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Trump Talks about Information from Foreign Powers; GOP Pivots to Steele Dossier; Sanders Under Attack. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 13, 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.

Remarkable comments from President Trump. He says he sees nothing wrong with listening if a foreign government offers dirt on a political opponent, and he says his FBI director is wrong when he says any campaign should quickly report such conduct to law enforcement.

Plus, Bernie Sanders under friendly fire today. Several of the more moderate 2020 Democratic contenders say the Democratic socialist brand promoted by Senator Sanders is a recipe to re-elect President Trump.

And, the president takes a personal interest in a new look for Air Force One.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Here's your new Air Force One. And I'm doing that for other presidents, not for me.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Everyone wants to know, is there a pod or not?

TRUMP: A pod?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Have you seen the movie "Air Force One"?


STEPHANOPOULOS: The famous pod that flies out of the back.

TRUMP: Oh, I see. But, yes, I can tell you, there is a couple of -- there are a couple of secrets. You know what, there are a couple of secrets. I don't think we're supposed to be talking about that. So, anyway, there it is if you want.


KING: We begin the hour with head-spinning comments by the president of the United States. His matter of fact admissions that when push comes to shove, he would at least listen to foreign powers peddling dirt on his political rivals. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Your campaign, this time around, if foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on an opponent, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think maybe you do both. I think you might want to listen. I don't -- there's nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, we have information on your opponent, oh, I think I'd want to hear it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You want that kind of interference in our elections?

TRUMP: It's not an interference. They have information. I think I'd take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I'd go maybe to the FBI.


KING: Well, so much for America first. The president telling ABC yesterday, he does not care where that information comes from. Democrats this morning unified in their outrage.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): What the president said last night shows clearly, once again, over and over again, that he does not know the difference between right and wrong. And that's probably the nicest thing I can say about him.

There is no sense of -- of -- what's the word I want to find, any ethical sense that -- that informs his comments and his thinking.


KING: Republicans with few exceptions, silent, looking to change the subject or talking in circles. Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the exceptions.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): That's not the right answer. If a foreign government comes to you as a public official and offers to help your campaign, giving you anything of value, whether it be money or information on your opponent, the right answer is no.


KING: But the president, today, unmoved by any suggestion what he said is wrong, immoral or illegal. On Twitter, he did what he always does when he faces criticism, stirring up a storm meant to distract and confuse. In one tweet he conflated the normal business of being president and meeting with foreign heads of state with welcoming ill- gotten info from foreign spies. But stop and think about the president's words again. Quote, they have information, I think I'd take it.

Here with me to sharing their reporting and their insights, Margaret Talev of "Bloomberg," CNN's Phil Mattingly, Paul Kane with "The Washington Post" and "Politico's" Lauren Barron-Lopez.

I almost don't know what to say. After the last two-plus years of what the country has been through, why? Just, why? Does he just think -- there are laws, number one. You cannot take in-kind contributions from foreign nationals. And, plus, there's just what the country's been through for the last two years. And even if you're President Trump and even if you believe you were wrongly accused and this was a witch hunt and this was a hoax, I think I'd take it. I don't think there's anything wrong with that?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, so, I mean, and the story in 2016 was somewhere between, we didn't do anything and, well, you know, we were just a new campaign, like there was no coordination of anything. We're just trying to figure out, like, whatever.

This is different. The president's been in office for two and a half years. He's had multiple briefings and a very long and involved investigation and lots of meetings with counsel. And whether he wanted to or not, he now knows more and has spent more time thinking about what you are and are not supposed to do during election season in terms of getting information from other countries than probably most new presidents have ever thought about.

So that seemed like a pretty deliberate statement on his part, and -- and I think -- we're not talking about Norway. We also know that.

KING: Yes.

TALEV: So -- so there's a few implications for this. Number one, yes, it is sort of sound -- looks -- sounds like an invitation for other countries to send intelligence directly to Trump and bypass --

[12:05:01] KING: Which he did as a candidate in 2016. He had a news conference where he said, hey, Russia, if you've got it, bring it on.

TALEV: Yes, and they're -- yes. And there are, you know, there are intelligence channels if -- if a -- if an ally of the United States, someone like Britain, had information about an American political candidate who they felt was a security threat, there are channels by which they would communicate to the United States government about that. The channel would not be to place a call to the president or his son or his, you know, political -- his campaign manager or something like that.

So what the -- what the president said seemed deliberate. It seemed like he understood what he was saying and he said it anyway. And that's why there's so much consternation now inside his party, by the way, as well as among Democrats.

KING: Right. And we'll get to some of the reaction and we'll get to some of what the Republican reflex is when the president does these kinds of things. We'll get to that in a minute. But, I'm sorry, what the president of the United States said, sitting at his desk in the Oval Office, to even add insult to the injury, if you will, is it not un-American?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": Well, it sends a strong signal to foreign adversaries, not just Russia, but others, like China, saying that -- and, to me, this is stronger than even what he said in the lead-up to the 2016 election, although that was also stunning to a number of people because he's saying that he wouldn't report it to the FBI. And so --

KING: Or he might but he'd listen first.

BARRON-LOPEZ: Right. Exactly.


KING: Right.

BARRON-LOPEZ: So, I mean, the question I also have is, does this mean he also is willing to take hacked material, which was obtained illegally by these foreign adversaries?

KING: That's a great question. And let's listen more to the president, because if you're a supporter of the president out there you're saying, there they go again. There they go again. Well, don't listen to us then. Listen to him.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think you might want to listen. I don't -- there's nothing wrong with listening. If I thought there was something wrong, I'd go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research, oh, let's call the FBI. The FBI doesn't have enough agents to take of it. But you go and talk honestly to congressmen, they all do it. They always have. And that's the way it is. It's called oppo research.


KING: This -- this is one of his tricks, and he's really good at it. They all do it. And today, if you read his Twitter account, he's like a toddler who got caught. Everybody's bad, so don't get mad at me because everybody's bad. It's what your children do when they get caught.

They don't do it. Yes, they do opposition research. There is legitimate opposition research. You can you pay people, you can use nexus lexus, you can go to the library, you can go to the courthouse, you can do all that. When a foreign government, especially a hostile foreign government, is the source and contacting you and offering you help, that's not oppo research, that's a crime.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, what the president is particularly good at is picking an issue that maybe the broader public doesn't have a lot of knowledge about or maybe just has kind of tangential surface-based knowledge of, in this case opposition research, and deciding to make it whatever it is he thinks helps his case when, in fact, it's not that. And I think we probably all have been on the receiving end of opposition research on a pretty regular basis during campaigns. I have not been on the receiving end if any of it came from a foreign government that was offering intelligence.

I think the problem here is, what he's saying is happening everywhere is not happening everywhere. You talk to lawmakers about this. They make very clear that they -- if they were to receive anything from a foreign government, they would report it to the FBI. In fact, when it came to the dossier, which I know we're going to talk about in a little bit because it's become the kind of big counterpunch we've heard from Republicans when they're willing to weigh in. When Senator John McCain received the dossier and spoke to Senator Lindsey Graham about the dossier, Graham said one thing, take this to the FBI. Anybody who got that was supposed to take that to the FBI. And I think that's kind of the universal theme regardless of party is, if this ever came to us, we would go to the FBI, because where else would you go on something like this?

KING: And this has been a national conversation now for two-plus years, including at the confirmation of the president's FBI director where he said if -- if -- in the case of say Donald Trump Junior or a hypothetical, you got a phone call from somebody, quick little Google search tells you they have associations with a hostile foreign government, you should call law enforcement.

George Stephanopoulos asked the president about that.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is somebody that said, we have information on your opponent. Oh, let me call the FBI. Give me a break. Life doesn't work that way.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: The FBI director says that's what should happen.

TRUMP: The FBI director is wrong.


KING: It's fun to work for him in that he calls you out. At least Christopher Wray understands, there's no -- you know, there's no ambiguity there about what the president thinks. But, he says, you know, life doesn't -- give me a break, life doesn't work that way. His life doesn't work that way maybe or hasn't worked that way, but most people get this.

KANE: Yes, there have been cases where opposition researchers have ended up in jail. There have been criminal cases where people went too far. There was a case in New Hampshire last decade where this happened. He seems to not understand the difference between doing research and actually breaking into something where that is clearly a crime. That is what the Watergate whole thing spun from was a break- in.

TALEV: Well, you're absolutely right about that.

And this also suggests kind of an adversarial instinct that the president has now about the FBI, that he does not see it as the domestic law enforcement agency that is there to, you know, sort of support him and the public, you know, and good governance, right? It's -- it's like -- he's -- what he's hinting at is, he doesn't really trust the FBI. I mean if he wanted more FBI agents to be available so that they could like robustly investigate stuff, he has the power to use the bully pulpit and -- and his legislative, you know, folks to work with Congress to try to get more money for FBI funding or to encourage his attorney general to shift resources.

[12:10:25] So -- but, within the same like 24-hour period, we saw him then, I think it was this morning, tweet that -- emphasizing that Michael Flynn had a new lawyer, congratulating him on his choice of a lawyer because this lawyer is sort of a well-known anti-FBI, anti- Mueller probe lawyer and the president's saying good lawyer, good luck, you guys.

So it is an antagonistic approach toward the FBI that I think is part of what is underlaying the way he answered that question.

MATTINGLY: Can I just add -- say something that actually tracks with this. When asking around this morning, why does -- why would somebody do this? Why does -- why does he keep doing this, besides the fact that it had been 72 hours since Republicans on The Hill had to face a cries where they had to have furrowed brows and be somewhat concerned, and it's anything that calls into question the legitimacy of 2016, right? He views whatever the position is that might call into question, in his mind, the legitimacy of his victory in 2016, he has to take the opposite side of it immediately. And I don't think anybody, at least none of us, are saying that this in any way impacts that. But I think that dictates a lot of what he does, a lot of his reactions. Even if you look at him, you say, what on earth is he talking about? I think that is kind of a consistent theme with a lot of the stuff he says that shakes people in both parties a little bit.

BARRON-LOPEZ: And he can get away with it. I mean Republicans, as you mentioned earlier, John, have pretty much, other than Graham, found ways to talk around this and not give a straight answer.

KING: And when we come back, we'll continue that conversation because if you ask the Republicans about something controversial said by the Republican president, you get a pretty predictable answer, blame Hillary Clinton.


[12:16:27] KING: Republicans have two predictable foils when they're asked about the outrageous things said and done by the Republican president, Hillary Clinton and the Steele dossier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): I'm hoping some of my Democratic

colleagues will take more seriously the fact that Christopher Steele was a foreign agent, paid to by the Democratic Party, to gather dirt on Trump, a document unverified, to use to get a warrant. That's why I'm so upset about that. Foreign influence in our elections is growing, not lessening, and we don't want to send the signal to encourage it. So that's why I think looking at the FISA process regarding the Steele dossier is important.


KING: To Senator Graham's credit, he did first disagree with the president's statement. The president saying he'd be inclined to listen if a foreign government offered dirt on a political opponent. The House Republican leader turned indignant when asked about the president's comments. Indignant at Hillary Clinton, of course.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I know the president. I know what action he took in the last campaign. Yes, when he -- when he was approached by this, he did what was right. When I watch the Democrats, they did what was wrong. They actually funded the entity that went through (ph) and put us through this special counsel. They utilize the FISA court to spy on Americans, to false -- falsify the salacious lies in this process that has put America into this tailspin.


KING: CNN's Sara Murray and Evan Perez join our conversation.

Let's go through a couple things. OK, did the Steele dossier -- is that the only reason we had the Mueller investigation, as the Republicans say there? There's a Steele dossier, made its way to the FBI, voila, that's why we have a special counsel. Fact or fiction?


KING: Fiction?

PEREZ: Fiction.

MATTINGLY: It was not a yes or no question.

PEREZ: I have a one word answer, it's no. I mean, look, there's more to this.

KING: Right.

PEREZ: Obviously the FBI said that they had a lot of additional information that they believed warranted this investigation. They had it before, as a matter of fact. They started the investigation before they received the original documents that we now call the Steele dossier. And so there was a lot more to this investigation. And, obviously, some of the president's own obstructive acts, which have been detailed in the Mueller investigation, is what really brought us to the Mueller investigation.

KING: Right. And we may learn more, and I'm dying to learn more, from the Justice Department inspector general and then the attorney general himself looking at the origins of the Russia investigation. So if there was misuse at the FBI --

PEREZ: Right.

KING: Of the Steele information, we will learn that, right?

PEREZ: Right. And, look, the FBI makes mistakes. They screw up all the time. And -- and if they made mistakes here and everything was not done appropriately as part of this investigation, we're going to find out. And that's appropriate for us to know, right? I mean this is an awesome power that the FBI has to intrude on our lives and they should be held to account. But that's not what these guys are talking about.

KING: Right. They've learned very well from the president. Just conflate things and confuse.

PEREZ: Right.

KING: It's a great tactic that the president uses to his success.

Christopher Steele, is he the same as Russians either accepting hacked -- WikiLeaks accepting hacked e-mails from the Russians and the Clinton -- and the Trump -- President Trump -- candidate Trump urging them to put them in the public, or getting a meeting at Trump Tower with somebody if you did a quick Goggle search you could tie back to the Russia government, is that the same as the Democrats and the Clinton campaign, the DNC, paying a former British intelligence agent, now in private business, to collect opposition research?

SARA MURRAY: No, it's not the same thing. I mean, in part, because, as you said, it's a former British intelligence agent, so we have a very different relationship, as the United States, with the U.K., then we do with Russia. Russia is essentially a foreign adversary at this point. The U.K. is one of our closest allies. And this is someone who has worked with the FBI in the past, which is part of the reason that they, you know, probably felt more comfortable relying on some of this information, not for all of, you know, all of this investigation, but relying on some of this information as they were moving forward.

[12:20:11] I think when you look at what the Trump people were doing when it came to Russia is, they were accepting information, or at least suggesting a willingness to accept information with a government that was openly hostile to the United States, with a government that, you know, was involved in hacking. It's just a very different situation. It's just like every time you ask the Republicans a question about Donald Trump, then bringing it back to Hillary Clinton, like we're not talking about the same thing here. We're not in the same universe of conversations. And just because you say, go look at that shiny object doesn't mean America should all follow like sheep behind it.

KING: It's because they don't want to answer a question. And here's the question and then you're going to hear John Cornyn, Republican senator of Texas, and after him you're going to hear Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, up for re-election this year, trying to keep the president on his good side. Is it wrong for the president of the United States, the president. Of the United States, that's Republican Donald Trump, to say, I'd listen. If a foreign government called, I'd be open to listening. Of course you would listen. Give me a break. Why would you call the FBI if an adversarial foreign government called you up and said, we have dirt on your political opponent?


SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R-TX): It's already happen. Hillary Clinton paid Fusion GPS to produce information that found its way into the FBI's counterintelligence investigation of President Trump. And now, after the Mueller investigation, which has produced no charges, now, obviously, the inspector general of the Department of Justice is looking at how that got started.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Any concerns about the president saying he'd be OK to accepting foreign dirt?

SEN. THOM TILLIS (R-NC): The president -- the president -- well, first off, to get information like Hillary Clinton did, she should have probably contacted the FBI. I think that the president would, too. But if the information's valid, it's a matter of corroborating it.


KING: He's a member of the United States Senate. He should know the law. If the information is valid. No, if the information comes from a hostile foreign -- foreign actor, it's wrong to take it. It's illegal to take it, right?

PEREZ: Look, I mean I think one of the important things about this conversation today is what it means for 2020. And I think that's where the importance lies, right? The idea is, you should call the FBI. And, by the way, one of the reasons why there were no charges here in this -- in this case was because, you know, one of the excuses that these guys had is that they didn't know it was against the law, right? In campaign finance law, that's one of the issues, you have to prove that you knew you were violating the law.

So, now they know. Now they know.

MURRAY: There's a whole report about it.

KING: Except the president of the United States.

PEREZ: But now he does know.

MURRAY: He knows. Yes.

PEREZ: He does know.

KING: Yes. Oh, you're suggesting he's -- oh, oh, I can't -- I'm shocked. I'm shocked.

TALEV: You know, we were talking about like terms of art and how people might not know what oppo research was.

KING: He knows. He does know. He does know. I shouldn't -- I shouldn't even joke about this because it's not funny. He does know. So then why does he do it?

MURRAY: That's a long pause.

TALEV: (INAUDIBLE) the softball question.

KING: Right. Right.

TALEV: I don't know why he's doing it.

To Phil's point, I don't know if his instinct is just to defend his behavior in 2016 and that's the lens through which he sees it, or whether he wants to purposefully be provocative because it will whip up the impeachment talk again and reflect poorly on the Democrats. I don't know how strategic it is. I can't possibly read his mind.

But I do know that what he said, what he laid out in that interview with George Stephanopoulos, he's got a lot of Republicans behind the scene very uncomfortable about the posture that he's taken.

KING: Right, and they just -- they're just too cowardly to say so publicly. I'll say that. You don't have to.

TALEV: Thank you.

KING: News just into CNN, the White House, this hour, says a government watchdog is trying to chill free speech. That's what the White House says. The government watchdog recommending Kellyanne Conway lose her federal job. The Office of Special Counsel says Conway broke the law, the Hatch Act, by insulting Democratic presidential candidates while speaking in her official capacity as counselor to the president. Kellyanne Conway doing that. The office of special counsel saying on television, and on social media.

The White House says the decision is, quote, deeply flawed and, quote, influenced by media pressure and liberal organizations. We should note, the burden falls on President Trump to decide whether to accept or reject the office's recommendation, which is, again, to remove Conway from federal service.

Up next for us, Senator Bernie Sanders taking some incoming, and it's coming from fellow Democrats.


[12:28:52] KING: Senator Bernie Sanders under attack today from Democratic presidential rivals who believe his embrace of the word "socialist" is not only wrong, but risks damaging the entire Democratic Party brand.


JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Democrats must say loudly and clearly that we are not socialists. If we do not, we will end up helping to re-elect the worst president in this country's history.

SEN. MICHAEL BENNET (D-CO), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When Bernie says it's either Trump or Democratic socialism, that's a completely false choice.

We need an agenda that appeals to the -- to the American people and unites the American people. Why do we want to choose a vocabulary that divides people?


KING: Former Vice President Joe Biden, the frontrunner, of course, also taking issue. This is from a fundraiser last night in Chicago. This is Vice President Biden, quote, things have changed in a way that need to be turned around and it doesn't require socialism and it doesn't require some fundamental shift. It requires sort of reordering capitalism to make capitalism work and save it.

This reaction because Sanders delivered a speech yesterday explaining and defending his view of Democratic socialism. Last night here on CNN, he politely suggested his critics are wrong.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, "AC 360": Is it a liability?

[12:30:05] SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think so. And I'll tell you why. Look, I mean I certainly have known Elizabeth for many, many years and she's a friend.