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INSIDE POLITICS

Mueller to Testify Tomorrow; Budget Deal Reached; Trump Tweets About Budget Deal; Biden Releases Criminal Justice Reform Plan. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 23, 2019 - 12:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:00:00] DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Relationship with the president but he's not been afraid to criticize him in the past couple of years.

Nick Robertson, thank you so much.

Thank you for joining me.

"INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Dana.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

President Trump and Speaker Pelosi strike a deal on spending and raising the debt limit. There are complaints, though, on the left and on the right. The challenge now, getting it through Congress.

Plus, Joe Biden unveils a new criminal justice reform plan. It embraces new, progressive ideas about reducing mass incarceration and it walks away from many ideas Biden championed as a senator back in the 1990s.

And, call it a warm-up for Bob Mueller. The special counsel testifies tomorrow about Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign and about the president's efforts to stymie his investigation. Today, the FBI director says, problem not solved.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): Has Russia -- are the Russians still trying to interfere in our election system?

CHRISTOPHER WRAY, DIRECTOR, FBI: The Russians are absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections through foreign influence in particular.

GRAHAM: Is it fair to say that everything -- everything we've done against Russia has not deterred them enough? All the sanctions, all the talk, they're still at it?

WRAY: Well, my view is, until they stop, they haven't been deterred enough. GRAHAM: And they're still doing it?

WRAY: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And we begin the hour on that subject with the big wait for tomorrow morning and the Russia special counsel's Capitol Hill testimony. Today, Democrats are doing a dry run, holding mock hearings. Last night, the president quoting a Fox Business personality to hammer home his own Mueller report conclusion. Quote, there's no there there. That's the president's take.

Today, the House Democratic Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler says that's a lie and that tomorrow's hearing, Nadler says, will break through the president's spin.

Robert Mueller is a tough witness. He's testified before Congress dozens of times in the past three decades and the former special counsel cautioned, remember, in his own public appearance since the end of his investigation, quote, my report is my testimony.

But let's take a look at some of the big questions Democrats will want to ask Mueller, even if Mueller doesn't want to answer.

Start with volume one. That's the part of the report that's about Russia meddling. Some of the issues Democrats think will come up at the hearing, did the president, people inside his campaign or any associates of the Trump campaign or the president have any knowledge that WikiLeaks would release hacked e-mails? Did they know that in advance? That's one area.

Why did you not interview Donald Trump Junior about that infamous June 2016 meetings with Russians at Trump Tower. You can be certain this issue will come up.

From volume two, this is about the alleged obstruction by the president, or at least acts special counsel said could be construed as obstruction. Did you intend, through your report, to serve as an impeachment referral? The House Democratic math, especially on the impeachment question, could be affected by how the special counsel answers that.

Why did you say in the report that you don't exonerate the president if you decided not to charge him with obstructing justice? Democrats will try to get in there into the Justice Department guidelines, can't indict a sitting president, but what does Mueller think about the president? We'll see if he answers the question.

There's also a lot of interesting things in the appendix of the report, where Mueller details sort of how the investigation played out. Why did he decide not to have a subpoena fight when the president said he would not voluntarily sit down for an in-person interview? Why not try a subpoena? See if Mueller will answer that.

And, remember, the president did submit written answers to some questions. Does the evidence suggest he was fully candid in those written answers to the special counsel office? That will be another area for the special counsel. Republicans will try to attack the credibility of the administration. Democrats are hoping, even if Mueller doesn't go outside of the report, just hearing him read himself, the key findings, will be powerful.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR, "NEW DAY": Would anyone else have faced criminal prosecution?

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): I don't think we'll ask it in that form because I don't think he'd answer it in that form.

CAMEROTA: What if Robert Mueller says, I refer you to my report?

NADLER: He may very well. And then we'll have to -- well, we will be referring to specific pages and specific sections in the report and asking him to comment on them.

CAMEROTA: How's that going to sound? What's the question that you're going ask him?

NADLER: Well, paragraph -- you know, paragraph two on page of whatever says the following. Is that correct? Did you find that? Does this describe obstruction of justice?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Sara Murray, Michael Shear with "The New York Times," Toluse Olorunnipa with "The Washington Post," Melanie Zanona with "Politico."

Depending on who you ask, this is either going to be the world's biggest event, the Mueller movie, or a dud, because there's nothing new.

What are we expecting? Or do we know what to expect?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think it could be somewhere in between there. The reality is, we have not heard Bob Mueller say all that much, so it's still going to be interesting to hear the words coming out of his mouth. You know, all we have heard from him throughout this entire process is a 10-minute statement.

But I think that it was very clear from what Robert Mueller said in that 10-minute statement, and from the letter from the Justice Department yesterday that he is going to cover what is in that report. He's not going to show up and drop a bunch of new bombshells and answer a lot of questions that have so far gone unanswered. So I think that could be a source of frustration certainly for people who are watching from home, as well as members from that committee.

[12:05:19] You know, but I think they're doing what they have to do. You can't have someone run an investigation like this and then not bring them before Congress and at least ask the question. KING: Absolutely. And to that point, when people say, you know, why

are they even doing this, he spent tens of millions of dollars of the American people's money on a very important investigation. This is a democracy. Of course he should go before the Congress and have oversight.

You mentioned the Justice Department letter. I'll call that a brush- back pitch, if you will. The Justice -- that Bob Mueller was the FBI director for more than a decade. He was a federal prosecutor for decades before that. He knows the rules and he knows the systems.

But the Department of Justice sends him a letter saying you must remain within the boundaries of your public report because matters within the scope of your investigation were covered by executive privilege. There's actually other legal precedent where Bob Mueller can say whatever Bob Mueller wants as long as he's talking about this investigation. But why? Why a brush-back pitch from the Trump Justice Department?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": And if you remember, Attorney General Barr did not abide by those rulings when he decided to testify. He talked about all kinds of issues outside of the report. He explained his decision and why he decided that the president was not guilty of obstruction of justice. So he's applying different rules for Bob Mueller. But this has been the strategy of the Trump administration to try to limit the amount of people coming up to testify about the Mueller report, limit the amount of information that can be shown on television about the Mueller report, limit the amount of testimony that can be put forward about what's in the Mueller report because the Mueller report is damning for the Trump administration. Even though he say no obstruction, no collusion, it is not a positive picture of what's happening within the White House (INAUDIBLE).

KING: That's what he says. That's not what the report says.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Right.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes.

MELANIE ZANONA, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": I also would point out, Democrats are leaving nothing to chance. They really want to sell the testimony. They know that it's probably not just enough to have him out there saying these things, so they're actually launching a war room where they're going to be actively clipping and blasting out testimony excerpts. They're using a hash tag, RetweetTheReport, to try to amplify his testimony. And they're doing these mock sessions today, which I think just really underscores how high stakes these hearings are.

KING: Right. And the Judiciary Committee will deal with the obstruction issue. The Intelligence Committee, it's two -- two separate (INAUDIBLE) -- they will deal with the volume one, which is the Russia meddling, which includes the Trump Tower meeting and Donald Trump Junior's playing footsie, I would say, with WikiLeaks through that. And we'll see how that plays out. The president says, yes, maybe I'll watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I'm not going to be watching. Probably. Maybe I'll see a little bit of it. I'm not going to be watching Mueller because you can't take all those bites out of the apple.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Is there anybody alive who believes the president will not be watching Mueller?

SHEAR: No. You know, one of the things that's interesting to me is that there's a lot of attention focused on the Democrats and the Democrats' questioning of Mueller. I actually think that I'm going to be interested in watching the why Mueller responds to what we expect will be attacks from the Republican side, right?

KING: Right.

SHEAR: I mean the president has spent all of this time, and his allies on Capitol Hill have spent all of this time, you know, focused on, you know, castigating Bob Mueller and his team, the 18 angry Democrats, all of the -- all of the attacks to try to undermine his credibility. This will be Bob Mueller's first opportunity to respond to that. And it's likely that a guy like that, who is so, you know, sort of proud of his reputation is going to want to respond, or at least if he doesn't want to respond, he may have no choice in the face of what we expect to be some of these attacks.

And so I think it -- I think it's going to be interesting to watch, how -- how does that -- how does that work and how does -- how -- what -- and what kind of moments does that produce?

KING: I think that's a great point. And if you go back through history -- we'll see what happens tomorrow. If you go back through history and the Republicans sort of bragging, House Republicans especially, House Democrats too have performance issues, but House Republicans bragging, say the Benghazi hearing, other things like that, they do not have a great track record of delivering.

MURRAY: Uh-huh.

SHEAR: Right.

MURRAY: The irony of all the people who continue to hold Benghazi hearings and talk about Hillary Clinton's e-mails until now are saying, oh, we do really need Bob Mueller to testify. It should not be lost on anyone at home who is watching this play out tomorrow the sort of final chapter of this Russia investigation.

KING: Right. And to that point, Senator Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee on the Senate side, he wants to bring in George Papadopoulos because he wants to explore the origins in the investigation. George Papadopoulos, who the president himself calls the coffee boy, you know, we don't know -- you know, OK, let -- Senator Lindsey Graham, he says, Bob Mueller, why would we wanting to talk to him?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): It won't reshape my dynamic. I've heard all I need to hear from Mueller. I've read his report. I accept the findings. I don't think it's going to change public opinion. Having been involved in the Clinton impeachment, if the public's not with you, you'll pay a price. And I don't think there's anything Mueller can say that's going to change anybody's mind.

KING: I don't think we know that about public opinion. I think that is the big, open question, do the American people watch? Do the American people then watch the news coverage? Do the American people get interested and go looking for those clips if they see them, you know, out in social media? We don't know the answer to that. But it seems pretty clear that Republicans are not going to change their minds.

[12:10:05] So the question I have is, will more House Democrats -- will Mueller make a case that -- we're at 88 now on the record saying we should impeach. Will more House Democrats say impeach and will that complicate -- even though Nancy Pelosi wants him to testify, will, in the end, it complicate her job?

ZANONA: And I think Democrats have to be careful what they wish for here because across the board Democrats want to damage his election prospects. They want these spicy clips to come out and they want to show his alleged obstruction in this probe. But, at the same time, that could very well lead to a swell of Democrats coming out in support of impeachment and that puts Nancy Pelosi in a very serious bind as she's trying to protect those moderates heading into 2020.

OLORUNNIPA: Yes, Mueller spoke for only 10 minutes a couple of months ago and we did see sort of a dam break with --

KING: Right.

OLORUNNIPA: Several Democrats come out and say, you know, we are now in favor of impeachment. Now he's going to be on The Hill for several hours and he's going to have an opportunity to talk more about what was in his report and answer tough questions. And that could lead to even more Democrats breaking ranks and saying, yes, we do support impeachment.

KING: It will be a fascinating day. We';; see how it plays out. Be sure to tune in tomorrow morning, get up bright and early with us. Special Counsel Robert Mueller testifying before Congress live. The Mueller hearing coverage begins 8:00 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Up next for us, a sweeping new budget deal raises immediate alarm bells for conservatives and Democrats.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [12:15:52] KING: Congressional leaders and the White House urging lawmakers to get onboard today. That after the two sides finally agreed to a sweeping budget and debt ceiling deal last night. President Trump signaling he's on board, at least for now, tweeting, I'm pleased to announce that a deal has been struck on a two-year budget and debt ceiling with no poison pills. The president went on to say, this was a real compromise in order to give another big victory to our great military and vets.

This is far from over, however. Significant incoming opposition from members of both parties. We're seeing it already today. Plenty for both sides in this deal to dislike. It does propose $1.3 trillion in total spending for each of the next two years. It also raises the spending limits by about $320 billion over those two years. The debt -- the deal suspends the debt ceiling until well after the 2020 election and it says good-bye to the sequester, the budget caps enacted back in 2011.

CNN's Phil Mattingly is counting the votes live up on Capitol Hill.

Phil, walk us through some of the landmines and the path ahead here.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so here's the landmines right now. If you are a fiscal conservative, you have major problems with this deal. And we've already heard that from several conservatives. You've had a lot of Republicans who are cool to the idea of the major increase in spending, both defense and domestic, as well as the fact that it essentially does away with one of the key fiscal victories that Republicans claim from the Obama years, it gets rid of the budget caps entirely after years of delaying those caps.

If you are a Democrat, you have issues with two things, the idea that you are -- there are limitations on policy riders, basically adding things that are priorities for your party in spending bills coming up in September and also there are no limitations on the transfer authority for the administration to move money around to potentially finance a border wall. So that's where the two polls are going to be and that's where you're going to see lawmakers drop off and vote against.

The coalition to get this passed is the same one it always is on agreements like this. You have defense hawks from the Senate Armed Services Committee and House Armed Services Committees from both parties who will join. You have appropriators who like the fact that this deal smooths the process of that spending bill effort in September. They will join as well.

Also key, and don't forget about this, you have all four congressional leaders who signed off on this deal and you have a president who has signed off as well. Now, there is concern that the president may waffle on this. We've seen this a number of times over the course of the last two and a half years when it comes to these fights. But Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, on the floor, announcing his support for this deal, touting the defense increases, made very clear the president, in his words, supports the deal and he is proud to join the president in supporting a deal. Trying to kind of box the president in on this one. The reality is, they should have the votes and leadership is confident they will be able to pass this. But given the fact of the increased spending, given the fact the restrictions on some of the Democratic policy priorities, it won't be overwhelming, it will be just enough.

John.

KING: Just enough. Inspirational. Phil Mattingly live on The Hill, appreciate it. Good luck.

Joining our conversation in studio, CNN's Kaitlan Collins and Damian Paletta from "The Washington Post."

Damian, let me start with you. From a structural budget standpoint, economic standpoint, what are the most significant elements of the deal?

DAMIAN PALETTA, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC POLICY REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, obviously, suspending the debt ceiling for two years kind of takes away that crisis element we might be facing as soon as September. So that is a big deal for the economy and for the White House and for both parties. But what it does do is it locks in a trillion dollar deficits as far as the eye can see. We're on pace to spend $4.4 trillion this year, bring in $3.4 trillion in revenue. That's a trillion dollar gap. And that's only going to get worse. And by agreeing to more spending in the next two years, they're kind of all accepting that that's just going to be the status quo going forward, which is a big change from what Republicans had advocated for during the Obama administration.

KING: Right. I want to come back to that in just a second. But to Phil's point about the president. The president's tweet says it's a compromise. It doesn't say, yay. It doesn't say Republicans vote for it. We know his own, now his acting chief of staff, former budget director, some of the Freedom Caucus guys in Congress don't like this. Is there any chance the president will see negative reaction and back away?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Maybe. And a tweet is not a signature. We've come really close to the president almost not signing a spending bill before, only to have even at one point the defense secretary, when it was James Mattis, had to come to the president and say, you need to sign this bill because we need the military to be funded. And that was the only reason the president signed it. So just because he tweets that does not give any confidence to people inside the White House that it's for sure going to happen.

Now, it helps a little bit. Another thing that helps is also that a lot of people were distracted by the fact that Robert Mueller is testifying tomorrow, which multiple people have said behind the scenes, that could help push this bill that typically may not make it over the edge because, of course, there are people in the White House who do not like this. You saw Mick Mulvaney's deputy who is now running the Office of Management and Budget on TV today singing this bill's praises, even though behind the scenes he was not on board with this. [12:20:18] So keep an eye out for some of those members of the House

Freedom Caucus to come to the president to express their displeasure. And that could shape it. But right now they're counting on the fact -- and by "they" I mean the Democrats and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and some of the Republicans who are on board with this -- for the president to be distracted by everything else that's going on.

KING: Mnuchin's on the Senate side today talking to Republican senators at their policy luncheon. I think the issue is more on the House side.

COLLINS: Right.

KING: Speaker Pelosi just said moments ago she hopes the president keeps his promise to put his shoulder into the deal, if you will, and move it forward.

I want to come back to the point that Damian made because we're -- we have divided government now. The Democrats control the House. So it's somewhat understandable that the Republican president, Republican Senate would have to give something to the -- to the Democrats because that's what -- how compromise works.

But let's look at federal discretionary spending. You look at the Obama years. Early on, remember the recession in the Obama years. Then spending came down a little bit. Republicans took control of the House. The sequester kicked in. Spending came down a little bit. You see kind of -- and then with a Republican president, especially those first two years, Republicans ran everything. Spending went up. And now those last three years are projected. There could be -- there will be adjustments there for inflation and cost of growth.

But this is not -- Donald Trump and the campaign in 2016 said balancing the budget would be easy. Eliminating the debt. He said the whole national debt.

Actually, let's just listen to the president. The whole national debt, entire national debt, bye.

Oh, I'm sorry, that's -- let me bring that up here. He said -- he said, we're going to get rid of $19 trillion in debt. How long will that take? I think you can do it fairly quickly because the fact of the numbers. What's fairly quickly? A period of eight years. So the president said in eight years he would get rid of the national debt.

We showed you discretionary spending. Damian mentioned -- look at the federal budget deficits here. You put this up. Remember, again, they were spiking at the beginning of the Obama years. We were in a recession then. Then you see -- and, again, a lot of that is because of the Republicans taking over in the House. You see them coming down, forcing the president into the sequester. And then, in a Republican president, there go deficits through the sky again. Is the Tea Party dead? Is fiscal conservatism dead?

ZANONA: I think this is just another example of Trump remaking the party in his own image, right? I mean the Tea Party wave in 2010, they came to Congress on the idea of fiscal responsibility when Obama was in office. And keep in mind, he did have a recession and economic downturn that he was dealing with, but so few Republicans are willing to directly criticize the president. Even some of these fiscal hawks who are raising concerns with this budget deal, they're shifting the blame on Pelosi. And the only criticism you see of the president on these issues are from people who are no longer in Congress, like Mark Sanford, a former Freedom Caucus member, who's trying to potentially run against Trump on this issue in 2020.

SHEAR: But there were -- there -- I don't think there was anybody that really in their heart of hearts believed that Donald Trump was a true fiscal conservative when he ran. I mean there was deep concern among the real fiscal hawks that he was not going to really carry their, you know, their banner when and if he became president.

And to go back to Kaitlan's point, the important constituency here is not necessarily the people in Congress who are whispering in the president's ear or even the people in the White House. It's the people on the screen. It's can -- can the Freedom Caucus types who are the fiscal conservatives, can they get into the ear of Lou Dobbs, can they get into the ear of Sean Hannity and whip up a kind of opposition to this that plays out across the screen of Fox News or -- and if -- and if the president sees that, what we've seen in the past again and again is that if he sees that and it gets him riled up, whatever he's tweeted or whatever support he's offered in phone calls to Mitch McConnell doesn't mean a whole lot.

KING: Remember the House Republican health care plan that was awesome until it was mean.

SHEAR: Until it was mean, right.

KING: Until it was mean.

COLLINS: Right now that --

KING: But to your point, that's where your Mueller point -- that's where you Mueller point could come into play. It's hard to get their attention.

COLLINS: Exactly. Right now that is --

SHEAR: Right. But it -- but it -- but it still could get their attention Thursday and Friday.

KING: Right.

SHEAR: I mean, you know, we still have a few more days.

ZANONA: That's a long ways away, yes.

COLLINS: That's true. It hasn't passed Congress yet. But right now that's not their focus.

SHEAR: Right.

COLLINS: And in the days after we're not sure it's going to be their focus.

But speaking to the president being a fiscal conservative or not, behind the scenes they've told him, look at these numbers, look at what the projections are going to be. He doesn't really care when he's out of office. He's made that point to several people behind the scenes.

KING: Right, you've had reporting in recent days that he says if he gets re-elected, then he'll start cutting spending. Well, we'll see who runs the Congress and we'll see if that holds up. It certainly hasn't in the first term.

Up next for us, Joe Biden has a new plan out today aimed at reversing many of the same policies he helped make law.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:29:06] KING: Joe Biden unveiling a detailed criminal justice plan today, hoping a new approach helps him deflect sharp criticism of his past. That's not likely with debates looming next week. Biden's new plan, though, walks away from many of the approaches he championed a generation ago in helping to pass the 1994 Crime Bill. The mandatory minimum sentences in that package, for example, now blamed for a rise in mass incarceration. Biden's hope, when rivals criticize his past, he can steer the conversation to the future.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No mandatory minimums, the end of private prisons, additional funding for drug courts, bail reform, no juveniles at all in adult prisons, mandatory treatment, not jail for those with drug addiction, decriminalizing marijuana, automatic expunging records for a marijuana conviction. Job training, education while you're in prison. I believe my criminal justice reform package is as strong or stronger than anyone else's.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:30:02] KING: Now, can he sell it in a way that doesn't make people forget, no one's going to forget the 1990s and the crime bill.