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Hicks Testifies on Capitol Hill; Hope Hicks Rarely Speaks to Trump; House Hearings on Repartitions for Slavery; Biden Criticized for Comments. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 19, 2019 - 12:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Drew Griffin with the latest for us from Washington.

Drew, thank you.

Thanks to all of you for joining us this hour.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.


And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us. President Trump's big kickoff rally makes clear four more years would be four familiar years. Yes, some mentions of the strong economy and other achievements, but also a long list of grievances and a long list of statements that flunk a fact check.

Plus, longtime Trump comfortable Hope Hicks behind close doored on Capitol Hill. House Democrats want to know about hush money payments and other Trump controversies. The White House lawyers assert that most questions are protected by privilege.

And, should reparations be paid to the descendants of slaves? A House committee holds a hearing on a bill that would study options and a 2020 Democratic hopeful is among the witnesses.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe right now, today, we have a historic opportunity to break the silence, to speak to the ugly past and talk constructively about how we will move this nation forward.


KING: Back to that story in a bit.

But we begin the hour with a star witness on Capitol Hill and new detail about her changing relationship with the president she once called "boss man." Hope Hicks was as close to candidate and to President Trump as one can be, and she's behind closed doors right now as House Democrats press for details about Trump hush money payments to two women, payments the feds in New York say violated campaign laws.

Hicks also was central to many key moments in the Mueller report, most notably an Air Force One conversation between the president and Donald Trump Junior over how to spin that now infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting with the Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton. She knows a lot. More than most. But word today is she isn't sharing much.

CNN's Manu Raja tracking this live for us on Capitol Hill.

Manu, what do we know?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the beginning of the hearing did not go particularly well, at least in the eyes of Democrats, because there were objections that were voiced by the White House attorneys in the room saying that she would not answer questions about her time while serving in the White House, saying that she's covered by immunity preventing high-level White House advisers from testifying about matters that occurred at the time in the White House.

Now, Democrats left at that point not happy, saying that this is unacceptable, warning that they would go to court to fight to get answers to those questions, which include some of the allegations that were detailed in the Mueller report about the president allegedly seeking to undermine the special counsel's investigation, allegedly trying to fire the special counsel, his firing of James Comey among the topics that they would not broach. But also Democrats saying she would not answer questions about even where her office was in the West Wing and if she testified before the special counsel truthfully.

But, she has answered questions, I am told, about her time on the campaign trail. That is something that is not covered by any sort of privilege or claims of immunity. The question, though, is whether or not it's enough information that Democrats will ultimately be satisfied. But, John, we should get full details about what she said behind closed doors because the public transcript will be released in -- potentially within 48 hours about everything that she said behind closed doors. But, at the moment, they're still there in hour three. I mean this could go all day. We'll see ultimately what she reveals to this committee, John.

KING: Look forward to seeing the transcript and look forward to following the reporting throughout the day. Manu Raju live on Capitol Hill.

Hope Hicks is back here in Washington from her new job and her new life out on the West Coast. And that separation from Trump world is changing what was once constant interaction with the president and with his inner circle.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins has some inside reporting on the big change.

Kaitlan, what do you know? KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we're essentially seeing that Hope Hicks is returning to a different Washington with Democrats now in charge of the House, but also, 15 months later, after she left the White House as a communications director, we're learning about a very dramatic shift in her relationship with the president himself. Someone who, our sources said, she was in near constant conversation with not only when he was in office, but also on the campaign trail.

But now that she has moved to the West Coast, she has this new job at Fox, we're told that she and the president rarely speak anymore. They went through this period after she left the White House where she had moved to New York, was trying to live a little bit of a quieter life. But when she moved across the United States, essentially the distance between the two of them grew and they stopped speaking nearly as often as they had before when Hope Hicks, when she worked at the White House, would not often leave the White House because she always wanted to be within earshot of Trump.

Now we're told that sometime last year she stopped returning several of the president's calls, leading the president to ask people what happened to Hope?

Now, John, to be clear, we're told that this doesn't signify any change in the way Hope feels toward the president. We're told that she's still on his side, still supports him. But it does give you some revealing aspects of someone that the president used to speak with so often, and that is why Democrats wanted to get her in front of them today because they know not only was she his most trusted confidant, but also she was there every step of the way for several key events that they want to probe.

[12:05:07] But we're seeing just how things have changed between her and the president now that she's back here in Washington.

KING: Kaitlan Collins live at the White House.

And as Kaitlan was reporting, you saw the scrum there on Capitol Hill. Hope Hicks apparently leaving the committee room. We'll see if that's just a lunch break or what it is. We'll keep track of that.

Kaitlan, thank you for that.

There we see the -- we'll keep these pictures up as she walks down the hall. Let's listen for a minute.

QUESTION: Why not answer the committee's questions, Ms. Hicks?

QUESTION: Will you answer questions (INAUDIBLE)?


KING: All right, Miss Hicks and her lawyers making their way down the hall there, making their way into what looks like another holding room there. We'll see if the committee continues. It's probably a lunch break here. We shall keep track of that. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Seung

Min Kim of "The Washington Post," Michael Shear of "The New York Times," CNN's Jeff Zeleny, and Vivian Salama of "The Wall Street Journal."

There is no one, at least -- Candidate Trump, early days of President Trump, there was no one who had as much access, as much proximity that he relied on as much just to bounce ideas off, to talk to. What is the significance of Hope Hicks talking to House Democrats? Are they cleaning this up or do they expect something new?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I think they're -- I mean it is incredibly significant that she's even there. I mean to think back during the campaign, as Mike knows very well, she ironed his pants. She created his messages. I don't mean anything odd by that, but that's how close she was to him. She was like, you know, a -- the closest staffer potentially to him. That continued into the White House.

They clearly were trying to, you know, find some new information from her time at the White House. She's not saying anything about that, as Manu was saying, but there are, you know, things that she saw during the campaign and the transition, particularly that Trump Tower meeting, you know, back to June of 2016. Very surprised if she would say anything new or damaging about the president. But she clearly wants to cooperate. There you saw the smile on her face. That's how we often saw her at the White House. Very pleasing and accommodating, but protective of her boss, President Trump. And I think she still is, regardless of how much she talks to him now.

KING: And he clearly is paying attention, as you continues the conversation, he tweeting this morning, the Dems are unhappy with the Mueller report. So after almost three years they want a redo, a do- over. And in the middle of that, yet now they bring back Hope Hicks. Why aren't the Dems looking at the 33,000 e-mails, familiar there, rigged hearings, a disgrace to our country.

The president -- the president has said several times over the last couple of years, when Hope Hicks has been in the news, when there has been something about her, that is when we see him get more angry, more interested.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, you know, part of -- part of the thing about Hope Hicks is the informality of his -- of her relationship with the president, right? There's so many of the other people in the White House, if you're a White House counsel, if you're a -- you know, somebody who's got an official position, a cabinet secretary, you interact with the president in a very formalized way. I mean less so in this administration than maybe in previous ones. But, still, you've got a sort of structure on your relationship with the president. That's not the case -- that wasn't the case with Hope.

Hope was there interacting with him in such an informal kind of way, just kind of stream of consciousness at all times. She -- the proximity -- the funny thing about her not describing where her office was is that her office was so close, you know, in proximity to him and that that actually has some meaning in the White House here, you know, the sort of where you are physically located matters. And I think, you know, the idea that the Democrats had was that they could, you know, potentially get information that they couldn't get from people in a more structured way.

KING: Right, and the question is, can they get more from her, or do they just want to corroborate things she told Robert Mueller. Here's something from the Mueller report, pages 105 and 106, one of the ten obstructive acts Mueller lays out for Democrats to consider.

On at least three occasions between June 29, 2017, and July 9, 2017, the president directed Hicks and others not to publicly disclose information about the June 9, 2016 meeting between senior campaign officials and a Russian attorney. On June 29, Hicks warned the president that the e-mails setting up the June 9th meeting were really bad and that the story would be massive when it broke, but the president told her and Kushner, quote, leave it alone.

So she is central to one of the ten counts that Robert Mueller said, not my decision to make, but if you wanted to make an obstruction case, here's a road map.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: She's definitely central. But her being in front of the committee today is also a reminder that while it is a major coup just to simply have her show up, just how far House Democrats have to go in investigating aspects of the Mueller report, aspects of the obstruction of justice and so many other things about this administration because she is not answering any questions about her time in the administration. The House Judiciary Committee has struggled to get Don McGahn before the committee. Other committees have had so many struggles securing, for example, the tax returns.

So there's going to be a point where House Democrats will really reach their boiling point and say, all right, we are moving forward with impeachment proceedings. Nancy Pelosi is clearly trying to control that. But you're seeing some of that anger come from House Democrats about Hope's unwillingness to answer questions about her time in the administration.

[12:10:07] KING: Just the part that they had to agree to do this behind closed doors. If you're the House Democrats, she's the former White House communications director, somebody who was at the president's side throughout the campaign, throughout the days in question during the presidency early on, you want her on camera. You want her answering question. You -- what do you know about the Trump Tower meeting? Did the president tell his son to lie about the Trump Tower meeting? What do you know about the payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal? They wanted all that on camera. They only way she would come in is if they agreed to let her come in behind closed doors.

VIVIAN SALAMA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": And remember that the president is someone who, even in his previous life as a businessman, used nondisclosure agreements for his dealings with most of his staff. And so this is a very sensitive thing for him because he knows that Hope Hicks had access that most people did not. And the fear for him and the anxiety for him is that she would go out and be compelled to somehow reveal things about him that he doesn't want out there.

But the bigger picture also is that the president has other issues with this and with Congress particularly where he's been angry since the start about them undermining his authority in general. And so you have this issue of executive privilege where the president believes that he can ask these people not to comply with any subpoenas or any orders to testify. But, actually, from a legal perspective, there isn't that much precedent on this, and especially when you're dealing with someone who's now a private citizen, like Hope Hicks, like Don McGahn, the former White House council, all of them now in their capacity as private citizens, there really isn't that much precedent as far as what the executive branch policy requires. And so that's where a lot of this turmoil and a lot of this debate comes.

KING: And this debate may continue in the courts for several years as the Democrats press their case, as there are appeals and the like and to hold the lines of privilege could be redrawn, or at least clarified from that.

You mentioned Nancy Pelosi. She spoke again this morning. We're up to the mid-60s now. There are 235 House Democrats. We're up to the mid- 60s. So you're at 26 percent, 27 percent. We're not quite -- 69 I'm told now, thank you very much for that, 69. So you're above 27 percent, maybe 28 percent of the House Democratic caucus. That's not a pressure point yet.

But listen to Speaker Pelosi this morning, we have to listen every time this question comes up, is she shifting a little bit?


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The timing is now on possible impeachment. We'll see. But every day the president puts more grounds forward that says he is obstructing justice. And that's what has affected members. They're like it's self-evident that he is obstructing justice. He's ignoring subpoenas. I think people still want to see the underlying -- but as we see what comes out in this less redacted Mueller report, that may affect the timing. We'll see.


KING: May affect the timing. We'll see.

She also said at that breakfast, she didn't see censures as an options. She thinks that's essentially a copout, that if you have the goods to censure the president, then you should move on and impeach him.

Is she just biding time there again, or is she opening the door a little bit?

SHEAR: She is the smartest kind of politician because she understands that if she is perceived by her constituency, which in this case is her caucus, as being immovable, standing in exactly the same place no matter what, that builds the pressure, that builds pressure to the point where it could explode on her. But by moving slightly here and there, shifting constantly, kind of, you know, reacting in ways that give this -- the caucus the sense that there is -- that she isn't an immovable object on this, she's just not there yet. She bides time. And, ultimately, I mean, you know, as Seung Min said, it may be that this -- you know, this is sort of inevitable and she caves at some point, but she's doing, I think, the smart -- and she's doing it the smartest way possible to kind of give herself that cover and that time.

KIM: Yes, exactly.

I mean Nancy Pelosi is a smart politician. She's very careful with her words. So I think that "we'll see" part was kind of letting the steam out a little bit.

SHEAR: Right.

KIM: But, again, you have more and more House Democrats -- even House Democrats in these competitive races next year, who won these traditionally Republican or Republican-leaning districts, we'll see how much the pressure continues to build.

KING: Right. Only two of those so far.

Go ahead.

ZELENY: But every time she talks about it, she's also offering a road map to other Democrats for how they should talk about it and things (ph). So it is to show flexibility. And she's listening. She's constantly listening and watching what the president's doing. She's not closed her mind to it, even though politically I think she probably has. She is trying to appear open-minded, but sending a message to, you know, the others, the majority of the Democrats, who have not called for impeachment.

KING: All right, we'll continue to watch that one as well.

[12:14:20] Up next, another debate on Capitol Hill today, should the United States be paying reparations for slavery?


KING: The House Judiciary Committee is, today, holding a hearing on a bill proposed by one of its members. It would make amends for America's original sin.


REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D-TX): HR-40 is, in fact, is, in fact, the response of the United States of America long overdue. Slavery is the original sin. Slavery has never received an apology.

I just simply ask, why not, and why not now?


KING: Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee's bill would form a commission to study the reparations issue and recommend potential courses of action. One high-profile witness today, the Democratic presidential hopeful, Senator Cory Booker, who's offering similar legislation across in the Senate.


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We, as a nation, have not yet truly acknowledged and grappled with racism and white supremacy that has tainted this country's founding and continues to persist in those deep, racial disparities and inequalities (ph) today.

It's about time we find the common ground and the common purpose to deal with the ugly past.


[12:20:06] KING: Reparations is a frequent topic out on the 2020 trail. There's some disagreement over what exactly should be done.


SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe it's time to start the national, full-blown conversation about reparations.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: As a result of the legacy of slavery, you have massive levels of inequality. It has to be addressed.

Again, it depends on what the word means.

JULIAN CASTRO (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This country should address slavery, the original sin of slavery, including by looking at reparations.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: Senator, yes or no, do you support financial reparations?

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I support that we study that. We should study it and see.


KING: Jesse Holland from "The Associated Press" joins our conversation.

The House Democrats have power now.


KING: So they can advantage the bill in the House. The bill would study the issue. It doesn't say pay this or decide who gets paid or how much they get paid or where the money would come from. Will that even advance or does the Republican Senate say, no thanks. HOLLAND: Well, it's no question of the Republican Senate passing this

bill. No one's under any illusion that Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, is going to let this bill through the Senate. And even if it does, it would -- I would probably be vetoed by President Donald Trump. But the importance of this hearing is that it's been almost a decade before the House has even talked about this issue is being pushed forward by the Democratic candidates on the trail. And, of course, you had that great essay that was done by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a long time ago in "The Atlantic," that brought the issue back to the forefront.

So this is a minor step, but it's still an important step because this hasn't even been talked about in Congress in a while.

KING: And so -- and it's coming in the middle of a presidential campaign, early in the new House Democratic agenda where they can have the hearing on it. We'll see where it goes from here.

If you look at public opinion polling, it's interesting. This is a Fox News poll from April. Overall, Americans, six in ten, still oppose the idea of paying cash reparations to the descendants of slaves, but 54 percent, a majority of Democrats, support it. So with a contested Democratic primary of 23 candidates this is going -- this is going to be a conversation perhaps even next week when we have the first debates.

KIM: I --

ZELENY: I -- go ahead.

KIM: I -- well, I think that's kind of split polling indicates the careful position that Democratic presidential candidates have had to take on this issue, which is why you heard a lot of the candidates saying they're opening to studying the issue, they're open to having a conversation, but they're kind of gauging how it plays in the overall national discourse. But it's clearly a very important conversation to have and it underscores just how much the issues of racial equality, racial justice have played so far in this campaign.

KING: But the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, says no.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): I don't think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none of us currently living are responsible is a good idea. We've, you know, tried to deal with our original sin of slavery by fighting a civil war, by passing landmark civil rights legislation. We've elected an African-American president.


KING: Especially that last part has earned him a little blowback, that, you know, that the country elected an African-American president is somehow payback for slavery as opposed to electing an African- American president because he was the best candidate who won the election.

ZELENY: That solves everything and that same African-American president, of course, Barack Obama, who served in the Senate with Mitch McConnell, he tried to block him at every turn. So Senator McConnell also up for re-election in Kentucky, he -- you know, he might have been thinking with that hat on.

But the fact that this conversation is happening now, it is extraordinary. It's something that Senator Obama never brought up or supported as a senator, as a president, at the very beginning, until the end of his time, sort of changes minds that this should be discussed.

So -- but this is not that bold of a -- of a move that's going on. Yes, I would say it is, you know, progress that it's being discussed, but no candidate is out there saying, you know, let's absolutely do this. Let's study the issue. So sort of the political version of a blue ribbon commission, if you will. No one is leading the charge on this necessarily.

KING: But even that's important in that Sheila Jackson Lee is not known for being subtle. And yet she's just not.

ZELENY: Right.

KING: And I don't say that -- that's a compliment and a criticism. It depends on the issue, I guess, and the day. But she's -- she says, let's have a commission here. She's not trying to, you know, say let's, you know, here's how much it's going to cost, let's do it immediately.

ZELENY: Right.

KING: In the middle of all of this, the Democratic frontrunner, Joe Biden, said something at a fundraiser last night that is -- I'm going to call it insensitive. It's much worse than that. I don't know what to call it except stupid. He said, I was in the caucus with James O. Eastland. He never called me boy. He always called me son. Mr. Biden then brought up a deceased Georgia senator, a guy like Herman Talmadge, one of the meanest guys I ever knew, you go down the list of all these guy. Well, guess what? At least there was some civility. We got things done.

Those were two racist members of the United States Senate. Why?

ZELENY: Joe Biden is trying to make the argument that, you know, people can work with those that they disagree. But I'm told by a couple advisers to the former vice president that he's been urged and asked and cautioned and warned to not use these segregationist senators as examples. It adds to the already sort of high burden he's trying to make to modernize himself, if you will, and then using the word "boy." He normally doesn't use that word. He's -- he's trying to say that, look, I wasn't given the respect as a senator. He was a white United States senator. He, you know, the fact that James Eastland, a noted racist, called him a boy, OK, that's insensitive words. I mean -- [12:25:27] HOLLAND: Yes, let me -- let me -- if you remember that he'd get in real trouble trying to go back and reference older senators. That's what lost Trent Lott his Senate majority seat when he tried to praise Strom Thurman at the Capitol. So Joe Biden has to be really careful about his memories. If he wants to bring this stuff up, it can cost him a lot.

KING: We'll see if he wants to clean it up, as he's dealing with some blowback and deserved blowback among the New York City Major Bill de Blasio, one of the candidates for president. It's 2019 and Joe Biden is longing for the good old days of civility typified by James Eastland. Eastland thought my multi-racial family should be illegal and that whites were entitled to -- I'll let you read the rest of the tweet because I'm not going to say it on television, but it's violent acts against African-Americans. We'll see if the former vice president has second thoughts about this one.

Up next, the president's re-election campaign sounding very familiar.