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INSIDE POLITICS

Trump: U.S. Asked Turkey For Audio, Video Intel On Missing Journalist; Trump: Cohen "Lying" Was A "Very Low Level" PR Person. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 17, 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]

(PRESIDENT TRUMP'S SPEECH)

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. You've been listening to the president of the United States there in the oval office. He's moving now to a cabinet meeting. Making news on several fronts, one, big domestic news. We'll get more from the cabinet meeting.

The president says because of the deficit, he's going to ask federal agencies to cut 5 percent spending next year. But the more important news, the president talking yet again about his secretary of state's trip to Saudi Arabia and to Turkey to try to get information about the apparent murder of a Saudi journalist, a resident of the United States at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

The president stressing over and over again. He does not want to have a major rupture in relations with Saudi Arabia, but he says he needs to talk to Secretary Pompeo when he comes back. The president several times saying if it exists casting skepticism on what the Turkish government says it has.

The Turkish government says it has an audio recording of the beating, torture, and killing of Jamal Khashoggi. We'll see how this play out. With me here in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Catherine Lucey, with the "Associated Press," CNN's Jeff Zeleny, Tarini Parti with "Buzzfeed News," and Rachael Bade with "Politico."

The knock on the president from key members of Congress is that he keeps trying to minimize this and keeps stressing the value of the relationship over let's really find out what happened here. Any shift there or again, he keeps talking about the arms purchases. He keeps talking about how important an ally this is.

There are a lot of people who think he's putting the emphasis on his personal relationship, and on dollars and cents, potentially arms sales. The president grossly inflates the facts, but potential arms sales over American values.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No question. And lost in all of this is, you know, a sense of moral leadership where there's been no sense of him banging his hand on the desk, no sense of him calling out, you know, what is pretty obvious in most corners of Washington and indeed around the world.

A, a sense of urgency, we have not heard it from the president at all, but also, we haven't heard of any sense of tough love or skepticism at any of this. So, the question here is the secretary of state is now coming back to the U.S., he's going to brief the president tomorrow likely in the oval office.

So, we'll see, you know, this, but the reality here is that the president is giving them a cover and what are our allies wondering I think around the world. He's been very harsh on many of the loyal U.S. allies. Why isn't he even slightly louder or harsher here?

KING: And one clear signal of that is as we sat down to get ready for the hour, there's a story in the "New York Times," where they say Turkish officials shared with them the transcripts of what the Turkish government says is an audio recording.

They say they picked this up off Mr. Khashoggi's Apple phone or something like that, Apple watch or something like that. The suspicion is that they have the Saudi consulate bugged and that they have a recording of their own. If they have it, the president casting doubt on that.

What do we know, the CIA, the president wouldn't even say if the FBI has been sent there? The president must find out have his own intelligence assessment. And that is what members of Congress are saying when they've been briefed, they have no doubt that the Saudis are responsible for this, that the journalist was murdered, and that he was dismembered, and then the Saudis smuggled the body out. But the president has access to this intelligence and he says something very different.

CATHERINE LUCEY, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "ASSOCIATED PRESS": Well, he's not saying. I mean, the AP -- we did an interview with the president yesterday in the oval office and we talked about this, and he's repeating the denials he's heard from Saudi leaders. He also made a new and sort of remarkable comparison comparing the situation here, describing it as a rush to judgment, and comparing it to the confirmation process with Brett Kavanaugh.

KING: Let me read from the quote. Catherine part of an AP team that met with the president in the oval office yesterday, "Well, I think we have to find out what happened first. You know, here we go again with, you know, you're guilty until proven innocent, I don't like that.

[12:05:05] We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh, and he was innocent all the way. So, I was unconcerned."

RACHAEL BADE, "POLITICO": All right. I mean, he's clearly giving the Saudis the benefit of the doubt here, but Congress, lawmakers, Republicans in particular, they're not holding their fire on this. Speaker Ryan was talking about it this morning on CBS, he said that the reports are disturbing and disgusting and he mentioned again that Congress can take their own actions and put sanctions on Saudi Arabia and wouldn't hesitate to do so if this evidence comes through from Turkey. So, we have to watch republicans in Congress and see if they push back on the president because, ultimately, they could pass something and force his hands just as they have done with Russia sanctions in the past.

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "BUZZFEED NEWS": I think another interesting thing to note here is that in situations like this, typically, the president, you know, for example, when it comes to Russia, the president takes one tack, but members of his administration often try to soften what the president is saying.

But in this case, it seems like Mike Pompeo, the president, they all seem to be on the same page in terms of these sort of believing these denials and somehow trying to cover up for what Saudi Arabia might have done.

KING: It's a great point because it was Pompeo and others in the administration, the departing U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, who pushed the president on Russia internally, a lot of the pressure came from Congress as well. But there were voices within the administration then, Secretary Pompeo is an architect of the Iran policy.

And the administration has said it needs Saudi Arabia on a number of fronts, number one, in the region as a bulk against Iran. Number two, if you put pressure on allies to stop buying Iranian oil, the quid pro quo, if you will, is that the Saudis will keep oil in the market.

Listen to Secretary Pompeo, this is an audio of a conversation he had with reporters. Remember, he went to Saudi Arabia, met with King Solomon, met with the crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, who runs the show in Saudi Arabia. Then he went to Turkey and met with the president and the foreign minister there. The Turks again say they have conclusive evidence about this murder. Listen to the secretary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: They told me they were going to conduct a thorough, complete and transparent investigation. They made no exceptions about who they would hold accountable. They were very clear.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think that Mr. Khashoggi is alive or dead?

POMPEO: I don't want to talk about any of the facts. They didn't want to either and that they want to have the opportunity to complete this investigation in a thorough way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That doesn't sound like he's pushing them. Now maybe he has reasons for that, maybe he knows he needs to wait a handful of days, he thinks he'll get a report from the Saudis on this. He's clearly in a difficult spot, but they told me they were going to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation. So, will this administration, it seems to be setting the table for saying we will accept as credible a report the Saudis issue when they investigate themselves. When an authoritarian regime closely controlled with intelligence services that apparently sent people into this consulate, close to the crown prince, the crown prince is now in charge of an investigation, then it's, forgive me, about whether the crown prince ordered this.

ZELENY: No question. So, I mean, the reality here is I'm not sure what the end game for this White House is on that here. By saying that they're going to wait for this report to come out, you know, the most the report could say that it was a rogue, something went wrong, which is what the president seems to be leading them in that direction there.

But I think he's being boxed into a corner here. The question is, is it going to matter or not domestically politically. When he compared this to the Kavanaugh situation, was he saying that with a straight face, I assume, or if that quote was extraordinary but --

LUCEY: The whole interview was a straight face. I mean, I think it comes back to that he views everything through a political lens.

KING: And a personal lens.

LUCEY: And the other thing he talks about a lot is this potential arms sale and not wanting that to go awry, the bottom line, the business line is important to him, but no, he did not. This was not -- this is something that's completely straight face.

ZELENY: This is nothing like the Kavanaugh situation, look at the history involved here. Look at everything -- he's been so tough on allies, on long, loyal U.S. allies here, it's just a little bit unusual I think for him not to be even slightly more -- leaving himself an opening here for what seems to be the case, a murderer.

BADE: From a Pompeo standpoint, it seems like, you know, they're making this calculation which is the lesser of the two evils, Saudi Arabia or Iran. When he was in the House, Pompeo had this reputation of being one of the most talkish people on Iran and he really wants to go after them.

Saudi is a top ally on the United States when it comes to pushing back, the Sunnis versus the Shia. Right now, he doesn't want to give up that relationship unless he's forced to. So, by allowing the Saudis to do their own investigation, which is clearly a sham, you don't let a murderer investigate his own murder. It gives them a way out, I guess, but again, everybody is going to sort of scoff at whatever those findings are.

LUCEY: What if these audio or there's other recordings or other evidence coming out that's made more public, the details we are hearing are gruesome, and so I think that also ups the international pressure.

[12:10:07] KING: And you heard the president saying that he asked Secretary Pompeo if it exists, if it exists. The Turks who again -- the Turks have -- there are no clean actors here, if you will. The Turks have every reason to pick a fight with Saudi Arabia, they have every reason to try and get back in the good graces of the U.S. administration.

The release of Pastor Bronson being part of it because of the collapse of their economy, however, they say, and if they don't have it, it will be on them. They say they have conclusive evidence of a murder and to the point about rogue actors, and the president saying these could be rogue killers.

All accounts even from the Saudis are that this team included forensic experts and people who had autopsy experience, why would you send people who know how to cut up a body just in case you have rogue actors in your interrogation, I'm sorry, none of that adds up.

PARTI: I mean, the details we have heard are so gory, at this point, that you know, like you said, even though, you know, Turkey, again not the best player, the most honest player in all of this. It's hard to make up these things, that we're hearing, and the "Times" has confirmed just a few minutes ago. Yes, it seems hard to imagine that Turkish officials would, you know, go out there and sort of make these sort of gory details up.

KING: The president seems to be buying time, hoping this fades. Just buying time hoping to fade to keep the relationship. We shall see. Secretary Pompeo on his way home. Like I said, it's the next big move here in the administration.

Up next for us here, the president says, Michael Cohen, I hardly knew him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:15:37]

KING: Welcome back. The special counsel has gone dark likely through the end of the midterm elections, but Robert Mueller's work is never far from the president's mind. New evidence yesterday that the president's witch-hunt mentality still very much operative.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: There's no collusion. There's no Russia -- do you think I called Russia, I need help in Idaho. I need help in Iowa, oh, let's call Russia. It's a con job, just like so many other con jobs that you've been seeing. It's a total con job, it's a disgrace that they were allowed to do it. It's a witch hunt, nothing more than a witch hunt, and most people get it, including Democrats, they wink at me. They look at me and they wink at me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Once again, be careful to remember, that's the president's take, or the president's spin, probably the best way to put it. The investigation, look at all the convictions, it's not a con job.

"Bloomberg" reports the special counsel team could soon finalize its core findings including the collusion question and that Mueller could issue those assessments soon after election day, the special counsel's office as expected declines to comment on this.

We knew the Justice Department guidelines say don't go public unless you have to in a period of around 60 days around the election. So, it's been a relatively quiet period. However, they have a new White House counsel going on board. The fact that they didn't move Emmet Flood over to that job is a reflection. They understand inside the White House that by mid-November, this is going to be front and center again.

ZELENY: No question. The question still has not been resolved, is the president going to sit down or not, he said it would be a waste of time, but that does not mean he's going to. The whole idea of the witch hunt, Senator Burr, the Republican chairman on Capitol Hill, the Intel Committee, he has said it's not a witch hunt. They're still doing their investigation.

The president can say this all he wants. The reality is it's not true, but it has been very effective in the court of public opinion because there is exasperation with this here. I'm not sure it's going to affect the midterm elections. I don't think it's going to when everything is baked in here, but this is going to be waiting for him starting November 8th.

KING: It is part of the chaos, I think, that you see -- when people said they are turned off by White House (inaudible). I think it's part of it (inaudible), but there are a couple of things before the election.

On Friday, Paul Manafort will be in court on a plea deal, then you have October 25th, George Papadopoulos is supposed to testify on Capitol Hill. November 6th of course is election day, then you have the Michael Cohen sentencing in December, the Michael Flynn sentencing a bit later in December.

So, this is what we know is going to come up. Then there's what we don't know, what is the special counsel working on, will he have a report after the election, what will happen in those cases in New York that Michael is a part of, but they continue including investigations of the Trump Organization.

You were part of this interview yesterday and you asked the president this question that needed to be asked, so thank you for this, quote, "Michael Cohen was your personal attorney for many years, he testified under oath in federal court that you directed him to commit a crime, did you, sir?"

The president, "Totally false, it's totally false." "So, he's lying under oath? Oh, absolutely, he's lying and Michael Cohen was a PR person who did small legal work, very small legal work. I'm sorry for laughing, but this is what the president does. He represented me very little. It's a very low level." Michael Cohen was for a decade the Trump fixer who knew everything. He is not no level. He is not a low P.R. guy. He was the president's right-hand man in a lot of the president's dirty work.

LUCEY: Yes. I should credit my colleague, John Lamire (ph), who actually asked that specific question, but as Michael Cohen entered a federal plea deal saying that Trump directed these efforts to payoff women in the days before the 2016 campaign and the president is trying to distance himself from him.

But the fact that he enters a deal signals that prosecutors view his testimony and take it seriously. For the president now to say that he was sort of a minor PR man, does not actually bear out with what we've seen Michael Cohen do all those years.

KING: And Paul Manafort was nobody who works for the campaign for a short period of time. This is what the president does. Actually, to that point, when you asked about Paul Manafort, and the president said who, did he legitimately not hear the question or was it a stylistic --

LUCEY: That is a fair critique I don't know. I can't speak to his goal there. He also doubled down on his comments about Stormy Daniels.

[12:20:04] His tweets, tweet yesterday describing her as horse face, saying, quote, "you can take that however you want to take it."

KING: I take it as that the president likes to insult women's appearances whenever he's mad about something.

BADE: I think it's interesting from -- you know, we have the midterms three weeks away, it's not just Mueller who has sort of quietly doing his work and obviously not issuing his report before election day. But candidates themselves, Democrat and Republican are not talking about Mueller.

They're not talking about in ads. They're not bringing it up in debates. Nobody is really touching this issue, but that really changes again come November 7th, of course, if Democrats take the House, they are already lining up investigations, what they're going to do. They're talking to Michael Cohen themselves. I wouldn't be surprised if you see him on Capitol Hill testifying about what the president directed.

KING: It's a great point and in the room with the president right now, there's a cabinet meeting underway at the White House is the attorney general of the United States, Jeff Sessions. Listen to this, this is the president just giving a lot of interview (inaudible) to the "Associated Press." This is the Fox Business News asked Jeff Sessions, will he be there after the election?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT TRUMP: Jeff Sessions should have never let it happen, he should have never recused himself. Why would he say I'm going to recuse myself, I wouldn't have put him in that position?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But he's in the position now, is he going to stay in that position?

PRESIDENT TRUMP: I'm not going to tell you that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I'm not going to tell you that.

BADE: Yeah. Everybody on Capitol Hill seems to think that's coming, they're just sort of waiting for it. And again, some of the Republicans have sort of given him the green light saying, hey, you get to pick who leads the Justice Department.

LUCEY: Maybe they're going to wait until after the midterms for some of these things, to Sessions, the fight over border funding, there are certainly people and the president saying let's table these until (inaudible).

KING: This whole idea that why didn't he say I will recuse myself, I wouldn't have put him in that position. The president should have called his daughter, who is at Georgetown Law school, it's law 101. The attorney general had to recuse himself. He was so active in the campaign. There was nothing he could have done about this. That should have been self-evident to anybody involved. So, the president should blame himself and his personnel team if he didn't figure that one out in advance.

Up next, the president tells Republicans vote like he's on the midterm ballot, but who's fault is it if Republicans lose?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:26:54]

KING: Welcome back. The president is getting a head start on the inevitable post-election blame game or in his case, the "don't blame me" game. No was the president's answer when he was asked if he would bear some responsibility if Republicans lose control of the House.

Quote, "I think I'm helping people," the president added in that interview with the "Associated Press." His poll numbers are weak, but up a bit as of late. The president says he thinks the Brett Kavanaugh fight will also help the Republicans in the midterms.

More of the interview, quote, "I think we're going to do well. Look, it feels to me very much like '16. The fight has had an impact on energy and it's had an impact on the Republican Party, a very positive one in terms of getting out and voting."

KING: In a Fox Business interview, listen to this, the president said, "Republicans will pay, literally, if they don't vote, then the Democrats win."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) PRESIDENT TRUMP: We have a tremendous, powerful base in the Republican Party, and they have to know that going out for the midterms is very important. It's almost like going out for the 2020 election that's coming up in the not too distant future. If they don't go out and vote, then they have themselves to blame because they'll lose wealth, tremendous amount. I built up $11.7 trillion in wealth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He's making the point there, I don't know -- he's still in the White House, but his point is the Democrats will raise your taxes if they win. They can't if he's still in the White House, but you get the political argument there, my policies will be at risk.

But to the point where, no, he's the president, midterm elections are always about the president. Bill Clinton had to give a news conference saying he was still relevant after a midterm election. President Obama took some responsibility, but grudgingly, but he was not somebody to rush out and say it's my fault either. But what was the body language to that, that no, I will bear no responsibility.

LUCEY: He was fairly defiant. He's not interested in getting tagged with this if they lose, and he wants to split the difference. He wants credit for the things that go well, he said look, I'm helping people get their poll numbers out. I'm out there doing rallies, I'm doing these things, but ultimately, he's not on the ballot. And he said further on the interview, he said I'm hearing from people who say, well, I would vote if you were running, but you're not.

BADE: House Republicans meanwhile privately say they think they're doing OK, they think they're going to lose the House, but they're doing OK despite him and that he is to blame. But it's interesting because you are seeing the blame game right now, and you're seeing stories blaming the NRCC for not raising enough money.

You're seeing them related this congressional leadership fund, which is this massive Republican super PAC that tries to protect the House for spending too early. Nobody is talking about the president and I asked someone about this yesterday, why is nobody saying, you know, the president to blame if we lose the House.

The source said, well, we need him right now to turn out voters. There are members who he really does help and that's the White House strategy. (Inaudible) they think he is helpful.

LUCEY: He's going to districts where it matters.

KING: No question he's helping in these red state Senate races, states where he won big, places like Montana, North Dakota, perhaps Indiana. But the question is, it feels like '16. He's not going to the Philadelphia suburbs and he is not going to places where he is toxic.