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Inside Politics

Fox Settles For $787 Million, Won't Have To Admit Lie On Air; Dominion Lawyers After Fox Deal: "Truth Matters"; Fox Faces $2.7 Billion Lawsuit From Smartmatic; Fox Settles, Avoids Weeks-Long Trail Over 2020 Election Lies; Trump Racks Up Hill Endorsements, DeSantis Faces Headwinds; Source: Trump Applying "Personal Touch" To Endorsement Push; Police: Two Arrested After Mass Shooting At Al Sweet 16 Party. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 19, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Fox pays up the network inks (Ph) a $787 million settlement with Dominion, a historic and an embarrassing sum. But it's an important, but Fox escapes without publicly saying these words to its viewers. Sorry, we lied to you.

Plus, two Florida man battle for the approval of yes, mostly other Florida men. Donald Trump tries to outshine Ron DeSantis by nabbing more congressional endorsements from Florida. And Alabama police announcing just moments ago, they have arrested two teams on reckless murder charges that connected to a sad sweet 16 mass shooting that killed four. A prosecutor promises to try the suspects as adults.

Up first for us though, truth, lies and yes, lots of money. $787.5 million to be exact. That is the eye-popping total Fox agreed to pay Dominion voting systems to settle a defamation suit that asked for twice that much. Now, does that represent accountability for its constant lies that the 2020 election was rigged? Well, we'll report, you decide. Beginning with the wild details of that pay up.

Fox making the decision on day one of trial that it would rather pay Dominion that endure weeks of its anchors and its executives, having to explain why they promoted the idea of massive fraud against Donald Trump on TV repeatedly, but mocked the former president and his allegations in their emails and in their text messages.

Going under oath on the witness stand, of course, would have exposed that Fox management and its stars orchestrated the fraud, not Dominions voting machines. The settlement does cost Fox a lot of money. But the company is not required to plainly admit that it knowingly and repeatedly lied, not required to apologize on the air.

This a statement issued after the record-breaking payout was announced is about as close as contrition that the network will get. "We acknowledge the court's rulings finding certain claims about dominion to be false. That statement goes on to say, the settlement reflects Fox's continued commitment to the highest journalistic standards." The last part I will leave.

Let's get straight to our former New York and federal prosecutor Elie Honig. Elie, it's a giant settlement. It is a lot of money. But Fox avoids a lot of embarrassment. Your take on who wins here?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, John, I think there's some real accountability here. I give Dominion a lot of credit. Look, they got an enormous historic amount of money out of Fox. Now, people are hung up on the fact that there's not some sort of formal admission of guilt here by Fox.

But really, how would that have happened, even if Dominion took this all the way to trial and got a verdict in its favor, that doesn't mean that there's going to be an apology that comes with that, Dominion is a private corporation. They're entitled to look out for their own interest here.

They got a settlement, that's about 10 times what the entire company's worth. And they showed us the truth. They got the judge to find the Fox's reporting was false. And they showed us behind the scenes, all of those behind-the-scenes texts from leading Fox personalities that expose really the lies that they gave us on air.

KING: So, let's listen. This is Justin Nelson, he's the lead counsel for Dominion. He come out, he says this is just in his view, an unmitigated victory, not just for Dominion, but he says for the truth.


JUSTIN NELSON, LEAD COUNSEL, DOMINION VOTING SYSTEMS: The truth matters, lies have consequences. Over two years ago, a torrent of lies, swept Dominion and election officials across America into an alternative universe of conspiracy theories, causing grievous harm to Dominion and the country.


KING: But Dominion gets money here. What about the harm to the country, not addressed in this suit? I guess you, can you address it in a defamation suit?

HONIG: You really can't. I mean, Dominion's job is not to be the defender of truth and justice are the enforcer of journalistic standards. They're a private party. They're the ones who filed the lawsuit. They're the ones who paid their lawyers. They're the ones who went toe to toe with Fox and kick their, you know, what, in pretrial rulings, they're entitled to take a settlement as they see fit.

And again, because of Dominion's efforts here, we know that behind the scenes, Fox was calling these election fraud claims, and I quote, "BS," "Nuts," "Insane," "Reckless." So, there's a real value in knowing that as well.


KING: Do the proceedings and the settlement, but the proceedings to all that evidence, you know, that we learned in the discovery process, does it impact the remaining cases including Smartmatic, a software company, election software company is suing Fox as well for defamation for $2.7 billion. What we learned in the Dominion case help Smartmatic?

HONIG: Oh. You bet, without a doubt. Smartmatic has to be ecstatic at this hearing. And this outcome yesterday because Smartmatic still has a pending defamation lawsuit against Fox as well. All of the evidence that we saw came out in the Dominion case, that is completely going to be available to Smartmatic as well.

They can use that same evidence. They can build on it. I don't see any reasonable way here where Fox pays so much money to make Dominion go away, and then goes to trial with Smartmatic. If I'm Smartmatic's lawyers, I'm saying they're ready to pay, they have to pay and they're going to pay me a lot.

KING: Elie Honig, grateful for the insights on this day. We'll watch this the additional cases move forward. Thank you. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Margaret Talev of Axios, POLITICO's Alex Burns, and Tia Mitchell of the Atlanta Journal- Constitution. Capitalism one, Dominion one, did democracy get anything out of this?

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, AXIOS: I mean, this is actually more interesting question than it sounds like on the surface, because on the one hand, there was a ton of disclosure, Justin, what led up to the settlement. We know things now that are now in the public domain, people understand what happened behind the scenes at Fox, and how the entertainment side and kind of a political strategically bridged into the news department. So, that's out in the public record now.

One of the big questions has been would, testing the actual malice precedent, this six decades old precedent from 1964, would that be good for the free press and the First Amendment? Or would that be bad if the actual malice standard were overturned or weakened in some way?

Because of the settlement, and Elie could probably speak to this more eloquently than any of us, that doesn't get tested. And so, the First Amendment for news organizations is, you know, has the same legal protections. But if you do this kind of stuff, you can be forced to settle because it's too risky to go out.

KING: One of the things that came out during this discovery process was at Fox essentially was afraid of alienating its audience. That they kept repeating the lies because they didn't want to lose viewers to OAN or Newsmax or somebody else out there in the right-wing media spectrum.

So, the question is, can you cure that? The cancer is in the bloodstream. There are so many people who just believe elections are rigged, who believe the voting machines are rigged that they shouldn't vote by mail early like. Listen, this is Vivek Ramaswamy, the entrepreneur. He's running for the Republican nomination for president. He's a frequent guest on Fox News. He was on CNN this morning and he won't address the question. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: What do you make of this decision to settle this case?

VIVEK RAMASWAMY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I mean, it just strikes me as a cost of doing business. I'm not familiar with the details of this case. I'm actually more interested in issues relating to this country.

LEMON: Are you concerned about the credibility? Are you going to continue to go on that network even with those credibility issues?

RAMASWAMY: I have far more concerns with the credibility of what we will call the mainstream media than I do with the credibility of Fox News.


KING: He's one of the handful of candidates who have declared for the Republican nomination, there will be a few more. That to me is the question. Will these candidates say, look people, sorry, you were lied to in 2020. You were lied to by Donald Trump. You were lied to by Rudy Giuliani. You were lied to by Sidney Powell. You were lied to by Fox News. We have to shake this. It's not good for democracy, we have to trust elections.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the short answer is no, right? There may be a handful of candidates that are Chris Christie, or Asa Hutchinson, someone who's really running from the back of the pack trying to stand out as a straight talker in that way.

And John, this isn't just sort of a high-minded moral question about sort of the state of American democracy, this is really a very specific challenge for the Republican Party as it tries to adapt and regroup and win again, it is very, very hard. You talk to any Republican strategist, it is very, very hard to convince the voters of your party to go in another direction after losing. If they don't really believe that they lost, right?

So, there's not as much space as there ought to be for somebody in the party to step forward and say, we got thrashed in 2020. We had a disappointing 2022, you know, way underperformed expectations for midterm. And that's why we need to reject all of that.

KING: Which is why Donald Trump keeps saying in different ways the election was stolen from him because he wants to keep what he's got. God forbid. He fess up and say, actually, I lost by a margin that I beat Hillary Clinton by that I called a landslide. God forbid, you say that which is why it's interesting.

Remember, Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state one of the people Trump infamously called and said, I need you to help me find some votes. He does think some good will come with this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, (R) GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: It's not just about dominion. It's really about our social fabric. It really ripped apart America. And it really ripped apart my Republican Party. And so, I'm really distressed about that. But now, we can perhaps begin that process of rebuilding based on a foundation of truth.


KING: But Georgia is different, right, in the sense that you had a Republican governor, Republic Secretary of State, Mr. Raffensperger, who stood up to Donald Trump. Who said we're not going along with this. Is Raffensperger right about outside of Georgia, where you don't have -- in a few places maybe, but in most places, everyone goes along with Donald Trump.


TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: Well, I think even Raffensperger is an indication of the troubles the Republican Party has because yes, Raffensperger stood up to Donald Trump, defended the validity of the 2020 election. But he also supported changes to Georgia's election laws that even Republicans said weren't based on true problems they found, but it was more based on the perception that was created by Fox News and others who were undermining the integrity of the election.

So, you know, Republicans have been -- some of them are all in with Trump. But some of them are kind of playing that middle ground, even we saw it with Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy. You know, they criticize Trump to a degree, but then in some ways, they have defended, you know, some of the actions Republicans took after the 2020 election.

And that's the problems that we're seeing from the Republican Party, there has not been a full-throated widespread condemnation of undermining the election in a way that could create a groundswell.

KING: I think this headline in the New York Times sort of sums up my take on this in the sense that, you know, yes, Fox had to pay. That's a good thing. They lied. But look at this headline, another Texas election official quits after threats from Trump supporters. That is the cancer that's in the bloodstream of democracy. And if you can't get that out, you have problems. We'll continue to stay on top of this.

But for us up next, new CNN reporting on how Donald Trump undermined a big trip to Washington, by likely 2024 rival, Ron DeSantis.



KING: The big Ron DeSantis trip to Washington was a big win for Donald Trump. The Florida governor was here yesterday, looking to make friends for his likely 2024 presidential run. But three Florida House Republicans announced around that trip their endorsement of Trump, one gave her support to DeSantis. That brings Trump's endorsement count to seven of Florida's 20 Republican House members, just one is for Governor DeSantis so far.

Some new CNN reporting today details the personal touches Trump uses to win these endorsements. They include a dinner coming up for Florida Republicans at Trump's Mar-a-Lago. One source telling CNN that if DeSantis wants endorsements, he quote, should be picking up the phone and calling directly instead of having an aide doing the reach out." Adding, quote, "you know who calls for the Trump endorsement? Trump himself."

CNN's Melanie Zanona is part of this new reporting and joins our conversation. This is interesting, an endorsements of House members are not going to be the determining factor in who wins the Republican nomination. This is one day in the life of the 2024 campaign, so we shouldn't overstate it. But, but when Donald Trump ran for president in 2016, it was making it up as you go along. This is proof that he has an organization that is strategically thinking and looking to embarrass Ron DeSantis.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes, exactly right. Trump has made this a personal priority of his. He's specifically trying to get Florida Republicans to endorse him because his team really wants to build this narrative that even DeSantis's own constituents are backing Trump.

And so, he is having a dinner at Mar-a-Lago for some Florida members. He has been personally making calls. He's been really leaning into the loyalty angle in some of his pitches. And it is such a big contrast from Ron DeSantis, who's known as a bit of a loner, he's more aloof, he's more hands off.

In fact, just as one example, Tim Burchett, he's a Tennessee Republican. He said he's heard from Trump's team, he knows Trump. He's taken pictures with Trump. Trump has been friendly with his family, whereas he tried to get in contact with Ron DeSantis, multiple times last year. And he said, DeSantis's team blew him off.

And in fact, he helped do a fundraiser for DeSantis in his own district, and then they left him off the list. So, you're right. Endorsements don't necessarily indicate performance and race or whether they're going to succeed, but it does offer a very clear window into their operating style.

KING: And if you go -- if you rewind the tape a couple of months, and you look at things said on television programs like this, if you look at things written in the smart, great newspapers by great political reporters he was. DeSantis had this team, right that that's what's going to distinguish him because he had experienced people who would help them to this crushing reelection win in Florida. Where's the evidence of that?

BURNS: No. Where's the evidence that Ron DeSantis has done anything particularly clever to seize this moment that he has or had, right? The fact that we're even using the past tense at this point about his win though, to come in as the hard charging challenger to Trump. I mean, Melanie's reporting, that's just like staggering political malpractice, right? My colleagues who write a political playbook had some similar reporting about member from Florida got call from Donald Trump when he was in the ICU and never heard about (crosstalk), yes, for entire time that he's been a member of Congress. He didn't hear from Ron DeSantis.

You can sort of sit on the sidelines as a big popular governor with a big media profile and sort of wait for the moment that you want to get into the race. If you're also doing a lot of stuff in private that Ron DeSantis doesn't seem to be doing.

TALEV: Discipline is the word that I keep coming back to because I think sort of early in the speculative Trump-DeSantis standoff, like discussions. It was like, well, DeSantis could be stronger than Trump because DeSantis is very disciplined, and Trump is very undisciplined. And you're seeing actually a much more strategically disciplined early campaign on the Trump side.

We're all watching what's going on with Disney. That engagement between Trump and DeSantis or Trump going after DeSantis is quite interesting. The idea of the policy versus the personality. What are the limits of the kind of anti-woke approach? And Trump is either just completely trolling DeSantis. Or is looking at polling and other evidence that tells him that DeSantis actually has over torque this and that he can get a strategic advantage.

I think between that and the Bud Light, Don Jr. saying, let's bring Bud Light back into the fold. It's OK, if they like transgender people like, these are interesting steps that I see as a piece of what's going on with the courtship of House Republicans.


KING: And it's not just Donald Trump. You know, if you have a good team that helps you in presidential politics, and Trump again in 2016 was sort of an open question. Remember contested convention are sort of make it up as you go along or bring new people in constantly. This is from a New York Times profile over the weekend of Susie Wiles, who was directing the Trump organization and quotes the infamous Roger Stone. She knows where the bodies are buried.

He says Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser, who was known Ms. Wiles for more than 30 years. She has a -- had a relationship with Ron DeSantis. It went south. And so, she is enjoying this moment. And again, Donald Trump embarrassed the governor. He had help from somebody who is more than willing to take down, she lives in Florida too.

MITCHELL: Yes. And I go about 20 years back with Susie Wiles and she does know where the bodies are buried, and she does not forget. And so, when she fell out with Ron DeSantis, and was edged out that, you know, she has had a history with Trump as well. But I think that gives her extra fuel to really want to deem DeSantis.

And like Margaret said, DeSantis seems to have overplayed his hand in a lot of ways, overplayed his, what his popular reelection really signals and now overplayed a lot of his relationships or lack there of, maybe underplay those relationships is a better way to say it.

But it does look -- and he is in a tough spot, because he's not a candidate. Like how do you call up members of Congress and say, endorse me when you're not a declared candidate, but a lot of the private things he could be doing, a lot of the relationship building to at least keep members of his delegation from endorsing anyone. That's what he's not doing.

KING: The nomination will not be one here in Washington, but you can make friends here in Washington will help you win it in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, et cetera. South Carolina is where Governor DeSantis is today, and he says this.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) FLORIDA: Leadership at the end of the day is about doing what's right. When you have intense opposition and a lot of unfair criticism, but you're still willing to chart the proper course. You got to have the fortitude to stand alone if necessary, if that's what the circumstances called the pod. People remember, if you fought for him when it wasn't easy, because it's easy to stand for the right things when everyone's doing it.


KING: Just a quick note, guy who now understands television a little better than when I started. He used to work on staff getting some lighting, to get the lighting in the room there. But that almost sounds like he's very aware of what he's going through right now. I'll stand alone, you got to deal with criticism. That's the way to win votes.

BURNS: Well, I think a part of the problem with that is that the argument that, who is willing to take on the big fights when no one else will take them on? Who is willing to take on the powers that be when other people are shrinking from the fight? That's a hard argument to make to distinguish yourself from Donald Trump in the eyes of Republican primary voters that, if you're Donald Trump, I hear that argument and think like he's trying to play my song and he's not playing as well as I do.

KING: You get the last word on, OK, well, you know, Trump got some of the endorsements to DeSantis do anything positive during the trip here?

ZANONA: I will say, I've talked to some members who say once he does endorse, we are expecting more endorsements to come out. As Tia pointed out, he is not an official candidate, but he's going to have some work to do. Trump is trying to outmaneuver him. He's living for this moment. And he is trying to one up the governor at every chance he can.

KING: I keep saying it's early in the process, but every day it gets a little later, every day it gets a little later. Up next, an unintended ripple effect from the Dobbs decision. A new report shows that states with abortion restrictions are having a harder time attracting medical students. But first, we'll go live to Alabama police just gave an update on that sweet 16 birthday party mass shooting that killed four people and left more than 30 injured.




KING: When it turns to Alabama now where authorities say they have arrested and charged two teens for a shooting at a sweet 16 party. The shooting left four people dead, 32 others hurt. It happened Saturday in Dadeville, a small town about 60 miles from Montgomery. CNN's Ryan Young joins us now live with the latest. Ryan, what did we learn?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, when you say small town, I think some people might underestimate just the size of this. This is a town of almost less than 3100 people. They shut down the street around the courthouse to do this news conference. And they tell us they arrested basically two teenagers for this shooting, and they are from a neighboring town.

Their names are Ty Reik McCullough, he's 17, and Travis McCullough who's 16. They wouldn't go into any details about how they capture the two or what the motive in this case is. And you can feel the pressure and also the eggs in the community because people want to know why the shooting happened especially, with two teens who don't live in this general area.

Just listen to the pain in the D.A.'s voice. When he talks about, what a young 16-year-old girl had to go through at her own 16-year-old party just Saturday.


MIKE SEGREST, FIFTH CIRCUIT DISTRICT ATTORNEY: It's Lexi's 16th birthday party. Sweet 16. There's an uncut cake and unburned 16 candles that never got lit. Lexi's brother was one of the victims. On her 16th birthday party, she'd been helped by her brother as he took his last breath. That's what we're dealing with here. Those are what these victims went through.


YOUNG: So much pain here and you think about the victims involved in this case. And the idea that almost everyone in this community knew of these young people who lost their lives. We are steps away from where the growing memorial is. We're also told that on Saturday there will be another memorial. But at the same time John, so many questions are not answered when it comes to the motive.