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INSIDE POLITICS

Giuliani on Mueller Probe Questions; Collins Charged with Insider Trading; Pence Announces Space Force. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 9, 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] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

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

The president's new response to the special counsel is more political threat than legal strategy. Shut things down, team Trump tells Robert Mueller, or become a midterm election issue.

Plus, how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez turns a stunning primary upset into national, political celebrity. But is the liberal agenda she sells of the Democratic Party's future winning in this year's big primary fights.

And, look to the stars. Is that the battlefield of tomorrow? The Trump administration moves ahead with its plans for a new space force. The late-night comics say thank you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The United States space force.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not entirely sure what we do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So do we fight aliens or?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have no clue. Just shut up until we get the spaceship.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Spaceship?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We begin with the Russia investigation and a team Trump legal strategy that is, in truth, a team Trump political strategy. The president's lawyers are now waiting on Robert Mueller after sending the special counsel a response they know is a nonstarter. The president, they say, is willing to answer some Mueller questions, but nothing about the possibility of obstructing justice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: The reality is, he doesn't need to ask a single question on obstruction. He has all the answers. They're not going to change. The president's not going to change his testimony. So stop the nonsense. You are trying to trap him into perjury because you don't have a case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Mueller, of course, does not have all the answers, in part because the president, of course, has not testified. Most of what Giuliani says on television is fact free, but this to CNN's Dana Bash is a moment of remarkable candor. Quote, when I first got involved, I would have told you not testifying would be the right legal strategy but then hurt politically. Now, I'm thinking the continuance of the investigation would actually help because people are getting tired of it, and the president needs something to energize his voters because the Democrats look like they're energized. Nothing would energize Republicans more than, quote, let's save the president.

In other words, we've decided to stall and string Mueller along because, in Giuliani's own words, quote, the president needs something to energize his voters.

Dana Bash, who spoke to Rudy Giuliani, joins us live.

Am I -- is there any other way to translate that?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, the reality that they're living in is that they don't think the president should testify. Nobody around the president thinks that he should testify or answer questions, I should say. That's not new. But they still have a client, the president, who is arguing that he wants to answer questions.

Then the flip side is they have a special counsel who really wants to answer -- the president to answer questions and so they've been going through this dance for months now, proposal, counterproposal, the Mueller team wants to ask, you know, a broad range of questions, the Trump team keeps wanting to narrow it in. So they don't have a choice, really, but to answer the questions -- or, excuse me, but to negotiate about answering questions. So while they're doing that, they have to try to find bright sides.

And it has been true, and, John, I know you're hearing this from Republicans as I am, that politically speaking, they've been surprised at the fact that the Russia investigation isn't as much of a drag with regard to the base, and maybe even some independents, as they thought and maybe it could be a help. So he's trying to look on the bright side. It definitely is and was a moment of candor from Giuliani, but the ball is not in their court and he's very open about that. They have to wait to see what Robert Mueller does. And it's really unclear, subpoena or anything else that could run the gamut. And so they're going to play the cards that they're dealt right now.

KING: Play the cards that they're dealt and try to benefit politically as they wait for the special counsel. And you are right, that's his response -- his next response, I guess, might tell us something.

Dana Bash, appreciate the reporting there.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Margaret Talev of "Bloomberg," Olivier Knox with Sirius XM, Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast," and CNN's MJ Lee.

I get they keep saying we're trying to work this out, but I keep reading this as they're saying no. They're saying no, and they're trying to make Mueller decide, are you going to take the momentous step of issuing a subpoena for the president of the United States? Is there another way to read it? And, forgive me, I know they -- everyone keeps saying the president keeps saying he wants to testify. He's the president of the United States. He could tell his lawyers, bring him in, let's do it, and he hasn't, so I'm skeptical the president actually really wants to answer questions.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE DAILY BEAST": Like, let me at him.

KING: Yes.

KUCINICH: That type of thing. Like, don't hold me back.

Yes, I think that's a good point. But, yes, it does seem like they're really trying to bait Robert Mueller. And there is a lot we don't know. We don't know what Mueller is doing. A lot of his -- it is kind of an iceberg kind of an investigation. And there's a lot happening below the surface.

[12:05:14] So we don't know what he will do. That it is -- that would -- if the president is subpoenaed before the election, that would energize the president's base. And you heard -- I mean Devin Nunes basically selling that during a fundraiser on that -- that recording just yesterday so -- saying that we're the last line of defense for the president. So that is already kind of there in the ether among Republicans. They're talking about this sort of thing probably more than the Democrats are.

KING: Right. And to that point, since you brought it up, there's a school of thought, forget your political party, a special counsel is investigating election meddling by a foreign power that does not have the interest of the United States in mind, and there are some questions about communications between people who work for the president of the United States and Russians. Why wouldn't the president of the United States want to clear all this up and answer the questions? That's the silly apolitical way to look at it. Silly because it doesn't work that way.

You mentioned Devin Nunes. I was going to get to that in a minute. But here you have the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who actually knows a lot that we don't know about this because he has access to classified information, speaking at a fundraiser. Listen to him here. Is he saying we need to clear up all these questions? And, I understand, from a Republican perspective, let's get this over with, especially if the president did nothing wrong, let's get it done, but that's not what he says. He says, let's keep the Republicans in charge of the Congress because we need to protect the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It's like your classic Catch-22 situation where, I mean, we're at a -- this -- this puts us in such a tough spot. If Sessions won't un-rescue and Mueller won't clear the president, we're the only ones. Which is really the danger. That's why I (INAUDIBLE) -- and thank you for saying it, by the way -- I mean, we have to keep all these seats. We have to keep the majority. If we do not keep the majority, all of this goes away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Again, please, if there's another way to translate it, I would love to hear it.

Rudy Giuliani's legal strategy is, at least at the moment, until he knows more about Bob Mueller, a political strategy. Devin Nunes, who was removed as chairman for the meat of -- parts of this investigation because he essentially got caught playing with team Trump, is essentially saying, you need to keep the Republicans, not so we can answer these questions, not so we can get to the bottom of this, but so we can protect the president.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "BLOOMBERG": That's exactly right. So this is where you see the confluence of these two parallel tracks. One is the political messaging of the president, and Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow are conducting, and the other is the behind the scenes work that Bob Mueller's team is doing. And for the White House, for the president, where this becomes important is this, depending on what Mr. Mueller actually does and how it actually affects the president, it will certainly matter, whether one or in theory both chambers of Congress are -- whether Democrats take over because then all these questions that right now are totally different, the impeachment question is totally different when there's really nothing on the table. It will obviously be a very risky political move for Democrats to do if they were in charge. But if things change next year, it will matter who's in control of the House, as well as the Senate.

And, meanwhile, the court of public opinion does matter because if Mr. Mueller puts out a report that doesn't have an actual kind of charging hammer with it but includes details that are -- come out in the public at some point, it will also matter who's in charge of each chamber of Congress. So the president and his team -- his legal team are playing the only game they have right now, which is the political game.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUS XM: And not hearing from Mueller is interesting because, obviously, he's got -- it looks to me like he's got three options, keep up these negotiations, decide to wrap things up without talking to the president. Thought experiment, Bob Mueller comes out and says, I'm not going to talk to the president. I don't need to talk to the president. What do you think Republicans say? You think they're satisfied with that answer? Or do you think they'd say, a-ha, he's already, you know, reached a conclusion before he even speaks -- TALEV: Made up his mind without talking to the president.

KNOX: Exactly. So -- (INAUDIBLE). So either keep up these negotiations, go nuclear with a subpoena, you know, or decide that he doesn't need to talk to the president. We don't know what his intent is in any of these things. We know that he wants to talk to him, but would he settle for not? Would he --

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: And there's -- and there's definitely some irony in Rudy Giuliani sort of daring publicly, daring Mueller to go past the September 1st deadline because, you know, the lawyers have been in negotiations for really a better part of this year now about this interview, how it will be conducted, what questions need to be off limits, and a big reason for that is because there's tension between Trump's lawyers and the president himself, right? He's out there saying, I welcome this interview, I want to be interviewed because I am convinced that I can get in front of Mueller and his team and, you know, show them that I'm innocent, whereas his lawyers don't really buy that. They know that he struggles with, you know, being loose with his words, being loose with his sort of version of the truth. And they, I think, are sort of frightened and worried about the prospect of him having this interview and then perjuring himself. I mean they've made that very clear.

KING: And the big question is, as we move through now into the middle of August, is, you know, there's no hard 60 days. Everyone says it's the theory in the Justice Department, the common sense in the Justice Department has always been, you get close to an election, you're supposed to back off. James Comey is exhibit A in recent history. If you don't do that, what happens to the credibility of your investigation and your personal credibility?

[12:10:14] Bob Mueller, the former FBI director, we all assume is going to play this as a company man, as an establishment man, and is not going to be doing things, you know, in the last week of October that will be judged as political. But here's what -- this is -- this is an IG report that got -- a recent IG report that got into this 60- day rule so per se. It talks about Ray Hustler (ph), who was the chief of the public integrity system (INAUDIBLE). It says Hustler said that while working on the election year sensitivities memorandum, they considered codifying the substance of the 60-day rule, but they rejected that approach as unworkable. Hustler told the inspector general that a prosecutor should look to the needs of the case and significant investigative steps should be taken, quote, when the case is ready, not earlier or later. In other words --

TALEV: There's no 60 days.

KING: There's no -- there's no hard rule, but don't be a jerk. Use common sense. And if the case blossoms and, bang, you have to choice, but otherwise don't be doing things to poke close to an election.

KNOX: And to that point, I mean it's very relevant to look back at the former Attorney General Mukasey, former Attorney General Holder, who each released basically identical versions of a memo saying you shouldn't take public steps with the purpose of affecting the outcome of an election. It was less clear about having the effect on it. But if you look back at those two memos, too, it's pretty instructive.

KING: Right. And to your point about Mueller's options, one is to just simply pause. Go ahead with existing cases, like the Manafort trial, other things that are in the system, hit the pause button on everything else, come back after the election. Rudy Giuliani and the president use it as an issue during the election. The question is, if Democrats are in charge after the election and then Mueller hits the restart button, we live in a very different world. But we will watch this play out over the next few weeks.

Up next, he's facing criminal charges, but Congressman Chris Collins says he's not going anywhere. What his legal woes could mean come November.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:16:00] KING: Welcome back.

Congressman Chris Collins looking at the possibility of 150 years in prison. That's a big number. But he says it won't keep him off the ballot this November. The New York Republican vowing now to fight insider trading charges. Prosecutors allege he shared inside information about a failed drug trial, prompting his son and another man, who's the father of the son's girlfriend, to dump a pharmaceutical company's stock just before it tanked.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. CHRIS COLLINS (R), NEW YORK: The charges that have been levied against me are meritless. And I will mount a vigorous defense in court to clear my name.

I look forward to being fully vindicated and exonerated.

Fight to clear my name. Rest assured, I will continue to work hard for the people and constituents of the 27th congressional district of New York, and I will remain on the ballot running for re-election this November.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The news, of course, not surprisingly dominating the Republican lawmaker's home state headlines. Look right here. "The Buffalo News" front page, Collins, Son, indicted in insider trading. In Batavia, "The Batavia Daily News" put it this way, friends and family discount? Just won word from "The Rochester Democratic Chronicle," "indicted." In New York City, a play on President Trump's promise to drain the swamp. The headline, you see it right there, "Swamp Thing."

It's not good news for the congressman. It's not good news for the Republican Party. If you listen to the press conference yesterday, the prosecutors laid out this case in pretty stunning detail. If you look at the documents they released as well, it is even more meticulous in how it is built. And yet the congressman says he's going to mount a vigorous defense and importantly says he's not going to try to get off the ballot. LEE: Well, and this really is what people imagine as being corruption

at its worst in Washington, when people think about why Congress' approval ratings are so low, they think about this kind of scenario that you see in TV shows and movies, right, a member of Congress having, you know, special access and then trying to help himself and the people around him have, you know, personally profit off of this kind of information and this kind of access.

I think in terms of the district that he is in and the fact that he's going to continue running for re-election -- and, by the way, it's kind of very, very difficult to take his name off the ballot at this point anyway, just because of how things work in that district. Unless he were to die or run for another office, which I don't think he's going to do at this point in time.

I think a lot of this is going to come down to how Democrats decide to capitalize on this and seize on this moment. Yes, it is very, very difficult in this district for a Democrat to flip this seat. However, this is how unusual things happen in politics, right? Something, some kind of external circumstance that's unexpected happens, and then the other side capitalizes on it. And I think a lot will come down to, can Democrats really seize on this moment?

KUCINICH: Although, I could see a scenario if the president -- he is a huge defender of the president. He is -- he was an early supporter of the president. It's not impossible that Trump could decide to back him. Yes, that indictment was extremely damning and even had like flowcharts.

That said, I wouldn't be -- nothing really surprises me anymore, but I certainly wouldn't be surprised if the president decided to say this is a witch hunt, he is my supporter, I back him. It could be as easy as that for him to win re-election in a district like this.

KING: And the Democrat running against him I think had raised about $80,000 up until yesterday.

KUCINICH: Right.

KING: So we'll see what happens here. This is a strong Trump seat, a strong Republican seat. And to your point though, you do have exceptions to the rule when you have something like this. "The Weekly Standard" writing about this in a column today. The 68-year-old former businessman could lose what was previously seen as a safe seat for the Republican Party fighting to hold on to the House of Representatives. His opponent, Nate McMurray, 43-year-old town supervisor from Grand Island, relative youth and impressive educational background could make him an attractive candidate in a district that has not elected a Democrat since the last round of redistricting occurred in 2013. So you do see this from time to time. A Democrat or a Republican -- if it were flipped, you know, the other party gets elected to a solid seat, the other guy's (INAUDIBLE). And then maybe in the next election they change it, but it's to throw the perceived bum out.

[12:20:05] TALEV: Yes. But we didn't -- and Jackie's right that anything could happen, but we didn't see President Trump jump on this yesterday when he was doing his five for five lap --

KUCINICH: True.

TALEV: Or talking about the special election in Ohio, some of those other races. And I think anything that kind of touches on those swamp boundaries is a problem for him messaging wise. And anything that touches on the criminal justice system also is. He's been actually pretty well disciplined, or he was, for about a 24-hour period about holding back.

KING: He did just tweet about the so-called witch hunt.

TALEV: Yes, I know. I know.

KING: And he's tweeting about some other things. So, we'll see. He has the phone in hand, obviously. So we'll see if he gets to it. And if he doesn't, that tells you something.

One of the risks is that Democrats think they can seize on this, not just with Congressman Chris Collins. They think they can say, hey, look at Scott Pruitt. Hey, look at Tom Price. Hey, look at David Shulkin.

KNOX: Exactly right.

KING: Look at other people in the Trump administration who have had swampy questions either about personal finances or the way they've conducted their businesses in their departments. Fair?

KNOX: That's exactly -- that's exactly right. I mean they're going to bundle it into this broader narrative of, instead of draining the swamp, we have different gators in charge. And -- and that's potentially very effective.

I'm skeptical that it's -- this is going to be particularly painful politically for Congressman Collins, if only because we have another example of a member of Congress who assaulted a reporter, broke his glasses, and lied about it who is a duly sworn member of Congress. So it's not really clear to me that voters on that side are particularly swamp intolerant.

LEE: And, by the way, the swampy visuals here could not possibly be worse. The fact that we have footage of Collins taking these phone calls while he was at the White House attending the congressional picnic surrounded by other people in Washington, some of his colleagues. I mean the visuals are so, so terrible.

KUCINICH: And let's remember the last time cultural --

KING: Karma.

KUCINICH: Culture of corruption worked. It was during Jack Abramoff when you had -- and I just wrote this before I got here, Bob Nay (ph), Rick Renisy (ph), John Dolittle (ph), the Mark Foley (ph) scandal, Duke Cunningham and his bribe list (ph), Tom Delay was in trouble because of some campaign finance related issues. It was -- it was very House centric, which flipped it before.

Now, with the president and all of his cabinet members, maybe that sinks in. But House Democrats, in particular, had quite a case to make the last time this worked.

KING: If nothing else, it is another problem for a Republican Party that has a long list of issues in a very difficult midterm election year.

KUCINICH: Yes.

KING: We'll watch this one.

Up next for us here, the Trump administration makes its case at the Pentagon and on Twitter for a brand new branch of the military. Take a look.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:27:07] KING: Welcome back.

The Trump administration today making a public push for a new military frontier, a space force. This is Vice President Pence at the Pentagon last hour.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now the time has come to write the next great chapter in the history of our armed forces. To prepare for the next battlefield where America's best and bravest will be called to deter and defeat a new generation of threats to our people, to our nation. The time has come to establish the United States Space Force.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That Pence visit comes as the Pentagon gets ready to release a report on space-related military challenges and questions. And today's event follows months of nudging from the commander in chief.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Space is a war-fighting domain, just like the land, air, and sea.

It is not enough to merely have an American presence in space. We must have American dominance in space.

We very well may soon have the space force. Everyone's very excited about that.

It's not just sending rockets to the moon and rockets to mars. This is also a military imperative.

And I've directed the Pentagon to begin the process of creating a sixth branch of the United States Armed Forces called the Space Force. Very important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Joining our conversation, the retired Rear Admiral John Kirby, our CNN contributor.

There is no question -- if you think -- if you want to go way back and you think about pirates at sea, there's no question now there's -- between satellites and all the economic technology, all the military technology in space, the question is how to deal with it, and do you need a new space force or just a new space priority? What's the answer?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: The Pentagon's answer previously to today had been to make it a unified command, on keeping with the other 10 united commands that we have, a four-star level joint, so right now it only exists in the Air Force, elevating that so it's a joint command. And I think that's where Secretary Mattis really wanted to be. But if you listened to Vice President Pence today, he used the word department of the space force, which makes it unequivocal that they are going to create a sixth service branch -- military branch of the Defense Department, which takes it to a whole new level.

Now, it's unclear exactly all the missions and roles and responsibilities of this force, but they're going to have to go to Congress to get full funding authority and all the permissions that go along with standing up a force.

KING: And just -- just -- it doesn't take a rocket scientist, forgive me, all pun intended. I'll put this -- just think about how expensive what we're talking about here.

And to your point about Secretary Mattis, let's listen to a little now and then. And you see the tension he has. Again, not about the challenge, but about how to respond to it.

[12:29:55] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MATTIS, DEFENSE SECRETARY: It is becoming a contested war- fighting domain, and we have got to adapt to that reality. It's on par with the air, land, sea, and cyberspace domains in terms of it being contested. And it's now a domain in which must -- we must be equally prepared as all of those other domains.