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INSIDE POLITICS

Donald Trump: I Disliked How Ousted Navy Chief Handled Gallagher Trial; Navy Secretary Ousted Over Handling Of Seal's Case; Ousted Navy Secretary: "I No Longer Share" Views With President Donald Trump; Admin Official On Leak Of E-mail Debate Over Aid Freeze: "Amateur Hour In The White House Counsel's Office"; Rep. Devin Nunes Dodges Question About Secret Meeting To Get Dirt On Bidens. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired November 25, 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]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is a major gut punch for Uber because if this ban winds up sticking some analysts saying this could be a seismic blow to the Uber's European operations. So right now we're not seeing movement in the south the stock is down only about 1 percent.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: So that's a huge account if you cannot - one and it is good to see you Alison. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. And thank you all so much for joining me today. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thank you, Kate. And welcome to "Inside Politics" I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Big turmoil at the Pentagon the Navy Secretary is forced out in a big dispute over the Commander in Chief's fascination with meddling in military justice cases.

Plus, your turn Mr. President, what about the e-mails? There's a deep White House paper trail about an issue now central to the impeachment debate, why did the President stole military aid to Ukraine? And was it legal? Michael Bloomberg is running for President his way, skipping the early contest, spending nearly $40 million on TV ads just this week, and taking your questions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Taylor asks, what made you decide to run for President? Well, Taylor, I decided to run because I think it's time for a change at the top in the White House, Donald Trump's not been a good President. Who's your hero? That's easy, both my daughters. Keith wants to know what's my favorite pizza. Thin crust, very well done, even burnt with pepperoni on it, isn't even close.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Back to 2020 politics, a bit later, but we begin the hour with a dramatic dust up over chain of command, accountability and a Presidential obsession. The Navy Secretary Richard Spencer out of a job today after he first tried to enforce military justice and then reportedly tried to broker a secret White House deal to subvert it that secret deal with the White House would have let Navy Seal Chief Eddie Gallagher keep his trident pin the golden sigma that makes a Navy Seal a Navy Seal.

That is the defense department's story. Secretary Mark Esper telling reporters just last hour, he fired Spencer after the Navy Chief broke chain of command by going around his back to ensure Gallagher could keep that trident pin. But the President's story, well, it's a little different, he says he cuts Spencer loose over the handling of Gallagher's earlier trial for war crimes, he was charged with murdering an ISIS prisoner in U.S. custody and for cost over runs on important navy contracts.

Spencer's version of his own ouster frames the decision as his own, driven by what he calls "Good conscience", refusing to obey an order he thought was wrong. Let's get straight to the Pentagon and CNN's Barbara Starr. Barbara competing stories, what really happened here?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: You know, that's a really good question to which nobody is really offering a clear answer because you do have these three competing version of events perhaps it's instructive to know that in Spencer's resignation letter essentially acknowledging he was fired.

He never mentioned this back channel communication he was working on with the White House. He talks about not being able to follow the President's orders, but he had gone around his own boss, Mark Esper, the Defense Secretary to get a cooked deal for Eddie Gallagher.

So, you know, that is one touch point on all of this. Esper meeting with Pentagon reporters a short time ago and Esper say a couple of interesting things. Let me read you some quotes from that briefing we had. He says I spoke to the President on Sunday he gave me an order that Eddie Gallagher will retain his trident. So that means there will be no review. Gallagher will keep his status as a Navy Seal and retire at the end of the month as planned.

Esper went on to say he had spoken to Spencer and that Spencer told him the following. He told me that he would likely probably, I don't want to put exact words in his mouth but certainly indicated he was probably going to resign if he had to do this, this was as of Thursday or so.

Still not clear, John, why the Navy Secretary was standing on this point of resignation and still believing he could work a back channel deal with the White House that would have essentially meant what was supposed to be an impartial review of Gallagher's status as a Seal would have had a precooked outcome that still would have kept - allowed him to keep that status.

So look, what's the bottom line? Eddie Gallagher wins, he gets to leave the Navy as a Seal. The President wins, he got exactly what he wanted, Spencer paid the price and the real price, confusion in the ranks about good order and discipline and chain of command. John.

KING: Not sure anybody wins there with confusion in the ranks. Barbara Starr live at the Pentagon, I really appreciate you trying to sort that out for us. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights Margaret Talev with "AXIOS" CNN's Manu Raju CNN Diplomatic and Military Analyst Retired Rear Admiral John Kirby and Jackie Kucinich with "The Daily Beast."

Admiral I want to go to you first, this is not the first case, the President has done this repeatedly. What does it do? What does it do? It's done in the case of Eddie Gallagher now we're done. Right, but what does this do inside the Pentagon when there's another case coming up the chain of command that might catch the attention say on Fox News.

[12:05:00]

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RETD.), CNN MILITARY & DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Right, you have got Major Goldstein who was also pardoned last week by the President, and the army is looking at whether he can keep the ranger tab and the silver star that he want in the engagement that ended up causing him up to get to be brought up on court martial charges there.

So there is that - also there is going to be as Barbara indicated confusion inside the Seal Community. There are three other Navy Seals who are going through the same review process as Gallagher was for the very same offense, posing with war dead. What is the Navy going to do about those three cases?

Those guys haven't gone public. They're not talking to Pete Hegseth and the President hasn't weighed in publicly. It's a valid question. There's a lot of confusion.

KING: You mentioned Pete Hegseth for those of you who don't know sometimes the President in prime time gives Ukraine advice from Sean Hannity. He gets military advice from Pete Hegseth on Fox News. Like this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETE HEGSETH, FOX NEWS HOST: He's the Commander in Chief, he won the election, you didn't. You served at his pleasure and he has set a prerogative, I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt, and if you're a Navy Secretary or an Army Secretary who doesn't understand that, then you can see the door.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's how they teach it at war.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: You can't really take away how much Pete Hegseth has been involved in this process since very early this year. "The Daily Beast" wrote about how Hegseth had the presidency or had been pushing Gallagher's case along with some others, well, particularly Hegseth and how he was treated unfairly?

It was the same narrative that we have heard from the President, causing the President to tweet about Gallagher in March. So this has been a sustained pressure campaign on part of Hegseth and some of his allies to make sure that Gallagher was not punished as the military wanted him to be.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: How many times too John have we seen the President tweet something and just lead to chaos within the ranks, something that seemed to be moving in a certain direction and the President comes in and up ends things by simply issuing a tweet, and all of a sudden behind the scenes, it creates scrambling in the highest levels of the U.S. government.

And this time leading the ouster of the Navy Secretary, we have seen that not just for personnel, but on policy, too, dealing with Syria and the like, this is what the President does, he'll spout off and that creates a whole set of issues in his own government.

KING: We'll come back to several examples of this later in the program. But to that point in the case of just the Pentagon. There have been these cases that military justice cases he has intervened in or at least expressed his views on, which you will and there was the transgender ban which the President did in a tweet, and Secretary Mattis at the time said I'm not going to take that as an order essentially. I'm going take his advice I'm sorry about to say.

MARGARET TALEV, POLITICS AND WHITE HOUSE EDITOR, AXIOS: I think this is goes to the point we're trying to understand the question of why in the system where the chain of command is so important? Would the Secretary of a branch of the military bypass the Head of the Pentagon and just try to work out some kind of side deal with the White House.

If that is in fact what happened, and the answer is because it works sometimes. Like, if you are desperate to stop something from happening that you think would send a terrible message throughout your ranks, send a confusing message to governments abroad, perhaps create a resistance or almost like an intrinsic violence among the peoples of a country where you are sent to engage in military maneuvers.

If you were trying to stop that from happening, and you didn't think your Pentagon Chief was going to be able to do it, it's entirely believable that even though everything in your training and customs of military service tell you not to do it, that you would try to do a work around and be the last voice in the President's head and that may be what happened.

KING: And you see more of the extraordinary part of this is that normally when people get fired or forced out, they go quietly, put their head down and they go. Secretary Spencer on the way out says I no longer share the same understanding with the Commander in Chief who appointed me in regards to the key principle of good order and discipline. That's a shot at the Commander in Chief on the way out the door. KIRBY: Well, yes, no question. It almost reads to me like a letter

that was written days before he got fired, you know, the date was kind of scrawled on top of this thing and he mentions his acknowledging this termination. Clearly that's definitely a shot right at Trump, It's very akin to the way Mattis described his decision to resign as well.

And you know look, there is a truth to it you know Hegseth isn't completely wrong. You have to be aligned with the President's visions if you're going to be on the cabinet and if you can't do that anymore you need to walk away. What is really worrisome here is that just on Friday Spencer was publicly saying I support this process when apparently according to Esper he was working to undermine that very process with a fix at the end.

KING: Well, but to that point, and help us understand, those of us who haven't served why this matters in the military process? You have Spencer saying, you know, we're going to support the process but understanding where he works, and understanding what's happening, maybe trying to do an end around at the same time, what does that do throughout the system?

KIRBY: It erodes trust and confidence in what should be a very straightforward impartial system of determining what an individual's qualifications are to serve in the military.

[12:10:00]

KIRBY: So now you're going to have other Seals wondering if their decisions about their tridents are going to be determined fairly. And then other war fare communities the other thing it does, John, is that connotes to our allies and partners that we don't have our stuff in one socket, if you were, and that we can't be held properly accountable to hold our troops accountable to laws of war and to values and basic modes of conduct when we're operating in their countries.

KING: Right and as he prepares to retire and keep his trident, Eddie Gallagher saying this yesterday, last thing President Donald Trump you have my deepest gratitude and thanks, you have stepped in numerous times and showed true moral fiber by correcting all the wrongs that were being done to me. You're a true leader, exactly what the military in the nation needs. God bless you and your family.

Gallagher making the case that and you know he has every right to make the case that this process in his view was not fair to him, but to John's point about the other cases in the system, if you have a grievance and you think the normal process is not working well, you try to get media attention, right? Try to somehow get on the President's radar.

KIRBY: A certain type of media attention. That's the other thing look, some Presidents have kitchen cabinets and this guy is a cable cabinet, and I think that's also worrisome for the way that the military's institutions are supposed to operate. Now we have to get Pete Hegseth and Fox News to take up a case to get the President's attention. RAJU: It's not the first time it's happened, two people have lobbied

try to get on Fox News to get the President's attention to get a - to get a part into the lie people even--

KUCINICH: President's own advisers have done this, have gone on Fox News to try to push a certain agenda.

KING: And Gallagher also had lawyers who are connected to the Trump White House so there's a couple of different channels, I think the ways things could have played out here. Up next for us new reporting about a flurry of e-mails that could impact the impeachment investigation.

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[12:15:00]

KING: New questions today about a government paper trail on a central impeachment question. Was it routine, or was it a race to justify an abuse of power? "The Washington Post" reporting that a White House Counsel's office review uncovered e-mails, a lot of e-mails between administration officials that show a rushed debate over the legality of that freeze on military aid to Ukraine.

That freeze one-half of what the Democrats in Congress call an extortion scheme by the President to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rival, Joe Biden. The e-mails show an after the fact clash between Office of Management and Budget officials and the National Security Council OMB arguing the freeze was legal, NFC said it broke the law.

The documents also include e-mails to and from the Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and his Deputy Office of Management and Budget Chief Russ Vought. Alex Thomas with "POLITICO" joins our conversation. These are central these e-mails which the Counsel's office dug up, once the impeachment inquiry was launched, saying let's find out what happened here? Yet for now, the White House says not sharing.

RAJU: And that's been part of issue with the impeachment investigation to begin with, the documents that the Democrats have subpoenaed, have been demanding have not been turned over to Capitol Hill, and those documents that would be part of the review ordinarily presumably would if they were to comply with the subpoena.

That's why there are still some questions about exactly what happened with the freezing of the aid? We do know from all the witness testimony that there was a conference call that happened in mid July in which OMB officials told senior officials in the government that they were putting a hold on the aid.

And it came as a direction from the President to Mick Mulvaney, but there was no clear explanation as to why, other than to learn about how it could align with administration priorities and after the fact, clearly there has been a lot of discussions that continued from mid July on about why that was withheld and a lot of belief that the President had tied this directly to the demand that Ukraine move forward with the investigations.

But you can see a scrambling of sorts and that's been part of the investigation too, how they apparently tried to cover their tracks or at least explain what happened here, and there are questions about what the explanation actually is?

KUCINICH: And there was witness testimony last week about how unusual it was that the OMB political folks were getting involved to this level? And OMB is usually involved in some of these funding issues in different ways, but the fact there was so much involvement as you said on the political level, I think really took back some of these career public servants.

KING: And not only will we now see the e-mails but to that point, Russ Vought and Mick Mulvaney's Chief of Staff, he is the Chief of Staff but his Chief of Staff is at the White House all three of them refusing to testify. They know the back and forth, they know what happened?

ALEX THOMPSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, POLITICO: It's an interesting timing question for the Democrats. As you noted, they aren't turning over all the documents. Do Democrats wait? Do they try to get every single document they can? But if they do then this impeachment inquiry could extend into the Democratic primaries, and you have five Senators running, the longer they wait, you could end up taking several Senators off the campaign trail in the final most important stretch of the Presidential Primary.

KING: And you also get another example when these things happen inside the Trump White House people start pointing figures. This from the CNN reporting "The Washington Post" was first to report this story, CNN matching most of that reporting and then looking into it, senior administration official says seems like amateur hour in the White House Counsel's Office.

TALEV: See I wonder who said that. We know these lines of demarcation. We know that the White House Counsel's Office and the Chief of Staff, are at odds with each other, and the Former Head of the NSC wanted to blow the entire shop up because he was outraged at what was happening.

You can begin to get a glimpse, and just knowing what we know about what might have happened here which is the National Security Council led by John Bolton is like you can't do this, congress has appropriated money and you have to spend it.

[12:20:00]

TALEV: And then what follows, which will eventually come out, but probably not in time for this.

KING: Right. And what follows is, and again, we talked about this in the last block, an administration deciding, the President deciding he can make his own rules when it comes to military justice in this case apparently, maybe the documents would prove it otherwise, but apparently that I can hold up the money, even though I signed a law - I signed a congressionally passed law, that says I must give Ukraine the money.

This is part of the Mick Mulvaney briefing, remember the White House briefing that he tried to take back where he said, sure, there was a quid pro quo, get over it, this issue did come up there too.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICK MULVANEY, ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: There was a report, that we worried that money wouldn't - if we didn't pay out the money, it would be illegal. Okay, it would be unlawful. That is one of those things that has a little shred of truth in it that makes it looks worse than it is.

We knew that money either had to go out the door by the end of September or we had to have a really good reason not to do it. That was the legality of the issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: All true, except why did you stop it? He left that part out. He says we had to spend it by September 30th, end of the fiscal year, well, it would have been gone if you didn't stop it.

RAJU: And he acknowledged that and of course in that same press conference very famously that he said that the reason why there was a delay was that, seek that investigation into the 2016 conspiracy theory that is Ukraine that meddled in the Presidential Election to help Hillary Clinton. He walked that back as well. So and that of course is also key in this investigation. Democrats say there is a direct link. Mick Mulvaney admitted to that in the White House Briefing Room.

TALEV: By the way you know who could shed all the light in the world on this, John Bolton, he spent all weekend tweeting everybody on Twitter about, well, something big is coming, he's not going to do it unless compelled to. We'll see if the Don McGahn ruling that may be forthcoming, they have some impact on that there's a lot of what ifs, but at this point, just like Alex said, Democrats are decided they're not going to wait.

KING: As of now, proceed ahead, and maybe some Democrats hope there's a possibility by the time you get to the Senate. May be you get new witnesses we will see. As we go to break, Outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry praises the President. Let's just put it he didn't always view it this way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK PERRY, OUTGOING ENERGY SECRETARY: I said Mr. President, I know there are people who say you said you were the chosen one, and I said you were.

My fellow Republicans, beware of false prophets. Do not let itching ears be tickled by messengers who appeal to anger, division and resentment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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[12:25:00]

KING: The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee now threatening to sue news organizations including CNN after being accused of meeting last year with a Former Ukrainian prosecutor to discuss getting dirt on Joe Biden. That accusation comes from Rudy Giuliani Associate Lev Parnas.

Parnas' lawyer telling CNN that he's willing to tell Congress what he knows about this meeting and that he has documentary evidence. Now Parnas is under indictment and there are questions about his credibility. That's one reason Democrats who are not fans of Nunes are choosing their words carefully when asked if there's a big ethics issue here?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D-CA): I don't want to comment on what the Ethics Committee should do particularly Vis-a-Vis the Ranking Member of my Committee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That congressionally paid taxpayer pay trip to Europe was used to investigate the Bidens that might be an issue?

REP. ADAM SMITH, (D-WA): Unlike the President's situation, there's too much we don't know. So it needs to be looked into but there's too much we do not know to make definitive conclusions on that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Congressman Nunes, you know especially if you watched the hearings last week is a loyal Trump defender, with credibility issues of his own. He told Brett Baier this allegation is demonstrably false, but when asked a direct yes-or-no question on Fox, he demonstrably dodged.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Bottom line; were you in Vienna with Shokin?

REP. DEVIN NUNES, (R-CA): I really want to answer all of these questions, and I promise you I absolutely will come back on the show and answer these questions, but because there is criminal activity here, we're working with the appropriate law enforcement agency. But I think you can understand that I can't compete by trying to debate this out with the public media when 90 percent of the media are totally corrupt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Forgive me, but horse shit. This is easy. This is easy. He was on a plane with staff that went somewhere during this time frame. There are either passports stamped or if they did it on a classified basis, there's a crew on the plane.

There's the crew of his staff. He could go into a meeting with a group of eight, including the Speaker Nancy Pelosi say this didn't happen and force a Democratic Speaker to issue a statement saying we looked to the documentation. He demonstrated this is demonstrably false, if it's demonstrably false, demonstrate it.

RAJU: He could say no it didn't happen he didn't answer the question directly very clearly he could. It's been interesting to see the shift of Nunes over the years. During the Boehner year when he was the Speaker, when Boehner was the Speaker, he was a close ally to John Boehner, he was critical of the tea party as they pushed for a government shutdown.

In the beginning of the Trump era, he worked on a bipartisan basis with Adam Schiff in the initial part of the Russia investigation in his Committee.