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NYT: Leader Of Online Group Where Leaked Documents Were Posted Is A 21-Year-Old Air National Guardsman; Some Dems Urge Sen Feinstein To Step Down; Democrats Focus On Protecting "Blue Wall" In 2024; Now: Jury Selection In Defamation Case Against Fox. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 13, 2023 - 12:30   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And ultimately, he was 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.


JOHN KING, CNN HOST: It sounds bizarre in the sense he want us to be super soldiers in the light. Is the current operating theory of investigators that this was somebody who had access to that information and was, quote unquote, sharing it among friends and creating super soldiers, or is it done for some nefarious reason?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Look, we don't know exactly what investigators are homing in on just yet, John, but the member of the group, the friend who we just played a clip up there, he does believe that the reason, part of the reason that this man was leaking this information is because he was very suspicious of the government.

But also he just wanted to show off this group was a community essentially, that was formed during the pandemic, where these young teenagers and young men would come together and talk about various issues. This alleged leaker, he became the leader of the group.

And he was essentially showing off the kind of access that he had to these classified documents and trying to convey to these members of this group that there were things that the U.S. government hasn't been totally honest or transparent about. So that seems to be the motive at this point.

But again, this is going to raise a lot of questions moving forward about how the Pentagon disseminate such highly classified information and who can receive it, especially someone as young as a 21-year-old air guardsmen, John.

KING: Absolutely. Natasha Bertrand for us at the Pentagon, appreciate that important reporting. Come back to us when we get some more of this story. She's going to be with us for a little bit. When we come back, though, shift back to politics. Democrats see a lot of reason for 2024 optimism lately. Inflation is easing and Democrats believe they benefit from new activism around the abortion and the gun safety debates. But it's not all happy talk in the party right now.

Today, as we discussed the remarkable split over a party icon, the 89- year-old Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, she is home because of health issues. Prominent fellow California Democrat now publicly calling for her to resign, because he says her absence is stalling key priorities.

We'll get some perspective from our senior political commentator for the president, David Axelrod, he joins us now. So David, as this plays out, let's start with Senator Feinstein. This has been a whisper for weeks among Democrats, you're well aware of that. Then it spills out publicly.

Is this ambition? Is this frustration with the agenda? Is it generational change? California Democratic Party? Moderates versus liberals? all of the above?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, I think all of the above is the right answer. And it hasn't just been a few weeks, John. There was a piece written several years ago about concerns about Senator Feinstein's capacities to continue to serve. But now she's been absent for a couple of months. And that has had a material impact in that.

She is a deciding vote on the Judiciary Committee. There are 12 nominations, judicial nominations that are being held in abeyance because that seat is not filled by a Democrat. That's been a source of frustration to Senate Democrats.

So there are California motivations. You know, Ro Khanna who spoke out yesterday is the chair of Senator -- of Congresswoman Barbara Lee's campaign for the Senate in 2024. And so he has some interest in this.

One of the interesting aspects of this, John, is that if she were to resign, as some have asked us, kind of has asked, the governor would replace her temporarily until the next election. And he has said that he would appoint an African American woman. Well, you can imagine that Adam Schiff, who has already announced his candidacy, Katie Porter, who has already announced her candidacy, are watching this with great interest.

KING: So you have publicly said you don't think the President of the United States should run for reelection because of his age. Do you think this conversation among Democrats about Senator Feinstein could impact that conversation? And is it your opinion, as someone who's worked in the White House run campaigns know the importance of approving judges for that matter? Do you think she should stay?

AXELROD: Look, I think that the people of California deserve a full time and functioning senator. So, you know, I think there's only a decision she can make. And I haven't, by the way, John, said and think the President should run. I said that I thought that his age was a real consideration.

And we can't overlook it when you're asking people to elect you president of the United States until you're the age of 86. But, you know, we'll see what he decides to do. But he's clearly functioning in the role, Senator Feinstein is not. And that is a real problem.

KING: Let me move you to some issues that Democrats feel quite happy about at the moment, despite the turmoil we just talked about. And that is if you look at, you know, in Michigan, in Pennsylvania, in Wisconsin, across the Midwest, that so called blue wall, you've had in the last 2022 elections, then you have the candidates for office in the Senate right now, Democrats look at that.

They moved to pick Chicago for the convention. I know you're a son of Chicago. And yet --



KING: So Democrats look at this right now and they say activism on the abortion issue, activism on the gun issue, strong candidates and strong local political developments in the states that matter to us. We feel good. Again, it's early, it's April 2023, but how important is that?

AXELROD: Very. Well, you look at how Donald Trump got elected in 2016, carried Pennsylvania, carried Michigan, carried Wisconsin, Democrats won big victories in all of those states recently in 2022. In Pennsylvania, the Senate race there, they had their best year in 40 years in Michigan in 2022, up and down the ticket.

And in Wisconsin, there was just this very, very important Supreme Court race that will determine the tilt of that Supreme Court, the deciding vote on that Supreme Court. And, though, that was a nonpartisan race, there was a progressive candidate and a conservative candidate. The progressive candidate in Wisconsin, which Joe Biden won by only 20,000 votes, won by, I think, 130,000.

And a lot of that race was about abortion rights. So, you know, the issue sort of palette for Republicans is not good in a general election. And this is their continuing problem. You've talked about it quite a bit. I've talked about it quite a bit.

The issues that drive primary voters in the Republican Party are perilous for Republican candidates in the general election. And the reemergence of abortion as an issue now, it has to be unwelcome news to a Republican who wants to win a general election.

KING: Another question. You and I met a long time ago, you were a reporter before you got into politics. My first campaign was 1988.


KING: And the Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis, one West Virginia. The only one in 10 states, but West Virginia was one of them. That was when Democrats won among blue collar --


KING: -- blue collar and often rural Americans.


KING: If you look at the demographics of the party right now, the Democrats have had some great success. But the flip, the parties have flipped. Nine of the 10 wealthiest House districts in America are represented by Democrats.

Democrats hold only five House districts that Donald Trump won in 2020. There are a lot of Democrats saying it's great that we're doing better among the affluent. It's fantastic we're doing better in the suburbs. But what do the Democrats have to do to get back to winning in blue collar rural America?

AXELROD: Yes. Listen, man, I'm a -- count me in is one of those Democrats who have real concerns about that the Democratic Party has become too much of an urban and suburban college educated well to do party. And even as I think the instincts are right about wanting to help working people in this country, there's often an element of kind of moralizing that comes from the party.

And there's a sense on the part of a lot of voters in this country that they're being talked down to. You know, the reason that Joe Biden was able to be elected president, and maybe he'll get reelected, again, is because he had enough of -- enough roots in the working class kind of culture of this country coming from the background that he did.

That he did, you know, slightly better than Hillary Clinton, and you're the master of these numbers. But, you know, he did about 5 percent better among those non-college educated white voters. That made the difference in some of these swing states that he won.

But Democrats can't count on that. Democrats have to sort of reorient themselves and reengage with those parts of the country. Even if they can't carry them. Those marginal differences make a difference in national elections and in state elections.

KING: They sure do back to where we began the conversation. Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, that was the difference for Joe Biden versus Hillary Clinton in a presidential election.

David Axelrod, appreciate your time at this important moment in politics --

AXELROD: Always great to see you, John. Thank you.

KING: -- to share with you this conversation.

And when we come back President Biden just arrived. He's about to speak to the Irish parliament. We'll take you there live just a moment. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


KING: Live pictures here. The President of the United States about to deliver a speech in his ancestral homeland. He's speaking for the parliament in Ireland. You see the happy reception. The applause standing ovation from members of the Parliament of the dignitaries in Dublin.

We will take you back there live when the President speaks. In the meantime, a conversation about the challenges facing the Republicans who would like to replace him. This here, a day one as a presidential candidate lesson for Republican Senator Tim Scott.

Pretty straightforward question. Do you support federal legislation restricting abortion rights? And then this, a not so straightforward answer.


SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Yes, so I will say this that I am certainly 100 percent pro-life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think the federal government should be involved with something like what Lindsey Graham is proposing?

SCOTT: Yes, there's no question that we're going to have lots of folks talk about legislation from a federal perspective.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you were president, would you advocate for federal limits?

SCOTT: Yes. So, once again, I was 100 percent pro-life and I do believe --


SCOTT: -- that -- and that's not what I said.


KING: Well, this is day two, as Senator Scott explores the candidacy and the Republican senator now telling a CNN affiliate WMUR, he would, quote, definitely, sign a 20-week federal ban.


SCOTT: So we have to have a federal limit on how far we can go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So if that 20-week ban reached your desk, would you sign it?

SCOTT: 20-week ban, definitely.

(END VIDEO CLIP) [12:45:04]

KING: Our great reporters are back at the table. Some issues come out of the blue in an interview report actually about something you ever thought about in a while. This issue is front and center in the legal system in American politics, state by state, around the country to not have a clear answer on day one, tells you what?

JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It tells you didn't want to answer the question. Well, and you can't blame him. And look what's happening around the country on the abortion issue. Wisconsin is the latest electoral example where you had the Democrat in that or the liberal in the Supreme Court race there just blow the Republican out of the water.

And she was explicitly campaigning on abortion rights. So it is well known throughout the party that this isn't necessarily a great issue for them, but we're talking about a Republican primary. So -- and that -- and they're going to -- so I wonder how much shifting you're going to see. But I really -- my follow up to him would be, I thought you were supposed to leave it up to the states.

KING: Right.

KUCINICH: Because that has been the Republican line throughout after Dobbs, and you've heard Nikki Haley say that. That was my follow up.

KING: So let's bring her into the conversation because you make a key point. This is a hard one for Republicans. You have to appeal first to the conservative base. Most of the conservative Republican base is anti-abortion.

Then you got to try to win a general election if you win the nomination. And we've seen the power of the issue in the suburbs and in the swing states and all of that. So Nikki Haley almost also of South Carolina, like Senator Scott, she's the former governor and U.N. ambassador. This is here -- this is how she talks about the very same issue.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't judge anyone that's pro-choice any more than I want them to judge me being pro-life. What I think is this is a personal issue for women and for men, and it needs to be treated with the respect that it should.

I don't want unelected justices deciding something this personal. We're not going to let this be a political football. Let's let the states work this out.


KING: Leave it to the states. Again, some people will agree or disagree, but at least that's an intellectually consistent position. Let the states decide. And if they ban abortion, that's their right. And if they have very liberal abortion policies, that's their right. MICHAEL SCHERER, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Haley's advisers, though, have also left open the possibility that she wants the federal government to be involved. She hasn't said what that is. They haven't said what that is. I think what we're seeing is evolution of the abortion issue.

It used to be you were an extremist on the Republican side if you opposed exceptions for rape and incest. Now it's a week conversation, 20 weeks. Not many abortions happen after 20 weeks. That's not a very controversial position for Scott to take.

You have DeSantis going with six weeks, which is --

KING: Before the legislature today.

SCHERER: Right, which is a very controversial decision because so many abortions in America happen after six weeks. You're really taking away a very large percentage, like 70 percent of abortions, if that's going to be your federal standard.

Mike Pence has come out for the 15-week ban on a federal level. It's going to be a question that all these people have to figure out. I think the Scott position you're seeing, you know, Republican strategists probably thought, this will just be the liberal media asking about this.

We don't have to answer it. We can get by it. We'll just say Democrats are the extremists. It's not going to wear well over time. These candidates are all going to have to come up with that.

KING: And you need a position, and you need to defend it as opposed to having one today, one tomorrow, one next week.

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: That's right. I mean, these questions are not going to go away. And not just questions just about the issue broadly, but also for the specifics, as you were just noting. What is going to be your week at this point? What is going to be your time span?

And let's remember, I mean, this was an issue that also really was a prime factor in the outcome of the midterms as well. And it's not going away, especially when you have a case like in Texas right now, multiple decisions when it comes to abortion pills as well.

KING: Cases in the court, state legislatures acting. You can't hide from this one. And so we'll see as the race evolves.

Right now, President Biden on the global stage getting a very warm welcome inside the Irish Parliament. We'll take you live there after a quick break.



KING: We're going to show you. We have some live pictures. Just show you the President of the United States is about to speak to the Irish Parliament. Just want you to dip in. This is a love fest in the making here. The President has been laughing throughout this presentation as he waits to get introduced.

We will take you there live when the President of the United States becomes the fourth American president to address the Irish Parliament. John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton have done that before him. Again, Joe Biden, this is his ancestral homeland. Back to Dublin in just a moment.

But happening this hour, jury selection in Dominion Voting Systems $1.6 billion defamation case against Fox. At a pretrial hearing on Wednesday, yesterday, Dominion playing newly disclosed audio of the Fox host Maria Bartiromo speaking in 2020 with President Trump's lawyer at the time, Rudy Giuliani, about whether Dominion had ties to top Democrats. Fox continues to deny any wrongdoing on its part.

CNN's Marshall Cohen right there at the trial in Wilmington, Delaware following this case. Marshall set the scene for us. What's happening right now?

MARSHALL COHEN, CNN REPORTER: John, jury selection underway in the courthouse right behind me. 300 Delaware residents were summoned for jury service, and they're currently being questions as -- to see if they are qualified. Some of the questions are very interesting.

They want to know what are the news consumption habits for these potential jurors. Do you watch Fox? Do you watch CNN? Do you watch OANN? There were some other questions that Dominion wanted to ask that were a little more politically charged that the judge did not permit. Things like, do you have any connection to January 6? Or do you believe the 2020 election was illegitimate?


So, John, this process is probably going to last all day, probably spill into tomorrow. Dominion is seeking $1.6 billion for what it claims was a massive disinformation campaign spearheaded by Fox. Fox says it didn't do anything wrong. Fox still maintains that it is proud of its 2020 election coverage.

Once the jury is seated, opening statements begin on Monday, and it will be up to those jurors to decide who's liable. John?

KING: Marshall Cohen on the scene for us. Marshall, keep us posted as the trial begins to play out. Jury selection could take a little bit.

Appreciate your time today in INSIDE POLITICS. Again, we're standing by. The President of the United States due to address the Irish Parliament any minute. Abby Phillip will pick up that coverage after a quick break.