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Trump and Lawyers Meet on Mueller Questions; Giuliani Calls Questions Possible Traps; Assange Could Face Charges; Florida Moves to Manual Recount; Judge Sides with CNN; Pelosi Faces Possible Challenger. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired November 16, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

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

Three days of meetings with his lawyers trying to answer the special counsel's questions. That's part of the foul presidential mood. So what's taking so long? One of the lawyers complains about possible traps in those questions.

Plus, the midterm map gets even more blue as congressional Republicans watch their numbers in California plummet and their strength in New England dwindle to one embattled senator.

And, keeping up with the Conways. Presidential counselor Kellyanne says all is fine in the West Wing. Husband, George, begs it differ.


KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: He's not frustrated about anything. He's frustrated about Congress failing to act on immigration. If he's frustrated about anything, it's that this town just doesn't keep pace with his rate of change. He wants to make even more changes.

GEORGE CONWAY, HUSBAND OF WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR KELLYANNE CONWAY: It's like the administration is like a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) show in a dumpster fire.


KING: Up first today, new reporting that gives us a much clearer understanding of the president's dark post-election mood. The president spending three days this week huddled with his lawyers trying to answer the written questions from the special counsel, Robert Mueller. "The Washington Post" reports at least two dozen of those questions focus on collusion, if there was any, and events prior to the 2016 election. Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani telling "The Post," quote, there are some that create more issues for us legally than others. He also complains about, quote, possible traps in the questions. Well, those comments spur this question, if you did nothing wrong and you're telling the truth, how could any question create legal issues or pose traps? Add to the mix a surprise clue, an unintended disclosure buried in an unrelated motion hinting federal prosecutors might be ready to bring charges against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who, of course, published those Democratic e-mails back during the 2016 campaign stretch.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins live at the White House for us.

Kaitlan, we know the president's been in a bad mood. Now we understand a lot of time with his lawyers is a big piece of that.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John, the president is once again fixated on the Mueller probe after a period of relative silence from the president on this and not as many tweets. And today he hasn't said anything about it, but we know it is front and center on his mind after those three days of discussions with his legal team about what it is they're going to say in those written answers to the special counsel.

Now, largely the Trump legal team has gotten what they wanted regarding this. They're not doing a sit-down interview right now. These questions, we are told, are not about what's happened since President Trump has been in office despite the fact that the special counsel wanted to initially talk to him about that. But Rudy Giuliani is not communicating that they are happy. He says that some of these questions, he believes, are irrelevant. Some of them they don't want to answer. So it does very much seem that even though we are a year into this, John, you know, these discussions about a sit-down with the president and the special counsel, they are still going back and forth on whether or not -- what they are going to say in these written responses.

That's why we've seen President Trump reignite his focus on this, reignite his fury on Twitter, going after the special counsel, as we saw him do several times yesterday, John. And it does raise the question of just how much longer this will go on.

We should also note, this is coming as the president is also facing some criticism for who he has appointed to run the top post at the Justice Department while they find a permanent replacement for Jeff Sessions. That's Matt Whitaker, who has made those critical comments about the Russia investigation, raising questions about what he's going to do while he's in charge over at the DOJ.


KING: Kaitlan Collins live at the White House. Turns out sometimes those take home tests are complicated.

Kaitlan, appreciate that reporting.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Pace with "The Associated Press," CNN's Jeff Zeleny, CNN's Shimon Prokupecz, and Seung Min Kim with "The Washington Post."

Now, my understanding is that Rudy Giuliani is not intimately involved with the actual answers. That he's more of the public relations lawyer on the Trump team. But why? Why? You know the president's angry. You know the president's frustrating. What do you mean there are some of these questions that are more legally complicated than others? I thought the president did nothing wrong. There was no collusion. There's nothing to worry about. This is a witch hunt. So answer the take home test and turn it in.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Giuliani wasn't supposed to be involved in any of this and it seems perhaps maybe he's back and he's now in the middle of this and aware of what's going on. We know that the president really likes Rudy Giuliani. He wants him out there saying things.

KING: Even though he keeps saying things that sort of get the president in trouble?

PROKUPECZ: Yes. And it -- the attorneys who are actually doing this work, that are actually sitting and going through what the president should answer, shouldn't answer, are frustrated by this. But, listen, there's really no controlling the president. He's going to do what he wants to do.

You know, we had expected that some of these questions -- the answers to these questions would go back to Mueller this week. We don't know if that's happened. We believe it hasn't, because I think there's some issues there. I think Rudy Giuliani does raise some interesting issues. And the president, obviously, is very concerned about how this is going and concerned with some of these answers.

[12:05:00] KING: You can see that because the questions are detailed. The questions are about very specific things and the special counsel has interviewed dozens of other people, some of whom have been indicted. There's other stuff in the works. So there's a -- I understand there's a legal complexity here. But, again, if you did nothing wrong, why is it taking so long?

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": Well, that's a great question. I mean this is a negotiation between the White House and the Mueller team that has been going on for months, which is really incredible. It's been -- it's so drawn out. And the questions that we believe Trump is answering this week aren't actually even the full scope of what Mueller was hoping to get, is still hoping to get. This is a more narrow slice of it.

But you make an important point, Mueller wants Trump to answer these questions, but Mueller has answers to these questions based on all of the other people that he is taking to. And that's why this could be so precarious for the president because we know he gives different versions of events. Mueller already knows, through his interviews, essentially what happened here. The test is going to be how much Trump's answers line up with what Mueller already has.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And that's one of the issues, I mean, giving different versions of different events. I mean the president has talked so much about what happened in the campaign, in interviews, in, you know, question and answer sessions as he's going to the plan things. So just reconciling the truth is more complicated than it would be in a normal situation.

Look back at the Air Force One flight from Hamburg, Germany, in July last year back to the U.S. How many different versions of that first Russian meeting were there? The president was deeply involved in all that. So, I mean, multiply that times all these different meetings.

And, again, as Kaitlan said, this is just pre-election. This has nothing to do with the firing of the FBI director, et cetera. So I think that's why it's taking so long, just getting the president on the same page with himself is not an easy task.

KING: And if you're the -- if you're the president and you're trying to refresh your own memory and some of this stuff happened a long time ago. I don't say that in any cynical way.

ZELENY: Right.

KING: Some of this stuff did happen a long time ago. But can anger -- can your anger get in the way of your recall, in the sense that he tells -- says this to "The Daily Caller" in an interview in the middle of the week, it's something that should have never been brought. It's an illegal investigation. And, you know, it's very interesting because when you talked about Senate confirmed, well, Mueller's not Senate confirmed. That's the president's dog whistle. Robert Mueller was appointed under the special counsel law by Trump's hand-picked deputy attorney general. Doesn't require Senate confirmation. There's no Senate confirmation involved. It is just a red herring. But it's an illegal investigation. No, it's not.

SEUNG MIN KIM, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": In his anger that he's voicing through his interview (INAUDIBLE) is certainly not helping matters with congressional Republicans either who, for the most part, are still confident, at least publicly, that the president will not directly interfere with the Mueller probe, with one major exception, that's Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona. But you do see some -- I've heard some private concern that, look, those tweets that he has again this week criticizing the special counsel's investigation is clearly not helpful. And we're going to see this in play too in the coming weeks and months when the president does put forward a new, permanent attorney general nominee. We know Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker's not there for two long. At least that's the thinking for now.

But Republican senators from --

KING: That's the -- that's the push for now.

KIM: Right.

KING: Has the president signed on to that or does the president want Matt Whitaker there (INAUDIBLE)?

KIM: For now. But Republican senators from Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who tends to speaks a little bit more candidly on these issues, to John Cornyn, who is a Trump ally and, you know, says the party line has said the next AG, they can't see anyone getting confirmed who doesn't make a public commitment that he or she will not interfere with the Mueller probe.

KING: The former Texas attorney general, Senator John Cornyn, to throw that one out there.

We know, as part of the -- trying to answer the collusion question, one of the central figures is Roger Stone, who was bragging during the campaign, he was giving hints in advance of WikiLeaks publishing e- mails. He says there's nothing nefarious here. Special counsel is trying to check that out. Some of the questions we know for the president are, Roger Stone called your cell phone on date x. What was that about? Roger Stone came to Trump Tower. What was that about? And then -- so that's all about WikiLeaks.

And then you have this mysterious filing in eastern Virginia, which they say was inadvertent, but they're trying to keep some other unrelated case under seal. And their argument to the judge that we have to keep this private, this cannot go onto the public record because of other sensitive investigations, says, you know, that there's -- need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested in connection with the charges in the criminal complaint and therefore can no longer evade or avoid arrest an extradition in this matter. They say it's a clerical error. Huh?

PROKUPECZ: Yes. well, this -- it's a big deal. I mean it's really -- for the Department of Justice and for the FBI. And I've talked to people there. There's real concern that this has happened. It's a huge mistake. It should not have happened.

The concern right now, you know, in terms of -- for Julian Assange is whether or not they're actually going to be able to get him now because there is going to be -- there's concern that now that this information is out there, that there is this -- essentially there's a warrant for his arrest now. There's concern that, you know, Ecuador may not comply. The Brits know about this. They've been out there. They're aware of it. But the real concern is on the part of the -- Ecuador. But why --

KING: But do we -- do we know, in this particular reference, until the charges against Assange, criminal complaint, do we know, is this about 2016 and Russia, is this about Chelsea Manning and previous secrets, is it about something else?

PROKUPECZ: It would seem to be before the Russia stuff. And it's not related to Mueller. At least there's no -- because it's out of the Eastern District of Virginia. The Mueller grand jury sits here in Washington, D.C. So we believe it has to do with something else.

[12:10:07] We know that the FBI has been trying so hard to build a case, a criminal case, against Julian Assange for years for other activity that we may not even be aware of. The FBI in New York has been trying to build a case. But, obviously, he's a very different figure now than what he was before Russia, before the 2016 election. That changed everything in terms of how the U.S. government viewed him. You know, there was concern about First Amendment protection for him. But ever since the Russia stuff, and perhaps even before then, there seemed to have been a shift in the thinking in terms of what Julian Assange was actually doing and how he was hurting this country.

KING: And you mentioned this filing, Eastern District, at least no fingerprints to Mueller at all, a separate jurisdiction, but we do know in his indictment against the Russian companies, Mueller filed an order to expand their interference in the 2016 presidential election, the conspirators transferred many of the documents they stole from the DNC and the chairman of the Clinton campaign to Organization 1.

PROKUPECZ: That's right.

KING: Organization 1 being WikiLeaks. So there is -- that does connect at some point. The question is, what's this mystery?

PROKUPECZ: So it is a question. We don't know. Look, we know -- look, Mueller has definitely been looking at WikiLeaks and he could be facing the same problems that previous DOJ administrations have been -- have faced in terms of whether or not you can bring charges against Julian Assange.

KING: Is he a journalist? If he gets --

PROKUPECZ: Right, is he a journalist, because there are a lot of -- right, "The New York Times," we did, other news agencies all benefitted from the information that he was able to get. So -- but it's different now. This Department of Justice, this president obviously viewed him differently and it seems that they have, you know, they have at least in some way brought changes against him that they thought -- that they at least think can stand.

KING: That -- and we'll leave it for another day, but that's another interesting question because the Justice Department clearly thinks differently. The secretary of state clearly thinks differently.


KING: Remember, candidate Donald Trump was encouraging WikiLeaks to do this.


KING: Kept saying, please, please, you got more -- you go more, bring more.

ZELENY: Very publically. I mean screaming from the rafters, basically, from a campaign rally. So that's why this is so interesting.

PROKUPECZ: They could also be -- you know they could be -- quickly, just that they could be bringing charges against him to try and get him to negotiate, right?

KING: Right.

PROKUPECZ: I mean I think the U.S. government perhaps maybe at some point does want him to cooperate because they want to know, what was the Russia outreach here? Did you have communications with Russians? Did you know the Russians were doing this? He claims he doesn't. There always been this question within -- within the FBI --

KING: They come to you. You come to them.

PROKUPECZ: Right, who came to who, right.

KING: Are you currently on the payroll?

PROKUPECZ: He claims he didn't know it was Russians.

KING: We shall see. All right, we'll keep tracking the mystery. We like mysteries.

PROKUPECZ: That's right.

KING: Up next, frustration in Florida as the Senate race moves to a hand recount and two minutes renders a week of work meaningless.


D'ALESSANDRO: The manual numbers will be added onto the second unofficial results.

REPORTER: Wait, so it's as if we never did a machine recount?

D'ALESSANDRO: Basically I just worked my (EXPLETIVE DELETED) off for nothing.

REPORTER: Understood.


[12:16:55] KING: To Florida and today Broward County moving quickly on the now manual recount underway in Florida's U.S. Senate race. The automatic machine recount increased Republican Rick Scott's margin by 41 votes to 12,603. The path to victory for the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson, was already narrow. Now even more so after several defeats in the courtroom.

CNN's Ryan Nobles tracking all this of live in Tallahassee.

Ryan, Nelson's chances seem to be getting slimmer. How slim?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no doubt about that, John. In fact, it seems like with every passing moment the chances that Bill Nelson could win this Senate race seem to be slipping away. That hand recount is already starting across the state.

The big county that we've been tracking is Broward County and that's because there was a significant number of under votes and over votes in Broward County. And the Nelson team has been arguing for quite some time that the statistical anomaly between the number of votes cast in the Senate race was much smaller than the number of votes cast in the governor's race. But the early review of this process down in Broward County, as they take a look at each and every one of those over votes and under votes is that most of those were ballots where the people voting just did not select either candidate. And that is not good news for Nelson. He is not making up any type of

significant ground in Broward County. And if he can't do it in Broward County, there's really no other county, other than Miami-Dade, which seems to be tracking very similar to how they did on election night that he can make up that type of ground.

So I think the conversation now, John, becomes about when does Bill Nelson and Andrew Gillum officially concede in this race because we should also point out that Andrew Gillum, the gubernatorial candidate, who didn't even qualify for the hand recount, has yet to concede. When are Democrats ready to move on and say that this race is officially over?

KING: We'll keep track of that today. And then the big question, of course, will Ryan Nobles be home for Christmas? We will see how that one plays out as well. Hang in there, my friend.

Breaking news, a federal judge has ordered the White House today to reinstate CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta's press pass. CNN, if you've been following this, has filed a lawsuit alleging Acosta's First and Fifth Amendment rights were violated. That after the White House suspended his pass following a combative, verbal exchange with the president.

CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider is live outside the courthouse in Washington.

Jessica, at least a temporary victory for CNN today and for the news media. What are we hearing from the White House?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's exactly right, John. You know the judge here issuing that initial and immediate victory, telling the White House that they have to reinstate Jim Acosta's hard pass. But what's important to note here is that the judge stressed that his ruling was, in fact, very limited. He said that he wasn't issuing this ruling on broad grounds. Instead, it was very narrow in talking about the Fifth Amendment due process rights that Jim Acosta had and the judge saying that those rights were likely violated in that Jim Acosta didn't receive proper notification that his press pass was being revoked and also didn't have adequate opportunity to challenge the fact that it was being revoked. In fact, the judge stressed that, saying in his ruling, he said, I have not determined that the First Amendment was violated here or what legal standard would apply.

[12:20:03] Now, the White House responded shortly thereafter. And in their statement they mischaracterized what the judge had said in that ruling. The White House either ignoring it or completely mischaracterizing it. Here was the statement from Press Secretary Sarah Sanders just a little while ago. Sanders putting it this way. She said, today the court made clear that there is no absolute First Amendment right to access the White House. In response to the court, we will temporarily reinstate the reporter hard pass. We will also further develop rules and processes to ensure fair and orderly press conferences in the future. There must be decorum. So in addition to misstating really what the judge ruled here, the

White House indicating that it will move forward with this litigation. This will not be the end of the story here. But in the meantime, Jim Acosta's press pass reinstated, or it will be soon. And Jim Acosta plans to be at the White House later today.


KING: Jim gets to go back to work. And as you just pointed out, another taxpayers paying for those misstatements from the White House. It's a wonderful world.

Jessica Schneider, thank you very much.

Up next, a potential challenger for speaker of the House could divide the Congressional Black Caucus.


[12:25:54] KING: Welcome back.

An intriguing face-to-face today between Nancy Pelosi and a Democratic colleague thinking about challenging Pelosi in the race to be the next speaker of the House. Congresswoman Marcia Fudge says Pelosi requested the meeting. As Fudge weighs her decision, input from fellow members of the Congressional Black Caucus is critical. The CBC is gaining members in the new congress and wants more power in the leadership ranks. But many Black Caucus members are also Pelosi loyalists. This is Congresswoman Val Demings of Florida. She tells "Politico" it's about experience, not race or gender. Quote, I just think you put your best generals forward, your battle-tested generals. And I think that Leader Pelosi -- that is Leader Pelosi. We have to realize that we're at a point right now where we're not the girls club or the black club or the Hispanic club.

CNN's Manu Raju joins us live from Capitol Hill with the latest.

So Nancy Pelosi says, Marcia Fudge, you're thinking about challenging me, let's chat. Marcia, I'm sorry, let's chat.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And they met for about 45 minutes. This was actually -- the meeting was actually set up by Elijah Cummings, who is a Maryland Democrat and, according to Pelosi's office, he set up this face-to-face meeting. Pelosi's office said afterwards it was respectful and candid conversation. Fudge, so far, has not commented yet. We'll see what she has to say. She has said that she will not make a decision about whether to run until after Thanksgiving.

Now, all of this is a math issue at the end of the day, whether or not Nancy Pelosi will have enough votes ultimately on the House floor to be elected speaker. She's almost certain to have enough votes in that late November vote by the Democratic caucus to nominate her to be speaker, even if she were to run against Marcia Fudge, Pelosi would almost certainly defeat her in that nominating contest. But what does Fudge do afterwards? All sorts of questions are now

lingering. And also the questions about whether or not the CBC, the most powerful caucus within the larger House Democratic Caucus, how they may ultimately come down on a Marcia Fudge candidacy.

Now, I had a chance to speak to a number of people in the CBC, including the chairman, and it's very clear that the members in that own Congressional Black Caucus, they're very divided.


REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D), CHAIRMAN, CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS: There's nothing that Marcia could run for that I wouldn't support her, because she's qualified. And I'm not anti-Pelosi. Not at all. I consider the speaker to be a very talented speaker, a remarkable speaker. And I consider her to be a friend. But I'm closer to Marcia. So if Marcia ran, that's where I would be.

REP. HANK JOHNSON (D), GEORGIA: Well, I'm -- I'm a firm Nancy Pelosi for speaker guy. She's led us through the wilderness, out of the desert and into the majority.


RAJU: Now, again, the question is, how does this ultimately play out? At least 17 Democrats have signed on to a letter saying they would not vote for Nancy Pelosi for speaker on the floor. But Pelosi is saying that she's prepared to go forward with a floor fight, potentially even if the numbers may not be there. And one congressman, Raja Krishnamoorthi from Illinois, who supports Nancy Pelosi, told me this, John. He said a fight over her speakership on the floor would be, quote, amount to would be -- the nuclear option would, quote, be mutually ensured destruction that would lead to us losing the majority potentially on the first vote of the new Congress.


KING: A lot of drama. Manu Raju tracking it live on Capitol Hill.

Let's bring it into the room.

Jackie Kucinich joins the conversation.

This is -- it's remarkable because Nancy Pelosi is such a historic figure. Some people forget that. She is the highest ranking woman in the American government. She was the first elected female speaker. Now she wants the job back. There's the generational push. There's some ideological push. But that this is playing out so publicly, and I guess smart on her part, right? You want to challenge me, you're thinking about challenging me, let's have a little chat.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE DAILY BEAST": Well, right. And she has been very much in the forefront saying that she is going to fight for this. And she's benefiting because the other side doesn't have a plan. They have letters. They have, you know, enough members that might make this difficult for her, but they don't have a candidate. There's no one that has support. There's -- she doesn't have a rival yet.

[12:29:52] And it doesn't seem like she will because then when you take into her fundraising prowess, her member services. I mean if you talk to members who have been there for a while, she's legendary for things like that. She knows this caucus. So if someone does mount, I think it's going to be hard