Return to Transcripts main page


White House Running Smoothly; Trump Isolated and Furious; Trump Tweets About Mueller Investigation; Judge Give More Time for Signature Issues; Opposition to Pelosi. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 15, 2018 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:19] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

A joint public appearance this hour by the president and the first lady. This after her public complains forced the ouster of a top national security aide. That's just one of many post-election wrinkles that have the president in what even his most supportive allies call an angry mood.

Plus, as the special counsel again takes heat in the morning presidential tweet storm, Senator Jeff Flake says he will block Trump judicial nominees until the Senate agrees to protect Robert Mueller.

And deadline day in Florida. The counting and the court challenges continue. The president says it's a sham that fraud in Florida and California is massive and, get this, the president's people -- says people change their clothes in their car so they can vote again and again and again. There's zero evidence of that, but it did catch the attention of the Senate's top Democrat.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: Mr. President, name one. Name a few. Where did it happen and when? Or did you just read this on some right wing, nasty, dishonest blog and just repeat in? Donald Trump, you're the president of the United States!


KING: We'll get to those latest voter fraud conspiracies from the president in just a few moments, but we begin the hour with the bigger questions about the president's post-election anger and how a power play by the first lady factors in to this time of turmoil in the West Wing.

At any moment we will see the Trumps, the president and the first lady, due to arrive at the Marine Barracks up on Capitol Hill. The chief of staff, John Kelly, a retired Marine general, expected to attend as well. They'll be greeting troops just a few miles from the White House. That visit, of course, coming after fierce criticism over the weekend when the president canceled a visit to an American military cemetery outside of Paris.

It's also the first public appearance with the first lady since she went public with complains and forced the ouster of the Deputy National Security Adviser Mira Ricardel. The president said to be steaming that he looks like a bossed around husband. The president is described by allies as feeling isolated and growing more furious by the day.

The election results are one piece of that. Responding to Robert Mueller's questions is another. Plus, there's a lot of staff shake-up rumblings at the White House. One White House official says the mood is darker than normal this week, saying, quote, excuse me language, he's pissed at damn near everyone.

And yet the president wants you to know things at the White House, never better. This among the morning tweets. The White House is running very smoothly and the results of our nation are obviously very good. We are the envy of the world.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny joins us now live from the White House.

So, Jeff, which is it, everything peachy or the president is PO'ed?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, I think it's the latter. And the reality here is, you don't need to look very far to see what the president's mood and mindset is. Simply look at his morning social media feed, going after the special counsel's investigation. You know, essentially reviving the collusion charges, the crooked Hillary charges, trying to misdirect back to the Democrats, trying to say that Bob Mueller was a Barack Obama appointee, ignoring the fact that he was, in fact, first appointed by George W. Bush, the Republican president.

So, the reality here, the president's mood is quite obvious to anyone we talked to here at the White House and to his public statements. But they are going to the Marine Barracks. He will be there with the first lady. We'll see what remarks he makes there.

The situation here, though, there is going to be a staff shake-up. No question. The president has telegraphed it. He has said it. And that's not that unusual. There are always changes at the end of a midterm election season, at halftime, if you will, in the first term of any president. What's unusual here, the president often does not make these decisions very quickly. He lets people hang around. So the uncertainty factor here, I think, is the biggest component of what's going on. Even as the White House is heading into, you know, a new phase here with a divided power in Washington. So that is what the sense of unease is. Not the fact that there will be some people coming and going. That happens always. It's the uncertainty and the president's mood that is different in this White House, John.

KING: Just remember, Jeff Zeleny, it says on Twitter, the White House is running very smoothly. So just keep that in mind as you continue your reporting there.

Jeff, appreciate that, live from the White House. ZELENY: Sure.

KING: With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Catherine Lucey with "The Associated Press," Carl Hulse with "The New York Times," Perry Bacon of FiveThirtyEight, and Tamara Keith of NPR.

I'm fascinated to see this public show here from the first lady and the president and General Kelly going as well. There's been talk that he's on the outs with the president. So they're staging this public appearance. We're going to see them in just a few minutes. The president of the United States described by many people close to him as not thrilled that the first lady goes public with her complains after several times coming to him privately. He doesn't do anything about it. So she goes public and forces him to do this.

[12:05:02] TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: You know, in the past, first ladies have had influence over their husband's White Houses. That has definitely happened in the past. What is different is the public statement. That -- and that really puts the president and his staff in an uncomfortable position, because it takes a fight that was private and makes it public and makes someone in the end look weak.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": But the first lady's flexing of her power and the ways that she has done it more and more visibly over the past two years are one of the most fascinating stories about this totally unconventional White House. They just don't operate as usual. And I'm sure that you will see a public, you know, show of togetherness together. This is an event that the White House, want to make very clear, has been on the books for some time. It is not a reaction to criticism of, you know, the weekend. And I doubt that you're going to see any friction between them publicly.

KING: Publically, but just them being out publically stirs the conversation we're having right now.

LUCEY: Yes. Yes. Absolutely.

KING: And it comes at a time, this president, he is different. And sometimes I think because he is visceral and because he's reflexive, because he lashes out, we probably sometimes do over read, if that's sort of his New York street fighter instinct, and it passes.

But in this case, when you talk to even some of the president's close friends, the ones who defend him, when we say that in the past, saying now you guys just don't get it. They all describe him as really dark right now. They say he's in a bad mood. They talk about the election.

This morning, he got a take home test from Robert Mueller. He got what he wanted. His lawyers negotiated. We'll give you questions. You respond in writing. You would think that's to the president's advantage. We don't know the questions and we don't know why it's taking so long to answer them, but we do know this, the inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess. They found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts. They're screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want. They're a disgrace to our nation. Don't care how many lives they've ruined. These are angry people, including the highly conflicted Bob Mueller who worked for Obama for eight years. He goes on and on. They won't even look at the bad action crimes of the other side. Total witch hunt.

Someone correct me if I'm wrong, the people I've talked to, including people who support the president very much, have been in for conversations with Mueller's team say that they're incredibly well- prepared, they're very polite and they're highly professional. I haven't had anyone say that they're shouting at people, trying to get the answers they want.

But what does this tell us about the president right now?

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think the inner workings aspect of that was new that he is talking about the inner workings of that investigation. I found that very interesting.

I think there's so much piling up at the White House right now. And the election results just continue to sink in. Every day there's a new Democrat winning a House race out in California, it seems like. And I think that -- and then his own wife causes him this problem. I agree with what you guys said, there's a grand tradition of the first lady knifing people she doesn't like, but not usually issuing a nasty statement about it. So that was pretty jarring.

I also, not to be ignored a little bit, is the national security side of this. This is a national security person, not the place where the East Wing usually is involved. And I think that probably looks a little weird and that they want to clean that up a bit.

But I just think the president, heading into Thanksgiving here, the holiday season, is not too thankful for how things are going.

KING: And --

LUCEY: I think the election results also have been an issue for his advisers, who sort of had prepared him for the split decision and sort of he had language to defend and sort of bolster the results in the Senate and sort of manage the results in the House. But then the fact that it wasn't sort of a one-day or a two-day story, that it keeps coming. Like the drip, drip, drip.

KING: Well, that's -- that's inexperience. That's inexperience, though. He said complete victory.


KING: He was told, and he thought, they were going to pick up three or four in the Senate. It looks like they'll get a net of two. We'll see what happens in Florida. But that, to me -- that to me speaks of incredible inexperience.

LUCEY: That shifting story they've had, yes. KING: But you do see -- look, no president, after the midterm, you know, will publicly come out and say, you know, everybody hates me, but you do see resets. Obama said he got shellacked. I covered Bill Clinton back in 1994. They do some sort of a reset. Some of it they see publicly. Some of it they do quietly. This president does not seem to be changing. It seems to be, he's going back to his combat reflex. And what does that tell us?

PERRY BACON, SENIOR WRITER, "FIVETHIRTYEIGHT": Right, Clinton and Obama both changed (INAUDIBLE) generally tried to move to the center. They took the defeat as a sign that, oh, I need to reach out to the other part of the country. I think we've already seen from Trump, whether it's, you know, banning reporters, you know, hiring Matt -- hiring Whitaker. He's not doing that. He looks like he might.

But I'm curious where this staff shake-up is because that will tell us a lot. If he appoints an even more conservative staff, a staff that's even less likely to work with Democrats, that will tell you that he's taken a different lesson from this defeat than Clinton or Obama did.

KING: Right. My question is, is he as detached from reality as he sometimes appears? Does he have things in his head that simply aren't true?

Now, forgive me, if you're a Trump supporter, but we get taxpayer funded lies all the time. They're taxpayer funded lies. Read his Twitter feed. It's not true. We're going to get to his voting conspiracy theories in a few minutes. It's not true. You pay for that. You pay for that.

But this is one of this morning's -- this -- it's delicious. Universities will someday study what highly conflicted and not Senate approved Bob Mueller and his gang of Democrat thugs have done to destroy people. Why is he protecting crooked Hillary, Comey, McCabe, Lisa Page and her lover, Peter Strzok and all of his friends on the other side.

[12:10:06] I mean the fact machine breaks. There are questions about some of the behavior of these FBI agents, without a doubt. The FBI has looked at that, without a doubt. There are legitimate questions, without a doubt.

Bob Mueller's not conflicted. Bob Mueller doesn't have to be Senate approved. The law, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, a Trump appointee, named Robert Mueller. But he tries to stoke this what?

BACON: Well, in this case, I think it makes sense, John. The Senate is talking about a bill to protect Mueller, that Jeff Flake and some of the Democrats want to pass. So I think poisoning the waters here, this bill was never going to pass in the first place. But it makes it even more, if you're a Republican senator, you can't sign onto this bill because Trump has basically declared Mueller is my enemy. You cannot -- you cannot defend him, therefore. I think it's actually the smart politics by Trump in a certain way.

LUCEY: And they see that their efforts to discredit Mueller and so confusion have worked. I mean they feel pretty good about that strategy.

KEITH: And this tweet is straight from the greatest hits album.

KING: Yes.

KEITH: I mean he has tweeted about Peter Strzok and Lisa Page so many times it's hard to keep track at this point. This was, it was sort of like, oh, tweets from three months ago, it's back.

KING: The post-election greatest hits tour. I like that.

Just to get this on the record, as we wait to see the president and the first lady, this from Laura Bush's former chief of staff, Anita McBride. If anyone had questions about her willingness to exert her influence, they got the answer.

We have seen that in recent days.

Up next for us here, with the Florida machine recount deadline hour away, the president, as we noted again, pushing conspiracy theories about what he sees as fraud.


[12:15:37] KING: Today, questions of time and votes in Florida. The deadline to stop the machine recount, now just hours away. Palm Beach County looks certain to miss it.

Also this morning, more signs of what you might call counting creep. A judge ruled Florida voters with signature discrepancies now have until Saturday to validate their ballots. The ruling adds about 4,000 total votes to over eight million cast. Now, that's a small number. So small that even if every one of those was validated and broke for the Democrat, it would be too small of a number to erase the Republican lead in the Senate race. The hope now for Democrats, though, is that the court has already shown its willingness to overlook or bend the letter of the law and that it would do so again.

CNN's Ed Lavandera down in Tallahassee tracking all this play out.

Ed, lawyers for the Nelson campaign in court this morning. Did the judge push back the recount deadline?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're still waiting to hear what's going to happen on that front. But all of these lawsuits and hearings swirling around here in Tallahassee, John. And as you mentioned, this is coming as the deadline for the end of the recount coming up here in the next couple of hours in the state of Florida, and we're hearing report of various counties across the state wrapping up.

But there are a number of hearings that are still playing out this afternoon here in Tallahassee in the federal courthouse you see behind me where basically one judge is handling the bulk of all of these lawsuits and these questions and these hearings that must be sifted through here in the coming days. And, as you mentioned, that signature issue, that deadline gets pushed

back to Saturday. That affects nearly -- more than 4,000 votes here in the state of Florida. But as you rightly mentioned, John, it doesn't really appear, even if all of those people voted for Senator Bill Nelson, which is highly unlikely, wouldn't really affect the outcome of this race. But this is just one of many cases and hearings that are continuing to play through the courts here this afternoon in Tallahassee, John.

KING: Ed Lavandera on the ground for us.

Ed, raise your hand and come back if anything comes out of the court in the rest of the hour here, obviously, and we'll keep on watching it throughout the day as the deadline approaches.

Let's come into the room.

These -- I mean unless something outside of the norm happens, and Florida recounts, we'll have to say, are inside the norm, for better or worse, it's almost impossible -- no one has a scenario that the Democrats overtake in the Senate race, overtake in the governor's race. This is no recount, on the record anyway, has ever erased a lead that big, and yet the president and other Republicans are so animated about this.

I want to read this from the president because it's just reckless. I could use a stronger word. But, here we go. The Republicans didn't win and that's because of potentially illegal votes, which is what I've been saying for a long time. I have no doubt about it. And I've seen it. I've had friends talk about it. When people get in line that have absolutely no right to vote and they go around in circles. Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again, nobody takes anything. It's really a disgrace what's going on.

To me it's a disgrace that the president of the United States would say such stuff.

PERRY: We do have a voting problem, which is that about half of the people in the country did not vote in this midterm, despite all of this attention, you know, we gave to it here and so on. That is a problem. I don't know anyone who wants to vote more than once. And you've seen these lines all over the country. We can't get people to vote for less than three hours. The idea that people are driving around is (INAUDIBLE).

But this is really serious, though. I mean his -- the way Rick Scott and the president particularly, Rick Scott, the leader of one of our largest states, and the president have talked about voting fraud and been so disingenuous and so dishonest about what happened is really worrisome to election legitimacy.

In contrast, in Utah, the Democrats may be able -- we thought they won the Mia Love race, maybe aren't winning. But, you know, the Republicans are gaining in the recount. They are not questioning the legitimacy of the process. KING: Right.

BACON: Look at how Jeff Flake and Martha McSally, Republicans, have handled the process. There's an honorable way to do this. It would be great if the president considered this.

KING: There's an honorable way to do it when, you know, this happens. Now, do you want your elections counted faster? Do you want to push your state wherever you live to say, can we do this more quickly? That's fine. Do that. But there's no -- in Arizona, for example, right, the president was saying, what's happen, what's happening? He criticized Martha McSally in this interview with "The Daily Caller" saying why wasn't she calling out fraud? She wasn't calling out fraud because there was no evidence --

BACON: There wasn't any fraud.

KING: There was no evidence of fraud. It's just how they count the votes. The president also says, and help me with this one, please. If you buy, you know, a box of cereal, if you do anything, you have a voter ID. Well, over here, the only thing you don't is if you're a voter of the United States. What?

LUCEY: He's made versions of this comment before about going to the grocery store and the ID. I'm not sure when he's last been to a grocery store or bought a box of cereal for that matter, but there is obviously no evidence of needing an ID to do this.

[12:20:07] But this gets back into a long standing lament that we've seen from the president. He is very comfortable questioning the validity of these elections and sewing these (INAUDIBLE).

KING: And when he does -- when he does, more often than not, almost always I would say, if not always, it's illegal immigrants, Latinos or African-Americans.

HULSE: I know where (INAUDIBLE).

KING: You can connect the dots at home, people.

KEITH: Yes, he is very comfortable sort of undermining democratic institutions in a way that past presidents and most politicians shy away from. You know, the reason that the 2000 recall -- or the 2000 recount ended, yes, the Supreme Court ruled, but it could have gone further and Al Gore conceded. He didn't claim fraud, he conceded. And often that's how elections end. You know, America doesn't do close elections particularly well. And typically you need the politicians to all agree that the process is the process.

KING: Right. And the president makes these broad, sweeping, he lost the popular vote because five or six million illegal immigrants illegally voted. Let me flap my wings and fly. But, to be fair, to be fair, is there a distinction? This is Hillary Clinton talking about Georgia. The Democratic candidate, Stacey Abrams, for Georgia governor, has not conceded. She contends there was voter suppression. She also says there are votes still to be counted. Among those saying there's a problem in Georgia is Hillary Clinton.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I know Stacey well. She was one of my really strong surrogates in the campaign. If she'd had a fair election, she already would have won. She is really in the arena and she is fighting for the right to vote and have your vote counted. And I don't know what the outcome will be, but God bless her for continuing that fight and not walking away.


KING: Now, that -- that language there is tame-ish, if you will, but there have been Democrats who have said stolen, who have said fraud in Georgia. Is there evidence to back it up?

HULSE: I don't -- I don't know exactly how it's playing out.

I think what she is referring to, Secretary Clinton, was some of the things that happened before the election. You know, closing polling places, moving things out. And, plus, in that election, her opponent was the one running the election. So that was also, I think, sort of a troubling situation.

It strikes me about the president that certain things stick with him about these elections. He's -- I think he's referring again to Bernard Langer, the golfer, remember that incident, where he thought he was going to be able to vote there.

The signature issue is real. It's the new hanging chad. And I think people are just discovering this.

I think that the Republicans are way over the line in the -- in the language that they're using down there, undermining these elections. But it goes to show you how worried they are. They don't want to have another election get away from them in the Senate. Now, is it a huge difference, one more in the Senate? But it's a big difference. And it's also a state that the president's probably going to needs to win --

LUCEY: Yes, the president wants control of that state for 2020.

HULSE: Right.

KING: So get your monitors in the room. Be aggressive watching the vote count. Be as aggressive as you can be within the law. I'm all for that. But for the president of the United States to allege these vast conspiracies, again, taxpayer funded, you're paying, it's a lie.

KING: Up next, Nancy Pelosi's growing math problem as more House Democrats say they will not back her to be speaker.


[12:28:18] KING: Welcome back. Nancy Pelosi still campaigning, looking to flip some of the Democrat

who told voters if they were sent to Washington in the midterm elections they would vote against Pelosi as speaker. Sources telling CNN at least 17 House Democrats have now signed a letter saying they will not vote for Pelosi on the House floor. More Democrats are on record opposing her bid to reclaim the gavel, though they have not yet signed on to the letter. That's what makes the math interesting.

Pelosi says the math that matters is when the vote actually takes place. And just about every day, like today, she campaigning fiercely.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: I have overwhelming support in my caucus to be speaker of the House.

You'd have to ask those people what their motivation is.

I think of the 17, it's mostly like 14 men who are on that letter.

If, in fact, there is any misogyny involved in it, it's their problem, not mine.


KING: Ouch. Ouch.


KING: And, look, she plays hard. Carl, you've covered her for a long time. I've been in this town. You know, she plays hard. So do not underestimate her. But the fact that she's out campaigning every day tells me, despite her public confidence, she knows the math is not there yet.

HULSE: That was pretty tough language, I have to say, for her own members.

KING: Yes.

[12:29:34] HULSE: The -- I think that the Pelosi team felt going into the election that if they want a substantial majority, which they appear to be winning, that this would melt away, people would back away from their commitments not to vote for her and that she could move forward. That's not happening. And I think that's what's surprising here that, no, these people are coming in, women and men, who have said they won't vote for her for speaker, and that they're not backing down.