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Inside Politics

Hearing on Trump Request for Special Master; Trump Layers: Cannot Trust "Unchecked Investigators"; Trump Lawyer Trump Hosted Guests In Office Where Classified Docs Found; Tonight: Biden to Focus on "Soul of the Nation" in Philadelphia; WH: Biden 'Not Going to Shy Away' from Criticizing GOP Lawmakers He Thinks Are Guilty of Violent Rhetoric; McCarthy to Give Prebuttal to Biden in Scranton Speech; Dem Mary Peltola Defeats Sarah Palin in AK Special Election. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired September 01, 2022 - 12:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello and welcome to "Inside Politics." I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing a very busy news day with us next hour.

A courtroom fight between the Justice Department and Donald Trump over sensitive government documents seized from Mar-a-Lago. It follows a Trump legal response that took several political swipes at the DOJ, but mostly sidestepped questions about Team Trump obstructing justice.

Plus, Joe Biden's primetime punch. The President tonight will use the national address to warn Republicans who are actively working, in his view, to undermine American democracy.

And Sarah Palin loses in her Alaska comeback attempt. A Democrat won the special House election, so did advocates of what is called rank choice voting.

A first for us though, a court showdown next hour over the FBI search of Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago. The Justice Department says it did everything by the book, and that its investigation should continue full speed ahead. Team Trump, though is objecting and asking a judge to name a special master, that's an independent third party to review the materials taken from the former president's hotel, home and office.

The hearing is before a Trump appointed judge who is already on record leaning in favor of a special master. Team Trump last night responded to a detailed government filing asserting that Trump had no standing to ask for a special master and assuring the judge, prosecutors already had experts searched through all the documents to make sure the FBI keeps and reviews only materials covered by the search warrant.

The Trump legal team though argues they does admit classified documents were at the president's home and asserts that should come as no surprise to the government. Trump's lawyers also, though, making two huge omissions in their filing. One, nowhere in the Wednesday filing do they claim that former president declassified those papers taken from his residence, a clear contradiction from what the former president has said publicly.

And two, the lawyers left almost completely unanswered a government charge that team Trump likely obstructed justice by concealing and removing documents at Mar-a-Lago. We start in Florida at the courthouse with CNN's Kara Scannel. Kara set the stage.

KARA SCANNEL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. So we're just an hour away from this courtroom showdown where attorneys for former President Donald Trump will square off with attorneys from the Justice Department. The issue here is whether there should be a special master, that's a third party individual to review the materials, the classified materials that were seized from the former president's home here in Florida at Mar-a-Lago.

Now, the government says that there's no need for a special master because they already have had an FBI filter team, which is separate from the investigative team in place going through these documents. There's a very limited set of them that would be covered by any attorney/client privilege.

But Trump's team is saying that the FBI's filter team has unchecked discretion and that's why they want a third party involved, that the judge overseeing this hearing is Judge Aileen Cannon. She was appointed to the bench by Trump in 2020. She already has indicated that she's leaning in favor of appointing a special master.

But since then there's been a lot of new information that's come into the record, including the Justice Department allegations that the former president has and his team had hidden and removed classified documents from the storage room at Mar-a-Lago, DOJ is saying that that is the reason why they needed to act so swiftly and they want to protect their investigation.

Now it's up to the judge who could decide today or she might sit on it, but it's going to have the showdown. We've got Trump has a new attorney. He's brought into the case, former Solicitor General in Florida Chris Kise. He has just appeared in the docket in the case this morning, he might be in court today. We might hear from him, but he's one of the hired guns, one of the serious attorneys that Trump has brought into this case.

So we're just about an hour away from this John and hopefully we'll have some news following it. Back to you.

KING: Kara Scannel live on the ground for us in Florida. Kara, thank you. Come back if there is any update. And with me now to share some expertise and insights CNN's Evan Perez and a former federal prosecutor Jennifer Rodgers.

Evan let me begin with something of the Trump lawyers said - they try to say, no big deal. But they argued this in illegal response that says that "the notion that presidential records would contain sensitive information should have never been cause for alarm." They're trying to say that what the FBI found and decided need a search warrant for in Mar-a-Lago was normal. That this happens.

When presidents leave office this happens all the time. That they take with them secret, secret, top secret, top secret, top secret, top secret, secret. I've covered the White House for 10 years, I checked in last night with some people who were in Bill Clinton's White House when he left, George W. Bush's White House when they left. They said that's absurd. That those presidents never took anything like that with them.

But the Trump argument is pretty normal.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR U.S. JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It is absurd. And you even heard it from Karl Rove who said these are not his documents. These were documents that belong to you and me, to all of us, right. These are public documents and they should never have been put on a truck and sent to Mar-a-Lago.


And one of the things that they're doing is, you know, first of all, they're airing some of the former president's grievances, saying that the FBI is biased against him and that's the reason why you need this third party. They may, by the way, succeed in that and get a third party to look at these documents.

But one of the things that they're not confronting, John, and this is a serious thing, is the question of obstruction and the question of why. When they got a subpoena - when the President personally got a subpoena in May to turn over all documents that are marked as classified, why those documents were not turned over immediately, which is what the subpoena ordered them to do.

KING: So Jennifer, help us walk through the issue that judge faces today through the context of these two filings, especially the latest one, which is the Trump filing last night. To Evans point, it does hear some of the grievances. I just want to read some of it.

"There's no guarantee, the limited set of potentially privileged materials identified by the privilege review team constitutes all privileged materials among the seized materials. Left unchecked, the DOJ will impugn, leak, and publicize selective aspects of their investigation with no recourse for Movant", that's Trump, "but to somehow trust the self-restraint of currently unchecked investigators." That's a political argument.

Do you see a coherent legal argument and what they presented to the judge last night?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: John, I don't even see any legal argument, coherent or not. I mean, legal arguments are about the basis for the search warrant, which comes down the road if he's ultimately charged. This is about a special master, and they don't provide any law at all about special masters, except as it relates, for example, to the Michael Cohen case, where someone came in when a lawyer's office was searched. That's not what we have here.

The other wrinkle for the judge, and I wish that she hadn't said that she preliminarily wanted to grant this motion, because that puts her in a bit of a box, given that she has absolutely no basis to grant it today. But the other thing about this motion is that, you know, it sets things back a long way as you need clearances to review this material. And what is she going to do is she actually going to order that the FBI and the DOJ stop working on these materials they've already been handed over.

In order to grant this, she basically has to say, you have to give back all of these materials and not utilize them in your ongoing investigation, because otherwise, what's the point of appointing a special master to go through it? That's unheard of. I've never even heard of a judge thing, even though you already have materials that have been filtered by a team, you have to give them back and not use them.

I don't even know how she has the authority to do that. So that's really strange and just kind of puts us in a in a really odd place as she considers this motion today.

KING: Well, we'll wait and see what happens in the hearing. One thing we do have, and you highlighted this, I want to emphasize it some more, is sort of a collision between what Trump has said publicly and what his lawyers say in the papers today. He, for example, says he classified - declassified all these papers. They don't make that argument.

He does publicly make this argument. "There seems to be confusion as to the picture where documents were sloppily thrown on the floor, and then released photographically for the world to see, as if that's what the FBI found when they broke into my home. Wrong! They took them out of cartons and spread them around the carpet, making it look like a big find for them."

He's trying to suggest that the FBI was saying this is how they were kept. You made this point the other day. I just want to reemphasize it again to make the point that, sadly, the former president, what he says cannot be trusted. You made the point. There's a ruler right here.

PEREZ: Right.

KING: This is a normal crime scene. This is what you do, so that you can understand. You want everyone to understand what are the size of these files, what are the size of these documents. And you use the ruler, you place it right there, that's standard procedure.

PEREZ: And there's a two A that's just outside of that chart right there. You can see it's right there in the middle that - which is the label they put for crime scene. Again, think about that, the former president's home is a crime scene according to the Justice Department and I think that bears underlining here.

And look what do you see from the former president is classic, right? He accuses people of things that he and his team have been doing. He's saying the Justice Department is going to leak. Well, they had about - roughly 72 hours after the search to themselves. They had the field, they sort of set the narrative, telling reporters on background things that made its way into the press.

And now it's forced the Justice Department to respond in two bombshell filings that have provided a lot more information, frankly, that we would have if it weren't for the fact that the former president has been making these allegations.

KING: I also want to note, one of Trump's lawyers last night when on a favorable network where they know they won't be treated with tough questions. "This is not the way his office looks." She's making the point about that, "anybody knows President Trump's office he has guests frequently." That's undermining your own argument.

PEREZ: It doesn't help.

KING: You have these sensitive government documents in the place that President has guests as frequently.

Let's move on now to another very important January 6th investigative update. A source now confirming to CNN that the former Trump White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and his top deputy, Patrick Philbin, are due to appear before a federal grand jury in Washington tomorrow.

Jennifer Rodgers come in on that point. This is the former White House counsel, the former deputy White House counsel. The man who Donald Trump put in charge of the sensitive documents, handling the documents on the way out.


But the man who also saw a lot in the to and fro from election day through January 6, and Biden Inauguration Day. How significant is it that the separate criminal investigation into January 6 now gets grand jury testimony from the top to Trump White House lawyers?

RODGERS: Well, it's potentially very significant, although it depends on what they're willing to do. We saw him testify in a deposition to the committee and he invoked privilege a lot. He wouldn't talk about any of the conversations that he had with Trump, any advice he gave to Trump, relying on executive privilege. So the question is, as he appears before the grand jury, has DOJ been able to break through this?

Have they made an agreement about executive privilege and what he'll testify to, have they even gone to court under seal and gotten a ruling about this that governs his testimony? Because if he doesn't say any more than he said to the committee, I don't know how helpful it will be. If he does talk about his conversations with Trump between the election and January 6, I think it could be very, very meaningful and helpful to DOJ's investigating.

PEREZ: And it just bears - real quick - to note that this is the Friday grand jury. This is the grand jury that is looking at the effort to impede the transfer of power. This is the more serious grand jury, and frankly, might be the more serious jeopardy for the former president after all of this.

KING: Even beyond that--

PEREZ: Even beyond--

KING: --obviously you have the separate, now you have the mishandling - potential mishandling of classified information. That is what we're--

PEREZ: Right. It's the - this is the investigation that people around Trump have been more concerned about, frankly, from the beginning.

KING: About the disrupting the lawful transfer of power.


KING: All right. We'll watch and see what happens to that testimony tomorrow. Thank you, Jennifer Rodgers. Thank you, Evan, as well.

Next for us, a primetime address for President Biden on what he calls the battle for the soul of the nation and American democracy.



KING: Tonight, President Biden returns to a familiar place and a familiar theme, with the goal of drawing a clear midterm election contrast.

A primetime address from Philadelphia's Independence Hall with the 2022 framing of the soul of America debate, the President used in his successful 2020 campaign. Then it was a contrast with Donald Trump. Tonight, the President will make the case that Trump himself still looms large in the GOP and that Trump allies are just as much a threat to democracy. And he will make the case they would advance an extreme agenda if given more power.

With me share their reporting and their insights, Laura Barron-Lopez, the PBS NewsHour; CNN's Kasie Hunt, and POLITICO's Nicholas Wu. Let's listen to a bit of the President as we prefer tonight. Again, he goes to Pennsylvania frequently. He loves the backdrop of Independence Hall when he tries to give these big addresses about what he views as the state of America.

But this time in recent weeks his rhetoric has turned much more partisan. The question is, will we hear this tonight?


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Trump and the extreme MAGA Republicans have made their choice: to go backwards, full of anger, violence, hate, and division. The MAGA Republicans don't just threaten our personal rights and economic security, they're a threat to our very democracy. They refuse to accept the will of the people.

To this day, the MAGA Republicans in Congress defend the mob that stormed to Capitol on January 6th. But the idea you turn on a television and see senior senators and congressmen saying, "If such and such happens, there'll be blood in the street." Where the hell are we?


KING: You think on the one hand, the speech about the soul of America is directed at everybody. You listen to the President in recent weeks, and you hear a President who's trying to, A, drive up Democratic turnout, but also peel off independents and soft Republicans.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's right. And some of this - I mean, this goes all the way back to when he announced his candidacy, right, because he announcing that he was running because of Charlottesville, because of the Neo Nazis marching there that he saw, and that he believed that, yes, it was a battle for the soul of the country.

The difference now versus then is how direct and aggressive he's been in terms of trying to diagnose for the American public, what he's seen, which is that the increase in violent rhetoric, the increase in violence from Charlottesville to January 6th, to the threats against the FBI now.

And saying that to him what he said recently, at a DNC fundraiser, that semi fascism, which was a really aggressive and different tone for the President. Because many historians, and scholars of authoritarianism and fascism have long been warning that that's what - that's the movement that is growing among Republicans on the right led by former President Trump, and they had been waiting for the President and they're still waiting for other Democrats to get to that point.

KING: If you look at this moment, compared to if we rewound the tape and went back in time a month or two, the President and his party are in just a very different position, in a stronger position. I want to just look at some polling on the generic ballot.

Democrats, Republican, undecided who you're going to vote for, when you vote for congress this fall? If you go back to November 2021, Republicans plus three. You go back to March of this year, Republicans plus five. Today, Democrats plus three.

Most smart democratic strategists will tell you they need to get that above five. You get that above five, above six, you get towards seven, than maybe they can even hold the House. But in that position right there, Democrats feel much better about potentially keeping the Senate, doing well in governor's races and maybe either somehow keeping the House or at least not getting wiped out.

KASIE HUNT, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: At least stemming their losses a little bit now. And I think you can see those numbers also help explain the President's performance and he's seems to be sort of newly reinvigorated. And these themes that he's hitting that you were just discussing, they're things that he truly really believes that really animate him, and that's great ground for any politician to be on. Right. And he feels like he can make those arguments in a way that's actually going to help his party at the polls.

And I think all of those things, combined together, really have energized Democrats. And obviously it's a combination of issues that are moving these numbers. I mean, abortion is obviously key one. But the reemergence of Donald Trump, I mean, handed Biden this cudgel to us on the campaign trail and also animates independent voters and base Democrats.

KING: And a President who angered many base Democrats early in his administration saying I want to work with Republicans, I want to reach across the aisle. I think we can go back to old style deal making. He's suddenly and his press secretary said yesterday at the White House, he will do more of this calling out Republicans by name and calling John Pierce. Specifically mentioned Congressman Gosar, Congresswoman Taylor Greene, Congressman Cawthorn, Governor DeSantis and of course, the former President Trump.


The President is trying to make this more of a choice, right. You might be mad at me about inflation, you might be tired after COVID. But remember, if you give Republicans power, you get some of them. Kevin McCarthy, the man who hopes to be Speaker, will give a prebuttal, if you will. He's also going to Pennsylvania tonight and this morning he previewed what he wants to say.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): The problem that Joe Biden is, he does not understand the soul of America. The 10s of millions of hard working, law abiding citizens that vilifies that simply want to have a say in their kids' education, to go to a school board meeting, want a gasoline price that they can afford, no longer wants inflation to continue to rise.


KING: That's the terrain Kevin McCarthy wants Republican candidates to argue on. But Kasie makes the point, the reemergence of Trump and a more aggressive Biden has changed the terrain. How worried are we talking about this in the context of Democrats more optimistic when you run Capitol Hill? How worried are Republicans that the odds have changed.

NICHOLAS WU, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, POLITICO: Among Republicans there is increasing concern and some frustration that the topics now have shifted from things that Republicans wanted to talk about: inflation, gas prices and the like, to now having to face tough questions about Mar-a-Lago and Trump and the former President's actions. And so what we see now is Democrats trying to crystallize this choice. Midterms are so often a referendum on the President's party, and they're trying to make the terms of this clear. On one side, you have what, you have Republicans who want to talk about the economy. And Democrats, on the other hand, want to talk about the rule of law and abortion and other issues.

HUNT: And it doesn't help that Republicans are fighting amongst themselves. Also the war between Rick Scott and Mitch McConnell on the Senate side too is an entirely another conversation for today.

KING: Just now we spent a lot of the first year of the Biden President he is talking about Democrats argue among themselves as we get closer to the election. That's a key point. Republicans are upset about strategy, where's the money go and things like that.

Up next for us, we continue this conversation. It's a big political year and upset in Alaska, Sarah Palin loses, and Republicans confront a troubling trend.



KING: For the first time in nearly 50 years, a Democrat will represent Alaska and its lone House Seat. Mary Peltola, you see right here, the first Alaska Native elected to Congress. Peltola defeated the former Republican governor, former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin in a special election that began with get this 48 candidates.

This was the first time Alaska used what's called a ranked-choice voting system. Here's the results. Now this is why Mary Peltola will come to Washington for four months to complete the term of the late Republican, Don Young. She won 51.5 - 48. Rounded up 52 to 49. This is how ranked-choice voting works.

She might have been with us on an election night just a few weeks ago. The first round here. It was Peltola, Palin, Nick Begich. When you have a ranked-choice system, the third candidate is now eliminated. You go back and look at all of his ballots, the voters who cast ballots, who's your second choice, who's your third choice? That's what they did.

Peltola and Palin stay. Begich goes out. They go back and look at the Begich ballots, who was the second choice. This is why we ended up with a Democrat now representing Alaska. They will do this again come November. Palin and Peltola also among the candidates then. But for four months, a Democrat will represent Alaska.

In victory she thanked and paid homage to the Republican lawmaker who died opening up the seat up. Sarah Palin says I might not be done yet.


MARY PELTOLA: I intend to be in so many ways, you know, really trying to live up to the legacy that Don laid for Alaska and champion and worked for all Alaskan.

SARAH PALIN: I do repeat that you don't need a title, you don't need an office to make a difference. So we're going to get out there using whatever tools and forums and formats that we have to fight for what's right.


KING: Our great reporters are back with us to discuss. Number one, we'll see what happens in November. But this Sarah Palin - obviously, a nationally known candidate, a celebrity loses this race. But Alaska now gets a Democrat for the first time in nearly 50 years Democrats are ecstatic.

Here's what Peltola told CNN about the abortion interview. She said, "she saw abortion rights as a key issue in the race. Alaska, despite its Republican leanings, has a libertarian bent, very much covetous of our freedoms of privacy."

Now, Democrats are hoping this is a big issue for them. And they believe, because, look at this, Democrats have now outperformed their 2020 margins in all five special elections held since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade back in June. Peltola's overperformance is the biggest yet to turn a state Donald Trump won by 10 points in 2020 to a three point win in Alaska, in Nebraska in Minnesota in two New York districts.

HUNT: Yes.

KING: This issue has worked for Democrats.

HUNT: It really has. And I think the question for Democrats is going to be a lot of these special elections had, quite frankly, lower turnout than we expect even in November, in the midterm elections, which obviously are lower typically than presidential races.

So I think the question here is, do these special elections just tell us that Democrats are very engaged right now and we when we get lower propensity voters joining the electorate that it may even out a little bit? I'm not sure. Alaska will be an interest contested that because we're going to have back to back races here.

And the other thing I would just say about Alaska also.