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Trump Tries to Drown out Mueller's Words; Pelosi Resists Impeachment Calls; 2020 Candidates Weigh Impeachment. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 30, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:26] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

And a bizarre day it is. The president launches a blistering tirade at Robert Mueller. A lot of it was lies and all of it was a glimpse at raw Trump anger.

Plus, Speaker Nancy Pelosi acknowledges Democratic calls for impeachment are louder today and coming from the presidential campaign trail, too, but she says the best path is patience, and she says the math is still in her favor.

And Joe Biden attends a Memorial Day event in Delaware, four years to the day after losing his son Beau to brain cancer.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You all know the loss of a loved one is -- it is somehow -- the pain fades a little bit, but those moments when you remember it are bittersweet because those are the days that everything comes back, the pride as well as the pain.


KING: We begin the hour with the president's urgent mission, to make you forget what Robert Mueller said. A fog of new tweets and new sound bites from the president this morning outside the White House repeating his verdict on the Mueller investigation and the Mueller report.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It was to me the same as the report. And there's no obstruction. You see what we're saying. There's no obstruction. There's no collusion. There's no nothing. It's nothing but a witch hunt.

If they only found anything, they would have had it.

There was no crime. There was no charge because he had no information.


KING: Now, the president knows most Americans did not read the Mueller report, and so he also knows that yesterday was a big deal. The Russian special counsel dominated the TV news, standing between the flags at the Trump Justice Department, delivering a ten-minute just- the-facts reading of his bottom line conclusions. Most damning, the special counsel making clear on camera what he could not say, that the president of the United States is not a crook.


ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL: If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.


KING: Americans searched Mueller on Google more than 500,000 times Wednesday. That sparked an interest and Americans hearing from Mueller for the first time in two years, well, it helps explains why the president spent 17 minutes on the South Lawn today. The president wants the last word, or words, and doesn't care that those words include lie after lie.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think he's totally conflicted. And he loves Comey. You look at the relationship that those two. So whether it's love or deep like, but he should -- he was conflicted.

Robert Mueller should never have been chosen.

I think he is a totally conflicted person. I think Mueller is a true never Trumper.


KING: With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Carl Hulse with "The New York Times," CNN's Shimon Prokupecz, and Margaret Talev with "Bloomberg."

I ask this question a lot. It's a choice to take questions from reporters. It's a choice to flash your anger like that. Why? The word from the White House yesterday was, we don't like this. What Robert Mueller said might not be good for us, but if he says he doesn't want to testify, let's just let this go and hope this day passes. The president didn't want to do that.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, and he tried to downplay what Robert Mueller said, which is what we've seen coming from the White House on the record and officially. But, of course, they know that having the special counsel appear on camera like that doesn't really help their case. And, of course, it's something the president wants to talk about

because he came out there, he talked about the economy, he talked about jobs, he talked about Turkey releasing a hostage or a prisoner. But then, of course, he gets into this tirade about Robert Mueller, not all true, of course, and that is what makes it the headline of the day.

KING: And anger. You could see it. I mean, you know, the president -- he's a performer sometimes. I don't mean that critically. All politicians are. But he was mad.

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he -- and he kind of woke up sideways. I mean as we're all kind of showing up at the White House with our coffee waiting to gather on the South Lawn, you're just look at your phone and you're like, oh, man, it's going to be an interesting morning.

And that's exactly what happened. You know, he was sort of teeing himself up. And to heart the sitting president of the United States refer to the special counsel as someone who is very respected in the law enforcement community, spent a lifetime in law enforcement, to refer to him as a never Trumper was sort of a meta moment that you can't let passion by. That here was -- if the president truly believes that Robert Mueller fully exonerated him and is telling the American public nothing to see here, what is he so angry about?

And -- but that's -- he -- the president is obviously conflicted himself because on the one and he can use the Mueller report's conclusions and non-conclusions to say, see, there's nothing more here to investigate. But, on the other hand, he is still very angry, and he understands that one of the principal messages that Bob Mueller was delivering yesterday in person was, I didn't say that he didn't commit the crime.

[12:05:19] KING: And to that point, the president, you know, he is a good performer. He has this Twitter following. He knows how to use social media. Four hundred and forty-eight pages can't talk page. The Mueller report cannot speak back. And if you haven't read it, therefore the president dominates the discussion.

But if you come down to a credibility test, who to believe, between the president of the United States, who routinely lies, sorry I have to say it, but he routinely lies, and a guy who has a purple heart and a bronze star and 50 years of service to his country, Robert Mueller wins the our credibility challenge. And, to your point, one of the things he said was -- he essentially said, look, read the report. You'll find plenty of obstruction of justice. Why didn't I charge him with a crime? It was never under consideration.


ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL: Under long-standing department policy, a present president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional.

Charging the president with a crime was, therefore, not an option we could consider.


KING: Not an option we could consider. And he essentially says, but here's my report. Congress can consider it, if you like. You have a different -- you have the appropriate constitutional forum. I did not.

What more do we know about what got him between those flags? Given the way Bill Barr has spun the Mueller report, it could not have sat well with the attorney general of the United States to see the special counsel in his building, in his briefing room, standing behind his logo, essentially saying that the report documents crimes. It's up to you, Congress.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, you would imagine that that's exactly how the attorney general felt. He did not want him there, right? You can -- he was there on the day that the attorney general wasn't even there. The attorney general was traveling. The fact that he did it there is pretty significant that the -- that Mueller did it there.

We don't exactly know why. We never expected to hear from Mueller. All along we said he would just close shop, move along, move, get back to his normal life, get back to his private life and we would never hear from him. So something happened. And that's what I think folks are now trying to figure out.

There have been a lot of different theories out there concerning Mueller and what his thinking was and where he was in life and even in some ways his health. So I wonder if that in any way is what caused him to come out there and show that he can talk and he can speak and he can, you know, give a statement, a pretty detailed statement about what he was going through and what he -- the investigation and what they did. So it could have been that.

I think they all felt -- the people close to Mueller felt that he needed to say something given all the attacks. And now that it was finally over, they must have convinced him to finally come out and give that statement.


KING: Right.

HULSE: And I -- I think part of it was to send this message to Congress, right, I don't want to come up and testify. This is it. I think he's trying to get Congress off his back a little bit. But I don't think it's going to work.


HULSE: As soon as he spoke, you know, Steny Hoyer, the number two, putting out statements, we need to hear from him. We need to ask him questions. To Margaret's point, I agree totally. I mean, here's -- Trump's

claiming he's won. He's vindicated by this guy, but also how terrible this guy is, Mr. Mueller. So that's kind of puzzling why they go in that direction. And then the last tell to me, from the president's performance there today, was that at the end he says, and i'm going to have a statement on the border.

KING: Right.

HULSE: You know, that's old reliable there. When things are really going bad, I need to rally my folks. Let's do something about the border.

KING: And so then you look at what the president said. And, again, with probably -- I've probably asked this question too many times, trying to say why? Just, you know why? Why is he focusing on this? Why is he focusing on that? Why won't he let it the go?

But if you read -- you mentioned the side -- waking up sideways this morning.

Here's one of the president's tweets this morning and it's very interesting because follow along closely here. Russia, Russia, Russia, that's all you heard at the beginning of this witch hunt hoax. And now Russia has disappeared because I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected. It was a crime that didn't exist, so now the Dems and their part of the fake news media and he goes on and it's rampant (ph).

I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected. The president's own fingers typing that Russia helped him get elected. He says he had nothing to do with it. Then, on the South Lawn later, the message was a little different.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia did not help me get elected. You know who got me elected? You know who got me elected? I got me elected. Russia didn't help mean at all. Russia, if anything, I think, helped the other side.


KING: You get whiplash. Robert Mueller is an honorable man. Robert Mueller found nothing. No, Robert Mueller's a conflicted whatever. Russia helped me. I had nothing to do with Russia helping me get elected. Russia did not help me get elected. Which is it?

COLLINS: And the White House is now trying to say that what the president said on the South Lawn is his position, that Russia didn't help him get elected.

But we should note, not only did he tweet it once, he deleted it, corrected a typo, re-tweeted that tweet and left the Russia part in there. So what the president was essentially tweeting, though, though he later reversed it, was essentially what everybody else has already embraced, the idea that, yes, the Russians were trying to help Donald Trump get elected, something that Vladimir Putin himself said on stage in Helsinki that he thought Donald Trump would fare better for U.S./Russia relations than Hillary Clinton sitting in the Oval Office. So the president is just simply saying what the intelligence agencies and the Mueller report have already said.

[12:10:13] But we should point out that the idea that they were trying to help the Democrats is not it. They hacked into Democratic e-mails and published them in order to hurt Hillary Clinton. That's laid out pretty clearly (INAUDIBLE).

TALEV: But either way it takes the narrative away from Robert Mueller and puts the narrative back in President Trump's court and that's where he wants it.

PROKUPECZ: Just think about the way -- the way Mueller ended his statement yesterday and what he said about the systematic efforts to interfere in our election. That allegation deserves the attention of every American. I mean --

KING: It was one of many implicit shots at the president, because the president does not give it any attention.

HULSE: Yes, he is the last holdout on this.

KING: Right.

HULSE: Although in the Senate, you know, they've tried to bring forward this bill to -- to do some more election protection. That is not going anywhere yet. Maybe this will give that some impetus. But, yes, this is an obvious thing that Trump just cannot accept, although I do say -- I don't defend the president that often, but I -- just his syntax, you know, he doesn't know sometimes exactly what he's typing on those tweets.

KING: And just for the last word here, do we have any definitive word if the House Democrats say, sorry, Mr. Mueller, we don't take your, you don't want to testify. We want you to testify. Will he fight?

PROKUPECZ: I would suspect that he would fight, or at least they would try to keep it behind closed doors. I don't think that he wants to come there and start asking all sorts of questions.

What I almost think could happen here, and maybe other people on his team from the special counsel's office may come in and maybe -- may be able to do some kind of briefing. Look, they could call anyone in. If Mueller doesn't want to come in, OK, well, then, maybe we can bring someone in, one of his deputies or one of the other U.S. attorneys, or the people who are specifically involved in the obstruction investigation. Maybe they come in and meet with members of Congress.

HULSE: I think he's going to have a tough time fighting that.

KING: Right. I know from his friends that he is -- he has watched Rod Rosenstein's appearances before the House Judiciary Committee and is not impressed with the committee, the special counsel is not. I'll leave it there for now.

Up next, Speaker Pelosi has a message for House Democrats on impeachment. So does the president.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: To me it's a dirty word, the word impeach. It's a dirty, filthy, disgusting word and it had nothing to do with me.



[12:16:51] KING: Robert Mueller's presentation didn't just anger the president. It made Nancy Pelosi's goal of keeping impeachment talk under control more complicated.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Nothing is off the table. But we do want to make such a compelling case, such an iron-clad case that even the Republican Senate, which at the time seems to be not an objective jury, will be convinced of the path that we have to take as a country.


KING: Translation, if the speaker gets her way, and she normally does, House Democrats will still go slow with investigations, not impeachment. There are now at least 38 House Democrats calling for the start of impeachment proceedings, and more of the 2020 presidential candidates also are joining the impeachment push. But the speaker says the math is still overwhelmingly on her side.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I think that most of them don't have a vote in the House of Representatives.

We won't be swayed by a few people who think one way or another who are running for president, as much as I respect all of them. And they have the freedom to be for impeachment. We have the responsibility to get a result for the American people.


KING: "Politico's" Laura Barron-Lopez joins our conversation.

As Mueller was speaking, and just after Mueller spoke yesterday, there was a sense that, will this have a lot of Democrats running to say, no, no, we have to move faster, we have to impeachment now, look at what Mueller said.

At the end of the day, camp Pelosi seemed pretty confident that it hadn't changed that much, that a few more converts but her approach would still carry the day. LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": Right.

That's what Pelosi is projecting. But she seems to be keeping track of the numbers. I think she offhandedly said, oh, what, 38 Democrats support impeachment. So it's not like she's not paying attention.

KING: Right.

BARRON-LOPEZ: And two of her chairmen came out yesterday and said that they now support it, so that's a shift. We are seeing some other more rank and file members continuing to say, we need to at least launch an inquiry which doesn't necessarily mean we'll go to proceedings or drop the articles, but that at least we can use this as a mechanism to get the information that we want.

KING: She's good at math. You know that.


KING: So that's, you know, oh, 38.

HULSE: Yes. She also is good at getting her way, and she's proven that time and time again. I think that she will be able to hold this off. She does not want to start an impeachment hearing.

I think, to me, Nancy Pelosi, a little bit, is trying to run out the clock, to keep this going, you know, get into the fall, closer to where the primaries are starting, and then I think people are going to say, well, we're almost at the election, we wouldn't start an impeachment now. To me, that's part of her strategy.

TALEV: But, you know, what I found very telling was yesterday Joe Biden's campaign put out a statement from the spokesman that said that the former vice president agrees with what Nancy Pelosi thinks, which is that if Trump continues to conduct himself, as he has been, sliding towards impeachment may be unavoidable. It was very like artful and they waited a long time. A lot of other Democratic candidates who were in that kind of top tier have voiced their concerns or their views on impeachment. Biden had sort of held off. But what he seemed to be saying was -- wants to attach himself to Pelosi but also to allow the "i" word into his discussion, but to say, rather than to position it as, it's Democrats' choice, to position it as it's the president's choice. It's Trump's choice. And it's Trump conduct that will lead him toward that path. It is, again, kind of like that steam valve saying, I'm not going to say I embrace impeachment, but I'm not going to say no to it any more either.

[12:20:27] KING: Well, the question there is that one of the things the speaker argues is, let's keep pushing in court for these documents and for these witnesses and if a court says, Mr. President, you have to turn it over, and then they defy a court order, then we're in a new ballgame because then they believe -- she believes at that point Republicans would have to say, hey, wait a minute, Mr. President.

TALEV: Would have to --

KING: You mentioned the campaign -- the presidential campaigns. Biden -- I'd call Biden a very cautious, calculated --


KING: Safe statement, if you will. That's what frontrunners do.

Nine candidates have been definitive now saying, let's have impeachment. Nine of the 23.

Listen here, though, you can hear the different split in the nuance.


JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we have to begin an impeachment inquiry. Now, it doesn't mean we're going to impeach President Trump tomorrow or maybe ever, but I think we do have an obligation to follow where the facts lead.

GOV. STEVE BULLOCK (D-MT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think we should have the full investigations and --

WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC CO-HOST: Impeachment investigation?

BULLOCK: Oversight. The 11 different investigations, oversight that's occurring right now. I would much rather that be the focus.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I didn't take an oath to support Donald Trump. I took an oath to support the Constitution of the United States. So impeachment it is.


KING: The guy from the red state, Montana, Governor Bullock, saying, let's go slow. Let's go slow. The others more willing to go.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Right, Warren --

HULSE: Go ahead.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Warren has been much more aggressive in this ever since she read the full Mueller report. And I think what's interesting about what Mueller's press conference yesterday was that he didn't necessarily say anything different than what's in the report, but the fact that Democrats heard him articulate pretty much in no uncertain terms that the only recourse that we could have against this president is if Congress decides to do something. And so I think that when they come back next week, we may even see a greater shift. And the question is, even if Pelosi doesn't want to pursue this, whether or not she can hold off because of the pressure of the (INAUDIBLE).

KING: It's a great point because they're all home this week so they're talking to their constituents and so they'll come back to town with the feedback, whether it's go for impeachment or back off from impeachment.

Right now, if you look at the Democrats who say, let's impeach. The -- one reason Nancy Pelosi says, hey, represent your constituents, say what you think you have to say, one reason she's trying to protect the Democrats who flipped Republican seats, all of the Democrats calling for impeachment come from pretty safe seats. If you look at it, Hillary Clinton won their districts by an average of 43 points. Those House Democrats won their districts by an average of 48 points. So, these are very safe Democrats from the bluest of blue districts. You know, that's the politics back home, so they're safe.

COLLINS: Exactly. So Pelosi is much more worried about the people who flipped seats, who come from red states, and that's what the Trump campaign is keeping an eye on as well because they know that Nancy Pelosi is not going to go any further than that unless people like that start changing their mind because she's got them to look out for because they're the ones who have the most to lose from this. People like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez don't have a lot to lose from calling for the president to be impeached. So that's something they're keeping an eye on.

But you can see, the president is growing increasingly sensitive to these calls, not -- depending on wherever the Democrats are from, you could see today that the impeachment line is starting to get to him a lot more than we've seen in recent weeks.

KING: And, again, that's an issue where you see the almost -- the whiplash or the conflict, and a lot of people aren't thinking, hey, we'll drive out the Trump base, but whether your name's Donald Trump or Bill Clinton or Richard Nixon, you don't want the word impeachment. You just -- you don't -- that's his point about the dirty word.

BARRON-LOPEZ: The majority of -- just really quickly, the majority of Democrats that are supporting it, yes, are from blue states, but I reported on that there are a number of vulnerable front-line Democrats that are starting to shift. Some that won in Orange County, where there were -- that was long time Republican seats, one from New Jersey, Tom Malinowski, and he said, look, we don't know the political costs so I'm starting to think, what should I be doing that's best for the country.

HULSE: But those are the people that make the majority for the House.


HULSE: So that's tricky.

I think it's a little easier for the people who are running in the presidential primary. I mean by the end of the day you're probably going to have to be for impeachment in some form to keep those voters. But if Nancy Pelosi is saying, we have to get to a point where the Republicans are going along with us, we have absolutely no sign of that at all. That point is probably not going to be reached.

KING: In fact, even right after Mueller yesterday, Steve Scalise says it's madness. Lindsey Graham says move on. That dam does not look like it's going to break.

OK, this CNN programing reminder, Democratic Presidential Candidate Senator Michael Bennet joins Dana Bash for a CNN town hall. That's live tonight from Atlanta, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, only right here on CNN.

[12:24:40] Up next, the president's feud with John McCain resurfaces over a request that came out of the White House to move a ship bearing the late senator's name.


KING: A new glimpse today at President Trump's John McCain obsession and the steps presidential aides take to try to manage or to avoid the boss' legendary temper.

CNN has confirmed a story first reported by "The Wall Street Journal," efforts by White House aides to get the Navy to make sure the USS John McCain was out of sight when the president visited Japan this past weekend. The president was asked about it this morning and while saying he didn't know anything about the White House e-mails to the Navy, he also didn't pass on a chance to again criticize the senator who died nine months ago.

[12:30:03] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't know what happened. I wasn't involved. I would not have done that. I was very angry with John McCain.