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Democrats Strategize How to Take Back House in 2018; A Tale of Two Administrations; Campaign Trump Back in Full Force for Midterms; Trump Urges Sessions to End Mueller Probe. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired August 5, 2018 - 08:00   ET



[08:00:22] NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN HOST (voice-over): The epic return of Campaign Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They are talking about this blue wave. I don't think so. I don't think so. We need border security.

And America now is winning again like they haven't won before.

HENDERSON: Will the 2018 midterms show a Trump bump or a Trump slump?

Plus, a tale of two White Houses on Russia.

TRUMP: Now, we're being hindered by the Russian hoax. It's a hoax, OK?

KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Our democracy itself is in the crosshairs. Free and fair elections are the target of our adversaries.

HENDERSON: And Democrats look to 2020.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The politics of division, might be the one thing that Donald Trump is really good at.

HENDERSON: INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters, now.


HENDERSON: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Nia-Malika Henderson. John King is off today.

Thanks to viewers nationwide and around the world for joining us.

President Trump is now in full campaign mode.


TRUMP: You're the elite. You are the elite.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) You're smarter than they are. You make bigger incomes. You've got everything going.

Then you hear the elite has just said -- the elite. More elite than me? I have better everything than they have, including this.

And I became president and they didn't, meaning you can take --


And it's driving them crazy.


HENDERSON: Trump ended the week with a third rally, this time for Ohio congressional candidate Troy Balderson. Trump says the Ohio Republican will help his agenda and keep the GOP in the majority.


TRUMP: They are talking about this blue wave.


I don't think so. I don't think so. If the Democrats get in, they are going to raise your taxes, you're going to have crime all over the place, you're going to have people pouring across the border.

So, why would that be a blue wave? I think it could be a red wave. I'll tell you what? Really, I think it should be a red wave.


HENDERSON: The Ohio race is neck in neck. Balderson, who is the Trump backed candidate, is up by one point with 11 percent of voters undecided before Tuesday's special election.

Now in 2016, Trump won this district by nearly 12 points and it's not just in Ohio where Trump wants to be a midterms motivator. Trump spent the week crisscrossing the country, rallying the GOP base in Florida and in Pennsylvania, touting his successes and his favorite issues.


TRUMP: Since the election, we have added 3.7 million new jobs. We passed the biggest tax cuts and reform in American history, biggest cuts in history. We're going to start to get very nasty over the wall. We're either getting it or we're closing down government. We need border security. We need border security.


HENDERSON: With us to share their reporting and their insights, we've got Jonathan Martin of the "New York Times", Catherine Lucey of "The Associated Press", "The Washington Post's" Karoun Demirjian, and CNN's Jeff Zeleny.

Welcome. Thanks for being here this Sunday morning.

Jeff, I'm going to start with you. Trump clearly loves being out on the campaign trail, right? It's like a flash back to 2016. He's all over the country.

Is he the GOP's best messenger at this point?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's the one that they have. At least to the base, he absolutely is, particularly when he is in a state that he won. I was with him in Pennsylvania on Thursday night. He starts the first -- I would say 15 or so minutes at least of the rally reprising, minute by minute in some cases, election night 2016.


ZELENY: Loves to talk about that.

You know, there's not as much messaging as some Republican eliters would like him to talk about, rarely talks about the tax cut. He talks a lot about immigration and other matters.

So, for the people in the room, he's the best messenger. But those voters, of course, are already with him. The question is, what else does he bring when he comes to town? A lot of baggage.

And, you know, we talk a lot about the suburban women voters and other suburban voters, does he hurt more than he helps? We'll see. I mean, during a midterm election campaign, most people are not as focused on it as a presidential campaign.


ZELENY: So he definitely draws attention to the race here and he fires up the base more than anyone can. But he also is probably firing up the other side, firing up Democrats as well.

[08:05:00] So, we know now after Labor Day, he says he wants to campaign six days a week or so. The question is, are there enough Republicans that want him to come campaign? I think the answer is yes probably, but he's going to go through a lot of red states, a lot of Trump states from '16. But the issue for him, so many important house races that will determine control of the House are not in those places at all.


ZELENY: So he's helpful in the room. Outside of the room, we'll see.

HENDERSON: One of the things he's certainly going to be campaigning again and again was there this week Florida, where Ron DeSantis is running for governor there. And here's what he had to say about the power of Donald Trump.


REP. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA GOV. CANDIDATE: Well, obviously, you know, he's the 800-pound gorilla in Republican politics and I think a lot of our voters at the grassroots level are frustrated when they see some Republicans not trying to support him. And so, that's something they look for. I think Trump support separates the wheat from the chaff and I think it's been a big boost for me.


HENDERSON: Catherine, the 800-pound gorilla can be a force for good and a force for bad.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes. I mean, there is a reality that you can't run away from the leader of the party. And he's a party leader.

And what Trump's really people feel and I think the president feels is that this is a referendum on his presidency, so that these midterms are a warm-up for '20 and his presidency and his policies are on the agenda. And you're seeing in races across the country also, Democrats are also making it about Trump. So, it is a nationalized race.

You know, even if there are Republicans in, you know, in blue states who would rather keep the focus elsewhere. So, I think you're going to see him continue to be out there aggressively and he's going to make it about the issues he wants to make it about. He's going to keep talking about the wall and he's going to talking about immigration. We're going to hear less on him on tax cuts and Republican policies that some might refer to be --


HENDERSON: Karoun, you want to jump in?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: It just makes a difference, though, depending on the brand of Republican running, especially if they are an incumbent, like DeSantis has actually been fairly proactive about aligning himself with Trump, especially when it comes to things related to the Russia probe and DOJ issues. And --


DEMIRJIAN: Right. So, of course, he's going to do that.


MARTIN: On Fox, every night talking about it.

DEMIRJIAN: So, of course, he's going to be somebody that thinks this is a great, great boost. There are a lot of Republicans that are squeamish about the thing the president says that don't line up what they are doing and saying.


HENDERSON: And, J-Mart --


MARTIN: Florida is a good experiment for this. I was in Florida last week covering the governor's race. And this is a great experiment.

Look, I think in the general election, Trump is more of a negative than he is a positive, because I think he motivates Democrats in a way that they have not been motivated since Barack Obama came onto the national scene in 2008. But, in the primary, he can deliver nominations now --

HENDERSON: As we've seen.

MARTIN: Ron DeSantis aligning himself with the president. He's on Fox almost every night defending Trump on the Mueller investigation.

And what has that done for him? It got Trump's attention and Trump then endorsed him for governor and essentially end of the race.


MARTIN: And Ron DeSantis has no real grounding in Florida state politics at all and running against somebody, Andy Putnam, who is as well-versed in Florida politics as any candidate there in decades. None of that matters in the GOP primary right now.

So, in the primary context Trump is a huge asset. If you get on Fox and you carry his water, then that's going to pay off in a nomination. The real test in a purple state like Florida is, what does that mean in the general election?


MARTIN: If you tie yourself to Trump that much like he has, what do you do?

HENDERSON: For the general election.

MARTIN: In the fall, when voters who aren't that psyched about Trump are looking at you and your entire brand is based on going on Sean Hannity and talking about Uranium One?

HENDERSON: And we can see -- I'm going to play two ads here, the way Republicans are sort of talking about Trump and using some of his talking points and also Democrats.


TROY BALDERSON (R), OHIO CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I'm Troy Balderson. I'll end sanctuary cities to stop illegals from taking our jobs, fight alongside Trump to implement his agenda and use conservative grit to build the darn wall. SUNEEL GUPTA (D), MICHIGAN CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I'm so different

from this guy. My parents started with nothing. Mom became the first female engineer. Our views are women -- very different. I'm pro equal pay and pro-choice.

I'm Suneel Gupta, and if you want to send a message to Donald Trump, send me to Congress.


HENDERSON: Suneel Gupta there running in Michigan. I should say that he is Sanjay Gupta's brother, who Sanjay Gupta, of course, works for CNN.

And that's the way we see Democrats using Donald Trump as a foil for their own campaigns.

ZELENY: No doubt.

And as Jonathan was saying, I mean, you know, it's almost -- almost all the primaries are over, so we're almost at that hurdle but not completely. But in the primary campaign after Labor Day, it's going to be -- both sides using Donald Trump.

And for Democrats, you know, this resistance movement, he's going to be a powerful force. The other issue for Democrats though is -- for all of the oxygen that this presidency consumes, one thing we don't often discuss as much as what's happening on the Democratic side in terms of their identity crisis.

[08:15:08] So, who else are some of these Democrats going to have in? Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, yes, probably at this point. But there are plenty of issues on the Democratic side which are just lingering for 2020. But, for now at least, one thing that also we have our eye on, how many Democrats running for House candidates who are going to be talking about impeachment and other things.

HENDERSON: Yes. That's -- yes.

ZELENY: The party leaders want them to not mention it all. Tom Steyer, of course, spending millions and millions talking about it. But that is hanging over this entire conversation -- impeachment and investigations. And it's one of the reasons that the president is worried about the midterm election, boy, his life changes immensely if Democrats control the House.

HENDERSON: Quickly, Jon.

MARTIN: If you look at the Schumer and Pelosi talking point and messaging, you would think it's the year 2006 and 2008. It's like we're fighting to lower health care costs for --


MARTIN: -- every day Americans. It's like the pre-Trump era material. It's like your base is on fire

and they are ready to impeach the guy yesterday. But they know that that is a dangerous tact to take right now. It is fascinating seeing some of their talking points to apply to a world that isn't there right now.

HENDERSON: One of the thing that emerges, we get a fascinating story, the fight between LeBron James and Donald Trump, the most fascinating thing being Melania Trump inserting herself into this in a way she didn't necessarily have to. Her spokeswoman said looks like LeBron James is working to do good things on behalf of our next generation and just as she always has, first lady encourages everyone to have an open dialogue about issues facing children today.

The most fascinating part of this to me was she would be open to visiting the I Promise School in Akron. She's essentially volunteering herself for an invitation to the school.

LUCEY: I mean, this isn't the first time we've seen Melania Trump take a big step away from her husband. I mean, she gave a statement on family separations that was noted at the time as in critical of the policies.

And so, it is interesting, she has really tried to set herself aside in some ways from the party line here. And I don't know where that goes. Are we going to see her do more of this?

HENDERSON: Does she go to this school in Akron, Ohio? It really is fascinating. She could have offered --


DEMIRJIAN: It's a new school for at risk kids. I mean, does anyone actually want to have it become the centerpiece of the latest Trump on Trump dispute? I don't think.

HENDERSON: Yes, yes, really fascinating to watch. We'll see where that goes.

Next, Trump urges Sessions to end the Russia probe, a directive or a suggestion?

But, first, politicians tend to say the darndest, things -- Rod Rosenstein with reference to Franklin Roosevelt's attorney general, Robert Jackson, reflects on the particular and peculiar challenges of his job in Washington.


ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Jackson is widely regarded as one of the greatest attorneys general although he served only 19 months and his tenure was replete with challenges. One the difficulties Jackson faced was what he called the unpleasant duty of responding to congressional inquires.

(LAUGHTER) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm afraid the deputy attorney general has a few things to go back to Washington and tend to.

ROSENSTEIN: Please, can I stay?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- to hear that.




[08:17:16] HENDERSON: Welcome back.

Is President Trump trying to obstruct the Mueller investigation?

That was the key question this week after the president tweeted this on Wednesday. This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this rigged witch hunt right now before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted and has 17 angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA.

Jeff Sessions should stop the probe. Now, is that a directive to the attorney general or just a frustrated Trump who's blowing off steam?

The president's team says he's just venting.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is not obstructing. He's fighting back. The president is stating his opinion. He's stating it clearly. There's a reason that the president is angry and frankly, most of America is angry as well. And there's no reason he shouldn't be able to voice that opinion.

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: What it is that we said immediately, it's an opinion. And he used his -- he used a medium that he uses for opinions. He expresses his opinion on Twitter. He used the word should, didn't use the word must. And there was no presidential directive that followed it.


HENDERSON: So, Giuliani making the argument there. What's the definition of should. Should is different than must.

In the key question here, is Trump actually trying to obstruct justice?

DEMIRJIAN: Yes, OK, if -- I guess the distinction between should and must matters if you're trying to figure this out in a legal context. But let's take it out for a second. If your boss says you should be doing this and you're like, yes, forget it I'm not going to. That's not probably going to rule out result you staying employed for very long, unless it's your job to cross your boss all the time.

So, it's the environment has to be taken into consideration when you're taking the president's words into account and kind of parsing them out and what do they mean. In this situation, you know, Sessions serves at the pleasure of the president. He's saying he shouldn't doing be doing this. That's a strong opinion. Doesn't mean Sessions is going to do it based on everything else that are at stakes and fact he's recused himself and with the political fallout of what that action would be.

But excessive tweets rising to this level where he's actually said it this strongly, I mean, even if he said he must, it doesn't mean Sessions is going to do it.


DEMIRJIAN: It's a pretty strong position he's laid it out there.

HENDERSON: Some of the background on this or context, our CNN colleagues are reporting that Donald Trump is increasingly concerned about the ways his son might be entangled in the Mueller probe and this is some of the reporting here.

Trump has been concerned for a month now that the Mueller probe could reach his family and potential his son-in-law Jared Kushner, but his focus has turned to his namesake in recent weeks, one person who speaks with Trump frequently tell CNN. This is one of several reasons Trump has upped his public attacks on Mueller because he doesn't want him touching his family, the person adds.

[08:20:02] And Giuliani has responded to this, basically saying that this isn't so. After over a year or more of investigating, there's no evidence of any wrongdoing on his part or for that matter, POTUS, nothing has changed. What can you tell us about this dynamic, Jeff?

ZELENY: Well, it's about that meeting in 2016, in June of 2016 at a Trump Tower, that Don Jr. was at. And it's about, did he tell the full story to the Hill committee? He appeared before the Senate and House company and did the president know about this in advance?

Now, Michael Cohen, of course, has come out in recent weeks and said the president knew about the meeting in advance. Don Jr. said, no, he did not. So, that is what issue here.

But we do hear the president is increasingly worried about the legal exposure his son might have in this. Now, it's one of the reasons he's been increasingly agitated, I guess we should say, friendly.

But look, I mean, the issue here is the president has always believed his family members would be kind of a red line to cross here or family finances but it seems it's already in that territory. And so, we'll see sort of where this goes. But it is one of the reasons that is fueled his anger. We'll see what he tweets this week we have not heard from Don Jr.

HENDERSON: One of the tweets we heard him -- from this week, this whole idea of collusion not being a crime. It's something we heard from Rudy Giuliani. Here's a Democrat essentially responding to that saying the president is playing semantics.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D), CONNECTICUT: They're once again playing semantics. They're trying to use word games. If there is an illegal agreement, whether it is by the center or one of the spokes on the wheel, no defendant has to know all of the purpose of the conspiracy or all of the actors in the conspiracy. If the president is part of a president, he's violated the law.


LUCEY: Yes, the -- they seem to be focusing this week on this collusion, not technically a crime idea. And sure, my understanding from our point is, technically collusion is not a precise legal term, but it can be used as a shorthand for any number of things.

HENDERSON: Conspiracy being one of them.

LUCEY: Exactly.


LUCEY: So, I mean, what we're seeing here is the increased anxiety about the probe and also the Paul Manafort trial beginning. I think that's also high (ph) -- the President is currently watching this closely. They're keeping very close tabs on this, and this is all kind of coming closer and they are getting more and more worried.

HENDERSON: And also this idea of whether or not the president is ever going to sit down with Mueller. That's also in the background, J- Mart.

MARTIN: Yes, he wants to and nobody around him wants him to, which is like a lot of things this administration of, come to think of it. But, yes, I think President Trump consuming a lot of cable news and then venting about what he's saying on the air to a friend is just kind of a occurring in this administration, yes.


HENDERSON: Yes, I think so.

LUCEY: We also know he's upset about -- I mean, he's watching the trial. He's upset about media coverage of his travels to Singapore, to Helsinki. He feels like he's not getting credit he's due. So, all of these things are feeding his frustration.


Well, coming up, Democrats name drop the president -- the strategy behind those mentions and whether it's enough to help them win this fall.


[08:27:46] HENDERSON: Democrats are hoping for a blue wave this fall and their hopes for taking back the house may come down to the man in the White House. Historically, midterm elections had been a referendum on the president. And 2018 may be no different.

Speaking to progressives at Netroots Nation, Democrats, especially those seen as possible 2020 contenders, took on Trump.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The rich and powerful prophet, when government doesn't work for working people and they have learned that the best way to stop us from changing the system is to set working people against each other.


So, they have become the experts at the politics of division. Frankly, it might be the one thing that Donald Trump is really good at. That and kissing up to two-bit dictators.


HENDERSON: President Trump already has nicknamed his potential challengers, saying he's ready to take them on in 2020.


TRUMP: Let's say I'm running against Pocahontas or Crazy Bernie. I've got to tell you, I got to hand it to Bernie. I saw him up there the other day, had hairs getting whiter and whiter and he's getting crazier and crazier and I saw him, we'll stop Donald Trump. We're stopping him. And I looked at my wife, I said, you know what, you've got to hand it to that guy, man, that guy -- he doesn't quit.



HENDERSON: So, there was Donald Trump --


MARTIN: It's basically like political stand-up, right?


MARTIN: He -- actually, Warren is wrong, he's pretty good at the political stand-up routine too. I mean, that's a real -- that's a real skill he has up there. But he does get at the sort of colonel of something, the fact that Democrats do not have an obvious front-runner and this is a sort of primary movement we haven't seen in a long time. There's no Hillary-like establishment force ala 2016. There's no obvious phenom on the horizon like we had with Barack Obama in 2008.

It looks to be kind of a big unwieldy, perhaps messy field, ideologically, generationally, gender, race, all over the map.


HENDERSON: Yes. And here's Kamala Harris in Netroots Nation, along with a few others, here is what she had to say about how Democrats should sort of brand themselves.


SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, (D) CALIFORNIA: Yes, we're talking about those issues and we won't be shut up. And we won't be silenced. We won't be silent about immigrant rights. We won't be silent about a woman's right to control her own body. We will not be silent about equal opportunity and equal justice under the law.

These issues that they are trying to diminish and demean, are the very issues that will define our identity as Americans.


HENDERSON: Karoun -- leaning in to what a lot of people call identity politics and a lot of people say that was too much on the front burner for Democrats in 2016. There is Kamala saying bring it on.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Right. I mean look, there's a division in the Democratic Party as to whether they think this is smart politics or not. And there's also a division in the Democratic Party as to whether people really want to lean into those issues that are becoming clearly partisan based on the debates happening in Washington, versus that you can find some middle ground or you can still win over some Republican voters or Independents who might lean Republican.

Kamala Harris has kind of made her brand known ever since she got to D.C. and she's definitely just kind of, you know, saying that she's not switching.

And the truth is she's managed to pull a lot of people over to her position. I mean you've seen a transition -- granted Dianne Feinstein is not running for president but you've seen people like that, ok, Kamala Harris is a standard setter for what, you know, more liberal California political thought is.

And she's been a visible figure who has had a lot of success in the party thus far and, you know, pretty quickly made it to the list of front-runners for 2020. So clearly what she's saying is having some success for her.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": It's where the party is. It's where the party is.

DEMIRJIAN: It's where the party is today and it's also basically saying look, we can't be afraid of leaning into the issues that we think actually are winners for our base.

The Republicans -- Trump is playing his base and Harris is saying we should be playing on it.

HENDERSON: Yes. And here's Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, another person who's increasingly visible. Here's her take on what Democrats are about.


ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: We've lost the House, the Senate and the presidency. But that's all right because it's always darkest before dawn.

The plight of working class Americans is the same everywhere and we know that. We know that the future of this party, if we are to win again, is to rediscover our soul, it's to come home and to realize that we can fight for social, economic and racial justice for working class Americans. There is no district too red for us to flip.


CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Yes, and she's really exciting a lot of people in the party right now and is really staking out that far left position. But I think one of the things for Democrats when we look this year but then also to '20 is that you can tailor the message when you're running in all these different house districts.

HENDERSON: Yes, that's right.

LUCEY: And when you're running for president, you know, the message is going to really bring a big tent message that's going to be able to appeal to a lot of different types of Democrats. And that's I think the debate they are having right now and we haven't really -- they haven't really landed on sort of what that's going to look like.

M1: And just real fast, that Kamala Harris sound bite that you played is the sound bite that her folks wanted out there. They blasted that out. They are laying down a marker that she's going to run unapologetically on that direction.

A couple of things on that -- on that note. First of all, it's ostensibly about the Republicans; it's actually about Democrats. And what she's saying there to the more class economic focused people in the primary, i.e. Bernie Sanders, is bring it on.

It's, you know, I'm going to run unapologetically as somebody who's talking about these issues of race and gender. And she said that saying even the word "identity politics" is actually a pejorative. That's number one.

Number two is that's a direct rebuke to the Clinton style of politics, Bill Clinton style of politics. You know, Bill Clinton won the presidency in '92 and the nomination first after Democrats had lost three in a row by rejecting precisely what she wants to make central in her campaign for president, which is, we are not a collection of different people and identities, we are a one people, one party dedicated to uplift. And now she is saying in a very different country demographically it's just the opposite. It's going to be fascinating to see how kind of old guard element (INAUDIBLE) --

HENDERSON: And fascinating to see how somebody like Elizabeth Warren, who in some ways has Bernie Sanders type problems in terms of attracting African-American voters and more diverse voters, how does she play it. She was there giving out signs that she'd persist meeting with African-Americans as well.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, someone is going to win the primary of 2018 and 2019 but that person is not likely going to be the nominee. So I think Democrats again are going through this conversationist identity crisis if you will. And the overall sort of thesis or theory is, are they going to elect someone who can attract and appeal to people who voted for this president four years ago.

[08:35:03] So I think Elizabeth Warren certainly is the most prominent of all those figures but she really has a lot of work to do on the middle of the road here because a lot of people think she's just too extreme. But one thing is clear, Bernie Sanders he has a lot of competition on his left flank --


MARTIN: He really does.

ZELENY: He had it all to himself four years ago. That's not the case this time.

MARTIN: Just 10 seconds real fast -- that is, the question is, do Democrats win in 2020 by getting out the folks who didn't vote in 2016 and stayed home -- younger, non white voters --

HENDERSON: African-Americans -- yes.

MARTIN: -- win by converting the folks who were for Trump after being for Obama twice, bringing them back to the Democratic fold. That really underpins this debate -- is it mobilization or is it persuasion?

HENDERSON: and it begins now and certainly right after midterm --

ZELENY: And it's probably a combination of both there,, yes.

LUCEY: Combination of both -- yes.

HENDERSON: All of the above.

Next -- a tale of two administrations, the divide between President Trump and his top intelligence officials.


HENDERSON: With three months left until the 2018 midterms, the nation's intelligence heads are warning voters that the Russia threat is real and vowing to protect the November election against interference.


KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, U.S. HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: It's not just risk to our prosperity, privacy and infrastructure we have to worry about, and that's why we're here today. Our democracy itself is in the cross hairs.

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: This threat is not going away. As I have said consistently, Russia attempted to interfere with the last election and continues to engage in maligned influence operations to this day.

DAN COATS, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: The Russians are looking for every opportunity regardless of party, regardless of whether or not it applies to the election, to continue their pervasive efforts to undermine our fundamental value.


HENDERSON: On the same day that his administration came out in full force, Trump was silent about election meddling. Instead he said this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now we're being hindered by the Russian hoax. It's a hoax, ok? I'll tell you what, Russia is very unhappy that Trump won, that I can tell you.


HENDERSON: At his rally last night, Trump finally mentioned Russian meddling and then added some other countries into the mix.


TRUMP: We got to stop it. We've got to stop meddling. We've got to stop everybody from attacking us, but there are a lot -- Russia is there, China is there. Hey, we're doing well with North Korea but they are probably there. We've got to stop everybody.


HENDERSON: Catherine, you really saw two administrations on display here. On the one hand what the intelligence chiefs had to say and then Donald Trump. But he did seem to acknowledge Russian meddling even though he threw in a bunch of other folks in the mix there. Is that enough?

LUCEY: Well, this is what we've seen from before. He offers some but doesn't seem to invest the same kind of time or energy or detail that his staff is. We saw a vast show from his top intelligence officials and we have not seen the same kind of rhetoric from him. And the concern from a lot of critics is that if you don't hear this from the President in the same way, what message does that send to Putin> It doesn't have the same weight without the President fully getting on board.

HENDERSON: And one of the interesting things that came out of that press conference with the intelligence chief was Dan Coats saying he's still not sure what happened in that meeting that Donald Trump had with Putin.


COATS: I'm not in a position to either understand fully or talk about what happened at Helsinki.


ZELENY: That was a fascinating moment there that John Bolton, the national security adviser, essentially got a lifeline in you know, I'm assured by the President that election meddling was the first thing that was brought up.

The reality is as that meeting now three weeks from Helsinki. We'll never know exactly what happened in that meeting there. One thing we should point out, the President still says that Putin didn't want him. Vladimir Putin said himself in Helsinki that he did want Trump to be elected, so a bit of a fact check on that.

HENDERSON: Another meeting that's going to be the focus of the Mueller probe that we've been talking about is that Trump Tower meeting and we've got Donald Trump tweeting about that this morning and this is what he said on the tweet, "This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics. And it went nowhere, did not know about it."

Karoun, that's what he's saying -- he's clearly reading the "Washington Post"; he's clearly watching CNN. What do you make of this tweet?

DEMIRJIAN: He's trying to play cleanup again. The problem is the story has kept changing so many times and now you have basically, you know, people saying yes, he would have known, he did know. And so the President is kind of trying to run circles and change the story and hopefully listen to the most recent version of the events that is playing out in his tweets but it's very reactive and that suggests that there's less credibility there when your line keeps changing, you keep reacting to whatever it is --

HENDERSON: And J. Martin probably more reaction from this president who's on a working vacation and clearly --

MARTIN: More working than vacation it would appear like if you call tweeting in response to cable TV working, which he apparently does.

But to Karoun's point, is there any penalty at all to you know, making stuff up? I mean, as Catherine pointed out, the original line was this was a meeting about U.S. adoption policy.

Now, all of us who cover politics kind of laughed at that line because it was so implausible that Don Trump Jr. had suddenly taken an interest in U.S./Russia adoption policy and the heat of the campaign.

[08:45:04] But that was their line. And it's like you know, it's just one of many, many examples of saying things that are not true, that they know aren't true and then they just move on.

And now what, a year later we're talking about the fact that like, it's just all along it was a meeting about trying to get information about an opponent. That's not what you said in the first place, right?

And the big question for not just this issue but the entire Trump administration is does that matter?

HENDERSON: Right. And we'll see. I mean the first kind of big test will be the midterms in November.

MARTIN: Yes, it will.

HENDERSON: Yes. Up next, our reporters tell us the stories they are hearing from their sources, including Senator Rand Paul's travel plans which are raising some eyebrows.


[08:49:55] HENDERSON: Each Sunday our reporters share a tidbit from their notebooks to give you a glimpse of the stories that they're watching.

We're going to start with you -- J. Martin.

MARTIN: I spent some time in the great state of Kansas last week where they have a governor's race that's not gotten a ton of national attention but it's going to have big national implications.

Chris Kobach, who's the conservative secretary of state there has a chance to win the GOP nomination and could mean Democrats have a chance to win back the governorship for first time since 2010. And that's a big story and has gotten a lot of folks in the national GOP nervous.

And here's why. They think that Kobach could actually still be beatable on Tuesday but they're worried that Trump's itchy Twitter finger could play a role during the course of his long unsupervised golf weekend in New Jersey.


MARTIN: And there's some thought that if he does do that tweet that puts Kobach over the top and is going to have make them spend a lot of money in Kansas this year in an otherwise red state.

HENDERSON: That will be interesting to watch. Catherine.

LUCEY: One thing I looked at this week that I think is worth keeping in mind as we move forward -- Ivanka Trump, White House adviser, first daughter, did an event with Axios this week where she came to talk about workforce development and paid family leave. But of course the comments that drew the most attention were when she took questions about some other issues.

So she distanced herself from the President's criticism of the media as the quote "enemy of the people". She also said she agreed that family separations were a low point for the administration.

Now, she drew rebuke from some critics pretty quickly who noticed that she has not said a lot about family separations and the President tried to, you know, minimize their distance in a tweet.

But it really underscored the compromises and the challenges of the role she tries to carve out for herself in this White House. And that dynamic and that problem for her is not going to go away, I think, as we see her move forward and continue to try her policy agenda.

HENDERSON: Yes, more challenges to come for her, I'm sure.


DEMIRJIAN: Well, tomorrow Rand Paul, the senator from Kentucky is heading to Russia and we've seen various overtures being made by various members of congress to Russia, mostly to try to kind of get around the President and have a different message go there.

But if Paul is going, this is going to be something else entirely. He's kind of appointed himself a one man wrecking ball to defend the President against some critics in Congress and now he going as the only member of Congress -- there's a few other people on this delegation that are going too to actually engage with a lot of Russian officials.

It's probably pretty unlikely he'll talk to Putin or anybody like that but he's trying to talk to others that are, you know =, influential in the Kremlin circle.

Why is this important? It's not just a kind of random Rand Paul trip but the President is going to take whatever presumably support Paul offers him from this trip as a endorsement of the way he's doing his diplomatic outreach to Russia.

We're looking down the horizon at future Trump/Putin summits and just generally the tension that exists in this relationship as the Mueller probe continues on and as we head towards the midterm election where everybody is worried about the potential for more interference and there's very little that any lawmakers are going to be doing to stave that off in the meantime.

So this is going to be another -- another episode in this unfolding narrative of the U.S.-Russia relationship but it's one that actually could serve to reinforce the President's opinions of his own job performance in this regard at a time when most other people in the country are really, really critical of this.

HENDERSON: And Rand Paul is sort of taking the lead in this regard.

DEMIRJIAN: Inserting himself.

HENDERSON: Yes. Interesting.


ZELENY: At Trump campaign rallies there's a long and familiar list of grievances that we've all heard but one thing is missing -- Barack Obama. I've been at a lot of campaign rallies in the last several weeks and I've noticed there's almost not talk of Barack Obama.

Of course, you know, there's no one who Donald Trump talked about more for years and years and years than Barack Obama -- that he's missing from the rallies.

So I asked a few advisers to the President why is that? They said one of the reason is the O-T voters, Obama-Trump voters are some of the most important political commodities if you will, the people who voted for Barack Obama in '08 and '12 and then Donald Trump in '16.

So it's not that President Trump is thrilled with the Obama administration but he's not talking about him hardly at all. In an hour-long speech again last night in Ohio, more than that, he talked about him one time.


ZELENY: so I'm keeping an eye on the fact that at least for now, the President is not talking about his predecessor and almost no mention of Obama at these Trump rallies.

HENDERSON: You wonder if Obama starts campaigning, whether or not that changes.

ZELENY: I think that might change.

HENDERSON: Yes. And I'll close with this.

A couple of races to keep an eye on, on Tuesday night as we track whether or not 2018 will actually shape up to be another so-called year of the women.

In Washington State, four women could emerge on Tuesday as challengers for the four Republican held seats in that state.

[08:54:58] Now, two of those seats are already held by women. So we could see women running against women as they battle for the votes of, you guessed it, suburban women.

And in Michigan where John Conyers won't be on the ballot for the first time in decades after stepping down amid sexual harassment allegations, two women are among the front-runners to replace him.

So those are just a few races to watch as we look for trends in these upcoming crucial midterm races.

And that's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Thanks for sharing your Sunday morning with us.

"STATE OF THE UNION WITH JAKE TAPPER" is next with former Massachusetts Governor, Deval Patrick.


[09:00:08] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Campaign fever -- President Trump hits the trail in Ohio.

TRUMP: It's driving them crazy.