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Stone Pleads Not Guilty; Whitaker on Mueller Investigation; Intel Chiefs Contradict Trump. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 29, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:05] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Not guilty is Roger Stone's plea today as he joins the long list of Trump insiders indicted by the special counsel. The acting attorney general, meanwhile, raises eyebrows by saying he believes Robert Mueller is close to wrapping up.

Plus, should we believe the president or his top intelligence officials? The intel team is up on Capitol Hill and contradicting the boss on North Korea, ISIS, Iran, climate change and more.

And, two new books out today paint fresh pictures of Trump White House chaos. One is by a former West Wing aide who says he helped the president with an enemies list. The book reviews included a scathing presidential tweet.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": He was nothing more than a gofer.


CAMEROTA: He signed a non-disclosure agreement. He is a mess.

SIMS: There it is.

Look, I knew that that was a possibility when I wrote this book. I know who Jesus says I am. It don't matter to me what Donald Trump or anyone else says that I am.


KING: Back to that a bit later.

But we begin the hour with Roger Stone in court again. Stone's lawyers a little under an hour ago entering a plea of not guilty to seven separate charges brought by the Russia special counsel, lying to Congress, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering. Today's hearing lasted a little less than 15 minutes. We'll see Stone in court again, though, on Friday, 1:30 p.m., in front of his trial judge, Judge Amy Berman Jackson. The normally talkative Stone, dressed in a blue suit, blue tie and a blue pocket square, said nothing. Not on his way in or on his way out of court.

CNN's Sara Murray is outside the courthouse in Washington.

Sara, the government here proceeding with its case, say it's a complex case. Take us inside the proceeding and what that means.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean it means it could be a while until we get to trial. But as you pointed out, it won't be long before we see both sides in court again. This was just the magistrate judge who was here to do the arraignment. They were all in and out within about 15 minutes. Roger Stone's attorney's officially entered his not guilty plea, but both sides are due back in court on Friday afternoon. That's when we're going to get a better idea of what issues, I think, are going to be at play in this case as both sides prepare for trial.

Now, we expected Roger Stone to come out and speak to the cameras after this appearance in court. He did not do so. He appeared to flash a Nixon victory v sign from some people who were able to snap photos on his way out, and then he took off.

There were a number of protesters here chanting "traitor," chanting "lock him up," playing "Back in the USSR" on a speaker. So it was certainly an interesting reception for him here at the courthouse.

But as you pointed out, John, we don't know all that much about what this case is going to look like. There's still a possibility, too, that prosecutors could bring additional charges against Stone. So we'll see what's ahead in the coming weeks and months.

KING: We'll see what's ahead. And maybe we learn a little bit more when we get that Friday hearing with the trial judge.

Sara Murray outside the courthouse on this important day. Appreciate that.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Jackie Kucinich with "The Daily Beast," CNN's Jeff Zeleny, CNN's Evan Perez, and Seung Min Kim with "The Washington Post."

This is a perfunctory hearing. You come in, you say not guilty and you're gone. Roger Stone known as somebody who likes to talk. Do we read anything into that? Is that just his legal team saying not today?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I think he's finally listening to his legal team. I texted one of the members of the legal team and he said there was no need to -- for him to come out to the cameras.

And -- but, you know, one of the things that I think we're about to see is a change in the way Roger Stone is going to treat this. He's been sort of -- we're used to seeing a little bit of the circus that follows him around. But these are serious charges. I mean these are seven counts. There's obstruction, there's witness tampering, false statements. And at some point, you know, I think his legal team believes that they've got to treat this very seriously.

This judge that he's going to see on Friday, Amy Berman Jackson, doesn't suffer (ph) fools (ph). She will not put up with the circus. So I think they realize that they have to now -- they have a fight up against them with the government here because there's tons of evidence, as you saw, in this indictment.

KING: Right, important point because he calls this a process crime. He says, well maybe he said some things to Congress that weren't true, but he didn't mean it or his recollection was bad. But the key point in the indictment, beyond lying to Congress, which Robert Mueller has made clear, you lie to him or you lie -- he catches you lying to Congress about his investigation, he is going to haul you into court. It is that the indictment says that a senior campaign official was directed to contact Roger Stone to move forward. What else does WikiLeaks know? When is this going to happen? When is it coming out? That's the mystery here. The question is, when do we learn or will -- when -- how long does it take in court to learn who directed whom to contact Stone?

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE DAILY BEAST": Well, we saw Sarah Huckabee Sanders dodge that question many, many times last week. And we've also seen the White House try to separate themselves from Roger Stone, as happens with officials that are indicted who are connected to this White House. It seems to be a pattern.

You know, I think with Stone, they said, oh, he's been a consultant to lots of people. We know that Roger Stone has been with Donald Trump as his political adviser for many decades at this point.

[12:05:00] KING: At this point.

I want to play here, and some of the characters involved here are characters. This is Jerome -- this is Jerome Corsi, who's one of the people Roger Stone was in touch with during the campaign. He concedes, trying to find out, you know, do you know somebody who has a relationship with Assange? How can we find out about this? What do they got? Does it help Mr. Trump? They say there was nothing nefarious about that, just trying to find out.

But listen to Jerome Corsi, this is important, the timing of one of these conversations.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have evidence or observation that suggests Roger Stone sought WikiLeaks help in timing the release of the e-mails around the "Access Hollywood" tape?

JEROME CORSI, MUELLER WITNESS: I can't prove that at all. I mean I had one call from Roger -- as I recall it, Roger disputes this -- on the day that WikiLeaks did begin in October dropping the final e-mails on John Podesta, in which Roger was essentially saying, we've got this timing issue, as the Billy Bush tape is going to be released, and we'd like to have Assange begin releasing e-mails now. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stone said that to you?

CORSI: That's my recollection.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you -- did you tell the Mueller folks that?

CORSI: Oh, yes.


KING: This is part of what we need to see as these cases proceed. And we learned a little bit about the Manafort case or the Gates case as the trial proceedings -- before they began, the pre-trail stuff. Will we learn more about this in the sense that if you remember back in the campaign, the "Access Hollywood" tape comes out in which candidate Trump is bragging about things that if they happen would be felony sexual assault. It's bad for the Trump campaign and, within hours, the Podesta e-mails come out. Was there a deal --

PEREZ: Changes the conversation.

KING: Right. Was -- was there coordination or was Roger Stone, as he says, simply a blowhard predicting things that he really didn't know?

PEREZ: What's interesting is that, you know, in the indictment that was -- that was unsealed on Friday, there's no mention of this. And we do know, certainly from talking to Roger Stone's legal team, it appears, from some parts of the indictment, that they believe Jerome Corsi's version of events, not Roger Stone's version. But this is not in there. So I don't know whether this is something we're going to see later on, perhaps a superceding indictment. We know that there's still some parts of this investigation that are -- that are ongoing, or whether this is something that if this case goes to trial and Roger doesn't cut a deal, whether this is something that they will present before the court. Again, you're right, it's a very big question, an important question that has not been -- been surfaced.

KING: Right. And to that point, Sara Murray reporting last night that this defense attorney for a gentlemen named Andrew Miller, who's a friend of Roger Stone, says he's fighting a subpoena, that they still want him to go before the grand jury. So that tells you they're not done with some of these questions here.

PEREZ: Right.

KING: The other question is, how long? And listen here, this is the acting attorney general, Matthew Whitaker. The president's choice to be attorney general, Bill Barr, the permanent attorney general, will get a key vote next week. But Matthew Whitaker's still the acting attorney general. Listen to him yesterday. He's in an unrelated briefing and he's asked the question about what does he know about Robert Mueller and the timetable.


MATTHEW WHITAKER, ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: The investigation is, I think, close to being completed, and I hope that we can get the report from Director Mueller as soon as we -- as possible.


KING: Now, some Democrats went a little crazy after that, saying why is he talking about that? It's not protocol. Let the special counsel say when the special counsel is done.

I'm going to say again, I think some of that's -- I get their suspicion because of everything President Trump has done. There's nothing in the public record that Matthew Whitaker has gotten in Robert Mueller's way. He was answering a question. He says, I'm fully brief. I think he's going to be done soon.

What was -- why was that so confidential?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I thought the question was, if he's fully briefed, has he fully brief the president? He's so loyal to President Trump in every way. Some would call him a lackey. Some would call him loyal. Pick your word here. But has he briefed the president on what he was briefed in that -- the report, or was he just answering a question and got a little bit ahead of his skis there?


ZELENY: I think either is possible.

KIM: Yes, and I think -- I mean he did say the words "I think." I mean I think he was kind of couching down a little bit.

But those comments also put some attention on the fact about what happens to that report once Mueller completes it? And that's where Bill Barr's comments at his confirmation hearing a few weeks ago really comes into focus when he seemed to signal that maybe not all of it would become public. I think the movement on Capitol Hill to make that report as transparent as possible is really interesting, what the new legislation from the former Judiciary chairman, Chuck Grassley, a Republican, Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut. And Republicans I've talked to over the last several months, over the course of the Mueller investigation, do expect transparency in this. I mean if it exonerates the president, then that's great, and that should be shown to the public. And I think if this report is obscured dramatically, you will hear from both Democrats and Republicans.

KING: I think that's been an interesting dynamic, the Republican part, seems to be growing. The Republican part seems to be growing.

PEREZ: John, one of the funniest parts of that video is you can see Chris Wray, the FBI director, standing behind him and his eyebrow sort of goes up. And you can see him like -- somebody's like, is there a trap door here we can push this guy down, because I mean nobody wanted for Matt Whitaker to be the person to be saying this from a podium at the Justice Department, and certainly nobody at the Justice Department wanted that to be the case.

[12:10:00] KING: Right. And to your point, if Whitaker has conversations with the president about this, he's going to be hauled up before Democrats, I believe in the next week or two they want him to testify up on the House side, up on Capitol Hill. So we'll see how that one plays out.

Up next for us, the intelligence community warning lawmakers that the 2020 election will be, yes, another target for Russia and other countries, too.


KING: U.S. intelligence chiefs on Capitol Hill today warning of the evolving threats facing the United States. The heads of six agencies outlining their assessments of threats from Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, to name just several. And in many cases, those easements directly contradicting their boss, the president of the United States, like on North Korea. You've listened to the president. He says, let's have a second summit with Kim Jong-un because he's making tremendous progress. Listen to this.


DANIEL COATES, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We currently assess that North Korea will seek to retain its WMD capabilities and is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities because its leaders ultimately view nuclear weapons as critical to regime survival.


[12:15:07] KING: Another example, ISIS. You've heard the president lately saying the group has been in all effects defeated. That's why he wants to bring troops home from Syria. The intel chiefs warn they're actually still plotting attacks.


DANIEL COATES, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: While ISIS is nearing territorial defeat in Iraq and Syria, the group has returned to its guerrilla warfare roots while continuing to plot attacks and direct its supporters worldwide. ISIS is intent on resurging and still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria.


KING: And on Iran, remember, the White House has insisted Tehran not abiding by the nuclear deal it signed during the Obama administration. Here's the CIA director.


GINA HASPEL, DIRECTOR, CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY: Yes, they're -- they're making some preparations that would increase their ability to take a step back if they make that decision. So, at the moment, technically they're in compliance.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: CNN's Manu Raju live from Capitol Hill.

Manu, obviously some who's on first questions. The president says one thing. His intel chiefs says another. Any other big surprises today?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the degree to which these intel chief broke with the White House clearly the main headline out of today. ISIS, you mentioned, the fact that the president wants to begin that troop drawdown and suggested that ISIS has been all but defeated. That is not the view from these military, national security experts in this room. Also by North Korea, question were asked time and time again to Dan Coates, the director of national intelligence, but also to the CIA director about whether North Korea has changed behavior in any way. They said other than nuclear testing or any testing actually not happening, there is still a pursuit for a long-range nuclear missile. There's also not really any evidence they've changed any behavior when it comes to human rights. That was according to Gina Haspel.

But, John, there are also things that they didn't say, which are also surprising, including the fact they were questioned by Ron Wyden specifically about the Putin/Trump meetings and why the president appears to have confiscated or tried to not release those interpreter's notes at the meeting. Dan Coates said he would not talk about that in an open session. He wants to talk about that in closed testimony. That's going to happen this afternoon, a classified session.

But he also wanted to discuss why the intelligence community has not green-lighted the release of transcripts that interview -- that witnesses have come before the House Intelligence Committee testified to during the Russia investigation last Congress. You'll recall that House Intelligence Committee agreed to publicly release those transcripts. But Coates would not explain why they have not allowed that to be released. He said they need to talk about that in closed testimony.

So we'll see if the members give any other -- shed any light after that closed hearing. But clearly some of the things they said in public testimony were surprising, but also what they wouldn't say publically also somewhat revealing.


KING: He's -- Dan Coates is a former politician. He may have realized he'd angered the boss enough. Let's anchor -- answer the rest of the questions with no cameras in the room.

Manu Raju, appreciate that, live from Capitol Hill.

Michael Shear with "The New York Times" joins the conversation.

It is striking. We laugh about it sometimes. But Iran, ISIS, North Korea, China, Russia. These are not laughing matters in terms of the American people deserve to understand from their leaders what's out there? What's the risks? What's our government doing about it? And, in some of these cases, what the president says is 180 degrees opposite from what the pros who are looking at this every second of their workday say.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": You know, if you go back in history, and you go all the way back to the Vietnam War, when the military and the military leadership was complicit in misleading the American public as to how that war was going, and there were -- and there was even a libel lawsuit -- a famous libel lawsuit between CBS and William Westmoreland about that. The military especially, and the intelligence community more broadly, has been, since then, increasingly determined to not be part of that kind of misleading. And this president is challenging that like no other because -- because there is pressure on these various agencies to comport with -- with his view of the world, and it doesn't -- and it isn't so.

I mean and you can throw out another example, which is at the border, where the president cites all sorts of things that are happening at the border, the latest of which is examples of women being tied up in the backseats of cars with masking tape on their mouths and there isn't any evidence that such a thing is happening. And the intelligence agencies, as today made clear, are going to, you know, try to do what they can for the president, but ultimately they want to stand up for what they truly believe is the case that's really going out there, and that's what you saw today.

KING: Including an issue that you might not think would come up at these hearings, but at the scope of the issue of climate change. They were saying that climate change is now a global and U.S. national security risk because of irreversible damage to ecosystems and they go on to say. That's what the assessment is going to say.

The president of the United States is like, whatever.

KUCINICH: He's still confusing climate and weather, which we saw in some tweets this week.

[12:20:03] KING: Just this week, right.

KUCINICH: Well, listen, I think -- and you take a step back, even the broader problem is, we're watching that hearing and allies don't know who to listen to. Allies don't know who speaks for the president because the president just says something completely different. So it's not only causing confusion domestically, internationally, there is the legitimate question, OK, which -- which -- who is -- who's running the shots here?

KING: Right.

KIM: And a reminder that the defense secretary, James Mattis, who's probably the most trusted member of the president's cabinet by Capitol Hill and by the public rite large resigned over those agreements and we still don't have a permanent nominee for that very critical agency.

KING: That's an excellent point. And so one of the issues that, of course, would come up, especially given our 2016 experience, and our 2018 experience to a lesser degree, what about 2020? Listen to the FBI director right here saying, yes, Russia is still at it.


DANIEL COATES, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: We assess that foreign actors will view the 2020 U.S. elections as an opportunity to advance their interest. We expect them to refine their capabilities and add new tactics as they learn from each other's experiences and efforts in previous elections.


KING: That's the director of national intelligence, Dan Coates. The FBI director, Chris Wray, on the same subject, said that's certainly the FBI's assessment, not only that the Russians continue to do it in 2018, but we've seen indication they're continuing to adapt their model and other countries are trying to learn from them.

ZELENY: It's almost like deja vu. I mean I think we all remember that hearing where Senator Warner, I believe, from Virginia, was asking each one of them a year or so ago -- or more than that, if they believe that Russia was complicit in this and they all said, yes, we do.

The president and the White House has never been on the same page as that. Has barely talked about it.

So here we are, on the dawn of another presidential election here, which we can see all around us, and this is a big topic of conversation everywhere but at the White House.

KING: And another -- another -- the biggest challenge of our time, when you take economics and national security and mix them together is China. The past several presidents would have said that. This president doesn't talk -- to your point, he talks about the trade relationship a lot and he says he has a good personal bond with President Xi, which is certainly a good thing -- we'll see where they get on trade -- but on some of the security issues, listen to the FBI director here say by far -- by far, when he looks at the big wall of flashing alarms, it's China.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION: As I look at the landscape today and over the course of my career -- I still think of myself as a little bit young -- that the Chinese counterintelligence threat is more deep, more divide -- diverse, more vexing, more challenging, more comprehensive and more concerning than any counter-intelligence threat I can think of.


KING: On the upside he said U.S. corporations. Took them a while, but it begun to understand and adapt to this. But in terms of government cybersecurity, corporate cybersecurity, China building fake islands in the South China Sea, we don't hear about it much from our president.

ZELENY: Well --

KIM: No. Yes, that's -- I mean all -- what the president talks about often is that great relationship and the great friendship that he has with the Chinese president. I'm wondering whether all these warnings from the agency officials this morning will spur Congress to work on perhaps some election security measures over the next couple of months. But, again, that has to get signed by the president and we'll see if they can agree on that, but --

KING: You see the recent confrontation with Huawei, the legal confrontation there. So you see the wheels of government getting there in terms of painting a comprehensive picture, a little lacking, I would argue.

Up next, Howard Schultz says he won't be the spoiler who helps President Trump get reelected.

But first, this one's a point of a little personal peak this morning. Another possible 2020 contender in Patriot nation sharing some risky shade.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, FORMER NEW YORK MAYOR: And you have Tom Brady, who has been in more Super Bowls than any other quarterback. But I just want to point out that two of those Super Bowls, he played against the New York Giants. I won't mention who won those games, but let's just say it occurred while I was mayor. Coincidence? I don't think so.



[12:28:57] KING: Howard Schultz is getting an immediate taste of democracy in action on social media, on TV, and, yes, take a look, up close and personal.


AUDIENCE MEMBER: Don't help elect Trump. You egotistical billionaire (EXPLETIVE DELETED).


AUDIENCE MEMBER: Go back to getting ratioed on Twitter. Go back to Davos with the other billionaire elite who think they know how to run the world. That's not what democracy needs.


KING: That's fun, right? The former Starbuck's CEO is a life-long Democrat who now, of course, considering a run for president as an independent. That he's generating so much attention and so much emotion is a good thing Schultz says.


HOWARD SCHULTZ, FORMER STARBUCKS CEO: I must be doing something right to garner this much attention and this much interest. (INAUDIBLE). for a home. And if Republicans have a choice between a far left liberal, progressive candidate on the Democratic side, or President Trump, President Trump is going to get reelected.


[12:30:04] KING: That's his argument.