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INSIDE POLITICS

Grand Jury Issues Subpoenas In Russia Probe; CNN: Mueller Crosses Trump's Red Line As Russia Investigation Follows the Money; Conservative Radio Host Decries Anti-Trump "Coup"; Sessions: "This Culture Of Leaking Must Stop"; Ryan: Senate Health Care Setback Won't "Knock Us Off Track"; Trump, Congress Leaves Town with Much Undone; Trump Taking Heat for Taking Vacation; Newsweek Mocks "Lazy Boy' Trump In Latest Cover. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 4, 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] JOHN KING, CNN INSIDE POLITICS ANCHOR: -- what does that tell us?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. So, you normally start these investigations with an informal process of interviewing witnesses. Then you cross over to the formal process of it convening a grand jury. The grand jury can then subpoena documents and takes testimony of people under oath.

Once it's gathered that information, it makes the determination as to whether or not somebody should be indicted or not indicted for a crime within its jurisdiction. And that's really the soul function of the grand jury.

So what we see in Mueller here is an uptick from informal to formal. It doesn't portend an outcome. It doesn't mean that someone is going to be indicted or not be indicted. It just means he started the process of making that determination.

KING: And I remember hearing you say weeks ago because you -- I know you've done this and you know the people Bob Mueller's hiring. I remember you're saying from the people he's hiring he's clearly looking at financial transactions. We now know that to be true, we know that he's looking back at least as far as 2013. Looking at potential shell companies, some Trump Tower, Trump Organization dealings, some other associates dealings.

The president once said that would cross a red line for him. I want you to listen to a special counsel who faced this criticism himself once, Kenneth Starr, from years ago making his case on this point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNETH STARR, FORMER WHITEWATER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: I do think it is a certainly a serious matter when a special counsel is accused. And I was accused of that of exceeding his or her authority. That's a serious matter because we do not want investigators and prosecutors out on a fishing expedition.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: A lot of Democrats will have a hard time taking that seriously if they go back in time. But I hope you can help me here, Michael. When you're working on these investigations as you have done and as Bob Mueller is doing now, and you hear that from the political debate, you've overreached your mandate.

A, it does affect what you're doing? And b, do you find -- do you have to find some rationale to go public with explaining why you're doing it?

ZELDIN: Well, as to the last question, no. You don't go public. That's not your responsibility.

Second, in order to determine whether something is or is not a fishing expedition, you start with, well, what is the mandate? And in this case we know clearly what mandate Mueller has because it was written down by Rosenstein. And it says, investigate matters which are connected to the Russian government and the Trump campaign, and matters which arose or might arise out of those connections.

And so, that's his mandate. And so he determines how best to fulfill that mandate, and if he believes that looking at financial crime may provide an explanation or motive for the behavior of people connected with the collusion as we call it investigation, then that's appropriate behavior for a special counsel. And that would be no different than the United States attorney in any district in the United States doing the exact same thing.

So we just have to watch. Here's the mandate, we know what it is. Is he staying broadly within it, or if not, is he subject to criticism politically?

KING: Michael Zeldin, appreciate your important insights today very much. Thank you, see you soon.

ZELDIN: Thank you, John.

KING: Let's go back into the conversation here. To this point, Bob Mueller has an open hand, correct? Despite what the president says, there's not much anybody can do about it, right?

MJ LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Absolutely. I mean, he has a broad mandate as we were talking about earlier. I think it is much too early not to mention, I think there is nobody really that can definitively say right now that this is a fishing expedition.

We are actually not that far into the investigation even though it feels like we have been talking this about for long time. We are entering year two and these kinds of investigations as we know can take a very, very long time.

KING: And when this plays out, we have this conversation in Washington. We check in with key members of Congress to see if, you know, support for Bob Mueller's holding to your point, the bipartisan legislation to essentially telling, I don't know if they let her pass, but essentially telling the president don't try to fire Bob Mueller. We're not ready for it.

The president does have supporters out there especially in his community. I want you to see here from Mark Levin, prominent conservative talk radio host. He hears what's going on, processes what's happening in Washington, he doesn't see it like a lot of people in town do.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

MARK LEVIN, THE MARK LEVIN SHOW HOST: So we are now trying a criminal case, without any statutory basis, in public. We're not even trying a criminal case in public. We're leaking the investigators' views of a potential criminal case in public, to try and destroy the presidency, to try and build political support for when the Democrats, if the Democrats, take the House, to impeach the president.

This is a coup. This is a coup that should upset every American, Trump supporter or not. This is a coup.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KING: Now, most people in Washington especially, again, the Republicans leading these investigations would roll their eyes at that. But it's important because when you travel to country in campaign, you meet a lot of voters who listen to Mark Levin and others.

And so, for the Trump's base, what is -- how does this play into the politics of this out American, not here in Washington?

ABBY PHILLIP, THE WASHINGTON POST: I think it's going to be really interesting to watch these four months over the last couple of days. There seems to be an increased sense of urgency about the ways in which the investigation is kind of closing in on both Trump and his family. And even the president kind of giving voice to some of this on social media.

[12:35:11] This morning, he re-tweeted that sentiment that there would be, quote, an uprising if there was an indictment of his son. So it's a real concern and I think that his supporters are predominantly getting their news from people like Mark Levin and others who are the kind of thought leaders of the Trump wing of the Republican Party. But I think that for Trump, it is more tricky to do that from the White House.

You have to be very careful when you start whipping people up using language like, "coup". That's a really serious charge and I think that there will be some people out there in his circle who are saying, hey, we need to take the temperature down on this and just let it play out. You heard that kind of sentiment from Ty Cobb this week in part because I think people recognize that this can spin out of control very quickly.

NAFTALI BENDAVID, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think, you know, there's a legitimate debate on how far special counsels, independent counsels should go and what kind of investigative byways and pathways they should be allowed to follow. And something that looks like a fishing expedition to one side, it looks like a legitimate investigative path to another.

I mean, when we talk about Kenneth Starr, I mean, he was supposed to investigating a land deal in Arkansas. He went on as I recall to Filegate, to Travelgate, to Paula Jones and ended up submitting potential articles of impeachment to the House of Representatives on Monica Lewinsky.

And a lot of Democrats said what is he doing, what's going on here? And a lot of Republicans said, we'll that's legitimate. That's what he came across. And I think we're going to see a little bit of reversal of that right now.

KING: That's one of the reasons that old special counsel law doesn't exist anymore because of that back in the day. I want to quickly speak to this in this day. Attorney General of the United States with the director of National Intelligence this morning announcing a new, what he says, tripling of the Justice Department investigators looking into leaks of classified information.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEFF SESSIONS, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I strongly agree with the president and condemn in the strongest terms the staggering number of leaks. And I have this warning for would-be leakers, don't do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He didn't name any specific cases. Just essentially -- that was essentially a calling card saying if you know about this, bring on the information. Is this is significant? Is this Sessions reacting the pressure from the president?

JACKIE KUCINICH, THE DAILY BEAST: I think -- I mean it is, because as we all know that Sessions has been under a lot of pressure from the president. But I'll tell you, Republican and Democrat didn't matter when those transcripts leaked yesterday. It sent shock waves through the national security community as well as Congress. Because it was hard to find anyone who said that they would not have been apoplectic if that was their president.

So, there are -- there is reason to concern if you're on the government side of this for sure.

KING: It would be interesting to see if we get from the strong words of the attorney general to actual case and prosecution. We'll keep an eye on that.

Up next, the president and the Congress set off on vacation. So, will they have to show for all their hard works so far in 2017? A report card with a whole lot of incompletes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) [12:42:01] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Nothing in life is easy but Congress must not give in. They must not give up, but instead, Congress must get to work and deliver Americans the great health care that they deserve. Call your congressman, call your senators, call everybody. Get them to have the guts to vote to repeal and replace ObamaCare.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Out of passion there from President Trump last night urging his crowd there in West Virginia to stick with him in the ObamaCare repeal fight. But Congress is not listening to the president. It's home for summer vacation. The president heading off to his New Jersey golf resort this afternoon as well.

This was to be the GOP's big year, a deal-making Republican president, plus a Republican House and a Republic Senate. But imagine if you brought this report card home for school break for summer?

ObamaCare repeal, fail, tax reform, incomplete, infrastructure, incomplete, raise the debt ceiling, incomplete, pass a budget, incomplete. No wonder the president's poll numbers are in the tank. And Congress gets even lower ratings.

Ten percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing, 10%. I'd like to find them, 84% disapprove. And if you think maybe Republican voters are more patient with the Republican Congress, well, think again. Only 14% of Republicans approve of congressional performance, 80% disapprove.

It does reminds you of your childhood when maybe there was a report card you wanted to crumble up and sneak in the backpack and hope mom didn't ask.

They're home. They have to be all pretty disappointed with their performance. The question is, what do they come back with? And to the president's point, I don't see any indication Senate Republicans are going to come back from summer vacation and say, let's do that again, on ObamaCare.

LEE: Yes. And most congressional Republicans watching the speech would probably say privately, Mr. President, this was so two weeks ago. We have so moved on from a big ObamaCare repeal and replace effort.

And when you put up that chart, the list of things that Republicans had hoped to accomplish by this point or least makes some headway on, you know, it has to be so daunting because repeal and replace failed in such a dramatic way.

You know, when you talk to House members, when you talk to senators, the thing they have been saying all year long is that the ramification of failing on health care is that then you lose the political momentum that would be so important to tackle something else next.

Something like tax reform. Something like infrastructure, which, again, we know is going to be very, very tough for these Republicans anyway. And now they've sort of, you know, lost the air in the balloon. I guess the balloon that didn't even exist in the first place.

KING: And remember -- forgive me for one second. Remember, ObamaCare was supposed to be easy, the president said so. We could do it in the afternoon. They haven't done that.

Tax reforms, the original schedule headed by August, right? Wasn't that the original schedule to get it done by August? It's August, they're nowhere when it comes to tax reform.

I just want you to listen. Here's the House Speaker Paul Ryan. He's back home in Wisconsin. Most of these guys are back home. And he says, we'll figure it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[12:45:02] PAUL RYAN, SPEAKER OF UNITED STATE: We're not going to allow the setback in the Senate on health care knock us off on track with our plans for tax reform this fall. So, we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Can they? Can they walk and chew gum at the same time? Have they proven they can walk and chew gum at the same time?

KUCINICH: It depends on the path. It just seems like the path is good walking and chewing gum path. And I think it is quite perilous.

But, you know, as much as they failed on ObamaCare, they are talking a big game about tax reform. You know, that's going to be the next thing they pick up and they're going to do. That said is that's -- it's not going to be easy. There isn't any consensus.

Perhaps this time, they'll have something to work from, instead of trying to cobble something together at the last minute. But certainly, the closer -- and the clock is running out on them. Because the closer you get to these 2018 midterms, the less anyone wants to be brave.

PHILLIP: Yes, we really are -- sorry. We really are at a critical point right now. I mean, we're getting to the point where Congress is going to have to decide, do we wait for the president to sort of get it together, or do we go our own way to protect ourselves for 2018?

And I think they're kind of inching toward go our own way. Because we keep hearing all these deadlines from the White House, we want to get tax reform, you know, a blueprint out by the end of summer. We don't even have much more than a piece of a one-page document.

KING: Yes. I think maybe that's happen.

(CROSSTALK) PHILLIP: It's something like basically telling us the broad outlines of this thing. They're not -- the White House is not necessarily helping Congress get any closer to consensus on some of the stuff.

BENDAVID: One of the real issues and things I thought about that Ryan comment is, there's this veiled and increasingly less veiled hostility between the House and the Senate.

KING: Right.

BENDAVID: So we've talked a lot about how this inconsistent relationships between the president and Congress, but more and more particularly through the end of the ObamaCare debate, you heard fury on the part of House members towards the Senate, and senators are saying House members don't understand what we have to deal with.

And so I think unless they can solve or at least it mitigate the tensions between the House, the Senate, and White House, then going forward, it's not clear to me how they're going to get some of these other things done.

KUCINICH: That at least is normal. I remember that Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi moment where Harry Reid tried to stand next to her and Nancy Pelosi inched a way.

KING: Right. So, the Democrats had that, the Republicans have it now. I don't think it's more Republican that's more of an urge to it. And then you add in the president who's openly campaigning against the Congress which complicates trying to cut a deal with your own people.

Remember this from early in the week, "Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time and very dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can't even give us health care."

Again, this is a Republican president whacking a Republican Congress. Works for him and his base, it's not my fault, it's their fault. But then, when you have to do a tough deal on tax reform or something that should be quote unquote smaller, just raising the debt ceiling. That sends the Republican Party off boom.

LEE: Can I also note too that President Trump and his priority, they're often not that same priority that seems as a priority that the Republican Party has in Congress. I mean, we saw him just this week making a really big deal out of this immigration bill proposed by Senators Cotton and Perdue.

This is not a bill that Republican have any appetite to take up. They do not don't think that this is something that could potentially pass a Republican-led Congress. And yet there was the president doing a big ceremony and really touting this as, the next great big bill when this is not a proposal that is on the minds of most Republicans.

KINGS: It's the sound track for that and it was a little Meghan Trainor there. That is "All about the Bass".

Up next -- LEE: Nicely done.

KING: -- sometimes, all modern presidents have in common this, they all go on vacation. And they have in common this, they all get whacked for it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:52:35] KING: It is a ridiculous and recurring story in American politics. The president goes on vacation and his political critics pounce.

Remember, every time George W. Bush headed to the ranch in Crawford to clear some brush, for Barack Obama, it was Christmas in Hawaii or August in Martha's Vineyard. Now, President Trump is off for a 17-day stint at his Bedminster, New Jersey golf resort. And he would like you to forget he once was a big fan of that silly whack the vacationing president game.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I promise you, I will not be taking very long vacations if I take them at all. There's no time for a vacation. And we're not going to be big -- we're not going to be big on vacation.

You're at the White House and you have so much work to do. Why do you fly -- why do you leave so much? Why -- you know, you think you'd want to work, work, work, straighten it out, get it done, fix it up, make it great, and then when you finish you could be proud.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That guy needs to talk to President Trump.

PHILLIP: And that's what I had almost forgotten about.

KING: But, you know, he said that.

PHILLIP: I mean, really. I mean, he's not about -- I think one of my colleagues did, is sort -- and a lot of people are doing that -- about a quarter of his presidency outside of Washington in his resorts.

KING: Pop that out as Abby speaks, pop that out as Abby speaks. He spent in office for 197 days, he spent of 58 those at a Trump property.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, the reality is presidents are human beings. This is a 24 hours, 7 days a week job. When you leave the grounds, you don't stop working. Every human being who works a job like this ought to have vacation.

On the other hand, it's just so uncanny the way in which the words of a year and a half ago or a year ago directly contradict what he's doing now. And the White House won't even acknowledge that he's going and playing golf when he's going and playing golf. KING: That's why I called it ridiculous at the beginning. I covered the White House for almost 10 years, and when a president travels, they take a national security, they take the nuclear football, they take the most high-tech communications information in the world. They often end up launching military actions or getting involved in a strike or there's a hurricane or something when they're on vocation.

So they're not vacationing. They deserve some off. They should get a vacation.

As president Trump goes on vacation, look at the cover of Newsweek. Look at the cover of Newsweek. He's in a Lazy Boy. They call him lazy boy. It says, "Donald Trump is bored and tired. Imagine how bad he'd feel if he did any work." You know, ouch!

KUCINICH: It's pretty harsh.

[12:55:00] BENDAVID: Yes, that's pretty harsh. I mean, I think this question of taking a vacation, there is a lot of things that when you're not president seem easy, seem straightforward. It's easy to take a shot at the guy who currently holds the office. That ranges on very serious things like China and North Korea or health care to much more frivolous things like taking a vacation.

But I think the real question for the next 17 days, is how much of a vacation is going to be for him. How much Twitter are we going to see? How many comments?

Is it really going to be a feeling that the president is away and laying low or is he constantly going to be in voters' face? And I think it'll be in a way of test of the new John Kelly White House and how this all plays out.

KING: I mean, John Kelly who's on the trip were told we're going with him, John Kelly, Jared Kushner, Ivanka, Hope Hicks, and several other aides there. And can Chief of Staff Kelly say, Mr. President, can I take your phone, maybe, while you're here?

KUCINICH: It ends up at the bottom of the sand pit or something.

LEE: And you've mentioned that Twitter vacation, I'm also curious to know whether he will take a break from watching television. You know, at a time when there's been always reporting. You know, reporters are not going on vacation. There's going to be new things that come up about the Russia investigation that he respond to that in his own way.

KING: Don't turn on the T.V. sir, please.

Thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. Wolf Blitzer in the chair after a quick break. Have a great weekend.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Wolf Blitzer. Its 1:00 p.m. here in Washington, 8:00 p.m. in Damascus, 1:00 a.m. Saturday in Manila. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining --