Return to Transcripts main page

INSIDE POLITICS

Celebration for Super Bowl Champs; Philadelphia Mayor on Trump's Decision; Changing Story on Trump Tower Statement; Kate Spade Found Dead; Messages from Manafort. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 5, 2018 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Meddling lie and Rudy Giuliani tries to explain it all away.

Plus, the special counsel sends a blunt law and order message. He accuses the former Trump campaign chief, Paul Manafort, of witness tampering and asks the judge to toss him in jail.

And, no White House celebration for the Super Bowl champs. President Trump gets mad when told most players weren't coming, then pulls the invitation and stokes his war with NFL players over national anthem protests.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONTE STALLWORTH, FORMER NFL PLAYER: The president obviously does not agree with the tactics of some players that are -- that have been taking a knee, but I think it's ironic to note that none of the Philadelphia Eagles during the season last year had taken a knee. You had some guys raise a fist, but none of those guys take -- had taken a knee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And that's where we begin the hour. It seems to some just a sports team fight, but a brand new White House statement now on a fresh culture war fight over that visit -- planned visit by the Super Bowl champions Philadelphia Eagles. The White House canceled that visit Monday after team officials told the administration only a handful of players planned to show up.

Now the White House is blaming the team, saying it changed the plan at last minute, tried to schedule the celebration without the president. The Eagles offered to send only a tiny handful of representatives, the White House says, while making clear the great majority of players would not attend the event despite planning to be in D.C. today. In other words, the White House says, the vast majority of the Eagles team decided to abandon their fans. That's the White House take.

On Twitter, the president also tied cancelling the visit to Eagles players kneeling in protest of the national anthem. One problem, that didn't happen. It's not true. No Eagles players took a knee during the anthem in any of the team's regular season or post season games. One player, Malcolm Jenkins, did raise his fist, but then he stopped after the NFL promised and delivered on a promise to donated $100 million to social justice charities. Torrey Smith, the wide receiver for the Super Bowl winning team said no one refused to go, as the president claimed, quote, simply because Trump insists folks stand for the anthem, and that the president wants people to believe the players are somehow against the military.

With me this day to share their reporting and their insights, "The Times'" Molly Ball, Jeff Zeleny of CNN, Michael Warren of "The Weekly Standard," and CNN's MJ Lee.

It's INSIDE POLITICS but we start with inside sports today, I guess, in this sense. In some ways this is a silly dispute, though it's not going to effect the price of gas or the jobs in America, but why is the president -- why the -- why does the president so relish this fight?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Because it works for him. He sensed something that was out there last year, this, you know, growing divide between people who, you know, didn't like to see the handful of NFL players at the time kneeling or not respecting his view of the national anthem.

But the president seized on it and turned what was really a pretty minor controversy into a major moment. But he likes big crowd sizes. We know that that is something he's talked over and over. And the White House believes that they were misled and, you know, disrespected in a sense.

So last Friday the White House says there were 81 people who were cleared in by the Secret Service for today's event and then yesterday they found only apparently only a handful -- a tiny handful, in the words of the White House -- again, this is the White House version of events -- were coming. So the president did not want to be left with, you know, with the mascot and a handful of players. So he made that pretty unusual statement last night.

But what this is for him, another midterm election year base, you know, firing up a culture war event.

KING: And yet -- and, yet, is the White House backing off somewhat? The president's statements made it about the anthem. The president went straight to the culture war. You know, these guys don't like me because I'm getting in their face about saluting the flag and standing up for the military. It didn't happen in the case of the Eagles. This new White House statement saying nothing about the anthem. It essentially says, you know, the team said 81 were coming. Then they said a handful were coming. You know, they accused the team of bad faith. It's not getting -- this seems to be a retreat in the story line.

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "TIME": Perhaps. I mean I don't think the team is going to retreat from their bad feelings about this. And I think, you know, this continues to be a crisis for the NFL. And I thought that that was the most significant thing about the president's tweets last night was, beyond this particular controversy, he also said staying in the locker room doesn't fix the problem.

KING: Right.

BALL: That was the gesture that the NFL made a couple of weeks ago thinking that they had come up with a compromise or a pacification, something that would make the president stand down on this issue that has so inflamed so much of the NFL's fan base. And, instead, the president -- you know, and there were some. There were some in the president's orbit who were declaring victory and liked that the NFL seemed to have backed down. But now you have the president saying, no, I see that as the same thing, this staying in the locker room gesture. I think it's just as bad. He is reigniting, he is continuing his war on the NFL in a way that I think is going to be very alarming for the league.

KING: And listen to the mayor of Philadelphia here, who's been very aggressive in his response saying, no, Mr. President, America doesn't work that way. You don't get to say my way or the highway.

[12:05:08] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM KENNEY, MAYOR OF PHILADELPHIA: I'm going to take my ball and go home basically is what he's saying. Is that is, unless you kneel to me, unless you pay homage to me as president of the United States, I'm going to disinvite you from the people's house. And that's not what the presidency is all about. The presidency is about every common person who looks up to that office and wants to be treated as -- as an equal American. And he does not want to treat people equally. Only the people who supports him are the people he considers real Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Is that fair?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: You know, I'm not even going to pretend that I understand football. That is not my area of expertise. But I kind of disagree that it is sort of a trivial issue and argument just because, you know, this is a president, as we all know, who happens to put people in two camps. The first camp is, people who agree with him, people who validate his world view. The second camp are the people who disagree with him and do not validate his world view. And I think he has taken an issue that is so complex and so personal and so wrenching for some of these players and essentially asked them to answer the question of, are you on my side or are you not.

And when you look at the way that he has handled this issue, he could have -- you know, it would be difficult for a man like Donald Trump. He is a white man living in the United States who was born to a family of such privilege. Even if he tried every single day to really understand what some of -- you know, where some of these black athletes are coming from when they take the knee, it would be difficult for him.

But instead of, you know, thinking for a second, maybe I use this as an opportunity to get to know this community better, have these conversations, he instead decided to say, you rejected me and you didn't want to come to my party, then I am cancelling the event.

KING: Right. Or if he just said, I don't quite understand your issues, but I want to talk to you about it. And I disagree with you, I disagree with you doing this during the national anthem, but I also agree you have a First Amendment right to do it. You could say that. Instead, he chooses politics.

MICHAEL WARREN, SENIOR WRITER, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": I mean, but are we surprised by that? I mean I -- that would be -- that would be very surprised if that's what the president decided to do.

Yes, he did -- he does choose politics. He knows what exactly his supporters, his team wants. it wants a culture war.

And I would argue that this is actually the most -- the biggest success of the Trump presidency. It's not tax cuts. That really was pushed through by Republicans in Congress. Obviously it wasn't Obamacare repeal. You might, you know, be able to say the Iran deal being torn up, but that's -- that -- we still don't know how that's going to end. But he took an issue that was -- that was dead at the beginning of the 2017 football season. Colin Kaepernick wasn't playing for anybody. He's the one who started all of this.

KING: Right. Two or three teams had the protest until the president picked the fight, and then more teams had the protests.

WARREN: Exactly. It seems to me that this is what Trump voters, maybe the most hard core Trump voters, actually want. This is what they care about more than any of that policy stuff. It's having a culture war and feeling like the president is fighting on their behalf. Whether we should take a movement that puts so much stock in the culture war seriously, I think -- I think that's another question.

ZELENY: And it's also something he can do on his own. He doesn't need the help of the House or the Senate or anyone else. He can do this on his own. And it also continues this long-running grudge and feud he's had with the NFL. That is part of this as well.

WARREN: USFL, yes.

ZELENY: He was shut out at the beginning -- I mean years ago wanted to be a player in this respect of the USFL. It didn't happen. So I think that it's a two-fer (ph) for him. Maybe a three-fer (ph). I don't know. But it's certainly a lot going on. More --

KING: Well, we'll get to see -- we'll get to see. It does help the president in Trump country, if you will. Pennsylvania does have a Senate race this year. The president carried it. Democrat Bob Casey one of those ten Trump state Democrats trying to hold a Senate seat. Here's favored in the race right now. But here's "The Philadelphia Daily News." Most close races are won in the suburbs. So the president might -- this might play out in the "t" (ph) as they call it in Pennsylvania. You see "bird brain" on the front of "The Philadelphia Daily News" there with the president in a Dallas Cowboys jersey in a Philadelphia newspaper. I don't think that -- WARREN: Most of the "t" (ph) are Steelers fans too.

KING: Yes, most of the "t" are Steelers fans. So we'll see how this one -- we do have elections. We'll watch this one play out. Again, we'll keep up with the least of that, see if the team reacts.

Up next, what sounded a lot like a White House lie, Rudy Giuliani wants you to think it's just a mistake.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:13:13] KING: Welcome back.

Let's turn now to a presidential vocabulary lesson. Remember when Bill Clinton told us it depends on the definition of "is." Well, now President Trump, with help from his new top gun lawyer is also trying to rewrite the dictionary. When the president or his team are caught in a lie, it's just that they're recollections are evolving. Or, if you won't buy that, it wasn't a lie, it was a mistake. The mistake at hand? Both the president's attorney, Jay Sekulow, and the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, are on record repeatedly saying President Trump did not dictate the son's misleading statement to "The New York Times" about a Trump Tower meeting with Russian during the 2016 campaign.

Well, we learned the other day the president did indeed dictate that statement. His legal team confirmed that in a letter to the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Caught in a lie or a series of lies, again. Rudy Giuliani wants you to be kinder, gentler.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, "CUOMO PRIME TIME": Why do you think they chose to lie about his role in drafting the statement about Trump Junior's meeting with the Russians?

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S LAWYER: Chris, you think maybe somebody could have made a mistake?

CUOMO: That's a lot of mistakes.

GIULIANI: Why does it always --

CUOMO: A lot of mistakes.

GIULIANI: Why is it always that somebody -- you think Jay Sekulow lied? Maybe he just got it wrong, like I've gotten it -- I got a few things wrong at the beginning of the investigation.

It was a mistake. I swear to God, it was a mistake. The guy made a mistake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now it's the president often at the center of these lies, or mistakes if you so choose. He blames Jeff Sessions. Let me connect the dots. Tweeting this this morning, the Russian witch hunt hoax continues, all because Jeff Sessions didn't tell me he was going to recuse himself. I would have quickly picked someone else. So much time and money wasted. So many lives ruined. And Sessions knew better than post that there was no collusion. Connecting the dots, meaning, if there was no special counsel, he wouldn't have to tell so many lies, I guess.

[12:15:02] I want to come back to this because Sarah Sanders gets paid by taxpayers. Jay Sekulow gets paid by the president. It's not a crime to lie to reporters. It is an offense -- an affront anyway, I would say, for a taxpayer -- somebody paid by taxpayers to knowingly -- knowingly -- she gets sent out there sometimes to say things. We should give her some grace because of who she works for. But to knowingly do it. They didn't just made a mistake. If they made a mistake, they had plenty of time to clean it up. This has been out there for months. On Air Force One, Donald Trump, the president of the United States, dictating a statement with the help of Hope Hicks, then his communications director. She was in the White House for weeks and weeks and weeks after the story came out that he didn't dictate it. She was right there. She could have corrected the record. She was paid by taxpayers.

Also on the plane, we don't know if they were involved in the meeting, but key players Jared Kushner, who was at the 2016 Trump Tower meeting. Ivanka, Josh Raffel (ph), who was Jared Kushner's spokesman at the time, Sean Spicer and Sarah Huckabee Sanders on the plane, then the deputy press secretary, who has repeatedly said this, I'm sorry, if it was a mistake, they could have stopped repeating it and cleaned it up.

ZELENY: No, question. This was a -- just for context here, it was a flight back from Homberg, Germany, back to Joint Base Andrews. I was also on the plane that day. At the very back of the plane where reporters fly. And we had no idea at the moment this was going on. But, you know, in subsequent weeks we found out that the White House team knew "The New York Times" was working on this story.

This story, of course, was going to be a bombshell about a Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016. So the president, I would say his biggest meeting at the G-20 in Germany was meeting with Vladimir Putin. So that was in the news. This was in his mind. So this is the context in which he walks onto the plane that Saturday afternoon and flies back to Washington. He wanted to help his son and we know that now he dictated this. The White House denied it at the time. It was pretty obvious that the story changed 180 degrees. I'm surprised, you know, that Sarah Sanders didn't have something more to say yesterday. But she, obviously, seems hamstrung as well from a legal point of view here.

KING: And let's get to that because, again, it's not a crime to lie to reporters.

ZELENY: Right.

KING: It's not a crime to lie to reporters. But yesterday, when confronted with the two stories, the president's lawyers told the special counsel this, you said that, Sarah Sanders could have said, I was given bad information, I'm sorry I got it wrong. Instead --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He certainly didn't dictate, but, you know, he, like I said, he weighed in, offered suggestion like any father would do.

This is a reference back to a letter from the outside counsel. I understand, but it's also pertaining to a letter from the president's outside counsel and therefore I can't answer rand I would direct you to the --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was your basis for saying all this stuff (ph)?

SANDERS: Once again, I'm not going to get into a back and forth. And I would encourage you to reach out to the outside counsel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEE: I think we need to be very clear here that Rudy Giuliani might be out there saying, look, these people made mistakes. Sarah Sanders did not say that. She did not address why she made the initial comment that she did. And I think we have to be very clear about that because, as you pointed out, there were many things that she could have said yesterday to reporters. She could have said, look, here's the reason why I made that initial comment. I was mistaken when I said that. Here's my corrected statement. But she didn't do any of that.

And I just have to think that until she -- and she's about to take the podium in about an hour and 20 minutes -- until she explains clearly why she made those contradictory statements or why she said something that clearly isn't true months ago, then I don't think White House reporters can sit there and sort of take her word at face value.

And journalists, I have to say, are held to the same standard as well. You know, if I were to write a report on air, something that was factually inaccurate, and then didn't take the steps to correct myself, then I don't think anyone working in a coms shop would have any reason to say I trust to work with this reporter.

KING: And so her credibility's at play. And then in "The Weekly Standard" you raised some of the legal issues here. It seems more likely than not that Trump did, in fact, write the statement. So this question remains, why would the president feel the need to personally review a statement from his son, a private citizen, about a meeting the president had been unaware of? That's the president's story is he knew nothing about this meeting at the time.

One of the reasons I think Sarah Sanders is -- she might want to correct the record to protect her own credibility or restore her own credibility, but they all know that every time they say things about this investigation, give it a week, give it two, something else changes.

WARREN: That's right. And let's go back to that moment in July of 2017. As "The New York Times" story comes out, remember the sort of broad team Trump, either inside the White House or out, the story changed significantly. And I think it's important to go back to that very specific thing that's at issue here. Donald Trump Jr. claimed that the meeting was initially a meeting where he was just going to be learning about adoption policy. Well, then, the new statement that we now know that the president himself dictated said actually the meeting was supposed to be about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton. And, in fact, Donald Trump Jr. was angry because the -- this Russian lawyer wanted to talk about adoption policy. So the story shifted from team Trump. So I think that's why it's so important. We maybe -- it may seem a little myopic to be focused on who dictated a statement, but from the get-go, team Trump has not been clear and honest about what happened regarding their response to this -- what -- again, was an explosive story.

[12:20:12] KING: Right. When they get caught, the stories change.

WARREN: That's right.

KING: Recollections evolve. However you want to put it. When they get caught, when it's documented, then their story changes. And then sometimes they get caught again and the story changes again. That's how it goes.

We'll come back to this, but we have to stop here for some breaking news.

The fashion designer, Kate Spade, has been found dead in New York. Law enforcement officials say her death appears to be a suicide. Spade, of course, the co-founder and creator of a very popular line of handbags, clothing and accessories. Although Spade herself no longer owned that company.

Let's bring in CNN's Jean Casarez.

Jean, what do we know about this terrible story so far?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are receiving word right now, according to the New York Police Department, that it was 10:30 this morning that they got a call saying that Kate Spade was found in a New York apartment. She, according to the police department, hanged herself. And there is a suicide note.

Now, that is all the information. This is breaking right now. Kate Spade, of course, a very famous internationally known handbag designer, dishware, I mean, so many things, so accomplished. But this morning, according to the New York PD, she was found hanged in the apartment, hanged herself, according to the police, with a suicide note.

And this is a relatively young woman that has a family and here in the New York City apartment, 10:30 this morning is when the NYPD got a call.

John.

KING: Jean Casarez, appreciate that. Sad, breaking news. We'll continue to report this story.

In the meantime, we'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:25:53] KING: Welcome back.

New legal trouble today for the former Trump campaign manager, who's already staring at the possibility of spending the rest of his life in prison. Prosecutors for the special counsel, Robert Mueller, now accuse Paul Manafort of witness tampering. The Mueller team says Manafort repeatedly contacted two witnesses and tried to get them to stick to his lawyer's script. That script being that Manafort never lobbied on behalf of Ukraine here in the United States.

This fresh charge complicates Manafort's already messy legal situation. And, in the evidence, there's a clear message for Mueller to everybody caught up in the broader Russia meddling collusion probe. The special counsel obtained encrypted text messages, including some sent by Manafort over Whatsapp and Telegram. Those apps, of course, designed to keep conversations secret. Documents show the special counsel pulled some of the messages from Manafort's iCloud back-up. Remember, they served a warrant at his home. They were given other messages by witnesses who cooperated after being subpoenaed.

Number one, a message to Paul Manafort, we're still watching you every step of the way. And, number two, we talked earlier about the phone call from Air Force One and anybody involved in that and conversations after that about, do we keep our stories straight and how are we going to do this? If I'm -- if I have anything to do with the investigation, seeing this makes me worry, yes?

BALL: Yes, the message is to Manafort and to everybody else, I'm watching you.

KING: Sure.

BALL: And everything that -- every time Mueller makes a move in the case, we learn more and more about just how much evidence he is amassing and continues to amass. And I think that's got to scare anyone who is caught up in this probe.

It also tells us something about Manafort's mindset because there has been a lot of speculation about what Manafort is thinking, whether he is considering taking some kind of a plea bargain, whether he is considering flipping, potentially giving evidence against the president. This tells you, though, that Manafort, at least at the time he was sending these messages, was still very much in a mode of trying to fight this and thinking that he could somehow get out of it. It also tells us that Manafort, perhaps like his former boss, is someone who maybe thinks the rules don't apply to him and thinks he can get away with things like this, even though he surely had to -- have been warned by his lawyers this is something you're not supposed to do.

KING: And the special counsel does not respond to every presidential tweet. And there have been dozens of those. Does not respond to the criticism from Capitol Hill. This is how the special counsel responds, by filing court documents and filing evidence that (INAUDIBLE), you know, I'm good here. That's what Bob Mueller's saying here, I'm fine. Criticize me all you want.

ZELENY: And it sends a message loud and clear. And the Whatsapp works unless you happen to be cooperating with the government and sharing your Whatsapp with the FBI here, which seems to be what's going on.

But interestingly about their relationship, President Trump has continued to diminish Paul Manafort. He's contained to say he's -- you know, he barely spent any time with me. He barely helped me.

And what the reality is, he helped him incredibly get through what would have been a brokered convention. It's unclear if Donald Trump would have been the nominee of the party if Paul Manafort wasn't there. He certainly helped him at that point.

But, interestingly, I think it does offer a window into what he's doing. And I agree with you, he's trying to fight this on his own and protect himself. So the big question here is, is he ever going to flip? If he did, if he was able to get some immunity or helped his own case, that's what the president certainly could be worried about.

LEE: And when you look at others who have pled guilty or are now cooperating with Mueller, you do have to always wonder, is there that kind of a breaking point for Manafort? And if there is, then what is it? You know, I agree with Molly, that clearly this shows us some insight, gives us some insight into what Manafort is thinking. And he does seem to be sort of digging in, or at least was, when he decided to do this very reckless thing of reaching out to these other witnesses.

But do remember, I think it's worth pointing out, that someone like Rick Gates, he insisted that he knew nothing about the Russia investigation or anything about collusion until the moment that he decided to flip and pled guilty and also started to cooperate. And who knows what he is saying to Mueller and his team. Manafort certainly, yes, President Trump is now distancing himself from Manafort, but he, of course, knew a lot about the ins and outs of the campaign.

[12:30:10]