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INSIDE POLITICS

Michael Flynn's Job Security; White House Shake-up; Trudeau at White House; Trump on World Stage; Trump's First Weeks. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired February 13, 2017 - 12:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:00:23] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us. Another busy Monday.

Canada's prime minister is at the White House this hour. President Trump and Justin Trudeau have vastly different views on immigration and refugees, but are determined to get a critical economic and security relationship off to the best possible start.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: We both got elected on commitments to strengthen the middle class and support those working hard to join it, and that's exactly what we're going to be focused on in these meetings.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Trust me, it's a lot warmer in the White House, I assure you. That's a picture from last week.

It is just week four of the Trump presidency, but talk of senior staff turmoil is constant. The biggest, immediate question, can the national security advisor survive after lying to the vice president about his dealings with Russia?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The - the White House did not give you anything to say other than that on - on General Flynn?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They did not give me - give me anything to say. True (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You cannot - so you cannot say whether or not -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Asked - asked and answered, Chuck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president still has confidence in his national security advisor?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not for me to tell you what's in the president's mind. That's a question for the president. It's a question for our chief of staff.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, let - let me -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Fascinating story there.

And the trump effect on pop culture. The Grammys remind us the new president is polarizing, to say the least.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JENNIFER LOPEZ, MUSICIAN: At this particular point in history, our voices are needed more than ever. As Tony Morrison once said, this is precisely the time when artist goes to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, and no room for fear. We do language. That is how civilizations heal. So tonight we celebrate our most universal language, music, as we honor the voices of the past and the present.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights, "The Atlantic's" Molly Ball, Ed O'Keefe of "The Washington Post," Olivier Knox of "Yahoo News," and Mary Katharine Ham of "The Federalist."

Just moments ago a glimpse into the Oval Office as President Trump begins important discussions with the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau. An economic roundtable coming up in a few minutes, then a working lunch. The two leaders meet with reporters in the 2:00 Eastern Hour here in the United States. We'll get back to U.S.-Canada relations and the president's early foreign policy style in just a moment.

But first up, just week four of the new administration, but already talk of a White House shake-up. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn is in the deepest trouble. For starters, he had dealings with Russia during the final weeks of the Obama administration that are, at a minimum, highly unusual. Perhaps some say even illegal. Then he lied to the vice president about the content of those calls, leading to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE (R), VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But what I can confirm, having spoken to him about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions. You just heard it there from Mike Pence. But thanks to intelligence intercepts of the Flynn calls, Vice President Pence now knows that statement was not true and he is described by several sources as furious. The fate of General Flynn just one of the many staff dilemmas. You

hear these rumors, and it depends on who you talk to in the White House. Some say the chief of staff is in trouble. Some say this staffer's in trouble. This one's trying to angle that one. Set that aside for a minute, the palace intrigue, if you will, the chaos that is trademark Trump, and let's talk about General Flynn for a minute.

The vice president met with him a couple of times on Friday. The vice president feels his credibility was put on the line here. But for all the criticism of General Flynn, there's a jury of one here, the president of the United States. Does he survive this?

MOLLY BALL, "THE ATLANTIC": From what I understand, he absolutely is on the rocks. But we don't know yet because, as you say, the decision is to be made inside one man's brain, and that person is the president. And I think Stephen Miller, from what I understand, was speaking truthfully when he went on the shows yesterday and basically said he didn't know because it was Trump's decision. And rom what I understand talking to senior people in the White House, they also think Flynn's in trouble, but they don't know because Trump hasn't come down yet, and that's sort of the way this place works.

KING: And we watched - we saw during the campaign, he replaced his campaign manager when necessary. He always waited - took it right up to the wire when he had those turnovers. General Flynn has been with him from early on. He is one of the most loyal people in the Trump circle. There are a lot of people who also say that he feeds the dark side of this president with conspiracy theories or don't trust the intelligence and the like. But the question - you learn a lot from a president in the early days, and let me pause for a second and say, we've covered a lot of administrations at the table here. There's always some turmoil in the early days. So at some point you say, OK, calm down. But at other points, this is the national security advisor, and he did put the vice president in a horrible position on national television where what Mike Pence said was not true and General Flynn told him to his face he didn't discuss sanctions.

[12:05:05] MARY KATHARINE HAM, "THE FEDERALIST": Right. It's - it's hard to say how this plays out because sometimes criticism of a figure by the right figures causes Trump to double down on that person and protect that person, at other times he just cuts them loose. So - and that's the feeling that pretty much every White House staffer has right now apparently. And so that's the question too with Pence, like, if you're going to take this up the chain, you got to know that you're going to be successful. And it's very hard with Trump to know that he'd back Pence instead of Flynn. No one knows the answer to that question. I think that's where he gets a lot of his power in his management style such that it is.

KING: And there's a - the National Security Council, if you're watching at home, you don't hear much about it, but it's hundreds of people. They get loaned (ph) in from other agencies around the country. Absolutely critical. When a president has to make a decision, like the president faced over the weekend, when North Korea test launches a missile, when the president's preparing for a meeting like he's in now with Justin Trudeau and the NATO relationship and the like.

Listen to this from "The New York Times" today on the turmoil inside General Flynn's National Security Council. "Three weeks into the Trump administration, council staff members get up in the morning, read President Trump's Twitter posts and struggle to make policy to fit them. Most are kept in the dark about what Mr. Trump tells foreign leaders in his phone calls. Some staff members have turned to encrypted communications to talk with their colleagues after hearing that Mr. Trump's top advisors are considering a, quote, "insider threat program" that could result in monitoring cell phones and e- mails for leaks."

OLIVIER KNOX, "YAHOO NEWS": Sounds like reporters.

KING: That is - it's -

KNOX: We wake up every morning -

KING: It's no way to run any (INAUDIBLE). It's no way to run any (INAUDIBLE), but you need these people, especially at a crisis moment, sharing information quickly, trusting each other, and then trying to boil down the distill advice they give, the staff gives to General Flynn. General Flynn gives to the president. This is not funny.

KNOX: And the thing is you haven't seen one - is you haven't - you have not heard from Donald Trump himself on this - on this controversy. You probably will at this press conference with the Canadian prime minister. And the other thing is, what you haven't heard is another name coming out of the pack, like maybe they could replace him with so and so. And that's really important because if you don't have a logical replacement lined up, why would you push out someone that you know is loyal to you?

KING: Right. And, remember, General Flynn had a lot of critics coming in. There were a lot of people in the military community that didn't like him when he served. He had to leave the Defensive Intelligence Agency. He has some friends on Capitol Hill, some others not on Capitol Hill. So part of this is beware of what you listen to because he had this - the carts were swirling even before he took the job, so we'll see what happens now.

More broadly though, you see in some accounts Reince Priebus, the president's out of favor with Reince Priebus. And part of this is the president's fault. And I mean it this way. He gets on the phone a lot and he calls his friends. And when he's talking to one friend, let's say it's his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowsky, he's a Tea Party guy. He's a stir it up. He's a, don't trust the establishment. He calls his friend out in L.A., Tom Barrett, the developer. Calm down, Mr. President. Take it slow. Have a long view. He calls a bunch of different people, and then when you talk to those kind of people, they all give you different snippets and perspectives on what the president's thinking at any given moment. And what you get is, Reince is doing great. Reince is going to get fired. Steve Bannon's the most important person in the White House. Steve Bannon's in trouble. What is it? ED O'KEEFE, "THE WASHINGTON POST": We don't know. And, I mean, it was

a week ago that there were stories written that said that Reince had suddenly come upon much more authority and that everything was to be run through him. Well, if that was the case last week, you look at this past week, it went pretty poorly and you can understand why the president might be venting some frustration, at least to his fellow club members at Mar-a-Lago over the weekend, as he appeared to be doing.

I would think, though, this is a tricky week to get rid of Mike Flynn between what just happened in North Korea, the meeting with the Canadians today, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu coming later this week. Do you really want to shake up your national security team at a moment quite like this? There's never going to be a good moment, but this week especially given that he's coming face-to-face with some critical allies, I would think it's a tricky week to do it.

KING: And Prime Minister Netanyahu, we should note, he's here on Wednesday. The Canadian prime minister at the White House today. He just got on the plane to leave Israel to come to the United States. He tweeted a picture of himself and his wife saying a strong alliance is about to get even stronger. So he is hopeful of a very good, a very positive relationship with this president.

Although this president surprised the Israelis a little bit. First the White House put out a statement and then President Trump gave an interview to an Israeli paper where he said slow down on settlements, Mr. Prime Minister, meaning to Netanyahu, saying that's not helpful to peace.

How much does this factor in? When the president is seeing these reports about General Flynn's conduct, he's been silent on it so far, about this turmoil or knives out within the White House staff competing for each other's jobs or some of them trashing each other in private communications, even though they work 30 or 40 feet from each other. His approval rating right now, if you look at Gallop, his net approval rating after three weeks is remarkably low. President Trump with a negative net 15, minus 15. President Obama at this point was plus 42. When you take approval and disapproval, add or subtract, George W. Bush was at plus 32. Remember, George W. Bush won a contested election. Bill Clinton, plus 17, won with only 43 percent of the vote in the Ross Perot year. George H.W. Bush, plus 45. Ronald Reagan, plus 37.

When you see Donald Trump at minus 15, and we know that this is the stuff he pays attention to -

HAM: Yes.

KNOX: He pays attention to it.

KING: He pays attention to this. How much does this drive what he thinks about the efficiency of his staff?

HAM: I think he pays attention to this stuff, but he's also a guy who survived and thrived in the general election to be president of the United States even though his negatives were extremely bad. So I'm not sure that that's his most important metric. The other thing I would say is the inscrutability of this White House and some of the knives out means that we should be really cautious about who's leaking what and why. And so some of these stories, I want to be very critical or skeptical about, or healthily skeptical about, but Flynn himself walked back his denials of this story.

[12:10:19] KING: Right.

HAM: So I think that's a really important element of this. Some things can be written off to, well, everybody's leaking for various reasons. This one, the principal himself said, well, maybe I did talk about it.

KING: Right, that's a key difference and I will reinforce it because you have these staff members. You see a lot of people saying is Kellyanne Conway openly campaigning for the chief of staff job? Well, we have a chief of staff. Why would she be campaigning? It's only week four. Some of this is self-interest and within the White House people, but this is a - the facts here are -

HAM: Right.

KING: General Flynn told the senior White House staff, including the president and the vice president, he did not discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador while President Obama was still in office. That would be a major faux pas. Now he says he can't recall. Maybe it came up. And, again, he sent the vice president out there on a limb and the vice president now feels burnt.

O'KEEFE: Yes, it's a - the circular firing squad line (ph). And I think this also speaks to the fact that none of these folks really have ever worked in an administration like this. They're still feeling their way. This is week four. It's a month in.

KING: Right.

O'KEEFE: You have to give them some space to figure things out. But I think, you know, day after day, week after week we have seen examples of them not realizing that whatever they say and do matters much more than it ever did before. Their paycheck is coming from the government. It's not coming from Mr. Trump anymore.

KING: Right.

O'KEEFE: And it's clearly been a tough adjustment for a lot of these folks, some of whom will survive, and others who may not.

KING: And it is undermined to a degree confidence on Capitol Hill, where some Republicans say we're not sure -

O'KEEFE: Big-time.

KING: We're not sure who to go to. We're not sure if x tells us something, if that's operative or if y is going to tell us something else. And I've said this several times in the program, a striking degree to which you hear people who - paid for by this president say, don't pay any attention to what the president tweets or sometimes not even to what he says. Pay attention to what we do. That's kind of remarkable in any administration. One week in, one year in, four years in. But, remember, we're in the fourth week. A president gets four years. We're going to at this for a little bit.

Up next, getting to know our neighbors to the north. President Trump meets with the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau. Just what those two might be talking about, that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:16:34] KING: Welcome back.

President Trump is 70. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, 45. Leaders of a different age, different styles, and vastly different views on issues like climate change, immigration and whether to welcome or shun refugees from Syria and other global hot spots. But they have 700 billion neighborly reasons to try to find common ground. The trade and broader economic relationship is vital to both countries, and the big focus of today's getting to know you meetings at the White House.

At this hour, as we speak, we know the leaders have met in the Oval Office. President Trump actually tweeting a photo outside of the West Wing as he gave a little embrace to Justin Trudeau and brought him into the building. You see it right there. Welcome to the White House, prime minister, @justintrudeau.

Now they're having an economic roundtable and White House officials say Ivanka Trump had a big hand in this. They're sitting around a table. We're going to get the tape momentarily, talking about entrepreneurial spirit.

It is interesting for two men who have such big differences, especially on immigration and refugee issues and the prime minister is quite critical of the president publically in the past about this have decided on day one, as we get to know each other, let's focus on the stuff that brings us together and the stuff that is absolutely critical to both countries.

O'KEEFE: Go ahead.

BALL: Sure. Well, I think a lot of what they're going to be talking about has to be NAFTA because Trump has talked so much about wanting to throw out NAFTA, which would be hugely destabilizing for Canada and for the U.S.-Canada relationship. And so, you know, you've got to think that Prime Minister Trudeau is going to seek assurances that any renegotiation of NAFTA will go through normal channels and will have the Canadians on board so that it, you know, what they fear is that Trump would do something sudden and unexpected and disruptive and they want to be sure that they can be a partner in whatever happens.

KING: And, interesting, is the bar higher, are the tests higher for this meeting because of the first steps with Mexico went badly? President Pena Nieto was supposed to come here. Nieto Pena, excuse me. And then all of a sudden they canceled at the last minute because of the wall announcement. So becomes the neighborhood economic relationships are so important, is the bar higher for this one? Does President Trump have to prove, OK, we can get along?

KNOX: Well, that's personal, though, between President Trump and Justin Trudeau, though. It got really personally with Pena Nieto and Donald Trump. So I don't know that the bar is necessarily higher.

You actually alluded to the most important part of this meeting, which is the getting to know you. You know, not just - not just these two leaders, but absolutely everybody around the world is watching this early wave of Donald Trump meetings at the White House, trying to get a sense of the man, the diplomat, the commander in chief and the president.

KING: Right, and it was interesting - and we'll get to more of the substance (ph) of that - it was interesting to watch - but just getting to know this president, you know, Prime Minister Abe comes. He gets the meeting at the White House. They have a news conference. Then he gets an Air Force One ride. They go down to Mar-a-Lago. They golf. They have dinner. And then they have a crisis, North Korea launches a missile. More on that in a minute.

But as we watch this relationship, I guess one of the questions is, how long of a memory does President Trump have in the sense that candidate Trump - because Justin Trudeau tweeted, again, very positive statement of late. You saw him. He was in a visit to the northern region of Canada where he said, I'm going to come, talk about middle class issues. But here's what he tweeted not all that long ago. "To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians will welcome you regardless of your strength. Diversity is our strength. - #welcometocanada."

That's a direct repudiation of President Trump's travel ban and saying I don't want Syrian refugees in this country. Is this the kind of thing this president's going to remember or does he say, OK, you're doing what you need to do for you politically. I'm going to do what I need to do.

HAM: Well, he spends some time on Twitter, so he may have seen it. But, no, I think - I think that's possible, but he's also a guy who, I think when he does come and sit at the table he says, all right, well, let's talk things out. Maybe he wants to know why Trudeau goes viral all the time. You know, like they have some things in common, things they can talk about. I think Molly's right that the trade stuff might be the better place to start, and there's plenty of room for reporters to ask about the - the hotter disagreements. But I do want to throw it out there, just because it's 2017 and anything can happen, Trump calls Canada America junior, and Trudeau gets his Hugh Grant "Love Actually" moment.

[12:20:20] O'KEEFE: Yes.

HAM: At the press conference.

O'KEEFE: Stole my line.

HAM: This is where we are.

KING: Well, we'll watch for that. "Love Actually" moment. We'll watch.

But, OK, that's one way. That's the contrarian view of what might happen. But is it - is it not a fact that if we look at the first three weeks, and we're at week four, for the most part, with some exceptions, candidate Trump is in the rearview mirror, and President Trump has gone from the candidate's language, which is more stir it up, disrupt everything, it was rip up NAFTA during the campaign, now he says he wants to renegotiate or modernize NAFTA. It was Japan is screwing us in trade relationships during the campaign and they should defend themselves against the North Korean threat. Now you had a statement that was very establishmentarian, the U.S.-Japanese security alliance is critical. Has he not moved in these early steps - again, with one or two exceptions, to a much more traditional foreign policy perspective?

O'KEEFE: Yes, I think so. And I think part of it today is the - is the economic interests. Both of these countries understand the two leaders have to be seen as working together because so many of the companies that do business and neither one have such solid operations on both sides.

And remember too, you know, there are things like the pipeline that are being built, you know, that are a big concern in Canada that the prime minister obviously will want to make sure happen and happen quickly because there's economic reasons to do it, even if there are environmental concerns. So I'd be curious to know in the next few days what the calls are like to the Canadian embassies and to the foreign ministry -

KING: Right.

O'KEEFE: As these other countries, especially Mexico, call and say, OK, what's this guy really like now? Do you get a sense that he is changing? Can we do business with him? And I suspect the Canadians may answer those calls.

KING: I think there's a lot of mileage in that. I bet Prime Minister May received that after her call.

O'KEEFE: Also, yes.

KING: I bet Prime Minister Abe is getting it today. And Prime Minister Trudeau will get it, like, what is really like around the table.

But what do we make of what we've seen so far? You know, George H.W. Bush had Kennebunkport. George W. Bush had the ranch. George W. Bush famously, you wrote about it in an article you wrote, I think I remember this trip, took Prime Minister (INAUDIBLE), who they were very friendly with Japan, to Graceland because he was an Elvis fan.

O'KEEFE: Yes. There you go.

KING: What are we learning about this president who gave Prime Minister Abe, again, if you go back and look what he said during the campaign about Japan, striking. But Prime Minister Abe got the red carpet treatment plus, including the first trip of a foreign leader down to Mar-a-Lago.

KNOX: Sure. We're chopping and my notebook's heavier (ph) a little bit, but, yes, everyone watched the Abe meeting because it was so obviously designed, calculated to really - to overcome the campaign, the divisions on the campaign. And everybody is watching how that went. Everyone's wondering, how do you get an invitation to Mar-a- Lago. What triggers that? Is this going to be like George W. Bush's ranch? Is it going to be a special place where you get sort of rewarded for being a good ally, a good partner and the rest of it?

KING: If you like chopping wood.

KNOX: If you like clearing brush, or clearing cedar.

KING: Clearing brush and chopping wood.

KNOX: (INAUDIBLE), which sucks up all the water. Yes, I learned way too much about clearing brush over the course of eight years.

KING: Ah, the good old days.

KNOX: But, yes, every - actually everybody is watching this at embassies and foreign capitals trying to understand what this president is deciding (ph). To your point, though, about whether he's become more establishment, yes. But one of the big problems that they have right now is at the deputies level, across the agency of the government that handle natation security and foreign policy, the Pentagon always has a large infrastructure. That's fine. CIA also to a point. But State Department and other places, they still don't have deputy level officials. And those are the ones who interface the most with foreign governments.

KING: Right.

KNOX: So a lot of foreign governments are watching and waiting to see just how Trump can institutionalize his very strong and very unorthodoxed brand of leadership.

KING: Right, and I'm told the secretary of state was miffed at the White House, including the president, in recent days because he thought he had a deal to bring in Elliott Abrams, an old hand as his number two, and then that was nixed at the White House and I'm told that did not go over well at foggy bottom (ph). We still have these - again, back to the relationship issue, as they get up and started.

We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we're going to have the tape from that roundtable. We are told, for those of you who are trying to space these things out, that Ivanka Trump is sitting next to the prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau. She had a big hand in this event to talk about women and entrepreneurs, economic issues. That's up ahead.

Next, though, top Trump White House advisor Stephen Miller hits the Sunday shows, except the one here on CNN, boycotting us. The president loved it. Fact checkers, well, another sleepless night for them.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:28:09] KING: Welcome back.

Humble is not a word you should closely associate with President Trump and his inner circle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN MILLER, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR POLICY ADVISOR: We have a president who has done more in three weeks than most presidents have done in an entire administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Hmm. The new president has started a lot of debates and policy shift and he signed more than two dozen executive actions aimed at issues ranging from Obamacare repeal and the border wall, to his travel ban. But signing a piece of paper does not guarantee the new new deal. Replacing Obamacare, for example, mired in congressional quick sand. Trump's fellow Republicans are openly opposed to the cost of his wall. Some say it's not really necessary. And the travel ban is blocked, as most of you know, at least temporarily, by the courts.

Good for Stephen Miller. He's promoting his boss. But the president has done more in three weeks? I'm guessing Ronald Reagan would probably object to that, thinking about the Berlin Wall and all that. Bill Clinton might say 21 million jobs. FDR - really? More in three weeks than most administrations in history?

BALL: Well, look, there's only so much you can do in three weeks. And in a lot of ways Trump is running against -

KING: So why not say we're off to a good start? We feel like we're off to a good start.

BALL: Because this kind of bravado, it's - and I'm sure that they have their way of measuring it, which involves, you know, numbers of executive actions, and that's one way you can measure such things. And then we can fact check that and say, well, actually, most of these are symbolic. These are sort of just pieces of paper positioning. And certainly they have signaled a new direction on that front (ph).

KING: By that measure I've won the Powerball 1,000 times. I've bought a lot of tickets, but never won.

BALL: They have set a lot of things in motion, and a lot of them look to be running up against the reality of governing, which is something that, you know, Trump was sure he could - he could sort of steam roll, right?

KING: Right.

BALL: That he could just coming in there and knock it all down. And it turns out, they had - they didn't repeal or replace Obamacare on day one, and that has turned into a somewhat flexible promise. And so - and I think a lot of these things that he promised to do, it's not that we can't sit here and say that they won't' get done yet -

[12:30:07] KING: Right.

BALL: But he's running up against the reality that they can't get done immediately.

KING: Right. And that - and, again, he couldn't get - nobody could get these things