Return to Transcripts main page


Russia Election Meddling on Social Media; Trump Rages against Probe; Trump Interview with Mueller; Five Days Till Shutdown. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired December 17, 2018 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you very much.

And thank you for joining me today.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now and I'll see you back here tomorrow.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Pam.

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

The president's lawyer confirms the president was lying to you again. This time it's about Russia business dealings deep into the 2016 campaign.

Plus, a new report details the scope of Russian election meddling. Details of a social media pushed to discourage African-American turnout and evidence the Kremlin backed support for Trump carried over through the transition and the inauguration.

And new polling shows Iowa Republicans like President Trump but are open to challengers in 2020. The president's Republican critics here in Washington, well, they are, too.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I see nothing wrong with challengers. That is part of our democratic system.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is there a world in which you think a Democratic president would be better for the country than a reelected President Trump?

SEN. BOB CORKER (R), TENNESSEE: I don't know. I don't want to speak to that yet. Let's see what happens a year from now.


KING: Back to that in a bit.

But, today, the president's top lawyer again muddling the president's defense and saying it's not a crime if the commander in chief routinely lie to the American people. Again, more on that in a moment.

But, first, startling news insight into the depth and the damage of the 2016 Russia disinformation campaign. The new evidence, a pair of reports submitted to the Senate Intelligence Committee. The studies were done by cyber security firms and social media trackers, partnering with top light (ph) universities. The reports analyzed Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram and YouTube on how Russian intelligence manipulated those platforms. The big takeaways, according to the reports, the Russian propaganda effort, aimed to boost then candidate Trump, both in the primary and in the general election, also that Russian operators, the same ones now under indictment by the special counsel, sought to suppress the Democratic vote with an emphasis on African-Americans.

And the reports say the U.S. intelligence community got it right when it concluded Moscow actively worked to help get Donald Trump elected.

CNN's Alex Marquardt is here in Washington analyzing this report.

Alex, what are the big takeaways?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, what's really stunning here is the scale and detail of the efforts by the Internet Research Agency, which, of course, is that Russian troll farm linked to the Russian government that has been indicted by Robert Mueller's office. They go into great detail about what the IRA tried to do, not just during the 2016 campaign, but beyond. But during the 2016 campaign, they make it clear that the efforts were meant to benefit Donald Trump's candidacy meant to undermine Hillary Clinton's candidacy. One thing that they did, for example, was to try to boost Clinton's opponent, Jill Stein of the Green Party.

Back, John, back to the scale of this. Take a look at these numbers. These are posts that the IRA made that were part of the data that were handed over by these social media giants. Ten million tweets. 116,000 Instagram posts. 61,000 FaceBook posts and 1,000 videos. And then, on top of that, there were some 44 Twitter accounts that posed as U.S.- related news organizations that had collected around 600,000 followers.

Now, the report is very critical about these social media giants. They say that they handed over the bare minimum in terms of data, that what they have analyzed so far is only what the companies felt they had to give to the intel committee as an absolute minimum. They also say that, as a result, there are likely out there far more Russian accounts that the social media companies have not yet identified.

And then, John, one of the important points is that another person that they were trying to boost, besides Donald Trump, was WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, which, of course, we know has been connected to those Russian military hackers that were, again, indicted by Mueller. So it's a very detailed report. It's a very disturbing report, not just about the last presidential campaign, but also as we gear up for the next presidential campaign.

John. KING: That's a great point at the end.

Alex Marquardt, appreciate that. The more we learn, the more stunning it is. Alex, thanks very much.

Now, the report clarifies one central question of the Russia special counsel probe, but leaves the big one untouched. That one being whether there was any cooperation, collusion is what the president calls it, between the Trump campaign and the Russian effort. The Russian conspiracy probe, of course, just one of the 17 investigations into the president, his presidency, his inauguration, his transition team, his campaign, his charity, and his business. The legal pressure is starting to trigger some fresh Twitter rage from the president and more what I'll call head-scratching explanations from his top lawyer. Rudy Giuliani's spin? Sure, some things the president has denied for years actually happened, but none of it, he says, was illegal. In other words, the president's lawyer says the president sometimes is lying, but he's not a lawbreaker.


RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT RUMP'S ATTORNEY: He's changed his story four or five times.


GIULIANI: The president's not under oath. And the president has tried to do the best he can to remember what happened back at a time when he was the busiest man in the world. And I can't -- I was with him most of that time. I can't remember a lot of the stuff that goes on there.


[12:05:05] KING: With me this day to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, Dan Balz with "The Washington Post," Toluse Olorunnipa with "Bloomberg" and Catherine Lucey with "The Associated Press.

I know you talked to Rudy Giuliani after his Sunday show circuit. I'm sorry, I get the politics. He has to clean up because the president had to change his story about the payments to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels. The president has changed his story about how long was he talking with the Russians about the possibility of a Trump Tower.

But the president's lawyer, a guy he's paying money, I think, goes on television -- every time he goes on television he says, yes, the president's not telling the truth, so what.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He's not telling the truth and he hasn't told the truth. And, look, I think that he sees it as his job to take those harpoons, to be the person to go out there and say, you know, I'll do it. I'll get the headlines. He's -- it's not the first time he has done it. Some of those headlines have not been helpful to the president.

In this case, I think that this is just a fact-based answer. The president has changed his story multiple times on this.

Now, what he didn't say, which I'm kind of surprised about, which I think may be more understandable to the people out there who are watching, who are supporters of his, is that he did this and he changed his story and he didn't tell the truth because he was trying to protect his wife. That's what I've heard privately. He did not say this publicly. That's on that issue.

Now, the whole Trump Tower Moscow thing has nothing to do with his personal life. That is 100 percent to do with his businesses. And that, too, is an area where the president did not tell the truth to the American people. And what Giuliani is basically saying is, I'm his lawyer and I'm telling you, he didn't do anything illegal, never mind what he did in terms of leadership.

KING: And part of the reason he has to clean this up when he's asked now, part of the reason he has to clean it up when he's asked now is because the president did submit answers to the special counsel to written questions, which included, how long were you talking about this Trump Tower Moscow? It's important because the initial story, Michael Cohen said it was this way, he's now changed his story, Donald Trump said it was this way, now he is apparently changing his story, that they stopped January 2016. He's a serious candidate for president, can't do this anymore, stop.

Now we learn it went on at least through June, according to Michael Cohen. Listen to Rudy Giuliani. He says, actually, it could have been even longer.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Did Donald Trump know that Michael Cohen was pursuing the Trump Tower in Moscow into the summer of 2016?

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT RUMP'S ATTORNEY: According to the answer that he gave, it would have covered all the way up to November of 2016. He said he had conversation with him about it.


KING: What? So it could have gone -- is that a CYA?

BASH: Yes.

KING: You just say it was all of -- it could have been all of 2016?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG": Right, it's surprising that the president's own lawyer seems to be somewhat confused about some of these very fundamental and very basic questions about how long the president was talking to the Kremlin or Russian officials about trying to build the Trump Tower in Moscow. If it was happening at the height of the campaign, all the way until November, it means that even after it became public knowledge that the Russians were meddling in the election, President Trump had some sort of a back channel where he was trying to negotiate a real estate deal with them and not telling the American people that that may have been why he was being so cozying up to Vladimir Putin and talking about how, you know, he wanted to have a great relationship with the Russians, how sanctions needed to be removed. If they -- the president's own personal financial dealings with the Russians were what was leading to this close relationship with Putin during the campaign, that would have definitely changed much of the tenor of the campaign. And it's -- one thing that we still don't know is whether or not President Trump was talking with the Russians.

BASH: Can I say quickly, I talked to Giuliani about this after that appearance and what he said to your point about the fact that now they have -- they're on the record with the special counsel, he said the answer that the president gave was general enough that it covered him admitting to talking about Trump Tower up through Election Day.

DAN BALZ, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Also, if you're in Rudy Giuliani's shoes, or anybody who works for the president, you know that he does lie. He doesn't tell the truth. And, in a sense, you have to protect yourself against that. And so, you know, you broaden, you create a window or parameters in which almost anything could have happened and the story changes and you're still safe on that.

KING: Right. And so one of the stunning things about the last week to 10 days, as we get to the end of 2018, many people thought we'd be wrapping things up by now. Instead, what are we learning, the Trump inauguration is under investigation, the Trump Organization is under investigation. Mueller keeps going about Russia, the question of collusion, maybe obstruction of justice. Just about everything the president touches seems to be under investigation at the moment.

You wrote Sunday about a president who is very isolated. This is Andrew McCarthy, a conservative former U.S. attorney, often a defender of the president, saying on Twitter, remember, the president over the weekend tweeting about break-ins at Michael Cohen's office. No, it was a legally obtained search warrant, calling Michael Cohen a rat for turning on him.

[12:10:03] This is Andrew McCarthy. Sir, in mobster lingo, a rat is a witness who tells prosecutors real incriminating information. Perhaps a different word? Searches of lawyer's offices common enough that DOJ has a procedure for them. Here it yielded evidence of crimes you said he should be jailed for. You should stop.

Friends of the president essentially saying, you know, the pressure -- we understand the pressure, sir, but what you're saying is only getting you in more trouble.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": It's highly unlikely he's going to stop based on his tweeting from the last two years. But, yes, he's not just all these aspects of his presidency, but his life are under investigation. These pressures keep mounting and we're about to head into a year in which Democrats are taking over the House and there will be investigations and other efforts there as well. So he is -- he really is entering a new phase of his presidency and it's a perilous one. KING: And Mueller still wants to talk to the president. We know he got

the written answers. You could hear Rudy Giuliani trying to explain them there. Mueller's lawyers will look at them. They probably look at them a little differently than Rudy Giuliani does. But the idea, the question, will the president sit down still with Robert Mueller came up yesterday on Fox News.




WALLACE: Is the special counsel -- does he want to interview the president?

GIULIANI: Yes, good luck. Good luck. After what they did to Flynn, the way they trapped him into perjury, and no sentence for him, 14 days for Papadopoulos, I did better on traffic violations than they did with Papadopoulos.

WALLACE: So when you say good luck, you're saying no way, no interview?

GIULIANI: They are a joke. They're a joke. Over my dead body. But, you know, I could be dead.


LUCEY: That is such a Trump White House answer. Everyone has to put a qualifier on everything. You can't say anything definitively.

KING: But the -- but the tone and tenor -- and let me sneak this in. This is the question -- this is a question now about Rudy Giuliani -- and I know you have some information on this -- says, you know, the special counsel now is going back decades.


WALLACE: Bob Mueller.

GIULIANI: This is a witch hunt. They are going back now -- they're going back to 1982, 1983. They're going through business records.


KING: That's a political argument more than a legal argument to tell the Trump base, this guy's out of control. This is a rogue prosecutor. Stay with the president.

Is there any evidence they're going back to the 1980s?

BASH: He told me that he got that from "The New York Times," that they're looking into it. It's -- he knows that they are -- when I say they, I mean the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, not the Mueller investigation, are looking into Trump records, but that specific date, he said he saw in a "New York Times" report.

KING: And just to note, for all the talk of the witch hunt, the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York is Rudy Giuliani's former law partner, appointed by President Donald J. Trump. That's your witch hunt.

A reminder, Michael Flynn gets sentenced by a judge tomorrow for lying to federal investigators. But, today, a new glimpse into some of the fruits of Flynn's cooperation with the Russia special counsel. Federal prosecutors charging two of Flynn's former business partners with conspiracy and acting as agents of the Turkish government. Mueller spun that case off of federal prosecutors in northern Virginia earlier this year. Again, the Flynn sentencing tomorrow.

We'll be right back.


[12:17:06] KING: Welcome back.

Republicans and Democrats alike, especially on Capitol Hill, keeping a close eye on the president's moves today, waiting for any hints about what kind of deal he might be willing to accept to avoid a partial shutdown of the federal government. Lawmakers getting antsy to leave Washington. One senior House Republican aide telling CNN, quote, nobody wants to be here.

The deadline just five days away. That would be Friday midnight. The Senate is here in session all week. The House out of town, you see there on the calendar, until Wednesday night. Besides a disgruntled tweet or two, the president's not telegraphing his next move. A White House aide, though, just moments ago, saying the president continues to negotiate with Congress over border wall funding. One of his advisers telling CBS yesterday, the president still willing, proud is how the president put it the other day, to shut down the government if he doesn't get what he wants.


STEPHEN MILLER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: We're going to do whatever is necessary to build the border wall, to stop this ongoing crisis of illegal immigration.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And that means a shutdown?

MILLER: This is a -- this is a very -- if it comes to it, absolutely. This is a very fundamental issue. At stake is the question of whether or not the United States remains a sovereign country, whether or not we can establish and enforce rules for entrance into our country. The Democrat Party has a simple choice. They can either choose to fight for America's working class or to promote illegal immigration. You can't do both.


KING: CNN's Phil Mattingly joins us live from Capitol Hill. Phil, in the past, Stephen Miller has complicated these things with

statements like that. Democrats don't think this is on them. They think it's on the Republicans. Where are we?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's up in the air. And I would just quibble with the words of the White House adviser that said the president is currently negotiating with lawmakers about the next steps. That's just not true unless it's happened over the course of the last hour or so. Basically Republicans and Democrats have been waiting over the course of almost the last week for any word whatsoever from the White House.

What I've been told from sources that are involved in this process, is Republican negotiators have laid out a series of potential pathways to get out of this. A series of options that the president could take. There was a meeting on Friday that the president had with top staff and he didn't settle on any of the options, though he did appear unlikely to accept a short term punt, if you will, past the holidays. That's where Republicans are kind of at right now. They want to not be here during Christmas. They want to set this fight off until January, when Nancy Pelosi will be the speaker, and Democrats take over the majority. That might be kind of a more interesting dynamic in terms of fighting out the $5 billion for the wall.

The behind the scenes here is, to be blunt, that lawmakers in both parties just want this to end and lawmakers in both parties are waiting for the White House to tell them how. I think the interesting element here, John, and you've kind of hit on this, is Congress can be a very, very slow institution unless it want to move really fast. So whenever the White House decides to weigh in, whenever the president decides the pathway he wants to go, they can move very quickly, but they can't move on anything until they know what he wants. Republicans don't want to undercut the president. They want to wait for him to lay out his position. The bit question now, as the clock ticks down is, is his position going to be something that's viable over the next couple of days or is it going to be something that leads to even more fights over the next five days?

[12:20:07] The answer to that is what everybody's waiting for. And the answer to that will dictate whether or not we're all still standing here over the holidays.


KING: Well, I've got a funny feeling we'll be standing here at least through late Friday trying to figure this out, but we'll keep circling back to Mr. Mattingly and espresso's on us this week, Phil.

All right, let's come back into the studio.

You just heard Stephen Miller, who's one of the president's hard line advisers, laying down saying, no, this is up to the Democrats. The Democrats have a choice to make.

Well, let's listen to Chuck Schumer. He's the Senate Democratic leader who says no, no, no, no, no, it's Republicans who have a choice to make.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: President Trump should understand, there are not the votes for the wall in the House or the Senate. He is not going to get the wall in any form.

They just have to have the guts to tell President Trump he's off on the deep end here and all he's going to get with his temper tantrum is a shutdown. He will not get a wall.


KING: Who's going to blink or are we going to have a shutdown?

OLORUNNIPA: Well, the president took a lot of pressure off the Democrats last week when he said I will take the mantle, that I am going to shut --

KING: Proudly.

OLORUNNIPA: I will proudly shut down the government. Usually these fights over government funding have to do with who gets the blame, who is going to end up getting the public backlash for shutting down the government. The president has already taken that off the table and said it will be him. So now he's putting all this pressure on Republicans who, as you said earlier, don't want to be here, don't want to be in Washington during Christmas to figure out a way to get out of this. And right now you have people like Steven Miller who are very much enthusiastic about this fight. The president's enthusiastic about this fight. But they don't have the cavalry of Republicans in the House, many of whom are lame duck representatives who have to leave Washington pretty soon, and some have already left their offices, who don't want to have to come back to Washington to have this fight. And that's why the president does not have the cavalry that he needs in order to fight this fight against them.

KING: It's great point because they -- the question about whether Republicans have the votes anyway. They don't have them in the Senate. There's a question about whether they would have them in the House. You just lost 40 seats. The Republicans just lost 40 seats. A lot of that -- those guys don't want to be here period. And most of them aren't for the wall. A lot of them are from the suburban, moderate Republicans.

This is Ryan Costello. This is how he put it to "The New York Times." You don't have an office. You're in wind-down mode, saying goodbye to people and wrapping up, and just putting your voting card in the machine and pressing red or green. It's going through the motion.

So the question is, if it's still Paul Ryan, if the Republicans call up and said, alert, everybody has to be here for this vote, there's, what, 30 guys who -- 30 guys and ladies who might say, sorry, no.

BASH: Yes. I mean that's a real issue because of where we are on the calendar, holidays, and because of how lame those lame ducks are right now.

KING: And they have no love for the president. There's just no loyalty.

BASH: And they have no love for the president.

Now, to be fair, there are still members of Congress and many of them feel it is their civic duty, it is their duty to come back and vote, especially on the basic -- the basic thing that Congress has to do, which is fund the U.S. government. I mean that's their main job. So, you know, we'll see.

They're going to the end of the line and the president, people around the president, are still talking about fund the wall in exchange for DACA. Democrats have so far shown absolutely no interest in doing that. We'll see what happens at the end of the week.

BALZ: I think the Democrats, you know, understandably, believe they have not just a strong hand, a very strong hand. And the president will not probably give a clear signal to anybody, including the people around him, until the very last moment. I mean one would think that because we have seen these fights before, that it will end up with a short-term. But, you know, you can't say that with any certainty because you're dealing with President Trump, who is, you know, unpredictable in these moments.

KING: And a short term carrying over to next year means a short term carrying over to a Democratic House.

BALZ: That is correct.

KING: Which the president then has even less leverage.

LUCEY: Yes, but he does -- I mean I think one of the things he's trying to balance right now is sort of the -- threading the needle of the optics of the fight for the wall, which he sees as a good thing, and the potential of a, you know, Christmas shutdown, which a lot of people around him are not that enthusiastic about. So if it does punt into the new year, he can -- he can be seen as continuing to fight for what he sees as sort of a core priority.

BALZ: John, one other thing on this issue of who gets the blame. I mean I -- Democrats were, you know, ecstatic that he said so, but there's no evidence that the public really take this out on one side or the other in a subsequent election.

KING: Right. They hate them all, essentially.

And to that point as we go to break, this is a "USA Today"/Suffolk poll. Blame Trump and the Republicans, 43 percent, blame congressional Democrats, 24 percent, blame both equally, 30 percent. So this is just, to Dana's point, this is their most basic job, keep the government funded. Keep the government -- you know, it's sort of the, you know, get groceries, feed the kids, get them to school, keep the government funded? We'll see. It's going to be a long week. [12:24:51] Up next, Iowa Republican voters support the president, big numbers, but many are also open to having a little competition in 2020.


KING: Welcome back.

Iowa Republicans like President Trump, but they also seem more than open to seeing him tested in 2020. Some interesting numbers from an important, new partnership we have heading into the next election cycle, the CNN/"Des Moines Register" Iowa poll.

Let's break out the numbers. And, again, this is pretty good. Eighty- one percent of Iowa Republicans approve of the president's job performance. More than eight in 10. Fourteen percent disapprove. Strong standing for the president among the Republican base in the state that kicks off the 2020 election.

[12:30:04] If you look at it here, though, would they definitely vote for President Trump? Almost seven in 10, 67 percent, two-thirds