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New Information on Mueller Probe; Court Rules Against Trump; Trump on Mueller Probe; Giuliani on Trump Indictment; DACA Vote; Kilauea Volcano Activity. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 17, 2018 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:16] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Turmoil is the word of the day here in Washington. The president lashing out at the special counsel who was appointed one year ago today. Add to the familiar witch hunt these new tweet labels, disgusting and illegal, the president says.

Plus, big infighting on the administration's China trade team and a big decision by the president to get more hands on. Beijing's top economic aide is here in Washington and getting a meeting in the Oval Office.

And the turmoil on Capitol Hill centers on two revolts. The House GOP leadership trying to quash an effort by moderates to force an election year immigration debate and a female Democratic senator digs deep into the rule book to demand a vote on new sexual harassment rules.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D), NEW YORK: We all see what it actually does to society, whether it's happening in factories or in restaurants or in Hollywood or in the halls of Congress or right here in this building. But the difference is, while practically every other industry in the country seems to be taking this issue far more seriously, and at least trying to make an effort to change their workplaces, Congress is dragging its feet.


KING: More on that important effort in just a moment.

But up first for us, an anniversary tweet storm. The president of the United States harshly attacking the special counsel who was appointed one year ago today by the Trump Justice Department. Sarcasm first from the president. Quote, congratulations, America, we are now into the second year of the greatest witch hunt in American history. And there is still no collusion and no obstruction. A short time later, some new adjectives from the president also on Twitter, disgusting, illegal, and unwarranted, he says.

The political strategy, crystal clear, team Trump, starting with the president, says a year of the Russian meddling cloud is enough and that Robert Mueller should close up shop. Mueller is a pros pro and he won't be swayed by the cable TV chatter. But the president want his supporters to distrust anything investigators say and anything they find.

Important new legal wrinkles at the one year mark too. Rudy Giuliani, the president's new lead counsel, says Mueller confirmed to the president's legal team that he, the special counsel, does not have the power to indict the commander in chief. Quote, all they get to do is write a report. That's what Giuliani told CNN's Dana Bash.

Now, we do not know if Giuliani is telling the truth, accurately representing those conversations with the special counsel. We do know the goal there is to make the case that if you're not going to indict the president, then why would you need to talk to the president? And why won't you rule out trying to subpoena the president if he won't come in voluntarily?

Plus, by stirring the can he or can he not indict debate, Giuliani also trying to distract from another new legal and political headache for the president. A new financial disclosure form filed by the president this week lists payments to his long-time lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, that should have been disclosed on last year's form.

CNN Shimon Prokupecz starts us off.

Some new disclosures, some new information, Shimon, at the one-year mark. What are the big questions?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, I think, John, you hit it, you know, right there, right on point. And the biggest really question is regarding this subpoena. Will the president voluntarily submit to an interview with the special counsel, or are they going to have to take that extreme measure and subpoena him? Certainly the president's lawyers, Rudy Giuliani, saying they have no right to do that. But that's not necessarily true.

And that is really the ultimate thing now because that seems to be the next, at least big step as it relates to the president. You know, what we keep forgetting here is that Mueller's investigation is much larger than most of us really talk about because it involves Russians, right? There's an entire investigation that centers around Russians, that centers around what people in Russia were doing to interfere in this election. And the president certainly could be seen as a witness in that investigation and, therefore, Mueller could argue that that's why he's need. Certainly the president's interactions as a businessman, as time with the Miss Universe Pageant, the time he spent in Russia, the interactions with the Russians when he was in Moscow, all of that, as we've reported, have been part of Mueller's investigation.

So it could be that Mueller could want to talk to the president about all of that, and, therefore, could have the right to subpoena him as a witness. Whether or not that actually happens, obviously, you know, that remains to be seen.

But really, John, that is the big question, does the president eventually wind up talking to the special counsel?

KING: A big question and striking on this one year anniversary, Shimon, a lot of noise, a lot of volume out of Team trump. Silence, crickets, from the special counsel. Sticking to normal procedure and saying little or nothing at all.

Shimon Prokupecz, appreciate the reporting.

I want to move on now to some breaking news out of New York where an appeals court just ruled against the president.

CNN's Athena Jones has that news for us.

[12:05:00] Athena, this decision made in an ongoing lawsuit filed by a former "Apprentice" contestant against the president. What happened?


That's right, well a judge has now ruled that Trump's lawyer who was trying to get this case delayed pending the appeal that he filed, that the lawyer has denied that motion, which means this case can move forward.

And specifically that means that discovery in this case, this defamation suit, as you said, brought by Summer Zervos, the former "Apprentice" contestant, who has accused then -- well, Trump, before he was a candidate, of assaulting her, and then accused candidate Trump of defaming her by denying those allegations. That defamation suit has been allowed to go forward.

Trump's team is appealing it. They wanted to halt the discovery process. That means the gathering of evidence through depositions and other document collection and the like. They wanted to at least halt that until a judge ruled on whether the case would be -- whether the appeal would be approved. Well, that has been denied. That means that this discovery process can go forward.

And this is significant because we already know, just a couple of weeks ago, that Summer Zervos' legal team has asked for very specific documents and recordings. Chief among them, the "Apprentice" audio tapes. They've asked Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, the studio that owns the "Apprentice" archives, for access to recordings of "Apprentice" tapings, anything having to do with Summer Zervos or how Trump spoke about women.

They've also asked the Beverly Hills Hotel for documents related to Trump's stays at that hotel. That is, of course, one of the locations where Zervos says an assault took place.

So this is significant because now discovery can move forward. They can continue to ask for and receive these documents. They hope to get a response from both Beverly Hills Hotel and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer by the end of this month.

And so that is not good news for the Trump team to see this case proceeding as they're hoping that it would be halted. I've reached out to Trump's lawyer. Haven't heard back yet.


KING: Athena Jones, appreciate the breaking need. You summed it up right there perfectly at the end, not good news for team Trump. Summer Zervos lawsuit goes forward, Stormy Daniels lawsuit in (ph) and we're on the one year anniversary of the special counsel investigation into much more significant matters about the president himself and the presidency.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Abby Phillip, Rachael Bade with "Politico," CNN's Sarah Murray, and Mary Katharine Ham with "The Federalist."

It is hard to keep up with this stuff sometimes.

Let's come back to the one year anniversary in the sense that out of Team trump, from the president himself, disgusting, illegal, unwarranted? Those are new words from the president. Witch hunt we've heard I think 40 or 50 times. Are those the new words from the president? Why, on this day, the -- to come out with tougher language against the special counsel and a clear message from the president saying, you've been at this long enough, go away.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it seems a couple things happening with the president and his lawyers and other, you know, surrogates going on television. And this morning there's a heavy emphasis today on discrediting Mueller, discrediting the legitimacy of the probe, talking about ways in which they -- though using the word "illegal" repeatedly.

And some of that might have to do with the other thing that's happening, which is that Rudy Giuliani is now talking about how the president, even if there were crimes committed, couldn't be indicted. The president and his emissaries want to make this a political issue, not a legal one, not about breaking of the law or anything like that. They want to make it about politics because I think a lot of Republicans believe they can win on those grounds. That when a president is under siege, when they -- when the public can be convinced that there is a witch hunt or some kind of unfair probe going after him, the president can win out on that.

A lot of Republicans sight Bill Clinton back in the '90s, whose approval rating actually went up when he was facing the specter of impeachment. So that's more familiar turf for this president. I think he feels more confident on the politics of this than they do, frankly, on the law and what kind of legal problems that the president or his associates might get into.

KING: And by clearly -- again, we don't have the special counsel's account and he's not going to give it to us. That's not the way he operates. Rudy Giuliani says, oh, we met with them and they said, oh, we go by the old rules, or the old practice. We don't think we can indict a sitting president. Rudy Giuliani wants that in the conversation, number one. But, number

two, he wants it in the conversation because we're still in the negotiations, as Shimon said, about, will the president sit down? Well, Rudy's trying to make the political argument, and it's a legal argument as well, well, if you can't indict him, then why do you need to talk to him? Speed it up.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, right. And we need to remember also that this interview with the president is only a part of the Mueller investigation, which, of course, is not an illegal investigation. It's an investigation that's been sanctioned by the president's own Justice Department. It's an investigation that Robert Mueller's team has to continually defend in courtroom after courtroom to a number of judges to be allowed to proceed with some of the charges they've brought, and they've done that so far.

But I do think that we have seen Rudy Giuliani sort of take this notion that you can't indict the president and use that to say, well then why should you subpoena him? Then why should he sit for an interview?

This is a part of it, the notion of whether Trump and his associates colluded with Russians is part of the investigation, just like obstruction of justice is part of the investigation. But the broader spectrum is Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. So whether the president sits down or not, that doesn't just all of a sudden tie this up with a tidy little bow and bring an end to it.

[12:10:16] RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": There is something to Giuliani's point on this, though, which is, if you go back to Nixon, if you go back to Clinton, there was a precedent set and the DOJ, Rod Rosenstein, has actually said -- he was asked, what, earlier this month about this, can the president be indicted, and he basically said, well, in the past, DOJ has determined that, no, they cannot.

But even if that is the case, there's a question of, would the special counsel really tell the president's lawyers that this was the case and that they were not going to pursue this path? And even if that is the case, that doesn't mean that Trump is in the clear by any means because, you know, Democrats could take over the House, this midterm election, if they do, and Mueller puts out some sort of report saying the president, you know, he did not follow ethical guidelines, he tried to cover something up. They could very well impeach him. And he's going to be in trouble in that way, too.

KING: There is no public evidence of collusion. There is no public evidence of collusion, especially involving the president. There is public evidence from Mueller and from the congressional investigations of a lot of contacts --

BADE: Right.

KING: Between Trump -- during the campaign, before the campaign, during the campaign and during the transition, contacts a lot -- make a lot of people say, that's at least stupid if nothing else, why did you take that meeting? So that's so -- the thing.

So the question is, again, Mueller appointed one year ago today by Rod Rosenstein, the Trump appointed deputy attorney general. Just yesterday the Trump appointed FBI director, up on Capitol Hill, Christopher Wray, knows a lot about what Bob Mueller is doing because when he needs FBI agents for help, he goes to the FBI and says, I need more agents for this or you can have these guys back.

Here's Christopher Wray. Is this a witch hunt?


SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: You said at your confirmation hearing that the Russian investigation was not a witch hunt. It's been about ten months here, far more immersed in the details of the FBI. Is that still your opinion?



KING: A one-word answer there. He knows that -- he knows the boss isn't going to like that, but at least he mans up and answers.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, "THE FEDERALIST": Yes, and he's done that repeatedly throughout his tenure.

I think there's a couple things going on here. First and foremost, the president knows a news hook when he sees one. He's as steeped in this as all of us are, and he knew that the birthday of the Mueller probe would be the occasion to do this and get lots of coverage too.

The numbers are going down for people's confidence in the Mueller probe. One, because he attacks it. But I think also because it -- we are having an occasion here of the year anniversary. If it is an investigation about Russian meddling in an election, I, for one, would like to know what happened pre-2018. So I think there is an issue of like American justice is supposed to be expeditious and people do consider that in these things. It doesn't mean to discount it, but it's part of this.

And then, third, like throughout this process with McCabe and with others, there's an IG report coming on FBI conduct. That's not the Mueller thing. But I think some of what he conflates in all of this is some of the conduct that he does -- he has a point about sometimes.

KING: Right. He does. And he's trying -- he has a point, there are legitimate questions there separate from him and he tries to use that to undermine anything that's about him.

There is a way that, no, if you're under investigation and it's a legitimate investigation, which this one is, prosecutors don't have to tell you everything while they're investigating you. But they do face scrutiny in a place called the court of law. We know that Manafort -- in the Manafort case, Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, has challenged Bob Mueller's mandate. A judge in Virginia has asked some questions.

Just into CNN now, the special counsel has officially submitted to that federal court in Virginia the full, un-redacted Rod Rosenstein memo from August 2 that he wrote to Robert Mueller essentially detailing the parameters of the investigation. We have only seen two paragraphs of this memo. The rest of it is redacted. It goes on for more than a page.

The rest -- what it is, is Rod Rosenstein, when Bob Mueller was given his charge, when Jim Comey was fired, Rod Rosenstein decided, we can't have this in the FBI. We're going to have a special counsel. It lays out essentially what they knew so far, what they knew at that point, and where Mueller was authorized to go. It also has the language that if you find stuff along the way, you're allowed to follow that.

But the judge will see this. I don't expect that we will see this. Do we?

MURRAY: Well, no, not at this point. I mean we would love to see it, obviously. But the -- and that part we have seen are important because they do lay out explicitly that Mueller was allowed to look into Paul Manafort's business dealings. He said, look, this guy was doing Ukrainian lobbying work. Like, there could be ties to Russia there. Absolutely, you should dig into this. And so we've seen, you know, the un-redacted version submitted. We would love to get our hands on the whole thing.

And one thing I do think we should note, as we hit this one-year anniversary, is that a year in an investigation like this is actually not very long. When you're looking at a white collar investigation, which is again a portion of what Mueller is looking at, those investigations tend to last for longer than a year. So it certainly seems like a long time, I think, to the American public. It seems like a lifetime in the news cycle. But in terms of a white collar investigation, not that long.

KING: More on that a little bit later in the program. And I will make the note that we'll show you what happened to Bill Clinton. And I don't remember Republicans complaining about how long it was going on during that one.

[12:14:57] Up next, how do you get a DACA vote on the House floor when the leadership don't want one? Moderate Republicans have a plan and some think it just might work.


KING: Remarkable moment on Capitol Hill just moments ago. Speaker Paul Ryan, for the second day in a row, publicly appealing to Republicans who are trying to force his hand and force a vote to protect the so- called dreamers.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We've been laboring to get 218. It's clear that we don't have 218 for a specific bill. That is why members are now trying to figure out, well, how can they get their version of what they think should happen to the floor. I think it's futile to bring a discharge through which would guarantee nothing goes into law. So what we're trying to do is work with our members to address our members' concerns and have a process that could -- that can actually get law.


KING: The problem for the speaker is a lot of the moderate Republicans just don't buy that. They don't think they're actually working hard trying to get a plan they can pass.

[12:20:03] Listen to this from Racheal Bade in "Politico" quoting the House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy at the meeting of House Republicans yesterday. McCarthy saying, quote, if the election was today, we win. If you wanted to press intensity, this is the number one way to do it. We can debate internally, but don't let somebody like Nancy -- meaning Nancy Pelosi -- decide our future.

That argument, though, didn't work. After that private meeting of the Republican's yesterday, two more Republicans signed on to the so- called discharge position. Can they stop this or is there going to be a floor debate on the dreamers, DACA, and maybe more immigration?

BADE: Yes, there's definitely going to be a vote on this at some point. Leadership and -- who opposes, you know, this discharge petition and also the centrists will tell you they have the votes. They could do it today if they want to.

But that wasn't necessarily the point of this. There's actually an interesting backstory here, which is that they -- Republicans -- centrist Republicans saw this as like a hail Mary. Obviously DACA has been put on hold because the Supreme Court is going to rule on it this fall.

But there was some thinking that if they try to force this issue, and sort of put the leadership on the spot, potentially President Trump would reopen these negotiations, get his wall -- he's been tweeting about his wall -- fix DACA and avoid a shutdown that we're seeing potentially happening this fall because the president says he's not going to sign a spending bill unless he gets his wall a month before the election. So centrists sort of thought maybe the president would latch onto this.

And the truth is, Speaker Paul Ryan himself wants a solution. He even was open to this. He was open to doing a bipartisan deal. But you have people like McCarthy, Steve Scalise, who are hearing the conservatives and worried that this is going to demoralize the base and they pushed back hard on this. It's not going to happen. We'll have a vote. It will die down in a few weeks. It will be embarrassing. But they're not going to -- they're not going to get this to the president's desk.

KING: Right, and it's -- we've had this conversation many times, but especially at this point in an election year, it is not going to happen unless and until the president comes out and says, I will sign this, and then says the same thing the next day, and the same thing the next day, and the same thing the next day, which has never happened in this issue in the Trump presidency, consistency for more than a day or two.

PHILLIP: And even on this issue of the wall, the fact that the president is telegraphing he's going to put up a fight for it in August, even that's not quite what's happening. I think the president has believed for a while that the fight for the wall is more beneficial to him --

KING: Right.

PHILLIP: Than actually striking a deal that gets him a wall. He had an opportunity earlier this year to get the wall and he turned it down because the fight for it is what gins up the base. That's what gets people going. That's what the build the wall chants are all about at the rallies. And so it's hard for me to see the president, even in August, wanting to come up with a compromise that is going to be immediately attacked in conservative media as being milquetoast when he can simply saying, they're not giving me my wall. This is why we need more Republicans.

KING: And by "they" he means the Republican leadership too. That's why -- that's why this makes the Republican leadership made to have the president threatening this because, in an election year, where they need the conservative base to come out, a lot of Trump voters dislike Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McCarthy just as much as they don't like Nancy Pelosi or Hillary Clinton for that matter.

I just want to come back to the -- these moderates pushing this centrist -- the centrists pushing this in the House Republican Conference. Eleven of the 20 are from districts carried by Hillary Clinton. That's part of their politics. They need to go home -- they want to go home and win reelection. They live in much more difficult districts than these conservatives, who -- for whom this is amnesty.

And so I guess -- I guess the question, it's a silly one, the Republicans wish they would have dealt with this a long time ago so they wouldn't be dealing with it so close to an election? Is that a fair question?

MURRAY: Isn't that the question we ask every time Republicans near an election? What do you think? Oh, maybe this is something like we should have done earlier.

KING: Immigration has been quicksand for a long time.

MURRAY: We just see this playing out again and again and again with the Republican Party every time they get close to an election, whether it's a presidential, whether it's a midterm. And they do box themselves in. And I think they're going to -- you know, if this does sort of go down in, you know, whispers rather than anything actually happening, they're going to find themselves in the exact same position between 2018 and 2020, trying to figure out whether they can do something about it.

And, again, after -- if Trump is re-elected, after he serves two terms in office, they're going to say to themselves, can we really have another situation where we can win with a candidate like Donald Trump running on such strict immigration policies or do we need to broaden the base?

KING: In the short term, though, when you do see Democratic intensity is higher than Republican intensity so far in the midterm election year. Listen to Nancy Pelosi here. She wants to be speaker next year. She thinks one of the ways to get there is for African-Americans, Latinos, women, to pour out in high numbers this fall. She says, yes, we'd love to work with the Republicans on this, but she's also saying right here that they're going to campaign on this if the Republicans, yet again, fail to do it.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: We're very close now. The speaker should take control, maintain control of the floor by just bringing the bill up. But that's their own negotiation over there.

I think we have 99 percent of our members to be signing on and we'll have conversations with the others about what the equities are.


KING: I mean they think they win either way. That if they get the bill, great, they -- then they get a policy piece they want. If they don't get the bill, then they get the issue

MURRAY: Right.

[12:25:02] HAM: Yes, and I think her telegraph that probably doesn't help move any of this forward.

Look, I think there's -- there's a simple answer here, which is that there is a rational, bipartisan, sensible, narrow compromise that wouldn't get you into the quicksand of comprehensive immigration reform. You do DACA for more border security or wall elements.

KING: Right.

HAM: And because it is rational and sensible and bipartisan and should be simple, it will never come to pass in Congress.

KING: Right. I think that's very well put.

For us, when we come back, the Republicans say Bob Mueller has gone rogue. At the one-year mark, is there anything to their case?


KING: Want to bring you some breaking news on the big island of Hawaii.

The Hawaiian Volcano Observatory warning residents to shelter in place. They say the Kilauea summit has erupted and an ash plumb now blanketing the area. Let's go straight to CNN's Scott McLean, who's covering this volcanic

activity on the island.

[12:30:02] Scott joins me on the telephone.

Scott, what do we know?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Hey, John.