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McCabe Speaks Out; Amazon Cancels New York Headquarters; Lawmakers Vote to Avoid Shutdown. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 14, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:23] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

The FBI's former number two says he worried the president was obstructing the Russia meddling investigation and that he and other top Justice Department officials debated asking the cabinet to declare the president unfit for office.

Plus, Vice President Pence publically rebukes three key American allies, accusing France, Germany and the United Kingdom of being soft on Iran.

And the deal is printed. The big votes in the hours ahead. The Senate first, the House this evening, and then the government spending bill that gives the president very little money for his border wall heads to the Oval Office. Those hoping the president will sign it are asking for help.


SEN. RICHARD SHELBY (R), ALABAMA: We'll see what happens. I signed it last night. A lot of us did. And we're for it. We're going to have to pass it. And then we all pray that the president will sign it.

SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: Let's all pray that the president will have wisdom to sign the bill so the government doesn't shut down.


KING: Not every day you get prayers like that in the United States Senate.

But we begin with a dramatic account of top FBI and Justice Department officials debating, get this, whether they could have President Trump declared unfit for office. And we also begin with this important reminder, two of the key players in this drama have major credibility issues. One is Andrew McCabe, the former number two at the FBI. He was fired last year and the Department of Justice inspector general wrote a scathing report questioning his truthfulness. The other is President Trump, who's causal relationship with the truth is beyond well documented. McCabe's new book is about to hit the shelves. And he's on "60

Minutes" this Sunday. In a clip of the interview released today, McCabe talks of his worry after the president fired his boss, James Comey. McCabe says he returned from a May 2017 meeting with the president so disturbed he says he ordered his agents to expand their investigation of Russian election meddling to include the question of whether the Comey firing was an Oval Office attempt to obstruct justice.


ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: I was very concerned that I was able to put the Russia case on absolutely solid ground, in an indelible fashion, that were I removed quickly or reassigned or fired, that the case could not be closed or vanish in the night without a trace.


KING: Correspondent Scott Pelley says in portions of the interview not yet aired that McCabe also confirms a story first reported by "The New York Times" last year, that senior officials, including McCabe and the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, debated whether the president was acting on Russia's behalf and discussed whether there were grounds to ask the cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment and remove the president of the United States from office.

The president lashed out on Twitter. And as he almost always does, twisted some facts as he vented his anger. Disgraced was the label the president gives McCabe, accusing him of protecting Hillary Clinton from tough scrutiny and then of political motivations in the Russia investigation. McCabe is a disgrace to the FBI and a disgrace to our country, the president tweets. McCabe says he has contemporaneous notes and other memos that he insists support his account. And we do know that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has those materials.

CNN's Laura Jarrett joining us from the Justice Department.

Laura, just when you go through this, top Justice Department officials in room saying, should we try to get the president removed from office. Wow!

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: It's a stunning account, truly extraordinary, John. And it's interesting, McCabe is not just painting turmoil in general, but he's also really getting to the heart of the matter and how the firing of FBI James Comey really triggered a sea change at the FBI. And officials were worried about President Trump's motivations, namely whether he was working on behest of Russia, as we have previously reported.

But McCabe has done more. He's also gone a step further, describing, apparently to Scot Pelley, his discussions with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who's been overseeing the special counsel's Russia investigation, namely the fact that he says Rosenstein raised the idea of wearing a wire to record the president and also they discussed, potentially, potentially recruiting cabinet members to invoke the 25th Amendment to remove the president from office.

Now, the Justice Department is pushing back on behalf of Rosenstein, in a new statement today, John, saying in part this. As the deputy attorney general previously stated, based on his personal dealings with the president, there was no basis to invoke the 25th Amendment, nor was the DAG, meaning Rosenstein, in a position to consider invoking the 25th Amendment.

So they're not saying that it wasn't discussed, but it was never carried out, it was never serious. And they also underscore the fact that McCabe was removed from the investigation ultimately and that he's been under investigation for lying to investigators.

[12:05:04] But as you mentioned, John, McCabe has kept notes.

KING: Has kept notes. And we will see as this drama continue to play out how those factor in.

Laura Jarrett live at the Justice Department, appreciate it.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Abby Phillip, "Politico's" Eliana Johnson, CNN's Evan Perez, and Julie Hirschfeld Davis with "The New York Times."

I want to start with you because, again, there are credibility questions about two of the major players here, the president of the United States and Andrew McCabe. And it's also interesting, if you -- if you -- the Rosenstein statements are very lawyerly. He does not deny these conversations took place. He says Andy McCabe has some of the facts wrong, some of the memory wrong, and he says he was never going to invoke, that would be Jeff Sessions, not him. So Rosenstein's not saying this never happened, he's just saying McCabe's not getting it just right.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, he's saying essentially that we never actually went through with the 25th Amendment discussion. That we never -- he never approached anybody, including the attorney general, who's right upstairs from him, and that he never actually wore a wire or authorized anyone to wear a wire to record the president. I mean this is still a very extraordinary thing to have happen.

I mean one of the things that you have to underscore here too is that Andy McCabe is still under investigation. And so the idea that he's going out and telling these stories, some of which, you know, it depends on how you read it. I mean he had to get review from the Justice Department, from the FBI, in order to tell some of these stories. There are certain things he was not allowed to put in the book. Not clear whether he's sticking by all of that, whether his account to "60 Minutes," to CBS is exactly along those lines.

So he's still under criminal investigation. He is practically daring the Justice Department to charge him at this point. I mean it's a very risky thing that he's doing. But, you know, look, he's take -- he's ripping the scab off of all of the stuff that the FBI was going through in early 2017. And we'll see, you know, what Mueller tells us about whether Comey and McCabe were right to be suspicious of the president or not.

KING: And to that point, "The New York Times" was first to reported this other news organization's matched some of that reporting. But this is somebody on camera who was the number two and then the acting FBI director.


KING: And listen, to your point here, listen to how Andrew McCabe describes it. He says his boss gets fired, he meets with the president, he says his inkling is that something weird is happening here and he worries the president might actually -- the president of the United States might actually be taking actions on behalf of the Russian federation.


ANDREW MCCABE, FORMER ACTING FBI DIRECTOR: I was speaking to the man who had just run for the presidency and won the election for the presidency and who might have done so with the aid of the government of Russia, our most formidable adversary on the world stage. And that was something that troubled me greatly.


KING: And so, like all of this, this is sort of in the eye of the beholder. If you're a Democratic Trump critic, you watch this and you say, there is a credible guy who was a law enforcement official, maybe wasn't always truthful about some other things, but here's a guy who knows the beat. He expands this counter-intelligence investigation because he's worried about the president. If you're on Trump's side, you say, that's the deep state. That's the deep state right there. He has a meeting with the president. He doesn't like the way it goes and he expands his investigation of the president.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I think in so many ways we know pretty clearly that in the first few months of this administration, the president's behavior was really alarming to a lot of people in his own government. That he was doing things and saying things that really set off alarm bells for a number of people. McCabe is not obviously the only person who's come out publically and said that.

But, from President Trump's perspective, he's looking at this situation and he's seeing basically a conspiracy within the Department of Justice against him. And that's why he, for so long, didn't trust the people in that building. He harbored a lot of suspicion about people within his own government. And I think that persists to this day, although it has lessened in recent months. But you can see both sides of this story.

But there's no question, President Trump was doing things that caused a lot of people's concern. But, at the same time, you hear a lot of his allies saying he was doing those things because he didn't really understand how the government worked, that he didn't get what he was not supposed to do. I think the question for everyone now is, how much of a learning curve

are you going to give the person who is the president of the United States and for how long? And I think, you know, it's not for me to say, but these are the facts that are out there. The president definitely did some things that caused concern. And his allies are basically saying, well, he just didn't know.

KING: But to the point that Evan notes about ripping the scab off. We know this is the kind of stuff -- and you can read in the president's tweets today, this is what gets under his skin.

ELIANA JOHNSON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "POLITICO": Absolutely. And as with many things, the president, he's completely transparent about what it is that bothers him about this. But I think the heart of the question gets to, was the FBI here exceeding the bounds of its authority and acting properly, whatever the political views in that people in that organization were? Is it in the FBI's rightful authority to open an investigation on a duly elected president? And, if so, how should that investigation be conducted? And those questions, I don't think, have been settled yet, but certainly the Trump presidency has opened them and they're brand-new questions that I don't think the country hasn't grappled with. Probably a question for -- that Congress will have to decide, how should the FBI handle an issue like this, or should it not handle an issue like this at all?

[12:10:25] KING: Right. And we assume that the fact finder here who has the most credibility is Robert Mueller, himself a former FBI director. But we don't know how much of -- if he goes through these questions and answers your question, was that a rightful escalation of the investigation, who should we believe, was the president just new on the job and thinking he could do whatever he wanted to and the lawyers are trying to push him back into the normal box or was the president trying to deliberately obstruct justice?

If Mueller doesn't reach a conclusion that says the president did this and it's murky, we may not see it, right?

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Right. I mean we do know that Mueller has the information that we reported on last year about this memo and this conversation about the 25th Amendment, the reasons that McCabe says that he opened the counter intelligence investigation, but we don't know what the conclusion is going to be.

Now, obviously, Mueller has a lot more context for this than any of us do and probably then the White House does at this point in terms of the visibility that he has into what was going on at that time, what the FBI knew, and what the other information was that what -- that had come to the fore. He's going to sort of put that together, you know, as a zig saw puzzle. And I think the hope is that he comes out with something that's conclusive.

But, you're right, if he doesn't, what you have is this ironic situation where you have the president, suspicious of his own government, believing that people are out to get him. And, perversely, the fact that he thought that, and that he acted in those ways actually furthered that very dynamic where you have McCabe saying, well, I just saw the president fire the FBI director. I better do something that absolutely solidifies this investigation that I think needs to go forward in case he does the same thing to me.

So, you know, you have this push/pull that's essentially feeding on itself between a president whose suspicious of his own people and an FBI official who sees that that could actually undermine the work of the government.

KING: And as we saw from the Comey book rollout, and other book rollouts, the president tracks these things. So today is day one. Today is day one as this plays out. More from the "60 Minutes" interview. There are other interviews in the works. So we're opening, to your point, peeling a scab off, opening a new chapter, pick your term, strap in, it's going to be interesting.

Up next for us here, Amazon dumps New York and says certain politicians are to blame.


[12:16:37] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

KING: It's major breaking news today in the tech and business world. Amazon says it is now cancelling plans to build a second headquarters in New York City. The company is blaming some local and state politicians.

Let's get right to CNN's Cristina Alesci in New York with the details.

Another big deal.

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN POLITICS AND BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Amazon is pulling out of its plan to build one of its headquarters here in New York in a statement basically blaming local and state politicians who were very vocally opposed to the deal.

This is a huge blow to both the New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, and Governor Cuomo, who were argued in favor of this, in economic development. And the most controversial part of this deal were the tax incentives that the city was offering, $3 billion in total. And what the mayor and the governor were arguing was that that $3 billion was well worth it because it would -- Amazon being here in New York would generate at least $27 billion in revenue and bring the largest number of jobs in the state's history, 25,000 jobs at an average salary of $150,000.

But, still, there was a lot of opposition here in New York from state and local officials basically saying Amazon had not done enough. They wanted the company to really invest in transportation here, maybe alleviate some of the housing -- the increasing housing costs. That was a real concern to the community.

And, look, being from New York and seeing how tech has impacted the city, a concern among young voters here has been whether or not New York would come -- become the next San Francisco and be, essentially, too expensive for anyone young and starting out to be in the city. And you saw the way that that voter frustration is really played out in elections here in New York, resulting in Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being elected.

So, John, this is both a political and a business story. We'll have to see, you know, what happens from here. But Amazon really making the decision for New York City.

KING: It's -- it is a big one. Keep us posted, Cristina, if there's more reaction from the mayor or from the governor as we go through this. Appreciate the reporting there.

Matt Viser with "The Washington Post" joins us now, too.

And this is -- this is going to be proof to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that she's having success. This was before -- Amazon said last week it was reconsidering. So this is -- we don't have reaction yet from her -- we're trying to get it -- to this decision. But here's what she said before when Amazon said it was reconsidering. It think it's really exciting. I think it's really encouraging to show that the government -- all of us primarily have a responsibility to communities that we directly impact. When we don't consult with those communities, we absolutely need to reconsider those deals and that process.

So she's going to say this is a victory. Is it or will this -- there's already been some Democrats who say, maybe we need to find a primary challenger.

PHILLIP: Well, I feel like what's interesting about this is that rather than initiating a process in which there was communication with Amazon about what more they can do, the process is over. I mean Amazon is pulling out. There are going to be no concessions here for the community that she is concerned with.

So I think you'll see a lot of people, even other Democratic politicians, saying, why throw the baby out with the bath water, which is basically what has happened here. I think New York may have been able to get more out of Amazon, frankly, but Amazon has decided that the political opposition is just too much and it's not worth getting hit on both sides now. This is now the second issue that they've been hit on from politicians on the left and on the right. It's a lot of incoming for this company.

[12:20:12] MATT VISER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": There's also been -- I mean I think this clash probably between Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and what she represents and Bill de Blasio and what he represents and Andrew Cuomo, you know, the governor. I think that clash between the Democrats is interesting right now where so far it's been mostly theoretical, these debates. But this is very real of losing jobs in a state and in a city that sets that up over corporate interests and over jobs and infrastructure in a city.

JOHNSON: Yes, I think this is the most visible result we've seen of the power of progressive politics on the national stage. And it is certainly something I think you'll see Republicans pointing to when they say, this talk sounds good -- I think it will be used in opposition to the green new deal. The talk sounds good. Here's the consequence of this. And it will be interesting to see what the Democratic response to that is and how ably they're able to parry those sort of Republicans assaults.

KING: And you see -- you mentioned the Republicans will take advantage. You should see the tension within the Democratic Party over activism like this. And some of this plays out, some of this is because it's a local concern versus a big state concern. Some of it's she says, this is my neighborhood. Governor Cuomo says this is my state.

But listen to the governor again, this is before the actually pullout decision. Amazon said it was reconsidering. Governor Cuomo said that's horrible.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: There is no business that brings 25,000 jobs anymore. They don't exist.

We need Amazon. They've opposed it. And you want to know how dangerous it is? There's a story today that says Amazon may not come to New York. If Amazon does not come to New York, it's because of the political opposition.


KING: He calls it dangerous. He calls it dangerous. So here's a freshman congresswoman who stunned the world with her primary victory, who now is a congresswoman whose has shown she is not afraid to stand her ground in these fights up against her governor who thinks he's supposed to be the power of the state.

DAVIS: Right. And I think Eliana's right, but I don't think that the challenge is just going to come from Republicans.

JOHNSON: Absolutely.

DAVIS: I think it's also clearly going to come from inside the Democratic Party.

And let's not forget that the way that Ocasio-Cortez won her seat was by primarily a long serving Democratic congressman who she painted as part of the business wing of the party, had lost touch with the, you know, the values and the needs of working people in the district. We've heard this argument again and again from the progressives who are -- who have now won elections and are in the Democratic caucus on Capitol Hill. And I think we're going to continue to see this tension. This is just a concrete example where now the business wing folks can point to something and say, well, that's 25,000 jobs we didn't get.

Now, I'm sure she will say, we were giving too much in the interest of sort of begging this company to come and establish a headquarters here. And her whole argument is, we don't need to beg for these jobs. We need to create a whole different kind of economy where we don't have to come with hat in hand and we can have better jobs and better housing for people. But it's a very difficult argument to make in the abstract. This is a concrete case about where it didn't work.

KING: And we'll watch it play out. The issues are different, but the activism of these new, young Democratic members is very much like the activism of the new Tea Party members that we saw after the 2010-2014 elections causing fractures and tension within their own party. It's going to be fascinating to watch it play out.

Up next, Congress prepares for a big vote on a long-awaited spending compromise. You know what day it is? Any romantic Valentine Day plans lawmakers might have had in the works? Yes, well, never mind.


REP. STEVE SCALISE (R), LOUISIANA: Yes, I had some other plans before this final agreement got reached, and now it looks like I'll be spending the evening, you know, from 6:30 to 9:00 tonight with my colleagues on the House floor. Where else would you rather spend Valentine's Day?



[12:28:41] KING: President Trump, today, griping that Republicans were outplayed in negotiating the new spending bill, which Congress will vote on today. Sources telling CNN, the president, who, as we all know, fashions himself as a big dealmaker, is wondering why he wasn't consulted more. The bill, here you go, a good -- that's not even all of it. I left a few pages on the desk. Six -- 1,169 pages long. It requires everyone, Democrats, Republicans and the White House to hold their nose a little bit. It falls, for example, way short of the president's demand for $5.7 billion in new border wall funding. There's no extension of the Violence Against Women Act or back pay for federal contractors, both of those Democratic priorities.

The Senate, then the House, are expected to vote on the deal later today. Republicans know the president is mad because he's getting so little of what he demanded when he shut down the government back in December. So, as they discuss this compromise, they're trying to spin it as progress.


SEN. SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO (R), MEMBER OF CONFERENCE COMMITTEE ON BORDER SECURITY FUNDING: A government shutdown's never going to help. It hurts people. Maybe

So maybe burned once here badly, I believe it led us to, I think, a very good compromise that, again, gives the president the ability to move forward with the plan that the professionals have told us that they want and need at the border.


KING: CNN's Phil Mattingly live on Capitol Hill doing the math today. And that's interesting how the senator put it, Phil, with the plan

that professionals tell us they want and need at the border. What the professionals say is different from what the president says.