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Cheney, Murkowski Face Trump-Backed Primary Challengers Today; Former Alaska Gov. Palin On Ballot To Fill Vacant House Seat; PA Man Charged With Threatening FBI After Mar-a-Lago Search. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 16, 2022 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Let's bring the conversation in the room, with me to share their reporting and their insights. CNN's Eva McKend, Leigh Ann Caldwell at the Washington Post and Sabrina Rodriguez of POLITICO. Let's just put up on the screen here. Jeff mentioned this is the last of Trump's grudge matches, if you will. Ten house Republicans voted to impeach Donald Trump, Liz Cheney is the last to face a primary. If she loses tonight, eight of the 10 will have either lost their primaries or decided not to run for reelection, which is pretty striking. Also, striking Leigh Ann is that normally the congressional leadership supports its incumbents. This is Kevin McCarthy, essentially saying goodbye to Liz Cheney.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): Her whole focus has been against one individual, whether she has inflammation or not, instead of focusing on her district itself.


KING: In in her state, the leader, the man who would be Speaker kicking again, a former member, his leadership team.

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, he's holding a big fundraiser in her state like he does every year and that's why he's there. But he has shown no love lost for Liz Cheney for many months now. So in the Republican Party in the House Republicans, you get punished for speaking out against Donald Trump and saying that the truth about the 2020 election. Meanwhile, Washington Post analysis found that two-thirds of Republicans who have won their elections and state and local races this year are election deniers. So that is the direction of the Republican Party.

KING: Against it's going the opposite of Liz Cheney. And we can look at some of the headlines. So she says a national platform now, even though she may lose her primary back home, which is interesting, because that's the famous Cheney name. But "The New York Times," in Wyoming likely end of Cheney dynasty. "Associated Press," Cheney braces for a loss as Trump tested in Wyoming and Alaska. "POLITICO," Cheney's next mission, keeping her anti-Trump megaphone. That can be hard to do, she will have the January 6th Committee hearings, then she's going to face a choice. Do you run in a Republican primary in 2024, against Donald Trump knowing that you're likely to get chainsawed?

SABRINA RODRIGUEZ, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, POLITICO: Well, that's the open question right now for her, is she going to run in 2024? But I think it's no question that if she loses tonight, we're still going to be hearing from Liz Cheney. I mean, she is still going to be the face of this anti-Trump, you know, resistance in the Republican Party and really trying to be front and center and telling Republicans, you know, this is not who we are.

I mean she's made that clear. She's known the stakes of this race. She knows that the odds are not in her favor. But she's clearly messaging towards the future of the Republican Party and trying to move it away from Trump.

KING: And we are getting late in the primary season now. But, you know, we're 40 states plus. "The New York Times" writing this about two of the contests today, you have Liz Cheney in Wyoming, which is a definitive contest. And then you have the Alaska open Senate primary, which should give us a glimpse at how strong or weak Lisa Murkowski is. Then she's more than likely to be on the ballot in November as well.

"The New York Times" writing, Ms. Cheney and Ms. Murkowski are, in fact, offering two models of political bravery at a time when straight down the line party support is more and more common. The editorial board is correct. But to Leigh Ann's point, that can be dangerous in a party still dominated by Trump.

MCKEND: It can be. And, John, I think it is a sad statement about our politics that they have to be held up as heroic figures. Liz Cheney is not out here saying anything radical. She's saying the 2020 election was not stolen, and that the former president has shown that he poses a threat to our democracy. Those are borne out by the facts, there's evidence. And yet she is lauded as this heroic individual. And that should just not be the case. But that is just where we are in this country.

KING: And I want to get a sample, the Alaska race is sometimes don't get enough attention. I think sometimes it's a very fascinating, interesting state. In Wyoming Liz Cheney, son of Dick Cheney, it's a famous name. Lisa Murkowski, Senator Frank Murkowski, her dad was in the Senate before her. Listen to the ads here because Lisa Murkowski does something you see less and less of an American politics. You say, yes, experience matters because I bring home the bacon.


SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R-AK): Who can best deliver for Alaska? That's what this race for the United States Senate is really about. Through my seniority, I get real results for our state.

KELLY TSHIBAKA (R-AK), SENATE CANDIDATE: Well, you know what Washington, D.C. thinks about Alaska. And after about 20 years in D.C., Lisa Murkowski thinks the same way. Nothing scares those D.C. political insiders more than the thought of a strong, independent Alaskan leader in their ranks.


KING: The -- it's a very anti-establishment Trumpy message by Kelly Tshibaka. But Lisa Murkowski has proven herself to be tough in the past. She was beaten in the primary, different voting system back then. But she was beaten a Tea Party primary. She ran as a ride in candidate and she's the United States Senator.

CALDWELL: Yes, that's absolutely right. She's trying to redo what she did in 2010. But she's absolutely right. Alaska has a low population and they get one of the highest percentage of federal dollars because of Lisa Murkowski, because of Don Young, who was in the Congress for 49 years. They brought a lot of money back to Alaska, to -- if there's two freshmen representing Alaska that's not going to get nearly as much congressional appropriations.

KING: Don Young is the perfect, the art of the segue.

Up next for us, Sarah Palin is back on the ballot today, the former Alaska governor 2008 vice presidential candidate is running her young seat in Congress.



SARAH PALIN (R), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are next door neighbors and you can actually see Russia from land here in Alaska.

They say the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull, lipstick.



KING: Sarah Palin as part of two compelling storylines as Alaska votes today. One, is her personal comeback hope. She is running for Congress, 14 years after splashing onto the national stage as John McCain's running mate and the 2008 Republican nominee for vice president. The former Alaska governor has had stints since then as a reality T.V. star, a fox contributor and now is the Trump back candidate for Alaska's house seat. She's actually on today's ballot twice, first voters pick a candidate to finish the final four months of the late Congressman Don Young's term. Then voters also pick candidates for the November ballot in a full two year term for that House seat.


And as they do so, look at this ballot, Alaskans will use a new system of rank choice voting today. The ballot asks for your first choice, and then allows you to rank the candidates from there. Our great reporters are back with us. And this makes it a really fascinating experiment. Other states have tried this more and more. Let's just show you how it works. Put the graphic up on how it works, you rank your candidates.

Number one, you pick your first choice, if somebody gets 50 plus, they're the winner. If nobody crosses the 50 percent threshold, the lowest candidate leaves and you go and count their -- count their ballots, who is their second choice for the lowest candidate. And you go through this until somebody gets to 50 percent. The goal is to force Republicans to talk to Democrats or to force Democrats to talk to Republicans, because you might need to be somebody's second choice.

MCKEND: It can be a confusing process until we all get used to it as more states adopt this practice. But it is a good idea in theory. It is good that you don't only have to appeal to the base of your party, and that you have to speak to a wide, wider number of the electorate. We're going to see more candidates run trying to seek out more voters.

KING: And so again, this can be a little confusing, especially if you're not in Alaska, maybe even if you're in Alaska. Today, you're voting twice for the House of Representatives. One is to fill the remaining months of Don Young's term. There are three candidates on the ballot today, Mary Peltola, Nick Begich, and Sarah Palin. That's your choice today. One of them will be a member of Congress for about four months. And then in November, we can show you those same three candidates. Plus, you'll see Tara Sweeney here, plus about 18 or 19 others or 20 plus candidates. These are considered the four leading candidates here. Let's focus on today and listen to the three candidates, one of whom will be in Congress as early as next week.


PALIN: It's a shame that the McCain-Palin campaign kind of had some shackles on me not allowed to go rogue because that's what our country needs right now.

NICK BEGICH (R), ALASKA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I'm Nick Begich. I'm not a politician. But I'm the only candidate for Congress endorsed by the Alaska Republican Party. They know I'll put Alaska first, fight for energy independence. And I'll never quit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leader of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission working to protect Alaska salmon, and the only candidate fighting for abortion rights.

MARY PELTOLA (R), ALASKA CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I'm Mary Peltola and I approve this message.


KING: The last Democratic candidate there, Mary Peltola interesting because everywhere Democrats are looking for clues as to whether the abortion debate helps them motivate voters. Alaska is known as a Republican state, Senate Republicans to Congress for the most part. But that'll be again one of the tests. RODRIGUEZ: Oh, absolutely. It'll be telling to see what the results are which we won't have tonight. It's something that could take a few weeks before --

KING: Thank you for reminding people of that one.

RODRIGUEZ: Any idea, it's seeing it and thinking, OK, it's a lights primary night. But we still have a ways away before we have the results. But it will be interesting, too, because with the rank choice, we're going to see conservative splitting the vote and then that gives, you know, that gives this candidate and the Democrat an opportunity as well to rack up those votes in a different way. But I think I mean, we're seeing too with this rank choice. Palin already has talked about it as the screwy a system. We're already seeing how are, you know, how are candidates going to try and manipulate this in the future and talk about it.

KING: It is interesting to watch. She was very compelling as John McCain's vice presidential candidate there. A lot of Republicans will also argue maybe she wasn't prepared to be John McCain's vice presidential candidate. But oftentimes when you leave politics, you don't come back. It is interesting to see, A, if she can come back and B, if the Trump endorsement helps.

CALDWELL: And also she's going to enjoy if she wins being a member of Congress.

KING: Right. There is that.

CALDWELL: A freshman backbench member of Congress, but she does have Trump's endorsement. Begich is a very popular or common name, or I say well-known name in Alaska as well. His uncle and his father, also politicians in Alaska, so he's well known too, and there's not a lot of polling in Alaska, we'll see where it lands.

MCKEND: I mean, her reentry seems opportunistic on its surface. So that is the high bar, you know, she has to appeal to these voters and say, hey, I actually really want this job. I was looking on her campaign website, and her number one issue is oil and gas drilling. I don't think about Sarah Palin as a legislator. I don't think about the issues when I think of her and I think this is a rebranding exercise that she's trying to engage in. I honestly think of the masked singer, the reality show.

KING: I have a couple of weeks on you and the age calendar and I had a couple of fantastic trips to (INAUDIBLE) back in the day when she was on the ballot. John McCain, I look forward to going back again.


Ahead, as the FBI warns of unprecedented threats against the agency, a man in Pennsylvania now charged with threatening to kill agents after the Mar-a-Lago search.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: The Pennsylvania man now facing federal charges after claiming online that his only goal was to kill as many FBI agents as he could. That's according to a criminal complaint filed on Monday. The Department of Justice says Adam Bies of Mercer, Pennsylvania has been threatening agents on the social media site Gab for months. Investigators were tipped off about his posts after last week's search at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago.

Three days after that search, Bies posted this. I sincerely believe that if you work for the FBI then you deserve to die. On the same day, he also said, my only goal is to kill more of them before I drop. I will not spend one second of my life in their custody.


Let's get some perspective now from the former special agent in charge for the FBI Newark office, Greg Ehrie, joins us now. Greg, you know, when you did the job and being in the FBI is like being in the Marines, you're always connected to the Bureau. You always knew you're at risk. But this has become more mainstream, mainstream to the point that the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security has to issue a bulletin this week. These threats are occurring primarily online and across multiple platforms, including social media sites, web forms, video sharing platforms, image boards, what is the sense of the threat that has gone from the fringe to sadly more of the mainstream?

GREG EHRIE, FORMER SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE, FBI NEWARK: John, there's, there's a sense of shock amongst my former colleagues, for two reasons. One, this is an unprecedented level of threatening. Working for the FBI, you always receive some level of danger, always have some level of danger, and you respond to threats, but never universally like this. These are people, and you mentioned the Pennsylvania subject, who are calling for any FBI employee to die, to be killed.

We're seeing rhetoric from our center on extremism at the ADL of these people coming on and asking for FBI agents and their families to be murdered, to be hung to identify them. I've never seen anything like this, even during the very turbulent times during 9/11.

KING: And so we have a First Amendment, a cherished First Amendment right here in the United States, and many of Donald Trump's supporters bristle at the idea that their aggressive language contributes to this, I want you to listen to a sampling here and we'll talk on the other side.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX HOST: If you're associated with Donald Trump in any way, you better cross all your I's and dot all your T's because they're coming for you with the full force of the federal government.

STEVE BANNON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF STRATEGIST: We're at war. We're at a political and ideological war. And they've obviously weaponized the Justice Department. The FBI right now is the Gestapo. The FBI is the Gestapo.

ROGER STONE, FORME TRUMP ADVISER: This is the kind of thing you expect to see in Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany, communist Cuba.


KING: Does rhetoric like that, in your view, contribute to this, the question being if you, isn't it dangerous to lead people to an edge if some of them might actually step off?

EHRIE: John, there's no doubt it does. And there's no doubt it's intended. This is not by omission. These are people who are trying to incite some of these extremist organizations and these individuals or people who are facing mental health challenges to try to commit violence on their behalf in a not very veiled way. To compare it, the men and women of the FBI or some of our finest citizenry, who are people who are a reflection of our society, who are there to serve and protect the rights of the United States, people and population to compare them to Nazi Germany to the Gestapo, to say that they're going to come and knock on your door in the middle of the night. Nothing is more inflammatory, and just really irresponsible.

KING: And so when you hear people say, this is unprecedented, we don't do this. Donald Trump is in the political sphere. You know, he says he -- Joe Biden's going after a political opponent, fair point or ridiculous?

EHRIE: I think it's a ridiculous point. What happened at the factual basis of what happened was the FBI executed a search warrant to retrieve classified information after receiving some kind of probable cause that information may be in a location where it should not have been, they then went out and retrieve that information, which was where they thought it was. That's it. This is not something that's an illegal action. It's certainly directed against a former president of the United States, which has its unprecedented kind of a basis. But this is not an illegal act. This was something that was done with the full judicial proceedings behind it.

KING: Greg Ehrie, grateful for your time and perspective and certainly here, we support the men and women of law enforcement and the important work they do. Thank you, Greg, appreciate it very much.


This new this new in from CNN's K-file details about a Trump-backed Republican nominee in Arizona who kept a quote, treason watch list on a social media site.


KING: Topping our Political Radar today, some new and explosive reporting from the CNN K-file team. The team just uncovered that Mark Fincham, he's the Trump-backed Republican nominee for Secretary of State and Arizona, shared a quote, treason watch list on social media. K-file finding more extreme posts on Fincham's Pinterest page including pins of photos of Barack Obama alongside imagery of a man clad in Nazi attire making a Nazi salute. Another arguing against gun safety measures depicts Jews being rounded up by Nazis captioned in part quote, what makes us think it can't happen in America. Fincham said CNN in his view is not credible, and therefore he declined to comment on this important reporting.

Battle in the Big Apple, New York's most powerful Democrat now endorsing Congressman Jerry Nadler over Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney in next week contentious primary. The Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer now, the first member of the state's congressional delegation to choose between the two veteran committee chairs who ended up in the same district because of this year's redistricting process.

Battleground money woes, the Republican Senate Campaign Committee now canceling millions of dollars in ad buys across some of the most competitive battleground states this cycle. "The New York Times" reporting the GOP campaign arm has slashed over $10 million dollars across Arizona, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin since the beginning of this month. The committee spokesperson says the move comes just in an effort to spend the money in the most efficient manner.

This quick programming note join Dana Bash as she goes inside the fight against the world's oldest prejudice.


JOHN KING, CNN HOST: This new CNN special report, "Rising Hate: Antisemitism in America," begins Sunday at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Thanks for your time today on INSIDE POLITICS. Hope to see you back here tomorrow and tonight, as we count the votes from the Wyoming and Alaska primaries. I will be on the -- at the Magic Wall for that. We will see you tomorrow.

Alex Marquardt picks up our coverage right now.