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Obama Tweeting Out His 2018 Midterm Endorsements; Trump Boasts About His Kids at Florida Rally; Giuliani Says Trump "Was Expressing His Opinion" on Twitter; Sen. Burr: "A Weak America Is Good For Russians"; Facebook Uncovers Disinformation Campaign Ahead of Midterms. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 1, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:32:12] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: President Obama has just announced some midterm endorsements. The former president's office says he's backing 81 candidates across the country. Obama tweeted today, "I am proud to endorse such a wide and impressive array of Democratic candidates, leaders as diverse patriotic and big- hearted as the America they're running to represent. I'm confident that together they'll strengthen this country we love by restoring opportunity, repairing our alliances and standing in the world and upholding our fundamental commitment to justice, fairness, responsibility and the rule of law. But first, they need our votes."

Now, let's talk about that a little bit and specifically about this list and the import of it. Well, first, let's talk about who he has on the list. And then we'll talk about who he doesn't have on the list and what that means. What do you guys think?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, I think if you count the -- there's two things that I'm struck by. One, there's about 20 -- a little more than 20 -- fewer than -- a little more than 20 House candidates that bring them right up to the edge of the 23 they need to retake the House. He's heavily involved in California (INAUDIBLE) obviously going to be key seats. So his involvement in those races, races where Republicans are holding plus three or four or five Dem seats I think matters and is important. Those are places he can go and actually have a real impact.

I think the other thing too, and this actually aligns with the criticism of his time in office is the number of down ballot candidates that he's actually getting behind. State House, state senators. The big criticism of the Obama administration and the Obama DNC is that he kind of let the Democratic Party underneath the federal side of things wither away.

BASH: Thousand seats, Democratic seats --

MATTINGLY: It's very clear both with the redistricting effort led by (INAUDIBLE) that Obama is involved in plus these endorsements that they are firmly refocused on that and recognizing how important that's going to be, particularly when redistricting comes up the next couple of years. BASH: So as we were coming back from break reading this list, Molly, you were looking at California, and Gavin Newsom, so on and so forth, there's a big name missing from this list.

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: That's right, Senator Dianne Feinstein who is up for re-election and who was --

BASH: Against a fellow Democrat.

BALL: Against a fellow Democrat. So what struck me about this list having just skimmed it is that in almost all of these cases, these are states that have already held their primaries. So he is not wading into divisive intra-party Democratic fights for the most part. He's not trying to put a thumb on the scale of, you know, the progressives versus the establishment or any of the other Democratic divisions.

These are people who have already made it through primaries and he's just kind of giving them a seal of approval. The other thing he's not doing is making a lot of endorsements in deep red states where his -- an association with Obama might hurt actually a candidate trying to win in sort of uphill territory for a Democrat.

So these are mostly safe plays but in the case of Feinstein where her challenger has actually been endorsed by the California Democratic Party and what has become a very divisive, ideological fight between Democrats, she would presumably be quite helped by his endorsement, and he is not giving it.

[12:35:07] BASH: Very, very interesting. And then there's the whole issue of the fact that he's getting involved. People have been asking, can you be more aggressive, can you get more involved? Well, this is his first step.

Let's look at the Republican side, though. President Trump is going to close this week with a third campaign rally. This time, a Saturday stump for an Ohio House candidate, Troy Balderson. He's already gotten a coveted Trump tweet endorsement. And the rally comes before August 7th, that's a special election there.

A source tells CNN that the president has big plans to be on the road much, much more as midterms ramp up. Arguing he wants to take matters into his own hands before November. But the commander-in-chief has some really noticeable surrogates joining his rallies. His own kids.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have great children. And a couple of them, plus, are here tonight. I have Eric Trump who has been fantastic. He loves his political stuff.

Eric's wife Lara who is so great. I think she single-handedly won the state of North Carolina for Trump. We have somebody that nobody ever heard of, Ivanka.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: Now Eric Trump tweeted a picture from last night's Florida rally that you just saw there with his wife Lara who does work on Trump's re-election campaign. His sister Ivanka of course is a White House adviser.

You know, this could be incredibly helpful to the president in places that, just like Obama on the Democratic side in red states, in swing areas where the president is, you know, kind of the worst thing -- the worst person to come in to help a Republican because they're trying to get independent and Democratic votes. Maybe the kids aren't as toxic?

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BUZZFEED NEWS: That's definitely right. We saw this in 2016 when Ivanka Trump went to places like Pennsylvania. The suburban areas to campaign for her father. So -- and we've seen her come -- do a lot of interviews recently to talk about workforce training which is kind of, you know, the least toxic of topics to get into. And in our interviews, she's really not tried to talk about Russia at all.

And we've seen Don Jr. kind of wade into the more controversial topics, but he's someone who the base loves. So, you know, we're seeing someone like Ivanka who's good with sort of the moderate voters perhaps and someone like Don Jr. who really gets the base riled up.

BASH: It's all true. A fascinating character to me is Lara Trump, the president's daughter-in-law, Eric Trump's wife, who does get into it. And is, as the president said, she single-handedly helped me win North Carolina. He might not be that wrong. I mean, she really did help. Listen to what she says on the campaign trail, how she says it.


LARA TRUMP, SENIOR ADVISER TO DONALD J. TRUMP FOR PRESIDENT, INC.: I get very upset when I hear all this nonsense about Russian collusion. They're trying to tell you that your vote didn't count, folks. Let me tell you something. Your vote counted then. It's going to count in the midterms come November, and it sure as hell is counting in 2020 when we re-elect Donald J. Trump.


BASH: She's on the trail all the time. She is -- has an actual role in the 2020 campaign. She's a senior adviser. Secret weapon?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's like a mixture of Ivanka and Don Jr. The woman who can appeal to the women voters who Trump desperately needs help with. But then you got the Donald Trump Jr. rhetoric that's coming out there saying your vote did matter. They're trying to tell you it didn't matter.

But I do think the White House and President Trump is increasingly worried about losing the House which a lot of people in Washington do believe that the Democrats will take back. And they know that if they, do the Democrat base want nothing more than for them to torment President Trump and his agenda and make the rest of his presidency pretty miserable which is why we're likely seeing those surrogates go out on the trail.

BASH: Yes absolutely. And yes, I'm also told that the president is very worried about likely so about losing the House. What it means for his agenda but you make an important point, it's not just that agenda when the House -- whoever has control of the House has oversight responsibilities and we know from both parties how that looks.

OK, everybody stand by. We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.


[12:48:58] BASH: A rock 'n' roll hour here on the INSIDE POLITICS. We've reported at the top of the hour about the president's tweet storm this morning. Seeming to demand that the attorney general end the special counsel's Russia probe. I just spoke to the president's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who told me the following.

He said the president was expressing his opinion on his favorite medium, Twitter, for asserting his First Amendment rights. Giuliani also told me that the president said that he should -- he didn't say it was a demand. That there's no presidential order that is going to go down and he was simply expressing his opinion.

That just in from Rudy Giuliani trying to clean up what the president did this morning on Twitter that got everybody understandably concerned on Capitol Hill and in the Justice Department about what the president might be doing and whether he's going to do something and not just talk about it.

COLLINS: Well, and he's saying it's just the president's opinions but the president is saying that Jeff Sessions should end the investigation. Should is taken as a directive if your boss tells you, you should do something it can often be taken as a directive.

[12:45:06] He's saying it's just his opinion but in the past, Sean Spicer when he was the press secretary said these tweets are official White House statements. This is what the president is saying. And I think a lot of people are reading this as a directive, his most explicit directive to Jeff Sessions to end this investigation. Because there's a quite similar comment like this in the past but this is the most blatant direction for Jeff Sessions who can't recuse -- who can't end the investigation because he's recused from overseeing it.

BASH: Right. So, Giuliani is trying to clarify, trying to clean up what the president said this morning in whatever moment he was in. Whatever -- for whatever reason that he sent that tweet. We still don't really know why he went further than he did before.

But, you're right, this isn't you expressing your opinion or you or anybody else in the world. This is the president of the United States who has actual authority over things like this. Now, never mind that the attorney general doesn't have authority since he recused himself but it's not the same. PARTI: It's definitely not the same. I mean, this is the president of the United States. And we will probably going to see Sarah Sanders having to again try to walk -- you know, try to figure out how to play this. Because this is a statement that's really hard to walk back.

And it's -- like Kaitlan said rich that they're trying to point out a distinction between his tweets and official orders because as they've said in the past, the tweets speak for themselves. So, you know, this tweet really does speak for itself.

COLLINS: And also the president has privately tried to convince Sessions multiple times to take back over this investigation and to reverse his recusal. So he's not just saying this on Twitter, he's directed Jeff Sessions in person to take back control of the Russia investigation. So this isn't some random tweet. This is a longstanding pattern from him.

BASH: So Phil, regardless of the clarification that we just got from Rudy Giuliani of what the president really meant which is just using Twitter to express his thoughts and his opinions, this is a real situation and there has been a heavy flirtation on Capitol Hill with making the Mueller investigation the law of the land by statute. Passing legislation. It hasn't happened. The Senate majority leader has been reluctant and resistant to doing that. Will this situation change that?

MATTINGLY: No. No, look, it won't and there's a couple reasons here. First and foremost, and this goes for the speaker as well. They, and you know this as well as anybody, Dana.

Their theory of the case is the way to get through to the president and the most effective way to get the president to align with your thinking is to do it behind the scenes and by phone. Not publicly, not out -- not passing legislation. Certainly legislation the president could veto. They think that would actually exacerbate the situation.

Two, the House is gone for the next five weeks. But you make a point. Rank and file members in both the House and the Senate from both parties have contributed or written legislation like this. I don't see any prospects of it coming any time soon.

I think that's just the reality of how things are viewed at the leadership level on Capitol Hill. That just let this stuff go. He's just blowing off steam. He won't actually do anything.

And I think -- as you know, my understanding is people at the White House tell people on the Hill, don't worry about it. He's not serious.

BASH: Which is effectively what Giuliani said to me. Which is that he's just blowing off steam. And the sort of backdrop of this is, if he went beyond blowing off steam and actually made a directive to fire Robert Mueller, you better believe the House would have to come back in session and it would be, you know, a Saturday night massacre modern day. All right, everybody, taking a breath. Up next, more on what the Senate Intel chairman said about Russian interference right now to November's election.


[12:52:54] BASH: Welcome back. We touched on Russia's social media disinformation campaign earlier in the program before having to turn to several breaking news stories. I want to go back to that briefly before we end this show. I want you to listen to a sound bite from the Republican Senator Richard Burr who runs -- he's the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, about election interference and the goal that that interference has.


SEN. RICHARD BURR (R), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: That campaign is still active today. They didn't do it because they have political leanings to the right or to the left but because they -- or because they care about our elections but rather because a weak America is good for Russia. Some feel that we as a society are sitting in a burning room calmly drinking a cup of coffee telling ourselves this is fine. That's not fine. And that's not the case.


BASH: That is such an important comment from a Republican saying it's not about politics. It's about trying to sow chaos and division in this country, in society. It's really important.

BALL: Well, and this is the latest in a litany of comments from within the administration itself trying to say publicly in as many ways as they can that this is a serious threat, it's a real threat, it's an ongoing threat. And it's a threat that needs leadership from the president and that is not something that he has rushed to provide. So you have yet another instance on top of, you know, multiple people in the administration. You know, the calls coming from inside the House and they continue to wait for someone to pick up the phone I think.

BASH: Well, on leadership, you know, we can run the sound bite from the president at his big rally last night where he talked about everything on Facebook except that he didn't talk about Facebook. He didn't talk about this at all, about Russian interference when we are currently in an election year, which is stunning.

PARTI: It is. But also the president has kind of, as we know, mixed up the whole collusion and Russian meddling. Two very separate things. So he thinks that talking about any sort of meddling is sort of an admission of collusion.

[12:55:01] So he tries to avoid that topic altogether.

BASH: Yes, it's true. Except that it's happening and he is the president and we are heading into an election. A lot more to talk about on that. Thank you so much for watching. We're waiting for a White House briefing to start any minute. Wolf will bring you that when it starts and picks up our coverage right after a break.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer.