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SpaceX Rocket Explodes Minutes After Launch; SpaceX: Everything After Launch "Icing On The Cake"; My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell Ordered To Pay $5M To Expert Who Debunked His False Election Data; IRS Agent Seeks Whistleblower Protections To Share Allegations Hunter Biden Probe Mishandled; Durbin Invites Chief Justice Roberts To Testify; Supreme Court Delays Decision On Abortion Pill Case. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 20, 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. Explosions in the Sky. SpaceX's largest most powerful rocket ever gets off the launch pad, then blows up just minutes into its mission. Plus, Mike Lindell learns the hard way, don't offer to write checks, your conspiracies can't cash. Mediators, order the election denier to give an expert $5 million for debunking Lindell's election lies.

And an IRS agent says he can blow the whistle on Hunter Biden investigation. The allegations are both unproven and stunning that the president's team is mishandling the investigation into his son, that the Attorney General Merrick Garland lied to Congress.

Up first though, SpaceX starship rocket exploding in midair. 33 engines see them there. 33 engines fired at full force to get that unmanned 400-foot-tall behemoth off the ground. SpaceX calls that a win. But the mission was at least a partial miss. Starship broke apart just minutes into its flight. It was supposed to separate from its booster, it didn't. It was supposed to leave Earth's atmosphere, it didn't. It was supposed to make a near full lap in orbit around the Earth, it very clearly didn't.

Let's get straight to CNN's Ed Lavandera. He's live for us in Texas near the launch site. And this is critical to the plans by NASA to get back to the moon. What are they saying today about will that be delayed and what went wrong?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the NASA administrator Bill Nelson says that this is a good first step in the process of trying to perfect this rocket system. But clearly a lot of work needs to happen still. But for several minutes, the exhilaration of that rocket clearing the launch pad, been in flight for several minutes, the thunderous roar of that rocket ship was absolutely stunning for the thousands of people who gathered here on the southern shores of South Padre Island to be five miles away from the launch of this rocket system. And as you mentioned, it did not make it into orbit. It did not make almost a full orbit of the Earth crashing in the Pacific Ocean around Hawaii. That did not happen. Remember several days ago, Elon Musk was saying and trying to prepare and lowering expectations to the point where we thought we were going to see an epic fireworks explosion on the launch pad. So that did not happen.

And Elon Musk tweeted shortly after the rocket launch saying that the SpaceX officials and the team learned a lot and that they will regroup and get back to launching another test rocket in the months ahead. So, a rather quick timeframe on their turnaround to be able to get back on the launch pad once again.

So, officials here say, we're the SpaceX officials, hopeful and confident with what they have learned. Many people here in the space world saying that this is a good first step. Even though you saw that dramatic explosion.

I can tell you, John, it was incredibly dramatic. As we saw the smoke trail moving east out over the Gulf of Mexico waters. It was shortly after we heard another thunderous explosion. And we thought that that might be the point where the booster was separating from the rocket. Clearly that's not what happened. It was the explosion. John?

KING: It is not. Ed Lavandera, live on the ground for us near the launch site. Ed, thanks so much for that report. Let's get some perspective now from Chris Hadfield. He's a retired Canadian astronaut, engineer, former commander of the International Space Station and a former test pilot. He's also the author of the upcoming book, The Defector.

Mr. Hadfield, grateful for your time today. You seem to share, correct me if I'm wrong, the view of SpaceX officials that this is, you know, it's not everything they wanted, but that it's not as big a setback, as your eyes might tell you. To a layman, you see a rocket blow up in the air and you think this is a failure, but you see it differently.

CHRIS HADFIELD, COMMANDER OF INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION (RET.): Yes. I mean, Ed was talking about the exhilaration of the crowd. And if that's the way you're looking at it, I mean, you know, it's not a firework show. We're trying to do something here that has never been done before. A 100 percent reusable spaceship and far and away the most powerful rocket ship ever built.


I mean, it's so much bigger than the rocket that took people to the moon and back when I was a kid, you know, it's over twice as powerful as the Saturn V and this was the first test. You mentioned, I was a test pilot with the air force and the navy before I became an astronaut. I mean, the whole job of tests is to find out what goes wrong to let things failed.

You can, you know, pretend as long as you want. But eventually, you got to go actually launch this thing. And that's where you're going to really find out what's right and what's wrong. And they were so successful today.

They got all engines lit, they cleared the launch tower, they got up through the maximum stress on the vehicle, they got faster than the speed of sound, they get up to the high atmosphere. I mean, it was way more successful than I thought it was going to be. So, a huge kudos to SpaceX. This is a really good first step on the way to orbit, not away to the moon.

KING: That's an interesting perspective. So, let's tap on that test pilot experience, in the sense that when you test a new fighter jet, or you're testing something new in the weapons sector, you tend to do that in private, you do it on an air force base. So, you know, nobody is watching you. I mean, the experts are watching. But the public's not watching.

So, the public sees this player. How important is it then you heard that lay out the timetable. Elon Musk saying in his tweet, he thinks that in a matter of months, they could have test number two. In terms of the timetable to get man back to the moon, which of course is a steppingstone to eventually try to get man to Mars.

How important is it that they quickly get to round two? Even if to echo your point, they haven't some additional setbacks, more learning curve, if you will.

HADFIELD: Well, we already have people going to the moon on a different vehicle, on the Artemis vehicle. In fact, they just announced the crew of four, including a Canadian where I'm from. So, we have people going to the moon late next year, early 2025, which is great. And we have using that same Artemis rocket to take people to the surface of the moon and the flight after that. But this vehicle starship, it's the one that we want to use long term because the cost will be so much lower for going to the moon and back. But this was not a surprise to anybody in the business.

I think everyone was sort of delightfully surprised today, because they got so far into the profile that gave them a chance to test and learn so many different systems, that when they do that next test in a few months that Elon is talking about, they will have -- they're not just guessing, they will know the things that failed. And so, it gives them a much higher probability of even greater success next time.

You got to remember the Wright brothers, you know, the first people ever fly a powered vehicle. They crashed a lot too. In 1908, five years after they first flew, they crashed really badly, and Orville was almost killed in the accident. So, early test flying, you know, it may be fun to watch, but it serves a really important purpose. And today we got a long ways down the road towards learning how to make this spaceship as successful as we all want it to be.

KING: Chris Hadfield, critical perspective. Really appreciate your time today, sir. Thank you. We shift on to politics now and a new twist in holding election deniers accountable for their corrosive lies. CNN has details on the My Pillow, CEO Mike Lindell. And an order that he made good on a bet and pay $5 million to an expert who debunked Lindell's false 2020 election data. With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Phil Mattingly, Jackie Kucinich of The Boston Globe, Camila DeChalus, The Washington Post, and CNN's Sara Murray. Sara, you've been part of the reporting on the story. Walk us through this, Mike Lindell to this day, continues to say he is right, and math is wrong. He is right and the experts are wrong. He is right, all the audits and recounts are wrong. Now he has to pay for it.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, he was so convinced of this, he held this cyber symposium. In 2021 he invited a bunch of cyber experts and said, if you can prove that my data is not related to the 2020 presidential election, I will pay you $5 million. And this man, Robert Seidman, a cybersecurity expert who actually voted for Trump took Mike Lindell up on it, because he thought there would be something legitimate there.

Well, he goes through the data, he realizes this is bogus. And then he goes to arbitration as the contract requires and sues Mike Lindell. And so, now we are learning that this arbitration panel said, you're right, this data is nonsense. It's not related to the 2020 election. Mike Lindell, follow through with your contract, hey, this is my $5 million.

KING: And so, let's listen to a little bit of the deposition in the case because as I noted, some people not enough, some people have said, OK, we had recounts, we had audits, at least let's move on. Even if they won't admit that, you know, what they said about 2020 was wrong. This is Mike Lindell, the deposition insisting, he's still right.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you have the idea for the "Prove Mike Wrong" challenge, did you have an expectation you might have to pay out $5 million?

MIKE LINDELL, MY PILLOW, CEO: No. Why would I have that? Because I already had validated.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, you didn't have any concerns that someone might win the "Prove Mike Wrong" challenge?

LINDELL: No, because they would have to show it wasn't from 2020 and it was, you know.


KING: It is the laugh, Jackie, in the sense that again, we can talk about some accountability, maybe Mike Lindell will have to pay $5 million. Fox News is going to pay a ton of money to Dominion voting systems now in the defamation settlement that they made. But the cancer of this lie is now in the bloodstream of the Republican Party because he keeps laughing about it. JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: When I read Sara's story, I immediately went back to just how close Mike Lindell was to the Oval Office is, particularly in the days after the January 6, insurrection. He was showing President Trump all of these theories and he was very much hook, line and sinker into it, and has never admitted any faults. So, it just -- it continues, and it's just very clear right there. It nothing has changed for him, except perhaps he is going to be $5 million later.

KING: Will he be $5 million later? You had a very brief conversation with him.

MURRAY: Yes. He didn't want to talk to me for very long, but he didn't vow that he was going to take this to court. I also spoke to the attorneys Robert Seidman today, and they said, you know, we think there's only a small chances gets overturned, and essentially our client is looking forward to that $5 million bucks.

KING: Looking forward to that $5 million. And again, there's the theater if you will, or the substance of Mike Lindell, making a bet and losing the bet. And he's very prominent in the election denying movement. You add in the foxy, my question is like, you know, is there a turning point? Are we anywhere near a tipping point? The Georgia governor who did stand up to Donald Trump says, it is past time for Republican voters and Republican leaders to urge those Republican voters move on.


GOV. BRIAN KEMP, (R) GEORGIA: If we get distracted and talk about other things that the Democrats want to talk about, like these investigations, regardless of what you think about the politics of those that only helps Joe Biden. It does not give us a path for Republicans to win. The blueprint print for I think any candidate to be able to win, is to talk about what we're for. Focus on the future, not look in the rearview mirror.


KING: Mike Lindell is still in the rearview mirror. We'll see about Fox and how they covered the news heading into the next election cycle. Donald Trump, the Republican front runner of every speech, still airing his grievances, he won.

CAMILA DECHALUS, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: And that's the thing. I've talked to several Republican voters across the country. And they also believe that, you know, all the targets against Trump that the 2020 election was rigged. And so, when you have these public figures going on and continuing to use that rhetoric, this is something that, you know, you do see some Republicans staying away and saying, hey, let's move on. And then others are keep harping on it.

But I think with the Republican voters that I've talked to, a lot of them do believe this rhetoric and they turn to these people and say, hey, look, I'm not the only one that believes us. Here are the public officials. So, it is this reckoning that has to happen within the Republican Party about what messaging they want to do, and how to really galvanize their Republican base to really go out and vote for whoever the contender to be.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And I think that's such a key point because they're responding to where their voters are, where their constituents are, but their constituents are responding to what they see on television, what they hear from Mike Lindell. Look, real tragedy what happened to Mike Lindell here. Murray, I would never hang up on you. You always hang up on me, that's also kind of offensive.

I think that it's -- there's a level of satisfaction in seeing people actually have to pay some price whether monetarily or otherwise for what happened, both during the election and in the weeks and months afterwards. I think it's probably not nearly significant enough to have a tangible effect on to your point the people who believe otherwise.

I think the reality remains that the person who led the vast majority of this and led the drive towards insurrection is still the leading presidential candidate and almost bury by a wide margin in 2024. And so, grappling with this regardless of how much Fox News pays or how much Mike Lindell pays. We've got a lot of things to work out.

KING: The corrosive nature of these lies is now everywhere, everywhere. It's going to take a very long time if to get them out of the bloodstream. Up next for us. Potential whistleblower comes forward in the Hunter Biden investigation. The witness wants protection from the Congress and promises proof. The Biden Justice Department is playing politics with the case.




KING: CNN has learned that an IRS agent wants whistleblower protections in order to share information. The agent says, possesses about the ongoing investigation into the president's son Hunter Biden. The special agent claims to have information that contradicts sworn congressional testimony by the Attorney General Merrick Garland. Garland, a source familiar with that matter telling CNN, the agent has that information.

CNN's Paula Reid is here to share with us. Paula Reid, so now the question is, can this whistleblower or person who wants to be whistleblower get congressional protection for that, which is a legal process. Is attorney, we don't know if it's a man or woman.

The attorney for the whistleblower Mark Lytle writes this to the relevant committees in Congress. Despite serious risk of retaliation, my client is offering to provide you with information necessary to exercise your constitutional oversight function, wishes to make the disclosures in a non-partisan manner to the leadership of the relevant committees on both sides of the political aisle. So, it's a letter sent to both Democrats and Republicans. The leading lawmakers, on the relevant committees says, it will be non-partisan. Obviously, this investigation is caught up in a ton of partisanship. Where are we going?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. According to this letter, this is someone who oversees the investigation into the president's son, we know that goes back to about 2018. We know from our reporting, they've contemplated bringing charges that include tax crimes or a potential false statement charge related to a weapons purchase, but no charges have been brought as of now.

The reason this person would want whistleblower protection is if you work for the IRS, you can't talk about tax info. If you're working on a criminal investigation, you can't talk about that. So, if this person is able to get this protection, they would be able to share what they know. And they say, they have evidence of mishandling. And this individual also claims again without evidence at this point that they could contradict statements made by a top official who we've learned is Attorney General Merrick Garland.


KING: Right. So, we've learned that the top official Merrick Garland and that issue, Garland hasn't said much about this. But went before Congress, he did say this.


MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I have pledged not to interfere with that investigation, and I have carried through on my pledge.


KING: Now, again, this is unproven. It would be off the charts' blockbuster, if you could prove that to not be true. He was under oath when he told that to Congress, nevermind that he's the chief law enforcement officer. And he has said if this is in the hands of Mr. Weiss. David Weiss is a holdover from the Trump administration.

They deliberately left a Trump U.S. attorney from Delaware in charge, because they understood the sensitivity of this. One of the frustrations is these facts, he's mentioned goes back to 2018. The facts are they changing? Or if they're not changing, why is it taking so long?

REID: Well, the facts appear to be the same. But investigations as they go forward, there is sometimes internal dissent about whether the facts that you have are strong enough to support a case and prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.

And when you're talking about tax charges, when you're talking about potentially a false statement related to a gun purchase, when someone as we know is at the height of their addiction. That is something that intelligent minds can disagree about whether that is going to be on solid, legal ground. At this point, all we know is no charges have been brought forward.

Now, in the absence of the federal case, yielding anything. Republicans on the Hill have launched their own series of investigations into the Biden family. And there's nothing that they would like to see more than headlines about a whistleblower, a Hunter Biden, potentially contradicting the attorney general.

But at this point, we don't have any evidence of exactly what this person will say, and what it will mean. At this point, the IRS, the Justice Department, the White House, and representatives for Hunter Biden have all declined to comment.

KING: So, now we wait to see whether and given the interest of House Republicans, they have the majority, given the interest of House Republicans and this one would assume that Senate Democrats would also understand that they probably need to work something out here, but we'll see how that plays out. Paula Reid, thanks for coming in on that story.

Up next, the big decision for the Chief Justice John Roberts. Does he accept a new invitation to testify in front of Congress?




KING: A new invitation that sets up potential blockbuster testimony. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois. Today says, the Chief Justice John Roberts is welcome to go under oath and go on the record about quote, justice is falling short of ethical standards.

Durbin says the court now faces a crisis of confidence that after the new revelations about Justice Clarence Thomas accepting and not reporting big gifts from a Republican megadonor. This playing out as the court heads into overtime on a very significant major case.

The justices put two more days on the calendar on the clock to consider medication abortion question that could have enormous impact on abortion access. A Wednesday order from Justice Samuel Alito, issued with no explanation will keep the drug mifepristone on shelves through Friday. The court has until then, to settle questions raised by lower court rulings about the FDA authority and about how or if women can get abortion inducing pills.

The government warns and adverse decision, could let judges substitute politics for cold hard science on not just mifepristone, but on drugs designed to cure all manner of ailments (Ph). There's also this new wrinkle. A drug maker that makes the generic version of mifepristone has now sued the government, sued the FDA to keep its version on the market.

CNN's Joan Biskupic joins our conversation. Joan's new book, Nine Black Robes is out right now. Let's come back to the Roberts' question. The ethics questions later. It's unusual, SCOTUSblog put it this way. The court's extension of its administrative stay is unusual. That suggests that exchanges are ongoing between the justices. For example, the court could be prepping its own opinion or nuanced stay order. Or one or more justices may be writing opinions supporting or dissenting from a state ruling. It is unusual that in an emergency case like this, they ask for more time. What do we know?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: No. I think we know these things. They were not ready to decide one way or another either grant the Biden administration decision requests to just postpone or the lower court orders that would change the availability of the drug or to outright grant, you know, just one way or another.

So, it's not clear cut. They need five votes for a majority. They're working on it. I did think that first order that Justice Alito issued, gave them not much time, and clearly, they need more time. I think we're going to have some sort of order by, you know, late tomorrow. And bottom line, it will be exactly how available will this medication abortion drug be.

What kind of restrictions will be on it? And what kind of dissent might we hear from some of the justices? I do have to say, John, the Biden administration yesterday morning, early in the morning when he put in his last filing said, if you are not ready to decide, PS (Ph) decide in our favor, take a little more time and that's what they've done.

KING: And so, they're taking more time, Phil. There are a lot of progressives. This is an issue that animates both parties. It's a very emotional, it's sometimes an issue of faith. But there are progressives urging the Biden administration they did when this decision was making its way up to the Supreme Court, just ignore it. If you get an adverse ruling that that essentially severely restricts access to abortion finds a way to just ignore it. The White House press secretary today says, sorry, we can't do that.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I understand people are frustrated. What they're trying to do is unprecedented, but if we were to set aside a court decision that would be unprecedented as well.