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Judge Signals He's Willing To Unseal Parts Of Trump Affidavit; 18 Fmr. Officials: Trump Declassify "Standing Order" Claim Is Nonsense; Trump Orbit Searches For Legal Argument To Diffuse Investigations; DA: Graham Testimony "Crucial" To Investigation; McConnell's Warning: GOP May Not Flip Senate; GOP Group Begins $34M PA AD Blitz With Anti- Fetterman AD; IRS Becomes New GOP Bogeyman Ahead Of Midterms. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 19, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. One-line sparks new legal worry inside Trump world. Specifics from an unsealed document up the odds Donald Trump is now the subject of a federal investigation.

Plus, a midterm alarm bell from the man who wants to run the Senate. Mitch McConnell worries aloud that bad candidates and big battlegrounds may block his return to a Senate majority. And the GOP is new scare tactic. Democrats say thousands of new IRS agents will replace retirees and improved customer service. Republicans board of agent Strike Force and even SWAT teams hunting you down.

A first for us though, a new deadline and a new legal siren for the former President Donald Trump. Federal prosecutors now have until next week to tell the judge what portions of the affidavit use to secure the Mar-a-Lago search warrant should stay secret.

The judge disagreeing with the Justice Department, says there are pieces of that document that could be made public without harming the government's case. The Affidavit of course provided the legal rationale, the probable cause for that warrant application.

We learn Thursday from prosecutors the affidavit relies on, "substantial grand jury information," and prosecutors say a full and public release of the document would lay out for all to see, including team Trump the roadmap to the Justice Department's case, including critical next steps.

We also though got a glimpse of a new document, with new specifics on the case against the former president. The newly unsealed document includes these words, "willful retention of national defense information" language that points directly to Trump's alleged role in the commission of potential crimes.

So, let's get straight to CNN's Katelyn Polantz. Katelyn, tell us more. KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, John, these words willful retention of national defense information, we didn't know exactly what was being looked at as the Justice Department was investigating the Espionage Act. And now we do, it's specifying a little bit more in one of these documents that was released yesterday in this case, after the media went to court and asked for more information here to be unsealed.

So, what we did know before just was the statutes generally, the reason this these words are important, though the willful retention of national defense information is that it implies that someone who had access to national defense information was no longer able to have it at some point in time, perhaps when the former president left office. He would have had been someone who could and then could not after he was out of office.

But really, John, the fight here that is happening in court over the next week is going to be a question of transparency. How much the Justice Department can convince the judge that they need to redact? Do they convince him that everything should be blacked out in this affidavit or not? And we do know from the proceedings yesterday, in court in Florida, that everything substantive that is left to say about this case that is in the record, it's all in that affidavit, it goes into great detail. It is relatively lengthy. It is about the investigation so far and could reveal a lot of things if it were to be unsealed.

KING: Now we count the days until the next hearing before the judge next week. Katelyn Polantz, appreciate you're kicking us off. Let's get some legal expertise and insights now from the former federal prosecutor, Elliot Williams. So, we will see something perhaps, by the end of next week. The question is will we see a lot, or do you believe it will be a lot - mostly black spots, meaning redactions?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes. I think it's mostly black spots. Now, we might see something. The judge has merely asked for the Justice Department to redact. But the thing is, John, it's hard to redact information that doesn't also leave open the door to other information. So, for instance, you and I are having a conversation today.

Even if you were to say, John King had a conversation on August 19, that suggests who the person you were talking to was, and you, if you can imagine that over 25 pages of an affidavit. So, they're going to have to be very, very careful about the things they black out. It's just hard for me to see from where I sit, how you do that in a manner that still sort of serves the public interest.

KING: Be interesting to see because the judge clearly disagrees with the Justice Department, at least some of it can be made public. The question is, is what we get worthwhile? As we wait for that. Let's walk through some of the shifting or changing or depending on who you call in Trump world explanations for all of this.

One of them has been that there was this standing order that whenever the president carried a document over to the residents, he was there by declassifying it. So, if he took it with him, therefore, it was his, it was OK, it was all done.


Our Jamie Gangel and her colleagues have done some fantastic reporting that includes this, 18 former top Trump administration officials tell CNN, they never heard of such an order issued during their time working for Trump, and they believe the claim to be patently false. Several officials laughed at the notion. One senior administration official called it bullshit. Two of Trump's former chiefs of staff went on the record to knock down the alarm.

Forgive my language. But it's an important point here. You had John Kelly and Mick Mulvaney, saying I was the chief of staff at the White House fantasy.

WILLIAMS: It's ludicrous. Now here's the thing. Where the president is correct, is that we should all agree the president has broad authority to declassify documents and he should. He's the president of the United States.

A couple things. One, documents rely on each other for their classification level. So, if the president declassified this document today, what about the 50 other documents around the country that cite to it. And refer to it, they're also classified documents. So, are they now declassified too? So that's point one.

And point two is, the president can't just think something is declassified and make it so just like think of other powers he has, pardoning someone. He can't just think, you know, this person is pardoned of a crime. He's got at least write it down somewhere. Talk to the pardon attorney. If he's sending troops somewhere, he has to say, I'm on call with the head of the defense department. You can't just make things in your head and make them so.

KING: Even in Trump's unorthodox world is a process and there are key documents or something. So, let's walk through in the Trump media silo. His team is trying to make the case to Trump supporters. We did nothing wrong here. Do not turn on the former president. This is one of his attorneys, Alina Habba on Newsmax yesterday. Listen?


ALINA HABBA, TRUMP ATTORNEY: Well, there's three allegations right, concealment, espionage, and basically destruction, all of which don't make sense to me knowing that he was cooperating the entire time. So, if you were concealing it, you wouldn't have allowed them in, in June. If you were distracting it, you wouldn't have added the padlock that they asked you to add on in June or given them 15 boxes.


KING: Now, a lot of key facts are left out of that, the subpoena for the surveillance video, for example, the FBI getting additional information and the surveillance video that somehow convinced the FBI, but answer. WILLIAMS: That's just inaccurate. You can still conceal something, you know, I can take something and hide it in my pocket and be having a conversation with you, but I'm still concealing it. So, and I think that's just a misunderstanding or a misstatement of the very complicated statutes related to the Espionage Act and obstruction of justice. So, there are just wrong.

KING: So, here's more of it and here is more of it. I know you think it's wrong. I know you think it's a twist of facts or leaves key facts out. But this is the conversation they're having with their supporters, which is critical for both the legal conversation and the political conversation. Does Donald Trump lose political support? Here's a little bit more, including Rudy Giuliani.


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: If you look at the Espionage Act, it's not really about taking the documents. It's about destroying or hiding them or giving them to the enemy. It's not about taking them and putting them in a place. That's roughly as safe as they were in the first place.

CHRISTINA BOBB, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: If they asked for one more lock and another lock, which we did, and then for whatever reason, they decided that they still needed to raid the place.


KING: It's a very casual take on the keeping of secure documents.

WILLIAMS: So, I think, number one, that's a misstatement of the espionage national, on account of the Espionage Act, and account the fact that it's just long and covers a lot of forms of conduct. Now, the mayor is correct. There was a portion of it, related to actual espionage, spying, sending information.

A lot of the rest, it's an unfortunately named statute, John, because a lot of it is an espionage. It's mishandling, mis-storing, destroying documents and so, that's incorrect there. The padlock point, and I think they're hammering on that, as if that somehow absolves the fact that these were government documents that should never been out of official government costs custody or a secure facility. So, that's just wrong.

KING: Just wrong. Stay with us, because we'll come back to you on another key point, and it's this. The Georgia and a key moment in a different investigation, the special grand jury probe into Donald Trump scheme to overturn the 2020 Georgia results. Today, the district attorney, they're arguing any delay in Senator Lindsey Graham's testimony could hold up the investigation for months. Let's go to Atlanta live now, CNN's Nick Valencia. Nick, explain why this matters?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, there's been a flurry of legal activity surrounding, whether or not Lindsey Graham is going to have to appear here in Fulton County, and it was just within the last hour. He made yet another attempt to put a stay on his subpoena to appear here next week before the special purpose grand jury. This is already after earlier this week, Graham and his attorneys filed a stay in a lower court.

Now, judge still hasn't made a decision one way or another. But we are hearing from the district attorney's office responding to that lower court filing, they had until 9am to respond and they did, saying it's crucial that Lindsey Graham show up here next week. And if he doesn't, it would delay their investigation potentially for months.

Here is part of what was said in that filing from earlier this morning. Not simply because the senator possesses necessary and material information but also because he is expected to provide information regarding additional sources of relevant information. They went on to say, delaying the Senator's testimony would not simply postpone his appearance, it would also delay the revelation of an entire category of relevant witnesses or information.


Now, we are waiting for the judge's ruling on that. She is going to have to make that decision sometime before Tuesday, when he's scheduled to appear. Graham and his attorneys of course are arguing that he's immune from having to testify before the special purpose grand jury because he was operating in a legislative role and should be protected by the U.S. constitution speech or debate clause.

You remember, he made two calls to Georgia secretary of state's office in the wake of the 2020 election. One of those calls directly with Brad Raffensperger, the Secretary of State here. And though, Lindsey Graham said it was part of his then duties as the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, calling it a fact-finding mission. There was much different interpretation by Secretary Raffensperger. He says, he believes there was an implication by Graham to toss out legal ballots. Graham, of course, is denying those allegations. John?

KING: Nick Valencia, on the ground force in Fulton County. Nick, thank you. Elliot Williams is still with us. What do you make of this? If you read the DA's point, she seems to be suggesting Lindsey Graham has some information that we don't know, we know about these phone calls. But it seems to be suggesting he has information, or she wants to know where he got certain information that he's going to use?

WILLIAMS: Where he got a certain information and what it says about other information, not unlike what we were talking about earlier, it's all tied together. Now look, his point is an unfair the speech or debate clause that Nick talked about there is vast and protects most things that members of Congress do when they're being members of Congress.

It's really hard to make a case that when you're placing phone calls in connection with an active campaign, that's sort of pursuant to your job as a member of Congress. So, I think what the judge may do is just slice it up and maybe take out some statements, not make them available and then it's still make him come testify.

KING: One of the many sometimes complicated investigations. Elliot, thank you for the help, sorting it out. Up next for us. Mitch McConnell's new math. He began this year confident. Republicans would retake the Senate, 80 days out, he's not so sure.




KING: Wherever you might think of Mitch McConnell's politics, his math skills are excellent. So, what you're about to hear is noteworthy. 51 is McConnell's magic number. His ticket to a return as Senate majority leader. He's clearly worried, he's about to come up short.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R) MINORITY LEADER: I think there's probably a greater likelihood the House flips, the Senate. Candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome. Right now, we have a 50-50 Senate and a 50-50 country. But I think when all of a sudden done this fall, we're likely to have a extremely close Senate, either our side up slightly or their side up slightly.


KING: With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Kasie Hunt, CNN's Audie Cornish, and from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Tia Mitchell. Let's focus on the part about candidate quality. Mitch McConnell has lived this movie before, back in 2014. And one of the tea party years, let's go out to the state of Arizona. Where it's a democratic held seats. Senator Mark Kelly is the incumbent.

A brand-new Fox News poll, Mark Kelly 50 percent, Blake Masters, the Republican nominee 42 percent. If you're Mitch McConnell, you're thinking, this is the time to get Mark Kelly. He was just finishing a Senate term. This is when you get an incumbent before they get entrenched. 50 to 42, not good.

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: It's very unlikely. And Arizona, quite frankly, is probably one of the better examples for Mitch McConnell. I mean, they're pouring money into Ohio to hold on to Rob Portman seat, which frankly, should be a complete no brainer. But J.D. Vance just hasn't lived up to what they were hoping from him. And Tim Ryan is running by all accounts, a pretty strong campaign.

And this is something that's repeating itself across the board. And, you know, it's got to hurt for McConnell, right? Because this is something he's always prided himself on, right, picking the candidates that he liked that he wanted to win. I mean, they did it in Georgia, for example, with Herschel Walker, that's also not panning out the way that they thought.

So, I think the consequences are going to be pretty high for them. And honestly, you'll probably be able to if Republicans don't have the Senate on November 8, you can point to these candidates and say, that's probably why. KING: And so, it is 50-50, as Senator McConnell says, which means if you're the Republicans, the main thing you want to do is first hold your own, and then take one of those away, right, the Democrats looking at the same way. But first of all, John, you mentioned hold your own.

So, they're worried about Ohio. They should not be worried about Ohio. What should be a Republican-midterms? They're worried about Pennsylvania. We'll get to that one in a minute. That's a Republican incumbent who is retiring. But let's go here to Wisconsin and Ron Johnson.

Again, a Fox News poll out, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes 50 percent, Senator Ron Johnson 46 percent, there was a Marquette Law pulled out about the same, that's a very, very close, very competitive race, 80 days out. But if you're Mitch McConnell, you're thinking, OK, Ron, you're my incumbent Senator, you have to take care of this so that we can spend money elsewhere. Now we're going to have to dump money into Wisconsin.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: I don't really see this assumption, though, as holding, given what we've seen the last couple of years in terms of candidate quality. The kinds of candidates who are coming to the Senate, it's changing. It is a different crop of people who come there each year. I think McConnell knows that.

The other thing is that I think this conversation has changed dramatically because of the Roe v. Wade ruling. Something that Republicans typically are able to do if they're in the minority party is run on culture war issues, will now here's a big one that is actually sort of driving progressive and liberal voters. And I think that actually might have an effect and maybe they made him less bullish.

KING: That's a great point because it's driving turnout among progressives, who say, OK, we have a reason to come out, you know, midterm elections, maybe sometimes your base stays on they have a reason to come out. It's also driving the one of the reasons that Wisconsin race is like that is because suburban, more suburban voters who might have been Republicans, might have not like Trump, but might not love Biden, might move away. Now they have to think about it again.

CORNISH: And they're talking about women there, let's be honest, right. Women in the suburbs who may be your independent Republican leaning, if there is such thing as overreach, Republicans have done it before. And is there going to be a case over the next couple of months as each of these States starts passing various laws, where people start to have a distaste for the enforcement mechanism, and also the aggression and legislative action.


KING: Right. And a case in study for suburban women is Pennsylvania. In a close race, the suburbs decide just about every state, every competitive state, but Pennsylvania among them, which is why it's interesting. Republicans have now gotten in with an ad. This is from the Senate leadership fund, which is a pack affiliated with the aforementioned Mitch McConnell, going in with an ad against the Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman. Listen?

(Video Playing)

KING: Audie just talked critically about those suburban women crime is an issue Republicans use repeatedly to try to pull suburban women. They're way too far left, too far left. They're trying to convince people, don't do it, don't do it.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: Yes. And I think it's interesting that, of course, too far left in the culture wars that Audie mentioned, are what Republicans are hoping to do to win some of these close races. Of course, they're trying to tie the candidates as well to President Joe Biden. And that's, you know, becoming a little bit more difficult right now, because Biden is on an upswing. Democrats have had a lot of victories in the past few weeks.

And so, you're seeing even the Democratic candidates, they're not moving away from Joe Biden the way we might have expected them to just a few weeks ago, in Georgia, for example, Raphael Warnock is saying, hey, I'm with Biden, I support Biden, and he's pushing to do more. And I think that's having an impact.

HUNT: To go back to Pennsylvania, John, I mean, this is such - this is a race that is such an example of candidate quality because it's at play on both sides of the race. John Fetterman is really testing the premise that if you bring populism as a Democrat to white Trump voters. He often touts how he's going into these small rural, often western Pennsylvania towns and talking to those kinds of voters, whether they'll actually vote for a Democrat, whether he can pull them back.

And quite frankly, he's completely making hay, with the very serious mistakes. I mean, you know, to crudity, right, like, I mean, what is - like what is going on with, I mean, as someone who is from Pennsylvania. I mean, first of all, you cannot buy tequila in a grocery store in Pennsylvania (cross talk), OK, regardless, forget the asparagus.

I mean, it's just, there's so much on display there. And you know, if he was running in somebody who couldn't take advantage of it, maybe it wouldn't hurt him as much. But those two things together are really effective.

CORNISH: So that add felt, like it was from 1996.

KING: I would say 1988.

CORNISH: I was going to say that.

(Cross talk)

MITCHELL: Even just the gap of not being able to get the grocery store, right. So, you know, you talk about who's the elitist and out of touch, it came across that it looked like us doesn't normally shop for his own groceries.

HUNT: I love Wegmans. Wegmans is amazing, people in Pennsylvania who shopped there, know what it's called. Also, it's a pretty fancy grocery store. A lot of like, normal people don't have access to one.

KING: So, here's the question, as we look at these races, 80 days is a long time. And the Republicans say they have some money problems on one side of their party. They're trying to fill it in with super PAC money and some dark money coming in as well. Democrats will shift money around as well. So, here's the question, you mentioned, you know, the Democrats do have a better story to tell all of a sudden, several bipartisan bills.

MITCHELL: At least not a harmful story.

KING: That's a great way to put it. And they have things they free up for a long time that these health care, NATO healthcare has worked for them in 2018 and 2020. Can they sell it out there? Will Joe Biden be welcomed here? Will he be welcomed here? Will he be welcomed here? Will he be welcomed here? When we're done with August and we come back, that's the big question I have. Well, those candidates, you say, you say Raphael Warnock says yes, please come here. That's a big question.

MITCHELL: Yes. And I think, you know, I think they're not running away from him, you know, whether they think he needs to come to the state and campaign side by side with him. That's a different conversation. But at least they're not trying to abandon him in his policies. Because again, the policies recently have been pretty popular.

So, you're talking about high popularity for gun control, high popularity for addressing healthcare costs, high popularity for getting people, you know, the rich to pay their fair share of taxes. So, the story they're telling that includes President Biden is working.

HUNT: The question that every single one of the Democratic Senate candidates and incumbents are going to need to have a good answer for is, whether they think Joe Biden should run for president again in 2024. It's going to come up in every debate, coming up in every press conference. If they don't have a good answer to it, they're going to make news and it might hurt them.

KING: Well, a good answer might be. I'll deal with that later. How we think about inflation. The Washington conversation versus the American conversation, that's sometimes you broke it. The Washington, it's just - this town wants to talk about certain things and people out there like, like this, that's not my day-to-day life. And we'll continue this conversation. Up next for us. The IRS is getting a huge cash infusion including, thousands of new agents, Republican say, you should be nervous.



KING: Republicans have a new villain ahead of the midterm elections, the Internal Revenue Service. The agency will receive $80 billion over the next decade, that thanks to the Democrats new spending bill. Now the Treasury Department says, this cash infusion is long overdue and will allow the tax agency to modernize antiquated technology. And yes, hire new agents, which the Treasury Department says will focus on high income earners and corporations who tend to aggressively use tax loopholes. Republicans say don't believe it.