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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump: Memo "Totally Vindicates" Me in Russia Probe; Spending Showdown Looms as Immigration Debate Stalls; Russia Investigation; Show of Unity at Republican Retreat; Super Bowl Preview. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired February 4, 2018 - 08:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[08:00:14] JOHN KING, CNN HOST (voice-over): The president overrules his FBI director and makes clear his anger at the deputy attorney general.

REPORTER: Do you still have confidence in him after reading the memo?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You figure that one out.

KING: Washington's big new debate, the memo Trump allies are using to attack the FBI.

REP. CHRIS STEWART (R-UT), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Everything in this memo is accurate and true.

REP. JACKIE SPEIER (D), CALIFORNIA: It's really a political document. It's political talking points.

KING: And, still no immigration deal.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: We will not rest. We will not stop. This will not end except happily for our Dreamers.

KING: INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories, sourced by the best reporters now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King.

To our viewers in the United States and around the world, thank you for sharing your Sunday.

It is Super Bowl Sunday. We'll get to that in a few moments.

President Trump says a newly released memo, quote, totally vindicates him in the Russia election meddling probe, and if you believe him, the president says it also proves systematic corruption at the FBI.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: I think it's terrible, if you want to know the truth. I think it's a disgrace what's going on in this country I think it's a disgrace. A lot of people should be ashamed of themselves and much worse than that. It was declassified and let's see what happens, but a lot of people should be ashamed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The president's take, though, to borrow a phrase is fake spin. The memo deals only with a sliver of the investigation. And it in no way vindicates the president. In fact, even as it questions FBI methods, the memo details contacts between Trump campaign advisers and Russians.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The fact is Papadopoulos was approached by the Russians and told that the Russians had stolen Hillary Clinton e-mails and this took place in April of the election year. So they were making an approach to one of the Trump foreign policy advisers. What was Page, he was another of the Trump foreign policy advisers and the Russians were making approach to him too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Whatever you think of the memo, the timing is beyond bizarre. The week-long debate over whether the president should authorize its release overshadows his first State of the Union Address and a Republican Party retreat designed to chart a course for this difficult midterm election year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We got hit with these corporations giving tremendous bonuses to everybody that Nancy Pelosi called crumbs. That was a bad -- that could be like deplorables. Does that make sense? Deplorable and crumbs? Those two words, they seem to have a resemblance. I hope it has the same meaning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With us this Sunday to share the reporting and their incites, Julie Pace of "The Associated Press", CNN's Manu Raju, Michael Bender of "The Wall Street Journal", and CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson.

We begin today with that so-called Nunes memo and its impact on the investigation into Russia election meddling. It's lead author, Congressman Devin Nunes, insists the memo exposes anti-Trump bias at the FBI and that he is doing a great public service.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: The sad part is, is that I have an obligation to the American people when we see FISA abuse. The only place that can protect them is the U.S. Congress when abuses do occur.

BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS HOST: Did you write the memo?

NUNES: So, it's not a place we wanted to go. It's not a place we wanted to go, but it's where we had to go.

KING: Now, context is important. One thing worth remembering is that Congress -- the congressman attacking the FBI's credibility right there has his own credibility problem. His fellow Republicans pressured Nunes to step aside last year for leading the House Intelligence Committee investigation of Russia meddling because they believed he was too cozy with the Trump White House.

Democrats now say a central premise of that memo is factually wrong. We'll get to that in a moment.

But now the big debate is what, if anything, will change because of the release of this memo? The document is critical of the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who oversees the special counsel. Some of the president's allies says Rosenstein should now be fired. Some of them want the special counsel fired.

But, listen here, another Republican involved in drafting the memo has a very different take, saying, yes, it raises questions in his view about the process used to get one warrant, but not fundamental questions about the broader investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOST: The memo has no impact on the Russia probe.

REP. TREY GOWDY (R-SC), CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT & GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: Not to me, it doesn't and I was pretty involved in the drafting of it. There is a Russia investigation without a dossier. So, to the extent the memo deals with the dossier and the FISA process the dossier has nothing to do with the meeting at Trump Tower.

The dossier has nothing to do with an e-mail sent by Cambridge Analytica. The dossier has nothing to do with George Papadopoulos' meeting in Great Britain. It also doesn't have anything to do with obstruction of justice. So, there's going to be a Russia probe even without a dossier.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Congressman Gowdy is going to get some phone calls from some of his conservative allies in the House, a very level headed take there, a level headed take.

[08:05:02] There's a big debate, was Devin Nunes honest in writing this memo? Did it have factual errors? Did he lie about whether the FBI disclose the political source or part of its information?

But to that point, let's start there. That is a reasonable level headed judgment that let's debate FBI practices but it doesn't impact the bigger investigation. That's not what the president tweets. (CROSSTALK)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Go ahead.

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Congressman Gowdy here is just pointing out what's not in the memo. The memo doesn't show any of the highly classified data that was used underneath to base this memo on. It doesn't call into question any of the methods that they used to get these warrants, and, you know, we should also point out that the information hasn't been declassified which is also something the President Trump can do if he wanted.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Gowdy is freed, of course, because he's retiring. I mean, that is why he's off -- you know, off message in terms of what the House Republicans want the message to be. And the message of course is about this memo. We know it's a highly disputed memo. It's an incomplete memo.

But the ultimate goal is to play to a jury, right? A jury of Republican lawmakers, jury of Republican voters and to sow reasonable doubt. And to really -- I mean, if you look at what the president has been doing over these last many months about this investigation, calling it a witch hunt, saying there is any collusion, I mean, this is part of that and maybe one of the most effective parts so far.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: But I think it doesn't change that overall dynamic. If you are someone in the White House, a Republican, a voter who is inclined to see the Russian investigation as a witch hunt, this is more fodder for your argument. If you believe the Russia investigation is valid and should continue, this is more fodder for that argument. So, while we spent a week on this, while this has become the new focal point for the White House, it does very little to change the overall dynamic for the president.

KING: Right. It certainly may change the court of public opinion in the sense it gives something else for people to run into their ideological corners, which is why I compliment Trey Gowdy for being level-headed there and going through, what it does say and what it doesn't say and what it does change and what it doesn't change. But it gives you talking points for the public opinion.

Bob Mueller operates in a court of law. So, we're having these conversations. We will have them until we get further developments in the investigation. There's a different standard when you're standing before a judge.

But to the president's point, the president's in Mar-a-Lago for the weekend, tweeting yesterday: This memo totally vindicates Trump in probe. But the Russian witch hunt, as you know, it goes on and on. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. The word now used, I'm not going to read the whole thing. This is an American disgrace.

Memo totally vindicates Trump. It does nothing of the sort. Doesn't even come close. MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The only thing

this memo does is it raises questions about how this FISA warrant was obtained and Carter Page, one foreign policy adviser in late October 2016, right before the elections and it doesn't get into all the other Trump campaign officials who had contacts with the Russians. It certainly does not talk about what is viewed as possible obstruction of justice, what the firing of James Comey, the efforts to change the story about the Trump Tower meeting with Donald Trump Jr., that came to light. This has nothing to do with it.

It deals with one aspect of how that FISA was obtained on Carter Page and there's a lot of disputes about whether the facts are correct in how that memo portrays that process.

PACE: It does give you insight into that tweet into what the president has been hearing for the last several days, a lot of the push from the White House to release this memo, or how the House Republicans said, is because Trump was being told by some of his friends and some of his allies that this will vindicate you. There's nothing in it that does that, but that has his mindset right now. This is going to help me.

KING: But you have this Republican view shared by the president that there was a conspiracy against Trump in a Republican led investigation. I know Obama was still president, but James Comey is a Republican by pedigree and they attack Rod Rosenstein who in the Trump administration renew some of this -- you know, supports renewing some of this process going forward.

So, there's allegedly a Republican conspiracy against the Republican candidate for president. If there was such a conspiracy and they did not want Trump to get elected, why didn't they leak any of this before the election? That's the part where I asked Republicans -- if these guys were conspiring against candidate Trump, why didn't they leak this to undermine candidate Trump? Somebody help me.

(LAUGHTER)

RAJU: And in that tweet, too, John, he says that the FBI was trying to influence the election. Remember, according to this memo, remember, this says that the Carter Page FISA warrant was obtained on October 21st, 2016. What happened a week after that? James Comey sends a letter to Congress reopening the Clinton e-mail investigation.

So, that has far more impact on the election. Hillary Clinton blames that for costing her the election. That's a different argument. But it had a much bigger impact than this Carter Page FISA warrant which nobody knew about until much more recently.

BLENDER: You can't find anyone in the White House to say that as clearly as President Trump has. I've yet to talk to anyone in the White House who believes this vindicates anything that's happening with the Russia probe.

And to your point to some of the back story of the FISA warrant and some of the investigations into Russia, Page has been on counter- intelligent agents' radar going back to 2013.

[08:10:12] We have a report up on the "the Wall Street Journal", WSJ.com, about this. He's been -- they've been looking at him for years, well before he was involved with Trump and he's been under surveillance since the end of 2016, before the election.

But that warrant has been approved several times. It's been approved at least once by the Justice Department official that Trump appointed and all -- and the folks that "The Wall Street Journal" have talked to, said all of the judges that have approved this have been Republican appointees.

KING: And one of the things that Chairman Nunes and his allies are upset about is that they think they went to court to get this warrant using the so-called Steele dossier, which was originally funded "The Washington Examiner", do I have this right? "The Free Beacon", I'm sorry, "The Washington Free Beacon", a Republican conservative donor, and taken over by the Clinton campaign, the Democratic National Committee paid for this and they're saying they made the case for this warrant with information from dossier and they say, Devin Nunes writes, the FBI did not disclose that some of its information came from a politically biased source.

"The Wall Street Journal", "The New York Times", "The Washington Post", others reporting they actually did disclose that some (INAUDIBLE). So, the Democrats are closing the central tenet of this is just false.

PACE: And we lack a lot of information about what else the FISA court was told when this warrant was sought. The FISA courts are one of the most secretive parts of our government. It's amazing that we now have this much information about one warrant, but it is just a tiny bit of information about what this court was told and if it was -- if they were told that it was funded by Democrats, it's unclear to me whether that would be enough for them to reject it.

HENDERSON: Right, right.

KING: I always make the point, if I'm an independent and you're a Republican, if I'm a Martian and you're from Venus and I tape record you robbing a bank, and give it to the police, you still robbed the bank.

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: Yes. Is the information valid? Were they able to corroborate it? I mean, you can tell in this memo the kind of cherry picking that's going on. They say, for instance, say part of the FISA warrant was a clip from Yahoo News, an article by Michael Isikoff. Some people say, well, why did they even include that? Certainly they included much more of than a clip from yahoo.com.

And we'll see. I mean, we've had Democrats say that they want to release a rebuttal to this. We'll see if that sees a light of day. Congress has got to review it. Then it's got to be voted out of committee and then it's going to be approved by the president. Good luck with that.

KING: Is it proof? I want to listen to quick snippet sound here, a Republican and then a Democrat. We're going to get -- in a moment, we'll talk about the substance of the investigation. But listen here and I'll have a point on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Everyone knows the dossier was the basis for getting the warrant. Andrew McCabe said but for the dossier we wouldn't have got the warrant. That was the memo points out.

REP. JIM HIMES (D), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: I was in the room, John, when McCabe testified, Jim Jordan was not, and I will you that that part of the Nunes memo is just flat out wrong. It is not true. It is not what Andrew McCabe said.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Is this -- we'll get to the substance of the special counsel investigation in a few minutes. But is this debate proof -- forget Congress, that the congressional investigations have just become so partisan? The Senate Intelligence Committee has been very quite. But is there any reason to believe there will be a document produced by any of these congressional committees that American people can read, whether you're Democrat or Republican and independent or somewhere between and view it with credibility as opposed to through that?

RAJU: Certainly not in the House. I mean, the House Intelligence Committee has been going downhill like this for months. This is the latest breakdown and certainly, it's hard to see it getting back on track and there's a separate investigation led by House Republicans looking into the FBI actions in 2016, really going after the Clinton e-mail investigation.

We'll see what the Senate Intelligence Committee ultimately produces. I'm pretty skeptical if they've been able to come to some sort of bipartisan consensus, the key question about collusion. But they're trying to look -- do things in a more bipartisan manner, do things like election security first, something that perhaps both sides can agree on. How to make sure this doesn't happen again.

KING: I'll take that as progress, if they focus on the election security part.

Ahead, the special counsel zeroes in on the president's role in helping his son explain that Trump Tower meeting with Russia.

Next, though, the president's State of the Union included a call to protect the Dreamers. But talks aimed to finding a way to do that going nowhere.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:18:07] KING: Welcome back. There's another government spending deadline. Yes, there is. This

Thursday, though, the Republican congressional leaders say they are certain there will not be another shutdown.

This time, work on yet another temporary spending plan is on a separate track from the big debate over immigration, including of course the question of whether Congress can pass new protections for the so-called Dreamers. The president says he wants a deal but his tone in the State of the Union Address Tuesday night did not sit well with Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: My duty and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber is to defend Americans, to protect their safety, their families, their communities and their right to the American dream, because Americans are dreamers too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The president is has angered some of his own conservative base by offering a path to citizenship for nearly 2 million undocumented people. But in exchange, the president insists on border wall funding and some new big restrictions on legal immigration.

The Senate's number three Republican however says the president right now is asking for too much at once.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN THUNE (R-SD), REPUBLICAN CONFERENCE CHAIR: We agree with the president that we've got to deal with the issue of DACA. The question is, is it a much bigger broader debate about immigration which encompasses many of the other issues that are -- have been attending to that debate for a long time. I think if we can solve DACA and border security that may be the best we can hope for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Much more limited perspective there but forgive me this is starting to have a Groundhog Day feel to it. You have big divides between Democrats and Republicans but you also have big divides within the Republican family. Are they making any progress here or are they just talking and talking and talking?

RAJU: Talking and talking and just talking. And there are big divides among Democrats too, especially about what they can except and whether or not they can agree to a short-term funding bill to keep the government open for another month or so while this immigration deal moves forward on a separate path.

[08:20:06] Some Democrats want to take a hard line. They were very upset when the way that the Democrats handled it last time. I'm skeptical that there's going to be a shutdown at this point by Thursday because of the fact that the Democrats are chasing in a lot of ways, the way they handled this the last time. However, these separate talks on immigration, while they may be

progressing in some way in the Senate, getting this resolution with the House is going to be incredibly difficult with the White House, the way -- the plan they put forward was roundly rejected by a lot of Democrats, getting that deal is going to be difficult.

And then you're headed into March where you have to deal with raising the debt ceiling too at the same time. They're heading into a lot of problems just in the next few weeks and there's no clear path to resolving any of these.

KING: And so, you hear Senator Thune there who has a pretty good sense of the Senate. We can't pass all the things the president wants in the Senate. If they just do a DACA deal, legal protections for the Dreamers, and border wall funding, let's say they can pass that through the Senate, they probably could. The House conservatives are going to say no way.

HENDERSON: Yes, they're going to say no way because they don't really think it's real, the $25 billion or so. They don't believe the wall will actually get build or it'll get tied up in courts, or tied up in funding, you down the line.

So, that's why they feel like they want the other pillars of this, right, in terms of family reunification or chain migration, whatever you want to call it and the diversity lottery. I mean, this -- you know, the president keeps saying, oh, this is the easy one. That it can be done quickly. I mean, you also hear from Republicans, this deadline, does it just start to slide the March deadline into April and May and that gives them cover as well as the fact that it's in the courts at this point.

KING: It gives them cover, but if you are one of the Dreamers --

HENDERSON: Yes, it doesn't give you --

KING: -- you don't know when the next court decision is coming down or you don't know when the president is going to change his mind. Senator John -- you heard from the number three Senate Republican. The number two Senate Republican on Twitter addressing the issue, and this one hits it right on the head on DACA, but parties seem to want the quid without the quo.

It's well put in the sense that every -- arties have their positions, we know, there's differences in the Republicans family, differences in the Democratic family. To get a deal, grownups have to go into a room and cut one.

Where is -- is that going to fall to the president who has been criticizing the Democrats but shows no interest right now in corralling the White House Republicans?

BLENDER: Yes, and I know inside the White House that the deal they put forward a couple weeks ago or whatever it was now, a lot of folks in the White House, senior folks, thought that was -- should have been the end game not the start game. So, it's unclear how the White House is even going to negotiate from this framework.

I will say that we saw president Trump in front of the Republicans this week, the prepared remarks he was supposed to tell Republicans to take that framework, put in a bill and bass it. He didn't do it.

He kind of got halfway through a sentence. He went off course a little bit and came back and asked Republicans that something positive come out of this framework. So, maybe there's a sign -- there's negotiation there.

It would be stunning if we end up with a deal for the wall and DACA, right? I mean, that's what sort of lead -- that was where they were before the shutdown. That was the original Chuck and Nancy conversation.

KING: That was the original Chuck and Nancy conversation.

BLENDER: Right, exactly. So, Democrats, they shut down the government, hoping to get that deal and I know there's some unrest within the Democrats even that -- they're starting to lose that messaging war on the shutdown, that they were responsible for it, but they kept -- a lot of Democrats thought that they should've just kept the pressure on Trump and Trump would have -- after another day or two couldn't have resisted and branded as a deal maker would have forced them back to the table.

If they end up with that deal again, a lot of Democrats are going to be wondering what they put themselves on the line for in that shutdown.

PACE: Yes, that's a great point. I mean, Democrats feel a lack of -- they feel the momentum retreating right now. Yes, they did not handle the shutdown well. They didn't have an end game after three days. The party was pushing leadership to end the shutdown.

But there was some sense at that point that they had some leverage over the president who wanted to make a deal on this, who wanted to look like he was someone who could get this issue across the finish line. That seems to have gone away right now. That puts Democrats, frankly, in a pretty weak position in a year where they feel like they're whole chance of success in the midterm elections is based on rallying the left, energizing their base. They know this is an issue where they can get that base motivated.

KING: We'll see going forward. If you have all these -- someone has to take charge of this. You would think it would be the president. But maybe he doesn't want. You said that the retreat you're talking about, that we either get Republicans. If we can't negotiate deals, we take it to the election. We try to win more seats. We'll see how this one goes.

Up next, full steam ahead for the special counsel despite the president's efforts to discredit the investigation and one key witness is a former Trump insider.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [08:28:57] KING: Welcome back.

A few recent developments in the work of the special counsel help us understand why the president and his allies are so determined to undermine the credibility of the investigation. Court hearings for the members of team Trump that have entered guilty pleas, Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos, have been pushed back a few months. They are now both cooperating and the hearing delays suggest this investigation is with us for a while.

And this mid-week report from "The New York Times" is fascinating. Former Trump aide Mark Corallo set to be interviewed in the next two weeks, with the focus on efforts by the president, long time Hope Hicks, and other Trump inner circle to help Donald Trump Jr. explain that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

"The Times" reports, quote, Mr. Corallo planned to tell investigators that Ms. Hicks said during the call that e-mails written by Donald Trump Jr. before the Trump Tower meeting in which the young Mr. Trump said he was eager to receive political dirt from the Russians, quote, will never get out.

That shows you the stakes of the investigation in that you have former members of Team Trump, according to "The New York times," people who were inside watching the damage control efforts here, suggesting somebody, Hope Hicks, again, she gets to testify as well.

[08:30:05] But just the inference there from Mark Corallo, e-mails will never get out. If you're a critic, if you're a skeptic someone's trying to hide something.

JULIE PACE, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well and -- to put this in the context of the memo that we are talking about -- this is exactly why the memo does not vindicate Trump in this.

KING: Right.

PACE: Because there are interviews still happening. There are people in the President's inner circle and his family who are still, if not being actively investigated personally, are still very much in the mix for the Mueller team in terms of trying to find out what information they know.

This is an investigation that is going to continue. It is not going away for the President regardless of what the Nunes memo put out there.

Hope Hicks I think is just a fascinating character in all of this. She is as close to the President and as close to the inner workings of this White House as anybody.

KING: And she's part of the family.

PACE: She's looked at as part of the family and she's in the room when most major decisions are being made, substantial decisions. MANU RAJU, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Including this response from

last year when the Trump Tower meetings were revealed in the "New York Times", she would play that role in helping craft the message from Donald Trump Jr. that said that this meeting was just primarily about adoptions and that was a misleading response.

Donald Trump Jr. himself has testified before the House Intelligence Committee that he communicated directly with Hope Hicks about this, not the President about it initially. He talked to Hope Hicks. Her role is very important here.

Of course, she denies what Mark Corallo is expected to tell the special counsel but we'll see. If there are two conflicting accounts, someone's not telling the truth and that's going to lead for more investigations.

KING: And in the middle of all of this, you do have the context of the memo fallout and what it adds to the political conversation. Again, I try to keep them separate.

What Mueller does is in the court of law. We'll see how the cases proceed. He already has two plea agreements. He has an indictment. He's still working.

And then you have the court of public opinion. One of the big questions we played at the top of the show of Maggie Haberman of the "New York Times" trying to ask the President if he still has confidence in Rod Rosenstein. We know -- Rod Rosenstein oversees the special counsel.

Bob Mueller can't do much without getting approval from Rod Rosenstein. Rod Rosenstein has consistently said he supports what Bob Mueller is doing. Bob Mueller has checked in with him. Everything is fine.

Listen to the top Democratic here in the House Intelligence Committee, suggesting that he's still worried that the President maybe won't fire Bob Mueller but might go after Bob Mueller's supervisor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: He may have concluded that he can't fire Bob Mueller. That would cause a real firestorm. But it might be better for him to fire Rod Rosenstein, Bob Mueller's boss.

If the President can find a yes man to do that job and that yes man can tell Bob Mueller you can't look into money laundering and you can't look into this, you can't look into that --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, to Republicans watching, Adam Schiff has become a pretty partisan Democrat on this so they're going to say he's just spinning. Raj Shah, the deputy White House press secretary said no change in plans. Rod Rosenstein is at the Justice Department. But we know the President's not happy with Rod Rosenstein. Is it -- and we know a lot of friends are saying Mr. President, here's the way to help yourself -- fire Rod Rosenstein. Is there any reason to believe that that's on the table?

NIA MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I mean you sort of have to believe that's on the table. I mean if you look at the pattern of this president in terms of targeting and firing people who are somehow involved in the Russia investigation -- first Jim Comey -- and if you look at the memo. I mean people who have extended the FISA warrants, I mean those folks are listed in the memo -- Jim James Comey, Sally Yates, Andy McCabe and none of those people are there any more.

Rod Rosenstein, of course, is there. The President himself when asked basically said, you figure it out whether or not he would -- he still has confidence in Rosenstein or thought about firing him.

So I think if you just look at the President's record, you would, you know, might conclude that it's a reasonable expectation that he might move to remove Rod Rosenstein.

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": That's the difficulty of trying to understand this White House. We made a point earlier that Trump seems to be the only one inside the White House who is saying that this vindicates him.

KING: Right.

BENDER: His top staff -- his top advisers do not want him to do that. When it comes to firing Rod Rosenstein, the people who are in the room with Trump talking to him about this told me there's a 0.0 chance he's firing him over the memo. Future firings maybe raise that to 0.1 percent.

But that he understands the consequences of exactly what ship (ph) he's talking about. And that's firing Rosenstein is basically as good as firing Comey again. And that he's not going to do that.

But you know, I mean you just can't tell exactly where he's coming from on this stuff and when he leaves open questions about whether his confidence in Rod Rosenstein it raises these questions. And what the White House says about this is that well, he answered it that way based out of a mix of frustration with the investigation and also partly out of his pleasure of sort of teasing the media, which is fine, you know, to understand where Trump is coming from.

But what that also does is raise questions and raise doubt about American institutions and the intelligence community.

[08:34:55] KING: Right. It raises doubts about American institutions and the intelligence community. He also sparred with his new FBI director who did not want this memo declassified. So you have the new FBI director, Trump already fired one -- new FBI director at odds. The Deputy Attorney General which, back to your point, remember the Russian election meddling was designed to undermine confidence in U.S. political institutions.

As all of this is playing out, John McCain who is home in Arizona recovering with brain cancer still issued a statement essentially saying Putin wins. He says the latest attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice serve no American interests. No party's, no president's, only Putin's. Special counsel Mueller's investigation must proceed unimpeded.

Our nation's elected officials including the President must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan side shows. If we continue to undermine our own rule of law we are doing Putin's job for him."

RAJU: Well look, we have an election in November and there's been no effort, discernable effort, to try to do anything different than what we did in 2016, the country did in 2016, to prevent a foreign adversary to try to interfere in the election in large part because it's been mired in this partisan fight and largely because the President himself views all of this as an effort to undermine his own legitimacy as president. He has not been able to separate the two issues.

KING: And they slow walked on sanctions again, which is what makes everybody curious. Why are you slow walking on a congressionally- passed law saying slap more sanctions on Russia?

PACE: It frustrates a lot of Republicans, not just Democrats here. The President has not been able to get his head around the idea that regardless of what happened in 2016 in terms of his own campaign's potential involvement with Russia, Russia is succeeding in sowing a lot of instability, a lot of mistrust in this country around our institutions, around the sanctity of our elections.

That is -- John McCain is right -- that is a victory for Putin and that is something that the President of the United States could help stop but he's completely unwilling to do so.

KING: And if you look -- remember Candidate Trump sowed a lot of that doubt. Rigged -- everything was rigged. The Republican primary was rigged. The general election was rigged. Rigged system and all that.

All right. Up next -- Republicans feel a bit better about the 2018 landscape, yet the retirement list gets another big name.

First though, politicians say the darnedest thing and since it's Super Bowl, how about presidents talking football.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, unless it's a Texas team I'm not pulling for anybody. I'm pulling for a good game. I think it's going to be a very close contest. But you know, what the heck do I know? I'm just the President.

BILL O'REILLY, TV ANCHOR: Are you actually going to watch the game?

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Of course, of course, I'll watch the game.

O'REILLY: You're going to sit down and you'll watch it.

OBAMA: I'm not going to --

O'REILLY: You know football. You know like blitzes and coverage and all that. You know that.

OBAMA: I know football.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I like Bob Kraft, I like Coach Belichick and Tom Brady's my friend.

O'REILLY: They're all taking gas because of that. You know, they're --

TRUMP: I know they're taking a lot of heat --

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: But you know, what -- they're also getting a lot of popularity out of it. I think they're going to do very will. Tom's a winner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[08:37:45] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Republicans are well aware history is not on their side in this midterm election year. Add in the unpredictability of the President, the unpredictability of the Russia investigation and it makes for a roller coaster election season ahead.

Two important numbers to watch in this early stage: the number of Republican retirements and the President's approval rating. And let's look at those numbers.

Thirty-six now Republicans have announced they are leaving the House of Representatives. Some retiring and some running for other office but that is a big number, including a good number of Republicans chairmen saying I'm done. I'm leaving the House.

That makes it a bit easier for the Democrats. The senior members can raise more money. The senior members are well-known. And when an incumbent leaves, Democrats think in some of these districts anyway, increases the odds.

The most important number, though, a little history, presidential approval in a midterm election year. Bill Clinton's first midterm he was at 46 percent. The Republican revolution -- Newt Gingrich becomes House Speaker, 52 House seats seized by the Republicans in that first midterm.

This was a bit of an aberration. The first election after 9/11, George W. Bush was quite popular -- 63 percent in the midterm election and the Republicans actually picked up seats in the election. That is an anomaly in history but the President's approval rating a year after 9/11 a big part of that.

This is the election a lot of Republicans are studying now. They think they might be on the other side of this. Barack Obama had 46 percent in 2010 and the Democrats lose the House and also lose six Senate seats. That's a big number. That's a big number.

The question is where will the Republicans be come November? At the moment, our polling has the President at 40 percent; some other polls show him up a little bit from that. We have him at 40 percent right now.

Where will he be on Election Day? What will be the number here? One of the big debates is when Republicans look back at 2010 a lot of Democrats ran from President Obama. Even though Republicans have a lot of doubts about this President, some outright don't like him, look at the little flavor here from the Republican retreat. The Republican leaders understand they rise or fall with this guy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY, SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: We've talked a lot about 2017 being the most consequential year for conservatism in the last three decades. None of that would have happened but for the President of the United States.

REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: America's going to be a more prosperous country. America's going to be a more confident country. And that is because of the leadership of our president.

TRUMP: Paul Ryan called me the other day and I don't know if I'm supposed to say this but I will say that he said to me he has never, ever seen the Republican party so united --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Not sure about that part. I'm not sure. But it is interesting when you watch this play out and if you remember what happened with the Democrats in 2010, trying to seek some distance from Obama or ignoring Obama and the climate.

The thing I take away from this is even though Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell may not like it, they have come around to the conclusion that like it or not, this is Donald Trump's party.

PACE: Absolutely. They have decided that it is better to be with him than against him or neutral. And if you look at the competitive Senate races, it makes a lot of sense.

[08:44:55] A lot of them are in states where Trump did overwhelmingly well in 2016; and in the House certainly with gerrymandering, you have a lot of seats that are overwhelmingly Republican.

You have a lot of people though who are retiring because they either don't want to be in the mix with a Trump presidency or don't like the toxic environment in Washington. But look anybody who is waiting for Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan to walk away from Donald Trump is going to be waiting an awful long time. They have made their decision. That's where they're be through the end of this year.

KING: Base intensity drives midterm elections. So if you have the Republican Party in a fight over you're with Trump, against Trump and the Democrats are unified against Trump, ABC poll gets at this today. We have seen some tightening in the so-called generic ballot. You ask Americans who are you going to vote for, for Congress -- a Democrat or a Republican. The ABC poll's interesting as it shows in Democratic districts, Democrats really don't have much to worry about. If you're a Democrat, you're not too nervous this year. 64 percent -- the voters say the want to vote Democrat, only 26 percent say Republicans.

Now the Republican number, if you're a Republican you're used to being confident in your district, most of these are gerrymandered districts but 51 percent of Republicans -- 45 percent to Democrats. So it shows you that the Democrats are competitive and yet there has in the last several weeks been a tightening of the polls that are more favorable to Republicans.

RAJU: Yes. No question about it. But still the environment is so favorable for Democrats right now. It is -- the House is on a silver platter for them right now. They have -- with the retirements, with the number of districts that are Hillary Clinton districts compared to the number of seats that they need to take back the elections, virtually the same.

You have also the historical nature that a president and his own party loses seats in the first midterm elections and you have presidents sliding unpopularity. If they do not take back the House this will be one of the most epic collapses of any party in history, probably right underneath Hillary Clinton's own loss in 2016.

HENDERSON: Yes.

RAJU: They really have no one to blame but themselves if they don't take back the House. That said though, there are a lot of outside factors. We don't know what the world is going to look like come November. We'll see. But Democrats should be able

KING: Which is why a lot of House Republicans would like to just pass the budget for the year instead of keep doing these ridiculous month to month to month. They'll go home and campaign on the tax cuts and then the improving the economy and get out of Washington because the last place you want to be is in Washington.

HENDERSON: Yes. I mean you saw the jobs reports -- pretty good. You've seen saw the increase in wages. You see people feeling that in their pocket books.

There was one headline about Democrats that said Democrats haven't been this confident since 2016. And in some ways, I mean I think --

KING: Ouch.

HENDERSON: You know, I mean given Democrats' record I mean you sort of have to say, you know, Democrats might Democrat, right, in November. It could look very different. We'll see. KING: Save the tape. Control room -- save that tape. We're going to

need to have that in the future.

Next -- forget Democrats versus Republicans for a few hours anyway.

Today the Patriots versus the Eagles. Yes, right there -- see that Super Bowl Sunday. Time to wave the flag.

[08:47:48] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. It's Super Bowl Sunday. Sorry, I'm from New England. New England Patriots taking on the Philadelphia Eagles.

Our sports anchor Andy Scholes is live in Minneapolis. God bless you, Andy, for braving the cold. Greatest of all time Tom Brady, not too early to say not about tonight's game we're going to take that one at a time but MVP, right?

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Yes. Last night the NFL handed out their yearly awards John, and Tom Brady bringing home his third MVP trophy. He's the oldest quarterback, 40 years old, to ever win the award but that might not be a good thing for Patriots fans.

The last eight NFL MVPs that have gone on to play in the Super Bowl have all lost. You got to go all the way back to 1999 when Kurt Warner won the MVP for an MVP to have gone on to just win the Super Bowl. So I don't know if that's a bad time for you Patriots fans, John, or if it's a thing where like hey, the MVP's due to win the Super Bowl at some point.

But later on today against the Eagles, Brady will also be the oldest quarterback to ever play in the Super Bowl at 40 years old. And earlier this week despite his age, he says he has no plans of hanging it up any time soon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM BRADY, QUARTERBACK, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Why does everyone want me to retire so bad? I don't get it. I'm having fun. My team's doing good, you know.

I know I'm a little bit older than most of the other guys, but, you know, I'm really enjoying it. I obviously enjoy the experience of playing in this game. This has been -- I mean obviously a dream come true, you know, many times over.

I'm not thinking about retirement. I'm thinking about the Super Bowl and trying to win the most important game of the year. And it's going to take a lot to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHOLES: Now, John -- the opening point spread for this game was Patriots by six but after some multi-million dollars bets have come in on the Eagles it's moved all the way down to four in some places. So there are a bunch of people out there that think the Eagles are going to keep this game close if not win it out right.

KING: I think they're going to keep it close, Andy Scholes, but they're not going to win it outright. That's my prediction.

Andy -- appreciate you braving the elements for us. Enjoy the game.

Let's head around the table here -- my Bills (ph) fan.

To my immediate right here -- I'm kind of outnumbered here.

PACE: You are outnumbered.

KING: Greatest of all time. I like -- that looks good on you.

PACE: Well, thanks to a fellow Buffalonian -- Wolf Blitzer.

KING: That's a gift from Wolf Blitzer.

PACE: A Bills jersey is never far away. It's in the CNN studios here. By birthright, we cannot cheer for the Patriots as Bills fans. So I've got to be an Eagles fan for one day only. It's tough, but there you go.

KING: Go down the hall to that Tapper guy. You're out of here.

RAJU: John -- I made this prediction last Super Bowl Sunday on this show. The final score is going to be 46-10. This is the same score -- Eagles over the Patriots -- this is the same score that the Bears, my Chicago Bears, greatest team of all time, the 1985 Bears beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XX. Expect that same margin today.

KING: Fake score.

BENDER: Tell me among Belichick's non-believers and it's not only John because he cut Bernie Cozaar, one of the premier quarterbacks in the late 80s mid season from the Cleveland Browns. He's a proven cheater. He misleads the media, deliberately misleads the media.

KING: Somebody cut his --

BENDER: He supports --

[08:55:04] KING: -- somebody cut his mike off.

BENDER: He supports nepotism on his staff.

PACE: He's incoherent in the press conference.

BENDER: And he's also lost more games than he's won without Tom Brady.

KING: Right.

HENDERSON: As much as it pains me to say this -- the Patriots are going to win.

KING: The Patriots are going to win. They're going to win by a score of something like 30-20.

That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Again, thanks for sharing your Sunday morning.

"STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper next.

Don't miss this -- two members of the House Intelligence Committee. A debate Republican Brad Wenstrup and Democrat Jim Himes.

Have a great Sunday. Go Pats.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:00:12] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Memo revealed -- President Trump says he --