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Donald Trump, Jr.'s Account Of That Infamous Trump Tower Meeting Is Now Public, North Korea Shifts From Goodwill To Defiance, Embattled EPA Administrator On The Hot Seat Today On Capitol Hill, President Of The United States Meeting With The President Of Uzbekistan, Hear Moderate Republicans Lead A New Charge To Protect The So-Called Dreamers. Aired 12n-12:30p ET

Aired May 16, 2018 - 12:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King. Thank you for sharing another very busy news day with us. Donald Trump, Jr.'s account of that infamous Trump Tower meeting is now public. Yes, he says, he wanted dirt on Hillary Clinton. No, he didn't tell his father beforehand, and maybe the President was involved in a damage control phone call from Air Force One.

Plus, North Korea shifts from goodwill to defiance, canceling talks with South Korea and warning it might back out of the planned Trump- Kim summit. The White House thinks it's just a negotiating ploy, but it is not certain.

The embattled EPA administrator on the hot seat today on Capitol Hill - pricey first class travels, staff turmoil, misleading answers about his big security bills, Scott Pruitt says it's not worth all the fuss.


SCOTT PRUITT, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: I share your concerns about some of these decisions. I want to rectify those going forward. I also want to highlight for you that some of the criticism is unfounded and I think, exaggerated and I think it feeds this division that we've seen around very important issues affecting the environment.


KING: Back to that a bit later, but we begin the hour with new documents and questions about that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians. Transcripts released include testimony from the President's son, Donald Trump, Jr. He arranged that meeting and he concedes yes, he took it because he was promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Trump, Jr. said he's certain he did not tell his father about that meeting beforehand. He was a lot less certain about a lot of other questions, including his father's role on damage control on Air Force One. When the "New York Times" first learned about the meeting.

You likely remember the "I love it" e-mail from Trump, Jr., when promised damaging information about candidate Clinton. "I don't know and I don't recall," are much more frequently sprinkled throughout the Trump, Jr. interview now included in nearly 2,000 pages released by the Senate Judiciary Committee today.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz, part of the team going through all of these documents, Shimon, what jumps out from you? And let's start at the beginning with Donald Trump, Jr., deciding "Yes, I will take this meeting."

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Yes, so, it's clear from the questioning that we've read through in these transcripts and what we've been all reporting all along is that this meeting was intended to sort of drum up some dirt on Hillary Clinton. You had a Russian lawyer who was promising essentially dirt on Hillary Clinton, and then evolved into something else about the Magnitsky Act, about sanctions, and the committee questioned Donald Trump, Jr. about what he saw the purpose of this meeting was about.

And here is what he had to say, let me read to you from the transcript. "What is it that specifically you were interested in getting out of the meeting?" And he says, "I was interested in listening to information." And then the question was, "Information on Hillary Clinton?" And Donald Trump, Jr. answers, "Yes." "Information on Hillary Clinton that came potentially from the Russian government," he's asked. And again, he says, "I had no way of assessing where it came from, but I was willing to listen."

And now, John, this part is important, because all along, there have been questions concerning this lawyer, Veselnitskaya who was presenting this information and whether or not she was there on behalf of the Russian government. Certainly, recent information has circulated that indicates she was perhaps there for the Russian government.

She admitted that she was an informant for the Russian government. This obviously has been seen by some intelligence officials as sort of maybe they were testing the campaign to see if they would be willing to accept some kind of information from the Russians. But again, in the end really, what has cause so many of the problems for the Trump administration and the for really, the Mueller investigation, what they're looking at, is how the Trump administration responded to media reports once they surfaced about these meetings, these misleading statements that were issued. Obviously, those are the things that the Special Counsel has been looking at.

KING: Shimon Prokupecz, appreciate the reporting there. With me in the studio to help share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, Michael Sheer with "The New York Times," Catherine Lucey of the "Associated Press," and CNN's Nia Malika-Henderson, essentially as you go through these documents, and as always, when you see these documents, you see a lot of things redacted. This is my favorite page right here. Very helpful.

Thank you, Senate Judiciary Committee, some of this has to be done for privacy reasons, obviously, some of it might have to be done for other sensitivity, the Special Counsel has all of this, which is more important, no offense to the Senate Judiciary Committee, so there are two sets of questions essentially. One, why did you take this meeting? Should you have taken this

meeting? Were you up to something nefarious or is it just bad judgment? And then, number two, when word got out about it, what did you do about it? And the idea when you listen to what Shimon just put out there, they didn't want - we learned about this from the "The New York Times," not from them saying, "Hey, we took this meeting during the campaign." But has anyone seen anything in these documents yet that call into question their basic explanation of these guys promised dirt on Hillary Clinton. Maybe, we're supposed to call some lawyers, but we just decided, let's take it.

MICHAEL SHEER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes, I think that's exactly - the basic facts or what we've known now for the better part of you know, six, eight, ten months is underscored by the actual documents of what we see. We don't know everything yet, and there's a lot of reasons to believe that the Special Counsel...


SHEER: ... has more, and knows more about things that fill in the blanks in between, and in some ways, this is like everything else in Washington. It's a Rorschach test, how you - what you take away from it depends heavily on sort of your political perspective, and so, you see the Republicans taking one thing away and the Democrats taking another, and I guess the hope for those of us who are interested in what is the actual truth is that the Special Counsel will be able to fill in those blanks where we don't know.

DANA BASH, POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Absolutely, and for those of us who have been following every twist and turn, it's interesting to read the transcripts of the stories being told from the perspective of those involved, some of them, not all of them. But smoking gun to use Rob Goldstone's words, probably not. There are a couple of interesting things that Shimon pointed out that Robert Mueller clearly does know the answer to, but we don't.

Like the fact that Don, Jr. did have an 11-minute phone call after he hung up, you know, learning about the promise of this meeting and the promise of the dirt, had an 11-minute phone call with a blocked caller. We don't know who that is. The caller knows who that is.


KING: Let's me read that...

BASH: ... and the question, it's his father, the President, and he denies it. He denies it.

KING: He denies that and if you get a phone call from a White House official on your cellphone in Washington, DC because you don't work here, it's blocked, but there are other ways to block a call. Anyone can block a call using technology. Is part of the transcript here. "According to documents, 25 minutes after the first call ended, you made an outgoing call to that same number, but in between the two calls, there's another entry, a call at 4:27 that lasted four minutes..." in the transcript, "... from a blocked number. Between Emin's call to you at 4:04 and your return call to him at 4:31, with whom did you have a call?" "I have no idea."

Now, people - busy people do forget some of their phone calls. So, that's excused, but the I have no idea part. If you look through this transcript, he is absolutely certain he didn't tell his father about the meeting beforehand, that's a critical piece of information. Did your father, the candidate, know you were meeting with Russians in Trump Tower months before the election who promised her Hillary Clinton, he's certain? The answer to that is no.

Now, there's a lot of "I don't knows," and "I don't recalls," so back at another day when I covered White House, the Republicans had a name for that, they called it Clintonian.

And again some of that was not fair to Bill Clinton and some of this is probably not fair to Donald Trump, Jr. because busy people do forget things, but there is an awful lot of I don't know, I don't recall it here.

NIA MALIKA-HENDERSON, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER, CNN: And this idea that somehow he wouldn't tell his dad about this meeting that he's very interested in, and he sits down in the meeting, and he essentially says, right off the bat, you know, I understand you have information for me. He wants to get right to whatever the purpose of this meeting is, which is of course information on Hillary Clinton.

Also some disputes about Kushner's timing, how long was he at the meeting? There was some sense he came in late and left early, but there's also some indication that he was there through the whole thing and asking the woman to get along - you know, essentially to get to the purpose of the meeting, which was dirt on Hillary Clinton, and she was talking about something else.

So again, we don't know everything. I mean, you held up that black page there. We don't know what's behind that. Mueller presumably does and also...

KING; There's another sort of blacked out page, but there's a couple of things, just to this point, there are several things in here that support team Trump's view of this. Paul Manafort, there are notes from Paul Manafort, at one point, the woman is talking about where is the dirt on hillary clinton? She talks about hedge fund payments to Democratic campaigns. He says, that's not interesting. People give campaign money all the time, and he's trying to move them along.

To your point about Donald Trump, Jr. not telling his father, there's stuff in here where he says a lot of times, we didn't take things to my father, even deals involving the Trump organization. This is about a campaign meeting, but we didn't take stuff from my father, unless we were sure it was right. Unless, we were sure it deserved his attention. That makes perfect sense.

But, then there are the questions of then, why were you nervous about this if it was no big deal? Now, "The Washington Post" since reported that your father was involved in drafting your July 8th statement, is that correct? Trump, Jr., "I don't know, I never spoke to my father about it." To the best of your knowledge, did the President provide any edits to the statement or other input? Trump Jr., "He may have commented through Hope Hicks." This is that infamous Air Force One phone call on the way back from the big international meeting to Donald Trump, Jr. Did you ask him to provide any assistance with the statement? "No. She asked if I wanted to actually speak to him, and I chose not to because I didn't want to bring him into something that he had nothing to do with."

Now, is that just the son being nice to the father? This is my mess, I'll clean it up, or is that as you mentioned, the Rorschach test, Democrats who say, that's somebody who knew he did something wrong, who didn't want to get the President of the United States' fingerprints on it.

Bob Mueller will have to answer that question eventually.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, right, that's the question, and I was going to bring this up, I think you have two parts to the story that we're still trying to unravel, and you have the initial meeting, and then you have this statement, which some people would call the cover-up, and he is not being very clear about the President's engagement, and one person who is not fully featured in these papers because they didn't speak with him is Jared Kushner.

So, we are assuming that Mueller has gotten more information from him, and others about exactly how this...



BASH: And the thing that's interesting about the Air Force One issue is that Donald Trump's legal team has been arguing all along that even if he didn't - even if he was involved, it's not a crime to lie to the press, and it was about a press release. The question is, if there was more to it than that, if Robert Mueller thinks so, because that leads to where we are right now, whether they're going to demand an interview with the President of the United States, where only he can answer that question or whether he talked to his son on the phone, and things like that.

KING: Intense questions. Intense questions. All right we're going to just take a quick break. As we go, I want to tell you, the President of the United States is meeting at this moment with the President of Uzbekistan at the White House. We might see some of that meeting, also to discuss coming up, North Korea lashes out after months of playing nice in the nuclear sandbox.

Going straight to the White House, the President of the United States meeting with the President of Uzbekistan. He'll take some questions about North Korea here, let's listen.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.

(CROSSTALK) TRUMP: We'll have to see. We haven't seen anything, we haven't heard

anything. We will see what happens. Whatever it is...

SHAVKAT MIRZIYOYEV, PRESIDENT OF UZBEKISTAN: (Through a translator). Today's meeting is royal impression for Uzbeks all around the world, as well.

TRUMP: We will see what happens. We'll see. Time will tell.


TRUMP: Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you.

KING: Yes, I would say not your most polite behavior by the White House press pool in there. Uzbek counterparts there in the Oval Office, very hard to hear in the scrum there, but it is hard to get the President's attention, and that's what reporters were trying to do to ask him about North Korea today canceling talks with South Korea. North Korean diplomats also saying, it is possible North Korea will now pull out of the planned Trump-Kim summit scheduled for just a couple of weeks from now.

The President repeatedly saying, "We'll see what happens. We'll see what happens. Time will tell." Not wanting to answer questions about whether he takes this seriously. North Korea objecting to long- planned US-South Korean military exercises that the North Koreans have been told about for months, and the President and his team have repeatedly recently been saying it's a good thing that North Korea has not objected to those exercises. That was a demonstration of their goodwill.

So, the President being very careful here. His Secretary of State is at this meeting today. The administration behind the scenes trying to figure out...


KING: this a negotiating ploy? Is North Korea looking for some leverage or looking for some other assurances, or is Kim Jong-un and the generals around him maybe starting to think, do we want to do this?

HENDERSON: The President there being very disciplined. You imagine if you're Kim Jong-un, you want to have some sort of reaction from this President because that's what we've seen from him so far, whether it's Twitter or anywhere else on cable news, and here he is being very disciplined, essentially saying we don't really know, we've got to see. So, that's certainly a good sign.

I think if you're Kim Jong-un, you're studying this President very closely and you have sensed in some ways something - desperation might be the wrong word, but here he is, seeming to get space on his desk for a Nobel Peace prize, suggesting that there's going to be some great outcome and they're going to denuclearize and he's going to be the greatest thing ever. So, with that, you see them trying to have some leverage here.

Basically, they see that this is a President who sometimes flip-flops on any number of issues - ZTE being one of them. So, you see them sort of playing the President to see what they get before they even get there.

KING: And their statement was interesting. It was the Deputy Foreign Minister, I believe essentially saying if this is about unilateral nuclear disarmament, we're not interested. That is what it's about, and everyone has been pretty clear about that. That doesn't mean - as part of that, you don't get sanctions lifted down the road, you don't get economic assistance, or food aid and things like that, and you might get an assurance from the United States, that yes, we're going to keep troops in South Korea, but we will not attack you.

That's all part of it, but the central premise from the US side, and Secretary Pompeo says he explained this directly to Kim Jong-un, and he thought Kim Jong-un got it, was yes, we're not going to - we're only coming to the table if you're coming to the table open to the idea of negotiating a full nuclear disarmament.

LUCEY: And that negotiation hasn't changed. I mean, you've heard that from the President just now, but also Sarah Sanders this morning saying that they are still going into it with that frame. They are also still, we know, preparing for this. There's a lot of elaborate preparations that go into this kind of summit, a lot of details, they are working through all of those.

So, he's certainly thinking right now that this may be part of the elaborate brinksmanship that is going on, on both sides.

KING: Is it brinksmanship or again, one of the calculations, we know so little about the North Korean regime. Secretary Pompeo has met with him twice. That's is like the gold mine of information because the US intelligence has such little face - are the generals around Kim Jong-un getting nervous? Is that where this is coming from? Are the generals around him saying, wait a minute, you're going to go to the table and potentially negotiate away the nuclear arsenal that is our credibility, there is a legitimacy to them. That's how they see it.

SHEAR: And I think you're right that we don't have a lot of information, but you would have to be completely ahistorical not to have watched the last couple of decades, right, and I mean, it wasn't Kim Jong-un, it was his father, but the negotiations, the deal making, then lying about whether or not you're following those deals and going back on those deals.

And so, you know, it would be amazing if this White House didn't anticipate and didn't expect that some of this, you know...

LUCEY: And he said this morning they expect...

SHEAR: Right, and so they did.

KING: And to that point, in "The New York Times" this morning, this just puts it perfectly to your point about if you're getting looking at the history for the last 50 years, it's probably them acting like North Koreans, after being pussycats since January. Acting like tough guys, like Trump saying he would walk out of the summit if he didn't like the deal, this is their turn.

BASH: Yes, it's testing. They're testing to see what the President would do, which I think, Nia, your point was a really good one, which struck me about the moment we just saw with the President in the Oval Office, is how disciplined he was.

You know, I'm sure the instinct in every fiber of his being was probably to start talking about rocket man again, but he didn't. Which I think is very noteworthy about how - obviously how much the President wants it. I mean, who doesn't, "it" meaning finding some kind of deal, but also about, he's listening.

KING: Listening to Kim Jong-un and also...

BASH: And listening to his advisers.


KING: Yes, he's listening to advisers and also being well aware of the skepticism, the legitimate, understandable skepticism across the political spectrum, but particularly among conservatives, the administration, making clear, sorry, these exercises are going forward. We told you they were going forward. Because that's what a lot of conservatives are worried about is the President going to blink and somehow either commit to reducing US troop levels or just at least to commit to reducing the visibility.

HENDERSON: Yes, because there have been these reports that he was sort of looking at that, and putting it on the table, and then we saw him sort of blink with China on any number of instances, so if you're North Korea, you're certainly looking at that. Really interesting to see the North Koreans also point to John Bolton's statements about Libya, which some people said, "Oh, well, maybe they won't really paying attention." They weren't paying attention because this is what they do. The idea that the Libyan model, which of course ended in the death of Muammar Gaddafi is the same model that they're looking for North Korea.

LUCEY: And if you also saw this morning, Sanders shifting away a little bit from the Bolon statement, so when asked about them, she said, "Well, we're following the Donald Trump model." You know, he's the...


LUCEY: ... master negotiator. So she didn't lean into that.

KING: Here is John Bolton. This is back in April, again, talking about what are you going to do in North Korea? Well, look what I did and we did in the Bush administration back in the mid 2000s.


that's right. I think we're looking at the Libyan model of 2003-2004. I think it would be a manifestation of the strategic decision to give up nuclear weapons. It doesn't have to be the same as Libya, but it has got to be something concrete and tangible. Maybe that Kim Jong-un has some ideas and we should hear him out.


KING: Now, so the critics of John Bolton who say he's just a chest thumping regime change guy, that was pretty thoughtful, and maybe there's another way. We will hear him out, but if you're Kim Jong-un, to your point, Muammar Gaddafi gave up his weapons, and then soon thereafter, he gave up his power, and then soon thereafter, gave up his life.

BASH: And Libya, never mind that, just even more broadly is hardly a success story, but that's a whole different question about American power and maybe not going as far as it should, but the idea that, again, John Bolton, who going into this, in a vacuum, I can't imagine him wanting this in the first place.

I mean, he has said it when he was a contributor on Fox News not that long ago, that the notion of talking to the North Koreans is dicey. The fact that he brought up Libya, maybe - he's a smart guy. Maybe he was trying to send a message to the North Koreans.

SHEAR: And look, one of the big questions with Trump has always been, does he do more than one note? And on North Korea, he's done the rocket man stuff, now he's been for the several weeks, a more diplomatic note, and so can he continue this sort of be a little bit more nuanced than we thought when we think of him.

KING: The restraint today, as everyone knows significant, I think now you watch kind of the South Korean who are key players. Let's get the talks back on track with the North, that's one test, and does China play in as well, as we keep eye on that.

Up next, let's hear moderate Republicans lead a new charge to protect the so-called Dreamers, DACA recipients, but the House Speaker says no, not now.

Welcome back. The House Speaker Paul Ryan taking steps in public and in private today trying to quash a small immigration related revolt in the House. A group of moderate Republicans wants action on legislation to protect the so-called Dreamers and might work with Democrats on a procedure to go around the leadership and force a floor vote.

In a closed door meeting this morning among House Republicans, Ryan told the moderates, cut it out. Here's his public explanation.


PAUL RYAN, HOUSE SPEAKER: Obviously, we do not agree with this charge petition. So, we think there are a big mistake. They disunify our majority. That's why we met with the President to advance a strategy that addresses the issues that our members have, the concerns they have, but doing it in a way where we actually have a process that can presidential signature and not a presidential veto and we're working with our members on that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you come up with an alternative?

RYAN: We're working on it. We'll keep you posted.


KING: Forgive me, Mr. Speaker, but you're not going to be in the Congress by that time -- there's just no evidence that there are A, conservative sign on, B, a White House sign on anything can be done in this election year. So, that's punting. That's essentially saying go away, this will be a distraction in an election year. The conservatives will go crazy on the floor, the President would get - but you do not want this, but these moderates are looking at the primary results and saying, "You know, I'm going to lose my seat unless I can go home and prove I'm trying to do something."

BASH: And that's the key. And that is really the nutshell of Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders' conflict here. It's an internal conflict, because you have a lot of conservatives who are - will go crazy on the floor of the House if this is brought up, because they don't want to have anything to do with anything that looks, smells, sounds like amnesty. And that's what they call it.

Whether the people came here as children with their parents or not, that's what they call it. On the flip side, the majority of the House of Representatives, whether Republicans keep it or lose it, will be fought largely in swing districts. Some of them in California, where this is a big issue and elsewhere, where these voters are trying to make it a single issue, you know, single issue test on these candidates.

And so, it is a very big pickle for the speaker, and look, the reason why this hasn't happened is because generally, the House is run at a very tight ship, whether it's a Democrat or Republican, that's the rules of the House. This is remarkable that they are this close - the advocates of this to getting around that tight...

KING: And the secret wink nod, that's the secret wink nod of Washington is there enough House Republicans who would actually like to vote on this legislation. However, they will only do that if they think that the Breitbarts and the Fox News are going to somehow be in an app and not notice them doing it, and so this is place out, here is Laura Ingraham reminding anyone who thinks they are going to support this, that no, there will be hell to pay.


LAURA INGRAHAM, ANCHOR, FOX NEWS: Leave it to a small, liberal band of Republicans to try to splinter the party just before the midterm elections. These representatives should be ashamed of themselves at this point. I mean, come on. By defying their leadership and the White House, what do they do? They demoralize the base of the GOP and they weaken unity before the midterm elections.


KING; Terrible.

SHEAR: Look, part of the issue here is that you heard Paul Ryan trying to make the argument to his caucus that the President won't sign something like this, right? He won't sign a DACA bill that sort of helps these dreamers. The problem is, the President has been all over the map on this. Yes, there have been times that he seemed to be an obstacle and an impediment to that...