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Trump Airs Long List of Grievances in Ohio; Hickenlooper Asked About Female VP; Biden Team Weighs Picking Running Mate Early; Trump Backs Release of Mueller Report. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 21, 2019 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: Martin Savidge live in Christchurch, New Zealand. Thank you for that report, Martin.

And thank you for joining me. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

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

The president is again ignoring advisers and putting personal grievances ahead of policy priorities. Many see the tweets and the scathing sound bites and ask, why? The better question might be, why is anyone still shocked or surprised?

Plus, waiting on the Mueller report. This is one reason the president is so anxious of late. The special counsel said to be close to the finish line. But that doesn't mean you get to immediately see the key findings.

And one giant test of a long campaign is how the candidates grow or how they change. Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has a new take on a question of great interest to those who call themselves Democratic socialists.


JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC ANCHOR: Would you call yourself a proud capitalist?

JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh, I don't know. You know, again, the labels, I'm not sure any of them fit.

If you want to give me a label, I am a capitalist. I started 20 businesses.


KING: Back to that momentarily.

But we begin this hour with an agitated president who has spent days airing his grievances and drowning out his successes. He relishes an escalating public feud, for example, with the spouse of a top adviser. He shares his anger and anxiety about the looming report from Robert Mueller's investigation. House Democrats and their sprawling investigations get his scorn, General Motors and an American hero. This from yesterday's visit to a tank factory in Ohio to a crowd that included a lot of veterans.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: John McCain received the fake and phony dossier.

And I gave him the kind of funeral that he wanted. I didn't get a thank you. That's OK.

What's going on with General Motors? Get that plant open or sell it to somebody and they'll open it.

I have the fake news hounding me all the time.

Well, you better love me, I kept this place open.

Your union leaders aren't on my side, by the way.


KING: Why? Well, there are many theories and one known truth. This is how he prefers to conduct himself. He did it in 2016 when advisers told him it was out of bounds. He did it in 2018 when advisers told him it might help the Democrats retake the House. And he's doing it again now, in the early days of a 2020 re-election run, in which many advisers think it would be much smarter to talk and tweet about low unemployment, rather than the people the president sees as lowlifes or whack job.

Here with me to share their reporting and their insights today, Margaret Talev with "Bloomberg," Carl Hulse with "The New York Times," CNN's Jeff Zeleny, and Tarini Parti with "BuzzFeed News."

You're just back from Lima, Ohio. That was interesting.


KING: It was a day. Look, we've all covered this from the beginning. There are those who say, Mr. President, 4 percent unemployment, talk about the economy, talk about saving all those jobs in that tank factor, which he did. But what gets drowned out is John McCain and everything else.

TALEV: Yes, you know, it was really interesting. I mean he was standing there beside this tank and he's right, to a large extent. A lot of those people might not be on the line on those shifts if not for President Trump, his advocacy, his push for more defense spending, his push to keep those army tanks rolling and being sold not just to the army but to other countries with whom the U.S. has all these relationships now. Saudi, Egypt, so on and so forth.

The McCain moment, once he got going and ramped it up from where we were sitting in kind of a press part of the room, did not play well. People were not comfortable. The room was silent. The looks on their faces were stoic. He got them back in part by trashing the press, and in part by talking about his love for veterans, his concern for the VA. But the idea that the president wanted to drill down, the idea that he wanted all these people, many of them veterans themselves, to reconsider their thinking and their relationship to John McCain, him telling them they should blame Senator McCain for -- both for deaths post-9/11, military deaths, presumably in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, and blame Senator McCain for problems with VA care because he'd given that thumbs down vote. It was an attempt to completely redefine Senator McCain's legacy. And the people in the room were quite startled.

KING: His facts are off when he does this and his context is off when he does this. He understandably didn't like one health care vote by John McCain. He didn't like John McCain questioned him quite a bit. John McCain left us seven months

ago. The question is, to what end? Does the president believe this actually helps him, or can the president not help himself?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think he can't help himself. But a couple things, one, when he's talking about this, what he doesn't realize is, his audience for the VA thing, they know what the problems are in the VA. They know it's not John McCain. So the Trump advisers and supporters I was talking to really the last several days as this McCain thing just keeps going and going is that, a, he does not have one strategy, like many times, multiple strategies.

[12:05:02] He likes the fact -- he's totally comfortable with the fact that this is on the news. He knows some of his base -- most of his base may not like John McCain, so he's fine with that. It is also sort of a fill in the air space, as is the ongoing fight with George Conway, as opposed to other things, the Mueller report, the Deutsche Bank report that got very little attention this week. So it's that.

The question is, though, if he's still -- if he is still talking about this when it comes time to pick a president again, I cannot imagine that this would be helpful for him. He may lose some of the military vote. His advisers hope he'll move on to something else. We'll see if he does not. So I think it's many things going up there, but clearly John McCain is in his head, which is remarkable.

KING: Right. And he does like dominating the news cycle to the point that I've heard from people that he's complained from time to time he looks up at Fox News and sees Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Ilhan Omar on there, even though those lack coverages -- largely covered, you would think, that helps the -- it's critical of the Democrats. You think he would like that coverage, but he complains about it.

Here's a little bit more of the president yesterday here keeping up with the Conways again and going after the special counsel.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Never figured that one out. Man gets appointed by a deputy, he writes a report. You know better than anybody, there's no collusion, but it's sort of an amazing thing that when you have a great victory, someone comes in, does the report out of nowhere? Tell me how that makes sense. Who never got a vote. And I call him Mr. Kellyanne.

He's whack job, there's no question about it, but I really don't know him.


KING: I mean, if anyone wants to talk about the Conway part, be -- feel free. Be my guest.

But to the special counsel part, again, his facts and his context are wrong. But the Mueller report's coming. We're going to talk more about that. The specifics of that later in the program.

But he seems to just -- this has him ginned up, without a doubt.

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "BUZZFEED NEWS": It does. And the problem for the president is, you know, he is the same person he has been since before the campaign. He kind of says the same thing going back to the McCain stuff. But he -- he lets the public see that side of him more when he's playing defense, when he feels like he's under attack.

You know, obviously, he is -- he knows the Mueller report is going to come out any second. We're all waiting for it. And so he's feeling like he needs to be on defense, he needs to attack and punch down more than he does usually. But he is still the same person, he's just showing us more of that side of him.

KING: And his -- right, his response would be, yes, the media's annoyed, parts of the Republican base are annoyed, Democrats think I'm not being presidential. I'm president, you're not. He says this worked for him in 2016. But he's right, a lot of advisers told him not to do it.

Listen here. This is one of his White House communications directors for a very short period of time, still in contact at times with the president and people who work for the president. Anthony Scaramucci saying, Mr. President, now you're running for re-election, you should dial it back.


ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: The guy will win re-election on the rising economy, peace and prosperity and security. Why take the millstone of all this negative nonsense and put it on your neck and create a 7 percent to 8 percent headwind in your face?

You don't have to make unforced errors at this point when you're doing so well on so many different fronts.

This is the struggle that people are going to have. They're going to close the curtain. They're going to say, OK, he's phenomenal on policy, but he's a little cuckoo with this nonsense and they're going to be like weighing that.


KING: It's hard to argue with that if you, you know, study campaigns and you cover campaigns. You look at the trajectory. He's an incumbent president with a strong economy. Sure, pockets of unease, but a pretty overall strong economy. Hard to unseat a sitting president anyway. But even Anthony Scaramucci saying, Mr. President, please, but he's not going to change.

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I think it's so jarring to us because we're just not used to this from a president. I agree 100 percent with Jeff, that his base, it -- they love this stuff. They want him to be the fighter. But you can't win with the base. And I think people will -- independents and the people that he lost in the last election are looking at this and said, wait, you're spending all your time attacking John McCain. That's not going to work with them at all. And I think that he -- he seems like he's under siege. This is a guy and he wants to air all these grievances, but I think for the base it's good. And that's why when everyone thought John McCain said he likes his heroes to not have been captured, the first reaction was, everyone was like, oh, that's it from McCain. No, because as we know, there's a lot of Republicans who didn't like John McCain for campaign finance reform, for his maverick image. But that is just not going to work in a national election.

TALEV: But there was a little bit of a tell yesterday when, in the president's comments he said that McCain had wanted to put him in jeopardy, was the phrase that he used, by turning the dossier -- the Steele report over to the FBI. He said, he wanted to put me in jeopardy. And I think if you're looking for maybe a tell, if this is a tell, if this isn't just sort of normal instinctive stuff, but it is that. We're talking here about the concern over the impending Mueller report. He's thinking, McCain's in large part, not just because of the thumbs down vote, not just because of their difference of opinion on interventionism. Because of McCain's potential role in this investigation.

KING: Right. Again, it's out of -- it's out of context and it overestimates, overstates the role of the dossier and the Mueller investigation.

[12:10:04] But, to the president's mindset, you're absolutely right. If he can connect anything to the investigations, just ask Jeff Sessions, he doesn't like that and it lingers a little bit.

Up next for us, the female vice president question. How it's becoming a new litmus test for 2020 Democrats.


KING: We report, you decide. Out of context or just out of step with the identity politics of the Democratic base? Today, John Hickenlooper under fire for how he answered this question at last night's CNN town hall.


DANA BASH, MODERATOR: Governor, some of your male competitors have vowed to put a woman on the ticket. Yes or no, would you do the same?

JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, again, of course. But I think that we should be -- well, I'll ask you another question, how come we aren't asking --

BASH: But I'm asking the questions.

HICKENLOOPER: I know. I know. But how come we're not asking -- we're not asking more often the women, would you be willing to put a man on the ticket?


[12:15:09] KING: Now, after the event, some explaining from the former governor of Colorado. He told CNN, quote, too often, and I'm not saying all media, but I am saying too often media discounts the chance of a woman winning. Women I know feel that it's a form of discounting that they are less likely to win the nomination. That is what I'm talking about. People can take it out of context.

So, again, he says his point was, why do we have to have this conversation, right? Why aren't we past that? Women and men should have equal chance at being president. That's his take or at least his explanation of what he was trying to say, but that's not the world we live in, right?

PARTI: It's also just not a difficult question to answer. It shouldn't require this much spinning and coming back and trying to take -- have another go at it. And especially since he kind of had a misstep on another simple question, which was, are you a capitalist, and he was not really able to answer that as well. So I think this is just kind of a -- sort of a series of missteps from Hickenlooper that we've seen so far.

KING: It's a -- these town halls are great opportunities for the lesser known candidates, a, to get a national television audience, b, to hopefully get some things to get reclipped and circulated on social media. So let's come back to some of this in a minute. But let's -- on this question, he was asked, he said, why aren't the women asked this? Well, here's Elizabeth Warren. She actually was asked.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was wondering, would you consider picking a man for your vice president?

WARREN: I'd want somebody who's going to get out there and fight on behalf of working people. That's what matters most.


KING: That's her answer.

And let's flip this over the other way. Let's come back to Senator Cory Booker, who we played some of Cory Booker, if you were watching the show last week, very aggressively saying, look, I hope to be the nominee, meaning, that would be a guy at the top of the ticket, but he promised there would be a woman on the ticket. He says, if he loses, that means he thinks he's going to lose to a woman. Take three.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We should be a ticket that reflects the diversity of this country, gender diversity, race diversity. And if I am elected as the nominee, I'm going to make sure there is gender diversity on the ticket.

ELLEN DEGENERES, HOST, "THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW": So there would be a woman vice president?


DEGENERES: So you're -- you're a good politician. You zigzagged. You did not --

BOOKER: I am not -- I am not trying zigzagging.

DEGENERES: You did not answer my question.

BOOKER: I think I just answered your question there.

DEGENERES: No, you didn't.

BOOKER: There will be -- yes, there will be gender diversity on the ticket.

DEGENERES: All right. All right. All right.


DEGENERES: All right.


KING: I guess my question is, how much does this matter? There is a lot of identity politics in the Democratic Party, in the Democratic base. Is this a real conversation that is going to impact votes?

ZELENY: The real questions out there, I've heard a lot of candidates ask them again and again, I mean, one, I think we should say, it's super premature for anyone of -- especially, you know, for some of these Democratic candidates, for all the Democratic candidates actually, we have no idea how this is going to play out. I can't recall being asked or discussing VP stuff this early. But, look, I think it's a reflection of a couple things. One, I mean,

the -- it's just an after-effect of the Hillary Clinton loss in 2016. There are so many women voters and others out there who saw that as a lost opportunity, a missed opportunity. That is in the atmosphere. The Me Too movement laying on top of that. So I think it would be hard- pressed if -- I cannot imagine almost a male nominee not selecting a female VP. But the thought that these candidates have to go through these gymnastics, I'm not sure if they should answer it yes right away. The most qualified person for the job I think is a fine answer, but --

KING: So, to that point, I want to come back to Hickenlooper a minute because I -- there were a couple other things. You mentioned capitalism. A couple other things last night that were interesting that I want to talk about. But to the point about vice president. You've done this reporting. "The New York Times" has some additional reporting today. This conversation that is, Joe Biden gets in. His campaign knows it needs to make a splash at the beginning. And one of the things they've debating, not settled on, one of the things they've talked about is, should the announce a running mate at the start or should he pick a running mate early, who would that be?

What do we know about that and how real it is?

ZELENY: We know that there are conversations among his advisers talking about if he should pick someone early to essentially I was told, as we reported this earlier this week, to frame and narrow the conversation around, this is a campaign to defeat Donald Trump. This is not an academic exercise about what the Democratic Party should stand for on every small issue. This is an exercise -- so I was -- it was explained to me by one adviser saying, that's what this may be presented as if he does it.

But we do not expect this at any time at this moment. We are talking farther down the road. We do not know what the vice president himself thinks about this. We're -- I'm told he's involved in these discussions, but it's a classic trial balloon to me. I mean it was sort of out there in the ether. We'll see where it's going.

Several names raised. Women, of course, on top of the list, from Stacey Abrams, to Kamala Harris. One of them is running for president, one of them is still thinking about it. So, also can't be too presumptuous here for the vice president, and that is the fine line.

KING: Too presumptuous or undermine your own argument. Stacey Abrams is a fascinating new face in the Democratic Party. I have no idea if she's qualified to be president. Does anybody? That doesn't mean she couldn't be. Get out and run. That's what we do. Barack Obama won with limited experience. Donald Trump won with zero elected experience. But you -- but you saw it in the campaign before you --

ZELENY: The campaign because the experience.

KING: Before you had that -- that becomes -- you get -- they get tested on the debate stage. Picking Stacey Abrams, outside of the box with no campaign -- that would be an interesting one for the vice president. We shall see. I suspect (INAUDIBLE).

[12:20:08] HULSE: I just think this is going to be a very different Democratic primary than we've ever seen before. Everything has changed due to Trump. You have candidates who are being asked to declare whether they're going to pack the Supreme Court, add to the Supreme Court, and get rid of the filibuster. These are the --

TALEV: The Electoral College.

HULSE: Yes, these are not -- are not unusual things that come up in a campaign. So I just think we're in for something different.

I think Governor Hickenlooper, who's a pretty relaxed guy, is starting to learn what real national media attention is like.

KING: And you saw, to that point, we played at the top of the show, he had this exchange with Joe on "Morning Joe" last week where, are you a capitalist, and he just wouldn't answer the question. And it was difficult to watch. He just wouldn't answer the question because Democratic socialists have this grind against capitalism. He answered it last night. He said, I'm a capitalist. I founded more than 20 businesses. Another place where it's risky, he takes issue with the Democratic base, is Medicare for all. He says, no, not the way to do it.


JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), PRESIDENT CANDIDATE: I don't agree with Senator Sanders the single payer approach that you're going to have Medicare for all. I want to support any way we can get to universal coverage. That should be our first and primary goal. It should be our north star.

I mean there are over 150 million people that I can't imagine how we would pull them off of health care coverage that in most cases they like.


KING: That's a -- it's an honest position, and it's his position. It's a risky one in this primary.

TALEV: But it's a -- but it's a policy position. And what he's having more trouble with are the political litmus test, the quicksand, the sand traps. There are a million traps in this Democratic primary and it's barely even started yet. And it's a completely different kind of line of demarcation than on the Republican side where President Trump's mantra is like, I can't say it, OK, I'm going to say it twice and really loud. And my base is going to love it.

KING: Right.

TALEV: And these guys know that whoever on the Democratic side, whoever emerges from the primary is going to have every crazy thing they've had in the primary turned against them by Trump on the main stage. And so they're trying to walk that line. And I think some are better at having that fight internally and some don't have a good poker face. And Hickenlooper has not perfected his poker face yet. We see it in real time on his face, in her verbal stumbles, every time he starts thinking three steps ahead, if I answer it this way, this. If I answer it this way, that. Oh, my God, what do I do?

KING: That's the authenticity argument for Trump, that he does a lot of thing that people think are off the rails, but at least you know who he is, I guess.

Up next, does the president know something we don't know about the Mueller report? And does that explain his stormy mood?


[12:27:08] KING: Today, a big question about the president's mood and what's driving it. Political intuition? Insider knowledge? Spring has sprung, of course, and the Mueller report still has not hatched. The president says he's yet to see the report and he doesn't mind if Mueller's work is made public. But the president's seeming commitment to transparency is at odds with a lot of things he says on Twitter and with the White House response to Democratic investigations now getting cooperation from some in the president's inner circle.

And the president's devilmaker (ph) attitude toward the report's release clashes with his railing against the man writing it.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's interesting that a man gets appointed by a deputy, he writes a report. You know, never figured that one out. Man gets appointed by a deputy, he writes a report. I had the greatest electoral victory, one of them, in the history of our country, tremendous success, tens of millions of voters, and now somebody's going to write a report who never got a vote. So we'll see what the report says. Let's see if it's fair.


KING: CNN's Kara Scannell joins the conversation.

You came because you wanted to connect the greatest electoral victory to deputy names -- never mind. What do we -- the anticipation has been that this is coming soon. You see all sorts of evidence and people leaving the special counsel's office, his prosecutors telling a judge we're busy this week. Some people have seen people leaving with boxes that let's -- you would think they're winding down. Can we connect those dots or are those just hints but we're not sure?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN REPORTER: I mean I think some of those are dots we can connect. I mean Andrew Weissmann was one of the top prosecutors there. He was also the head of the Enron task force back in the early 2000s, the big corporate fraud crackdown. And he left that team before it was officially over, but after they had indicted everyone important, you know, including the former chairman and CEO of Enron. You know, the head of the FBI detail that was working on Mueller's team left to run the Richmond office. So these are power players within the office that we're seeing leave. And I think those are fair dots to connect.

Some of them, it's not clear. I mean this post -- asking for a postponement to respond to a "Washington Post" request could be for a number of different reasons. But these are certain dots that I think are very clear that we can start to connect.

KING: And so, if you listened to the president yesterday, I don't care, release it, I don't think he believes that, but correct me if you think I'm wrong. But if you're the attorney general, William Barr, you have to make a tough decision. You get findings from Robert Mueller, you don't have to release anything. The only thing, you might have to file a report to Congress if at any point along the way he was told not to do something. The Justice Department said, no, we don't want you to go there.

If you're the attorney general of the United States, what cues are you taking, if any, from the president?

[12:29:40] ZELENY: Well, he should be following guidelines, at least that's what he said he was going to do is following the Justice Department guidelines. When the president said that publicly yesterday, I think they should release it, I thought, hmm, I wonder if he's saying the same thing privately or saying anything at all, or if that was a bit of obfuscation as well because it gets it into the atmosphere, oh, the president is fine with this transparency. He has been trying to demean, discredit, any other word you want to use, this whole investigation and really for two years, now suddenly saying, I'm fine with it being a public.