you vote for two guys that have failed you, because I will not fail you if I get to D.C. I will never forget who I represent and where I came from. And I can tell you, I am more capable of representing you than anyone that you've ever sent to the U.S. Senate.


KING: That man right there, Don Blankenship, part of a giant test today of the midterm election mood and of the Trump effect on American politics.

Right now, voters in four states, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio and West Virginia heading to the polls to weigh in on key questions playing out in both political parties. Liberal intensity, for example, being tested in Ohio's Democratic primary for governor. The buckeye state also has a fascinating key Tea Party versus GOP establishment showdown.

But the biggest story of this day is in West Virginia, where it's President Trump versus Don Blankenship. Blankenship, you just saw him there, an ex-convict, coal executive, Republicans worry he could upset their plans to unseat the Democratic incumbent, Senator Joe Manchin. The president launched this right there. You see it, an election eve tweet, urging voters to reject Blankenship and pick from the other Republican candidates. Not only did Blankenship go to jail for deadly mine safety violations, his Senate campaign in recent days includes race-baiting language directed at the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Asian-American wife. Blankenship says he's Trumpier than Trump and, he's not shy, listen here, about questioning the president's political judgment.


DON BLANKENSHIP (R), WEST VIRGINIA SENATE CANDIDATE: Again, we all really like President Trump's policies, but we know that he doesn't get things right. I mean he recommended that people vote for a guy that was basically accused of pedophilia in Alabama.


KING: With me on this important day to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times," Sahil Kapur with "Bloomberg," and CNN's Kaitlan Collins.

Now that will be the vote we're counting most tonight. This is a six- way race actually in West Virginia but three main candidates, the state attorney general, a congressman, and Don Blankenship, who Republicans thought they were rid of when he went off to prison a couple years back. But if you talk to the campaigns, they are very, very nervous that his, I'm not a politician, I'll vote with Trump, and I hate Mitch McConnell might work in a Republican primary.


KING: Right.

MARTIN: Which I think has been his get out of jail free card, no pun intended, out there in this primary. The fact that he is explaining away his imprisonment by saying it was a plot by the last Democratic president, who you voters in the state really don't like at all was -- I thought a pretty effective comeback to these charges.

But, yes, they thought that he had faded in the polls. There was a lot of money spent against him in the last few weeks, against Blankenship. But he has made his way back. John, why, as you well know, when you've got a three-person race and two of the candidates are hitting each other, guess what happens, the third candidate in the race tends to rise. And that's what's been going on out there. The other two candidates in the race going after each other. You know, Blankenship has crept back up there.

KING: And the other two also had titles.


KING: We see this in Indiana as well. The same mood that brought us Donald Trump --

MARTIN: Right.

KING: Against Senator Rubio, Governor Bush, et cetera, and Secretary Clinton. The very same mood exists out there. The question is, this is one of those seats. If you look at the Senate map, there are five -- there are 10 states Republicans say these are our targets, but there are really four or five when you look at the map and you say, OK, Republicans have a really good chance here in what should be a tough year. And it's West Virginia, it's Indiana, it's North Dakota are your top three.

If they -- Mitch McConnell -- Mitch McConnell will walk away from this if Blankenship wins, right? Trying to tell Republicans, spend no money there?

BASH: I think it's very likely, just even for moral and personal reasons, that he will try to do that.

But, look, you're exactly right, this is the most -- probably the most vulnerable Democrat in -- maybe top three in Joe Manchin. President Trump won West Virginia by 42 points. He is so popular there. Just like Indiana, the Republicans are tripping over themselves to put a giant bear hug around Donald Trump because he is so well liked among Republicans in West Virginia.

[12:05:16] But, you know what, Don Blankenship is Trumpier than Trump. I was with him. I spent a couple of days with him week before last down in West Virginia. And just on the point that you were making, Jonathan, on the fact that he makes his argument about why he was in jail, which he notes was a misdemeanor not a felony, is because he was set up by politicians like Joe Manchin, like Barack Obama, even throws Hillary Clinton in there.

And this is what he hands out at his rallies and at his events. This is a -- I called it a manifesto. He suggested that that was probably a word that he wouldn't use because he said only bad people write manifestos. But it's his -- it's a pamphlet, very detailed explanation that he penned in jail about why he was wrongly imprisoned. And, again, it is -- it feeds into the notion of the deep state, the institutions, the establishments, and that is something that played very well for Donald Trump, and Don Blankenship has -- has a lot of baggage, obviously, with the mine explosion that killed 29 miners, but he also has a lot of pluses. Like you said, he doesn't have a congressman or an attorney general in front of his name, and he's got deep pockets and he's been spending that.

KING: I went down --

MARTIN: He doesn't need (INAUDIBLE) --

KING: I went down to West Virginia to cover some of the problems at the mines in his company, and those miners are going to be in Joe Manchin ads if he wins this nomination. And, I'm sorry, you know, whatever your case against Barack Obama and coal or Mitch McConnell, or this, the people who worked in those mines, I remember them talking about the conditions they worked in. And so Don Blankenship can blame -- I'm not his lawyer, I'm not here to judge the jail thing, but he can talk about somebody else all he wants. I remember being down at those mines and the conditions those guys said they worked in and they are going to be in Joe Manchin ads if he wins saying, I lose my friend, I lost my brother, I lost my husband, I lost my --

BASH: But they're already in ads.

KING: Right.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG": And national Republicans thought they were rid of Don Blankenship as recently as last week when, you know, when he seemed to be sinking in the polls. It was only some internal polls over the weekend that came out, showed him creeping up. This could be the latest in a long and deep history of Republicans shooting themselves in the foot by nominating extreme candidate who can't win.

I mean Joe Manchin should be, you know, the very top of the list. Donald Trump did not win any state by as many points as he won West Virginia. It would be in the line of Todd Aikin, Richard Murdoch, people like Cheryl Engel (ph), you know, who talked about Second Amendment strategies (ph).

MARTIN: A who's who.

KAPUR: Exactly, a who's who of that.

At some point Republicans do need to ask themselves, what is it about their voters that is attracted to this kind of a scorched earth, burn it down mentality that's willing to overlook transgressions like molesting minors and killing coal miners.

KING: Right.

To that point, the president waited until the last day, election eve, maybe they didn't see the polling or maybe they didn't trust the early polling, maybe there was this late, dramatic surge. It happens sometimes. But a lot of people are saying if, Mr. President, if you're going to get involved, why did you wait until the very last day, election eve there?

There are others, though, who say, when you have a president who says you can't trust that judge because he's a Mexican, or has said other things during the campaign, that he is essentially giving the green light for people like Don Blankenship. Listen to this ad against Mitch McConnell. Mitch McConnell's wife, Elaine Chao, who's been around Republican politics for decades, she's an Asian-American, running against the establishment is a trademark of a lot of Republican campaigns, but listen to this.


DON BLANKENSHIP (R), WEST VIRGINIA SENATE CANDIDATE: Swamp captain Mitch McConnell has created millions of jobs for China people. While doing so, Mitch has gotten rich. In fact, his China family has given him tens of millions of dollars. Mitch's swamp people are now running false, negative ads against me. I will beat Joe Manchin and ditch cocaine Mitch for the sake of the kids.


KING: I mean "China people," his "China family." This comes up in campaigns, it has forever in the republic, but normally you say, look at the fringe guy, look at the extremist guy --

MARTIN: Right.

KING: And they get a little attention because they're the fringe guy or the extremist guy and you try to say, are they taking two points, three points, or five points away from the other candidates?


KING: This guy could win the primary.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: But his campaign against Mitch McConnell is actually quite effective outside of Washington, D.C. We saw it in Alabama. Mitch McConnell's approval rating throughout the United States is actually quite low. And that was something that Roy Moore used. He ran against the establishment in Washington and people like Mitch McConnell specifically. And I covered that Senate race and I was shocked by how many people could name him, things he's done, go after him specifically.

So though Don Blankenship has used this terrible language against him, I'm not so sure that it will resonate with people and it will spur them to go out and vote against him.

BASH: I agree.

COLLINS: I think that people dislike Mitch McConnell, and I don't think it will turn off as many voters as people in D.C. think it will.

KING: A lot of Trump voters put Mitch McConnell higher on the list than Hillary Clinton when you ask them what they don't like about Washington.

Before you jump in, I just want you to listen to Joe Manchin's take here. Again, Joe Manchin was a Democratic governor. He has navigated his state as it has turned from blue to very deep red. But he knows it's tough this year. Listen to his language here saying, well, that's up to the voters, it's up to Don. He wants Don Blankenship to be his opponent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, saying cocaine Mitch and criticizing his wife's ethnicity.

[12:10:00] SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D), WEST VIRGINIA: That's -- you know, that's -- you know, if that's want Don believes is good for him (INAUDIBLE) his campaign. He's -- he's working it hard and he's out there investing his own money. So, he's putting his money where his mouth is.

RAJU: Would he be a tough challenger?

MANCHIN: Everybody. And you run (ph) scared or unopposed. Any opposition is tough.

RAJU: Even him?

MANCHIN: Even him. Every opposition is tough.

BASH: Yes.

KING: You'll notice he's --

MARTIN: You see Manu smiling there a little bit, right?

KING: You will notice he didn't say, come on, Don. I've known Don. That's racist, Don. Back off, Don. Find a different way to say that, Don.

BASH: No, no, because he wants to run against him.

KING: Right.

BASH: But here's the issue, just having been down in West Virginia, is that -- and I covered Joe Manchin's previous race when he won his Senate seat. The difference between then and now is a very important endorsement that he made of one Hillary Rodham Clinton in the last presidential race. That has turned off -- because she is so popular there.


BASH: And that has turned off so many, you know, maybe registered Republicans or people who are still registered Democrats because their grandparents were, but they're really conservative, who would have voted for Joe Manchin before, who are turned off by that. And that is a singular issue that they have a problem with.

KING: Right. And if the president won that state by 42 points, it's going to be one of the marque tests. We'll be here all night counting the votes. Stay with CNN throughout the night and check in with us. We'll count the votes as they come.

Up next for us, President Trump poised to tear up the Iran nuclear deal. How will he do it? The words will matter. We're going to find out in just a little more than an hour.


[12:15:26] KING: We're standing by for breaking news from the White House today. Just over an hour from now, the president will unveil his big decision on the Iran nuclear deal. A U.S. official telling CNN, the president is expected to begin the steps to withdraw from that agreement. But the wording will be watched around the world to see if there's any wiggle room during the months it takes to officially withdraw from such a deal. Conservatives, like Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton, Rubio of Florida, Cotton of Arkansas, say there's no middle ground, Mr. President, walk away, it's a flawed deal.


SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: That deal was a very bad deal for the United States. It gave all kinds of concession. It gave billions of dollars in sanctions relief. And it didn't ultimately stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.


KING: A principle architect of the deal, however, listen here, the former Secretary of State John Kerry says withdrawing would be a drastic mistake.


JOHN KERRY, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: To play your hand and get out, take away some leverage, give them an excuse to go do other things, that's good negotiation? Please. It doesn't make sense.

The president calling this the worst agreement negotiated ever, et cetera, clearly doesn't make it the worst agreement negotiate ever. And I challenge anybody to find an agreement that's tougher than the one we have in place now.


KING: The politics of this, the president seeing Secretary Kerry so aggressive out there in recent days, has pushed the president. We've seen this on Twitter. But let's come back to that in a minute.

The most important part of this is the substance. This is the president of the United States about to walk away from a signature achievement of his predecessor, President Obama. The president has said -- President Trump has said consistently as a candidate, this is the worst deal ever, it's a terrible deal. But how he says what he's about to say is incredibly important. Is he going to just rip it up, reimpose sanctions across the board? Is he going to impose some sanctions and then during a process maybe create room for negotiation? What are we expecting?

BASH: Or will he specifically leave the door open for the European allies, who are signatory to this, to keep -- keep on keeping on with the Iranians, which is a huge part of it as well.

Look, it is -- obviously the open question is how he -- how he explains it. We -- from our reporting, from Kaitlan, our colleagues at the White House, is certainly that he will talk about imposing the oil embargo, but it sounds like he could and probably will go further than that.

He has come to believe -- and he believed it on the campaign trail -- he was very out about this -- that he can do better. That ripping it up, starting with a clean slate is the only way to go, despite big time allies, Macron from France, Merkel from Germany, even Boris Johnson from Great Britain a couple of days ago begging him not to do this.

KING: And the government of Iran saying, sorry, we signed a deal with the international community after months and months of negotiations.

BASH: Exactly.

KING: You walk away from this, we're on our own.

BASH: And there are two -- and there's also the staff around him. The people who are asking and pushing him to stay in, or at least to continue to sign the six-month waivers, as he has since he's been in the White House, Rex Tillerson at the State Department --


BASH: Gone, exactly. The NSC -- the head -- the national security adviser, McMaster, gone, and replacing them are people who have wanted to rip this up from day one.

KING: And we know President Macron left -- he was here to see the president -- he left disappointed. Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, was here to see the president about this, left disappointed.

Just before the program I had an exchange with a French diplomat who said there was a quote, very, very, disappointing phone call today from the French perspective between President Macron and President Trump. Now, again, we don't have the exact details of what the president's going to announce, but that leads one to believe that it's going to be more dramatic than the, I'm going to impose some sanctions and then we'll have a few months to talk about this.

COLLINS: Yes, Macron probably realized that chummy state visit didn't work. His ultimate goal, when he came to the United States, was to get the president to stay in that deal. That's obviously not happening. But no one is going to go to sleep tonight shocked that the president is going to get out of this deal, if that is what he announces at 2:00.

But the question going forward is what the White House is going to do about this, because that's what they haven't communicated. The president has long said this is an insane deal. He can't believe the United States got into this. But he hasn't said what he's going to do differently. He has said he's the person who believes he can change it.

Of course, one of the sticking points, why he doesn't like this deal, is because it came about when President Barack Obama was in office. So it's not a surprise to anyone. But the question is, what does he do going forward? What language he use today is important because, of course, this is a very capricious president who can change his mind on a moment's notice and he's going to have months before these sanctions actually go into place. So what happens in between then is what's going to be really (INAUDIBLE).

KING: And Kim Jong-un will be watching as well. About to sit down with the president of the United States. If you're Kim Jong-un, what are we think here about, do I sign a deal this week and how long does it last?

[12:20:05] But, to your point, the president said this during the campaign, for all the talk of Trump is a big disrupter, this is a pretty main stream Republican position. They didn't like this during the Obama campaign.

There are some Republicans who opposed it, who said, I didn't like it at the time, but now we're in it, don't break it, let's just try to fix it. But the president doing this. He has the support of, you know, the Republican foreign policy establishment for the most part.

KAPUR: Right. No, the details will matter enormously. There may be a way that -- you know, he may decide he has to rip it up and that there is no middle ground, as some of his allies on Capitol Hill are saying, or he might find a way to put his own stamp on it and say, I've fixed it, it's not such a terrible deal anymore. He has to contend with the reality that if he does pull out of this deal or if he does change it, back out of parts of it, the politics in Iran will change, too. They're hanging on right now. President Rouhani has been facing enormous pressure from his people, you know, from his advisers to also back out of the deal, resume Iran's nuclear program. Right now there are a bunch of sunsets that President Trump --