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Inside Politics

FBI Searching Pence's Indiana Home; Mike Pence Subpoenaed By Special Counsel Investigating Trump; Kate Bedingfield Leaving Biden White House; Biden: No Difference Between Running Against Trump Or DeSantis; Biden: Not Ready To Make 2024 Decision; DeSantis: Spend Time Fighting Biden, Not "Smearing" Other GOP; Poll: DeSantis, Trump Evenly Matched Among GOP Voters For 2024 Choice; Rescues Still Happening 100+ Hours After Initial Earthquake. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired February 10, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Right now, the FBI is at Mike Pence's Indiana home, trying to track down any classified documents that perhaps went home with the former vice president. It happens as Pence also grapples with a big subpoena from the special counsel investigating Donald Trump.

Plus, ready or not. Joe Biden holds off on formally announcing, he's running again. But he says, he feels good about how the voters feel about him. And the death toll in Turkey and Syria now get this north of 22,000, countless souls remain under the rubble. Hope, in short supplies, survivors grapple with what's next, and with what they've lost.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are four family staying in this vehicle now. Thank God, we came out fine. But the buildings we live in are uninhabitable right now. Not only us, but all the entire neighborhood we live in is like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My whole family died. My father, mother, brother, sister and nephew. I can't believe this. I can't believe this. People I can't believe this. Yesterday, we pulled out my mother and brother dead. And today we pulled out my sister, my nephew and my father.


KING: Back to that tragic story a bit later in the program. But we begin the hour with the breaking development and the government's pursuit of classified documents. Right now, FBI investigators are searching the home of the former Vice President Mike Pence. That's in Carmel, Indiana.

We're told one of Pence's private lawyers is there as the FBI searches the Pence house. We also know this search was coming. The Pence lawyers have been going back and forth with the government on just when and just how it would happen. So, let's talk about what's happening here. And then some other big legal developments from Mike Pence. With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Evan Perez, the former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams, and CNN's Paula Reid.

This was negotiated, right, this is not a warrant at the Pence house. But still the FBI wants to go in the vice president, they found some classified documents here, they want to now go through the house to see if anything else.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: To see if there's anything else. And you know, in the case of the former vice president, he and his legal team have been trying to bend over backwards to make sure that the FBI can come in, do this search, and hopefully find nothing else. And then perhaps he can then move on to his political duties that he wants, you know, he has plans to go to Iowa and so on.

So, this is the best way for him to get this over with as soon as possible. You will note right now, this is still being handled by the Justice Department. It's being handled by the FBI, not by a special counsel. They are doing everything they can to avoid that.

We also expect that in the next few days, we're going to see another surge of Pence's think tank office. It's a private office that's right across the street from the FBI building downtown Washington. So again, if everything goes as they hope it does, then this should be wrapped up. They believe very, very soon, and they can move on with Mike Pence's political plan.

KING: So, but you're looking to see if there are any documents that which should be clear when documents were found at Mar-a-Lago. And then when the President Joe Biden found documents found his office, Mike Pence said, I don't have any, I didn't take any. I wouldn't do that. And then it turns out. He did have some faith. He's not sure, he did have some.

So, the question is, number one, you want to check the home, the office, you want to make sure there are no more classified documents in places they simply do not belong. But then they also have to do the work of how did they get there, right? Interviews with how did they get there was adjusted - was it just an advert? And was there any nefarious intent?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. They're currently conducting a review, which is initially what they did in the Biden case as well, they just look at. You know, how did this happen exactly? Was this as part of the chaos of the final days of administration? Are their true questions of criminality here.

The best case for him as they find no more documents at the home, no more documents at the office. If that's the case, then it is likely that there probably won't be a full-blown criminal investigation here. But it's not just what goes on at the Justice Department, it's also the court of public opinion. And he's trying to draw a contrast with former President Trump, of course, by being incredibly cooperative with the FBI, but also in moving quickly, right? One of the problems with President Biden is that it took them weeks and weeks to conduct their own searches and other residences. They weren't always being completely transparent with the Justice Department. And that in addition to the fact that he is of course, the sitting president is part of how he got a special counsel. So definitely learning from other people's mistakes here. And as I've noted, just trying to move this along as fast as possible, so he can potentially move forward with a campaign.


KING: So, if this is just sloppy, inexcusable, but if it's just sloppy, it's done when?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL: Done when? Now, you know, pick up on Paula's really important point here, Mike, because it's now in the world of practical, not legal, Mike Pence had the benefit of how much is it now months of the mishandling in different ways of both former President Trump and President Biden.

Now look, these are very different circumstances, and I don't mean to equate the two. But the simple fact is, he saw a roadmap for how to behave. And the way he behaved, is you let them in and comply with everything.

Now look, most instances of documents getting - ending up in the wrong place are inadvertent and it's not a crime. If their evidence does emerge, that it is, of course, he or anyone else around him ought to be in can be prosecuted, but we just don't see that right.

KING: So, let's move, well let the search play out. And we'll see what happens in the next few days. We'll cover the results of the search. Let's move on to what I would say is a much bigger issue for the former vice president.

The subpoena from the special counsel, Jack Smith, who is investigating Donald Trump, investigating efforts to overturn the election, investigating what happened on January 6, investigating whether there was a deliberate attempt to disrupt a government proceeding to defraud the United States, if you will.

He wants the former vice president to come into a grand jury and to give testimony and to turn over documents. Will the special counsel ever get that testimonial? Will this be an executive privilege?

WILLIAMS: He's not going to get what he wants. Now look, Mike Pence's probably three options either comply in full, fight it in court or just blow the whole thing off that. Well, he's not going to blow the whole thing off. And I think what ends up happening is these gets tied up in litigation, because fairly some conversations he had with the president are going to be protected by privilege he can assert it the former president possibly can.

Now the question is, what are the gray areas circumstances where it's not a protected conversation, maybe even discussing unlawful conduct? And where can he be forced to talk about it? Courts can figure that out you and I can't. And so maybe we

REID: And he made it a lot easier by writing about this in his memoir, right? He really opened the door. You can't go before a grand jury, and say sorry, I can't talk about it, it's privilege. But you can read all about it in my book, that's not going to work.

WILLIAMS: And in the news media, too. Like he's given interviews repeatedly.

KING: So, let me read a little bit from the book. If it gives you the power, Trump asked, why would you oppose it? I told him, I said many times that I didn't believe I possess that power under the constitution. You're too honest, he chided. That would be Donald Trump hundreds of thousands are going to hate your guts. People are going to think you're stupid.

So, the question is, the special counsel of his team understands the privilege issues here? So, what do they want from Mike Pence in the sense that maybe they don't want to ask him what exactly did the president say to you at least beyond what's in your book, right, you wrote what?

Do you believe, is Mr. Vice President, is what's in your book truthful? You're done there. But were you in the room certain times? Did you hear the president? Was the president ever told, sir, if we do that it's illegal. Is that what they're looking for?

PEREZ: Yes. Look, you have some aggressive people at the Justice Department who are going to use this little crack in the door. And they're going to try to go a lot more further into the room here. And they want to get into that room. They wanted to go into the Oval Office for the conversations in December, where Trump first raises the issue of challenging the election.

Mike Pence talks about that in the book, he talks about those key meetings to the Oval Office in early January, where John Eastman, the lawyer who came up with this idea of Pence, just throwing out the election results and, you know, essentially, impeding the transfer of power. Those key meetings are things that the Justice Department wants a lot more detail of.

Now, I think the first thing you're going to have is, Mike Pence's going to comply with the subpoena. He's been negotiating for four months. And they have at least a first pass where they talk about the things that are in the book already. And then the Justice Department can look and say, what we want more than that, and you've already kind of opened the door.

And that's where Donald Trump and his legal team have the opportunity to come in and fight. And I think, you know, certainly the Justice Department and Pence's team believe that Donald Trump will do that eventually and take it all the way to describe this.

KING: So, put this in a context, Elliot. You have this special counsel, demanding testimony and documents through the power of a subpoena. That's a big deal to the former vice president United States, also a subpoena to the former national security adviser of the United States. Two people who essentially have Oval Office access who are in the West Wing, who are subject to many conversations with Donald Trump. And with all the people, trying to help Donald Trump or stop Donald Trump from trying to steal the election.

What does it tell you that the special counsel is taking that step? It seems to me it's like Lawrence Walsh, the special prosecutor back in the Iran-Contra days or Watergate days, it to go after the former vice president and the national security adviser. You're way up here?

WILLIAMS: Yes. It's your ratcheting things up significantly. It's most, you know, many interactions with law enforcement can be simple conversations. Subpoenas are inherently more adversarial and come with the risk of going to jail if you don't comply. So, it is an incredibly big deal. And I think we see these big deals all the time now in this world that are almost desensitized to this. This is quite for now.


REID: It is, and it completely contradicts what you'll hear from the president's legal team right now, which is look, this is all wrapping up. Nothing is going to come of it. But clearly this is a very active and ongoing investigation, though it does appear based on the profiles Some of these subpoenas the people that they're targeting this could be maybe in the final stage, but this is a very active ongoing investigation despite what the former president's lawyers may wish.

KING: And so, if you're Mike Pence, if you're Mike Pence. He told Bob Koster of CBS News that long ago. The truth is, I think we've got time people run American, know that Pence's we're going to take the opportunity time. So, he thinks he has maybe a couple more months than Nikki Haley, or somebody who might be a little less known nationally to get into the race for president.

But she gets it next week. Trump's already in, and others are thinking about it. If you're talking about clear up the classified document question. And then the Trump investigations to which Pence is now least the special counsel wants him as a witness? How long?

PEREZ: That's a great question. Because I mean, I think the clock is ticking for the Justice Department. If they're going to do this and if you're going to bring charges against anyone, you know, in a politically charged case, I mean, you got to start doing something soon. You're talking about a trial going into next year, you know, so there is a clock ticking.

And by the way, not only Mike Pence, but you also have Mark Meadows out there. There is a possibility here that the Justice Department wants to try to make sure they start this process because they know there could be litigation and that could be part of the process here.

KING: Close it this way. Is this a common sense, common decency clock? Or is there a calendar at the Justice Department that says, this is an active campaign, you have to make these decisions by this date?

WILLIAMS: It's an excellent question, John, because look, the nice thing about a special counsel is it transcends presidential administrations and can last indefinitely if that's the case. Look, we live in the real world and there's a presidential election coming up. Everything is different in American presidential election, and I think they know they got to get it done by them.

KING: Which adds urgency to the questions Does Pence fight the subpoena, how long does that go on? Lot to cover in the days and weeks ahead. Thank you all for coming. And up next for us. A key member of the president's White House staff is leaving. And the president himself says, he sees little difference between the two top Republican 2024 contenders.




KING: Today one of a key White House departure and the timing is no coincidence. Kate Bedingfield, the Biden communications director is leaving the administration. Her replacement is an Obama White House veteran with reelection campaign experience, Ben LaBolt. Let's get straight to the White House live now to CNN's MJ Lee. MJ, why and why now?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. This is just one more sign that the Biden White House is going through a big transition. As you said Kate Bedingfield is leaving her role. Though we are told that she is going to be working on President Biden's 2024 reelection efforts. She is of course a longtime and loyal aide to the president, who has worn many hats both in this White House. She worked on the transition and the campaign, and also worked with the president when he was vice president.

Now she is going to be replaced by Ben LaBolt, the White House officially announced. He is somebody who worked in the Obama White House, the Obama campaigns and also worked in the Biden transition, and most recently led the communications efforts during the successful confirmation of justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. And I'm told that that was sort of a pivotal moment for him to show to President Biden and the folks around him of what he was capable of.

Now, you might recall that last year, Bedingfield had said that she was going to leave her job, but then reverse course, and decided to stay on for a number of more months. And now she is feeling like it is the right time for the transition is what I was told. And it is very true that it is sort of a natural time for these kinds of transitions to happen.

We have seen that with other top people in the White House, including, of course, Ron Klain, the president's former chief of staff who just had his last day. He has been replaced by Jeff Zients. We also know his top economic adviser Brian Deese is leaving. Same with labor secretary Marty Walsh. He is expected to leave as well. So, expect to see many more personnel announcements, John, in the coming weeks as this White House gears up for 2024 reelection campaign. KING: Some of them get a short break, and then we'll end up in a campaign office to be determined. MJ Lee, live at the White House, appreciate that. And as MJ knows, top administration officials are on notice. Anyone planning to leave, should do so in a way that fits with the reelection campaign planning. But the president not quite ready to make it official.

But listen here, an interview with Telemundo, it's clear. He's not only thinking about running, but he's thinking about potential opponents.


JULIO VAQUEIRO, ANCHOR, NOTICIAS TELEMUNDO: What's stopping you from making that decision?

JOE BIDEN, 46TH U.S. PRESIDENT: There's no room to make it. It may be that, you know, I run, I get clobbered, and if I run, I win. I mean, that's not my motive. That's not the basis upon which I make the judgment.

VAQUEIRO: Would there be a difference running against Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis?

PRES. BIDEN: No, I don't think so. Because I think that they had a similar modus operandi, a similar way in which they work. But I really don't know. I've never decided to run or not run based on who the opponent will be.


KING: Let's discuss, with me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Audie Cornish, CNN's Phil Mattingly, and Tia Mitchell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. All right, Chief, I might get clobbered. He's trying to be good natured about the whole thing. But he's lumping DeSantis and Trump together. He spent a little time thinking about this.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's not subtle. It may seem that way. It may seem very kind of offhanded. Why does officials in particularly those on the political side are very aware of Ron DeSantis. They have been watching, both his rise inside the Republican Party, but also what they believe are potential weaknesses in a general election campaign, kind of following everything that happens there.

I will say that they're similarly watching the former president who President Biden defeated. And part of the reason why they do not feel a ton of urgency at this moment in time to announce a reelection campaign is because of how slow Trump has been out of the gates, because of how kind of lackadaisical his campaign has been.

But that doesn't mean they're not paying attention. That doesn't mean they don't have a very good sense of the entirety of the number of candidates that could be running. And I would also note, the Democratic National Committee has been collecting opposition research on literally every potential candidate for more than a year at the White House request.


KING: But also, in the sense that you would think in the age we live in that maybe the president would get out of the gate early because it's just an age where you just get a primary challenge, even if you know you're - but you don't see - we don't see that. We see zero evidence that there'll be a significant primary challenge to this president, which I assume gives him another month or two to dot the I's and cross the T's.

AUDIE CORNISH, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I don't think there's some secret other discussion going on with this. I think Biden is saying publicly, exactly how he's feeling. Now, of course, at the same time, are they running ads, which you can probably see on this network, talking about what the administration has accomplished and what more needs to be done, yes.

And just one bit of a correction. You know, he did run in part because of what Trump was saying and doing publicly. He said that at the time that the opponent is what drew him into the race.

MATTINGLY: Can I just add one thing, there's the public and then there's behind the scenes, and the behind the scenes reality is they have a campaign in waiting, that is teed up and ready to go and has been built for the better part of two and a half, two plus years right now. They're ready to go. Everyone says they're going. The president hasn't officially said it yet. But keep that in mind with whatever---

KING: But you see that, maybe you don't know the names at home. We live around America. You see that the Chief of Staff Ron Klain leaving. He gets take a vacation that he ends up in a campaign office. Kate Bedingfield gets to leave, do some stuff with the family, take a vacation, end up in a campaign office. And you're watching the other side.

Donald Trump is the only declared candidate. He's running for the Republican nomination. He's waiting. Nikki Haley gets in next week. Trump's more focused on Ron DeSantis. Ron DeSantis yesterday deciding, you know what, I could say something, but I pass.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R) FLORIDA: I spend my time delivering results for the people of Florida and fighting against Joe Biden. I don't spend my time trying to smear other Republicans.


KING: You can do that if you're not running. But if anybody who can remember 2016, sorry, for those of you if it brings back trauma, Donald Trump on the stage with his opponents. Ron DeSantis is going to have to mix it up if he gets it.

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: Absolutely, if he gets in. I think right now, he doesn't have to mix it up. Number one, because we know that speaking to a Republican base, you're going to lose people, if you go too hard against Trump right now. And so, I think Ron DeSantis is trying to stay above that, but he's thrown in a little bit of shade, you know, saying, you know, I'm working on winning elections and doing what I was able to remain in office to do.

I do, you know, I think it would be - Ron DeSantis will be hard pressed not to run for president given all his momentum, all the speculation. The question is, how does he mix it up when he can't avoid it because Donald Trump is already coming for him directly.

CORNISH: And there's no evidence of a candidate who's tangled with him on his level and come out clean.

KING: Right. That's one of the fascinating dynamics, and to the point you made about Biden. DeSantis will do the same thing, working behind the scenes, making sure that, you know, if I go, you're going to be with me, you're going to be with me. Do we have the fundraising operation in place? They're doing all that.

I'm going to show you a poll right now. And I don't show you to think, aha, this is how the Republican race looks. I show you because we're going to look at this now. And then we'll come back to this in six months and see if it holds up because it's early and things change.

But this is one of the reasons Trump is after DeSantis because they are tied in this new Monmouth poll at the top. The former vice president and only two percent. Nikki Haley declares next week, she's at one percent, then the don't know at 24 percent.

Again, I suspect these numbers will move some, but that's even an interesting question. Where's the mindset of the Republican voter? If Trump can hold 30 percent or more, and the field gets crowded, it gets interesting, which is why Chris Sununu this morning, the governor of New Hampshire, he's just formed a new political action committee. He may run as well. Listen to how he frames the race.


GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R) NEW HAMPSHIRE: If the election were today, DeSantis probably wins in New Hampshire. I think in other states as well. So, it's just not getting any better for the former president. We're just going to say thank you for your service and move on.

I don't care how many people get in. People were nervous about a diluted field. As long as you have the discipline to get out, America is looking for low taxes, limited government, local control, you have to be willing to have the fight, but you got to get stuff done.


KING: That's a guy who's also preparing to run for president, as you can hear in the end there. The most interesting point to me there was, you have to have the discipline to get out. A lot of Republicans are worried. If you have a crowded field again, you know, Trump can get into high 20s, low 30s. They have winner take all rules in their primary, so he gets all the delegates. Sununu making the key point. Let's all run, let's have 1020 of us, whatever. But then if you don't do well, in the first contest or two, you got to go.

CORNIS: I think one question I have is, does Trump being there still kind of suppress the other candidates from coming forward? I mean, the fact that he's moving slowly, I think hasn't helped that situation.

MITCHELL: I was just going to say that, with Trump, Pence, DeSantis, I do think it will settle quickly. I think voters are going to start coalescing around one or two early in the primaries, and probably Trump and DeSantis.

KING: I don't know campaigns bring surprises, campaigns bring surprises. That's what makes them interesting. Next to Republican family feud over a giant issue. The Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell says, Senator Rick Scott stands alone, when it comes to Medicare and Social Security.




KING: The Turkey and Syria now, where hope is turning into despair. The staggering death toll get this has now topped 22,000 and thousands more are still missing. Families facing the grim reality that they will likely never see their loved ones alive again, but there are moments of hope.

A human chain of rescuers pulling a family of six out on stretchers. All rescued after 102 hours buried beneath the rubble in Turkey and there are signs of life. A woman waving her hand, as crews pulled her and her daughter out from under a collapsed building.