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Deal Reached to Advance USMCA Trade Agreement; Warren, Buttigieg Tangle Over Transparency; Wray and Trump At Odds Over Inspector General's Report; Bloomberg: Trump is Getting Stronger in Re-election Bid. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired December 10, 2019 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: House Democrats striking a big bipartisan trade agreement with President Trump today. Yes, on the very same morning they announced articles of impeachment against that very same President Trump. Speaker Nancy Pelosi says Democrats are happy to do business with the president on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement because she says the administration listened and made major concessions on labor, environmental standards, prescription drugs, and enforcement mechanisms.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): There is no question, of course, that this trade agreement is much better than NAFTA. But in terms of our work here, it is infinitely better than what was initially proposed by the administration. It's a victory for America's workers. It's one that we take great pride, great pride in advancing.


KING: Listen to this. Quote, we ate their lunch. That is how the speaker described the White House concessions in a private meeting with Democrats before that public announcement. We will see, in the hours ahead, if the president decides to respond to that. But so far he is very upbeat, quote, America's great USMCA trade bill is looking good. Looking like very good Democrat support for USMCA.

Jackie Kucinich with the Daily Beast and Sahil Kapur with Bloomberg joining our conversation.

It was just 9 a.m. in a room, two articles of impeachment. Ten a.m. in a room, happy to do business with the president on his number one economic priority before the election.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think they think it's good politics. And there's a school of thought that it takes away one of the talking points Republican have been using that they can't walk and chew gum, they're not doing anything. All they're doing is focus on impeaching the president.

Well, look at that stage at that second press conference and that will tell you all you need to know. There were new Dems, there were moderates, there were every fac -- there were liberals, every faction of the caucus was represented on that stage because they think this puts a very good front. Nancy Pelosi says it's not about politics. It's very clearly about politics.

KING: It's very clearly about politics but trade has been quicksand in this town for a long time. This is -- that it happens today that you get to the finish line makes it all the more remarkable and somewhat dizzying. But this issue has divided the parties, it's been hard to deal with, divides -- internally divides the Democrats because labor union tension versus pro-business Democrats. This is a big deal.

SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, BLOOMBERG: Right. Speaker Pelosi can say it's not about politics but there are obviously political impacts that will happen starting with the fact that President Trump gets to now claim a major victory on one of his two signature issues (INAUDIBLE), the other being immigration. And for Democrats, House Democrats, centrist Democrats in particular really want to be able to go home and say they did something.

So this helps them on their talking points level, but if President Trump's popularity goes up by a few points in their districts, they could lose as a result of this. So there's a paradoxical impact of the politics here and we'll see over the coming weeks and months how it shapes out.

KING: It's a great point. We elect presidents state by state, and if the things move a little bit. But for this, Nancy Pelosi is asking those Democrats from Trump districts to vote yes on impeachment. She's trying to keep defections to one hand essentially, two or three, four if she can. She's asking them and so they want to go home and say that, you know, if they're going to cast that vote, look, that's the president's conduct but here's the president's agenda, I'm working with him because you're in a district where the president won.

Look at some of these headlines just from recent days. In Syracuse, "Brindisi meets with Pence before GOP, Democrats reach trade deal". In Albuquerque, its Representative Torres-Small, in the Raccoon Valley Radio, "Axne urges action on USMCA". In the Daily Oklahoman, "Representative Horn, Oklahoma Republicans urge agreement on NAFTA". Michigan Live, "USMCA trade deal represents political conundrum fro swing district Dems like Stevens, Slotkin".

Is this enough? Is this -- will this -- if Nancy Pelosi has a wavering Democratic impeachment, is this enough?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, I think a lot of these Democrats, you know, if they make a break from Pelosi at this point on impeachment is going to be a very, very stark thing to have done, right? As they needed something big, this is something big that is probably going to be enough to keep many of them in line just because the cost of breaking from the Democrats so completely would be such a potential win for the Republican super Trump, that it would make them look potentially like the flip-floppers and any number of negative things. But it's a very, very delicate needle to thread to say a complicated trade bill offsets an emotional impeachment, and to then make that argument in a political sphere and sound bites to people who feel one way or another about the president, it's a difficult narrative to expand in a petty fashion.

KUCINICH: And not to mention, it's 11 -- election is 11 months away.


To be able to keep this good feeling alive for 11 months is hard.

KING: But at a time when this town does not work in many ways, there's this dysfunction everywhere in this town. Sad, but a lot of it predates President Trump, lot of us may be put on steroids or, you know, got exponentially greater under President Trump. But to have a thing where the Democrats for months, months and months negotiated with Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative actually build up a relationship of trust.

Richard Neal the committee chairman of Ways and Means (INAUDIBLE), they hung up on each other, they screamed at each other, they fought with each other. But throughout that call, they did an old time Washington negotiation and a deal that they think benefits, a, American workers which is most important, but b, both of them, both the president and the Democrats.

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Oh it's an amazing thing. It looks remarkable that it's happening on the same date but they're actually been linked and they've been linked for a long time. This was the play that Nancy Pelosi was going to make to show, one, that she could do walk and chew gum, and two, that's something for her moderates.

But here started the interesting thing about this, the Democrats got a lot and they have really been pushing this. This is a good deal for them. They started out with the idea that we want to keep labor neutral. We don't want them really opposing this. To get labor endorsed shows there's a lot in there for them.

And so now Republicans are a little nervous. They're like, what's in this deal? But they have to vote for it. So I think it really neutralizes a talking point, shows they can get stuff done. They're going to get blowback from the left but I don't think that really worries Nancy Pelosi at this point.

To Jackie's point, that press conference was interesting. Everybody was there. They're going to get a lot of Democratic votes.

KAPUR: And the AFL-CIO endorsement certainly helps with some wavering Democrats. I mean, look back to the Bill Clinton impeachment. One of the things that boosted his numbers and prevented him, you know -- and saved him a little bit from his numbers going down is the fact that he didn't look distracted. He didn't look like he was, you know, abandoning the job of the presidency, they were still legislating, he was still cutting deals. And on some level, I think the split screen image of President Trump getting a piece and still cutting deals with Democrats is good for him in a way.

HULSE: And Kevin McCarthy was grumbling at his press conference but I think they're like, you know, this was a major talking point for them. Now he's trying to say, well, they're only doing it for impeachment. But they are doing it.

KING: Well, we'll see as that one plays out as we go.

Up next, a big transparency test for Pete Buttigieg.



KING: Topping our political radar today, a new poll shows the 2002 Democratic race tied at the top. Joe Biden at 26 percent, Senator Bernie Sanders, just five points back at 21 percent. That's within the margin of error. The Monmouth University survey puts Senator Elizabeth Warren third with 17 percent. Mayor Pete Buttigieg, eight percent, newcomer Michael Bloomberg now up to five percent.

Out on the trail, Buttigieg now responding to calls from fellow 2020 candidates to be more transparent promising now to open up his fundraisers to media coverage. He's also releasing his list of clients he worked for at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company a decade ago.

That after a nudge from Elizabeth Warren. Her reaction?



SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm glad to see what the mayor has done, but it's going to be critical in the fight against Donald Trump that we have a candidate who can most aggressively make the comparison between Trump's administration and how Trump has raised money and how the Democrats are going to do it.


KING: What do we make of this sparring among the candidates over transparency and fundraising and McKinsey clients?

KAPUR: I love to watch this battle. This seems really healthy for a democracy, healthy for politics where two candidates are trying to one-up each other on transparency. He demands that she release list of her, you know, clients and work she does. She does that, she itemizes that two million earned over 30 years. She demands he release, you know, his bundlers and open up his fundraisers to reporters. And he's doing that.

We all got to learn more about all these candidates. What's remarkable to me is the split with President Trump who hasn't even done the basic of releasing his tax returns when all the major Democratic candidates have done that.

KUCINICH: But these are two people that are after some same segments of voters, and they will pretty much do anything to make sure that they are the most transparent among there, they have the cleanest record. And that's what they should do, you know, these Iowa voters, these New Hampshire voters to cast their vote for in just a few weeks.

KING: It's getting chippy as we get closer to the votes. Just as you said the key point there, just a few weeks. So as we get closer, things get chippy especially when it's tight.

Up next, the president is mad at his FBI director after Christopher Wray does something horrible, tells the truth.



KING: A brewing dispute today between the FBI Director Christopher Wray and his boss, the president of the United States. Wray's problem? He is truthfully characterizing a report by the Justice Department Inspector General about the origins of the 2016 Trump- Russia investigation. The president says the report shows rampant abuses at the highest level of the FBI, and an attempt, the president says, to overthrow him. But the report says no such thing, not even close.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz did find multiple and serious errors by mid-level FBI workers and officials, but Mr. Horowitz said there was no evidence the FBI leadership was aware of those mistakes. And no evidence, he said there was any political bias in the decision- making process. Wray here characterizing the findings accurately.


CHRISTOPHER WRAY, FBI DIRECTOR: I think it's important that the Inspector General found that, in this particular instance, the investigation was opened with appropriate predication and authorization.


KING: That quickly eliciting this from President Trump on Twitter. "I don't know what report current director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but it sure wasn't the one given to me. With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI."

A lot of attention was drawn to those words current director of the FBI given the president's history of firing Jim Comey. By in some ways, this is funny because it's another Trump battle with one of his own people. But it is not funny when the director of the FBI, a lead law enforcement organization of the United States of America speaks the truth, characterizes the report fairly, and slammed by his boss. DEMIRJIAN: This has been a recurring problem with a lot of people in the administration who if they do not speak about what they are seeing but with a gloss that is, you know, palatable to the president, I suppose, that they then get these ominous signals over Twitter about whether their careers are going to be -- their jobs are going to be terminated sometime soon.

I think that this is a sticky situation, right? Because Wray is correct. And yet it's not as great IG report for the FBI. I mean, like it does say that they followed the rules, that they did everything they were supposed to, and that there was no political bias, but it also then says the rules are bad, the rules need to be stronger. This does not actually protect situations in which you've got investigations that look into constitutionally protected activities, presidential campaigns, and changes need to be made across the board.


Those are the two takeaways. So if you're the president, you're cheering right now for that and you want to hear your FBI director take your view of it. And the FBI director is protecting his people and protecting his department, and trying -- his bureau, and trying to take the line that says, look, nobody did anything wrong here even if we have to, you know, now dig into the mess of making changes.

KING: There's 40 corrective actions, he's moving quickly on. And so his point is, yes, mistakes were made but any big organization, mistakes were made. It shouldn't happen at law enforcement. You should be extra sensitive about that.

But he's also reading the report from a guy who has a history of being meticulous, Mr. Horowitz, and saying, no, Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe were not out to overthrow the president of the United States. There is zero evidence of that.

Listen to this, he also said in that interview with Pierre Thomas of ABC News that, no, Ukraine did not meddle in the 2016 presidential election. There is no evidence of that. And as Americans go through this impeachment debate and listen to certain people or certain networks, the director of the FBI says be careful.


WRAY: Well, look, there's all kinds of people saying all kinds of things out there. I think it's important for the American people to be thoughtful consumers of information, to think about the sources of it, and to think about the support and predication for what they hear. And I think part of us being well-protected against maligned foreign influence is to build together an American public that's resilient, that has appropriate media literacy and that takes its information with a grain of salt.


KING: It is not hard to listen to that and say the FBI director is saying don't believe everything the president says, or don't believe everything you see in prime time on Fox News.

KAPUR: This is a dilemma that's often faced by members of this administration, whether you exhibit loyalty to your institution or loyalty toward the president which he demands. Here we see the FBI director showing the loyalty to his institution, saying my people did what they, you know, did what they did correctly, that there may be issues with the FISA process. But the investigation was about board, it wasn't biased.

We've heard a lot about the anti-Trump text messages from FBI agents. This report points out there are also pro-Trump text messages from pro-Trump agents as well. That doesn't mean any of them didn't do their job correctly. But the central claim does debunk what President Trump has been saying which is been so core to his argument and his counternarrative that the entire investigation was illegitimate and predicated on bias.

But it's not just the president. Also complicating Wray's life is the AG. Barr -- yes, go ahead.

KING: To that point, Chris Wray's problem is that Bill Barr is willing to do what the president wants and he's not. Here's Bill Barr, "The Inspector General's report makes clear the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign in my view insufficient to justify the steps taken on the thinnest of suspicions."

That's not what the report says. The report says, "We also concluded under the AG guidelines and the DIOG, the FBI had an authorized purpose when it opened crossfire hurricane to obtain information about or protect against a national security threat or crime."

HULSE: But it's also the prosecutor who is looking into this has also raised questions about the Connecticut prosecutor. So this is the problem --

KING: This is the same thing Barr did with the Mueller report. The Mueller report says red, Bill Barr says blue.

KING: Yes, he got out in front of it that time. Well, I mean, the difference is he got out in front of it with the Mueller report and there was nothing to back it up for several days. Now, this is already out there and he's trying to characterize it. And, you know, you hope people actually read the primary source document instead of just taking folks' words.

DEMIRJIAN: This is like the literal problem of our time though. I mean, you could say that about the Mueller report, you could say that about this IG report, you could say that about the entire impeachment investigation. People do not object to what the facts are, they choose to see it through from the lens in which they want to see it, where they're being critical.

KING: Which is why I say constantly, Christopher Wray gives great advice for all of us there. We hope you trust most of what you hear here, but if you don't, check it out. You have the power in your hand. Check it out, come back if we're right.

Up next, the ad wars in the key congressional districts over you know what, impeachment.



KING: A very contrarian view of impeachment today from a Democrat who hopes to be the Democratic nominee for president. Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg telling CNN's Christiane Amanpour he thinks the impeachment debate is making the president stronger.


MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You can be pretty sure that both of those are going to happen. Getting impeached and not getting convicted. Getting re-elected, that's what an election is all about. It's not until --

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: But that's one of the reasons you jumped in, because you think right now Trump is winning.

BLOOMBERG: I think Trump is getting stronger and I think he would just eat alive the candidates. Because they don't have plans that I think are practical, that can be implemented.


KING: What do we make of that?

DEMIRJIAN: I think that he's playing at the Democrats' worst fears, basically. And that is a decent play to make when those are actively on the table and have not yet been resolved. I mean, you didn't see the people who pushed for impeachment or the rest of the field saying please, Mike Bloomberg, please come in and save us. He decided to do that on his own. So it's for him it's a -- to essentially say, you guys are making a mistake here and the president is going to ride the wave of this. But what's they're afraid of.

KING: He said he's going to eat you alive.

KUCINICH: Yes, but then there's the opposite side of this which you hear from a lot of the progressive base, what if they didn't impeach him. What if they -- then he would have a talking point saying, listen, I did nothing wrong. Look, they couldn't do anything to me.

So it really is, there are two sides of this coin, but you're absolutely right. This does play to their worst fears for sure.

KING: And this debate will carry out through the Democratic debates, Bloomberg is not in those and through the next weeks ahead as we go.


Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here this time tomorrow. Dana Bash is in for Brianna Keilar. She starts right now. Have a good afternoon.