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President Trump Commutes Alice Johnson's Sentence; Both Dems and GOP Claim Victory on CA Primary Night; Nauert Cites D-Day While Praising U.S.-Germany Relations; Pruitt Had EPA Aide Contract Chick- fil-A About Job For His Wife; Trump Defends Tariffs In Testy Phone Call With Canadian P.M. Aired 12:30-1pm ET

Aired June 6, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:04] ELIANA JOHNSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: I mean, this is a local issue for politicians. So, some Republicans may be fearful of crossing the President, but they may be more fearful of losing their elections in November. So I think it's a tug of war between how popular Trump's actions are in their home state versus what the economic ramifications are. And it's a tug of war for voters. How much do they like Trump versus how angry are they -- how much are these tariffs hurting them?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There's a strength in numbers issue here too, right, where you have the entire part to some degree coalescing behind the idea that this is problematic. I will know that it's not just this issue. There's also the CTE deal, the President's working on, same defense policy. I know you want to spend a lot of time in the National Defense Authorization Act, very, very important.

JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: You know what? I actually wouldn't mind spending time on the National Defense Authorization Act.

MATTINGLY: There are now two huge, huge trade issues that have been plugged in to that that could be very problematic for the White House in the President's trade policy.

KING: All right, we'll watch this one. We started the show by talking about the President getting more aggressive in his use of pardons. Breaking news just in to us, President Trump has just commuted the sentence of a woman we mentioned at the top of the program, 63-year-old Alice Johnson. This follows a White House meeting with Kim Kardashian who pressed for Johnson's.

Jeremy Diamond live at the White House. Jeremy, what do we know about this?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, John. Two White House officials are now telling us that President Trump today commuted the prison sentence of Alice Marie Johnson. She has been serving a life sentence in prison on charges of attempted cocaine possession, conspiracy, and money laundering.

This comes a week after the President met last week with Kim Kardashian-West, who brought a little bit of celebrity appeal to this case that had been gaining some popularity online with calls for an act of clemency on the President's part. And it appears that her appeal was successful. Kim Kardashian coordinated this effort with Jared Kushner, the President's son-in-law and senior advisor who helps coordinate this Oval Office meeting just last week.

And, of course, John, this comes as the President has been increasingly turning to his power to pardon or to commute the prison sentences of people. He's issued several pardons recently. But this is one of the first that has been really somebody who is currently serving in prison, a commutation, and also somebody who really doesn't fit the profile of a political ally of his.

The only closest thing that we can think of is Jack Johnson, the famed boxer, who his case was brought to the President's attention by another celebrity Sylvester Stallone. But that was a posthumous pardoning on the President's part. This is somebody's whose life is actually going to be affected by this. She is going to be -- we expect to release from prison as a result of this commutation, though it is unclear at this point when that would take place. How short the commutation will be, and whether it will apply to these 21 years that she has already spent in prison.

So we are still awaiting some more details. But, obviously, interesting following that meeting with Kim Kardashian-West last week, and the additional reporting we now have that the President is increasingly turning to this power of the pardon. John?

KING: Jeremy Diamond with some breaking news, appreciate it. Jeremy, if you get the paperwork with more details, let us know.

Let's bring it back in the room. Again, we talked at the top of the program, we talked about this case is different. You know, Alice Marie Johnson, drug charges, not a political figure. Interesting, you talked about the resistance from John Kelly and how it seemed tone deaf politically. Is this -- I don't know if compromise is the right word, is the compromise on the President's part in the sense that it's a commutation not a pardon? So it's a get out of jail card, it's a not wipe it all away.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: It looks that way, but without knowing the details of what happened or how this not going to loathe to speculate. I do again want to say that I think that the specifics of this case more match what the pardoning power and the commutation power is supposed to be. It's not supposed to be devoid of process.

I do think that that's a legitimate concern on the part of White House officials and it's understandable. I also think that -- the think I hear from White House officials about sort of the pardon issue generally is the message the President is sending. It isn't just sort of this is a targeted messages for Paul Manafort that he could, you know, whatever my colleagues and I reported that the President's former lawyer John Dowd had discussed this with Manafort's lawyer about the possibility of a pardon down the road. So that's not really a surprise, but it does suggest that basically laws don't matter. If there's a constant get out of jail free card, I think that is where you start to see an issue. I think there would be less concern on the Alice Johnson case had you not had all these other pardons prior to that.

KING: Right. Or now that you have the Alive Johnson case and again some people say it's the celebrity --


KING: -- Kim Kardashian getting a meeting that, you know, average Joe from Omaha, Nebraska can't get. But using the case here, somebody else asking for the same thing as Rod Blagojevich.

HABERMAN: That's right.

KING: The former Democratic Governor of Illinois who's in prison essentially for a pay for play scheme. And so he wants the same thing. His wife has gone on television saying Mr. President, please let, you know, my husband, the former governor out.

Now, that one would take you right back into the political conversation. Because he was put in jail by a prominent Democrat. That would be -- we would be having -- welcome to the some paradox -- a very different conversation.

HABERMAN: That is incredible political corruption, and the selling of a Senate seat, so that one is a bad. And I think that is why that one is so disturbing to people.

[12:35:05] JOHNSON: I think the use of the pardon power we're seeing with Trump, in part, to get back at prosecutors like Pat Fitzgerald or James Comey --


JOHNSON: -- who he has a bone to pick with, is certainly would be, if he were to go through with it, a unique use of the pardon power that we've never seen by a president, you know.

KING: And so it gets hard to separate these other cases. Even though the pardon of Jack Johnson, OK, Sylvester Stallone called the White House and brought this to his attention. Who cares who made the call, it's the right thing to do. Alice Marie Johnson, Kim Kardashian brings this to his attention, people say it's all reality TV in some ways. Who cares if it's the right thing to do?

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BUZZFEED NEWS: But if it's really the President thinking that someone like Alice Johnson was treated unfairly and that's why he is commuting her sentence, the larger issue of sentencing reform is not something that he has shown any willingness to take up. The discussion keeps focusing on prison reform, the sentencing reform, which could have helped someone like Alice Johnson, is not something that seems to be on the table.

HABERMAN: Right. The other thing too that I would just notice that the type of reforms that you're talking about involve people across the board. You don't get to cherry pick who deserves good treatment and who doesn't. and more often than not, when we have seen the President talk about law enforcement in the context of certain groups and certain individuals, it's real iron fist stuff. And then when it comes to people like Rod Blagojevich, you hear about how unfair this all is. So that's worth lying too.

KING: Consistency question, you might call that one.

When we come back, eight states voted last night, a big primary from coast to coast. California sends the biggest message, but it's not just California. We'll break it all down. We'll be right back.


[12:41:02] KING: Welcome back. California understandably getting most of the attention today, but the lessons of the biggest primary night so far in this midterm election year extend from coast to coast. One is, have no doubt about the President's power with the Republican base. Another is, being a woman is way more often than not a big plus with voters this year.

California lessons are many and important. Even though a lot of the election results are far from final. Let's take a quick look here at some of these races here. I want to pop up the House district here.

Devin Nunes, the Intelligence Committee Chairman, people thought he might be in trouble because of his prominence in Russia. An easy primary win. He'll face a Democrat in the fall. Bring it back out here, want to go up to this district. Here to California 10. This is one of the seven districts held by a Republican that Hillary Clinton won. Democrats want to target this race. There was a question as we counter the early vote of would they have a candidate?

Republican incumbent Jeff Denham, only 91 percent that we still have to count, but it does appear the Democrats will not be locked out in this so-called jungle primary. It's not Democrats is for Republican, it's the top two primary finishers, because of California rules, go on. It looks like Democrats will have a candidate there. They were a bit nervous about that. They were a bit nervous about that. They were also even more nervous

down here.

California 49, Darrell Issa, Republican Congressman, he is retiring. Diane Harkey is on top, she's a Republican, and it appears now the democrats were nervous about having a candidate. Looks like they will have a candidate in that race. Again, the jungle primary on full display.

Dana Rohrabacher, Republican incumbent, another one just like Issa district. Hillary Clinton carried it in the presidential race. They're held by Republicans. Democrats think they should be good targets this year. It does appear, again, we have 100 percent in now that Democrat will have a candidate in that race.

So Democrats breathing a sigh of relief when it comes to the House races, they did not get locked out if you will at least not so far in any of the races they feared. Another big test in California. Remember months ago Dianne Feinstein, she was vulnerable. The Bernie Sanders revolution might get her. Not so fast.

Now she's below 50 percent. Any incumbent wants to worry about that. Looks like she'll have a Democratic opponent. We don't know what's the results here. Again, no Republican in the California Senate race. That's embarrassing for the Republican Party.

If this holds up, Feinstein will face a challenge from the left. She comes out of the primary, pretty confident going forward. And lastly, imagine if the nation's largest state did not have a Republican on the ballot for governor. The California Republican Party has been struggling for years.

John Cox was way down in the polls until most recently when the President of the United States tweeted, get out and help support him. The Trump bump they're calling it in California. John Cox will be on the ballot. A Republican candidate and Democrat Gavin Newsom will be heavily favored. But listen here, the two candidates for governor in the biggest state in the country, the president will be an issue.


JOHN COX (R), CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: Hello, California. Are we ready for a Republican governor? Yes. We put a businessman in the White House. Let's put a businessman in the governor's mansion.

GAVIN NEWSOM (D), CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR CANDIDATE: It looks like voters will have a real choice this November between we a governor who's going to stand up to Donald Trump and a foot soldier in his war on California.


KING: Well that a big takeaway so we won't talk about. Let's start with the Republican perspective. John Cox is a heavy underdog in California, but he wouldn't have been on -- I don't think he would have been there if not for the President's release. The President got him up there, so that's an issues.

So you have that a Trump bump. The President says vote for him, it worked with the Republican base. In Alabama, a Republican congresswoman who said she would not support President Trump after the "Access Hollywood' tape came out, Martha Roby, she's going to be in a runoff now against a former Democrat. Because anti-Trump voters in Alabama wanted to send her a message.

In Montana, we got the Republican candidate to run against, I'm going to call him Senator Candy Man. It was Jon Tester who used the candy man word on Dr. Ronny Jackson and the President has -- he wanted to campaign that race anyway. But now he takes it more personally. What did Republican voters tell us last night?

HABERMAN: I'm going to turn that over to people who are following this more closely like Phil Mattingly. MATTINGLY: I think in California, there are couple things. First and foremost I can say the President had an impact on the governor's race, but I think you have to look at big picture. When you look at having a Republican on the ticket, a, having the gas tax issue on the ballot in November, b, and this all plays into the idea of having front line Republican candidates in the state now having a boost at least to that degree.

[12:45:17] You look at their numbers in the primary, obviously those don't necessarily correlate with the general but at least four or five of them have pretty good nights. And I'm always reminded that these guys that come from Clinton districts or Clinton plus two or plus five districts. These are front line Republicans to begin with.

They're good candidates. They know their district. There's a reason they win there. And so, from that sense, Republicans can feel comfortable about what happened as comfortable they could be about what happened in California. To your point --

KING: If you don't like -- you don't care about Congress.


KING: You might not come out to vote at all if you don't know the candidate for governor and you don't know the candidate for Senate. And Republicans will not have a candidate for Senate. You know, projecting Kevin de Leon, the Democrat will be Dianne Feinstein's opponent. So they're having Cox on the ballot, even though you're expecting him to lose. We'll see what happens but you expect that's enough. I'm sorry.

MATTINGLY: No. I was just going to say, I mean, it's the interesting night where both parties can be happy about how are we thought in to that. Obviously, Democrats is not getting locked. I don't know where were on (INAUDIBLE) impression on the district right now. With the most part, Democrats making sure that they're in there. Gives them the opportunity they want and should there be a wave or have a good push right there, then they all sudden have all of those opportunities that they wanted in that state in places like New Jersey that they need to get kind of the one-third to a little more than toward the 23 they need for a majority.

KING: Is there another side of the coin. Obviously, Democratic intensity, we still see decent turnout on the Democratic side. It is the year of the woman especially in the Democratic side and crowded fields of all things to be where the woman candidates are winning.

The Sanders revolution has its limits. We saw that in Iowa and elsewhere. Candidates backed by Bernie Sanders didn't do so well. Bob Menendez, he's probably going to be re-elected as Senator in New Jersey. But when they come in Democratic Senator has say nobody who didn't spent any money came a lot of votes. That tells you something after his corruption case there against in there.

And Diane Feinstein. Diane Feinstein, again, she's under 50 she's -- a couple months ago, the progressives were saying your time is done. HABERMAN: Yes. This is being overstated to some extent.

KING: Yes.


KING: Right.

HABERMAN: The schism in the Democratic Party. There's nowhere near what we are seeing within the Republican Party and if this true you have same basis but not at the same degree.

PARTI: It definitely seems overstated and there might be energy on the, you know, the Sanders' side on the far left side. But they haven't been able to organize in any way that we've seen so far at least.

KING: Likes the party. Quick break for us.

When we come back, yesterday, the Eagles did not attend the White House. Today they're back at practice. Their coach, speaking out.


[12:50:09] KING: Tapping our political radar today. Just moments ago, President Trump signing the V.A. Mission Act. Its aim giving veterans that better access heath care options to get that care in the private sector.

Philadelphia Eagles coach speaking out on the President's decision to call off that White House visit for the Super Bowl champs. President cancel that after the team told that White House only a handful of players plan to show up. Pederson said just while he personally wanted to go. His team now is focused on football.


DOUGH PEDERSON, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES HEAD COACH: I was looking forward to going down and being recognized as world champions. And, you know, it is what it is. I'm not discussing it. It's over.

What you've seen and what you've heard is enough. And I'm not discussing it. I'm not going to stay here and discuss it, because we have two practices. I got a mandatory camp next week and I'm focused on that. We're united. We're a team. Been that way since I've been here.


KING: And the State Department spokeswoman had a little damage control this week, but she may have land up big in a hole of it deeper. While trying to explain a controversial statement for the new U.S. ambassador to Germany, Nauert listed examples of U.S.-German cooperation but for some reason brought up a famous World War II battle.


HEATHER NAUERT, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESWOMAN: When you talk about Germany, we have a very strong relationship with the government of Germany. Looking back in the history books today is the 71st anniversary of the speech that announced the marshal plan.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the D-Day invasion. We obviously have a very long history with the government of Germany and we have a strong relationship with the Government. And so, we want to reaffirm the strength of our relationship with Germany.


KING: Can be back to the history books a bit on that one. Scott Pruitt back in the news, it involves Chick-fil-A. Seriously.


KING: Welcome back. If a cat has nine lives then, maybe Scott Pruitt has 90 of National Security Cost. First files travel. Courts side seeks to the sweetheart rental from people with business before the environmental protection agencies.

Now this, from the Washington Post, Pruitt had his taxpayer funded staff ask about a business opportunity for his wife with fast food chain Chick-fil-A. Down in the heels of an earlier report that he had another aide contact the Trump International Hotel about purchasing a -- go ahead, a used mattress. There are more than a dozen investigations into Pruitt conduct, and importantly, the patience of some Senate Republicans past the breaking point.


JONI ERNST (R), IOWA STATE SENATOR: I am hopeful that the President will just recognize that Mr. Pruitt is breaking our President's promises to farmers, and at some point he will say it's time for you to go. He is about as swampy as you get.

CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA STATE SENATOR: I think, I made myself clear on what I expect and what I intend to do if these changes do hurt biofuels. I think that Pruitt has betrayed the President.


[12:55:07] COPPER: Now, those are Iowa's two Republican Senators. Important to note, although Joni Ernst, the junior senator takes it into the swampland said both object -- first and foremost the action on biofuels, ethanol that affects their state. But then, Senator Ernst and Senator Grassley (INAUDIBLE) we do rake it to a higher degree. I mean, let's not make this witty. Why does this guy still have a job? Why does this guy still have a job?

JOHNSON: We talked about Republicans being willing to stand up to Trump. I mean, this is one area in which they have clearly lost patience. I have state Scott Pruitt must have the thickest skin in Washington. He is taken all this incoming rightfully so but he seems to have no shame.

HABERMAN: But this is the thing, right? If you have no shame, it's going to be very hurtful for people, and where else have we seen that?

I mean, I just -- it's been described to me as a problem the President doesn't really want to deal with for variety of reasons including they now have a deputy EPA administrator they like. They would be less worried about getting somebody confirm which they know there would be a problem. But he hears from a lot of people who he thinks need their support that Pruitt is great, and this is unfair. And he always equates people being under attack with him and if this. I mean, the volume, right?

KING: I was going to say. Maybe some of it is exaggerated. Maybe some of it can be explained. May be of it is the staff problem, not the administrator's problem. But, aides for personal errands, hunting for a apartment asking to buy a used mattress from the Trump hotel, contacting Chick-fil-A trying to get a franchise for his wife. Three and a half billion dollars and 24/7 security, $1,560 on 12 custom made fountain pens. Yes. Blocked reporters from the speech at the EPA summit, no one in the White House cares about that. 2017, dinner with a Vatican official accused of sexual abuse. "The New York Times" has done some great reporting on a number of these issues on these stories. Close ties of the colleagues executive on the Trump donor, court side seats.

Just -- let me just imagine if Hillary Clinton were President, and her EPA administrator did this.


KING: And the Republicans controlled Congress.


MATTINGLY: One of the funnier elements of all this is his biggest mistake even with then a luminous list is that he didn't have a political adviser inside the EPA tell him, hey, don't mess with ethanol. If you mess with ethanol, then you have two Iowa senators who are very, very, very angry. And that's the strongest we've seen if anybody really attack him in the Republican party at least on Capitol Hill and at least publicly of because of all this.

JOHNSON: I'm willing to give him a pass on the Chick-fil-A thing because if I'm ever in high government office, I would used to it to get to get a Chick-fil-A restaurant, too.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nobody used mattress?

JOHNSON: Used mattress. I really think (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From the Trump hotel.


KING: To your point, you do hear more privately, the Iowa senator speaking give him more privately. A number of Republican senators month ago saying we can't have another confirmation fight. Saying, you know what? The Deputy is a pretty guy. May be we have the President like get this done and leave the deputy pleasure get the same policy without the headlines. We shall keep an eye on that.

Thanks for joining us on Inside Politics. See you back here tomorrow. "Wolf" starts right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm wolf Blitzer in Washington. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thank you very much for joining us.

Up first, we're following the breaking news, summit showdown. We're not talking about North Korea. The G7 summit of the world's wealthiest nations. Shaping up to be a rather tense gathering, with allies of the United States very angry over tariffs imposed by President Trump.

We're standing by for a Pre-summit briefing from Larry Kudlow, the Director of the National Economic Council. He will be discussing the tariffs imposed by the U.S. and the possibility of a major trade war erupting between the U.S. and its closest allies.

You're looking at live pictures to the White House briefing room. Larry Kudlow, getting ready to brief reporters. We'll have live coverage.

The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will host the meeting in Quebec that begins Friday. The Prime Minister is livid over President Trump's decision to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. And we're now learning about a rather testy phone call between the Prime Minister and the President of the United States.

Let's go to Chief Finance first on Jim Acosta. Jim, tell us what you're learning about this phone call and what it could mean for G7 summit?

JIM ACOSTA, CHIELF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, according to our sources, had a testy phone call late last month over new tariffs imposed by the Trump Administration targeting steel and aluminum imports coming in from Canada.

Now, this included one moment during the conversation in which Trump made an erroneous historical reference. According to our sources familiar with the conversation, telling CNN, Trudeau pressed the President on how he could justify these tariffs as a national security issue. In response, Wolf, we're told Mr. Trump quit (ph) to Trudeau. Didn't you guys burn down the White House? This was an apparent reference to the war of 1812.

Of course, Wolf, the problem with Mr. Trump's comments to Prime Minister Trudeau is that British troops burned down the White House during the war of 1812. Though historians note the British attack on Washington during that time wasn't retaliation for the America attack on York, Ontario which was then, a British colony. Now, sources who --