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Inside Politics

Michigan AG Says She Was Target Of Antisemitic Murder Plot; Michigan Man Posted Threats To Kill Jewish Elected Officials; Biden Meets With Dems As Debt Ceiling Showdown Looms; White House, McCarthy Look To Jump-Start Debt Limit Talks; Jeffries: Republicans Want To "Cut" Medicare, Social Security; Ukraine Says It Won't Withdraw From Bakhmut; Blinken To Russian Foreign Minister: "End This War Of Aggression"; Pentagon: Getting F-16s To Ukraine Could Take At Least 18 Months. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 02, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. A hate- based plot in Michigan. A man charged with scheming to murder, Jews serving in state government. The state Attorney General Dana Nessel says, she is among those targeted.

Plus, President Biden rallies Democrats on Capitol Hill this hour. The president warning, Republicans want devastating spending cuts in exchange for letting the government borrow to pay its bills. But the House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says, that's not true. And says it's the president dragging things out instead of negotiating. And surprise meeting of the top American and Russian diplomats, but it ran barely 10 minutes. The bloody battle for Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, today said proof there is no end to war in sight.

We begin the hour with the arrest of a Michigan man and the frightening outburst of hate that led to it. Authorities say a man now in custody threatened to kill any Jews working in Michigan state government and vowed to use deadly force against anyone who attempted to stop him. Michigan's top law enforcement officer, the Attorney General Dana Nessel says, the FBI told her she was among the targets.

Nessel tweeting this morning, "it is my sincere hope that the federal authorities take this offense just as seriously as my Hate Crimes and Domestic Terrorism Unit takes plots to murder elected officials. CNN's Polo Sandoval joins us now. He's following the latest. Polo, what do we know?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, there's what we know about the suspects. And also, what we know about the investigation so far. According to federal court records, FBI agents initially post - noticed on Twitter a message that was posted on a page that's believed to have been linked to Jack Eugene Carpenter III. On that page, he makes that death threat that you just referenced writing, "he would carry out punishment of death to anyone that is Jewish in Michigan's government." The very next day the FBI's National Threat Operations Center basically relayed this information to federal agents in Michigan. They eventually were able to search that page that is plenty of messages and postings that are as bizarre as they are antisemitic, including the supposedly establishment of his own country and his community just southwest of Ann Arbor.

So, what really though began to escalate this for federal agents is the fact that is what they knew about him, which is that he had been previously arrested for assault in December of last year, that he had a protection order that had been filed against him. And also, would certainly did escalate the situation is that he had at least three nine-millimeter handguns that according to state records, were registered in his name.

That combined to what federal investigators and state police were hearing from the suspects mother, led them to believe that he was heavily armed. In fact, his mother telling police that she believed that he was in possession of not only multiple handguns, but a 12- gauge shotgun and at least two hunting rifles. And we know that now Carpenter is scheduled for a court hearing soon. But in the meantime, the investigation certainly does continue and it's certainly something that's heavily concerning for authorities here in Michigan.

KING: Heavily concerning to say the least. Polo Sandoval, appreciate you're kicking us off. Let's bring our justice correspondent Evan Perez into the conversation. Evan, this plot in and of itself are harrowing to think that the targets here were any Jews serving in state government, so born of hate, but not isolated.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Not isolated at all. The FBI says that, certainly antisemitic attacks and threats are at all- time high, John. They're up about 30 percent, just over the past year. And so, that's one of the things that the FBI and that you heard recently from the FBI Director Chris Wray, who was calling attention to all the work they're trying to do, to try to combat some of this.

And one of the issues that this man, Carpenter, the suspect in this case, presents is that he's a bit of a - there's a mix of ideologies that he sort of represents. You heard Polo talk about, you know, obviously the antisemitic nature of this, but he's also on his Twitter account, talked about his beef with the state government because of vaccines, our vaccine mandates. He also seemed to espouse sovereign citizen ideology.


That's a big one that the FBI has been battling over the last few years. These are people who believe that that state or federal government have no jurisdiction on over them. He boasted that he was going to drive back to Michigan. On his Twitter page, he says he was going to drive back to Michigan with no valid plates, because he doesn't recognize any government authority over him.

And these people often they run into local or state police, and they immediately are aggressive and open fire on cops. There's been a number of these types of attacks around the country. It is a huge problem that the federal and state law enforcement has been dealing with. Again, our mix of ideologies in addition to the antisemitic nature of this one plot.

KING: Beyond sobering community, you put that into context like that you look at this one harrowing plot, and then you put it into that context and it's downright scary. Evan Perez, Polo Sandoval, appreciate you're kicking us off on this dramatic story. We'll stay on top of it.

Now back to Washington here for a big hour ahead for President Biden. The president making a trip up to the Capitol to meet with Senate Democrats, and to urge them to stick together in the coming fight over raising the government's debt limit.

Yesterday, a similar message from the president to House Democrats, the president asserting that Republicans want painful spending cuts in exchange for allowing the government to borrow more money so that it can pay its bills.


JOE BIDEN, 46TH U.S. PRESIDENT: Look at the record, is clear they're not the party who cares about fiscal responsibility, especially not when they're threatening our economic recovery by manufacturing a crisis over whether we're going to pay our debts. They've got no business, playing politics with people's lives and our economy.


KING: Let's go straight to the White House CNN's Jeremy Diamond is there. Jeremy, the president up on the Hill, the message to Senate Democrats is what?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It stick together, John. And that's something that we heard from the president last night, some version of that phrase, eight different times during his address to the House Democratic Caucus in Baltimore last night. And that's because the president is talking not only about what has been accomplished over the first two years as a result of democratic unity, but also talking about the fights to come.

And the number one fight to come right now that showdown over the debt ceiling Republicans, House Republicans in particular, have threatened to essentially not approve a clean debt ceiling increase unless they get significant reductions in spending.

And so, President Biden trying to rally the troops ahead of what is expected to be perhaps one of the most significant salvos that the president has fired in this debt ceiling showdown next week. And that is when on March 9, President Biden is expected to announce his proposal for next year's budget. And it's expected to include a $2 trillion of cuts to the deficit over the next 10 years.

And that's an attempt to go directly at some of these arguments that Republicans have been making about fiscal responsibility about why they feel it's important to negotiate overspending in tandem with approving the debt ceiling.

And so, what you're seeing here from the White House is a very concerted strategy to keep Democrats unified, of course on this issue, and also to try and point out Republican hypocrisy, noting that Republicans have approved clean debt ceiling increases under former President Trump, but now that they're trying to get budget cuts in exchange for approving that debt ceiling.

Now, make no mistake, there's the possibility of President Biden and Kevin McCarthy meeting again on this issue in the future. But this is an issue that's going to play out in the public forum and who can win this public messaging battle is the key question. John?

KING: It seems to be the idea right now try to get as much leverage as you can before that next meeting between the president and the speaker. Jeremy Diamond at the White House, thank you so much. Let's bring the conversation in the room. With me to share the reporting and their insights, Jackie Kucinich of The Boston Globe, Laura Barron- Lopez of the PBS NewsHour, and CNN's Eva McKend.

Jeremy mentioned the possibility of a meeting between the president and the speaker. They had one. The speaker left that actually been pretty positive, saying look, we disagreed on the particulars, but the president promised to negotiate in good faith. So, the president saying, Republicans are the problem. Speaker McCarthy listened, says no, no, the president needs to pick up the phone. We'll meet again and we'll figure it out.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): It doesn't follow through and what's worse is the last meeting, the Congressional Budget Office, CBO Director, bipartisan came out and the numbers are even worse. The sooner the president's willing to sit down, the sooner that this country will become strong.


KING: Financial markets would like nothing more for this to be settled sooner, rather than walk up to the bridge, the brink in June or so. So why not? Why won't the president call the speaker now? Is it about he's just trying to create public opinion, get leverage before you sit down again?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, manufactured crisis is a D.C. export these days. And especially, if you look at history as a guide on this, we're not close enough to the deadline yet for these two sides to sit down, and actually start hashing it out until their feet are to the fire. Again, just looking back on this fight in 2011, that's what we're going to have to get to. And I haven't seen anything at least even, you know, on the staff level that indicates it's going to end any differently.


KING: In a way the president could declare victory now in the sense that the president is factually correct when he says looking in the rearview mirror, there are a lot of Republican proposals on the table that would impact Social Security and Medicare. And the president also says, you know, well, if they won't cut those, what are you going to cut if you're demanding spending cuts?

This is an Op-Ed, written by the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Republicans vowed not to cut Medicare, Social Security benefits and debt ceiling talks. So, the president could say, you know, I win, right, you've now put in writing that you won't do these things. But he still doesn't want the meeting yet. Why?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I mean, this is a key pressure point for the White House right now, especially as the president is trying to rally Democrats, as Jeremy said, as they're getting ready for 2024. I was talking to some Senate Democratic aides today, who were saying that they expect a lot of the president's conversation today with them to be focused on 2024. And not just his potential reelection, but also their reelections.

And so, this is a key element of that. The White House sees public sentiment on their side and a strong argument on that their side, it also makes interesting bedfellows because right now he and former President Trump are on the same side.

And you see former President Trump attacking his own party by saying that he also doesn't agree with cutting any of these programs. And that's something that he was able to avoid doing when he was in power. And he pushed back on people like Speaker Paul Ryan, when he when.

KING: Forgive me, but it's an excellent point because the other leading Republican candidate, Ron DeSantis, was on another network this morning. And he said the same thing, no Social Security, Medicare on the table now. DeSantis in the past endorsed the Ryan plan to privatize those benefits. So, the president has moved Republicans or Trump has also moved to Republicans, if you will, you were going to say.

EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Yes. And something else that Congressman Smith argues in that Op-Ed is that President Biden had more of a capacity and interest to debate the debt ceiling when he was Senator, when he was vice president.

But you know, I think that voters sort of have short memories, and they're principally concerned in with the immediate. This comes at a time when voters right now are grappling with a benefit that they received, if they were on food stamps during the pandemic that that is going away.

So, that brings into focus the sort of need and the reliance on government programs. And the reality is, John, we are exactly where we were a month ago on this issue with Democrats and Republicans not moving. But Republicans really appearing, I think, more vulnerable, as the conversation centers on Social Security.

KING: I think, you know, if you - the name of the show is Inside Politics, so we're supposed to welcome politics, I guess. The idea being that the president won the argument, at least on paper about Medicare and Social Security, you think now, OK, so let's meet and try to figure it out.

But Jeremy Diamond made the key point, the president's releasing his budget next week. Right, so the president wants to lay out his blueprint, then he wants the Republicans to say, OK, you have a different plan, put it on paper. Put it on paper, so the American people can compare.

Here's what I want to do. Here's what you want to do. And to your point about politics, this is a Hakeem Jeffries, who's right now the House Democratic Leader. He would like to be speaker, that means Democrats have to pick up seats in 2024. So, he says this.


REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): But one of the areas where we will strongly disagree is around the irresponsible effort by extreme MAGA Republicans to hold our economy hostage. Why are they doing that? Because the extreme MAGA Republicans at their core, want to get Social Security and Medicare.


KING: So, despite what the Republicans say, that's the message the extreme MAGA twice there in about 20 seconds. That's what Biden used in the midterm election campaign. A lot of people told him not to, and he thinks it worked. They clearly agree.

KUCINICH: Well, this is precisely why Mitch McConnell didn't want Rick Scott to write all of that down. And Rick Scott has since changed his plan, clarified that he doesn't believe those programs should be subjected to some of the ideas that he had. But this is why I think that it's going to be a lot of hesitancy for Republicans to write down exactly what they do want, because they want Democrats to be judged on what Biden is going to put out.

BARRON-LOPEZ: And they don't all agree on it, right? Because there are a number of Republicans that do want to cut the entitlement programs. Former Vice President Mike Pence just said, recently, that cuts to specifically Social Security and Medicare have to be on the table long term. So, that's how he's differentiating himself from others in the field. But there are a number of Republicans that do support that.

KUCINICH: And this fight is not going away among Republicans, particularly in the 2024.

KING: The way those problems have been dealt with in the past successfully is with bipartisan commissions, which I think that's not going to happen at least until after the next election cycle. That's just a guess. But I think it's a good one. Up next for us, United States and Russia face to face. Top diplomats meeting for the first time since Russia's war on Ukraine began more than a year ago.




KING: A brief but very rare meeting today. The U.S. secretary of state face to face with Russia's foreign minister for the first time since the war in Ukraine began. Secretary Blinken, Foreign Minister Lavrov talking on the sidelines of a G20 Summit in India, but they talked for barely 10 minutes. And listen to the secretary hear, zero evidence of any progress.


ANTONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: I told the foreign minister what I and so many others said last week at the United Nations and what so many G20 foreign minister said today. And this war of aggression, engage in meaningful diplomacy that can produce a just and durable peace.


KING: That war of aggression has been quite bloody in recent days. Russian soldiers pounding the Ukrainian positions in eastern city of Bakhmut. Let's go live to Kyiv now, CNN's Melissa Bell is there with more. Melissa, diplomacy has always sounded bleak. The options, the prospects of it no more so than today, what's happening on the battlefield?

MELISSA BELL, CNN PARIS CORRESPONDENT: Well, that situation in Bakhmut is increasingly bleak. We have been speaking earlier on today, John, to a soldier who's working on the Ukrainian side they're trying to defend those positions and prevent Russian soldiers from managing their efforts to encircle the beleaguered and embattled town completely.


He said that they'd had no orders to withdraw for the time being and they were continuing to defend it. Bear in mind, that they're on the receiving end of extraordinary amounts of heavy artillery fire and have been for so many weeks. These extraordinary pictures coming to us today of Wagner mercenaries, who claimed to be in a central town.

Now those were posted by Yevgeny Prigozhin, who is the head of that group. And perhaps you can see there on the images, the Wagner mercenaries playing instruments, of course, a reminder of their name as musicians. Now they claim of getting a promotion by posting it claims they're in the center of Bakhmut, we've managed to geo locate that image. They are in fact, 1.2 miles from the center of Bakhmut, pretty much where they've been for some time.

So, a lot of disagreement about exactly how close to the center they've gotten. But we've also been hearing from the soldiers. They're trying to defend the town about those civilians, four and a half thousands of them still holed up in the city. They simply can't get out now because they come under heavy artillery fire on those main supply routes into the center of town, because the roads are essentially impossible.

There are amongst them, John, about 50 children as well. I think it's important to remember, but you're quite right around that the diplomacy not achieving much more tough words from Secretary Blinken that follow from the tough words of Secretary Yellen last week at the G20 Finance Ministers meeting.

We know that the two men in that first meeting since the war began, but also the first meeting since the Russians pulled out of the new start nuclear agreement. The last remaining major nuclear agreement between Washington and Moscow last week that they talked about it. We don't have any reaction from Moscow for the time being, John?

KING: Melissa Bell, live for us in Kyiv. Grateful for that reporting, also to our entire CNN team for geo locating that video to proving propaganda, the Wagner video. Melissa, thank you so much. Let's get some analysis now from CNN military analyst, retired Army General Wesley Clark, also the former Supreme Allied Commander of NATO. General Clark, good to see you on this day.

Let's start with that, your old NATO hat. You are the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO at a very interesting time in history after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the expansion of NATO, all of the things that make Vladimir Putin mad about the west.

When Blinken and Lavrov, the U.S. secretary of state, the Russian foreign minister, they haven't met since the war started until today. 10 minutes sounds like pretty much nothing came of it. What is your view - this has to end with diplomacy eventually? How do you get Russia at the table, knowing that it has to end this war?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: I don't think you can get Russia to the table until you threatened something that Vladimir Putin really values and that's Crimea. So, what you're seeing now in Bakhmut, John, is Putin is trying to extend Russian control up to the boundaries of the Oblast the provinces. So, it's very important for Ukraine to hang on and frustrate him in that respect, and then be able to launch a counter offensive that threatens Crimea.

If it really threatens Crimea. If Putin thinks he can't hold Crimea, then he will negotiate seriously. He would be willing to stop the war as soon as he gets to the Oblast boundaries, if he can hold on to Crimea and those Oblast, he wants to have to rebuild his forces also. So, we have to be careful. We want negotiations to end the war, but we want them to end the war successfully for the west and for Ukraine.

KING: And so, then help me from a military perspective. You're beginning to see some Leopard tanks show up, the German made tank show up. Every time you add a new weapon system to the warfront, it requires trainings. If it's not an old Soviet system, and the Ukrainians need training on it. And so, the U.S. tanks are coming in after that, but everyone says that will take months of planning.

I want you to listen here to a top Pentagon official yesterday saying, sure, everybody says just give the Ukrainians F-16s. He says but think about how long it would take to make that worthwhile. Listen? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN KAHL, UNDER SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR POLICY: If we were to do new production, it would take three to six years to get them F-16s. We could look at older block F-16s. That could potentially deliver on a faster timeline, let's call it 18 to 24 months, maybe you can even shave a few months off of that.


KING: Do you agree with that? How long it would take? And if you can't get F-16s there for that period of time, what in your view? What military hardware should the United States and its allies be trying to get there yesterday or as soon as possible tomorrow to help with that strategic imperative you just outlined?

GEN. CLARK: Well, John, the first thing is, you're going to have to eventually transition Ukraine to western systems, whether it's immediately or in the future. So why aren't we training F16 pilots and maintenance crews today? We don't have to make a decision to send the F16s, but we could start the training. And that way if and when we do make that decision after the war concludes or if there's an emergency, then you could make the decision and have it immediately implemented. That's the first thing.

Secondly, I'm told that there are Ukrainian pilots who are capable of quickly learning to fly the A-10. We've got hundreds of A-10 aircraft that could be dispatched. That would be really useful in terms of air ground operations to support a counter offensive or in the case of a Russian breakthrough in Bakhmut.


Third thing is, they've asked repeatedly for the longer-range missile systems, like ATACMS. They should be provided, and they should be provided now. That gives flexibility to the Ukrainians, facilitates the protection of their force, and gives them flexibility, whether it's in the Bakhmut area or in the Crimea area, Mariupol (Ph) to bring fires on concentration of Russian forces and logistics.

So, these are things that could be done now. I think the danger here is, war is not that predictable. And if you try to cut it to two final margin and then, you're on the wrong side of it, you can't fix it quickly. So better to lean into this, get them more equipment sooner.

And I understand we're trying to prepare to go against China. The industrial base isn't fully mobilized, not just barely beginning to mobilize. There's lots and lots of issues in the Pentagon strong order and so is the administration. But there are a few more things we could do to lean forward on this.

KING: General Clark, grateful for your insights of this important moment. Thank you, sir.

GEN. CLARK: Yes, thank you. KING: Up next for us, taking issue with their president. Democratic senators hoping to win reelection in Trump states, are picking some fights with the Biden White House.