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INSIDE POLITICS

CNN: Trump Lawyers Told President Is Not A Target At This Point; Wisconsin Governor Warns GOP Of "Blue Wave" Risk; Kasich Stirs Up 2020 Rumors With A N.H. Visit. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 4, 2018 - 12:30   ET

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


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[12:32:26] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome back. So here's a question. If the Feds told you, yes, your conduct is being investigated, but at the moment we don't have sufficient evidence to bring charges, would that be good news or bad news? Well, that's what CNN is told President Trump is hearing from the Russia Special Counsel. He is not at the moment the target of the Special Counsel investigation.

Now, target is a word prosecutors use when there is no doubt they see criminal activity. Instead, the President's lawyers left their recent conversations with the Special Counsel believing the President is a subject. That's according to The Washington Post. Again, that word, subject, has a specific meaning in law enforcement parlance. A subject is someone whose actions are being looked at but the Feds don't have the evidence to go as far as attaching that target label.

So, on the right today is a bit of a bizarre celebration. Red state puts it this way. "Wow, Robert Mueller delivers some good news to President Trump." Well, it certainly isn't the worst news, but is it good news for the President and his party? Here's Republican Congressman Gerry -- Trey Gowdy, excuse me. He says hold the champagne.

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: The only word that matters to me in the criminal justice system is defendant. So if you're not a defendant, whether you're the target or whether you're the subject, I know the FBI gets really caught up in those two words. As a former federal prosecutor, they're meaningless to me because one witness can take you from being a subject to a target.

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KING: CNN Legal Analyst Michael Zeldin joins us, a former Federal Prosecutor with Special Counsel Investigation experience. Michael, is this glass half full or glass half empty? Is being a subject, not a target, good news for the President or potential quick sand for the President?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Certainly being a subject is better than being a target. You can migrate from being a subject to become a target, especially if you are interviewed and you lie in the course of that interview. I don't think this is really big news in the sense that I think the President has always been a subject from the outset of this investigation that is someone whose evidence the grand jury was interested in receiving. What he has to deliver will determine what his ultimate status is.

KING: What his ultimate status is. And if, Michael, one more quick one. If you were the President now, do you sit down?

ZELDIN: I don't think he has a choice. I think he has to sit down because legal precedent requires him to. But I think he has to be very disciplined in his preparation for that interview, knowing how well Mueller will be prepared for it on his side.

KING: The legal answer there from Michael Zeldin. Michael, appreciate your help.

Now the political question for the panel, do you agree? The President of the United States, we know he thinks he's persuasive. We know and there's no evidence. Before he spoke, he says he has done nothing wrong.

[12:35:06] He has three former campaign aides who have cut plea deals already. He has another, his campaign chairman, who is under indictment and who his deputy attorney general has said the Special Counsel should investigate possible collusion with the Russians. If you're the President, you sit down?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: He thinks he can. But anybody who is close to him and knows his M.O. in these situations will tell you privately that's a terrible idea. Because you don't know where the questions are really going to go. And more importantly, in the case of this client, you don't know where the answers are going to go. And that could get him in a whole lot more trouble than he is. It could change, as Trey Gowdy said, from subject to target like this.

KING: Now here's how Solomon Wisenberg who worked on Ken Starr investigation of Bill Clinton put it. "I think he would do much better than people think," meaning the President answering questions. "But there are plenty of instances where a guy walks into a grand jury as a subject, he gets out and is told, guess what, you're a target now."

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, I think this is one of those rare instances in which the President not being a lawyer himself, a rare thing for a politician, is walking into a situation where he is probably not fully equipped to evaluate the legal situation he might put himself in. He's also not that careful with facts. I think that's pretty much true --

KING: Very polite of you.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, he does not -- he's not careful with facts and also not with detail. And in a situation like that, it's hard to protect yourself. It can be both true that both the President and his lawyers believe that he has nothing to hide and also that his lawyers would be smart to warn him against putting himself in that situation. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's exactly the situation.

KING: Can I ask a broader question about the climate we live in where some interpret this as good news. The President of the United States, let me say that again, South Africa President of the United States is the subject, not a target, but is the subject of a criminal investigation about something pretty heinous. Did a foreign government interact, interfere in our elections, and did his people somehow collude with them?

Maybe the President did nothing, but again, you have three, including a former national security adviser and a former deputy campaign chairman, a guy with years of experience in Republican politics, who pled guilty to lying and who are now cooperating. You have the campaign chairman under indictment. So the President's a subject, and a whole bunch of people around him have admitted committing crimes. And this is a good thing?

MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, TIME: Well, but I think that this is really significant. Because the importance of this development is going to be how Trump interprets it. Because that is what's going to --

KING: Thank you.

BALL: -- direct his behavior. That's going to determine whether he feels so confident that he decides he can walk into that interview room. Most of these developments -- I always say, it doesn't matter, we don't know because it's up to Mueller and he'll us when he gets ready.

This actually matters because if Trump, who we know is very attuned to conservative media, very attuned to what his base is thinking, if he is reading in the conservative media this is great for Trump, Trump is Scott free, then the way he internalizes that -- if that goes to his confidence, if that affects the way he makes this decision, but then again, you know, when it comes to sitting down with Mueller, he may not end up having a choice.

KING: You make a great point in part that the President makes these decisions. The President makes decision, yes. The question is, who is he getting input from right now?

As Randall Eliason, former U.S. Attorney quoted by Bloomberg, and this is an excellent point. The President has lost members of his legal team. "It's a very dangerous situation for the President, not to have top-flight, white-collar representation. It's a specialty. You wouldn't go to your throat doctor for brain surgery."

Now, that's a reference to Jay Sekulow who's the President's top attorney right now, who is a religious freedom activist, works for Christian conservative organizations, has had great success on those issues, and is a very good public spokesman for the President. But he's not a white-collar criminal defense attorney. Is that who the President's taking his lead advice from right now? BASH: He's got other people who he has worked with who do this kind of thing for a lot of years, who he's still talking to. Whether or not they're going to go on the payroll, that's an open question.

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: That I have heard that this is a real concern, that he does not have a top- flight criminal defense lawyer. And to Molly's point, I think, you know, he has this confidence and he's sat in depositions over some real estate issues, but this is nothing like that. And --

KING: In a lot of those cases, it turned out after the fact that -- to Abby's point, a lot of what he said simply was nowhere near the truth.

HULSE: With multiple fabrications.

KING: OK. We'll watch this one as we go out here.

Before we go to break, we want to pause now just to mark a sad piece of history, tragedy 50 years ago today.

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WALTER CRONKITE, CBS EVENING NEWS ANCHOR: Good evening. Dr. Martin Luther King, the apostle of nonviolence in the civil rights movement, has been shot to death in Memphis, Tennessee. Police have issued an all-points bulletin for a well-dressed young white man seen running from the scene.

LYNDON JOHNSON, 36TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I ask every citizen to reject the blind violence that has struck Dr. King, who lived by non-violence. I pray that his family can find comfort in the memory of all he tried to do for the land he loved so well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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[12:44:24] KING: Checking our political radar now, H.R. McMaster taking direct aim at Moscow, pulling no punches in his last public remarks as national security adviser. During a speech here in Washington, McMaster said the United States has failed to impose efficient costs on Russia for its election meddling and that, quote, the Kremlin's confidence is growing.

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H.R. MCMASTER, OUTGOING NATIONAL SECURIT ADVISER: Russia has used old and new forms of aggression to undermine our open societies and the foundations of international peace and stability. Russia brazenly and implausibly denies its actions. And we have failed to impose sufficient costs.

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[12:45:06] KING: McMaster did, however, praise the Trump administration's recent response to Russia, mentioning specifically that expulsion of Russian diplomats after the nerve gas attack in Britain. The Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker the latest Republican to sound an alarm.

Last night a Democrat-backed candidate in his state won a state Supreme Court election. That's notable because it's the first time in two decades a non-incumbent liberal has won a seat on Wisconsin's high court. That prompted this tweet from Governor Walker, "Tonight's results show we are at risk of a blue wave. Walker himself, worth noting, up for re-election this November."

And we're learning more about Cynthia Nixon's political platform as she ramps up her campaign for governor in New York. The actress told supporters at a private fund raiser, she's for legalizing marijuana and then taxing it to boost state revenue. A short time ago, Nixon talked about that during her first TV interview for the campaign, speaking with the talk show host Wendy Williams.

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CYNTHIA NIXON (D), CANDIDATE FOR NEW YORK GOVERNOR: You've got a 7- year-old, a 15-year-old, and a 21-year-old.

WENDY WILLIAMS, THE WENDY WILLIAMS SHOW HOST: A 21-year-old is going to be like, mom, even though I don't smoke pot, I can't be around the other kids who smoke pot? I'm not catching a contact.

NIXON: Well, if we legalize it in New York, you know.

WILLIAMS: I want to ask, governor -- I was just asking. So you're for the legalization of marijuana.

NIXON: I am absolutely --

WILLIAMS: For the good, not the evil.

NIXON: Absolutely for the legalization of marijuana. Let's capture some of that revenue.

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KING: Let's talk, at least not first about the legalization of marijuana in New York, sorry, but about Scott Walker and about what happened in Wisconsin. Because we look for clues everywhere. Often you would say, what is a state Supreme Court race tell us about a midterm election? Well, it can tell us a lot.

Specially, a, you're Scott Walker you're running for re-election, you get a little nervous when Democrats have been (INAUDIBLE). B, we just had a special election in Pennsylvania. Democrats win. Election in Wisconsin, Democrats win. You think the President will notice? He likes to tell us about Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

HULSE: It's a canary in a coal mine, Wisconsin, for the Republicans. Walker has been sounding the alarm because he's lost some special state legislative elections. In fact, it was so bad they wouldn't schedule other special elections and now are being forced to by the court.

I think that Wisconsin is about rather here, and you're going to see a lot of money and attention focused there. They think there's some real Trump remorse. However, the Senate race there, Tammy Baldwin, the incumbent, Democrats are really worried about her. So, there's some kind of counter forces at work. But I think that Walker is trying to fire up the rest of the Republican governors, certainly around the country.

BALL: And the question is whether there's anything that can be done to stop if this wave is indeed coming, right? If there's a tsunami, no wall is big enough to contain that. I mean, there's a chorus of canaries at this point.

There have been -- there was a Senate election in Alabama. There have been other special elections. There have been all these state legislative races in the Virginia election last year. So, you know, if this is indeed a blue wave, no one will have failed to see it coming. The question is just is there anything Republicans can do. And what they're really nervous about is that not only are conditions already like this, but the economy gets worse.

KING: It's a great point. You go back to red wave years, blue wave years. There are candidates on the other side who run perfect campaigns and still get washed away. Sometimes you're doing a way.

When we come back, John Kasich back in New Hampshire. That's not about 2018. It's about 2020.

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[12:52:33] KING: John Kasich is back in New Hampshire, which of course puts him back in the head lines. Here's today's Concord Monitor. Kasich returns to New Hampshire, 2016 hopeful wavers on 2020. Interested in mounting a primary challenge against President Trump? Most definitely yes. But is the Ohio governor ready to commit? Most definitely not.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So this is an insurance policy. Is that fair?

GOV. JOHN KASICH (R), OHIO: Well, no, it's an options policy that I don't know what I'm going to do. And in politic, I'm still a young person, a young man. And I don't know. I know it's so hard for people to believe that, that I'm not plotting and scheming. Of course I want to do some things to keep my options open, but where it's going to lead, I just don't know.

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KING: Now Kasich does have a strong base in New Hampshire. And you see one recent poll up there, if you believe that one recent poll, he's within striking distance of the President. But one state does not a successful primary challenge make. And as supporters search him on, a lot of Republicans have a very different reaction. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KASICH: I am not living in anger towards Donald Trump. If he does a good job, I'll praise him, you know. If he does something I don't like, I'll criticize him. And I have that opportunity now. How long it lasts, I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you said some people drive by and give you the finger, metaphorically.

KASICH: Yes. No, I don't see much of that, but I know. I'm aware of the fact that there's people, particularly in my party, who are angry at me. I know that. And it's OK. That's America. You have a right to be angry. I just -- I don't even -- it doesn't bother me. It just doesn't bother me.

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KING: He says it doesn't bother him. So will he or won't he?

BASH: I truly think he doesn't know yet. That he is making trips like the one I was with him on yesterday to New Hampshire. He met with reporters. He met with supporters who were there for him in 2016 who really helped him just to make sure that they knew that he was still with them and hope that he was still, you know, that it was a two-way street.

Look, the two options, neither one is good when you have an incumbent president in your own party. One, challenge him. And this is a guy who lost to Donald Trump by 20 points last time. And the President is still very, very popular among the Republican base.

Number two, run as an independent, which you need a lot of money and a real plan to do. And he and his supporters agree that that's why that these are very tough options. And he's just going to keep on going, keep talking, he says, until he says the Lord tells him to stop doing that.

[12:55:08] KING: Is it the Lord or, forgive me, is it more Bob Mueller? Is there some implosion of Trump where Trump is not a viable candidate? And to that point, one of the things he told you was the answer for our country's, in my opinion, lead in the middle. Soft Republicans and soft Democrats. He might be right that's what the country wants, a centrist, but there's no political path for a centrist. You can't win a primary in the Democratic Party or republican primary as a centrist.

BASH: The only political path for a centrist right now is to run as an independent. He admits that. He understands that. The people around him understand that. Doing that requires a lot of money. He needs to find a big benefactor to get him on the ballot in all 50 states and to have a credible plan to do that. So that is why this is a big question mark, whether he will ultimately run.

Is the desire there? You bet. KING: He needs to work on the response to the middle finger thing. Remember what George W. Bush used to say after Iraq? Every time I traveled country, people are telling me I'm number one.

See how that plays out. We'll keep an eye on Governor Kasich in New Hampshire.

Thanks for joining us in INSIDE POLITICS today. See you back here this time tomorrow. Wolf starts after a quick break.

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