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Trump Says They'll Fight Subpoenas; Trump Says Dems Are Investigating Him to Win in 2020; Trump Administration Stonewalls Requests. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 24, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:10] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing the day with us.

Joe Biden is ready to join the 2020 race, and blue collar appeal is his calling card. Is he the candidate Democrats need to win those big industrial state President Trump flipped from blue to red.

Plus, the president says progress is being made now in fighting the nation's opioid crisis. He and the first lady this hour heading to Georgia to take part in a four-day drug abuse summit.

And just say no with an age of Trump twist. The president says the Mueller report is enough and he will not cooperate with new investigations by House Democrats.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The Democrats are trying to win 2020. They're not going to win with the people that I see. And they're not going to win against me. The only way they can luck out is by constantly going after me on nonsense.


KING: And we begin the hour right there, with a defiant president and his Mueller report fury. After a grudge-filled tweet fest this morning, more than ten just since the president woke up, the president's words there outside the White House confirm why he's tweeting so much, and so angrily, the Mueller report and Democrats demanding to pick up where the Russia special counsel leaves off.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We just went through the Mueller witch hunt where you had really 18 angry Democrats that hate President Trump. They hate him with a passion.

It was the most thorough investigation probably in the history of our country. I think I read where they interviewed 500 people. I say it's enough, get back to infrastructure, get back to cutting taxes.


KING: The president says enough, enough investigation and, you heard him, enough cooperation. The White House told top aides to tell whatever they knew to Mr. Mueller. The president now views that decision as a mistake, one, listen here, he does not intend to make again.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The subpoena is ridiculous. We have been -- I have been the most transparent president and administration in the history of our country by far.

We're fighting all the subpoenas. Look, these aren't like impartial people.


KING: Let's get straight to CNN's Kaitlan Collins. She's live at the White House.

Number one, let me check the facts so you don't have to. This is not the most transparent president in history. That goes without saying. But this defiance, Congress says there's a Constitution, we have oversight authority. The president says, enough.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the White House, John, is arguing that it's overreach, not oversight. And the president there is saying publically what we've been reporting is happening behind the scenes privately here at the White House for several days, and that's this concerted effort by the White House, a rather sweeping effort actually, to push back on these congressional inquiries, whether it's related to former White House Counsel Don McGahn, who we were reporting yesterday the White House is going to try to find a way that maybe he won't even have to testify at all or they're at least considering executive privilege, asserting that over some conversations that he's had. But also it ranges from that to security clearances questions and the White House telling a former personnel security director not to show up for a scheduled testimony, even though, John, he had gotten a subpoena to do so. And it also even goes to a DOJ official that the White House says should not testify unless a Justice Department lawyer is there with him on questions about adding that citizenship question to the census.

So really what you're seeing is this broad effort from the White House to push back against the White House and the president making clear there on the lawn to reporters that he is ready for this fight to happen.

Now, John, another sign that the White House is not putting the Russia investigation behind him, especially the president, even though he's been given advice to do so, to essentially declare victory here and move on, Michael Caputo, the former campaign aide who served as a communications adviser to the president in 2016 just left an Oval Office meeting with the president. Now, this is notable because he has not spoken to the president in nearly two years and he hasn't been to the White House in nearly two years either. They did not talk throughout the Russia investigation, but Caputo said the president called him afterword. They had a discussion. And he said despite that advice the president has gotten to let the Russia investigation go, that is not the sense, John, that he got from Trump.

KING: Not the sense he got in person. Not the sense we get reading Twitter. Interesting to see Michael Caputo coming back into the fold, at least for an hour or so.

Kaitlan Collins live at the White House, appreciate that.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times," Karoun Demirjian with "The Washington Post," and Margaret Talev with "Bloomberg."

Is it a reflex or is it a strategy? Say no. There is a thing called the Constitution that gives the Congress oversight authority. You can fight, you can argue, as past presidents have, too much, too far, been there, done that, we're done. But to say no to everything, whether it's security clearances, the president's taxes, follow on the Mueller investigation, or anything else. Reflex, the president, he's just done, or strategy?

[12:05:09] MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "BLOOMBERG": No, it's a strategy. This is a strategy. It's also a reflex, which makes it easier to do. But this is definitely a strategy. And there are a few different pieces to it.

One is that he knows that his base wants him to fight and he needs to hold his base. Number two is that you're definitely not going to get the courts to side with you if you don't take it to court, and so why not have the fight. And, number three, what restrains a lot of presidents when it comes to sort of things like this, not that this is a normal thing, but what guides a lot of presidents who kind of look for the middle as a place, as a thing in politics, is the idea that there are kind of norms that if you crash through you will turn off a certain block of voters, but that is not part of this president's calculous.

So I think part of it is, he is telling you what he thinks. But the other part of it is, at least this will delay things. And I think it's safe to say that if Don McGahn or the defense official who -- they don't want to come in, if they thought that they would help the president if they came to testify before Congress, they would be in there testifying before Congress.

JONATHAN MARTIN, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": But do we think that like no member of the cabinet is going to Capitol Hill any more to testify after this? Like, they're not going to have the head of Health and Human Services go up to the Appropriations Committee? I mean is that -- is that really like viable or --

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: In a -- in a different guise there's other excuses, right? They can say, you know, we're doing this because we want to -- we have a fight with Congress about money, because we want to get x, y, and z, or it's a standard, you know, talking about what they want to talk about. But it seems like anything that is -- any of these six committees that are probing in the House, that are probing these aspects of Trump, his campaign and his businesses are going to be out of luck.

And, you know, it -- there's a lot of things about the Trump administration that have been a bit of a stress test for how the system usually works.


DEMIRJIAN: This is definitely one of them. And -- and it's -- it's going to drag things out in court, as Margaret was saying. It's also going to see how much power there is behind these congressional subpoenas that they can, you know actually enforce them in a way or is this just going to be the ballot box --

TALEV: Because that doesn't get -- it just doesn't happen that much. And part of it is because the optics is so ugly. You know, you're going to compel someone to testify. And that's part of the test.

If you look at the history of contempt proceedings, yes, there is a financial penalty, which is like nothing. It's about an hour and a half worth of a lawyers time if you're being represented in this case. There's potentially some jail time. But for Congress to pursue that, you know, is a whole other test. And that's part of their --

MARTIN: It's a test with the Republicans, too, guys, right? I mean --


MARTIN: I mean are they going to -- are they going to assert their prerogatives as an independent branch? That's a phrase that you often hear on Capitol Hill. We're an independent branch. I don't serve under any president, I serve with presidents is a quote, you know, you all have heard. Are they going to actually stand up and say, well, no, Mr. President, we have oversight power, that's in the Constitution?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, I think we sort of probably know the answer to that given what we've seen from Republicans so far, that they will side with this president.

MARTIN: Fair (ph).

HENDERSON: They will essentially say, you know, Mueller has had two years to investigate this. They need to move on. This is a form of -- I guess the president uses the phrase presidential harassment. And I think you you'll mainly see -- that's what Republicans do so far. I mean you've seen, for instance, Joni Ernst say, oh, there's no need for Mueller to come up and testify. We don't need to hear from Mueller. So I think, you know, that's what we've seen.

KING: Right. And you've seen the chairman, the Senate Judiciary Chairman now, Lindsey Graham --

HENDERSON: Graham, yes.

KING: When he was in the House, in Bill Clinton's days, said Bill Clinton should be run out of town for obstruction of justice and lying.


KING: And now Donald Trump says it's -- he says, now with President Trump, he says, read the (INAUDIBLE). We're done. Let's move on.

DEMIRJIAN: OK, so it's a little bit of a what's the point calculus going on with the GOP right now, which is just that they know they're in for a fight for absolutely everything. They know that if they go the criminal contempt, anything sort of the criminal referral route, that goes through Bill Barr. It's not necessarily their choice alone. So they're -- they know what tools they have and they're trying to decide whether the Republicans, how much we want to work with Trump, you know, or if -- look like we're working with Trump so we can get other stuff out of him, if this is just going to be a headache and a half. Of course Democrats are saying, well, no, we're going to fight out the headaches in the court too, so.

KING: Right. And in a few minutes, I want to dig deeper into how the Democrats respond to this because that -- will this intensify the, well, let's just impeach him. If they're not going to give us documents, if they're not going to give us witnesses, does it intensify, well, then, if -- if the whole idea was to have months of fact finding, if they won't give us witnesses and give us documents to get the facts, do we just leap frog.

But let's save that for a moment because you heard the president say this is all the Democrats know they can't win in 2020 unless they keep pounding the investigation. Well, maybe that's true. Maybe that's not. But the president has a 2020 calculation, too, and it's crystal clear when you listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This has been litigated for the last two years almost since I got into office. Now, if you want to litigate, go after the DNC, crooked Hillary, the dirty cops, all of these things, that's what should be litigated, because that was a rigged system. And I'm breaking down -- I am breaking down the swamp.


KING: He's not breaking down the swamp. You could look at inspector general investigations of many of his cabinet picks all around the swamp, if you will. He's refilled it with alligators.

But to the point -- to the point of --

MARTIN: That's some of our sources, John, be careful there.

KING: To the point of, you know, this is all Hillary Clinton's fault. This is all Hillary Clinton and a bunch of crooked cops. That's -- are we going to get nothing done between now -- this is just -- we're in the campaign mode and we don't have a government until the next election?

[12:10:05] HENDERSON: Yes, and he has been in campaign mode since he got elected president. I mean going after Hillary Clinton, lock her up, I guess Rush Limbaugh was backing him up in saying that. I think Fox will echo that. There's a whole echo chamber of people who amplify those points.

KING: Well, to that point, let me bring this in.

MARTIN: Yes. Right.

KING: Yes, to that point, this is Rush Limbaugh, golfed last week with the president. Rush Limbaugh often makes intellectual cases. You can disagree with them. He takes conservative positions. This one, let's listen. I've got a few beefs on the other side.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, HOST, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW": Hillary Clinton needs to be investigated. She needs to be indicted and she needs to be in jail.

You talk about sour grapes. This is a woman that's been rejected by the American people twice, rejected by her party in 2008. She had to rig the primaries against crazy Bernie in 2016 to get the nomination. She is the last person who ought to be listened to about what ought to happen to Donald Trump.


KING: If you listen to a lot of what he says, though, he's talking about how this is Hillary Clinton's fault, this investigation. So I'm trying to figure out how, while Hillary Clinton was mad at James Comey for coming out and publicly saying things that may or may not have cost Hillary Clinton the election, but certainly didn't help her politically, she somehow got James Comey to also launch a counter intelligence investigation of the president of the United States. And then she got all these people who work for Donald Trump -- read the Mueller report if you're a Republican voter -- to cooperate with Bob Mueller to say awful things about Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton's that powerful?

MARTIN: Well, I think that the Hillary stuff is just a sort of useful tool to, you know, basically move on from the Mueller report, right, because --


MARTIN: Well, yes, you don't want to talk about the fact that Don McGahn, that Jodi Hunt (ph), that all of these Trump administration officials basically opened a vein to Bob Mueller. And, by the way, did so on the record. They're all in the footnotes.

KING: Right. Read it.

MARTIN: That's a much more inconvenient moment for them. So, obviously, he's talking about this. I just -- it can't be said enough though that the president's in campaign mode. Yes, but he's in campaign mode for like 35 percent of the country. It's the most mystifying part of the administration, viewed through a traditional lens, of why there's no effort to kind of expand his base of support beyond --

KING: Right, but there never -- there never has been an (INAUDIBLE).

MARTIN: Beyond Fox (ph). There never has been.

KING: And it's now clear there never will be. And so what he's trying to create for those people is a parallel universe.

MARTIN: Right.

KING: Don't believe anything anyone else says. Just believe what I tell you and Rudy Giuliani tells you. And, I guess, add Lindsey Graham to the group.

But to that point about --

MARTIN: Lost 40 seats in the House last year.

KING: They lost 40 seats in the House last year and so a lot of Republicans are nervous about this.

He thinks, I'm on the ballot next year. It won't matter.

HENDERSON: It's different.

KING: He thinks it won't matter. We shall find out.

Another point of the parallel universe part, the president thinks some things only happen to him, right? The president, he's incredulous. Negative headlines could overshadow a strong economy that's going right now. A strong economy on his watch. Drove home that point before leaving the White House last hour, saying the U.S. is probably doing better than ever economically.

On Twitter the president wrote this, you mean the stock market hit an all-time record high and they're talking impeachment? Yes, guess what, it has happened before. President Clinton may have felt the same way 21 years ago. The Dow hit record highs just a month before President Clinton was impeached. Two weeks after the impeachment, the Nasdaq was still going strong. You see the CNN Money headline at the time. We save those things. It's interesting.

Up next, Democrats craft their counter message after the White House, directly from the president says, not going to play nice anymore.


[12:17:36] KING: House Democrats today seething at the White House as the president insists -- you just head him moments ago -- he doesn't have to cooperate anymore. President Trump making it clear he's done with subpoenas and requests from House Democrats. Democrats, however, say they cannot let up and they'll keep the pressure on the White House.

Listen here to House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings saying -- telling MSNBC they owe it to the country and to their constituents back home.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D-MD): This administration has done everything in its power and used every means necessary to block the Congress from getting the information that we need to do our job. When we allow these things to happen, basically what the Congress is -- an that is the Republicans in the Congress -- are allowing President Trump to take away our power and, in turn, take away the power of our constituents.


KING: So how do the Democrats adjust their strategy? If you know the White House strategy is no, nothing, no one, again, whether the issue is follow up on the Mueller report, security clearances, the president's taxes, issue a, b, or c, you don't get witnesses, you don't get documents. If that's the line, how do they adjust in a way that doesn't play into the president's hands where he says they're just being political?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, first of all, the president doesn't have control over absolutely everybody they want to talk to. There are -- there's a limit to how much executive privilege the president can try to assert and how much he's waved, even for Mueller, that they may make an argument for that means that he can't claim it in this case. So it means that you may go to other people first. It means that you see -- may seek documents from others first. And it means he might be a lot faster about just advancing their subpoena court process since you know it's coming anyway. And I think that we've see that House Democrats were holding their fire until they saw the Mueller report's contents and now they are dishing out those subpoenas for everything from the report to these individuals.

KING: And so then how does it fan out from there, if you will? You have the legal fight. You have -- you just say, look, the Constitution is the Constitution. We have the right to this. Let's go to court and have the fight.

Speaker Pelosi is supposed to meet with the president next week on infrastructure. Do you have that meeting and say we can walk and chew gum, we're going to at least have a conversation about this, or do you say you don't respect our power, I'm not coming into your house? Is -- would there be an effort? She controls the purse strings of government. Do you choke off funding for the executive branch for -- to drop the confrontation that way? What do you do?

HENDERSON: You know, it seems like this meeting -- I mean I was a little surprised that this meeting was going to happen, the infrastructure meeting. Finally it's infrastructure week again. I can't wait. I'm sure everybody can't wait.


HENDERSON: So, yes, I mean I do think there is this pressure on Democrats. And you heard Bernie Sanders articulate it as essentially, let's not let all of the Mueller stuff and the Russia probe and the tax probe sort of drown out other conversations that Democrats want to have around infrastructure, around health care, around any -- any number of issues. So I think if you're Nancy Pelosi, you do want to seem like you can walk and chew gum at the same time. So I imagine this meeting next week will go forward with the president on infrastructure.

[12:20:26] KING: And let -- just listen to her. She was at the "Time" 100 Conference yesterday, Speaker Pelosi. And, again, she has been trying, and successful so far, in telling the liberals, I get it, I get it, but there's no Republicans with us. It's politically damaging for us to impeach him. Let's take our time.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): What is interesting about it all is we now see the administration engaged in stonewalling of the facts coming to the American people.

We believe that impeachment is one of the most divisive forces -- paths that we could go down to in our country. But if the facts -- the path fact finding takes us there, we have no choice. But we're not there yet.


KING: Is it easier or harder to keep the genie in the bottle, if you will, if the -- if you have empty chairs. The administration -- you know, the Democrats call hearings. The administration won't send anybody. The Democrats say we want documents. The administration says no. Will that not increase pressure from, you know, some of the liberal forces to just say, look, let's go?

DEMIRJIAN: Yes, it definitely will. I mean at this point I think that you just have a lot of people who are saying in the Democratic Party in the House who are saying, I don't know if not providing witnesses counts as a high crime or misdemeanor, even though it's definitely a wrong doing and really flouting the Congress in that point.

But I think at this point, no matter how you slice it, it would be very early for House Democrats to go about starting impeachment proceedings. They'd have to then ride that for the next 18 months. That's very hard to do. But they can't wait too late otherwise then it looks like a totally craven, political (INAUDIBLE) before the election. So if they're going to do it, yes, as a separate branch of government they have to kind of follow in Mueller's shadow and do similar things and maybe get to that point if they're very wrestles because -- TALEV: But Nancy Pelosi has two elections to manage, right?



TALEV: I mean she's got the House of Representatives --



TALEV: And she's got the presidential contest. If she loses the House, not going to do her any good.

And the other thing is that the presidential battleground states, where this is going to be fought out, are filled with people who maybe are going to be more receptive to the idea of, let's let the process take us where it will, which is -- so you can see her kind of taking a little bit of -- trying to pull a little air out of the tires or kind of manage the pressure on this. She's -- her rhetoric has slid slightly towards being open minded towards impeachment --


TALEV: But it is in a very calibrated way, which is to say, I'm -- I'm not -- her telling Democrats, I'm not going to tell you it can't happen, I'm going to tell you that there's no reason to rush to it. Let the process play itself out. And that is about keeping people (INAUDIBLE).

KING: The president's strategy, though, is to throw a log on the Democratic fire.

TALEV: Sure, he wants that. He wants that.

HENDERSON: Yes, yes, yes. And the thing is, I mean, we know how impeachment went (ph). They file charges in the House. It goes over to the Senate and he's not -- he's acquitted.

MARTIN: Right.

HENDERSON: And then, in that sense, he can essentially say, look, you know, this is all over --

TALEV: Vindicated.

HENDERSON: Vindicated.

TALEV: No collusion.

HENDERSON: Exonerated.

KING: Twice.

HENDERSON: He can say it twice. And in the minds of the American people, that might even be more real in terms of ending this conversation.

MARTIN: And just real fast, Margaret's totally right, watching Pelosi there, what's working in her mind are the fate of the moderate Democrats who are facing re-election next year in suburban districts, or even conservative-leaning districts, that she knows are her majority makers.

KING: Right.

MARTIN: And that's what's on her mind.

I talked yesterday to a staffer for a House Democrat in one of those districts and they don't want to go down this road. Their voters aren't enthused about impeachment and they think that they can win next year based on the issues and Trump's broad unpopularity, but impeachment does complicate that.

KING: They don't want to stoke -- they don't want to stoke that --

MARTIN: Correct.

KING: Those districts. We'll get to that -- some of that point when we come back.

Next, Joe Biden on the cusp now of finally announcing his run for the White House. Some of his soon-to-be rivals, well, guess what, they're getting a little tired of being asked about it.


SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's an issue he is going to have to directly answer to voters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hasn't he already done that so far?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, so far he's leading the pack. And (INAUDIBLE) --

GILLIBRAND: He's not even announced as president, so --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But he apologized for it, no?

GILLIBRAND: Once he announces, I'm sure it's a question that voters will want to talk to him about. And that's his job. But I'm running for president, Joy.




[12:28:51] KING: Joe Biden set to make it official tomorrow, jumping into the 2020 fray with a campaign launch video. The question then is, can he win? First, in an increasingly crowded, increasingly liberal Democratic primary and that he wants to make the case that he's the best Democrat against a president who changed the map in the last election.

So let's look at that map. Is Biden the guy, for example, to turn this around? Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio. What makes them unique? Go back in time. The Obama-Biden ticket carried those states. In 2016, Donald Trump broke the so-called blue wall and flipped them.

Is Joe Biden the guy to change them? It's an interesting question. Here's why he thinks yes. If you look at some of the demographics in these states, this is why the president won them, these four states, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, they are more white by percentage than the national average. They also have middle class, blue caller voters, high school educated or less, non-college educated voters. That has been Donald Trump's strength. If you look at the polling, it is an area where Joe Biden does have some appeal. Can he pick those voters up? We will see.

[12:29:56] Now, we know this, the Trump campaign already, the president of the United States -- excuse me, I want to get rid of that -- the president of the United States already paying attention to these states. Since elected president, six times to Pennsylvania, seven to Ohio, three to Michigan.