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INSIDE POLITICS

Security Clearance Debate; Russia Fighting to Impact Election; Bailout for Farmers; Ryan Talks Tariffs; Giuliani on Questions in Mueller Investigation. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 24, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Uncertain terms (INAUDIBLE).

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, maybe in all caps -- an all caps tweet. That would be nice. Thank you so much for joining me.

Thank you so much for watching. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Dana.

Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

President Trump is in Missouri this hour for a speech to the veterans of foreign wars. Russia, North Korea and Iran among the topics of high interest.

Plus, the threat to revoke security clearances of former top intelligence officials. The president sets facts and the First Amendment aside in another vindictive assault on his critics.

And, don't believe everything you find on the Internet. Really. This just in, Senator Orrin Hatch, to borrow from "Monty Python," is not dead yet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: The reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Our thanks to Senator Hatch for that and a little more fun with that later.

But we begin with the president. He speaks to veterans later this hour in Kansas City, a most patriotic of settings at a moment of a debate that rings anything but patriotic. Maybe it's a serious proposal. Maybe it's a Trumpian shiny object meant to steer the conversation away from the president's Helsinki disaster or something else. Whatever the motivation, this is an eye-popping threat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And not only is the president looking to take away Brennan's security clearance, he's also looking into the clearances of Comey, Clapper, Hayden, Rice, and McCabe. The president is exploring the mechanisms to remove security clearance because they've politicized and in some cases monetized their public service and security clearances.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A bit earlier this morning, the House Speaker Paul Ryan says it's all a stunt, don't listen to the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I think he's trolling people, honestly. This is something that's in the purview of the executive branch. I think some of these people have already lost their clearances. Some people keep their clearances. That's something that the executive branch deals with. It's not really in our purview. I think he's just trolling people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Clever, maybe, but that's also a cop out, which is to say nothing new today from the Republican leadership in Congress. Administration sources don't really know if the president is serious here. But one source tells us the boss, quote, likes this debate.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is live at the White House.

Jeff, take us inside this. Is it distraction? Is it Trumpian threat? Or is it real?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, I think all of the above or none of the above. It's one of those things we don't know. But the reality is, you must treat it seriously because it was spoke from the White House podium by the White House press secretary saying it is an idea, a potential policy of this administration, of your government here. So that's why this is being taken seriously.

And notice when you were playing the clip there of Sarah Sanders at that briefing yesterday. She was asked the question, because, of course, it was first raised by Rand Paul after a meeting with the president, but she was ready for that question and she called out people by name. She was reading from her answer, which means that she had a conversation with the president before that briefing and they want this to be out there.

Now, I talked to a senior administration official who's trying to, you know, explain this and they said the president is more than comfortable with this debate. He's more than comfortable with how all of this is playing out. He believes it's a new fight, if you will, and lingering feud with old Obama officials, all of course who are connected with Russian meddling there.

We see the president in Kansas City. He'll be speaking with Veterans of Foreign Wars at that convention, which so many presidents have gone to. But, boy, this is a different moment.

Is he serious about this? We don't know. We've heard the president talk about so many different threats and then moves on to something else. We'll see if he actually goes through with it. But it is a topic of discussion.

It came exactly a week after that Helsinki summit. So it definitely changed the conversation somewhat. But we'll see if they're serious. We'll see if he talks about it today in Kansas City. Certainly not the venue for this type of conversation normally. But, hey, John, what's normal these days?

KING: Interesting perspective at the end there. Right dead on.

Jeff Zeleny live at the White House, appreciate it.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights this day, Maggie Haberman of "The New York Times," Jonathan Martin, also of "The New York Times," Dan Balz with "The Washington Post" and CNN's Abby Phillip.

Four of the best reporters in the business at the table and yet I'm going to ask by asking you to read minds.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Thank you.

KING: On the -- on the way -- on the way to this speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kansas City, the president of the United States, a bit off topic where he began, tweeted this, I'm very concerned that Russia will be fighting very hard to have an impact on the upcoming election based on the fact that no president has been tougher on Russia than me. They will be pushing very hard for Democrats. They definitely don't want Trump.

I guess we could say at least he's acknowledging that Russia is attacking our Democracy and that's progress. But that would be kind, I think. Where do we think this is coming from?

[12:05:05] ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think it continues to be opposite day or opposite month at the White House these days. Last week it was, there's no reason why he would believe that it was Putin. And then the next day it was there was no reason why he wouldn't believe it was Putin.

I think this is the president telling people to believe something other than what they're seeing and hearing with their own eyes and ears. And we know that last week Vladimir Putin was asked specifically about whether or not he wanted Trump to win, and he said, yes, I did. So this is not something that the president can erase with a simple tweet, but it wouldn't be the first time that he's tried to do something like that. Literally just saying the opposite of what people are seeing and hearing and thinking and believing based on overwhelming evidence that's out there.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": What Putin himself said.

HABERMAN: One of the hallmarks of the Trump campaign first and certainly the presidency, but the campaign most starkly, was he would say different things, sometimes contradictory things in the same sentence. And then people would basically have a choose your own adventure of what they wanted to hear. And I do think that that's a part of this. I mean, yes, so he's sort of acknowledging that it was -- that Russia is trying to interfere, until the next time when he doesn't do it. So there's no --

KING: Until the next disaster.

HABERMAN: There's no consistency, and there's no guarantee that what he says here has any staying power.

KING: Right. How about if you -- if you're going to -- we're supposed to take this seriously now after 18 months. How about a cabinet-level meeting chaired by the president in which he says publically to everybody, do everything you can, spend every dime you need, stop it, fight it. And if Russia keeps doing it, I will sanction them. That would be nice, as opposed to the --

MARTIN: Yes, but --

KING: But -- I just want to tell our viewers, you're watching the president. He's on the tarmac in Kansas City. They're shaking hands, on his way to the VFW for a big speech.

Please.

MARTIN: Well, I was going to say, but that assumes that this is something besides a PR strategy --

KING: Right.

MARTIN: Which I think is all this is.

What's striking about this episode is that here we are over a week after Helsinki, and unlike the past Trump eruptions where they tend to fade after a day or at the most two or three days, he's still in the batter's box trying to figure out a way to get past this, right? He tried the Iranian tweet. He tried with Sarah Huckabee yesterday in the briefing room there, you know, taking back the security clearances of the Obama-era officials. And now he's trying this next gambit.

It is striking that he's trying to find a way to sort of turn the page still over a week later given his success in the past at creating some kind of fresh chum.

KING: Right, I think --

DAN BALZ, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, but part of the -- I mean but part of the -- part of the problem is that this was a big problem for him in Helsinki.

MARTIN: Right. BALZ: I mean this is not something you can erase with one tweet or one day of trying to correct the record. And so he feels the need to do it over and over because it keeps coming back at him over and over.

HABERMAN: (INAUDIBLE) --

KING: Right, Helsinki is -- Helsinki is a stain that I don't think is going to wash out. And I think the president's coming to realize that, which is why, again, we started the conversation with Jeff Zeleny about this idea that you would take away the security clearance of people who are criticizing you.

Now, some of these people have been unusually political. We don't normally see former CIA directors like John Brennan involved in daily political conversations. But we also have never seen a president like this.

The White House says they've -- they're monetizing their security clearances. How? Produce the facts and -- this White House using the word monetizing is interesting. But is a -- is it anything but? We would normally just maybe write it up. He attacks the free press all the time. Now he's attacking people using their First Amendment rights to speak out and say, I disagree with the president. I think, you know, in the case of John Brennan, John Brennan used the word treasonous. That's a strong word. James Clapper and others have said that they thought Putin played the president. These are people who study intelligence. Putin's a former KGB guy.

Where does this rank in terms of public actions? The White House -- standing at the White House podium saying you spoke out against the president, you say things he doesn't like, he's going to take away one of your rights and privileges.

PHILLIP: I think this ranks pretty high. It's once again another example of this White House taking something for which there is a process, for which people have due process rights, the ability to grant or revoke clearances and saying we are going to put it in an entirely political framing in which it's all about political grievance directed at the president. And we're going to revoke your ability to have some sort of -- any sort of, you know, due process rights around that issue.

I think this White House doesn't ever mind those kinds of optics. Whether or not this is done or not, whether or not he ever carries this out, I think the idea that they don't mind the optics of the president punishing his political enemies because of grievances is problematic and it really flies in the face of what -- you know, what I think people have taken for granted in this country, which is just the norms of Democratic leaders acting in a way that people -- that people understand across party lines is pretty consistent. These are people, some of them, who actually did serve in Republican administrations.

HABERMAN: Right.

PHILLIP: So they're not totally partisan animals. HABERMAN: So it's not like taking away their security clearances is

going to take away their tongues.

MARTIN: Right.

HABERMAN: Like, they're still going to be able to talk. And so, sure, you can do, a, there are some of these people who don't have them, clearances, active anymore, number one. Number two, even if they did, you had General Hayden, who is not just an Obama appointee, say, you know, OK, I'm still going to keep on talking. I agree with Abby totally, this is -- this does rise to a different level of -- I mean it's fine if the House speaker wants to shrug this off as trolling. I'm sure if President Obama had done it, it would not have met with that kind of a shrug.

[12:10:26] KING: Right.

HABERMAN: Fox News, which is the president's favorite channel, employed all kinds of people with security clearances. Mike Flynn was chanting -- had a security clearance when he was chanting "lock her up" at the Republican National Convention. So I don't really know why being political is something --

KING: While monetizing in contracts with foreign governments and the like.

HABERMAN: While monetizing. Well, and also let's -- I mean let -- the elephant in the room, when they're talking about this, is the fact this White House has had problems with security clearances over and over and over again, including for two people related to the president, Jared Kushner, and his daughter, Ivanka Trump, both of whom have been accused of monetizing their roles there.

MARTIN: But they're just -- I mean, to invoke the Haberman doctrine if I could for a minute, which is that Trump lives in ten-minute increments, right? That basically he --

KING: On a focused day.

MARTIN: Yes, exactly.

HABERMAN: It's about surviving (INAUDIBLE).

MARTIN: He is looking for ways to survive the next news cycle. And that's everything to him, right? And so when Rand Paul walks into the White House and says, you know, all these guys are out there criticizing you. You know, Mr. President, they still have security clearances. We should yank those. Trump doesn't run that through an inner agency process. He walks over to his press secretary and say, let's do this, and that's going to give the press some new chum. And here we are talking about it today. So -- but to me it's all a PR strategy.

What to me is more striking than Trump trying to buy ten more minutes of survival is the Ryan reaction that you showed because that is a big reveal as to what something everybody at this table knows it true. A lot of people on Capitol Hill, in both parties, don't take the words of this president all that seriously.

PHILLIP: A lot of people around the world, not just on Capitol Hill.

MARTIN: And for Ryan to basically say it, the speaker of the House, who is now a free man because he's not running again, but for Ryan to say it so directly of, oh, he's just trolling, that's extraordinary to sort of hear that because usually all of us hear that off the record, on background of, you know, the eye roll, it's just Trump being Trump.

HABERMAN: That's just how he talks (INAUDIBLE).

MARTIN: But Ryan's actually saying it with the cameras running, you know?

HABERMAN: Right.

KING: But he still holds the office of the president of the United States. So you can dismiss him as pay no attention to what he's saying, as we've heard from day one of this administration.

MARTIN: Yes.

HABERMAN: Right.

MARTIN: Right.

KING: (INAUDIBLE) people watch the policy not what the president says. He represents the office of the presidency of the United States. This threat sounds more like he leads Turkey or the Philippines, not like he leads the United States of America.

We're going to take a break here.

Sorry, just one man's opinion.

As we mentioned, President Trump speaking to veterans in Kansas City. You see him leaving the airport there. He's on his way to the speech venue.

Also just ahead, the message about to be delivered to farmers here in the United States hurt by the president's tariffs. Word (ph) from the government, we're here to help.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:16:58] KING: We're moments away now from a speech -- you'll see the room right there -- the president will give to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Convention out in Kansas City. We'll take you there live when that happens.

In the meanwhile, a major economic and political decision by the White House back here in Washington. One that again reminds us just how far this president wanders from traditional Republican philosophy. The administration today will announce a plan to offer billions in aid to American farmers adversely affected by the president's trade war. Just this morning the president was tweeting, quote, tariffs are the greatest. But the complaints from farm states are off the charts and Republicans from those states are worried the anger back home will impact their odds come November.

So the administration will use trade relief. The Agriculture Department will use these grants. It's smart, short-term politics. But to me it's just fascinating that you have a president who pulls the party from its free-market approach to the economy and imposes these tariffs. Speaker Ryan this morning calling them taxes. Now they're going to essentially use deficit spending to bail out these farmers.

HABERMAN: Right.

KING: That -- I can't find that in my Republican platform.

HABERMAN: Keyword is bailout there.

KING: Yes.

HABERMAN: I mean we used to hear from small government conversations about how bailouts were terrible.

KING: Right.

HABERMAN: It is interesting that Paul Ryan has been, as we contrast how he was with that's just how he talks on his trolling security clearances, but tariffs is the one issue that Ryan has consistently spoken out against. It is something that he clearly does not share a view with the president, as we know, going back many years. But it is striking. It is another area where Republicans in Congress who are supportive of the president will go to sort of contortions to not be at odds with him on certain issues.

BALZ: But I also think it's a -- I mean it's such a reflection of Trump economics.

HABERMAN: Totally.

BALZ: You know, which is -- which is pick winners and losers --

HABERMAN: Yes.

BALZ: Intervene where you feel you want to intervene.

HABERMAN: Yes.

BALZ: If there's a problem, pay for it.

HABERMAN: Yes, throw money at the problem.

BALZ: I remember having a conversation with a county chair in eastern Iowa last summer right at the point when these -- well, it was when the Chinese threatened on the soybeans. And he's a very strong Trump supporter. And I said, isn't this going to be a problem? And he said, you know what, he said, the amount of money that it's going to involve for the farmers, he can write a check for that. The government can pay the farmers, no big deal. And that's exactly the way it's been played out.

KING: But then do you get -- you get -- I get that. And the farmers process that. And the Republican politicians, certainly this is a case where you have the Trump White House responding to pressure from Republican politicians, which it doesn't always do.

But then how do you get it to a different trading system if the Chinese or the Europeans or the Canadians or the Mexicans, whoever we're talking about, know that I just have to hold fast. They'll spend government money to bail out their people. I don't have to change my policy. We don't have to cut a deal. How do we get a deal here?

PHILLIP: You don't. You -- it just continues to escalate. This is why people who are economists, which I am not, say that trade wars are bad because they continue to escalate over and over and over again. The president doesn't understand that as far as we can tell. He continues to talk about trade deficits as if they are losses on a ledger, which they're not. And -- but the result for -- I think the result for Republicans is maybe less political peril and more a long-term loss of the foundation of the party. Once you've lost this, what is left for the Republican Party? What do they stand for?

[12:20:12] KING: It's a great -- Trump populism is taking the party far away.

But to Maggie's point that -- about taking away security clearances. The speaker tries to crack a joke about Russian meddling. They try to just move on about a lot of things. They just say, pay no attention to the president's words. If you're Paul Ryan, you're from the state of Milwaukee, this is the Milwaukee -- you're from the state of Wisconsin, excuse me, this is "The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel" headline today, Harley-Davidson sales slump as U.S. motorcycle business falters. You have Whirlpool today, another great American company, which first said these tariffs will help us. Then the aluminum tariffs came in behind them. And now washing machine prices up 20 percent. That is why you have the speaker, in this case, not just the speaker, rank and file Republicans as well, saying, Mr. President, you're wrong.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: The president says tariffs are the greatest at bringing --

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: In all caps. And the goal he's trying to achieve is a good one. A better deal for Americans. Better trade agreements. I just don't think tariffs are the way to go. And our members are making that pretty clear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Does this -- does giving -- this is farmers this time. What next? Is Mitch McConnell going to ask for help for bourbon makers, followed by automakers, followed by people who do aluminum and steel? Where does this go?

PHILLIP: Individual companies. I mean this is a president who literally wants to decide on an individual company basis who wins and who loses. Harley-Davidson is his friend last year. This year they're his enemy. He wants competitors to succeed over them in this domestic business. I mean this doesn't work from an economic perspective.

But, again, I mean political expediency still rules this town. If Republicans can get through November, I think they're going to continue to be muted in their criticism of the president. I think Paul Ryan could be more forceful in the way that he condemns this. He says we all want to get to the same result. As long as we get to the same result, it's fine. But it's really not fine. I mean I think there are going to be people who are hurting and maybe the farmers get saved today, but maybe not in a year, maybe not in two years when this is probably still going.

KING: Well, the president says it's a fight worth fighting and he will get out of it better deals. We haven't' seen anything yet. We'll see if we --

MARTIN: It's actually -- it's actually -- not to get too far ahead of us, it will be a fascinating experiment if Democrats do take back at least one chamber of commerce (ph), what do they do on -- I think some of their members very much want to crack down and tie the president's hands. But other members actually kind of like some of this protectionism because it jives with their own politics. So it will be fascinating to see.

BALZ: But, John, to your original question, which is, how do you get a deal? I mean NAFTA is exhibit a of the Trump trade policy not being able to produce a deal. I mean they have -- they have negotiated and negotiated and negotiated. We have, you know, strained or ruptured relations with, you know, allies to the north and south. And there is still not an agreement. So the question is, what does this all ultimately add up to? And I think at this point you have to say nothing yet.

KING: Nothing yet. Still 18 months in. Eighteen months in and nothing yet as we wait.

Before we go to break here, when Google declares you dead and you're clearly not, well, what would you do about it? One option, take to the Internet, Twitter. That's what Senator Orrin Hatch did last night after web searches listed his date of death as September 11, 2017. The 84-year-old Republican tweeted -- that means he's still alive, you know -- hi, Google, we might need to talk. We reached out to the senator today to check on this, just to confirm it all. He sent us this to prove he's well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: The reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Our thanks to Senator Hatch, helping us with the fact check.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:28:28] KING: Just want to remind you, we're awaiting the president of the United States, about to address the Veterans of Foreign Wars annual convention. That's out in Kansas City. The lights dim because the president's not in the room yet. We'll take you there when it happens.

Back here in the D.C. area, jury selection beginning today in the trial of the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

And there's an update -- it would be wrong to call it movement -- on an even bigger challenge for the Russia election meddling special counsel. The president's lawyers have made a new counteroffer in negotiations over whether Mr. Trump will voluntarily answer questions. Don't hold your breath for Robert Mueller to accept it. Presidential lawyer Rudy Giuliani telling "The Wall Street Journal," Mr. Trump is willing to answer questions about the campaign and any campaign contacts with Russia, but not about possible obstruction of justice once in the White House. Quote, Mr. Giuliani said in an interview Monday that the reasons Mr. Trump has given for firing the former FBI director, that would be James Comey, are more than sufficient and that as president he had the power to fire any member of his administration.

So there's a new counteroffer, sort of, kind of, but this really feels like "Groundhog Day."

HABERMAN: It doesn't feel like any new counteroffer to me.

KING: Right.

HABERMAN: This is the exact same thing that they have said in a series of letters and meetings with Mueller's office for the last -- more than a year now -- no, a year, July of last year to July now. Look --

KING: Is there a strategy in the stall?

HABERMAN: Yes, the strategy in the stall I think is to basically try to get it and they -- to be clear, they would say, no, no, no, we're not stalling --

KING: Right.

[12:29:48] HABERMAN: When we -- when we point out that they're stalling. But the hindrance on this wrapping up is the fact that the Trump side has declined to provide an interview, which Mueller has said it wants -- Mueller's team has said it wants. I think that the stall tactic is to get it as close as possible to the election to make it harder for Mueller to put out a report without being accused of playing politics. I think that that is the basic idea because I think they have a sense that it would take -- I think Mueller's team indicated it could be wrapped up in 90 days once they -- once they had an interview.