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Oval Office diplomacy; South Korea's President here in Washington, trying to keep the planned U.S./North Korea summit on track amid; Growing White House skepticism; chaos among House Republicans. Aired: 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 22, 2018 - 12:00   ET


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much for joining us at this hour. Inside Politics, with John King, starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate and welcome to Inside Politics, I'm John King. Thank you, for sharing your day with us. A busy hour ahead includes high stakes, Oval Office diplomacy. South Korea's President here in Washington, trying to keep the planned U.S./North Korea summit on track amid growing White House skepticism. Plus, chaos among House Republicans, Speaker Ryan this morning urging his colleagues to take a deep breath and seek unity, but big disagreements about foreign policy, immigration-even Ryan's leadership causing deep Election Year discord, and rogue deep state or reckless conspiracy theory, the President's allies in Congress want a second special counsel, they allege even top Trump appointees at the Department of Justice and the FBI are now plotting against the President.


MARK MEADOWS, US REPRESENTATIVE, NORTH CAROLINA, REPUBLICAN: Rod Rosenstein and the Department of Justice, on a number of occasions, when they could tell the truth remain silent. Now perhaps, he is not silent when it comes to spinning his narrative. Even today, we continue to see leaks come out of the Department of Justice and FBI spinning a narrative that quite frankly is not supported by the facts.


KING: More on that remarkable events in a moment, but first, an important meeting the White House this hour, the South Korean President Moon Jae-in arrives any minute now, to talk strategy for next month's big summit between President Trump and the North Korean Dictator, Kim Jong-un.

There are those on team Trump who view President Moon as way too optimistic about Kim's willingness to give up his nuclear program. On the flipside, the South Koreans who were hard liners of the Trump Administration are deliberately causing problems. This for example, from the Vice President just yesterday, warning that if Kim isn't ready to deal, he will end up like Muammar Gaddafi, deposed, dead.


was some talk about the Libyan Model last week and, you know, as the President made clear - this will only end like the Libyan Model ended if Kim Jong-un doesn't make a deal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some people said that as a threat.

PENCE: Well, I think it is more of a fact.


KING: More on that meeting and the summit planning in a moment, we'll take you to the White House when we see the South Korean President, first though. Today, as you saw, just moments ago - new demands from House Republicans. The President wanted a big Justice Department investigation, instead, he got an expanded inspector general inquiry. Looking at, if the Obama Justice Department inappropriately somehow had surveillance on the Trump campaign. Now, conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill say, "That is not enough." They are pressing for a resolution on the House Floor. The goal of that resolution-to force the appointment of a second special counsel.


JIM JORDAN, US REPRESENTATIVE, OHIO, REPUBLICAN: We're supposed to believe that the Department of Justice can handle this. That's what they tell us, "Don't worry, we can investigate ourselves, we can handle this, trust us, we'll be just fine." Really?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need a special prosecutor to investigate the special prosecutor, to investigate Rosenstein, just as already been said, Rosenstein...


KING: You see the President of the United States right here waiting. Let's watch these pictures of the President waiting for the South Korean President to arrive. We'll keep an eye on this event at the White House, then we'll come back to these other stories, they are breaking news.

There you see President moon arriving. Live pictures there outside of the West wing. The two leaders will head into the Oval Office. They will have discussions in Oval Office, they also have a working lunch planned again three weeks until the planned Singapore Summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, so we'll keep going back to the White House as events warrant to bring you the words and the images of the meeting underway right now.

Let's come back to what we just heard there. Those House Republicans and the President agrees with them, alleging essentially a grand conspiracy. They don't trust the Justice Department-the Trump Justice Department to investigate its own people.

It's important to note that the House conservatives are making a stink, do not have the blessing, listen here of their own Republican leadership.


PAUL DAVIS RYAN JR., HOUSE SPEAKER, REPUBLICAN: Having the IG report is very important and giving the IG the latitude to take the investigation where it is go-while, I think it is important that we just let the truth come out on all these things.


KING: With me today to share the reporting and their insights, Eliana Johnson, of Politico. Sahil Kapur, with Bloomberg. Olivier Knox with SeriousXM, and Catherine Lucy, with the Associated Press, thank you for being here today. We're going to bounce around a bit going back to the White House as the events warrant.

But let's start here-these allies of the press and on Capitol Hill, clearly annoying their own leadership in the process, calling for another special counsel, and correct me if I'm wrong, they are essentially saying now to everyone that they think that the Obama Administration somehow had spies inside the Trump Campaign.

Number two-that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, appointed by Donald Trump, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, appointed by Donald Trump, the number three at the Justice Department, appointed by Donald Trump, the Head of the Criminal Division, appointed by Donald Trump, are now part of this Grand Conspiracy to hide evidence from the American people, that the Special Counsel has gone rogue, and that everything has gone awry-that's what they are alleging?

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: It doesn't really hold water as a claim but it's part of a series of attempts to create a counternarrative.


You saw this with the Obama wiretap claim from President Trump, which his own DOJ debunked his House for the "release the memo campaign" on Carter Page in the surveillance. The unmasking controversy of Trump officials, there is a secret society claim, which literally turned out to be a joke. This is the latest in that series by the President and his allies to create a counternarrative to plant the seeds of doubt about the investigation, to delegitimize it in the minds of people.

Now, it's not worked in terms of it hasn't forced the Justice Department to back down. It think Rob Rosenstein is holding firm, but it has planted doubts in the minds of many voters and it shows up in the poles.

KING: But the party that calls itself the party of constitutional conservatism-there is a process for this. Number one, the IG is looking into it and these are a lot of Republicans that say they trust that IG. They do trust that IG to take a good look at it. The press now - what the President wants doesn't go far enough but at least you have a reputable person at the Justice Department looking into this. You can also go to court, if something - if there's something happening you don't like, you can go and ask a judge. That's what any American that can do in this situation, where they think their rights are being infringed upon you - go to a court.

So the Republican party, which is the law and order party wants us to blow up the process of law and order.

ELIANA YAEL JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER AT POLITICO: I think, on the one hand, you have Republicans who say we need a special counsel to look into this. On the other hand, you have Democrats who essentially say there is nothing to see here. And in the middle you have Jeff Sessions, who is taking heat from both sides who is actually striking middle ground by saying, "I'm going to refer this to the inspector general." That does seem to me actually to be the appropriate thing to do in this case and the inspector general who President Trump has called a tool of Barack Obama, he's appointed by Barack Obama.

He actually delivered what was a pretty hard-hitting report on the Deputy Director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe. So he seems to me to have been doing his job pretty well and to be a fair arbiter of wrongdoing on both - certainly of Democrats, in the case of McCabe, but I think he could be trusted to do his job from what we've seen thus far.

KING: But this handful of Trump allies on Capitol Hill, again, they are not senior roles of any of the committees, they have looked into this, they are not in the leadership, but they are vocal allies and they get a lot of attention whether Fox news, Breitbart, etcetera- essentially saying, "Don't trust the process and don't trust the people," including five or six or seven very serious people appointed by this President.

CATHERINE LUCEY, ASSOCIATED PRESS, CORRESPONDENT: And some of these are people, as you say, who talk to the President. They have his ear, they hear from him, and you're seeing the President's rhetoric on this hiccup as the investigation intensifies. And so, we are hearing him make these calls for an investigation, we're hearing him. We probably will continue to hear more from him. He could escalate as well.

KING: Is it solely - we'll get to the law in a minute. Sometimes I think investigations are usually about the law and the rules of the process in the system. But is it solely, as you listen here - here's political argument, essentially we expect the pace of the special counsel to pick up over the summer. We expect to learn more about it. Trials will begin if the people who are charged, over the summer and here is Representative Ron Desantis, essentially saying, "You can't trust any people," not the special counsel and again not the long time Republican prosecutor appointed to the number two job at the Justice Department by Donald Trump, can't trust him either.


RON DESANTIS, FLORIDA REPRESENTATIVE, REPUBLICAN: Robert Mueller, he is a DOJ employee basically, he is not an independent, or not supposed to be. He is a special counsel supposedly supervised by Rod Rosenstein. I think the reason why this investigation has become unruly, that

you're getting into anything under the sun, is because Rosenstein never identified a crime to be investigated at the outset and he has not done anything to keep Mueller on target. I think basically, Mueller tells Rosenstein what to do.

KING: Ron DeSantis wasn't around back in the day, but I don't remember any Republicans telling Ken Starr, you know, you started here and you ended up over there, how did that happen?

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SERIOUSXM: Yes, that is for me parallel, the ever-expanding Robert fits into Ken Starr investigation of the Clintons. Look, it does recall one of the most sentences in American politics was that one line in Rod Rosenstein's appointment of Mueller, which was - okay, you are going to look into Russian meddling not 2016 Election and any other matters that a rise out of your investigation.

As Bob Mueller has proceeded, it certainly looks like his investigation has expanded well beyond that and that stoked some of the unease. But I think, the broader point that we're making is, yes, they're trying to discredit the ultimate outcome here, to try and discredit whatever the findings are, however bad they are. They are trying to discredit this against the backdrop of the drop of the looming midterm elections.

KING: And I think the evidence is pretty clear that the President of the United States stopped listening to the now, former New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie about quite some time ago. But Chris Christie was a Federal Prosecutor. Chris Christie knows Bob Mueller. Chris Christie knows how investigations play out and how they take time, and he knows the rules, and the process. Here is Chris Christie telling the President, "You think you are helping yourself by making all these political arguments, and getting your friends to help you, but I disagree, sir."


CHRIS CHRISTIE, FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY: I've told him many times that there is no way to make an investigation like this shorter, but there's lots of ways to make it longer and he's executed on a number of those ways to make it longer.


CHRISTIE: Bob Mueller himself is not a partisan. He's an honest guy, he's a hard-working guy, he is smart, and you can't argue that the investigation hasn't been effective so far. A number of guilty pleas, a couple of indictments in a year, that's pretty good work. And so, I've said all along, I don't question Bob Mueller's honesty or his integrity, never have-and having worked with him for seven years, I still wouldn't.


JOHNSON: It hurts me, jumping back one second that constitutional conservatives oppose special counsels because they result in these sort of never ending probes. And I think you've heard from them, but you've also heard from some Democrats who said, "Look, this is why opposed the Ken Starr investigation."

We heard from Mark Penn come out and say that but, I think, what Christie said is Trump has not helped himself in this case. He's done many things to expand, you know, the things that Mueller is looking into and that's certainly dangerous for the President, but the criticism you hear from Congress is that, there really wasn't sort of a lawful charter that Rosenstein put on Mueller and that has been the problem that conservatives have had with this for a long time.

The solution isn't as we heard from Ron DeSantis to assign another special counsel. Conservatives aren't supposed to like that.

KING: Again, correct me if I'm wrong, but a lot of the people are saying this, "I don't know anything," right? They don't have access to the Rosenstein memo that lays out - we've seen two paragraphs in public. A judge in Virginia, again, there is a way to do this. You can question the authority of the special counsel as one of those charged. Paul Manafort has done, and the special counsels had to file documents with the judge in Virginia saying, "Here is my charge, here is my evidence, you tell me judge, continue or not."

There is a process called the constitution in the way the system is set up. I know that's silly to talk about in this age. But those saying this, at that event, do they have secret information that none of us have about Bob Mueller's charge?

LUCEY: This remains the riddle here - in terms of, we don't know all the things that Mueller knows. We don't know where this investigation has gone completely or where it is going. And this is one of the things that drives a lot of the critiques crazy, but we just don't have all the information.

KAPUR: And the underlying theory behind all of this is that the FBI under President Obama was in the tank for Hillary Clinton. That doesn't wash with the evidence where you saw the FBI break protocol a couple times as the DOJ break protocol a couple of times to disclose and discuss the investigation in the Hillary Clinton, which clearly hurt her in the election that was closely decided, concealed the investigation into the Trump Campaign and potential coordination with Russia, which almost certainly would have hurt him.

KING: At some point, I'll find out how many of you are cooperating with the deep state. I know it's going to happen any minute now. Up next for us here, the President of the United States in a very important high stakes diplomatic meeting in the Oval Office with the President of South Korea, just three weeks away, three weeks away from the planned Summit with the North Korean Dictator.

But, before we go to break, just moments ago, the Duke and Dutchess of Sussex making their first public appearance since their wedding - right there at the Gardens of Buckingham Palace, crowds loving that, where they are attending the 70th birthday celebration for Prince Charles. [12:15:00]

KING: We're expecting, any moment to hear from President Trump and the South Korean President moon. They are meeting in the oval office taking questions from reporters as we speak right now.

They will also share a working lunch later this hour. We will take you there and show you the tape of the comments in the Oval Office ASAP. President Moon's trip to the White House comes as Trump Administration aides growing increasingly skeptical over that planned summit between President Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong- un.

For now, officials say the President is committed to moving forward. The Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin for example going as far as to say this President doesn't get cold feet. If you need any more assurance than that, look no further than this, the coin. Yes, the White House Military Office has already minted commemorative coins for the grand event. Featuring as you can see, both President Trump and Kim Jong-un, who is referred to as the supreme leader, that in and of itself a concession to the North Koreans. Many would say you can't cancel the summit now that you have the coin, right?

We're making light of this, because in part it's funny, but there are a number of people saying, "Hey, wait a minute." He is still a dictator who starves his children, who has a nuclear program that the world calls illegal and elicited - who launches missiles over Japan and why would you give him his face on a coin and call him the supreme leader.

KNONX: For the same reason that you put the face and the title and the name of leaders of countries like China and Russia and elsewhere. You might think this is a goofy tradition and waste of taxpayer money, but there are coins minted for basically, every overseas trip by the President of the United States and they are given out frequently to local police escorts or local Diplomatic staff, or everything else. It's obviously a little incongruent to see "Supreme Leader" on anything, also, they're the same height on the coin which is not an accurate portrayal of reality.

JOHNSON: Trump would be the first to point that out.

KNOX: But I think - I mean, this is not intended as a diplomatic statement. It's behind the scenes, you almost never see them. I have a couple, somewhere in my souvenir box, but this is not a diplomatic statement guys.

KING: So let's get back to the substance as we wait this out. The President, they're meeting right now, we're going to play the tape as soon as we get it. Just a few headlines that's come out here, the President says he expects good news on trade with South Korea. He thinks Kim Jong-un is serious about denuclearization, says they are going to move forward with the summit of certain conditions to back and forth.

This meeting happens - the South Koreans are a bit nervous. They see John Bolton and giving Sunday TV interviews. They saw the clip we played from the Vice President on top of the show, and they see evidence that in their view, if conservatives, skeptics inside the Trump Administration, we're trying to poison the well a little bit here, is that fair?

JOHNSON: I think that is right. Pence internally has called himself the skunk at the garden party, that he's, you know, he I think wouldn't have favored Trump doing this and I think that is true of John Kelly and H.R. McMaster, who is the National Security Adviser when Trump agreed to this. John Bolton has said, you know, in his book that he wrote when he left U.N. Ambassador that he doesn't think North Korea can be talked out of giving up nuclear weapons.


JOHNSON: But I think the President, if we talk about whether this is going to happen, his leverage has been that he will walk away if he doesn't think Kim is serious about this. So it is interesting to see White House officials quoted on the record saying, they are positive this is going to happen because they are giving up what the leverage that the President has said, which is that, he will walk away at any moment if he doesn't think Kim is operating in good faith.

KING: Right, you wrote a lengthy a article about this Catherine where you quote, Scott Snyder, Director of the program of U.S.-Korea policy. The Counsel of Foreign Relations says, there's a risk that in his view, "The ceremony and the historic nature of the meeting be allowed to overshadow the deliverables."

The biggest deliverable from the U.S. standpoint is the commitment to fully and verifiably denuclearize, which of course everybody understandably is quite skeptical, what Kim Jong-un is willing to do.

LUCY: Yes, it is a commitment but then also, how you do that, how you verify it, what kind of steps you take, do they come out of this with some sort of broad consensus but not - and then have to work out the details later.

But one thing that we heard as we reported that piece was just that the President really does want to do this. He is very committed to the meeting, but he is not a details guy. He has not been delving deeply into briefing folks. One of the things he's been really focused is the pageantry and pump and the show of this. He enjoys the surprise announcements. He has enjoyed all the excitement around it, he certainly, you know, flattered, intrigued, however, you want to put it by the Nobel Peace Prize talk. So he is interested in a lot of the show around it as well as the substance.

KING: Okay, we'll put the pause on this conversation, we sure are going to come back to it any moment now. Again, the President of the United States and President of the South Korea taking questions in the Oval Office. We'll bring you that tape in just a moment.

Up next for us, if that tape is not ready, the homeland security secretary says today, "She's unfamiliar," a very critical part of U.S. Intelligence, a very critical part actually, of her doing her doing her job.


KING: We want to remind you, the President of the United States and President of South Korea in an extended conversation with reporters in the Oval Office talking about a number of subjects including China trade negotiations and the President apparently will get the tape any moment from now, casting some doubt that his planned summit with Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea will go ahead on schedule.

The President saying at one point, it could be delayed. We'll see if June happens. We'll get you that tape as soon as we can get it to you.

In the meantime, a startling admission, just this morning from the Homeland Security Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen. She says, she is unfamiliar with the intelligence community assessment that concluded Russia meddled in the 2016 election with the goal of tilting the election toward Donald Trump, or at least the part that has to do with Vladimir Putin's preference, listen.


KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I think the President's been very clear that he agrees with the Intel community that the Russians did attempt to hack or otherwise through cyber means influence our election and he remains committed, that's why we're here today, to make sure that his Administration is doing everything we can to address that.

MANU RAJU, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT AT CNN: Secretary, to that point, do you have any reason to doubt, the January 2017 Intelligence Community assessment that said, it was Vladimir Putin who tried to meddle in this election to help President Trump win?

NIELSEN: I do not believe that I've seen that conclusion. What I do - that the specific intent was to help President Trump win. I'm not aware of that, but I do generally have no reason to doubt any intelligence assessment.


KING: Stunning statement there, her department overseas, the Russian security in the country. CNN's Manu Raju who you heard that asked the question is up live with us from Capitol Hill. Manu, did she clarify that at all?

RAJU: Well, she came back to me afterwards and tried to clarify, tried to say that Russia tried to sow discord on both sides. But then John, I asked her again, and said, do you believe what that intelligence community assessment said that Russia tried to help Donald Trump win the Presidency and she would not answer directly.


NIELSEN: What we have seen the Russians do is attempt to manipulate public confidence on both sides, right? Then we've seen them encourage people to go to a protest on one side. We've seen them simultaneously encourage to that same protest on the

other side. So, I think what they are trying to do in my opinion and I defer to the Intel Community is just disrupt our belief and our own understanding of what is happening. It is an integrity issue of who is saying what and why and how that may or may not affect an American's behavior in what they believe.

RAJU: But in that assessment, did say that Putin tried to - orchestrated a cyber campaign with the intention of helping Donald Trump. Do you have any disagreement with that?

NIELSEN: I do believe that Russia did and will continue to try to manipulate American's perspective on a whole variety of issues.


RAJU: Now, John, afterwards, the homeland security put out a statement saying that she does believe the Intelligence Community assessment and claimed that the question did not reflect the specific language in the assessment. But, John, from the Intelligence Community assessment, it says very clearly that the Russian Government - they believe developed a "clear preference" for President Trump. They said they had high confidence in those judgments that the Russian Government, "Aspired to help Trump," by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to Donald Trump.

So that language unambiguous from the Intelligence Community-has reaffirmed that, that some Republicans in the House Intelligence Community had poured water on that approach. It is unclear exactly where the secretary stands after being asked directly about that specific finding and of course the President seems to have some concerns about as well, John.

KING: Manu Raju, live for us from Capitol Hill, Manu, thanks for that reporting. For the questions, okay, is this just a slipup by the homeland security secretary? Is this somebody who has recently berated at a cabinet meeting who doesn't want to anger the boss again?

Again, my point first, I guess, if the transportation secretary said this, we would say okay. This is the secretary of homeland security. Her job in part, she is up on Capitol Hill, this very meeting is to talk about election security, to try to prevent this from happening again.