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Trump Praises Confederate General Who Lost Civil War, Says Robert E. Lee Would Have Won In Afghanistan; Biden Admin Purges Trump Officials From Military Boards; Five Days To Go Until California Recall Election. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired September 09, 2021 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Donald Trump is having a scattershot week and he clearly wants some attention. Most days we ignore him because most of his statements are rich with lies and we frankly don't want to waste your time.

But he has a big rally in Iowa this weekend. And there's a big fundraiser for House Republicans on the books. So as Trump visits a key 2024 state and as House Republicans ask you to return them to power. Let's take a moment to consider his mindset and the judgment of those who made clear he remains their leader.

Just this week, vengeance against Republicans who voted to impeach him, Trump today endorsing a primary challenger to Liz Cheney. On Tuesday, he backed a challenger to Michigan's Fred Upton. A remarkable statement last night praising the Confederate General Robert E. Lee just hours after that statue, towering statue of Lee was taken down in Richmond, Virginia. He's reaching out to the families of U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan.

And this Saturday on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Donald Trump will spend the evening commentating on a boxing match with his son, Donald Jr. The panel is back with me. He wants attention. Let me focus, let me start, we can start anywhere. But let me start with Robert E. Lee. President best schools didn't do very well or doesn't remember any very well his history. He said last night, Robert E. Lee is considered by many generals to be the greatest strategist of them all. He goes on to talk about sending General Lee into Afghanistan. General Lee lost.

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This feels like news purgatory, it really does. I mean, these are the greatest hits. These are things that we reported about during the Donald Trump presidency, he knows speaks to the people that support him the loudest. And so he's just, again, going through the hits and that is yielding, probably support and buzz for his ultimate goal which is either returning to the presidency or just keeping his power over the Republican Party. LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: There's also a connection here with the Lee statement, which is that he is defending a military officer who actually wasn't a part of the U.S. military who fought the U.S. government who was technically a traitor and fought on the side that was trying to secede from the country.

And, and battle the U.S. and a traitor to the country, which is also in line with the fact that the modern Republican Party and Trump himself is defending people who rioted and were a part of the insurrection and trying to mount a coup on the U.S. government. There is a connection in there.

KING: There's a direct connection. And for anybody watching who says why are you talking about him? That is why. That is why because he wants to make a comeback. The House Republicans are within a few votes, a few races of taking back power in the House. He is -- we will talk about him when he is relevant. And he is trying to do things like that.

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, right. I mean, you could -- it even reminds me going back to the reelection, when suddenly the President was focused on how statues were getting toppled, you know, in his own words, and actually using policy and this is why it does matter. Government resources went to this.

You know, deploying federal agents to go and start protecting some of those statues at a time where the country is facing multiple national security threats, all of which to kind of focus in on what they deemed to be the sort of culture war talking points to try and appeal to supporters that may be fearing or scared that their vision of America may be losing.

KING: And in the here and now, just last hour, he endorsed the primary challenger to Liz Cheney who of course, not only voted for impeachment, but it's been outspoken about the insurrection, as you said, about spoken just saying the Republican Party needs to leave this guy behind because he is lies. He's the big lie and more. Fred Upton is another one.

Liz Cheney tweeting back at the President just a moment ago, here's a sound bite for you. Bring it. This will be one of the defining tests in the primary season of how much sway does Donald J. Trump still have on Republican voters.

KUCINICH: Go ahead.

BARRON-LOPEZ: I was -- yes, I mean, that's right, John. Because our -- is there room in this Republican Party for Republicans like Cheney, ones who have been in the Party her entire life, whose father you know, she's a part of a political dynasty.

But now because she is deciding along with other members like Adam Kinzinger to take a stand and say that we are not going to be a part of a Party that thinks that an insurrection is OK and is just listening to one person as opposed to actually following the policies. I mean, make no mistake, Cheney is conservative -- is as conservative as they come. But she could very well lose because of the fact that so many voters are still attached to her.

KUCINICH: Her leadership doesn't have her back. I'm not saying he's endorsed anybody else. But the fact that for President Trump is going to be the fundraiser after the NRCC and Kevin McCarthy has wrapped both arms around him because of his fundraising prowess, because of his power with some of the Republicans most vocal supporters.

That's all you need to know whether there's room for Kinzinger and Cheney. Maybe the voters will voice their preference there. But in terms of, you know, what's going on when you step back, President -- former President Trump is the head.


KING: And to that point, Trump keeps lying about the 2020 election. He praises Robert E. Lee who for a long list of reasons, it's just wacky and wild. He's now going after Republicans in his own Party. The Speaker of the House, yes, she's a Democrat, Nancy Pelosi. Listen to this conversation. She had a fascinating conversation last night. She got an award, an honorary degree from Smith College. Listen to her point trying to shake, yes, the opposition party to wake up.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: And I say my Republican friends, take back your party, the country needs a big, strong Republican Party. And I say that as a leader in the Democratic Party, but we need a big strong Republican Party, who've done so much for our country. Take pride and take back your Party. Don't have it be a cult of personality on the extreme, extreme, extreme right.


KING: Now there will be Republicans who say, oh, she doesn't mean that. She actually does mean that. She's been around long enough to know that when a 9/11 happens, when a pandemic happens, when a national crisis happens, you have to be able to go into the room with the other side. And at least you're going to disagree about things but talk about the same set of facts which is impossible right now.

KANNO-YOUNGS: I mean, and look, that appeal is all fine and good. But there have been numerous examples that Trump's influence over the party is pretty much firm at this point. I mean, even Senator Lindsey Graham's comments recently where he said, look, the way that we are going to criticize Biden is not only the haphazard, chaotic withdrawal which it was from Afghanistan, but also the border as well. And you're seeing them continue to, again, point to some of these things that they see as culture wars to appeal to their base as well.

KING: He'll be commentating on a boxing match on 9/11 which should be a more solemn day in the United States of America. But this is why we have elections.

Up next for us, the Biden White House moves to boot Trump loyalists from government advisory boards. Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, among those who say, we will fight. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


KING: Today, a standoff over a Biden administration purge of former Trump officials. The White House asked 11 appointees to resign from advisory boards of the U.S. Military Academies. The letter said, leave willingly or be fired effective 6:00 p.m. yesterday, among the targets, Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, H.R. McMaster. Conway and Spicer now among those vowing to fight their ouster in court.


SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY UNDER TRUMP: I will not be submitting my resignation. And I will be joining a lawsuit to fight this.

Remember back during the inauguration when President Biden said I'm going to be the president for all people, Trump voters, everyone else, yes. Where'd that go?


KING: Our panel is back with us and Jeff Zeleny joins our conversation from the White House as well. Jeff, number one, its Sean Spicer still shouts when he talks, we've learned that in this story. Number two, the woman who now shares the podium at the White House, the Press Secretary Jen Psaki this morning explained it this way.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: No one's looking to have a battle here. It's not personal. I will say that there are some people of course on these boards who have supported or stood by silently. Well, their former boss supported an insurrection. That's not really OK with us either.


KING: That end part makes it sounds like actually it is personal.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: I mean it's hard for it not to be personal when the personalities here involved are, you know, Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, and others. And we should point out, I mean, some of the others are decorated service members.

So, John, what it strikes me is, it's just a little bit off brand for the President Biden who came into office in January. He was talking about reaching across the aisle, and even more than that really went out of his way to avoid even referencing the former president. But what has changed? A lot has changed. We're nine months into his term now. And President Trump, of course, the former president has been putting his head up higher and higher and higher, really by the hour in some cases, and the White House is watching that actually. So at the same time, Democrats are divided over other issues. What's the best way to bring them together? We're going after President Trump. So I think that's what we're seeing here and I think we'll see more of it.

KING: Interesting perspective. Let's come back into the room. Kellyanne Conway, you just heard Sean Spicer. Kellyanne Conway puts it this way. Your decision is disappointing but understandable given the need to distract from a new cycle that has you mired in multiple self- inflicted crises and plummeting poll numbers. So Kellyanne Conway says, great, yes, you're in a slump so whack us. Is that with this?

KUCINICH: But it does -- it is -- I don't know how this reflects well on the Biden administration given what Jeff said, and now they're giving oxygen to these to some of these folks that love nothing more than oxygen on these boards that I don't think a lot of people even pay attention to. So it really is the timing is a little confusing.

BARRON-LOPEZ: There's no love lost here. But also, I think part of the timing is that there was a June decision by the Supreme Court where Biden thinks that they -- the administration thinks that legally if these lawsuits do come from Spicer and others, that they have strong footing because the decision in June from the Supreme Court was about this agency that said that it was unconstitutional, a rule was unconstitutional because it didn't allow the President to fire the Director and made it so then he could fire the Director and put in his own preference. So the White House feels bolstered by that.

KING: Power, politics, petty, which, all the above?


KANNO-YOUNGS: I mean who knows if voters are really going to be paying attention to this. But look, for the administration, I remember back when during the transition, I was doing a story about cabinet agencies and I asked a transition official, you know, what are you going to do for some of the Homeland Security Officials that were involved in family separation but might have been around for Obama and previous administrations as well?

And this just one transition official told me, look, some of those, the senior officials are poisoned at this point. And I think this -- that view is reflected here as well. This is different though. These are advisory boards and some military officials that will give oxygen to folks who criticize the President's, you know, commitment to bipartisanship.

KING: Polarized, polarized, polarized sticks with us. Everybody, appreciate you all coming in today.

Up next for us, the big lie California edition as the recall campaign winds down, the Trump-like Republican candidate offers no evidence but says he sees shenanigans.



KING: Help from high powered friends is a big part of Governor Gavin Newsom's closing strategy in the California recall campaign. Some of the help is in person like this, Vice President Kamala Harris joining Newsom in her hometown of Oakland yesterday. Some is over the airwaves, a pro-Newsom group now airing a new ad statewide featuring the former President Barack Obama.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Your vote could be the difference between protecting our kids and putting them at risk. Helping Californians recover or taking us backwards. Protect California by voting no on the Republican recall.


KING: CNN's Dan Merica is covering the recall for us, joins us now live from Los Angeles. So Dan, you get the Vice President in person, several senators from Washington in person, Obama, Bernie Sanders on the T.V. I assume the goal is we can show the numbers, this is from Political Data, Inc., a firm that works with Democrats and non- partisan groups, but we trust the numbers, 53 percent of the ballots so far returned from Democratic voters, 25 percent from Republican voters, 22 percent from Independents.

I assume the Newsom strategy is, yes, there might be some Democrats out there who are mad at us, who don't want to vote. Maybe if they listen to Barack Obama or Kamala Harris, they'll pick up that ballot sitting on the kitchen table, check no and mail it back.

DAN MERICA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER: I mean this has always been a turnout operation for the Newsom campaign. California is a two to one state, Democrats or Republicans. So if Democrats came out in any significant numbers, it's very difficult for Republicans to out, you know, out maneuver them or tip the balance towards recalling Newsom.

So it has always been an effort to get Democrats out. And a big part of that has been asking these big named Democrats, Obama, Warren, Harris, Klobuchar, we're told Biden at some point, to come out and to tell people get out to vote. This is important. And that has nationalized this race.

Newsom has been talking about the impact this could have nationally. And his primary Republican opponent, Larry Elder has also talked about the impacts that him becoming Governor of California a blue state, what that could mean to the Republican Party. So the big thing for both of them is figuring out whether this nationalization strategy works. And right now, as you can see, by those numbers, it seems to be helping the Newsom campaign.

KING: Well, it seems to be and if you need any more proof, I would say here it is right here, Larry Elder and Donald Trump already saying repeat of the big lie if you will. Listen.


LARRY ELDER (R-CA), GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that there might very well be shenanigans as they were in the 2020 election.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The one thing they're good at is rigging elections. So, I predict it's a rigged election. Let's see how it turns out.


KING: There is nothing, absolutely nothing to support either Mr. Elder or Mr. Trump there but it does tell us, stand we should be prepared for lawyers, right?

MERICA: You should prepare for lawyers. Elder has said he has lawyer standing by, the Newsom campaign has said the same thing. I mean it's really a repeat of what we heard in 2020 from both campaigns as well. And when you talk to Elder supporters, yes, this is a race for the California Governor, but the national implications they talk about the 2020 election and the reason that they're skeptical that Elder will win is because of those lasting but baseless claims from the 2020 election, John.

KING: Losing with grace has become a lost art I guess. Dan Merica, appreciate the live reporting. Stay on top of the race in the final days for us.


Up next for us, you don't want to go anywhere, a must see video of a slimmed down Kim Jong-un, a big military parade and don't miss this some interesting choices while dining afterwards.


KING: Topping our Political Radar today, a noticeably slimmer Kim Jong-un today appearing at a North Korean military parade. Look right there, he joined 10 suit movement too. The North Korea leader seen waving to the crowd and greeting participants and later, look at these pictures, sitting at a table with some very colorful drinks and a twisty straw. One Pyongyang resident telling state media earlier this summer he and others were heartbroken at word their leader had lost so much weight recently.

Today, the White House giving up on a big nomination fight after resistance from within the Democratic Party, sources tell CNN the Biden administration now plans to withdraw David Chipman as the nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. That decision following complaints from moderates including Senators Joe Manchin and Angus King about Chipman's record on gun control.

Chris Christie, 2024, the former New Jersey Governor and failed 2016 presidential hopeful speaking tonight at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California. It's a top destination of course, Republicans looking to shape the Party's direction or rehabilitate their images. The former Vice President Mike Pence spoke there earlier this summer. Christie speech comes in advance of an upcoming book.

Senator Amy Klobuchar today disclosing she has been successfully treated for breast cancer. Senator Klobuchar says her diagnosis came earlier this year. The Minnesota Democrat underwent surgery and radiation treatment back in May. She learned last month that the treatment went in her words, well. In her announcement today, the Senator urging Americans to not delay routine exams because of the pandemic, we certainly wish the Senator the best.

This quick programming note from us, join Jake Tapper as he asked the tough questions about America's Longest War. What Went Wrong in Afghanistan? This new CNN special begins Monday at 9:00 p.m.


Appreciate your time today in Inside Politics. Hope to see you back here tomorrow. Ana Cabrera picks up right now.