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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Changes His Mind, Says He'd Report Offer of Foreign Dirt on Rivals; Trump Incorrectly Says Mueller Report "Hardly" Mentioned Don Jr.; Trump Contradicts Mueller Report: Never Suggested Firing Mueller; Trump: I'd Love to Face Biden, Sanders, Warren; Polls Show Trump Trailing Biden Nationally, In Rust Belt States; Trump Blames Iran for Tanker Attacks. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 14, 2019 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:18] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

It is an important hour for 20 of the 2020 Democrats. There's a lottery happening right now to determine the lineups for the first two presidential debates.

Plus, rising tensions with Iran. President Trump says a Pentagon video leaves no doubt that Iranian forces attacked two oil tankers from the Gulf of Oman. Iran though denies any involvement.

And a new spin from the president on accepting campaign help from foreign governments. That cleanup came in a morning interview that might leave his vice president a little disappointed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If Mike Pence runs for president in 2024, does he have your automatic endorsement?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, it's far to -- look, I love Mike. We're running again, but, you know, you're talking about a long time. So you can't put me in that position, but I certainly would give it a very strong consideration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

And we begin there. The president taking time on this, his 73rd birthday to phone a friend, Fox & Friends to be specific. It went on for 50 minutes and included a barrage of presidential claims, on Iran, on North Korea, on his 2020 Democratic rivals, on trade, and on immigration. Many of those remarks, trademark Trump, and by that, we mean much of what the president said bent or broke the truth.

The biggest takeaway though, an effort by the president to clean up a controversy of his own making. Of course his answer this morning when prodded by his friends at Fox to say whether he would call the cops if he Russia or China came calling with damaging information about political rivals. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: Of course you have to look at it because if you don't look at it you're not going to know if it's bad. How are you going to know if it's bad? But of course, you would give it to the FBI or report it to the attorney general or somebody like that?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KING: That last part there, of course, you call the FBI is far different from what he told ABC News. Quote, I think I'd take it. I'd go maybe to the FBI is what the president said the other day. Cleanup today, but still the president trying to make this all much ado about nothing. Taking campaign help from a foreign power is illegal, but the president conflates it with a leader to leader small talk.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: One thing that's different with the president, I had dinner with the queen, I met with the prime minister of the U.K., I was with the head of France, I was with the head of all of these nations and I constantly am, constantly talking to them. And, you know, that puts us in a -- we have many, many conversations, and I'm just thinking, gee, if they say we don't like your opponent, am I supposed to put -- you know, the president of France, am I supposed to report him to the FBI?

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KING: With me this day to share their reporting and their insights, Catherine Lucey with the Wall Street Journal, CNN's Manu Raju, CNN's Evan Perez, and Lisa Lerer with the New York Times.

I'm going to call that cleanup. A softer -- you know, a little different tone. A different tone because he got blowback because he was told by people, sir, what you said was ridiculous and reprehensible. What -- what's the different tone there?

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: Well, he certainly took criticism from both sides of the aisle yesterday. I mean, there was a lot of very harsh criticism coming from Republicans, you know, Joni Ernst amongst them had harsh words yesterday saying Republicans do not take this. You know, we don't take this kind of help. So that's certainly obviously playing into this, and we've seen this before with the president. He walks something out and he walks something back.

But for him as we've gotten past the, you know, the Mueller investigation and he's, you know, looking to do his sort of campaign re-launch kickoff next week, it just refocuses attention back on these questions about Russia, about the 2016 election. And so that's, you know, if he's trying to turn the page none of this is open.

KING: And he still said this morning, he would look at it, of course, you'd look at it, but he was tougher, if that's the right word or more committal to saying well, then he would pick up the phone and call the FBI or his attorney general. Let's just listen. He said it quite differently to ABC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- your campaign this time around with foreigners, if Russia, if China, if someone else offers you information on an opponent, should they accept it or should they call the FBI?

TRUMP: I think maybe you do both. I think you think you might want to listen. I don't -- there's nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, we have information on your opponent, oh, I think I would want to hear it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want that kind of interference in our election?

TRUMP: It's not interference. They have information. I think I'd take it. If I thought there was something wrong I'd go maybe to the FBI.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Look, I mean, we've --

KING: We've lived this.

PEREZ: Well, yes, but we also know that Norway is a big threat to this country and wants to influence our elections.

KING: You're joking.

PEREZ: That's a big threat, right? So our president is offering a real example.

[12:05:01] No, look, I mean, I think the FBI is going to enforce the law. And I think that that's one of the reasons why you haven't heard anything more than no comment from the FBI because, you know, one of the issues that I think we talked about this, one of the issues with the last investigation was that Donald Trump Jr. And everybody else said, look, we didn't know what the law was. I think what's different about 2020 is that everybody does know what the law is now.

LISA LERER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And that's why Giuliani's trips to the -- to try to assess things out of Ukraine was so confusing in a way.

PEREZ: And canceled.

LERER: And canceled. Right. And canceled because they -- there's not -- they cannot say that they do not know what the law is. Not only do they know what the law is, all of America now knows about this law. So the idea that this wouldn't be, you know, at least considered as some kind of criminal violation is --

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And this is a classic Trump response because he's taking both sides of the issue. He's not acknowledging anything is wrong, so if this comes up again, he'll say, well, I did say that we should go to the FBI. Look what I said before, and, you know, and he'll attack anybody who criticizes what he said initially which was don't go to the FBI, that Christopher Wray was wrong.

The president clearly was making that -- made an initial point because he did not want to suggest that they did anything inappropriate in 2016 when Donald Trump Jr. did take that meeting because he would have acknowledged that they did something wrong and shouldn't have done that. That's why he dug in initially, and that's why he's facing blowback now.

KING: And you mentioned Donald Trump Jr., obviously the host of the infamous Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016 with Russians who, if you did a simple internet search, clearly having some connections to the Kremlin, offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. He took the meeting. One of the things we're learning, we're going to talk about some of the specifics, the president, CNBC, and Fox News by telephone, the ABC interview on camera. As we get into the election, look, the president is a good communicator for himself. He won the presidency by doing this. A lot of people might want to roll their eyes at it but it worked for him.

We're going to see a lot of them which means you're going to have a lot of people like me having to say, but this part of what he said isn't true. This is ABC News talking about his son Don Jr.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Not only wasn't he charged if you read it with all of the horrible fake news, I mean, I was reading that my son was going to go to jail. This is a good young man, that he was going to go to jail. The report comes out and they didn't even say -- they hardly even talked about him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: They hardly even talked about him. There are 155 at least mentions of Donald Trump Jr. in the Mueller report. 155. It talks about the meeting at the Trump Tower, it talks about direct messaging with WikiLeaks, it talks about a whole lot of things that should not happen in American presidential campaigns. And Mueller said though that he did not have enough evidence to charge a conspiracy, he did not say it was all great.

PEREZ: Right. And again, it goes to your intent, right? And especially with campaign finance law you have to know that the law is there and that you're violating it in order for there to be a crime, and that's -- it's a standard, it's a tough standard to meet, and that's one of the reasons why we're still here talking about this and the president can sort of create his own narrative about exactly what happened.

RAJU: And that's why there's also the flare-up on the Hill that's emerging because some Democrats want to push to amend campaign finance law to make it clear that foreign contributions are prohibited from -- when it includes an opposition research, for instance, would be considered an illegal foreign contribution, polling data and the like.

PEREZ: Oh my, that's not opposition research. What the Russians did was an attack on the U.S. political system. That was not opposition research.

RAJU: Right. They're trying to do that to make the point that Don Jr. shouldn't have done what he did.

KING: And they want that meeting, they're trying to make friends. That is just part of -- it's what you do. You try to make friends in every organization. You try to get people into the business, you try to get people to campaigns so you have phone numbers and (INAUDIBLE) contacts. Sorry to interrupt.

LERER: But as to Catherine's point, if you're the White House, if you're the president, why don't you just take the win on this. You've got the Mueller report and move forward, why reopen this. Because you get the sense that he takes everything so personally. It's an attack on his family, and I love that his son is young, I mean, that keeps us all young really. He's a young man and middle-aged really, and it also -- he sees everything as invalidating his election win, but we're in a new cycle, we're in a new election cycle.

KING: Or he thinks the rules don't apply to him. Or he thinks the rules don't apply to him. I want to come back to this, you'll notice, we're playing more of the ABC interview than the Fox & Friends interview. We'll get to more of the Fox & Friends in a bit. But when he goes on ABC, he actually gets asked real questions.

And so George Stephanopoulos asked him in the conversation, in the Mueller report it says, and it's not just Don McGahn but it quotes several people who worked for the president, people loyal to the president, but when they had to give testimony under oath, they said the president wanted to get rid of the special counsel Robert Mueller. The president says, no, he didn't.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I was never going to fire Mueller. I never suggested firing Mueller.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: That's what he said.

TRUMP: I don't care what he says. It doesn't matter. That was to show everyone what a good counsel he was.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why would Don lie -- why would he lie under oath to Robert Mueller?

TRUMP: Because he wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer or he believed it because I would constantly tell anybody that would listen, including you, including the media, that Robert Mueller was conflicted.

[12:10:06] Robert Mueller had a total conflict of interest.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And has to go.

TRUMP: I never -- I didn't say that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The president, I didn't say that. This is the Mueller report reading directly from it. "When the president called McGahn a second time to follow up on the order to call the Department of Justice, McGahn recalled that the president was more direct saying something like call Rod, tell Rod that Mueller has conflicts and can't be the special counsel. McGahn recalled the president telling him, quote, Mueller has to go and call me back when you do it."

Again, the president says his White House counsel lied under oath. That's what he says. A veteran lawyer lied under oath and it's not just Don McGahn if Don McGahn relayed that to his chief of staff at the time, she testified to Mueller. There are other people, who talked about other examples of this, but they're all lying and the president is telling the truth. That's what we're to believe.

PEREZ: Look, I think this is one of the most interesting tensions and backstories frankly that's still going on in Washington. What does Don McGahn do when the president is accusing him of an ethical violation, right? His law firm is one of the biggest -- frankly gets -- one of the biggest clients is the Republican Party. The president, his re-election campaign, they are in a place where he has to sort of listen and do what the president wants which is to not abide by the subpoenas that have been issued. But at the same time, he's under this pressure because he's being accused of lying and of ethical violations.

You notice that right about the time when Don McGahn was trying to decide whether or not to show up for that subpoena, the stories started floating that the Republican Party might cut off Jones Day law firm which is Don McGahn's law firm, so.

RAJU: And this is a president who's accusing McGahn of lying under oath when the president did not agree to talk under oath about potential obstruction of justice or even answer written questions about it. So, he can say one thing to an interview ought to be different than he'd say under oath.

LUCEY: And Don McGahn is not a political adversary. He was the White House counsel for this president. He testified in detail for hours.

PEREZ: And a big reason for the president's success in getting judicial nominations and so on.

LUCEY: He was a key reason of these judicial nominations.

KING: That's why the president doesn't want anybody, whether you voted for him or not, or you think about voting for, he doesn't want you to read the Mueller report because these are people who worked for him, these are people who even in their testimony to Mueller made it clear they were loyal to the president, thought maybe the president didn't understand or they just -- their job was to push the president back. But they painted a pretty damning picture and -- but in his view, they're all lying and he's not.

When we come back, more of the president's conversation with ABC and with Fox & Friends including his take on the 2020 Democrats who'd like to kick him out of the White House.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:17:13] KING: During his 50-minute friendly conversation with the hosts of Fox & Friends this morning, President Trump gave his latest assessment of the Democratic presidential field. More criticism of Joe Biden, sort of a compliment but back-handed to Elizabeth Warren. The president's take on the Democrats who'd like to replace him.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: Everybody knows Joe is -- he doesn't have it. Now, I see that Pocahontas is doing better. I would love to run against her, frankly. I see that Bernie Sanders is not doing well at all.

I don't see the other ones. I really don't see it. They talk about Kamala. I don't see Kamala. I don't see -- I think it's probably between the three of them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

TRUMP: Mayor Pete, I don't see at all. I think that's a joke.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KING: Politico's Melanie Zanona joins our conversation. This is what he did to his Republican rivals back in 2016. He would call into news shows and go after lyin' Ted and little Marco and low energy Jeb. He's doing it now in this race so clearly, he has been obsessing about Biden lately. It sounded there that he was making a determined effort himself to broaden his criticism and not just focus on Biden.

MELANIE ZANONA, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Yes, this is the classic Trump playbook, right? He digs in, comes up with these nicknames. He loves calling into friendly news networks like Fox and giving his opinion of where he thinks the state of play is.

What's interesting I think about this interview is this is the first time we're really hearing him start to attack some of the other candidates. It's not just about Joe Biden. I think that is recognition amongst Trump and some of his allies that there could be other candidates like an Elizabeth Warren who seems to be doing better. She's sort of edging out Bernie Sanders in some of these polls that he needs to make sure he's not putting all his eggs in one basket.

KING: And it is proof the president pays very close attention to this, and, again, it's offensive to call Senator Warren by the name the president uses it. I won't repeat it, it's offensive. But he has said -- bragged a couple of months ago that he thought he had knocked her out of the race with this criticism of her early on because she is rising in some of these polls. She is passing Bernie Sanders, especially among Liberal Democrats. I don't know if she's going to take that as a compliment or not though.

RAJU: I mean, an attack from Trump against a Democratic candidate is only going to probably help the Democratic candidate in the Democratic primary. The question is how do some of these candidates respond. What's, of course, interesting in this race is that a lot of them have chosen not to take Trump's bait and have decided to focus on either distinguishing themselves from their rivals by policies the way Elizabeth Warren has. In Biden's case, of course, a much different trying to show that he will be that aggressive candidate going against Trump toe to toe?

The question is how do the voters ultimately respond? Do they want someone who Biden says he can go after someone even if they may not agree with all of his policy positions if he's not liberal enough? That's the ultimate question.

LUCEY: I also think one thing is just that for Trump, how much does taking it to Biden directly, you know, on his own sort of elevate that matchup at this point in time which can help Biden.

KING: Right.

[12:20:06] LUCEY: You might have noticed when they were out sort of in the head-to-head in Iowa during the week, Trump did -- you know, Biden tried to sort of get out really early, you know, in Tuesday when he was out there and went after Trump. Trump did take the bait and somewhat did respond, but when he got to West Des Moines for his fundraiser that night, he conspicuously did not talk about Biden anymore.

My understanding is they really did kind of want to pull that back a little bit to show him making a broader argument against Democrats not (INAUDIBLE) so much about him.

KING: We'll see if that it sticks.

LERER: But I think the thing to remember with the president is certainly we know he's very engaged in this, he's following it closely, but this is not necessarily fact-based analysis. We also know that when he's presented with polling numbers that he doesn't like, he sort of shoves them aside and ask for numbers that he will like.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because he doesn't believe in pollsters.

LERER: He doesn't believe in it, his pollsters and strategists dig out the one number or the two numbers that's particularly good for him and that's what they present. So while he may be eager, you know, in a way that's fairly unprecedented for a sitting president to mock around in the opposing party's primary. He is clearly eager to do that. I'm not sure that he's the best judge of this race or he's even judging the race in a way that is necessarily particularly effective for his interests because he's not allowing himself to get an accurate picture of what this race is and he's basing it on what happened last time.

KING: And to that point, we know, and there was also some great reporting in the New York Times about this, the president recently had a big campaign briefing with his pollster, Tony Fabrizio, and he was presented a lot of numbers and a lot of those numbers are not good at this point in the race. I'm also told that the president was told that, you know, these aren't good but it's OK. We have time.

We have time to change the race just like we did in 2016. We can win this race, but if you listen to the president, any poll that shows him behind is made up.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: The polls I see, we're doing great in Pennsylvania. We're doing really good in North Carolina. Florida I'm winning by a lot, Ohio I'm winning by a lot. I just left Iowa, we're winning that by a lot. And every poll that I see and every poll that we have I'm winning by -- we're doing well.

I think we're going to do very well in Michigan, traditionally it's Democrat but I won it last time. I was up in Wisconsin recently, I think we're going to do very well there. You know, I think we're going to do great.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KING: Just for the record, so this is some public polling not the president's internal campaign polling. The national poll, Quinnipiac recently had vice president Biden up 13 points and other Democrats up two. We're just focusing on the biggest margins here. Michigan, Biden was leading the president by 12 points.

Again, it's early but that's a fact, it's a reputable poll. In Pennsylvania, Biden up 11 points over the president. Again, it's early, we saw of state polling in 2016, and we saw the president have a very smart strategy to come back and win the White House, losing the popular vote electorally but those are facts. And he just wants you to say, well, if -- he wants everybody to believe if you see something negative about me just don't believe it.

ZANONA: Behind the scenes actually he might be expressing confidence but he has actually sent some of his campaign officials to states like Pennsylvania to shore up support because they are worried about those states.

LUCEY: It's also notable what states he mentioned in that commentary. He's talking about Pennsylvania, he's talking about Michigan, and those are states that he needs and those are states where he's going to have to work. LERER: But he's also running the last race. And look, it may be a repeat but like -- you can talk to some Democrats who say their path to victory may run through places like Arizona, perhaps even Texas which feels a little far-fetched, but they have the right candidate. I think that's not necessarily the best mindset to be entering this race.

RAJU: And a lot of candidates was, Friday, invoke some fear in their base and saying, we may lose this race, it could drive up -- turnout drive up interest, Trump takes the opposite path.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

KING: For now.

RAJU: For now.

KING: For now. Just say that you'll be back in days saying, look, he's trying to rally his base.

Up next for us, President Trump says a new video released by the Pentagon makes it crystal clear Iran attacked the oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:28:28] KING: President Trump today says there is no doubt that Iran is responsible for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Iran denies any involvement and says the U.S. administration cannot be trusted. But Tehran has not specifically responded to this, a video released by the Pentagon that the U.S. Central Command says shows an Iranian naval vessel pulling alongside one of those tankers and removing an unexploded mine.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

TRUMP: Well, Iran did do it, and you know they did it because you saw the boat. I guess one of the mines didn't explode, and it's probably got essentially Iran written all over it. They're a nation of terror, and they've changed a lot since I've been president, I can tell you. They were unstoppable and now they are in deep, deep trouble. You can't -- they don't have --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How do you stop these outrageous acts? With 30 percent of the world's oil comes from?

TRUMP: We're going to see.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KING: We're going to see the president says.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in the Iranian capital, Barbara Starr live for us at the Pentagon. Fred, let me start with you. Iran says they had nothing to do with this. It has had some harsh statements about the U.S. secretary of state. It has not, am I right, directly addressed the release of this video.

Yes, you're absolutely right, John. They certainly haven't done that so far. It was quite interesting because I was just looking at the semi-official Fars News Agency which just a couple of minutes ago put out a report saying the U.S. narrative is wrong. What they were doing, they were quoting the owner of one of the ships and saying that that owner has said that the crew of the ship has said they don't believe that the ship was hit by a mine but instead was hit by a projectile.

But you're absolutely right. As far as that video is concerned, the Iranians have not made any sort of statement as to whether or not it's valid or as to whether or not.

[12:30:00]