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Inside Politics

Alec Baldwin To Be Charged In Fetal Movie Set Shooting; D.A. Cites Lack Of Safety Standards On "Rust" Set; U.S. Breaches Ceiling, Biden Admin Starts "Extraordinary Measures"; House GOP Moderates Reject WH's "No Negotiations" Stance; GOP Rep: "Don't Think That A Clean Debt Ceiling Is In Order"; Fight Over Spending Could Cause Global Economic Catastrophe; WH: "This Is About Economic Stability Versus Economic Chaos"; GOP Rep: "Not Concerned About The Tension" With WH, GOP Senate. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired January 19, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello everybody, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing a very busy news day with us. The breaking news this hour, Alec Baldwin tearing down charges. The actor will be indicted for involuntary manslaughter that after the onset death of the movie "Rust" cinematographer. The district attorney just moments ago granting CNN interview, we'll bring you the details in just a moment.

Plus, also this hour some brand new CNN reporting. Sources say questions about classified material and a special counsel investigation will not alter Joe Biden's 2024 campaign launch. The view in the West Wing, the documents scandal. Team Biden says is about my obsession and they hope not much more and go to hell. A homeless veteran accuses George Santos of a new low, swindling money from a GoFundMe intended to pay for a dying dog's life saving surgery.


RICH OSTHOFF, U.S. NAVY VETERAN: I don't want him to be able to do this again. Santos really took a piece of my heart out when he did this.


KING: We'll begin the hour with breaking legal news. Prosecutors in New Mexico just last hour announcing Alec Baldwin, along with the film's armor will be charged with involuntary manslaughter in that fatal shooting on the set of the western movie Rust.

Let's bring in CNN entertainment reporter Chloe Melas, CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig, and criminal defense attorney, former prosecutor Bernarda Villalona. Chloe, let me start with you. We have been waiting and waiting for the district attorney to finish the investigation. These new charges against two key players, including Alec Baldwin. Walk us through what we know so far. CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: Well look, Alec Baldwin facing two counts of involuntary manslaughter. And from everything that I am hearing from Alec Baldwin's legal team, they feel blindsided. And in a statement to CNN just moments ago, they're saying that this decision distorts Halyna Hutchins tragic death and represents a terrible miscarriage of justice. They go on to say that Baldwin had no reason to believe that there was a live bullet on the set or anywhere and especially not in the gun.

You know, John, I sat down with Alec Baldwin in August, and he told me in that sit down interview that he did not believe that he would be charged, and he was adamant that he did not know there was a live bullet in the gun. He doesn't know how one got to the set, and that he had nothing to do with hiring those people who he believes were responsible for making sure that an accident like this didn't happen.

So, we know, based on this statement from Alec Baldwin's attorney, they say at the end, we will fight these charges and we will win. We know that he will not be accepting a plea deal like Dave Halls the assistant director on the set. We know that he will see this through to a jury trial and that he will like they say fight these charges and we will win.

We know that Alec Baldwin is currently in New York City with his family. We are waiting to hear from him potentially. But this was not something that he was expecting, especially so we know, John, that he was set to go back and finish filming the movie, because the proceeds, the profits from that film were going to go to Halyna Hutchins' family and a settlement that was just reached a few months ago.

KING: So, Elie to you first, on the legal front. We have a press release from the district attorney. We have an interview. I'll play some a little bit in a minute. But we don't have anything. We don't have anything in a court hearing yet. We don't have any evidence before us just yet. When you look at two people charged with involuntary manslaughter, a plea agreement with another member of the production team in the case. When you look at what we have so far, what jumps out?

ELIE HONIG, FORMER ASST. U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: Well, John, the key concept here is negligence, meaning the allegation against Alec Baldwin and the armorer Miss Gutierrez is not that they intended to kill or hurt anybody, but that they were negligent. Meaning, first of all, they had a duty of care, they had some responsibility to take care of the victim and that they violated that duty.

Now, there's no scientific or mathematical formula for this. This is the kind of question that goes to a jury and is based on all the different circumstances here. And in the interview that Josh just did with the prosecutor, she actually said something I found interesting. Josh asked, is Alec Baldwin being charged in his capacity as a producer or as an actor, which are two very different things. And the prosecutor said both. So, those are going to be very different questions here ultimately for the jury. KING: And so, Bernarda, let's listen to a little bit of that interview. This is the Attorney General (Inaudible) talking to our CNN's Josh Campbell just moments ago. She says, she's looked at this case, she talks to the expert, she says it's not one particular thing. She talks about the totality. Listen?


MARY CARMACK-ALTWIES, SANTA FE DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I think it was the totality of the circumstances that this was a really fast and loose set, and that that nobody was doing their job. There were three people that if they had done their job that day, this tragedy wouldn't have happened.



KING: You have the diverse experience of being both a former prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney. From what you've seen so far if you're representing Alec Baldwin, if you're representing the armorer. Do you see any holes so far or you still have questions? Because again, we have a press release. We don't even have the actual indictment yet.

BERNARDA VILLALONA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY & FORMER PROSECUTOR: There's still a lot of questions. The question should have been - should have been this been a civil case or criminal case, but here we are as a criminal case. So, we have no answer as to the number one key question, how did those live cartridges get on the set? There are no answers to that.

However, we should be hearing more information once the preliminary hearing takes place because the prosecution is going to have to pull on some evidence to be able to hold this case court, for court, for trial, that there's enough evidence for Alec Baldwin and Miss Gutierrez to continue on to a criminal trial.

KING: And I want to come back to Chloe in a second. But just on that point, let me stay with you Elie and the attorneys here. Let's listen to the district attorney again. Making that case that she has looked at this and essentially says from the top of this production. All the way down, the people who should have been doing the safety checks. And that includes Alec Baldwin, she says that the armorer simply just weren't up to the job. Listen?


CARMACK-ALTWIES: There was such a lack of safety and safety standards on that set. That there were live rounds on set. They were mixed in with regular dummy rounds, nobody was checking those or at least they weren't checking them consistently.


KING: As you listen to that, and then you have the added element that the assistant director David Halls has signed a plea agreement for negligent handling of a weapon. What does that tell you about the case going forward? And is it likely that that plea agreement includes testifying if there is a trial of this case?

HONIG: So that's the very first thing I thought, John, when I saw that Mr. Halls had signed a plea agreement or relatively lenient plea agreement is, will his testimony be a condition of that typically, in a situation like this, it wouldn't be. And if you're the prosecutor, you are going to want somebody who was part of that set, who was there, who can testify about the way things were handled and were not handled.

So, it seems to me likely that he will be testifying, I guess we will learn those details as we go. It looks like the prosecutors are trying to paint a sort of totality of the circumstances case here. They're trying to point to all the different lapses in saying and they will argue ultimately to a jury, when you take them all together, that gets us over the line of negligence.

And again, this will be a very human reaction, a very human calculation. And by the way, one thing that I think we should look for is, we will see expert testimony. We will see testimony from other actors, from other people who are film production professionals saying, here's what ought to be done normally. Here's what was not done in this case.

KING: And Chloe, as we wait to hear, we have the statement from his attorney as we wait to hear perhaps from Alec Baldwin himself. I do want to go back to that interview you mentioned, you had a long conversation with him where Alec Baldwin said, this is a horrible tragedy, but I am not responsible. Listen?


ALEC BALDWIN, ACTOR: I never once said never, that the gun went off in my hand automatically. I always said I pulled the hammer back. And I pulled it back as far as I could. I never took a gun and pointed at somebody and click the thing.


KING: But he was holding a gun that somehow and again, even in the press release unanswered question, how did live rounds get into that gun? Recall that conversation in terms of obviously anguish, but the denying any responsibility.

MELAS: I mean, from it was a very lengthy interview that we did in August, John, and he was adamant the entire time. Of one thing that I want to point out, which I find so interesting, and maybe our experts can help us with this is that the D.A. saying in the interview moments ago with Josh, that we may never know how that live round got to set.

And then at the end of the day, they believe to the FBI forensics investigation in their report that Alec Baldwin, she believes pulled the trigger. He says he never did. But when I'm speaking to the legal team for the last year, their attitude is well, there never should have been a live round on the set.

Alec telling me, why didn't Hannah Gutierrez Reed check that bullet? Why didn't Halls obey her? Why did he give me the gun? Why didn't he check? Why did he tell the crew it was a cold gun? It's what Alec Baldwin told George Stephanopoulos. It's what Alec Baldwin told me, why was he handed a gun in the first place that was supposed to be a prop gun that he should have been able to fire that gun 100 times and a live bullet should have never come out.

He also maintains that Halyna Hutchins told him, point the gun here, pointed at me because they were in rehearsals in this church in New Mexico. And there was a breakdown in the chain of command on the set of Rust. So yes, Alec Baldwin being held responsible with these charges that we're seeing.

You know, Dave Halls is taking the plea agreement. Hannah Gutierrez Reed with these two charges of involuntary manslaughter. But how did that live bullet get on the set and why is that not being made a bigger deal here because there are other people as Josh pointed out, that were responsible for those rounds being on the set.


KING: Right. And the end result of this the tragic death of a talented cinematographer who as you know, said pointed at me to get the better shot, trying to do her job there. So, Bernarda interesting that there are dual charges here, essentially two counts of involuntary manslaughter that had some distinction under New Mexico law. What is the legal aim of that?

VILLALONA: So, it seems like the prosecutor is hedging their bets. In the sense of usually when it comes to charging and homicide cases, you go with the lead charge, you go with one charge, because you know that's only one factor. However, when there's a chance that you think that a jury may be able to have argument as to one charge.

Or the second charge, they decided to present both charges and let the jury decide which is the final charge that this person should be found guilty of? Is it the full negligence or whether Alec Baldwin should have done something extra before handling that final firearm, before deciding to put his finger on the trigger even though he says he didn't pull it.

KING: And Elie to Chloe's point, again, we'll see what happens when this actually ends up in the court when you have to file evidence. You have a discovery process and all that. But the unanswered question, how do the live rounds get there? Does that have to be answered as this goes forward? If the prosecutor can't answer that question because they haven't been able to figure it out or how this happened? Is that a giant hole for defense attorney to try to exploit?

HONIG: I think that's a big gap in the prosecution's potential case here, John, the fact that the prosecutors can't necessarily trace the exact provenance of that bullet, I think is going to be a problem. It doesn't necessarily mean the prosecution's case is doomed to fail. But yes, you can count on the defense lawyer standing up in front of the jury and saying, they can't even tell you how this all happened.

And there's an interesting sort of contradiction here or tension between the positions that Alec Baldwin has that. He may make the argument. Chloe just laid this out, as an actor there were many other people who I reasonably relied on to make sure that gun was safe, and therefore there was no negligence. But those questions that Chloe just laid out, really go back to Alec Baldwin's role as the producer who may have had responsibility for those very same issues.

KING: Fascinating case that we'll see as it plays out. Chloe Melas, Elie Honig and Bernarda Villalona, appreciate your thoughts and your hustle and this breaking news. We'll come back to this obviously, as we learn more. Still ahead for us some brand-new CNN reporting as the United States hits its debt limit today. The White House trying to get Republicans in Congress to help, those House Republicans say not unless you cut spending Mr. President.




KING: To a collision of politics in the economy now. The government's credit card comes due and there is no plan to pay it down. This morning, the treasury department officially notifying Congress, we have hit an unwelcome milestone. The United States officially breaching its debt ceiling. Congress has to authorize borrowing more.

In the meantime, the administration is taking what it calls extraordinary measures to prevent permanent irreparable harm to the U.S. and as a result, the global economy. Those steps by perhaps four months for the Congress in the White House to take a step that was once routine.

Now though, the debt limit debate is riddled with rancor all the more so this year. The new Republican House Majority vows to hold firm and not move the ceiling one penny unless those House Republicans say it is coupled with spending cuts. The White House says no, it will not negotiate.

It's a brand-new CNN reporting this hour, spells out just how hard a time the White House will have, winning the cooperation of even a small number of House Republicans. Even Manu Raju, those swing district Republicans from districts that Joe Biden carried, you would assume they were the ones most likely to break ranks your reporting is not now.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Not right now. In fact, they are in line with the House Republican leadership which has a diametrically opposed position from the White House. The White House says no negotiations, no conditions just increase the national debt limit. It's been done time and time again and was done three times under President Trump, do it again, we don't want to negotiate. They don't believe that Kevin McCarthy could pass any bill in the House to get 218 votes, no matter how many concessions they give. So, they say just pass a clean debt ceiling increase. The problem in talking to a number of these debt Republicans from the swing district, from Biden carry district, some that Biden narrowly lost, they are indicating that they are not in favor of the White House's position flatly rejecting, its indicating that there needs to be some level of discussion and getting a fiscal agreement before they would agree to raise the national debt ceiling, something Democrats reject.

Someone like Don Bacon of Nebraska told me that he has no intention of trying to help the White House out of this position that they are taking. He said, I'm not in favor of Biden's no negotiating strategy. And I'm not inclined to help. He went on to say the GOP can't demand the moon and Biden can't refuse to negotiate. There needs to be given take on both sides.

Now another member that I spoke to as well, Brian Fitzpatrick. He's a key member of Pennsylvania moderate, someone who's a part of this bipartisan problem solvers caucus. He told me, I don't think that a clean debt ceiling is in order. And I certainly don't think a default is an order. Fitzpatrick told me that there are already discussions within that bipartisan group to figure out, if they can figure out a way to change the debt ceiling law.

Now the problem and the challenge for Kevin McCarthy is that the fact that he reached an agreement in order to win the speakership to say that they will not raise the debt ceiling without commensurate fiscal reforms, changes to the budget process, spending cuts. He has not been specific about what he wants, but he says he wants negotiations at least. And with the White House saying no, it's uncertain at the moment how this very risky dance would have - could have huge implications could play out.

And John, meanwhile, there is some expectation that perhaps the Senate could engage, perhaps the Senate could cut a deal and jam the House at the end of the day. Mitch McConnell said today that there is no concern about a potential fiscal crisis, but of course, he did not elaborate. John?


KING: He did not elaborate. The devil here will be in the details and in the negotiations even if they're not official negotiations in the days and weeks and perhaps months ahead. Manu, appreciate the important reporting on Capitol Hill. Let's bring the conversation in the room. With me to share the reporting and their insights, NPR's Asma Khalid, Tarini Parti of The Wall Street Journal, Tia Mitchell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Jeanna Smialek of The New York Times.

So, the United States, if it fails to raise its debt limit, here are some of the potential consequences. You default on your debt, even the prospect of defaulting on your debt is going to rattle financial markets. If you get to that point, there could be, could be delayed payments to federal workers, delayed social security checks, delayed what veterans' benefits. You wrote a very smart piece on this where you quote the former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, saying there's no good plan. And he says, it's a more dangerous time than ever before to test it. What does he mean by that, more dangerous time than ever, because of the global economic uncertainty, because of the new House Republicans, both?

JEANNA SMIALEK, FEDERAL RESERVE AND ECONOMY REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yes. So, I think what he meant is there's sort of three reasons why it's more dangerous than ever before to test it. The first is the markets have already been really volatile. We're in a situation where we've seen several big meltdowns over the last couple of years, just because of the way, you know, the stock market and bond markets are shaping up. So that's risky.

The dollars importance in the global economy is arguably more central than ever before because we're implementing these sanctions against Ukraine, relying on the fact that the dollar is so central to the global economy. So, anything that plays with that centrality is pretty dangerous at this moment.

And then I think he was worried that there is just more of a chance that this gets to a dangerous zone where we could make a mistake, where we could accidentally sort of trip into that realm of default. And so, we are kind of playing with fire right now.

KING: Playing with fire and play with economic fire at a very uncertain political moment with the new House majority. Again, if you get to this tipping point, and we've come close before and never quite gotten there. The White House says three million jobs would be lost, 401K's would decline, high mortgage payments - higher mortgage payments, already high mortgage payments would go up, $850 billion potentially added to the national debt, which is why one of the president's top economic advisors on CNN today said look, sorry, House Republicans, this is your job, do it.


BRIAN DEESE, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL DIRECTOR: This is about economic stability versus economic chaos. We have to not get in our own way. We have to not put this all at risk and jeopardize this by putting the full faith and credit of the United States at risk. And so, what needs to happen is what Congress has done time and time again, which is prudently do its job.


KING: What Congress has done time and time again, I get it. We're at the beginning of this. So, we got a couple of months for this. I'm going to call it a dance, but it is a dangerous dance as Manu noted. Do they really believe they can hold the no blank, no negotiate strategy?

ASMA KHALID, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: I mean, that's what we see the White House doing at the moment. At least publicly, they have been insisting that they have no plans to negotiate. This White House thinks that it has a degree of leverage given the Republicans very slim majority in Congress. But at the same time, I think that Republicans feel that they deserve at least the right to put forth a negotiating effort because they are in the majority.

I mean, really, as you said, I mean, it's a staring contest and a matter of which side blinks first, and the White House has said that it is making outreach to a whole bunch of new members. But then you heard as Manu suggested, even those more moderate members suggest that they're not really taking the White House at its face for saying that there's absolutely no negotiate.

KING: Right. On the one hand, that the debt limit has nothing to do with the budget, with spending, right? That's what the White House is going to argue. On the other hand, the Republicans had argued, we just won an election. And we have very few points of leverage, especially with that narrow majority, a very few points of leverage. Here's one of them. Will they hold is the question.

Here's one of them. This is Dusty Johnson of South Dakota. What in the world are we doing here? If we're not willing to have a serious conversation about spending, and that is going to mean some tension with the Senate, there's going to be some tension with the other party. He says, I'm not concerned about that tension. You don't have to be concerned about it today or next week. We stress drags on weeks and into a month or more than maybe you do.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: Yes. And I think that's where there's risk of the White House kind of losing some support by taking such a no negotiation position, because at the end of the day, there is some correlation between your debt and your spending, you're spending leads to your debt. And I think the people who are at home are looking at Congress.

They're not just looking at the White House, but they're looking at Congress, and they're saying, we have to control our spending because we only have so much we can put on our credit card, you need to do the same, Republicans understand that. And that's why they want to have that conversation.

TARINI PARTI, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think from the White House perspective, though, they feel like they still have a few months. And if they keep spelling out the sort of catastrophic consequences, it puts it on Congress and the new Republican majority to kind of act and do something. So, I think we're going to hear a lot of things like what Brian Deese said this morning, they're going to keep repeating that for the next few weeks or months.

KING: So, is there an off-ramp, potential off ramp that you can envision now, before we walked out? You mentioned that what I think was a smart possibility. Maybe Joe Manchin is on the ballot in 2024. Kyrsten Sinema is now an independent on the ballot in 2024. Do more moderate centrist Democrats or independents in the Senate, find some way to do a modest spending reduction. And then the White House says, well, we didn't do this, but OK.

[12:25:00] SMIALEK: I think you've already seen evidence that this can be sort of the direction we're headed in. You know, Manchin has already been out there talking about this from the World Economic Forum in Davos. This is clearly top of mind for some of the moderates. And that could be an off ramp for the White House.

I will say, adding to Tarini's point, though, I think you have to think about the politics of this for the White House in some ways. We saw both in the 2011 debt ceiling debacle, and in the 90s, that when Republicans hold the debt limit hostage, they tend to get blamed for it. And so, I think that's probably a relevant thing that we need to keep in mind as we move forward through this process.

KING: Keep the politics in mind. We will. We will have no choice, whether we want to or not. Up next for us, some new lies bring us to a yes. New low if you can believe that in Congressman George Santos saga. He is accused now of scamming a veteran out of money for his dying dog. He also claimed his mom was in the South Tower on 9/11 and survive. Well new record show, she was somewhere else.