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Inside Politics

Pence Set To Make History, Testify In Federal Trump Probe; Trump Criminal Case Collides With 2024 Campaign; House GOP Subpoenas Ex-Prosecutor In Trump Hush Money Probe; ProPublica: Justice Thomas Accepted Undisclosed Trips From GOP Donor; Sen Judiciary Chair: Cmte "Will Act" On Alleged Thomas Misconduct; Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Enters Presidential Race As Democrat; Biden Accepts King Charles III's State Visit Invitation. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 06, 2023 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: But let's start with this issue here. You've advised presidents, you've advised vice presidents. You've been around Republican politics a long time. What does it tell you that the courts keep saying, up the line for members of the Trump inner circle, now up to and including the Vice President of the United States, you must testify about conversations the then-president of the United States had with you about trying to overturn the election?

BEN GINSBERG, REPUBLICAN ELECTION LAWYER: It tells you that the prosecutors are making a very cogent case about the seriousness of what happened in this factual area, because there is a -- you can cut through something as serious as executive privilege if there is a belief that a crime was committed.

And it appears that the prosecutor is making arguments to the courts that are convincing the courts, including a number of very conservative Trump appointed judges, that the testimony of the Trump officials, including Mike Pence, is important to be able to make that case. So it is a very serious signal about just how bad the situation may be for former President Trump.

KING: So you talk about how thorough the prosecutors in the federal case, federal investigation must be. You have some doubts about what we just heard from the Manhattan D.A., Alvin Bragg. He presented these felony counts against Donald Trump about falsifying business records, in his view, to cover up hush money payments.

If you read the indictment of the Statement of Facts, they seem to have the payments pretty well documented, but they have to prove it was part of another crime to make it a felony, not a misdemeanor. Listen to Alvin Bragg make the case, I have this power.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The indictment does not specifically say what those crimes were. We are assuming perhaps that they might be election related. I'm wondering if you can specify what laws were also broken. ALVIN BRAGG, MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY: All right. So, let me say as an initial matter that the indictment doesn't specify that, because the law does not so require.


KING: Legally, Alvin Bragg says, I can prove this in court, but for now, I can keep my cards close to my vest. You're a card player in addition to being an excellent lawyer, Ben, I know this from experience. You think that's a mistake, not so much on legal grounds, but because in the public domain, you're bringing felony charges against a former president of the United States who's declared candidate for that office. Again, you think that's a mistake?

GINSBERG: I do think it's a mistake. I think in a case of this much seriousness, Mr. Bragg would have been much better served by laying out exactly what the crimes were. He's got a problem just under election law about proving whether this was in connection with an election if the payments would have been made irrespective of the campaign.

Let's say that there are passionate views on both sides of that issue, and it is unsettled law. And he's also got a problem in not laying out the specific election law crimes because he's got a problem as a local prosecutor, and these are federal crimes.

So the two theories upon which his case rests are both really unproven, really untested, really unsettled. And in this atmosphere, that is a bad -- that's a real disservice to the system as a whole, including any defendant, which does include Donald Trump.

KING: You say that and you are no fan of Donald Trump. You do not want Donald Trump to be president again. You don't want him to be the nominee of your party, the party that you've served for a very long time. This is more of a political question, but you're an excellent Republican lawyer because you're plugged in to Republicans. What is the conversation among Republicans right now, short term and long term, about the indictment and its impact on Trump politically?

GINSBERG: Well, what I find really interesting is the difference between what political consultants and folks who actually run campaigns say and what appears to be being said out in the public. There have been some very interesting focus groups done by our colleague Sarah Longwell talking to Trump voters, and Trump voters seem to be very much solidifying behind the president.

But when you talk to the people who do actually have to run campaigns, they're very, very nervous. And let's just say that the Wisconsin election results for the State Supreme Court have hyped up that nervousness to a great degree.

KING: Fascinating issues to watch and again, state by state, and how issues on the ground in a state can connect to other issues as well, legally.

Ben Ginsberg, appreciate the insight, sir. We'll continue the conversation.

Coming up for House -- coming up us, the House Republicans issue a brand new subpoena in connection with that Manhattan D.A. and the Trump hush money probe.



KING: Some important news just into CNN, the House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, has now issued a subpoena to a former Manhattan prosecutor who is connected to that hush money probe involving Donald Trump.

CNN's Sara Murray joins us now at the table with this new reporting. This is a prosecutor who worked on the case previously. Why do the House Republicans think he's so important?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they subpoenaed Mark Pomerantz, so he's someone who was working on the Trump case. He actually resigned in 2022, shortly after Alvin Bragg took over, when Bragg said he was not going to authorize them to move forward with charges. So Pomerantz resigns.

He says in his resignation letter he believes that the former president has committed numerous felonies. He goes on to write a book. So now the committee is saying, look, they want to drag him in. They want to interview him later on this month under subpoena because they believe he could prove that Bragg's pursuit of charges now is politically motivated.


I mean, the person they really want is Alvin Bragg. That's the person they want for testimony. That's the person they want for documents. And Bragg has made it very clear it's going to make it very painful and very difficult for them if they decide to pursue this route. So they're starting with Mark Pomerantz.

KING: And it's interesting, you have Chairman Jordan issuing the subpoena. One question is, does he have the support of leadership up the ladder? And the answer is yes. This is the House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. This is on Twitter on Tuesday, "Alvin Bragg is attempting to interfere in our democratic process by invoking federal law to bring politicized charges against Donald Trump, admittedly using federal funds, while at the same time arguing the people's representatives in Congress lack jurisdiction."

And he goes on to talk about weaponization. This is remarkable. And it's a question, a new Republican majority. How will they use their power and authority in the middle of an active now prosecution? It was an investigation. Now it's a prosecution. They say it's within their right and it's perfectly fine to put a prosecutor -- try to put a prosecutor in the witness chair.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It almost doesn't sound very Republican. It almost doesn't sound, I mean, a separation of powers argument. Never mind all that. But look, I mean, this is one way for Republican members of Congress and leadership to show their support for the former president.

They know he is watching, so never mind if this happens or not. Like, obviously they want it to happen. But just the fact that they are trying to get it to happen will certainly be music to Donald Trump's ears. He's looking for support. He's looking for, you know, the works to be gummed up in various ways. And this is just one way that Kevin McCarthy and his Republicans can do that.

KING: In fact, he's demanding it. Forgive me if I'm interrupting. Please jump in after this. But he's demanding it. Look at this on Truth Social. "Republicans in Congress should defund the Department of Justice and the FBI until," in Donald Trump's view, "they come to their senses."

So this is a Republican leader, the, you know, the frontrunner for the nomination, saying, defund the police, in this case, the federal police, if you will, because they're after me.

ASMA KHALID, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Yes. And then it forces Republicans in Congress and other Republicans who are seeking that nomination to have to respond to what Donald Trump is saying. And so as much as you hear some within the Republican Party saying they want to turn a page and possibly pursue a different path for 2024, this makes it very, very difficult.

I mean, I'm struck by how much of congressional sort of oversight and resources has been spent on this weaponization of government looking after things that are specifically happening to the former president, as opposed to say, for example, the withdrawal from Afghanistan, right?

I mean, there are a litany of other issues they could be, and they are, but none of them are really getting sort of the attention that this weaponization of government --

KING: Because they think this fires up their base. The question is, what would the other side think? And so, Democrats have been largely quiet, including -- you covered the Biden White House. Donald Trump's in trouble, you would think Joe Biden would be happy about it? His press secretary says, essentially, next question. Listen.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not going to speak to an ongoing case, and we've been very consistent and very prudent about that, so we're going to continue to leave that there.



KING: They don't want any part of this. CHAMBER: Yes, they don't want to come anywhere near this as far as they're concerned. Just let the spectacle of what's going on with Donald Trump play out. Let all these Republicans who are likely to get in the presidential race get in while they do their own thing.

And as we were talking about earlier, send Joe Biden on the road to talk about what they view as his accomplishments as it pertains to the DOJ and defund the FBI. You even have Republicans like Lindsey Graham saying, but what about terrorism? What about these other issues that they're investigating?

And I mean, even if something like this could get through the House of Representatives, which Republicans control, making it really clear that this would be dead on arrival in the United States Senate.

KING: This subpoena from Chairman Jordan is new today, but they have been talking for days now. It's been a week since Trump was indicted. Where does this go and what happens? You know, Bragg has said, I don't think so. You know, he has said, if you want to try to cooperate on some things, maybe, but I'm in the middle of something very important. Not now. Are they going to subpoena him? Are they going to take this to court?

MURRAY: Yes, I mean, Mark Pomerantz is in a different position. He's a former. He's probably going to have to go in. But for Bragg, he's basically said, you guys are acting like you are Donald Trump's criminal defense attorneys. I don't believe that you have oversight powers over me.

I'm happy to have my staff meet with your staff. By the way, we only used $5,000 in federal forfeiture money for this probe. So he's given them some information. He's engaged in letters back and forth. That makes it really hard to subpoena him and have that subpoena hold up in court, because you have to have this accommodations process. So we'll see.

KING: We'll see, and this will play out, obviously, the next court date is not -- still months away in the case, so we'll watch as the politics play out around it.

Up next for us, you don't want to miss this. Clarence Thomas and a conservative billionaire's eye popping largesse. A new report detailing the Supreme Court justice enjoying private jet rides, luxury yacht cruises, expensive and exclusive resort stays. He paid nothing. And he failed to report almost all of this on financial disclosure form.



KING: I want to share with you now a simply stunning new report detailing years, years of luxury vacations gifted to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. The gifts from a billionaire Republican mega donor. ProPublica citing documents and dozens of interviews. And it details two decades of private jet rides, luxury yacht cruises, resort stays, and more.

The source? All one conservative billionaire. His name is Harlan Crow. Quote, "The extent and frequency of Crow's apparent gifts to Thomas have no known precedent in the modern history of the United States Supreme Court." That from the ProPublica article.


Let's bring in our CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent, Manu Raju, and our Senior Supreme Court Analyst, Joan Biskupic. Joan, of course, also the author of a great new book, "Nine Black Robes: Inside the Supreme Court's Drive to the Right and Its Historic Consequences."

Joan, let's start with you. Clarence Thomas is a big part of that drive to the right. If you look at this ProPublica article, it is incredibly well documented and well sourced, and it shows Clarence Thomas with Leonard Leo, Federalist Society Chief, with this Republican billionaire who's a conservative activist. Wow.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Wow is right. Really impressive reporting, and it plays right into concerns over the integrity of this Supreme Court and the fact that they have no formal ethics code at a time when we're so aware of how much concentrated power is right there with the Supreme Court as seen, you know, last year with the Dobbs decision rolling back Roe v. Wade.

Clarence Thomas is now a leader on that bench. And here is this reporting about how much private time he spent, you know, going to these luxurious resorts, meeting with, you know, just not having formal meetings, but coming into contact with Republican corporate donors and people who are interested in, you know, culture wars issues like diminishing reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights, all sorts of people who had access to him.

Now, Harlan Crow has put out a statement that he originally gave to ProPublica and then also shared with CNN that said, as far as he knows, his guests never tried to lobby Clarence Thomas, never tried to influence him. But think of the kind of, first of all, how much money was lavished toward him on these, you know, very expensive trips.

ProPublica documented six trips around the world, and the kind of access that people got to this very powerful justice on America's top court.

KING: Right. And what they document, they say, is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hundreds of thousands of dollars.

BISKUPIC: That's right.

KING: He is required -- there are very loose ethics rules at the Supreme Court. As you know --

BISKUPIC: That's right.

KING: -- that has been a big debate in recent years. But he is required to file financial disclosure forms. And I think there's one or two of the flights going back years that were listed, but not all of these extravagant vacations. Is that unethical? Is it outside the rules for financial disclosure? Is it potentially illegal?

BISKUPIC: Well, they did just tweak the ethics code to say that this kind of personal hospitality that was provided by third parties, you know, because these are -- these were all at commercial places that Harlan Crow was part of and, you know, it was a jet that he owned. You know, so all sorts of services provided by third parties that those should be reported.

Now, it's interesting that they just tweak it. They might have known that this was coming. But the point is, for so many members of Congress, there is no formal ethics code at the Supreme Court, so there's no way to really police this.

KING: There's no way to police this. And I urge everybody, whatever your politics, read the story. It is incredibly well documented. You can decide yourself whether you think it's appropriate, but it's a lot of money, and it should, at least at a minimum, be disclosed.

Let's go up to the Capitol Hill and our Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju. Manu, as, again, as I was noting with Joan, this has been a conversation on Capitol Hill. Do we need better, more detailed, more transparent ethics rules at the Supreme Court? When you read this report, and as lawmakers read this report, what's going to happen?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We're already hearing from the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who has been pushing for some time for an enforceable code of conduct for Supreme Court justices. He has criticized the notion that other lower court judges have this code of conduct, but the high court does not.

He said here in this tweet, "The highest court in the land shouldn't have the lowest ethical standard." He said, "Justice Thomas' lavish undisclosed trips with a GOP mega-donor undermine the trust that our country places in the Supreme Court." He says, "Time for an enforceable code of conduct for justices." He said it's time to do that.

And he did indicate in a separate statement that the Judiciary Committee will act. Now, this legislation would essentially create a process for establishing this code of conduct. It allows an investigation of sorts for any sort of ethical impropriety that may rise in the public reporting of that as well.

But, John, as you know, a split Congress means he needs to get support from Republicans to get this out of the Senate, where 60 votes would be needed for any such legislation, not to mention the Republican controlled House. So, still an uphill climb. But the Judiciary Committee, led by Dick Durbin, he says, is prepared to act.

KING: Transparency and public officials should be a given, but I suspect you're right, Manu, about the current environment.

Manu Raju, Joan Biskupic, grateful for your time on this important story. We'll be right back.



KING: Topping our political radar today, the anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has filed paperwork to run for president as a Democrat in 2024. He is, of course, the son of Robert F. Kennedy and the nephew of the late President John F. Kennedy. The 69-year-old is best known for promoting false claims linking vaccines to autism and for his activism in the last couple of years against COVID vaccine.

President Biden may be skipping King Charles coronation, but he will head to the U.K. soon for a state visit. The King invited the President when they had a phone conversation on Tuesday. The White House says that visit will take place in the near future. In the meantime, the First Lady Jill Biden, will lead the U.S. Delegation to the coronation.

Now to a CNN, forgive me, but it's good, exclusive. The White House says it's getting a new bunny costume for the White House Easter Egg Roll. Apparently, they've been using a loaner all these years. Remember this from the Trump days? Look at the former White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer.

On Monday, the White House says it will debut a custom bunny suit, compliments of the White House Historical Association.


This quick programming note. Don't miss this, the CNN exclusive interview with the J.P. Morgan Chase chairman and CEO, Jamie Dimon. Hear his take on the economy and why he says the banking crisis might not be over just yet. That is "CNN PRIMETIME" tonight at 9:00 Eastern.

Thanks for your time on INSIDE POLITICS today. We will see you tomorrow.

Abby Phillip picks up our coverage right now.