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Trump Ramps up Deep State Campaign; Push Back on Intelligence Meeting; Narrowing Scope of Mueller Interview; Pessimism over Kim Meeting. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 23, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Scott, thank you so much. We really appreciate it.

A reminder to all of you, you can watch the scene live and uninterrupted any time on our website. You can just go to

Thank you all so much for joining me today. "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.

President Trump says the deep state is getting caught spying on his campaign. But his own spokesman won't repeat that allegation. And the former FBI director, James Comey, says the president and his Republican allies are just plain lying.

Plus, the secretary of state says he made clear to Kim Jong-un that the United States will offer security assurance to his regime, but only if North Korea completely ends its nuclear program. Secretary Pompeo says Kim doesn't use notes and that he knows his stuff.

And the year of the Democratic woman takes shape after another big primary night. In Georgia, Stacey Abrams looks to make history by proving a black woman can be elected governor in the ruby red south.


STACEY ABRAMS (D), GEORGIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: I think that it's an important statement that I stand here today, that I am the first African-American, the first woman, but more importantly, I'm a Georgian who understands that I want Latino and the Asian Pacific islander community, that I want every community in Georgia to feel that they have a voice in our government.


KING: More on that remarkable story in just a moment.

But up first today, President Trump, today, lashing out at what he calls the, quote, criminal deep state. His target, his own Justice Department, the men and women of the FBI, and, of course, the special counsel, who so far has ignored months of presidential attacks and methodically continued and expanded his investigation. Angry presidential tweet storms are becoming as predictable as the sun rise. But todays do break new ground. Spy, scandal, scam, phony, criminal illegal, witch hunt, just a sampling of the president's tough words this morning.

The president would have the American people believe that the, quote, criminal deep state, made up the Russia scam, and paid a spy to entrap members of his campaign. If what the president said were true, it would be a monumental scandal. But he offers no evidence of any illegal investigative tactic, and one of his own White House spokesman today repeatedly used terms like if the reports are true, meaning, he repeatedly refused to accept the president's definitive take.

Also not willing to back the president, one of his staunchest allies in Congress.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You haven't seen any evidence to support this claim, so how can you say that there was a spy planted in his team?

REP. MATT GAETZ (R), FLORIDA: Well, again, I haven't said that there's a spy. I've said that there was -- there was intelligence that was collected on the Trump campaign.


KING: The former FBI director responded with a tweet of his own. James Comey saying there are strict rules on using confidential sources in investigations and that the president and his allies are again, in Comey's view, lying to try to discredit the investigation.

The timing does make one wonder just why the president is so agitated. Sources telling CNN the president's lawyers are trying to narrow the scope of a potential interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The hope, to take questions about the president's conduct after the election off the table. The president's lead lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, says he still opposes letting the interview happen at all. The worry, described by Mr. Giuliani to "The Wall Street Journal," quote, that Mr. Trump could talk himself into becoming a target.

Let's start with CNN's Evan Perez, who's been track this investigation from day one.

Evan, any sign the special counsel would consider cutting that deal with President Trump's team?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, we don't see any signs of that yet. But, look, a lot of this discussion is happening back and forth between the Trump team and the special counsel's office. And one person we talked to said that this is a negotiation that's inching forward. You know, essentially what the president's team is trying to do is to limit the questions, limit the scope of questions to things that are pre-presidency. So that would probably take obstruction off the table. They don't want any questions on obstruction. And, as a matter of fact, they say that the president is willing to sit down for an interview, a limited interview, perhaps a couple of hours, with a limited set of questions. But then he can answer additional questions perhaps in a take home test version, the written question version.

We don't know whether the special counsel is going to accept that. As a matter of fact, I think they -- what we were told, the special counsel's office has indicated that they're not inclined to accept such a request. And one of the things that the special -- the president's lawyer are asking for is that there be an audio version or tape of this interview, if it does happen, and that way there would be no dispute over what the president says, John.

KING: I think an audio version would be just fine for everybody, especially if it eventually would become part of the public record.

Evan, let me ask you this one. In the context of all these tweet attacks on the investigation, in a normal world, question about the legality of investigative tactics, including questions about the use of informants, would be challenged in a court. So far has Special Counsel Mueller lost any of the challenges in court where this is rightly done to his authority or the tactics used by the investigators?

[12:05:03] PEREZ: Right. That's a great question. And so far, no, the special counsel -- as a matter of fact, I just came back from the courthouse just about half a mile from here where we're sitting and, you know, the -- the judge is hearing a challenge from Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign chairman, who says that the FBI illegally searched a storage facility of his as part of this case that they're bringing indictments here in D.C. and in Virginia. The judge, so far, is not buying that argument. The FBI agent who carried out the search was in the courtroom. Everything that is happening is happening according to the way the law works, John. You know, this is not deep state, this is just simply the judicial system at work. And it appears so far the judge is not buying it from Paul Manafort's lawyers.

KING: Evan Perez, appreciate the reporting and the insights there.

With me here in studio to share their reporting and insights, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, Olivier Knox with Sirius XM, CNN's Phil Mattingly and "Time's" Molly Ball.

Is that what we're seeing then, that if you can't win in court, challenging Mueller's tactics, challenging what the FBI did, even before Mueller took over the investigation, you challenge it on Twitter to try to convince your political base that if there's a report and if it says bad things about me or if more people are charged and more people are hauled into court, don't believe any of it, is that what this is plain and simple?

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "TIME": Yes and no. I would say strategy is secondary to what Donald Trump is doing here. What he's doing, first of all, is just what he always does, fight back, in his own words, right? He -- he -- this is how he defends himself, he insults his opponents, he tries to delegitimize them. So does that amount to a strategy to delegitimize the investigation? It does. But I think, first and foremost, in Trump's mind is, he just pushes back on anyone he feels attacked by.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUS XM: Yes, I think there are two things here. One is that there's a legal problem and there's a political one. And what we're talking about is in part the political one. Insulating himself from eventual findings, whatever they are, whatever they might be. If Mueller comes back with nothing, they don't need to worry about it but if it's something, they will have delegitimized his position. But there is also that lurking danger that at some point this White House might decide to make a move on Bob Mueller and try to get him fired, in which case the only real recourse that would exist would be a political one, which would be action by Congress. And by spinning up his base against Bob Mueller, what he's doing is he's giving room to Republicans on Capitol Hill to stay out of it if he should decide to make a move on Bob Mueller.

KING: Including to call for second special counsels to investigate the investigators, if you will.

KNOX: Right.

KING: To see if there's misconduct out there. Again, there's a place to do this. You can go to court and present evidence to a judge. You can appeal if you lose the first round. That's not how they're doing this. They're doing this all in politics.

But to that point, there is supposed to be a White House meeting, I believe tomorrow, with the chief of staff, John Kelly, to brief some members of Congress, all Republicans is the plan right now, on at least some of the details about this quote/unquote informant, the president calls it a spy, in the Trump campaign.

The top Democrats, Nancy Pelosi in the House, and Chuck Schumer, have just written this letter saying, don't do this. Don't have a partisan, all-Republican meeting. That there is a process in Congress, the so- called Gang of Eight. If you have to share the most sensitive U.S. intelligence information with key members of Congress but you don't want it to get out to a big group, you bring in the leadership, the top eight, four and four on each side. Do they have any chance of getting this argument through?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think that's limited right now. And I think that's a surprise to everybody.

Look, there's a way to do -- it's almost as if they're giving away the game here when you keep either the gang of eight in its entirety or you keep the ranking members, top Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, House Intelligence Committee out of this meeting. If it's just Republicans, if it's just two House Republicans, if one of those House Republicans is Devin Nunes, then there's going to be a lot -- and I will make this very clear -- this is not just Democrats who are looking at this and saying, oh, that's a little bit odd. I talked to a lot of Republicans yesterday too who are a bit perplexed, why not make it bipartisan, why not make it gang of eight or why not bring in somebody from the Senate or the top Democrats on each panel and at least give the appearance that this is a regular process, or at least a process that's going through kind of the norms of how this is supposed to work. That's not happening. At least it hasn't happened yet.

I will note that also three Republican senators, just a couple minutes ago, sent a letter to Rod Rosenstein saying they believe they should come, as well. So this could get a little bit bigger. And that's where you might see additional members added. But right now I think there's real concern that just based on the attendance alone that this isn't necessarily on the up and up.

KING: And so, forgive me, does it not make you suspect, shouldn't it make you suspect, that the president and his allies don't want to use the processes that are set up? Either go to court and challenge the investigator or use this process in place to share the most sensitive -- if the Obama people planted a spy in the Trump campaign, and if the Democrats were told that in this sensitive meeting, they would know, back off, something bad did happen, something did -- and if the Republicans went out and said there was something horrible at play, the Democrats would have been in the room and they couldn't challenge it as a poppycock conspiracy theory. Isn't that the right way to do it?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, you would think it would be, I mean, which goes to show that this is part of -- it's not quite a strategy. It's sort of Donald Trump first fighting and then getting a strategy later and then getting some cover from Devin Nunes, who's been sort of his Bonnie and Clyde or Batman and Robin, whatever your metaphor is.

[12:10:01] In some ways the wildcard is Trey Gowdy. Like, he, in some ways, has been critical of this president, in some ways a straight shooter. He's not up for re-election going forward. So it will be interesting to see what he will say coming out of this.

But, yes, it would be much more transparent and much more believable if more people were there if it were bipartisan.

KING: It's also interesting, as the debate plays out, everyone's in their predictable silo, if you will. If you're a Trump loyalist you say, you know, it's the deep state. They're committing crimes. Even though a lot of these people committing crimes in the deep state would be Donald Trump appointees in these key jobs. It's a little hard to connect the dots, if you will.

Then you have Mark Corralo (ph), who has this unique experience. He was a Justice Department spokesman back when Bob Mueller was at the FBI. He also worked for a short time as a spokesman for the Trump legal team. He says this to Bloomberg today, I doubt Bob Mueller feels any pressure, other than the pressure to do his work as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. Bob Mueller is not moved by headlines or stories. He's only concerned about the facts. That is what he's interested in.

Now, Mark Corralo knows Bob Mueller well. He also knows the president in his tactics or strategy or reflexes I think is a better word for it. Well -- and that's the sense you get, that the president's frustration is he keeps saying, you know, close the investigation, narrow the investigation. And Mueller just keeps ignoring him. And so what happens on the schoolyard with the bully is, if you keep ignoring him, the louder he gets.

MATTINGLY: Yes, and I think this goes -- this goes a little bit to Olivier's point about how there's the political and the judicial right now. And there's an extreme vacuum on the judicial side, right? You're not hearing from Mueller's team. You're not hearing from -- with the exception of maybe lawyers of witnesses or witnesses themselves, you're not hearing a lot of information. And in that vacuum has stepped in the president, who I think is frustrated by the vacuum to some degree but also sees an opportunity. And certainly his allies do too, that if nothing's coming out of Mueller's team, if they're not getting a clear picture of where Mueller's team is and where this is all going to end up, then they can step in and fill that and change the narrative.

That also goes for the inspector general's reports on a lot of the very issues that the president is saying is so problematic. When Michael Horowitz releases those reports, when Bob Mueller releases his findings, then the answers will be out there. In the meantime, there's an opening, and I think the president and his allies have actually stepped into it.

KING: And the president, again, knows so much more than we know in these negotiations about the interview. When they say we don't want you to ask about that, and Mueller pushes back, he gives them at least this much about why he thinks he has the reason and the evidence to ask about that. And then you see the president up the ire, if you will.

I just want to bring this up. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former CIA director, is on Capitol Hill right now talking mostly about North Korea, but he was just asked by Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu about the so-called deep state. Here it is.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't -- I haven't seen the comments from the president. I don't believe there's a deep state at the State Department.


You formally served as CIA director. Do you believe your colleagues at the CIA are part of the criminal deep --


KING: I think the tape just froze there. Sorry, it happens with the technology every now and then. He was being asked --

KNOX: It was the deep state.

KING: Is calling -- the deep state froze it.


KING: The secretary of state going on to say that, you know, no, he doesn't see the deep state at the CIA either.

But, again, this is the position, the president of the United States, by saying there's a criminal deep state, including people he has appointed to sensitive jobs in the United States government, now conspiring to hide all the evidence that Hillary Clinton did horrible things and stir up fake evidence that he did horrible things. This is the position he puts respective members of his cabinet in that they have to answer questions in public about this.

KNOX: Yes, the idea that they sprang their October surprise in January 2017, right? It's pretty messy. It -- I hold (ph) no particular brief (ph) for the intelligence community or of law enforcement. They have misled the public in the past.

But, yes, the idea that basically the elites are out to get him, right, which is sort of the message that he carried all the way through 2016. You know, the financial elites screwed you, American voter. The national security elites brought you Iraq. The media elites are out of tough. They don't care about the things you care about. He's just sort of adapted that to himself.


KING: But to the point Comey made in his tweet today, and I know a lot of people out there, and James Comey helped a lot of people out there think this guy's a self-promoter who just wants to be on television and talk about his book. But, if you read the book, it's actually a very interesting book.

And so his point was, how are the -- the president's attacking, the president's lying. His point was more to the allies in the Republican Party saying, how are you going to look your grandchildren in the eye if you keep attacking institutions of the United States government, the men and women of the FBI who, yes, make mistakes. And, again, there's a place to challenge those mistakes. You go to court. The president hasn't done that. He's gone to Twitter.

So the point is now, you mentioned these three senators. They're -- Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham, and John Cornyn. They wrote to John Kelly and to Rod Rosenstein saying, we should be in this meeting as well.

They're not known as the most partisan guys. They're also senior guys. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Lindsay Graham, a -- close to the president most of the time, a military lawyer, John Cornyn, the number two, right, in the Senate Republican leadership. Is there a sense among them that they need to get this away from, forgive me, the Freedom Caucus agitators, the Matt Gates (ph) and the Jim Jordans, and to get a quote/unquote responsible Republican in the room?

BALL: The answer to that is yes.


BALL: And we have seen, you know, with the Grassley bill as well, Senate Republicans moving subtly but significantly to prepare to protect the investigation if they feel it comes to that. One problem is that the red line keeps moving, right? They keep saying there will be a red line. It hasn't been crossed yet. And then arguable lapses in respect for the rule of law occur and the goal posts move.

[12:15:19] But, you know, to Phil's point, the president and his allies are waging an aggressive case in the court of public opinion, and Mueller is not playing in the court of public opinion, which means that that case goes more or less unrebutted. And to hear from Democrats, but also from Comey types who consider themselves rule of law hawks, I guess, that that's what they're worried about is that nobody is making an affirmative case defending -- not just defending the Mueller investigation in abstract terms that it should occur, but actually defending the things that he has done and refuting some of these conspiracies.

HENDERSON: And, in the meantime, I mean the voters, Republican voters are buying a lot of the sort of spin and conspiracy theories that the president is spewing. I mean you see in the polls, confidence in the Mueller investigation among Republicans. It never was really high. But it's certainly decreasing over these last many months. The president really hammering --

KING: But I do -- I do take it as significant.

Now, first, the two Democratic leaders, people out there (INAUDIBLE) Republican, you'll say, that's just Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer stirring it up. But the fact that John Cornyn, Chuck Grassley and Lindsay Graham want to be in the room, they won't say this publically, but we know what they think in private conversations with the House members stirring this up. It seems to me that you have the adults essentially saying we want a grownup in the room if you're going to talk about this sensitive information just to make sure what later comes out in public we can fact check as we go. That's the impression I get from that. We'll see if they get a yes or a no from the Justice Department.

Up next for us here, the new secretary of state, we just mentioned, he's on Capitol Hill. He says nothing's changed. The U.S. still wants total and complete denuclearization from North Korea. But is Kim Jong- un still willing to make a deal?


[12:20:59] KING: The president of the United States just left the White House. He's on his way up to New York for a roundtable on gang violence. But he did stop and talk to reporters on his way to Marine One. We're told he discussed when the United States will know for sure, the president says next week, whether North Korea will go ahead with that big planned June 12th summit. The goal, of course, denuclearization. That's also the subject -- and we'll bring you that tape from the

president as soon as we get it in.

That's also the subject for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today. He's up on Capitol Hill pushing back against some lawmakers who think the United States might already be softening its demamds. Secretary Pompeo says in his meetings with Kim Jong-un he has been crystal clear about what must happen if that summit goes forward.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Our demands have been unambiguous. When I spoke to him, I could not have been clearer about the scope of the verification work that would be required, all of the elements that would be necessary in order for America to understand that there had been real denuclearization. He took those on board. In return, he made clear it was important to him that when that time came, when those objectives had been achieved, that he, in return, would receive economic help.


KING: Secretary Pompeo, new on the job, speaks from a unique place of authority on this subject. He's now met in person with Kim twice. He was asked for his candid impression of just how the reclusive leader operates.


POMPEO: He knows the file. He doesn't use notes. He is speaking. We have real conversations through a translator, obviously. He's from a different generation and a different time. And it's my hope that when he and President Trump get a chance to be together, that we can get the North Koreans to make the strategic shift about how best to serve the country, that the nuclear weapons program isn't, in fact, the thing that keeps the regime in power, but the thing that prevents the regime from being in a place it wants to be.


KING: Even just that is remarkable because we know so little about the 30 something dictator of North Korea. Just to hear from a guy who's met with him twice in the last month or so, about, doesn't take notes, knows the file, meaning he knows his stuff. He's sitting there having the conversation. That's all good and fine and it's great to learn about Kim Jong-un.

The question is, is he really coming to the table with an open mind about giving up the thing that has propped up the regime, nuclear weapons?

KNOX: I thought the generation comment was really interesting because for generations, plural, the North Korean regime has seen a nuclear -- its nuclear program as the key to its survival. And Mike Pompeo seems to be saying that they think they can change the mind of at least Kim Jong-un on that score. The problem with that -- I mean a laudable, interesting -- the problem

with that is, there's actually a bureaucracy and an infrastructure in North Korea that is tied directly to the nuclear program. It's military. It's national security. And one of the questions that I have, as this process unfolds is, how willing are those folks? How willing are the generals? How willing are the bureaucrats who are in there? That whole locust of power, how willing are they to go along with Kim Jong-un?

There was a -- there have been a couple of reports now that Kim Jong- un is concerned about traveling outside of the country because while he's gone, bad things might happen to his hold on power. I think that's -- that's all part of this question. But I thought the generation comment was really, really interesting.

KING: Right. That's a fascinating point you make because you hear -- you hear from the South Koreans especially that piece, he's worried about traveling. And when you had the belligerent comments out of North Korea just a week or so ago, a lot of people took that as the general is pushing back, the military establishment is pushing back saying, wait a minute, this is our life, this is our place in the elite comes from being in charge of the weapons program.

But the question is -- here's how, you know, Victor Cha (ph) puts this in "The New York Times." The way the administration was talking about a month ago, it was like all of a sudden there was going to be a fairy tale ending. But we all know there are no fairy tale endings when it comes to North Korea. That's a very seasoned analyst making what I think we'd all think as a rational -- a very rational point, don't expect too much, and yet we do have, you know, Mike Pompeo saying, maybe.

HENDERSON: Yes. I mean, in -- and I think we've seen from this president sort of overpromising and under delivering time and time again on any number of issues. And they seem to be -- try to be recalibrating at this point. The president saying, oh, maybe if it doesn't happen, it would be fine. There's a substantial chance that it doesn't happen he said yesterday.

[12:25:05] What was also interesting I think about Mike Pompeo, this idea that Kim Jong-un knows the file. I think a lot of people wonder how well the president knows the file, right? Is he going to sort of give away the store? Is he going to be, you know, his sort of non- strategic self and kind of flying from the gut when he's there with KJU. So that's, I think, a lot of concern about what he would do face to face.

MATTINGLY: I think what's interesting is it's such a calculated play on one individual's willingness to change the course of history and change what we've seen for decades, including in negotiations repeatedly. That they're kind of putting it all on this with their backups serving as the (INAUDIBLE) of the sanctions program that they have. And that stick, and the offer of the carrots, major economic help for a country that is I think by all accounts, including if you look in satellite photos in the dark, compared to where the rest of the world's economy is, that that will be enough. We've seen that kind of construct of nuclear deals before not work. And the idea that one individual or a new generation in a country will totally shift because of the economic benefits that could come, that, in theory, is great and it hasn't necessarily worked in practice. And I think it's interesting that the administration is pursuing that and it's kind of the be all end all.

KING: There may be only one way to find out, and that is a face to face meeting between the leaders.

President Trump speaking to reporters, here we go, on the South Lawn.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) what proof do you have that your campaign was spied on?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All you have to do is look at the basics and you'll see it. It looks like a very serious event. But we'll find out. When they look at the documents, I think people are going to see a lot of bad things happen. I hope it's not so, because if it is, there's never been anything like it in the history of our country. I hope -- I mean if you look at Clapper, he sort of admitted that they had spies in the campaign yesterday, inadvertently. But I hope it's not true, but it looks like it is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, the former FBI Director James Comey said (INAUDIBLE).

TRUMP: I think James Comey's got a lot of problems. If you look at what he did, if you look at all of the lies, the tremendous lies, if you look at all that's going on, I think James Comey's got a lot of problems.

Now, at some point, they have an IG report and then let's see what James Comey has to say. But I assume he's covered in the IG report. But if you look at what he said, all of the lies, all of the fiction, I think he's got a lot of problems.


TRUMP: Well, I don't want to get into it yet, but I will tell you after we look at -- after we look at the proof.

Would he know? I would certainly hope not. But I think it's going to be pretty obvious after a while.

We're going now to talk about MS-13 with the great police officers. We're going out to Long Island. I don't know, are you coming with us? Is anybody -- no? It's going to be very exciting.


TRUMP: No, no. No, no. We're not undercutting. We're cleaning everything up. This was a terrible situation. What we're doing is we're cleaning everything up. It's so important. What I'm doing is a service to this country. And I did a great service to this country by firing James Comey. And -- excuse me -- a lot of people have said it. And you go into the

FBI and a lot of those great people working in the FBI, they will tell you, I did a great service to our country by firing James Comey.


TRUMP: I want them all to get together, and I want them -- because everybody wants this solved. But a lot of bad things have happened. We now call it spygate. You're calling it spygate. A lot of bad things have happened. I want them to get together. They'll sit in a room. Hopefully they'll be able to work it out among themselves.




TRUMP: I think your auto workers and your auto companies, in this country, are going to be very happy with what's going to happen. You'll be seeing very soon what I'm talking about. NAFTA's very difficult. Mexico has been very difficult to deal with. Canada has been very difficult to deal with. They have been taking advantage of the United States for a long time.

I am not happy with their requests. But I will tell you, in the end, we win. We will win, and we'll win big. We'll get along with Mexico. We'll get along with Canada. But I will tell you, they have been very difficult to deal with. They're very spoiled because nobody's done this. But I will tell you that what they asked for is not fair. Our auto workers are going to be extremely happy.

[12:30:01] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sir, what about Rod Rosenstein? What about (INAUDIBLE) --


TRUMP: Say it? What?


TRUMP: Well, we're going to see what happens. On Singapore, we're going to