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Inside Politics

Republicans' Closing Midterm Message: Inflation & Economy; Biden, Dems Try To Refocus Midterms On Abortion; Kemp, Abrams Spar Over Abortion And Crime In GA Debate; GA Voters Stand In Long Lines For Early Voting; Woodward Audiobook Has 8+ Hrs Of Trump Tapes; Trump On Speech Ideas: "Everything Is Mine"; Sen Lee Confronted Over 1/6 Scheme In Senate Debate; Ut Debate: McMullin Slams Lee For "Betrayal" Of Republic. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired October 18, 2022 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. This hour, President Biden looks to change the midterm trajectory. Three weeks exactly from election day. The president will promise new federal efforts to promote abortion rights, but also make clear, he needs Democrats in charge of Congress to succeed.

Plus, the Trump tapes. CNN exclusively obtains recordings from a new audio book. Over the course of 20 interviews, the former president brags about his nuclear button, says he respects Vladimir Putin, and more. And democracy is always on the ballot, but this year is very different. Three Republicans who might win House seats were at Trump's January 6 rally, and a red state Republican senator who tried to help Trump hold power takes heat at a campaign debate.

Any moment now, we will hear directly from the president of the United States. His goal today to shake up the final three weeks of the midterm campaign by focusing on abortion right. The president's remarks, we are told will include a new promise to open next year with legislation that would guarantee the right to an abortion. The why is clear. Exactly three weeks now to election day, Democrats see a summer surge slipping away.

Last night appear of primetime debates in important battleground Ohio and Georgia. Both Democratic candidates raising abortion rights in those debates, warning if Republicans are in charge of Congress or your state house, then abortion rights are in danger.

Close statewide races of course, tend to be one of the suburbs, where Democrats believe the abortion issue does break their way. But Republicans believe the economy and inflation matter more to most voters. Listen here, this is the Georgia Republican Governor Brian Kemp on Fox this morning after his debate with Democrat Stacey Abrams last night.


GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): People here are concerned about 40-year high inflation. I saw where you heard where you guys saying President Obama was coming down here. I wonder why Joe Biden isn't, is because his policies are very unpopular. It's called 40-year high inflation to disaster, the gas pump, a disaster the border. And these are the policies that Stacey Abrams supports. I mean, she wanted to be his vice presidential candidate. And these are the policies that she would bring to Georgia and we're fighting against that.


KING: As we wait for the president. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Audie Cornish, CNN's Melanie Zanona, and Zolan Kanno-Youngs of The New York Times. Shifting our cameras around, we'll get you all on television as quickly as we can hear.

So, who's right? Who's right, you just heard Governor Abrams there. He's going to focus on economy, on jobs, on inflation, on the incumbent presidents on popularity. The president today is going to urge voters, assure you're probably worried about the economy, inflation, but don't forget about abortion rights.

In your newspaper, New York Times/Siena College poll published this yesterday. What voters care about most, the economy 26 percent, inflation 18 percent, abortion 5 percent. So, if we went back to right after the Dobbs decision, abortion might be higher, or the president is trying to push it up some.

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Right, trying to push it up. This has been a messaging sort of strategy that we've seen from the White House, from Dems across the country. Really, since that decision, the dynamic here and the challenge for the White House, for President Biden, even today for Democrats is going to be, can you still galvanize the base, even past the immediate weeks of that decision.

Even when the economy and some day-to-day issues, high gas prices, they are rising again, as well, continuing to be at the top of voters' minds. It's no doubt if you listen to the White House, if you listen Democrats, if you listen to public health officials, that this is a decision that impacts so many lives, as well.

And that is a factor as well and continuing to speak about this as well to not just make it a referendum on the administration. But a choice between what the Democrats are saying is a party that seeks to take away these rights, seeks to directly threaten the health of individuals, and one that seeks to actually codify this law as well.

KING: And sometimes the way we have conversations, Audie, here in Washington. It seems like they are only focus on this or this voters' multi-process. They have three years of COVID pandemic. They have now through economy tough inflation, getting their kids to school, dealing with work and everything.

The challenge is, can you just grab their attention for a little bit. I want you to listen last night. This is Tim Ryan, the House member running for Senate in Ohio. Stacey Abrams, who's running for governor in Georgia. Both trying to say - both trying to tell voters please, please worry about this issue.


REP. TIM RYAN (D) OHIO: The Republicans control the House in the Senate, we won't be able to codify Roe v. Wade. So, I will spend all my time, trying to fight a national abortion ban.


STACEY ABRAMS (D) GEORGIA GOVERNOR NOMINEE: He has weakened our privacy rights and women's rights. He's denied women's access to reproductive care. The most dangerous thing---


KING: It's interesting of watching this play out in the sense that Ohio, Donald Trump won a red state, but Tim Ryan surprisingly competitive here. Georgia Stacey Abrams just lost to Brian Kemp four years ago. Joe Biden did carry the state since then. Democrats think especially in the suburbs, this helps. The question, it's a tug of war between which issue matters most or how do you balance them?

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ryan, not surprisingly competitive, if you watch the debate all the way through, actually, there was a very good showing for him against J. D. Vance. But one thing, these elections are specifically about consequences, and you push on any issue in which a person can feel direct consequences.

And while we're spending a lot of time talking about how Democrats are talking about abortion, the broader context is how Republicans are talking about abortion. If they are talking about national bands, if they at the state level are talking about more restrictions, that is also context for the typical voter. And so, it is easier for a Democrat to go out and say, what could happen, because the very next commercial is someone saying, this is what should happen.

And it's the same thing in a way with crime, you know, Republicans, many of which are in districts where the violence rates are a little bit higher than the kind of blue cities, they claim are the problem. They turn on the TV at night, and they see local news, talking about crime. And that is the context which those commercials are airing.

KANNO-YOUNGS: That's a fascinating point, too, because you saw that last point come up and in the debate in Georgia as well. Abrams actually taking a bit of a different line than sort of the national party by saying, look, you have overseeing, Governor Kemp has overseen this rise in crime, Governor Kemp has overseen this rise in housing prices.

You know, Kemp as well trying to take a bit more of a positive or relay a positive perception and saying, well, look, we're doing well here, while his national party actually attacks Democrats over defunding the police, and which, again, for the White House, that is not true. The president has come out and says, he's funding it. But it was interesting to see both of those candidates take opposite lines of messaging---

KING: Well, let's listen to a little bit more of that, because you raised an interesting point. In most races, Republicans want to make Joe Biden the present United States the issue. If you're an incumbent Republican governor, it's a little bit more complicated because yes, you can blame Joe Biden, you know, say the national economies is fault, say inflation is his fault. It's more complicated than that. It's a global issue, but he's in charge. That's the way politics works. But on an issue like crime, let's listen this is Kemp and Abrams.


GOV. KEMP: My question for Miss Abrams tonight is how many Democrat or how many sheriffs statewide publicly endorsed your campaign, but Miss Abrams refused to answer the question. So, I'll let you know that the answer is zero. No sheriffs are endorsing her statewide because of her stances on wanting to defund the police.

ABRAMS: We have a governor who has weakened gun laws across the state, flooded our streets with guns by letting dangerous people get access to those weapons. Georgia does not have a waiting period. We do not have universal background checks. And one of the few permits that we had that was helping keep us safe, stopped 5,000 people who should not have had weapons from getting them, got weakened by this governor with his criminal carry law.


KING: It's fascinating, Melanie, and there's a different way to come at the same issue. Kemp is talking about his endorsements from law enforcement. She's saying, hey look, there's gun violence in the streets. This governor has relaxed gun laws. We'll find out three weeks from tonight when we look at the suburban loop around Atlanta, who wins that argument?

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Right? I mean, Democrats across the board, not just in governor's races have really tried to do a better job of pre-butting the narrative that Democrats are soft on crime that they want to defund the police. One way they've done that is, try to recognize crime is a problem.

And a lot of these places, but it's not because necessarily of what Republicans are accusing Democrats of it's because of the guns that have flooded the streets. So, they've really tried to thread the needle between some of the policies that they're pushing in terms of trying to crack down on guns and enact stricter gun control, while also recognizing the problem of crime.

KING: All right. We're going again - we're waiting for the president of United States. His speeches here in Washington, as we do, we just discussed the Georgia governor's race is also a huge Senate race there as well. Secretary of state races, congressional races, down ballot races in the state. So, let's go to Georgia right now.

Voters turning out for the first day of early voting. It began yesterday and they turned out in record numbers. More than 131 people casting ballots in person early voting, that compares to just 70,000 in the last midterm election back in 2018. CNN's Ryan Young is right there live for us, outside a polling place in Atlanta. Ryan, this is day two, what are you seeing?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: People are energized, John. I mean, they really are talking about this bill. Like you said, more than 131,000 people showed up yesterday to cast her early vote. Look at this lunch line, that is shown up at the location we're at. We're in Fulton County right now. This is a very popular polling center. The folks that we talked to say, they are tired of the commercials on TV. They want politicians to focus more on the positive aspects of the community.

In fact, we talked to one woman, she's concerned about crime. Yes. But she says the way it was being talked about in some of these ads, she just really didn't feel like the politicians were hitting the things they wanted hear which is more about choice for women and more about the economy.


So, as you can see, as this line stretches down, John, the folks that we've been talking to, so they were prepared to stay in line for 30 or 40 minutes. But what they've been seeing across the areas, the lines have been longer than even what they expected. So, you can see people really turn out to vote. Let's not forget that debate was last night. So, people might have some fresh ideas on their mind as they step inside this polling center.

KING: That's an excellent point to make my friend. It's great to see people participating, whether you're Democrat, Republican, independent, not sure, participate, get your vote counted out there. I hate to tell Ryan, but those people need to know just because you voted early, doesn't mean in your house the ads are going to play. The ads will still play when you come into your house.

But to that point, you see those lines there, early voting was something that worked to the Democratic advantage in 2020, because you get a couple extra weeks to turn out your vote. You don't have to do it on election day. Donald Trump was screaming, don't vote early, the system's rigged. I don't trust the process.

And that hurt Republicans, including many would argue in the state of Georgia and elsewhere. There're going to be interesting this time without Trump in the White House, without Trump saying that, do more Republicans come out and participate earlier in this midterm year. Also, an advantage for Democrats again.

CORNISH: And the problem about complaining about access to voting is that people like access to voting, like it's more convenient. They don't have to take the day off. It was interesting watching the debate in Utah with Mike Lee, where he was more or less saying, hey, our mail in voting works pretty well. We don't really like - because it works well there, right? And people like it. So, all of a sudden adopting the national line, that any kind of voting that's not in person on the day is somehow more likely to be fraudulent isn't going to work. And those states that have long experienced.

ZANONA: And by the way, we should point out Kevin McCarthy and a number of other Republicans behind the scenes were privately imploring Trump to lay off of his tax on mail voting. Say it's going to benefit Republicans. And so, at least privately there is that recognition among Republicans.

KING: Right. It's fascinating because in the age we live in, where you have this, and you have all these records, the campaigns know every day, every day, they get an update, and they know if it was a Democrat or Republican who returned it early about, that doesn't necessarily tell you how they voted, but they know. So, if you're having a turnout issue, you can identify that through early voting, gives you a chance to bend the arc if you will. It's fascinating to watch.

We appreciate Ryan being on the street for us. And then when we come back, President Biden is about to speak on abortion rights in a big speech here for the Democratic national committee. First, a CNN exclusive. New audio of President Trump and his inner circle, you'll want to hear it and you will after the break.




KING: Want to turn to a CNN exclusive now. Donald Trump and his inner circle in their own words. The legendary journalist Bob Woodward is releasing audio of more than eight hours of his interviews with the former president, plus audio of conversations with several top WEST WING aides. It's part of a new audio book, called 'The Trump Tapes' and it will be published next week.

CNN though exclusively obtained a copy. It's based on 20 interviews. Woodward did with Trump dating back to 2016 through 2020. Many of them in his book included in his great book, Rage. You'll remember back then when Rage was released, we learned stunning revelations about how early Trump knew the dangers of COVID, despite saying differently publicly, including how contagious it was, how deadly it was. In this new audio book, there's a small sampling of what you will hear.


OPERATOR: Mr. Woodward, the president.

DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: Hi Bob. My whole life has been deals. I've done great. Far greater than people understand. I respect Putin. I think Putin likes me. I think I like him. It's law and order, Bob, law and order.

ROBERT WOODWARD, AMERICAN INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Why don't you give me your taxes? No, serious.

TRUMP: I said to the king, king, you've got to pay us for protection. If it weren't for us. (END AUDIO CLIP)

KING: Our CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel obtain this audio book. Jamie, tell us more.

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're in the room. No surprise, this is Donald Trump, unvarnished, profane, blunt. He trashes people he doesn't like. He boasts about himself. And he shares with Woodward documents that you can be sure his national security advisors, their heads were exploding. Starting with those now infamous love letters from Kim Jong-un. You hear him handing them over to Bob Woodward in real time and listen to what he says.


TRUMP: Nobody else has them, but I want you to treat them with respect. I haven't done with anybody.

WOODWARD: Understand, understand.

TRUMP: And don't say I gave them to you.


TRUMP: But I think it's OK. Normally I wouldn't - I wasn't going to give them to Bob, you know. What, did do you make a photostat of them or something?

WOODWARD: No. I dictated them into a tape recorder.


GANGEL: I don't know which part I like better that Trump still talks about, you know, the photostat or that Bob is dictating. But listen to that one line. Don't say I gave them to you. OK. It's a classic example of as Woodward says, in the audio book, how casual, how dangerous, how cavalier Trump is with classified documents. The audio book is also a stark reminder, John, right now, as we believe Trump wants to run for president again about what that White House was like.

KING: Right. That's a critical point in the sense that there are people out there who don't like the former president, who say why do you keep talking about him. Well, because he's planning to run again. And he could win again. There are Trump supporters out there say, why do you keep talking about him in this context? Why don't you give him a break.

But we learned the big damaging headlines back when Rage came out, especially the president, you know, he knew it was about COVID, but he publicly said otherwise. He knew how contagious it was. He publicly said otherwise. But in here, you have other pieces that, to your point, give you more context, more insights, more of a personal snapshot of not just the president, but some of his top aides as well.

[12:20:00] GANGEL: So, Woodward is also releasing never before heard interviews with Trump's then national security adviser Robert O'Brien, his then deputy Matt Pottinger. You'll hear from Trump's inner circle in the background in the room sort of Trump's court. You hear from Melania, Don Jr., Hope Hicks, Dan Scavino, Senator Lindsey Graham, all in the room.

But it won't surprise you that, I think some of the most revealing moments are Trump on Trump. So, as an example, this is an exchange when Woodward asked Trump, where do you get your ideas for your speeches?


WOODWARD: Did somebody help you?

TRUMP: Yes. I get, I get people, they come up with ideas, but the ideas of mine, Bob. The ideas are mine. Want to know something? Everything is mine.


GANGEL: Classic Trump, everything is his mine. And look, Trump loves it. You hear this over and over. There are certain words, everything is cool. He loves it when foreign leaders call him tough. And he never stops boasting about how he took on North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Listen to this.


TRUMP: He's going to get us into a war. Remember, they were screaming?

WOODWARD: Yes. My nuclear button is bigger than yours.

TRUMP: That's right. I said, yes, he talked about the button. Right? He said about the button on my desk. I said, my button is bigger than yours. And my button work, yours doesn't. You know, stuff like that.


GANGEL: So, just finally, John, in the epilogue of the book, I think it's interesting. We've seen to your point, Bob Woodward progress in how he comments about Trump at the end of this book, he absolutely condemns him. Woodward says, "Trump is an unparalleled danger. The record now shows that Trump has led and continues to lead a seditious conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election, which in effect, is an effort to destroy democracy."

KING: It's a damning take of someone he interviewed extensively. And to the point there, you want to know something, everything is mine. We can kind of laugh about it a little bit because it's a snapshot of his ego. But that's also a pressing issue right now as the government tries to get its documents back.

GANGEL: Absolutely. KING: Because they are not his. They belong to you and me, and the citizens of the United States. Jamie Gangel, great reporting. Appreciate it very much. Up next. Democracy as a campaign issue. The Utah Senate debate turns feisty as an independent candidate, accuses the Republican incumbent of trying to help Donald Trump overturn the election.




KING: Donald Trump's efforts to defy the 2020 election results and stay in power or flashpoint last night in a big Utah Senate debate. Republican Mike Lee is the incumbent. Independent Evan McMullin is the solely rival because Democrats decided not to nominate a candidate. McMullin repeatedly accused Senator Lee of abandoning his oath to the constitution in favor of trying to help Trump cheat.


EVAN MCMULLIN (I) UTAH SENATE CANDIDATE: Senator Lee, it is a betrayal of the American republic. You were there to stand up for our constitution. But when the barbarians were at the gate, you were happy to let them in.

SEN. MIKE LEE (R) UTAH: There was absolutely nothing to the idea that I would have ever supported - ever did support a fake electors plot. Yes, there were people who behaved very badly on that day. I was not one of them. I was one of the people trying to dismantle this situation.


KING: A, fascinating that in a red state. This debate is playing out that senator trying to help Donald Trump and it is significant and noteworthy. The last part of what Senator Lee say, on that day. He'd made a very clear distinction there because before that day, he was involved.

ZANONA: Right, exactly. Mike Lee ultimately voted to certify the election. But what's so fascinating about this campaign, is that here you have an independent and a ruby red state, who is making Donald Trump and January 6 a key defining issue and a key contrast between him and Mike Lee. They don't disagree on many substantive or policy issues. It really does boil down to how they view January 6.

CORNISH: But in part because it is impossible to have that discussion at the Republican primary level where the bar of entry into the party is to absolutely buy in what the president has said about 2020.

KING: Right. There is no doubt about that. And then just for the record, as we continue the conversation again. You heard Senator Lee say, on that day, right? Some people acted badly on that day. He voted to keep things going, as Melanie said to certify the election, but this is before that day. This is right after the election, number one.

Mike Lee texting Mark Meadows, the White House Chief of Staff. Sidney Powell is saying, she needs to get to see the president, but she's being kept away from him. Apparently, she has a strategy to keep things alive and put several states back in play. Can you help her get in? Now you could argue that's in the days after the election, everyone's emotions are high. This will pass.

Well, this is Mike Lee to the same Mark Meadows, White House Chief of Staff on January 4, 2021, two days before. We need something from state legislators to make this legitimate, and to have any hope of winning. Even if they can't convene, it might be enough if a majority of them are willing to sign a statement indicating how they would vote.

So, up until January 4, again, to his credit on January 6, he said, I don't have a letter. I don't have state elections voting, so I'm done. But right up until January 4, he was actively trying to find a way about Trump.

KANNO-YOUNGS: Yes. And let's remember, the scrutiny isn't just on the actions of that day. Even the House special committee as well has been looking at the weeks leading up to it as well.