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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump: Congress To Blame For Bad Russia Relations; New Chief Of Staff Cracks Down On Access To Trump; McMaster Removes NSC Officials; New Memo Reveals Scaramucci's To-Do-List Before Firing

Aired August 3, 2017 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:02] MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPODENT: I think it marks a sort of new phase in this very complex and constantly evolving relationship between Moscow and Washington. The Russian seem to be saying, look, we hoped Donald Trump was going to be a man to turn this relationship around. They seem to have abandoned all prospects of that taking place, John.

JOHN KING, INSIDE POLITICS HOST: Any question is where do we go from here. Matthew Chance live in Moscow. Matthew thanks very much for that.

And you see that the -- and again, international leaders have studied the President. They know what sets him off. Impotence, totally played, put in his place about the United States Congress. The Prime Minister Russia know who we was speaking to and what he was doing when he had that phase to full play.

JACKIE CALMES, LOS ANGELES TIMES: I was interested that your translation went with impotence. Because when I saw the statement last night, we were variably getting it, translated as impotent or totally weak. Either one of which would have really set the President off, but -- I took sophomorically that you went with impotence.

KING: But we trust our people in Moscow, Jackie Calmes. The question is, where do we go from here? And again, the President lashing out at Congress, blaming the Congress for this. It's the first night your piece of legislation he signed. It also has sanctions against Iran and North Korea.

I should know it. The Iranians are saying they don't like that part of this either. But the President saying, you know, this is Congress's fault. The same people who couldn't give us health care somewhat inconsistent from what we heard just the other day from the Vice President.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In signing the sanctions, our President and our Congress are speaking with a unified voice for there to be a change in our relationship with Russia. Russia has to change its behavior.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Congress, our President and Congress are speaking with a unified voice.

SEUNG MIN KIM, ASSISTANT EDITOR, POLITICO: Clearly not a unified voice now.

KEENE: When is he going to learn to just not go out and say such things?

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Do not go on a foreign policy trip where he supposed to speak for the President and speak for the President? I mean, this is -- the part of the problem is that, yes, this legislation totally puts President Trump in a box. No president would have want to sign it.

Obama wouldn't want to sign it. Bush wouldn't want to sign it. They both want to done signing statements and also would have passed underneath either one of them. And part of the reason why Congress felt prompted to act, was the sense among Republicans and Congress that there's not a coherent, cohesive, unified, consistent tough enough Russia policy.

KING: I agree with you they both wouldn't have done signing statements. Their signing statements sort of talked about the infringement on executive power. Raised some of the ways the Trump legal team did, citing Supreme Court cases in their decision.

TALEV: They also would have underscore and how the Russia accountable for election interference.

KING: Yes. They would have held Russia accountable for election interference and they probably would not have said Congress could not have even negotiate a health care bill after seven years of talking and then go on to say I made billions and billions of dollars. So I can negotiate better deal. What --

TALEV: But that was a different -- so they -- what was really interesting about yesterday is that they put out -- there were two statements. One was the official, the technical signing statement. And the other was kind of a statement by the President where all the politics went into. And I think somebody at the White House understood the importance of putting the health care debate aside and letting one official signing statement speak for the actual legislative and, you know, constitutional concerns.

KING: And so this is a big deal in the sense that it imposes the sanctions on Russia, on North Korea. Iran is saying imposing the sanctions now in its view voids the nuclear deal. We'll see if that's just rhetoric. We'll see if they take steps from that saying, you know, we had an agreement and now you've done this and so you're outside of bounds.

And without a doubt at -- especially the President's tweet today, adds more poison to already pre-poisoned as well to the Congress. If you heard Tom Cotton, he is been one of the Republicans who tries to help the President. Saying no, Mr. President, you got this wrong.

John McCain who's home getting chemotherapy tweets this out today. "Our relationship with Russia is at a dangerous low. You can thank Putin for attacking our democracy, invading neighbors, and threatening our allies."

It's interesting on the issue of the sanctions bill but also this has been a recurring theme for six-plus months now from the Russian hoax saying, Mr. President it's time you actually, you know, study this, and Putin's not a good guy and you need to start talking about it.

KIM: And there's a real concern now to with -- when we talked to Republicans yesterday right after the signing statement was issued, they're kind of like, no, no, Cory Gardner said, I don't really like his signing statements anyway. But there is a real concern too rising that the President may not actually abide by this law that Congress, you know, sent him with very overwhelming unanimous votes. So they're going to be on -- the key senators, we have Senator McCain, Senator Bob Corker, does to be on key alert making sure that they're abiding by this, you know, overwhelming law.

KING: Russian sanctions imposed by Congress, the President doesn't like them overwhelming numbers now. There's a bipartisan bill Tom Tillerson of North Carolina, writing a bill that says you can't fire Bob Mueller? I mean, to me it's interesting not just that these things happened. When John McCain or Lindsey Graham push back against the President, you can say, OK, those are the guys who -- that sort of what they do. That's their schtick. They push back against power.

Trump tell us. A mainstream conservative senator from a state Trump won?

TALEV: There's a real difference between moving forward with that legislation and having a legislation, just the exist of --

KING: But -- yes, but the main stream Republican senator relatively recently elected willing to -- that tells you everything you need to know about the change you're talking about on Capitol Hill.

[12:35:05] KIM: And remember he -- Tom Tillerson up for re-election in 2020 saying here that the President will be up, but he's kind of play kind of like watching out as well.

MICHAEL BENDER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: The President could have pushed any of these sanctions himself, correct? I mean, this White House, this administration could have done sanctions on their own. But the message that the Congress sent with this was adding the congressional review part of that so that even if he would vetoed it, they want to box him in and they want to keep him in check.

KING: Now, he can't get out of it down the road without congressional review. It's a very important point. They could have gotten out ahead of this. They decided not to. That's what happens.

Next, stay tuned for John Kelly. Jeff Sessions? He's happy. But can the new Chief of Staff get the President to try the truth? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: This is just day four. So any grading of the new White House Chief of Staff John Kelly is early, and very, very, very incomplete. But the early reviews are coming from everywhere. From both happy and from rattled leads in the West Wing from Capitol Hill, and just about anyone or any group with any stake in where the Trump agenda goes from here.

[12:40:08] One big immediate impact, CNN has told that Kelly called the embattled Attorney General Jeff Sessions and assured him his job is safe. Another, strict new guidance that he gets a first look, Kelly, gets a first look at any significant information being delivered to the President. That part of an effort by the new Chief of Staff to stop aides from walking into the Oval Office to share fact-free conspiracy theories and internet rankings (ph) with the President of the United States.

A bigger challenge, getting the President to tell the truth. Credibility has been an issue from day one for this White House. Just yesterday, the White House acknowledging the President was making it up when he talked recently about phone calls from the head of the boy scouts and the president of Mexico.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- specifically said that he received a phone call from the president of Mexico --

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: They were actually -- they were direct conservations not actual phone calls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So he lied? He didn't receive --

SANDERS: It wouldn't say it was a lie. It was -- that's a pretty bold accusation. It's a -- the conversations took place. They just simply didn't take place over a phone call, that he had them in person.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Lie, fibbed, out of context. You make the call.

Listen here to the advisor retired admiral gives to his friend the retired marine general.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADM. JAMES STAVRIDIS, U.S. NAVY (RET.): I think the biggest danger for John Kelly is that he succeeds too fast and arouses jealousy on the part of the President. So I think General Kelly has got to very much be low key, be off the radar. Not on the ridge line, as he would say as a marine, and I think he needs to do his counseling with the President in highly private settings, where that is the ultimate, this-can't-leak kind of conversation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: What do we know about their personal interactions? The new Chief of Staff and the President of the United States. We're not supposed to know much if John Kelly, especially according to the admiral's view that he's doing his job.

BENDER: I think General Kelly is doing his job. It's true. I mean, he's shut down access to the Oval Office. There is no more walking in and out, wandering, whatever kind of verb you want to use there.

Meetings are more structured. People, you know -- and I think maybe most importantly right here at the start is that Kelly has the respect of all of the different factions in this west wing, right? I mean, the globalists, the national security folks, the nationalists, they all admire John Kelly and heading in to this, they're deferring to him.

KING: They're deferring to him you say, but this Washington Post story of this transcripts, we don't know exactly when the leak happened. It could have happened five days ago. I suspect not though. But you have -- you know, it hits publication on his watch.

One of the ideas has been clamp down on damaging leaks, leaks that are damaging to the President. There's one. I want to show you just this morning.

Sebastian Gorka is an aide to the President. He's been on Fox News quite a bit. He's at CNN sometimes as well. He was on TV again. This is this morning. I was told earlier this week that one of Kelly's missions was to change who speaks for the President. That he wants the cabinet out more often.

You have Sebastian Gorka in TV this morning. Stephen Miller, a base person in the briefing room yesterday. Is this OK with General Kelly? Is he deiced this is to continue this or we still early on and this is a TVD.

TALEV: I mean, we are very certainly very early on. And it seems that his focus in these early days has been -- is House cleaning the right word? Some of the staff changes but these are necessary. In this, obviously, in the middle of imposing that right now.

There may be a case of wait and see with some folks, and there also may be a case of -- just him having a different set of priorities. If the President wants these people to speak for him, it's General Kelly's job to carry out the President's visions. It's not General Kelly's job to shut things down. It's General Kelly's job to impose order.

But, part of that pecking order, it seems like particularly in the NFC so far, has been to say, look, there is a chain of command within each of these different branches including national security apparatus and the person at the heads of each of those change of command under General Kelly has to be able to execute their own personnel and staffing, basically. KING: Well, you mentioned the national security apparatus. Marine general now is the Chief of Staff. You have an army general who is the national security advisor, H.R. McMaster, who has, in the recent days let three people go --

TALEV: Yes.

KING: -- who, holdovers from Michael Flynn. They fired former national security adviser himself. Another general. Is the fact these three people have been fired? You see their names up on the screen here. Does this tell you -- people say McMaster is on shaky ground -- so does this tell you that McMaster is exerting authority and that he has Kelly's backing?

CALMES: Well, that's what it would tell me. But, well, you know, time will tell. There's still a lot of speculation out there that McMaster is not totally on solid ground, but he's clearly on more solid ground at least for a time with Kelly as Chief of Staff than he was. And, you know, Kelly got rid of Scaramucci right away, and he made clear that Sessions -- you know, he sort of gave Sessions a reprieve. I'm not going to say that Sessions is there for the long term, but we'll see.

KING: The President is still mad, but --

CALMES: Right. And the tweets did -- there were seemed a little more restraint, but --

[12:45:06] TALEV: Every time you say that -- every time you say (INAUDIBLE) like --

CALMES: Yes.

TALEV: -- (INAUDIBLE)fault, the Russian's problem, right.

CALMES: Right. At least I can get my coffee made in the morning. The tweets didn't start until like 8:30 or so, but --

KING: And then there is Michael Warren of the Weekly Standard, he's on this program every now and then. Has this a piece of the magazine saying, "For some time, Steve Bannon has been considered leaving the White House. One of Bannon's closest buddies in the West Wing was Reince Priebus, now gone. A newly emboldened H.R. McMaster purging Bannonnites with the backing of John Kelly, could hasten his exit. Do you think that's real?

BENDER: I think some of that is real. I don't think Steve Bannon has been very happy. I don't think that's a major news. At the receiving end of some of the, the Trump anger, you know a guy who works for me there a couple months ago.

I wouldn't read too much into the McMaster thing right now. I'm not sure that he's -- I think these changes may be more of a sign of Kelly's governing -- management style. Scaramucci was a direct report at that time to Kelly. Kelly took care of that. These other folks are direct reports to McMaster. The sense I get from people who know Kelly is that he's not a micro manager and he's going to give people, you know, the room to work or the rope to hang themselves. One of the two. So, I think it's more of a -- on Kelly than McMaster.

KING: All right. We'll keep an eye on that as well.

Next, the Mooch and the memo. Anthony Scaramucci had a plan for the White House Communications Office. If only he had followed it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[12:50:43] STEPHEN COLBERT, THE LATE SHOW HOST, CBS: The Mooch lasts as Communications Director for only 10 days. Ten. That's not even a whole pay period. His going away party conserved what's left of his welcome cake.

SETH MEYERS, LATE NIGHT WITH SETH MEYERS HOST, NBC: Men, that was fast. If Scaramucci was Viagra it wouldn't even be time to call your doctor yet.

TREVOR NOAH, THE DAILY SHOW HOST: Is like the song of the summer. Scaramucci came into our lives, made everyone obsessed with him for a week, and then left us with nothing but memories and like a bunch of weird moves, you know? It's like, dan, dan, dan, dan, dan, dan, dan, Macarena, dan, dan, dan, dan, dan, dan, dan, Macarena, dan, dan, dan, dan, dan, dan, dan, Macarena, hey, Scaramucci.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: All right. Anthony Scaramucci, well gone, but clearly not forgotten. And the fired White House Communications Director clearly already misses the spotlight.

Remember, he said goal one in this White House work would be to stop the leaks? That distracting the President's agenda? Well, yesterday Scaramucci leaked a memo that was to be his com shop bible. The decision, of course, that means discussions like this one that distracting from the President's agenda.

A lot of the memo is actually smart stuff, but it's hard not to start with this dozy, "People may not like our answers but they should always be treated professionally and respectfully. Obviously, this starts with the new Director of Communications." Well, obviously, it didn't start with the new Director of Communications. Most notably, there was that New Yorker interview in which Scaramucci called former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus a bleeping paranoid schizophrenic. Maybe he did it respectfully.

And his repulsive language, I'm not going to repeat it but you can read it right there if you want, about the White House chief strategists Stephen Bannon. What do we make of the Mooch and his memo? TALEV: I actually think that he -- when he was talking about treating people with respect, even if you didn't secretly feel like that on the inside that he was really talking more about the press strategy. And actually I think this is interesting.

KING: So be nice to reporters but you can call the Chief of Staff a paranoid schizophrenic. Got it.

TALEV: Part of what he was talking about in his early days. The early days of his time, was the importance and he talked about this publicly, his desire for kind of a reset between the Trump White House and the American Press Corps, the White House Press Corps. And to strategic end in his mind, which was, develop a little bit more good faith. Turn down the heat a little bit and maybe can change the way the coverage has been going.

And I actually think that that may be -- although he's not the only one who was thinking that, a discussion will continue --

KING: But he clearly had conversations with communications professionals. If you read the memo, there might be parts that you disagree with but it's well put together. And to your point, and he talks about improving the culture of the communications department. So it's the President is the number one customer.

Create a new cycle. Meaning, do things that the White House to drive the new cycle. Fill the content of cable news, of the internet, of the newspapers, of the magazines. Emphasize the economy, that's all smart stuff right there.

To your point, he went on to say, "POTUS can choose to fight with the media but Comms cannot. Comms should seek to de-escalate tensions with the media." Do we think that General Kelly, even though he sent Anthony Scaramucci packing that will keep them out?

KIM: I think -- it seems like that's kind of a similar strategy that, you know, General Kelly who's kind of a no nonsense man would want to emulate as well. I did like the one part in the memo where he said, press staffers should not go home until every text, every e-mail, every call was answered. We would love hearing that in the press corps.

KING: That would be nice. And remember -- if you remember when he was on day one, they're only day 10, you just heard that from The Late Night host, up on day one, he is sitting in the White House briefing room talking about the President as an athlete.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANTHONY SCARAMUCCI, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: He's the most competitive person I've ever met. Look, I've seen this guy throw a dead spiral through a tire. I've seen him at Madison Square Garden with a topcoat on. He is standing in the key, he's hitting foul shots and swishing them, OK? He sinks 30-foot putts.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: In the memo, follow on, "Comms need to humanize POTUS and burnish his image. For example, POTUS is the best golfer to serve as President. Perhaps, we embrace it with a national online lottery to play around the golf with him, or a charity auction.

BENDER: You know -- I mean, this is the kind of thing that stuck in my craw a little bit. I mean, it was hard for me to get to the point of saying that this is like a good memo and a lot of good stuff in here when there's things like this and here that are just not going to get traction, you know?

[12:55:02] The piece you showed, the clip you that showed of Scaramucci, I mean, that was -- that would turned out to be the high- water mark of the 10 days, right? And -- but whether or not Kelly sticks to this, and they're now I think more Comms plans floating around than there are Comms people.

I mean, whatever you say about these 10 days shred (ph), there down two bodies. One senior staffer and one junior staffer, and a press shop that was already overwhelmed. And there's no clear answers here. Bringing in his own chief of staff to help in the senior level but what did they do with the com shop still a very wide open question.

KING: And you see -- to my point earlier, you see Sebastian Gorka still on television whether Kelly likes it or not. Stephen Miller in the briefing room yesterday. But the President of the United States thinks he is chief strategist, communications director, chief spokesman and all that.

TALEV: Kelly memo in his early days seems to be to have a seriousness of purpose, and that's seems to be what he's encouraging at all levels whether staffing, and chain of command, whether it's the public face. You do or don't put.

KING: You're trying to telling me he doesn't miss the Mooch. That's what you're trying to tell me.

Thanks for joining us on INSIDE POLITICS. See you back here at this time tomorrow. Wolf Blitzer up after a quick break. Have a good day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Wolf Blitzer. It's noon in Mexico City, 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 3:00 a.m. Friday at Sydney, Australia. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for us.