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Lawmakers Grill TikTok CEO Over Privacy Concerns; Poll: 63 Percent Of Americans 18-34 Oppose TikTok ban; Today: Grand Jury Won't Discuss Trump Case As Manhattan D.A Faces Legal Crossroads; Appeals Court: Trump Lawyer Must Testify; Ruling: Trump Atty Must Turn Over Handwritten Notes; DeSantis Sharpens Tone After Republicans Criticize His Stance On Ukraine, Calls Putin "War Criminal"; Trump Takes Shots At DeSantis; Says He Tried To Cut Entitlements, Was "Lockdown" Gov On COVID. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 23, 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 busy news day with us. Today Capitol Hill is made event, hits viral videos versus national security. TikTok CEO tries to convince Congress to say no to a ban by promising to pull data from 150 million Americans under lock and key.

Plus, a big legal loss for Donald Trump in Washington, where a judge orders his lawyer to answer more questions about classified documents. But in New York, the D.A is at a crossroads as the grand jury returns to work, but not to hear evidence today in the Trump hush money case. And a Ron DeSantis redo. The Florida governor gives a very different answer in a new interview about the war in Ukraine.

Up first for us though, TikTok CEO, goes under oath and says his company is not a glaring risk for U.S. national security. Lawmakers though in both parties, clearly not convinced. Piercing questions today up on Capitol Hill. The hearing in the House Energy and Commerce Committee kicking off with a reminder that misleading Congress is a federal crime.

TikTok's chief very, very careful in his answers. He says, the app can keep data for millions of American users off limits from the Chinese government, but lawmakers countered, they say simply they don't believe it. They see TikTok as a weapon for the Chinese regime.


REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS, (R-WA): Your platform should be banned. I expect today, you'll say anything to avoid this outcome.

REP. DIANA DEGETTE, (D-CO): You gave me only generalized statements that you're investing, that you're concerned, that you're doing work. That's not enough for me.

REP. BOB LATTA, (R-OH): Any ByteDance employees in China, including engineers, currently have access to U.S. data.

SHOU CHEW, TIKTOK CEO: Congressman, I would appreciate. This is a complex topic. Today all data---

REP. LATTA: Yes (Inaudible) this is a complex.

CHEW: Congresswoman, I have seen no evidence that the Chinese government has access to that data. They have never asked us. We have not provided. I've asked that.

REP. ANNA ESHOO, (D-CA): You know, what I find that actually preposterous.

REP. KAT CAMMACK, (R-FL): Why? If you had nothing to hide, would you need to downplay the association with ByteDance in China.

CHEW: Congresswoman, I have not seen this memo.


KING: With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Leigh Ann Caldwell at The Washington Post, CNN's Melanie Zanona, Francesca Chambers of USA Today, and Sara Fischer of Axios. The CEO is doing his best to say, we will protect this data. We have this new project underway to get it out of Singapore, get it out of Asia, we'll be all in America. They don't believe it.

So, the question is, what will Congress do? If the score is bipartisan, but there's a lot of scorn for Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and American social media companies and they can't agree on what to do. Will they agree here?

SARA FISCHER, CNN MEDIA ANALYST: I think they're in a lot of agreement here. There seems to be bipartisan support for taking action on TikTok. The question is actually not what Congress will do. It's what will the courts do? So, the White House and CFIUS, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States may say that TikTok has to be banned if it's not sold to a U.S. company. But like Donald Trump tried to do this in 2020, the courts will ultimately have to support that decision. That's where the next step of this comes to fruition.

And then the last question, of course, is, who even would buy TikTok? This is a very expensive company. You know, in 2020, wouldn't had 15 million fewer users, it was valued at roughly 30 billion according to some reports. Now imagine who can even afford to buy something like that, and get it passed through regulatory scrutiny? So, there's a lot of questions, John, about how we get to this hearing to the next step.

KING: And so, the members of Congress are saying, we will pass legislation allowing us to ban you from the United States unless you have a sale of ByteDance a Chinese held companies sell it publicly. The CEO keeps trying to say, we hear you, we will fix it.

Listen here. Here's the idea being that, look, we understand you think the Chinese government can access to this data. We're going to create a firewall, it won't happen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHEW: There are more than 150 million Americans who love our platform. And we know we have a responsibility to protect them. We will firewall to protect the U.S. data from unwanted foreign access.


KING: The members simply don't buy it. They don't think that any company based in - that has any ties to China, even if you try to reduce your ties to China, your footprints in China. That if the Chinese have even a small entry, they can if they wish, take your data and get access to it. But if you notice, the CEO there, Mr. Chew, working in the 150 million Americans. He's trying to tell Congress, I dare you, I dare you.

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. There's a lot of politics here too. This was a bipartisan grilling of the CEO of TikTok, so they are in agreement, members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats on that. But this also comes with some political consequences also. To our members of Congress willing to ban TikTok, understanding that there are a lot of young users who use it potential voters.


there has been a higher percentage of young people who voted in the last election than in the last several decades. And this impacts Democrats more than it impacts Republicans. Republicans are a lot less worried about the political blowback than Democrats are, for example, the Senate Republican campaign committee they actually have a policy that they're candidates that they do not use TikTok to campaign. Meanwhile, Democrats have been utilizing this app on the campaign trail. And so, a ban might be too much for some Democrats.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: And I would point out leadership in the House has actually not yet committed to bringing a ban forward. They said there's a number of different proposals. They're working their way through the committee process. I'd also point out there are some lobbyists who are closely aligned to Kevin McCarthy, a former California Republican who's lobbying on behalf of TikTok, a former McCarthy aide.

So, it is a question of what McCarthy is going to do. But this hearing was just a disaster for TikTok. You had lawmakers coming out in the middle of it, renewing their calls are coming out and for a ban on TikTok. If it shows you how well it went for TikTok. It's hard to imagine that there won't be some sort of congressional acting on it (Ph).

KING: And it's interesting. You mentioned that what will the administration do? What will the courts do? Congress has the ball at the moment and the Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers just scornful from the beginning, just full of distrust.

And again, they want definitive answers. They want yes or no. Listen here as she presses for answers. And she says, I'm not getting them on the question of can you actually keep the Chinese? Can you say no, to Xi Jinping essentially,


CHEW: We do not promote or remove content at the request of the Chinese government.

REP. CATHY MCMORRIS RODGERS, (R-WA): The question is, are you 100 percent certain that they cannot use your company to promote such messages.

CHEW: It is our commitment to this committee and all our users that we will keep this free from any manipulation by any government.

RODGERS: If you can't say you're 100 percent certain, I take that as a no.


KING: And that's a skepticism in the sense that there have been engineers who have admitted that they've needed to get access to U.S. data in China. And the concern is, even if there's no public evidence now of anything nefarious that if China wanted to do it, whether it's to interfere in the U.S. election, whether it promotes its views, that we can take Taiwan, that the Chinese maybe they're not doing it today, but they have the opportunity, the technical ability, and then the power of coercion, the communist regime to say, sorry.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, USA TODAY: And lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were concerned about that and asking questions about whether or not even if the data was fully based in Texas, whether the Chinese government would be able to compel employees of ByteDance to be able to provide that data.

Ultimately, though, even if Congress passes this legislation, it will fall at Joe Biden's feet. It will be up to the president to determine whether or not of course, to sign the legislation. But if one of the versions that Congress passes, gives the authority to the president of the United States to ban TikTok. If he chooses to do so, Biden will then have to decide whether he wants to ban it.

You talked about some of the political concerns here. The White House is brushed aside political concerns. But when you have two thirds of young Americans saying that they don't want to see TikTok banned, and then you also have within President Joe Biden's approval rating, young people essentially dragging down his approval rating among Democrats. It's hard to see how political considerations wouldn't at least be on their minds, regardless of what the decision he makes it.

KING: That's a fascinating question as you go into 2024, in the sense that the Republicans say Chinese Communist Party just about every other breath, right, and they believe this. And look, it's a very important issue. It's a very important geopolitical issue, whether we're talking about social media, or when we're talking about the South China Sea, whether we're talking about the war in Ukraine. China comes up all the time. But the growth of the company that does make the politics interesting. In 2020, about 100 million users. The CEO repeatedly reminding people, today it's up to 150 million now. And you look at this Quinnipiac poll, do you support a TikTok ban? 49 percent of Americans say yes, 42 percent no. So, a slight plurality, close to a majority, but you see the split there.

But then look at the age differences, older Americans say, sure. And again, they're more open to the idea of it. Younger Americans say no. So how complicated is this? We talked about Congress for a president who might get the authority to get to ban or could use other administrative steps to do something. But?

FISCHER: It's very complicated for two reasons. One, you have the internal politics here in the United States. You just said, we've been talking about it young voters. Two, you have your politics with China. China passed a law in 2020, that basically said, we're not going to allow exports of our technology.

So now, he's got to figure out even if they do force TikTok to sell to a U.S. company. Can they get China on board to let them sell? That's going to be a huge political negotiation that he has to manage. On top of all the other national security conversations he's having with China, puts an enormous pressure point on Joe Biden ahead of 2024.

KING: And China is making clear the Wall Street Journal today that it does not support this idea of a forced sale. So where do we go?

CALDWELL: Yes. Well, there's also a broader conversation, too. I was talking to some senators yesterday. And of course, there's the national security component, but also there's the mental health component, especially for young people.

And Senator Chris Murphy, for example. He told me, yes, that he has a teenage son, and he wants the conversation around TikTok to be much broader than just China and national security. And so, he almost thinks that Congress is too singularly focused on China on this issue. So, we'll see where this goes next.


KING: But that gets you into the broader conversation with other social media companies as well, where they talk a lot and they use them as a pin yada a lot, but they have been unable to reach a consensus about what actually tried to pass to do anything about it. We'll continue to follow the hearings over to break right now up on Capitol Hill. And be sure to tune in tonight, watch CNN Primetime tonight. As we take a special look at the app, it's in everyone's pocket.

But the question being raised today, is it a national security threat. CNN's Abby Phillip is the host tonight. It's time for TikTok, tonight Nine o'clock Eastern right here on CNN. Up next, a big legal setback for Donald Trump in federal court, but a pause in the big New York case.


KING: The grand jury in Manhattan is back to work today, but Donald Trump is not, not on the docket. The jury may resume work on the Trump hush money case as soon as Monday, but today's break underlines a moment of reassessment for the Manhattan D.A.

Sources telling CNN, prosecutors might want to bring in another witness. That witness might be Michael Cohen, the former Trump lawyer and fixer, but it also we are told might not be Michael Cohen. That pause leaving a void the former president eager to fill with all cap's rants, shouting, he has committed no crime, and this is a witch hunt.


To get our coverage in New York with CNN's Kara Scannell. Kara, so the grand jury not Trump today, what do we know?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. So, as you said the grand jury is meeting today but they will not be hearing any evidence related to the investigation into Trump's alleged role in the hush money payment scheme. Now, grand juries hear multiple cases. So, it's really not a surprise that they would be hearing another case that could have been just a scheduling issue.

We do know this grand jury has that on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays and that is when they have heard witness testimony. The witnesses that have come in including Michael Cohen, including the former editor of the National Enquirer, David Pecker. They have come in on Monday, Wednesdays, Thursdays.

But we do also know that they are next expected to hear testimony in the hush money investigation on Monday. And it's possible then that at least one witness could be brought in before them. Our sources tell us that they are weighing whether to bring back Michael Cohen. But this is all part of the process until we have a decision from the Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, of whether he wants to move forward and seeking a diamond former President Trump. John?

KING: And as we wait to see where the grand jury goes. House Republican serve notice that they want to talk to Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan D.A. They want to interview him. He sent to word back this morning sort of a defiant letter back to House Republicans explain.

SCANNELL: Yes, John. Alvin Bragg sent a letter back to House Republicans, telling them that this was an unprecedented inquiry into a local investigation. He also said that it was not a legitimate basis for Congress to inquire. I mean, he's really drawing the lines here between the federal seat of Congress and his office here in Manhattan a state office, saying that this letter that the Congressman sent trends into territory very clearly reserved to the States. His office said that they would like to have a meeting with the committee to see what it is exactly that they're looking for. John?

KING: We'll watch and see if they can reach a compromise as that plays out. And we know, you'll keep watching the grand jury action. Kara Scannell, appreciate that very much. Thank you. Let's get some legal insights. Now with me at the table, the former federal prosecutor, Elliot Williams.

Grand juries are by their very nature secret. So, we don't know a lot about this. We don't - we thought they were at the end. Now, it looks like they at least are having a reassessment. Maybe some new witnesses next week. I want you to listen here. This is the former chief deputy under the previous attorney general Cy Vance with the same office saying, she thinks Mr. Bragg is doing this differently. Listen?


KAREN AGNIFILO, FORMER CHIEF ASST. DISTRICT ATTORNEY IN MANHATTAN: I think they're having a little mini trial in the grand jury. Grand juries are usually what they call bare bones presentations. You put a small amount of evidence in because the proof is much smaller. You just have to have probable cause that a crime occurred. But this is a much more fulsome presentation.


KING: Does that makes sense to you, the idea that if you're going to have that rendezvous with history, we talked about the other day and put criminal charges against a former president for the first time in American history, that you treat the grand jury, essentially, as a mini trial?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, it's a good way to get your evidence out there, try it out in front of people who are hearing it and work through some of the problems in the case. You know, like she'd said there, you know, the grand jury exists to build chargers and investigative tool for prosecutors. But they have to know and going in and coming out that their case is prosecutable. And it may be - what they may be doing is rolling out what could be somewhat of a challenging case.

So, you know, there is some merit to that. But again, by law, like you said, John, by law, what happens in the grand jury is secret. It's not just, you know, it's not just an honor system, you can get into serious trouble for leaking details that come out of a grand jury.

KING: Quickly, Alvin Bragg's point to House Republicans that I'm in the middle of a local investigation. Why are you asking me to testify before Congress? He says, it's out of line. Is he right?

WILLIAMS: He's absolutely right. And to be clear, Congress has vast oversight. I testified in front of Congress a couple of weeks ago about this, and Congress's vast oversight authority. But what this is, is a local investigation of local misconduct from a private citizen in the form of the foreign president. Now, look, he's the most famous person possibly on the planet, one of them, but Congress really doesn't have business trying to tell local prosecutors how to do their jobs.

KING: Stay with us. We'll move on to another big development. As we know in Manhattan, the prosecutors are regrouping. But here in Washington, there's some important forward momentum in the special counsels Mar-a-Lago classified documents case. A federal appeals court citing Wednesday, with prosecutors that ruling now compels Trump attorney Evan Corcoran, to answer questions in front of a grand jury. That ruling agrees with a lower court judge that the Special Counsel Jack Smith's team can essentially tear down the firewall around attorney client privilege because prosecutors did show evidence of Trump using his lawyers to commit crimes.

CNN's Sara Murray joins us now live with the latest here. Sara, it's a big deal.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. It's a really significant win for prosecutors obviously, a blow to the former president. I mean, just the, you know, the first hurdle from the lower court saying there is enough evidence, prosecutors presented us to signal that Donald Trump may have committed a crime and use his lawyer to do, so that's a blow. And obviously, the appeals court siding with the lower court is a second low.

So, Evan Corcoran is going to have to go back before the grand jury. He's going to have to answer more questions. Our understanding is that it's scheduled for Friday, but he also has to hand over a bunch of documents. Those include things like handwritten notes, they include transcripts of verbal audio notes. And this really gets to the heart of conversations he was having with the former president.


Remember this is someone who was really in the thick of the classified documents masks when Donald Trump got that subpoena last spring. Evan Corcoran was one of the people who helped conduct the search at Mar-a- Lago.

For any documents of classification markings, he was the one who wrote that statement that was later handed over to the government, saying, you know, we've done this diligent search, the one that Christina Bobb signed. And there's no more classified documents on the premises, obviously, when the FBI showed up and searched Mar-a-Lago, that was not the case. John?

KING: Not the case. Sara Murray, appreciate that important update. Elliot Williams is still with us at the table. So, piercing attorney client privilege is a big deal. You have to reach a high bar of credibility there. You think it's even more consequential. We're talking about the notes here, because what you're trying to did - was Donald Trump using his lawyers essentially to lie to the government about what he still had in his possession?

WILLIAMS: Right. People lie, notes don't lie. The words that people write down in the moment are valid and useful record. And so yes, it is absolutely useful for them to turn over whatever paper or documentation he has at the time. But again, like you said, John, it's so profound because they have presented evidence that they believe that the former president committed a crime. And that's now the second time that's happened, once in California and once here. That is significant. KING: That is significant. Again, Mr. Corcoran supposed to testify tomorrow. We'll see what its grand jury, but we'll see what we can learn about that. Appreciate your coming in, Elliot. Up next for us. Ron DeSantis says, Vladimir Putin is a war criminal. You can call that cleanup. And you can call this proof that he sees a threat, Donald Trump labeling DeSantis "average." He says all the Florida governor's talk a big policy success is a mirage.




KING: The Florida Governor Ron DeSantis doing some aggressive cleanup, adopting now a tougher tone against Vladimir Putin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) FLORIDA: He doesn't have the conventional capability to realize his ambitions. And so, he's basically a gas station with a bunch of nuclear weapons. I mean, I think he is a war criminal, but I do think that that he should be held accountable.


KING: Governor DeSantis, you might remember came under heavy Republican establishment fire after telling Tucker Carlson. He considered Russia's war on Ukraine a quote, territorial dispute and not a vital U.S. interest.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R-SC): But I just think that's a misunderstanding of the situation. This is not a territorial conflict, this war of aggression.

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU, (R) NEW HAMPSHIRE: It sends a message to our enemies. If we were to back out now that we're not resolved.

REP. MICHAEL MCCAUL, (R-TX): I think it projects weakness. It sends exactly the wrong message.


KING: Our great reporters back at the table. So, a reset from DeSantis. He still says, he does not believe the United States should increase its commitment to Ukraine, meaning no American boots on the ground. So, he has a bit of skepticism but a much tougher tone about Putin. Actually, that's an old version of a John McCain line, that Russia is essentially now a gas station with nuclear weapons. So, he's gone from being a Trump Republican to a McCain Republicans. Is that an improvement?

CALDWELL: Well, it's also an earlier version of Ron DeSantis too. So, you know, after Ron DeSantis came out and saying that it's just a territorial dispute. He was really - he got a lot of blowbacks on Capitol Hill from Republicans.

Of course, there is this battle within the Republican Party about where it stands on foreign policy, and especially when it comes to Ukraine. But what he did with Piers Morgan, trying to walk that back and sound tough on Putin, is a big indicator that perhaps he thought that maybe that's not the right path forward.

KING: But it a reset? Politicians, you're running for national office for the first time. He's hasn't declared yet, but he's out in for the first time in the national say, OK, people make mistakes, or you reposition yourself, you think twice about your wording. Is that what this is? Or is this a, as the Democrats are trying to say, is DeSantis going to change his mind every time he's asked about this?

ZANONA: I mean, I think he's still trying to figure out his playbook. He hasn't even declared whether he's running or not. It seems almost certain at this point, but he's still trying to figure out how to walk that line. He is trying to appeal to the MAGA base, but also differentiate himself from Trump. And also try to win over some of those establishment government wing party members because he knows he can't do it alone with just the MAGA base. And so, I think he's still trying to walk that fine line.

KING: Without a doubt, he has Trump's attention, three times in just the last hour. At least this was brought to me during the commercial break, three times in just the last hour. Trump has attacked DeSantis. He attacked him repeatedly, yesterday releasing a very long statement and also several times on Truth Social. Here's a bit from the state.

And let me explain the facts. He is for Republican, an average governor. He got 1.2 million less votes in Florida than me. He fought for massive tax cuts in Social Security and Medicare and wanted Social Security minimum age to be raised.

He's a disciple of Paul Ryan. Surprise, Ron was a big lockdown governor on the China virus. We don't want Ron as our president. You could call Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush or Ted Cruz or Rand Paul or John Kasich. And they would tell you, they remember that in 2016, Trump is trying to do the same to DeSantis.

CHAMBERS: But Trump also needs support from the folks who are supporting Ron DeSantis right now. If you look at the breakdown within the GOP people who aren't supporting either of them in polling currently, generally, Trump is more likely to pick up support from people who say that they're, you know that they would support Ron DeSantis in the race. And so, you got to partly why you see Trump taking this tack at this point. If he wants to win the GOP nomination, you've got to pull back from Ron DeSantis. His numbers very specifically.

KING: And you see clearly DeSantis is thinking about the Republican base, right? He has not formally declared as you said, but the Florida legislature is in session now, they end April or May. We expect that announcement would come after that. In the Florida legislature, you see this here. This is from the Associated Press.