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Lawmakers on Edge Waiting for Administration's Next Moves; Some 2020 Dems Slam Trump For His Iran Strategy; Pelosi: I Wasn't Informed About Decision Making on Iran Strike; WH Lawyers Stopped 155 Questions in Hope Hicks House Testimony; Trump Explains His Decision to Call Off Iran Strike. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired June 21, 2019 - 12:30   ET



[12:32:04] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Back to the showdown with Iran now and reaction to the president's dramatic last-minute decision to call off planned air strikes. One Democratic congressman, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, is praising the president's call but adding a worry.


REP. MAX ROSE (D-NY): Look, I commend the president for taking a step back. What we need right now is clearly a policy of courageous restraint, one that is layered with strategy and defined objectives. What we do not need right now, I cannot emphasize this enough, is yet another John Bolton war.


KING: There's a lot of lawmakers on edge today and uncertain as they wait for the next steps from the administration. This from the House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy today, quote, I know the president knows this will not go unanswered. The timing is important and I leave it up to the president and those around him that are giving him the Intel briefings to make that decision.

Rare praise from Democrat, number one, staying step back although it adds the Bolton word. But the McCarthy part is interesting to me in the sense that we talked about Liz Cheney earlier in the program with the other group, more Republican hawks are saying wait a minute, there has to be something. That, you know, you cannot let Iran bomb tankers with mines, shoot an American drone down without some sort of response. McCarthy there being the good Republican leader saying I trust the president but also adding there has to be an answer.

MELANIE ZANONA, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Right. And with McCarthy, he's actually one of Trump's top allies on Capitol Hill, but Trump is surrounded by a bunch of hawks right now and he is being pushed closer and closer and closer to this response. Obviously, he pulled back on this. But it's a question of who he is actually listening to? He doesn't even have a permanent defense secretary right now. In fact, his top pick had to pull out this week amid a domestic violence scandal. So everyone on Capitol Hill right now is trying to get in the president's ear. You saw McCarthy put out this statement. And so you're just seeing them try to direct the president towards de- escalation but with Republicans, they do want to see some sort of response.

KING: And it comes in the middle of a very heated active Democratic presidential campaign. We know the Democratic base is anti-war. The Democratic base is also anti-Trump. If Trump is for apple pie, the Democrats running for president have to be against it. I don't even say -- it's not a joke even because that's just the way it is in Democratic politics. So it's interesting to watch the men and women who want to be the commander-in-chief, who want to be in the Oval Office at a moment like this.

This is from Senator Sanders tweeting today, Bernie Sanders, "A war with Iran would be a disaster and lead to endless conflict in the region. Congress must assert its constitutional authority and stop Trump from going to war."

Tulsi Gabbard, a veteran herself, "Iran war is highly likely unless Trump swallows his pride and returns to the Iran nuclear agreement he tore up. But I fear he won't put the interests of our country and those who'll be killed in such a war ahead of his own pride and personal political interests."

Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington tweeting last night, "This is governing by chaos. We need a steady hand at the wheel."

Senator Warren, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts tweeting this yesterday, "Donald Trump promised to bring our troops home. Instead, he's pulled out of a deal that was working and instigated another unnecessary conflict."

You can see more of these tweets. My question here is you can make the intellectual argument as the Democrats do. Trump caused the turmoil in the neighborhood by pulling out of the JCPOA.

[12:35:02] However, even if Trump is to blame for the uncertainty, that doesn't excuse Iran from shooting down a drone if it, in fact, was in international airspace and from attaching mines to tankers to disrupt oil traffic. What would -- the Democrats have not answered what would they do about it?

MATT VISER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: And they're in a fix on that about what to -- about how to answer that. So they're -- you're right, they're just criticizing Trump and his response and his pulling out of the Iran deal.

But it's like immigration too where they criticize what he's doing but without necessarily offering an alternative about what they might do. And this opens up some old wounds within the party. Joe Biden, of course, supported the Iraq war initially and criticized President Bush for how he handled it. Bernie Sanders did not so -- did not support that war. So, I think that this issue of turmoil in the Middle East is going to flare a little bit more in the party and cause on a debate stage or in these other events where they're answering questions, questions about what they would do to Iran. Shouldn't there be some response and what kind of response would they do --

KING: You can debate in politics how we got here. When you're president, sometimes you have to deal with the tough choices of being there. You can't re-litigate the past when you're faced with the confrontations today. It'd be interesting to see if it does come up. The first debates coming up.

But I want to quickly get this in, the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was at the White House for those briefings yesterday. She said she left those briefings, a, worried about the administration response, but b, convinced from the intelligence that the drone was in international airspace when it was targeted by Iran. So she said this was a clear violation. Here is the speaker just moments ago.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Were you informed at all last night about the president's decision making about the potential strike?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): No. But I just put out a statement. And then perhaps we'll have time later to chat. I have to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, ma'am.


KING: The speaker there being very careful in what she says, not saying much. It's an interesting moment of can there -- are there any bipartisan moments in this administration?

PHILLIP: I think this is actually a pretty important one. There have been some questions about the evidence that the administration is putting forward to justify them blaming Iran for a lot of this provocation in the region. And in some cases, in this particular last week on the oil tanker case, the administration put out a lot of evidence showing why they are saying publicly that Iran was behind this. It's important that Democrats believe that evidence.

I think that there is a justifiable skepticism when people make claims about who is responsible for what in international affairs. It's important that there is bipartisan agreement about the idea that the evidence supports what the claims are being made. So if in fact, Nancy Pelosi believes that the administration is on solid ground on that, I think that does in fact matter. And that will help the administration as they try to build global support for their position that Iran is actually spiraling into really provocative actions in that region.

LUCEY: It also matters that the president did actually confer with Congress yesterday, that he brought people to the White House. I mean, that seems like perhaps a thing that would always happen, but as tensions have risen, it isn't always the case so I think that is also something to (INAUDIBLE).

KING: It's a great point for all -- we talked about norm busting a lot, they handled this. We'll see what the reaction (INAUDIBLE). But in terms of bringing people in letting them get the Intel, they handled it just right.

Next, Hope Hicks didn't say much in her closed-door session up on Congress. Why Democrats investigating the president think her refusal to answer questions actually helps them.


[12:42:53] KING: A no-show today at the House Intelligence Committee. The former Trump business associate Felix Sater through his lawyer cites health reasons and says he is willing to come back another day. The Intel committee says it's issuing a subpoena to compel his testimony.

The Judiciary Committee chairman meantime says he believes another star witness helps Democrats make their case that the White House is being far too extreme in asserting privilege to block questions. Hope Hicks is the witness in question there. A transcript to her testimony released yesterday shows Trump administration lawyers repeatedly blocking her from answering questions. One hundred and 55 questions they did not let her answer. The transcript also though revealed conduct by the Democratic majority that is questionable, to say the least.

Let's start with what the Democrats say is unreasonable over the line of obstruction. I just want to read you a little piece of the transcript here. This is Chairman Jerry Nadler.

Is the special counsel's report accurate to your knowledge? The lawyer, objection. Chairman Nadler, is the special counsel's report inaccurate to your knowledge. Objection. Did you tell the truth to the special counsel? Objection.

Objection? Let me restate the question. Did you perjure yourself to the special counsel? Same objection.

If you go through the transcript, there is a lot of this and Hope Hicks saying I'm sorry but the White House tells me not to answer. I'm not going to answer. The Democrats are saying that actually helps them. That they think they can go before a judge and say, judge, this is ridiculous, move the line.

ZANONA: Yes, that's exactly right. They actually think this is somewhat of a blessing in disguise so they're trying to spin it that way. Jerry Nadler sat down with some of my colleagues at Politico actually and said we're going to now make this legal case that the White House obstructionism is so absurd that we can't get anything.

And they are going to actually file a lawsuit I believe very soon against Don McGahn to try to bring him in for testimony. Of course, he was a star witness in the Mueller report. They want to get his testimony. They don't think they can move forward on impeachment until they hear from him. So they think Hicks and this behind door testimony can help them get something out of Don McGahn.

KING: So help me to the other part about the conduct of the Democratic majority. Go back to the very beginning when Nancy Pelosi won the speakership. She said we're going to investigate, we're going to be investigating a whole bunch of committees. We believe we have every right and every reason to do so on a whole bunch of issues. And she promised they would be serious, credible, and prepared.

Hope Hicks is in the room, this is her attorney. Mr. Chairman, I think there are a number of people taking pictures here. And I just want to say that I think it's making the witness uncomfortable.

[12:45:01] And I would very much appreciate it as a courtesy if nothing else if we could --

Chairman Nadler, that's fine if people will please refrain from taking pictures. A, why are Congress people taking pictures of a witness in a -- if you're having a serious, prepared, thorough investigation. What is that all about? And then b, for the conversation, Chairman Nadler himself who called off the picture taking there repeatedly referred to her as Ms. Lewandowski.

Corey Lewandowski was the campaign manager. On several occasions, he called her and you see one of them on your screen there. We are not, Mr. Chairman. Ms. Lewandowski?

Her name is Hope Hicks. He fought to get her testimony. He knows her name is Hope Hicks. At one point she said my name is Ms. Hicks, Mr. Chairman.

If you're going to make the case to the American people that you're conducting serious, credible investigations and you're prepared, why be amateur and offensive?

PHILLIP: It definitely undermines the case. I mean, it's clearly unprofessional for people to be taking pictures in a closed hearing. Kind of unbelievable that they would do that. But on the Lewandowski thing, there's a big debate about whether it was an intentional slip of the tongue, whatever. Either way, any woman being called something other than their name, being called miss some other man's name is -- it's offensive. Hope Hicks would be right to be a little shaken by that.

And I think that it's an unforced error on Nadler's part. He probably at this point ought to apologize to her because now that it's out there, it's becoming this source of criticism among Hicks' defenders who say this is proof that the Democrats aren't being serious, that they won't even be respectful to a woman in this context. I don't know what was in his mind but he should probably explain it to people at this point.

KING: At one point he said he was preoccupied. He said I'm sorry, I'm preoccupied. You're the chairman of the committee, you have what you think is a star witness, you're having Hope Hicks, someone who knows so much who is around candidate Trump all the time, around President Trump all the time. She's important to them if they are conducting a credible, serious investigation. You would think he would not be preoccupied.

VISER: And it undermines their case I think to not show her respect because she is important. She was one of the closest people to President Trump throughout crucial periods of time. And to call the names that are not her name or not afford her their respect by calling her Mrs. Hicks, then I think that that undermines their whole case that she's important and deserves respect.

LUCEY: And it raises these questions about what are the Democrats doing with their majority. Which if you're a Democrat elected in one of these swing districts who perhaps, you know, took a seat from a Republican, you want to go back and be able to show people that you've been doing something. And this eclipses a lot of other things right now.

KING: The speaker set a high bar. It shouldn't be hard to meet. We'll be right back.


[12:52:22] KING: Just moments ago, NBC releasing a clip from an interview it conducted this morning. President Trump is a guest on this Sunday's "Meet the Press." In that interview, he discussed his dramatic decision first to order air strikes on Iran but then 10 minutes before those strikes to take place to decide to abort the mission.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They came and they said, sir, we're ready to go, we'd like a decision. I said I want to know something before you go. How many people will be killed? In this case Iranians. I said, how many people are going to be killed? Sir, I'd like to get back to you on that. Great people, these generals.

They said -- came back and said, sir, approximately 150. And I thought about it for a second and I said you know what, they shot down an unmanned drone, plane, whatever you want to call it, and here we are sitting with 150 dead people that would have taken place probably within a half an hour after I said go ahead. And I didn't like it. I didn't think it was -- I didn't think it was proportionate.


KING: That's the first time we see the president. That tracks pretty much what he tweeted this morning. But to see him talking about it, his facial expressions, his language. But there still parts of this that don't quite add up in the sense that the president says he asked the generals how many people are likely to die here and they say we'll get back to you and they came back to him. Maybe that is the way it worked out but if it did work out that way, that would be incredibly unusual.

Admiral Kirby on earlier saying that no, he's been part of these strike briefs they called them and it's the first slide in the PowerPoint presentations. It's one of the very first things the briefer tells you. This is what we're going to hit, this is the expected casualty of it. So it's odd.

VISER: He's suggesting there that he ordered a strike without knowing what the consequences of that strike were going to be. Which is kind of striking and probably runs counter to what the military typically does as Admiral Kirby highlighted earlier in the program that that's the first thing that you tell them.

KING: And you were talking about this earlier. That it could well be, and again, does the president has every right to do this, it's uniquely his decision, that he was told, kind of mulled it over, was thinking about things and then circled back to it.

PHILLIP: Yes. And, you know, he did sort of indicate -- I thought -- he said I thought about it for a while. How long was a while? I don't know. But it's possible that the president could take that same information that he was told, revisit it and say, you know what, I don't think this is worth doing.

We don't know. And I hope we get a little bit more on that from this interview but that's really important. It also will beg the question, obviously, if you're told the first time it's 150 people, I mean that should register. That's actually a fairly large number, I would think if you're trying to sort of understand whether or not an unmanned drone attack is worth that.

[12:55:03] And so, it would be curious as well, even if the president decided at a later date, you know what, actually that's too many people for me. It would be interesting to know if he, at the first time he heard it didn't think that that number was particularly high and was willing to go forward with the attack.

KING: And to remember, to go back to yesterday, some of the curious pieces here as the president sitting in the Oval Office yesterday said he thought this was essentially a loose cannon, he said somebody loose and stupid. Does he have Intel? Does he discuss, and we'll find out when we see more of the interview. Does he discuss that? Do they really believe this was somebody in the Revolutionary Guard who went out over their skis if you will beyond their authority and did this and the president doesn't to escalate, he's trying to dial back?

The other issue here is that that's the president's call. You heard him there explain it. It is his call and only his call. But you do start to hear the rumblings from the hawkish members of his own party saying there has to be some response. You cannot let Iran blow up tankers and shoot a drone out from the sky without some slap back.

LUCEY: Yes. And the question now is, is there some other kind of response he views as more proportionate and that's I think a thing we have to see unfold in the coming days. But certainly, he has long been very concerned about new military intervention, going to -- starting new wars. I think part of what you're seeing here is him sort of coming back to that pretty core belief.

KING: That's a great point. I think for all the issues on which he can sometimes change his mind and be somewhat inconsistent because he's not an ideological Republican by any means. He is consistent on certain issues, he puts footprints in the Middle East especially trade issues, immigration issues.

All right, we're going to take a quick break. When we come back, Roy Moore is back. And does that mean Republicans have a problem in Alabama?


KING: Roy Moore is back to the great dismay of President Trump and most of his fellow Republicans. The former Alabama state Supreme Court chief justice says he's running for Senate in 2020, hoping to get a rematch against the Democrat who beat him back in 2017. That would be Senator Doug Jones.

That race, you see it there, was close. Jones winning by fewer than 22,000 votes. Moore was damaged in that campaign by accounts of how he pursued teenage girls when he was a prosecutor in his 30s. He says he was railroaded and now he says he can win with or without the party's support.


ROY MOORE (R-AL): I beat the establishment candidate, and it very angered many people in Washington, D.C. and Republican staff, they're still against me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of those individuals is Mitch McConnell who just yesterday said, quote, we'll be opposing Roy Moore vigorously.

MOORE: He also in April of last year told the senators who were running in 2020 to distance themselves from President Trump. Mitch McConnell has no voice in who elect -- who is elected from Alabama as United States senator. He shouldn't have.


KING: It's going to be one of the interesting primaries now that Roy Moore is in. We'll keep an eye on it. See if it plays out like it did last time.

Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. Hope to see you here Sunday morning. Brianna Keilar starts right now. Have a great day.