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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump "Unnerved" By McGahn Interviews with Mueller; Kavanaugh Meeting with Democrats, Swing-vote Republican; Sen. Warren Unveils Plan to Fight Government Corruption. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 21, 2018 - 12:30   ET

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


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[12:32:41] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. President Trump revealing in a new interview that no matter what he says, he thinks the Special Counsel Robert Mueller will find a way to call him a liar. The president shares this insight in an interview with Reuters.

"So if I say something and former FBI Director James Comey says something, and it's my word against his and he's best friends with Mueller, so Mueller might say, well, I believe Comey. And even if I'm telling the truth, that makes me a liar. That's no good."

Today the Drudge Report echoing the president's concern blasting their homepage with this headline, "Even if Telling Truth Makes Me Liar".

Of course, sad to say this, the president already is a liar. Comey and Mueller know each other from past government service but are not best friends, as the president likes to say. The president's trouble with the truth is one reason his lawyers want no part of a Mueller interview. That concern isn't new, but it is heightened now after revelations that White House Counsel Don McGahn sat for 30 hours of interviews with Mueller's investigators. Two people familiar with the president's thinking say that news has him unnerved. He didn't know the full extent of McGahn's discussions.

Not a surprise exactly, but more clarity now even though the public line is the president wants to testify that he has zero intention of answering questions from Bob Mueller, right?

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, ASSOCIATED PRESS: It was a fascinating set of comments that he made to Reuters there. I mean, using language that we've heard from people like Rudy Giuliani saying that in an interview is potentially a perjury trap. That is the concern that the White House team has, not that Mueller is trying to set him up, but that Trump could perjure himself in an interview because he changes his story so often.

I do think you're right. You know, this at one point looked like Trump actually did want to do an interview that he felt like there was a political imperative to going forward. Acting so he had nothing to hide. It seems increasingly unlikely that he is going to do this. The concern both from him and his legal team just seems to be too great at this point. And that make us into a discussion of whether Mueller would subpoena him which opens up a whole can of legal worms.

KING: But also in that same interview, this from the president about, you know, can you shut down the Mueller investigation or will you shut down or try to assert more control? Quote, I can go in and I could do whatever. I could run it if I want. But I decided to stay out. I'm totally allowed to be involved if I wanted to be.

So far, I haven't chosen to be involved. I'll stay out

Sometimes the president says things that he knows are provocative and that he knows are not of the planet, shall we say, to stir up conversations.

[12:35:09] But, when you do have among the things Don McGahn has talked to the special counsel about in those 30 hours says the president unnerved is, he wanted me to fire you, Mr. Mueller. He's several times wanted to make runs at Jeff Sessions. He apparently hasn't talk right now but he wanted to go after the deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein. What is the president trying to say there?

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, BUZZFEED NEWS: I mean, the fact is that he hasn't really stayed out at all. And he just wants to put that image out there. The other thing that I think has been effective from his legal team in terms of the conversation about the perjury trap is that the president is a paranoid person. And we've seen this now again take place with the conversation about Don McGahn.

He is paranoid. And so the way they get him to not interview is to kind of make him think that this is a setup. Right.

So if he goes into it, this is going to be a setup and it's going to be a trap. And that seems to have worked. And now he's kind of again sort of making things up about how he's actually more in control than it might seem.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But I think interesting too is like the authority or whether the president has the authority has kind of always been understood to be the case. He probably does have some authority to shut down or try and get in the way through various dominos falling if he wanted to. It's always been the political ramifications of what would happen if he tried to pull that trigger.

That's what terrifies Republicans on Capitol Hill. That's what I'm told repeatedly White House officials have had to make calls to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker Paul Ryan, assuage their concerns, tell them he's not serious about this type of stuff.

So it's almost as if the president is relaying what he's been told about his own authority while also ignoring the fact that what he would -- if the result of what would happen if he actually did that would be cataclysmic which is just generally understood across his party, which for the most part has turned a blind eye or just kind of ignored these types of comments -- JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES:

And saying it out loud in interviews and tweets, it kind of be like if the Nixon tapes were like played in real time on the evening news back in the early '70s. Like you could hear it all, right. I mean, it makes you pretty curious as to about what we're not hearing because we get so much of like the inner monologue --

(INAUDIBLE)

MARTIN: Right, I know. (INAUDIBLE) monologue. He's like musing out loud about, you know, I could run the investigation myself.

KING: We know what he's thinking because he is glaringly transparent even he's saying things that could get him into trouble. He is glaringly transparent for example, I pulled those security clearances because Brennan was involved at the beginning of the Russia investigation, not because of anything he said on television at the White House.

MARTIN: The Lester Holt interview about why he fired Comey.

KING: So listen, this is Jack Quinn, former White House counsel, worked in the attorney's office back in the Clinton administration, back during the Lewinsky investigation. His take on the impact of having it now public knowledge that the White House Counsel Don McGahn not only cooperated with investigators but spent 30 hours with them.

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JACK QUINN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Nobody wants to be the last one standing. Nobody wants to watch one's colleagues go in, spill the beans, and be the one who's last in line to cooperate. I think there's a good chance you'll see a lot of people making phone calls to the special counsel's office asking when their interview can take place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Well, is that fair in the sense that -- you know, my understanding is not only is Don McGahn given 30 hours, but Don McGahn's instructions to all the younger lawyers around him have been protect yourself, tell the truth.

PACE: And we've seen many people who have gone in to already talk to the special counsel from the White House staff. I think the more interesting thing to look at there is, think about the effect in the West Wing. You have advisers that are showing up every single day, looking at each other, knowing they've all gone in to talk to Bob Mueller, wondering what everybody has said, who's pointing a finger at who. That is a really difficult work environment if you're actually trying to get something done running the government.

KING: Although, I keep saying for months now, if you did nothing wrong, and you all told the truth, why are you so nervous and why are you so agitated and why are you on -- in one case, the jury went on Twitter all the time doing what he do. But we'll leave it there. Before we go to break, a flashback from the Trump presidency. It's the fighting grinds on in Afghanistan. A look back at a promise the president made exactly one year ago.

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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: From now on, victory will have a clear definition. Attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing Al Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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[12:43:55] KING: Topping our political radar today, two top government officials say despite claims to the contrary, they've seen no evidence Florida's election infrastructure has been compromised. The Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and the FBI Director Christopher Wray say they cannot corroborate claims from Democratic Senator Bill Nelson who said recently that certain jurisdictions around Florida have already been penetrated by Russians.

A manhunt happening right now for a man suspected of making death threats against President Trump. The 27-year-old Shawn Christy of McAdoo, Pennsylvania allegedly made a Facebook post earlier this month threatening to kill a local district attorney and the president. He was last seen Cumberland, Maryland on Sunday driving a stolen car.

The Trump administration this morning following through on a 14-year- old deportation order for Jakiw Palij, the last known Nazi collaborator in the United States. The 95-year-old plucked from his home in Queens, placed in an ambulance, and sent back to Germany where officials fought for years. We take him into custody, Palij was an armed guard at the Trawniki labor camp where some 6,000 Jews were shot to death in one of the largest single massacres of the Holocaust.

[12:45:03] When we come back, President Trump's Supreme Court nominee making the rounds. The Kavanaugh conundrum for red state Democrats front and center today.

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KING: It is a busy and very important day of meetings for the Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Up first, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, widely seen as a swing vote. She's expressed concerns about Roe v. Wade possibly being overturned if Kavanaugh is confirmed and the court shifts more to the right.

This afternoon, Kavanaugh also meeting with several key Democrats, including Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill who's up for re-election in a Trump-friendly state.

CNN's Sunlen Serfaty now up on Capitol Hill. Sunlen, just leaving this meeting with Senator Collins, what have we learned? SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, certainly a big meeting today, John. Brett Kavanaugh just emerged after an over two- hour meeting with Senator Susan Collins.

[12:50:01] As you said, a key swing vote here leading up to those confirmation hearings on September 4th. And coming out of that meeting, Senator Susan Collins just addressed the press where she said essentially that she had not made up her mind, not settled, or not revealing what her vote will be for Kavanaugh.

But certainly she had positive things to say about him coming out of the meeting. She said it was an excellent session, very productive, informative, and she questioned him about his judicial philosophies, of course. But most specifically, importantly, as you noted, she talked to him about precedent and abortion cases. Specifically she said she pressed him on whether he considered Roe to be settled law or not.

So certainly an important meeting lasting over two hours here today. And he moves on to a slew of other big important meetings up here on the Hill. Many Democrats on the list. McCaskill, Patrick Leahy, of course Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer who've been of course leading the charge and pushing to get more documents related to his time in the Bush White House. So a significant day up here on the Hill leading up to the confirmation hearings two weeks from today.

John?

KING: Sunlen Serfaty, up on Capitol Hill, appreciate the update there.

Next for us, Senator Elizabeth Warren says Washington is still swampy and the Trump White House is to blame. Her anti-corruption push amid 2020 speculation.

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[12:55:53] KING: Strong words today from Elizabeth Warren, who says President Trump's promise to drain the swamp is beyond laughable.

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SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: The Trump era has given us the most nakedly corrupt leadership this nation has seen in our lifetimes. But they are not the cause of the rot. They're just the biggest, stinkiest example of it. Corruption is a form of public cancer, and Washington's got it bad.

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KING: The Democratic senator from Massachusetts introducing the anti- corruption and public integrity act. It would create an independent anti-corruption agency but also impose a lifetime ban on lawmakers from becoming lobbyists. It's another big push for national attention by Warren, another piece of a populist platform many see as the framework for a possible 2020 presidential run. And yet, she insists all the time -- Mr. Martin, you're looking at the camera a little skeptical there.

MARTIN: I'm very skeptical. A little, John? I'm a lot skeptical, John.

KING: She insists she's running for re-election in Massachusetts.

MARTIN: Well, she is. She's running for re-election and your grave state the base state. But I can't help but notice that she's not spending all of her time in Framingham and Dorchester this year. She has been in places like Nevada. She's been raising money in Salt Lake City and in Denver too.

Look, she has a couple staffers who have just gone north to a little place next door on northern (INAUDIBLE) called New Hampshire, John which you may have heard of.

KING: Once or twice.

MARTIN: Or to work for the state Democratic Party up there. It's not subtle. I think everybody who covers politics kind of knows that she's moving towards a campaign for president. I think what she's doing today is trying to frame herself as somebody who is not merely another, John, forgive me, liberal from Massachusetts but somebody who is a reformer and somebody who is a populist who's running against D.C.

She knows --

KING: Is that directed to Michael Dukakis or John Kerry or --

MARTIN: We can go on, if you want.

KING: Mitt Romney.

MARTIN: Ouch. Exactly. So I think she knows that she's got to define herself as someone who's a reformer, someone who's a populist, not merely the sort of Harvard law professor or character. And I think that's the effort today.

You run against D.C., you call it a stinky swamp. And you kind of embrace some of the rhetorical strokes that Trump did in 2016. And she knows that she's going to get hit hard from the right with all the usual bug-a-boos, and that she has to get out early in defining herself.

And here's one prediction. The Oklahoma accent I've heard, I think you're going to hear more and more of in the next year, year and a half.

PARTI: In some ways, it seems like she's stealing Trump's overall message but saying he didn't do it and he didn't actually act on the drain the swamp message he ran on and this is what I'm going to -- I'm going to do it. So she's setting herself up as this sort of perfect foil when -- you know, because the Democratic primary, as we know, there are going to be probably 17, 18 people running. So she is setting herself up to be that perfect foil for Donald Trump.

KING: You think only 17 or 18?

PARTI: Maybe. It's a small field.

KING: Look, the party is shifting to the left, to the progressive wing of the party. With the exception of Bernie Sanders, she has at least an identity heads up, correct. We don't know if she can put the pieces together of a presidential campaign. It's very complicated.

But from an identity standpoint --

PACE: She certainly could separate herself from that pack of 17 or 18 or 25 candidates by carving out that niche. And I do think when you talk to Democrats, there is some feeling that if Sanders runs again, that he's not going to be able to kind of carve out that same niche that he did last time around and maybe Warren could step into that void. She does have pretty decent name recognition nationally, certainly a pretty loyal following among the left wing of the party.

Can she bridge the gap there? I think that will be the question.

KING: It is another reminder, though, she's a Democratic senator, there's a Republican Senate. She can introduce this legislation, she can make her case.

Look, the president has not kept his promise. (INAUDIBLE) Democrat and independent from Mars. The president has not kept his promise to drain the swamp.

I'm going to guess Majority Leader McConnell is not going to give it anything.

MATTINGLY: Yes, I haven't seen her on the calendar yet. Pretty busy legislative schedule. I'm not sure he's going to be up there. It will also lead to a mass exodus of lawmakers immediately if this started being considered if they try to get it on under the tape.

No, it will be considered. But it'll be an interesting element in the months ahead.

KING: As part of the Democratic argument (INAUDIBLE).

Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS today. Don't go anywhere. A lot of breaking news happening today. Wolf starts right now.

Have a great day.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1 p.m. here in Washington.