Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Calls White House Sacred; Trump Insults Reporters' Question; Trump Downplays Whitaker. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 9, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And as we learn more about the victims of the California nightclub massacre, this tribute from a survivor who says Cody Coffman was helping others escape when he was gunned down.


SARAH DESON, SURVIVED DEADLY BAR SHOOTING: I know he -- he was put here to protect people. He was a very -- that's why I keep calling him my hero. What he did last night, he made sure people were safe. And now we all have a beautiful guardian angel watching over us.


KING: More tributes to those victims a bit later.

But we begin at the White House and with the words spoken earlier today by the man who lives there.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you're in the White House, this is a very sacred place to be. This is a very special place. You have to treat the White House with respect. You have to treat the presidency with respect.


KING: Amen, Mr. President. We should all agree with that. You should not lie on sacred ground. Twisting the truth is not respecting that very special place or the presidency. Calling journalists losers or their questions stupid is not respectful. More importantly, lying and misleading and stoking conspiracy theories to keep your supporters riled up disrespect them and the sacred place they voted for you to call home.

Arizona, for example, still counting the votes cast Tuesday. The Republican Senate candidate was head. Now the Democrat has a narrow lead. That's how math works when you count votes. But the president sees a conspiracy.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's a lot of crooked stuff going on, but it is interesting, it always seems to go the way of the Democrats. Now in Arizona, all of a sudden, out of the wilderness, they find a lot of votes and she's -- the other candidate is just winning by a hair.


KING: Not out of the wilderness, in the places they were cast. They're called ballots in boxes and that's how they do it.

More trademark Trump when asked about his choice to serve as acting attorney general. The question was about Matthew Whitaker, but the answer veered to Robert Mueller.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, Mueller, a big complain people have, Mueller was not Senate confirmed. So he's doing a report. He wasn't Senate confirmed. Whitaker was Senate confirmed. Now, he doesn't need this, but he was Senate confirmed at the highest level when he was the U.S. attorney from Iowa. But Mueller was not Senate confirmed. Why didn't they get him Senate confirmed? He should have been Senate confirmed. Because -- no. But because of all the conflicts, they didn't want to bring him before the Senate.


KING: Wrong again. That's a misleading stunt. The special counsel was appointed by Trump's hand-picked deputy attorney general. There is no provision for Senate confirmation. But the man who says the White House is very sacred and the presidency should be treated with respect, never passes an opportunity to disrespect or smear any public servant or institution who fails to vow loyalty.

With me to share their reporting and insights today, maybe to tell me I'm crazy if they think that, CNN's Dana Bash, Michael Shear with "The New York Times," Sahil Kapur with "Bloomberg," and Molly Ball with "Time."

Why? Why? That's just pieces of it. We'll get to more of it. We'll get to more of it.

The White House is a sacred place. The presidency should be treated with respect. Perhaps, you know, we could have the conversation about the tone of certain questions at times. But why? Why? He lies. He misleads. And he threads conspiracy theories about the elections, about Robert Mueller, about more, standing on the ground of that very sacred place.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I mean I don't know that we know fully the answer. This is the way he's operated since the minute that he came into the White House. I mean you could say -- also before during the campaign. But think about the crowd size discussion at the beginning of this administration, which was such a silly thing to argue about, and yet he wanted Sean Spicer to go out there and lie about what his crowd size was. And it's just continued since then. And, you know, part of it I think is a -- kind of a determined

strategy to -- you know, that they see as working with his base and working to deflect from criticism. But it's also clearly just inside him. He exaggerates by, you know, sort of rote nature. He exaggerates. He lies. He twists. And that's what he does. It's a combination of strategy. It's a combination of his personality that, you know, we've all seen play out for two years.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And the answer to why is -- I mean it could be strategy, but it also might be giving him a lot more credit than --

SHEAR: Well, that's why I say it's only part of it, right?

BASH: Yes, exactly.

SHEAR: I mean it's not clearly their --

BASH: Exactly. And the answer is, respect is a one way street.

KING: For him.

[12:05:01] BASH: Respect for the president is, you don't challenge me. You say everything that I'm doing is great. You say all of my policies are wonderful. And you don't ask me a question that I don't feel -- that I don't feel uncomfortable answering.

And, by the way, since we're talking about the sacred state of the United States and the sacred state of the White House, what about the Oval Office? What about Kanye West sitting across from the Resolute Desk and dropping the f bomb and the president saying nothing about respect. Nothing about it.

I mean -- and that's just one example that just comes to mind of a slew of examples.

And, look, I mean, it's frankly exhausting to push back on this, but it is important to push back on it because of his behavior towards those reporters and, more importantly, towards the truth and towards the very decency of the presidency that he spoke about.

KING: And his supporters, he disrespects his supporters by suggesting there is something crooked up with Robert Mueller because he wasn't Senate confirmed. The law doesn't require that. The law specifically does not require that. But he knows that. He's disrespecting the people who put him in the White House by putting wacky conspiracy theories in their head.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG": He depicts all opposition to him, or all checks on him as opposition. There is an actual political opposition, which is the Democratic Party. There is the press. We report facts. We report context. He may not like what we do. There is his own Justice Department, which he's depicting as an enemy of him because it's not doing the things that he wants to do. When the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who has now resigned, you know, was acting in ways that he thought comported with his duty to the country, that conflicted with loyalty to the president in a way, the president expects that loyalty above and beyond everything. And the frame works for him because if he depicts the Justice Department as opposition, if he depicts the press as opposition, there are many, many voters in the country who will hang on his every word and who are, Republican pollsters tell us, inclined to believe what he says and predisposed, accepting his version as truth.

KING: And another thing that happened today was, again, we saw some of this at the press conference after the election on Wednesday. He brought up April Ryan's name, an African-American journalist. And he called her a loser. Then CNN's Abby Phillip, another African-American woman, asked him a question.


ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Do you expect Matt Whitaker to be involved in the Russia probe?


PHILLIP: Do you want him to rein in Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: What a stupid question that is. What a stupid question. But I watch you a lot. You ask a lot of stupid questions.


KING: I'm glad you are watch, Mr. President, because that would be CNN, the network you're constantly criticizing. You watch a lot. You watch a lot. Your supporters should hear that, too. They should hear that too.

But it wasn't a stupid question. It was a perfectly fair question. A very important question. A pressing question of what's happening in Washington right now about Matthew Whitaker whose views about the special counsel before he came into government, let's be fair to Mr. Whitaker, are well-known. But it's a dead-on question. The president attacks her. Am I connecting dots that shouldn't be connected? He called an African-American woman at the press conference a racist. He calls April Ryan a loser. And he says Abby Phillip's question is stupid.

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "TIME": And he's decreed, contrary to fact, that Maxine Waters is the leader of the entire Democratic Party. Yes, there's a clear pattern to the president's targets. But, for me, I think the biggest question raised by all of this. You know, the president declaring things to be constitutional and to be legal requirements that aren't. This is someone who has lived his life making up the rules as he goes along.

BASH: Yes.

BALL: Or assuming that rules don't apply to him when it comes to tax law, when it comes to everything else, he believes as if the rules are for everybody else and he can just do whatever he pleases.

SHEAR: Can I --

BALL: The question is going to be whether our institutions can stand up to that. Whether, you know, the courts and other institutions can enforce laws that the president doesn't want to heed.

BASH: Can I just add one thing about that? The president always talks about the best schools. Harvard University will probably be very surprised to hear the president of the United States talk about one of their esteemed graduates --

KING: Right.

BASH: Abby Philip, our colleague and our friend, as stupid. Let's just put that aside, OK? The substance of her question, which was short, to the point, and probably the most important question to ask the president after the morning after the elections, fires his attorney general, and instead of doing what he could have done, which is keep Rod Rosenstein, who does still have a job for the moment, in charge of the Mueller probe, he gives it to the guy who has said a lot of bad things about the Mueller probe.

KING: Right. Right.

BASH: That was the question that Abby Philip asked. It was not stupid. It was important.

KING: And it was calmly asked, politely asked, and that was his reaction to it.

He also -- he was asked today, Michelle Obama, in a new book, says that she was fearful for her daughters and for her family because then businessman Donald Trump and candidate Donald Trump had stoked the whole birther conspiracy. The president was asked about that today and he didn't so much respond to Michelle Obama. He said, well, she wrote a book and people tell you to put things that are controversial in books. And then this.

[12:10:07] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'll never forgive him for what he did to our United States military. By not funding it properly, it was depleted. Everything was old and tired. And I came in and I had to fix it. And I'm in the process of spending tremendous amounts of money.


KING: That was an attack on President Obama. Thank you, President Trump, for giving us another chance to do what we're supposed to do in our business is check the facts and challenge things.

Let's put up some numbers here. Yes, yes, President Trump, and if you are a supporter of the president or a supporter of a stronger military, whatever your politics, he is spending more on the military than President Obama. But let's look at the defense spending under President Obama. You see at one point it was $645 billion. That's not all that much below what President Trump is spending. Then you start to see it go down in fiscal '13, '14, '15, '16, '17, '18. It goes down and then starts to go back up again.

What happened in there? In 2011, after the Tea Party election in 2010 and the Republicans took over Congress, the Republicans, back at a time when Republicans cared about deficits, you remember back then -- you remember back then -- they were pushing the president to bring the deficit under control. So they came up with the so-called sequester. The Budget Control Act of 2011. This was a bipartisan agreement and, yes, defense spending went down for a little bit and then started to come back up. It's not just Obama.

SHEAR: Right.

SAHIL: Well, and it was his party that demanded a massive deficit reduction program under President Obama. They were not willing to put any tax revenues on the table, which means Democrats were not willing to cut Social Security and Medicare without that. So what's left to cut? There's discretionary spending, which is not a big slice of the budget, and there is defense spending, which is a big slice of the budget. It went down, as we can see, in those charts you put up, and now it's gone back up. No military officer will tell you the military's actually been depleted. This is a strange exaggeration by the president.

KING: Right. And, again, I often say, he knows better. He knows better when he talks about Mueller. He knows better when he talks about (INAUDIBLE). He probably doesn't know better about that because I don't think he has any idea how Washington works even though he's been president for two years or its history, right?

SHEAR: He does. He doesn't know the specifics of the sequester, but he does know that saying that the entire military was old and deplete and creaky and not working is not true.

But I think it's important to get back to the previous point, because that's at least policy. You can say what you will about the exaggerations.

The thing that is so striking about this president is his personal attacks, right? President Bush didn't like the media at times, but he always --

BASH: No, sure didn't.

KING: Neither did President Clinton, trust me.

SHEAR: Neither did President Clinton. Neither -- I mean President Obama. I mean they all get frustrated with what we do and how we ask our questions and the questions that we ask. The kind of personal attack that he just did on Abby, which, as you know, is not at all a rare thing in this administration, is just absolutely amazing. I mean it's just -- and disturbing. And, as you say, a pattern there.

KING: Well -- KAPUR: There's always been respect for the institution among presidents and most politicians, even if they don't like the press. But this president's different.

KING: One more quick. Sorry, one -- you're correct. Absolutely.

One more quick fact check as we go to break. The president at his news conference Wednesday, and again today, spoke about the economy. He should be proud of the economy. The economy is roaring. His tax cuts and deregulation have something to do with it spiking up. He should be very proud about it. But he speaks of it as if I inherited a country that was dead and I brought it back to life. So we just want to put this on the record. The final 21 months of the Obama administration, 4.48 million jobs created. The first 21 months of the Trump administration, 4.05 million jobs created. So if you just match up the 21 months to 21 months, Obama's a little bit ahead. That doesn't mean President Trump doesn't deserve credit for the economy, but it does mean facts matter.

Up next, President Trump says he doesn't know Matt Whitaker. So why did the president decide to put him in charge of the Justice Department?


[12:17:42] KING: Welcome back.

Other big news today, the president seemingly distancing himself from Matthew Whitaker, the man he just named acting attorney general. The president also says he did not speak to Whitaker about Robert Mueller's special counsel investigation before asking him to run the Justice Department.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't speak to Matt Whitaker about it. I don't know Matt Whitaker. Matt Whitaker has a great reputation and that's what I wanted. I also wanted to do something which frankly I could have brought somebody very easily from the outside. I didn't want to the do that. When Sessions left, what I did very simply is take a man who worked for Sessions.


KING: Sources telling CNN, a lot of White House aides have been surprised at the criticism of Whitaker's appointment and that some White House staffers did not know that he had previously repeatedly criticized the special counsel. Maybe they don't have the Internet over there.

So exactly how did the president choose Whitaker to be acting attorney general? CNN's Laura Jarrett joins us now to explain.

Laura, tell us, how did this come about?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, John, sources tell us former White House Council Don McGahn was actually the architect behind putting Whitaker in as the chief of staff for Jeff Sessions, along with the Federalist Society head Leonard Leo, a powerful White House ally well-known in conservative circles. And he was also vouching for Whitaker. So the two of them together came up with the idea.

But Sessions was also involved. He did interview Whitaker. He liked him. But this idea that the White House didn't have a heavy hand in this is really belied by the facts.

The backdrop, of course, to all of this, sources telling myself and all of my colleagues, is that the president was tired of being berated about what was going on at the Jeff -- at the Jeff Sessions Justice Department and wanted to put in somebody that he thought could keep things on track, sources tell us.

And, of course, this idea that he doesn't know Whitaker is also belied by the facts Whitaker has been at the White House several times for meetings, including with ones with the president. He has spoken to the president by phone, as we have reported, including on the day when the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, thought he was going to be fired several weeks back, as we all remember that day. And "The Washington Post" has reported that Whitaker was trying to get his boss's job, Jeff Sessions. So this entire idea that nobody knows him, he's not a known quantity, is simply not true, John.

[12:20:01] KING: Laura Jarrett at the Justice Department. Appreciate that important reporting.

Let's come into the room a little bit.

This one I just find -- I just talked in the last bloc about, remember when the Republican Party cared about deficits. The Federalist Society, founded because of the Federalist Papers, the idea that we have a constitution that creates three co-equal branches of government, pushing Matthew Whitaker, who, we'll see how he does in this job. He enters it in a firestorm. Among the many things he has said, is that the judicial branch is some inferior thing that -- you know, and it shouldn't be treated as an equal branch of government. I'm going to go home tonight and re-read my Federalist Papers looking for that.

KAPUR: He has --

BASH: Alexander Hamilton will be smiling from heaven.

KAPUR: He has said Whitaker, in 2014, when he ran for the Senate in Iowa, said he doesn't believe Marbury versus Madison was a good decision. That's two centuries old that establishes judicial review. He has also said that the New Deal decisions, which undid the Lockner (ph) era, were bad law. And this is important because if he's the head of the Justice Department, the Justice Department has -- the solicitor general who takes positions, who files briefs with the Supreme Court and historically has been very influential. So this is, again, the Federalist Society, which doesn't like the post-New Deal regulations, which, by the way, made -- you know, before that, things like federal child labor law and minimum wage laws were unconstitutional. There's a faction of conservatives that wants to go back to that. It's a fascinating little piece of Whitaker's (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Sometimes the label of your organization doesn't actual explain your organization. Got it.

I just want to go back -- let's come back to the politics.

The president this morning, on several occasions, gave what I'll call -- Matt Whitaker, gave him what I'll call the Paul Manafort treatment. I don't really know him. I don't really know him. I don't really know him. I don't really know him. I don't really know him. Go back and look at the transcript. How many times did the president say that.

This is a guy named Donald Trump, the president of the United States, on Fox News. I can tell you Matt Whitaker's a great guy. I mean I know Matt Whitaker.

BASH: OK. So let's translate and tell me if you agree with this, all of you, obviously, but this is a big red flag to Whitaker, you ain't getting this job permanently.

KING: Right.

BASH: I mean that's what that was. I don't know Matt Whitaker. He's distancing himself. And, obviously, Whitaker, from people in and around him, despite the reports about his potential issues with businesses, never mind what he said about the Mueller probe, is -- he wants the job. He's auditioning for the job in a big way. And this is the president saying, I think, you ain't going to get it.

SHEAR: Yes, I --

KING: Right.

SHEAR: Go ahead.

KING: No, please.

SHEAR: I was just going to say, I agree with Dana totally about the sort of -- the likelihood that he'll get the job in the future.

What's absolutely confounding about this is that this was completely slow motion decision to get rid of Jeff Sessions. This isn't something -- sometimes in government, sometimes in politics, things happen at the very last minute. You don't expect them. The government has to sort of, you know, catch up to where things have been.

People have known that the president and his aides have known that the president wanted to get rid of Jeff Sessions for months and months and months. And they knew that Matt Whitaker was there. They must have had Google, as Sahil clearly did, because he was able to type into the Google and find some of these things. They must have been able. And they -- and you would think they would have thought all this through. They would have figured out, what are the -- what are the guy's political liabilities? What are the guy's legal liabilities? How do we roll this out so that it -- so that it all --

KING: But if your goal -- if your goal is -- that's true. And if you're hiring a babysitter, you're getting your roof replaced, you want to do some landscaping, you use this wonderful thing called the Internet to look for reviews. You're going to put somebody in charge, even temporarily, in the top law enforcement job in the United States of America, at a sensitive moment, not just for Robert Mueller, but for all these other things that go on in the country, you would think you would do a little bit of a search, right?

So this White House's surprise, forgive me, but if you're the president and you want someone who's loyal to you for a two or three month period, and when Robert Mueller is at the crossroads, it seems pretty convenient.

BALL: Right. I mean vetting has not been a strong suit of this administration ever. And I think what they have concluded from that is that it doesn't matter. They have concluded, and the president especially has concluded, that, oh, sure, all of the -- all of the critics that will carp about this or that, but he can just blow right through them. Whether it's -- you know, I just had a flashback. Remember when Scott Pruitt was going to be the attorney general, the former head of the EPA. There was this talk about cabinet tumult (ph).

KING: America loves a comeback.

BALL: Well, and part of the reason though for that was that he had already been confirmed by the Senate.

KING: Right.

BALL: So the idea was, if the president fired Sessions, the Senate would be angry about that and wouldn't want to confirm a new attorney general. So -- but if he took someone who was already in the cabinet, that would be an end run.

In the end he decided that even that nicety was not required and I think it's clear that this -- that there are going to be challenges keeping Matt Whitaker in this post.

KAPUR: To that point, can I just address Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell just spoke to reporters earlier today and he was asked about Matt Whitaker. He said he has no advice to give the administration on the question on whether Whitaker should recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation given his past comments criticizing it. He said, and I'm quoting McConnell here, that he expects it to be a very interim appointment and he expects a permanent replacement soon. He did not say more than that.

[12:25:01] Briefly, as well, I just want to have --

KING: He didn't need to. Very interim. He said all he needed to say.

KAPUR: That -- exactly. With McConnell, subtlety is always the name of the game. And that's what he's suggesting. I just want to briefly point out, the president's conflation of

Mueller as non-Senate confirmed and Whitaker as non-Senate confirmed, it's not -- there's no validity to that because the AG is a principle officer. That's very different from being an inferior officer --

KING: Right.

KAPUR: Who reports to the bosses. So there's no -- there's no legal case --

KING: Right.

KAPUR: You know, that they're the same.

KING: Plus, we're running long, but you were talking about this during the break. If the president is saying, you know, Matt Whitaker was once Senate confirmed when he was U.S. attorney, so was Robert Mueller when he was FBI director.

BASH: Right.

KING: Facts matter.

BASH: End scene.

KING: Boom, end scene.

Next, lawyers descend on Florida. Yes, Florida had an election. They're going to have recounts. We've seen this movie before. In this case, though, the president suggests something crook is going on. He blames the Democrats.