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INSIDE POLITICS

Peter Strzok Fired; Trump Tweets about Omarosa; Giuliani on Flynn Discussion. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 13, 2018 - 12:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:00:15] JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Big, breaking news today. The FBI fires the agent whose text messages are exhibit A to President Trump and his allies who claim a deep state bias in the Russia meddling investigation.

Plus, talk about a jury of your peers. The president, who lies constantly, and the top aides who lie constantly for him today say the former "Apprentice" star Omarosa is, you guessed it, lying about a White House culture of mistrust and back stabbing.

And, Nancy Pelosi says, bring it on. She fires back at Republicans making her a big campaign issue and has this advice for Democrats in tough midterm races.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), MINORITY LEADER: And I won't let the Republican ads, which are just flooding these districts, and I say to the candidates, do whatever you have to do, just win, baby. I know one in five children in America lives in poverty. We must win this. When the caucus decides, it will decide whose name they will send to the floor. Then, only then, after the election will I ask people for their support.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We begin with news that broke last hour. A major player in President Trump's witch hunt conspiracy theory now ousted from the FBI. Peter Strzok, the agent who slammed the president and promised to stop his bid for the White House in a series of text messages, has now been fired.

"The Washington Post" was first to report this news, and Strzok's lawyer confirms it to CNN. That attorney says the FBI's deputy director, David Bowdich, overruled the bureau recommendation to suspend Strzok and personally ordered the firing on Friday. Now, this agent earned infamy and the president's scorn for his exchanges with an FBI lawyer with whom he was having an affair, which included talk of, quote, an insurance policy, and, stopping then-candidate Trump's election. The texts and his animus toward Trump earned Strzok a recurring role in the president's tweet attacks.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz joins us now with the significance of this big news.

Shimon, and it is very significant.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, it really is. And really coming at really -- there's really never a good time, but really coming at a very peculiar time when this Russia investigation is still going full steam ahead. The president, obviously, has continued to attack the FBI, has continued to attack Peter Strzok. So the question really is, why did this happen on Friday? This is when his attorney says he was fired. It happened Friday afternoon.

The question that we all have is why, right, because we know the political certainly issues surrounding this investigation, surrounding him. But the real question as to why he was fired, we have not heard from the FBI.

Now, this happened all on Friday afternoon. His lawyer was notified, and Peter Strzok, who lost his clearance, had been removed essentially from the FBI building, was not allowed to return to his desk, was let go, as we said, on Friday afternoon.

Now, really, I think, John, the whole big thing and what this really means for the FBI, what this means for this Russia investigation, you know, Peter Strzok has been someone who's been at the center of it, was a key player in this investigation and also the Hillary Clinton investigation. And, obviously, this is going to help those attacks against the FBI, the idea that this is somehow a rigged witch hunt, the idea that somehow the FBI was tainted. He was the lead guy on this investigation.

Certainly unprecedented. You do not see this often from the FBI, for someone to be fired in this way.

KING: And, Shimon, I'm putting you on the spot, a question I don't think you can answer yet, but my question, let me add another why, if you will. If you're the relatively new FBI director, Christopher Wray, and you have promised to put these questions of integrity in the bureau behind you, why would they get flat footed? Why would they not get out ahead of this if they knew it was going to be a national discussion?

PROKUPECZ: Right, that's a great question. I mean, look, we know that the FBI director has said himself that he was disgusted by some of this conduct. You know, there's no excuse for this conduct. But people are entitled. The argument from Peter Strzok's lawyer, from his side, is that people are entitled to their own personal opinions. And so that's what they were essentially -- kind of that's what the texts were about.

But we -- what we don't have is the actual what regulations were violated here. What exactly was the cause for the firing? And that's what we're sort of waiting to hear. And it's also, I think -- you know, you're right, you know what -- why

not get ahead of this? I mean this got out -- this happened on Friday. We're just learning about it today. That's interesting, I think, as well. And now, I guess, you know, ultimately, we wait to see how the president responds to all of this.

KING: I was just going to say, it would be great to hear from Mr. Wray explaining this decision. And I can bet that soon enough we will hear from the president.

Shimon Prokupecz, appreciate the reporting there.

PROKUPECZ: Sure.

KING: Come back to us if we get more information.

With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Julie Pace with "The Associated Press," CNN's Manu Raju, Michael Shear with "The New York Times," and CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson.

[12:05:03] Now, if you're the president, you say, I told you so, right?

MICHAEL SHEAR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Right.

KING: Now they finally fired this guy who's part of this conspiracy, part of the bias against me.

I assume, if you're Chris Wray, you're going to say, no, we fired this guy because we need to turn the page and the texts were reprehensible and it has nothing to do with anything forward going. But the lack of, I mean, why -- I just -- I don't get it when smart people do -- leave this big opening now.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": It is so striking that this happened on Friday and we're only learning about it now from Peter Strzok's lawyer. It still hasn't even -- there still hasn't been even an official announcement from the FBI.

And in that vacuum, I think you're right, we can expect the president to fill it. He has created a characters, villains, in this Mueller investigation and in the FBI. Peter Strzok is really at the center of them.

And just in -- before we came out here, I was seeing on Twitter and on social media the response from a lot of Trump allies. I mean they are taking this as a scalp that they won here. So I do think it's going to be incumbent on Chris Wray to come out and give a fuller accounting of what happened here.

KING: And Peter Strzok's lawyer, Aitan Goelman, he doesn't like this at all. The president did just tweet, we're just told. Agent Peter Strzok was just fired from the FBI finally. The list of bad players in the FBI and DOJ gets longer and longer. Based on the fact that Strzok was in charge of the witch hunt, will it be dropped, the president asks. It's a total hoax. No collusion. No obstruction. I just fight back.

So, again, the front half of the tweet, the president celebrating. The back half of that tweet, the president spinning. If Robert Mueller found out about these texts, he removed Peter Strzok. Robert Mueller doesn't speak publicly, but in court, when the challenges to his investigation have been made, he has laid forth the evidence. But if you're the president and you're making a political argument, you just saw right there, this is tee ball.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And we should also remember what the inspector general said in his -- in his rather extensive investigation about all of this. He said that the ultimate decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton was not biased by anyone's personal feelings, and including all these text messages that he looked at between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page.

He did say that he believed one decision late in the investigation was -- he was not confident it was, quote, free from bias. That was a decision to focus on the Russia investigation and not the Clinton investigation at that time. Strzok, of course, has pushed back on that. And Strzok himself said under oath, look, he had his own personal feelings, but there were multiple layers above him about how these investigations ultimately happened. And we also don't have an actual full assessment from the inspector general about how the Russia investigation itself was carried out. So the president wants to conflate these two issues. We still don't have any evidence from anyone investigating this that Peter Strzok did anything to influence how the Russia investigation ultimately was conducted.

SHEAR: I mean I think the interesting thing is, I don't think there's a political kind of official that you can imagine who wouldn't take advantage of what happened with Strzok and the text messages and the sort of evidence of bias in terms of looking backwards, right, and saying, this is -- this is problematic and this person needs to be dealt with.

What is -- what is so dramatic is the way the president always crosses over the line, you know, kind of -- as Manu said, conflating with the Russia investigation and challenging the integrity of an ongoing investigation by suggesting meddling, that he's going to meddle with the FBI or that Jeff Sessions should take action. I mean that's -- it's really the forward looking -- the use of these incidents to, you know, to put pressure on the Justice Department going forward that really is something that I think other presidents wouldn't do.

KING: Yes. To Peter Strzok, for example, not at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with the president's son and all the campaign people. And so Peter Strzok has nothing to do with a lot of this, but the fact that he was an idiot, forgive me, and texting his personal opinions while in charge of a sensitive investigation --

RAJU: On a government device.

KING: On a government device. Great point.

SHEAR: On one of the most sensitive investigations. KING: Yes. His attorney, I was getting to that before the president tweeted. His attorney says this should be deeply troubling to all Americans. He's essentially saying the attorney making the case Peter Strzok was fired, punished for political speech protected by the First Amendment and that essentially the FBI is carrying out some political vendetta here against him because he has sullied the agency. We'll see how this one plays out. He has rights to complain and appeal, and I assume he has a lawyer for a reason.

Let's listen to some of the testimony when Peter Strzok was on Capitol Hill in July. It was brought up by Trey Gowdy, I believe, is the Republican congressman here, that Robert Mueller removed him. Now, Trey Gowdy says he was removed for bias. Strzok answers back saying, no, he was removed because his texts gave the appearance of bias.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER STRZOK, FORMER FBI AGENT: I am stating to you it is not my understanding that he kicked me off because of any bias. That it was done based on the appearance. If you want to represent what you said accurately, I'm happy to answer that question, but I don't appreciate what was originally said being changed.

REP. TREY GOWDY (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I don't give a damn what you appreciate, Agent Strzok. I don't appreciate having an FBI agent with an unprecedented level of animus working on two major investigations during 2016.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't like Donald Trump, do you?

[12:10:01] STRZOK: Fair to say, I'm not a fan, sir.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, and that's how it went for about ten hours. I mean this was a really contentious hearing. I think people were surprised in the way that Peter Strzok struck back in many ways. I mean you could see his emotion there.

It has been interesting the way that the president sort of looks back and pitches for it. Also interesting in the way that people have rallied around him. Republicans very much rallying around him, basically thwarting and advancing the arguments that he's making that this is a tainted -- this is a tainted investigation. To the extent that there ever was a smoking gun in the tangle of conspiracy theories that Trump has advanced and his supporters have advanced, it's Peter Strzok, I mean, with that -- with that text saying, we'll stop it. And so you gave, I think, a lot of cover and a lot of ammunition to a lot of the folks who were supporting Trump.

RAJU: And one of those things in that initial exchange you played between Gowdy and Strzok is that Strzok had said that when Mueller learned about these texts, they had a very brief meeting about it and that Mueller didn't necessarily investigate the texts themselves. That led Republicans to say, well, why isn't Mueller investigating whether or not the investigation was biased, influenced in any negative way by Strzok. We'll see how that plays out.

KING: And to the point we made, forgive me for -- the point we made about the tee ball here, again, the Justice Department inspector general looked into this question and has said that he found no evidence of bias in the decisions to close the Clinton investigation, to make the decisions not to prosecute Hillary Clinton. But here's the president of the United States. He's, remember, on a working vacation, call it if you will, tweeting just moments ago, just fired Agent Strzok, formerly the FBI, was in charge of the crooked Hillary Clinton sham investigation. It was a total fraud on the American public and should be properly redone.

HENDERSON: Lock her up, right? I mean partly what his supporters want to hear, yes, that they should go back and investigate one of his opponents, even though that thing has been wrapped up. So --

KING: And so you have the Manafort trial underway. You have continuing developments in the Mueller investigation. Mueller winning a round in court by a Trump-appointed federal judge, refusing a challenge to Mueller's authority. But Peter Strzok gets fired. And the president, understandably -- I mean, he's the president. Probably the president probably shouldn't do this, but you can understand the political argument that you have this firing now, use it to your advantage.

SHEAR: Right. But if there's -- if there's anything that's going to bolster the case of Strzok's lawyer, that there -- that this has been a politically motivated firing and not -- and not, you know, kind of the normal bureaucratic process, it's the president himself and the president's tweets who have been on, you know, a -- kind of a complete rampage about -- about Peter Strzok. So that's the evidence that the lawyer is going to use to say this was politics.

RAJU: And it's also the push for a second special counsel.

PACE: Right. Rudy Giuliani tweeted that this morning. And that's what the president's allies have been saying all along, name a second special counsel to investigate the investigators. I'm sure you'll hear the president start to push that.

KING: And the House --

PACE: It means we're going to be living with the 2016 election for the rest of our lives.

KING: The rest of our lives.

And just to make the point, the House is not in town this week, otherwise we would hear from the Trey Gowdys and the Jim Jordans and the Mark Meadows and the other people who are -- who have been with the president in raising questions about the credibility of the FBI. I suspect we'll hear from them later in the day, but not as quickly as normal because Congress not here this week.

Up next for us here, more drama. An estranged former White House aide says the West Wing is full of liars, but the White House says no one should believe her. Yes, yes, this one's fun. Who's telling the truth? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:17:23] KING: Welcome back.

From law and order to reality TV and a whole lot of bridges now engulfed in flames. The former White House aide and estranged Trump confidant Omarosa Manigault Newman making explosive claims against her former employer, even linking a conversation she recorded with the president after she was fired, unbeknownst to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Omarosa, what's going on? I just saw on the news that you're thinking about leaving. What happened? (INAUDIBLE). What happened?

OMAROSA MANIGAULT NEWMAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE: General Kelly -- General Kelly came to me and said that you guys wanted me to leave.

TRUMP: No, I -- I -- nobody even told me about it. Nobody --

NEWMAN: Wow.

TRUMP: You know, they run a big operation, but I didn't know it. I didn't know that.

NEWMAN: Yes.

TRUMP: Goddamn it. I don't love you leaving at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We should note, this morning while Omarosa was sounding off on the "Today" show, the president's lawyer, at the very same time, was giving an interview on Fox News. It seems the president was paying closer attention to the woman he is now calls a low life.

Here are some of his tweets just a few hours after that interview. Wacky Omarosa, who got fired three times on "The Apprentice," now got fired for the last time. He continued, I would rarely see her but heard really bad things. Nasty to people and would constantly miss meetings and work. When General Kelly came on board, he told me she was a loser and nothing but problems. I told him to try working it out, if possibly, because she only said great things about me until she got fired.

A little fact check of the president quickly here. You heard the president in that tweet, or saw the president in that tweet saying he rarely saw or heard Omarosa. As you can see there, that's just six examples. She was frequently by his side and often given premium seatings in meetings with the president.

This whole thing is from a parallel universe. But the fact that the president tweets she was fired three times on "The Apprentice," that's fake.

PACE: Right.

KING: That's fake. He knows that, right? It's fake. It's scripted. It's reality television.

HENDERSON: Yes. But all of it sort of explains why she was in that White House. I mean in some ways --

KING: And please explain why she was in that White House.

HENDERSON: Yes, I mean, they go back to 2004 when she was on "The Apprentice." I think she was really responsible for the success of that show in many ways. At some point, Donald Trump told her, you know, that she was the one to make him a star. Which -- you know, and if you think about the president wanting to surround himself with people he knows, people he's familiar with, security blankets in the White House, Omarosa, as hard as it is to believe, fits in that category. She's been in that orbit. Certainly not as close as some other people, but she's been in that orbit for quite some time.

PACE: But right from the very start of this administration, you had people like Reince Priebus, who was the first chief of staff, and others just desperately trying to push Omarosa aside because they knew that she was a problem. They knew that she was going to be leaking. They knew that she saw this as a bit of a reality show dance. And it was the president --

HENDERSON: Yes.

PACE: Trump himself --

KING: Right.

[12:20:08] PACE: Who was her protector. Every time she had an issue, every time she felt like she was blocked out of a meeting, blocked out of Oval Office access, it was the president who got that access back for her.

KING: Right. The president --

PACE: So he has no one to blame but himself.

KING: The president hires the best people, is getting a bit -- one of his own pills again, yet again.

PACE: Absolutely.

KING: He's tweeting as he goes, and I think maybe, Mr. President, if you're watching, you can call in. He just tweeted a few moments ago, whacky Omarosa already has a fully signed nondisclosure agreement.

Now, this is one of the issues. One of the issues in the absurdity of this and the fact that in a month from now most of this won't matter, is this conversation. She says, like others who have left the White House, she was offered $15,000 a month that would be paid by the Trump campaign if she signed a nondisclosure agreement and said nothing bad after he left. It is a fact that there are several former White House officials who get $15,000 a month from the Trump campaign. That is interesting, to use a polite word.

RAJU: And that's -- and that's not normal. Other administrations have not done this to buy --

HENDERSON: Yes, this is weird. Yes.

RAJU: Essentially buy her silence and not really give her any real role in the campaign. Though, nondisclosure agreements are interesting too because at the beginning of the administration, that was something that was broached about within the White House, whether some officials ultimately signed that remains to be seen.

It's also interesting, too, the president talking about firing a lot of people, but he doesn't do the firing himself.

PACE: Right.

RAJU: Whether it's James Comey or David Shulkin or here in Omarosa's case, the president claims he didn't know. It was Kelly doing the firing, not the president.

KING: Yes. And so the firing here was done by John Kelly. It was done in the White House Situation Room, which some find to be -- Kelly has his own office. Why would he have to take her in the situation room with White House lawyers? She says she was quote/unquote locked in.

She brought a recording device into the Situation Room. You're not supposed to bring any electronics into the most -- what's supposed to be the most secure room in Washington, D.C. Some people think it's a pen that she had some sort of recording device. Here it is, the voice of John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, firing Omarosa.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OMAROSA MANIGAULT NEWMAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Can I ask you a couple of questions? Does the president -- is the president aware of what's going on?

JOHN KELLY, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Don't -- let's not go down the road. This is a non-negotiable discussion.

NEWMAN: I don't want to negotiate. I just -- I've never talked -- had the chance to talk to you, General Kelly.

KELLY: Yes, but --

NEWMAN: So if this is my departure, I'd like to have at least an opportunity to understand.

KELLY: No, we can -- we can talk another time. This has to do with some pretty serious -- integrity violations. So I'll let it go at that. So the staff and everyone on the staff works for me, not the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SHEAR: I mean, as someone who's covered the White House for a decade almost, I just cannot tell you how stunning it is to hear recordings from inside the most secure parts of that building. I mean I just can't -- I mean their -- previous White Houses have had staff leave amid disagreements. There have been clashes with -- inside and people -- people leave. I -- and sometimes, every now and then, they write books and -- but never have I -- can I imagine secretly, illicitly recorded conversations that actually get out in --

KING: You're being fired because of use of government vehicles and other integrity violations, as the chief of staff is calling them, and you're secretly recording. You're (INAUDIBLE) another integrity violation, secretly recording the White House chief of staff in the Situation Room as you're fired for integrity reasons.

PACE: And she says there are more tapes.

SHEAR: More tapes.

KING: Right.

RAJU: Yes.

SHEAR: More tapes.

PACE: And she's taking a classic page out of the Trump playbook, which is to dribble out revelations, in this case to sell a book.

HENDERSON: Yes.

PACE: But if she did record the president, General Kelly, you can only imagine who else she was recording.

SHEAR: Who else?

HENDERSON: Yes. And a classic page out of her own playbook. She is a reality show villain, right? I mean that is what she does. And here she is.

KING: Yes. She learned from the master or he learned from her or they learned from each other.

HENDERSON: Yes.

KING: And, again, Mr. Trump is a businessman was known to listen in on conversations happening within his building. Michael Cohen has recordings of the president. Omarosa has recordings. This is a culture.

HENDERSON: Yes.

KING: This is not a unique thing. This is a culture.

Up next for us, Rudy Giuliani says he didn't say that thing that he said about the president's conversation with James Comey.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:28:40] KING: Welcome back to another big credibility crisis facing the Trump White House. This one with major legal consequences. The president's top lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is asking you to pay no attention to the very clear words of Rudy Giuliani. The context, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, includes, as many as you know in inquiry, into whether the president obstructed justice when he allegedly asked the former FBI director, James Comey, to go easy on National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Giuliani now says, never happened.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENT TRUMP'S ATTORNEY: The president says he never told Comey that he should go easy on Flynn. Comey says the president did. He put it in his memo. There was no conversation about Michael Flynn. The president didn't find out that Comey believed there was until about, I think it was February when it supposedly took place.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You're saying that President Trump and James Comey never discussed Michael Flynn?

GIULIANI: That -- that is what he will testify to if he's asked that question.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Got it? That's what the president will testify to. No conversation. Well, that's hard to square with this from Rudy Giuliani just last month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI: He didn't direct him to do that. What he said to him was, can you -- can you give him a break.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Comey says he took it as direction.

[12:29:53] GIULIANI: Well, that's OK. I mean taking it that way, I mean, by that time he had been fired. And he said a lot of other things, some of which have turned out to be untrue. The reality is, as a prosecutor, I was told that many times, can you give the man a break, either by his lawyers, by his relatives, by friends. You take that into consideration, but you don't -- that doesn't determine not going forward with it.