Return to Transcripts main page


DOJ to Release IG Report; Rosenstein Briefs Trump; Trump Foundation Lawsuit; Trump Salutes North Korean General. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired June 14, 2018 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:44] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing this big news day with us.

A big, breaking news day. That big investigation on how the FBI handled the Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation is about to be made public. We know it finds fault with the former FBI director, James Comey, and the president wants to use that as a weapon against the special counsel.

Plus, is it the cult of Trump or maybe more a shotgun wedding. Part of the Republican family feud is tweets and tantrums. But we'll show you the numbers. It's also a big policy fight. Republicans loyal to the president see the big issues very differently than more traditional members of the GOP.

And, brilliant diplomacy or an affront to American values? President Trump salutes a North Korean general and makes light of Kim Jong-un's horrific human rights record.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So he's a very smart guy. He's a great negotiator. But I think we understand each other.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But he's still some -- done some really bad things.

TRUMP: Yes, but so have a lot of other people done some really bad things. I mean I could go through a lot of nations where a lot of bad things were done.


KING: A busy day here in Washington. We expect breaking news throughout the hour dominated by anticipation and anxiety over this, the 500-page report from the Justice Department Inspector General examining the FBI handling of the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe.

Today, just two hours from now, that report could provide some answer to some big, key questions. Here's the biggest one, did politics drive decisions made by James Comey and other high-ranking officials inside the FBI? This hour, key staff members and some members on Capitol Hill are being read into that report. The deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, is at the White House right now. It's his job to brief the president on the report.

The president's attack plan is well known and on display already today. The president tweeting about what he calls the witch hunt and now a, quote, pile of garbage. Crimes invented by the Democrats and amplified by Comey, the president says, to trigger the appointment of a special counsel.

Now, the president, we know, concluded long ago the Clinton investigation was rigged, he says, and that the same agents who the president believes conspired to clear her then conspired to start a witch hunt investigating him. That's the president's take.

But the report might not just be a new chapter in the president's fight with Robert Mueller. The attorney general, Jeff Sessions, at odds with the president quite a bit, now says today's report is through and Sessions say a road map to fixing problems at the FBI and the Justice Department. But the attorney general also suggests the facts might not support the president's take.


JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think it will be a lengthy report and a careful report. It will be released soon. And I think it will help us better fix any problems that we have and reassure the American people that some of the concerns that have been raised are not true.


KING: Not true from the attorney general there.

Our team of reporters are working this story across the Capitol.

Manu Raju, you're on Capitol Hill right now.

The report delivered moments ago. What are your sources telling you? And take us through what's going to happen in the next few hours.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, behind the scenes right now, members of Congress, key staff and the key committees are reviewing this roughly 500-page report, John. And already both sides of the aisle are picking out things that advance their arguments. Democrats saying that it shows that perhaps President Trump may have been helped by the FBI's actions in 2016.

In fact, a statement just released by two prominent Democratic congressmen, Jerry Nadler of New York, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, said this, a stark conclusion we draw after reviewing this report is that the FBI's actions helped Donald Trump become president.

But, still, John, a lot of Republicans see some missteps by the way -- the way that the FBI handled that Clinton e-mail investigation, and some already are calling for a second special counsel to be named to investigate this matter further, including Senator Lindsey Graham, who said this earlier today.


SEN LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: If he finds systematic abuse at the Department of Justice and the FBI, then who's going to do something about it? I just -- I think you would need some independent eyes. And, to me, that's got to be somebody out of the Department of Justice, somebody that we all trust. You know, I think Mueller was the right guy. I think he's doing his job in a professional manner. Pick somebody like him.


[12:05:04] RAJU: And this is not going to end this fight over this investigation. On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee plans to have a hearing on this issue. And the chairman of that committee, Chuck Grassley, wants to bring in the deputy director, Andy McCabe, who was under a separate criminal investigation, John. And you'll recall, he has asked for immunity to testify. And Grassley told me early this morning that that has not been decided and they may even subpoena him to appear in a further time for this -- to come before the committee. So a lot more questions that members of Congress have despite this roughly 500-page report, John.

KING: Manu Raju live on The Hill as the members dissect that report. If you get any new information, new nuggets, Manu, come back to us throughout the hour.

Abby Phillip live at the White House.

Now, Abby, I cannot get over the irony here. The attorney general may well be angering the boss again for what he says about the report. And at the White House right now, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, who oversees and supports the Mueller probe, is the one who briefs the president on this IG report. What do we know about that meeting?


Just a few minutes ago, just before the top of the hour, Rod Rosenstein arrived here at the White House to brief President Trump on this report. And, of course, the backdrop of all of this is that Rosenstein himself has been at the center of President Trump's ire over this special counsel probe. But based on what we know so far, it is not entirely clear that this IG investigative report is going to produce the results that the president is looking for.

It may well fall to James Comey, the former FBI director, but not for the reason that President Trump expects. Comey's handling of the Clinton e-mail investigation is something that the president -- the president believes was part of the process of him firing Comey. But, of course, the president has been looking for ways to undermine the special counsel investigation from the beginning and it's not clear at all that this IG report will do that.

In addition to the Comey findings, there will be some new findings on text messages from two former FBI employees who the president has accused of having a bias against him during the investigation. But all of that, of course, John, the president is coming back to -- as part of a way to undermine the special counsel investigation. It's not clear that Rosenstein is going to give him that ammunition. Today is the president's 72nd birthday. He has said that he believes this IG report might be a special birthday present for him. But, again, these findings seem to be fairly nuanced and already Democrats believe that what they do is, in fact, shown that the FBI perhaps might have helped Trump and not hurt him, John.

KING: Abby Phillip live at the White House. Same request I gave to Manu. If you learn more, please come back throughout the hour.

With me in studio here to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Hirschfeld Davis with "The New York Times," Michael Bender of "The Wall Street Journal," CNN's Shimon Prokupecz and "Politico's" Rachael Bade.

Shimon, let me start with you in the sense that you've been covering this story for a long time. Michael Horowitz, we know from your reporting and other reporting at CNN, he's going to find fault with James Comey. The fundamental question is, does he find a political bias? That's what the president hopes, that this report says James Comey was somehow motivated by an ambition, a desire to help Hillary Clinton. Do we have any indication of how the report comes down on that question?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: We don't have any indication in terms of how it comes down, but that is -- that is the key issue here in terms of whether or not there was some political bias, you know, as the president has said.

I mean, look, there is a lot of things, I think, that the FBI contends and will say that went wrong here. Now, looking back -- and they're hoping that this is sort of a restart for them. This report would allow them to move on from this era. There will be a lot here about James Comey, Loretta Lynch, other people who were certainly in leadership.

The big, other question here that I learned talking to some people is they're worried about some of the -- maybe like the line assistance, kind of lower level, everyday worker bees who are working this case and will this investigation find any fault in any of the work that they were conducting here?

KING: And part of the point -- now, Republicans, who not long ago, just in April, were holding out this IG as a credible person because he wrote the report that led to Andy McCabe's firing, now what will they say if he writes a report that says Comey made mistakes, but Comey was not motivated by either anti-Trump or pro-Clinton political bias. Will they accept that or --

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": No way. I mean they've already -- they have already been given clearance not to accept that by the president himself, who was tweeting recently, questioning whether this report has been watered down since an original draft. You know, the first reports came out about this -- about this IG report and already it's Matt DeSantis -- I'm sorry, Matt Gaetz and Ron DeSantis from Florida --

KING: House conservatives who are Trump allies and --


KING: In the -- in the what other -- even some other Republicans have called the conspiracy theory crowd, but they allege deep-seated corruption.

BENDER: Right. They -- without even having seen the report, they are accusing them of -- the Justice Department of watering this down and are seeking drafts of the report. We haven't seen an actual -- you know, the copy of this report yet. I would be shocked if there is nothing -- if there is not something in there for Trump and his allies to grab onto. But, so far, this is not exactly what Trump is hoping for.

[12:10:09] KING: Right. Anything that can undermine Comey's credibility, the president's team thinks helped them say, hey, look, Robert Mueller, if he's your central witness in any obstruction plot you think you have, he's not credible. He's not -- at least he doesn't have good judgement. The -- the IG says that.

Let's go through some of the questions. There's going to be a big political debate about this. It's going to start today and it's going to go on for Lord knows how long. But let's look at some of the big, factual questions here.

Is there any evidence the FBI was motivated by bias in Clinton's favor? That's one big question here. Does the IG question Comey's conclusion that Hillary Clinton did nothing criminal? Will that come up in this? What does it say about the Lynch-Bill Clinton tarmac meeting? That we know -- that we assume the report is going to say, that's improper, it shouldn't have happened, but what else does it say about it? We'll look at that. What did Andy McCabe, the deputy, do wrong? Anything more than we already know? And does the IG conclude that Comey should not have considered in making his judgments whether or not he thought Clinton was going to win the election (ph).

So there are a lot of substantive facts here. The report, as you look through, it's partly in the rear view mirror. This is over. The election is over. But it's important for the credibility of the FBI going forward. But it's also, facts aside, going to become part of this new, continued political debate.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, absolutely, and it's 500 pages of fodder for both sides to really pick through. And we've seen repeatedly that this has happened both, you know, by the president and by Democrats, that they will take what is favorable to their narrative in this report and run with it. And, you know, Manu was saying earlier, that's already happening on the Democratic side. They've already found evidence or material in the report to say, you know, this actually shows that the investigation -- that the handling of the Clinton investigation helped Trump, didn't hurt him.

No doubt in my mind that the president will find things to grab onto to, a, undermine the credibility of Comey even more so than he feels like he already has been able to do, b, undermine the Mueller investigation, which is the larger, I think, pursuit here, is really he's beginning to see this more and more as a political debate over whether people believe what Mueller is going to say or not.

KING: Right.

DAVIS: And I think that this is going to be a key part of it.

KING: And we'll get more into this point I'm about to make later, but the president's legal team is meeting today. All day long the president's legal team is meeting today, including some time later today with the president. And they're going to digest this report, as well as some other big decisions to make.

But you make a very key point there.

It's fascinating, we've already seen -- you mentioned the House conservatives who are saying, oh, this is bogus, it's watered down, even before they've had a chance to read it really. You have the Democrats who say they have read it and been briefed on it saying this tells us that James Comey helped elect Donald Trump.

Fast -- that's a Democrat-Republican argument. But there's a within the Republican family argument. Listen to the Attorney General Jeff Sessions here. We played at the top of the show the attorney general essentially saying, I don't think there's going to be evidence here to support some of the political conclusions. That means the president and those House conservatives you're talking about.

Listen to him here essentially saying, I got this. I'm the attorney general. We have a new FBI director. Mr. Horowitz is a good man. We will do what's necessary. We don't need, as you heard Lindsey Graham just say, a special counsel.


JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes, we did have an IG report from Mr. Horowitz, who will be making this report, about Mr. McCabe, who was deputy director at the time of the FBI. I did act on that. And he was terminated. And if anyone else shows up in this report to have done something that requires termination, we will do so.


HILL: It is remarkable. This was a hero of the conservative movement during the Trump campaign, even before the Trump campaign. He's the attorney general now. If you listen to him there, he says, I got this. I got this. I will take action. I helped fire James Comey. I fired Andy McCabe. I will fire anybody else if this report says so. He goes on to say in that interview that Chris Wray is a good man, the new FBI director. Chris Wray is going to have a news conference this afternoon I've just been told by the control room. So he'll give his take on this.

Jeff Sessions' point is, we got this, leave us to deal with the problems in our house. Will Republicans give him that latitude?

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": This is -- you're going to see a Republican split on this. I mean -- and you saw it last week. We saw some of the conservatives that are currently questioning the report actually attack Speaker Paul Ryan because he was defending the FBI, saying that he needs to look out for the president and stop defending the FBI. But this is going to exacerbate that divide, obviously.

I think the special counsel question is a big one. Some Republicans have said they want a special counsel because the IG does not have the authority to actually interview FBI agents who have moved on and who are no longer at the bureau. And so I would expect to see some of the Trump allies argue in that vein that this isn't good enough and we need a special counsel. But, again, some Republicans are going to want to move on. It's going to be awkward.

KING: Right. And just a final footnote, we're continuing to wait for new information on this report.

We've got to take a quick break.

Before we go to break, I just want to read you this tweet the other day from the president of the United States to get a sense of how he feels like this. What is taking so long with the inspector general's report on crooked Hillary and slippery James Comey. Numerous delays. Hope report is not being changed and made weaker. There are so many horrible things to tell, the public has the right to know. Transparency.

A lot of that is political spin. The last part, transparency, well, that's today. That's today. We will have the 500-page report by the end of the day.

[12:15:00] Please, stay with us. When we come back, more on the IG report.

Also, a new lawsuit from the Democratic attorney general in New York, saying the president's family foundation, the president of the United States and his children, the lawsuit says are corrupt, using their foundation for political gain.


KING: Welcome back.

A remarkable lawsuit today filed by New York's attorney general, suing President Trump and his children, claiming they violated state and federal charity laws and campaign finance laws. President Trump already responding to the lawsuit, quickly taking to Twitter saying, the sleazy New York Democrats and their now disgraced run out of town A.G. Eric Schneiderman are doing everything they can, the president says, to sue me on a foundation again the president says took in $18.8 million, gave out to charity more money that it took in. I won't settle the case, the president says.

The new New York attorney general, Schneiderman is gone, spoke to our CNN -- CNN's Christiane Amanpour a bit earlier saying politics has nothing to do with this.


BARBARA UNDERWOOD, NEW YORK ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's not at all unprecedented for a non-profit corporation, for a charitable foundation, to be held to account for these violations. It is not -- I'm unaware of a case in which the foundation involved was run by a sitting president. But there's no reason why a foundation owned and operated by a sitting president should be exempt from the laws that we routinely apply to other foundations.


[12:20:30] KING: CNN's Jean Casarez and our legal analyst Paul Callan join us from New York.

Jean, you first. Tell us, what does the lawsuit allege, that the president and his children and the foundation have done wrong?

JEAN CASAREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is correct. That is what they're alleging.

This is a verified petition. It was filed this morning. Forty-one pages long. And in essence saying that the Donald J. Trump Charitable Foundation was a shell, that it was actually to benefit Donald J. Trump personally and his businesses, and that there was truly other motives besides charitable foundation.

It says, in part, the petition filed today alleges a pattern of persistent, illegal conduct occurring over more than a decade that includes extensive, unlawful political coordination with the Trump presidential campaign. And it goes into facts in that. It talks about what you might remember, the Iowa fundraiser in January 2016.

Now, this was set up in lieu of Donald Trump participating in the Republican presidential debate. It was sort of counterprogramming that night, you might remember, and the foundation asserted that the Iowa fundraiser was that, to benefit the veterans, to collect monies for them. But the petition says that is not the case. It says, quote, the investigation revealed that the Iowa fundraiser was planned, organized, financed and directed by the campaign with administrative assistance from the foundation.

Now, we have just gotten a scathing response back to all of this from the foundation itself, and it says in part, quote, this is politics at its very worst. The foundation has donated over 19 million to worthy charitable causes, more than it even received. The president himself or through his companies has contributed more than $8 million. The reason the foundation was able to donate more than it took in is because it had too little expenses. This is unheard of for a charitable foundation. And the verified petition does go on to say that Donald J. Trump did

not contribute any personal funds at all to this foundation since 2008.


KING: Jean, appreciate that reporting.

Paul Callan, I have the document here. It is 41 pages. The president says it's garbage politics. You're our legal mind. Have you had a chance to go through it? Is it? Is it a credible lawsuit?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I have had a chance to go through it, and I have to say, you know, the president's always been fond of attacking the predecessor attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, in New York, who sued the president many times saying he was strictly a politician, a Democratic politician. Of course, Schneiderman was forced out in a sex abuse scandal.

However, this lawsuit has been filed by Barbara Underwood, who is really a seasoned and respected former federal and state prosecutor, former acting solicitor general of the United States. She's argued many cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. And these pleadings, they make some very, very serious allegations.

First, the president is listed personally as a defendant in the case. So the question arises, will he be forced to now testify in this very complicated case? And, secondly, she alleges that this foundation was really an empty shell. There was no supervision, no accounting for where the investments went and that it was run, really, as part of the Trump campaign.

One of the exhibits attached to the pleadings is a picture of a check, purportedly, of the foundation which has the slogan "make America great again" on the bottom of the check, just to show the interrelationship in what she says is an improper interrelationship between the foundation and politics.

So, you know, I think it looks, on its face, to be a dangerous suit for the president.

KING: Dangerous suit for the president.

Paul Callan, Jean, appreciate your reporting as well. We'll watch this one play out.

And just a reminder, the president's legal team is meeting today, mostly to discuss the Mueller investigation, but something else on the president's plate to discuss could end up in court.

When we come back, an impromptu decision from the president during the Singapore summit ends up in North Korean propaganda.


[12:28:49] KING: This just in to us, the White House adding a briefing at 2:30 this afternoon. Of course, that's being added after the president is being briefed on that inspector general's report about the Clinton e-mail investigation. So we'll look for questions there.

Also some questions likely to come up about the president's Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un. Some fascinating behind-the-scenes video of that summit we're getting today from North Korean state media. And it raises some new questions. Look here, the video shows President Trump saluting a three-star North Korean general during what appears to be a meet and greet with North Korean officials. We're going to loop it for you several times. American news media cameras were not allowed. This is North Korean state TV. Kim Jong-un's propaganda machine. You see the president shaking hands, greeting those in the room, and he extends his hand to the general. The general responds with a salute, as you see, and the president salutes him back before they shake hands.

Our CNN analyst, Rear Admiral John Kirby, joins me now live.

Admiral, you find this problematic. Why?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Yes, I think there's two valid concerns here, John. The first is the level of deference and respect that it shows for an officer in a military that not only brutalizes its own soldiers, but its own people, and still possesses a nuclear and ballistic missile program that threatens the security of the region and, in fact the world. So that's one.

[12:29:57] Number two, you kind of alluded to it, and that's the propaganda value. It's -- it's showing on North Korean state TV for a reason, because it absolutely shows the narrative of the summit that Kim Jong-un wanted out there, that they are now elevated to a co-equal status with the United States on the world stage.