Return to Transcripts main page


Acosta to Address Role in Epstein Scandal; U.K. Ambassador to the U.S. Resigns; Pelosi Implores Dems to Avoid Infighting. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired July 10, 2019 - 12:00   ET



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

The British ambassador to the United States resigns. In leaked cables, he called President Trump incompetent and inept and the White House had made clear the ambassador was no longer welcome.

Plus, signs the president will get another big wish. The Fed chairman citing trade turmoil and a global slowdown suggests a cut in interest rates is coming soon.

And the U.S. women's soccer team gets a heroine's welcome in New York. A ticker tape parade to celebrate their big World Cup win and their fight for equal pay.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The only mom on the cup team, number 22, forward Jessica McDonald.


KING: We begin the hour with big drama here in Washington. A cabinet secretary fighting to keep his job. We are told we will hear from the labor secretary, Alex Acosta, in a statement in just a couple of hours. That statement to address his role in securing a sweetheart deal for financier Jeffrey Epstein more than decade ago. Epstein, of course, now under new indictment on sex trafficking charges involving underage girls. New York prosecutors make no secret they believe the case was botched on Acosta's watch.

CNN's Abby Phillip joins us live from the White House.

Now, Abby, what are we expecting to hear from the labor secretary as he fights to keep his job?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, clearly, John, the pressure is building on this situation which has prompted Acosta to take the matter into his own hands and really explain himself and try to get a handle on this situation. But we are hearing from our sources that he is not expected to resign at this press conference. It's happening over at the Department of Labor, where he is still the secretary of that department and it sounds very much that the White House is preparing to mount a defense of Alex Acosta.

It all started yesterday when President Trump defended him saying that he has been an excellent cabinet secretary, talking about how long ago these allegations are, that Acosta orchestrated what critics are calling a sweetheart deal for Jeffrey Epstein. And the even this morning, the chief of staff for the vice president, Marc Short, suggested that the defense in that case, Jeffrey Epstein's defense tried to get Alex Acosta kicked off of the case because he was so aggressive in prosecuting that case.

But we will find out if we will hear more of those arguments -- of those arguments from Acosta himself. He started this processed yesterday by tweeting that he welcomed the New York investigation. But it remain to be seen, does he even take questions this afternoon? Will he answer some of these concerns about his role in creating this deal for Jeffrey Epstein that a lot of people look at and say was exceptionally lenient given the crimes he was accused of.

All of this seems to be damage control mode for Acosta, damage control mode for the White House. But White House aides are also saying, this is up to President Trump. He is known to change his mind at any minute about things like this and it could only take a bad news cycle or a series of days of bad news cycles for the tables to turn on Alex Acosta. So we'll see what happens this afternoon, John.

KING: We'll see what happens. We'll watch the statement. And, of course, as you just noted, the president's reaction to that statement is the most significant things we will watch.

Abby Phillip live at the White House. Appreciate it.

As we track that, another big developing story here in Washington, the resignation of the British ambassador to the United States. Kim Darroch stepping down just days after his leaked cables revealed his sharp criticism to President Trump, calling his administration, among other things, inept and clumsy. That, of course, prompted President Trump to declare this week that he could no longer deal with Darroch, Darroch writing in his resignation letter today, since the leak of official documents from this embassy, there has been a great deal of speculation surrounding my position and the duration of my remaining term as ambassador. I want to put an end to that speculation, the statement went on to say. The current situation, the ambassador says, is making me impossible -- making it impossible for me to carry out my role as I would like.

Here with me to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Hirschfeld-Davis with "The New York Times," Toluse Olorunnipa with "The Washington Post," CNN's Kylie Atwood, and Eliana Johnson with "Politico."

The president's getting a big wish here. Three days of attacks. Most of them on Twitter. And the ambassador says, I'm going home. Going home in the middle of a big leadership test election in his own country and going home embarrassed after a 40 plus career service to his country.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: That's right. And I don't think that this was a surprise to many other ambassadors here in Washington who know that their job depends on meetings that they can have at the White House, how effective they can be, because, truthfully, foreign policy in this administration is driven by the White House. So even though the State Department said that they had received no orders to turn down meetings with the ambassador, he wasn't going to be able to go to the White House.

[12:05:16] But I want to point out, however, that despite the fact that, you know, Trump said he would meet with him, other ambassadors here told me that they thought he could keep doing the job if he had the confidence of his home government. And, obviously, that was what was at stake yesterday when Boris Johnson, who's expected to be the future prime minister, said that he wasn't necessarily going to back him continuing to be the ambassador here in Washington. That was -- that was kind of the final straw for the ambassador --

KING: And let's play that moment, because we could focus on the president and his conduct and his behavior and the president's long pattern of, if you like me, I like you. If you don't like me, I don't want you around. That's the president's pattern. We'll come back to that.

But the moment here. Prime Minister Theresa May is a caretaker. There was a debate just yesterday between the two leading contenders to replace her. And to Kylie's point, Boris Johnson didn't exactly answer the question.


BORIS JOHNSON, CONSERVATIVE CANDIDATE FOR BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It is vital that our civil service is not politicized by ministers leaking what they say.


JOHNSON: Whoever -- whoever -- whoever leaked that deserves to be eviscerated.

JEREMY HUNT, CONSERVATIVE CANDIDATE FOR BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Boris, just answer the question for once (ph). Go on. Go on. Tell us if you'll keep the ambassador (INAUDIBLE).

JOHNSON: And on -- on -- on -- on whether -- on whether -- on whether -- (INAUDIBLE).

HUNT: Come on. I will keep him until he's due to retire and I think we'd like to know if you would.

JOHNSON: Well, I -- I'm not going on be so presumptuous as to (INAUDIBLE) going to be in a position to take that --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, let's go back --


KING: That was a punt. I'm not going to be so presumptuous to say if I had the job. If he had -- the question was, if you get the job, what will you do? That was taken by the ambassador and by others as a, please get out of the way.

JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that was. And certainly the question of how these cables came out is something that I think was also at play here. Somebody allowed those things to leak out and there's speculation that that that was the result of some sort of unrest within the foreign office and, obviously, you'd had to have been an opponent of Sir Kim to want those to get out.

These are the sorts of things that when you talk to people who work in the embassies, ambassadors of other countries, many of them will say privately about President Trump. But the idea that they would -- and it's the job of an ambassador to convey those things. They're considered view of who the president of the country that they're representing, their home country to, is. But the fact that these things leaked out really does raise questions about who had the agenda in the U.K. to make that public. And that, I think, more than anything else, along with the comments that were certainly not an endorsement of him from Boris Johnson, made him feel like he couldn't be effective any more.

KING: It's a critical point you make, if we step back a bit, in the sense that in the two and a half years plus of this administration, whether it's the president's steps that many Europeans view as undermining NATO, whether it's direct attacks on the German chancellor, on the British prime minister, trade tensions with the Chinese, trade tensions with the Japanese, trade tensions with allies and more -- not quite allies.

This is what the ambassador wrote, some of the e-mails that got him in such trouble when they became public. A scene from here, we really don't believe that this administration is going to become substantially more normal, less dysfunctional, less unpredictable, less faction-riven, less diplomatically clumsy and inept. I don't think this administration will ever look competent.

That from the outgoing British ambassador. But I think everyone at this table has had very similar conversations with people from other embassies who have had a hard time adjusting to this very disruptive and unorthodox president and the way he does business.

ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It's not only people from other embassies, but it's people inside the administration who say the same sort of thing. The ambassador did nothing wrong. He was providing guidance back to his home government about how to effectively work with and communicate with this government and with this president.

But there's no question, I think, that after all of this stuff that was intended to be private guidance became public commentary, he could no longer effectively do his job. And that depended on having private social interactions and conversations with people close to the president. Much has been made of the social -- the socializing that Sir Kim did with many people in the Trump government. That's what made him good at his job. And there's no question that those people would not have any longer been seen in public socializing with somebody who had become a critic of the administration.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And if you think about some of the content of these cables. In at least one of these cables he talks about how the president is thin skinned and is very sensitive. An you could see from the way the president responded on Twitter to these leaked documents, that he sort of -- is sort of playing that role of saying, you know, I've never met the ambassador. I don't know who he is. He's a pompous fool. And because of the fact that the president is very sensitive to criticism and lashes out when he sees people criticizing him, the ambassador was not able to be effective any more and sort of providing his role to the government.

KING: And to that point, does it have an impact? The new prime minister will pick a new ambassador to the United States. This could be just U.S./U.K. Special relationship at a very important time. The U.K. trying to figure out how to deal with Brexit. If that happens, we assume it will eventually, the U.K. trying to then figure out how to negotiate unilateral trade deals with countries around the world, including the United States.

[12:10:16] But to your point about the president, if you're in another foreign capital and your ambassador is coming home, even if their turn is just up, or they -- for some reason they need to be replaced, what do you do when you know, if it gets out, that you said something unfavorable, the wacky ambassador to the U.K. foisted upon the United States is not someone we're thrilled with. A very stupid guy. He should speak to his country and Prime Minister May about their failed Brexit negotiation and not be upset with my criticism of how badly it was handled. I told Theresa May to do the deal but she went her own foolish way. It goes on and on.

The president -- as the president is criticizing this ambassador for being undiplomatic, he's not exactly the leading candidate for diplomacy school here.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes, loyalty is sort of a one-way street with this president. He expects people to speak highly of him, but he can say anything about any of them. And this is a president who has been very willing to be undiplomatic in talking about our allies, in talking about other countries. But if anyone sort of speaks negatively about his administration, it sort of becomes a major story for him. So this is clear that this is the way the president operates.

KING: Which is why to me the reaction of Theresa May is fascinating in the sense that they have a hot and cold, mostly cold, relationship during her tenure. They have tried to paper it over at moments when it's in their interest to paper it over and say things are going OK. Her days are numbered. So if you're Jeremy Hunt and you're trying to be the prime minister, if you're Boris Johnson and you're trying to be the prime minister, you handle this carefully. You try to be nice to President Trump because you're going to be -- might be in the job. Theresa May, listen to her.


THERESA MAY, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Mr. Speaker, this morning I have spoken to Sir Kim Darroch. I have told him that it is a matter of great regret that he has felt it necessary to leave this position as ambassador in Washington. The whole cabinet rightly gave its full support to Sir Kim on Tuesday. Sir Kim has given -- Sir Kim has given a lifetime of service to the United Kingdom and we owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.


KING: She's taking sides there.

DAVIS: She absolutely is. And, you're right, she's a short timer, she can afford to do that.

I think the real question is, what happens with the next ambassador? Will he or she feel free to speak freely about what the situation is with the Trump administration, how to communicate with them, how to anticipate what they're going to do. And it's not clear that they will because they don't want to be and the U.K. doesn't want to be in the position where they have an ambassador who is seen as ineffective, who is seen as somehow on the outs with the -- with the current president. And so I think it's going to be a real challenge for them to figure out who's going to get this job next.

KING: I suspect the next ambassador might use the phone or code and not --

DAVIS: Yes. Right.

JOHNSON: I was going to say, speaking freely is one thing, but writing -- writing freely is another.

KING: Yes, it's -- the -- which is -- which is -- you know, it's -- we joke about it, but it is a bad thing if an ambassador feels they cannot speak freely to the folks back home.

Up next for us, diplomacy of a different sort. Here at home, Nancy Pelosi tries to make peace within the Democratic family.


[12:17:39] KING: Welcome back.

The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, making a remarkable plea for unity today at a private meeting of House Democrats, urging members to keep their differences in the family and to not engage in public disputes over party strategies and priorities. CNN is told the speaker received an ovation for her remarks.

The timing is more than noteworthy. Democrats have a big list of things to get done, and several of those things are points of dispute between liberals and moderates. Plus, the speaker is fresh from one of those public spats she's trying to discourage. That one features what you might call the squad versus the speaker. Four new Democratic women in Congress taking issue with the most powerful woman in American politics. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley broke with Pelosi on a border funding bill. They also think she's too timid on impeachment. The speaker telling "The New York Times" this past weekend, the squad has, quote, their public whatever and their Twitter world, but she went on to say little actual influence when it comes to shaping the House agenda.

A key Pelosi deputy today says Kumbaya.


REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): It's all puppies and rainbows. The House Democratic caucus is a diverse family. We are a passionate family. We are a large family. We will remain united in the face of a common enemy named Donald J. Trump.


KING: CNN's Phil Mattingly live for us on Capitol Hill.

Phil, puppies and rainbows?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so you may have heard some laughter from the reporters when Mr. Jeffries said that. And that's because anybody with a pulse who's been paying attention over the last two weeks understands that it's been a difficult week for the House Democratic caucus. And it's also why, according to one member who was in the closed door Democratic caucus meeting this morning, Speaker Pelosi gave what this member called the most forceful call for unity he's seen since the Democrats have been in the majority.

And the reason why -- obviously trying to put behind -- the last couple of weeks behind them, but also trying to almost wrangle in the entire caucus and the very different parts of the caucus before some very substantial issues that they're going to have to deal with. Just this week they're dealing with their defense policy bill. Progressive Democrats are upset that it spends too much money, even though it's $20 billion less than what the administration wants, even though the administration has already threatened a veto for it. That puts them crosswise obviously with more moderate members.

There's also the minimum wage bill. Democrats moving forward on a $15 minimum wage. Moderate members have been concerned about the impact on small business. Progressive members don't want to hear that.

[12:20:07] On top of all of it, there is the budget and spending caps deal that's been going on for a while where all of these members are likely going to have to support the speaker in her very kind of thorough, multi-dimensional negotiation with the administration.

What this all means, and I think part of it you can attribute to just growing pains. Part of it you can contribute to new members who don't necessarily understand what other members are going through in their districts. And that I'm told from one person in the room was the point the speaker was trying to make this morning. A lot of these members who have raised a lot of the concerns, including some of the tweets that have gone back and forth, come from very safe districts. Those aren't the districts that make the Democrats the majority in the House. Those aren't the district that's make the speaker the speaker of the House. And so she basically said today, keep it all in the family.

The reality is, John, if they can't kind of bring things back together right now, it's going to get more and more difficult and it's going to undercut them in their negotiations with the administration going forward. And I think everybody's aware of that. We'll just have to see what happens going forward.

KING: I'm going to stick with puppies and rainbows. That's what I'm going to stick with, Phil.

Phil Mattingly sorting through the puppies and rainbows on Capitol Hill for us. Appreciate it.

As we come back into the room, Molly Ball with "Time" joins our conversation.

It is a fascinating moment for the House Democrats as they try to governor with a Republican Senate and a Republican president, with their new members, a lot of them from districts -- a lot of them -- members who make the majority from districts Trump won or at least Trump is competitive in. I just want to read one things the speaker said today inside this meeting according to our reporting.

So for them to become a target is, meaning those members, I take responsibility. Yu make me the target, but don't make the blue dogs and our new Dems the target in all of this because we have important fish to fry.

Pelosi here, herself, who was a young liberal from San Francisco when she came to the House, now the senior leader trying to keep this all together, trying to manage these new members who are impatient. How's she doing?

MOLLY BALL, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, and let's not forget that Speaker Pelosi did start this little spat. She was the one who made the comment about the new members that they were responding to.

But, yes, I mean, you could see this -- I see it as this oration to the caucus, the sort of kickoff of a political campaign for Pelosi. This has always been the biggest test she was going to face this year is, could she get, particularly these big funding bills and the debt limit, could she get those must-pass bills through the House by negotiating with the White House and the Senate Republicans. And that task is still ahead of her and she's saying, you guys are my troops. You have to be behind me. I have to have my army to go into this battle.

Another thing that she said, according to a source in the room, is she said, some people came here to make a lovely pate. We're making sausage here. So she's saying, look, we're -- I'm going fight for every inch that I can get. You can count on me to do that. But we have to settle for the best that we can get and let's not make the perfect the enemy of the good.

So this is a big rallying cry for her. This is a bigger speech than she usually gives to the caucus. And she's really trying to -- at a moment when people have sort of been all over the place, right? People have been a little squirrelly. I've talked to a lot of House Democrats recently who have said, well, people are kind of not sure where this is all going. She's been successful thus far for all of the angst about the border bill. Let's not forget, she did pass the House version and then she passed the Senate version. She got it done. But there's some really big tests coming up ahead for her and for the whole Democratic caucus.

KING: And one more snippet -- I love the pate and sausage. One more snippet from inside, from Pelosi's speech, according to -- so if some of you have some unease about the voting records of other people as they represent your districts and you represent your districts, understand the value of the majority. It's the complete difference.

Essentially trying to tell the more liberal members, who want more, who want the president impeached, who don't want him to get any money for his immigration programs, who don't want him to get all the defense money that he wants, that there are other -- you want to be in the minority? Because you'll lose these. If you make me take your position, we'll lose these.

DAVIS: Right. Well, I mean that -- this -- I -- to me this speech sounds like it really encapsulated the issue that's at the heart of these divisions, which is that Nancy Pelosi has one job. And as they see it, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her three colleagues have a totally different job that has nothing to do with what she's talking about.

She's rights that if your goal is to move legislation through, to get it through a very fractious process and across the finish line, you have to -- Democrats have to be unified. They can't be sniping at each other and tweeting about each other and calling each other child abusers.

But, on the other hand, these four women consider themselves to be at the vanguard of a totally new era for the Democratic Party. They're about a movement. They're about pulling the party to the left. A lot of the policy issues that they've championed, Medicare for all, free college, you know, a much bolder stance on climate change, the presidential candidates are now embracing. And they feel that the energy of the party is behind them and their job is to do all of that because they have saved seats and they have the ability to do that.

For Nancy Pelosi, it makes her job a lot harder and it makes the job of the people she's talking about, the people from the more competitive districts harder because they're being painted as somehow insufficient, not doing their jobs, not insufficiently committed to the party's values. [12:25:02] KING: So help me understand this. In the four members of

the squad, Ocasio-Cortez, Omar and Tlaib have not been shy about getting back at the speaker, publicly using their Twitter accounts and media interviews to challenge the speaker, who essentially say, you know, respect us, you should listen to us more, we're bigger than you think, we're stronger than you think.

Listen here, this is on local TV in Boston the other night, Ayanna Pressley, who was on the city council first, who had to manage the world of white, male dominated politics in the city of Boston. Her tact's a little different.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why do you have no interest in responding to what the speaker had to say about you and your colleagues

REP. AYANNA PRESSLEY (D-MA): There will be plenty of time for that. I will just say that I do not believe that that advances the cause or helps our party or strengthens us going into 2020.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What she said? As we were referring to?

PRESSLEY: Even having this conversation.


KING: Even having this conversation. So that's more in line, even though she disagrees with Nancy Pelosi on some of the ways there, the tactics maybe, the end games. That is more of a -- to me I -- Pressley, unlike the others, trying to at least sometimes play the inside game. Is that fair?

OLORUNNIPA: It's about sort of choosing your battles. This is a seasoned politician who, as you said, has worked in Boston and knows about how to choose your battles and figure out when to sort of leave things to fight another day. And I think this is one case where she doesn't want to be fighting with Democrats when she's been sort of one of the people at the tip of the spear in sort of criticizing the Trump administration and really laying into President Trump and his White House. And I think she's much more comfortable doing that than attacking other Democrats or attacking the speaker of the House. And I think that's a challenge that these Democrats are going to have to face, figuring out how to focus their fire on President Trump and not on even each other.

KING: It's interesting -- anyway it's WTVH (ph) I Boston. It's Joe Kennedy, young Joe Kennedy, Ayanna Presley, if you want to see the different ways these -- some of these upcoming young Democrats handle things. You should watch the whole interview.

For us, when we come back, the Fed chairman signals he's ready to give the president what he's been wanting, for months.