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DOJ Report on Comey; Comey, Lynch and McCabe Faulted; Trump Heads to G-7. Aired 12-12:30p ET
Aired June 7, 2018 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[12:00:34] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.
Japan's prime minister due at the White House any moment now. Shinzo Abe's top priority, keeping U.S. pressure on North Korea. But he is also learning, like other global leaders, that friendship and flattery only goes so far when President Trump is in the mood for trade fights.
Plus, the Justice Department turns the tables on the boss. It now wants to share classified documents with key members of Congress. That after GOP leaders say the president is wrong and that there's nothing to back up his claim that the FBI illegally spied on the Trump campaign.
And House Republicans huddle for an election year immigration summit. Moderates want citizenship for the dreamers. Conservatives want the border wall and limits on legal immigration. Do not hold your breath for compromise.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA, MINORITY LEADER: The Republicans are meeting on immigration. Lord knows what will come out with that. Well, hopefully the Lord knows. We've been praying very hard on it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We begin today with two big developments on two stories that are important on their own but also together thanks to the president's penchant for tackling law enforcement and spinning wild conspiracies. He says the FBI illegally planted a spy or spies in his presidential campaign. Leaders of his own Republican Party in Congress, who have been briefed on the issue, say that is not true. And now, big development one, the president's own Justice Department is prepared to share classified documents, confident now those documents are more evidence the president is spinning a reckless fantasy. The president also says the root of all this is a biased FBI, led at the time by James Comey, that, in the president's view, was determined to go easy on Hillary Clinton while dropping the hammer on him.
The second big development deals with that. It isn't quite ready for release yet, but CNN has learned the highly anticipated report from the Justice Department inspector general is expected to sharply criticize Comey and accuse him of failing to follow protocol in the Hillary Clinton email investigation.
I want to bring in CNN's Laura Jarrett at the Justice Department, Jeff Zeleny at the White House.
Laura, let's start with you.
Why is the Justice Department reversing course, saying, look at the documents, bring in the Gang of Eight, those top group of lawmakers, and say, here they are?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, John, it turns out that lawmakers actually had the opportunity to review at least some of these documents late last month. Just to remind our viewers of the timeline here, you'll remember, in the beginning, the Justice Department was resistant to turn over the documents, fearing that it could put the source's life at risk. But then the president intervened, started tweeting about it and the Justice Department held two classified briefings, one with what's known as the Gang of Eight, top leaders, House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans.
Well, at that briefing, the Justice Department actually brought the documents, at least some of them, for lawmakers to review, but they were left untouched. And so now, after additional negotiations, the Justice Department will again brief them with those documents and more, as well as answering outstanding questions for lawmakers, John.
KING: And, Laura, tell us about this IG report, why it is so important that the big headlines, our reporting tells us, to look for.
JARRETT: Well, the critical issue here will be a flouting of traditional norms and processes at the Justice Department. And sources say we can expect to see a thorough report running over the course of nearly 500 pages. And it will zero in on a series of critical moves leading up to July of 2016 when James Comey came out to the public without Justice Department authorization to announce that he found that Hillary Clinton had been extremely careless in her review of classified information, handling of classified information, but also recommending no charges, all without Justice Department authorization.
And, of course, when he came out just days before the November 2016 election, reopening the Clinton investigation, again, without Justice Department authorization, John.
KING: Laura Jarrett at the Justice Department. Appreciate the reporting.
Let's go over to Jeff Zeleny at the White House.
Jeff, the president talks frequently about both of these issues. He's, at one point, pressured the Justice Department to share these documents. He may well regret that now. He and his conservative allies have been saying, where is this IG report, is there slow foot dragging at the Justice Department? What does the White House make of this? JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, there's
no question the president has talked a lot about this, but they certainly are calling his bluff on this. So the reality is, we saw Speaker Paul Ryan, as Laura was saying, pulling back from this and other Republicans have as well. So the president, at the very least, seems distracted by all of this. Of course he has a big summit coming up this weekend and then next week as well. But he seems very focused on the Justice Department and James Comey in particular.
[12:05:10] Look at this message he sent out this morning. Very few number of words here, but certainly very interesting. Let's take a look. He said, when will people start saying, thank you, Mr. President, for firing James Comey? Not any time soon, probably. At least the Republicans in Washington who believe that the firing of James Comey led to the special counsel and started all of this. So the president is clearly trying to frame this debate, frame all of this as that was something he had to do more than a year ago is fire the FBI director.
But it certainly is not helping his argument, I would say, you know, that there was a spygate, there was other things happening here. But all of this is going on again, as I said, many people here at the White House I talked to say that they certainly wish the president would focus on the matter at hand, and that's the visit from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who will be coming behind me here in just a few moments. And then, of course, that North Korea summit next week.
But the president, we'll hear from him this afternoon at a press conference. He certainly, I would expect, will be asked about James Comey, and the DOJ, and so much else, John.
KING: I would be that's a safe expectation, Jeff. We'll be back to the White House momentarily when the prime minister shows up. Thank you.
With me in studio here to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Hirschfeld Davis with "The New York Times," Sahil Kapur with Bloomberg, Michael Shear with "The New York Times," and "Time's" Molly Ball.
Is this a case, forgive my language to a degree, but where the dog chases its own tail, and in this case, on two cases, might be about to bite it, in the sense that -- let's start with the documents.
The president is saying, you're hiding these documents, release the documents, give Congress these documents. The Justice Department originally resisted. Now it's more than willing to do so after it has seen Speaker Paul Ryan, Chairman Trey Gowdy, Chairman Richard Burr, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell say we were briefed on this and we see nothing there to support the president's wild allegation that the FBI spied. In fact, the speaker yesterday agreeing with Trey Gowdy who says the FBI actually not only did -- not do anything wrong, it did everything right.
JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": You might think so, right, that this -- that this is an instance where he's sort of made a situation for himself that's going to end up disproving the theory that he's put out there, you know, disproving the argument that he's put out there.
But we've seen this from this president a number of times, and he always seems to move on to the next thing. You know, we saw this with the House Intelligence Committee memo, right? They wanted -- he wanted to release the memo. He wanted to have proof that this wiretapping of his former campaigning aide was not justified. Well, in fact, the information that came out in the course of that was that it was actually justified, that he had had contacts with the Russians, that there was a reason why that FISA warrant was issued. And so that didn't look like it turned out in his favor. But now he's turned to this.
So I think, you know, that he -- he will continue to raise these questions because it undercuts the investigation, in his mind, and that's -- that's his goal.
KING: In his mind it's important.
I just want to tell our viewers, you're watching, Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan, showing up at the White House. These two are good friends. But there are tensions at the moment. Important things to discuss. Number one, the upcoming North Korea summit. They Japanese, of course, live in the neighborhood. They have huge interest that the United States keep up the pressure and, b, get very detailed security commitments. That's priority number one. Priority number two, some trade tensions that will also continue as the president and the prime minister move on to Canada for the annual G-7 meeting that takes place.
They're heading inside now. We expect to hear from them momentarily. We'll take you back to the White House.
Let's come back to this theory. Again, you know, the whole idea of the spies. There's a fabulous, ladies and gentlemen watching, if you haven't seen it, it's a fabulous "Time" cover today and "Time" cover stories inside the -- in -- about the president, about how he goes about his job, about his views on executive power, about his spinning wildly at times these conspiracy theories that he thinks help him. I just want to read a piece of it here. Donald Trump's campaign to discredit the Russia investigation may be working. It's also damaging American democracy.
We've seen this. We talk about it all the time. It's almost like he uses "Fox and Friends" to vet which topics are good enough or are legit. And he will go ahead and attack those and light these up, says a friend of Trump familiar with his social media use.
A lot of that social media use is spinning these conspiracy theories which time and time again, or sometimes they're simply false on their face, other times, like, did the FBI spy? Does he know something about this? The more you learn about him, you find out, not exactly. And, in this case, probably not at all.
MOLLY BALL, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "TIME": Yes, I mean, to Julie's point, it's somewhat surprising that he hasn't actually moved on from spygate. It's now been three weeks that he has spent trying to make this a thing, continuing to use his nickname for it, and to double down on these claims that now so many, even usually loyal members of his own party are saying just isn't the case, right? The idea that he believes conspiracy theories or that he will put conspiracy theories into the mainstream by putting question marks on them, that's nothing new.
And the goal, as we write in our "Time" cover story this week is to undercut, discredit the investigation, create a cloud around it so people aren't sure what is true and what's not and what they can trust and what they can't. And then, at the end of the day, they just throw up their hands and say, well, the whole thing is illegitimate.
[12:10:01] KING: And then we expect an IG report that will be critical of James Comey. We're also told it will be critical of Andy McCabe, who was James Comey's deputy. And we're also told it has some language in there not nice to the attorney general of the United States at the time, Loretta Lynch, and their role in all the Clinton email (INAUDIBLE).
But the question for me is, will it say anything about political motivation? Because you can make the case if you're Donald Trump that when James Comey first came out and shut the Clinton investigation down that it helped her. But you can just as well make the case that when he came back so close to the election and said we're reopening it that he hurt her. So a lot of this is actually not pro-Trump; A lot of the conduct that is being scrutinized hurt Hillary Clinton.
MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": But I don't -- I'm not certain that the sort of nuances of that matter to Trump. I mean I think, you know --
KING: He just wants to say incompetent baboons now after me.
SHEAR: Well, and -- right. And so -- so on the Comey thing, he has been trying to develop a counter-narrative to Comey's -- the narrative that Comey is putting out in his book, which is that he's this, you know, sort of honest truth-teller at the FBI. The whole book is about making the right choices. Trump has been trying to set up this case that Comey is not that person, that he's -- and so anything that feeds into, you know, an idea that it discredits him, that he made the wrong choices, which apparently is what the report is going to say, that he didn't make the right choices by coming out and doing all these things, sort of whatever the kind of political nuance is, I don't think that matters to Trump. This is probably good and it feeds into his narrative.
And I think to Molly's point about -- on the first part, on the IG report -- I mean on the -- yes, on the IG report, the idea that -- on spygate, the idea that he's continuing to say spygate, it may not -- it may not convince everybody, but his 30, 32, 33 percent of the base will believe spygate no matter what we say, no matter what Ryan says, no matter what any of the other Republicans say, those 33 percent are going to believe it.
BALL: Well, at that point he's -- SAHIL KAPUR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, "BLOOMBERG": All of this is part of a two-pronged strategy, I would say, that has a legal component and a PR component. The legal component, which Rudy Giuliani has been -- has been pressing pretty aggressively lately, is to say that the only potential recourse for -- potential crimes by a president is impeachment. The PR strategy is to make sure that never happens by convincing enough Republican voters that this whole thing is as justified and this is a politically motivated investigation. And you see it show up.
Mitch McConnell in the Senate, the majority leader, does not want to touch this at all. He dodges questions about it. He kind of, you know, trenches (ph). Paul Ryan is leaving. He's a little bit more willing to go out there and say, no, I haven't seen evidence for this.
But, on the other side, you have conservatives, like a Florida congressman who was on "Lou Dobbs" yesterday aggressively pushing the president's message and attacking Republican leaders who are not adopting these conspiracy theories. So the PR aspect is working.
KING: The PR aspect may be working. And you mentioned the 33, whatever it is, 40 percent.
Here's an example here. This is Sean Hannity last night on Fox. He has been a leading -- the president's boom box, if you will, for the Mueller investigation is illegitimate, the Mueller investigation's over its bounds. If you want to go to prison and you're a subject of this investigation, follow this advice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: He wants the phones turned over. Even tax that are on what are called encrypted apps like Whatsapp or Signal. If I advised him to follow Hillary Clinton's lead, delete all your e- mails and then acid wash the emails and the hard drives on the -- on your phones, then take your phones and bash them with a hammer into little, itsy-bitsy pieces, use bleach bit (ph), remove the sim cards and then take the piece and hand it over to Robert Mueller and say, Hillary Rodham Clinton, this is equal justice under the law.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: It's colorful. I don't think it's good legal advice, but it's colorful. But it just proves, they can inflate the two. Hillary Clinton did do some very questionable things. People around her did some very questionable things. The president's boom box uses that to then say this, Bob Mueller is somehow, you know, bad, too, when the two have nothing to do with each other.
SHEAR: Right. And that doesn't matter because it's just -- you know, the -- President Trump tweeted out pictures of Hillary or tweets out pictures. It doesn't matter. It's all about muddying the message.
BALL: But to Sahil's point about whether or not this is working, I think that depends on how you look at it.
BALL: On the one hand, the number of Americans who don't trust the special counsel is rising. It's risen about five points in the last five months. It's now a majority of the American public believes there's some political motivation to this investigation. So Trump's winning in that regard. A record number of Republicans support him.
However, the majority of Americans also still believe that the probe should go forward. Only 37 percent agree with Trump that it is a, quote, witch hunt. So he is -- he's succeeding in shoring up his base. He's succeeding in consolidating Republicans. He has not necessarily succeeded with the overall public in convincing them that the whole thing is just a plot (ph).
KING: And, very important, to that point, Robert Mueller doesn't get to speak publically, has made the choice not to speak publicly. He speaks time to time with documents filed in court. If there are new indictments, that will be part of the argument. And then the report we expect at the end. So we're not -- yes, Trump may be winning right now, but the other side of the debate has not had equal time, shall we say. Might get it at some point.
Up next, the president prepping for some contentious meetings over trade policies at tomorrow's G-7 meeting in Canada. Even accusing Canada of burning down the White House in 1812. No, it was the Brits. But, listen here, the colorful Senator Kennedy has an alternative theory.
[12:15:14] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN KENNEDY (R), LOUISIANA: I think the president was probably joking. Everybody knows it was the Russians who burned the White House. I take back the part about the Russia burning Washington.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Too late, it's out there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: President Trump is in an Oval Office meeting with Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, right now. We'll hear from the leaders any moment.
North Korea and trade topping the agenda. Abe, of course, a presidential golf buddy. He was the first international leader to come calling on the president-elect at Trump Tower. But he's now just one of the G-7 leaders learning that friendship and flattery can be a one- way street.
From Washington and the Abe meeting, the president goes on to Canada for the G-7. There are the seven leaders of the G-7. Abe is a friend, even though there are tensions, so we give him a somewhat special spot. The Italian prime minister has just been on the job for a week. He's a wildcard at the G-7. We'll see if he emerges as a Trump friend or a Trump critic. [12:20:07] Especially with these other European leaders and the
Canadian prime minister, the president has a lot of differences heading into this meeting. Most recently it's the trade tariffs that have them angry. They say America's lashing out at them for no reason. That they are not threat. We should be able to work this out.
The disagreements, though more front and center, because, remember, they were mad when the president backed out of the Paris climate deal. That sort of poisoned the well a little bit. And they were fierce critics of the president when he walked away from the Iran nuclear deal. So big disagreements, especially with the Europeans, but also the Canadian prime minister who says, hey, we're America's closest neighbor. We're just across the northern border. Mr. President, why are you trying to pick a fight with us?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JUSTIN TRUDEAU, CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER: They're questions about what are going to be -- what is going to be the dynamic at -- around the G- 7 table. And I can say that it will be very similar to other G-7 tables in which we highlight and discuss many things we're agreed on and have differences of opinion on other things. There's no question that on trade, on climate change, on some other issues, there will be differences of perspective.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: How much have the others, Abe in the Oval Office now, and these other leaders, learned the lesson that we've all talked for more than a year, if you want to get close to the president, you flatter him, you say nice things about him, you buddy up with him, you have dinner at the top of the Eiffel Tower, in the case of President Macron, with Abe you golf. Only gets you so far.
BALL: Yes, I think that is the lesson that's been learned.
BALL: I think because I was thinking back to when I was at the first NATO summit that was near the beginning of the presidency, more than a year ago, and it was very awkward and there were a lot of the similar things being discussed, differences on policy with European leaders. There were some awkward interactions. There was Trump seeming to sort of sulk on the sidelines while others chatted amongst themselves, almost like a high school click that was excluding him, which I think is maybe how he feels about it. But what -- and so you did seem them develop these strategies, like you said, of flattery.
But what's different a year from that is that they've figured out it doesn't matter what they do. They really -- this is not -- this is not -- and this may be a feature, not a bug (ph). This isn't a president who can really be handled. He's going to do what he's going to do and they're just going to have to deal with it and pick up the pieces because that's what he views as his prerogative.
KING: And especially now, because he knows there are going to be so many disagreements. He knows they're going to sit there and say, Mr. President, we told you you were wrong on Iran, we told you you were wrong on the Paris climate, now we're here to tell you you're wrong on trade. That's his perspective, that they're going to come and lecture him.
"The Washington Post" put it this way. Trump has complained to aides about spending two days in Canada for a summit of world leaders, believing the trip is a distraction from his upcoming Singapore summit. He fears attending the global -- the group of seven summit in rural Charlevoix, Quebec, may not be a good use of his time because he is diametrically opposed on many key issues with his counterparts and does not want to be lectured by them.
The story goes on to say, he especially doesn't like being around Prime Minister May and Chancellor Merkel. I think you can figure out at home what makes them different from the other leaders there. I mean how much of -- is this, I don't want to be with people I disagree with? Does he not understand --
DAVIS: I mean I --
KING: That you have to talk to these other countries. They're economic powers. They're national security allies.
DAVIS: I a lot of it is that. I also -- I don't think that the -- what sets this summit apart is that Singapore comes next and he's focused on North Korea. He has never liked this kind of a venue. He has always understood, from the very first one, as Molly was alluding to, that he was kind of going to be the odd man out, sometimes by design, sometimes by choice, and that he -- but he also doesn't like -- he doesn't like to sit and read briefing books and prepare for things. He doesn't like to have to tick through a long list of issues, which is what this summitry in a lot of ways is all about, you sit there and you take your meetings. And it can be, in a lot of ways, I remember Barack Obama didn't like this very much either at some point, you know, sitting there on issue by issue and ticking through the list.
But in particular now he has poked a lot of these leaders in the eye, I think quite deliberately, and he understands that he's going to get a lot of incoming from them, and that's just not how he wants to spend his time. I don't think he thinks of these summits as opportunities to get something accomplished, other than to come out and say, I stuck it to you, these other leaders, who didn't expect --
KING: But at -- at some point they do have disagreements. They do have disagreements. If you're going to move the ball forward on those very difficult issues, you've got to do the work, don't you? And, the flip side, something is going to happen in the world someday where he's going to need their help. Something we're not thinking about today, and he's going to have to pick up the phone.
Beyond the specifics of the issues, don't -- doesn't trying to build some friendships, rapport, respect, understanding, even if it's tense, matter?
SHEAR: No, because he -- because he doesn't see the value or -- the idea of multilateralism in the world and confronting. There are a lot of people out there who believe that the very best way to confront China, and China's bad trade practices, and China's bad practices rite large, is to have a unified front among western democracies.
KING: You mean like the TPP.
SHEAR: Well, like the TPP or --
KING: That was one -- that was one piece of it.
SHEAR: Right. But he doesn't -- but he -- but it's not only that he doesn't see the value or that he doesn't get it, he actively thinks that's not the right way to go, right? He actively thinks that United States action alone is going to be more productive than, you know, kind of what he would think of as a watered-down version of action where you sit in a room with all these people and you end up watering it down to the lowest common denominator, and he doesn't agree with that. And so, you know, it doesn't fit into his world view. And then when you add to what Julie was saying, that he doesn't like it either, it's just not going to happen.
[12:25:27] KING: And so then he and his base -- forgive me, jump in after this -- he and his base will love this then. Look at these headlines. In France. La Figaro (ph), U.K., "The Guardian," Germany, (INAUDIBLE), all America is going it alone. Trump, you know, thumbing us, he doesn't care.
KAPUR: He views everything through a personal lens. This is the thing about President Trump that makes him different, you know, from his predecessors. He cannot separate his own feelings and his own personal relationships and chemistry with other people from the institutions and the fact that he is representing the entire country.
I think, you know, the G-7 is going to be awkward for him for a variety of reasons. I think France's foreign minister called it the G- 6 plus one, which, you know, sets the tone. President Trump is ultimately motivated by domestic politics, and he's motivated to, you know, please his core supporters, and that has meant thumbing allies on things like the Iran deal, which, you know, Europe is not happy about, pulling out of TPP, which Japan is not happy about, pulling out of the climate Paris accord, which, if he does, will put the United States on an island entirely by itself. He's openly hostile to these international institutions and accords. He's not going to get a warm welcome.
KING: A fun meeting in Canada.
Again, we're waiting, the president and the prime minister talking to reporters at the Oval Office. We'll bring you any news from that meeting as soon as we can.
Up next, though, a return to domestic politics here at home. An impossible task for House Republicans trying to find common ground