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Inside Politics

Today: DOJ To File Response To Trump's Special Master Request; CNN: Some GOP Hopefuls Try To Shift Positions On Abortion; U.N. Nuclear Agency To Visit Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired August 30, 2022 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: So the FBI has already looked at them. "The Washington Post" makes this point today. I'm sorry, "The New York Times" makes this point today, if a special master determines the government had no legal right to see certain property in a search, the special master typically recommends the judge order that property returned. But Mr. Trump does not own the documents. When their role in the cases resolved, they should be sent to the National Archives, meaning the government should still have them.

Now it's possible, there's some memo that's not in the classified documents or the Presidential Records got mixed up. We've heard the different things mixed up. But for the most part, if there is a special master here, is that account, right? That OK, you say the FBI should not have taken this, it's not covered by your search warrant? Does it go to Trump? Or does it go the Archives?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, it's really a ridiculous situation, John. And Evan put it perfectly to say that the judge inserted herself into this. There's so many things wrong with Trump's legal argument, starting from the fact that special masters are usually used in the search of a lawyer's office for attorney-client privilege. This was not a lawyer's office. There's no reason to believe that Trump's personal residence is chock full of attorney- client communications, which could raise Sixth Amendment issues. It's just not the appropriate arena in which to use a special master.

And really, it's a facade for him trying to raise the executive privilege issue, which is completely outside the scope. But I think the biggest danger here is this is a judge inserting herself into something. She has no business being there. She's meddling in the criminal investigation, I hope that DOJ hits back very, very hard on this and points out that not only is Evan said they're doing it by the book correctly. But to allow this judge in a court that has no jurisdiction over this issue, to insert herself into this and try and oversee a criminal investigation, that's a very dangerous precedent.

KING: As we watch how that plays out, I want to come back to the new reporting about and this can be confusing for some people at home. But this this tug of war back and forth with Trump and his lawyers went on for 18 months, he left the White House, he took documents with him, they started conversation several months after he left, some documents were turned over back in January.

Those are not the documents that were seized during the search, execution of the search warrant. But as the documents that were turned back over your reporting, is that that process not long after intelligence agencies began going through them to see what's the risks here of these documents leaving the secure grounds of the White House going to Mar-a-Lago?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. That's one of the -- one of the things that they could look at when they were helping the FBI assess, first of all, to see whether these documents were still considered classified, John. And then, you know, they could take action if there was something that was in danger. But the other issue here is that, you know, the FBI still doesn't know fully who had access to those rooms. So there's a lot of the story that even the FBI doesn't know. So that goes into the calculation of whether there is a potential harm that's been done here. We still don't know and the FBI doesn't know the full story.

KING: So Shan, walk through some of the complexities of that. If you're a federal prosecutor and you're trying to build a criminal case, or at least the possibility of a criminal case about the mishandling of classified documents, then you have other agencies and governments who have very legitimate concerns about, excuse me, sir, do you know who had access to these documents? Do you know if they were shared? Can that happen together in sync? Or does that have to be two very separate processes because of the sensitivity?

WU: It can happen not really in sync, it can proceed in a parallel process, and there can be some sharing of information there. But focusing on the building of the criminal investigation is exactly, you know, as Evan was talking about, points out the problem with discharge meddling in it, even the review of the potential damage for national security issues. What if the judge says oh, I think that this material can't be reviewed any further needs to be returned.

Now you have a member of the Judiciary, blatantly interfering with the function of the executive branch. So it's just very, very problematic here and it really has to stop, you need to nip it in the bud.

KING: And we should see add more information about whether it will stop or whether it becomes an extended appellate process after the Justice Department filing today, we will see gentlemen, thank you so much.


Up next for us, it is made overseas and for a number of Republican candidates, one, the Trump back nominee for Arizona Senate scrubbed election lies and a conspiracy theory from his campaign website.


KING: Trump-backed Arizona Senate candidate Blake Masters is attempting what you might call a MAGA makeover. CNN's K-file team documenting several changes to the Republicans campaign website, before Masters won the primary in August his website read quote, we need to get serious about election integrity. The 2020 election was a rotten mess. If we had had a free and fair election, President Trump would be sitting in the Oval Office today. And America would be so much better off. Now, that same campaign website says simply we need to get serious about election integrity.

Here's another change, Masters also removing this line. The Democrats dream of mass amnesty because they want to import a new electorate. New electorate is a nod to what is called the great replacement theory. That is a bogus conspiracy that alleges Democrats favor mass immigration as part of a plan to dilute white power. Our reporters are back with us. We see, Jeff Zeleny, often candidates, you know, tack left or right depending on their party in a primary, then try to get back to the center. This is beyond that and then some.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It is well beyond that. And we've seen it in several other states as well. You absolutely needed to be as MAGA as possible to win the Republican primary. That was the ticket to admission without question. But to win over some of those, I guess we used to refer to them as establishment Republicans, moderates, independents. And in Arizona there are indeed a lot of those voters in the middle who he will need if he's going to win trying to soften the edges here a little bit without, you know, necessarily alienating the former president or true MAGA supporters, again, of which there are many.


But look, I think we're also seeing a perhaps even more importantly on abortion. You are seeing a lot of Republican candidates who are deeply, who were a little bit more extreme, I guess, in their views in the primary end of the general trying to push back a little bit. Again, we cannot say it enough, polling shows it but that Kansas referendum hangs over virtually every Republican or in red states running for office. That's what I remember.

KING: Right. The Dobbs decision, the Kansas referendum, the President's improving still in tough shape, but improving polling numbers, Republicans that you mentioned abortion. Let's just show you here, here's just a handful of candidates CNN reporting, we know there are more but a handful of candidates. So some running for governor, some running for Congress, Blake Masters in Arizona is running for Senate who have moderated to somewhat their positions on abortion or the public statements that are on their websites.

And Masters, for example, this is a website previously said he was 100 percent pro-life and noted his support for a constitutional amendment that recognizes unborn babies are human beings that may not be killed, and a slew of other legislation that would make it illegal to perform an abortion 20 weeks after conception.

Arizona is a state with some pretty big suburbs, Phoenix and surrounding there. That's how you win a close election. I read this, dropping things like that from the website as proof. I think I'm in trouble in the suburbs. MARGARET TALEV, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. It's a sure sign. But, you know, it's also pretty cynical on an issue like that which really is ideological driven for true believers on the subject, pretty cynical to think you just take it off the website. And it won't matter that you said it before. And I think even in a sea of pivotal races where there's going to be some pivoting in the general election. This really is a special case. And you can see it in Republicans concerns about the state of play in Arizona.

Yes, polling is still kind of within the margin of error. But there's a strong sense that that Mark Kelly on the Democratic side is, you know, fairly safer than he was a few months ago. And I think to Jeff's point, we are going to see in race after race, not just the Senate race, not just Senate races, but in race after race, scrubbing of websites, the problem for these candidates is going to be that just like journalists have screenshotted pages beforehand. So as the Democratic Party spend months tracking what these candidates are doing, it's all going to appear in ads, all of it particularly on the abortion.

KING: Yes, deleting things or rewriting things does not make them disappear in the digital age if you haven't figured that out just yet. To Margaret's point, "The New York Times" reporting the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm of the Republican Party, Senate Republican Political Action Committee canceled $8 million of television radio and digital advertising in Arizona last week signaling increasing pessimism about Mr. Masters ability to win a race the Republicans won saw as a relatively easy pickup on the way to a Senate majority.

That's why the next 10 weeks are so fascinating, in the sense that forget what people thought two months ago, wipe out completely what they thought for six months ago. You look at Arizona, Democrat thinks, OK, I might hold this. You look at Nevada, the Democrats in play. You look at Pennsylvania, which is a Republican incumbent now and open seat, Democrats say, Senate math especially has changed.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, USA TODAY: But Republicans do know that their pathway to victory in the Senate includes Arizona, and that's why they're not pulling out advertising completely out of that state. We also saw that one nation which is affiliated with the Senate Leadership Fund today, go up on the air with new ads.

Now that was part of a previous ad buy, but there is, you know, another ad that's going up. They're not fully pulling out of the state I'm told by Republicans. It's certainly a state that they know that they need to continue to play in partially because what Margaret said the polling is still really tight in that race. It's a very competitive racist cycle, and it will be in 2024.

KING: When it comes to these money decisions, it's fascinating. We're 10 weeks out, watch them now. Then we'll be eight weeks out, watch them again. And we'll be four weeks out and then you'll know. The money decides, OK, where can we -- where should we push? Where do we think, OK, maybe we can get that one. Money get -- Mike can shift from Arizona to Colorado, for example, Republicans think they suddenly have a better shot there.

Masters has moderated some of his website. Again, our K-file team is fantastic in the reporting they do with these things. But he also doesn't back down from what he thinks helps him in election campaign. The Associated Press tweeted this the other day, leadership of the Federal Reserve has become its most diverse ever for more female black and gay officials contributing to the central bank's interest rate decisions that at any time is 109-year history. Masters retweeted that with finally a compelling explanation for why our economy is doing so well, essentially mocking the diversity there. Then he was asked about this and he says this.


BLAKE MASTERS (R-AZ), SENATE NOMINEE: Look, I don't care if every single employee at the Fed is a black lesbian, as long as they're hired for their competence, and not because of what they look like or who they sleep with. News for Joe Biden, we are done with this affirmative action regime.


KING: Not backing down there because that is a place again in parts of Arizona he thinks that message helps. The question is, does it in others?


ZELENY: Look I think it does help in some respects. No one necessarily wants to, or even voters in the middle don't necessarily want to, for to get into all this. But I think he is, you know, he can't back away from it. But he's speaking to some voters thereby saying that, you know, who it resonates with. The reality is that this is not what these races are going to rise and fall on.

We do not know, I'd say the biggest unknown for Blake Masters and other Republican candidates who have attached themselves so closely to Donald Trump is Donald Trump. What shape is Donald Trump in four weeks in eight weeks? That is the big unknown for them. That's how he arrived to the dance here with Donald Trump. We'll see if it's positive in the final contest here.

KING: Also be fascinating some are scheduled, some are still subject to negotiations, how many debates we get in these absolutely critical races in the Senate, governor's races House as well.

Up next for us, important shifts in the Ukraine battlefield President Zelenskyy now telling Russians, go home.



KING: Ukrainian officials say they are getting some progress in the fight to recapture the territory in the South, that fighting largely concentrated here in the area around Kherson. And now we're learning United States has a hand in that effort. CNN confirming the Biden administration supplied specific weapons that Ukrainians asked for as they ramped up that counter offensive. Meanwhile, the United Nations nuclear watchdog team has arrived in Ukraine with plans to visit a Russian occupied nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia. CNN's Melissa Bell is live for us in Kyiv with the latest. Melissa?

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John, we had been expecting to hear directly from the IAEA today, they were planning to get to Zaporizhzhia fairly quickly to carry out that much needed and much anticipated inspection to try and figure out exactly what damage has or has not been done around the plant these last few days as a result of the shelling. But that very shelling is what seems to have complicated things with Ukrainians accusing Russian forces for a long time now of having used the Zaporizhzhia power plant as a military base to keep their military equipment something backed by American intelligence and from where there have been launching attacks.

Today, Ukrainian officials and those close to President Zelenskyy saying that there has been too much shelling around the plant to allow for the IAEA inspection to go ahead. A short while ago, there was an unplanned meeting between the head of the IAEA inspection team, Rafael Grossi, and the Ukrainian president. Here's what President Zelenskyy had to say.


PRES. VOLODYMYR ZELENSKYY, UKRAINE (through translator): We are grateful that the parties understand each other completely. We want the IAEA mission led by Director Grossi, to be able to find an opportunity with help of our special services and to secure the corridors to get to the station. And do the best to avoid all the threats on a global scale. We trust your specialties. We would like it to be more than just an inspection.


BELL: Now all efforts are now being made to try and get those inspectors on the road toward Zaporizhzhia, an eight or nine hour drive. It takes a fair amount of time. And of course, John, time is of the essence as we hope to find out exactly what's going on around the plant and what the dangerous actually are.

KING: And Melissa, we spoke moments ago about the Biden administration helping Ukraine with specific weapons as it bounced the counter offensive here. Also some new reporting say that Russia is getting some help from Iran. Tell us about that.

BELL: That's right, also from American intelligence sources here, John. And this is important because as you say, now that we know that they've been fulfilling those orders recently, quite specifically, with a view to this counter offensive. They're also keeping an eye on what weapons the Russian side might be acquiring, that could neutralize some of those pieces of equipment that have proven so effective and helping to prepare for this counter offensive that is now underway. Specifically, they've been discovering they say that Russia has been acquiring military capable drones from Iran with a Russian forces even now training inside the country to try and use them. The fear that these drones could neutralize some of those high -- those artillery missile systems that have proven so effective, again, at getting beyond the frontlines themselves and that have allowed Ukraine over the last couple of weeks, John, to hit some of that crucial infrastructure around Kherson, specifically the bridges that are Russian forces to come and resupply their men in and around Kherson.

The fear now that if they get hold of these drones, and if they prove as effective as Americans fear they might that, this could prove a substantial advantage on the ground to Russia.

KING: Melissa Bell live with the latest in Kyiv. Melissa, thanks so much.


Up next for us, back to politics here in the United States. Guess what, Gucci loafers now an issue in Pennsylvania Senate race.


KING: Topping our Political Radar today, the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell leaving no doubt about his support for the Pennsylvania Republican senator candidate, Dr. Mehmet Oz. McConnell telling reporters after a fundraiser in Kentucky that he quote, has quote great confidence in Oz. That despite McConnell's criticism of the quality of candidates in some key races.

Meantime, Oz's Democratic opponent, John Fetterman releasing a new ad blasting Dr. Oz and Republican critics who have attacked Fetterman stances on criminal justice.


LT. GOV. JOHN FETTERMAN (D-PA): Dr. Oz and his Gucci loafers is attacking me on crime. The two of my students were murdered. I ran for mayor to stop the violence. I worked side by side with the police, showed up at the crime scenes. We did whatever it took to fund our police and stop gun death.


KING: The former President Barack Obama headlining an event for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, that a group he helped launched back in 2017, this, one of two fundraisers on Obama's schedule leading up to the midterm elections.


The man who came within seconds at Senator Chuck Schumer during the Capitol riot is going to prison. The Proud Boys recruit Joshua Pruitt, sentenced to four and a half years behind bars. You can see Pruitt in a mob chasing police officers. Pruitt plead guilty to felony obstruction.

Thanks for your time today. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.