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Today: Two Trump Targets In SC Face Primary Voters; Stepien Advising Candidates Who Back Trump's Election Fraud Theories. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired June 14, 2022 - 12:30   ET



SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I thought President Trump was saying back to what the Trump voters were echoing that day at the Capitol, I thought was compelling when they closed out yesterday's or they closed out the first hearing with that, you know, they played clips of people who were participating in the insurrection at the Capitol. All these lies that they had systematically batted away, but illustrated just how much that big lie had seeped into their conscious.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Yes. And Congresswoman Lofgren there called it the big rip off. A committee staff investigator laid it out in more detail.


AMANDA WICK, 1/6 COMMITTEE INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL: The claims that the election was stolen, were so successful, President Trump and his allies raise $250 million, nearly $100 million in the first week after the election. The evidence developed by the Select Committee highlights how the Trump campaign aggressively pushed false election claims to fundraise, telling supporters that would be used to fight voter fraud that did not exist.


KING: Can you prove a crime?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's, you know, it's like the show on Netflix. Is it cake? Well, is it a crime? Look, I think what they're talking about here is wire fraud or mail fraud. The moment they put it in a mailbox, the moment they click Send on an e-mail, if they know they're trying to defraud people, it could be wire fraud, both at the state and federal level. And she -- and they were very careful in the language they use that they were saying that they were defrauding people by using the mails. So, yes, there's -- and that's the first time we've ever seen a suggestion that there was some sort of fraud or wire fraud claim to be fraud.

KING: And so a committee that has done meticulous work, I think, surprising people in the level of detail and the depth and breadth of the members of Team Trump they spoken to suddenly has this public dispute last night. Bennie Thompson, the chairman, says not our job to do a criminal referral, the Justice Department can watch if they see something great, but not our job to say, here it is, send a piece of paper. Several members of the Committee say, well, wait a minute, we want -- we might want to do that at the end. Is this a big deal?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think we know yet. I mean, it's certainly seemed that they were off message last night. I can't imagine there wasn't a phone call after the fact. And you also had Merrick Garland said he's watching this, he's watching what's happening, so --

WILLIAMS: But, you know what, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter. It really doesn't. The Justice Department, number one, can investigate whenever it belongs. Number two, can choose not to investigate if they get a referral. At the end of the day, the Committee is going to put together a 500-page report laying out their findings, whether you call it a formal referral, like a letter to Merrick Garland or not they're making their findings public. So at the end of the day, it's a little bit of a distraction to fixate on that.

KING: But some of the members seem to clearly think that they -- whether it's they believe it's the right thing to do, or politically the best thing for them to do they want to do it.

AYESHA RASCOE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Well, I mean, Liz Cheney, obviously is ready to, you know, take on all comers and that includes Donald Trump, and she doesn't want to take anything off the table. She's ready to go as --

KING: We'll watch. Again, we'll see, I'm still a little curious about this postponement. They scheduled this for a long time, but we'll take them at their word and see where we go from here and see how they resolve the referral question.

Today, Tuesday, primary day in four states including South Carolina, Donald Trump is seeking revenge there against two House Republicans. One embraces that fight, the other shrugs it off.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you went on Tuesday, what is your relationship with the former president going forward?


REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): I'm going to work with anyone who's willing to work with me.


KING: It is a noteworthy Tuesday on the midterm primary calendar. Two Trump grad matches being settled in today in South Carolina. And Nevada's contests include a heated Republican primary, one of November's critical Senate races. Our Jeff Zeleny is in South Carolina, Kyung Lah in Nevada covering today's important primaries. Let's start with Mr. Zeleny. He's in Charleston, South Carolina. Jeff in South Carolina, "The New York Times" today put it this way, in their headline frames the races, two targets of Trump's ire take different paths in South Carolina. These are two House races where Donald Trump does not like Republican incumbents. Tell us more.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And just listening to these candidates on the campaign trail as they're talking to voters, you can hear those different approaches really come to life. The two candidates were speaking about the two incumbent Republican members of Congress, Nancy Mace. She's representing the Charleston area here and a colleague of hers, Tom Rice. He represents the area just north of here along the South Carolina coastline from Myrtle Beach on down.

He of course, was one of the 10 Republicans to vote for impeachment, but the first one to stand for reelection in the primary campaign. We know that many of them of course decided not to seek reelection. Others are coming up this summer. But that will be his attest, convincing Republican voters that he is someone who is more than his impeachment vote. And Nancy Mace for her part, she voted to certify the election on the third day of her time in Congress. Since then, she has been taking a much finer line saying she supports the President's policies, the former president, but not his actions, but take a listen to their different approach here when we asked Tom Rice about if it'll cost him his election.

KING: Jeff, I'm sorry --

ZELENY: OK, I guess we don't have that sound there. But what, sure, but Congressman said, he said, look, if it costs me my reelection, it will be a badge of honor. So that is something that he is really holding on tight to that impeachment vote. But we asked Congresswoman Mace about if Trump is still looming large in this race, and she does not take any opportunity to really talk about the former president.

She moves on to other issues. But she did say, look, other Republicans are supporting her like Nikki Haley, like Ted Cruz and others. So she quickly tries to pivot on beyond that. I think the outcome tonight could be indicative of how different their approach are in terms of talking about Donald Trump. John?


KING: Jeff Zeleny on the ground for us in Charleston, apologies to the technical issue. Let's move on to Nevada now. And Kyung you have out there a fascinating, let's start with the primary for Senate in which that Senate seat is one of the five or six that people think come November will decide which party controls the Senate. And it's a fascinating, contentious Republican primary.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's start with the Republicans because that is really what's going to set the stage for what will happen in November when they face the incumbent Senator, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. So what you have today on the primary ballot, Republicans are going to choose between the former Attorney General, the State Attorney General Adam Laxalt, he has Trump's endorsement, and he is embracing that.

In this final days, he has been buffeted by Trump loyalists, including the former president's son who held a rally for him in two of the main cities here in the state of Nevada. And he is considering himself the front runner, he's already talking about the general election, but, but he is not a 100 percent sure win because he is seeing a newcomer, a political newcomer, Sam Brown, he is a retired Army General. He has seen some grassroots support that has allowed him to get up on the airwaves up on digital.

He is outspending Laxalt in advertising, and really getting himself known. So we've seen him campaigning going door to door. He says the battle is not over. That will be determined today by the primary. But whoever comes out on top for the Republicans, John, what they are going to face is a Democrat who was really seeing some headwinds, especially when you consider the working class of workers here in the state of Nevada, who are seeing some really tough times because of inflation. John?

KING: And Kyung, another one of the fascinating dynamics, we see it in Nevada, we see it in some of the other battleground states that will settle not only who controls the Senate, but maybe who wins the next presidential election. You have a Republican candidate for Secretary of State out there who's a big lie supporter, a big election denier who wants to be in charge of, guess what, counting votes.

LAH: Yes, this is a guy who has Jim Marchant not only embrace the big lie, he has dove in deep first into the deep end of the pool. Basically, he has embraced all of the lies, all of the conspiracy theories. He's attended QAnon conventions, and he is spreading all of that through his campaign. And he's using those lies with his supporters to say that he, though he unilaterally can't even if he were to become Secretary of State, to say that he's going to do outrageous things like eliminate all paper ballots, eliminate, excuse me, eliminate early voting, eliminate mail-in ballots and then switch to some bizarre paper from Texas, the likes of which no one can really figure out why.

So this is someone who wants to run elections. And this is where, John, that democracy viewers say is really going to hinge what 2024 will look like if these people get into office. John?

KING: Kyung Lah live for us on the ground, very important races in Nevada, Kyung, thank you so much.


When we come back some brand new CNN reporting, House Republicans competing to defend Donald Trump even as the January 6th Committee rolls out Trump insider after Trump insider saying the President was repeatedly told he lost but push the big lie anyway.


KING: The January 6th Committee hopes its hearings prompted national reckoning for Donald Trump. But it is also spurring a race among some Republicans over who is most MAGA. CNN's Melanie Zanona joins our conversation. This is your great reporting. You're probably too young to remember the old Saturday Night Live Quien Es Mas Macho.


KING: Ricardo Montalban, nevermind. This is Quien Es Mas MAGA. Explain.

ZANONA: In millennial terms, this has become the latest Trump loyalty test essentially, right? I mean, what's interesting is you talked to Republicans and they say they are not worried about these hearings breaking through the voters or impacting the midterms. But what they are concerned about is pleasing Donald Trump, and they have found that a surefire way to do that is to go out there on T.V. and on Twitter and defend him and attack the Select Committee, attack Liz Cheney, one of his favorite targets.

And that's exactly what we've seen. I mean, essentially, it's become a competition is who can be the most MAGA. And they're all jockeying to claim that mantle. And when you really dig in about who's leading the charge, they all have somewhat different political reasons for doing so, right? You have Kevin McCarthy, who wants to be speaker one day. You have Elise Stefanik and Jim Banks who both want to have a potentially higher leadership position next year. And you have Rodney Davis, who actually is facing a Trump backed primary challenger at the end of this month after he voted to support the bipartisan commission. So they all sort of have different reasons for trying to go this route.

KING: And there you have members of the leadership team who all want to move up even more. And then if that if that happens, then there are openings in the sub leadership, if you will, which is why you see rank and file Republicans are on Team Trump saying it wherever they can find a place to say it.


REP. RALPH NORMAN (R-SC): This is a sham of a dog and pony show that that this administration is putting at the taxpayer's expense.

REP. FRED KELLER (R-PA): Liz Cheney is just doing the work of Nancy Pelosi, when they should actually be having primetime hearings on inflation, on gas prices.


KING: Those are incumbent members of the United States Congress. Seung Min your newspaper today, "The Washington Post" looked at this trick by district, state by state, voters in places that cast ballots through the end of may have chosen at least 108 candidates for statewide office or Congress who have repeated Trump's lies. This is a cancer in the Republican Party.


KIM: It is and it's not just people just running in these primaries who get like 3 percent of the votes. These are the actual nominees that the Republican voters have put forward for the general election. And it is really alarming how much that has seeped into the Republican Party, how much they are repeating President Trump's big lie. And just going back to Melanie's great reporting, I think all of that, all those details raise the question of, will that break through actually with the broader public?

And I think one observation that several of us have made watching the first couple of hearings of the January 6th Commission is that it was probably a strategic mistake for Kevin McCarthy not to participate at all, you're just having this very, like streamlined, very easy to understand narrative put forward by the Commission without any chance for rebuttal or for Republicans to get that spotlight in that setting to put forward their own perspective.

So what they're saying on "Fox News," what they're saying on social media, obviously has an audience of one. But what about the broader audience? I think that's a really interesting --

ZANONA: Just imagine how different those hearings would look, if there were Republicans in the room trying to cross examine, trying to make procedural motions, it would have been very, very different. And I do think there is some private regret there.

KING: And so one of the questions is after hearing, we'll see what happens at the next hearing. But after hearing it the first two public hearings, some pretty damning evidence, again, this are members of Trump's family, members of Trump White House staff, members of Trump's campaign, people around Donald Trump saying, Donald Trump knew then he lied. And then he lied some more and then he lied some more, he tried to pull a lot of levers, does it change any minds?

Well, Bill Stepien was one of the witnesses yesterday, the campaign manager who said I told the president on election night votes aren't there. And the likelihood is maybe five or 10 percent at most that we would get there. So you would think oh, he knows. He knows. So he would not support the big lie. Well, these are three candidates Bill Stepien's firm are advising right now, including Harriet Hageman, who is Liz Cheney's opponent in Wyoming. Kelly Tshibaka is Murkowski's opponent in a Senate race in Alaska. And Ronnie Jackson is Trump's former doctor at the White House who's running for reelection in Texas, all big lie supporters, all this. So again, even the people who know are not drawing a line saying I will not work for candidates who repeat this.

RASCOE: Well, I mean, pretty much when he was in, you know, working for Donald Trump, there's always this deal where Trump will -- you will -- they will back Trump. And if he says something they don't like, they may in behind the scenes go, oh, that's -- this is wild whatever. But as long as it benefits them, they will stick with him. And that's what they're doing in this case. That's what the Bill Stepien's of the world are doing.

Yes, like they know that the election wasn't stolen, but they have a base that wants to hear that that's eating that up. And so they're willing to go out and do what benefits them and support those candidates who are selling that same lie. They're doing what benefits them. Now whether that is sustainable for a democracy is a whole other thing. But it's probably working out just fine for Bill Stepien.

KUCINICH: Well, I mean is, and the candidates that he is, that he's helping are doing the exact same thing because they wanted Trump endorsement in order and especially a woman running against Cheney, she wanted extra leverage to try to defeat Liz Cheney. So it was just a perpetual cycle on that side, that there hasn't been anyone who's been really able to break it.

KING: How about I can't work for you if you're going to promote and propagate a lie that is a danger to democracy. Is that hard?

KUCINICH: Apparently is for him.

KING: Currently is for him.


Up next, hearsay is a fancy word for rumor and the new White House answer when asked if Democrats are nervous about the President's reelection prospects.


KING: Topping our political radar today, no evidence. That's what U.S. Capitol Police say after review of Georgia Congressman Barry Loudermilk. Police say he did not lead a reconnaissance tour of the Capitol complex the day before the insurrection. At the urging of a House Republican Capitol Police did a scrub of security footage after the January 6th Committee did raise some concerns about Loudermilk's activity on January 5th.

The White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre dismissing Democrats concerns President Biden's age might be a problem for his reelection come 2024.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's the President of the United States. You know, he, I can't even keep up with him. He just got back from New Mexico. He just got back from California. Look at the work that he does. Look what he's -- how he's delivering for the American public.


KING: In "The New York Times" op-ed, the former Obama chief strategist and CNN contributor David Axelrod, called Biden's age quote, a major issue. Also of note, Senator Bernie Sanders said he would not wage a primary challenge against Biden and would support the President if he runs again. The Senate could vote on a bipartisan gun safety bill as early as next week. The Democrats lead negotiator says the heavy lifting is done and now, the final text being ironed out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEN. CHRIS MURPHY (D-CT): My belief is that we're just going to add Republicans from here on now. We've got to get this into legislative text. But we're done with the negotiating. And my belief is that by next week, we can have something on the floor that can get more than 60 votes.


KING: But there are still Senate concerns about the price tag and there are a mix of questions over in the House, one, from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, she says expanding background checks to allow a look at juvenile records. That's a key provision in that Senate agreement could hurt quote, communities like mine.

After a month of tense talks, the House is set to vote today on a bill to increase security for Supreme Court justices and their family. The Senate already passed that measure. House Democrats wanted to change it but they relented after heavy pressure. You'll remember a man was arrested last week or the homeowner Justice Brett Kavanaugh. That man charged with attempted murder. House Democrats wanted to include security for Supreme Court clerks and staff too.


Thanks for your time today on Inside Politics. I'll see you tonight for our primary coverage and back here tomorrow as well, I hope. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.