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INSIDE POLITICS

Request for Flynn Documents; Classified Flynn Documents; Trump Back off wall Funding; Trump's Tax Plan. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 25, 2017 - 12:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:00:10] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thanks for sharing your day with us.

Big news in the Russian election meddling investigation. The former Trump national security adviser, Michael Flynn, is said to have omitted key information about Russia ties from the forms he used to get his security clearance. And Congress wants answers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JASON CHAFFETZ (R-UT), CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: As a former military officer, you simply cannot take money from Russia, Turkey or anybody else. And it appears as if he did take that money. It was inappropriate. And there are repercussions for the violation of law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Plus, still not a done deal, but the odds of a spending plan to keep the government open are better after a giant White House retreat. Money for the president's border wall, no longer a must.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Hopefully we can find a way to increase border security. You know, I'm for a wall where it makes sense, but a 2,200 mile wall doesn't make a whole lot of sense. There's not a big appetite for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And Ivanka Trump booed and hissed on the world stage. At a woman's empowerment forum in Germany, the first daughter is asked about the reprehensible things her father has said about women.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IVANKA TRUMP, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S DAUGHTER: I've certainly heard the criticism from the media and that's been perpetuated. But I know from personal experience, and I think the thousands of women who have worked with and for my father for decades when he was in the private sector are a testament to his belief and solid conviction in the potential of women and their ability to do the job as well as any man. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Interesting event to say the least.

With us to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Maeve Reston, Abby Phillip of "The Washington Post," Matt Viser of "The Boston Globe," and Jackie Kucinich of "The Daily Beast."

The latest on the government spending negotiations in just a moment, including the president's frustrated tweet about his border wall.

But first up, major developments in the Russia election meddling drama that has been a constant cloud over the new administration. Two congressional committees are already investigating and today a third raised its hand. The chairman and the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are demanding answers from former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and they are raising the possibility that General Flynn broke the law by failing to disclose required information. Chairman Jason Chaffetz, ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings, say they reviewed the files and say it is clear to them General Flynn omitted key information about Russia ties and financial arrangements from the documents he's required to file to get a security clearance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHAFFETZ: Personally I see no information or no data to support the notion that General Flynn complied with the law, and that is, he was supposed to seek permission and receive permission from both the secretary of state and the secretary of the Army prior to traveling to Russia to not only accept that payment, but to engage in that activity. I see no evidence that he actually did that.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), RANKING MEMBER, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: He was supposed to get permission and he was supposed to report it, and he didn't. I mean we -- there's no evidence of it (ph).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: There's also new evidence the Trump White House is ready to play hard ball with the investigation. Chaffetz and Cummings asked for documents that would help shed light on how much, if anything, the Trump campaign, the Trump transition and now the Trump administration knew about Flynn's foreign contacts and payments. But in a letter to the committee, the White House said it wasn't in a position to help with anything before Inauguration Day and said any documents covering Flynn's time at the White House, quote, "are likely to contain classified, sensitive and/or confidential information."

Let's go quickly to CNN's Manu Raju, live on Capitol Hill with more.

Manu, a big deal. They didn't say he broke the law, but they came real close.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Yes, they said there's actually no evidence to say that he actually complied with the law. They said that they can't actually make the determination. They believe that's a determination that should be made by other bodies, including the Army and potentially even the Department of Justice and whether or not it wants to move forward and pursuing any charges. Cummings even saying that Mr. Flynn's decision to not disclose some key information on his security clearance could be a felony, even subject to up to five years in prison. So we'll see how far they decide to go.

Now, that committee is probably not going to call general -- Lieutenant General Michael Flynn to come testify before them. Instead, hoping to actually let the Senate -- or the House Intelligence Committee bring him forward as part of any sort of agreement that Michael Flynn is seeking. Right now, Michael Flynn, of course, wants some immunity as part of his testimony. It's unclear whether or not he will get any of that.

Now, John, this comes as other bodies within Congress are broadening out their own Russia investigation, including the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee which announced today that it plans to have a hearing on May 8th. They will actually hear testimony from Sally Yates and James Clapper, two former senior Obama officials, national security officials, to discuss a number of issues.

[12:05:05] I just spoke to Lindsey Graham, who's the chairman of that Senate Judiciary Subcommittee, and he tells me that he wants to learn about this FISA warrant, this secret warrant that apparently the FBI obtained to listen to the Trump adviser Carter Page during the presidential election. Also want to hear from Sally Yates about what she apparently privately said that Michael Flynn could have been susceptible to Russian blackmail if he continued as part of that position of national security adviser before he was dismissed in February.

So this investigation on Capitol Hill broadening to a variety of other committees besides the House and Senate Intelligence Committee. We've seen the House Oversight Committee get involved today on the Michael Flynn matter, as well as now the Senate Judiciary Committee, hoping to hear more information about those Russia campaign -- Russia ties to any Trump associates.

John.

KING: Manu Raju for us live on Capitol Hill. This was a cloud in the first 100 days over this administration and it appears it will continue at least through the second 100 days.

Let's just first get at the idea that, you know, you have the -- you see bipartisanship, number one. The Republican chairman and the ranking Democrat on a committee where they've had testiness in the past on some things, coming out and saying, we looked at the files, we looked at the information, and we were briefed, in their view, General Flynn did not disclose requirements that he thinks -- he was supposed to get permission for that trip. He's supposed to disclose the trip. He's supposed to disclose that he was paid by Russian television, which is, of course, a Kremlin propaganda outlet for the fact and he did not do that. The question is, did he not do that because he understood questions about Trump administration Russia ties were going to be an issue and he -- was he trying to hide it or was it an oversight by him or an assistant filling out pretty important paperwork? That's the question they need the answer to.

MATT VISER, "THE BOSTON GLOBE": And I think that's sort of the key in whether this broadens. And, I mean, Mike Flynn was within the Trump administration for a short period of time. So there's one issue of him and what he did, but the way that this broadens significantly is if it involves Trump and the Trump administration itself, what is Mike Flynn offing in exchange for immunity? What kind of things does he have? And was the White House hiding by not disclosing some of that information that Congress wants?

JACKIE KUCINICH, "THE DAILY BEAST": Which is one of the reason Sally Yates' testimony is going to be a main event. We've been waiting for it. It was blocked initially. And the fact that she's going to be testifying in public and what she has to say about this I think will really tell us a lot.

KING: And perhaps twice. Perhaps twice.

KUCINICH: Yes.

KING: Lindsey Graham's Senate Judiciary Subcommittee.

KUCINICH: Right.

KING: And then they have an agreement, they don't have a date yet, but the -- you mentioned on the House side it was blocked when Devin Nunes was the chairman.

KUCINICH: Yes.

KING: He has now stepped aside and the new chairman has said he's welcome -- he's been open to her coming back. They're working on the date, sometime in early May.

MAEVE RESTON, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: But that's what is so remarkable about this issue is, I mean it's basically been like an octopus for the Trump administration this entire time. It's -- you know, there's like a -- it seems like there's a new thread every couple of weeks that gets in the way of, you know, them trying to get out the message that they want to get out this week. This week, 100 days, you know, that's a little controversial, but -- but, I mean, it's just amazing that they haven't found a way to, you know, sort of contain it so that they could move on to what they -- the pieces of their agenda that they want to talk about.

ABBY PHILLIP, "THE WASHINGTON POST": There's also an underlying problem here of the Trump circle being very careless with things that are very important, including disclosures --

KING: Right.

PHILLIP: And not just, you know, the sort of propriety of it, but the legality of it. And this dates all the way back to the beginning of the campaign. Even while, you know, Michael Flynn was only a part of the administration for a short period of time, he was in the Trump inner circle for much, much longer and there was very little attention to detail and attention to the importance of him disclosing his ties, even while there were people raising questions about Michael Flynn's posture toward Russia, raising questions about that -- this very speech that he's now -- that is now clear that he didn't disclose. There was no one in the Trump inner circle saying, hey, let's just make sure that we are crossing all of our t's and dotting our i's, and that kind of carelessness could have potential criminal repercussions for them now.

KING: Right, and --

RESTON: And that has to do with the fact that, you know, that Trump had such a skeletal staff for so long.

PHILLIP: Yes.

RESTON: I mean, you know, some campaigns get made fun of for, you know, being too top heavy, having too many lawyers, et cetera. But this is exactly why you need lawyers, to do that kind of vetting and pay attention to those things. I think it also gets to the fact that some of the people around Trump are afraid to kind of stand up to him and say, hey, we need to look closer at this guy who you really like talking to.

KING: Right. And in this case, you know, you're right, the staffing and the lawyers and the vetting was subpar to say the least. But this is a general. This is a man who ran the Defense Intelligence Agency. This is a man who's supposed to know the sensitivities of his work as in the government and when he leaves the government because of those stars he has on his shoulder. And he's the one who admitted it. So he's responsible for this. He's obviously aware now of the tough words from Capitol Hill. Here's a new statement from his lawyer, Robert Kelner. Quote, "as has previously been reported, General Flynn briefed the Defense Intelligence Agency," a component agency of DOD, "extensively regarding the RT speaking event trip both before And after the trip and he answered any questions that were posed by

DIA," that's the Defense Intelligence Agency, "concerning the trip during those briefings." So they're saying he at least covered part of it. He's supposed to get permission. That statement leads you to believe -- and, again, sometimes we get caught up in the nuance here, leads you to believe that General Flynn's position is, I got the permission. Maybe he didn't put it on the forms. Maybe he left it off the forms. We'll see how this goes.

[12:10:28] The other issue here is the administration. This letter sent back by the administration essentially says, Trump campaign records, not our business. Trump transition records, not our business. What Michael Flynn did as a private citizen, not our business. Anything he did in the few weeks he worked at the White House, sorry, he was national security adviser, that's sensitive, that's classified. Listen to Elijah Cummings here, the ranking Democrat. He said these things happen sometimes and he said it's possible he worked this out, but he also seemed to get the impression this was going to be hard.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CUMMINGS: The White House has refused to provide this committee with a single piece of paper in response to our bipartisan request and that's simply unacceptable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, on the one hand, it is -- it sounds unfair to say we want Trump transition records of the Trump White House, Trump campaign records of the Trump White House. This letter back, though, doesn't say contact this person. That's not -- you know, contact this person or contact that person. It says, we don't have them, too bad.

PHILLIP: Well, it's not entirely unusual for a White House to basically invoke a sort of executive privilege type of situation in a circumstance like this.

RESTON: Right.

PHILLIP: But, on the other hand, there are a lot of people around this White House who are really encouraging them to clear the air. Put something out there so that it doesn't look suspicious or look like you're hiding things. They are clearly not going down that path. It's very interesting what that strategy is going to yield and whether it's going to force Congress to be much more aggressive about trying to obtain some of this documentation.

VISER: That's also where I think Flynn's attempts at immunity could come into play here. Where the White House is not offing up much documentation, but to the extent that Flynn feels threatened, you know, under the legalities and whether or not this is prosecuted, you know, it might not be the type of case that gets prosecuted, but to the extent that he feels like he needs to clear the air himself, then I think he offers up something and becomes a cooperating witness perhaps to something that's bigger. And will this take us to another part of the octopus.

KING: A giant question as we go into the second 100 days. And part of it, we're mentioning the congressional investigations. There are criminal investigations by the FBI. And so part of General Flynn -- I'm not saying he's a target in any way, but he's somebody they want to talk to in those investigations. So part of his complication is cutting a deal with Congress. You also have the complications for everybody involved in this on the FBI investigation side of it. We'll see where it goes.

Up next, the White House wanted a big trophy week as it nears the 100 day mark. The frustration in the president's tweets, give them a read, tells you it isn't working out that way.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:17:16] KING: Welcome back.

The Trump White House just days ago cast this week as an action-packed sprint to the 100 day mark, but it has, instead, become a week of White House surrender and it's only Tuesday. Dropped, the White House insistence that any spending deal to keep the government open past the Friday deadline include a big down payment on the president's border wall.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR: Building that wall and having it funded remains an important priority to him, but we also know that that can happen later this year and into next year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That giant retreat on wall funding came after the White House caved on its request for a House Obamacare repeal vote before the 100 day mark. The upside of that, by backing off there's now an easier path to another White House goal, avoiding a government shutdown. And is that worth it is the question.

KUCINICH: Yes.

KING: Is it worth the president to have a no-drama week or a less drama week where you keep the government open and you don't have a shutdown on day 99, Friday night, going into day 100, or does it show that if you're a Republican on the fence about this president, or if you're a Democrat who wants to fight this president at every stop, that the Republican leadership wouldn't give him his vote on health care. They told him they would fail -- probably fail if they tried, but wouldn't put its shoulder down and try to get more border wall funding past the Democrats. Yes, the Democrats are objecting. Yes, you need Democratic votes. But is it a sign of strength that the president's backing off to keep the government open or is it a sign of weakness that he can't get his priorities?

RESTON: I mean I don't -- it becomes a reality (INAUDIBLE).

KUCINICH: I mean he -- he basically asked for a unicorn to take him to the moon. That was -- and these things were not going to happen this week.

KING: That doesn't happen?

KUCINICH: No. We can -- we can all dream, John.

PHILLIP: And it's not just -- it's not just Democrats. A lot of Republicans do not want to fund this wall.

KUCINICH: Exactly.

KING: Right.

PHILLIP: It's expensive. They don't believe that it works. None of the congressmen who represent border districts believe that it's something that they even want in their district. So what is the constituency for this wall? It's really hard to know. It's a promise, but it's also not one that, you know, if you're going to need Republicans and maybe a few Democrats to get you over the finish line here, it's just not going to happen on its own (ph).

RESTON: Well, you also just don't toss a grenade in at the last minute when you're facing a government shutdown.

KING: Right. Yes.

RESTON: I mean not just to have --

KING: But so then why did they do it though is the question. That's --

RESTON: Because, I mean --

KING: Thursday and Friday of last week, we want the health care vote. We will -- we demand wall funding.

RESTON: I think it's because, you know, Trump is the kind of guy that looks around at his staff and says, go get it done. And, you know, he is frustrated by what happened, the coverage of the health care bill. He wants more achievements. He probably sees that the coverage, obviously, is not going particularly well for him in terms of what he's accomplished in 100 days. And, you know, he is still sort of understanding, to Jackie's point, the realities of Washington and how difficult these things are.

VISER: And he was willing to risk sort of utter humiliation with the health care vote. I mean he kept pushing for that vote to happen and eventually backed down.

[12:20:05] KING: And he wanted names (ph).

RESTON: Right.

VISER: This time he backed down a little bit sooner, you know, but he seemed like he was willing to risk utter humiliation again to -- having a government shutdown on the 100th day in office.

KING: But --

KUCINICH: But I think to his --

KING: Go ahead.

KUCINICH: But I think to his people, it shows that he tried. This health care bill that they were talking about putting through this week, nothing had changed. They wanted to talk about it in order to show that they were doing something.

KING: Right.

KUCINICH And that they weren't letting it go. And I think it may have been the similar thing with the wall, as a signal to the people that support the president the most that, you know, we're trying, but, man, that swamp, it's hard to get through.

KING: Well, that's the key point in the sense that if you look at the polling as we approach the 100 day mark, most of it's not so great for the president. But his supporters, still 94, 96 percent, say they'd vote for him again if the election was tomorrow. He's kept his base. The question -- and they dislike the Republican House leadership. They dislike the Republican leadership rite large, other than, you know, President Donald Trump.

The question is, though, at what point does it affect him? Because go back to the campaign. I can get things done. I'm the guy who can bring the politicians, whether it's together as bipartisan or get the Republican Party out of its dysfunction. Here's his tweet about the wall today, "don't let the fake media tell you I've changed my position on the wall. It will get built and help stop drugs, human trafficking, et cetera." I'm not -- nobody in the media that I know of is saying the president has dropped his support of the wall, but his budget director and others in the White House were on the record saying the other day it needs to be part of this bill. The down payment needs to be part of this bill. They have backed away from that.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean I think the trickiest thing with Trump is that on some level he's right, that he believes that he won't get blamed if something bad like a shutdown happens this week. And he might actually be right about that. His -- not just his supporters, but a lot of sort of people in the middle are kind of giving him a little bit of the benefit of the doubt. They're much more likely to blame folks like Paul Ryan and Congress on a whole.

But the problem for Trump will be that if Congress falls so far into a ditch that they don't feel like risking anything to get his agenda done, it makes it very hard for him to actually have accomplishments. At the end of the day, he will be judged by whether he has actually done something, brought back jobs, you know, repealed and replaced Obamacare, what have you. He may be getting a little bit of a longer leash, but it's not going to be forever. And the worse that Congress fares, the harder it will be for him to get them on board and -- so that they can move forward.

KING: And --

RESTON: And that's why there are some people, you know, in the White House who are advising him, who are saying, let's look for some more, you know, some smaller, bite-size goals.

RESTON: Yes.

KING: Right.

RESTON: Some things that we can do. You know, a package on tax reform that actually can get through Congress.

KING: Right.

RESTON: You know, I mean he's now proposing something that might be completely impossible.

KING: Well, to that point, he's going to propose tomorrow an outline. He's not going to give us a detailed plan, which will raise its own set of questions, but he's going to give us an outline tomorrow for a tax reform plan that calls for a 15 percent corporate tax, which that's something Speaker Paul Ryan wanted to. They ran the math and they said, no, we're not going to blow a hole in the deficit, we're going to go for 20 percent. So now he's again -- he can lay this down -- maybe he's going to lay it down and say I compromised (INAUDIBLE). But now he's laying down again something that will divide -- never mind the Democrats -- will divide the Republicans because most of the Republicans in Congress won't pass a plan that adds to the deficit.

Listen to the Treasury secretary saying all will be fine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: The tax plan will pay for itself with economic growth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it will. There has been a Trump rally. Maybe it will. But when they score these things, the rules don't allow guessing, projecting. The rules say that if you do a 15 percent corporate tax plan and the administration is so far against the border -- the adjustment tax the speaker wants, then you blow a hole in the federal deficit dead on arrival.

PHILLIP: I mean, to be clear, what he was saying was, we don't expect to pay for this tax cut.

KING: Right.

PHILLIP: Which is, on some level, a certain level of honesty. And it reflects the fact that this is a president who does not care very much about these sort of ideological issues about the, you know, about the fiscal health of the -- of the federal government, whether the deficit is large or small. He doesn't really care about that as much as he cares about bringing down the corporate tax code, giving tax cuts to middle class folks. So it's not -- I mean I think it's just this White House is starting from a negotiating position, as Trump always wants to do, that is pretty far away from where they believe they will end up in the center and they think that they are going to move their way in. They are not necessarily wrong about that. But I -- but I think this just reflects a negotiating position.

VISER: But, again, it's them not learning how Washington works. They want to do this through reconciliation in the Senate and they need to pass a tax reform package that way and they can't do that if it's increasing the deficit.

KING: Right.

VISER: It needs to be deficit neutral. So I think the Trump White House, you know, they can call for things, but to actually do something, they need to figure out how Washington works.

KING: Right. Well, in some ways, that's the outsider candidate now, the president, being trapped by the inside rules here in Washington and he hasn't found a way to break out of them. We'll see.

Up next, team Trump says its first 100 days are full of historic accomplishments. A look back at the president's campaign promises, though, leaves a very different impression.

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[12:28:58] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On November 8th, Americans will be voting for this 100-day plan to restore prosperity to our country.

Just think about what we can accomplish in the first 100 days of a Trump administration. Just think about what we can accomplish in the first 100 days.

There are those that say I've done more than anybody in 100 days.

I don't think that there is a presidential period of time in the first 100 days where anyone's done nearly what we've been able to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: As you can hear there, candidate Trump was upbeat about his first 100 days. President Trump believes it's been 100 days of action and accomplishments.

Let's take a look by the numbers. If you look here, the number of laws passed, 28 for President Trump. That's certainly in excess of the three presidents who came before him. The question is, what do these laws do? Yes, a lot of House Republican proposals to roll back Obama administration laid initiatives that were cleared by the Senate and signed by the president. The big issue here, not one signature Trump campaign promise among these laws. But, yes, he has signed 28 laws.

[12:30:04] The White House point to this, 25 executive orders signed by the president. He's been very busy doing that. More today. That's a number bigger than President Obama, George W. Bush or Bill Clinton.