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Trump Hits Canada, Mexico, E.U. With Steel And Aluminum Tariffs; Trump Contradicts Himself Says Comey Firing Unrelated To Russia; NYT: McCabe Feared Rosenstein Gave Trump Cover For Comey Firing; Samantha Bee Aims Vile Slur At Ivanka Trump. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 31, 2018 - 12:30   ET



[12:31:36] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome back, a dramatic escalation today at the Trump administration's global trade war. New tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Europe, Mexico and Canada now kicking at midnight tonight. Just a few minutes ago, the German Foreign Minister slamming this move as, quote, unlawful.

The President angering key U.S. allies the same week he slapped new tariffs on Chinese goods. The President says standing up for American workers is long overdue but trade is an issue on which the President is clearly at odds with Republican Party orthodoxy.

Nebraska Republican Senator Ben Sasse, for example, saying of the administration actions this morning. "This is dumb. We've been down this road before. Blanket protectionism is a big part on why America had a great depression. Make America Great Again shouldn't mean make America 1929 again."

You see in the bottom right of your screen, the markets are down modestly but down impart because of this again. It's 227 points at the moment as you see there. This is an issue that push the President apart from his party and its general orthodoxy. It's also an issue on which we can talk about the economics.

But on the politics, Republicans are worried. We think our tax cut is encouraging economic growth. Mr. President, the unemployment rate is really low. Why would you risk that? Because the Europeans and the Chinese have promised retaliation.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes. And that's an argument that Republican lawmakers have been making to the President for months hoping that he would pull back from this idea of imposing tariffs. Of course, the President did campaign on, as you've said, putting America first, fighting against what he viewed as unfair trade practices. But this is the biggest policy break between Republicans and this President. He's probably more in line with Democrats on this issue.

But I do think, though, one of the significant things here is that it really does also throw into question whether or not we can trust what his cabinet secretaries are saying about this. There is such clear division within his own administration on this. Steve Mnuchin last week saying the trade war with China was on hold. They weren't going to impose any new tariffs and what does the White House do a week later? They announce new tariffs on China. And really just throws in the question what -- who's really speaking for President. Only the President is only speaking for himself on this issue and there's such clear division within his own administration.

KING: I would say this is another example of wait for the President, because there's clearly as a tug-of-war. You had Gary Cohn who's now gone, chief economic adviser. His replacement Gary Kudlow, more of a globalist, more of a free trader, goes back to the Reagan days. Steve Mnuchin sort of understands the President but he's more of an establishment guy. But you have Peter Navarro and others telling the President -- Robert Lighthizer who's telling the President no.

And look, the President -- the question is, 15 months in, if he's the great deal maker, why hasn't he been able to renegotiate any of these trade deals we thinks is so horrible. Why haven't they've been able to do that instead they're doing this. It's an economic policy debate. But everybody involved gets the politics.

The Europeans say they're going to have retaliation. Motorcycles made in Wisconsin, bourbon made in Kentucky, orange juice, tobacco and motor boats. They get the politics. The Chinese say we're going to retaliate. Airplanes, beef, pork, sorghum, soybeans, tobacco, Middle America, Trump states for the most part.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: And one thing that we're going today from critics of these is that these are allies, these countries, at a moment when the President is trying to negotiate with North Korea, efforts in the Middle East. Is this a time when you want to upset allies, you know, escalate trade tensions? But he really views this as a campaign promise. And if we've seen again and again, it's hard to move him away from these promises.

[12:35:03] KING: And to that point, I think that's important. He views this not only as a campaign promise. He views this as Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan.

LUCEY: Absolutely.

KING: He views this as why he is President. And you see the President that key moments politically and we're watching it play out this week, trade and immigration. There are always two reflexes. He thinks immigration won him the Republican nomination, and he thinks trade won him the presidency. We could argue that whether there are other factors that play. But that's what he thinks and that's how he acts.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I mean, bringing up immigrations are great other example of things where we've seen that the populism in this has just matched up with the actual economic benefit or lack thereof to the country. In yet in that one he's saying, OK, fine, the populism won out. This would be a lot more of a direct experiment specially because the retaliatory moves are also targeting pretty much the same populations and it will be up to those people if they wanted kind of vote with their emotions on the populism front or vote with their bottom line financial when it's actually really hitting them in the gut.

Immigration is more -- it's not a theoretical thing if you live in an immigrant community or around those businesses. But if you don't, it is more of a thing that at arm's length. It's a lot different when it's your, you know, crop or your manufactured good that is actually not being sold and you're maybe losing your job as a result of it.

KING: The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau yesterday saying he spoke to the President about this. He was hopeful they could work it out. Tonight those kick in and after negotiations have collapsed as well. This is the story of the next 25, 30 years because of globalization, because of global trade and everything. We'll watch this from play out. We'll keep an eye on the markets as well.

Up next for us here, the President tweets and seems to conveniently forget what he said at a prime time national TV interview. That's next.


[12:41:01] KING: Welcome back. Today, the President of the United States denying his own words. On Twitter this morning, the President saying, "Not that it matters, but I never fired James Comey because of Russia." That does matter, actually, and before we get to the reason by the law, in case you had forgotten.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey knowing there was no good time to do it. And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.


KING: So why is the President now denying his own words? Well, we know he reads the New York Times religiously and it has some important new reading today on the question of the Comey firing and the President's intent. The account characterizes a confidential memo written by the former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. In the memo, McCabe reportedly says Rosenstein told him the President mentioned the Russia investigation as a reason to fire Comey. Rosenstein wrote a memo to the President justifying the firing and other grounds.

The Deputy A.G. did not mention Russia. But you can connect the dots. If the McCabe memo was accurate, Rosenstein had firsthand knowledge of the President's mindset. When Rosenstein decided, after the Comey firing, to name a Special Counsel to take over the Russian investigation. Meaning, President says fire him because of Russia. Rosenstein writes a memo on other grounds. Comey is gone. Rosenstein thinks, wait a minute. Now the pressure is going to be on me to end the Russia investigation. I'm going to name a special counsel.

RAJU: Yes.

KING: That's a fair connecting of the dots, isn't it?

RAJU: Yes.

KING: If the McCabe memo is accurate.

RAJU: And Andrew McCabe has talked to the Special Counsel. The Special Counsel knows what Andrew McCabe knows, assuming he did turn over this memo to the Special Counsel as The Times reports, that's one area for the Special Counsel to investigate further. But the President is just, you know, obviously not speaking the truth here about, you know, blaming the media for suggesting that Russia was on his mind. Even the President's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said just I think last week that one of the reasons why he fired James Comey was because the President would not -- because Comey would not say that the President was not a target of the Russia investigation. So clearly Russia was on his mind, and Giuliani admitted it himself last week.

KING: So the President, we know he reads The Times. He reads the story. It stirs up the whole sequencing of how we got a special counsel. It stirs up the idea that Andrew McCabe with the President doesn't like for many reasons. Might be a key part of trying to the President's mind set here. He's up to Rob Rosenstein.

Rosenstein doesn't have the power to do this if Jeff Sessions hadn't recused himself from this. So the President then tweeting this morning, it said, quote, from Joe diGenova, I mean, the former U.S. attorney, "The recusal of Jeff Sessions was an unforced betrayal of the President of the United States." Again, imagine that's your boss. He went after Jeff Sessions yesterday. Now he's done this in fits and starts for the last year plus.

But in the last 48 hours or 24 hours, the President again has decided to make clear to Jeff Sessions, I wish you would go away, right? You don't tell a key deputy you accuse him of betrayal unless you want him to go away, right?

ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes. I think it's pretty clear that Trump wishes that Jeff Sessions wasn't there, but why is he still there? It's because the President doesn't want to or feels he can't fire him. And that leads me to believe that Jeff Sessions actually has some leverage in this situation and it's precisely because of the Mueller obstruction of justice probe.

KING: He does have leverage, and listen, this is Rudy Giuliani yesterday asked this question. He met with reporters. He had a pool of reporters outside the White House. He asked this question, is the President going to fire Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein?


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: I don't think the President is going to touch Mueller, Sessions or Rosenstein. And I think in the long run, it will be worked out.


KING: In the long run, it will be worked out. I want to continue. Listen to Rudy Giuliani here. He's the President's lawyer. He worked with Bob Mueller as a prosecutor first. Then when he was the mayor and Bob Mueller was the head of the FBI.

[12:45:12] Listen to Rudy Giuliani's characterization of the Mueller special prosecution team.


GIULIANI: So you got a group there that's a lynching mob, so let them do their job, and boy, we're ready to knock the heck out of you with our report, which will be authoritative. It will be backed up. It will be backed up with law and facts, and we'll let the American people decide this.


KING: I can't wait in the sense that much of what the President says has no relationship to the facts. A lot of what Rudy Giuliani says has little relationship to the facts. We'll see if they have a report that maybe runs counter to what they've said publicly so far.

And today he said this according to our Dana Bash. He's drinking the kool-aid. This is about Trey Gowdy. Congressman has gone on television, that I was part of that briefing with the FBI on whether there was improper spying. Trey Gowdy says trust the FBI. They did exactly what they were supposed to do in this situation. Meaning, when the President said they spied improperly in my campaign, the President is not telling the truth. Rudy Giuliani says, he's drinking the kool-aid. I never understood what he did with the Benghazi investigation, either. He really screwed that up. I don't know what he was doing.

JOHNSON: There is something going on here and that is I think Giuliani is preparing for an impeachment. When he talks about public opinion and let public opinion decide, that means he thinks Mueller is not going to indict the President, he's not going to come up with crimes or try the President in court. He thinks Congress is going to impeach him or decide whether or not to impeach the President based on public opinion, and he is running an enormous P.R. campaign starting now preparing for that prospect.

LUCEY: They're trying to undermine in every single way they can.

KING: And they are making clear that they will use a chain saw against anybody who speaks counter to what they say, including a Republican Congressman from South Carolina who traditionally has been a conservative hero.

RAJU: And don't forget Devin Nunes has said virtually nothing about this so far. Mitch McConnell said there was nothing particularly surprising what he heard at the briefing, so there is no evidence to suggest that back up the President's claims that the people have seen it. So there's nothing there, but as you said, John, this is probably a sign to others not to speak out against the President.

KING: When we come back, a story I wish we didn't have to cover. But Ivanka Trump is owed an apology.


[12:51:36] KING: Welcome back. Today, Samantha Bee silent 12 hours after she made a vile reprehensible statement assailing President Trump's daughter. If you have children in the room, you might want to turn down the TV for a moment or ask them walk away.

On her television show, "Full Frontal", Bee used to picture Ivanka Trump to try to make a point about the Trump administration policy of separating immigrant families at the border. The policy is controversial. But the reaction to this should not be, the comedian calling Ivanka Trump the c word.


SAMANTHA BEE, COMEDIAN: Let me just say one mother to another, do something about your dad's immigration practices, you feckless -- he listens to you.


KING: Let me just say one parent to another. A parent to the daughter. No, no, no. Criticize the President's daughter, criticize the policy. Some things just aren't funny. Roseanne Barr's racism is not funny. Samantha Bee using that word is not funny.

Sarah Sanders, the White House Press Secretary just calling it vile and vicious language. I could not agree more. She went on to say that her disgusting comments in her show are not meant for broadcast. And executives at Time Warner and TBS must demonstrate that such explicit profanity about female members of this administration will not be condoned on its network.

I would say explicit profanity about anybody, but I get the point about female members in that particular word used by Samantha Bee. She has been silent. Again, CNN is owned by Time Warner. So this is a family issue, if you will.

Anybody disagree? The President's daughter is fair game. Everybody involved in politics is fair game. Why do you have to use words that should not be spoken about any human being, whether it's the President's daughter or a perfect stranger? Why?

RAJU: I don't know. I mean, look, she's right. I mean, it's --

KING: And the comedians will say it's comedy.

RAJU: Right.

KING: Some things aren't funny. RAJU: Yes. This is -- Sarah Sanders is right. These are vile, vicious comments and should not have been made. No one should make these comments and the White House is right to condemn those remarks.

Now, it would be good if the White House was consistent and condemned also Roseanne Barr's tweets (ph) in a similar manner. Yesterday it deflected and made it more about the President not getting an apology and said while it was unacceptable, it was more about the President not getting an apology. It doesn't matter if you're left or right, he shouldn't be making those kind of comments no matter about anybody.

KING: And a critical point you make there because we can and should hold the President accountable. And the President is demanding an apology from Brian Ross from mistake -- ABC -- Brian Ross apologize, right? ABC did apologize on behalf of Brian Ross.

The President is right if he wants to put pressure on Disney saying, what about Keith Olbermann? The President has every right to make that case. And we have every right to fact check and we have standing if we're going to make these arguments, and in this case we don't.

And like it or not for people in our business, sometimes it's fair, sometimes it's grossly unfair. There is this perception of a double standard. Eric Erickson tweeting this, and I could not agree with him anymore, "All the progressives in my timeline telling me the Roseanne situation and the Samantha Bee situation are not comparable. Well, I'm sure, it will be fine and when Trump supporters start calling Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Nancy Pelosi, et cetera the same as what Samantha Bee called Ivanka Trump."

DEMIRJIAN: Look, in this regard, it's weird to just like playing a multiple levels against each other, right? This is the direct hit at Ivanka Trump. The Trump administration has the right to say that this is vile and vicious.

Roseanne Barr was not really direct to Donald Trump, his administration. People were saying he's created this space in which that's OK. I mean, look, this is a stupid thing for Samantha Bee to have done because she's not really anti-woman, right?

[12:55:08] She's just choosing a really vile term to use there. Whereas the problem with Roseanne Barr is that she may actually really racist. And that's a much more deep issue (ph).

So we're talking about terms and apologies and equating things that are, you know, in one case, a really stupid thing to do and in one case, maybe a much deeper problem. And there is, generally speaking, a lack of basic decent dialogue happening in the television space right now which is its own problem as well, but people are kind of losing their message for making these --

JOHNSON: I think, for someone to say, Samantha Bee is not really anti-woman even though she is that -- you know --

DEMIRJIAN: I'm not making excuses. I'm saying, you know, that you undercut your own -- (CROSSTALK)

KING: Indecent conversation is indecent period.

JOHNSON: Yes. I think what we're seeing on both sides with the Roseanne situation and the Samantha Bee situation is the over personalization of politics, and I think that's something that existed before Trump, it will exist after Trump but that he certainly exacerbated.

KING: Right. Apologize. Apologize. And the company, forgive me, I work here but the company should say something, too.

Thanks for joining me on INSIDE POLITICS. Wolf starts right now.