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Trump Responds to Roseanne's Firing; Sessions Refused Trump's Demand; Cohen in Court; Gowdy Refutes Trump. Aired 12n-12:30p ET

Aired May 30, 2018 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:24] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

A busy hour ahead, including the president's big wish, that he had never picked Jeff Sessions as attorney general. It's a reaction to big news in the Russia meddling investigation, including a big defense of the FBI from a congressman conservatives not long ago considered a hero.

Plus rally Trump in Tennessee. The president's 2018 playbook borrows heavily from his 2016 playbook. Give your opponent a mocking nickname, and strike a hard line on immigration.

And Roseanne Barr blames Ambien for a racist tweet, tells fans to stop defending the indefensible. The president weighs in for the first time, somehow casting himself as a victim. Others see it differently.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For me, I have been so disheartened by what's acceptable in the world right now, what's acceptable in the White House, and it's refreshing to see someone take a stand and say, no, not at ABC, not at this company.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is not acceptable rhetoric. And it's interesting that ABC holds a higher standard to their employees than apparently the White House does.


KING: We begin the hour with first words from the president about Roseanne Barr being fired by ABC News. Barr fired for spewing a racist tweet about former top Obama White House aide Valerie Jarrett. The president's reaction, somewhat head scratching. Here it is. Bob Iger of ABC called Valerie Jarrett to let her know ABC does not tolerate comments like those made by Roseanne Barr. Gee, he never called President Donald J. Trump to apologize for the horrible statements made and said about me on ABC. Maybe I just didn't get the call.

It's not exactly clear what ABC reports or comments the president is referring to there, but it is quite clear he somehow sees himself as the victim here. The entire country, of course, talking about Roseanne's tweet storm and the cancellation of her show. It seems the president, however, doesn't want to talk about the racism, doesn't want to talk about Roseanne, he wants to talk about himself.

With me today to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times," "The Wall Street Journal's" Michael Bender, and CNN's Juana Summers.

It is -- we've been waiting for 24 plus hours for will the president say anything. The president has finally said something.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I couldn't sleep last night. I was waiting for his response.

KING: Yes, you couldn't -- yes.


KING: This is not -- this is not where I would prefer to start the conversation either, especially on a day when there is actually a lot of big news about things that matters.

MARTIN: Right.

KING: But racism matters. Racism from public figures like a sitcom star matters. The tweet was reprehensible, vile -- vile and we could go on. ABC did the right thing. They fire her. The president of the United States waits and waits and waits. He had praised her. He had called her when the sitcom was rebooted. And then in his first public reaction, he doesn't say, Roseanne got fired because she did something racist.

MARTIN: Right.

KING: He doesn't -- he doesn't -- nor does he defend her, which is indefensible. But what he says is, what about me?


KING: Help me.

BASH: Look, can you imagine if the president sent out a tweet that said this is not the way anybody in this country should talk, should think, should tweet, should do any of that.

Now, right now, in today's day and age, that sounds almost utopian because we can't imagine this president doing such a thing. But it wasn't that long ago that that was presidential leadership. And should be presidential leadership. It is about as basic and as rudimentary as it gets to call out, when there's a big cultural moment or a big issue nationally, to call out what is on its face. Indisputably a horrible, horrible thing that Roseanne Barr did. But he can't, and it is all connected. It is all connected. They are all --

KING: If he -- right, that there's some double standard --

BASH: But they're all part of the same --

KING: There's some double --

BASH: The same idea of fomenting hate and division in this country that we have unfortunately gotten used to from this president. And we need to remember that this is not normal.

MARTIN: John, he has reshaped the office more than the office has reshaped him.

BASH: Yes. Yes.

MARTIN: And I think this is another example of that.

But two other examples come to mind. Vladimir Putin and John McCain. And if you hold up those two people, that tells you who Trump is and how he operates, just as the same as Roseanne Barr does. You know, Vladimir Putin is an authoritarian leader, obviously, who commits all kinds of crimes. President Trump does not like criticizing him. Why? Because Putin says nice things about him. John McCain is a U.S. senator in his own party with a record of heroism. John McCain won't rebuke his own staffer for making fun of John McCain in private. Why? Because McCain says mean things about him in Trump's mind.

[12:05:04] It's not complicated. If you're for Trump, he's for you. And if you're against Trump, in his mind, then he's against you. And it doesn't matter if it's Roseanne Barr, John McCain or Vladimir Putin.

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": But we did see that -- there was a lot of people waiting for Trump to attack or defend Roseanne Barr last night. And what we see here is Trump -- well, for one, he -- what I'm told is that he didn't defend Roseanne Barr because he's not really that close with her. He defends his allies and, as we see this morning, he defends himself. There's a brief conversation on Air Force One last night between him and Sarah Sanders about whether or not he should go after ABC or defend Roseanne Barr. Sarah suggested against it and he let it go.

But what we see this morning is that he's now made this personal for himself. And with the comments I think he's talking about there, the folks in the White House are saying is, is that -- is that fight we saw months ago on the ESPN anchor who tweeted about Trump big a bigot and a racist --

MARTIN: Jemele Hill, yes.

BENDER: Jemele Hill. And then Sarah Sanders got up in the podium and called on ESPN to fire her, which they did not. So I think that is what -- what Trump is going back to here in his tweet this morning.

JUANA SUMMERS, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER: When you talk about the president and his allies, I think we need to look at the context in which this tweet came. You know, Roseanne Barr was responding to a tweet that suggested that Valerie Jarrett had possibly aided then President Barack Obama in this conspiracy theory that the president's been pushing that there's been somehow some informant planted in his campaign. So she was coming to kind of his defense, his aid, being his ally, a supporter, and then saying these repugnant and racist things about a former senior White House adviser.

What I think is going to be really interesting, guys, is what Sarah Sanders says when she's asked -- you know, she said yesterday, you know, the president's too busy. He's focusing on North Korea. He's focusing on policy. The president tweeted that himself. It doesn't seem like that busyness lasted all that long.

KING: Yes, no, the president -- and the president, still to your point about spygate, as the president calls it, he wasn't too busy for some of that today. We'll get it later in the program.

But back to the point about race in America and leadership in America, it's that if he's going to speak on this, he's the president of the United States, and there's a -- should be -- should be a higher bar for him than anybody. Even Roseanne Barr says what she says is indefensible. She says she's sorry. Now we can have a debate about whether she really means it or whether she's trying to protect her brand, but even she says it's indefensible. The president says nothing about it. He says it is about him.

Which part of the conversation today, which I was ready to push back on some, is that there are all these people out there saying that in part the president is the gateway to this because he has been the leader of this tweet what you think mentality, without hesitation, without an editor, without checking, should I really do this? And so as this has blown up, a lot of people have blamed the president. Roseanne Barr, Roseanne Connor, or Roseanne Barr, the actor -- who's Roseanne Connor on TV, she is personally responsible for what she does. She's an adult.

However, you say we may hear from Sarah Sanders today. That will be interesting. We may hear from the president any minute now. He's (INAUDIBLE) at the White House.

I just -- I'm stupid for asking the question, but why? I just -- when the president does things like this where it's pretty -- racism is reprehensible. I abhor it.

BASH: It's not hard.

KING: ABC did the right thing here. If he wanted to say, I wish they had done the right thing, ABC did the right thing here. I wish they had done what I think is the right thing there. That's a different -- then we're having a different conversation.

BASH: Right. But that is not this man.


BASH: That is not this man. It will not be this man, which is why when I said before that, you know, the idea of him making a statement like you just did, is utopian in these days -- in this day and age, just because it's just not who he is. And you talk about the gateway in terms of using social media and

Twitter, that's true. But it's not just the median of Twitter, but it's the message that he's been the gateway for.

MARTIN: Right.

BASH: And that is what is so disturbing.

KING: And his -- a lot of people who support this president -- again, he's not responsible for them. He cannot control the behavior of his supporters on Twitter. But a lot of them are continuing this.

MARTIN: Right.

KING: There's a -- one of them posting this morning a picture of an ape and a picture of Valerie Jarrett. I mean, climb back into your hole. Just climb back into your hole, take off the electronics.

But among the people who retweet Roseanne quite frequently is Donald Trump, Junior, including anti-Semitic tweets. Some of them are directly racist. Some of them you might call more race baiting than racist. You can have a conversation about that. Again, that's the president of the United States' son.

MARTIN: And this is, I think the larger impact. You put Roseanne aside for a minute. I think this is the larger impact of this president is main streaming and elevating racial grievance politics in this country in a way that no leader of his stature has done at this point, or at least this recently in our history.

And just think about two big issues. In the Obama years, the way that he sort of got to relevance in the Republican Party on the right was by talking about this smear that Obama was not born in America. He was the birther in chief, basically.

Then, when he launches his campaign in June of 2015, almost three years ago, he does so talking about Mexicans being rapists and on this vow to build a wall along the southern border of this country. That's how he sort of got to this point where he was a credible candidate for president.

[12:10:04] And if you look at -- a lot of the ads that the candidates of his own party are running this year, it's not as -- nearly as far as he goes. And, you know, most of the cases, but immigration is central. Immigration was always (INAUDIBLE), as you guys know.

BASH: It's all connected.

MARTIN: But it's become the defining issue. The cohesive issue. It's become what (INAUDIBLE) or the Soviets were for a long time on the right. It is the glue that holds together the coalition now. And that's in large part because of him elevating the issue.

KING: And part -- here's how "The Weekly Standard" put it in this, can you connect the president to the Roseanne conversation, in that way Roseanne was a lot like Trumpism. You start out thinking, I know he's said some weird stuff and has a shady past, but illegal immigration is a real problem. The next thing you know, you're defending a president who plays footsie with white supremacists and accuses a former president of literal treason.

BENDER: Yes, there's -- well, there's always a little bit of -- this is the danger with Trump, right? I mean there's always a little bit of truth in what he says. I'm not suggesting that what he's -- that the truth (ph) is racism but --

KING: Illegal immigration is a problem.

BENDER: Correct. Correct. And all sides can agree on that point. But when you step back and talk about the racism issue, he's given -- been given this -- the chance repeatedly to address it. And he knows this is the conversation that's happening around him and just refuses -- and refuses to wade into it. And, you know, around the riot in Virginia, I mean, what was he saying back then, that of course racism is terrible, right? Why should I even have to say it?

Well, like, when you talk about Donald Trump, Jr. tweets, when you talk about the tweets of his supporters, this is why you have to say it and this is why --

MARTIN: David Duke. (INAUDIBLE) him. Yes.

BENDER: Right. And a certain example you can set that trickles out to the people who support you.

KING: And when you choose to use your platform to weigh in on a whole lot of things, then people are going to ask the question, why don't you weigh in on others, when you use your platform as he does. We'll continue the conversation. Again, a remarkable first reaction from the president. We may hear from him on camera. He has a bill signing ceremony at the White House a bit later this hour.

When we come back, also big news today in the Russia meddling investigation. The president yet again wishes aloud that he wishes he had never appointed Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Why would that be front and center on his mind today? We'll explain.


[12:16:30] KING: Welcome back.

Important new developments today in the Russia meddling investigation. A congressman who was once a conservative hero, shreds the president's spygate claim and says the FBI did exactly what it was supposed to do.

First, though, the president's telling attack on his attorney general. Telling today because of the timing. "The New York Times" today with new details about how central the attorney general is to the special counsel investigation, especially to this question -- did the president deliberately try to obstruct that investigation? The new reporting includes details of a direct presidential appeal last March for Sessions to rip up his recusal letter and to reassert control over the investigation. Sessions refused the president's request. The new attack began by quoting Congressman Trey Gowdy, who on TV this morning said he understands the president's frustration, and that if Sessions had said up front he should recuse himself from the investigation, he would recuse himself, the president, quote, Gowdy says, could have picked somebody else. The president then added on Twitter, and I wish I did.

Now, the president's anger at Sessions is well documented. In addition to the new details in "The Times" story, the president also knows a lot more than we do -- a lot more than we do about the questions being pushed to his lawyers by the special counsel. Questions we are told include at least eight specifically about the attorney general.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz joins us live now.

Shimon, help us understand why this attack on the attorney general again is so important.

SIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, certainly, John, I think when you look at "The New York Times" reporting, when you look at the color and sort of the way in which it was done, it was this direct ask from the president to Jeff Sessions at a dinner at Mar-a-Lago. They say that this happened back in March 2017 after Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation. It was at a dinner with the president, with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, where the president began to berate Jeff Sessions, you know, telling him he should recuse -- he shouldn't recuse himself from the Russian investigation and that he should get back in.

Now, "The Times" says that this is unusual and potentially inappropriate request. And, like you said, Jeff Sessions refused. And as we know, the special counsel has been looking into obstruction. This, we're told, is part of that investigation. But the president's lawyers have been working, have been negotiating with Mueller and his team to try and limit some of the questions that Mueller wants to ask, including those about Comey's firing and really the overall picture, the overall investigation into obstruction.

KING: And, Shimon, on a related but separate note, Michael Cohen, the president's long time attorney and fixer, back in court today.

What did we learn from that hearing?

PROKUPECZ: Right. So this was really the continuation of the document production, the review of the documents that Michael Cohen's attorneys have objected the government from seeing and so they have an outside person called a special master reviewing these documents.

So essentially today there was an update. We've learned that some million documents or so have been reviewed. But really I think what's most interesting that occurred in court today is kind of the sideshow that has taken up here, and that is the Michael Avenatti wanting to intervene in the case, wanting a seat at the table. You know, Avenatti, obviously Stormy Daniels' attorney. She is part of this investigation. And so he's been asking the judge to admit him into court to allow him to have a seat at the table. And she's basically taking issue with how he's handled some of the publicity, telling him that if he wanted to be part of this case, to have a seat at the table, he would have to stop some of his publicity tour.

KING: Good luck with that.

[12:20:00] Shimon Prokupecz, appreciate that.

As we bring it into the room, it's a sideshow to the legal questions that matter most. Anyone think Michael Avenatti's ready to give up his TV time?? OK, good.

But let's move on.

MARTIN: Looking around, no.

KING: Let's move on to the stuff that matters.

Again, I say this like a broken record, but the president and his team know so much more than we do about what the special counsel knows and about what the special counsel wants to ask. So when you see this "New York Times" story today, the idea that the president wishes he didn't appoint Jeff Sessions is not new. The details about the president sitting across from the attorney general and saying, rip up the letter, take back control over this investigation, make the special counsel go away, that is new. And the question is, what's the mindset behind it? And then he says this morning, I wish I did. I wish I had picked a different attorney general.

BASH: The mindset behind it is pretty obvious. The mindset behind it is, without Jeff Sessions there, a new attorney general could be put in place. A new attorney general who would potentially take the hit or the heat for getting rid of the special counsel and the investigation.

Now, that's the mindset. That doesn't mean that that would actually happen in reality, because a lot of things would have to go the president's way for that to take place, like finding somebody who would be an attorney general that is confirmable by the U.S. Senate, who would be willing to do that. So those are big ifs. And I would even go as far as saying, good luck -- good luck with that finding that person.

But, as you said, it is not new and it -- and there have been discussions about, as one source had put it to me, unrecusing himself.

KING: Right.

BASH: And, obviously, Jeff Sessions has gone so far down the road of recusal, not to mention the fact that he hasn't really been pulled back with a lot of love and affection from his boss, the president, it's hard to see that happening.

KING: Well, he did the right thing when he recused himself. He was involved in the campaign very early. It's an investigation under his department about the campaign. He did the right thing. The president may not process it that way because he has a different view of the law or the loyalty of the attorney general.

The interesting part for me, and part of this, is the president's tweet was based on holding out the words of Congressman Gowdy, as, listen to this fine gentleman. Listen to this fine gentleman make the case that, you know, Jeff Sessions should have been more honest with me up front.

So let's listen to that fine gentlemen, who, in other interviews today -- remember, the president, for a couple of weeks now, has suggested there's an illegal, improper, nefarious FBI spying operation. Here's Trey Gowdy, the chairman of the House Government Oversight Committee, here he is on CBS this morning.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So when the president says spygate, that's not a -- there was no spy inserted into the campaign. Have you seen any evidence of that?



KING: He has not. Now, remember, Gowdy was among the lawmakers who were briefed by the top Justice Department officials and the FBI officials on this whole question. The president pressured the Justice Department into giving them this rare, some say unprecedented briefing, on the inside information about the investigation. Were there spies put inside the Trump campaign to do anything illegal or improper? The FBI said, no, these were confidential sources. We were worried about the Russians. Not about the president. Here's Trey Gowdy even more on Fox News.


REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I am -- I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got, and that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump.


GOWDY: I think when the president finds out what happened, he's going to be, not just fine, he's going to be glad that we have an FBI that took seriously what they heard. He was never the target. Russia is the target.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So it sounds to me --


MARTIN: What's Sean Hannity going to say having that on Fox, by the way?

KING: Well, you already have --

MARTIN: That's our program (ph) Hannity there on Fox.

KING: Kind of program Hannity -- but you also now have people -- remember, Trey Gowdy was the chairman of the Benghazi investigation.

MARTIN: The chairman of (INAUDIBLE).

BASH: Right.

KING: Conservatives held them up as their poster child in those days.

MARTIN: Right.

KING: That he was the one who was going to expose the crimes of Hillary Clinton and the Obama administration in Benghazi.

MARTIN: Right.

KING: And now, now, there are some on Twitter saying, oh, he's obviously joined the deep state.

MARTIN: Right.

BENDER: Right. Well, maybe, I think it was probably Ambien here.

MARTIN: I think it's true (ph).

BASH: Ambien.

BENDER: Yes, for Gowdy, a little too much Ambien for Gowdy last night.

But, you know, it is -- I think Gowdy is one of the few people --

MARTIN: He's retiring, by the way.

KING: This is -- this is -- this is --

BENDER: Well, that's the --

KING: This is a former federal prosecutor --


KING: Who understands the law I would argue in detail, in practice and in application in a way that is far superior to the current president of the United States.

BASH: That's right.

MARTIN: And is liberated from politics because he's not running again, right?

KING: Right.

MARTIN: So he can speak his mind about whatever, like Jeff Flake.

BENDER: We'll see how long the president holds him out as a voice of reason, and a voice to back up his, you know, his thoughts on Sessions. I'm told inside the White House, external advisers, they're already

trying to discredit and -- Gowdy. And even the president has been -- has been, you know, they were talking about, well, why is he retiring? You know, he must be compromised.

Well, why didn't that Benghazi investigation go a little further? You know, why did he -- what was his quote, you know, about John Dowd, the president's former attorney? You know, if you have an innocent client, you should act like it. That comment riled up the president. And from talking to folks this morning, I don't think Sessions -- Sessions -- you know, they're saying that Rod Rosenstein's more likely to be fired than Sessions, even though that's not happening. But, you know, the attacks on Gowdy could be -- could be coming shortly.

[12:25:06] KING: But if the attacks on Gowdy come -- if the attacks on Gowdy come, the Senate majority leader was also in the room. And he came out and said there was nothing surprising and he continued to support Robert Mueller. If he was presented with evidence of spying, he would say that was surprising. I'm just convinced of that.

The House speaker was very careful in what he said, but he also hasn't said, oh, my God, I was in this meeting, and they showed me this horrible stuff.

Devin Nunes, who has been the president's right hand man in selling this conspiracy theory, not a peep. Not a peep.

SUMMERS: Yes, I mean, I think the fact of the matter is, it sounds to me as though the president is cherry picking Trey Gowdy's comments to serve his political purposes at the time and I think that because Gowdy is held by many Republicans in such high esteem based on the background that you just (INAUDIBLE) off, a former prosecutor, someone who's been in those classified briefings, it's going to be really difficult to continue to beat that drum.

Now, do I think that makes the president stops? Absolutely not. But I do think it makes it a harder road to convince people that this debunked story is indeed true.

KING: Right, and he has raised -- Trey Gowdy has raised questions about Justice Department management and FBI conduct.


KING: And he says he continues to want answers to those questions. But on this specific one, he was in the room. He got the briefing. And he says the FBI did exactly what we should want them to do.

BASH: He knows exactly what he's doing. He is going on there, exactly to your point, to take the air out of the balloon of this conspiracy theory, which I interviewed Rudy Giuliani on Sunday, which he admits -- I mean I don't even think he had to admit it, it's pretty obvious, they admit they're doing in order to poison the court of public opinion in case of any impeachment.

MARTIN: Right. KING: Right.

BASH: I mean, period.

KING: Right, period.

BASH: And now you have a well-respected guy who was leading the charge to get this information, intentionally, going in public, during congressional recess, on Fox News first, you know, going straight to the base, and saying, nothing to see here, guys, chill.

MARTIN: Could I just mention one fast thing before we move on from this, and that is the president's tweet about Jeff Sessions, which is, you know, I wish I had picked somebody else, which is not new, as you pointed out. He's been trolling his own AG for the last year.

But it's extraordinary that Jeff Sessions and other folks in the administration who get this kind of treatment, they don't leave. You know, we -- we're all kind of a nerd to just how different this administration is. But one of the things that fascinates me time and time again is the treatment that they receive, and they -- they don't quit.

KING: But Sessions and Rosenstein --

BASH: But can I -- but can I say one --

KING: Sessions and Rosenstein have made a pact --

BASH: Exactly. Exactly.

KING: That we think we are right. We believe the evidence after this is all exposed and the report and Mueller's done is going to support our position. And that if he wants us to go, he has to fire us. They made a pact on that.

BASH: And it's -- and it's -- in this -- in a lot of cases --

MARTIN: But it's personally humiliating.

BASH: I agree with you -- totally. I agree with you.


BASH: But he, in this case, is doing it to protect what he believes, frankly, I think are the institutions. It's a very different kind of thing from other members of his cabinet who have --

MARTIN: White house staff.

BASH: And White House staff whom he has thrown under the bus time and time again.

MARTIN: Who like the job.

KING: Right. BASH: This is a different thing.

KING: Right. But it is -- it is remarkable, Trey Gowdy --

BASH: Has taken a lot.

KING: Trey Gowdy, a couple of days ago, you get nice -- if you look at Twitter today, the president's supporters, here's one, there goes Trey Gowdy cashing those deep state checks again. Sellout. Someone should ask Trey Gowdy why the FBI, blah, blah, blah. You know, don't be fooled, folks, Trey Gowdy failed catastrophically in bringing Hillary to book (ph).

MARTIN: Right.

KING: Trey Gowdy came off as a water boy for the deep state.

Once you say something that doesn't agree with the president's view --


KING: They turn on you. Facts notwithstanding.

BENDER: Yes, absolutely. And, you know, and that's -- there was -- what Sessions' poll approval in Alabama these days? You know, I mean, they -- other than like his core supporters around the administration, there are -- there are -- I mean there are still a handful of people from Alabama, Sessions loyalists, in the White House while the president is attacking the AG.

MARTIN: Look last night at the national rally where he (INAUDIBLE) Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. And look at the reactions, right? Lamar's applauded, Corker is booed because Corker, for a while there, was in open war with the president. Jeff Flake can't run again because he would have lost the primary because of his critique of Trump. Trey Gowdy, we're talking about, is liberated to say this stuff because he's not facing a primary next month in South Carolina. He's not running again. Those who speak out against the president in his own party tend to have one thing in common, they're not on the ballot.

KING: Not on the ballot anymore. They don't have to face the ire of the Trump base in the party, which brings us to your next question. It's a big question, do Republicans want this, this is rally Trump last night, to be their midterm message.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you want your country to be safe, then you must go out and get the Democrats the hell out of office, because there's no common sense.