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Amid Rumors Justice Kennedy Quiet On Any Plans To Retire; Romney: Trump Not A Role Model For My Grandchildren; Garrett Becomes 42nd House GOP Member Leaving Congress; Trump Floats New Conspiracy Theory About Mueller Probe. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 29, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:03] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Most contentious decisions, you see some of the cases there on your screen, most of them are likely to be 5-4. So majority of them are likely to be 5-4. When you always looking at to Justice Kennedy who has a history of being the swing vote.

There's also -- And we were joking about this issue coming out to the set, you know, a horn honked outside the Supreme Court today, what is that mean about is Justice Kennedy staying or going. Anybody you talk to in politics in Washington has a rumor. Somebody told me Justice Kennedy, you know, had a bounce in his step today, that's means he's staying or he was joining at the floor today. That's means he's leaving. Do we know?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, when I was going up to the court room today, a colleague to said to me, tell me what his face looks like. You know, like that would be measure. And then when the justices rejected the abortion case today, a couple of people said does that mean that Justice Kennedy is leaving.

Justice Kennedy is 81 years old. He has been there for 30 years. He has been the decisive vote on abortion, an affirmative action, probably going to be it on the gerrymandering case, probably on the Ashers' (ph) cake case. When you are that pivotal, do you want to give it up? So if I had to bet money, I would bet he's not going, but I have to tell you, that he wrings his hands on cases, he is unpredictable on cases and I think that he'll be unpredictable here too.

KING: And so the stakes for the President are enormous. The stakes for the President are enormous. His campaign words being used against him. His presidential policy in the issue of the travel ban, obviously, the gay rights case, the President is not involved in that directly, but it will be a big case in a midterm election year and the idea that what a lot of people in Washington think about, is it possible, could in the middle of all these big controversial decisions, could he also possibly get a second Supreme Court pick in an election year.

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Part of me wonders, you know, is this is kind of like the wall with President Trump. A lot of people say he talks about the wall. It's more he just wants to talk about political issue as opposed to actually get it.

Republicans, remember back in 2016, they were very successful when they ran on, you know, the courts. And this is something that McConnell has used to his advantage, they say the voters, they sort of drum up their base by saying, you know, you got to vote this back in. We could potentially have a Supreme Court vacancy. You got to keep us in power so that we can appoint conservative judges to Supreme Court and the court across the win.

And I think that sort of let the essence where we're seeing here. They like to talk about it. But you don't know that he's actually going anywhere.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: Justice Kennedy's potential retirement is that, whoever he is replaced by -- if he's replaced by a progressive justice or by a Democratic president, then he will, you know, relinquish part of his legacy on conservative issues like campaign finance, labor employment right, affirmative action, gun rights. If he is replaced by a conservative, he will lose part of his legacy when he's swung with the left. Some things like gay rights, abortion rights, criminal justice, death penalty.

How do you factor that in when you're him and decide what to do and also of course the Senate battle to confirm it was going to be exclusive --

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And important to remember he is a conservative though. Despite his votes on some of these very pivotal cases, at his heart he is a conservative. And I think that, you know, one thing that the President has done is put his stamp on the Federal Judiciary up and down. Mitch McConnell has been a huge help in that. So, yes, the White House would love a vacancy.

Will they get one? Who knows. I would bet largely the same way as you that he doesn't retire, why give this up. He is not a Donald Trump Republican, but he is a conservative.

BISKUPIC: Yes. He was appointed by Ronald Reagan and he takes that seriously. But being that pivotal vote, I think that's pretty enticing and I know a lot of Republicans are pressuring him to go saying, you know, what if the Senate is lost. But, you know, having watched Ruth Bader Ginsburg fight off that kind of pressure from liberals, what he is probably thinking is you all take care of your political branch and I'll go when I'm good and ready.

KING: That's the fly. I want to be on that fly on that wall.


KINIG: The Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Anthony Kennedy conversation at the end of this term. That's the one. Can we spy on that one, to borrow a term just around --

BISKUPIC: Everything is very public there.

KING: Joan, thanks for sitting here, though.


KING: Up next, Mitt Romney not shy in the past when it comes to criticizing the President, but now that he is in the Utah Senate primary, that forcing him to softening his stance?


[12:38:28] KING: Welcome back today. A new study shedding light on just how deadly Hurricane Maria really was. The (INAUDIBLE) of Puerto Rico officially says that hurricane killed 64 people. Harvard researches now say that count is wrong by thousands. That report published today in the New England Journal of Medicine estimates the number dead is closer to 5,000. Not 64.

Scientists landed on that figure by calculating the increase in the mortality rate after the storm based on a nearly four month survey of randomly chosen households. You might remember CNN investigation also finding that Puerto Rico drastically underreported the number killed by the storm. CNN survey funeral homes have identified nearly 500 deaths in the month after the storm.

Puerto Rico has not revived its official number, 64, it's been that way since December but it did announced early this year it's asking George Washington University to study the disaster related death toll. CNN now asking the Governor Ricardo Rossello in his office for response to this startling new Harvard study. We'll bring you that when we get it.

Moving on now to political radar, the U.N. Security Council meeting today to discuss the humanitarian crisis in Syria. It comes amid what you might call a hypocrisy crisis for a U.N. agency. Get the Syria. Now chair of the U.N.'s global disarmament body, that same Syria that uses chemical weapons on its own people. Now it's a rotating system. Here against the chair for four weeks.

Earlier today, that group U.S. representatives says the United States will not attend any meetings organized by Syria calling the situation, quote, a pure travesty. That's an understatement.

Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney sounds off on President Trump. Listen here in an interview with NBC. Romney says he doesn't think the commander in chief is a role model for his grandchildren, but he does admit some of the President's policies better than expected.


[12:40:06] MITT ROMNEY (R), UTAH SENATE CANDIDATE: I don't think that I would point to the President as a role model for my grandkids on the basis of his personal style. He used to pardon some cases from the truth and there's attack in a way that I think is not entirely appropriate. I believe his policies have been by in large a good deal better than I might have expected. But some of the things he's said are not ones that I would aspire for my grandkids to adopt.


KEENE: Romney is set to debate Republican rival Mike Kennedy tonight. The two face off in the primary. That's set for June 26. And that to me is my key question. Number one, most people think Governor Romney wants to be Senator Romney will survive the primary. Well, is tone (ph) about the President change then or is, again, in state after state how do you navigate the Trump effect in your politics?

KAPUR: I consider the fact that he is running in Utah. An interesting thing there is that the Republican community there -- one of the few red states that never fully warmed up to him, the warming (ph) community, one of the few Republican leading blacks that never really embrace President Trump. But I think what Romney is trying to do there is cut that line between speaking about the voters about the personality which I think most Republicans still on one hand.

And I also think his policies are great. He could be the kind of senator like Ben Sasse or maybe Jeff Flake who votes with Trump's policies and personnel almost all the time. But have criticisms about him personally, about his rhetoric and personality.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: I think that one of the things Mitt Romney runs into though, he did give that very full-throated speech going after Trump two years ago.

KING: Phony, fraud, promises are worthless as a degree from Trump University. You mean, that was subtle.

KUCINICH: That guy. Right. And so I don't think you don't really know which Romney is going to show up sometimes and that something that has plagued him since, you know, his two presidential runs and throughout his career. We'll see which Mitt Romney shows up to that debate. But what he said this morning is very consistent with the Mitt Romney that gave that speech just, you know, two years ago.

BADE: It's a familiar distill (ph). I mean, if you think of Speaker Paul Ryan in 2016, he was one of the number one top Republican critics of the President saying some of his comments were racist. Then, you know, then after President Trump won, he put that side of it away and praises the President on a regular basis, rarely criticizes him. And Republicans I think have just sort of learned the lesson that if they don't like the President, they're going to keep it to themselves and keep their mouth shut.

KING: It will be an interesting study to see what candidates said before the primary and after the primary, whether Republicans get a little bit more depending states (INAUDIBLE).

Up next for us, another important 2018 development. Congressman Tom Garrett says he is out. Why his seat, his retirement could mean some trouble for the GOP.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) [12:46:40] REP. TOM GARRETT (R), VIRGINIA: Any person -- Republican, Democrat or Independent -- who's known me for any period of time and has any integrity, knows two things, I am a good man and I am an alcoholic. This is the hardest statement that I have ever publicly made, by far. It's also the truth. With this in mind, not for fear of losing or for lack of love for our great nation, today I am announcing that I will not seek re-election.


KING: That's Republican Congressman Tom Garrett speaking yesterday and adding himself to this list here. You see Tom Garrett down here. You notice if you look at this list, these are members who are leaving the House of Representatives.

You might notice a lot more red than blue. That's because at this point in the midterm election year, 42 Republican retirements, only 18 on the Democratic side. Some of these people are seeking higher office, but this tells you quite a bit about the climate. Republicans think this is a tough year for them to run. And they're not limited to anyone part of the country.

Look at this. This is happening from coast to coast. And again you see a lot more Republican retirements than Democratic retirements. What about Tom Garrett's district? It's right here. In the middle of Virginia, it runs from the south right after the center, but it should be a solid Republican district.

But there's a primary on June 18th. There are no other Republicans on the ballot. So with Tom Garrett stepping out, the Virginia Republican Party, the county congressional committee going to have to pick a candidate. The Democratic candidate had already raised a lot more money than Tom Garrett. So Democrats are thinking, yes, this is a Republican district but we have a chance now. So it's more complicated for Republicans especially because Garrett says he is getting out to get help just days after he insisted he was staying in.


GARRETT: I'm absolutely positively running. And I'll tell you -- I mean, this is hard. I mean, I'm not -- this is not a poor me thing. I mean, this is a great honor to be one of the roughly 12,000 and change Americans who've gotten to serve in this building. But legislatively, it's like pounding your head perpetually against a brick wall, right? I mean, there are gatekeepers at every level. I don't know who was more excited when they thought I might not run. The swamp dwellers on the left, the swamp dwellers on the right.


KING: Again, that just a couple days ago. Last night, Tom Garrett says he's not going to run for re-election. And let me just start by saying we wish the Congressman the best in getting the help. He says he needs for alcoholism.

And there were other issues at play too, though. In a statement he attacked the story that you were part of reporting at POLITICO where there were a lot of questions potential ethics investigation about where was his staff essentially told to do personal chores. It was the congressman's wife coming in and ordering them to do things that they shouldn't have to do. They should be doing official government business.

BADE: Yes. It looks like the Congressman is making sort of a Hail Mary attempt to stop the bleeding really before it starts. Yes, we have heard stories from staffers about his heavy drinking on the job and a lot of people being concern that he is an alcoholic. But when we were doing our reporting, that was just a small portion of the complaints we heard out of the office.

People said that they were being treated like servants not just by Garrett, but by his wife who was a daily presence there and would tell people to take care of the dog, occasionally watch her, you know, newborn baby. Staffers had to drive three hours into Virginia to pick up their older daughters, drive three hours back. This is on taxpayer funded working hours.

And so there was a lot of ethics concerns in the office. And at one point it sounds like Garrett actually brought in somebody from the ethics committee to sit down with staffers and talk to them about what is professional and not. And the whole thing that started all this was the chief of staff all of a sudden quit his job last week which is when this whole story began and it was because of the treatment of staff and misuse of resources.

[12:50:06] KING: And so you have this personal story again which is difficult. And we wish the Congressman the best. You add it into the 2018 map though, if you are the Republican leadership or the Democratic leadership, you're thinking can we win this district. This was the district President Trump carried. However, you do have a well funded Democratic candidate who's been going gangbusters from day one. Now the Republicans have to pick a candidate, they're going to have a fight in the party over which kind of a candidate it should be to run in this district because it stretches from some suburban areas and it stretches down to some rural areas. So they're going to have a fight.

Is this, in the end, an opportunity for the Democrats and the Republicans can afford to give that many up (ph)?

ZELENY: Sure. Definitely is an opportunity. And when Republicans have, you know, the chance to pick someone at a convention process, they often don't pick the most electable ones. This is absolutely open possibility in the state that is turning blue. But far, far, far too early to say that this is winnable district. Yes, we have to see how this sort of settles out here. We just don't know.

KAPUR: One Democratic challenger I spoke to this morning, national Democrat, kind of played that down a little bit. It's a very rural district, they say that it's going to be very tough with or without Garrett there. But, you know, leans Republican by about 6 percentage points. And the scenario where there is blue wave, this is potentially the kind of district that would flip just by the numbers.

KING: If there is a blue wave.

ZELENY: They want to keep expectations low at this point, smartly so.


BADE: And another thing is Garrett, one of the reasons Republicans were particularly concerned about his appalling fundraising numbers --

KING: Right.

BADE: -- there are some thoughts amongst Republican circles that if they bring in a new Republican candidate, perhaps, he'll be better about making phone calls and raising money and that could actually help them.

KING: Right. Garrett was at the top of the list, six or eight incumbents that have been getting the riot act almost on a weekly basis saying you going to get you in here. This is going to be a tough year. We'll keep an eye on that race.

Up next here though, the President keeps a new pledge. To focus in two hours and three minutes.


[12:55:49] KING: The President at it again using his cherished morning executive time to gin up some more far flung conspiracies. Get this, "The 13 angry Democrats plus people who worked eight years for Obama working on the rigged Russia witch hunt, will be meddling with the midterm elections especially now that Republicans stay tough are taking the lead in the polls.

There was no collusion except by the Democrats." That's a lot to process but the basic message from the President, the man who refuses to acknowledge the depth of Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, wants you now to believe Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors plan to meddle in the 2018 midterm elections. Got it?

That was one of several beauties in the President's morning tweet storm. Even he seemed to get the impression maybe I'm over the line today. "Sorry", the President tweeted just before 7:30 a.m., "I've got to start focusing my energy on North Korea nuclear, bad trade deals, V.A. choice, the economy, rebuilding the military, and so much more. Enough on the rigged Russia witch hunt."

That focus lasted two hours and three minutes before the President launch the tweet attacking the fake news media.

KUCINICH: So a part of this. There was this great piece in the New York Times about how the President is using Bill Clinton's playbook. He is putting the Special Counsel on trial for public opinion. That's why you hear Rudy Giuliani doing all of his Rudy Giuliani thing. Speak a day, he is saying something different.

It's about just casting suspicion over the Special Counsel and making it so that the public looks at him like, wait, what are you doing? Why are you -- Is this a witch hunt? And really denigrating him in the public sphere. And perhaps because of the midterm elections, that also having to do with the President so we can go about his business and not worry about this anymore.

KING: And you write about this that a lot of Democrats are debating do we do Russia, do we do the President's ethics, the President's honesty or do we do health care and the economy and the like. One of the big debates in the party, this is Tom Steyer, you've probably seen his ads if you watch cable television, he is running impeach, impeach, impeach. Nancy Pelosi says no, no, no. Tom Steyer says she's wrong.


TOM STEYER, DEMOCRATIC MEGADONOR: The founders gave us impeachment to answer a reckless, lawless, and dangerous president, and every day that his behavior is accepted, every day that you don't oppose it, it becomes enshrined as the way things are done. And you have normalized this presidency, you've normalized his behavior.


KING: The problem back to Jackie's point is look at a national map. You can sell that in San Francisco or you can sell that in Manhattan. To be speaker again, Nancy Pelosi needs to win some seats that are at in red Middle America, where if you come out of the box with impeachment, you might turn off the Republican voters you need in November.

KAPUR: Right. And the verdict among Democrats is resounding. Let's not talk about Russia. Let's de-emphasize that and talk about economics, talk about issues, those are the kinds of things that move voters especially swing voters who they need to win especially in the Senate where, you know, the road to their majority run through states where President Trump is popular. They don't want to risk coming across as sore losers.

Even as every one of Democrats I had talked to said it's an important issues for the country, but we need to focus on health care costs, we want to focus on taxes, they want to go after President Trump breaking his promise to confront China. Those are the kinds of things that I think people feel at the kitchen table every day.

ZELENY: And it's important point out I think the President has actually been pretty successful in doing this. I mean, he has raised questions. He has undermined the investigation to great effect. Polls show it, people are questioning law enforcement much more than ever before. It didn't even sound like the old Republican Party sometimes talking about the FBI and Bob Mueller in his term.

So at the end of the day, the political argument here is more important that the President and the White House then the legal argument. And he may be gaining some ground in the political argument.

KAPUR: I think that President Trump's approach as a legal strategy in fact in this investigation makes no sense. It's a mess. If you look at it as a P.R. strategy to inflate himself from consequence from his Republican allies Congress, it's working.

KUCINICH: But, you know, we'll have to wait and see whether he manages to undermine his own economic message by some of the things that he says, some of the things that he does when it comes to trade, when it comes to autos. We talk about early as --

ZELENY: Watch tonight what he says in that.

KUCINICH: Watch tonight what he -- yes, exactly. We'll see if he can keep up with that economic message because he is going to be the biggest mouthpiece they have going into the midterms.

KING: Republicans hold their breath just about every time the President is on the road, but we'll see. We will see. He's a very effective communicator. Strategy might be interesting, but he is.

Thanks for joining us today on INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow. Wolf starts right now. Have a great day.