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Inside Politics

DOJ Launches Probe Into Classified Pentagon Docs Leak; Leaked Docs Reveal Ukraine Weaknesses, Russian Strategy, Contain U.S. Intel On South Korea, Israel; Top Republicans Met With AZ's Kari Lake About Senate Run; NRSC Weighs Spending Big To Root Out Weak Primary Candidates; Source: Trump Appeals Judge's Order Forcing Pence To Testify; Tonight: Vote To Send Expelled In Lawmaker Back To Statehouse; Rep. Ocasio-Cortez Doubles Down On Justice Thomas Impeachment Call. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 10, 2023 - 12:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: The Justice Department now investigating a leak of highly classified Pentagon documents that could have a major, major, major impact on national security including the war in Ukraine. The documents show how the United States spies on its enemies and its allies. They revealed, United States has intercepted communications from the Russian Ministry of Defense, maps of Russian troop movements and its capabilities.

And on the other side, key weaknesses in Ukrainian weaponry, air defense, battalion sizes and readiness. Screenshots of online social media posts reviewed by CNN show crumbled up printed pages that appear to come from intelligence briefings produced just in recent months.

Joining me now with their reporting and their insights, CNN's Natasha Bertrand and CNN's Kylie Atwood. Natasha, to you first at the Pentagon. It's embarrassing and it's damaging. I guess the question is, how bad is it? How many secrets vulnerable put the United States and others in vulnerability now?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, John, that is the question that the Pentagon and the Justice Department are now trying to answer. Of course, the Pentagon made a criminal referral to the Justice Department to investigate who might be behind that leak. But Pentagon officials really don't yet know the scope of how bad this could be.

They don't necessarily know if those 53 documents that CNN reviewed, for example, are the extent of what is currently out there. So they're doing damage control. Now, they are trying to figure out what damage to U.S. sources and methods could have been done by this leak that we should note was placed on a social media server called discord and was kind of sitting there for at least a month before anyone noticed it.

And as you mentioned in the intro there, there is a lot of sensitive information about Ukrainian military capabilities planning for U.S. and Western training of those of the Ukrainians as well as timelines for the delivery of certain weapons systems and importantly, information, very sensitive information about weaknesses in Ukraine's air defense systems, all information that would be very valuable to the Russians.


And we are told that Ukraine has already altered some of its military plans in response to this leak. But look, this is just really the tip of the iceberg in terms of what the U.S. is bracing for, what the Pentagon is bracing for. They do not yet know whether this has compromised at sources, including human sources, which according to these documents, were the source for some of this information, as well as signals intelligence that allowed the U.S. to get a better sense, of course, of what those Russian officials have been discussing.

Will those communications now go dark? That is the big question that they are grappling with, John.

KING: One of the many big questions. And Kylie Atwood, the State Department and other agencies now have to deal with the fallout. There are disclosures here that greatly complicate South Korean politics, disclosures here that greatly complicate Israeli politics, disclosures here that might cause some tension between the White House and the Ukrainian President. How do they clean it up as they're also trying to find out how did it happen?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. I mean, I think as Natasha said, it's the Pentagon and DOJ who are sort of trying to figure out who was behind this leak. And then you have the State Department that is going to have to figure out how to clean up this diplomatic mess.

You have South Korea already saying that they plan to have discussions with U.S. officials about the leaked information regarding internal discussions in their government. You have Israel, the prime minister's office over the weekend saying that there was no foundation for the information in these documents.

We should note that, quite specifically, these documents point to U.S. intelligence, saying that Israel's intelligence arm had been encouraging protests against the current government. So obviously, that's incredibly concerning and quite detailed information that the U.S. was able to collect through signals intelligence.

And so these are the public pronouncements of these governments right now. But what we'll be watching for is what they say, privately to U.S. officials. Are they as exercised about this, or is this just a reality? Because, of course, these countries know that the United States spies on countries around the world, including its allies, so is this just kind of a reality? And now it's quite unfortunate that this information is out there publicly.

Another small bit of this to watch evolve, is how U.S. allies that it shares intelligence with. Those are Five Eyes countries. How they respond if they decide that they're frustrated that some of the information intelligence they shared with the U.S. is now in the public eye and they pull back on some of that? That could be a concerning developments. We're watching to see how that evolves as well. John?

KING: Complicated every way you look at it.

Natasha Bertrand and Kylie Atwood, appreciate the important reporting there. We know you'll stay on top of this one.

Up next for us, the Republicans, the Senate and yes, Donald Trump. New CNN reporting on a strategy designed to limit Trump's influence on picking Senate candidates without, the hope is, without angry with former President.



KING: Some new CNN reporting now that offers us a sneak peek of sorts inside Senate Republicans 2024 Balancing Act. CNN's Alayna Treene and Manu Raju have new details -- that's the headline right there -- on how Senate Republicans are trying, emphasis on trying to keep Donald Trump more in the loop as part of an effort to avoid having the former president throw his support behind candidates with too much baggage to win.

Montana Republican Steve Daines, a close ally of Mitch McConnell, who says he's also close with Trump is running the Senate GOP campaign on for the 2024 cycle. He's taking a much more hands on approach designed to have stronger general election candidates. Now, Daines hopes he can do that in coordination with Trump, but he does not rule out spending money in Republican primaries if he believes a Trump pick is not the strongest candidate.

Alayna joins our conversation with this brand new reporting. So let's use the example of Kari Lake, who ran for governor of Arizona, who still has not conceded she lost the election and to this day, says it was stolen from her, which is not true. She came and met with the NRSC staff thinking about running for the Senate. You would think they would say, oh, no, but they're trying to manage this. How?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: They do. I mean, surprisingly, a lot of top Republicans actually think she could be a positive entry for them into this dynamic. And she met with the NRSC in February and they did have one key message for her, though, which was shift away from the divisive rhetoric that you use when running for governor in Arizona and move away from claims about a stolen election.

And I'm told that it was a very positive conversation and that a lot of establishment folks do think that she could be successful in a general if she runs for Senate, but it just shows the really tricky dynamics that a lot of these Republicans are facing. And I know that Steve Daines is really pushing for the NRSC and top Republican leadership to have a good relationship with Trump. That's going to be very tricky, of course, given that Trump and Mitch McConnell have a terrible relationship, but it's a key focus of them this cycle. They want to avoid the debacle of last year where they saw weaker candidates emerge from contested primaries only to peter out and collapse in the general election.

KING: And if you look at the 2024 Senate map, it is very favorable for Republicans in the sense that the Republicans are running mostly in solid red states mostly, and a lot of Democrats. You see Montana on that map, you see Ohio on that map, you see Pennsylvania and that money running in either deep Trump states, West Virginia is on that map, either deeply red Trump states or at least purple states where it should be competitive.


So here's my question. Steve Daines is the head of the committee. Is Steve Daines going to be the Republican who finally manages Trump? That's what he wants, but forgive me, mark me down, a skeptical anyone can do that.

DANA BASH, CNN CO-ANCHOR, STATE OF THE UNION: Anyone. I mean, people who are the closest to him who speak the most fluent in the language of Trump have a very difficult time with that, particularly because it all comes down to what's good for Trump. And what's good for Trump and his mind is a candidate who reflects his -- not just his policy positions, but more importantly these days his grievances.

And that grievance still goes back to the 2020 election. And that's absolutely what we saw -- to the 2020 election, that's what we saw in 2022 in the midterms, and that is why one of the reasons why Mitch McConnell and the Senate Republicans are so incredibly frustrated with him, because they -- Trump help them snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

And that happened to them so many cycles, trying to get back the majority. And in this case, they thought it was just completely unnecessary. It was an unforced error in their part.

KING: And if you look at some of the key races, were waiting for Republican candidates, and you would argue I guess it's smart to wait, take your time as long as you can. But you have Democratic candidates, Elissa Slotkin is going to run in Michigan, because Debbie Stabenow is retiring.

Jon Tester, the incumbent in Montana, Rosen in Nevada, Brown in Ohio, Casey in Pennsylvania, who announced today, Bob Casey, he will run for reelection for that seat. Manchin in West Virginia hasn't declared his candidacy yet.

But you look at these here, and these are -- each one of those is potentially the tough races, presidential year, but they're all winnable for Republicans. If you have a good candidate, you're at least competitive. The question is, does Trump get behind candidates who can't again and who's -- and really can anybody manage him? MARIO PARKER, NATIONAL POLITICS TEAM LEADER, BLOOMBERG: And that's what's going to be tricky, right? If Trump loomed large in 2022, when he technically wasn't on the ballot, as of right now, he's the front runner for the GOP nomination, so he will be on the ballot in 2024, right? And he's arbitrage in a general election. So, I mean, what Daines has to do, you have to picture him as like this mad scientist trying to perform some type of alchemy here, because this hasn't been done in the last several years.

KING: I like that, mad scientist. And Lindsey Graham was quoted in your piece with Manu. "You need to learn from your past mistakes, you don't make adjustments, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome. It's insanity." That's Lindsey Graham, but that's the same Lindsey Graham who has been friends, then not friends, then friends, then not friends, now very close friends with Donald Trump. Shouldn't Lindsey Graham be part of the people standing up to Donald Trump saying stop making things worse?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he would think, I mean, also, you know, saying not doing the same thing over and over again. And then they're having conversations with Kari Lake, someone who lost in 2020, someone who has not demonstrated at all that she's willing to stop lying about the 2020 or the 2022 election cycle.

I was just texting with a Republican strategist in Arizona, who basically laughed at the idea that she would somehow stop lying about the election being rigged into that they don't think that she'll be able to do that. And that, you know, in a three-way race, there are definitely positives there.

As you just showed, if it's against Gallego, and Senator Kyrsten Sinema, then they think there is a pathway for a Republican to knock both of them out. But Kari Lake, I mean, at least the strategist I'm talking to in Arizona don't buy that she'd be able to do that.

KING: So the senator who ran it in the last cycle, Rick Scott, was always at odds with Mitch McConnell. Daines is at least a McConnell ally. What if -- what from this reporting do you think of, OK, when I check back on this story in three months and six months, what are the most important question?

TREENE: I think a key thing is whether they can actually make good on their efforts to keep the party aligned to this time around. I mean, Daines unlike Rick Scott is getting heavily involved in primaries trying to root out weaker candidates, but he's also been calling President Trump and Donald Trump Jr. about some of these races. So I think if they can maintain that relationship, that would be a clear indicator whether they can stay unified among the many -- behind many of these candidates.

KING: A relationship that begins the cycle close with Trump, ends the cycle close with Trump without major disagreements of loves (ph), that would be breaking news. We'll have you back for that day.

Up next, President Biden rolls out a 2024 hint at the White House Easter Egg Roll today. And just into CNN, new developments surrounding Donald Trump's legal ballots.



KING: Topping our political radar today, this just in, Donald Trump filing which you'll call a long shot appeal. Source telling CNN, the former president plans to claim executive privilege to try to stop Mike Pence from testifying about conversations after the election and around the insurrection. That testimony would be in front of the federal grand jury. Judges, though, have consistently ruled against Trump in recent weeks and months when he's tried to assert privilege around these conversations.

Tonight, a vote in Tennessee with national attention. Nashville's Metro Council may decide to send Justin Jones back to the statehouse, essentially, undoing about to expel him from that body over his rule breaking protest. Jones and a colleague Justin Pearson, also booted last week now two very public faces of an activist outcry on guns that followed a shooting at a Nashville Christian School.

The Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez doubling down on her calls the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to be impeached. Her message comes as Justice Thomas faces criticism for not disclosing several luxury trips paid for by a big GOP mega-donor I know that there are calls for Chief Justice



REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D), NEW YORK: I know that there are calls for chief justice to -- for the Chief Justice Roberts initiated an investigation. I do not think that this court any longer has the legitimacy. And it is the House's responsibility to pursue that investigation in the form of impeachment.


KING: President Biden this morning taking a moment to tease his 2024 plans.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Help a brother out. Make some news for me.

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, no, no. Well, I have plan on running out but we're not prepared to announce it yet.


KING: He said that just before the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. The President kicking off the annual event today with the First Lady and Easter bunnies in all more than 30,000 people expected to participate. It's a fascinating, fabulous, fun event for the kids at the White House. Thanks for your time today in Inside Politics. We'll see you tomorrow. Abby Phillip picks up our coverage after this.