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Inside Politics

Trump Touts Conservative Judges After Facing Abortion Scrutiny; CNN And Don Lemon Parting Ways After 17 Years; U.S. Evacuates Diplomatic Personnel From Sudan Amid Fighting; Hunter Biden Legal Team Demands Investigations Into Detractors; ACLU: 469 Anti-LGBTQ Bills Introduced So Far This Year. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 24, 2023 - 12:30   ET



EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER: Vivek Ramaswamy, the tech entrepreneur or the entrepreneur who is running a credible presidential campaign, I asked him about this, and he said that he really believes that this is a state's issue. He knows he's going to get heat from the left and the right on this.

Listen, in a place like Iowa that's going to have this first nominating contest, a lot of evangelical voters will really like the candidates that take the most extreme anti-abortion position possible. But beyond Iowa, it's going to be really, really hard to hold that position.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Right, or especially as you get to the general election, as you go through it. So it's interesting you heard in that sound bite there, Pence disagreeing with Donald Trump because Donald Trump issued a statement, his campaign did issue a statement to The Washington Post saying it's a states issue now after the court, you know, wiped out Roe v. Wade with the Dobbs decision. Now it should be up to the states.

The Susan B. Anthony Fund, a prolife organization that has a lot of voters in those early primary states as members, took issue with Donald Trump. So Donald Trump also appeared at this meeting, the Faith and Freedom Coalition by videotape and he noted, I'm the guy who put these three justices on the Supreme Court who sent Roe away.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We achieved more for our values than any administration in the history of our country, and it's not even close. I appointed over 300 judges to fill the federal bench. I faced down vile attacks to confirm our three great Supreme Court justices. Those justices delivered a landmark victory for protecting innocent life. Nobody thought it was going to happen.


KING: But he did not address this question, right? He did not talk about medication abortion, and what he would like the courts to do, and he did not address, you know -- he issued a statement to CNN on Friday, I believe it was, that was a little softer than the statement to The Post saying it's up to the states now. He's going to have to -- as this goes on, there's going to be a debate eventually. The first one is in August. You're going to have to answer the question.

MARIANNA SOTOMAYOR, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Absolutely. And this is the fine line that Republicans who are running in 2024 and also congressional Republicans who are running for reelection will have to figure out where they stand on. I mean, whether it is the birth control debate or, you know, is it six weeks, 15 weeks, 20 weeks.

Republicans on the Hill, for example, had a bill that would ban abortions on the federal level for 15 weeks and that's just completely disappeared. But back to the 2024 stage, I mean, Trump, I think, is trying to probably better than other Republican candidates right now, delicately tread this line of not really opining, because it's true that once this becomes a general election issue, I mean, this is likely a losing issue for Republicans.

KING: And we were talking at the beginning of the program or a little bit after the beginning of the program that President Biden starts tomorrow. This is an issue over the years he's been uncomfortable talking about, and yet when it comes to organizing voters, younger voters, suburban voters, they think this plays very well into the Biden reelection message.

Especially for voters who might think, Joe Biden, you know, the person, is he too old to run, or do I want somebody younger? Do I want a woman? Do I want somebody of color? If he's your nominee, they think this is how they motivate voters. Not maybe the person, but the issues.

JEFF MASON, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: And there's the reason that they have basically tasked that to Vice President Harris, because she represents those things. She has taken the ball and run with it on that issue over the last several months. It had an impact in the midterm elections, and I think that's something you'll see her continuing to lead on. President Biden will talk about it, but you're absolutely right, he's less comfortable on it than she is.

KING: That's it. That's an excellent point about the Vice President who has taken the lead on this.

When we come back, striking back. The aggressive move from Hunter Biden's lawyers as Republican lawmakers ramp up their investigations.

Also ahead, the U.S. says the situation in Sudan is now so grave. It cannot -- not safe to go back to rescue thousands of U.S. citizens still trapped in that country. A live report coming up.



KING: I want to share with you some important news right here at our own network. CNN's Oliver Darcy is back with us. Oliver, what do you know?

OLIVER DARCY, CNN SENIOR MEDIA REPORTER: Some shocking news again, John, in the world of Cable News. Don Lemon and CNN have parted ways. This is according to a memo that was sent out to CNN employees just moments ago. I'll read to you part of it, John, actually, most of it. It says, "CNN and Don have parted ways. Don will forever be a part of the CNN family, and we thank him for his contributions over the past 17 years. We wish him well, and we will be cheering him on in his future endeavors."

And then it goes on to say that the network is committed to the morning show, CNN This Morning, which, of course, is hosted or was hosted by Don Lemon, as well as Kaitlan Collins and Poppy Harlow. Now, this statement is coming from CNN CEO Chris Licht. It does not detail what happened, what led to Don's departure, but Don Lemon is no longer with CNN, according to this memo that just went out to CNN employees. John?

KING: That was going to be my follow up, as it was in the Tucker Carlson case when we announced that he is leaving Fox or he and Fox have parted ways. At the top of the show was the why, but it's clear from that that we don't have any more information on that, correct?

DARCY: Not at the moment, John. But rest assured, once I get out of here, I will be making some calls.

KING: Oliver Darcy, appreciate the hustle very much on this breaking news story. And again, I don't know the details happening while I'm sitting in the chair here, but I work here. I love this place and I certainly wish Don the best. He's always been good to me as a colleague.

Let's move on now. We'll get more details as we can. The United States says the situation in Sudan is escalating quickly and so it is beyond dangerous. Because of that, the United States not planning another operation to evacuate roughly 16,000 dual nationals left behind.



JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: We have military forces still pre-positioned nearby in the region, Don, if they're needed. But quite frankly, the situation is not conducive and not safe to try to conduct some kind of a larger military evacuation of American citizens. The violence is increasing. It's more dangerous today than it was just yesterday or the day before.


KING: More than 400 people have been killed, nearly 4,000 others wounded in the fighting. This weekend, the United States evacuating diplomats in a daring 1 hour military rescue operation. Multiple countries, including Canada, Egypt, Spain and Russia making similar moves. CNN's Sam Kiley joins us now live from Djibouti. Sam, a tenuous situation and essentially a global retreat from Sudan.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, very much so, John. A global retreat, I think is exactly the right way to put it. And if you see behind me here, we have a French Air Force long distance cargo plane that has been, we understand, on about four rotations into Khartoum. The French have evacuated close to 500 people.

In the distance beyond it, that is an RAF aircraft. Similarly, the British have -- they joined the Americans indeed. British Special Forces were taken in by Americans during the American evacuation of their diplomats at the beginning of the operation, at the weekend, taking out about 100 people.

Both the United States and the United Kingdom, though, being criticized quite bitterly by their own citizens for what, in their words, has been something of a failure to get those other people out. The people who are not diplomats, the people who are not lucky enough to be wealthy or able to get a vehicle out to a mustering point.

Now, over in this direction here at Djibouti International Airport, John, you can see what a major hub of military it has become. There are five or six Hercules and similar aircraft, the kind of flying trucks of the military world, they're parked over there. They're part of this multinational evacuation effort that has included. Special forces from Japan, South Korea, all the way through the Middle East, Britain, France, the Netherlands, and of course, the United States.

The problem is now that with the escalating fighting in Sudan, how do you get all of those other foreign nationals out? And that would be a land move. And there's no yet -- there's not any clear planning as to how they're going to manage that or even if they're going to. John?

KING: Incredibly difficult moment.

Sam Kiley, grateful for that important reporting there, live for us in Djibouti. Sam, thank you. Keep us posted as this plays out in the days ahead.

Now back to Washington and what we'll call a ball of confusion surrounding the President's son, Hunter Biden. Republicans going on the airwaves and elsewhere to make new accusations against the President's son. And today, Hunter Biden's legal team firing off a new letter asking for a pair of new investigations, including one into the Congresswoman, Marjorie Taylor Greene.

Let's get the details from our CNN Senior Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid. Let's start with Hunter Biden's attorneys and the new demands they are making today. Aggressive? What and why?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Exactly. Aggressive is the right word, and that's what we've seen from them in recent months as the criminal investigation into Hunter Biden appeared, at least publicly, to stall out. They saw that Republicans were taking over the House and made it clear that Hunter Biden would be a top target.

He became much more forward leaning in his strategy, becoming both more litigious and here again, punching back against what he perceives as his detractors. As you noted, they are seeking an ethics investigation into Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. They are accusing her of making defamatory statements and promoting conspiracy theories related to the President's son.

Now, the Treasury Inspector General has responded to us, says, look, we have this letter. We're reviewing it, but the congresswoman's office has not replied. Now, they are also seeking an investigation into this former Trump aide Garrett Ziegler, who they allege engaged in a conspiracy to obtain suspicious activity reports known as SARs related to Hunter Biden and posted them online. They pointed to comments that he made on a podcast saying he had an insider at a bank who gave them to him.

Now, Ziegler, we've learned, has become a real focus for the Biden legal team. They have also filed a lawsuit accusing him of stalking members of the legal team. Ziegler's attorney has not responded to our request for comment.

KING: Quickly, before you go. There's supposed to be a meeting this week with Justice Department and Hunter Biden's lawyers. Is that a routine status conference, or do we think there's some decisions being made here?

REID: It depends who you ask. We're told from our sources that, you know, people are trying to spin this as being look, it's completely routine is what we're told. We're told this meeting is being arranged at the request of Hunter Biden's legal team. We're told that in attendance will be at least one top career Justice Department official, as well as the Trump appointed U.S. attorney, who, of course, has been overseeing the Hunter Biden investigation.

But while these meetings are not uncommon for people at the end of an investigation to be invited by DOJ, it is not that common for your lawyers to just ask for a status update and get this kind of in person meeting. So we're told it'll be routine. I'm told we will not get the final disposition of this case.


Our most recent reporting, as you know, is that prosecutors had whittled it down to a few potential tax crimes, a possible false statement related to a gun. But nothing's happened in nearly a year.

KING: So we shall see and appreciate the important reporting. You and other members of our team will follow that one as it plays out.

Up next for us, the surge in legislation to curb transgender rights. More than two dozen new laws just this year.


[12:50:08] KING: By the numbers look now at a growing Republican front in the culture wars, restricting the rights and the options of transgender Americans. The Washington Post with some fabulous reporting. Look at this. At least 29 bills targeting transgender rights have become law in 14 states so far this year, already surpassing last year's record high of 20 such bills that became law in 12 states.

All either signed into law by a Republican governor or enacted by Republican legislatures with enough votes, meaning a supermajority, to override a Democratic governor. The laws vary from state to state. In Arkansas, for example, transgender adults now have up to 15 years to sue doctors for gender affirming care they received as minors.

In Utah, trans youth are banned from changing their gender markers on identification cards and birth certificates. And in Iowa, transgender female athletes are banned from participating in high school and college sports.

Let's get some reporting and insights now from the reporter working on this, the fabulous Washington Post. Look, Kimberly Kindy is here with us. Let me just start with the question. First, we can show the map, this just show the map of where this is happening all over America.

These states that are deep red, three of them, 35 plus pieces of legislation enforced. In the lighter red, you have, you know, six 15 to 34 pieces of legislation. Six states, 10 to 14 pieces of legislation, also in six states. In 14 states, four to nine pieces of legislation.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but transgender Americans are about 1 percent shy of --


KING: -- 2 percent of the population?

KINDY: That's right. They're --

KING: Why?

KINDY: They're about 1 percent of the population. Yet this legislative session, the bills that seek to limit the rights of transgender individuals have been among the first pieces of legislation that have been introduced.

KING: So is it fair to say, as many progressives and LGBTQ activists say, that this is a solution in search of a problem?

KINDY: Well, yes. There are -- and, for instance, the sports bans. In many of the states where sports bans have passed, there is maybe one or two transgender girls who are on sports teams. The concerns that have been expressed about high school girls losing cisgender girls, losing scholarships, college scholarships to transgender girls, have not materialized. So there isn't any evidence that this has caused problems yet. But the concern and the fear is definitely driving this particular legislative agenda.

KING: The concern and the fear, or, forgive me, the show is called Inside Politics, the belief among some of these Republican lawmakers that they can gin up their base, that this is -- is this and is this -- and I know it's an incredibly sensitive issue and a legitimate issue in these communities where there's one athlete. Maybe the parents want to get together, maybe the coaches want to get together, maybe the school has to get together to discuss facilities.

KINDY: Right.

KING: But is there such an urgent problem? Many would look at gun violence as one, where state legislatures need to be spending all this time on this?

KINDY: Well, no. It's -- like I said, it's one of the very first things on the agenda that drag bill -- the drag bills this year, there were 26 of them introduced in 14 states. One of the very first bills that was introduced for the 2023 session was a drag bill.

There, you know, there are serious problems that these states are facing inflation, unemployment, not enough money for education. But Republicans are winning their primaries based upon these cultural war issues and whether or not they have sponsored these bills and whether or not they have fought for these bills.

People who have even compromised on sports bands and other transgender bills, they have lost their primaries because people who have run against them have said, I would have never compromised. I would have gone even farther with it. Each year, these bills become more and more extreme.

KING: It's fascinating because you have some ACLU numbers cited in your story. Back in 2019, there were 51 such bills. 2020, there were 77 anti-LGBTQ bills, not all about transgender, but 154 in 2021. Look at 2023, 469, it's April, it's April.

KINDY: Right.

KING: And it's 469. You mentioned one of the lawmakers. Essentially, it's become a purity test almost in some of these states --


KING: -- for the Republicans. Brandon Prichard is a North Dakota state representative. He told you, at the end of the day, if you don't have the social issues, you aren't going to get elected or reelected. And once you are elected on that platform, you better abide by it. So they view this as what, what they need to do to keep the base happy?

KINDY: Definitely. They -- I mean, you can see he was just blatantly saying, if you do not toe the line on this, you're not going to get reelected. You're not going to get elected in the first place. And if you get elected on that platform, you better hold firm on it.


It's -- it has dominated the legislative agenda, and each year, there's a new flavor, and it gets more extreme. Last year, there weren't any drag bills. This year, there were dozens of them. Last year, there were a number of bills seeking to ban gender affirming care for transgender youth.

This year, there are a number of bills that not only seek to ban it for youth, but also for adults. That means people who have already transitioned would no longer be able to receive care in their own state. Hormone therapy that they may have been on for decades would end for them.

KING: Kimberly Kindy, it's a fascinating reporting. It's a very sensitive issue. You did a remarkable job pulling it all together. I really appreciate you're coming here. Come back as this plays out throughout the legislature.

Thanks for your time today on Inside Politics. Busy news day. "CNN NEWS CENTRAL" starts after a quick break.