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White House Awaits Mueller Report; Washington Braces for Mueller Report; Kushner's Used WhatsApp to Talk to Foreign Leaders. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 22, 2019 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] BARBARA STARR, CNN ANCHOR: Wrote a memo. It did leak to the news media. This is a guy, very plain spoken, and he is actually expected to retire -- regular scheduled retirement in the coming months. That may make it a little easier for him to speak his mind.


All right, Barbara Starr, thank you, from the Pentagon.

STARR: Sure.

NOBLES: And that's it for us tonight. Thank you for joining me. Thank you for joining me all week. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Ryan.

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

It is Friday, but is it Mueller Friday? Washington on edge waiting for the special counsel to close the books and to file his report.

Plus, House Democrats say the White House is refusing to cooperate with its new investigations, which now include an allegation presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner uses a non-secure texting app to communicate with foreign leaders.

And, is it God's will? The secretary of state, the president's view of Iran, and a question from the Christian Broadcasting Network.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could it be that President Trump, right now, has been sort of raised for such a time as this, just like Queen Esther, to help save the Jewish people from an Iranian menace?

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: As a Christian, I certainly believe that's possible.


KING: We begin today with the question in Washington, might this Friday be different from all other Fridays? Mueller watch has hit its fever pitch. Plenty of reporters and pundits have pegged today as the day when the Russia special counsel will finally deliver his report to the new attorney general. The president, this morning, on the White House South Lawn says he's just as clueless as the rest of us.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have no idea about the Mueller report.

Well, we're going to see what happens. It's going to be very interesting. But we'll see what happens. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. Everybody knows it. It's all a big hoax. It's -- I call it the witch hunt. It's all a big hoax. So, we'll see what happens. I know that the attorney general, highly respected, ultimately will make a decision.


KING: Robert Mueller has been on the job for 675 days, and the president has raised hell about what he considers unfair treatment since day one, calling Mueller's investigation a witch hunt starting on day two. The constant complaints have always been about politics. And, today, in that respect, no different.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I have a man who is a deputy who I don't know, who I didn't know at all, and he appoints a man who had just left my office. I didn't give him the job at the FBI. Comey's his best friend.

MARIA BARTIROMO, FBN ANCHOR: No, we cover it every Sunday.

TRUMP: Well, wait a minute, listen, and you know better than anybody, you've been very fair to me on the -- but think of it, I have a deputy, appoints a man to write a report on me, to make a determination of my presidency? People will not stand for it.


KING: People will not stand for it at the end.

CNN's Abby Phillip is at the White House.

Abby, there's some factual errors in the president's take there, but his grievances are well-known. What is the plan at the White House? What do they expect?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the White House is looking at this situation, just like the rest of us. Multiple officials over the last several days say that they're literally, like us, watching the news coverage, waiting for something to happen. They're not sure if -- how exactly this will go. There is no precedent, really, for the situation that they are in. They're not sure if they will get any kind of heads up that an announcement is coming, and that they might very well be surprised when it comes out just like the rest of us.

But, in the meantime, President Trump is taking the lead on the communication strategy around this. And it's twofold. It is, one, attacking Robert Mueller, the person, who -- saying repeatedly this week that he's conflicted. That's something that's familiar to most people who have been paying attention to this. And, secondly, attacking the report itself. The president, in those clips that you played, suggesting that Mueller, because he is an unelected, you know, investigator here, does not have the right to put out a report and he's undermining the credibility of this report even before it comes out, even before it is sent over to the Justice Department and potentially made public to the rest of the world.

So I think that the White House is letting the president take the lead on this. And, frankly, they've been planning behind the scenes, lawyers have been going through various scenarios for what they might say given all the possibilities about what the report might say, but at the same time I'm hearing from aides that obviously president trump could weigh in immediately on social media, immediately to reporters in a gaggle of some kind, and that could throw out all the best laid plans.

So there's a sense of just anticipation here in the White House and they're just going to play it by ear depending on what the Mueller report says and how the president responds, John.

KING: Right. We don't know a lot about the timing, but we do know the president has, shall we say, knocked over the apple cart a few times in the past when the White House thought it had a plan.

Abby Phillip, appreciate that. Thanks very much.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, Rachael Bade with "The Washington Post," CNN's Pamela Brown and Catherine Lucey with "The Associated Press."

So, is it Mueller Friday?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's (INAUDIBLE). It seems like throughout this investigation in coving it there's always activity on Fridays. So the team is certain lily on high alert.

[12:05:05] But, look, we still expect it to happen any day now. I know it gets old hearing that. When it doesn't happen, another day passes, you think, oh, you know, is this report ever going to come? But if you look at all of the signs and you put the pieces of the puzzle together, yes, this investigation is certainly nearing the end. You're seeing prosecutors in Mueller's office bring in family to look at the office. Top prosecutors leaving to do other -- to do other work. Prosecutors leaving with boxes. They're clearing out their desks. The grand jury hasn't met in two months. So you're really seeing all of these signs. And then our reporting is, in fact, that, yes, it is going to wrap up any time now.

But, look, it's a wait and see approach, not only among us in the media, but also as you heard Abby say, in the White House. It's really quite interesting. You're getting phone calls from all kinds of people saying, what have you heard, what have you heard? I mean that's really kind of the state of play right now.

KING: And so the president knows it's coming soon, whether it's today or next week or whenever, in that, if you saw, will not stand for it, people will not stand for it. The president's sending signals to his political base, if this is critical of me, don't believe it and be mad about it.

Here's a little bit more, the president, again, trying to lay the table for his political argument, and he's assuming, you can just tell by what the president says, he's assuming there's some bad news for him in this report.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: For two years we've gone through this nonsense with -- because there's no collusion with Russia. You know that better than anybody. And there's no obstruction. They'll say, oh, well, wait, there was no collusion, that was a hoax, but he obstructed in fighting against the hoax, OK? Think about that one for a second.


KING: All right, he says it as if he knows that's what the report's going to say. I assume the president there is just conjecture and he's getting out there. But, you know, there was no collusion. You know that as well as anybody. Well, nobody knows -- we'll see -- let's see what Mr. Mueller reports to us.

But he obstructed fighting against the hoax. OK, think about that one for a second. Well, we thought about it for a couple of years now and watching Jim Comey get fired, and watching the constant attacks on Jeff Sessions, and watching the attacks of the president on institutions, and watching as he did in this interview and he did say on the South Lawn, the president say things that he knows are not true.


And -- and that really is an important point to make because there -- there are two major things that we are going to be looking at in this Mueller report. First is his mission, initial mission, which is collusion between anybody in the Trump orbit and any Russian. And that is an area where there is a feeling among -- and Pam has been doing, obviously, amazing reporting on this. She and I and others are hearing that there is a feeling of a sense of relief on that. They don't know, they might be completely wrong when they see the -- see the report, but that they might be on safe ground on that.

The big unknown and the big concern, frankly, among Trump's attorneys is obstruction. Not that he can -- he, the president, can be prosecuted or anything like that, because that's a whole different question, but that the language in the Mueller report will be critical of the president, all the things that you talked about, the way that he has tried to impede or derail this investigation along the way with the things that he has said and the things that he has done.

KING: Right. And just for the scorecard, for those of you who may have lost track, five people sent to prison by the special counsel, Robert Mueller. It's hard to call that a witch hunt. They can say it was -- found other crimes along the way, but five people sentenced to prison, one person convicted at trial, seven people pleaded guilty, 37 people and entities charged, 199 overall criminal counts filed by the special counsel.

You mentioned the work winding down. What's interesting, I want to get to some of the debate about what we'll see in public in a minute. But what's fascinating to me is that the president has held this grievance against Robert Mueller, called it a witch hunt on day two. And, listen here, he's talking about his election win and then we circle back to Jeff Sessions.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I had one of the greatest election victories in history. Would you say that's true?


TRUMP: They came from the valleys, they came from the rivers, they came from the cities, they came from all over. They voted in one of the greatest elections in the history of our country. And now I have a man, that because we have an attorney general who -- nobody can even believe that he didn't tell me, but he recused himself.


KING: Some grievances never die.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": No. I mean we know this president holds a grudge. And this -- the -- every time he talks about this at length, he comes back to this. He cannot get past his frustration that he feels like Jeff Sessions sort of betrayed him. And I'm not sure who was coming out of valleys and rivers to vote for him exactly, but he -- he is making a broader point. And he's been making this argument for some time, which is, he won this election, that he has a mandate, and that this is undermining his presidency.

KING: Right, and it just also tells you what he thinks of what the Justice Department is supposed to do, what the attorney general is supposed to do, which is his bidding.


KING: Not follow the facts or not follow the law, but to do his bidding.

So the question is, what will we see? Robert Mueller is required to file a report to the attorney general. The attorney general, in his confirmation hearing, said he would look at the -- look at the report, look at the regulations. We have no idea how much will be made public. Some of it will be classified because of the counterintelligence, what were the Russians doing on some of that. So we don't know.

[12:10:01] Listen, this is an interesting take from John Pistole, a former deputy at the FBI under Robert Mueller, writing in "USA Today." A public narrative has built an expectation that the special counsel will explain his conclusion, but I think that expectation may be seriously misplaced. That's not what the rules provide, and I really don't see him straying from the mission. That's not who he is.

So, whatever the results, is everyone maybe headed for disappointment in terms of after two plus years it would be nice to have as much transparency as possible, but we may not get it.

RACHAEL BADE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, and, I mean, Democrats in the House, for a long time, were saying, we've got to wait till the Mueller report to see if we're going to go and start impeachment proceedings. Well, in the past few weeks, they've really been downplaying that. And, you know, just in recent days, been suggesting we might not even see this for a long time. They're privately gearing up for court battles right now.

We just posted a story saying that House Democratic chairmen are sending document preservation requests specifically to the FBI, to the White House regarding Mueller. And there's a fear that, you know, if this doesn't come out right in that -- right away, people better not touch those documents because they want to try to get them by going through court.

But, yes, I think that folks are pretty much gearing up for the fact that we might not see anything for a while. And that's why they're getting ready for this big court battle.

BASH: And it was really interesting that the president said yesterday that he wants to -- suggested maybe he wants it to be public, which is maybe antithetical to how you would think he would approach it. I talked to a source this morning who said, that is actually the way that they're viewing it now at the moment because they think it's not going to be that but on the issue of collusion, and because he actually -- and the people around him actually realized and understand, things leak. Better to have it out there in full than -- especially with Democrats in charge of the House leaking out the worst stuff (ph).

BROWN: Yes, and -- but it's interesting, though. So outwardly you hear the president say, look, put it out there, I had nothing to hide. But my reporting is, behind the scenes of the White House, the lawyers actually have been gearing up for a fight to keep as much of the report private as possible. The concern is, as Dana pointed out, that there could be some derogatory information or information that would look bad for the president, particularly on the issue of obstruction. And so not only do White House lawyers want the opportunity to assert privilege, but the lawyers are also gearing up for a subpoena fight over the report, because the expectation is that Democrats will subpoena and that this is going to end up in court ultimately. And Democrats are also finding ways to circumvent Barr by talking about bringing Mueller to Capitol Hill. I mean they're already strategizing other ways to get around whatever Barr choses to do.

BADE: Yes, they've been trying to sort of -- Democrats on The Hill are already trying to frame this as a potential, legitimate cover-up if the Justice Department does not release this information. Barr has said that if he does not prosecute someone, he -- or bring charges against somebody, he doesn't want to release negative information, that is derogatory or in any way would hurt that individual because that is not fair, he said, during his confirmation fights.

And Republicans are really counting on him to do that. On The Hill, they voted last week for the Mueller report to become public, but they did that privately knowing that -- or thinking that Barr was going to withhold any negative information that Congress might use to potentially impeach the president, but not -- might not rise to the level of a crime. And so we'll just have to see if he does that.

KING: And you just saw the president landing in Florida. He's at Mar- a-Lago for the weekend. So if this breaks later today, I would say, watch the interwebs (ph). You might find out about it there.

Up next for us, President Trump says House Democrats are wasting everybody's time and that their investigations are, in the President's words, a bunch of nonsense.


[12:17:35] KING: President Trump and the White House today pushing back against multiple investigations from House Democrats, including fresh accusations from the House Oversight chairman, Elijah Cummings, that Jared Kushner has communicated with foreign leaders through his personal WhatsApp account, a private messaging application.

The president, who, a couple of weeks ago, you might remember, said I cooperate with everybody, today lumped the Democratic investigations in with the special counsel, Robert Mueller.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's just a continuation of the same witch hunt. They know it. And behind closed doors, they laugh at it. It's just a continuation of the same nonsense. Everybody knows -- they ought to go to work, get infrastructure done and get a lot of other things done instead of wasting everybody's time.

I know nothing about it. I've never heard that. I've never heard about it.


KING: That last part, to know nothing about it, was in response to a question about his son-in-law's use of WhatsApp. Chairman Cummings says the problem isn't limited to Jared Kushner. He's accusing three other senior White House officials of using personal accounts to conduct government business as well, Ivanka Trump and former official Steve Bannon and K.T. McFarland. Cummings even says the personal attorney for Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner has confirmed some of the details to him. That attorney, Abbe Lowell, says that is, quote, not completely accurate.

CNN's Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill.

Manu, what's the significance of the back and forth here between Chairman Cummings and the White House?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's legal and political significance. On the legal side, Democrats are making the case that these individuals, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, as well as former officials, K.T. McFarland and Steve Bannon, may not have been following the Presidential Records Act. They also say that Cummings is -- he's suggesting that this is an area in which he may pursue subpoenas over going forward. He's asked for documents for the last two months, he says, and he has not gotten compliance. So he's setting a deadline for April 4th. Just another example of Democrats trying to pursue investigations. The White House not providing information by the Democratic-imposed deadlines. So this is an effort to ask for voluntary compliance. That window about to close as we reach the phase of possible subpoenas, then will lead to a legal fight.

Now, the political side, of course, is Hillary Clinton's use of her private e-mail system. That is something that the president continues to bash Democrats over. Now, the use of Jared Kushner using WhatsApp to communicate allegedly with foreign leaders, not exactly the same as what Hillary Clinton did, but it will feed the Democratic attacks of hypocrisy, and that's something that the White House will have to respond to and the president, as you heard, as you mentioned earlier, John, saying that he is not aware of these reports involving Jared Kushner. That's something that he has done time and again when confronted with controversies says he's not aware about it -- aware of it. We'll see how he responds when he does apparently get briefed on the news.


[12:20:20] KING: And we'll see whether they cooperate or not.

Manu Raju on The Hill, appreciate it.

Laura Barron-Lopez with "Politico" joins us now as well.

You have some reporting on this issue on the WhatsApp.

BASH: Well, I was told by an administration official this morning a couple of things. Number one, yes, Jared and other officials, but in this particular conversation it was about Jared Kushner, does communicate, has communicated on WhatsApp. But a couple of things. One, that the directive from the White House counsel's office is that WhatsApp should not be used with classified information. Maybe that's a given, but that was at explicit directive. And also that if and when anybody uses WhatsApp for any communication, they must take a screenshot of it and then save it for the presidential records for the -- in accordance with their Preservation Act, and that Jared Kushner has done that. So I had not heard that before. It was an admission that he did it but

not that he's doing anything that is illegal when it comes to classified information or not according to protocol, which is the Presidential Preservation Act.

KING: Right. And this is happening at a time we see increased tension between the Democrats and the White House over the scope of these investigations. I just want to read -- this is a letter from the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, to three House -- Democratic House chairman. While we respectfully seek to accommodate appropriate oversight requests, we are unaware of any precedent supporting such sweeping requests. The president must be free to engage in discussions with foreign leaders without fear that these communications would be disclosed and used as fodder for partisan political purposes and foreign leaders must be assured of this as well. This in the context of Democrats want notes from the Putin meeting, the translators, and they want documents for other investigations as well.

Not a surprise that you see some tension early on. The question is, are they going to resolve this peacefully or are we going to end up in court or subpoenas?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": I think it's highly doubtful that it's resolved peacefully. I mean if you're the White House you're going to slow walk this and just resist as much as possible, for as long as possible. And going back to Kushner and his use of WhatsApp, he was, as Dana said, you know, taking screen shots, but we found out in what came out yesterday with -- from Cummings, and oversight, was that Ivanka as well was using her private e-mails and she, for a period of time, was not following the Records Act, you know, the Presidential Records Act.

So that's something that Cummings is going to want more information about. We know that there's an April 4th deadline that he's waiting for documents on. And if he doesn't get it, that's when he may dish out those subpoenas.

LUCEY: And we also --

BADE: So the letter -- the response you just read, I just want to say is, you know, a lot of people were sort of expecting the White House not to give over information when it came to Trump and his personal communication with another foreign head of state, Putin. But when it comes to Kushner and specifically these sort of security issues, like making sure classified information was not shared on WhatsApp, this are like the -- this is the bread and butter of oversight. And, you know, Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings has been arguing that past presidents, including Barack Obama, gave a Republican-controlled Congress a lot of information when Republicans started asking about, for instance, Benghazi.

Right now the White House has not given anything to these chairmen. And if they continued that posture, it would be a new precedent. And, of course, they can claim executive privilege, but right now they're not claiming executive privilege. They're just say, no, we're not cooperating with you, and that could have long-term implications on Congress and their duty to do oversight.

KING: Well, we'll watch these fights as they play forward.

A quick break.

Up next, the president's major Twitter policy -- foreign policy declaration that made this guy here more than a little happy.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: President Trump has just made history. I called him. I thanked him on behalf of the people of Israel. He did it again.



[12:28:46] KING: We showed you the president landing in Florida a few minutes ago. And after he landed, he stepped off the plane and made a little news.

The White House says the ISIS caliphate has been 100 percent defeated in Syria. The president brought a map to prove his point.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here's ISIS right now. If you look. So there's ISIS and that's what we have right now as of last night. That's what we have right now. You guys can have the map. Congratulations. Go spread it around. I think it's about time.

QUESTION: Is it done done?

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) Shanahan (ph) now? Are you ready to make that announcement?

TRUMP: He's a great guy. He's flying with us. We'll see what happens. I will be nominating Mr. Moore (ph) for the Fed. You know who I'm talking about. So he's going to be -- he's going to be a great -- he's going to be great on the Fed.


KING: The president talking there about his acting defense secretary. President Trump, before leaving the White House today, pushing one of his favorite, new political arguments.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democrats have very much proven to be anti-Israel. There's no question about that. And it's a disgrace. I mean I don't know what's happened to them, but they are totally anti-Israel. Frankly, I think they're anti-Jewish.

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