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INSIDE POLITICS

Sen. Tester Takes Aim at Opponents Out of State Roots in Ad; Two Dems Call For Probe of Pruitt's Secret Calendar; Former Wrestler: Rep. Jordan Saw Sexual Abuse in Showers; Lingering Questions on Family Reunifications; U.S. and China Hours Away From Tariff Showdown; Trade War Tension Strokes Fear Among Farmers. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 5, 2018 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:00] KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: -- remember Ronny Jackson when they go to the polls in November. There's too much of it that's happened in the meantime.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Sorry.

DEMIRJIAN: Aligning himself close to the president but putting it all on the president really.

KING: And to the point when you have this national dynamic that works against you -- I mean, you're a conservative Democrat in a state the president won by 20 points, you try to focus on local stuff. So Jon Tester telling the Wall Street Journal his opponent, Matt Rosendale was a real estate developer from Maryland. And there's a group out there making fun of his accent saying it's a Maryland accent, not a Montana accent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the worst accents.

KING: Ouch.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: From a Maryland resident.

KING: But Jon Tester tells the Wall Street Journal, asked if he'd be watching the president's speech. The senator responded, hell no, adding that after participating in the round table on trade, Thursday, he'd probably be busy on his tractor, Mr. Tester said.

They are fighting words and here's a Montanans for Tester ad from last month saying that Jon Tester is from Montana, he's a rancher. Matt Rosendale is not.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Meet Maryland Matt Rosendale, a millionaire real estate developer from Maryland, where he made a lot of money turning farmland into developments. Now he's in Montana to develop real estate here too. Defend Montana from Maryland Matt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Again -- PERRY BACON, SENIOR WRITER, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: Maryland is OK with me,

just to be clear. But in that ad, Maryland is not OK with the Montana. I mean, the way they say Maryland, right.

KING: But again, it is smart politics, and Republicans are worried. Republicans are worried that he's not the best candidate. And they say they're grateful for the president because of his anger at Tester, agreed to come out two to three more times. If you're Tester, you can't run against President Trump so you try to say this guy is not one of us.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: I mean, no one likes a carpet bagger, especially if you're in a state like Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, or something like that. So maybe that'll stick.

BACON: And Tester is polling well. The Republicans I talked to are very focused on Indiana and Missouri. Those are the top two states, (INAUDIBLE). They sort of know Tester is going to be hard to beat.

DEMIRJIAN: That's key because f the president has not had a good track record of going out to stump for people who have been, you know, lost. And he doesn't want to do that again especially if his name and way matters because everybody is running in November. So if it's not going so well for Matt, Maryland Matt or however people want to see him as we get closer to November, maybe there won't be as many visits --

KING: I bet you're right about that. The president follows the numbers and he said -- I'm told he's agreed to go back two or three more times or two or three times total including today. But you're right, if the numbers -- that might change if the numbers don't move.

Up next for us, a congressman accused of turning his back to sexual abuse, suggest those accusations are part of some deep-state conspiracy.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:37:01] KING: Topping our political radar today, this just into CNN. Two Democratic congressmen now calling on the EPA inspector general to investigate Scott Pruitt's so-called secret calendar. Those calls come two days after a CNN investigation revealed more than two dozen meetings, events or calls were omitted from the EPA chief's public calendar.

Democratic Congressmen Ted Lieu and Don Beyer said they want to know if Pruitt's routine calendar scrubbing constitutes a federal crime. CNN's Drew Griffin has been investigating the story for us. Drew, tell us what you're learning about this.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the inspector general's office is confirming it's in receipt of that request and evaluating to see, John, to see if they're going to go ahead with this investigation. This all stems from our report which details how a federal whistleblower, Kevin Chmielewski, a former deputy chief of staff for Pruitt, told us in an interview this past week that he was involved with a group, a small group of close confidantes with Pruitt in his office. They would scrub, alter, delete, decide which things would be put on the administrator's public calendar and which would be omitted. We back this up with comparing internal e-mails we got from a FOIA request to that official calendar and found two dozen or so such meetings that we couldn't determine were part of that official calendar.

So these congressmen are asking whether or not that constitutes a violation of the federal records act. And I just want to report in their letter, they say that willful concealment or destruction of such records is federal crime, carrying penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment.

This, of course, John, adds to the, I think, 14 now different probes, investigations that are centering around this very troubled but still loyal to the president EPA administrator.

KING: Serious questions being raised by these congressmen, in part thanks to some very good CNN reporting. Drew, appreciate the reporting. We'll keep an eye on this one as we go forward.

Also on our radar today, one on one. A senior administration official telling reporters just minutes ago the Helsinki summit will start with President Trump meeting with President Putin alone before aides then come in for a larger meeting. The White House says the conversation will be serious. They insist arms control, Ukraine, Syria, and yes, election meddling are all on the president's agenda for that meeting.

Today, the U.S. Capitol Police now involved in a back and forth between Congressman Jim Jordan and a former Ohio state wrestler. The congressman's office says Capitol Police are now reviewing e-mails sent to Jordan by Mike DiSabato. Jordan coached DiSabato at Ohio State where DiSabato says the Republican congressman witnessed and then did nothing about sexual abuse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE DISABATO, FORMER OHIO STATE WRESTLER: But when you look at the definition of sexual abuse and sexual assault, and Jim Jordan just went on record saying he knew about the facilities. He took showers with us. He saw Dr. Strauss and others perform these kind of acts in front of us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Congressman Jordan again denying those claims this morning. And in that denial, listen here, suggesting the timing of these accusations is suspicious and even part of a conspiracy.

[12:40:04] You might remember Jordan's star in conservative circles is rising, fueled in part by a very public bitter feud with the Justice Department over access to documents in the Russia meddling investigation. Listen to Jordan here suggest the two just might be connected.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), OHIO: The timing is kind of interesting. It's right after the big hearing with Mr. Rosenstein. It's right when there's all this talk about the speaker's race. They sent the correspondence to an e-mail address that doesn't exist.

Now think about this. Perkins Coie law firm, the same law firm that kid used to find an ex-British spy to write a dossier to influence the presidential election can't find a congressman's e-mail address?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What to make of this? It's a difficult one because these are men coming forward, alleging abuse years ago. They alleged the congressman knew about it. He says if the law firm reached out to me to ask me questions, I didn't get it.

Can we get through that process first before we allege it's a deep- state conspiracy? Or am I asking too much in today's world?

DEMIRJIAN: At this juncture, possibly asking too much. There's been many connections drawn. And look, Jordan is at the epicenter right now of all of this focus on Rosenstein and what's been going on with the dossier and everything like that. So it's not that surprising, I suppose, that he would draw these connections. Although, the question is does anybody else? The House speaker has come out and said these allegations are serious, should be investigated.

That is not rushing it away.

KUCINICH: And sometimes when a politician is on the rise and they're prominent and they're, you know, more on the air waves and they're more in your living room, these things do surface. Just because the public profile becomes so high. That's just fact of the matter.

KING: Right now, the wrestlers say they were reaching out to Jordan because of his public profile for help. He says they're bringing this up and accusing him of something that he insists never happened, and he deserves his -- you know, let the facts -- let the investigators settle the facts. But he says they're bringing this up to smear him. They say they were trying to actually get his help because of his profile.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: Obviously, we all have a very limited amount of detail on this, but it could be both ostensibly. You could be seeking somebody's help because you believe that they saw something or knew something that could be used to help you or to put somebody else in the spotlight or to be investigated.

There are -- the Freedom Caucus has a number of political people inside the Republican Party who consider them a challenge to getting business done. I'm not sure that has anything to do with the timing of why this is coming out now.

KING: Well, let's get the investigation done and the facts ahead of conspiracy theories would be nice.

Up next, an update from the HHS. The Department of Health and Human Services on just how the Trump administration is reunifying families split at the border, and how many are still in government care.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:47:06] KING: Breaking news now on the Trump administration efforts to reunify migrant children separated from their families at the U.S./Mexico border. The Department of Health and Human Services just wrapped up a call to update reporters on the reunification process and how many children are still in government custody.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty was on that call. And she joins us at the table. Now, what do we learn?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We have some new information, John, but by far, still very short of a full accounting of what exactly is going on with these kids at the border as the agency works to reunify them. The HHS secretary just got off the call with reporters and he says they are currently holding 11,800 minors. That includes 80 percent of the kids who showed up at the border unaccompanied without a parent.

And here's where our important number comes in. They say they're currently holding under 3,000 children in total that have been separated from their families. That was an approximate figure. They would not put an actual number. He said it was under 3,000, and that includes a hundred children under the age of five. So little babies here that are being held.

Also very significant, not only that they wouldn't put an exact number on that, they also would not tell us exactly how many kids had been reunified with their parents since that executive order was signed. The last figure we know was six children. And that's just because we were able to do some math. The last time, nine days ago, they said there were 2,047 children being held. So very clear, we still do not have specifics about that.

Also, certainly a lot of scrutiny going on about how exactly they're making these connections between the parents and kids. And anecdotally on the ground, in some of these centers, we're hearing that they're using DNA testing. Today the HHS secretary did confirm that DNA testing is being used, he said, for the purpose of identification. And because they're trying to comply with this court order and that was in large part the context of this call that they have to hit these very specific deadlines. July 6th, July 10th, July 26th to potentially get everyone reunited.

And today he said that they will comply with this court deadline.

KING: He says they will comply but won't give reporters, so won't the American people the hard numbers. What is the answer when people say why not? Is it that they don't have the numbers, as some Democrats suggest that they don't know what they have on their hands? They don't understand how comprehensive the problem is therefore they don't have a good accounting? Or do they have some privacy reason where they think it's OK not to tell us? Give us update.

SERFATY: They seem to be taking a little cover from the court ruling here and saying, look, their focus right now is on making these reunifications and making sure that they're connecting the kids with families. But that does seem to be a very simple question of how many reunifications have you indeed made here. Where are these kids getting back with their families? We've of course seen from our crews on the ground these reunifications happening. We have to believe it's more than six, but as of now, they're not naming the exact number.

KING: It's a giant, legitimate policy question to ask about the numbers. It's a giant policy challenge for the administration now, and it's become a political problem.

[12:50:01] Listen here, this is Tom Cole, a Republican member of Congress, someone who used to run the Congressional Campaign Committee, who understands the nuts and bolts of midterm elections and what happens. Who says, a, the president never should have done this, and b, it's turning out badly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TIM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: You just simply don't separate families. I think the president beat a hasty retreat on that because the reaction to it was so negative in a bipartisan sense across the board. And I think he was right to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The president keeps trying to change the subject. He wants to talk about, you know, some Democrats who say they want to abolish ICE, other things. But on this one, Republicans worry, number one, the most important thing is the policy debate and the policy of reunification. But republicans also deeply worry about the politics of this, and if the administration can't give us numbers, can't be accountable, I assume that makes the problem even deeper.

TALEV: Well, yes. And what Cole also went on to say in that interview this morning was that the American people aren't going to stand for something like this and they shouldn't. Pretty pointed criticism of the president from the same party as him.

So this is the line in the sand that a lot of Republicans have drawn. They've gone along with a lot of the things that the president has done, but on this one, taking a step back and said, this policy is totally not OK, was never OK, and that all of the assets, all of the leverage of the federal government should be brought to bear on these reunifications. So I thought that was some pretty strong words from the congressman.

BACON: The only good news I heard is this secretary is actually leading the process, doing the conference calls and seems involved. I remember when the ObamaCare website failed at some point, Sebelius got very deeply involved and it did help and showed they cared which is like, you know, an important step to know that they clearly are focused on this and they know this is the issue people are watching to see that they solve over anything else right now.

KING: That's an excellent point. Secretaries are known as a serious guy if he realizes the scope of the problem. Maybe they can't answer today. Maybe, well, Thursday, maybe by Friday, Saturday, Monday. It would be nice to get some numbers.

Up next for us, the clock is ticking. Some trade war implications already in place. Some others, due including some at midnight tonight.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:56:04] KING: Welcome back. Midnight tonight is another key marker in the escalating Trump trade war. The United States set to hit China with tariffs on $34 billion in goods. Overnight, Mexico doubled its tariffs on pork imports from the United States. Showdowns with Europe, too, and farmers and pork producers here now worried more as the president's rhetoric turns into a trade war reality. CNN's Christine Romans has more.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNNMONEY CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: John, it is a nerve-racking week for American farmers and pork producers. This is the week that marks really the beginning of the trade war. It's real and it is here.

Sunday, Canada slapped tariffs on $12.6 billion worth of American exports, ketchup to soybeans. Overnight, just overnight, Mexico doubled its tariff on pork imported from the U.S. to 20 percent. That's a huge market for American pork producers. Mexico is the largest importer of American pork.

The European Union already slapped 20 to 25 percent taxes on America soybeans, ketchup, whiskey, blue jeans, and motorcycles, among other things. And at midnight tonight comes the showdown with China. The U.S. will hit China with tariffs on $34 billion of goods, targeting the high-tech industries that China vows to dominate. Aerospace, robotics, autos. China promises to retaliate at the same time with tariffs on high-value American exports. Cars, crude oil, cash crops like soybeans.

John, about 100 soybean growers head to Washington next week. They're going to try to explain the effect of this trade dispute on their livelihoods to policy makers in Washington.

The White House is steadfast here. The strong economy makes the timing right for tough trade policy, they say. And the president's most hawkish trade advisers, they maintain America can win any trade war. America has less

John?

KING: Christine romans, appreciate the by the book numbers there. The president does believe to Christine's point, the economy is roaring, we can get through this. The question is, he hasn't listened to Republican members of Congress. He hasn't listened to business interests. Will he listen to farmers when people like that come to town? Will his people listen to farmers or is the president's view, you know, check this -- check in a year and a half, don't worry about the next several months of turmoil?

KUCINICH: I wonder if he needs a bad midterm honestly to listen. If somewhere like Iowa. I'm sure Iowa -- members in Iowa, you have already seen Jodi Ernst, Chuck Grassley. The Republican members, they're all running in tough races. I'm sure he's going to be hearing from that.

KING: Or a several couple House seats out there in place.

KUCINICH: Yes. I mean, a couple of House seats, you know. And then down south where a lot of those car companies are based. I'm sure he'll start hearing from them too. So maybe he needs results to see that this is maybe a bad call for people.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes, I mean, the best scenario that he can hope for from a lot of these people is that things end up fairly neutral, right? Because he kept saying we can weather this, a lot of people are saying, why are you putting us through this in the first place anyway?

So if it ends up OK, that's not really a win so much unless things end up so much better that these particular farmers end up, you know, wealthier for it which seems like a distant possibility. So, yes, the economy as a whole can handle it but these segments of the economy that matter so much don't seem like they're going to gain from it.

KING: And yet, the LA Times interviewed some Trump voters affected by this. This is Jimmie Cotter, a machine programmer at the nation's largest nail making plant voted for Trump partly because he was confident he would bring back manufacturing jobs. Now as his boss has cut back hours and warn they may have to let 200 more workers go, he says, I support him 100 percent. In fact, I'd like to shake his hand. He's going a great job.

Loyalty among the voters, that's now. The question is over two, three months into this, does that stick?

BACON: Does this stick, one. But I think the second thing is, Trump has been talking about trade wars and U.S. being ripped off from the trade for 30 years. This is the one issue where I would argue I have a hard time seeing him backing down for a long time, maybe not until 2020. I think he really wants to try this. You know, he basically dismissed his economic adviser over this issue. He really wants to do this, and I think it's the one place where I don't see him backing down any time soon.

KING: It's a fascinating test as we go forward. We'll keep an eye on it again. New deadlines tonight at midnight.

Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. Hope to see you back here this time tomorrow. Jim Sciutto is in for Wolf. He starts right now. Have a great day.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Hello, I'm Jim Sciutto in for Wolf Blitzer. It is 1 p.m. here in Washington. Wherever you are watching from around --