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Giuliani: Trump Asked Comey To Give Flynn "A Break"; Senator Warren Trades Tweets with "The Rock"; CNN: At Least 35 Dem Candidates Oppose Pelosi as Leader; Democrats Push For More Records on Brett Kavanaugh. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 13, 2018 - 12:30   ET



[12:30:00] RUDY GIULIANI, TRUMP'S LAWYER: The reality is as a prosecutor, I was told that many times, can you give the man a break? Either by his lawyers, by his relatives, by friends. You take that into consideration, but, you know, that doesn't determine not going forward with it.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Hum-de-dum-de-dum.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: And then when -- you know, yesterday when Jake Tapper presented that clip to him, he said he was arguing in the alternative. That was the argument that Comey's lawyers are making. But the problem is that, Giuliani has he said something similar, also something that definitely do with Jake Tapper in July and also on Fox News. So not only there has been three occasions where he has said the president has said this about James Comey.

Why it's significant is because Comey has testified under oath to the Senate Intelligence Committee that the president did ask him to ease from the Flynn investigation and undoubtedly has told the special counsel that. He has a contemporaneous memo about this. He has people who back up his account, Andy McCabe for one. So that is the real concern for the president if he does say it didn't happen. Others are saying it did.

KING: And it comes in the final days, if you believe Rudy Giuliani's calendar, negotiations with Robert Mueller about testifying. Robert Mueller wants to ask about obstruction. If the president said, give him a break, then that's a legitimate avenue for an interview about obstruction.

That doesn't mean the president obstructed but only the president can answer his mind set. That's what Bob Mueller is telling Rudy Giuliani. Rudy Giuliani is now trying to make that conversation go away as he tells Bob Mueller, there's nothing to ask him about obstruction.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: The public negotiating that Rudy Giuliani has been doing about this potential interview is really astounding, in part because Bob Mueller stays silent. So Rudy Giuliani just keeps kind of spinning these different versions of events. He did the same thing involving Michael Cohen and the Stormy Daniels payment where it was Giuliani who then put forward the notion that Trump actually knew about this after Trump said he didn't.

Obviously what Giuliani is trying to do is muddy the waters here, trying to paint this almost as though he is on equal footing with Mueller in these negotiations. I think it's an open question as to whether that is true. I think Giuliani is trying to pretend like there are more conversations happening, more real negotiating happening than actually is going on.

KING: Is it also a fair question that is Rudy Giuliani a good lawyer? At this point, I want you to listen to him. This is earlier today on Fox. If you're the president of the United States, this is a very serious investigation. Even if you did nothing wrong, this is a serious investigation. Listen to this.


GIULIANI: Here's what happened. The president says I never said to Flynn anything about --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I never said to Comey.

GIULIANI: I never said to Comey anything about Flynn. Comey says, and he adds this at the very end, Comey says he told me to see if I could give him a break, basically. So we have three defenses to that. Under Article II of the constitution, you can't really question why the president would say something like that. He has the power to say it.

Number two, what he was saying is perfectly justifiable. He didn't say, you must, you have to, I'll fire you if you don't. He said, consider it.

Number three, he never said it. Lawyers argue like this. We call it arguing in the alternative.


KING: Number four, you can say whatever you want on television. You can say whatever you want on television, but if you're in a court of law or if you're in a negotiation with a man who has the power of the attorney general of the United States which is what Bob Mueller has, I mean, that's all over the map crazy stuff.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: I mean, if Rudy Giuliani is a mirror of his client, and I think it's true that the kind of lack of discipline and being all over the map is the way Donald Trump would also answer these questions, you can see why they don't want him to go in and face questioning. You can see why Mueller wants to question. NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITCAL REPORTER: I think that's right. I mean, every time Giuliani speaks, I mean, he makes the argument that you want -- what is the official, under oath, you know, story of this? You want somebody under oath because you would hope that they would tell the truth so that they wouldn't, you know, incur the wrath of the folks who they're being interviewed by.

KING: And I think he's helping Mueller's case that needs to talk to the president. Because he's his attorney, if he's speaking for him, he keeps saying different things. So if nothing Rudy says can be believed, then you need to talk to the president, don't you? I think.

All right. We'll keep an eye on that. We get Rudy Giuliani telling the Wall Street Journal, we won't do an interview after September 1st. That's what he tells the Wall Street Journal sometimes.

This has been fungible as well but we will keep an eye on that. We wanted to know before we go to break, the special counsel now 4-4 in court when faced with challenges to his legal authority. A federal judge in Washington, D.C., this judge appointed by President Trump ruled today that Robert Mueller has constitutional authority to pursue his case against Russia social media propaganda. And that his appointment was, again, from a Trump appointed federal judge, saying the Mueller appointment is and was legal.

Up next, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson trade tweets. Could it be a hint to the 2020 ticket on the horizon?


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MAINE: I like to watch a little T.V.


WARREN: "Ballers".




[12:35:27] KING: Topping our political radar today, President Trump wrapping up his working vacation. Just moments from now, the president leaves New Jersey, heading to upstate New York, where he'll sign the National Defense Authorization Act.

After that, he attends a fun fundraiser for New York Republican Congresswoman Claudia Tenney. She's running for re-election in one of the country's most competitive House races. CNN currently rates it a toss-up.

The Republican governor of Ohio throwing some shade at the president today. The president went after John Kasich this morning on Twitter, calling him, quote, very unpopular, and accusing him of hurting Republican congressional candidate Troy Balderson. [12:40:00] Kasich replied merely with this, a gift of the Russia president Vladimir Putin looking amused.

A little context on popularity. A recent Quinnipiac poll showed Kasich's approval among Ohio voters was 52 percent. In that same poll, the president's approval below it in Ohio, just 43 percent.

Here's one for you, especially if you're a Democrat. Could Senator Elizabeth Warren and "The Rock" team up in 2020? Social media are sure hoping so. The senator and star of the HBO show "Ballers" trading tweets over the weekend about the show's season premiere. On Sunday, Senator Warren tweeting, why do I love "Ballers" so much? It's "The Rock".

That caught Dwayne johnson's attention. "I appreciate the love, Senator Warren. Enjoy our new season tonight, and you have a big rock-size hug coming when I see you."

Not the first time, believe it or not, the senator has given the show a shout out.


WARREN: It's actually a story about hard work. It's a story about perseverance. It's a story about having to reach within yourself and find something that you're not 100 percent sure is there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're talking about "Ballers."


KING: All righty then.

Up next for us, Nancy Pelosi gets an unlikely advocate, even as she struggles to get off the ropes.


[12:45:27] KING: Welcome back. Today's big number, 35. That's how many Democrats are on the record to CNN saying they won't support the minority leader Nancy Pelosi for speaker of the House. Other news organizations say they have the number even higher than that.

Now this is all theoretical. Democrats would need to retake the House before there's any vote on Pelosi for speaker. But the pre-emptive Pelosi rebuke, as you might call it, feeds into a critical midterm debate. Is she still the best person to lead the Democratic Party? Ask Leader Pelosi, she says all this hubbub is a conspiracy.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: First of all, let me just say this. And I know NBC has been on a jag of this as one of their priorities, to undermine my prospects as speaker. But putting that aside, I have not asked one person for a vote. I haven't asked a candidate or an incumbent for a vote. I do not think our opponents should select the leaders of our party. The Republicans are spending millions, tens of millions of dollars against me because they're afraid of me. Because I out raise them in the political arena. Because I outsmart them at the negotiating table. And because I'm a woman who is going to be a seat at that table.


KING: CNN's Phil Mattingly live on Capitol Hill for us. Phil, Nancy Pelosi has been throughout her career a fighter. You would be an idiot to underestimate her. But is the fact that she's out there publicly fighting like this proof that even she understands she's got a problem?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, even her harshest critics, John, would tell you that Nancy Pelosi is one of the best vote counters in recent history for the last couple of decades in Congress. She's keenly aware of where numbers stand here. I think that's why you've seen her take the current position.

Look, if you want to get to the genesis of where the kind of is Nancy Pelosi in trouble as leader of House Democrats comes from, it's really twofold. First and foremost, you obviously see the millions of dollars which she referenced being spent by Republicans, making her an issue in the campaign. And when you look at the numbers of Democrats who have come out and said they need leadership, a lot of them are candidates, not incumbents. Some of whom won't be making it to Washington almost certainly based on what happens in November.

So there's a little bit of that there. I think there's frustration when you talk to sitting members in the Democratic caucus that that's being used against them. And they feel like anecdotally or otherwise, it's being used effectively.

It's not new. We saw it in 2010 when the RNC was rolling out fire Pelosi buses. This has been a constant refrain of theirs. And I think for a lot of Democrats, they're just frustrated that it's still an issue they have to deal with.

The other is generational. There's no question about it. A lot of House Democrats that I talked to, a lot of younger, I think kind of generally acknowledged talented Democrats are looking at their leadership ranks and saying, look, we've been in the minority for all these years. We haven't seen our members, our caucuses, our groups of people, our classes move up in the leadership ranks, and we would like that to change.

But here's the reality here, John. I think this is really important. There are a lot of things that have to happen before this is even a real question. One is, how big is the majority if Democrats win the House? That will likely dictate whether or not leader Pelosi stays or goes.

And the biggest alternative thing is who else would take that spot? Does anybody else know how the caucus is made up? The different groups Pelosi has been so close with, worked so well with, both as speaker and as Democratic leader.

I'll tell you this, John, you know this as well as anybody. When Nancy Pelosi wants her caucus to vote one way, the caucus votes that way. And until that changes, it's kind of tough, especially when you don't see a clear alternative candidate out there, to see her not as the leader of the party, but the numbers right now, they are real. The worries are real. And the skittishness inside the Democratic caucus is real.

Will that turn into anything? I would say, it really depends on a, if Democrats win the House. And b, the size of that majority, John.

KING: And I think how she works it between now and the election. Phil Mattingly, live on the Hill, appreciate that.

Let's bring you into the room. Let's listen a little bit more of Nancy Pelosi. This is on NBC where she's saying she understands Republicans are trying to make her an issue, and she's telling Democrats out there in a tough race, if I'm an issue, say what you need.


PELOSI: Now, I do believe that none of us is indispensable, but I think I'm the best person for the job. And I won't let the Republican ads which are just flooding these districts -- and I say to the candidates, do whatever you have to do. Just win, baby.

When the caucus decides, it will decide whose name they will send to the floor. Only then after the election will I ask people for their support.


KING: Just win, baby.

PACE: Pelosi is not wrong in the initial clip that you played. There are reasons why she has become such a target for Republicans. She is a tremendous fundraiser. When you do get on to the floor, she gets her members in line. You don't have these splits in the Democratic caucus publicly the way we've seen in the House Republican caucus.

[12:50:01] But the big question for Democrats is playing out in this potential speaker race. They don't really have a next generation right now. It was a struggle under the Obama administration. It's a struggle now. They don't know who comes next. Either at the presidential level or House leadership.

And in some ways, it seems what she's trying to do is try to hang on to let that happen in the party more organically than it could potentially this fall.

RAJU: Yes. And her gamble is that they're going to win back the House and she can tell the naysayers, look, they tried to use me as an issue. They failed. I helped bring you back into the majority. The one thing that she's going to determine is that, the way it works is there's a closed-door caucus meeting, a secret ballot meeting that the Democrats will nominate their candidate for speaker, and then a public vote on the House floor. When that initial vote happens behind closed doors, she will know if she has the support in order to become speaker. And at that point, she can determine whether to move forward.

And I think that's what she's going to do. That's what she's betting, that ultimately members will come to her side at that time.

KING: And she has proven it in the rearview mirror of being a supremely good organizer.


KING: And so her question is, I think, can she by the election time come up with -- look, I get it, you want generational change, you want leadership change. You're not ready. Let's do a transition. I stay for a certain period of time. We shake up the team.

Over the weekend, she got this unlikely, I'm going to call it, assistance, I'm joking, from the president of the United States who tweets late Friday night, "Democrats, please do not distance yourself from Nancy Pelosi. She's a wonderful person whose ideas and policies may be bad but who should definitely be given a fourth chance. She's trying very hard and has every right to take down the Democratic Party if she's veered too far left."

HENDERSON: Yes. I mean, but the thing is she might withstand all of this criticism. It's not clear how many more rounds of beating up on Nancy Pelosi, you know, will be effective. And we've seen it be effective in the past.

And the real question is who is next? I mean, we were trying to toss around some names. I mean, Tim Ryan, I guess he got about 60 votes last time. She's typically had kind of a lock on the Congressional Black Caucus --

KING: And I don't think a white man is going to take her place.

HENDERSON: Exactly. That's the thing. And probably shouldn't, especially if this is the year of the woman and the Democratic caucus is so diverse. I mean, do you bring Steny Hoyer in there who's not exactly a generational shift either?

PACE: If Democrats take back the House, they are going to owe that majority to a lot of minority voters. And I think it's going to be very difficult for them to put a white man into the speakership after asking those voters to really work hard for them in a midterm year.

RAJU: And if -- but if they don't take back the House, the knives are going to be out. I mean, she is going to get squarely blamed for this. It's going to be a huge problem.

KING: It's a whole different calculation if they don't take back the House. I suspect that will be the end of her career as well. But if they do, we got some fascinating -- that's why she's out there publicly now doing this. She gets it. She's doing the math and she's trying to build. And we shall see.

Up next, Democrats have 100,000 pages, but they want a million. Next, how do you define a thorough vetting of Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh?


[12:57:32] KING: Some disappointment today for Democrats who oppose the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and had hoped to find some fodder for their argues in some new documents released over the weekend. A 100,000 pages, more than that from his work in the 2000s in the George W. Bush White House but so far no big bombshells. Democrats are pushing for more.

Millions of pages still held in the national archives from Kavanaugh's time as President Bush's staff secretary. That's the person who controls what goes in and out of the Oval Office. The Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley, calls those records, quote, the least relevant, compares them to the inbox and outbox of the Oval Office.

We've kept CNN's Manu Raju, our expert on Capitol Hill here with us. Democrats keep looking. There's this to argue and that to argue. But there seems nothing huge at the moment. Is that fair?

RAJU: Yes, I think that's fair. I mean, even Democrats I was talking to yesterday said they have not been able to find anything in these documents so far. There are more that are coming. Not just from his time -- mostly from his time in the White House counsel's office. They're not going to get those documents from the staff secretary time because, as Grassley said, and the Republicans said, that's not relevant to this.

However, what the Democrats are saying is that they believe that some -- they're wondering whether or not some documents have been withheld because they've been questioning the process that's been undertaken. The Bush team has used its own lawyers to determine what constitutes privilege, what can be provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee. There's no evidence that the Bush team is doing anything nefarious, but Democrats are raising that specter and expect that process argument to continue to play out.

KING: Can the Democrats make this case? We just showed you some numbers. Brett Kavanaugh, 103,000-plus pages. That' so far. They're maybe more but a 103,000 so far. Neil Gorsuch, a 182,000. Elena Kagan, Democratic appointee, a 171,000.

These are documents before they became judges. What Republicans are saying is Brett Kavanaugh has been on the bench for 12 years, you don't need this stuff. Democrats are saying, no, this is part of his life too, we want to see what's in there. RAJU: Yes, and they say the paper trail may be bigger, but it's because he's had a longer time in office. And there are other things that we're learning about -- more about his view points. We reported today about his extensive praise that he had towards Justice Antonin Scalia. Of course, the late conservative justice, the icon on the bench. Speaking very glowingly about a lot of his past rulings, about his past praises, things that he's done.

One thing he did single out in his speeches too was, his dissent on abortion, gay marriage. We'll see how he ultimately -- what we says about that --

KING: Two big meetings with Democrats this week as they start to meet. We'll continue to track that. Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS today. See you back here this time tomorrow.

Jim Sciutto is in for Wolf. He picks up our coverage right now.