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Trump Touts "Hottest Economy on Earth" at NRA Convention; Trump Previews 2020 Argument to NRA Audience; Trump: "If I Wanted to Fire Mueller I Would Have Done It Myself". Aired 12:30-1p ET
Aired April 26, 2019 - 12:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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[12:30:00] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: -- smashed expectations with the economy growing at an annual rate of 3.2 percent in the first quarter, always the worst quarter for whatever reason.
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JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Now here's what made the president happy. You see the numbers here, the Commerce Department says this morning, the president is right, the economy grew an annual rate of 3.2 percent in the first three months of the year. That's a number that was better than expected, and it continues as you watch it stretch out over the last couple years, a stretch of decent to strong growth in the wake of the big Republican tax cut.
The new GDP number fueled by increases in consumer spending, business investment, exports, and state and local government spending. Three percent growth rate would be a gift for the president's re-election campaign but can it be sustained, that's the question.
Ana Swanson of the New York Times joins our conversation. It's a good number, the president has every reason to be happy. But there are, if you dig deeper into the numbers, some warning signs plus the big trade negotiations. What's the longer term outlook?
ANA SWANSON, TRADE AND INTERNATIONAL ECONOMICS REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. So that's right, it is a good number. But if you look under the hood, there are some reasons to be a little more cautious. You did see, you know, some short term factors that are really inflating growth in the quarter, including businesses stocking up on inventories. You saw a drop in imports, but you know and I know that the president doesn't really care about the details. He's going to look to that headline number which is strong and he's going to run with it literally.
KING: The question is what happens if the second quarter drops? This is the risk when you get on the news is great, car, sometimes it becomes a roller coaster.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's always the danger of economic experience, why you don't hear a lot of presidents or top government officials talking about the stock market which obviously this president has thrown that kind of norm out of the window and with good reason because the stock market has been great but there's obviously a dip a couple of months ago but now is back in record territory. And I think to your earlier point if you go across the kind of the top line if you keeping the scorecard, the top line numbers that the president would really want to care about, the economy look very, very good right now.
That being said including some of the factors you pointed out, there's long been the expectation that given the length of the bull market, given the length of where things are right now, that at some point it's going to not be as great as it is right now. And I think the danger is that happens over the course of the next six to nine months and that's a problem.
KING: And if you look around the world, the president is right, he has every right to say the United States is the envy of the world when it comes to the economy right now. Growth in China, 1.5 percent, growth in the European Union, 0.2 percent, growth in Japan, 0.5 percent, so the three percent for the United States looks great compared to that. Here's my question, we live, though in a globalized economy, we live in a shrinking world. Do those bad numbers around the world eventually pull back on us because so much of the U.S. economy is dependent on global trade?
SWANSON: I think they have to. The U.S. does look like a bright spot in the global economy right now, but you know, economists are expecting growth to slow later this year. The president is probably not going to hit that three percent growth target that he's been talking about. Economists still see that as pretty unrealistic. He could, however, hit something more like 2.5 percent which really isn't that bad, given how long the economy has been growing. And by the time we get to July, this is going to be the longest economic expansion on record, and that's something that, you know, voters know. They can feel.
KING: So do voters know it enough? So let's take that point of the economics into the politics of this because the longest economic expansion on record, that's pretty good. An unemployment rate below four percent. That's pretty good. If you look at the Trump map in most of those states, Pennsylvania has the lowest unemployment rate it's ever had, for example.
So here is Brendan Buck who used to work for the Speaker Ryan, who's now a Republican consultant. "The economy is an important issue for him because it's the one issue that allows him to break out of his base. And there aren't a lot of those for him. Trump has an incredible ability to focus attention and if it's used for good, he could easily set the conversation to, are you feeling better than you were. But to get that kind of message to break through you have to be relentless and disciplined."
That was a polite way by Brendan Buck of saying you should be tweeting about that, not about Mueller and the witch hunt and Don McGahn. The president talked about it three times today but he has a history of talking about the reports right after they come out and then going back more into his, instead of trying to tell a good story, telling an angry story.
MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: We got to kind of have to change our sort of expectations here of what it means to stay on message particularly obviously for this president. I do think it's a little bit of yes and no here, but mostly yes, when it's about Trump, when it's about himself and it's -- you know, when it's about what he perceives as his accomplishments, he's very good at staying on message. But the note piece of that is what you were alluding to. There will be blips along the way, there will be tweets that have the campaign scratching their heads. Not unlike a few weeks ago, you know, Trump's interest in recalibrating this on healthcare that left everyone kind of wondering what was going on.
But it will always come back to Trump and it will always come back to Trump for the economy. The risk there is if things start to take a downturn a little bit, and what he says then, but we know what he'll say then, he'll blame Powell at the Fed, he will blame Democrats for not passing his trade deals fast enough.
[12:35:02] I mean, there will be plenty of targets for Trump along the way.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: There's a bit of a larger picture, right where is the money going. Where are wages at? Where are healthcare costs at? And that's something that Democrats went on the last cycle, healthcare, and it's still -- I was just on the campaign trail and again, I know I mentioned this a lot, but so many voters are talking about healthcare still, and they want to see movement on that, on prescription drug prices. So that's a winning issue possibly for Democrats.
KING: A challenge for the president to stay focused on the good but also a challenge for the Democrats to figure out where the weakness is if you going to get out of a president as a relatively strong economy. What's the best thing to talk about?
Up next for us here, some new details on the 2016 Russian hacking. If you dig deep into the Mueller report, it's apparently a bit more local than originally thought.
[12:40:11] KING: Topping our political radar today, Maria Butina sentenced to 18 months in prison. She pleaded guilty to trying to infiltrate conservative political circles and promoting Russian interests before and after the 2016 presidential election. The federal judge overseeing the case said, quote, this was no simple misunderstanding by an overeager foreign student. And said Butina's conduct was, quote, sophisticated and penetrated deep into political organizations. Butina told the court she deeply regretted her crime and asked for forgiveness. Her attorney said they strongly disagree with the length of the sentence.
The Mueller report claims that Russian hackers compromised one Florida County in the lead up to the 2016 vote. Florida election officials are shocked by the claim. Dan McCrea, an adviser to the election integrity nonprofit Verified Voting telling CNN, quote, Mueller knows more than any of the rest of us so we can assume the report is correct even if we don't know which county.
Sources tell CNN the Homeland Security Department's request for more troops at the southern border is now at the Pentagon. But Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan has yet to sign off. Some requests from DHS have been denied in the past. Currently, there are about 3,000 active duty troops and 2,000 National Guard personnel deployed in support of border security.
President Trump weighing in on the recent measles outbreak across the United States. He says parents must vaccinate their children against the disease.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you tell parents about getting their kids vaccinated on the measles, on the measles?
TRUMP: They have to get the shot. The vaccinations are so important. This is really going around now. They have to get their shots.
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KING: That's a big switch from just a few years ago. Here is the president in a 2020 tweet, quote, massive combined inoculations to small children is the cause for a big increase in autism. To be clear, the Centers for Disease Control has declared there is no link between vaccines and autism.
When we come back, the president out on the road. A group that helped him big time in 2016, the National Rifle Association, the president speaking at their big meeting right now.
[12:46:24] KING: President Trump speaking this hour, you see it right there at the National Rifle Association's leadership forum, that's in Indianapolis. A little bit of old-fashioned red meat to the Republican base.
TRUMP: I'm a champion for the Second Amendment and so are you. It's not going anywhere. It's under assault. It's under assault but not when we're here. Not even close.
KING: The president banking on big help from the NRA in 2020. You see the numbers here from 2016. That's big league money, $30.3 million the NRA spent on behalf of President Trump. But tax filings do show the group's revenue currently down. The NRA also is outspent by gun control groups in the 2018 midterms.
The organization's internal problems do pose a bigger question for the president, can a wounded NRA help him again in 2020? How big? There have been -- the story has been written before is the NRA on the verge of decline, disappearing, losing its relevance. The NRA has survived every cycle of that story so far. But are we at a point, is it a fair question? Is it a weaker organization than it was when it was important to the president?
BENDER: Slightly, I think. I mean, if only because of some of the results we're seeing. You know, Trump's going to campaign like he's doing now. If he's going to campaign on gun laws, his accomplishments are not doing anything to affect the status quo in gun laws. But in other parts of the country we have seen a little bit of chipping away, including in a place called Florida which is not only a major battleground but really ground zero for a lot of the NRA loosening of gun laws over the last few decades.
And that -- you know, it was a Republican legislature there, it was a Republican governor now Senator Rick Scott who had major backing from the NRA. So there are some -- there are a little bit of signs of some opening here that maybe NRA isn't quite as strong but -- I mean, that's not going to matter for President Trump. He campaigns just the same way and the same sort of tones that the NRA does, and this is -- I mean, he said it here today. I mean, you know, Democrats are trying to disarm you, immediately followed by a statement saying so you need to go out and vote. It's not subtle here for them or him, and just try to motivate those base voters.
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: They are less important when there's a Republican president because they don't have to work as hard, frankly. Aside from Trump banning bump stocks which I mean, it is the most major gun legislation or gun action that's happened in quite a while. You do see them weaken in these kinds of administrations. That said, can they bounce back is an open question, because there is -- gun violence is going to be a big issue in 2020. And --
KING: But the Democrats are much more open about making it an issue than it happens in past presidential campaigns.
MATTINGLY: I think that's a really interesting point. If you look at the two House Democrat bills that were voted on really the background checks, I think they lost two Democrats on universal background checks. The party is not afraid to campaign on this, the party is not afraid to campaign on this in districts that they flipped from red to blue. That is an absolute shift but I also think that thinking the NRA's prowess and NRA's powers defined by money or campaign contributions is kind of misunderstanding of what the NRA does.
When you talk to members from these districts, the NRA is the message, the NRA's message is what resonates, the NRA stands for approval is what resonates not necessarily whether or not they're not going to cut a campaign ad for you. It's a little bit different in '16 because the spent so much money on President Trump but it's more the NRA's message and their approval than it is in a lot of these districts and a lot of these states than it is whether or not they're going to drop a check for you.
[12:50:04] KUCINICH: But I do think it is relevant now that the gun safety groups, the anti-gun groups actually have some money behind (INAUDIBLE). MATTINGLY: Real money, more money at some times.
KUCINICH: Real money but because before when Democrats or Republicans that weren't as pro-gun went out on a limb, they were on their own. Now they have money behind them.
MATTINGLY: No question.
KING: And Michael Bloomberg decided to get out of the Democratic races and stay on the sidelines, said he's going to spend even more money. We'll see.
All right, before we go to break, there's some birthday wishes to share, first lady Melania Trump turns 49 today. The president from his official POTUS account re-tweeted these well wishes, they were first on the official White House Twitter account. See if the president tweets in his personal account but happy birthday to the first lady.
We'll be right back.
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[12:55:20] TRUMP: And you see it now better than ever, with all of the resignations of bad apples, they're bad apples, they tried for a coup, didn't work out so well. And I didn't need a gun for that one, did I?
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KING: That's the president just moments ago addressing the NRA in Indianapolis. A fact check machine back at work, the coup theme again doesn't square up with all of the facts but it's a theme the president likes. Take a listen, this is last night on Fox News talking to Sean Hannity. Hannity brought up that Fox network reporting on text messages between former FBI agent Peter Strzok and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page. Hannity says it shows they were discussing recruiting people in the Trump administration, they could, quote, develop potential relationships.
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TRUMP: This was a coup. This was an attempted overthrow of the United States government. The biggest problem with the Mueller report, he didn't mention any of this, he didn't mention Strzok and Page and McCabe and Comey and the lies and the leaks and the overthrow. The IG report coming out in three or four weeks, from what I hear, is going to be and should be, and almost has to be a blockbuster, because he has access to information that most people don't.
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KING: We'll see if the IG report tracks the president's prediction. Very important context, Fox's own reporting notes that it's unclear from those text messages if it might have been simply an effort to build a bridge with the new administration. But, but a coup, coup?
BARRON-LOPEZ: No. There is not a coup, there's not an overthrow. I mean, the Mueller report, now that we've seen much more of it, does not look good for Trump. It doesn't square with what Barr wrote, what AG Barr wrote. There were open -- massive open questions about obstruction which it looked like Mueller was trying to tell Congress, this is something that you guys should pick up and look into, and determine yourselves with your investigations whether or not this requires further action.
KING: And among those examples of potential obstruction, detailed under oath, a dozen people or more from inside the Trump administration, under oath, aides to the president not angry Democrats, saying, among them, Don McGahn who says the president called him one day and said get to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general and get rid of Mueller. The president again this morning saying it didn't happen.
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TRUMP: I never told Don McGahn to fire Mueller. If I wanted to fire Mueller, I would have done it myself. It's very simple. I had the right to, and frankly, whether I did or he did, we had the absolute right to fire Mueller.
In the meantime, I didn't do it. I'm a student of history. I see what you get when you fire people, and it's not good.
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KING: Does he mean recent history? Meaning if you fire Comey you get a special counsel investigation or does he mean more deeper history? I digress but --
BENDER: Yes. I mean, you got to be careful there trying to interpret what he's saying but it does sort of -- I mean, in one sense, he has said, kind of giving credence to the Mueller report that he told McGahn to fire in the Mueller investigation, because he's saying like that he doesn't want to do it. And that would kind of square with the idea that he wanted someone else to do it to inoculate himself.
I think that there is a sweet spot. I mean, Democrats and Republicans say there is a sweet spot for Trump and the Mueller report here, right? I mean, there is a certain segment of Americans who are -- have had enough with the Russian investigation, it's -- you know, that it's been difficult to follow, it doesn't affect their pocketbook and --
KING: They don't include the president because he has to keep tweeting about Don McGahn. He's not done.
BENDER: Well, this is a thing. Like how far are you going to go? I mean, now -- I mean, in another part of that departure this morning, hear first to the report as a ruling saying there was no collusion and no obstruction. That's not correct. I mean, he's showing this morning that he is capable of surprise, taking this a little too far.
KUCINICH: But I think this is one of the reasons that they're going to fight tooth and nail to get Don McGahn from testifying to Congress because they know the optics of that. A lot of people won't read the Mueller report, and it's much easier to see what happened when someone's talking about it on television.
KING: And Don McGahn will be under oath, again, as he was before the special counsel. The president is not under oath when he says it never happened. Don McGahn stands by his story, not one, right, correct me if I'm wrong, not one of the many Trump administration officials including close to the president, Hope Hicks, Corey Lewandowski, Rob Porter have come forward to say the very damning things they said in the report are not true, right? Not one?
MATTINGLY: Not one.
KING: Not one. That's why the president wants to change the subject shall we say.
Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS today. Hope to see you Sunday morning. But don't go anywhere, it's a busy news day. Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a great afternoon.