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Graham Says Barr Committed to Probe; Rosenstein Exits Justice Department; Trump Heads to Capitol Hill; Democrats And Trump Won't Budge. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 9, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:30] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. A lot of moving parts this hour. Thanks for joining us.

The president heads to Capitol Hill soon for lunch with Senate Republicans. Many of them are worried even after the big Oval Office address last night that the White House does not have a sound strategy to end the government shutdown.

Plus, big developments in the special counsel investigation. One is word Rod Rosenstein making plans to leave his post as deputy attorney general. His support of the Mueller probe has infuriated the president. Another is court documents detailing that the Trump campaign chairman shared internal polling data with a Russian operative at a key moment in the 2016 campaign.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Why all of the secrecy? Why all the lies? And most serious, why is the campaign chairman for a U.S. presidential candidate providing campaign polling data to someone linked to a foreign adversarial intelligence agency?


KING: Back to that in a moment.

But we begin with a new and important promise today from President Trump's choice to be the next attorney general. A promise delivered just as we learned the man who currently oversees Robert Mueller's Russia investigation is heading for the exits.

A source confirming to CNN the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, plans to leave the Justice Department in the near future. That has Democrats nervous because Rosenstein has weathered the president's fury and defended the Mueller probe. Democrats also worry that AG nominee William Barr won't protect the special counsel because, while in private practice, Barr offered a memo highly critical of parts of the Mueller probe.

But Barr began making the rounds on Capitol Hill just today, including a meeting with the incoming chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Senator Lindsay Graham says Barr does not share the president's view that Mueller is leading a witch hunt.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I asked Mr. Barr directly, do you think Bob -- Mr. Mueller's on a witch hunt. He said no. Do you think he would be fair to the president and the country as a whole? He said yes, but has a high opinion of Mr. Mueller, believes that Mr. Mueller is doing a professional job, will do a professional job, will be fair to the president and the country as a whole and has no reason for Mr. Mueller to stop doing his job and is committed to allow Mr. Mueller to finish.


KING: CNN's Manu Raju live on Capitol Hill.

Manu, that from Lindsay Graham. Bill Barr is going to have to say that directly to calm the Democrats at his confirmation hearing. But this is a -- this is critical word for the president's choice.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, no question. This is going to be essential to him to actually winning confirmation because there are some Republicans who are concerned about his writings, about what he may actually view about how the Mueller investigation should proceed. And, in order to get confirmed, of course, in the Senate, you cannot lose in this new Senate more than three Republican votes. Right now 53-47 Senate. And several Republicans are watching those words very closely. So today's remarks essential in order to calm those Republican nerves.

Now, in addition to making it clear that he believes that the Mueller probe should go on, according to Lindsay Graham, he also said that he'd be willing to release the report that Mueller eventually puts together. He was willing to, quote, err on the side of transparency according to Lindsay Graham. And that's a big question going forward, too, over whether or not this report will be released to the Congress, whether it will be released to the public and suggesting that he may do that.

Now, Democrats are not going to be satisfied with that yet. They plan to push him much further to hear exactly what he has to say. He has not begun his meetings with Democratic senators yet. But, of course, next week his confirmation hearings so significant. And, John, still criticism of Barr today. Adam Schiff, who doesn't have a vote because he's a Republican -- he's a member of the House, but he's a House Intelligence Committee chairman, he told me today that Barr should recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation. So those assurances, John, certainly not at the moment calming any Democratic nerves.


KING: A start for Bill Barr but a ways to go.

Manu Raju, appreciate it, the breaking news on Capitol Hill. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, Tarini Parti with "BuzzFeed," CNN's Jeff Zeleny and Julie Hirschfield Davis with "The New York Times."

Again, Bill Barr is going to have to say this at the table. He's going to have to reassure Democrats, not just Republicans. But this seems pretty well orchestrated. You have your meeting with the chairman of the -- the new chairman of the committee, Lindsay Graham, who comes out and says -- Bill Barr obviously can't take questions until he's had the confirmation hearing -- comes out and says, he doesn't think it's a witch hunt, thinks Mueller will be fair to the president, does not plan to interfere in any way with the investigation, and the last part from Manu, quite significant, believes the report should be made public. All four of those points a pretty big deal.

[12:05:20] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think it's a very big deal. Again, I mean, he's not necessarily bound by any of this and this is not going to, you know, ease the concern of Democrats. This is going to most certainly be a partisan vote. But the fact that he is going to release it, I think that is probably the most important point -- or he said he's open to releasing it.

But, look, we still do not know how these hearings are going to go and there's still at least a month probably until the confirmation vote. So the question is, will the Mueller report come out by then, before then? The next month is very important. But certainly this gives the sense that he is, you know, going to be more of a standard attorney general, not someone who's, you know, simply going to be a lackey in that position.

KING: Right. And a question anyway because he's about to become, or at least on a path to become the next attorney general. A question all the more so because of now this word Rod Rosenstein plans to leave the Justice Department once or soon after Bill Barr is confirmed.

They know each other. Rod Rosenstein thinks Bill Barr will protect Mueller and the like.

I should note, we -- the acting attorney general is actually at the White House with the president right now. We couldn't get interrupted to see tape from an event at the White House right now.

There have been questions about Matthew Whitaker and would he interfere with Mueller. And so far, despite the Democratic concerns, there's no public evidence at all that Matthew Whitaker has interfered with Mueller.

This is one of the reasons Democrats are skeptical of Bill Barr. Again, while in private practice, he's a former attorney general from the George H.W. Bush administration, in private practice, writes a memo -- gives a memo, essentially unsolicited advice to the Justice Department, about -- so James Comey is fired, does that constitute obstruction of justice? Quote, Mueller should not be permitted to demand that the president submit to interrogation about alleged obstruction. Mueller's obstruction theory is fatally misconceived. Mueller's overly-aggressive use of the obstruction laws should not be embraced by the department and cannot support interrogation of the president to evaluate his subjective state of mind.

Now, we assume his position with Lindsay Graham was that was my personal opinion. Now I'm going to be attorney general. But if you read that memo and you're a supporter of the Mueller probe, that is a reason to grill him.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, right. And if you read that memo and you're Donald Trump, that is a reason potentially to want him to be your attorney general.


DAVIS: I mean I think Jeff is right, that none -- none of what he says to senators that's later relayed to the public through senators because he's the one who's up for confirmation here is going to bind him. Nor necessarily is what he tells senators at his confirmation hearings, although he'll be under oath and he'll be expected to, you know, to say what is the truth at the time. Circumstances can change. And I think that's why we're hearing a lot of Democrats say, OK, well, you know, that's good for now, but our concerns still stand. And I think we're going to hear even tougher questioning on some of these particular points that you mention are in his writings because Democrats really do need to delve into the details of this if they're going to feel comfortable voting for him, which I think is fairly unlikely.

HENDERSON: Unlikely, yes.

KING: Right. Right. Although I would not rule out that he'll get more Democratic votes than you think because of his history.

DAVIS: He may.

KING: If the Democrats remember when he served in the H.W. Bush administration. But he's going to have to answer these questions. That's one. That's one. This is just to Lindsay Graham. Can he convince Democrats that he means it and that he's credible?

Number two, if he does, how does the president react? We've know from day one of the administration, the president views the attorney general as his guy, his defender. Jeff Sessions is gone because of that. Rod Rosenstein took a lot of harpoons from the president because he defended and supported Mueller.

What's the president's reaction going to be if he hears Bill Barr, on his first day making the rounds on Capitol Hill, said, I support Mueller, I think he's being fair to the president, this is not a witch hunt, I will not interfere?

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "BUZZFEED NEWS": I think this is going to be a balancing act that Barr and, frankly, other administration officials have had to sort of walk in the last two years where they have to keep Democrats and even moderate Republicans satisfied while, you know, keeping Trump from sort of lashing out on Twitter, as we see him do very often. I think one thing to note here is that some moderate Republicans could

start expressing concern as well because there are vulnerable Republicans up for re-election in 2020. Tom Tillis has repeatedly sort of brought up his bill to protect the special counsel. That was something that he said he would re-introduce. So you might start seeing people like Cory Gardner and Tom Tillis also bring up some concerns with Barr or in general about protecting the special counsel.

KING: And, again, to the moment, Rod Rosenstein says he plans on leaving. Now, our reporting is that, number one, he's not going to rush out the door. Number two, that part of his decision leaving is, number one, he trusts Barr, and, number two, he thinks Mueller is past the critical points. That Mueller's now winding down, has what he needs to finish his investigation, even though they just authorized the grand jury for up to what?

HENDERSON: Right, for another six months.

KING: Another six months.


KING: So that tells you possibly not short term.

But I just want to go through some of the list here of why Rod Rosenstein -- everyone at the White House now says he has a better rapport with the president. They're back on better terms. However, he's the one who appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel. He has supported the indictment of 25 Russian nationals. He's supported the prosecution of Paul Manafort, the prosecution of Michael Flynn and Rick Gates, including their plea deals. The raid on Michael Cohen's home and offices went through Rod Rosenstein. The Cohen's charges and the guilty pleas went through Rod Rosenstein and some of that through the Southern District of New York, not Mueller, but part of the Trump Justice Department has to go through the attorney general's office.

[12:10:22] HENDERSON: Those are some of the things. And not only that, there was the reporting about conversations that Rosenstein may have had with Justice Department officials and FBI officials about recording the president and maybe getting together on using the 25th Amendment against the president to oust him from office. But somehow he weathered all of that and he ends up now, not being, as far as we know, unceremoniously, you know, exited and dumped by the president, but going out in a pretty orderly fashion, almost on his own terms, having overseen the bulk of this investigation. So it's a really interesting sort of situation he's had over these last 18 months with this president and now, you know, he'll exit.

KING: And the acting attorney general, Democrats say they want to question him now that the Democrats run the House of Representatives. Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, saying that they'll subpoena Matthew Whitaker within the next few days if he doesn't agree on a scheduling. The Justice Department has said, look, we're partially shut down. We just need some time.

Do the Democrats really think that's just a stall and what is there -- what -- do they have any evidence that Mr. Whitaker has actually done anything to mess with Mueller?

DAVIS: I think they do suspect that it's a stall, but I'm not sure that they're going to, in the middle of this whole mess over the shutdown, necessarily, in the next couple, you know, 24, 48 hours act on a subpoena idea.

And I also don't think that they have any primary evidence that he's done anything in particular. But I think there's a lot of suspicion, given what he's said publicly in the past, given what his stance has been since he's being acting attorney general, that he is -- that he is somehow carrying Trump's water in a way that he should not be, that's not ethical, and that he should be recused from these -- these issues because of what he's said in the past and what he's done in the past. And so I think they're going to continue to press to try to get him in front of them.

This is a manifestation of what they -- you know, their subpoena power now. They have the ability to try to force him to come and answer questions. And I think they're going to continue to press that.

ZELENY: It's also a sign, it seems to me, of what the White House's plan is for every request from House Democrats. They're going to slow walk it and potentially challenge it here. So it's not going to be quite as easy and clean as some House Democrats would hope.

KING: Before we go to break, I just want to remind our viewers, Rod Rosenstein endured months of harpoons from the president. Enduring it developed -- it's a little dry -- but a pretty fun sense of humor.


ROD ROSENSTEIN, DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The dictionary defines piling on as joining other people in criticizing someone, usually in an unfair manner. I also have experience with that.

Our decisions do not please all of the people all the time, in case you haven't noticed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The deputy attorney general has a few things to go back to Washington and tend to.

ROSENSTEIN: Please, can I say?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know you're laughing. You hear that?

ROSENSTEIN: I'll head straight back to Washington, but you let the president know that his favorite deputy attorney general was here.


KING: In his own way, a funny guy.

Up next, the president heads to Capitol Hill to meet with members of his own party. Can he convince them to stick to his shutdown plan?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:17:21] KING: Welcome back.

Your government, no closer to opening today than it was 19 days ago when this partial shutdown government began. Neither side showing any willingness to budge.

We expect to hear from the president any moment. He has an event right now in the Oval Office. Reporters are in there. Likely repeating last night's primetime message, a wall, he says, necessary. In the president's view, to prevent bloodshed.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Over the years, thousands of Americans have been brutally killed by those who illegally entered our country and thousands more lives will be lost if we don't act right now. This is a humanitarian crisis. A crisis of the heart and a crisis of the soul.


KING: Democrats say there's a problem at the border, but not a crisis. They blame the president for the shutdown and they accuse him of manufacturing this crisis, choosing the wall over federal workers.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: My message to President Trump and my Republican colleagues in Congress is simple, our federal workers just want to do their job. It's time that you do yours.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), HOUSE SPEAKER: Take your path forward. Take yes for an answer. Instead, he has chosen a wall over workers.


KING: Now that's the Democrats. Later this hour, the president heads up to Capitol Hill to meet with Senate Republicans. His attempt to calm them and rally them to be patient, hold firm. This afternoon, congressional leaders then come to the White House. Very few players on either side seem likely to blink at this point. Everyone's holding firm. In the words of one Republican congressman, Justin Amash, last night, quote, nobody convinced anybody.

CNN's Abby Phillip is live at the White House.

Abby, the president talking right now. The border is certain to come up in that meeting. Is anyone at the White House have an easier view of the off ramp?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It does not seem that this White House really has a clear view of how this all ends. But we are, John, on the verge of this shutdown becoming really clear in terms of how it's affecting federal workers, 800,000 people on the verge, in a couple of days, of waking up without their first paychecks. And in these meetings this afternoon, as the president goes to The Hill and meets with congressional bipartisan leaders here at the White House later today, it will be an opportunity to see whether or not that pain is having any real impact, whether either side is willing to move off their marks on this issue of how to re-open the government.

In the meantime, reporters are in that room with President Trump right now as we speak. He is talking about the shutdown and talking about this issue of whether he is willing to declare a national emergency in order to bypass Congress to build the wall. From the sounds of it, the president seems to be indicating that he would prefer to negotiate. He would prefer to resolve this with Democrats and Republicans in a room because everybody knows that if he declares a national emergency, it basically takes negotiating with Congress off the table.

[12:20:15] So we'll see more about where this all ends up and whether, as you mentioned, in this meeting with Senate Republicans in a couple of hours, the president will hear more concerns about whether this shutdown should continue beyond this 19 day mark. It's already approaching the point where we are in almost historic territory here and neither side has said anything that's indicated that they are changing their positions. The president still wants his wall. Democrats still want the government re-opened without any changes to what they passed weeks ago. And I think that this afternoon we will get the first indication about whether that's going to change at all before Friday when these folks are waking up not getting paid for the first time in weeks.

KING: Abby Phillip at the White House. Abby, keep us posted if we hear more from the president in that meeting. We'll bring you tape of that meeting as soon as we can.

And so he goes up to Capitol Hill. Challenge number one is to keep the Republicans in line. I don't want to overstate this, but a number of Republicans have started to voice a bit of the jitters. The fear among Republicans is, when that Friday comes, and people don't get paychecks, that the phones start ringing and the federal workers start saying, enough. Even if I support the wall, I want -- I want my paycheck, thank you very much.

We know so far Susan Collins, Cory Gardner and Lisa Murkowski, three of the more moderate, more establishment Republicans, if you will, have said, let's end the shutdown and we'll negotiate over the wall but let's end the shutdown. Some other Republicans have voiced concerns saying, isn't there a better way to do this? Lamar Alexander, he's retiring, John Boozman of Arkansas, a conservative, Shelley Moore Capito, West Virginia, Pat Roberts of Kansas, he's retiring, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Marco Rubio of Florida, people more traditionally conservative.

What's the -- where are we? Is it just concerns and grumbling? Mr. President, we need to see a strategy. Or are they getting to a point where they're saying, Mr. President, change course?

DAVIS: I think we're -- I think it's rumblings. I think it's certainly the first cracks. I talked with Lisa Murkowski just a bit earlier and she said during the meeting today with the president, she is going to bring this up. Not that necessarily she's going to get into a big policy back and forth, but it's the issue of people are -- they're all -- those calls are already coming into their offices.


DAVIS: People are being affected by this shutdown and this is the wrong way to go. We need to reopen while we continue to resolve these differences. And I think those calls will start to grow.

What will be interesting to see is whether -- you know, in the past, when there have been differences between Republicans and the president on Capitol Hill, when he -- when he goes to these Senate lunches, oftentimes they will hold back and not say anything to his face. And it's all very, you know, he -- the president gives his monologue and maybe takes questions, maybe doesn't. You don't hear a lot of direct pushing on the president during these moments. It will be interesting to see whether he actually gets some of that today from people like Senator Murkowski and others and whether that affects any of their strategy because right now, as Abby said, there isn't really a strategy. They may -- the president may be indicating he'd rather negotiate with Democrats than declare this national emergency, but there's no strategy for doing that because he's been unwilling to change his demands and the Democrats are clearly not accepting them.

So there is no way forward here and I think there's very little confidence on the part of Senate and House Republicans that the White House has a play here that they think can be effective going forward.

KING: And to that point, as the Republicans want assurances from the president that you have a strategy, tell us what it is. Where do you see the off ramp? What are you going to get here?

They also pick up the papers today and they read the president's not happy with what he's doing so far. Peter Baker in "The New York Times" writing that the president was grumbling that, you know, these people, meaning his staff, made him give the Oval Office address, that he didn't want to do it, are making him go to the border tomorrow to make a big play of this, but that's not what he wants to do.


KING: That will not inspire confidence in members of his own party if they think even the president's not sure of his -- what he's doing.

ZELENY: Then what does he want to do? He's in charge, though the buck never seems to stop with him.

But the reality here is, I'm told a couple of days ago he did want the Oval Office address because he liked the idea of it, but he didn't have anything new to say. That was the issue.


ZELENY: So, I mean, he can talk and talk, but there is no off-ramp for this. There was finger pointing, talking past each other. I think the question here is, every time we have seen him go to

Capitol Hill, you're absolutely right, he generally talks for most of the hour, doesn't take many questions. Most Senate Republicans aren't going to stand up in that venue at this point. But House Republicans also raising concerns about this. So, the president not necessarily pleased, I'm told, with the news coverage of the speech last night, but look at the content of it. It wasn't anything -- watch what conservative critics are saying because that's why this whole matter is happening. He was pushed into this by Ann Coulter, others. So I don't expect much relief or give from them. So there is no off ramp (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Her message last night just before this speech, she tweeted an update, no border wall (INAUDIBLE).

HENDERSON: Yes, she does that every day. Yes.

KING: She does every day. And then after the speech she said, great speech, call Congress, urging conservatives to call Congress to support the president.

Here's the question, in a normal Washington, this deal is pretty easy.


[12:25:00] KING: The president did win an election on immigration. He has every right and every reason to ask for more border security money.


KING: And part of this wall. Republicans control the Senate. They have leverage. Democrats now control the House. They have more leverage than they did a few weeks ago. So you split the difference. The president gets $2 billion or $4 billion or $3 billion and he gets much of the other things he asks for, Democrats would support, more border patrol agents, humanitarian, but we don't live in a conventional Washington. Somebody has to blink.

HENDERSON: Yes. And we live in a Washington where, as you said, this is a president that really is looking to see what Ann Coulter has to say, what Rush Limbaugh has to say, what the whole entire, you know, kind of conservative chattering class had to say. He was -- it seemed he be he was close to basically blinking on this and agreeing to this CR to keep the government open. Then he heard from these folks that this would be a bad idea for him.

And he's also -- what is odd, too, I mean, he's got people like Lindsay Graham, who are really goading him into drawing this firm line and not budging and basically saying, if you budge, this is the end of your presidency. I mean that's not very helpful to any sort of negotiation.

KING: But Lindsay Graham, who not long ago supported a path to citizenship --


KING: For all of the undocumented, now in a --

HENDERSON: And is talking about that too, yes.

KING: Now has become a total flip --

HENDERSON: Is saying maybe you put DACA into this. But that doesn't seem like it's a likely thing.

ZELENY: Is someone on the ballot in 2020?

HENDERSON: I believe so. He is.

KING: Yes.

PARTI: It does seem like the president really just has not been in deal-cutting mode. And a clear sign for that was that he was sending Mike Pence to negotiate with Democrats in the last week and over the weekend and, you know, we all know that, at the end of the day, it's what the president has to say and what he thinks is OK, not anything that Mike Pence tells Democrats that's actually going to lead to a deal.

KING: His best leverage for any deal was when the Republicans still controlled the House a couple weeks ago. He has less leverage now. But we'll see as this one plays out.

Up next, when redactions aren't really redactions.

But first, new data out this morning on what the president calls that crisis at the southern border. Custom and Border Protection figures do show -- you see them right there -- the number of families arrested for crossing from Mexico into the United States hit a record high for the fourth straight month. Border Patrol agents apprehended more than 27,000 family members. That's in December. A nearly 240 percent hike when compared with a year ago.

We'll be right back.