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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Rips Attorney General Fuels Talk Of Replacement; CNN Sources: Sessions Turmoil Impacting GOP Health Care Support; Scaramucci: A.G. Should Be "Hockey Goalie" For President; Breitbart: Firing Sessions Would Be "Devastating Blow" To Base; Kushner, Manafort On Capitol Hill For Russia Investigation; Kushner: I Did Not Collude With Russia; McCain To Return For Pivotal Health Care Vote; McConnell Heralds McCain's Return After Surgery. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 25, 2017 - 12:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:31:30] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: More now on that important Washington drama. You just heard the Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer talking about on the Senate floor.

Today, the president calls him, quote, very weak. Yesterday it was, quote, beleaguered.

Now it's no secret that for weeks President Trump is mad at Attorney General Jeff sessions. But now it's no secret the attacks and the humiliation of a cabinet member once considered the ultimate Trump loyalist are meant to send a message.

The president is actively raising names of potential replacements. And the new White House communications chief says maybe the attorney general should get the hint.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

HUGH HEWITT, THE HUGH HEWITT SHOW HOST: It's clear the president wants him gone, isn't it?

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: I have an enormous amount of respect for the attorney general, but i do know the president pretty well, and if there's this level of tension in the relationship that's public, you're probably right. But I don't want to speak for the president on that.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KING: He doesn't want to speak for the president on that.

CNN Senior White House Correspondent Jeff Zeleny here with us. But he is speaking for the president on that. This is remarkable. There's no -- as I said, Jeff, there's been no secret for some time, there's tension between the president and his attorney general. But the public criticism repeated in the last week to 10 days, and the public humiliation of the attorney general.

The president wants him to quit. He's not -- doesn't appear he's going to. Then what?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, that is a great question. And I think the new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci will realize now the difference between working for the president versus being a con hitter on television. He is indeed speaking for the president.

But a different moment in this. We've seen Donald Trump, President Trump, pick fights with so many people over his presidential campaign and during his time here in office, John. Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, he's liked by the base. He has a major conservative following.

If you look at the story up right now on breitbart.com, of course, the leading bible on the right here, it is siding with Jeff Sessions on this not President Trump. Largely because of what the attorney general brings to the immigration agenda.

So this is a fight the president is picking with his attorney general over the, via decision to recuse himself in the Russia investigation. But conservatives on Capitol Hill elsewhere will see this differently and in fact are coming to the attorney general's aid here.

So, John, what is about to happen in the next several hours is anyone's guess. There's no play book for this specifically. But we know the president will be asked about this specifically at 3:00 this afternoon when he has that brief press conference in the Rose Garden, and he -- I'm told by one adviser, in fact, they're not sure what he's going to say.

If he is going to call for the firing, probably not. If he was going to do that he would have done it by now. But John, this is a different moment for this president because again, he's picking a fight with someone his base actually likes.

This is not a traditional sort of bully that the president is picking on here. It's different. So we'll see what the attorney general is going to say right now.

But, John, it's also leaking into the health care vote as well here. Republican senators see Jeff Sessions as one of their own. John.

KING: Jeff Zeleny at the White House. Keep us posted Jeff as this ever-changing story develops.

To Jeff's last point, CNN's Dana Bash sending a note. Just a short time ago, she spoke with a two senior Republican senators in the last hour who told her the president's treatment of Sessions could be complicating his effort on health care. Their argument essentially, he's their former colleague but also so loyal to Trump, so out there early on Trump's side. If he treats him this way, doesn't have his back, publicly humiliate him, why should they take a risky vote for the president expecting he's going to protect them politically down the road? They won't bet on that.

[12:35:05] I started this conversation on Sunday on the program and I've been reporting on it since that this has caused a chill across the Trump cabinet that other cabinet secretaries to the same point. Jeff Sessions was the first, Jeff Sessions and the president were like this.

If he will so publicly -- not just humiliate him and attack him, throw him under the bus repeatedly, what about them? What about them?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes. And you heard what he sort of jokingly said about Tom Price at that Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia. He basically said, you know, if you can't get the votes on health care then you'll be fired.

Ordinarily, a president wouldn't say that, but even if they did, if it was a different president it would be a joke. But given Donald Trump's kind of the record here of turning on people and being disloyal. And not only that, it's not Tom Price's job to put votes on health care. (INAUDIBLE) also goes to show who Donald Trump is prepared to blame if this thing goes down. Certainly not himself, but everybody around him in the Republican Party.

JACKIE KUCINICH, THE DAILY BEAST: But there should be no surprise to anyone in the Senate. Look what he did to the House? He's celebrating with them about health care. We've talked about this before.

An then, the next week, said that the bill was mean. So, I mean, if senators are shocked by this, they're not paying attention. Because he's already done this.

KING: And so what I try to do especially on this subject, it's an excellent point. This is -- to get to the broader Trump management style, the broader Trump demands loyalty of others, doesn't show much to them in return. Seems transactional when it comes to policy.

The health care bill is great when (INAUDIBLE) a Rose Garden ceremony. Then somebody briefs me on it and it's mean and I don't like it. But I want to carve out a special space for the attorney general because again, this is not a fight with your energy secretary. Sorry Secretary Perry, I'm not saying he has one. But it's not a fight with anybody at a department head over policy or over style.

This is a fight with the attorney general of the United States. When the president -- I mean, read your constitution at home, folks. When the president attacks the attorney general, and also this morning also tweeted out attacking the acting FBI director, who is providing the resources to the special counsel investigation. I don't care whether you're a Democrat, you're Republican, whether you're an Independent, I mean, just study the basics of the constitution. That's way across the line.

MICHAEL WARREN, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: Yes, I think the practical implications as well as things the president hasn't thought about. And we've just been talking about all the political implications of this. But -- I mean, you do have a situation where, OK, if Jeff Sessions resigns or the president does, you know, end up deciding to fire him, we talked about earlier, what happens then? What candidate, what nominee would get through the Senate? Would there be any expectations that that nominee sort of shut down the Mueller investigation?

I mean, you open up this whole sort of can of worms out of this. I don't know -- let's all remember where this all started.

This all started last week in that New York Times interview that the president decided, I want to get this out there, that Jeff Sessions is making me mad about this. And it seems that every step of the way since he's been simply building on the anger and the chaos that's ensued.

KING: Very unfair to the president twice (INAUDIBLE).

(CROSSTALK)

KING: If I know he was going to recuse himself I wouldn't have given him the job. Again, the attorney general is supposed to uphold the law of the land of the constitution, not to defend the president.

But to that point, the president had a staff shakeup, he brought in the new communications director, whom you just heard him (INAUDIBLE) essentially saying, Mr. Attorney General listen to what the president is trying to tell you. He wants you to quit.

I mean, there's no other way to translate that. Jeff Sessions, I'm told there are some people inside the White House by the way reaching out to Jeff Sessions saying things are quick. And others -- so -- you have -- this is what you had. This is Trump on the (INAUDIBLE) but listening to Anthony Scaramucci here more on the Hugh Hewitt Show talking about, and this is where it gets strange, what is the job of the attorney general?

Different from any other cabinet secretary. This is the chief law enforcement officer for the United States. Anthony Scaramucci here says the president seems to think a little differently.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SCARAMUCCI: You and I might be at odds with Eric Holder politically, but one of the things I would give him a lot of credit for is that he was a pretty good hockey goalie for the president. But I think when you think about the relationship John F. Kennedy had with his brother, as attorney general or you think about that relationship that the president had with Eric Holder -- President Obama, they probably don't have that sort of relationship. And I think the president, when he thinks about the architecture of his cabinet, I think he needs that sort of relationship there.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KING: Now, Eric Holder or Bobby Kennedy, long gone, would dispute the characterization that they twisted the law to protect the president or that they ignored the law to protect the president. We can have that debate another day. I'm not trying to turn this, you know, now we're going to give the Twitter a break (INAUDIBLE) defending Obama. I'm not defending Obama (INAUDIBLE) I'm saying they will have a different characterization of that. But the idea that the White House communications director thinks the president thinks the attorney general's job is to play hockey goalie to protect him.

If the president has nothing to worry about, if this is a hoax, then why is he worried? Why? Why? Why doesn't he give Bob Mueller -- ask him to trickle his staff and get this the hell over with, if he has nothing to hide?

MARGARET TALEV, BLOOMBERG NEWS: There are two camps inside the White House that want the president to keep Attorney General Sessions there and there's some overlap between them. But there is a one camp that thinks that Attorney General Sessions is going after the right stuff whether it's immigration or drugs or whatever.

[12:40:01] That he is, you know, ideological conservative and that ideologically wants the same policies that they do. There's the other camp and again, quite a bit of overlap that just thinks that the president inadvertently may be putting himself in more legal jeopardy, or making himself more vulnerable. And as a result, all of them were vulnerable like kind of playing with fire and that's -- it's a very difficult line to walk up to.

If General Sessions decided on his own that it's time to go that'll be one thing. To actually take a proactive stuff of pushing him out as an entirely different thing.

WARREN: You know, and I will say this -- I mean, to your point. This was a big criticism that conservatives had of the Obama Justice Department that it was too political. And are we hearing the same message from conservatives now? I don't think -- the message is so shifted.

Anyway, I think Jeff Sessions really acted in the president's best interests to recuse himself. But the president doesn't see it that way.

KING: To that point though, it is interesting. Often when the president is in a controversy, his base and his piece of the media, his slice of the media cheers. The mainstream media is mad about this (INAUDIBLE) even when the Republican leadership gets (INAUDIBLE). They love that because the Trump base loves poking Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan.

But on this one, listen to this on Breitbart. "What can be certain is that Sessions' ouster would be a devastating blow to the prestige and prominence of the nationalist-populist underpinnings of the wider Trump movement. Not only was Sessions the first sitting U.S. senator to endorse Trump for president, he and his staff establishing were instrumental in formulating the ideological framework that would become "Trumpism."

HENDERSON: Yes, and you would have Lindsey Graham essentially agreeing with that. He came out with a statement saying this is highly inappropriate. The president trashing Sessions and that would be a shift in terms of where you see --

KING: The one thing that president hasn't able to do is keep his base. And there's a lot of criticism of the president not reaching out to independents, not reaching up to Democrats. The president to his credit has kept his base. There's a little crack there.

KUCINICH: Let's not forget who inside the White House right now view Jeff Sessions as a mentor. Stephen Miller, Steve Bannon, Rick Dearborn also worked for Jeff Sessions in the Senate. These are some of the president's closest advisers and they are all from the Sessions wing of the party and some of them have worked with him for years and years and years and all of their political years. So they're not going to -- while they've been laying low --

TALEV: They're not the ones encouraging this.

KUCINICH: They're not the ones encouraging this.

KING: Then at the cabinet level, a lot of former CEOs and generals in the Trump cabinet, a lot of governors in there. When you talk to them, and people who speak to them, dismay and disgust. It's a tough words about how this is being handled.

Everybody, sit tight. We'll continue on this story and as we talk about the president's frustration with the Russia investigation at his attorney general, guess what? His son-in-law and his former campaign chairman on Capitol Hill today facing questions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:46:32] KING: There are important witnesses on Capitol Hill today. The president's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort met with investigators on the House side today. House Intelligence Committee staff members questioning Paul Manafort in private. He emerged from that meeting to find out the Senate Judiciary Committee have issued a subpoena.

He was unable to work out a deal with them to testify in private so he now has a subpoena to show up and testify publicly tomorrow. See how that plays out.

Also on Capitol Hill for a second consecutive day, the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner. He is meeting today with the House Intelligence Committee which is investigating Russia election meddling. Yesterday, he was on the Senate side for a question and answer session and interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee staff members.

He emerged from that session to deliver a very rare public statement. In which Jared Kushner, stood outside the White House and said, I'd answer their questions and I did nothing wrong.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: I did not collude with Russia nor do I know of anyone else in the campaign who did so. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses. And I have been fully transparent in providing all requested information.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Four short sentences but a lot to unpack just if you look at those four sentences. He said that he did not collude with anyone nor know of anyone who did. That's a pretty definitive sentence. We'll see if the committee is having anything to the contrary to that.

He publicly stood out, we haven't heard from him. I had no improper contacts. There were unusual. Improper? That's -- you know, we'll see how that goes on.

This I find interesting, I have not relied on Russian funds for my businesses. He did not say never had Russian funds for my businesses. I have some funding from Russians sources but I have not relied. I have been fully transparent of late, perhaps.

But the fact that we're finding out all of this six months into the Trump administration, especially if they did nothing wrong is one the disservice that have been done to the president by his staff refusing to disclose all this earlier.

TALEV: And yet having said that, I think his approach yesterday was really savvy and smart and about as well played as it could have been given all the facts --

HENDERSON: All good lawyers.

TALEV: I mean, the idea -- taking a lesson from the Jim Comey play book, having a prepared statement that you get out ahead of the actual meeting particularly if one of the meetings is behind closed doors with staff is really important because it gives you some opportunity to set the narrative at least for some temporary period of time. And to try to get some of the questions and the thinking around the points that you've raised, not the points that you've not raised, minimized.

But having said that, there's only so much that could be done with yesterday and with today on the Hill. And as has been the case throughout, there are the congressional probes and then there's Bob Mueller's probe and questions like what does the word rely mean and what the legal meaning to that

Those are all questions that if you have the ability to get e-mails for the record, you know, bank records, all sorts of stuff. But the best that he can do now in terms of out-facing in public roles is to say I'm here, I want to answer any questions, I'm willing to talk and that's exactly what he did.

WARREN: And I think the framing of it even late not speaking in the heart of Senate office building where it's just (INAUDIBLE) former White House. With the White House in the background was a very good sort of public relations. (INAUDIBLE) good lawyers and good P.R. guys.

And I think that this is -- the White House and certainly the folks around Jared are feeling very positive about the way yesterday's gone. Like, he's speaking again to the House today. Look how transparent he's being.

He once to be transparent, but in every step of this investigation, either publicly or what we've learned from the congressional investigations, what we're slowly learning from the Mueller investigation is that, there always seems to be a little more to the story. And I agree to Margaret that that's all of the parsing of this legalese and words, that probably we're going to learn more

[12:50:12] And if not over -- and that's something the administration I think has not groped.

HENDERSON: And the person I think really gave him distance but it really didn't exculpate other people, right? He essentially said he had no idea about this meeting, he went into it, he didn't even know who the people were, he wanted to get out of there.

But what that leaves behind with Don Jr., apparently who set up the meeting, and Paul Manafort who of course was there. So you're still leaving a lot of questions about other actors and players back in that June meeting.

KING: And perhaps tomorrow we'll see public testimony from Manafort that have subpoenaed today. Often times the more it's push back, we'll keep you posted on that one.

When we come back, a human drama in the middle of a giant political drama. Senator John McCain days after being diagnosed with brain cancer returns to Washington as his party faces a pivotal vote on health care.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Both human and political drama playing out on Washington this afternoon. Senator John McCain do back on Capitol Hill from Arizona, barely a week and a half after undergoing surgery that revealed a cancerous brain tumor.

They'll be casting their vote on an important Republican effort to proceed with the debate on an ObamaCare repeal proposal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), MAJORITY LEADER: I'd like to start this morning with a few words about our friend and colleague from Arizona, Senator McCain, who will have an opportunity to be welcomed back today. As I noted last week, we all know Senator McCain is a fighter. That's evidenced by his remarkable life of public service, just as it is again evidenced by his quick return to the Senate this afternoon. I know he's eager to get back to work, and we're all very pleased to have him back with us today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Our Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with us. Sanjay, are there risks for Senator McCain doing this?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I spoke to his doctor with Senator McCain's permission. What they recommended was that he take a couple of weeks before he fly. So that would be this Friday instead of today. It would be two weeks.

You know, there's not an exact rule here. I will tell you that he had a really quick recovery. You know, he was -- he had his operation on July 14th and was home the next day. And that sort of, really, gives a sense it won't be as risky certainly to fly.

The biggest concern, just so you know, is when -- and this is true of any operation. Is that you can develop little pockets of air after an operation, and with lower pressure, that air will expand. Can happen in a joint -- after a joint surgery for example. Can happen in the brain.

But the doctors are not that concern. They don't think there's significant amounts of air. So my guess is -- this is how the conversation went, john. We don't necessarily recommend this but we're not going to get in your way either.

KING: Let me ask you a question. Maybe it's outside of your bounds, you're a neurosurgeon. But what about the psychology here?

[12:55:00] We know Senator McCain wants to be in the arena. We know somebody who was diagnose as he has. That's not a great diagnosis, you're not looking three, five years down the road, you're looking at the here and now. How much does that play into it.

GUPTA: Well, I think -- it seems like almost since he was diagnosed, or since he had his operation, he was talking about getting back to work. Some people are just -- are going to thrive more on that, there's no question. And that's part of the reason doctors are going to be a little looser with the guidelines or recommendations. They know how important this is to him and how much he can actually be a part of him healing certainly psychologically.

So, I think it does play a role here. It's amazing. But again, there's not hard and fast rules on return to flying, for example, after this. But I think in this case, the doctors certainly saw the value in it.

KING: Senator McCain's busted the rules, bent the rules a few times in his life. This is no exception. Dr. Gupta, appreciate your insights today and appreciate you joining us on INSIDE POLITICS.

As we rock and roll through a little live news, we'll see you back here tomorrow. Wolf Blitzer up in the chair after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's 1 p.m. here in Washington, 9:30 p.m. in Kabul, Afghanistan. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us.