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Distorted Video of Pelosi; Trump Approves Troops to Mideast; British Prime Minister Steps Down; Disaster Aid Bill Stalls in House. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 24, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:24] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

President Trump is off for a quick weekend visit to Japan, but not without first stirring the impeachment debate with fresh attacks on Democrats. Another lie about the Mueller report and a re-tweet of a video that doctors Speaker Nancy Pelosi's words.

Plus, the president signs off on new military deployment to the Middle East. New troops are included to support the deployment of patriot missile batteries and reconnaissance aircraft.

And the Brexit fight claims its second prime minister. Theresa May now quitting because she cannot get an exit plan through parliament.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is and will always remain a matter of deep regret to me that I have not been able to deliver Brexit. It will be for my successor to seek a way forward that honors the result of the referendum. To succeed he or she will have to find consensus in parliament where I have not.

I will shortly leave the job that it has been the honor of my life to hold.


KING: Back to that story in a moment.

But we begin the hour with a president about to head off to Japan for a quick weekend, but not before scorching more earth in his standoff with House Democrats and their leader, and not before one more reminder that Washington's dysfunction does not make exceptions, even for long overdue disaster relief. Plans to finally pass a big aid package today were blocked by a House Republican, even though the president had green light that plan. More on that in a bit.

But, first, the president's mindset as he heads overseas. One morning tweet asserts, absent any evidence that there are no crimes or misdeeds for Congress to investigate, quote, except those committed by the other side. Another lies about the finding of the Mueller report, saying wrongly that the special counsel found, quote, no obstruction.

That morning social media messaging played out under a late night Trump tweet pinned for hours to the top of the president's Twitter page, a re-tweet of a reprehensible Fox Business News mash-up that distorted remarks of Speaker Pelosi to make it appear she was incoherent and stammering. The president's lawyer re-tweeted a second distorted Pelosi video, though he later deleted it.

The distorted videos capped a day, if you were paying attention yesterday, that included the speaker questioning the president's well- being. The president responding by declaring he is, in his words, a very stable genius.

Here with me to share their reporting and their insights, Lisa Lerer with "The New York Times," Michael Bender of "The Wall Street Journal," Toluse Olorunnipa with "The Washington Post," CNN's Sara Murray and CNN's Michael Warren.

Michael, I want to start with you because you just had a conversation with the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who tweeted one version of the doctored Pelosi video. The president re-tweeted a different one. Rudy Giuliani took his down, but he's not really saying sorry, right?

MICHAEL WARREN, CNN REPORTER: Yes, that's right. Giuliani tweeted this video last night and then says, he told CNN that he got a text from a friend who said it may not be a legitimate video. He took it down because he says that he didn't want any of the -- any of the drama. But, of course, he then proceeded to engage in questioning whether or not Speaker Pelosi is speaking properly. He told CNN, I have no way to know if it's doctored, this video, if it's doctored or not. The president and I don't like to be hit in the head without hitting back. She's the speaker of the House. He says to her, grow up. Stop it. You're too old for that. Then he defended his client, the president, saying, he's plenty emotionally or mentally capable, as much or more than her.

So not wanting to get into a tiff about the particulars of a video, but clearly Rudy Giuliani doing the president's biding here and stirring up and continuing this tiff between the president and speaker of the House.

KING: And so let's bring it into the room. It's -- I don't know the -- I don't have the words for this. I've been here for 30 years. I used to joke in meetings that Washington is like the fifth grade. It's not a joke. It's not a joke. You have -- you know, from the president's perspective, they say, well, what about what the speaker said? And, they're right, she questioned his mental health, essentially, his stability, saying he needs an intervention.

He comes back with his -- not only with his stable genius line and goes after her and then, I'm sorry, there should be a line somewhere. She's the highest ranking woman in American politics. She's third in line of the presidency as the speaker of the House. Rudy Giuliani saying, I didn't know.

You have a responsibility, if you're going to re-tweet something involving the speaker of the House, to have a clue as to whether or not it's accurate.

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Well, that's what makes this such an important story right now. I mean let's just take Rudy Giuliani at his word here and that he didn't know. I mean this is a very well-informed person. He has -- he has -- he certainly has the ability to know whether this has been doctored or not.

[12:05:07] But if he didn't, what does that say for the rest of America who is not paying as close attention to some -- this back and forth that someone like Rudy Giuliani is. And -- and, you know, and as we see more of these types of things happening in the next, you know, next 18 months during the presidential election, there is going to be a -- you talked about his responsibility to know. There's going to be questions about -- to the Trump campaign. All signs are that the Trump re-election campaign is doing everything they can to be this professional, traditional operation that they were not in 2016. They can do that by -- by flagging these sorts of things and making -- and, you know, and coming out --

KING: But they can also do both. Forgive me for interrupting. They can do both.


KING: They can have a more professional operation. They can do as they are now. Their FaceBook ad targeting very early. They can build the database of golden dreams because they have such a good file on their voters and do things, quote/ unquote professionally. And they can also have a candidate, and a few of his surrogates, like Mr. Giuliani, who play a different way. Ask Ted Cruz and Heidi Cruz and Rafael Cruz and we go back through the Kennedy assassination lore. This is what the president likes to do when you get under his skin.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And the campaign has been very clear. They have said on the record that they follow the lead of the president. They believe the president's political instincts are what helped him win in 2016 against all odds. And even if they have the best, you know, political analyst and the best people that can look at polling, they're going to follow the president no matter what he does. And if he just decides to, you know, decides to take on Joe Biden and call him nicknames, if he decides to tweet out, you know, weird videos about the speaker, they're going to follow. They're going to follow his messaging no matter what. And that's what we're seeing. The -- normally we expect the president to sort of try to calm political tensions and not inflame them and not sort of allow the country to move towards this area where we don't even know if a video is real or not, but this is instead a president that's fully pushing forward on that.

LISA LERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": But, look, they're doing part of this because they believe it works, right? This is what we saw with Hillary Clinton. Remember, there was a whole thing about her being very ill and her having a stroke and on and on and on, and then she fainted at a 9/11 ceremony, which, of course, was unrelated to under -- any underlying medical condition, but it gave that argument serious traction. We saw it happen already with Joe Biden. There was a video making the rounds on conservative websites. It was the same kind of thing, him slurring his words, a mash-up. Is he too old?

So I think there are people in the Trump's -- the president's orbit and people in the conservative media orbit that serves to amplify the president's message that believe that this is an effective tactic. And that is why it's not going to go away.

KING: Important in the context there too, it worked in the past. It tells you, again, that we're going to see in 2020, 2016 on steroids.


KING: We're not going to see -- yes, they have a much more professional organization, but they're not reaching out to suburban women. They're not making a heavy effort. They'll target some African- American, Latinos on economic argument, but there's not going to be -- this is a base campaign to drive out the same voters, to try to recreate the Trump message. And to that point, if you haven't been paying close attention, here's one example of the doctored video, and you're going to see the real video with how it was tinkered with, messed with on the Internet.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): And then he had a press conference in the Rose Garden with all this sort -- sort of visuals that obviously were planned long before.

And then he had a press conference in the Rose Garden with all this sort -- sort of visuals that obviously were planned long before.


KING: I assume there are some people out there who find this funny or find it effective, but just the -- we're going down -- call it a staircase, call it a slippery slope. She's the speaker of the House. She's the highest ranking woman in American political history. There's a way to win a campaign without doing that.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean, look, there are always going to be people who find that funny. And if you are a woman who's going to work in politics or anywhere near politics, you certainly have to get over that certain subset because those people are never going to change. I think the bigger concern, you know, that Lisa and Michael were talking about is people who don't know that it's not real. People who don't know the difference and who believe that these are accurate depictions of politicians, of people who are running for president.

And I think that's the bigger concern. When you put something up that is clearly fake, you don't label it as such, and people start to believe that that's the truth. I mean these are the misinformation campaigns that we saw were wreaking havoc on 2016. You know, they are going to come back in full force in 2020. It's one thing for a foreign government to be, you know, injecting themselves in our election. That's certainly going to happen again this time. But it's another thing to see it espoused by the president and by Rudy Giuliani.

KING: And I want to make this point. There are people on the left who do this to the president, too. For those out there who are going to say, oh, you know, it's just people on the right slamming -- you know, abusing Speaker Pelosi, here to Speaker Pelosi, it happens -- it happens both ways. This one happened at the end of a very dramatic day yesterday in which it was clear the speaker is under the president's skin. She has a way of provoking him.

[12:10:02] And so how does it fit? Is there a broader strategy here? He's about to go off on this trip. If you're the president, you're about to go overseas, which a lot of presidents in the middle of, a, they can't pass a disaster aid package, welcome to Washington dysfunction, b, the whole conversation about continuing investigations, they would enjoy a three or four day break. He's going off. He's going to have an Abe meeting. The prime minister. He's going to see a sumo wrestling match. He's going to meet with the new emperor and emperous (ph) of Japan. That's a big deal for any American president. Bilateral meetings, a state banquet. H e's going to play some golf. He's entitled to have a little respite. And then, Memorial Day, most likely visit U.S. troops in the region.

You would think maybe he would just go quite and enjoy that trip. But he lights it up on Twitter again this morning because he sort of wants to leave some fumes behind as he leaves.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes, that's exactly right. We've seen a number of these foreign trips be overtaken by domestic news and domestic drama and I wouldn't be surprised if that happens again. The president is really frustrated with not only what's happening in Congress with all these investigations, but also the rulings that are happening in the courts. He thought that he could just sort of have a blanket stonewall against Congress and say I'm not going to -- I'm not going to provide any documents. And now we're seeing this series of court rules and a ruling against his administration and against his position and it's sort of laying the groundwork for an incident where he might have to hand over the documents that he does not want to be handed over, including his deeply personal financial records.

KING: And we also see this new memo to the attorney general, Bill Barr, last night, essentially giving him carte blanche to call up any U.S. intelligence agency, to go back and retrace the early moments, minutes, days and weeks of the counterintelligence investigation.

Lindsey Graham saying this morning, this is great.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Well, long overdue. You're going to find out the mentality of the people investigating the president. You're going to find out exactly what they did and said. And the people involved had political motives. They were out to get Trump, and they wanted to help Clinton. And how do you prosecute her if you want her to win? So the reason she wasn't charged, I think, is because they knew that if they charged her, she probably wouldn't win the election.


MURRAY: Oh, my God, we're still talking about Hillary Clinton's e- mails.

KING: We're still talking -- we're still talking about Hillary Clinton.

And I actually -- you know, Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee says this is un-American. We don't know that yet. We don't know that yet. They have every right and every reason to go back and look at the origins of an investigation that involved a presidential campaign. Every right and reason. The question is, are they going to be transparent about it and fair about it and lay it all out, or are they going to cherry pick documents to try to -- like they did text messages, to try to say this was a coup, as the president says?

MURRAY: So, I mean, this is the concern. Look, it's an extraordinary thing to decide to open an investigation into a presidential campaign, to decide to involve the U.S. intelligence into looking into the activities of people surrounding a presidential campaign. So if everyone did things the way they were supposed to do it, if everyone did things by the book, then, you know, there will be an investigation. It will be uncomfortable. People will be grilled. But, ultimately, that's what the investigation would find.

I think part of concern is that, you know, now Bill Barr has all of this power. And this is the same Bill Barr that people have seen out there saying that the Trump campaign was spied on and that the president was falsely accused, and people are looking at him and saying, you've already pre-judged where this is going. You've already decided that people did something wrong at the early origins of this investigation into the Trump campaign before you really have any information. And I think that's what makes people so uncomfortable about the amount of power that has just, you know, been placed in his lap.

BENDER: The striking thing here, I think, too, is at a time when he's ordering the intelligence community to participate in this investigation, he is refusing to help with any of the Democratic-led investigations in Congress and comes in the context of Wednesday he talked about this investigation saying crimes were committed and then on Thursday he talked about some investigations saying the crime was treason that was committed. So if he's going to -- if the question is whether he's going to cherry pick facts, we'll see, but he's already clearly reached his conclusion.

KING: And people complaining about thumbs on a scale seem to be happy to put their thumb on a scale.

Yes, OK.

Well, we're going to come back to this later in the show. The president is talking to reporters as he leaves the White House for Japan. We'll bring you that when we can.

Up next, breaking news on United States troops being deployed to the Middle East.


[12:18:38] KING: President Trump today signing off on deploying an additional 1,500 U.S. troops to the Persian Gulf. That amid tensions with Iran. The approval green lights patriot missile batteries, reconnaissance aircraft and the necessary forces to support those resources. Two U.S. officials telling CNN the deployment designed to further deter Iran since the Pentagon believes there are still rising threats in the region to U.S. troops.

CNN military and diplomatic analyst retired Rear Admiral John Kirby joins us now.

Admiral, 1,500 troops, patriot missile batteries, reconnaissance aircraft. This request some from CENTCOM, you're told. You've worked with the commanding general there. What does it tell you? Is this a dramatic escalation? Is this a necessary deployment?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: I wouldn't call it a dramatic escalation. Fifteen sounds about right to me based on what they're sending, these additional forces. But what it tells me, John, is that the threat from Iran clearly is not diminished enough to make General McKenzie comfortable. I've known him for almost ten years now. You won't find a more pragmatic military leader. He wouldn't be asking for these additional resources if he didn't really need them. So that's the first thing, it tells me that the threat has not diminished quite safely enough for General McKenzie.

Number two, and I think this is something we need to be looking for long term, I wouldn't be surprised if there is a longer, more strategic discussion going on in the Pentagon about changing the forced posture in Central Command in a more meaningful, long term, enduring way. In other words, more forces, more permanently deployed there.

[12:20:02] KING: And to that point, you have been skeptical, at times critical, of some of the words coming out of the administration when it comes to this standoff with Iran about some of the -- some of the steps that are taken. In this case, you're talking about your personal experience with the CENTCOM commander, and you think he would not be part of something that was done for political reasons, and if this is being done, he sees a military intelligence need to do it.

KIRBY: A hundred percent, John. I know General McKenzie really well. This is not a political decision.

Now, obviously, it needed political signoff, but I'm comfortable given what I know about him and the Pentagon officials I've talked to that this is really required, this is really needed. And, again, I don't think this is necessary the end, John. I think we could see additional forces being sent over to that region, both temporarily and maybe even permanently.

KING: Important perspective. Really appreciate it. Admiral Kirby coming in on quick notice for us.

KIRBY: You got it.

KING: Let's move to other big news oversees.

Britain needs a new prime minister today and Brexit is again the reason. Theresa May announcing her resignation this morning, yielding to a cabinet rebellion stemming from her repeated failures to win parliamentary approval for the plan to exit the European Union. May came to power three years ago when David Cameron stepped aside because he favored staying in the EU but voters passed a referendum demanding Britain exit, this part of the prime minister's farewell.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I will shortly leave the job that it has been the honor of my life to hold. The second female prime minister, but certainly not the last. I do so with no ill will, but with enormous and enduring gratitude to have had the opportunity to serve of the country I love.


KING: Quite emotional there at the end. Prime Minister May will formally step down after a new prime minister is elected. So she will still be in office when President Trump visits the U.K. early next month.

CNN's Phil Black live from 10 Downing Street in London.

Phil, a spirited contest to replace Theresa May.

What happens next?

PHIL BLACK, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, as you say, Theresa May, John, will stay in office in title, if not absolute authority until after President Trump's visit. Then her conservative party begins the process of trying to determine a new leader. It will be an internal contest amongst what's expected to be a pretty broad field of candidate. MP's will determine the final two. Those final two then go out to a ballot of conservative party members across the country.

So what it means is, by the end of July we expect to have a new conservative party leader and a new prime minister. The expectation is that it will be someone who takes a much tougher, harder line on that whole idea of Brexit. And many are saying that is absolutely what is required to get that done.

There's been a lot of criticism of Theresa May. Much of it over her failure to come to terms with Brexit. That was a point that was made today by Nigel Farage (ph), an activist who has championed the Brexit cause in this country for a very long time. Someone who has a personal relationship with President Trump, responding to Theresa May's resignation, he said this. He said, it is difficult not to feel for Mrs. May, but politically she misjudged the mood of the country and her party. Two conservative leaders have now gone whose instincts were pro-EU. Either the party learns that lesson or it dies.

So, as I said, the expectation is the new prime minister will be tough on Brexit but that new prime minister will inherit all the same challenges that have led Theresa May being forced out of office here today. A divided parliament, a minority government and an incredibly complicated, political challenge with no easy solution.


KING: No easy solution at all.

Phil Black, appreciate the live reporting on Downing Street. We'll continue to watch the remarkable developments.

Up next for us here, back to U.S. politics. The disaster aid bill stuck again in Congress.


[12:28:34] KING: The House today failed to pass a critical disaster relief bill. All it took to block the bill, one Republican congressman. That was Chip Roy of Texas. He objected to the lack of money for the border wall, something the president said he was willing to wait for so that this disaster bill could pass.


REP. CHIP ROY (R-TX): I am here today primarily because if I do not object, Congress will have passed into law a bill that spends $19 billion of taxpayer money without members of Congress being present here in our nation's capital to vote on it.

Secondly, it's a bill that includes nothing to address the clear national emergency and humanitarian crisis we face at our southern border.


KING: The $19 billion bill was all set to go through by what they call unanimous consent after it passed the Senate yesterday. Now it seems to be on hold until after a Memorial Day congressional recess.

Joining our conversation, CNN's Phil Mattingly, "Politico's" Melanie Zanona.

We're going to hear from the president of the United States in a minute or so, so I'm going to interrupt the conversation.

But how significant is this in that the president had green lighted this, so they thought the Republicans would, you know, bite their tongues, if you will. We know they object for a number of reasons. But now, boom. PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, this has

been a mess for months. They finally figured out a pathway forward yesterday, the Senate did. The Senate passed it by a major vote, 86- 15, something along those lines, or 84-15. Look, if you didn't think a Freedom Caucus Republican, who Chip Roy is, would come and try and block this, the unanimous consent, you haven't really been paying attention for the last decade and so it's significant in that the people really need the money. They've been hurting for a long period of time, not just Puerto Rico, Florida, the southern states with flooding in the Midwest, fires in California. Now it's going to take a little bit longer to actually get there. But the idea that the president.