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Trump Claims Obama Wiretapped Him, Offers No Proof; Updated Travel Ban Could Come as Early as Monday; Russia Questions Shadow Trump White House; From Trump's Big Speech to Twitter Attacks. Aired 8-9a ET
Aired March 5, 2017 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[08:00:14] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president of the United States!
JOHN KING, CNN HOST (voice-over): A big night.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed. Every problem can be solved.
KING: But a celebration cut short.
JEFF SESSION, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have recused myself in the matters that deal with the Trump campaign.
KING: Democrats are feisty.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: What are the Republicans afraid of? This goes right to the Republicans in Congress to their doorstep.
KING: And it's crunch time for big policy fights.
MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Let me make you a promise. The Obamacare nightmare is about to end.
KING: INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters, now.
KING: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your Sunday morning.
President Trump is mad, and he is lashing out. In a stunning series of tweets Saturday morning, Mr. Trump accused his predecessor, President Obama, of wire tapping the phones at Trump Tower during last year's campaign. The president offered no evidence nor have his aides in the 24 hours since the remarkable tweet storm.
The outburst is from a president described by a mix of aides, advisers and friends as angry and very frustrated after a week that started well. Remember his big speech to Congress Tuesday, but then spiraled out of control.
Several aides and advisers acknowledged meetings with Russian ambassadors after months of Trump and his team denying any such contacts and, of course, there was this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SESSIONS: I have now decided to recuse myself from any existing or future investigations of any matter relating in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States. I feel like that I am -- I should not be involved in investigating a campaign I had a role in.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That recusal happened just not long after the president said he didn't think it was necessary.
With us to share their the reporting and their insights this Sunday, Julie Pace of "The Associated Press", "New York Times" reporter Jonathan Martin, Perry Bacon of FiveThirtyEight.com, and Mary Katharine Ham of "The Federalist."
Let's go through the tweets from yesterday morning before the sun rose in Florida. The president was up. He started with this one, of 6:35 a.m., "Terrible. Just found out that Obama had my wires tapped in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism."
Then, 19 minutes later, 15 minutes later, 14 minutes later, sorry, new math there, "Is it legal for a sitting president to be wiretapping a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A new low."
Remember the "turned down by court earlier". We'll come back to this.
Then, a little bit later than that, "How low has President Obama gone to tap my phones during the very sacred election process? This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad or sick guy."
Now, we have been asking his aides in the 24 hours since to explain this to us. Is the president getting this at some aides suggests, from a story on Breitbart News about a talk radio program by Mark Levin, is that where the president is getting the information? Or does the president who has access to the most sensitive intelligence than all of us, does he know about a legal wiretap during the campaign?
Well, we do know the FBI is looking into alleged contacts between some Trump associates and the Russians, and it is possible -- these are not public documents -- it is possible there was an intelligence finding and they went to the court and got it.
Which is it?
JULIE PACE, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS: That is a great question and if someone from the White House could give us a call right now and answer that question, we would appreciate it.
I mean, I'm not sure the president fully understood the door he was opening in doing this if he was just getting the information from Breitbart or other conservative media, because this has been one of the major questions surrounding this FBI investigation is, was the FBI, were intelligence agencies actually accessing communication that the Trump's advisers had during the campaign with Russians?
If the president is the aware that happened, whether it was ordered by Obama or happened during the Obama administration, he's now essentially given the Hill, the investigative committees there and the intelligence agency I think an opening to share some of that information publicly which they have been reluctant to do so far.
KING: They have been reluctant so far. So, I mean, it's one of two things. Either he has access to some information that there is such a wiretap, but, again, a president cannot order that.
A president cannot personally wake up in the morning and say, "I'm mad hat Jonathan. Tap his phones." It doesn't work that way. That would be illegal. He would have to have the FBI director, the attorney general and a whole lot of technical people involved in that who somehow decided not to share that information -- unlikely. But there could be a legal one.
But you asked the White House and now they say, Sean Spicer says the White House counsel is "reviewing what options are available to us." Is that just spin so that they don't say the president was just winging it because they were all surprised by this? They say they found out about this from reading it on Twitter. This was not part of a plan.
Is that spin, or can they actually -- can the White House counsel now go and find some documentation and then essentially -- if there is documentation, that would be a confirmation by the White House that the Obama administration Justice Department went to court and made the case that there was enough probable cause to have a wiretap?
[08:05:09] JONATHAN MARTIN, THE NEW YORK TIMESD: Well, it's funny you ask that question because we actually reported yesterday that a senior White House official said that Don McGahn, who is White House counsel, was going to try and find the FISA order. Well, there was enormous blowback to that and then hours later, a second White House official said, well, no, we're going to try to figure out what is going on here, but we're not going to have McGahn go and search for some FISA warrant.
Now, why is that? Because the White House counsel can't go to DOJ and demand a FISA order. That's not how it works. That would be breaking enormous precedent in terms of, you know, separation of powers.
So, that is the ongoing question is, are the White House aides basically trying to clean up/make Trump feel good, by pretending that they will get to the bottom of this when actually they are just trying to figure out how to pretend like they are for his sake, or are they actually doing some kind of an internal investigation to actually figure out what happened last year in this investigation?
KING: A lot of conflicting information on certain information, because, again, the president went to Florida. Most of his senior staff stayed behind. We know that on Friday before he left, there were a number of very tense conversations, including I'm told the president of the United States himself venting, where are all the leaks coming from and why do we keep getting in our own way and we had a great speech to Congress and now, we have Jeff Sessions?
And he said, the president said when he was on the aircraft carrier, what was supposed to be his big event on Thursday, he said he didn't think Jeff Sessions needed to recuse himself and then Jeff Sessions recused himself --
MARTIN: He was very angry about that.
KING: Yes, angry about that. And so, the question is, where is this coming from?
I just want to show you a screen grab of the story that was on Breitbart, the conservative radio host Mark Levin had a program the other day where he, Levin, makes the case that there's a deep state, if you watch the show "Scandal," you'll follow along here, that there's a deep state that is obstructing Trump and Obama is in cahoots with them. I find that part interesting because this is the same crowd that spent most of eight years saying he was an illegitimate, Kenyan Muslim sleeper cell, and now apparently, he's in cahoots with a deep state to undermine Trump.
Is this where the president making policy decisions from or at least tweet decisions from?
MARY KATHARINE HAM, THE FEDERALIST: Yes, I mean, Occam's razor says that he probably saw this story somewhere and did not have inside information that we have seen.
MARTIN: That's my sense, too, yeah.
HAM: There is sort of sketchy reporting are on the idea of some sort of FISA warrant, two different versions, one that maybe named some Trump associates and then a broader that was approved later because the first one was rejected.
So, there's some -- there may be some there there, but it does not equal Obama wiretapping Trump Tower. It may not even actually be related to physically Trump Tower. But I do think we're going to because of this tweet have to ask some people, what exactly was there?
PERRY BACON, FIVETHIRTYEIGHT: I mean, the tweets do seem to have an obvious strategy of this is an issue he can't get past, the Russian connection. So, let me make it a political issue. Let me say it's Obama's fault and sort of blame it on Obama, pin it on him.
The danger, of course, is immediately, he made a bunch of substantive claims in those tweets that as far as I can he can't really defend and there's no real -- and it's also a problem when the president of the United States is introducing facts that were not -- he basically all but accused the former president of a crime, like getting involved in DOJ investigations, and we saw the Obama staff say, no, we did not do this.
So, Trump has had a claim against a former president who is very popular while Trump is not and right now, Trump has very little evidence of this point.
KING: It's a key point because some people roll their eyes and say it's Trump being Trump, you know, pointing out these things on Twitter. But Trump is the president of the United States now and he's accusing his predecessor of committing a crime, the way he read, turned down by court earlier, which is gets me back to what he's picking up the Breitbart reporting.
But -- so this is why, as Senator Ben Sass, Republican, called this civilization warping crisis of public trust, because you have a president accusing his former president of Nixonian, McCarthyism, et cetera.
Listen to Lindsey Graham, who happened to have a town hall yesterday back home in South Carolina, again, a Republican senator, frequently a critic of Trump. But listen here, he chooses his words very carefully but he says now that the current president has put this out there about the former president, raising such serious allegations, Congress better get to work.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLIAN: If it is true, illegally, it would be the biggest political scandal since Watergate. If the former president of the United States was able to obtain a warrant lawfully to monitor Trump's campaign for violating law, that would be the biggest scandal since Watergate. I'm very worried that our president is suggesting that the former president has done something illegally.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN: Yes, I mean, Trump was trying to sort of muddy waters here on this issue and, you know, divert attention away from Jeff Sessions and Russia and focus more on Obama. But what he's unwittingly done is give more impetus to people like Ben Sass and Lindsey Graham to say nothing of Democrats in Congress to investigate this, because now, they can say -- well, if President Trump was worried about this issue, well, now we're going to get to the bottom of this.
[08:10:12] So, it just gives them on the Hill cover to push this more aggressively.
PACE: And Trump has benefited so far from the fact that the FBI, James Comey in particular, has been incredibly reluctant to say anything publicly about what's happening behind the scenes with their own investigation. But where he's going to have a problem I think is when this does move to the Hill because you're going to have House and Senate committees investigating this, Democrats on those committees who are going to be far more willing to talk publicly about what comes up and he's not going to be able to control that.
HAM: There's a bit of a precedent for Comey coming out and giving announcement --
HAM: I want to say, to Sass' point, I think it's larger than the daily politics of this. I do think there is a giant public trust problem here and often in the news cycle, it feels like you're sitting at the mad hatter's table and there's nonsense coming from every single direction and we're all trying to parse it, and that's a really deeper issue than the daily politics and --
KING: That's absolutely right.
Before we take a break, we're going to come back to the details of the Russia stuff and the investigation later on in the program. But this happens at a time when you talk to people in the last 48 hours. They say this president - I've talked to a close friend of his who says he's hot. He's hot.
He thinks -- his team keeps getting in their own way and he's also mad about the leaks which he thinks are coming from career people and Obama holdovers. But he is hot, which is one of the reasons why he's lashing out.
What's going on inside the White House?
PACE: It's really a tough environment right now. What you've seen happening with the president is every time he sees that a story is getting out of control, he turns to his team and he blames them for lose control. That's his main focus right now.
He doesn't understand why they couldn't ahead why they couldn't get ahead of the Mike Flynn story. He doesn't understand why they couldn't control the Jeff Sessions story, why Sessions had to recused himself. And it leaves his team in a really uncertain position. They don't know how he's going to react. They follow directions sometimes only to find out that that's not actually what the president wanted.
And in a White House where you're dealing with a lot of incoming but also trying to have a proactive agenda, I think they have basically are at a point where they are just stuck right now.
KING: Stuck. Sorry, quickly.
BACON: One point. Lindsey Graham, senior senator, used the term Watergate twice in that clip. It's important to note, this scandal -- it looks like we're in a moment where Republicans are very nervous about a burgeoning scandal.
KING: We'll see how that one plays out, if nothing else, now they think they have an opening from the president to ask more questions. The president put this on the table, we have a right to ask more questions. Now, we'll see.
Everybody sit tight. Ahead, when it comes to election year Russia contacts, no means yes. That in a few minutes.
Next, though, a Trump agenda progress report as the president nears the 50-day mark. But first, every Sunday, politicians say the darnedest thing. This Sunday was an "SNL" shout-out to Jeff Sessions ala Forrest Gump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KATE MCKINNON AS JEFF SESSIONS: I wish I could go back to the White House and see Mr. Trump. I miss him. And Democrats want me to resign. I've just got to prove to everybody that I don't have any ties to the Russians whatsoever.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This meeting never happened.
MCKINNON: I wouldn't remember it anyway.
[08:17:35] KING: Welcome back.
President Trump hit the 50-day mark in the week ahead and there are some giant policy tests looming. Take two of his controversial travel ban just one of them.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: We cannot allow a beachhead of terrorism to form inside America. We cannot allow our nation to become a sanctuary for extremists. That is why my administration has been working on improved vetting procedures.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're told that new travel ban could come as early as tomorrow and then within days Republicans begin to plan action on an Obamacare replacement plan, even though there are giant internal GOP differences over the details.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We're all working off the same piece of paper and plan so we're in sync, the House, the Senate and the Trump administration because this law is collapsing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: In sync on the goals, not necessarily on the details.
Let's start with the travel ban proposal which we're told could come as early as tomorrow. The administration has said since the judges blocked this, that this was urgent and had to be done and then they themselves undermined that argument a bit being careful. They want to get it right and I'm told the homeland security secretary, General Kelly, has been very clear. Let's make sure we're clear and getting it right is better than getting it fast.
How do we expect it to be different than the same?
BACON: Well, first of all, the secretary is involved. Last night, he was not only involved, he's just been sworn in.
I do think the key to be know, what are the details? I mean, last time, there were all stories of people who went to Harvard, people who were doctors, all these people who had been in America already and they were being blocked from going in.
I wonder if the details of the actual travel ban will be different to where it's only basically if you've not been in the U.S. That said, we're going to have a lot of lawsuits against because you know that a lot of people feel like he campaigned on a Muslim ban. This is a Muslim ban. So, the ACLU and groups like that are going to fight this.
But I do think it will be administered in a more coherent way because the homeland security secretary is involved and has been planning this for a while. I think General Kelly was with Trump in Florida yesterday, in fact.
KING: Last night, the attorney general and the homeland security secretary, which gives you indications that it's coming soon.
PACE: There's also some talk in the White House about not just the details of the executive order, but how they present it to the public, because if you remember when the president signed the first one, he did it late on a Friday night. The actual paper of the executive order didn't come out for a couple of hours, and there was no sales pitch from the administration. So, they were stuck then with a whole weekend of this really negative and emotional coverage of people trying to get into the country and being blocked.
[08:20:02] So, they are talking about not only having the president sign this and having it be more thoroughly vetted internally, but also trying to set actual policy to the public which is pretty basic things that you tend to do in White Houses but something that this White House is still trying to get their hands around.
KING: They have been different in that regard because in part they were trying to move fast. He wants to be seen as a man of action and to his credit what he's been doing is keeping fidelity with campaign promises. The problem is, in rushing sometimes, it falls off the wayside.
As you jump in, I just want to put up on screen there, we're talking about, we're almost to the halfway mark of the first 100 days, some people think it's a fair place to judge, other people think it's too premature. But here's what we know what the president wants to get done -- the travel ban, which is on hold. We're waiting for the second version.
Obamacare, this is going to be a very big next couple of weeks as the Republicans try to work there internal differences.
Immigration, you've had a lot of conservative complaints about the price tag, with the president wants to move forward on his wall and infrastructure, whether that will happen this year or next year is still an open question. The president said in the speech he wants to spend a trillion dollars on that, not just government money, a mix of private partnership. But as they move in this, the details of these debates, fascinating questions on travel ban and on Obamacare.
MARTIN: Not to mention, what is to a lot of folks, on the Hill at least, the biggest and most important issue, which is tax reform. For folks like Paul Ryan, you know, this is a long running fantasy that they think now is coming true.
What I don't understand -- I've heard a lot of this talk over the last few days in Washington is why Trump did not come out of the gates and do infrastructure first, where you would get a bipartisan vote, big early victory, great photo ops, Trump with the hard hat and the shovel and the ribbon cutting and the whole nine yards, would it have been Keynesian, not so conservative? Sure, but --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is Keynesian and not conservative.
MARTIN: So you jam your own party and squeeze Democrats. It's a win and win. And Bannon, by the way, was talking about this after the election. What happened to that?
Instead now, the entire conversation, if it's not about Russia and controversy at the White House and feuds, it's all about, well, what's going to be the Obamacare replacement? That's going to be the biggest policy question in the first six months of his presidency and instead of getting a big win.
John, I think it's possible that he can go through the first year of his presidency and not sign one major piece of legislation.
KING: Boy, if that happens he's off the rails because the Republicans have promise and a the argument from a lot of conservatives now is we sent President Obama and Obamacare repeal and we had the votes to send it to him, why haven't we done this already?
HAM: And Obamacare, part of the reason they are doing that, instead of infrastructure, was a bigger promise and then on the travel ban.
MARTIN: Republicans, yes.
HAM: On the travel ban part, I think it's important not to overlook the fact that the system is work here when I see the freaking out on my Facebook page and among friends about the collapse of the republic imminently, the court said, no, we go back and we do it again. That's how this is supposed to work.
And so, applauding the president for that. But it matters that you do things well, and if you want to move quickly, you do this well the first time, and then you do move on from it and you do the next thing. But now, we're stuck doing the other thing again, and then doing Obamacare later in the week. That's a busy week.
BACON: Jonathan has such an important point. I thought the list of '93 and 2009 was "don't do health care first," it's really hard, it's really challenging. And Trump was elected on the economy. I think a lot of , people thought he was going to bring jobs back.
So, I am surprised, like I have to say after the speech on Tuesday, on Friday, he's talking about school vouchers -- I mean, that's a big issue -- but that's not necessarily at the top of mind for most Americans, I would argue.
KING: Right. It is an interesting point if you look at the experience of the Obama administration, both on the issue which is complicated and you had all Democratic votes on Obamacare, it will be all Republican votes now in the replacement, is that the way you want to start? But that's the people that people on the Hill told them they needed to do that first, and he listened to them on that, a guy who came (INAUDIBLE).
Hang tight, everybody, sit tight.
Next, he called it a ruse and for months scoff at talk anyone close to him at election year contacts with Russia. Now, we know there were contacts, including a meeting at Trump Tower.
[08:27:56] KING: Welcome back.
As the candidate, as president-elect and as president, the answer from team Donald Trump has been consistent.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
TRUMP: How many times do I have to answer this question? Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: Was there any contact in any way between Trump or his associates and the Kremlin or cutouts they had?
PENCE: Of course not. Why would there be any contacts between the campaign?
SEAN SPICER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Trying to ascertain is at what point -- how many people have to say that there's nothing there before you realize there's nothing there?
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
KING: But we now know on this question, no, at least sometimes means yes. Let's look at some key dates in the spy novel that just simply won't
get away. Back in April 2016, as a candidate, then candidate Donald Trump delivered a major foreign policy address. As a major VIP guest in the front row, the Russian ambassador.
Let's slide forward to July. But this time, Donald Trump is about to be officially the Republican nominee. He's at the Republican convention. We know Senator Sessions met with the Russian ambassador at the convention. It should be noted that event that he met him at was organized by the Obama State Department, yes, it was.
Also in this several time frame, several other foreign policy advisers to the Trump campaign, out at the campaign meet with the Russian ambassador. On the surface nothing wrong with that, but for months, they said no contacts. What Democrats get curious about this is, July 19th and 20th here, Democrats say a-ha, it was July 22nd when the first WikiLeaks release of the DNC e-mails happened. That's what Democrats say.
Now we move forward to September. A little bit later in the campaign, and we know Senator Sessions has now disclosed he had a second meeting with the Russian ambassador, second meeting, one at the convention, this one was at his Senate office. He says it was just about Senate business, his job on the Armed Services Committee.
Now, we move forward to October, the first WikiLeaks release of the John Podesta e-mails. Again, Democrats say this is why they are suspicious of all of this. They want to ask some questions.
And now, we know the election happened. President-elect Trump and in December during the transition, his first national security adviser, General Michael Flynn, who had to resign had several contacts with the Russian ambassador, one of them a Trump Tower meeting that involved the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
[08:30:00] That was just disclosed last week after months and months of reporters asking, did you have any contacts with the Russians. The Trump campaign, the Trump presidency now say these were courtesy calls, these were simple meetings, nothing bad happened. Democrats like Nancy Pelosi don't buy it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: What do the Russians have on Donald Trump that he would do that, and I don't know who knew what in all of this but it's important for us to find out and we must have that investigation.
The very idea that the top cop would go to his colleagues in the Senate and withhold the truth. This is not an unsophisticated person. This is a prosecutor himself. He knows what's there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now especially if you this through a partisan perspective, everybody has a theory on this one. Let me put one on the table. The Russian ambassador was doing his job. Donald Trump was going to be the Republican nominee for president and the Russian ambassador said he might just be the United States, I need to get them to know these people. So he has a bunch of meetings with these people where they talk about Ukraine, they talk about sanctions, maybe they talk about whatever. Absolutely nothing wrong with that. The Russian ambassador is earning his pay.
Why then? Why then do they just answer no when you ask for months did you have contacts, did you have meetings? Why not just say yes, sure, and if the German ambassador called we would have met with he or she, too. We -- you know, this is part of the business. Why?
PACE: That's why this is so confounding because there's actually nothing wrong with any of the meetings that happened. There actually wasn't anything wrong with Mike Flynn talking to the Russian ambassador during the transition and really probably nothing wrong with him talking about what the Trump administration was going to do once they took office. But the fact that you have two major figures, you know, put aside the Carter Pages and JD Gordons of the world even, but two major figures in Trump's campaign and Trump's administration, Jeff Sessions and Mike Flynn, who have both given misleading answers publicly and privately about their contacts with the same Russian ambassador is just confounding that that happened.
And while the -- the Trump administration will continue to say that there was nothing wrong with those contacts I think that we do have to get an answer as to why people felt that they needed to be misleading about those contacts.
KING: And this is why Republicans on Capitol Hill are nervous about this because they're saying that, you know, this is politics 101. Once you realize people are asking these questions.
MARTIN: Right. Get it out.
KING: Again, Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, a key adviser to him, was in one of these meetings, they say it was coffee. The ambassador requested the meeting. They had a quick courtesy call, that happens, absolutely nothing wrong with that. But why didn't somebody early on say, OK, whether we like it or not, we don't like to answer reporters' questions, we think they ask too many questions, we don't answer, somebody put together a list of every contact we had --
MARTIN: Right. Put it out.
KING: Get it out.
HAM: Well, not just every contact but every contact with every ambassador you talked with.
HAM: Because if you isolate the Russian stuff then it looks weirder than having meetings with -- routine meetings with other people. Look, I think the White House feels under siege and partly for good reasons. There is a leaked campaign going on here that is intended to make them look very bad so I think that might be part of this.
KING: But it shouldn't be -- I agree with you 100 percent. I don't mean to interrupt, but they couldn't leak information about these meetings if the Trump campaign got ahead of them and released all these meetings, and this is a lesson to any of you watching at home. Don't call the intelligence community Nazis.
HAM: Yes, but it's a problem that is like -- it's a problem if they are doing this and not doing what their actual jobs.
HAM: Which is to keep things secret, so I think that's part of this and part of the defensiveness about it, and I think if they had the goods they would leak that. They would leak the nefarious angle here but we have not seen that.
KING: That's a good point.
HAM: And I'm not going to pretend that Sessions, although I think he made a mistake, I think recusal is the right decision, although not resignation, that him meeting at a Heritage Foundation, Obama administration, State Department gathering of many of ambassadors is a problem. It's just on its face not. It's obviously innocent and to talk about it in a way that sounds like it is not I think is not good.
KING: And he's in trouble for that and he had to recuse himself because during his confirmation hearing this question came up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA: And if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?
JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Senator Franken, I'm not aware of any of those activities. I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn't have -- not have communications with the Russians.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That -- that was his problem. "I did not have any communication with the Russians." Now Senator Sessions says he took it in a context as a -- in a campaign role. He did not have any meetings with the campaign role. The one at the convention is an iffy one there. But again, the reason Democrats are a little -- I mean, Republicans are a little nervous about this because They know Senator Sessions, they know he went through a very rough confirmation hearing, was rejected for a federal judgeship once, and they wonder, why didn't he at least after the fact correct the record, and just want to be clear, I did have a couple of meetings in my capacity as a senator.
BACON: You know, Ryan Lizza who works in "New Yorker" is on here a lot, too, made this point that we have right now something like a cover-up but not really a crime in the sense that we don't know -- we have lots of lies and misleading statements. We don't really know what the thing -- we think they are covering up something and we can't really tell.
[08:35:05] It could be possible that Trump wants to have a different view of our relationship with Russia which is what Julie wrote about today very well in fact and that's what this is about? Or it could be something much worse. The "New York Times" story suggested the Obama White House believes that the Russians colluded with the Trump campaign on the wiretapping -- on the election, I'm sorry. That's actually much more serious.
But the problem is Trump needs to sort of address and say, OK, we had some contacts. Maybe we had too many contacts. And give a reason why because now we're all wondering what's going on. And he hasn't given a coherent story and that would address the issue.
KING: And so the questions continue. You have a very good point. There are people leaking things that are damaging to the administration and the president has every reason to be upset about that. The problem is for the president when you have -- when you say no for months is the actions of his own aides are undermining him. They are undermining him. Whether it's well-intended, whether they would just -- they don't like answering questions, or whatever it is.
Listen, this is one of my favorite lines of the week. Senator Angus King, he's an independent from Maine, he votes with the Democrats most of the time. He's a critic of this administration, let's be honest about that. But here's his point on this whole say no, say no, say no, you find out no turns yes, this is what happens.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. ANGUS KING (I), MAINE: The denials remind me of Obi Wan Kenobi in the first "Star Wars." Remember where he says, these aren't the droids you're looking for, and they go on by. You've got to -- you know, we've just got to continue to follow this, and it's -- it's in the interest of the -- of the president and the people around him to get this all out. It's the drip, drip that's really going to be damaging.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MARTIN: Well, and it's extraordinary because, like Perry says, it's the drip, drip, about contacts and meetings that may be totally innocent. It's just the lack of being up front about it that -- that creates this problem for Trump. Look, there may have been something going on with the Russians, as Trump would put it, or maybe -- or maybe there wasn't at all. But -- but it's now the second week in March almost and instead of just handling this stuff forthrightly Trump is battling day in and day out these leaks that are coming up because his own folks won't say up front what actually happened.
And by the way, I think that they won't say that because they don't want to give oxygen to it. Well, ironically by not being up front they are creating more oxygen. You know why? Because putting out a huge list like Mary Katharine suggested of every meeting with every ambassador of foreign country would probably be an A-27 when it's a leak from, you know, senior folks at DOJ. Guess what? Taiwan.
HAM: So you're saying he should practice his Jedi mind jerk?
KING: He should practice his --
KING: These are not the droids you're looking for.
HAM: Very effective. KING: I think that without a doubt, though, the combination of these
unanswered questions or the drip, drip, drip part, why don't they just -- if it's nothing why didn't they just get it out themselves and now the president tweeting that he thinks his predecessor wiretapped him is going to add steam to these investigations.
Next, the president speaks to Congress and the week that could have been.
[08:42:07] KING: Welcome back. Not sure if you feel this way at home, but to me this seems like it was a lot longer than just five days ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Ryan's legacy is etched into eternity. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That powerful moment, very powerful moment, was Tuesday night in a well-received speech to Congress in which the president also closed by saying this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: People asked right after the speech which was very well received, very well received inside the building. Even Democrats privately saying the president did a good job. American people reacted very well if you looked at the polls, but a lot of people did ask, how long would that last, the time for trivial fights is over.
In addition to the very serious accusation he has made against his predecessor saying he wiretapped him during the campaign, the president also yesterday morning 8:19 a.m., "Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't voluntarily leaving the 'Apprentice' he was fired by his bad pathetic ratings. Not by me. Sad end to a great show."
I -- maybe -- I believe that to be a trivial fight. Would that not be one of those trivial fights that are over?
PACE: I just look at as a trivial policy.
BACON: We shouldn't assume, though, a person who's -- he's been doing this for a long time. We've seen this a few years now, he likes to tweet. Likes to tweet about ratings. He wasn't going to change after Tuesday. The minute Tuesday was over once the Sessions started came out in "The Post" so at the end of the day, he -- even that brief moment of, like, maybe he can sort of have an agenda and sort of lead the conversation was over the moment we got back to Russia so I think that moment was squandered, not necessarily -- the tweets were not great yesterday but also the real driving event of the week was the Sessions news and the recusal.
MARTIN: And the most fundamental element on Trump's personality, as Julie knows well from covering him, is that he wants to be respected and taken seriously. He covered to that like nothing else. OK. Guess what? After that speech, the covers that next night and the next day, he was taken seriously. He was tweeted as the president. That drove the left crazy but it made him, I'm sure, probably happier than he's been than at any other point in his presidency. And the fact that that was taken away from him, in his mind, and he goes back to these questions about Russia, that's why he's so furious because he got this legitimacy given to him, conferred on him and then he had it snatched away.
PACE: He felt what it was like to have Washington --
MARTIN: Approve of him.
PACE: A town that he is an outsider in approve of him and he liked that feeling, and that's understandable. It's interesting, though, to look at how the White House came out of that speech. It was a well- received speech and their strategy was to essentially just sit back.
MARTIN: Bask in it. Yes.
[08:45:03] PACE: Bask in it for a whole day. They did nothing the day after instead of, you know, they could have gone out there --
KING: But because they know -- because they know he likes good reviews, though. They thought it would help him.
KING: And maybe teach him a lesson about staying on track and disciplined. MARTIN: Exactly right.
PACE: But they did nothing to kind of try to build off that momentum, to use it to their advantage. What if they had come off of that well- received speech and moved forward quickly on health care, and moved forward on something with tax reform and tried to build their policy agenda around the well-received speech.
KING: Instead he was on the deck of the USS Gerald Ford, a super carrier, which is a traditional -- Donald Trump is different in many ways, this is very traditional. Hit the road, get a good stage.
MARTIN: But to what end? What's the message?
KING: He wants to talk about military spending there but then he went down below on the deck and he was facing all these questions about Jeff Sessions, he goes on the record saying he doesn't think Jeff Sessions has to recuse himself.
KING: And by the time he's back in Washington, Jeff Sessions has done that. Isn't the president supposed to know his attorney general is about to recuse himself?
HAM: One would think. But look, I think -- he did have a good night on Tuesday.
HAM: He did blow it up later in the week, I fully expected that going through the week. But there's the strange thing that happens with him which is you said to what end, and I think that's the big question. It's like, when does legislation move forward and when do you actually sign something, but, on the other hand, his bad numbers and bad news cycles don't have as much impact on his support as they would on other politicians.
MARTIN: That's right.
HAM: And so he has more flexibility than somebody else would at the same number and going through the same news cycles. But he has to eventually put that to work getting something through Congress, I think, or else it's going to run out on him.
KING: Right. And you mentioned the point earlier that he likes to be liked and respected. He's calling the president -- the former President Obama now accusing him of Nixonian conduct, McCarthyism, Watergate like conduct. It wasn't that long ago he had a very different view.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: It's a very strange phenomenon. We get along. I don't know if he'll admit this but he likes him.
BILL O'REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: How do you know he likes you?
TRUMP: I like him because I can feel it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: What happened?
MARTIN: Where's the love?
PACE: Times changed. I actually -- I think that it will be interesting going forward. You know, presidents sometimes talk privately. Current presidents and former presidents, and during the transition there was a lot of communication between Obama and Trump, but I think Obama felt like he was able to shape at least the way Trump was thinking about matters in real time. I think it will be fascinating to see if there continues to be some kind of behind-the- scenes conversation between these two.
KING: I have to kind of guess that if you're President Obama and you've just been accused of illegally wiretapping somebody that -- President Obama most likely thinks the next move that is up to President Trump.
HAM: I mean, Obama might start tweeting about State of the Union ratings. That'll be the way to get through.
PACE: Crowd size.
KING: Now, now, now. All right. Very important week for the president. Ahead again, we're looking for the new travel ban, action on Obamacare. Our reporters share from their notebooks next, including insight on a man you probably never heard of but who has a critical role in the replacing of Obamacare debate.
[08:52:00] KING: Welcome back. We surround our table with reporters, not pundits, for a reason. We close every Sunday but asking them to share a nugget or two from their notebooks. Help get you out ahead in the big political news just around the corner. Julie Pace?
PACE: There's an interesting policy debate on Russia happening in the White House on the sidelines of all of these revelations about Trump advisers meeting with the Russian ambassador. The president has started to signal to some of his team and as well as to some allies that the moment may not be right for this kind of grand bargain that he's been talking about Russia that would involve the Islamic State, Ukraine, arms control.
There's some reasons for this that are pretty legit. One is Russia's violations of an IMF treaty. There are new voices around Trump who are more skeptical of Russia. But really the fact that this whole conversation is even happening underscores how intense the political pressure around Trump is getting and he's recognizing that to go forward with some kind of grand bargain with Putin at this moment would really be a huge risk for his presidency.
KING: Perhaps the timing is not right.
PACE: Not right.
MARTIN: Eyebrows were raised here in Washington and Florida last week when Rick Scott, the governor of Florida, took the job of vice chair of the RGA. Now why is that a big idea? That puts him to be the chair of the RGA in 2018. This is a group that oversees governors races for the GOP. That will take him off the field against Bill Nelson who is the incumbent senator in Florida in 2018.
Now why does that matter? Because the GOP here in Washington and in Florida was counting on the very wealthy Governor Scott to self-fund his own race against Bill Nelson in 2018. Now there are questions, is he committed to running for the Senate? If he is not committed that opens up this huge state, a very competitive race and a very expensive state.
KING: Very expensive. Republicans are counting on that one. Perry?
BACON: A person to watch this week and the next couple of weeks is Keith Hall, the head of the Congressional Budget Office. The CBO determines that it hasn't been told a score and they determine like how the health insurance bill worked, the Obamacare repeal bill. And how much will it cost and will this impact be on everyone else. And that score is going to be a big deal because if the score comes back and it's really bad it suggests this repeal will insure less people or cost less money or raise costs. That's going to make it much harder for Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to get the bill through Congress.
KING: One of those persons you've never heard of who has a lot of impact here in Washington. Mary Katharine?
HAM: All right. Keeping an eye on special elections is a bit of a clue as to where the resist movement might go. The head of the DNC was bragging about holding a Democrat feet in Delaware where there were some great and lots of turnout and excitement about it. But they're 0 for 4 trying to flip seats in blue Hillary won states, two in Virginia and Minnesota, and Connecticut. So although you see what one would call, I think, dreams of non-optimal news for President Trump. Nonetheless the resist movement has not turned into something that is flipping seats even in those special elections yet.
KING: Dreams of non-optimal news. I like that.
HAM: That's a new term.
KING: I like that. I will close with a similar thought. One of the biggest questions, as MK just noted, in politics is to what degree all this anti-Trump energy on the left translates into day-to-day politics. My home state offers two examples of note. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, usually a darling of the left, drew its ire when she cast a committee vote in favor of Ben Carson's nomination for Housing secretary.
[08:55:07] He was confirmed by the full Senate on Thursday but Warren flipped and was among those in the full Senate voting no.
A longer term test is in the Eighth Congressional District. 15-year incumbent Stephen Lynch is one of the few Democrats back in the day to vote against the Affordable Care Act. He recently said the media is too tough on President Trump. Well, he's facing a primary challenge from a video game developer who has clashed with the alt-right and who calls Lynch an example of everything that is wrong with the Democratic Party.
Brianna Wu has never run for office. Most people discount her chances. But because of the climate, pros who know the Boston area well, are warning Lynch, take the challenge seriously.
That's it for INSIDE POLITICS. Again thanks for sharing your Sunday morning. We're with you live every week at noon as well. Hope to see you then including tomorrow. Tomorrow is Monday.
Up next "STATE OF THE UNION" with Jake Tapper.