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Inside Politics

CNN Exclusive: Trump Lawyers Waging Secret Court Fight; "Sham" Voting Underway In Russian-Occupied Areas Inside Ukraine; Putin Under Pressure Amid Revolt In Russia Over His War Draft; Wash Post: Career Prosecutors Recommend Against Charging Rep. Gaetz; Soon: Biden Delivers Closing Midterm Pitch At DNC Event; Democrats Pour Money Behind Ads Spotlighting Choice On Abortion; Poll Of Polls: 43 Percent Of Voters Approve Of Biden; 46 Days Until Midterms: Spotlight On Pennsylvania. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired September 23, 2022 - 12:00   ET



PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm Phil Mattingly in for John King in Washington. A secret court battle over the insurrection. New and exclusive CNN reporting on the Trump team's legal fight to keep witnesses from sharing what they know with the federal grand jury.

Plus, the president reenters the midterm spotlight, with a big bet for putting a portion front and center is the path to Democrats staying in power. And armed men, protests on Putin store step a Kremlin crackdown. Russia badgers Ukrainians in to sham referendums tries to silence dissent at home.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voiceover): I've got two kids with conscription age, sisters protesting. I brought them up alone and I don't want to lose them. She cried. And for what asks her friend, they're just so they can kill the sons of other mothers. She answers.


MATTINGLY: We begin the hour with brand new CNN reporting on the Justice Department's January 6 investigation. Sources telling CNN Donald Trump's attorneys are waging a secret court fight to stop a grand jury from gathering information from Mr. Trump's inner circle. The fight broke into public view yesterday and CNN teams, three lawyers for the former president at the federal courthouse here in Washington.

At the back-and-forth battle follows a dealership of new subpoenas from federal prosecutors, demanding evidence from a slew of former Trump aides and associates. Let's bring in CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez, and CNN senior crime and justice reporter Katelyn Polantz. Katelyn, I want to start with you here. How does this work? Explain the details here and why they matter?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. Well, right now we're in secrecy or this proceeding is veiled in secrecy, because that is what's ongoing. It's a grand jury proceeding where the Justice Department is trying to get information into the grand jury, including around Donald Trump, around the White House, potentially even from attorneys of his.

And at this turning point, right now the Trump lawyers, these three men that we did see exiting the federal court yesterday, John Rowley, Evan Corcoran and Tim Parlatore. They're representing Donald Trump, they're opposite the Justice Department.

And in court before a judge, they would be arguing that they're trying to keep information out of the grand jury's hands, keep witnesses from turning over or testifying about information, because Donald Trump wants to assert various privileges that could include executive privilege, as well as attorney client privilege. The judge would ultimately have to decide the huge implications and really a step forward for both the Trump team and Justice Department.

MATTINGLY: Evan, there's two things I want to get into, one about a specific witness. But first, look, I feel like I asked both you and Katelyn, almost every single week. Can you topline this for me? Can you explain there's so many different moving parts here? It's such a fluid situation. When you report on this, when you talk to sources about this specific issue. What does this mean big picture for how things are progressing?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The big picture here is that this is the most aggressive step that the Justice Department has taken to get through this firewall that the former president has been trying to build. And sources have told me and Katelyn and Zach Cohen (Ph), that this fight, you know, had they've been girding for this, right.

The Justice Department has been girding for the possibility that, you know, once they bring in witnesses, some of these important witnesses, like the former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, his deputy, Pat Philbin, that they're going to have to go back and ask them questions that would get through that privilege claim that the former president is making, and so now that has begun.

MATTINGLY: The one specific witness that I want to ask you about, we know that Eric Herschmann, a former White House attorney, I believe was scheduled to give testimony on September 2. What's the latest with that?

PEREZ: Well, his testimony was delayed, and at least some of this fight is appears to be centered around him and some of the other witnesses who the former president has given these vague instructions, broad claims of privilege, which has caused, you know, this fight to evolve. And so, how this works out will be a huge, huge thing for the Justice Department to get this information is key to before they make a decision on who gets charged, whether its former president himself, or some of the people who around him who are trying to overturn the 2020 election.

MATTINGLY: And Katelyn, as our resident legal whiz on all the things, the privilege claim, just generally right now. There's been a lot of questions and kind of legal circles about how much validity it actually has. When you talk to people who are paying close attention to this, what's their sense of whether or not the president's team either in this case specifically or more broadly, actually have rational backing with what they're trying to argue, right?


POLANTZ: Yes. I mean these are very serious issues that Donald Trump would be raising here executive privilege. There is law that hasn't ever been settled in that area. We're in uncharted territory as we find ourselves with Donald Trump, occasionally in court. But in this sort of thing, if history is any guide, if legal precedent is any guide, if there are attorney client privileges, confidentiality between the attorney talking to a client, to the client would be Donald Trump, those often fall away very, very quickly.

In criminal investigations, whenever there's a real need for this, the executive privilege is a little bit harder to get past for criminal investigators. But you know, Richard Nixon was trying to assert the sorts of things the Supreme Court had rulings on that that ultimately led to his departure from the White House.

MATTINGLY: Evan, do we know what prosecutors want to use this info for? There's obviously a ton we can't see that's been kind of made very clear over the course of the last several weeks with all the subpoenas. What's the intent here? What are they going?

PEREZ: Well, we know, from our own reporting, and from some of the things we've seen in public, that there are some targets that clearly are inside. And that includes Jeffrey Clark, John Eastman, piece to people who are involved in trying to stop Donald Trump from leaving office and to keep him in power, despite the fact he lost the election. So those two are absolutely more likely to be, you know, facing charges at some point.

Beyond that. I mean, you know, there are other people who the prosecutors clearly have a deep interest in, Rudy Giuliani is one of them. And then there's all those people who are trying to set up the fake electoral scheme, right? And, of course, the president, the former president himself, of course, he's obviously the one who was helping to guide all of this. And it's not clear whether prosecutors can get there, but this is part of what they're trying to do.

POLANTZ: And we know that there are witnesses that were inside the White House that have been called to the grand jury from the White House counsel's office as well as from the vice president's office.

MATTINGLY: There's just so many different elements of this still, you guys are doing great job, reporting on all of it and answering my questions when I call you randomly at like six in the morning. Katelyn Polantz and Evan Perez, thanks guys so much.

Our other big story and international crime in progress. Russia right now orchestrating a choice that isn't really a choice at all for Ukrainians in the middle of Moscow's war, to seed to get shot. This is what sham elections look like. Referendums, with quotes around that word, heavy emphasis on those in four regions; Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia and Kherson. Ukrainian officials describe constant coercion, Russians going door to door forcing men and women to say yes or no, "directly into the barrel of a gun."

Inside Russia, chaos cars box together for miles along Russia's border. There's now a desperate rush to get out before getting called up. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live in Kramatorsk. Nick, there are so many different dynamics right now. What's your sense of things on the ground as all of these things play out kind of at the same time?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes. It's a startling moment, frankly, showing exactly what consent, what popular will looks like in Russia, and in areas that it would occupy certainly with the referendum, you know, it's utterly absurd. It has been absurd since 2014, frankly, when they first started calling these processes to imagine they aren't democratic, particularly now, military occupation, often shelling still occurring in some of these areas.

And even those administrating the referendum in quotes, go into people's homes and saying, do you want to vote to be part of Russia or not, as an occupying force from Russia. So, put away any notion of whether or not this is actually a choice for individuals. I should point out to one of our colleagues speaking to somebody at a polling station, so then had 10 people turn up.

So, you know, in person voting is going to be limited to later days, because it's clearly going to be a chaotic process. Regardless, we know the outcome is going to be overwhelmingly providing a fake result, showing these areas want to be part of Russia, and Russia has already said in the Kremlin, they're probably going to recognize that quite fast.

The issue is what does that do to what Russia thinks it can get away with on the battlefield here? And that brings us to the next extraordinary moment about what popular will means in Russia. This partial mobilization partial too should be in heavy quotes here because it appears that the limited criteria Vladimir Putin announced in probably what is the most consequential decision of his 22 years, effectively running Russia, that reservists, that veterans of those with specialized military skills would be the only people called out, that appears to be knocked aside.

As they've gone to various regions dragged people, some reports say literally from their homes from work and sent them towards the frontline. How fast can they get them there, is ultimately the question. And what quality of force is Russia going to be able to implement here? Their problem has not been the number of people, it's been the equipment they've had. It's been their supply lines. It's been the strategy behind their deployment.


And so, we're going to see whether or not this huge swell of popular anger, and I should qualify that by saying it's very hard to know exactly how to send functions in Russia because of the security services and how they suppress it. We're going to see whether this enormous upheaval in Russia we're seeing actually translate into any change on the battlefield. It doesn't rush it in even more trouble than it is now, which is pretty bad, Phil?

MATTINGLY: Yes. The images are starting. The implications are immense. Nick Paton Walsh, great reporting as always. Thank you so much. And coming up soon. President Biden hits the road, drumming up midterm support as he faces some friction within his own party.


MATTINGLY: New reporting now from the Washington Post this hour, the Justice Department leaning, reportedly leaning against charging a sitting congressman and one of its highest profile cases. Sources telling the Post that career prosecutors have recommended to not indict Florida Republican Matt Gaetz in a sex trafficking investigation. Government lawyers according to the polls believe a conviction is unlikely in part because of credibility questions about the cases to central witnesses. Post reports senior department officials have yet to make a final decision on charging Gaetz.


Today, the president drive just down the street for a big midterm speech that raises a bigger midterm question. How does Joe Biden help or maybe even hurt his party just less than 50 days before those midterms? Here with me at the table to discuss CNN's Audie Cornish, Leigh Ann Caldwell of The Washington Post and CNN political analyst Alex Burns.

This question has been kind of pinging around for the better part of the last, I don't know, since January 20, 2021. But it's obviously taken a number to formulations, particularly over the course of the last several months, with a string of major legislative victories, and perhaps most importantly, with the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

And I want to start by playing some sound from White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain. He was interviewed yesterday at the Atlantic Festival and was asked kind of about the current dynamics have things and proceeded to say this.


RON KLAIN, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Senator Lindsey Graham came out with legislation to not just ban abortion, by the way, but to impose up to a five-year criminal penalty on doctors who provide reproductive services to women. And I just want you to think about what kind of country this would be if doctors walked around knowing that they could go to jail for five years for providing needed services to their female patients. Who will go into that profession? Who will provide those kinds of services? Who is willing to risk a prison term?

(END VIDEO CLIP) MATTINGLY: Now Leigh Ann, the reason I wanted to play that is one, because the question was not about Lindsey Graham's bill, or even explicitly about abortion. Ron Klain, the White House Chief of Staff took it that direction in a very detailed manner, laying out objections for a very specific reason, which I think underscores where we've seen Democrats move over the course of the last six to eight weeks. Does this work? Is this something that Democrats believe is going to stem the tide of, A, what looks to be a red wave to some degree, but B, historical precedent when it comes to midterm elections for the party in power?

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. Democrats think that painting Republicans as extremists, including on this issue of abortion is working for them. They have a couple points to turn to. They have Kansas, they have the special election in New York as well. And polls are showing that abortion is motivating voters and Republicans actually admit that too.

Kevin McCarthy unveiled his plan with the Republican party today or his talking points, I should say, it's not really a policy proposal. One thing that they don't really talk about abortion very much, they don't specifically lay out what the party believes in on abortion. And so, you know, Democrats, this was a gift for Democrats, even though they think that it is atrocious for the American public and for women.

MATTINGLY: Audie, I want to bring up a graph that shows ad spending by Democrats over the course of the last month. You have abortion at $46.2 million, $healthcare at 11.7 million. Look, we're in the homestretch. You obviously move money towards what you think is the most effectiveness.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean you're calling them homestretch, but it's kind of a reset, right? I mean, I don't think it's an accident that this commitment to America was launched today. You heard President Biden in his speech back in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, essentially laying out a sample stump speech, right. And that stump speech was, it's bad for democracy to have election deniers on the ballot. Trumpism is bad. And everybody in line with that is a problem going forward for America.

And now you have Republicans saying, look, we actually have a vision for America that doesn't necessarily hinge on Trump's existence. That was the attempt today, right, to actually show this is what we believe in. And you're right, the absence of talking about abortion rights, and restrictions on abortions was very, very stark.

MATTINGLY: Alex, there's this idea right now that there's kind of a parallel track election, right? You have Democrats talking about abortion, some of their legislative proposals. You have Republicans talking about entirely different things, almost all related to the economy, particularly inflation kind of going like this to some degree.

How does that break for the very slim number of people in the middle there that will likely decide a number of these races. I want to pull up President Biden's approval right now. It's sitting, the CNN poll of polls at 43 percent. That's not great. It's better than it was over the course of the last six to eight weeks, as President Biden hitting the trail change dynamics. How does this all land?

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think it really is important to focus on the 43 percent. It's a significant improvement. No, it is not strong. And I do think that when you talk to Democrats around town, around the country, there is a little bit of a sense of anxiety that perhaps people's expectations for what could happen in this election have gotten a little bit off kilter, that no, they don't seem to be headed into a total political massacre the way they did four or five months ago.


But as you said at the top, Phil, it's an incumbent president and the ruling party's first midterm elections, probably not going to go awesome. And the difference for Democrats between Biden being at 43, and if he could get up to 46 by election day, that could be the difference between holding the Senate or even gaining a Senate seat and losing a couple.

MATTINGLY: Yes. It's a great point. And I have like 50 more questions when I asked you guys. We're going to go to a break. But the idea here right now that the dynamics are still very much in Republican favor for a number of different reasons. These races are super close, particularly in the Senate. 40 some odd days, by the time. All right. Next, Pennsylvania takes center stage. John King himself joins us live from a closely watched county crucial to those who control Congress.




MATTINGLY: The battle to control Congress will be fought and a handful of swing counties and states with key Senate races like Nevada, Georgia, Wisconsin, and yes, Pennsylvania, which is why I want to bring in the actual anchor of the show, John King, who's in Northampton County, Pennsylvania. I want to do that thing when you just like that, I'm the captain now. Like, I've got your wall. I've got your show. You might be in trouble, John.

But first, I actually want to walk through before I turn it over you, and you probably embarrassed me with your knowledge. Why you're in Northampton County, you pulled up the county itself. In 2020 Joe Biden one this by about 2000 votes. But why is John in Northampton County? Hopefully I'm stealing all of his material right now. Well, flip back to 2016. Donald Trump won by about 5000 votes, flip back to 2012.

Barack Obama won it by 6000 votes. 2008, Barack Obama won it by just under 20,000 votes. It certainly demonstrates how the state of Pennsylvania has shifted in several levels, but it's also gone back and forth. John, what are you seeing on the ground there?

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS: It is filled the battleground within the battleground, if you will, there are only about 25 counties across the country that did that. Voted twice for Obama, then went for Trump and then swung back to Biden. So that's where you come. When you're in a very competitive state, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in this case, this is where you're kind of you go back to the 1950s. In this county is called it right, when it comes for president.

Only three times going back to the 1920s. Has Northampton County been wrong and its vote for president, the ultimate winner and nationally. So, you have a big race for governor here. Can Doug Mastriano run it up here? Can he win this county or does Josh Shapiro come in? There's the huge race for Senate. I'm standing in the seventh congressional district in Pennsylvania.

The eighth congressional district is right next door. Both Democratic incumbents, this district leans a little bit Republican. The next one a tossup, maybe at least a little bit Republican so on election night, this is going to give us this county and this Commonwealth, some early clues. All Republicans running it up. Have Democrats managed to come back?

In the last block you were talking about the democratic message. This is the local newspaper today. Josh Shapiro, the candidate for governor talking about extremism. So, you see the national themes coming up here in the Commonwealth. I think we have a map of the county. It's a complicated county.

I'm now in Bangor, which is near the northern part of the county. We were in Mount Bethel earlier. That's the very northern part. It's very red. That was Trump country. That was Trump country. If you move down lower in the county, you'll see Bethlehem, the home as a former Bethlehem steel. You will see east in a more urban area. Those areas tend to be a little bit more diverse, a little bit higher education, more people who went to college.

So even within this swing county, you can travel 10 miles and be in a very different place. While on the roadside for Mount Bethel to Bangor today, we saw a homemade roadside. I think we have it to show people that said, make everything half price again, Trump 2024. That's funny. That's clever. Phil, the question is what about 2022? And what will Northampton County teach us?

MATTINGLY: You'll noticed, I'm now seated, John. You might not be able to see it. They sent me back down on the table, which I felt was like a personal thing that you did. You took the wall away from me. I tried to be funny, and you immediately imposed your power and your will upon me, which I appreciate. I guess my real question right now is you being back on the campaign trail physically out in the wild. Are you ever coming back because this is like your happy place?

KING: You know, I prefer, I'm outside person who loves to anchor the program. I'm proud to do so. But maybe we can have a job splitting thing and we could take our time splitting. And we use a little bit White House, a little bit anchoring, a little bit about in America. We're laughing about this to have fun, but it's important to get out in America, small town America where they actually still have a new stand. Where you have people, some are willing to talk politics, some say we don't talk politics anymore because people just start fighting about it. Places that have gone through economic transitions. A river runs through here just like where you're from. In Ohio, we used to have big steel factories. This is called the slate belt. Think chalkboards, think slate roof tiles. This used to be the slate belt. Economic transition tends to cause political disaffection, which is why getting out in the country helps a lot. Listen to people, just listen.

MATTINGLY: Yes. And just one point of privilege because I'm in your chair. The reason why John is so good at what he does in the magic wall is not because he's a brilliant whiz, we have a team that actually does all that for him. But it's because he's actually been out in the country and knows what he's talking about as he's doing right now. John King, my friend enjoyed out there.

KING: All yours, captain.

MATTINGLY: All right, back to the panel now. One of the things about Pennsylvania, I think is interesting beyond just the general dynamics of the Senate race is the Republican candidate, right? And a midterm election in a very swingy state that President Trump won in 2016. The enthusiasm from Mehmet Oz (Ph), the Republican candidate. I wanted to get a listen from what our colleague Jessica Dean picked up inches on the ground.



CLAY BUCKINGHAM, PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: I'm sorry that I don't have to vote for him, but I'd rather see him as a Senator that's the better.

TERRI MITCHELL, PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: Obviously, he is our candidate of choice now. So, we need to back him because red is better than blue.

Ned Frear, PENNSYLVANIA VOTER: Oz was Trump's candidate. He's not our candidate. People in Bedford County are probably going to hold their noses and vote for him.