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Alex Acosta Resigns; Mueller's Public Testimony Delayed; Trump Weighs in on Democratic Primary. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 12, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:11] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. It's a busy Friday. Thank you for sharing it with us.

The labor secretary, Alex Acosta, resigns, deciding his role in a sweetheart deal for accused sex offender Jeffrey Epstein more than a decade ago is too much of a political headache now for President Trump heading into his re-election campaign.

Plus, Mueller delayed. The special counsel's long-awaited congressional testimony now likely being pushed back a week to July 24th, as lawmakers try to negotiate a deal for Robert Mueller to spend more time taking questions.

And a 30-minute session with reporters this morning outside the White House, trademark Trump. Lots of insults, lots of twisted facts. Plus takes on House speakers, past and present. Republican Paul Ryan gets a Trump tongue lashing. Democrat Nancy Pelosi gets an endorsement of sorts.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But I'll tell you something about Nancy Pelosi that you know better than I do. She is not a racist, OK? She is not a racist. For them to call her a racist is a disgrace.

Paul Ryan was not a talent. He wasn't a leader. He wouldn't give subpoenas. Whereas Nancy Pelosi hands them out like they're cookies.


KING: We begin today with the biggest headline out of that Trump session with reporters, the hasty and important Trump administration cabinet shuffle. The labor secretary, Alex Acosta, says he's stepping down. That less than 48 hours after Secretary Acosta defended himself to reporters.

Wednesday, Acosta insisted the non-prosecution deal he gave to accused pedophile Jeffrey Epstein a decade ago was on the level. Today, the labor secretary, flanking the president on the White House South Lawn, says he didn't want to be a decision and that he made this decision. The boss, though, didn't hesitate to accept it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And he explained it. And he made a deal that people were happy with and then, 12 years later they're not happy with it.

But I just want to let you know, this was him, not me, because I'm with him.

There's no need at all, as far as I'm concerned. I would have -- I watched Alex yesterday. I thought Alex did a great job.

And, Alex, I think you'll agree, I said, you don't have to do this. He doesn't have to do this.


KING: Let's get straight to CNN's Kaitlan Collins, live at the White House.

Kaitlan, is this as presented a decision just by the labor secretary on his own?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the president said Alex Acosta called him this morning and then came over here to the White House to offer his resignation because he essentially saw the Epstein deal as something that was going to hang over the administration. And while the president said, hey, it's Alex Acosta's idea to resign, not mine, this certainly comes as a relief to the president, who, based on our reporting, had been voicing skepticism about Acosta and whether or not that news conference he held had done enough to calm the uproar over his role in Jeffrey Epstein's plea deal.

We reported that initially the president, who urged Alex Acosta to go out there and defend himself, was favorable in his initial reception to that press conference, telling people he thought he did a fine job. But then, after the president was hearing criticism from other people who thought Alex Acosta just had not done enough to defend himself in that press conference where he did not offer an explicit apology to those reporters and also didn't answer my question about whether or not that's a deal he would make again today, the president started to get hesitant about Acosta and he started questioning why the victims weren't notified in that deal, something that has really been one of the sharpest points that Alex Acosta's critics have pointed out.

And, in the end, that is why many people inside the West Wing yesterday were skeptical about the labor secretary's future. It had been more than 24 hours since the president told him to go out and do that press conference and he still hadn't had any public praise on how he had done. Leading to that question today and that appearance -- that odd appearance there on the South Lawn where we did learn that Alex Acosta will no longer be serving as the labor secretary, therefore putting another acting secretary in the president's cabinet meeting ahead of next week's cabinet meeting here at the White House.

KING: Another acting. A big day at the White House.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins, appreciate the live reporting.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, Olivier Knox with Sirius XM, Toluse Olorunnipa with "The Washington Post," and Margaret Talev with "Bloomberg."

We have no reason to doubt otherwise. Alex Acosta decided, we're heading into the re-election year, this case is -- Jeffrey Epstein's in court tomorrow. Then there will be pre-trial proceedings. This will carry on through the election year. I don't want to be catching all these harpoons and being a distraction to the president. Is that it? Guy makes the right call?

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUS XM: I don't know if it's the right call, but you underlined the main dynamic, which is there's a court case unfold in New York where, in a very public setting, we were going to hear every day, every other day, every week, every month, we were going to hear about the dozens of girls that Jeffrey Epstein allegedly assaulted. And it was going to be an issue that they -- the White House was going to have to answer every single day.

Every new revelation would call into question Alex Acosta's decision- making in that sweetheart plea deal and every -- every new development would probably press (ph) reporters at the White House to say, Mr. President, really, is this the kind of person you want serving you in your cabinet? So I'm glad you underlined the legal part of this because I think that's really, really where -- where main -- most of their problems would come from. The political stuff stems from that, the fact that we'd get constant revelations.

[12:05:14] KING: Right, he's going to be in court. We want to assume he's going to -- one assumes he's going to fight these charges, and that's going to be in court. As the court case continues, you have all the hearings, all the motions, all the documents, plus all the reporting, mind you.

And part of the reporting here that got Secretary Acosta in trouble is "Miami Herald's" reporting that said these victims felt mistreated by him, number one, and then, number two, just more and more details of they're willing to come forward. And a lot of people -- a lot of factual reporting questioning the presentation he gave the other day, saying that he was over -- he was just gloss -- putting lipstick on it and glossing it and taking all the (INAUDIBLE) -- yes, I made a tough call, a hard call, and ignoring a lot of facts, people said.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, the goal of this press conference was to put all of these questions to rest and basically get the story behind him. And it didn't end up doing that. It actually ended up putting more questions out into the public sphere and causing the White House to wonder whether or not they were going to get more questions about this.

President Trump has a couple of different relations to this case, not only his labor secretary being the chief prosecutor who had struck this deal, but also President Trump has, you know, a long-standing relationship in the past with Jeffrey Epstein. There are a bunch of pictures that put the two men in the same place that were playing on cable news a lot. Even the president's legal adviser, Alan Dershowitz, has a relation to this case.

So the president saw that this was going to continue to turn up the heat on his administration and on his White House, on himself personally. He didn't like how it was playing out on cable news. That's part of the reason he accepted this resignation.

KING: That's a great point in the sense that back in 2002, the president, then a businessman, told "New York" magazine, I've known Jeffrey for 15 years, terrific guy. A lot of fun to be with. He even said he likes beautiful women as much as I do, many of them are on the younger side.

So businessman Trump knew about Jeffrey Epstein and apparently knew about Jeffrey Epstein's problem. I'm going to call it a problem. It's worse than that. He knew about it.

Today, today, we mentioned every time this came up in coast, Secretary Acosta would be in the news as well, and the president might get questions. Today, the president tried to make clear yet again, yes, we had, emphasis on had, a relationship.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was not a fan of Jeffrey Epstein. And you watched people yesterday saying that I threw him out of a club. I didn't want anything to do with him. That was many, many years ago. It shows you one thing, that I have good taste, OK?

Now, other people, they went all over with him. They went to his island. They went all over the place. He was very well-known in Palm Beach. His island, whatever his island was, wherever it is, I was never there. Find out the people that went to the island.

But Jeffrey Epstein was not somebody that I respected.


MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So he was a fan before he was not a fan, let's be clear.

KING: Right.

TALEV: And if he could find some way to put Andy McCabe on the island, I'm sure he'd try to do it.

You're going to see the president try to redirect. But there were -- there are a couple of factors at hand here, right? And one is that there was -- there was this whole parallel issue with Acosta that some in the Trump administration had. There were Republican lobbyists. There were some inside the White House who felt that he hadn't been as aggressive as he could be about deregulation, about changing the climate in his role as labor secretary. That was underlying and existed before the Epstein problems bubbled up.

In a way I think you don't do a news conference like the one that Acosta did unless you have to, right? And it was kind of a, let me see if I can turn it around and hail mary kind of thing. And if it -- if it couldn't work, I think he wanted to be able to have some control over framing his explanation before he went out because, as we have all seen, when the tide turns, if there are enough Republican lawmakers in the Senate, for example, who are like, he's got to go, you don't always get to have the last word. And that was him trying to put into context, if he had to go or if he could stay, this thinking.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And it's almost never see somebody who is on their way out getting the last word or any word, much less --

KING: Right.

BASH: I mean standing next to the president praising you as you're leaving is unheard of in this administration.


BASH: What you usually get, if you're lucky, is a tweet --


BASH: That you see and you first learn about your being fired or being forced to resign or whatever it is. It is very unusual.

And the other thing that's unusual is that, of course, every Democrat pretty much had said that Acosta should resign, but there wasn't the groundswell from Republicans yet. They were saying, well, let's just see -- let's see how this plays out. But it was, whether it was Acosta, you can, you know, take him at his word, or he -- Acosta understanding the writing on the wall because the president was like, OK, we're done with this. This was -- not that any of this is traditional, but this was the most traditional, humane, civilized exit of a cabinet secretary that we have seen in this entire administration. I understand that that is a crazy thing to say given the fact that we're talking about rape of children. But the outcome politically is what I'm talking about.

[12:10:01] KING: And to that point, let's show a little bit of it in the sense that Alex Acosta, again today, standing by the president's side defending, defending, you're seeing some Trump cabinet turnover there. There's now an acting labor secretary. Pat Pizzella is his name, you see all these other cabinet turnover here.

But to the idea that this played out in such a traditional way. Many of the people you see on that screen found out they were fired on Twitter or found out they were fired from the hasty phone call from the White House chief of staff at the time telling them they're about to be fired.

In this case, you see Alex Acosta standing next to the president outside the White House, still defending himself, still saying he thinks he made the right call 12 years ago. Leave that to you at home. And then saying, this is why I've got to go.


ALEX ACOSTA, OUTGOING LABOR SECRETARY: I have seen coverage of this case that is over 12 years old that had input and vetting at multiple levels of the Department of Justice. And as I look forward, I do not think it is right and fair for this administration's Labor Department to have Epstein as the focus rather than the incredible economy that we have today.

My point here today is we have an amazing economy. We have unemployment lower than we have seen literally in my lifetime, and the focus needs to be on this economy.


KING: Any -- I -- would the president listen to that in the sense that we've had a couple record-breaking days on Wall Street and the president, if you read the president's Twitter account --

KNOX: Acosta's the latest Republican to invite the president to please, dear Lord, focus on the economy and not everything else, right?

I do want to underline one thing the president said in his remarks, though, where he suggested that the victims were satisfied with the plea deal years ago.

KING: They were not.

KNOX: That they recently changed their mind. They were not. They were not informed about it. And that, to me, raises a lot of questions. I don't believe that he was fretting the past few days over whether the victims were notified about the plea deal. And the remarks on the South Lawn suggest quite the opposite, in fact.

KING: Empathy, especially for victims, has not been a strong suit of the president. I think that's a fair statement.

We'll continue to watch this case. The resignation takes effect one week from today. Another acting secretary at the Department of Labor. We'll watch and see if we get a permanent one.

Up next for us though, the release of the live action Mueller movie apparently getting delayed.


[12:16:47] KING: Special Counsel Robert Mueller's big day on Capitol Hill being pushed back. Not a signed and sealed agreement yet, but the plan is to delay the special counsel's appearance one week, from next Thursday, July 17th, to July 24th instead. These discussions comes amid bipartisan complaints on the House Judiciary Committee. The chairman, Jerry Nadler's initial agreement with Mr. Mueller did not leave enough time for questioning.

CNN's Manu Raju live tracking this story for us up on Capitol Hill with the latest.

Manu, what's happening?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. It looks like it's very possible that this hearing could be delayed by a week. It's not final yet. Jerry Nadler's office says that it's still, at the moment, on for Wednesday. But talking to members on both sides, it's pretty clear that the agreement was just not satisfactory to a number of members because initially what the special counsel had agreed to under subpoena was to come for two to two and a half hours for the House Judiciary Committee, then for the same amount of time for the House Intelligence Committee.

Now, that would leave about half of the members on the House Judiciary Committee not enough time to question the special counsel, and a number of members do want to have a chance to question, saying they should be able to press him as well.

One member, Hakeem Jeffries, told us earlier that this is not about ego, he says it's not about getting -- trying to be in the spotlight, it's about getting to the truth.


REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): Every single member of the House Judiciary Committee on the Democratic and Republican side should be able to participate in the hearing in some way, shape or form.

RAJU: What's the reason? Why do members need to be asking questions? Why do you need to have your time in the spotlight?

JEFFRIES: Well, I don't think anyone has suggested that they should have their time in the spotlight. I think at the end of the day the American people would be better served if we spent as much time as possible communicating the importance of the stakes of this hearing as it relates to an incredible attack on our democracy.


RAJU: So under the initial agreement, about 22 members from the House Judiciary Committee would get a chance to question. That's split between -- roughly between both sides. That would leave about 20 or so members not being able to allowed to question, more junior members, which is why we've heard that pushback.

But one other reason, John, we're hearing for the -- the possibility of this delay is that the Justice Department has raised concerns about deputies, Mueller's deputies, from testifying behind closed doors before these two committees. Democrats, I'm told, want more time to negotiate to bring in those deputies after they had previously agreed to testify. So all this being soared out on this busy Friday. But it looks like it's headed to a potential delay of this very highly anticipated testimony.


KING: Manu Raju live on The Hill. Appreciate the reporting there.

Let's bring it into the room.

On the surface, they're working out the details. They're trying to get more time to keep everybody happy, delay it a week. Given what we've been through and given how we know, Mueller was reluctant, number one. Mueller's former boss, the attorney general of the United States, doesn't want him doing this at all. He called it a spectacle the other day.

Could this collapse or are we just having a scheduling issue?

TALEV: I mean -- OK, so it's already moved beyond the point of a scheduling issue. And what we've been hearing behind the scenes all week were questions about whether they really had nailed down all of the terms of how this testimony was going to work. Like, this only works in the Democrats' favor if it's a dignified process that Mueller himself is not like ugh (ph) the whole time, right? So is he going to agree to answer any questions that are procedural that begin before that May 17th date when he took over? Is -- are the questions going to be structured in a way where any new information actually emerges? What's going to happen with the other attorneys who were working on the Mueller team? So if those details aren't pinned down, this doesn't work.

[12:20:22] And the notion that this problem is coming because of Democrats exerting pressure on Nadler rather than Mueller or the Justice Department or the White House exerting pressure is just kind of insane because it's like, I mean, it -- it -- that's the last thing that Jerry Nadler should have to worry about, right?

BASH: But that is such -- it's such a key point because, yes, everybody has been waiting for Mueller to testify. People want Mueller to testify. But Democrats have some to gain, but they have a lot to lose here.

KING: Right.

BASH: A lot to lose if it goes south for any reason, especially if it's Robert Mueller himself who makes clear that he is not comfortable with the format. They're already going to be battling the fact that every single Republican is going to be trying to undermine Mueller and the Democrats at every single turn. They have to get their ducks in a row. And if it is just a scheduling -- I mean just a -- just a, you know, need a little bit more time to figure those things out, worth it.

KING: Right. And to -- just to add to that. The one person who has the most at stake here, meaning the president of the United States, made clear again today he thinks this is all a farce.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: How many bites at the apple do you get? We've gone through 500 witnesses, 2,500 subpoenas. I've let them interview my lawyers. I've let them -- because I had nothing to do with Russia. Now that's come out. There was no collusion.

Now they want to have him again. They want to go it again and again and again because they want to hurt the president for the election.

There's nothing he can say. He's written a report. The report said no collusion and it said effectively no obstruction.


KING: Well, it did not say effectively.


KING: It did not say anything close to effectively. Not close. Not close. Please read it if you haven't.

But he hopes this collapses without a doubt.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes, it's not going to collapse, even -- whether it happens next week or the week after or in August, this is going to be the most highly anticipated, highly rated, as the president loves to follow ratings, testimony before Congress of this presidency. More than Michael Cohen. More than Brett Kavanaugh. This is something that everyone in the country is really anticipating and waiting to see whether or not this will be sort of a Nixon-type moment. And I believe that that's part of the reason the president's trying to downplay it before it actually happens because he knows a lot of people are going to be watching it.

BASH: Better schedule a new rally.

KING: Or -- see, that's true. The president had a rally scheduled on -- for the day of the first testimony, planned scheduled the 17th. Let's see, maybe he'll just add a second, who knows. We're getting close to the election, why not.

Coming up for us, what new polls tell us about Joe Biden's chances for the White House.

But first, a fun moment last night. Bernie Sanders making light of one of the critiques against his campaign, that maybe he's too old to be president.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Age became an issue after the first debate.




[12:27:46] KING: Welcome back.

Some warning signs for the former vice president, Joe Biden, in a new post-first debate's look at the Democratic presidential field. Let's take a look.

This is NBC/"Wall Street Journal" reporting. You see it here. The former vice president still in the lead among the Democrats, but 26 percent, a little more than a quarter of Democratic voters say they're for Joe Biden. Below 30 percent is not where you want to be when you're supposed to be the frontrunner.

Call him the leader, Elizabeth Warren in second place in this poll at 19 percent. Senator Harris at 13, Senator Sanders at 13 percent, Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 7 percent to round out the top five. That's the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll.

Let's look at our CNN poll of polls. We average out the five most recent, credible, national polls in the race. And, again, Biden's still at top, but at 25 percent. Harris, Sanders, Warren, a close second place, if you will, three candidates essentially in a tie there. Mayor Buttigieg at 5 percent when you do the poll of polls, still in the top five, but his number there a concern for a candidate who was a big surprise at the beginning of the race as we head into the next debates now just a little more than two weeks away.

One more warning sign, a big one for the former vice president here. The NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll asked, which candidate impressed you in those first round of Democratic debates? Senator Harris, the runaway winner here, 47 percent say she was impressive. So that means people are going to give her another look, right? They want to take -- they're interested. Senator Warren, too, with a good number there.

Look at the former vice president. He and Mayor Pete, 15 percent, 15 percent. If your calling card is I'm the Democrat you want on the debate stage against Donald Trump next November, next October, that's not a good number for the former vice president. He needs to think about that as he heads into the second round of debates here on CNN. Again, just around the corner.

Vice President Biden struggling here. Vice President Biden on the mind of the president today outside the White House.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I see a guy like Biden, who's weak and ineffective, and everybody that knows him knows, he's a weak man, he's an ineffective man.

As I see what I'm running against. You've got sleepy Joe Biden. He doesn't have the energy to be president. And the people that are nipping on his heels, they don't have what it takes.


KING: It's -- tradition is you don't mess in the other guy's primary. The practice of that president is at every opportunity you mess in the other guy's primary.

KNOX: Sure, why not.

TALEV: And -- and he'll blow up traditions. I mean, right?

[12:30:00] But to me what's interesting about the sort of thread through all of this post-debate polling is that if you look at Harris and Elizabeth Warren together as kind