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Inside Politics

Biden's Busy Week: Major Speeches & Campaign Stops; Biden To Focus On "Mega Extremism" In Return To Campaign Trail; Poll: Biden's Approval Hits 44 Percent, Highest Number In A Year; Secret Service Official At Center Of 1/6 Testimony Retires; Tony Ornato Met With January 6 Cmte In Jan And March; Today: DOJ To File Response To Trump's Special Master Request; CNN: Intel Agencies Began Reviewing Trump Docs In May To Assess Risk. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 30, 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. This hour Joe Biden hits the road, 10 weeks until the November vote, and the president is off to blue collar Pennsylvania to ask, why Republicans won't ban assault weapons.

Plus, another big Justice Department deadline. The government's response to a federal-judges due today. Prosecutors hope to make the case that they were careful and that there is no need for a special process now to sort through the documents seized from Donald Trump's home.

And a noteworthy mega makeover of CNN review details how the election denier running for Senate in Arizona scrubbed his website to erase a lie that the 2020 election was stolen. A first though, the president of the United States reentered the campaign fray today, at a truly fascinating moment.

In just moments, just moments, Joe Biden will leave for Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, for a planned speech on gun violence. The president while there will renew a call to ban assault weapons, and he will suggest Republicans have little standing to talk tough on crime. If they keep bowing to the gun lobby and if they keep giving Capitol rioters a pass, 10 weeks from tonight, we count your midterm votes.

And today stop by the president is in one of those places that will tell us a ton come election night. Let's look at the map. You see Wilkes-Barre right here. That is in Luzerne County right there, in Pennsylvania's eighth congressional district, right? You see the red from 2020 Donald Trump carry the county. But let's look at the congressional district.

This congressional district if you look in here, the eighth congressional district represented by a Democrat who just barely won two years ago. Meaning this is one of those places, that's a battleground within the battleground. A democratic congressman here, but if you go back in time, Donald Trump carried this district narrowly in 2020, and narrowly in 2016, as well. So, it's a battleground within a battleground critical, as Pennsylvania now picks a new governor, a new senator, and has it say, whether Democrats can defy history and keep control of the House. So, it's important anyway.

Now at this, the president's poll numbers, suddenly trending up a bit. And one of the giant questions for the next 10 weeks is whether he has an asset or a drag in the contest like those in Pennsylvania, that matter most. Let's get straight to the White House and CNN's MJ Lee. MJ, a big test for the president.

MJ LEE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, John. And a battleground within a battleground that just sort of perfectly captures exactly the kinds of districts that Democrats are eyeing so closely, as they try to minimize their potential losses in the House of Representatives are heading into November.

And you're absolutely right, that there is an ongoing debate as to whether President Biden himself is a political asset. It of course, depends on the race itself, where in the country, he is traveling too. But I can tell you what is coming into clearer focus, as the days go on is his political messaging.

And a big part of that messaging is to draw a contrast and paint the Republican Party as anti-democratic as being an extremist party at standing for unacceptable policies. So, when we see the president speaking in Pennsylvania later today, we are going to hear him talking about his support and the Democratic Party support for law enforcement.

In part we are told by bringing up the January 6 insurrection efforts. And then also on the policy front, we will hear him call once again for an assault weapons ban, and also tout this bipartisan gun safety bill that he signed into law just earlier this year. Now, yes, this is going to be a public safety speech. But John, we have every reason to believe that it is going to sound very much like a political speech as well.

KING: MJ Lee, live for us at the White House kicking us off. MJ, thanks so much. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Margaret Talev of Axios, CNN's Jeff Zeleny and USA Today's Francesca Chambers.

To the raw politics in a minute, but first what the president's going to talk about today and as he begins to travel more in the coming days. He wants to talk about gun violence today in Wilkes-Barre. He's going to be back in Pennsylvania for a speech in Philadelphia. He wants to revisit his theme battle for the soul of the nation.

On Labor Day, he will be in Pittsburgh and also in Wisconsin. Francesca talking about the dignity of American workers. 10 weeks from tonight, we'll be counting votes. If we were having this conversation 10 weeks ago, and there will be a lot of people saying President Joe Biden should avoid the campaign trail.

Democrats feel better now. This today is a test where we see him not just in Pennsylvania, where he was born and where he is comfortable, we're going to see him more in Wisconsin. We're going to see him in places like Colorado. We're going to see him in Arizona. We're going to see him in Georgia.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, USA TODAY: Well, the White House is telling me that to be out on the campaign trail to two to three times a week are out in the United States. Not all of these are political events. Some of them are official events, whether or not he'll head to the West Coast. They haven't announced plans beyond the next weeks.


If you look at the places he's going right now though, those are in sort of the Rust Belt areas. He'll be talking about the chips' legislation and manufacturing as well as the issues you talked about. And Democrats are telling me that if you look at all these issues, and you string them together, this is part of his closing argument where he's hitting on, you know, a number of issues, not just his legislative agenda.

KING: And so, Margaret, help me translate. Gun violence today, obviously, a critical, important issue for Democrats. Joe Biden in the Senate helped pass the assault weapons ban back in the Clinton days that has gone away. Battle for the soul of the nation. That's the idea that Republicans don't respect democracy, and that we're at this point.

How do they think dignity for American workers, obviously, you want to turn out labor union voters on Election Day, but also blue-collar workers who have left the Democratic Party, who might not be? How did the Democrats think these particular issues fit with the campaign message?

MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, centrism, I think is a big theme of three stops we're going to see in Pennsylvania starting today. The idea of pragmatism, the idea that you can appeal to all Americans, whether you're left center or right about basic things like public safety, law and order kind of flipping the script on the defund the police barrage that Democrats faced, you know, two years ago.

And now, whether or not he names Trump, whether or not he says, Mar-a- Lago search. The idea that Americans should trust and empower the FBI to conduct basic law enforcement investigations. That is all of a piece that you're right, labors' slightly different piece.

But it's the idea that we're shifting now away from the primary season into the general election season, that what motivates, the base is not necessarily the same thing that turns out the center. And the Biden has a window of opportunity now. Gas prices lower, inflation somewhat at bay, legislative victories to both court those base pieces and appeal to the middle.

KING: I was saying in the staff meeting this morning, I'm driving crazy for the next 10 weeks because that's where we get into the map, right, we go by district. Luzerne County in Pennsylvania, it's essentially a wrestling match within a state, that is a wrestling match in terms of the tug of war for swing voters.

The president goes, Jeff Zeleny, in a time, look at the trajectory. The numbers not so great. You don't want to be at 44 percent approval rating, but you do want the arrow pointing that way. The president, you know, but way back to the beginning of his term was at 57. Then you had the bottom fall out here. He's at least heading in the right direction at this moment.

So, the question is, you know, you look at history, and you can't, you know, history doesn't always carry over. But every president except George W. Bush, in modern times has lost House seats in his first midterm. George W. Bush, the first election after the 9/11 attacks actually gained House seats. So, this is where you're looking here.

Biden is now where Obama was. The Democrats are not going to lose 63 seats. It's not possible the way the map is drawn anymore. The question is, the Democrats are going to lose 40 seats. Can this president defy history? That's the question of the next 10 weeks.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It is the question, and it certainly looks like there's a better chance of doing that now than the last time that the President Biden was scheduled to go to Wilkes-Barre, that was actually July 21. And I was driving half the way up there and he got COVID there. So, he came back, actually he never left Washington, we did.

But look, so that's why this is a rescheduled speech, but they could have done this speech anywhere. They're doing it for a reason. This is also the time of the map, as you said, which we love, location, location, location, but Pennsylvania is absolutely the center of this midterm election campaign, House races, governor's race, as well as the Senate race.

Of course, one thing that history is not a guide for this, I think in one respect is that we've never had a president who is so - who's occupying the same space as a former president. There has never been one in this case. Now, they're using it to their advantage.

There's no question that President Biden has long wanted to move beyond the Trump era. He's not wanted to make January 6, the centerpiece of his agenda, and they still don't, but now they're using it as a moment to draw a contrast. So, a midterm election is often challenging for a president party because it is a referendum. He's trying to make it a choice about the Trump era and his era.

So, they're leaning into this. I'm told they're not going to do this every day. They know that that message would sort of grow old and tired, but they are going to use it to draw a contrast between Trump past and maybe future and Biden.

KING: Again, Joe Biden, born not too far away from Roxbury in Scranton, Pennsylvania. It's the eighth congressional district. It's represented by Matt Cartwright, who just won two years ago barely, barely won facing the same opponent. Here is what he says. He's going to be there today. I've been friends with Joe Biden for 30 years, what kind of person distances themselves from their friends just because their friends are a few points down in the polls? Well, good for Congressmen Cartwright because a lot of Democrats, what person does that? Nobody I want to know.

In a way good for him, in the sense that a lot of other Democrats who were Joe Biden's friends maybe in the 2020 campaign aren't so short right now. But Pennsylvania, important to the president, he's trying to make a point here. Congressman Cartwright will be with me. The candidate for Governor Josh Shapiro will be there. The Senate candidate John Fetterman will not be there today, but we'll be, I'm told with the president when he gets to Pittsburgh on Monday. Presidents tried to say, it's OK, Democrats, we can do this together.


CHAMBERS: And it is a state that is very personal to the president and that's one of the reasons why he'll be spending so much time in Pennsylvania specific. And John, you mentioned before how tight it was, it is a state that former President Donald Trump won. And then it is state that he, in that particular district, he won that district twice. Cartwright last election cycle three and a half points.

So, it's a frontline Democrat and the president despite the fact that he is from the Scranton area, that isn't in an area that he won, and he was only up by less than two points in the last election in the state of Pennsylvania.

TALEV: And it's not just Cartwright, we're starting to see some additional comfort level with Democrats. As we've seen Biden's numbers come up from the middle to highest 30s back into the mid-40s. Now, Tim Ryan in Ohio, saying yes. Absolutely, I'll be at that intel manufacturing plant event alongside Biden. That's a big deal.

And to Cartwright's rhetorical question, what kind of friend would do then? Many people if you think the president would sink your candidacy, it is still not a sure thing. But for many swing state Democrats, there was at least a beginning of rethinking of this, a greater comfort level with Biden. And again, a lot of this has to do with gas prices and abortion.

KING: And you know, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania again, it's his birth state. He has a lot of friends there. He has a history there. And one of the questions will be, we can move up to, to say the state of New Hampshire. Maggie Hassan, the Democratic incumbent there, Biden over the weekend use that last weekend, use the term semi fascist to describe the forces he sees among Trump Republicans. So, the Republican governor of New Hampshire said he should apologize. The Democratic senator who is running in a potentially tough race didn't go that far, but?


SEN. MAGGIE HASSAN (D-NH): I have concerns about attacks on our democracy. I have concerns that some people seem to think that violence is the appropriate way of resolving disputes in our democracy. But I think President Biden's comments just painted with way too broad a brush.


KING: She thinks too broad of a brush. Again, that'll be one of the more fascinating states, one of the wider states, one of the more lower in terms of education spectrum states, a state where Maggie Hassan. You know, if you're fighting for your brand in a year that may last couple of weeks ago, we thought would be a very Republican year, now we're not so sure.

ZELENY: And the best thing she of course has going for and she knows as well as her opponent is still not settled yet. (Inaudible) has the latest primary, it's in a couple of weeks. And they believe that one of her opponents, regardless of who it is that they view as extreme. And as Margaret was saying about abortion rights. This is also a central part of the democratic hopes and optimism, I think.

They look at the measure in Kansas, what happened in Kansas. People came to the polls, sort of regardless of party. So, that's what she'll be going after. So that's why she is trying to, you know, in New Hampshire, she knows that the left side of the spectrum is not the place to be as a Democratic candidate. She former governor has been around a long time, so she is - but that does not mean she's not probably OK with the president saying, that she doesn't want to just necessarily sign on to it.

But back to what you said about Pennsylvania. Trump didn't win in '16. Of course, he lost in 2020. So that is the central part. That's why the former president is coming there Saturday. The current president is going there Thursday and Monday. I can't recall seeing such bracketing this early in a cycle in one state.

CHAMBERS: In the White House as we're aware that given how close it was in 2020, and also how close it could be in 2024, that it's important for him to do.

KING: It is one of the handful of states that will decide the next several presidential elections and may decide control of the Senate this year as well. Up next for us. A key figure from the January 6 hearings retires from the Secret Service.




KING: A top Secret Service official considered a critical witness by the January 6 committee is out. Tony Ornato resigned from government. And in a statement to CNN says, he will now join the private sector. "I retired from the U.S. Secret Service after more than 25 years of faithful service to my country, including serving the past five presidents. I long planned to retire, that statement said, and have been planning this transition for more than a year. Ornato left the Secret Service to join Trump's White House staff in 2019. He returned to the service before Trump left office. Ornato, you might remember came up repeatedly and explosive testimony this summer by another Trump West Wing aide. He disputed some key details, but he has resisted January 6 committee efforts to get him to come back and testify again under oath.

The former federal prosecutor Shan Wu joins our conversation. Shan, let me start with that point. Is the fact that Tony Ornato is now a private citizen. Does that make it harder for the committee to compel additional testimony if they want to clear this up?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: No, I don't think so. I think it's very telling that he's been resisting these efforts. And I'm not sure what his legal basis is for resisting them. Perhaps he is also part of the executive privilege train. But in any event, it's something that's in the past, so his current status really shouldn't affect that.

KING: All right. Shan, stay with us. Let's just remind people, Cassidy Hutchinson, who was a key aide to then White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who during her explosive testimony was recounting and she acknowledged there was one episode that came up about January 6 in the president's efforts to get to the Capitol. She said, she had no firsthand knowledge, but she said Ornato told her this compelling story in the White House among other things.


CASSIDY HUTCHINSON, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE AIDE: Tony described him as being irate. Mr. Engel grabbed his arm. Said sir, you need to take your hand off the steering wheel. We're going back to the West Wing. We're not going to the Capitol. Mr. Trump then used his free hand to lunge towards Bobby Engel.

And when Mr. Ornato had recounted this story to me, he had motion towards his clavicles. Anything that requires security for any individual that has presidential protection. So, the chief of staff or the national security adviser, as well as the vice president's team too, tony would oversee all of that.

HUTCHINSON: I remember Mr. Ornato coming in and saying, that we had intel report saying that there could potentially be violence on this on the sixth.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Is it your understanding that Mr. Ornato told the president about weapons at the rally on the morning of January 6?


HUTCHINSON: That's what Mr. Ornato relayed to me.


KING: So, just from the points raised here by Cassidy Hutchinson, Ornato could be critical, especially if his previous testimony contradicts hers in clearing up the facts. Number one, about that alleged episode where that she described and she said Ornato told the president was irate, trying to lash out, lunge out and his Secret Service detail. But more importantly to the substance of, did he know there were weapons in the crowd? Did he know that perhaps he shouldn't have - not have given a provocative speech that day could be critical?

TALEV: 100 percent. He had a key insight. He wasn't just serving in that role. There are deputy chiefs of staff and deputy chiefs of staff. There are Secret Service officials and then there are Secret Service officials. This is someone who had a President Trump's trust and was welcomed as an insider, whether or not that's that was his point of view. That is how Trump viewed him.

To Shan's point, legally, there may not be a long-term difference on this question of whether the committee can subpoena somebody. But the differences that Mr. Ornato employers can't make him go testify. And I think that it could be an important distinction. It could be something to watch.

KING: Right. His boss in the government no longer. He doesn't have a boss in the government can say, we want you to do this at least call him out if he wouldn't. And more on the substance of this, Francesca, this is from Jamie Gangel and Whitney Wild, reporting on this story.

Among the topics Ornato discussed, was Trump's knowledge of then Vice President Mike Pence's whereabouts during the attack on the U.S. Capitol. And whether Trump could have done more to encourage the rioters to calm down and leave the building.

So again, somebody who had eyes on the then president of the United States who was deeply involved in White House security operations, the communications operations, who can help fill in some of the blanks and some of the conflicts.

CHAMBERS: And that's a key issue, is how much the president knew about whether the vice president was in serious danger. And when he knew it would - because recall that he was tweeting about Mike Pence and certifying the election results at that time, and that is caused a major split among people, some of the Republicans right, between people who supported Mike Pence and people who supported Donald Trump, is that exact and very specific issue.

KING: And remarkable just you've covered the White House for a long time. You've been in the White House a long time. Just the fact that a Secret Service official would leave the Secret Service, come to the president's political staff, and then go back to the service.

Tony Ornato retired as the assistant director. He was deputy chief of staff for operations, previously coordinated presidential security details, 20 plus years with the service. Just odd, odd, you know, very familiar with the agents during my 10 years covering the White House, that agents or uniforms would come into a political job, they go back to the agency.

ZELENY: So unusual. I first came across him when he was working in the PPD, the Presidential Protection Detail for President Bush, and then he worked for President Obama and then President Trump, but only President Trump, they obviously struck up a relationship of friendship. He trusted him, as Margaret was saying. To come in as deputy chief of staff, and you might ask what is deputy chief of staff?

That is essentially the person who runs all the operations on the West Wing. They have their finger on every sort of moving part, not necessarily policy at all, but just the moving parts from the Marine One lift off to movements to security. So, he was at the center of all of this as we've learned. But then to go back to the Secret Service also so interesting.

So, in my time here, I cannot recall anyone. There hasn't been anyone, frankly. And it certainly raised the eyebrows of Secret Service agents who are very dedicated and professional at their job. Regardless of the presidents. You elect, the people elect, the service protects. That's their motto. And in this case, it was just so unusual that he went to work for this president for sure.

TALEV: It blurred that line.

KING: For sure, blurred that line, is a good way to put it. We'll see if the committee makes any headway in trying to get Mr. Ornato. To testify ahead for us, assessing the damage. New information about how long intelligence agencies have been investigating, documents that Donald Trump took to Mar-a-Lago.




KING: Today, another deadline looms for the Justice Department. It must file a response to Donald Trump's requests for a special master to sort through documents the FBI took during its search at Mar-a- Lago. This coming as CNN learns that back in May, the intelligence community started reviewing classified documents turned over to the National Archives back in January. Multiple sources tell CNN, agencies have been working with the FBI to determine whether any immediate action needs to be taken to protect sources and methods because of those documents leaving the White House ground.

CNN's Evan Perez is here with the new reporting. Shan Wu is still with us as well. Let's start first with this deadline. Do we expect the Justice Department to break a lot of new ground in this filing or is it just Justice Department makes its case? We were careful. This is what we took. And it was good.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I think we're going to see some new information from them to describe what this process behind the scenes has been going on, John. We know that the - there has been a group of agents who are not involved in the investigation, who've been looking specifically for potential attorney client privilege material.

And there is a process that appears to be going on behind the scenes with the oversight of a judge. We're going to hear probably a little bit more about that and what that entails, which will push back on this judge who inserted herself over the weekend, who, you know, signaled that she was inclined to appoint a third-party special master to look over the FBI shoulders.

KING: So, Shan Wu, you're on the record saying, you don't think that is necessary, especially because the president's lawyers took so much time to file for the special master. So, the FBI has already looked at him. The Washington Post makes this point today. I'm sorry the New York Times makes this point today. A special master determines the government had no Illegal right to see certain property in a search, the special master typically recommends the judge order the property return. But Mr. Trump does not own the documents.