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Inside Politics

Special Counsel Pressing Witnesses For Details About How Trump Has Paid For Their Lawyers; Today: 2024 GOP Hopefuls Speaking At NRA Convention; Sketch Shows Accused Leaker Inside Court; Injuries, Illnesses Sideline Senators At Critical Time; Klobuchar: Feinstein Faces "Serious Decision" If She Can't Return; Biden Reacts To Arrest Of Pentagon Leak Suspect; Biden Visits Knock Shrine In Ireland. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 14, 2023 - 12:30   ET



KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: And Trump has this PAC, Save America PAC that has spent $16 million not just paying for lawyers for him, but also for his people, the people that are going before the grand jury every day. And, you know, this is the sort of thing that has been investigated around Donald Trump before his use of lawyers to keep people in his circle.

And he still, even up to last week after his indictment, he was drawing this idea of an us versus them situation. So here's one of the things that he would have said after his arrest in Manhattan about this investigation, the documents investigation.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Then you have a radical left lunatic known as a bomb thrower who is harassing hundreds of my people day after day over the boxes hoax. We have this Jack Smith lunatic threatening people every single day through his representatives. They're threatening jail terms. But talk about Trump and you'll go free.


POLANTZ: So the prosecutors are clearly asking questions about how did you get these lawyers? How are they being paid for? And Sara Murray and I were told from one source, they're asking, did they tell you what to say? That's what people are being asked in the grand jury.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: So the challenge from the prosecutor side, Shan, is to have information to say, you know, you just said something, but here it's not true, and you know it's not true. You know, who told you to say that or were you coach? Did you know it's not true?

If you look at the reporting and also many of the defense lawyers representing these Trump aligned witnesses have been paid by Trump Save America PAC, as Katelyn noted, several of Trump's closest aides who are now witnesses remain on his payroll, received hefty consulting fees through the PAC.

They would just say, there are friends, there are aides, there are colleagues. We pay them. Is there anything wrong with it just to have them still on the payroll as their witnesses? Where are the ethical lines here?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: The ethical lines are actually pretty clear for the lawyers. And from the reporting, this doesn't seem to cross that. I mean, I'll take it a step further. Besides the payment that Katelyn was talking about, when I'm in a PAC like that with other counsel, one of the things I want to do is actually select who's going to be the other lawyers to make sure that I get along with them. And we think they'll be friendly in terms of their mindset.

So it's a pretty good plan to sort of keep the wall there. The ethics line, though, is very clear. The lawyer can't tell the witness, this is what we need you to say. Can't suggest, oh, wouldn't be a very good idea if you said these things. And we saw that issue come up with Cassidy Hutchinson.

KING: Yes, we did, and so we did. Each of you -- so where is the line then? If you saw something -- this is a hypothetical, this is hypothetical. I saw them take the boxes out of the closet and put them here when the government was asking that they be returned. And can a lawyer then say, why don't you just say you don't recall? I mean, that's illegal, right?

WU: No, can't say that.

KING: Yes.


WU: Right.

POLANTZ: You can't coach. But we --

WU: Right.

POLANTZ: I think it's very clear that this would be something that the Justice Department --

KING: Right.

POLANTZ: -- would look into on the January 6 side. We know after Cassidy Hutchinson said, she says that she was being coached not to reveal things. That is in the January 6 investigation. She talked to the Justice Department as part of that. But what is different here is that we know that this question is coming up in the Mar-a-Lago investigation, too.

It's not just about Cassidy Hutchinson. It's not just about, is there, you know, wire fraud or something around Save America PAC and related to January 6 fundraising? It did. There's also this question of the lawyering and who's in the fold. How are they being kept in the fold in the Mar-a-Lago documents investigation? WU: Yes. I do think the question of the PAC money is actually a real lurking presence here because you're looking at whether that money was gotten through false advertising, basically trying to solicit those funds. So that's a double edged sword on these questions.

KING: Fascinating. All right, I appreciate you both being here for us.

Next, another big Republican bet. The NRA annual convention starts today. It's starring a who's who of Republican presidential contenders. And it is just days after the latest mass shooting. But Republicans see more political gain than political peril.



KING: Now, what you might call the Republican shadow primary heads to Indianapolis for the annual NRA convention. This, four days, of course, after a gunman killed five people at a bank in Kentucky, and less than three weeks after a shooter murdered six people, including three children at a Christian elementary school in Tennessee.

CNN's Kristen Holmes is live for us in Indianapolis at the NRA convention. Kristen, who are you going to hear from today?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we're expecting to hear from nearly every 2024 Republican contender today take the stage or either submit a video and it just goes to show you how important this pro-gun rights voting bloc still is to Republicans, despite what the climate on guns might be across the country.

So let's take a look at who's going to actually be here in person. We are going to see former President Trump. He's going to keynote this. Former Vice President Mike Pence. We're also going to see South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, as well as Asa Hutchinson and Vivek Ramaswamy.

We're also going to get videos from some of these 2024 hopefuls, and that includes Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Tim Scott, and Nikki Haley. One thing to note here, this is going to be the first time in person that Trump and Pence are appearing at the same event. Remember, the two of them have not spoken in more than two years, although, I will say it is unlikely they are going to overlap here, given the timing.

And when we talk about the NRA, that is still a coveted endorsement. Remember, back in 2016, they gave an early endorsement to former President Donald Trump, obviously, candidate Trump at the time. We are told by sources that that is unlikely to happen this time around. That they are likely to just stick with what they had done historically, which is wait for those Republican voters to pick the nominee before issuing an endorsement, John.


KING: Kristen Holmes for us on the scene. Fascinating day for the NRA. And again, one of these fascinating conversations about Republicans doing one thing that they think helps them in a primary constituency. The question is, does it hurt them in a general election? Our great reporters back at the table.

Democrats think it does. Democrats think it does. This is Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, long an advocate for gun safety measures. He says, "It's extraordinary, it's heartbreaking, and it's infuriating. Every Republican that's thrown their hat in the ring to run for president is showing up this weekend to pledge their undying loyalty to the NRA and the gun lobby, literally days after patrons at banks and little kids at elementary schools were gunned down in cold blood."

The Democrats believe this will help them. This is -- Republicans for years have done this. They did it right after the Uvalde shooting. They don't think it hurts them.

RHONDA COLVIN, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes, and I'll also add that they did it after the 1999 Columbine High School. There was an annual meeting of the NRA that happened days after that, too. So we have seen this before, and I think right now, the candidates who are running or thinking about running on the Republican ticket are calculating, much like the abortion issue as well and maybe not so much.

But this is a safe audience for them and right now in our politics, the hard right and the gun rights culture seem to be synonymous, and they know that this is a base that they want, at least for the primary. Now, what's going to be interesting, you know, we've had a rash of mass shootings in the last two weeks, in the last few months and a year.

If this continues, will their stance on guns match public sentiment? Right now, it looks like public sentiment is that there should be gun regulations, and that's also among those who own guns. So it's going to be interesting to see how they continue to talk about guns as we move forward in the primary.

KING: And you have this as a national conversation, but it really matters in the handful of states where we want to see the political impact, the handful of states that pick presidents. And again, you need to be pro-gun rights or you, you know, most Republicans running for president would say that's the safer position to be in, whether you're in Iowa, New Hampshire, or South Carolina where the primary calendar goes.

But what Democrats would say is, if you get to Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, Arizona, the states that decide who's the next president of the United States, in the suburbs, they believe this helps them. The question is, you know, is it issue -- like the abortion issue and the gun issue, can you keep it front and center in September and October of next year, or is it the economy or inflation, which is what Republicans are betting on?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And we have seen that gun issues are typically not in the top three of voters' issues when they head to the polls, but it has risen in terms of political salience, and especially as you see more young people get engaged. We have seen this generation that has been impacted by Parkland, by Sandy Hook, really rise to the occasion, leading to scenes like we saw in Nashville with the political uproar that happened there.

But I do think that this NRA convention and the fact that, you know, NRA holds convention days after mass shooting is essentially an evergreen headline at this point, really speaks to the -- embodies this debate that we're having. That the state of this gun debate in the country, and the fact that ultimately these mass shootings are happening not only with increasing frequency, but that Republicans still feel beholden to that base. And that's certainly not changing.

KING: I think the word engagement you use is the key word as we watch going forward or the situations as we get deeper into 2024, the same as they are today. Because on the abortion issue, you look just a couple of weeks ago in the state Supreme Court race, the Democrat wins by 11 points and what is essentially a 50-50 state. That's engagement.

That's pulling over soft Republicans in the suburbs, but that's getting people active and animated. You mentioned the scenes in Tennessee. Tennessee is a Republican state. It's going to stay a red state. You know, but you see those young black members of the Tennessee House and the protests around them.

Can you carry that into other places? Because if you have the combination of suburban women, young voters, African Americans, that's the Democratic constituency if you can keep them active and engaged on those issues.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Yes. I was in Nashville just a few days after the shooting at the Covenant School, and it was -- I found it very striking in terms of talking to folks who were at the memorials for the school and those who were leaving one of the first funerals for one of the shooting victims and how much anger there was in terms of access to weapons.

I spoke to one woman who was leaving the first funeral for one of these shooting victims, and she was married to a late preacher in the area. And she said to me, there are no guns in heaven. And I found that very striking in terms of this anger that I was hearing from her and others, young voters saying, we're coming up, we're next. They're not listening to us. Our community has been shattered and we don't want to see this happen anymore.

KING: Fascinating to watch. You see the energy behind the issue now. We'll see if it persists. One of the big questions for next year.

Up next, don't want to miss this. We're going to show you a just released image of the man suspected of leaking classified documents from the Pentagon.

Plus, age, attendance, and the United States Senate. Lawmakers are back from a break next week. And who is there and who is not will get as much attention as the issues agenda. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


KING: I want to show you this just into CNN. This is the first look from inside the federal courthouse in Boston. It's a sketch of the now defendant Jack Teixeira. You see Teixeira alongside his attorney in prison issued fatigue. The 21-year-old national guardsman now faces two charges connected to a stunning and damning disclosure of classified materials.

We'll continue to track that case.

The United States Senate back next week from its spring break, and attendance is getting as much attention as the agenda. For weeks, the Senate has been playing several men and a woman down. That should change on Monday.


The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, says he will be back, as does Democrat John Fetterman of Pennsylvania. There is still, though, no timetable for Senator Dianne Feinstein to return. The Democrat cast her last vote two months ago.

Feinstein is recovering from shingles and promises to return as soon as possible. She rejected calls from a few Democrats that she resigned, but she did ask to be temporarily replaced on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Our great reporters are back with us. Let's start with Senator Feinstein, because there was a debate in the Democratic Party. Nancy Pelosi says she sees sexism at play. I never saw, she says, anyone asked for a man to resign when he was out sick.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, who's also on the Judiciary Committee, on CNN yesterday, I think this is her proposing a reasonable compromise.


SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D), MINNESOTA: At some point, she needs to come back, and that is going to be something we'll be dealing with if she doesn't come back. But I'm going to take her at a word that she's going to come back. But if it goes on and on and on and on, then we're down one vote in the Senate in what is still only a one vote margin. That becomes a whole different issue that I think she's going to have to make serious decision at that point.


KING: I took that as everybody calm down, give her a couple of weeks.

COLVIN: That's what it sounds like and you're hearing that from senators. And Republican senators right now have not said that they're opposed to having a temporary fill in for her on the Senate Judiciary because that's really key. Schumer would need 10 GOP votes in order to put a temporary replacement on Senate Judiciary, and we haven't heard any Republicans push back on that just yet.

So it does seem that senators are being very delicate with the way they're approaching it. But meanwhile, in the House, of course, you've had two Democratic House members who have called for her to resign, full stop. So this will be a highlight of next week when they come back to town, something I certainly will be watching to see which way it goes.

KING: And Democratic Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania will be back. He checked himself into bravely. Publicly, said he was having depression issues, checked himself into Walter Reed. He says he'll be back next week. That was on February 15th. February 16th was the last time Senator Feinstein cast a vote. She's missed 58 votes this year.

On March 8, Senator McConnell suffered broken ribs and a concussion in a fall. He was hospitalized, and then he had some outpatient care, then he's been home. He says he will be back to the Senate. It is interesting that who's there and who's not is as much a conversation as what are you going to do.

GRISALES: Right, exactly. The Senate does need their members there to cast votes. As we know, the House did not have that during the pandemic. You could proxy vote, but it's much more critical for these members to be there. And this is how we get caught up in hearing about their health cases or what's going on in their situations that's causing these absences.

But as we look at Judiciary, for example, that is stalling their work, and I see Klobuchar in terms of just let's give her some time to see if she comes back in the next couple of weeks, but at the same time, this is critical work that's on the back burner.

KING: And the biggest thing stalled by Senator Feinstein's absence is more Biden federal judicial appointees, which the administration had been on a pretty good clip of getting them confirmed. And it has been stalled. Not completely stopped, but stalled.

You can't get anyone now new through the committee because that committee is tied up. And yet we haven't heard much from the White House on this, that Senator Feinstein is an old Senate colleague. Senator Biden -- then-Senator Biden served on that committee with her for a great number of years. Haven't heard anything, have we?

DIAMOND: Yes. And make no mistake, despite the fact that we haven't heard anything publicly from them, this is an issue of concern for them. You know, they have repeatedly touted the record setting pace at which they have been able to confirm judicial nominees faster than the last three presidents in President Biden's first two years.

And so it's important to look at this moment in time not only the narrow majority in the Senate, which makes this issue of judicial nominees notable, but also because that's basically all this White House can get done right now through Congress, is getting judicial nominees nominated and confirmed.

So there are some real substantive concerns here, but also, clearly, some politics at play. When you look at, for example, Congressman Ro Khanna, chairman of Congresswoman Barbara Lee's campaign, she's the black woman who is -- a black woman who is running for Senate. Governor Newsom of California has said he will nominate a point a black woman to the Senate if Senator Feinstein resigns.

So, again, some real concerns, but also some politics, as always.

KING: Politics.

DIAMOND: Can you believe it?

KING: Washington, D.C. I'm shocked.

Up next, President Biden wrapping up his trip to his ancestral homeland, the Emerald Isle, spending time focusing on his Irish roots.



KING: We're bringing some breaking news just into CNN. That breaking news is brand new reaction direct from the President of the United States to those charges leveled in court this morning against an accused leaker. President Biden, in a statement released by the White House says this, "I commend the rapid action taken by law enforcement to investigate and respond to the recent dissemination of classified U.S. government documents."

The President, as the intelligence community, is still assessing the documents and the validity of the images posted online and assessing the damages from those disclosures. The President goes on to say he has now, quote, "Directed our military and intelligence community to take steps to further secure and limit distribution of sensitive information. And our national security team is closely coordinating with our partners and our allies."

The pictures you are seeing there is Jack Teixeira, the suspect. That's an image, a sketch of him being arraigned in court today. First court appearance.

President Biden at the moment wrapping up a visit to Ireland, visiting the Knock Shrine for the second Catholic president. It's a holy and important place. Locals say they saw an apparition of the Virgin Mary there back in 1879.

Later today, the President will visit a genealogical center in County Mayo, an area where he has family ties. He wraps up his trip with a speech in Ballina, whose U.S. sister city is Scranton, Pennsylvania. That of course, the President's hometown.

Thanks for your time in INSIDE POLITICS. Hope you have a safe weekend.

Abby Phillip picks up right now.