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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump Fires V.A. Secretary, Taps White House Doctor to Replace Him; Source: Mueller Pushed for Gates' Help on Collusion. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired April 1, 2018 - 08:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

[08:00:19] NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN HOST (voice-over): Turnover in Trump land. The president picks a new V.A. chief.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're going to have real choice. That's why I made some changes because I wasn't happy with the speed with which our veterans were taking care of.

HENDERSON: And Hope Hicks says good-bye. Will anyone replace her?

Plus, Mueller looks for evidence of collusion.

JAMES CLAPPER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Any time a Russian intelligence agent is in contact with someone in the United States, that kind of raises the yellow flag.

HENDERSON: Who he's focusing on as the Russia probe continues?

And a speech that was supposed to be about infrastructure.

TRUMP: I love the smell of a construction site.

HENDERSON: Turns into a foreign policy pivot.

TRUMP: We're knocking the hell out of ISIS. We'll be coming out of Syria like very soon.

HENDERSON: INSIDE POLITICS, the biggest stories sourced by the best reporters, now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HENDERSON: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Nia-Malika Henderson. John King is off today.

To our viewers nationwide and around the world, thanks for joining us and happy Easter.

President Trump is at his Florida resort this morning but he'll be back at the White House tonight looking for a fresh start after more administration turmoil and turnover that included some high profile departures. The latest Trump staff shuffle, ousting David Shulkin and naming his personal physician, Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, to head up the Department of Veterans Affairs. And other departures including Trump Secretary of State Rex Tillerson finally leaving his post in Washington, a town, he called mean-spirited in his good-bye speech. He lasted a little more than a year on the job.

And one of Trump's most trusted confidence also leaving the White House. Trump gave a more personal sendoff to Hope Hicks, his long time aide and White House communications director, and now questions about whether she will be replaced. And if so, who will Trump pick to take that job?

Tillerson's and Hicks' exits, they were long planned, but Shulkin's dismissal was a surprise at least to him. He says he talked to the president on Wednesday just hours before he was fired.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID SHULKIN, FORMER VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY: We spoke about the progress that I was making, what I needed to do from a policy perspective to make sure that we're fixing the issues in V.A.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That's before you were fired?

SHULKIN: That's correct.

HAYES: You spoke to him, he made no mention of the fact that he was about to terminate you?

SHULKIN: That's correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: A V.A. inspector report faulted Shulkin for improperly accepting gifts and misrepresenting the details of an overseas trip that he took last year.

But Trump claimed that the firing wasn't really about the bad headlines that Shulkin's travel generated. It was all about the veterans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I want to get them choice and they didn't give us choice. That's why I made some changes because I wasn't happy with the speed with which our veterans were taken care of. I wasn't happy with it.

(END VIDO CLIP)

HENDERSON: The former head of the V.A. didn't go quietly. He claimed in multiple interviews and an op-ed that he'd been pushed out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHULKIN: I am very concerned about the future of V.A. and to make sure that this organization stays on track with the type of progress we've been making and that it's not hijacked and dismantled. I think that there are clear forces that are trying to suggest that a

V.A. system is not necessary, that the private sector can handle all of the care for our veterans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: Here to share their reporting and their incites, we've got Michael Shear of "The New York Times", Karoun Demirjian of "The Washington Post", Margaret Talev of "Bloomberg", and "The Daily Beast's" Jackie Kucinich.

So, thank you all for being here this morning. Happy Easter.

Michael, I'll start with you on this. The Shulkin firing, you heard him there talk about privatization, some efforts to do that, the thinking that he was slow to want to do that, also these bad headlines that he generated because of a travelgate. What was this about, his ouster?

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, look, I think the travel problems that he had in the inspector general's report gave the president and his allies all the cover they needed to push him out. But I think this really was more about a real fight inside the V.A. over how to approach dealing with what is the government's -- one of the government's largest bureaucracy and most screwed up bureaucracy that has been -- you know, had problems.

I mean, this is not a Trump or Republican problem. All through the eight years of Obama administration they struggled to figure out how to deal --

HENDERSON: Wait times and --

SHEAR: Yes, hospital wait times, but also just sort of the bureaucratic kind of weight of an agency that has hundreds of thousands of employees.

[08:05:03] And so, you know, that struggle inside and we saw all sorts of headlines, there was literally Shulkin fighting with some of his, you know, senior staff that had been put there by the Trump administration.

And so, you know, while it was -- it appearing from his comments that it was a surprise to him, you know, in the hours leading up to the firing, it was certainly not a surprise to any of us who had been watching for weeks --

HENDERSON: Kind of a long time coming.

SHEAR: That this was a long time coming, and I think that's really what this one was about. That's different than, you know, maybe some of the other firings that have taken place, but this one in particular, I think there was a root policy cause.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: There's also a campaign promise tied to this, that may be not -- that don't include some of the other cabinet secretaries that were fired. Trump himself has said he wants to fix things for veterans and we've seen many times whether or not it's popular the president is very focused on making good of his -- on his campaign promises.

Now, will the person he select, Ronny Jackson, be able to make good on that? There's really -- it's really an open question. We're talking about someone who is a very good doctor by all accounts, has very strong records when it comes to -- I believe he was a combat physician.

But that's not management, that's not running this giant mess of a bureaucracy.

HENDERSON: And he made his big turn, Ronny Jackson did, from the White House, in the press room there, here is what he had to say about Donald Trump, and this was said to be one of the reasons why Donald Trump liked him so much.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAR ADMIRAL RONNY JACKSON, PHYSICIAN TO THE PRESIDENT: The president's health is excellent. His overall health is excellent. He has incredible genes. I just assumed. You know, I told the president that if he had a healthier diet over the last 20 years, he might live to be 200 years old. I think he remains fit for duty for the remainder of this term and even for the remainder of another term if he's elected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: He might live to be 200 years old. Maybe you too, Karoun, live to be 200 years.

What's your sense of -- will it be difficult to confirm Ronny Jackson given his background?

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: People have a lot of questions for him. I mean, his background is nonpartisan. His background is he served several presidents of different parties and there's nothing about him that's objectionable in his record.

The problem is his record has nothing to do with what he's been tasked to do which is run the second biggest department. And also, we don't know where he stands on the issues we were just discussing. I mean, this as you said, it's a campaign promise. It's -- you know, it's about a fundamental policy disagreement. It has major implications for where that policy goes now, right?

Is Ronnie Jackson somebody who because he's military really does believe in keeping the V.A. solvent functional and fixing the problems? It goes really hard towards privatization or will he find some sort of middle ground that's pleasing to the president. We have no idea, because we have not heard him speak on these topics.

So, it's nice we heard him talk about the president's fitness, but what we need to hear him say and members of Congress want to hear him say where he stands on these things. And he's going to get -- I don't see anything now that's going to prevent him from being confirmed but he's going to get grilled in the meantime so that people can say --

HENDERSON: People are going to have real questions about him -- some of the things they already said was basically like they'll have to find out who this guy is. They don't really know about him. Veterans organizations have been skeptical. We'll see.

Another cabinet official in some trouble here, Pruitt who is, of course, at the EPA. He's gotten some bad headlines, Margaret. Among those bad headlines are from Bloomberg, your outfit, EPA chief's $50 a night rental raises White House angst. ABC's got the headline, Pruitt's EPA security broke down door to lobbyist condo.

CNN, our headline, Senator Pruitt secure included Disneyland and Rose Bowl trips. Those were his vacations I guess in using.

What's your sense of Pruitt in terms of we have been watching obviously for weeks everything going on about Shulkin, is Pruitt sort of next on the list?

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: I put them in different categories. I mean, the Trump -- the president is not thrilled with headlines that make his team look swampy since his whole swamp thing is part of his shtick.

But the difference is that it would be hard to find a more successful or better or more enthusiastic advocate on the cabinet for President Trump's policies right now than Pruitt at the EPA. He is sort of at the head of the spear of this effort to rollback emissions which has been important for the Trump administration. He also never goes out there and gets ahead of the president on policy or embarrasses the president or criticizes him in the rear-view mirror. These are all things really important to President Trump.

So, with the caveat that anything's possible, I think the kind of emotional circumstances or positional circumstances. It's not like this is a holdover from the Obama administration, right?

HENDERSON: Right.

TALEV: I think politically it's a very different question in terms of optics and also in terms of policy and the ability to drive forward what's important to the president, that Pruitt is still a very good advocate for him.

[08:10:01] HENDERSON: And more questions, Michael, inside the White House? Who will replace Hope Hicks? Will she even be replaced? Apparently, some folks are telling the president that maybe he doesn't need a communications director, maybe he doesn't need chief-of-staff either? Any word in terms of John Kelly's tenure also seems to be shaky?

SHEAR: Look, I think -- I think there's no surprise, we have known since day one, since before day one, since the campaign that the president thinks he's his best communications director. He has always long been dissatisfied with people who attempt to speak for him because he feels like there's no one better than Trump himself. I mean, this even goes back to the whole, you know -- when John Baron thing -- when he used to play his own spokesperson and have reporters call him way back in the day.

So, I guess I wouldn't be surprised. Having said that, there have got to be people telling him for all around him that this would be an enormously bad idea to try to run a White House without somebody to run the staff --

(CROSSTALK)

TALEV: Hope was in the position of communications director because they needed a communications director, but she was the president's confidant. She was --

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: Almost like a daughter in some ways.

TALEV: Except if you could make Valerie Jarrett your daughter, right?

(CROSSTALK)

TALEV: I don't really -- she will be not physically located steps away any more, but I don't expect her to disappear at all. I think she will continue talking with the president basically all the time and continue to --

(CROSSTALK)

HENDERSON: No one ever leaves the Trump circle.

TALEV: These comms directors are like, it's like been the drummer for Spinal Tap. They just disappear. It's a weird job because you're supposed to be operating behind the scenes.

So, when something goes right, nobody knows it's you, when something goes wrong, everybody blames you. At the same time, you need someone who's focused on the long-term strategy even if the person in charge often derails that strategy.

HENDERSON: Right. Very often derails it.

Jackie, quickly?

KUCINICH: No, I was going to say, like when it comes to the chief-of- staff, that's not just a job -- it's a big job, staff management. We have the president isn't a details person, so it's hard to think that -- those aren't good friends who are telling him he can't do it all.

HENDERSON: Right, we'll see what happens.

Up next, President Trump claimed he wasn't thinking about pardoning his former national security adviser, but a new report has Trump's own lawyers contradicting him.

First, though, late night laughs. Say hello to Dana Carvey's John Bolton and his very memorable mustache.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA CARVEY IMPERSONATING JOHN BOLTON: It's very important for me that nobody thinks President Trump is handed the keys to the war machine to some sort of hair trigger lunatic.

STEPHEN COLBERT, COMEDIAN: Well, that's very reassuring, sir.

CARVEY: Because if I heard someone would say that, I'd blow them up quick. Trump's give the nukes, blada boom, bop bop bop bop, bam!

You know what they say, sanctions, spanctions, mandy, potasanctions. I'm not the mad man the media and my words and behavior make me out to be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[08:16:50] TRUMP: There is no collusion between me and my campaign and the Russians.

There's been absolutely no collusion. There's been no collusion between us and the Russians.

There has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians or Trump and Russians. No collusion.

Bottom line they all say there's no collusion and there is no collusion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: That was President Trump talking about collusion. He says it's pretty straightforward, his campaign had nothing to do with Russia's interference in the 2016 election.

But special counsel Robert Mueller might not be convinced. CNN reports that Mueller is honing in on the Trump campaign's contacts with Russians as part of a plea deal Paul Manafort's deputy Rick Gates is sharing more about who team Trump talked to and when.

A court filing released on Tuesday shows how Mueller's team plans to use Gates to tie Manafort directly to a Russian intelligence agency. The document says, Gates and person A were directly communicating in September and October 2016, person A has ties to Russian intelligence, service and has had such ties since 2016. Gates told him Mueller that person A was a former Russian intelligence officer with GRU. One former CIA director says the investigation is speeding up, not slowing down. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: You can see the pace picking up. We're seeing a great body of evidence that the president, his family, his business, his campaign had a lot of contacts with a lot of Russians which may be entirely innocent, but now we're seeing Bob Mueller explore each of those linkages.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: Karoun, where does this take us at this point, Mueller focusing on Gates and using him to explore collusion?

DEMIRJIAN: Right. I mean, it takes us backwards and forwards, really. So, this is like a perfect example of how this -- the pebble in the water that just keeps growing and Mueller's kind of expanding his probe. The court filing is for this Alexander Van Der Zwaan guy that he was talking about in conversation he had with Gates in which Gates told him that they had -- he had been in touch with a person -- the description people believe is Konstantin Kilimnik, who's the person -- who basically ran Manafort's office for the 10 years he was working in Russia sympathetic Ukraine and that he had ties to the GRU, which is Russian military intelligence, and that Manafort and Gates knew this as late of September, October 2016, which is the heat of the campaign, really.

And so, it just kind of shows you how Mueller is kind of using the conversations he's having with the smaller fish to really kind of get the bigger fish --

HENDERSON: Right.

DEMIRJIAN: -- really stuck and then it's -- it's been easy for Manafort to say that was a past life. Yes, sure I worked on those issues when I was in Ukraine, but this is not -- has nothing to do with the campaign. If you're still in contact, if you still know about those intelligence ties a month before the election, it becomes much, much harder to make that argument.

And then the question is, what about everything that came before? What about all the comments that the president -- the candidate at that point was making about Russia? What about the change to the party platform that was made?

[08:20:01] What about all of these different things and was that actually because you had not just idle, you know, contacts with Russians you knew, but somebody who's connected to military intelligence is potentially a big deal. It opens these things up again and if he can pressure Gates to give him even more information which it seems like that's what he's doing, that will open the question of was there collusion connections between Manafort and his various contacts.

HENDERSON: And obviously, there's Mueller investigation, there's congressional investigations as well. Here's what Trey Gowdy had to say about those congressional investigations. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TREY GOWDY (R-SC), CHAIRMAN, OVERSIGHT & GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: Congressional investigations leak like the gossip girls. They -- I mean, they're terrible and I would be telling you that if I were staying in Congress. They're just not serious.

Serious investigations don't leak. Serious investigations don't make up their mind first and then go in search of the evidence to validate your previously held convictions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: I appreciate the gossip girls reference there, Jackie. One of the things that Trey Gowdy also said that he is glad that Mueller is in the mix.

KUCINICH: Well, right. That's because -- I mean, you look at what happened with the House Intelligence Committee and what a mess that is and just how they botched -- from beginning to end, they really has been a problem. Now, the Senate's been better but they too have had their issues.

So, the fact that the Mueller probe is there and that, you know, as Trey Gowdy said, hasn't really leaked anything, there is a sense that something's actually getting done and there, we might actually get to the bottom of all of this.

HENDERSON: Another story, Michael, that you're paper report was this report that there had been discussion about pardons, a Trump lawyer talked about pardoning Manafort and Flynn, Ty Cobb who is still on the legal team, Trump's legal team, here's what he had to say in response to the story in your paper. I've only been asked by pardons by the president and have routinely responded on the record that no pardons are under discussion or consideration at the White House.

Why is this story a big deal?

SHEAR: So, this is really centers around the question of obstruction of justice and whether or not the president took actions that he hoped would stop or bring an end to the investigation that of him and his associates and the question -- so the question is, you know, is it possible that by raising the pardon issue with the lawyers to Gates -- I'm sorry, with Flynn and Manafort that somehow you were attempting to keep them from cooperating with the special counsel and thereby, you know, short circuit the investigation.

Now, I think it was interesting if what you read the statement there from Ty Cobb, look at the word, it's are, it's present tense, there are no considerations of a pardon going on. He didn't really deny that there had been some in the past.

HENDERSON: That would have been John Dowd.

SHEAR: And that would have been John Dowd's lawyer, the lawyer who had been working on the Russia indication for the president outside of the White House who has now left. But, you know, so really the question is, is Bob Mueller looking at some of these actions that the president and his then lawyer took as he constructs an obstruction of justice case if that's where he's going to go?

HENDERSON: And, Margaret, as part of the discussion everybody's having about Russia, one of the criticism of this president and the administration more broadly is that they haven't been tough enough on Russia. We did see this week expelling 60 Russians. Do you see this as marking a different path in terms of Trump's relationship and rhetoric on Putin?

TALEV: Yes, I think you have to look at the rhetoric and the actions separately which is kind weird, but it's true, because the Congress forced the president to go forward with these other sanctions last year. He was angry about it but it happened and they have begun to follow through on those.

Under H.R. McMaster's leadership and with Jim Mattis at the Pentagon, this administration has come out with tough language both in their defense strategies and their national security strategy about dealing with Russia. And then we saw the feeling on the part of the U.S. that there needed to be a response alongside the U.K. to that attack inside the U.K. that's been attributed now to the Russians.

So, President Trump feels proud that he was able to kind of bring along other countries, maybe they would have come along any way, but there's now 20 countries that have responded, including the U.S. and to what happened in the U.K. and Russia's response was to some extent reciprocal, but to some extent pretty aggressive, because the consulate that the U.S. dealt with in Washington state is really different than a consulate in St. Petersburg.

So, when you take 60 diplomats, you're making a strong stance. Russia responding in kind, no surprise to the U.S. Everyone in the U.S. knew that if the U.S. got tough on Russia, Russia was going to have to respond. We're now in increased diplomatic tensions heading into this new --

HENDERSON: And we'll see where this goes.

Just ahead, Trump's Syria surprise.

[08:25:02] The impact of Trump saying the U.S. will be out of Syria very soon.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HENDERSON: It was supposed to be a speech to sell Trump's big infrastructure plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: I've asked Republicans and Democrats in Congress to come together and deliver the biggest and boldest infrastructure plan in the last half century. I don't think you'll get Democratic support very much. We probably have to wait until after the election. (APPLAUSE)

Because the Democrats say don't give him any more wins. Don't give him any more wins.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: But Thursday in Ohio, the president quickly shifted from teleprompter Trump to greatest hits Trump.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: They don't like that the economy, the Democrats, they don't like that the economy is so strong. We're doing incredible things on health care because Obamacare is a disaster.

Your Second Amendment will always be your Second Amendment. We're not doing anything to that.

We love our great American flag, don't we?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: Trump's off-the-cuff moments also included an unexpected turn to foreign policy -- one that caught his own administration off guard.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: We're knocking the hell out of ISIS. We'll be coming out of Syria like very soon. Let the other people take care of it now. Very soon -- very soon we're coming out. We're going to have 100 percent of the caliphate, as they call it, sometimes referred to as land -- taking it all back quickly, quickly. But we're going to be coming out of there real soon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: Senior administration officials tell CNN that the National Security Council will meet on Tuesday to discuss Syria. And if Trump does pull troops out of Syria it will be against the advice of Pentagon officials.

Margaret -- I want to go to you on this. This was a surprise not only to folks in his administration, to a lot of reporters covering foreign policy, covering Trump. Where did it come from? What does it mean? Is America actually pulling troops out of Syria?

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: Well, publicly it certainly was a surprise. There was no planned Syria rollout, you know, at the rally in the middle of the country --

HENDERSON: Right.

TALEV: but behind the scenes the President has been expressing a desire to sort of get out and that desire has been ramping up as the U.S. has been able to sort of declare these wins, like the actions against ISIS have been working.

The President campaigned wanting to pull back from sort of these foreign engagements and the President also likes wins --

HENDERSON: Yes.

TALEV: And so when you put those two together, you see the idea that if you could like find a moment where the U.S. thought, ok, now, go now; that that would be really appealing to him.

Obviously it's more complicated than that, so there are implications for Iran. And if the President is serious about pulling out of the Iran deal, withdrawing the U.S. from Syria would sort of give Iran, you know, free range.

If the U.S. is serious about getting tougher on Russia, it seems like he would be sort of turning Syria over to Assad and Russia. And so there are a lot of reasons not to do it, but the reason to do it is that you campaign on getting out and you found a moment to declare victory and get out.

These are discussions that are absolutely going on behind the scenes.

HENDERSON: And Michael -- one of the things that Trump also campaigned on was this idea that he wouldn't telegraph military plans before they actually happened. That's exactly what he did here with Syria.

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Right. It's what he did which, of course, does undermine that pledge. It's also more evidence of the kind of norms that he sort of shatters and breaks through, right, because typically foreign policy is one of those things that Presidents try to do very carefully, you know. As Margaret said, there was no rollout. This was a sort of a campaign style rally. It was --

TALEV: Infrastructure.

SHEAR: -- it was infrastructure.

HENDERSON: Yes. It was in Ohio.

SHEAR: This is not when you talk about something that is so fraught, right, foreign policy kind of intervention like this. And as much as the former President Barack Obama would have loved to pull back from some of these foreign engagements in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria -- you know, they always recognized how difficult and the kind of collateral issues, you know, there are and so they always hesitated and sort of left it up to kind of the generals to figure that out and that's part of the issue here. He's not doing that.

HENDERSON: And this was I mean very much a campaign-style rally -- one of the things he talked about obviously Syria, also the wall. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: We need walls. We started building our wall. I'm so proud of it. We started -- we started -- we have $1.6 billion and we already started. You saw the pictures yesterday. I said, "What a thing of beauty".

We're getting that sucker built and you think that's easy. People said, oh, has he given up on the wall? No, I never give up. That's what I do is I build. I was always very good at building. It was always my best thing. I think better than being president I was maybe good at building.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: Karoun, this is something of a shift from the President in terms of now he's satisfied about the wall. About a week ago he didn't seem to be so satisfied about the paltry sum of money that he was allocated for building the wall.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Right -- which is a fraction of what it's going to take if they're actually going to build the wall that he has in mind. I mean look, he also is a little inaccurate to say we started building the wall. You got the money. Well actually, it hasn't started going up yes.

But I think these shifting tones on Trump. The wall is actually kind of a nice example to use in conjunction with what we were just talking about which is that the President does kind of this I will please a crowd when I have to please a crowd. And I will say if it's expensive, other people are going to take care of it. Remember Mexico is going to take care of that.

[08:34:52] The thing -- the last thing we were talking about the pulling out of Syria that I found the most surprising is him saying let the other people take care of it now with no, you know, consciousness of necessarily if they're actually going to do it, how are they going to do that if that's going to happen and when you're talking about Russia and Iran, that's probably not going to help very well and not very stably.

So this is just yet another example of things where the President is saying, oh, ok, it's good in front of a crowd, it's bad when you get back in the negotiation room and I will tell you the ways it's going to work when I'm on the stage because it feels good with the response even if it cannot practically happen that way.

HENDERSON: One of the things he also at least thinks is good for his Twitter crowd is talking about Amazon. He's tweeted several times about Amazon over these last couple of days on Saturday. He tweeted in part, "The U.S. Post Office will lose a $1.50 on average for each package it delivers for Amazon. That amounts to billions of dollars." He closed this tweet, "This Post Office scam must stop. Amazon must pay real costs and taxes now."

They do pay taxes. And by all accounts it's a good deal for the post office that they have this alliance with Amazon. Their real problem is retirement funds and all that. TALEV: Yes, exactly.

HENDERSON: Now why is he doing this? Where is this coming from? Is it about Bezos? Is it about "the Washington Post"?

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "THE DAILY BEAST": Yes. It's also -- but I feel like if we had a free market conservative at the table they'd be pulling out chunks of their hair. You could say he also talked about how it's killing small businesses. That's not true.

And if you're talking about killing small business, you have to talk about Wal-Mart and talk about Target. You talk about all these other kind of big box stores.

So there really is -- it does seem to have a lot to do with Jeff Bezos. And if you know anything about just how massive holdings work, Amazon has nothing to do with the "Washington Post". There can be two separate entities.

HENDERSON: Yes. Jeff Bezos owns the "Washington Post". He also owns a lot of money -- I think $120 billion or something like that.

KUCINICH: All of the money.

HENDERSON: Yes. All of the money.

Coming up, Trump sees stronger poll numbers with a core voting bloc. What's driving the uptick and what it means for 2018 midterms?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HENDERSON: President Trump has stayed silent on the affair allegations that have been swirling around him. There's the former Playboy model Karen McDougal and there's also the adult film actress Stormy Daniels. Last week Daniels' attorney tried and failed to have a judge order Trump and his lawyer, Michael Cohen, be questioned under oath. And still Trump hasn't spoken out or even tweeted about any of it and that might actually be working for him.

A core part of Trump's base -- white, conservative Christians -- have said they don't care about the accusations even if they're true.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. LYNETTE BRYANT, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I know that when I voted tor him, I wasn't voting for a choir boy. You can throw all that stuff up in our faces many times as you want, but that means that we will work harder for Trump. Is that not so, ladies?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's correct.

LINDA CHURCHWELL, TRUMP SUPPORTER: Worse case scenario if he slept with her, whatever, I believe he didn't because he says he didn't. But that's between him, the Lord, and his family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's right.

CHURCHWELL: That is not about the job he's doing in running our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HENDERSON: A black conservative Christian is agreeing there often with white conservatives Christians in terms of Trump. While Trump's base is sticking with him, the President has also seen an uptick in his overall approval rating among all voters. He now has a 42 percent approval rating, his highest in 11 months. That's up seven points from February.

So where is this boost coming from? Trump is gaining among Republicans, up six since February. And notably his approval is also up with Independents now at about 41 percent.

Jackie -- why this boost in his approval ratings? He's had something of a chaotic time over these last many week but yet his approval ratings are up?

KUCINICH: I think it has everything to do with the economy. The people are, you know -- and these tax cuts. While they're not being sold to Republicans' liking at this point it is making an impact in helping the President.

And in terms of what you heard there from some of those women, a lot of this was baked-in when they voted for Trump to begin with. As long as he's getting the agenda done they didn't care about his personal -- I mean he talked about -- he bragged about sexual assault essentially on tape.

HENDERSON: Right.

KUCINICH: So, you know, if that's not going to change your vote, what's happening now with some of these other women coming forward isn't going to change your vote.

SHEAR: Can I also just --

HENDERSON: Yes.

SHEAR: -- add really quickly? I think it's a reminder to all of us here inside the Beltway that a lot of the sort of chaos and the process stories that we write up inside the White House just don't penetrate in real America. They're not listening --

HENDERSON: Particularly these core Trump supporters who are with him no matter what.

SHEAR: Right. Absolutely.

HENDERSON: Yes.

Karoun -- one of the things that you see in polls is the tightening of the generic ballot. Who voters want, Democrats or Republicans? I think it's down to about six or eight right now depending on the poll you watch. It had been in double digits. What does Trump's approval rating mean for Democrats' midterm hopes?

DEMIRJIAN: It makes it a little bit trickier. I mean they still have a lot of seats, almost two dozen seats that they've got to flip if they're going to take the majority of the House back. And so if you have the Trump bump or Trump drain mitigated. I guess if Trump's bump improves then it makes it harder to go after people in these seats that are Republican plus double digits.

And you need some of those seats if you're going to be able to have that much of a win across the board that puts Nancy Pelosi back in the Speaker's gavel or whoever they choose to appoint. That's another discussion entirely.

[08:40:02] But I think it depends, you know, they're going to have to just do really smart work district by district and where they choose to carry out these fights and have to focus a lot on kind of selectively tying the campaigns to issues of Trump's that don't play well in those areas. And so you're just basically going to have a little bit more wind at the Republicans backs but -- and that makes it more complicated if Democrats actually --

HENDERSON: We'll see where -- yes, we'll see where the rest of the year goes, where his approval ratings go.

One of the issues that has come up, Margaret, is the census and this idea that the Commerce Department is now going to add a citizenship question to the census. And you've seen both sides try to fund raise off of it. Trump as well as Democrats trying to make an issue of it. Where do you think this goes? Does it become a campaign issue?

TALEV: Yes. I mean I think it's sort of borne as a campaign issue, right. And the President has felt before, and he's going back to it now, that sometimes having these divisive issues helps him because it makes --

HENDERSON: Culture wars.

TALEV: -- remember how much they like him and motivate them to turn out. But the place where it always puts pressure all these issues from the tax cut legislation to the census debate is how it affects Republicans in kind of purple states or swing states in swing districts, right?

So whether it's New Jersey or what have you, that's where the rubber is going to meet the road and a lot of stuff. The President's gamble is that for him it's a win either way because, you know, if he can diminish the representation in states like California that helps him.

But if it does depress turnout or circumstances for enough of those Republicans in the Philly suburbs and New Jersey, in some parts of California where this house sort of path -- strategic path lies, then that's the gamble and we won't know until November.

DEMIRJIAN: Remember, it also affects the maps going forward because when the state legislators redraw --

TALEV: Right. That's my point. If he's actually successful and it goes forward that's -- you know --

HENDERSON: That could mean something in terms of the congressional districts, certainly in terms of federal funding as well. We'll see where this goes.

Coming up, the House Majority Whip makes a fund-raising move and everybody's watching. So is he going after the House Speaker spot?

[08:47:16] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HENDERSON: Each Sunday the INSIDE POLITICS panelists give you an early glimpse of the conversations that they're having with their sources and the stories that they're working on.

Michael -- we'll start with you.

SHEAR: Sure. So in a couple of weeks the President will go on his first real overseas trip for this year. He's going to Lima, Peru for the Summit of the Americas.

A couple of things to watch for: one is that this is a first test of his new national security team, a new secretary of state, national security advisor, CIA director and also whether or not scandals from back home, the Russia investigation dog him while he's there.

HENDERSON: Yes. We'll look for that.

Karoun.

DEMIRJIAN: Well, I'll be watching the new CIA director (INAUDIBLE) who's supposed to be answering questions from John McCain by Monday. Now there had been all these questions surrounding what her tenure at the CIA, how closely it involved torture, or enhanced interrogation techniques as we have come to call torture.

She's for a while served as supervisor of a black site prison that was known for conducting these sorts of things. There's question that she was involved in a decision of whether or not to destroy videotaped evidence of this.

There are a lot of people who are very skeptical of her torture record and how she answers these questions, it's really going to be the first time we've publicly seen anything that she says. If Democrats all stay together and oppose this nomination, Republicans cannot lose a single vote or they lose this actual nomination and that is actually a very big deal for Trump when he's trying to shake up his whole national security team if he can't get this through cleanly.

So she's got to convince people pretty well this week if when they get back to session in the following week if she's actually going to have a chance.

HENDERSON: This will be really interesting; she would expect probably a contentious hearing.

DEMIRJIAN: Especially because torture issues are one of those things that do not break on party lines. Party does not trump this issue for a lot of people.

HENDERSON: Yes. That would be interesting to watch.

Margaret.

TALEV: Well, on more foreign policy news, ahead of all of this the President is welcoming the leaders of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to the White House this week. It is the Baltic Summit, as it were.

And this meeting was long-planned. It was off of the hundredth anniversary of Baltic independence. But, of course the timing ends up being really important because we're at such crosshairs now on Russia and the signaling that he does with those three leaders. Of course, half of this century that it's passed the Baltic independence they were actually under Soviet control. But never mind those 47 years.

So he'll send important signals on that. But also whenever there are foreign leader visits we always look for the news conference. We're all eager to ask the President questions.

HENDERSON: Hope you get one -- Margaret, question.

TALEV: Thank you.

HENDERSON: Jackie.

KUCINICH: I'm bringing it back home. So there's been a lot of talk this week about Steve Scalise's fund-raising prowess and what that means for Paul Ryan. Well, yes, Steve Scalise has raised a lot of money for Republicans going into this election year but Paul Ryan affiliated super PACs are poised to spend more than any Republican outside group in the 2018 elections.

Now, should they lose the HHouse or should the house become smaller it's going to be conservative. It's going to be more southern. It's going to be white. So when with you look at that dynamic and if Paul Ryan steps aside, Steve Scalise fits that conference a lot better than say Kevin McCarthy.

HENDERSON: A lot of eyes on November and what happens -- do they keep the house, do they lose it?

KUCINICH: Right.

HENDERSON: We'll see. Thanks -- Jackie.

[08:55:00] That's it for INSIDE POLITICS today. Thanks for being with us. John is going to be back in the anchor chair tomorrow at noon.

And up next, former V.A. Secretary David Shulkin and Senator Bernie Sanders on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION".

Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:59:54] JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Trump unleashed -- the President says goodbye to a top aide as he's reportedly told he doesn't need a communications director or a chief-of-staff. Can President Trump do it all himself?

Senator Bernie Sanders will be here to discuss, next.