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Justice Dept Asks Supreme Court To Intervene In Abortion Pill Case; Trump Goes Under Oath In New York A.G. Civil Suit; New Pressure From House Dems For Sen. Feinstein To Resign; Sen Feinstein Asks To Be Temporarily Replaced On Judicial Cmte; NYT: Leader Of Online Group Where Leaked Documents Were Posted Is A 21-Year-Old Air National Guardsman. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 13, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Remarkably busy news day. Thanks for your time today. Just moments ago, the Justice Department asking the Supreme Court to intervene in an abortion pill case with ramifications everywhere you live.

Plus, today, Donald Trump goes under oath. The New York attorney general deposes the former president. He likely faces hundreds of questions with $250 million and the survival of his family business on the line.

And the Democratic Party clash over age ambition and a stalled Biden priority. 89-year-old Senator Dianne Feinstein says, she won't resign after missing a month plus of work. And after a California colleague says, she's no longer fit to serve and that she should quit.

Up first for us though, the Biden Justice Department just moments ago is saying it will ask the Supreme Court to step in, that after an appeals panel dramatically changes, how women can get an abortion again. The Biden Justice Department now wants the High Court to sweep aside this.

A 42-page order from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals filed just before midnight, that delivers some relief from a Texas judge's ruling that would have taken an abortion pill off shelves starting Friday. But that ruling also imposes hard to ignore obstacles to getting the drug.

It outlaws sending the pill in the mail. It ups the number of doctor visits to get a prescription and it bars non physicians from administering the drug, and critically, it makes the drug unavailable to women after seven weeks of pregnancy. The likely result if this ruling stands well, far fewer women who want to will actually be able to use it.

Our senior Supreme Court analyst Joan Biskupic is here with the important new details. Joan, a big ruling last night and then a big decision by the Justice Department. JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: That's right, John. Things are moving so fast, and I think we can expect that over the next 24, 36 hours. Because the original order in this case against the FDA approval of the drug was set to take place at the end of Friday at midnight. And let me just tell you what Attorney General Merrick Garland just put out.

He said the Justice Department strongly disagrees with the Fifth Circuit decision to deny in part a request for a stay pending appeal. We will be seeking emergency relief from the Supreme Court to defend the FDA scientific judgment and protect Americans access to safe and effective reproductive care.

The key here is that this case is now right on the doorstep of the Supreme Court, a Supreme Court that 10 months ago, completely removed the constitutional right to abortion, rolling back nearly 50 years of precedent. So, we know where the court was at for that case.

The question is where will the court be at for this case that doesn't go to deep constitutional issues, but rather goes to the FDA approval, its expertise to take science, its own scientific determinations to decide which drugs are effective and safe.

It was the year 2000 that the FDA first said that this first pill of the two-drug medication abortion that now most women used nationwide to end a pregnancy could go into effect. At issue, as you said in your chart, certain new restrictions that would be put on women's access to the pill. Those came later in 2016 and beyond.

And that's just about where the rubber meets the road for this case. It's in terms of access, not the core approval for the drug, but women's access to it. And obviously, the Justice Department thinks that what the Fifth Circuit did last night is restrictive enough that it has to come and step in. And I have to say there's this broader issue, not just about abortion access, as important as that is to both sides.

But to the FDA's core approval of any existing drug and new drugs, who and when can challenge those. Those are the kinds of issues here. We're about to see the filing from the Department of Justice that will go to the Supreme Court. And then we're bound to see actions very quickly, John, just as quickly as we've seen already this week.

KING: This week in recent months, quick actions in the courts on a number of fronts. This one is critical, of course, to American women and American politics. Joan Biskupic, appreciate the hustle. And the Justice Department filing come back to us if we get any more information today about this, and obviously we'll stay on top of it.

Today's other big legal story centers on the former president of the United States. Donald Trump left Trump Tower. You see him there in New York City this morning. He is sitting right now for potential marathon deposition. Hundreds of questions from the New York State attorney general about his business and an alleged decade long pattern. The attorney general says of lying to lenders and to others.

CNN's Kara Scannell tracking this story for us. She is live in New York. Kara, what do we know?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, a marathon, it may be as you said, Donald Trump left his apartment at Trump Tower around 9:30 this morning. He got here about 15 minutes later, and it's in the meeting behind me at the New York attorney general's office.


Now he was here before in August. And at that point, he refused to answer over 400 questions, asserting his fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, but today his lawyer say will be a different story. His attorney Alina Habba issuing a statement, saying that not only is the former president willing to answer questions, but he is eager to answer questions today.

This suggests a shift in strategy, and one reason maybe because when he first came here in August, that was part of the investigation. Since then, the following month, in September, the A.G. filed that $250 million lawsuit alleging that they inflated the values of a number of their assets, including even the size of his penthouse apartment at Trump Tower.

Now they know what those questions were from those that last deposition. They also know what the allegations are. And in a civil case, if you've refused to answer questions, the jury can hold that against the defendant. So, that's a key issue here in this case by him answering questions today, it removes that potential thing that is known as an adverse inference.

And now how long this will go today is unclear when he was here in August and asserted the fifth, went till about 3:30. But it is possible it could go well past that today, depending on how many of these questions he has asked, and just how long his answers are. John?

KING: Remarkable moment in one of the many legal challenges facing the former president. Kara Scannell, appreciate the live reporting. Let's get some perspective and legal insights from the former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams. Let's pick up where Kara was talking about there. Donald Trump was in the same deposition more or less in August 22.

When we were on air, when it came out -- when it came out, the attorney general was asking questions, and this was the answer time and time again.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: I declined to answer the question. Same answer, same answer, same answer, same answer.


KING: What's different now? Number one, Kara made the important distinction, it's a civil case. So, if you don't answer, it can be held against you. What else? ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, so that's a really important one, that adverse inferences point. He's going to go to trial at some point on this and they could hold against him the fact that he doesn't answer. The other thing is that now this is playing to the cameras and the potential jury pool in his criminal trial.

He, I think has an interest at this point and saying, look, I have nothing to hide, I have nothing to hide about my business or any of my business dealings. You can try me in a criminal case, or you can sue me here. I'm going to answer your questions. And I think there's a little as much NPR (Ph) strategy as there is legal strategy here.

KING: Right. You say NPR for the political campaign as well. I will say just to the legal case. Let's move on now some important developments being reported about a very different investigation. This is the special counsels' federal investigation of Donald Trump.

One of those is about the Mar-a-Lago documents. The other one is about 2020 election interference, trying to overturn the election. The Washington Post reporting this. It's about the fundraising the Trump organization was doing, as it was contesting the election results.

The fundraising prong of its investigation is focused on money raised during the period between November 3, 2020, that's Election Day, and the end of Trump's time in office on January 20, 2021. Prosecutors are said to be interested in whether anyone associated with the fundraising operation violated wire fraud laws, which make it illegal to make false representations over email to swindle people out of money.

So, if you knew that he lost fair and square, and you were raising money saying the election was stolen. Is it Donald Trump who is potentially liable for the campaign people sending up those emails?

WILLIAMS: All the above whoever's name is on the email, whoever's passing the email along, whoever's approving the emails, and it's just going to depend statement-by-statement question-by-question, email-by- email. What mail or wire fraud are, is you are knowingly making a misrepresentation to other people to take money or something valuable from them. And that here in the course of political fundraising.

You know, the interesting thing here, John, is that also this question of, did they know they were lying? And did they know they won the election also plays in Georgia, another matter in which the foreign president is being investigated. When it comes down to the question ultimately, of did the president and his team know they lost the election? It's a very important point and wire fraud here carries huge penalties.

KING: And this development for the New York Times in the second special counsel investigation. This one is about the classified documents that Donald Trump took to Mar-a-Lago. And then, the government says, refuse to give back when they found out they were there. This is from the New York Times.

Federal investigators are asking witnesses whether former President Donald J. Trump showed off to aides and to visitors a map he took with them when he left office that contain sensitive intelligence information, four people with knowledge of the matter said.

What is the legal peril that not only you have classified documents that belong to the government, not to you, but you're allegedly sharing them?

WILLIAMS: It's two different things. It could be a bunch of things, but there's two big ones. Number one, mishandling defense information. If in fact, there was a map or something that had defense secrets or information on it, that itself can be a criminal offense.

And then two, and we've been talking about this for months, the knowing possession or mishandling of documents can itself be a criminal offence. If people were telling this individual, you know this is a classified document and he's still possessing it and showing it to others, there is a few different crimes you can be charged with there.

KING: Right. I'm glad you're here to help us sort through. Again, the many legal questions facing the former president that all seem to be colliding at the moment. Elliot, thank you. Up next for us. A very remarkable story, of festering internal Democratic debates spills into the open. 89-year-old Senator Dianne Feinstein rejects her remarkable public call by a fellow Democrat that she resigned, but she does ask to be replaced on a key committee until her health improves.



KING: Democrats are in open turmoil today after Senator Dianne Feinstein rejected calls that she resigned but did ask to be replaced for now on a critical Senate Committee. The 89-year-old senator has been sidelined for more than a month because of a case of shingles. And Democrats have whispered for weeks about their doubts, she will ever return to work.

Yesterday though, the fellow California Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna went public tweeting, Feinstein should resign because her absence he says is stalling critical Democratic agenda items. Senator Feinstein rejected the talk of resignation but did make a very big concession, asking to be temporarily replaced on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

This from her statement. I've asked leader Schumer to ask the Senate to allow another Democratic senator to temporarily serve until I'm able to resume my work, remarkable story.


With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Jackie Kucinich to The Boston Globe, Zolan Kanno-Youngs of The New York Times, Michael Shear of The Washington Post, and CNN's Lauren Fox.

Easier said than done, when you asked to be removed from a committee. Let's get to that part, that procedural part later. This is just public blowing up in public of something that's been bubbling for a long time. It's ideological, it's generational, it's about approving judges. Wow. And what now?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, it's not uncommon that there is a Senator who might get older, and people have whispers about whether or not they have the capacity to continue serving in office. But the fact that this is spilling out into public view with House members calling for a sitting U.S. senator to resign, is something really remarkable here.

And just as a reminder, the dynamics of Congress, senators do not like being told to do anything by House members and vice versa. So, it really is just flummoxed thing, that this is all spilling into public view, John?

KING: And so, let's listen to Ro Khanna this morning. He's a Democratic progressive in the House. He thought about running for Feinstein's seat, she has announced she won't seek reelection. There are three House members running for the seat right now. Ro Khanna decided not to run. But listen to him this morning. Again, he tweeted yesterday and then publicly saying, I'm sorry, she just needs to go.


REP. RO KHANNA, (D-CA): It has become painfully obvious to many of us in California, that she is no longer able to fulfill her duties. If she doesn't have a clear return date. We haven't been able to confirm judges at a time where women's rights and voting rights are under assault. I felt an obligation to say what so many colleagues are saying in private that the time has come for her to gracefully step down and have a dignified and to a very distinguished political career.


KING: Again, this is about liberal versus moderate. In Washington, it's about a generational urging for change nationally, but right there in California, he's a younger progressive. Just Michael as you jump in. I just do want to put up on the screen. This is significant before Feinstein left because of her sickness.

119 by the nominees for federal judges have been approached since she has been absent just one. And it's the backlog. There it is -- it's, you know, you have some have been approved by committee. You can't get anybody new right now, just because of the polarization. Is this the politics of this or just wow?

MICHAEL SHEAR, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: And it's not going to be an isolated. The average age in the U.S. Senate right now is 64, the average age to Americans retire at 64. Most senators are 65 or older. She's 89, born 1933. There's -- she's not the only one who is 89. I mean, this is going to be a continued problem for the Senate.

You know, we have the minority leader out still with -- after a concussion, after a fall. I mean, there is a real question here of whether just given the advanced age of some of the people in that body, you know, they can continue to do the work.

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: That subtext there is really, really interesting and important here. We know that even before this news story, there was growing concern and calls for whether or not Congress in the current age of Congress represented, including with the Democratic Party, specifically represented now the sort of coalition of that party throughout the country and the base.

Also, when you look at just the data that you just pulled up of judicial appointments, I think it's important to remember that, especially in December of last year, one of the things the White House was celebrating and talking about the most were judicial appointments. There was even sort of countdown to with the -- if they would get to a 100 before the end of the year.

Now you have these two things kind of coming to a head, both whether or not Congress represents the growing sort of base of the Democratic Party. And if this specific sort of incident story here will prevent the administration from furthering on something that they've celebrated.

KING: And after today, but just that the whispering here spills, probably about Senator Feinstein. There's some of the same conversation among Democrats about the president of the United States, and whether he should seek reelection at this point. We'll see if that bubbles up as well.

But so now you have people, some people saying this is ageism, that she is sick, she deserves time to recover, let her come back. She made the decision to say take me off the committee. We'll come back to that in a second. But her fellow San Francisco icon, these are two very important people in California politics. Dianne Feinstein is an icon in San Francisco and of the Democratic Party, a trailblazer in the United States Senate.

Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday says, excuse me.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D-CA): I don't know what political agendas are at work that are going after Senator Feinstein in that way. I've never seen them go after a man who was sick in the Senate in that way.


KING: Now, she says agendas at work. She's for Adam Schiff in the Senate race. Ro Khanna is for Barbara Lee. Katie Porter is also running. So, there's the agenda part, I guess, but then the sex, she says it's sexist.

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE: Well, Katie Porter didn't even wait for Feinstein to announce she was retiring. She announced when Feinstein was still making that decision. And you've seen Democrats sort of more gently tried to sideline her, making she's not the chair of the judiciary committee and they moved her aside. And they've, I think behind the scenes, you've seen them gently try to nudge her toward retirement.


But certainly, this has been -- this issue has been building and building and building, and now we're seeing the culmination. Whether or not, this is a gender issue. I mean that's clearly Pelosi's perception, but to view it just through that lens, because of all of the other politics at play. I don't know exactly what is happening here.

KING: Right. There's a lot of California pent up Democratic frustration and waiting for this generational change. Let's come back to the process. You would think it's easy, right? Democrats have the majority. A Democratic senator says, replace me on the committee. OK. You just find another senator, find a good lawyer, put them on the committee until she comes back, but it's not.

FOX: It is not that easy. And the reason it's not that easy is because normally you would be named to a committee and an organizing resolution, those passed by unanimous consent, no big deal. Nobody pays attention to it. In this case, you were talking about filling a Democratic seat on a committee that has the ability to make the judicial system and the lower courts consider what's happening in that abortion case right now.

And you can understand why tension is high, why Republicans may not agree to that so easily. I have reached out to numerous Republicans on the judiciary committee, it's still not clear to me what direction they are going to move. John?

KING: And even if you could get Mitch McConnell as a traditionalist, as an institutionalist. Get him to say, OK, Republican -- ambitious Republican members of the Senate can hold this up in a second. It's a remarkable story. We'll stand atop it. Up next, another remarkable breaking news story. Some brand-new information on just who might be behind that leak of highly classified Pentagon documents.




KING: I want to bring you some new and dramatic developments now in the hunt for a leaker, who put dozens and dozens of damaging classified documents online. CNN's Natasha Bertrand has more details. Natasha, what are we learning?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: John, we are just getting a new information from the New York Times, which is reporting that the head of this chat, this group chat on Discord, which is a popular gaming platform, where these classified documents were leaked over the last several months has been identified as a 21-year-old Air National Guardsman from Massachusetts. He apparently worked in the intelligence wing of the air -- of the Massachusetts Air National Guard.

Now, the Times is reporting that the FBI has zeroed in on someone on him, specifically as someone they would like to speak to about the leaks, so not going as far as to say that he is the leaker. However, we did learn from the Washington Post just last night that the leader of this group chat had been the one who was leaking all of these classified documents over the last several months, according to a friend of his who was in that chat room who spoke to the Washington Post.

This is someone who, according to that friend, again was trying to impress the younger members on that group chat who was very suspicious of government overreach and who wanted to share all of these classified documents on this server, so that he could convey to his buddies essentially the kind of access he had as well as what he saw as government overreach.

Now, it is unclear at this point whether the FBI has zeroed in on him as a suspect. But we are told that the FBI has narrowed the pool of suspension -- suspected leakers substantially and they are homing in on individuals that they believe could have been responsible for this. Now, amid all of this, we should note that the Pentagon has dramatically limited the way that it distributes these highly classified documents so that a leak like this can't happen again, John?

KING: The hindsight part I think will come into question, as to why was there such access to begin with. But at the moment, among those concerned about this, it goes all the way up to the president United States, who is traveling overseas in Ireland was asked about this today. And this is -- these are the president's first public comments. Listen?


JOE BIDEN, 46TH U.S. PRESIDENT: There's a full-blown investigation going on as you know, with the intelligence community and the Justice Department, and we're getting close. I'm not concerned about the leak here, and I'm concerned that it happened, but there is nothing contemporaneous that I'm aware of that is of great consequence.


KING: The president downplaying the stakes here, others have had a quite a different view.

BERTRAND: That's right, John. So, a lot of these documents that have been leaked online over the last several months, it seems they do have classified markings that are top secret, which is among the highest levels of classification in the U.S. government. And it's already causing some friction with allies, including South Korea and Israel who had.

There was intelligence about those allies in these leaked documents that has caused great embarrassment to say the least for the U.S. government. It also outlined really sensitive things about Ukraine's military capabilities, as well as its planning for a potential counter offensive. So, things that the Russians would love to have.

And of course, it outlined sensitive information about what the U.S. knows about Russian military officials and ministry of defense officials, potentially raising the possibility that those access points the signals intelligence, for example, and even the human sources could now be cut off. John?

KING: Let me circle back to what you were saying about the Washington Post reporting because it's fascinating. Again, this is -- it's a spy drama with just some remarkable twist in the sense now they say, at least the leader of the group, not identify as the leaker but they believe a leader of the group was a 21-year-old Massachusetts Air National Guardsman.

And then you have this conversation with these documents are being posted at Discord chat, some of its posted on gaming sites. Listen to a piece of The Washington Post reporting about who this is.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice over): He was a young charismatic man who loved nature God, who loved shooting guns and in racing cars. He did see himself as a leader of this group and ultimately, he was the leader of this group. And he wanted us all to be sort of super soldiers to some degree, informed, fit with God, well-armed, stuff like that.


KING: It sounds bizarre in the sense he wanted us to be super soldiers in the life.