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John Kelly Says Trump Asked Him to Stay Through 2020; Trump Rift With Koch Brothers Exposes GOP Split; Lebron James: Trump Has Used Sports to Divide Us; Senators Grills Officials Over Border Separations; Nearly 600 Children Still In Detention Centers. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 31, 2018 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:00] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: What does this say to you? I'll just say as I ask you that question, just my initial take on what Kaitlan was saying is that for someone who is known to be apolitical and not have a political bone in his body, meaning John Kelly, this is very shrewd politically to get it out there that the president asked him to stay until 2020.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No doubt. I mean, this was said at a senior staff meeting as Kaitlan was reporting. And this is John Kelly doing what he does, manage the staff. He is very much the staff part of the chief of staff. And he is sending the word to senior staff that, yes indeed, the president has asked me to stay. So for all of those in the room who may not like me, I am here to stay until 2020.

Now, as Kaitlan said, no one at the White House signs a contract. This president, who knows. I mean, I would send a short term lease on any office space working on the Trump White House. But it does say that.

BASH: Maybe more than 10 days like Scaramucci.

ZELENY: It does say this so there's no longer a fear of John Kelly that he has to hold, you know, hang over and that he's going to be fired. He now has to make the decision how long he is going to stay. And up until now, you know, there haven't been any lines that have happened that has -- he is, you know, he's frustrated at times, but he is invested in this.

But his portfolio, as you were saying about politics, it's so much smaller than it was. And going into the midterms and then into 2020, the president needs someone to sort of run the back of the House and keep, you know, the foreign policy and other stuff running not politics. So chief of staff but he's not as strong as he was coming in, no question.

BASH: Yes. I mean, no question about that. You're exactly right. And that was my point about him being shrewd because he's making this his terms. He's putting this in his terms. He's saying, he can stay until 2020, but that doesn't necessarily mean that he will decide to stay until 2020, right? ELIANA JOHNSON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: I think yes, that's exactly the point of this. He is really making the point that if he stays, it's going to be because he wants to be there and the president wants him there. And if he leaves, it's going to be because he wants to leave.

This is all going to be done on Kelly's terms. Whereas before, it was really watching what the president was going to do. So for people who are wondering if John Kelly is going to stay or leave, don't watch Trump, watch Kelly.

And, you know, it's so interesting because whenever you're -- you know, as reporters, we're working on stories about the White House. The White House will always emphasize, you know, John Kelly is the chief of staff. He manages the staff. He doesn't manage the president which former chiefs of staff would laugh out loud at.

You know, the chief of staff is really intended to be first among equals. He is the first person that the president talks to during the day and the last person the president talks to at night. That is not the role John Kelly is playing in this White House. And it's why it's -- but I think that's precisely why the president wants to keep him around because he doesn't manage this president.

BASH: And does it also mean that the other people who are floated out there to do the job either wouldn't or couldn't or a combination of both?

MARY KATHARINE HAM, SENIOR WRITER, THE FEDERALIST: Well, that's the question. Who's behind door number three? I would also like to reflect for a moment on the fact that Reince Priebus was the chief of staff just one year ago that feels like --

BASH: That is crazy.

HAM: -- feels like much longer than that. If he makes it to 2020, he should get like the 40-year gift that you get at a normal job like that. I don't know what that is. A car, I don't know.


HAM: Purple Heart.

KAPUR: -- near-exits. It's remarkable to think how many near-exits or speculated near-exit moments that John Kelly has had. Go back to Charlottesville when he just looked outright despondent during the president's press conference. There was a whole Rob Porter fiasco where people thought, you know, his handling of that might lead to his force exit.

Family separation, he was the face of that before it happened, talked about it being a deterrent. There are some reports that he said some insulting things about the president and portrait himself as the savior in the White House. I'm reminded of something that one former Trump aide told me and I think I mentioned this at the program at the time during the Rob Porter scandal which is that, President Trump doesn't like firing people as much as his reputation suggests. There's always some crisis for him to deal with or create.

And in the case of John Kelly, no one knows who would replace him.

BASH: Yes. Well, that is true. OK, everybody stand by. Before we go to break though, a quick update on the Paul Manafort trial proceedings.

The judge says he anticipates a jury will be selected by the end of this hour, 1 p.m. Easter time. It's pretty fast. That means opening statements could begin today. And we're going to keep you up to date as we learn more.

We'll be right back.


[12:38:38] BASH: President Trump's Twitter war of the day is not with the media or Mueller or Chuck or Nancy. Nope. Today he's lashing out at libertarians turned conservative king makers Charles and David Koch. In a two-part tweet, he slammed the billionaire brothers as globalist and a total joke in real Republican circles opposed to strong borders and powerful trade. He says he doesn't need the Kochs' money or, quote, bad ideas.

Now the attack comes after the president was criticized at the Koch summer network meeting. And there was talk there that the mega donor brothers are turning their backs on Republican candidates, as well might even support Democrats. Now, this matters not just for this drama that we're talking about but the huge divide it represents within the GOP between ardent Trump supporters who see the president and his populist policies as the future and the traditionalists.


JAMES DAVIS, KOCH NETWORK SPOKESMAN: We've seen some great success. Tax reform. We've seen justices. We've seen V.A. reform. And I could go on and on.

But we've also seen tremendous setback. And those setbacks are significant. A $1.3 trillion spending bill. Then we see families being separated at the border.

We want to make it clear that building policy coalitions as we move forward, we think is the best way to bring -- cut through the divisiveness that we're seeing across the country and to actually mobilize on some change and make progress on some of these issues.


[12:40:14] BASH: That's the spokesperson from the Koch Network.

This is one of the most fascinating political stories of the day and the week. And it's because the Kochs -- I mean, how many times did we hear former Democratic leader Harry Reid on the Senate floor making the Koch brothers the boogymen. That their big money, they're the ones who are supporting Republicans across the country. And it's not the Republican candidates' ideas, it's the Koch brothers' ideas. And that was exaggerated to say the least for political purposes. But the Koch has spent umpteen dollars and they really kind of helped change the game.

And yet, here we are in a very important midterm election, and according to Politico, at least for now, the Koch Organization has not supported three of the most important Republican candidates that will determine whether the Senate stays Republican. Kevin Cramer in North Dakota, Mike Braun in Indiana, Dean Heller in Nevada.

And they're clearly trying to tell these guys don't take us for granted. We support, -- we, the Kochs support traditional Republican policies like free trade and even immigration, to help with their businesses. And the president and his supporters do not.

HAM: Yes. I mean, the bottom line is that they're ideological people. And ideologically, they're where someone like me is on policy. And that's an uncomfortable place to be in the Trump administration and with populism.

So you get somebody who care -- they care about debt, they care about criminal justice reform. They care about like keeping immigration open to some extent. And these things don't sit well with the populist movement.

Now, the Republican Party and voters as we found out is not as ideological as the Kochs, but they will -- I think they will happily turn their money to doing things like these reforms that they want to do or giving more money to ballets and fossil displays at the Natural History Museum.

BASH: Which they have done a lot.

HAM: -- with their money. So there is a risk here for Republican candidates who do not align with some of those plans.

BASH: And you say people who have the political ideology of somebody like you, Marc Short who just left the White House as a legislative director worked for the Kochs previously. He made the point on CNN this morning that they histo -- they started out as libertarians. They are libertarians, they are independents. It's just they gravitated towards Republicans and funding think tanks.

And look at what -- just a couple of quotes from some of the heads of Americans for Prosperity of Koch Network. Political and policy arm Tim Phillips. Look, if this were 2015 or 2016, we would likely just have gone ahead and endorsed him, meaning the Republican candidate in North Dakota, but we're raising the bar.

And then Emily Seidel, why would Cramer, that North Dakota candidate, or any Republican feel like they need to listen to this network if they knew we just support them anyway?

ZELENY: That's a great point I think in many respects, but I will think this story will be more interesting and we'll see if it goes that way, if they actually support Democrats. Or do they just stay on the sidelines? That's a big difference.

I mean, if they actively support -- if they're not supporting Heidi Heitkamp probably in North Dakota, that would be something far more significant. But this is kind of the nonpolitical equivalent of mommy and daddy are fighting here. And it's -- I think it raises serious questions for candidates like Marsha Blackburn, someone like that in Tennessee. Running there, she has a long history of being supported by this network and also supported by the president.

So what are these candidates specifically going to do if there's a tug of war between both sides? Or is this going to just be a summer fight and cool off? We'll see. The president obviously deciding this morning to engage in this fight. We don't know where it's going.

BASH: When mommy and daddy are fighting, one wants to live at the beach, and the other one wants to live in the mountains. I mean, it's hard to see how they reconcile.

JOHNSON: We had an interesting point here where I think the direction of the Republican Party has turned in a populist direction that cares a lot about cracking down on immigration and about free trade or, you know, protectionism. And the Koch Network has shifted its emphasis to criminal justice reform and other things. And so these two parties are really diverging and they don't have much in common. I think taxes and the repeal of ObamaCare are maybe the only issues they overlap on.

BASH: And we have to go to break, but you're right that not everybody relies on the Koch Network. But some really significant victories were born out of the Koch Network, like Scott Walker in Wisconsin, the fight against -- you know, where they try to take him off the ballot and get rid off him.

OK. Everybody stand by. Up next, Lebron James speaks out against President Trump and hints about his own political future.


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: They said, listen, they've got no one. If you don't run, Trump's going to win. Would you run?

[12:45:00] LEBRON JAMES, FOUR -TIME NBA MVP: Well, in that case, I may.



BASH: Topping our political radar, Justice Anthony Kennedy officially hangs up his robe today. His retirement could transform the Supreme Court for generations. The 82-year-old often cast the swing vote in several crucial cases, including the one in 2015 that cleared the way for same-sex marriage. And in 1992, he upheld Roe versus Wade. Kennedy was nominated by President Ronald Reagan and served on the high court for 30 years.

And Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen warns the nation is in more danger from cyber attacks than from physical attacks. Speaking at a national cybersecurity summit today, Nielsen emphasized that everyone and everything is a potential target, individuals, industries, infrastructure. Nielsen said once again that Russia did interfere in the 2016 elections.


[12:50:05] KIRSTJEN NIELSEN, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Let me be clear, our intelligence community has it right. It was the Russians, we know that. They know that. It was directed from the highest levels. And we cannot and will not allow that to happen again.


BASH: An NBA superstar Lebron James says President Trump is using athletes to turn Americans against one another. Lebron sat down with our own Don Lemon for a candid interview, and he's opening an elementary school for at-risk children in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. During that interview, he said, I can't sit back and say nothing. He suggested the president is using race as a wedge issue.


JAMES: He's kind of used sport to kind of divide us.

LEMON: And do you think he uses black athletes as a scapegoat?

JAMES: At times, at times. And more often than not I believe he uses anything that's popular to try to negate people from thinking about the positive things that they could actually be doing.


BASH: And today, senators are questioning administration officials about family separations at the border for the very first time.

Up next, one Democrat says a cabinet resignation is in order.


[12:55:58] BASH: On Capitol Hill, Trump administration officials are facing senators this morning for the first time since the government was ordered to reunite more than 2,000 families separated at the southern border. 559 children, 559 children, I wanted to say that again, are still in detention centers without their parents. Most of them are gone, the parents have already been deported and nearly 100 of the parents' locations are unknown.

Republican Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley underlined the concern he has about those deported parents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. CHUCK GRASSLEY (R), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: These public reports indicate that many of them may have not made an informed choice to leave their children behind. Some of these reports suggest that these parents weren't presented information in a language that they could even understand.


BASH: Federal judge Dana Sabro ordered the government to finalize plans for reuniting the children with missing parents by Thursday. Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, he had another demand aimed at Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.


SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), MINORITY WHIP: I am today calling on the architect of this humanitarian disaster, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen to step down. The family separate policy is more than a bureaucratic lapse in judgment. It is and was a cruel policy, inconsistent with the bedrock values of this nation. Someone, someone in this administration has to accept responsibility.


BASH: Before we get to a discussion, I want to play another moment at the hearing that comes from Matthew Albence. He is the associate director of removal -- help me out here, guys -- of enforcement and removal -- he is the executive director of Enforcement and Removal Operations in ICE. Listen to how he described the areas and the detention centers that these children without their parents are in right now.


MATTHEW ALBENCE, ENFORCEMENT AND REMOVAL OPERATIONS, ICE: I think the best way to describe them is to be more like a summer camp. These individuals have access to 24/7 food and water. They have educational opportunities. They have recreational opportunity, both structured as well as unstructured.


BASH: Except, in summer camp, your parents drop you off, they say we're going to get you on this date, they send you letters, they send you care packages, and you have fun. You're not ripped from the arms of a parent or a loved one who you -- OK, undocumented, fine, but these are children we're talking about. And the fact that this very senior person in charge of this operation is calling it summer camp.

KAPUR: That is some remarkable spin. And it also comes one day after Senators Grassley and Feinstein wrote a bipartisan letter calling on the Trump administration to investigate what they call serious and disturbing allegations of physical and sexual abuse of detainees by guards and other staff at ICE and HHS facilities. Not the kind of things that happen at summer camp.

BASH: Not the kind of summer camp we would send any of our kids to.

KAPUR: Right. This whole thing is a mess. And it smacks of an administration that did not think about the end game, did not think about uniting these families or how this would end once they put this policy into place.

Remember, the purpose was punishment. The purpose was to inflict pain for the purpose of a deterrent, to send a message to people, don't come here, don't bring your kids, or it's not going to turn out well for you. This is the result of that.

HAM: Yes, I mean, it's just a giant failure, and it will lead to more bad moments like this for -- that reflect badly on the administration.

BASH: That is true. Failure is one thing, but how do you say things like that?

HAM: Because they're trying -- well, look, I do think and I'm not including the summer camp talking point, but I think there are many good-hearted people who are trying to deal with this will logistical nightmare that the Trump administration put on them. So I'm sympathetic to some of that, but the federal government is inherently bad at doing these things. And it's going to bad and it's a heartbreaking thing.

BASH: It is certainly is.

Thank you so much for joining us here on INSIDE POLITICS. Wolf picks up right now.