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Trump Tweets on Nevada Senate Race; Clinton Rips Trump Campaign as "Backwards" Thinking; Attorney: Stormy Daniels Has Been Physically Threatened; Session's Considering Firing McCabe Days Before Retirement; Flake Stokes 2020 Speculation with New Hampshire Visit. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 16, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:10] NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I mean, that is what the kind of concessions they're making, and you can see the work of the DCCC in some of these races. In Texas, for instance, there's a New Jersey seat as well where they picked a guy who has a very good rating from the NRA, so they are really trying to figure out this map and how they can eat into the Trump coalition of suburban white women, of union workers who showed up big for Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania and older voters as well because those voters played a large role in Pennsylvania as well.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Somebody help me translate this one. Most Republicans want the president to be quiet and get out of the way. That's what they want. They want the president to be quiet and get out of the way. That's what most Republicans think.

Now, the president just tweeted this on a Nevada Senate race which has a Republican incumbent, Dean Heller, the president tweeting, "It would be great for the Republican Party of Nevada and its unity if good guy Danny Tarkanian would run for Congress and Dean Heller, who is doing a really good job, could run for Senate unopposed."

So he's trying to get Danny Tarkanian out of this Senate race. Didn't -- weren't people around the president trying to get Danny Tarkanian into this Senate race.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: I mean, this goes back in forth to the president not knowing kind of which horse to pick at any point, but you can tell that he's getting a little bit shaken by what's going on around the country now if he's looking at this.

Because the Republicans -- Democrats are trying to build a strategy for how do we make this, you know, something can we build on the winds at our back, let's try to have big wins and flip the House.

The Republicans are trying basically keeps themselves in line right now. You know, batten down the hatches, hold firm, do nut freak out, do not start running for the exits. We can filter this is just a bleep. And the president kind of sending some more messages, right.

You don't want to have Republicans fighting each other if what you're trying to do is actually, you know, solidify as many of the seats you've got and not lose them. And right now -- I mean, I don't know how long -- I used to work for the Las Vegas Suns, I mean, these are pretty big personalities that he's trying to dictate with a single tweet that are probably not going to listen.


ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Two months ago the president's chief strategist Steve Bannon, then chief strategist, was openly advocating a strategy of Republicans running against other Republicans in big races like this. And other folks like Mitch McConnell have been saying for a long time that is a waste of resources, and now that's becoming crystal clear.

The Republican Party cannot afford to have intra-party fights, especially when Democrats are doing exactly what Republicans don't think they can do, which is recruiting blue dog candidates to run in purple districts and potentially make inroads. You know, even though the Democrats have an energized base, it's about their ability to get those people in the middle, and right now they're kind of starting to do that. And if Republicans can't get their House in order, they're going to have some big problems.

KING: And the Republicans getting their House in order includes the speaker's team, the leadership team in the House now trying to talk to several other Republicans out of retirement. Because even in an environment like this, you want incumbents who can raise more money, who are ballot-tested in their districts, and a bunch of them right now are looking at Pennsylvania and saying, do I want to lose? Do I want to lose (INAUDIBLE)?

Let's flip for a second here. I want to play -- this is a little bit long, but I want to play here something that's causing Democrats considerable angst.

This is their 2016 presidential candidate, overseas in India essentially saying, you know, I lost because a whole bunch of voters aren't very smart. Not something polite.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: It's all that red in the middle where Trump won. Now, I win the coast, I win, you know, Illinois, Minnesota, places like that. But what the map doesn't show you is that I won the places that represent two-thirds of America's gross domestic product.

So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward, and his whole campaign, make America great again, was looking backwards. You know, you didn't like black people getting rights, you don't like women, you know, getting jobs, you don't want to see that Indian-Americans succeeding more than you are. Whatever your problem is, I'm going to solve it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HENDERSON: Yes, deplorables 2.0, right? If only the presidency was determined by the GDP instead of the Electoral College, maybe she would be president. I think Democrats are fine and comfortable saying, Hillary Clinton, go away --


HENDERSON: -- like Heidi Heitkamp.

KING: Well, let's hear the voice of Heidi Heitkamp, a senator in a tough re-election ballot, a Democrat in a big Trump state saying, dear God, why?


JOEL HEITKAMP: When does Hillary Clinton ride off into the sunset? I don't want her bashing --

SEN. HEIDE HEITKAMP (D), NORTH DAKOTA: I don't know, not soon enough, I guess.

J. HEITKAMP: What's the answer?

H. HEITKAMP: Not soon enough.

J. HEITKAMP: I mean, she's bashing the middle of this country in my state again. I don't need her to do that.

H. HEITKAMP: Yes, I know.


DEMIRJIAN: It's just reinforcing the stereotypes. Maybe if you're a pundit who never ran for office and you're in a foreign country trying to explain, you know, various things about the American map, OK. Maybe that's OK to say but not for somebody like Clinton who's supposed to be -- she's still (INAUDIBLE) the Democratic Party even if they don't want her to be.

[12:35:11] PHILLIP: And she would be, really. She's a symbol. She is a symbol of the Democratic Party being out of touch not to how to she's going to be used --

KING: It's elitist. It is condescending and elitist to blue collar people who work with their hands to not say, clearly, I did not reach these people who are frightened by globalization and the president did. My bad, not their bad.

DEMIRJIAN: So you want to drive the whole (INAUDIBLE) even harder, this is a perfect way to be.

HENDERSON: She will not be on the stamp ever.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: They want Biden, not Hillary Clinton right now for sure. PHILLIP: Republicans and the president are looking for a foil, and as long as she is there, she will be used as a foil. Even if she's not running, even if she's not around. That clip is going to be used as the foil that they need to power through these next couple of cycles.

KING: To raise money, number one, and to try to pressure candidates, number two.

When we come back, everybody knows Stormy Daniels now suing to try to get out of a non-disclosure agreement that involves the president. As she does so, her lawyer says she's being threatened.


[12:40:34] KING: Some sad news to share from Iraq. A U.S. helicopter crashing in the western part of the country yesterday killing all seven U.S. service members on board. Military officials do not believe the crash which happened closed to the Syrian border was a result of hostile fire.

Some other stories on our political radar today.

Some more sad news. The New York Congressman Democrat Louise Slaughter passing away earlier this morning. Slaughter was a trailblazer in the Congress and a Washington (INAUDIBLE) serving since 196 -- 1986 excuse me. She was 88 years old.

And the attorney for adult film actress Stormy Daniels says she has been getting physical threats. Daniels says she had an intimate relationship with the president a decade ago. She is now trying to have a non-disclosure agreement ruled invalid. And as her attorney fights that court case, he says other women are reaching out to him.


MICHAEL AVENATTI, STORMY DANIELS' ATTORNEY: I'm stating a fact. And the fact is my client was physically threatened to stay silent about what she knew about Donald Trump.

We have been approached by six separate women who claim to have similar stories to those or to that of my client. Two of those women, at least two, have NDAs. We are in the very early stages of vetting those stories.

I want to preach caution and restraint. We are not vouching for these stories, we are investigating them.


KING: Forgive me, it is not preaching caution and restraint. To go on television and say six other women have come forward but we're not sure they're telling the truth. You've already let the horse out of the barn. What's the point?

KUCINICH: No, that's true, but to her allegations of these physical threats, we don't know who did that at this point, but Michael Cohen did threat a reporter at the Daily Beast when we were going to run a story he didn't like and said he would do something disgusting to him.

So, it's not out of the realm of possibility that someone in the -- we've seen it firsthand. Someone in the Trump orbit threatened her.

KING: The threats part, I'm flippant about this being a political strategy and then Mr. Avenatti saying watch the "60 Minutes" interview where she talks more about this.

Whether you agree or disagree in what she's doing, that -- if there are threats, it's just beyond the pale.

HENDERSON: Yes, it is beyond the pale, and this story just keeps going. I mean, she's hired a very media savvy lawyer who's very telegenic, easy on the eyes, and so we'll see what happens. I think the Donald Trump campaign at the time was clearly worried about this. I 'm sure they're still worried about it.

KING: And if you watch Mr. Avenatti, he'll probably won't like the way I put this, but he's clearly learned a lot from how the president communicated.

Don't worry about teeing up a little rumor, little innuendo, then start pull it back. He's smart, he's got the White House on its heels. Yes, he does.

When we come back, we know the president does not like the former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe. Will his attorney general get back in favor with the president if he took away his pension?


[12:47:36] KING: The attorney general Jeff Sessions has a big decision to make and a decision that, depending on what he chooses, could get him back into the president's good graces.

The issue at hand, whether to fire the former FBI Director Andrew McCabe just days before McCabe's retirement becomes official. The White House press secretary Sarah Sanders says, it's up to the attorney general but there is also a not so subtle hint here.


SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: That's a determination that we would leave up to Attorney General Sessions, but we do think it is well documented that he has had some very troubling behavior, and by most accounts a bad actor and should have some cause for concern.


KING: The FBI's internal disciplinary office recommended McCabe's firing after a Justice Department investigation found he misled investigators over leaks to the news media while he was overseeing the FBI's probe of the Clinton Foundation. And that is the ultimate irony here. We know the president doesn't like Andy McCabe. We know that he was a key deputy of Jim Comey and therefore in the president's eyes, that make some (INAUDIBLE) to begin with. But the issue at stake here is leaks that were damaging to Hillary Clinton.

Andy McCabe is supposed to be, if you believe the Trump supporters helping run the anti-Trump (INAUDIBLE) conspiracy. The leaks at issue here were anti -- they hurt Hillary Clinton.

DEMIRJIAN: Yes. The Trump base were basically defining McCabe in his entire tenure at the FBI which is over 20 years by this episode which, you know, granted, there is a screw up here otherwise the FBI personnel office would not have recommended that he be fired.

But you could it hear with the way Sanders is saying, you know, he's just a bad actor. That's not his reputation at the FBI to date. So -- but the question -- look, his retirement matures, his pension matures on Sunday, so we're really at like -- you know, we are in the last stretch right now and there are four days I think between when they said here is a recommendation, make a decision, and the end day.

So if you're feeling like a benevolent A.G., you just let him leave and then you take that up, you know, later. But if you're not, and this is not the most benevolent feeling White House, you'll be out the door.

KUCINICH: And Sessions is -- because of the president's (INAUDIBLE) of McCabe. It adds another layer to this. If Sessions lets him skate, he's going to hear about it.

DEMIRJIAN: Sessions has to worry about himself, yes.

KING: Right. If you look at -- I just -- let's bring this in, if you watch on state T.V., I mean, Fox News and you see how they threat any -- again, that issue here, conduct that was (INAUDIBLE) to the leaks were detrimental to Hillary Clinton. They cast the Clinton Foundation a bad light. But on Fox News, listen.


[12:50:04] UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This guy McCabe needs to be taken out in cuffs. They should not be paid by the American people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: McCabe is corrupt and he is as crooked as they come. He is one of those deep state actors that we have been telling you about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a whole back story. McCabe is central to it. How many others similarly situated in the Department of Justice or even in the sainted bureau itself, FBI itself, were part and parcel of a political operation to sink Donald Trump.


KING: To sink Donald Trump by leaking information damaging to Hillary Clinton. Got it. DEMIRJIAN: By dimensional check.

HENDERSON: Yes, yes.

PHILLIP: It's not about that for Trump. This is about the special counsel investigation. It's also about what Trump has been harping on publicly which is McCabe's wife's acceptance of political donations from Clinton.

But that circle does not square. And I think this is actually a potential problem for Sessions, that he has to justify what he might choose to do, which is deprive McCabe of a retirement after decades of service in the FBI. And the evidence base out there based on the president's own tweets are that the reason he wants McCabe fired has nothing to do with the personnel office is talking about.

HENDERSON: -- this is sent to other folks in the FBI, you know, and what sort of recourse might McCabe have if he's out of all this money for what could be a political decision by Sessions to curry flavor with the president.

DEMIRJIAN: It is such a perfect example where they can point to the fact that the recommendation was to fire him. They have nothing --


KUCINICH: -- which makes it very hard for him.

DEMIRJIAN: It's part of the whole thing about the text between Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, and others -- and the back and forth on Capitol Hill of other Republicans trying to undercut the credibility of the FBI and DOJ. But all that is very political. (INAUDIBLE) got cover of non-political (INAUDIBLE).

KING: All right, you may actually have him violated the rules of conduct there that gives them reason to do this. How they have described him, however, is parallel universe. How they describe him quite large (INAUDIBLE). We'll watch that decision from the attorney general.

Up next, Senator Jeff Flake up in New Hampshire today. Is he planting the seed for a primary challenge to the president of the United States?


SEN. JEFF FLAKE (R), ARIZONA: I stand before you today the rarest of species. The American conservative. Americanus Never Trumpus.




[12:56:23] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator, will you run for president? FLAKE: Next question.


KING: All right, that's Senator Jeff Flake. He's up in New Hampshire today giving an answer in a place that suggests he's doing a little more than just keeping his options open.

He's in New Hampshire, the first in the nation primary state, at a very traditional event, the politics today is breakfast where you show up for one reason really and only one, to test the waters for potential presidential run.

His message? Republicans cannot afford four more years of this Republican president.


FLAKE: We have a libertine budget-busting president who exudes chaos and dotes on authoritarians, who's replaced the State Department with Twitter, there is no strategic brilliance to marvel at here.

We must turn away from this brand of poisonous politics. The kind of poison that has the president flinging insults after a bad roast.


KING: He gets attention when he says those things here. You get more attention when you travel to New Hampshire and say them there.

Is he serious? It takes a lot to challenge a sitting president no matter what you think of him. Is he real or is he just enjoying it?

KUCINICH: I think it could be real. Why not. He's living his life, he's not running for Senate next year or this year. So -- I mean, he might have some competition in John Kasich who is also someone who is reportedly weighing a bid. But I think there's no reason to think that Jeff Flake isn't serious.

HENDERSON: I think there are always these presidential candidates who are sort of more media creation than anything else. Jon Huntsman comes to mind, Bill Bradley, in some ways, Wes Clark who were kind of drafted because they seemed to fit the bill and fit the moment but they don't necessarily have a constituency.

He clearly doesn't have a constituency because he's not running for re-election in his own state. But, you know, I think we'll hear more from him and he'll keep this buzz going.

DEMIRJIAN: He's got to (INAUDIBLE) if he's going to challenge Trump. I mean, (INAUDIBLE) even if he's more sensible and, you know, has more facts behind him, the president has the verve.

KING: And the question is, is Jeff Flake right, or has the party changed so much in Trump's image that you can't pull it back? His point, listen to him here. His point is, wait a minute, I'm the guy who try to follow Barry Goldwater's footsteps and they say I'm not a Republican.


FLAKE: I grew up busting (INAUDIBLE) and castrating bulls. My wife cuts my hair because I'm too cheap to go to a barber. As she said, your hair better look good today.

I killed earmarks while in the House, score a perfect 100 with the Club For Growth, and have a lifetime rating of 94 with the Arizona or the American Conservative Union. And I'm the rhino.


KING: Republican in name only, but the party has changed a lot, number one. And number two, he's still an incumbent president.

PHILLIP: Yes, absolutely. I mean, I think this would have been a great speech six years ago. But in today's Republican Party, that may not really fly. And I don't know that he realizes that.

He plays an important role in this political moment to be a kind of never Trump voice who is also in the Senate at the moment. But if he's going to transition into the presidential stage, there has to be something else he brings to the table.

KING: And with the uncertainty of the midterms, the uncertainty of the Mueller investigation, you're out there. If something happens that has people looking. Another interesting, watch the union leader in New Hampshire. He used to be a huge power player. The T.V. age has diminished (INAUDIBLE) conservative paper, doesn't like Trump, they don't like Kasich so much. We'll see what happens there.

All right, thanks for joining us in the INSIDE POLITICS. Hope to see you on Sunday morning. Get up early for us. I'll be back here same time Monday as well.

Don't go anywhere though. Wolf starts right now. Enjoy the weekend.