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Congress Reacts To Trump-Kim Summit; Trump Praises Kim, Criticizes Trudeau; Kellyanne Conway's Husband Defends Mueller Investigation. Aired 12:30-1pm ET

Aired June 12, 2018 - 12:30   ET



[12:30:23] JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: Welcome back, Republicans in Congress trying to show their support for the President while also showing some healthy skepticism.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: Today is the beginning of the arduous process. Our eyes are wide hope. I support the goals contained in the joint statement and I remain supportive of the administration's stated position as Secretary Pompeo has reiterated. If North Korea does not prove willing to follow through, we and our allies must be prepared to restore the policy of maximum pressure.


KING: Some Democrats see the summit a bit differently, saying in their view, a double standard at play here.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: Imagine if a Democratic president had placed the flag of the United States next to the flag of North Korea and met a dictator on equal terms. The entire Republican Party would be shouting grave warnings about the end of American leadership and the belittling of our country, about selling out an appeasement.


KING: CNN's Phil Mattingly live up on the Hill. Phil, give us more of what people are saying and what you're hearing.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, it's been really interesting trying to watch Republicans walk the line here. As you noted, there are some cautious optimism. Senator Mike Rounds told me, look, compared to a few months ago, we are further away from nuclear war than we were then, and that is a small improvement. But you're also hearing a lot of skepticism, most notably on the lack of clarity on exactly what happened and also very forcibly on the idea of cancelling or postponing military exercises.

I asked Senator Cory Gardner, a key player on the North Korea issue in the Senate, on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about both of those issues. Take a listen to what he said.


SEN. CORY GARDNER (R), COLORADO: It's unclear what he meant by that. I think we've heard different opinions. U.S. forces in Korea have said that they have not received such an order from a pacific command. I think it's important that we continue to engage in South Korea as we have been from an exercise standpoint. But here's where I do think it's important. And I think the President has talked about good faith efforts and progress being made toward denuclearization.

And it's clear that our sanctions remain in place. That's why I strongly support maximum pressure. We will continue to engage with our partners in South Korea as appropriate, but we need a little bit more detail exactly what was meant by that statement.


MATTINGLY: And that's the biggest issue right now, John, the detail. And what I've been told from several sources, administration officials have been making calls to Capitol Hill throughout the morning to key senators. There's an expectation that there will be briefing in the days ahead.

At this point, though, there is simply not enough information for anybody to really make a concrete conclusion as where things stand. And so as you see, senators kind of like everybody else right now, just trying to figure out what's actually going on.

KING: Phil Mattingly on Capitol Hill. Appreciate it, Phil.

Sahil Kapur from Bloomberg joins us in studio. And so, what's the right way to characterize that? Obviously, the Republicans want to support their President. You can also tell they have, a, a lot of questions about why do they cancel those exercises or why is he willing to do that not get anything in return? And, b, the general idea that, you know, really will trust Kim Jong-un here?

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: Right. Well, there is certainly cautious optimism as Phil was talking about from Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. Did you want to support them? They want to support the goals. They have to consider the fact that they've treated the previous president very differently when he engaged in negotiations with, you know, a hostile power.

The range of reactions that's interesting, though, probably the most critical came from Marco Rubio. He said contrary to President Trump's remarks, Kim Jong-un is not a talented guy. Called him a total weirdo, said he inherited the family business from his father and grandfather. I wonder how that's going to play in the White House.

He said human rights of trustees (ph) which were not mentioned as part of the summit must be ended in North Korea as part of any negotiation. I would say Bob Corker summed it up probably the best when he said, he's happy that those two met. But it's difficult to determine what a concrete nature has occurred. There's nothing specific in that deal. It's more collection of goals and attitudes right now as the beginning of talks and negotiations.

Democrats, on the other hand, I will say, they are relieved that President Trump is at least engaging in diplomacy as opposed to nuclear sabre rattling and mean tweets. There's a lot of criticism, though. Chuck Schumer said it is worrisome in the statement the fact that the U.S. has gained only vague and unfailable commitments whereas North Korea has gained tangible and lasting victory in terms of the propaganda value and the Kodak moment between --

KING: The Kodak moment. And to the double-standard question, listen. This is Tom Cotton on the Hugh Hewitt program essentially saying, yes, I get it. We shouldn't sit down with dictators. No American President should Democrat or Republican, but he's trying to make the case, it's different when that country, if that country gets to the point, as North Korea has, where they have nuclear weapons that might be able to reach your soil.


SEN. TOM COTTON (R), ARKANSAS: Once North Korea had nuclear weapons, once they have missiles that can deliver to us, I would liken it to past presidents sitting down with Soviet dictators. It's not something that we should celebrate. It's not a pretty sight. But it's a necessary part of the job to try to protect Americans from a terrible threat.


[12:35:07] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Look, and the fact that he's basically admitting what Chuck Schumer said in much more colorful language, which is that Democrats would be -- there would be a call for impeachment, and it would be the worst thing in the world if a Democratic president not just sat down but gave all of the pomp and circumstance that this sort of diplomatic bells and whistles that President Trump gave to Kim. Not just rhetorically, but the flag placed on equal footing to the American flag, things like that.

I mean, conservative talk radio, conservatives in general, would be going ballistic on a Democratic president. Having said that, the argument is and should be, rightly so, that we've had two-term Democratic presidents over the past 25 years who have tried and failed to deal with the very real threat that we're seeing now, that Tom Cotton was just putting out there. So you might as well try it. But I think it's smart for Democrats to try to remind people that while they, for the most part, support these diplomatic negotiations, just remember that there should be some healthy skepticism and a reminder that all things are not equal when it comes to politics.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG POLITICS: But Senator Cotton is drawing a distinction between North Korea and Iran that I think also is also important. Because what he's saying embedded in these remarks is that North Korea isn't a place that Iran is not yet, and so you have to treat them differently, right?

And within there is sort of an embedded acknowledgment that Trump is operating from a relative position of weakness. You can blame it on past administrations from both parties for letting it get to this point. But what he's saying is we have to deal with North Korea in a way that we don't have to deal with other rogue regimes, because they've got stuff that the others don't. And that highlights or kind of underscores what the President is trying to do here. And in fact, that while he's trying to show the public he's operating from a position of strength, U.S. actually is not operating from a position of as much strength as they would like to be.

KING: Interesting point. A quick break. When we come back, the President takes another shot at Canada, but the White House adviser who said the Canadian Prime Minister has a special place in hell waiting for him, backtracks.


[12:41:47] KING: Topping our political radar today, five states holding primaries, Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina and Virginia. One race to watch is in South Carolina where Trump loyalty again a focus in the Republican Party. The incumbent Republican Congressman Mark Sanford, who has criticized President Trump repeatedly facing a serious challenge from Katie Arrington who has made that opposition from Trump a focal point on her campaign.

Former President H.W. Bush making history as he celebrates his 94th birthday today. He is the first President to reach that milestone. You may recall the senior Bush that his 80th, 85th and 90th birthdays, skydiving. His grandson tweeted this today, "Happy 94th birthday. Very much looking forward to you jumping again on your 95th." We could hope.

Up next, the presidential paradox praising a dictator while slamming one of America's closest friends.


[12:46:47] TRUMP: Welcome back. An apology today from the presidential aide who said there's a special place in hell for Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. At a Wall Street Journal event this morning, the President's Trade Representative Peter Navarro said -- Trade Adviser I should say -- "My job was to send a signal of strength. The problem was that in conveying that message I used language that was inappropriate." My Navarro added, "I own that, that was my mistake, those were my words."

Peter Navarro saying, I'm sorry. But in Singapore today, President Trump, on the one hand, praising Kim Jong-un then again criticizing Trudeau. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I actually like Justin, and I think he's good. I like him. But he shouldn't have done that. That was a mistake. That's going to cost him a lot of money.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Why won't he let this one go? The President keeps saying that Justin Trudeau or his teams somehow backstabbed the President.

DAN BALZ, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: He has a very thin skin. He does not like to be criticized. He obviously doesn't have great respect for Justin Trudeau. And he won't let it go until, you know, Trudeau does something in his direction to kind of ease it. But he's going to stay on this for a while.

KING: When you use such highly personal language, what can Trudeau do now except stand up to the President after you've been called weak. meek, and dishonest. You eventually have to face an election with your own people. You can't just kowtow to Trump now, can you?

BASH: Well, you shouldn't, because -- I mean, that is something that the President either doesn't think about or doesn't really care about. Just like he is trying to play to his base, every one of those leaders have their own constituencies that they have to appeal to, and this is a no-brainer. Even the mild-mannered Canadians understand that you got to stand up to what they consider a bully. I mean, the President has used bullying tactics against their prime minister. And so he has to, there is no question, kind of make that clear.

Also, I just -- there's sort of noting that the juxtaposition between what he said about Canada, about how horrible Justin Trudeau is, the next day praising Kim Jong-un in, you know, sugar-coated language whereas, you know, traditionally those descriptions should be flipped is pretty amazing.

TALEV: Well this is something that the European leaders have now begun talking about with one another openly, but certainly behind the scenes, is that this -- the kind of the instinct for diplomacy or trying to find compromised language that can bring Trump into the fold has not worked, so far as backfired so far, and yet it is distinctly not a European method to kind of fight fire with fire or escalate their own language to kind of match styles with Trump.

And so, what do you do if the President only respects people who push back and hurl bombs. But if that backfires with your own audience, all of these guys whether it's Trudeau or Macron or May or Merkel, they're kind of strategically in a different position. The President knows that he likes that because he thinks it puts them on their heels.

And the President also likes to put his own internal messaging for his base, for a large portion he believes of the American voting public in those midterms where he wants to retain his own support and help his own Republicans get reelected. There just feeling that that helps the --

[12:50:07] BALZ: These leaders have -- These leaders of other countries have a fair amount of leeway to go at Trump based on their populations. The President is not popular in most of those countries. So they can do that.

The question is, United States is still the United States. They have to figure out ways to deal constructively with the United States. They don't want to completely rupture the alliance. So that's the difficult balancing act that they've right now with him.

KING: And --

KAPUR: Very interesting. I would say, you know, the President is fighting with Justin Trudeau. He's waiting a trade war with Canada and Mexico and the E.U. He had made that kind of unilateral specific confession of halting (ph) U.S. and South Korea in military drills. At the same time, he's inviting Russia back into the G7 without, you know, punishment for its annexation of Crimea.

He's eased up on China over ZTE. He's praised Kim Jong-un along with what Dana said it's smart and talented. He called him, I'm quoting here, a funny guy, very smart, great negotiator, loves his people, unquote. Yes. So we talked about the double standard here. It's very easy to imagine Republicans up in arms. The Democratic president did this and not going there with Trump.

KING: Not going there with Trump. Jeffrey Goldberg has a great piece in The Atlantic about the Trump doctrine, if you will. And he said, he talked to several senior administration officials and ask them, what is the Trump doctrine in the world stage? "No friends. No enemies." This is what one senior administration official said, "Permanent destabilization creates American advantage." Another national security official said, "The Trump doctrine is we're America." The, b, word rhymes with rich there.

Are they serious? I mean, Jeffrey is a very serious guy, talking to people with real titles. He is Jeffrey. He's not someone who can construct (ph) this casually or flippantly. Really?

BASH: Really.

BALZ: I was shocked that somebody talking to Jeff Goldberg would say something like that.

TALEV: It wasn't John Bolton, though, we're pretty sure, right?

BALZ: Well, I don't know who it was, but even in a casual conversation, even as a throwaway line, to say that to a reporter, you know, suggests --

KING: And a reporter with those credentials.

BALZ: That's what I mean.

KING: No friends, no enemies. Permanent destabilization creates American advantage. The trump doctrine is we're America -- OK, then.

Up next, George Conway said, yes, he's married to Kellyanne. Says what the President called the witch hunt totally unconstitutional isn't.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:56:23] KING: A family feud now over the Special Counsel investigation and it's not just any family. Presidential Counselor Kellyanne Conway relishes every chance to go after Robert Mueller's Russian meddling investigation.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: Everything that has to do with what the President refers to as the Russia investigation, the hoax, the witch hunt, you should go back and look at his many tweets on the issue. He feels like a lot of people's lives are being ruined. Nothing has been produced that implicates the President in any way.


KING: Her husband, though, offers a spirited defense of Mueller in a lengthy essay title, "The Terrible Arguments Against the Constitutionality of the Mueller Investigation." The column is a direct response to President Trump's tweet calling Mueller's appointment unconstitutional.

George Conway writes, "The constitutional arguments made against the Special Counsel do not meet that standard and had little more rigor than the tweet that promoted them. Such a lack of rigor, sadly, has been a disturbing trend in much of the politically charged public discourse above the law lately."

Why? He has to know when he does this publicly. He does his wife works. I guess I'll just leave it at that. Why?

BALZ: I can't explain it but it's not new. He has tweeted things for months that have been contrary to the interests of his wife and the administration. So, whatever is going on there is, you know, something we don't quite understand.

KING: To your point, twice today retweeted people attacking the President's deal in North Korea, saying -- two retweets of people who essentially said the President didn't get enough, didn't get anything. What was this about?

KAPUR: We're talking about it now and I think George Conway suspected that he would, you know, add to the conversation that he did this and people would take note. This has to be viewed, though, in the context of the President using every available argument to attack and delegitimize the investigation regardless of the evidentiary standard. We saw this with the claim, the so-called spygate claim where the President was accused of planting a spy in his campaign just to surveil him and his aides. No evidence for this.

Even his own allies in Congress have not, you know, adopted this theory. They say they're skeptical of it, they've heard the intelligence and they're not going there. So I think this is part in partial for what the President has been doing which is trying to muddy the waters, to try to, you know, affect --

KING: What the President has been doing -- but there are a lot of people out there who counter the argument that Mueller is unconstitutional, that Mueller is on a witch hunt. There a lot of people who do that. It's not like it's an empty space and George Conway feels he has to step into it.

BASH: Not at all. And he's been kind of passive-aggressive on Twitter, very consistently but kind of just retweeting other people. This is all out there. I mean, this is an essay that he penned giving very specific constitutional legal arguments for why he thinks the President and his team, which includes his wife, as you just pointed out, are wrong.

And it just -- He wanted to express himself, he wanted to express his feelings. He can't make his wife's job easier. But, you know what, as Dan, you said, this is not the first time it's been out there publicly that they disagree.

TALEV: And he's had a full and robust career before being known best as Kellyanne Conway's husband. So, he's obviously decided to stake out a little corner where he will continue to speak his own mind, but it's fascinating for the rest of us to read.

KING: In social media, POLITICO asked him about this, to Dan's point, it's not new, "Asked to explain this public feud with his wife's boss. Conway declined to comment or elaborate on his tweets. If I wanted to say anything publicly, he said in a direct message on Twitter, I would just say it."

When you say on Twitter, you are saying it publicly.

BASH: One thing that I will say is that it is kind of nice to be asking questions about a spouse who was a male and whether they agree or disagree with the principle who happens to be a woman because traditionally it has been reversed.

KING: Amen to that.

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 1:00 a.m. Wednesday in Singapore.