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Inside Politics

Trump Suffers Twin Legal Setbacks; Appeals Court: Justice Dept. Can Resume Probe Of Mar-a-Lago Docs; Trump: I Can Declassify Documents Just by "Thinking About It"; NY AG Sues Trump, Children, Alleging Decade Of Lies & Fraud; Book: Trump Once Took Payment For A Lease in Gold Bricks; Secy of State: One Man Chose This War, One Man Can End It; Blinken: Putin's "Reckless Nuclear Threats" Must Stop Now; QAnon Members Celebrate Trump's Embrace Of The Conspiracy. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 22, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Two thudding legal setbacks for Donald Trump. A federal appeals court unanimously dismisses the former president's arguments and tells the Justice Department, it can move forward with its classified documents probe. And a new civil action details a decade of alleged Trump lies in business fraud, but he says he won't settle.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: How do you pays something even if it's a small amount of money if you're not guilty.


KING: Plus, backlash, 1300 plus Russians wind up in handcuffs that after protesting Vladimir Putin's decision to call up more troops and to plunge Russia deeper into war in Ukraine. And Democrats now struggling on Capitol Hill to secure enough votes for legislation to provide more funding for police. We are inside 50 days to the midterms, that in the House is an effort to counter a Republican onslaught on crime.


KING: Up first for us though, Donald Trump and the law. Two major new setbacks for the former president. Last hour, the judge presiding over the Mar-a-Lago documents case. Aileen Cannon, nodding to reality that she was wrong. Cannon having to amend a prior ruling.

The new writing comes the morning after a federal appeals court panel that included two Trump appointees, essentially said Cannon was dead wrong, that appeals court giving the Justice Department now a green light to resume its investigation into why the former president took classified documents with him when he left office, and whether he then obstructed the government's efforts to get them back. In doing so, the appeals court was beyond blunt. It said Trump has shown no good reason for keeping those materials. And it said, he had offered zero evidence that he had declassified any of the documents recovered at his Mar-a-Lago home.

legal challenge number two came earlier and out of New York, the New York attorney general filing a sweeping civil lawsuit that alleges a decade of fraud by Mr. Trump and by his adult children. That filing alleges Trump lied about most everything he owns, his golf courses, his apartments and more with the goal of swindling banks and insurance companies.

Trump took the fifth when the New York attorney general questioned him about all this under oath. Last night, in a setting where he is never challenged with facts. He said it was all politics. But listen, he also said, maybe those banks were too trusting.


TRUMP: What happened, Sean is, we have a disclaimer right on the front, and it basically says, you know, get your own people, you're at your own risk. This was done by management. It wasn't done by, it was done by management. So don't rely on the statement that you're getting.


KING: With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN' Evan Perez, CNNs Katelyn Polantz, and the former federal prosecutor Shan Wu. Let's just start with the impact of this appeals court decision again. Three judges, two of them appointed by Donald Trump, essentially saying Judge Cannon was wrong. The Justice Department has a green light. What's different today? What can they do today that they couldn't do yesterday?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: While the Justice Department can now look at these hundred pages, these hundred classified documents that yesterday they were not permitted to continue investigating. And I think that's a huge difference for the investigators. Obviously, the impact here is, is potentially serious for the former president because the FBI - the FBI is trying to figure out who may have accessed these documents. Is there a crime here? And is there something that they can bring charges on? That's something that is, you know, serious is ongoing.

But for the former president, you know, this smackdown of this judge from Palm Beach, who had really kind of given him even more than he had ever asked for, is really, you know, kind of stunning to read. You see them saying that, you know, he never really showed any kind of proof that he had possessory interest in these documents. And they also raised the issue that, you know, after all this is about national security, and it is in the interest of the public for these documents to be investigated.

KING: And Shan, from a legal perspective, you see this as a slam dunk for the Justice Department. I just want to read one piece of the appeals court decision. This gets to the point Evan was just making. Plaintiff, who was Donald Trump, has not even attempted to show that he has a need to know the information contained in the classified documents. Nor has he established that the current administration has waived that requirement for these documents.


The appeals court essentially say, Trump had has not proven any reason to take them and the Biden administration has not said he's allowed to have them, so move forward.

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Absolutely. That's a slam dunk, I think both on Trump's lawyers as well as Judge Cannon. And I think it's a big legal victory for DOJ at this stage, because they can get on with what their job is. I think it's a little bit of a moral victory for Garland's approach too. I mean, he's a judges' judge kind of personality, former court of appeals judge. And they made a very measured response.

They really just focused on the classified documents. And there are some folks who were critical of that thinking that they should have taken a much broader attack on this really unprecedented appointment of a special master in this kind of a criminal case. But he chose where he wanted to put his fight, and was very measured, very targeted, and it was convincing to the court of appeals his fellow, court of appeals judges, although it completely failed with Cannon.

KING: And one of the repeating themes when you have investigations of Donald Trump is what he says in public and what holds up in court legally. This is the former president last night again, in a friendly setting, so he's not challenged, but he says, what's the big deal? I wanted to declassify them. I can do that just by thinking it.


TRUMP: If you're the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying, it's declassified even by thinking about it, because you're sending it to Mar-a-Lago or to wherever you're sending it and there doesn't have to be a process.


KING: That's not true. It's just not true. The president does have the power to declassify things, but there are regulations about how you do it. There have to be documents filed to do it. The president does have the power. But there are steps you must take. And the appeals court essentially said, this is my words, not theirs, but never mind what he says in public. Here's the truth. The appeals court says plaintiff suggests that he may have declassified these documents when he was president.

But the record contains no evidence that any of these records were declassified. The declassification argument is a red herring, because declassifying an official document would not change its content or render it personal. The second part is just as important that even if Donald Trump had declassified these documents, because they have sensitive government secrets, they're still government records, they're not his.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Exactly. And whenever you step back and look at what's going on here, there's politics and then there is law. Those are very different things and what Donald Trump is doing here and what's happening, whenever an appeals court comes in and writes an opinion like this, it's exposing how much of a house of cards this was that they had set up in making their arguments.

There is all kinds of logic flaws, that the court is very clearly undermining and saying, this just isn't correct. You can't claim this, and then also claim the same thing. And this really could come back to haunt Donald Trump. This is not just people saying things and writing opinions that go away. This is an appeals court that speaking.

If he appeals to the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court will then write upon it. And all of that could become part of a criminal case. If there is one in the future. One of the things they said was that it pertains equally to former presidents, that there needs to be attention paid to protecting national security secrets. You have that from a court saying that this is serious stuff.

KING: And so, now as we go forward to Shan's point, the Justice Department made a narrow argument that we need these classified documents to go with our investigation. So that's what we're going to argue for. So, the special master put in place by Judge Cannon is still in place. There are thousands of other documents that Judge Dearie the special master will review.

Is that process, what is the relevance of that process now? Are there still significant investigative documents in that batch? Or is that Justice Department essentially saying, now we'll go through that process, but we have what we need over here?

POLANTZ: Well, you know, that is going to help inform some of the investigation, but really, what they were focused on was the hundred classified documents. But just going back to that clip, real quick, you know, there's real problems that could emerge from what he just said, you know, continuing to show that, you know, he could, you know, he's made me the worst legal client you could have as a lawyer.

Because he sort of suggests that he sent those documents to Mar-a-Lago and that's something that his lawyers have been trying to avoid, right. They've been trying to suggest that the GSA pack the box has sent it to Mar-a-Lago that he had no idea how these documents ended up in Mar-a-Lago. And here he is on Hannity saying something that could end up coming back to haunt him. Should this case ever go to charges?

KING: So, if you're the Justice Department, even though you don't agree with what he's saying, you want him to keep talking, keep talking. Shan, let's go back to the civil case now. You heard we paid a bit at the top of the show in that conversation with Sean Hannity. Donald Trump said, I'm not even going to pay a little bit of amount. I'm not going to settle because that would prove I'm guilty. Walk us through these - this process could take a very long time, especially if they try to delay proceedings in the court. But how does it generally unfold?


WU: Well, most civil allegation ends up settling and I like to call them long protracted settlement negotiations. So, this is very early in the case, I mean just the complaint has been filed. It's a monstrous complaint with an enormous amount of detail. But now comes processes an answer or maybe motion to dismiss, there'll be discovery that will be put forth. So, this is going to be a very long process up ahead. And that's Trump's usual Mo is that he wants to delay it, and you know, he'll get his chance in this case.

KING: And if you read the 200 plus pages, nearly 300 pages by Letitia James, the Attorney General of New York, it documents all these unorthodox outside she says fraudulent business practices. In the new book by Maggie Haberman of The New York Times, Confidence Man.

She writes this, Haberman writes that Trump would occasionally receive portions of lease payments in cash, including when a lease holder once sent Trump a box of dozens of gold bars, gold bricks to cover the cash portion of the lease on the parking garage at the General Motors Building in Manhattan, which Trump purchased. You read this stuff and it's unbelievable in some ways, but it also just shows outside of the box he operates.

PEREZ: People wouldn't believe it if you've scripted something like this.

KING: People wouldn't, they wouldn't. Shan, thank you very much, Katelyn and Evan as well. Up next for us. Vladimir Putin, and protests, hundreds detained across Russia for protesting Putin's promise to pour tens of thousands of new troops in Ukraine.



KING: More than 1300 people detained across Russia in a crackdown on anti-war protests, that according to an independent monitoring group. You see the demonstrations right there. They broke out in 38 cities across Russia after President Putin said he would call up 300,000 reserves to fight the war in Ukraine.

Let's get some insights from Zolan Kanno-Youngs at The New York Times, our CNN global affairs analyst Susan Glasser, and the Times chief White House correspondent, Peter Baker. Susan and Peter are the authors of this great new book, The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021. We're going to talk about the book a little later in the program. But you both also have the privilege of working in Moscow during your distinguished careers.

Let's start with that. When you see the evidence of these protests. The question always is, you know, Putin tends to put these things down pretty quickly. He tends to exert his power. What does it tell us about Russian public opinion about the war? SUSAN GLASSER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, first of all, John, I think it shows you why Vladimir Putin resisted for months, this very step of making a mobilization of Russian society. In fact, he stopped short even have a full mobilization. But even the partial mobilization that he ordered the other day, the reason he didn't do it right away at the beginning of the war is exactly because he feared a backlash inside Russian society.

It's one thing when you have contract soldiers and conscripts fighting the war, now they're hitting middle class people, people in the cities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, who might be 30 years old and last served in the military when they were teenagers. And so, this is hitting home for the war in a way that shows that, you know, Russians, while the poll numbers have been strong in Russia, in terms of supporting the war. It's something that hadn't affected their daily lives.

And I think that there is a real risk for Vladimir Putin. Just a few weeks ago, he said, we've lost nothing. The hollowness of those lies is exposed. I think the news is trickling down to Russian society, that it's not quite going as the propaganda has told them, it's going.

KING: To that point, CNN's Katie Bo Lillis has some fascinating reporting today on what intelligence sources are picking up about the Russian military operation includes this, Putin is himself giving directions directly to generals in the field, the highly unusual management tactic in a modern military. Intelligence intercepts have captured Russian officers arguing among themselves and complaining to friends and relatives back home about decision making for Moscow. And there are significant disagreements on strategy. Seven months in, this is going anything, but the way Putin expected.

PETER BAKER, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, absolutely. And I think what they're worried about in the White House right now is the accidental escalation, right? Does this lead to a situation where Putin is more desperate where the commanders in the field are more desperate to show that they can accomplish something and then suddenly, things got to control, and missile errantly goes across the border into Poland or Romania.

NATO ally, what would we do at that point, is more worrisome if it's actually deliberate? But even the accidental version of that is something where things could get out of control. So even though there's momentum on the side, the Ukrainians, the west obviously, is cheering that right now, it's still a moment of peril.

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIME: President Biden can choose his words carefully yesterday as well, at the U.N. in response to that, you know, obviously reciting the famous quote, as well as you know, paraphrasing here, but a nuclear war cannot be won as well. You know, he has been very careful in recent months not to respond at times directly, not to try and provoke Vladimir Putin to escalate the situation even further.

Well, you did see him dedicate a majority of his speech yesterday, as well, to some of the escalating tension as well in the region thus far and the threats from Putin as well. I thought that it was really interesting, former political a tupuna was quoted in the Times today, he talked to our colleagues, basically saying that at this point in the face of defeats that you have Putin turning to his strategic potential, whether that be reminding the world of his nuclear arsenal, turning to what he's doing now in terms of trying to recruit average, you know, Russians as well into this fight. But really, it also shows the defeats that he's taken recently.

KING: And the institute of war making the point that you can say, I'm calling up 300,000 reservists, OK, but when can they get to the battlefield saying, you know, there's no significant compact, that's months, months of training, required, reserves are poorly trained, Ukraine can still move on territory.

So, the question then is, you mentioned the president of the United Nations, the secretary of state at the Security Council today, making the case to the world. He's talking to the Security Council. Russia, of course, is a key permanent member of the Security Council. But Antony Blinken this morning trying to say, we have Putin on his heels, the world needs to stay together.



ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: How has this aggression against Ukraine by President Putin improve the lives or prospects of a single Russian citizen. One man shows this war. One man can end it. Because if Russia stops fighting, the war ends. If Ukraine stops fighting, Ukraine ends.


KING: It's a fascinating framing there at the end, the alliance against Putin has been quite remarkable. The president United States deserves credit for keeping it together at a very difficult moment. That was a pretty stark way of putting it. We cannot blink. Putin will wait and wait and wait. We must not blink.

GLASSER: Well, that's right. I think Secretary of State Blinken also alluded to a key advantage that Ukraine has, that Russia clearly does not which is the morale of those fighting. When you are fighting an existential war, which is what Russia has launched against Ukraine, an existential war.

You have the, you know, the entire population has really risen up to defy Putin, even by the way in Russian speaking areas of Ukraine east that were in the past, Putin thought somehow, he would be welcome, you know, to paraphrase an American defense secretary with flowers and parades. Of course, that didn't happen.

And the Ukrainian nation in some ways is stronger in terms of its identity now, than before February 24, and I think that's a key advantage. But remember, Russia is a bigger country than Ukraine. It has more reserves of personal power to call up in this mobilization. That's an advantage. Now, the United States and Western allies have sent an enormous amount, billions and billions of dollars of weaponry to Ukraine. We can keep sending that. We have the resources. But the bottom line is Ukraine can't manufacture more Ukrainians. So that's a risk.

KING: One of the challenges as we continue on this story. Up next for us. QAnon conspiracy followers see new evidence, Donald Trump is a friend and more.


TRUMP: Well, I don't know much about the movement other than I understand, they liked me very much.





KING: Followers of the QAnon conspiracy movement see new friendly signals from Donald Trump. Those signals include images from a recent Trump rally in Ohio and recent postings on his Truth Social account. CNN's Donie O'Sullivan is with us live now for a closer look at this. Donie, explained exactly what we're talking about here?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. A lot to unpack in this, John. But basically, I want to show you this post that Trump reshared on his social media platform last week. It's full of QAnon symbols. There is two QAnon slogans there. There's even a cue on Trump's lapel, of course, it is an illustration, it's a meme, but he shared that last week.

And then over the weekend, he gave a speech in Ohio, where there was this backing track to the part of his speech. And people found that that backing track was actually also connected with QAnon. And then we saw this where his supporters were pointing their finger towards the sky. We're not entirely sure what that means. Experts we've talked to, even who track QAnon don't know what's going on.

But look, the bottom line here is, is that he is signaling to this conspiracy theory, their followers, that there's something to all this and that he is with them. Now, even though people who are close to Trump and in his orbit say, he doesn't talk about QAnon. He doesn't care about it. He's been asked for two years to disavow this conspiracy theory movement that the FBI has described as dangerous.

And all that in mind, John, just a final point. It's very possible that Trump could be coming back to Facebook in a few months, on January 7th. You might remember, after the January 6th insurrection, Twitter banned Trump permanently. Facebook said they would give it two years and reassess. So, he might be back with that platform very soon. And of course, very importantly, with that advertising platform as well, which he has spent tens of millions of dollars on Facebook. KING: Donie O'Sullivan. Donie, thanks so much. Let's bring the conversation back in the room with our reporters, and I'm going to ask again, Susan Glasser, Peter Baker with us, are the authors of this great new book. And I'm going to ask you the context of that because I wanted to get to some of the examples you cite in the book in a moment, but you have

The key point, Donie made there at the end, Donald Trump always says, you know, I don't know this group. I don't know this. But then he does these things. And he's been asked to disavow them because his own FBI told him at the time, this is a dangerous group, you must disavow them, and he will not. Can you think of another politician in our lifetime doing this? Who could do so many things that are outside the lines? And yet, he's still the leading figure in the Republican Party.

GLASSER: You know, John, it's breathtaking in a sense, but Donald Trump past is prologue with him. This isn't the first conspiracy theory that he's embraced. This isn't the first, you know, kind of brazen display that his followers have made that he's been asked to disavow. Remember, Charlottesville. He was refused to disavow white supremacist because they were for him.

Going back to the beginning of Trump's career in politics, it was a racist conspiracy theory about Barack Obama that, you know, gave him a national platform and that he used to advance his candidacy for president. So, it's very consistent with Trump and I think the story that we're trying to tell in that Vitor is really a story of Trump gravitating to the extremes.