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INSIDE POLITICS

Revised Travel Ban Released; Travel Ban Does Not Prioritize Religious Minorities; President Obama Accused of Wiretapping; Lawmakers Call for Wiretap Proof. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 6, 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] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King picks up right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

A day of busy breaking news here in the nation's capital. Just moments ago, take two of the Trump administration's controversial travel ban. Six nations on it this time, not seven.

Also this day, the president of the United States and his aides standing by the president's stunning allegation over the weekend that President Obama wiretapped then candidate Donald Trump during the presidential campaign.

A lot to discuss in the hour ahead.

We begin with the brand new revised Trump administration travel ban. The president of the United States not at the event rolling it out. He signed the executive order in the Oval Office early this morning. No media allowed in. We'll get to the reasons for that a bit later in the program. But then at an event rolling it out, three members of the Trump cabinet saying this ban, they believe, will stand up in the courts. Among those making the case, the attorney general, Jeff Sessions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We cannot compromise our nation's security by allowing visitors entry when their own governments are unable or unwilling to provide the information we need to vet them responsibly, all when those government actively support terrorism. This executive order responsibly provides a needed pause we can -- so we can carefully review how we scrutinized people coming here from these countries of concern.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With us to share their reporting and their insights this day, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, CNN's Manu Raju and Karen Tumulty of "The Washington Post." A conversation about the politics of this and the other big story in Washington state in a moment.

Let's go first to our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeff, travel ban, take one was tied up in the courts, blocked by a federal judge who said it was unconstitutional. Does the president have a stronger legal case here with travel ban number two?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: He does have a stranger legal case. I don't know if he'll win, but he certainly has improved some of the problems that the court saw.

First of all, it's clear that green card holders and people with valid visas are not covered by this executive order. Also, it appears they have removed the religious preference for religious minorities, that is Christians, that made this look like a Muslim ban. And also in defining the scope of the problem, they are defining it in terms of the absence of government controls in the six named countries, not the religious nature of those countries. So I think when you combine all those things together, it makes for a more defensible package.

Now, the problem they still have, which the ACLU and the attorneys general who have challenged it, will still raise is that President Trump said he wanted a Muslim ban, and this is just a Muslim ban with some protectoral explanations. That's where we are right now. But certainly the Trump administration has helped their legal case by watering this down.

KING: And to the point you just made, I'm not a lawyer, so please laugh at me if this is silly, but listening to Secretary Tillerson, then the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and then Secretary Kelly of Homeland Security make a public case, brief in all cases, but to make their public case about how they viewed this policy, why they need this policy, it seemed to me that they were trying to create a record for the court essentially to rebut -- this is no longer about candidate Trump, this is about President Trump and these members of his cabinet.

TOOBIN: Oh, well, I think that's part of the story. And just the governmental justification for the order is a very important part of why -- of how this will unfold in the courts. Remember, the first executive order seemingly came out of nowhere with no justification, no explanation, and, you know, again, atmospherics do matter, though they do not have technical legal significance.

This will be much more associated with the cabinet members rather than the president announcing it. And that is all helpful in the atmospherics of the legal case.

KING: And, Jeff, before I let you go, during our conversation, the New York state attorney general, a Democrat, who has been a Trump critic, released a statement saying his office is now going to review this new order, look at the details, but that he, quote, "stands ready to litigate." I assume by the time you get to have lunch today, someone's going to be in court challenging this. TOOBIN: I think that is as safe an assumption as you can make

anywhere.

KING: Jeff Toobin, our senior legal analyst, thanks so much. We'll come back to you as developments warrant throughout the hour.

Let's come into the room here.

Politically, this is very important for the administration, but clearly, clearly, one interpretation of this is, this was a signature issue in the Trump campaign where he initially called it a Muslim ban. It was one of his early actions as president and a court stopped him and blocked him. This is a much softer travel ban. Number one, six countries instead of seven, majority Muslim countries. Number two, Syrian refugees are not barred. They, like others on this, are subject to a 120 day pause. So it is certainly softer. The question is, Jeff just dealt with the legal issues. What about the political debate. Is the president on better, stronger ground now?

[12:05:12] KAREN TUMULTY, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I think he has probably not picked in terms of like Capitol Hill any support. I -- even as the members of the Trump cabinet were speaking, Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader of the Senate, issued a statement saying that this ban is still a ban, that this is mean-spirited and un-American, that it makes us less safe, not more. I don't know that they're going to pick up any support from people who had already been criticizing this whole approach.

KING: From the Democrats. But on this issue, Republicans, largely with him. They were very critical of the sloppy roll-out of the first one. They were very angered that they were not consulted the first time around. But in terms of the general policy being tougher against the threat of terrorism, he has more -- much more Republicans standing now, right?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think so. And he had the blueprint, right, from the court order, or the court stay on his original order that was blocked, so he knew what to do and his -- the folks in his cabinet knew what to do. So their focus now is on this idea that these countries are, in some ways, not exactly lawless, but they don't have the proper documentation. So I think it will be much easier for Republicans to rally behind his and obviously seeing his cabinet officials there giving it a more palatable framework and also I think it's going to have, as Jeffrey Toobin said, a more easy legal argument also.

I think the whole idea, though, that this was urgent, that you had to do this because there were terrorists pouring over the border or coming over in airplanes, that seems to have disappeared.

KING: Right.

HENDERSON: And you wonder if that comes back. There still doesn't seem to be a good reason for it.

KING: Right. And this order -- we should note, to that point, this order doesn't take effect until March 16.

HENDERSON: Right.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right.

KING: So this is not something that takes effect like that. And as -- again, as we're having the conversation on this fast-breaking story, the House Democratic leader, to your point, Karen, Nancy Pelosi, issuing a statement saying, take two changes nothing in her view. She still calls it immoral and unconstitutional. So we know the Democrats politically will argue against it. We know legally we're going to end up back in courts.

To the point, though, about the first roll-out, remember -- I was going to call him general -- Secretary John Kelly now, former general, at the Department of Homeland Security, he has publically taken the hit. He has said, this is my department. I take responsibility for this. But we know from our reporting, he and other cabinet secretaries were largely blindsided when the first travel ban came out. It was orchestrated by senior staff at the White House level. But listen to Secretary Kelly today making the case no one should be surprised this time because we're going to do this in a careful, calculated way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KELLY, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: As previously mentioned, I have spent much of day today on the phone with members of Congress, the leadership, explaining the ins and outs of this E.O., and I did the same thing last week. So there should be no surprises whether it's in the media or on Capitol Hill.

Thanks very much. And thanks for your time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Or in his own office, at his department --

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes.

KING: Is the point I wanted to make there because they were not happy the first time.

RAJU: They weren't. And actually when Kelly went out afterwards, remember, he had the press conference to explain what happened. That's when members of Congress -- Republican members of Congress felt a little bit better. They believed that Kelly had it under control. At least they could stash the -- staunch the bleeding just a little bit. So that was interesting just to have the cabinet secretaries being the public face of this. Probably a lot better politically for their own parties to have them selling this, explaining it. It looked like they're thinking through it, rather than having the president himself, who's known to shoot from the hip, to discuss this.

The question is what does the Republican leadership do? We know that Paul Ryan, in the past, criticized the roll-out, but he didn't necessarily criticize the policy. But what about some of those other people who had been long-time critics of the Trump administration, the Lindsey Grahams of the world, where do they come down? Do they call this tantamount to a Muslim ban? Where the Democrats are? I tend to agree with Karen. I think that you will probably have some of those critics still be critics in the Republican ranks.

KING: But it -- but it is interesting to watch because, again, and the president said he thought this was handled fine. That's what he said publically. Everybody around the president acknowledges this was not handled very well and that's one of the reasons it was kind of blocked in the courts.

TUMULTY: And the attorney general, by the way, in that statement was continuing to assert that the original travel ban was perfectly legal.

KING: Original -- right. Right. And yet we expect now legal, they will drop that fight and say that that fight is now moot because they have travel ban number two. But you had the attorney general out there saying this is legal. I will fight for it. You had the secretary of Homeland Security saying essentially, sorry, this time we're going to brief you, we're going to take our time. It doesn't -- it's not implemented until March 16th. This is going to be done in a careful way. And we know not only if there had been a debate here at home, but around the world, many U.S. allies have criticized this, saying they believe the president is doing something that's not good for the fight against terrorism. So the secretary of state was part of the roll-out this time and here was his message to our allies around the world.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REX TILLERSON, SECRETARY OF STATE: To our allies and partners around the world, please understand this order is part of our ongoing efforts to eliminate vulnerabilities that radical Islamist terrorists can and will exploit for destructive ends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:10:02] KING: Radical Islamist, not radical Islamic, as the president likes to say.

ZELENY: Right. Right. I mean this is so different in, you know, in completely how it was rolled out. But I think the biggest difference, the president has an attorney general now. That was one of the biggest problems on the first Friday when he signed that at the Pentagon. He didn't have his Justice Department in place. It was so rushed into business here. So this is how it should be done.

So I think Republicans will respond to this much better. It's softer. It is going to be challenged, of course. But just the fact that he actually has an attorney general standing up there and, you know, he can defend it, that's a huge difference. But look how the president signed this.

KING: Right.

ZELENY: In fact, we can't look at it because --

HENDERSON: Right.

KING: Right.

ZELENY: The media was not allowed in the Oval Office. This is a president, in the first six weeks or so, who seems to me to love signing executive orders. He holds them up. He has news conferences around them. It was signed in secret this morning. And I think that's very revealing as well.

KING: Well, let's --

TUMULTY: And there were no take -- there were no questions taken at the announcement either.

ZELENY: Exactly.

HENDERSON: Yes.

KING: Right, no questions.

HENDERSON: Yes.

KING: Which gets us to the thing we're going to talk about in a minute, so I don't want to dwell on it for more than a couple seconds here because we're going to take a break and talk about it more in a minute, but that is a reflection -- this is a signature issue of this president. He would very much like to be front and center in revising it and in improving it. I'm sticking with this. I'm going to be resilient. He criticized the judges publicly.

But the fact that we won't show you the picture of the president signing an executive order, that was incredibly important to his administration and a very important policy debate in our country, we will not show you the picture because we have a policy that you cannot have canned press released pictures from a White House. You have to let the reporters in. The president's a big boy. He doesn't have to answer questions if they're shouted at him. But they wouldn't let anyone in because of the other issue front and center today, that is the president saying that he believes his predecessor somehow wiretapped him during last year's campaign. That will be our case when we come back.

A quick break. Stay with INSIDE POLITICS. When we come back, the president makes that allegation, but more than 50 hours later, his White House still refuses to provide any evidence.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[1215:55] KING: Welcome back.

Donald Trump, as a candidate and as president, has said so many provocative, at times outlandish things, that sometimes the gravity of his statements get lost in the drama surrounding his statements. So let's stop and make sure we get the gravity here.

The sitting president of the United States is accusing his predecessor of a Nixonian abuse of power. This all starts with a serious -- a series of pre-sunrise tweets Saturday morning. Just the timing is important. It gives us a glimpse of how this president operates. His staff learned about the Obama wiretapping allegation the same way all of us did, by seeing it on Twitter. "McCarthyism," he claimed in one tweet. "Nixon," "Watergate" was his tag in another. We are 50 plus hours later now, and the White House has provided no evidence to support the president's allegation. We know the FBI thinks it's not only wrong, but reckless, and asked the Justice Department to publically repute the president, but the department has been silent. And we know the man who was director of national intelligence during last year's campaign says there was no wiretap.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: I will say that for the part of the national security apparatus that I oversaw as DNI, there was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president- elect at the time or as a candidate or against his campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point you can't confirm or deny whether that exists?

CLAPPER: I can deny it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is no FISA court order?

CLAPPER: Not -- not to my knowledge.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Of anything at Trump Tower?

CLAPPER: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, if you believe Mr. Clapper there, that was one of the big questions in the weekend, did the president know something we don't know? Does the president have access to intelligence that says there was, because we do know the Justice Department was investigating alleged contacts, maybe contacts between Trump associates and Russia. Was there some wiretap approved by a court to listen in on some conversation? He says no. Mr. Clapper says no.

If that's -- now, Mr. Clapper is also part of an intelligence community that Donald Trump has said was acting like Nazis. And so if you're a Trump supporter, you probably don't believe Jim Clapper, who happens to be a career public servant from Democrat and Republican administration. But if that's the truth, and there's no FISA court that the Obama Justice Department, not the president -- the president does not have the legal authority to order a wiretap on anybody. But the justice -- if that's true and the Justice Department didn't approve one, then what is the president talking about?

HENDERSON: Nobody knows.

KING: The current -- the current president.

HENDERSON: Yes.

ZELENY: It's a great question. And they said that they aren't going to have any more discussions about this, but then Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy press secretary, has been on morning shows the past couple of mornings, you know, saying if this is a possibility, we need to look at it.

Our friend Martha Raddatz at ABC News, I think, had a good rejoiner yesterday saying if, if, if. The president did not say if in his tweets.

KING: Right.

ZELENY: He stated it as fact. So the reality here is, the White House has the ability to hold a news conference, the ability to get anything out there. The reality is -- the administration is trying to follow his lead.

KING: Right.

ZELENY: He sent out this message on Saturday, and now they're trying to sort of get behind what he said, but no one knew what he was talking about.

KING: And their --

TUMULTY: And beyond --

KING: I'm sorry.

TUMULTY: Beyond stating it is a fact. He stated it as a fact that he had just learned.

HENDERSON: Just -- yes.

KING: Just learned, right.

TUMULTY: And so as we see his aides say, well, maybe he was referring to press reports back in the fall. That is not what the president said.

KING: Right.

TUMULTY: He said he had just learned as a fact that he had been wiretapped.

KING: It is --

RAJU: And there are a lot of reasons why that doesn't make a lot of sense because one of which is that if there is an investigation -- and we know that there is an FBI investigation that is going on in Russia -- over Russia, over Russia's meddling in the elections. We are pretty certain it's looking into these alleged contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russia officials. Trump would not be briefed on these wiretaps if he was being wiretapped in the middle of an ongoing investigation. KING: Right.

RAJU: That makes very little sense. Typically I have talked to members -- sources on the various committees in Congress, and they said that you'll be briefed maybe after an investigation is concluded, but you not during an investigation.

KING: Right.

RAJU: So even if the wiretap thing was accurate, there's really no way of Trump to be briefed on that. And so it makes you think that perhaps he did learn it from some of these conspiracy theories online.

[12:20:02] KING: Well, in the initial moments and hours after the president's tweets on Saturday morning, again, his senior staff was caught completely off guard by this. They had no idea it was coming. You would think if a president was going to accuse his predecessor of a possible crime, he would tell the rest of the staff. But a lot of the staff, this is senior aides paid by the president of the United States, hired by the president of the United States, said they thought the information came from this, a Breitbart news story that was about a Mark Levine radio program in which Mark Levine said there's a deep state of intelligence community and otherwise in the federal bureaucracy conspiring against the president of the United States and Obama is now part of it. President Obama is now part of it. That's what he said.

Kellyanne Conway, counsel to the president, went on television today and said, no, she says the president has access to information that we don't get, which of course he does. That's back to the intelligence part of it.

A number of Republicans are seizing on this. General -- former Attorney General Mike Mukasey, who served in the George W. Bush administration, was on ABC this week and he did say that the believed there was a warrant. Now you just heard Jim Clapper saying there was not. Mike Mukasey says he believes there might have been during the investigation. So conservative outlets are saying former Bush AG says Trump is right. But what those conservative outlets are passing on is this part.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL MUKASEY, FORMER BUSH ATTORNEY GENERAL: It means there was some basis to believe that somebody in Trump Tower may have been acting as an agent of the Russians for whatever purpose, not necessarily the election, but for some -- some purpose.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's a Republican who spoke at the Trump convention saying that if there was a wiretap, it was because they had evidence of something pretty serious. So has the president opened a box here he may regret opening?

HENDERSON: Yes. I mean typically, you know, one of the theories about Donald Trump and his sort of Twitter tantrums is that he wants to throw people off the trail. And in this case he seems to have thrown people on a trail and opened up --

KING: Right.

HENDERSON: This Pandora's box of investigations and scrutiny into either his behavior or the behavior of folks around him.

It is also true that I think, you know, he has been a conspiracy theorist. He has this history, whether it was about birtherism, or it was about Ted Cruz's father supposedly being involved in the JFK assassination, and there is an appetite on the far right for this kind of stuff. I mean in the far right's imagination, Obama is this all- powerful sort of dictator sympathizer with terrorists. And so I think he senses that. So you have had some folks who come out and are going to give him some cover, but largely that has been absent on The Hill.

KING: And is he undermined in his own cause. We just saw the secretary of state, the attorney general, and the secretary of homeland security come out to unveil a key policy initiative and they didn't take questions. They walked off stage. They need to explain this to the American people. They need to explain this to the world. They need to explain it to Congress. It's controversial. But they wouldn't take questions because they know what the first question is going to be. They president of the United States signed this in secret in the Oval Office because they don't want him to be in a position -- again, he doesn't have to answer them -- of reporters shouting questions at him.

You mentioned the Sean Spicer statement, which is both clever and laughable at the same time, in the sense that we were asking them, please give us evidence of what the president is saying about the former president. And so they -- he tweeted and then put out a statement saying the reports concerning potentially politically motivated investigations immediately ahead of the 2016 election. Reports. So they linked this alleged Obama conspiracy, Nixonian kind of to, quote, reports, it's not responsible, this is the White House, neither the White House nor the president will comment further until such oversight is conducted. Essentially saying, well, Congress needs to look into Obama.

HENDERSON: Right.

KING: Well, number one, those investigations on Capitol Hill were already ongoing. Somebody here at the table tell me, if the Republican House Intelligence Committee, Republican-led, or the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee came across evidence of a Nixonian abuse of power by Democrat President Obama during their investigation, before Sean Spicer's statement that gave them an excuse not to comment any more, don't we think they would tell us?

RAJU: And we know that they haven't seen anything --

ZELENY: Yes.

RAJU: According to Susan Collins of Maine, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee and said explicitly yesterday, she has seen no evidence. And if the White House has the evidence, to provide it to the committee. So they're waiting for that evidence. And we know the House Intelligence Committee, they are saying that they will look into this now. New -- chairman Devin Nunes suggesting that they will, but a lot of people, like Adam Schiff, who's the top Democrat on that committee, think that they're not going to find anything.

TUMULTY: But I --

KING: And so he puts Republicans again in a very tenuous position. I -- you know, it's Republicans like Marco Rubio, went down with the president to Florida the other day, was at his education event with him, sent out a great, supportive tweet after the education event, but he's on the Sunday shows yesterday being asked, what does the president mean here, and --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: So, obviously, I have no -- I'm not sure what it is he is talking about. Perhaps the president has information that is not yet available to us or to the public. And if it's true, obviously we're going to find out very quickly. And if it isn't, then obviously he'll have to explain what he meant by it. So I don't -- I'm not sure what the genesis of that statement was, but -- well I imagine we're going to learn more about it here over the next few days one way or the other.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I imagine.

TUMULTY: Right. Look -- look, I think a key part of this puzzle, something that this has to be put in context against, was the president's frame of mind over the weekend. And my colleagues, Bob Costa and Phil Rucker (ph) and Ashley Parker (ph) did some amazing reporting about what it was like in Mar-a-Lago and in the -- in the Oval Office on Friday. The president goes into the weekend absolutely livid that he believes Jeff Sessions should not have recused himself, that there has not been a strong enough defense of him, that they should be pushing back. And so, you know, against that we have these four really incendiary tweets. I think that ultimately, if it turns out there is no evidence of wiretapping, that is going to be our explanation as to why all this happened.

[12:25:47] KING: You should work in television, that's the art -- the art of the segue.

Up next, the president of the United States is described by friends and aides, as Karen just noted, as angry, frustrated, and convinced, the president believes, there's a coordinated campaign to undermine him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:30:11] KING: Welcome back.

An angry Oval Office session Friday. More anger and lashing out Saturday.