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INSIDE POLITICS

Mueller's Questions for Trump; Source of Leaked Questions; Netanyahu's Documents on Iran; Democrat Odds Improving. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired May 1, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: The largest unknown of anything as they head over to China for these negotiations.

Cristina, thanks so much. Thanks for bringing us that interview.

And thank you all so much for joining me. "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Kate.

Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John king. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

We now know what the special counsel wants to ask the president and the list is a wow. Most allies of the president say he would be nuts to sit down for an interview.

Plus, count your Tuesdays. The midterm elections now six months away. And CNN shifting more House races toward the Democrats. Republicans insisting it is not a lost cause.

And former U.S. intelligence officials calls it old news. France called it proof the Iran nuclear deal is working. But Israel's prime minister hopes his new slide show is the final nudge President Trump needs to rip it up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: If this was known in 2015, the nuclear deal, as -- as was done, would not be done. And, in fact, a key condition for its implementation was that Iran come clean, and it gave them a clean bill of health that they have no secret nuclear weapons. That's not true. They had it. They kept it. They kept it and they're ready to use it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Back to that big story in a few moments.

But we begin with Special Counsel Robert Mueller's sweeping list of questions for President Trump and what it tells us about his Russia meddling investigation. For starters, ignore the president's reaction, except for it's obvious political intent. No questions on collusion, the president declares, in the middle of a morning tweet rant. Actually, the list of four dozen plus questions obtained by "The New York Times" includes several relating to possible collusion with Russia by the president's son, by his campaign chairman, by other top campaign aides, and by his long-time personal lawyer.

There are also questions about whether the president tried to influence key witnesses, like this one. What efforts were made to reach out to Mr. Flynn about seeking immunity or possible pardon? That's a clear indication the special counsel believes someone very high up tried to keep the president's former national security adviser from cooperating.

And there are questions you could lump into possible obstruction section, about the president's firing of James Comey, his harsh treatment of top Justice Department officials, his angry tweets, even his efforts to fire Mueller himself.

The scope of the questions is stunning, and it is telling. Mueller's a former federal prosecutor, former FBI director. He know you don't treat the prospect of interviewing the president as a fishing expedition. Any questions that make the final list, therefore, should be for information absolutely vital that only the president can provide, or for information where the president's direct role, or his intent, is central.

Now, few people know the stakes of sitting across from a president with such a list. Solomon Wisenberg is among them, former deputy independent counsel in the Clinton era, Whitewater and Lewinsky investigation.

So, Sol, you've gone through these questions. A lot of the incoming I had last night from people who know Robert Mueller said this is a sign the president's in trouble. Do you agree?

SOLOMON WISENBERG, FORMER WHITEWATER DEPUTY INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: Well, it's a sign that the president should not go in for that interview, which I've been saying for quite a while, if he were my client, I would advise him to. And you have to look at who a leak like this benefits. And it benefits the people who have been telling him, don't go in for this interview, because this is a list of questions that is striking both in its breadth and in its detail. And, in particular, it shows that Mr. Mueller has a very, very broad view of obstruction of justice, which would worry me greatly if I represented the president.

KING: And so I just want to go through a couple here on the issue. The president says there's no questions about collusion. Actually, there are several.

When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting? That was the meeting, of course, Donald Trump Junior was at, other top campaign officials.

What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign? Again, there's questions about collusion. I'm not trying to -- you know, the president, often, in his tweets is not factual. But, from your knowledge, from being in the room, understanding, we're going to ask this question to the president of the United States. You had to go through that meeting. How serious is this? Is this a question we have to ask the president? What does it tell you that that's still on the list?

WISENBERG: Well, I don't -- I disagree with the premise that we're only asking questions that we absolutely have to ask the president. But there's no question this is -- these are deadly serious questions. And, obviously, there's no question the president is completely wrong when he says there are no questions about collusion. There -- there are more than several questions about collusion, though most of them are about obstruction. There are close to 20 that I think could be called related to collusion. So he's just wrong about that.

He also says it's a disgrace that it was leaked. Well, I agree, but who leaked it? Certainly no indication that it's the Mueller people. They've been a very tightly run ship. So I assume it came from somebody who the defense camp gave it to.

KING: An interesting point there at the end and from the beginning to the end.

[12:05:02] Sol Wisenburg, appreciate your insight on this. We'll continue to talk as we go forward.

With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Pace with "The Associated Press," also CNN's Phil Mattingly, CNN's Evan Perez, and CNN's Abby Phillip.

Evan, to you first, because this has been your life for months now.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Yes.

KING: To Sol's -- yes. To Sol's point, I read through this having gone through the Clinton investigation where it is a high bar to interview the president there. A little disagreement there with Sol about what makes the list. But when you go through this list and you see that Bob Mueller wants to ask the president about everything --

PEREZ: Yes.

KING: About everything. This is after months of his attorneys trying to narrow this down and narrow this down and say, hey, can we do this by writing or by e-mail, what does this tell you?

PEREZ: It tells us a couple of things. I think, look, I think the -- this is the meeting in March where the Mueller team finally laid their cards on the table. This is something the president's legal team had been trying to figure out a way to discern where this -- where is this going. And I think they finally got it. And, frankly, it was a gulp moment. It was a big gulp moment. They saw flashing lights before them, and I think it crystallized why the president should not do a voluntary interview.

And then, secondly, I think what it sets up is the likelihood that this is going to end up being a fight. I think the president and people around him are already laying the groundwork for the political side of this, which is, if the president refuses to do a voluntary interview, he's going to get castigated, people are going to criticize him. But he's already laid the groundwork to argue that this is a witch hunt and that Mueller is way over his skis here. So I think then maybe we'll see a fight over whether Mueller decides to do a subpoena. And that goes to the courts. And then we have several months of that.

So there's a couple things that come -- that jump out at me. I mean the things that you point out.

But one last thing I would say is, it's clear that it's not just people around the president and collusion that the questions are. There's one about the 2013 trip to Russia and what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and Russian government officials? The Agalarovs are some wealthy Kremlin connected developers that the president has a relationships with. And there's a lot there for Mueller to have follow-ups on. And so this is why I think there's not going to be a voluntary interview.

KING: Right. And it's just fascinating to think the special counsel wants to sit across from the president of the United States and ask him about, did you or anybody else reach out to Michael Flynn to try to get him to not cooperate, was a pardon discussed in any way. That would be potentially obstructing an investigation.

And then there are these questions. What did you think and do in reaction to the news that the special counsel was speaking to Mr. Rogers, Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Coats, three top intelligence officials in the Trump administration? What did you think and what did you do in reaction to the news of the appointment of the special counsel? Again, trying to get to the president's actions, but also what he's thinking, his head, his intent.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, " ASSOCIATED PRESS": And also important to note that Mueller would be asking these questions if he does go forward with this interview after I've heard answers to these questions from other people who are around the president. So he's going in with information from top advisers, people like Reince Priebus, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, who was around during a lot of the campaign.

PEREZ: Dan Coats, Pompeo, all of them have talked to him.

PACE: Dan Coats, Pompeo, they have already gone in and talked. So these questions aren't coming out of nowhere. And, again, Mueller would have Trump's answers versus answers he's already collected from people who were in the room for a lot of these situations.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The questions also seem to reflect that Mueller understands something really important about Trump, which is sometimes when you ask him, what were you thinking when you did x, he answers honestly. He doesn't answer like a lawyer, he answers like a person. That's what he did in the Lester Holt interview, which set off this whole conversation about obstruction of justice. He was simply asked, were you thinking about ending the Russia investigation when you fired James Comey? And he basically answered the question honestly.

So the degree to which Mueller and these questions are simply wanting to know the president's perspective on what he did and perhaps expecting an honest answer is telling about the president and how he behaves.

KING: That's what's so fascinating, the Trump paradox in a way, that he says so many things that he knows are flatly not true, but sometimes he just blurts out what he thinks. He impulsively just tells you what he thinks.

And to that point -- to that point, this is a question, Phil, that Hill investigators, at least at the beginning, said they were going to try to get at these questions. Now there's a big debate about how hard they tried, I guess. But Robert Mueller wants to sit across from the president, how was the decision made to fire Mr. Flynn on February 13, 2017? Regardless the decision to fire Mr. Comey, when was it made, why, who played a role? You are just trying to get the president to spill the beans on all of his anger and all of his frustration. And in the case of Michael Flynn, someone they kept on after being warned he was bad, and then fired him only when it got out in public that he had lied.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right. And I think the interesting -- and Julie kind of hits on this point -- when you go through the entire list, one is the scope and scale of the list. It's literally everything we've all talked about or read into or Evan's investigated or broken news on over the course of the last 14 or 15 months. There's no narrowing here by any account.

But the other thing is, when it comes to the issues that you raise, and what Julie kind of hints at is, work under the assumption that Mueller knows all of the answers to all of these things.

KING: Right.

MATTINGLY: And I think that's why Evan's point is so salient right now, the idea that sitting down with them, from a legal perspective, is probably not the greatest idea you could ever have because Robert Mueller, the special counsel, and his team have already talked to everybody and know the answers from at least those individuals' perspective and are willing to line those up with the president's and see where they all end up. And I think that's the real risk right now. And I think that's why you understand why Mueller's team, through at least what we've been read out from these 49 questions, really kind of drills down into what they actually want answers to from the president's side (ph).

[12:10:30] KING: But let's step back a little bit and think about what we're saying. And as we do, first, the president gets advice sometimes from certain people on cable television. Here's one. Sean Hannity who says, Mr. President, do not do the interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: This garbage from "The New York Times" tonight, absolute garbage. No attorney will ever let this president sit down with Robert Mueller. Now it's going to go on for a year. It's all executive privilege. And Mueller drove this, as I predicted he would, when he hired his hit team of partisans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Wow, Sean Hannity trying to speak to the audience of one there because all the attorneys have said no, and the president keeps saying, well, I'd like to do it if I can.

But implicit in what we're saying here is the president cannot go in for this interview is, what, either that he's got something to hide or that he so frequently strays from the truth that it's just dangerous or both?

PACE: And that's what makes this politically really tricky for the president beyond the legal questions because politically if you don't go in and do this interview, particularly after Trump has come out and said, sure, id' be willing to talk with Mueller and cooperate with Mueller, it raises that exactly question, why wouldn't you go through with this. If you have nothing to hide, if there is nothing to any of these allegations, why wouldn't you go sit through the interview? Of course, there are many answers legally and politically to that question, but it does create a real conundrum for him.

KING: On the - on the who leaked this theory? We don't know "The New York Times" sources but do some CSI for us. The Mueller's office has been pretty tight.

PEREZ: Right. Well, you know, these -- what our understanding is, and based on our reporting from last month as well, that these were questions that were written by the president's legal team. These were not in the possession of the Mueller team. These are questions that came --

KING: They were notes from the meeting about questions.

PEREZ: They were notes from the meeting and they were there -- they composed these questions based on the information they got, the cards that they saw laid out in front of them. So, you know, there's only one place this could have come from, and that's from the Trump side.

PHILLIP: And the obvious result is that it's being talked about on television. The message to the president is pretty direct, don't do this. This is a trap for you.

PEREZ: There's a lot of rope here for the president to -- to hang himself with.

KING: Some people call it a trap. Other people would some a lot of questions that you have not sufficiently answered. And Mueller has a long stack of other interviews and if there -- it there not a public good in the president answering questions. But I get it, the lawyers. I got it.

Up next, Israel's prime minister giving President Trump new ammo in his assault on the Iran nuclear deal, but do the prime minister's facts back up his rhetoric?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:16:53] KING: Welcome back.

Israel's prime minister insists he has caught Iran in the big lie and that it is time for President Trump to rip up the Obama era nuclear deal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: The deal that everybody is talking about was premise on the fact that Iran had no such material. It's not just in the minds of the people, whom they have. It's the actual calculations that they've done, the blueprints, the measurements. They kept it hidden because they don't want the world to know what I showed yesterday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Yesterday, the prime minister had a lengthy slide presentation, but it included no evidence that Iran is currently violating the agreement.

And listen here to Michael Hayden. He's the former CIA director, the former deputy director of National Intelligence. He says Netanyahu had new details, yes, but that his presentation seemed much more a political ploy than an intelligence breakthrough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN (RET.), FORMER CIA DIRECTOR: And credit to his -- the Israeli intelligence service for getting this trove of documents and digital records. But I think all it does, Chris, is give more detail to the plot line that we all knew, that we all agreed, to the best of my knowledge, not in government, not getting the briefings. I think this is fundamentally old news. And, look, with all due respect to the prime minister, you know, I realize he's not an intelligence source, all right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Olivier Knox of Sirius XM joins us now.

Michael Hayden's point seems to be the governor of France put out a lengthy statement. They seem to agree in much more polite terms, that Prime Minister Netanyahu, yes, had a lot of details that Iran lied and lied for a long time about what it was doing and the depth and the scope of its nuclear program. But everybody knew that. They just didn't have all the i's dotted and the t's crossed. But that his main message was to try to give a political argument cover to President Trump, rip it up.

OLIVIER KNOX, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, SIRIUS XM: Yes, that's absolutely right. I mean the prime minister has -- is in trouble politically at home. He needs to get this. He's been calling for the United States to tear up, to back away from this agreement for a long time. He needs this. He's making the argument after the leaders of France and Germany came through Washington, D.C., met with President Trump and urged him to keep it.

There are some new dimensions to this. There have always been questions of what we're calling sort of the pre-existing activities, the intent to develop nuclear weapons. So there's a little bit of news here, but it's not new to American intelligence, or French intelligence or British intelligence. And recently both the current secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the defense secretary, Jim Mattis, have said that Iran is complying with the nuclear agreement, which seems to be more salient even than General Hayden's remarks.

PACE: Even in the way that Netanyahu rolled this out, you could see that his was an audience of one, almost. This was done in a televised address. He had charts. He had graphics. We know that that is something that Trump's own advisers use when they're trying to sell him, a lot of visual aids. He's doing television interviews now to bolster his point with American networks.

So, you know, much of this seems to be about positioning himself as Trump makes his decision. And he did it probably in a way that was fairly effective, coming off the heels of these visits, just knowing the way that Trump responded to intelligence --

KING: To that point, the president was in the Rose Garden yesterday with the president of Nigeria, and he said that he had seen, watched, some of Prime Minister Netanyahu's presentation. And the president already, and now in addition, after listening to Prime Minister Netanyahu, seems to be leaning into the idea of walking away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I think it sends the right message. You know, in seven years that deal will have expired and Iran is free to go ahead and create nuclear weapons. That's not acceptable. And I've been saying that it's happening. They're not sitting back idly. They're setting off missiles, which they say are for television purposes. I don't think so. I think, if anything, what's happened today and what's happened over the last little while and what we've learned has really shown that I've been 100 percent right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:20:28] KING: May 12th being the operative deadline. All indications are a go?

MATTINGLY: Yes, I mean, look, the president's been coy about it, saying repeatedly, you all think you know what I'm going to do, but I'm not going to tell you what I'm going to do, but, wink, wink, nod, nod, I'm pulling out of the deal. I don't know anybody who thinks that he's going to move in another direction right now. The conversations with Macron, talking about some type of perhaps side deal or a new deal that wouldn't actually rip up the JOCPA, I think there's no time for that. And to be fair, from my understanding, and Julie and Abby would know

better than me, but there have been legitimate efforts behind the scenes to try to figure out a pathway forward for negotiators between the European countries and the United States. I think time is the issue here. And the president adds kind of a very clear state of mind on this one.

I think the most interesting element besides the Assad operation, the details of that when it came to actually getting the documents and the disks that were laid out yesterday, is just the strategy behind it.

Getting the last word here in the wake of Merkel, in the wake of Macron, making sure that you are the last one to talk to the president before he decides to make this decision, a decision that he feels very comfortable, I think, in his current place. I think the big question now is, what it all means, because the idea -- you had the IAEA come out this morning and say there is no current nuclear program in Iran. The deal has always been -- the prime minister's point has always been that in the wake of 10 years -- or after this deal ends in ten years, with all of this knowhow, that they could just restart it. And if you keep that as kind of the baseline premise and that's your reason to pull out of the deal, then the president has all the information that he needs to stay in it. And if that's his viewpoint, then he gets out. But I think the big question everybody has now is, what happens after May 12th if there -- if he gets out?

KING: Just --

KNOX: Just building on that, what is -- what does tear up the Iran nuclear deal mean for Donald Trump?

KING: Right. Right.

KNOX: What does backing out mean for Donald Trump? Does it mean a Rose Garden event in which he says, I'm quitting the Iran deal fully stop? Does it mean that he will actually -- that the administration will punish European, Chinese, Russian and other companies that do business in Iran? You know, people think that he's pulled out of the Paris climate agreement. He hasn't. That doesn't happen until 2020.

KING: Right.

KNOX: And so there are elements of what this definition -- what this means as a definitional matter. What does he mean to tear it up? What does he mean to walk away? If you listen to the French, they don't seem like they think he's going to say, OK, if you're a French company doing business in Iran, you're now cut off on the American financial system. That could always happen, but that's one of the big questions I have going forward.

KING: Right. Like anything, what he says is one thing, and then the deal of what the administration does in response to what he says is another (INAUDIBLE). Again, May 12th is the deadline. Keep an eye on that one.

Up next, though, the battle for the House, six months and counting. Can the economy help Republicans wall off a blue wave?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:27:10] KING: Welcome back.

It is Tuesday, but not just any Tuesday. Six months now to the midterm elections. One of the big, if not the biggest fights, for control of the House of Representatives. You see the numbers here, 235 Republicans in the Republican majority, 193 Democrats. There are seven vacancies. And so that baseline number could change a little bit as special elections play out.

But let's just take a look -- that's the state of play on Capitol Hill. Let's take a look at the state of play, how CNN rates the races out on the campaign trail. One hundred and sixty-two solid Republicans seats, down from the majority. Twenty-five likely, 25 lean. A big group of toss-ups in the middle, 21 of those, 180 solid Democratic seats. Another 22 likely and leaning.

So in politics, we always like the closely fought races, right? The toss-ups. So what about these toss-ups makes them so important to the battle for the House? Let's take a closer look.

Of the 21 toss-up states, seats, 19 of them -- 19 currently held by Republicans, meaning 19 seats have moved from the dark red toward the middle now, toward the blue. Nineteen. Only two of those seats are held by Democrats.

Is that enough to get the Democrats there? Let's give you one scenario. It never plays out this cleanly, but if the Democrats keep that momentum, win the toss-up states, win the lean Democratic states and hold the likely Democratic states, that would get the Democrats to the magic number, across the majority threshold. Again, it never plays out that cleanly, but the Democrats can get to the majority without reaching into any of the red seats. Just the yellows, the light blue and the darker blue would get them to the majority. So that's one way to look at it. One way to say, yes, Democrats have a chance.

Here's another way to look at it. Where are we now as opposed to the beginning of the year? Look at the numbers. Fewer solid Republican seats, more solid Democratic seats, more likely Democratic seats, more lean Democratic seats, more seats have moved from the red into the toss-up column. The numbers simply don't lie. Anyway you add this up, Democrats have a chance in the final six months to take back the House. It won't be easy, but look at the shift from January to today.

Again, six months, a long way to go, but the math unmistakably tells you Democrats have a more than reasonable chance to take back the House.

Six months. We're all counting every day to the midterms. I say that jokingly, but not, in the sense that we're heading into some key primaries. And if you look at the shift, you go back to the beginning of the year, just yesterday CNN shifted some more House races more toward the blue, taking them away from the red, shifting them toward the blue. You walk the halls every day up there. Do Republicans understand the

depth of this? One of the things you hear sometimes from the older Republicans is the new guys elected in 2010, 2014, they don't understand because they've never lived through a year like this.

MATTINGLY: Yes, I think the vast majority of them do. The ones who don't just look at their fundraising totals and I think that's been a cause of a lot of heartburn over the course of the last couple of weeks where you've had Speaker Ryan, you've had Leader Kevin McCarthy, you've had NRCC Chair Steve Stivers in closed door meetings basically berate is probably a little strong, but that's where they would have wanted to go for people like Tom Herritt (ph) or David Bratt (ph), people that should win their races and just aren't putting up good fundraising numbers.

[12:30:02] And I think it's a question we saw -- you've seen in past cycles with Democrats too, raise your money if you want to defend yourself. No seat is safe right now.