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Inside Politics

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene Calls for a National Divorce; GOP Rep. Introduces Bill to Make AR-15 the National Gun; Will Donald Trump Be Indicted?; Foreperson in Georgia Trump Probe: Jury Recommended Multiple Indictments; Nikki Haley Defended Confederate Flag in 2010 Talk. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 22, 2023 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Caucus member Congressman Barry Moore of Alabama wants Congress to designate the AR-15 assault- style rifle as the country's "National Gun." And Congressman Marjorie Taylor Greene, now a key ally of the House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, says it's time for what she calls a "National Divorce" for red states to break off and form a separate alliance.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA) HOUSE OVERSIGHT AND REFORM COMMITTEE: Everyone I talked to is sick and tired and fed up of being bullied by the left, abused by the left, and disrespected by the left. And our ideas, our policies, our ways of life have become so far apart that it's just coming to that point, and the last thing I ever want to see in America is a civil war.


KING: But she wants to see a national divorce. And she wants somehow red states to break off from blue states. What is she talking about?

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: Well, she's talking -- I think what she's talking about is something that she hasn't thought through completely. So now, she's trying to --


MITCHELL: You know, kind of, well, I don't want civil war. I don't want to secession. I don't want to separate the country, but I want to separate the states because she was talking, but not necessarily I think presenting a fully thought out idea. But I think what she's doing is reflecting again this passion and this energy from the far right that we know has empowered the House Freedom Caucus. It has empowered the mega (ph) Republican arm of the party, and there is frustration that she kind of represents and gives a platform to. But it's not always rooted in the reality. You know, even when you talk about separating the states -- and she lives in a purple state. When you talk about -- KING: Yeah, where will the purple state go? Joe Biden won Georgia, her

state. Two Democratic senators from Georgia; yester-Republican Governor, also (ph) Republican state-wide officials, but that's why you say not thought out.


ISAAC DOVERE, CNN'S SENIOR REPORTER: And with Democratics (ph) in her district, not a small number.

MITCHELL: And also, just the federal government. I think it's easy to say, "Let's dissolve the federal government and let states hand it. But in practice, where does Medicare go? Where does Social Security go? How do you make sure that there are national standards for education?" That's easier said than done.

KING: She's not the first one. When Rick Perry was Governor of Texas, this came up a little bit back 10 years or so ago, something -- that maybe longer than that. But, Nancy Mace of South Carolina, one of the new Republicans, she's in second term in the House, tweeted this. 2022 should have been a wakeup call. We can only change Washington by changing the people we send here. To do that, we must win hearts and minds with better ideas, better policies, better candidates, who can actually win an election in swing districts, essentially telling Marjorie Taylor Greene, not helpful.

MIN JUNG LEE, CNN'S SENIOR WHITE HOSUE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah. You know, the interesting thing about -- you know you just said that the congresswoman perhaps said something she may have not have thought through all the way. You know, in the first term, when she would say sort of whacky fringe things, you could dismiss many of her statements as whacky fringe things. But now, that we are in the place that we are with the House Republican Caucus, you know, she is one of the people that helped Kevin McCarthy get his job. She is now closer to power. She is now an ally of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. So, it just becomes increasingly difficult to just dismiss some of things that she is saying as whacky and crazy, and let's put it off to the side. She's closer to the power center now.

KING: And to that point, Congressman Moore of Alabama, he is a member of the Freedom Caucus. He was reluctant to vote for Kevin McCarthy in the Speaker vote. He said he wanted the rules changed first. When you're in the minority, you can say things. When you in a very narrow majority and you are trying to protect the next election, to Nancy Mace's point, maybe this sells in Alabama, but can you sell this in the suburbs?


REP. BARRY MOORE (R-AL): The AR-15 has been a quintessential piece of Americana for over six decades and this bill would recognize its most common configuration as our country's national gun. The second amendment is (INAUDIBLE) never before. So it is important for us to raise awareness on how it is being targeted and to reinforce (INAUDIBLE) for protection of all our constitutional rights.


KING: He says a quintessential piece of Americana -- I want to show you a map that goes back about 13 years and you see on this screen, mass shootings where the gunman used the AR-15 rifle. And the National Gun of America? Is that smart politics? It may be smart politics in his district in Alabama. Is it smart for the Republicans?

DOVERE: I think when the congressman's comments came across my screen, what I was thinking about was, last spring, when Mitch McConnell started talking about being in favor of that bipartisan gun deal that came across, and what he said was that Republicans need to make sure that they are winning votes in the suburbs, right? The Democrats, some of it led by Joe Biden, some of it led by (INAUDIBLE) campaigns, spent a lot of last year talking about Republicans as extremists, talking about Marjorie Taylor Greene when she was just in the minority.


This is why -- the kind of argument that Joe Biden would like to make, as he goes into what looks like will be a re-election announcement and Democrats look to take back the House, to say, "Look, these Republicans are far out of the mainstream. You may not love everything about the Democratic Party, but we're trying to do government here. And look what they are talking about. They are talking about. They are talking about the AR-15; they are talking about a national divorce. This is not a normal political party." That's the Biden argument.

MITCHELL: And that's why it's a problem for Speaker McCarthy because he's not going to be able to continue to ignore the most extremist kind of statements and comments from his caucus and be taken seriously by the American public at large.

KING: Right. He can't call them out, at least consistently, because at any moment, any one of them can file a motion to vacate the chair because he agreed to change the rules. So he has -- yeah, it's hard to transition from the minority to the majority. But -- I'll just leave it at the but.

Up next, will Donald Trump be indicted? The foreperson of that grand jury in Georgia that investigated Trump's election meddling in Georgia, not shooting down the possibility the former president could be charged.



KING: Now, some new CNN reporting sources say prosecutors in Georgia still debating the number of indictments they will seek in their investigation of former President Trump's attempt to overturn, while still president of the 2020 election. This development comes after the foreperson of that grand jury that was charged with investigating the matter spoke up publicly for the first time, giving us some new clues on just how many indictments her panel recommended.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN'S ANCHOR OF 'AT THIS HOUR' (on camera): Would you characterize it as 20-ish people?

KOHRS: I can't say I counted.


BOLDUAN (on camera): OK. More than a dozen though, I think I heard you say in another interview?

KOHRS: I believe so.


KING: Our CNN's Senior Legal Analyst, Elie Honig joins our conversation. Elie, just to remind our viewers quickly, this is a different process in Georgia than most of them are probably used to. You have a Special Grand Jury that meets to consider the evidence and then it makes recommendations that the DA would have to take to another Grand Jury to actually get indictments. When you see the foreperson of the Special Grand Jury granting television and other interviews, is that normal?

ELIE HONIG, CNN'S SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: No, this is highly abnormal, John. I have never seen this before. I have never seen a scenario where you have a Grand Juror or a Special Grand Juror going public, talking about the substance of a case before anyone has been, forget about convicted, before anyone has even been charged. And I guaranty you, John, this is causing major headaches for the prosecutors.

First of all, she's not allowed to talk about the Grand Jury's deliberations. She's talking about specific witnesses they saw, what they thought of her. And second of all, bigger picture, John, it really just undermines the seriousness of this. Whatever one may think of Donald Trump or anyone else who maybe in the crosshairs here, we're talking about indicting people potentially and taking away their liberty, and this give it is a decidedly unserious, almost giddy, air that I don't think prosecutors want any part of.

KING: Now, and to that point, at times she was careful and other times she was willing to share key details. One of the questions, Kate Bolduan and others asked it, so from what you've told me, sounds to me like Donald Trump might be charged.

HONIG: Yeah --

KING: Let's listen. Let's listen here.


KOHRS: We definitely heard a lot about former President Trump. And we definitely discussed him a lot in the room. And would say that when this list comes out, you wouldn't -- there are no major plot twists waiting for you.


KING: So, what did you learn there, Elie?

HONIG: I don't think she was being very subtle there. I don't think you have to be a master in reading body language to understand exactly what she was trying to say. I think it's virtually certain that they have recommended, but that's an important word, recommendation an indictment of Donald Trump. But ultimately, the decision as you said before, John, comes down to the DA, to Fani Willis, and if she wants to proceed and seek an indictment, she will then have to go to a regular Grand Jury.

KING: So, as per the conversation back into the room, one more thing she said, "We all know about the infamous Trump call to Brad Raffensperger, then Secretary of State, where the president was saying, "I just need you to find 11,000-plus votes." Listen to again, Emily Kohrs' saying there were additional phone calls.


KOHRS: I can tell you I heard other phone calls. I don't think I could name all of them right now if I wanted to. (LAUGH) After 75 witnesses in eight months, it gets hard to keep all your bits straight.

BOLDUAN (on camera): Other calls that Donald Trump was on?

KOHRS: Yes. I am positive I have heard the president on the phone more than once.

BOLDUAN (on camera): Are there calls of Donald Trump as well?

KOHRS: Yes, I'm positive I have heard the president on the phone more than once.


KING: Tia Mitchell, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, to Ellie's point, is the DA happy, unhappy, mad, somewhere in between?

MITCHELL: Well, the DA hasn't weighed in publicly, but I think we can just imagine, we have to remember the DA thought for none of that Special Grand Jury's report to be released until after she had decided who to indict and possibly after the conclusion of any legal proceedings. So we can just imagine that if she didn't even want their written words to be released recently as the judge created a compromise, she can't be happy that the foreperson is granting numerous media interviews.

When she spoke to my AJC colleagues, she talked about specific witnesses and whether she was delighted by them, whether she felt they were truthful, what they had to offer. And it just -- it seems to be great TV, but not necessarily again helpful to the case.

LEE: And you know, obviously, the possibility of Donald Trump being indicted, yeah, that's going to set the stage for 2024 in a really significant way.


I thought it was so striking that she basically suggested that there were multiple recommendations for indictments and we were talking about the possibility of Trump, people close to Trump and significant Republican figures in the State of Georgia, a state that is so politically important that we're now talking about the GOP apparatus in that state being completely ensnared in these legal proceedings, a state that just hasn't been good for the Republican Party. So you can imagine what a headache this potentially could be heading into 2024 as well.

DOVERE: This could not be a higher-stake situation for national politics, for local politics. What nobody seems to want is for it to have this sort of goofy element of a foreperson braking precedent there in almost every way and going on TV and just talking about all the things she might remember, could remember, being coy, reading her body language for what she might be saying. It's a strange situation.

KING: Whether it's this one, whether it is Hunter Biden, in the cases in which the facts have been -- the clock has stopped on collecting facts, getting decisions as soon as possible, as we get through the campaign is what is necessary.

Up next for us, an important CNN KFile investigation -- Nikki Haley, then and now, on the Confederate Flag.



KING: Now, a new CNN K-File investigation into Nikki Haley. The South Carolina Republican guarded national attention, you'd probably remember, back in 2015, when she called to remove the Confederate Flag from the Statehouse grounds after a white nationalist killed nine people in a black church in Charleston. But in 2010, Haley, who was running for Governor at that time, said the Confederate Flag was not racist.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For those groups that come in and say they have issues with the Confederate Flag, I will work to talk to them about it. I will talk to them about the heritage and how this is not something that is racist, this is something that's a tradition that people feel proud of.


KING: That interview you see there was by a local activist group called the Palmetto Patriots. At one point, candidate Haley said this about South Carolina's Confederate heritage month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) HALEY: Same as you have black history month and you have confederate history month, and all of those, as long as it's done where it is in a positive way and not in a negative way, and it doesn't go to harm anyone and it goes back to where it focuses on the traditions of the people that want to celebrate it, then I think it's fine.


KING: Let's get some more insights on this reporting from the leader of CNN's KFile team, Andrew Kaczynski. Andrew, what can you tell us about this interview and the group, the Palmetto Patriots, behind it?

ANDREW KACZYNSKI, CNN'S POLITICAL REPORTER AND LEADER OF KFILE TEAM: So, this interview took place in 2010 when Haley was first running for governor. Now, this group, which is now defunct, the Palmetto Patriots was formed according to them to fight attacks against southern culture. It appears to have just been a rather small group that was interviewing Haley just -- just a few people. And CNN was able to learn that one of those interviewers was a board member, an active member of the white nationalist group, the Council of Conservative Citizens.

Now, people might not (ph) remember, but just five years later, that same group was reportedly who inspired Dylann Roof to do that shooting at a historically black church in Charleston and as we remember, that shooting eventually spurred Haley to call for taking down the Confederate Flag from the Statehouse grounds. Now in this interview, we saw Haley offer sympathetic answers on the state's confederate history. Let's just take a listen to this clip here of what she said about the causes of the civil war.


HALEY: You have different sides. And (INAUDIBLE) you see passions on different sides. And I don't think anyone does anything out of hate. I think what they do is, they do things out of tradition and out of beliefs and what they believe is right. Yeah, tradition versus change is the way I see it.



KING: Tradition versus change is the way I see it. A lot of people would see it differently than that. So, she's a presidential candidate. Now, you reached out to see if they would respond, what did they say?

KACZYNSKI: So, we reached out to her campaign. We asked did she know that one of the people interviewing her in this small group was a white nationalist? We didn't hear back on that. We didn't hear back on, you know, any of the clips that we have played here. They did send us a statement saying -- you know stating basically what she did with the Confederate Flag, saying Nikki Haley's ground breaking leadership on removing the Confederate Flag from the South Carolina Capital Grounds is well known. KING: It's a question that could come up in the weeks and months ahead as she campaigns in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and beyond. Andrew Kaczynski and the KFile team, thank you so much. It's great reporting, appreciate it.

Up next for us, a massive announcement for Democrats. Montana Senator Jon Tester makes his decision on running for re-election next year.



KING: Tapping our political radar today, the Montana Democratic Senator Jon Tester officially running for re-election in 2024. That is good news for Democrats defending their narrow two-seat senate majority next year. Tester, currently in his third term, will be a top Republican target because Trump carried that state by so much. Today, former Vice President Mike Pence injecting himself into already heated debate over entitlements. The former Vice President on CNBC this morning left no doubt where he stands on the need to tweak Social Security and Medicare.


MICHAEL PENCE, (D) FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I respect the Speaker's commitment it take Social Security and Medicare off the table for the debt ceiling negotiations. We got to put them on the table in the long-term.


KING: Congressional Republicans including, as Mike Pence note there, the House Speaker has taken pains in recent weeks to make clear they do not want to touch those programs in the current negotiations over the debt ceiling. That, after President Biden accused the Republicans of wanting to gut both programs in his State of the Union speech.

Democrat Jennifer McClellan will become Virginia's first black congresswoman. She defeated Republican Leon Benjamin in a special election for the state's fourth Congressional District.