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Inside Politics

Police: E. Jean Carroll Testifies in Trial Against Trump; Biden; South Korean President Speak at the White House; U.S.-South Korea Announce Steps to Deter North Korea's Nuclear Threat; Mitch McConnell Defends Embattled Justices Gorsuch and Thomas; Bipartisan Senators Target Supreme Court Ethics in New Bill. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired April 26, 2023 - 12:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Right now, a civil battery and defamation trial brought against the Former President Donald Trump is underway. E. Jean Carroll, a writer who claims the former president assaulted her back in the 1990s is on the witness stand. CNN's Kara Scannell is live for us outside the courthouse in Manhattan. Kara, what have we heard from this testimony?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, E. Jean Carroll has been on the stand for just more than an hour. Out of the gate, she said -- told the jury I'm here because Donald Trump raped me. And when I wrote about it, he said it didn't happen. He lied and shattered my reputation and I'm here to try to get my life back. She then went on in detail to describe the events of this day in question that she said occurred, which she thinks was a Thursday in the spring of 1996.

She described how in Bergdorf Goodman, the department store, she ran into Donald Trump as she was leaving and he was walking in. She said he said to her, hey, you're that advice lady. She replied, hey, you're that real estate tycoon. She said that they then continued to joke around. He asked her to provide some advice, he needed to buy a gift. She said that she looked at some handbags, then they looked at hats, and then he suggested they go upstairs to the 6th floor in the room where the lingerie is. She said there they continued joking around.

She thought this would be a great scene to tell her friends at a dinner party, how she was with Donald Trump, who she thought was funny and personable at the time. They joked about trying on this -- she described a grayish-blue body suit. He suggested she put it on. She joked that he should put it on. She said that then they went into the dressing room and that's where she described in graphic detail to this jury what she claims happened then.

She said that Trump had pushed her up against the wall, pushed her up against the wall so hard that she banged her head. She said that he then pulled down her tights and raped her. And at one point in her testimony, Carroll became a little emotional. Her voice cracked, she was sniffling back. She took a pause because she told the jury that she still asks herself how she got in that situation. Why did she go into the dressing room.


She thought they were joking. The situation she said turned very dark. She said that the rape was extremely painful that she could still feel it this moment, this day when she was on the witness stand. And she said that, you know, she is now in hindsight thinking it was very stupid of her to go in there and she said that the damage this caused her, she said it left me unable to ever have a romantic life again.

Now, I just left the courthouse where she's testifying. She began to tell the story of when she left, had she called one of her friends to tell her what had happened. And her friend told her, Eugene, you have been raped. Now, this testimony will continue on direct. That's with her lawyers questioning her. Once they finish that direct examination, Trump's attorneys will have a chance. They've already said that she made this story up. They said that her motive was financial, political and for the spotlight, as we can expect some pretty intense exchanges when cross-examination begins either later today or tomorrow, John.

KING: Kara Scannell for us covering this important trial, we appreciate that. It's a difficult -- difficult even just to hear that. Kara, appreciate you're being there for us.

When we come back, a very big day at the White House, Pomp & Circumstance this morning. You see right there, the president greeting the President of South Korea here for a state visit. Just moments from now, the president will have a news conference with the two leaders, the leaders working on new steps to deal with North Korea. As the Pentagon document leaks though do loom over, create new tensions in these talks.



KING: We are minutes or so away from President Biden and the South Korean President taking questions from reporters. That after a meeting in the Oval Office together. Hanging over today's meeting and today's discussions, a nuclear threat from North Korea which launched a record number of missiles in the last year. The United States now promising new steps to deter Kim Jong Un's provocations, including more military exercises and military assets in the region, including the visit to South Korea of a nuclear ballistic submarine.

Let's get to the White House. Our Chief White House Correspondent Phil Mattingly is standing by. Phil, walk us through what we're learning.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You know, John, there are significant pillars that administration officials will be working through in that bilateral meeting that's currently ongoing with an ally of seven decades. In the state visit, we'll have a state dinner later, but there's no question. The central focus of this will be an agreement that's known -- become known as the Washington Declaration. It's essentially an agreement both designed to address the very acute, real and persistent threat that North Korea has posed over the course of the last two years with their repeated missile launches and tests, but also very real concern inside South Korea about not just North Korea, but also the U.S. commitment to the country. Now, as you noted as part of that, U.S. military assets will be moving in a more fulsome manner into the region including that nuclear submarine, but note the South Korean government will also have a seat at the table in terms of consultations related to any nuclear activities between the United States and the region. That's a critical component of this and this underscores what the president said in their meeting in the Oval Office. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, (D) 46TH PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I think that our partnership is ready to take on any challenges we may face. We're doubling down on our cooperation as allies, even as the DPRK ramps up its challenges.


MATTINGLY: The president called South Korea and the South Korean President the lynchpin of the U.S. relationship inside that region. Something he will underscore at that press conference we are expecting here in a little bit. Also, the fact they are having a press conference is important. The president hasn't done a lot of them of late. Certainly, a number of issues to get into not just about South Korea, but you know, maybe campaign politics, a few other things as well. He can probably be asked about it.

KING: There are a few other things as well, well put. Phil Mattingly, live for us at the White House, will watch as the press conference plays out in a few minutes at the White House. Let's bring the conversation back into the room and CNN's Kylie Atwood is here to join our conversation. And to the point Phil was making, this is a relationship that goes back 70 years. Alright, guess what, friends occasionally have disagreements.

There's tension at the moment because in those documents leaked from the Pentagon, there were conversations about efforts -- apparent efforts by the United States to get South Korea to help Ukraine with munitions. And South Korea has a public policy of not supplying any other nations with arms. President Yoon, listen to this in an NBC interview, saying don't worry, all is good here.


YOON SUK YEOL, PRESIDENT OF SOUTH KOREA: I believe this matter is no reason to shake the ironclad trust supports the South Korea and U.S. alliance because it's based on shared values like freedom. The most important thing is the trust. When you have that trust, you don't get it shaken.


KING: If you're President Biden, you appreciate that. Your friends in public stand by you. Privately, is this a blip or are there significant tensions, things that need to be worked out? KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, when

you talk to U.S. diplomats, they weren't altogether surprised to see this out in public, the fact that the U.S. is spying on one of its allies, or South Korean diplomats, I mean they knew this happened. So, I think what President Yoon is trying to do is re-orient the discussion back to the real issues at play here. And when I talked to folks, they don't think he's going to make it a major issue when he meets with President Biden if he can walk away with other wins. And that's the key here, right? When you talk about the public in South Korea right now, they, the majority of them actually want their country to have their own set of nuclear weapons. And so, can President Yoon deliver something to the public at home that's putting pressure on him to develop its own nuclear capacity to say, hey, we have this military relationship with the U.S. which is so strong and only growing stronger, and that is going to be the win that that he could walk home with if he doesn't have to get too much into the U.S. spying on them.


KING: And so, it's interesting. You watch these moments play out. And I covered the White House for ten years. You seem the Oval Office meetings, there's a script to these things. There is the Oval Office meeting, then they come out and do the press conferences. This today, we are in the Rose Garden because it is a beautiful day, sometimes in the East Room. So some people say, ho-hum, right, it's just an ally. We're friends, ho-hum.

David Ignatius from The Washington Post makes I think a very important point. White House meeting with allies like Yoon might seem like the elevator music of foreign policy, predictable and pre-programmed. But these relationships are the essence of the West's power. Not just as a message to North Korea, but China is watching right now. And it lives in the neighborhood. Putin is watching right now in the middle of the Ukraine war. Can President Biden continue to manage these important relationships?

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: That's been one of the accomplishments that the White House has kind of touted for the past two years, more than anything, the ability of their team to basically go out and unite the West, whether it be China, reaching out to allies in the South China sea, whether it's North Korea, or whether it's Putin as well, and the war in Ukraine. And not just how they talk and kind of showing that friendly relationship, but also how they can overcome some issues, right? And points of tension between the relationship is key for these western allies.

This -- the leak of these documents and South Korea's role in Ukraine isn't the only point of tension between these two. You know, in the past year, we have also seen that the Yoon Administration has also basically criticized the Biden Administration for the Inflation Reduction Act and tax credits that would encourage American consumers to buy electric vehicles in the nation. This is coming after President Biden went to South Korea and basically celebrated Samsung investing in the United States. So there was concern amongst allies around a signature piece of domestic legislation, whether that would undermine the globalism as well when it comes to some of those partnerships.

KING: We'll watch what the two leaders say there today and to Phil Mattingly's point, the president doesn't do this very often. I would argue not often enough. His critics certainly argue that he's somehow (ph) hiding from reporters. We'll see as the event plays out.

Up next, increasing questions and demands that Congress wants to do something about ethics in the Supreme Court.



KING: Today, a strong defense of two embattled Supreme Court Justices from the Senate Republican leader.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): They are the desperate and never-ending attempts to smear and defame justices appointed by the Republican president. Two justices have been particularly subjected to a carousel of character assassination. This is simply how the far left treats the rule of law. I have total confidence in Justice Gorsuch, Justice Thomas.


KING: Leader McConnell's skepticism likely will doom a new bipartisan effort for more transparency, more ethics disclosures at the High Court. Let's bring in to our conversation, CNN's Joan Biskupic. Lauren Fox is still here at the table. Mitch McConnell actually citing in his defense of the justices a new letter from the justice, a new statement from the court anyway, saying hey, we don't need Congress to meddle, to make us have new ethics rules, we are on top of this.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: That's exactly the subtext of it. We don't need you to tell us what to do. The letter came in response to a request from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin to the Chief Justice John Roberts, asking him to come speak about ethics before his committee. The Chief declined but the Chief as he declined yesterday, included with it a list of the kind of guidance that the justices already use and it was signed by the nine justices.

What I have to say, the subtext of the whole thing was, we've got this. We are also being wrongly criticized was sort of another thing that came in -- came throughout the message. And then I do want to mention, at the end, the Chief Justice added a paragraph about security and -- so it was not just we've been wrongly criticized, we have this, but we are under threat also. And I don't want to minimize the threat to them, but lots of people in Washington have faced threats and the point is there are some serious ethical concerns that need to be addressed. So he was minimizing the concerns.

KING: He is defending his brethren, if you will, the Chief and that's part of being the leader of a team, I guess. But we've seen the headlines lately about Justice Gorsuch and Justice Thomas either taking gifts or having real estate transactions. That -- maybe they are all up and above. If they had clearer transparency and disclosure laws, we would know about them in advance, and I find about them in places like this.

Angus King and Lisa Murkowski, an independent and a Republican, but two of the least partisan members of the United States Senate, wanted to have a piece of legislation that essentially leaves it up to the court, but it just demand -- the Congress demands that you create a new ethics process. That sounds like Mitch McConnell says no.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, I mean, that's exactly what McConnell is saying here.

KING: Yeah.

FOX: But, it's also interesting because neither of those members serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee. There were other efforts afoot (ph) to try to strengthen the ethics rules at the court. I thought what was interesting about their proposal is they really do hand it back to the justices to say, can you please police yourselves in a different way? Can you do something, so that we feel like we are taking action that we are taking a step forward, whether or not anything moves forward, including a question of who is going to testify at this hearing that Durbin wants to have on the ethics of the court. It just all remains to be seen


BISKUPIC: Can I say one thing about turning it back? I do think that the Chief is right. There are legitimate independence of judiciary issues here. And what this bill does is it essentially says this will be your responsibility, but please take that responsibility.

KING: Right, if you -- if you make clear that you were sensitive and going to take --


KING: -- new steps, then perhaps other people wouldn't have to suggest that you take new steps I guess. Thanks both for your time today. And thanks for your time today in "Inside Politics." CNN's "News Central" starts after a quick break. Have a good afternoon.