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INSIDE POLITICS

Flynn Resigns amid Firestorm; Trump Tweets About Leaks; Trump's knowledge of Flynn's Russia Dealings; Flynn Briefed VP with Incomplete Info; Ryan on Flynn's Resignation; Labor Secretary Nominee in Jeopardy; Swift Obamacare Repeal. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 14, 2017 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] RAY BUCKLEY, NEW HAMPSHIRE DEMOCRATIC PARTY STATE CHAIRMAN: A president that swears (ph) just doesn't come into the equation.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Mr. Buckley, thank you so much. Good luck in your candidacy.

BUCKLEY: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: We'll talk to you soon.

Thank you so much for joining me also AT THIS HOUR. "Inside Politics" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Kate.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

Major early turmoil in the Trump White House. The national security advisor resigns and acknowledges he misled the vice president and others about his contacts with Russia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE SENIOR COUNSELOR: You're presuming what General Flynn did or did not know. But the key here - and I want to repeat it - the key here is the misleading of the vice president and others. The incomplete information or the inability to completely recall what did or did not happen as reflected in his debriefing of particular phone calls.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The new treasury secretary is on the job. The new veteran affairs secretary too. But the president's choice for labor secretary is short votes at the moment. At least four Republican aren't ready to commit and Democrats are turning up the heat.

And Republicans have a giant Obamacare problem. Angry crowds at town halls have some lawmakers saying, let's take a cautious approach. But conservatives are demanding an immediate repeal vote, even though the party has no consensus on a replacement. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: We will have a stable transition where no one has the rug pulled out from under them while we work toward a better, more stable system. So this step by step approach will rescue people from Obamacare's collapse and give every America access to affordable quality health care. This is how we deliver our promise to the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We'll watch as that plays out.

With us to share their reporting and their insights this day, Amy Walter of "The Cook Political Report," Jonathan Martin of "The New York Times," Matt Viser of "The Boston Globe," and Karen Tumulty of "The Washington Post."

Michael Flynn is out as national security advisor, but there's still plenty of turmoil in the Trump White House. General Flynn announced his resignation late last night, acknowledging, quote, "I inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador." This isn't over. The FBI is investigating those calls as part of a larger investigation into alleged contacts between Trump associates and the Kremlin. There are several congressional investigations underway too. And the president now needs to pick a new national security advisor while dealing with horrible early poll numbers and other West Wing fighting. And it is, ladies and gentlemen, we start the conversation, day 26.

It's interesting, all White - this is - you know, some personnel issues, some hiccups happen to every White House early on.

KAREN TUMULTY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes.

KING: So you could say let's not over exaggerate this. At the same time, this is the national security advisor. And the president tweeting today - let's start with this. The president tweeting the real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening as I deal on North Korea, et cetera? With apologies to the president, that is a story. Leaks are always a story in Washington. But that's not the real story. His national security advisor has to resign 25 days into the administration.

AMY WALTER, "THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT": On an issue that is not going away, which is the issue of Russia.

KING: Right.

WALTER: And now the bigger problem for the president is that Republicans, especially Senate Republicans, saying, we are going to do more investigating. This is now sort of put a fire in their belly to move forward on an issue that we know is still simmering from before he even took office, right? KING: Right.

WALTER: What happened in the - what happened in the campaign? The Russia involvement there. And now we put Michael Flynn, what he knew, when he knew it, and, of course, what the president knew and when he knew it, or if he knew.

KING: Right. At the top - at the top of this show you heard the presidential counselor, Kellyanne Conway, say the issue here is that Mike Flynn misrepresented himself or, in Mike Pence's view, lied to the vice president of the United States. That's certainly one issue politically. But, well, then, so it was OK? That's the question. Was it OK that he called the Russian ambassador on the day the Obama administration was imposing sanctions? Was it OK to - you know, and let me - before I bring you -

JONATHAN MARTIN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": What did Trump know too, right? What did Trump know about the call?

KING: Well, that - that's just - listen to Lindsey Graham here. He was on with Kate last hour. And the question is, it's an old question, what did the president know and when did he know it? Well, the - Lindsey Graham, a Republican, says, let's find out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I'd have a hard time believing that General Flynn would get on the phone with the Russian ambassador and suggest that, don't worry, we will go - we will revisit this when we get to be president in terms of executive sanctions without some understanding that the administration would be sympathetic to - to the idea. Now, I may be wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You - on this issue, and then more broadly, what does it mean when you have senior Republicans essentially saying, let's investigate our president?

TUMULTY: Well, I think that the real lesson from these leaks should be for the president, for his entire team, that if you put out the truth in the first place, you are not going to be undermined by subsequent leaks that come out about the - what they would call alternative facts.

MATT VISER, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": The other - the irony here of - one of the narratives of this camp - this Trump administration has been their looseness with the facts. You know, from the crowd sizes or New Hampshire voting. And this was like a lie too far almost for the administration. They were the ones being lied to and being misled, apparently.

[12:05:14] KING: But are they mad that he - are they - are they mad that General Flynn apparent - misled or lied, pick your term - again, I know from sources in the White House the vice president feels he was lied to and then sent on national television to repeat that lie. He feels his credibility was undermined here. But whether you want to say misrepresented or whether you want to want to say misled, is that the crime or is it the crime that it leaked out that it happened?

VISER: Well, it seems like from what Kellyanne Conway was saying, you know, if you can believe her facts, that they're not alternative facts, that, you know, they're troubled that he was misleading them internally. And so that seems to be one of the issues for them to grapple with, that that was what pushed him out.

KING: And yet they were told -

MARTIN: But it was the coverage that -

KING: Yes, but - but -

MARTIN: (INAUDIBLE) coverage.

KING: But to me - the reason I asked this question is -

MARTIN: Trump responds to the coverage in the media.

KING: Right. The reason I asked the question is that weeks ago -

MARTIN: That's the problem.

KING: Weeks ago the acting attorney general, Sally Yates, who has since been fired because she refused to enforce the travel ban, weeks ago we now know from reporting told the White House the intercepts show that he did talk about sanctions. And so if he is telling you he did not, the intercepts show that he did. If he keeps saying he did not, then he is subject to blackmail from the Russians because they can come in and say, General Flynn, we now hold your job in our hands because we have this.

MARTIN: And what I'm saying is, I think the fact that that story was reported and published is why Flynn got pushed out, not because of the actual substance of it.

Trump's entirely responsive to media coverage. That's how he's always operated before politics and during the campaign and certainly now. And the critical mass of coverage hit a point yesterday where three major papers, "The Washington Post," "The New York Times" and "The Journal," all had front page lead stories about turmoil at the NSC. Trump responds to that. And so I think that was the end of it.

But it's not the end of the story because there is no issue, John, besides Russia, that so cleaves the Republican Party from Donald Trump. You know, on trade, yes, Trump's a bit - a bit an outlier from the party elites. And certainly on immigration he's maybe more of a hardliner. But Russia, more than anything else, he has very little backing on Capitol Hill for his stance towards Putin and Moscow (ph). There are a handful of House members, but really the entire Senate Republican caucus is lined up from McConnell all the way down against Trump's stance on Putin and Russia. That's the danger here for Trump is that this is not the end of the story because the Senate Republicans are going to investigate this, and they're going to call folks to The Hill.

WALTER: And it wasn't - (INAUDIBLE) that it wasn't just - I mean to see Lindsey Graham on TV, he's been doing this for quite some time.

KING: Right.

WALTER: To see John McCain something, there's nothing surprising about that.

KING: Right.

WALTER: But when you see Roy Blunt -

MARTIN: Yes.

KING: Right.

WALTER: Come out and say we have to have an exhaustive investigation, senator from Missouri, now you're starting to see a breach in that -

KING: Right, known as - known as a leadership loyal Republican guy, right.

WALTER: Knowing his leadership - exactly. And somebody who, quite frankly, owed his election to the success of Trump in Missouri.

MARTIN: Yes.

KING: Right.

MARTIN: Saved his bacon, if you will.

WALTER: Definitely. Definitely did. So when those kinds of folks are coming out. Now, look, he also has the benefit of, he just won re- election.

MARTIN: (INAUDIBLE).

WALTER: And he has six years before this starts coming - coming home.

KING: Right.

MARTIN: Yes.

WALTER: But the Senate definitely has the leeway that the House doesn't. They're still going to be varied quite because they're looking at a guy with a 90 percent approval rating among Republicans, and they're all up for re-election.

KING: Right. You make an interesting point about the dichotomy between the Senate and the House, six year terms, plus those guys - most of them in their districts in their -

WALTER: Yes.

KING: Because of the way they're drawn, Trump did very well. MARTIN: Yes.

KING: So listen here. Here's the leader of House Republicans, Paul Ryan. Listen closely. The end of this is interesting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PAUL RYAN (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: National security is perhaps the most important function or responsibility a president has. And I think the president made the right decision to ask for his resignation. You cannot have a national security advisor misleading the vice president and others. As soon as they realized that they were being misled by their national security advisor, they asked for his resignation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's still - a couple things here. The last part, "as soon as they realized," no, they've known. That they have known - if they believed what they were told by the Justice Department - they've known for several weeks.

MARTIN: Right.

KING: So it's not as soon as. Thy - they just - as soon as it became public maybe.

The other part is, Paul Ryan is a close friend of the vice president.

MARTIN: (INAUDIBLE).

KING: The White House line is that General Flynn decided it was time for him to resign. That the president didn't ask for it. He just realized he had become an obstruction (ph). He resigned.

The speaker's a very close friend to the vice president and he says the president - he - when he says publicly, is he just getting out over his skis or is he telling us something we need to know?

TUMULTY: Oh, I think it was pretty obvious, he was asked to resign.

KING: Humpy Dumpy was pushed?

TUMULTY: And, what was that - how many hours after Kellyanne Conway gets on national television and says he has the full confidence of the president?

KING: Right.

TUMULTY: This - the amount of chaos in this -

MARTIN: Yes.

TUMULTY: In this White House is just - is demonstrated, and not just every day, but it feels like every three or four hours.

VISER: Yes, and the other thing here too is what it says about Mike Pence and his role in this administration that Trump seems to have his back, and that came on a day when Pence was on The Hill and I think people probably recognized that, you know, Pence is speaking for the administration in a way that Trump is backing him up. So much so that, you know, they're willing to force out Flynn.

KING: Right.

VISER: (INAUDIBLE).

[12:10:01] TUMULTY: But if that's the case, why did it take so long?

KING: Right.

MARTIN: Yes, your paper -

KING: Yes.

MARTIN: Thursday night post - last Thursday night posted a story about the very facts here, that Flynn apparently misled Mike Pence about his phone call with the - the Russian ambassador. This just wasn't made until late Monday evening. I mean what - what took so long?

KING: Remember - remember, General Flynn was with Trump early on in the campaign. Remember, he joined the chants at the Republican National Convention about "lock her up."

WALTER: Right.

MARTIN: Right.

KING: So he has a base in the Trump wing of the party and had a base with the president. To your point about Mike Pence, the president -

MARTIN: Personal loyalty.

KING: The president had to make a tough choice -

VISER: Right.

KING: Who am I going to be loyal to at this moment? And I think you're right about this (INAUDIBLE).

MARTIN: And despite his catch line, Trump actually doesn't like firing people, right?

KING: The public disclosure line (INAUDIBLE). So you heard the speaker there being interesting if you read between the lines but pretty cautious. This is the president's call. The president made the right call, I think.

Listen to House Democrats, to Amy's point, that the House Republicans are much less likely to want to dig deeper. Listen to a leading House Democrat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), RANKING MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: It wasn't Flynn's lie that brought him down. It was the public exposure of that lie. The White House, as you reported, knew about this weeks ago and did nothing to remove him. So this is either a White House that was knowledgeable and supportive of these secret conversations with the Russians about sanctions, or that simply has a very high tolerance for a patent falsehood. It's not, I think, as Kellyanne Conway says, a simple matter of his misleading the vice president. It was the vice president then misleading the entire country and they were OK with that when it hadn't been exposed by the press.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's the - that's the Democratic perspective. Welcome to polarized Washington. To the point you made earlier, Amy, this is the House Intelligence chairman, Chairman Nunes, who says, let's investigate the leaks. He says, let's investigate the leaks, not, let's investigate what General Flynn was talking to the Russians about, which is what the Democrats want to get at and what the Justice Department is looking at. But he also said - he was asked, should we - asked about Trump conversations, the presidential conversations with General Flynn. He said that would be executive privilege. I don't want to know - get into what the president - no, these happened - this happened during the transition, and the chairman knows this. The president-elect Trump has no executive privilege. If he's talking to his national security advisor designate about conversations with the Russian ambassador, at that point the president - the - now the president of the United States is a private citizen.

WALTER: Well, then the other question comes in, where is the other leadership at the White House?

KING: Right.

WALTER: Where is the White House chief of staff? Where is Steve Bannon in all of this? The people that should be sort of corralling the White House in at this point also seem to be undercut. Reince Priebus getting thrown under the bus left and right these days by friends of Donald Trump. Breitbart news today with a big front page splash about how he should be thrown out.

So now you're a White House - imagine, you're dealing with this. You have no idea what your lines of authority are. Nobody knows in the White House who they're supposed to listen to, take their marching orders from. Oh, and, by the way, not only is it day 26, but you're supposed to, by now, have put up a tax bill, an Obamacare repeal, move forward on the wall. None of that's going.

KING: Well, we're going to continue that conversation, especially some of the palace intrigue. But you're right, the president campaign, I'm going to run a government like a business. I hire the best people. You - there are a lot of conversations in town about whether that's the case. It is day 26. That means there are 1,435 days left of the first Trump term.

Up next, two more Trump cabinet picks are on the job. I think a third might be actually by this afternoon. But another nominee is in trouble.

And speaking of trouble, conservatives now pushing to repeal Obamacare ASAP.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:17:50] KING: Welcome back.

Like sports, politics is heavily influenced by confidence and by momentum. If you have the big Mo (ph), as President George H.W. Bush used to put it, things tend to go your way in this town. And if you don't, well, then members of your own party feel free to break away when it comes to controversial cabinet choices, like President Trump's choice for labor secretary. And members of your own party aren't as willing to show deference and instead demand action on their own priorities, even if it could put the president in a tough spot, like repealing Obamacare without a plan to replace it.

Interesting moments in town as everybody's still getting to know you. Let's start with Andy Puzder, Andrew Puzder, the president's choice to be labor secretary. There are four Republican senators who have told the leadership, we're not sure if we can vote for this guy. Actually, they've said, at the moment, they're inclined to oppose him, but there's still time. Here they are, Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Tim Scott of South Carolina, and Johnny Isakson of Georgia. The last two are a bit of a surprise. They tend to be more loyal to the leadership. Murkowski and Collins were the two who voted no on Betsy DeVos, which needed the vice president's vote to break that tie.

Now, Mr. Puzder's hearing is tomorrow. It's been delayed several times. There are a number of issues. Democrats don't like him on policy. They also have some other issues about his ethics, his, you know, financial divestiture and the like. They want to look at a divorce case. He's acknowledged hiring an undocumented domestic worker. How much of this is a question for loyalty to President Trump or how much of this is a question of loyalty to the majority leader, Mitch McConnell?

WALTER: And how much of it is making sure that it doesn't impact their own election chances in another year and a half, right?

KING: Right.

WALTER: Now these senators don't have to worry as much about re- election. We know what the Senate map looks like. Not a whole lot of Republican senators in trouble. But they know that if the president starts to dip down into 35 percent approval rating or lower, now you're talking about putting the House in danger. And they want to make sure that as much as they can to keep him floating above. If it's making sure the cabinet secretary makes it through, especially in a week where everything else seems to be going wrong, this would just be one more terrible blow. Could he recover - the president recover? Of course. 2018 is a long way to go. But once you start losing, as you said, with the momentum, it gets very hard to find your footing. [12:20:01] MARTIN: All right, two things. I checked in with a source

yesterday on The Hill. I said, you know, why are you guys going to the mat and spending this capital for sort of a second tier cabinet post? And what I meant by second tier was, this is not State, Justice or Defense. And this source quickly shot back and said, Puzder is not second tier. And what I meant was talking about the actual job itself. But the response to me was very telling that the senate leadership actually likes Puzder and I think they do want to get this guy through.

But it's also telling about how - how unwilling the administration is to, you know, give in and throw up their hands. Obviously it took published stories about Flynn lying to the vice president to get him out. You know, the Holocaust, you know, statement, they wouldn't concede that that was a mistake to not mention Jews. They refuse to sort of give in. Any other administration, (INAUDIBLE), if you have the accumulation of stories about Puzder that we've seen in the last month, for a labor secretary post, they would have pulled the plug weeks ago, right? It's just not worth it. This administration does not like to concede their mistake.

KING: Well, the president - the president sort of said week's back Puzder himself was talking to friends about is this worth it?

MARTIN: And Puzder himself, as you reported, right. Yes.

KING: Is this worth it? And the president and top people said stay in the fight -

MARTIN: Right.

KING: Stay in the fight, we don't want to back down.

But it's interest to me, you have Mitch McConnell, who's now twisting arms for the president, and, you know, they - they depend on each other. They have - they're not buddies, but they have a co-dependent relationship now when it comes to getting legislation passed.

MARTIN: Co-dependent.

KING: Mitt Romney put a FaceBook posting up yesterday -

MARTIN: Yes.

KING: (INAUDIBLE) Andy Puzder. But the establishment is coming to help the disruptive president.

TUMULTY: Well, also, don't forget that, you know, that President Trump's relationship with The Hill leadership is so tense at this point -

MARTIN: Yes.

TUMULTY: That if they can't deliver on a cabinet nominee, that is likely to completely undermine their relationships going forward. Reince Priebus is in that job - MARTIN: Yes.

TUMULTY: In large part because Paul Ryan went and publically lobbied to putting him there. So Trump is - you know, if they can't pull his nominees through, that is going to make it that much more difficult for them when it comes to much, much tougher things like coming up with tax reform or a health care overhaul.

VISER: Well, it gets to your point before the break about this questioning Trump's management skills, his ability to pick the best people. You know, these are the things that he ran on. And to the degree that you have the chaos with Mike Flynn right now and then you add to that not being able to get his cabinet members confirmed, it creates a more - even more chaotic situation than we already have.

MARTIN: But what's striking though is that the two most embattled of his cabinet picks were establishment people who were put in there because Reince, and the establishment forces in the Trump White House wanted them. Betsy DeVos for education and now Puzder for labor. And I think part of the reason why they both got through was because they had some currency on The Hill because they are both donors and they had relationships with senators. But these aren't Trump people, you know?

KING: The challenge now is for Puzder to perform at this hearing tomorrow.

MARTIN: Yes.

KING: If the hearing goes forward. If he's -

MARTIN: Now it's the boss' (ph) problem.

KING: (INAUDIBLE). Then we'll see if, you know, if Mitch McConnell can twist two of them back, and Vice President Pence might get another tie-breaking vote.

Let's move on to Obamacare. A very interesting show by the House Republican leadership today. They all came out and said, everything's fine. Everything's fine. We're going to repeal Obamacare and the we're going to get you a replacement. Paul Ryan saying nobody will be thrown under the rug. They're going to do this in sequencing.

This happens after a meeting last night in which members of the Freedom Caucus were agitating, saying, hey, we just won the election. We actually have a Republican president now. Why haven't we already sent the Obamacare repeal bill down there? What's the inner workings here? There are some Republicans - if you've watched the town halls of late - saying, let's be careful. Let's make sure we have a replace plan before we get into the repeal business. Others say, no, let's repeal and you just put a clause in there, but this really doesn't mean anything until we replace it. What are they going to do?

WALTER: One thing that is really important to remember, more than 60 percent of Republicans in the House right now were not around when Obamacare was passed. MARTIN: That's a great point.

WALTER: They got elected after 2010. So they have no idea what this process looked like. They know from watching television what the town halls look like, but they weren't part of this process. So I think that's very important to remember.

MARTIN: Yes.

WALTER: The other pieces is, a lot of this can get done in pieces. It can gets done through executive orders. It can get done through reconciliation, where you don't have to have a cloture - right, you don't need - you have to worry about Democrats coming on board.

MARTIN: Simple majorities, right.

WALTER: You don't need super majorities. So you can make changes in a very piecemeal way. I think the danger that Republicans get into is when they start talking about repeal and replace, the idea that they're going to replace a - whatever many page, 2,000 page document with another 2,000 page document.

MARTIN: Right.

WALTER: That is unlikely to happen.

VISER: I think it's also easy to forget, you know, in the aftermath - I mean there - Republicans are in power, you know, on The Hill, in the House and the Senate, in the presidency. Just, you know, the - this is a party that has been in a civil war, you know, since 2010, 2012, and I think it's easy to forget that sometimes and the euphoria that the party has had over winning the presidency.

KING: Right, you could argue -

WALTER: I'd argue the civil war would go - go up (INAUDIBLE) even before that.

KING: 2007 - 2007, '06, the Iraq War, Katrina, Social Security, immigration.

MARTIN: Yes.

[12:25:03] WALTER: Iraq War and Katrina. But - exactly. Exactly.

MARTIN: But they over promised on immigration - on Obamacare -

WALTER: On Obamacare.

KING: Right.

MARTIN: Pretty much every campaign cycle starting in 2010.

WALTER: Yes. Yes.

KING: Right. Right. MARTIN: And they - they told their base, look, we're going to repeal this thing. As McConnell would say, root and branch. And here we are. It's February 2017. They have power. Every - the House, Senate, presidency, they're not doing anything. There's not even a start. There's not even an attempt. And they've had seven years to create a replacement.

TUMULTY: It's (INAUDIBLE) - it's (INAUDIBLE).

KING: It's complicated. It's complicated.

Hang on just one second. Got to take a quick break.

Up next, though, it's day 26 and already the president's management style facing scrutiny. He's looking for a new national security advisor and some conservative allies suggesting he needs a new chief of staff as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

Want to show you a live picture on Capitol Hill. We're waiting for the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, to come out with other Democrats to have a news conference. We are told item number one for them, talking about the resignation of the president's national security adviser, Michael Flynn. They want aggressive investigation on Capitol Hill. Let's just say their tone has been quite aggressive about this. We'll take you up there live as soon as that event starts.

[12:30:00] Now back to the White House. Just lunch or another twist in the early Peyton Place drama that is the Trump West Wing. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is at the White House this hour for lunch with the president of the United States.