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Inside Politics

Pence Testifies For 5 Hours Before Grand Jury; Pence Testifies In Grand Jury Probe Into Trump, Jan 6; Investigators Interested In Pence-Trump Convos Before Jan 6; GOP Lawmakers Help Block Abortion Bans In Red States; Abortion Bans Fail In Red States South Carolina & Nebraska; Abortion Debate Looms Over 2024 Race; West Virginia Gov Jim Justice Enters 2024 Senate Race; Sen. Manchin: I'll Win Any Race I Enter. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired April 28, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. Historic testimony, the former Vice President Mike Pence, faces a federal grand jury looking into Donald Trump's efforts to steal the 2020 election. The Pence's testimony marks a pivotal moment in the special counsel investigation.

Plus, taking a stand. Conservative lead legislators in South Carolina and Nebraska say no to stricter abortion laws. It's the latest whiplash moment as Republicans wrestle with their Roe era promises to one day ban abortion in the post-Roe world where they actually can.

And a heavyweight Senate showdown now brewing in West Virginia. The Republican Governor Jim Justice announces his run for Joe Manchin's seat.


GOV. JIM JUSTICE, (R) WEST VIRGINIAN SENATE CANDIDATE: How in the world do you think we're perceived with our allies? I mean, look what happened in Afghanistan. Look what's going on at the border. Look what's going on with inflation. Look what's going on with energy. It's just all over the park. We're going to have to do something about it. And we're going to have to elect somebody that has done it. My dad would say, son, you're done, done it.


KING: Back to that fascinating political story in a moment. But we begin the hour with a groundbreaking five hours. That's how long the former Vice President Mike Pence spent yesterday before the federal grand jury investigating his former boss and his potential 2024 rival, that would be Donald Trump. Pence in the witness chair after a lengthy court battle over the scope and limits of his testimony.

Pence in the witness chair after a judge said, he could be asked about direct conversations with then President Trump, who we know repeatedly pressured his vice president to help him find a way anyway, to ignore Joe Biden's 2020 win and to stay in power. It is an unprecedented moment in the American legal system, and perhaps assigned the sprawling special counsel investigation is nearing decisions time.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Dana Bash, CNN's Evan Perez, and our CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig. Evan, let's start with you. We know the special counsel is looking into Trump's effort to overturn the election results. How that effort might have resulted contributed to the January 6 attack at the Capitol?

The fake electors plot. You're trying to essentially defraud the United States government is one of the questions there. Did they commit wire fraud by defrauding donors, by raising money off people saying it was to contest an election that they knew they had lost. The vice president was in on so much. Oval Office meetings, not just around January 6, but from election day up to January 6, publicly, he says the American people deserve the truth.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES: President Trump was wrong. I had no right to overturn the election. And his words that day were reckless. And they endangered my family and others at the Capitol. The American people deserve to know the truth of that day they have every right to hold the president and others around him accountable. No one's above the law.


KING: Yet, despite saying that publicly, he has fought and tried to not be forced to go before this grand jury. Five plus hours after a judge said, you not only have testified, Pence got some ground from the judge to not answer questions in some places, but direct conversations with the former president that is a huge deal.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That is a huge deal. It's a historic moment, obviously. And what's fascinating is obviously the context here is that Donald Trump, well, none of us and certainly Donald Trump, more importantly, they do not know what Pence said during those five hours with the grand jury.

And that's key because if there's been a lot of suspicion in Trump world, that the former vice president and certainly his aides had been a lot more helpful to prosecutors than, you know, that defiant tone you've heard from Pence where he said, you know, he didn't want to help the Joe Biden Justice Department. And of course, his lawsuit where he was trying to limit some of the testimony on the Speech or Debate Clause, right?

Once he is behind those closed doors, it's only him and he can be as helpful as he wants to be, or as not helpful. And the suspicion in Trump world is that he's been a lot more helpful, partly because you've seen sort of this evolution with Mike Pence where he's now much more comfortable saying those things, that you know, after all, he was the victim of a crime that day, right? [12:05:00]

Those people were there, shouting to lynch him. So that's what's fascinating about what happened yesterday. You know, he did lose -- the former president did lose his last-minute appeal the former vice president was in there for five hours.

KING: And to steal the line for Hamilton. He was very often in the room where it happened. And so, how important is Mike Pence as a witness?

ELIE HONIG, FORMER ASST. U.S. ATTORNEY SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: Yes. The most important thing that Mike Pence can do, and the thing that makes him a really uniquely positioned witnesses, he was there for the one on ones. The conversations between Mike Pence and Donald Trump, Donald Trump is not going to be testifying in this grand jury.

And so, he's the only person who can really give it to you. And looking at this just legally as a prosecutor, even if, let's say Marc Short or other Pence aide say, while Pence told me after the fact, here's what happened between him and Trump. That's not admissible in court, you would have to call Mike Pence as your witness.

Same thing with his book. Yes. He's written to some extent, his own carefully selected extent about those crucial conversations in his book, but you can't read the book to a jury and a book is only an inch deep. So, he is the only one who can give those answers and he can give us Trump's intent. I would want to know that Trump threatened -- did Trump acknowledged that he knew he lost, and Trump acknowledged that he understood what he was asking you to do was against the law?

KING: And that's what makes this so interesting. Let's go back to the January 6 theories. This is Greg Jacob, who was the legal counsel to the then vice president United States. And again, yes, the crowd was chanting, hang Mike Pence. Yes, we saw the security rushing Mike Pence out of the building because his life was in danger.

So that day is critical to this. But Greg Jacob made a point to the January 6 committee that even on election night, there were conversations about saying we won, even when the numbers said you didn't.


GREG JACOB, LEGAL COUNSEL TO MIKE PENCE: Marc had indicated to me that there was a possibility that there would be a declaration of victory within the White House that some might push for. And this is prior to the election results being known.


KING: Everything Pence himself has said publicly is, forgive me. I'm not saying he's not telling the truth, but he's shading. He's saying what he wants to say, because he's a politician. He's a potential candidate. He's trying to say, I had nothing to do with trying to steal the election, but he doesn't want to break too far from Donald Trump, because Donald Trump is still so important in the Republican Party. Behind closed doors, he's not a politician. I mean, he's a witness first and foremost.

DANA BASH, CNN CO-ANCHOR, STATE OF THE UNION: Yes. And what Elie said, is so important that, you know, most of us don't know what it's like to testify before a grand jury, but to know that he is there alone, his lawyer isn't there. There's nobody there to say I'm sorry, you know, object, objection or anything like that. He's just -- he's on his own. He's obviously a very confident guy in the kinds of questions that he wants to answer. And he clearly did some prepping, a lot of prepping, I'm sure with his lawyer.

But you're exactly right. What he says behind closed doors, is anybody's guess, his aides will say, and have said since yesterday. Well, he's got nothing to hide, suggesting that he answered all the questions, and that everything is in his book. But there is a lot more that they can get, because his book is something that he wrote. There's no journalist following up, but it's very, very different when you're under oath.

KING: And they also have testimony of dozens and dozens and dozens of other witnesses, other witnesses. So, they can ask Mike Pence about that. Can you verify this? Do you dispute this? Do you do that? Where did he have grounds to say, I won't answer your question.

HONIG: So, Mike Pence, did win this very narrow court victory under an obscure constitutional provision called the Speech or Debate Clause. So, what the judge said is, to the extent you're asked about that limited function that you played as the Senate president, that you're covered for. And I think it'd be interesting to find out, did Mike Pence actually invoke that privilege evident his team?

Well, I'm sure tell us that, by the way, not to put pressure on you. But certainly, you guys will break that story. But I'm really interested to see. Did he say, I'm not going to answer that under speech or debate, or not? And by the way, if he did try to invoke that and prosecutors disagree, you go back to the judge. Now, I don't know that it got to that point, but he had that very narrow carve out.

KING: And so normally, you would bring in such a high-profile witness like this at the very end of an investigation when you're nearing decision times, because you have to pay respect to the former vice president United States to the big, historic constitutional question you just talked about. They also had to fight this out in court.

So, do we know that's the case? Or is it just that we finally won the court case, we're going to bring Mike Pence in? Or that we're nearing the end? We have to make some very big decisions that we're going to bring in our biggest high-profile witnesses now.

PEREZ: Well, yes. I think there's some very big decisions that are looming, certainly in the Mar-a-Lago investigation, which might be a little bit ahead of this, the January 6 investigation. But importantly, you know, certainly for this team of prosecutors, they also have Mark Meadows, who is -- who looms very large. And as he was there, even in conversations where Mike Pence was. KING: Even more than Pence, right?


PEREZ: Right. So, he was very much the one who was also pressuring states to try to overturn the election. So, you know, that's another witness that we are waiting for at the corner.

BASH: I will tell you, in Pence's world just to run the raw politics of this, they are very happy that this is behind them because the expectation is that there will be an announcement of some kind very soon. Whether it's I'm not going to run, or I am going to run. They needed to get this behind.

PEREZ: What a tightrope he's walking.

KING: Right. And we know that his former boss in the upside-down world we live in. His former boss is the formidable front runner for the Republican nomination. Pence is a blip in the polls and his former boss is not happy. Whether a judge made him do it or not, his former boss is not happy, he was before that grand jury.

Up next for us. Two red state surprises. Conservative lawmakers block legislation to sharply curtail abortion access.


KING: Two significant red state setbacks for Republicans trying to ban or severely restrict abortion access. And in both South Carolina and Nebraska, it was conservative opposition to the new restrictions that was key in blocking the measures. The South Carolina proposal was just shy of an absolute abortion ban.


The now stalled Nebraska bill would have banned abortion after six weeks that both failed to pass is significant anyway, but all the more so because what next on abortion policy question is now front and center in the Republican presidential contest as well. In the South Carolina debate, a conservative Republican senator took issue, with men pushing to ban abortion.


SANDY SENN, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA STATE SENATE: The abortion laws have always been each and every one of them about control. It's always about control plain and simple. And in the Senate, the males all have control. We do not buy into the ruse that what you really want is to take care of us. Gentlemen, we've always been able to take care of ourselves. Always.


KING: CNN' Dianne Gallagher joins us live with the details of that debate. Fascinating and that you have it a conservative woman standing up to what she says to the misguided men. DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And look, John. I'll tell you that's not the first time that Senator Sandy Senn or those other four senators in the South Carolina legislature have done that. In South Carolina, that was the third time since the Dobbs ruling returned a control of abortion legislation to the states, that the Republican controlled South Carolina Senate has failed to pass outright abortion ban from the point of conception.

It easily passed through the House, but the Senate has been a roadblock for that state. And those five women, three of whom are conservative. Republicans have stood in the way. We had two states on Thursday, both failed to pass that severe abortion restriction legislation, both of them by just one vote.

In Nebraska, it came down to trying to stop a filibuster and it failed by one vote, because there were two senators who abstained from the vote, John? One of those was actually a sponsor of the original bill, an 80-year-old Republican senator who attempted to put in an amendment after he said that he had fought on the process more to make it a 12- week restriction.

That amendment didn't get a vote. So, he abstained from the vote. Both of them are likely dead for this legislative session. But that doesn't mean abortion is necessarily dead, John, especially in South Carolina where the Senate did pass a six-week abortion ban, but the House would have to take it up. They have less than a week left in session there.

KING: We'll watch it state-by-state, and obviously in the presidential contest now unfolding. Dianne Gallagher, grateful for that important live update. Let's bring the conversation back in the room. With me to share their reporting and insights, Cleve Wootson of The Washington Post, Karoun Demirjian of The New York Times, Dana Bash is still with us.

And it fascinated, just show you the map of the post road world we live in. Where you see the deep red states, abortion is essentially all been banned in those states. The yellow states have 15 to 20 weeks. Florida is among them. Florida, the Governor DeSantis six-week ban, but it's still in process. The courts have to review it. So, it's still a 15-week stay.

And you see the orange states, where the six weeks just one state, there're the state of Georgia. But this is a test. You have these now conservatives in South Carolina and Nebraska standing up and saying well, we're going too far. But this is a test because when Roe was in place, you had all these Republicans saying, oh gee, if we only could, we would repeal abortion rights.

Now they have to put their promises to the test because the Supreme Court said, go for it in the states. Is it fear of a backlash? Is that what we're seeing now some Republicans standing up and saying, well, we're going too far, we're going to pay a price for it.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: There are Republicans who are afraid of that backlash because they look at the midterm elections and how Democrats campaign fairly successfully and denied them the wins that they thought they were going to get based on making Roe v. Wade, a central part of their campaign platform.

That's not every Republicans, you've kind of got this internal mess right now in the GOP as they figure out, which is the right direction to go. But these states that you see that the evidence we just see from South Carolina and Nebraska shows that there are some Republicans are saying, maybe we are getting a little out over our skis (Ph) here, we should just pull it back a notch, so that we don't completely lose public opinion in the process.

KING: But we're going to watch this state-by-state debate play out in some of these states are very conservative. Some of the states where they're either almost essentially banning all abortions or putting six weeks in. They can go back and win elections. The question is what happens to the National Republican Party as this plays out?

Again, if you show the map again, the North Dakota governor just signed last week, I believe it was essentially an all ban on abortion with no exceptions. The Nebraska governor, you know, he has an eight- year-old member of the senate saying, I think we're going too far. Let's not do six weeks. Let's do 12 weeks.

The governor says no, and essentially gets right in his face. It's unacceptable for senators to be present not voting on such a momentous vote. I call on Senator Merv Riepe. To make a motion to reconsider, Merv Riepe the senator who said, you know, wait a minute, I'm a sponsor here but I want to do a 12-week, not a six-week. I think we're going too far that this is going to be fought out state-by-state.

CLEVE WOOTSON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER. THE WASHINGTON POST: Yes. And I think for every -- for every Sandy Senn, there's another Republican that is quietly doing the calculus in their head about whether to vote on this. And it's not -- it is about abortion, but it is not just about abortion, it's about elections. It's about being characterized as a party that is too extreme that as beholden to MAGA Republican, every third word out of Joe Biden's mouth.


Sometimes is about the extremist of MAGA Republicans and whether that sort of seeps into the miasma, whether everybody sort of begins to feel that Republicans are this way. I think there are some Republicans who see that characterization as a death now.

KING: And if you look at the polling data since the Dobbs decision, this is April '22 versus April '23. Support for abortion rights has gone up some, not a ton, but ton. It is tricked up as the American people are forced now to think about, this is the politicians are forced to think about this.

But when you watch what's happening state-by-state and among the Republican presidential candidates, I mean, I don't mean this to be cynical, but sometimes you get what you asked for. They for years said, if you only repeal, if the court would only repeal Roe, we would do this. Now they have to face a choice. BASH: Right. It's the cliche that we heard since Roe was repealed, which is they are the dogs who caught the car. And they're trying to figure out still what to do with it in every single state because it is a state issue. But I think you're right. Yes, there are more and more Republicans in in the states, like Dianne was just reporting about. Speaking out saying, wait, wait, wait, we've gone too far.

But there are others because this is not just a political issue. This is a fundamental philosophical issue for so many Republicans, that they just oppose any abortion at all. It's not that simple to make a political calculus for a lot of these Republicans, particularly in the legislatures, particularly in the most conservative of states.

They say, you know, many of them if -- they had their druthers, they would completely ban abortion, because that's effectively what a six- week ban is. But that's why this is so difficult politically, because it truly is a fundamental philosophical, ideological, even religious point of view.

KING: And what a governor in Nebraska or North Dakota might do and be on safe ground because their state is so conservative could hurt a Republican running for president who has to win swing states. They have suburbs where that dog just won't hunt.

DEMIRJIAN: I mean, that's the big question right now, right? What plays, it's always the case of a plays in the Republican primary maybe doesn't play so well in the general election. But right now, the party does not know exactly where the line is, and where the party should be coming down and saying this is what's acceptable. They're still trying to figure that that out in real time and we're seeing that happening in conservative states going in both directions.

WOOTSON: Well, I think they know a little bit. I mean, whenever abortion comes up on referendum, you know, it's failed. You know, we look at public opinion polls as well. So, some of them that there aren't tea leaves out there that sort of tell Republicans where the American people are writ large.

BASH: It is interesting that Nancy Mace, who is obviously in the United States Congress from South Carolina or Republican, she has been probably the loudest most aggressive person going out on television as much as she can warning about the politics of this how the politics of going too far too restrictive on abortion is going to hurt Republicans. And now you're seeing a trickle down to where they're actually making these decisions right now in the legislature.

KING: Right. Her friend and former Governor Nikki Haley, actually quoting Bill Clinton the other day, saying that the American people want abortion to be safe, legal, and rare. That was a line '99 if you flashback to that one.

Up next for us. The 2024 Senate map just got a lot more intriguing. The West Virginia Governor Jim Justice is running for Senate. Democrat Joe Manchin and the Senate majority are the targets.



KING: West Virginia Governor Jim Justice is in, and Republican leaders today feel even better about their 2024 odds to retake the Senate. The Republican governor is seeking the seat, now held by Democrat Joe Manchin. But a lot of his announcement speech was about another Democrat, named Joe.


GOV. JUSTICE: What happens if this doesn't happen in 2024, can it happen in 2026? And the answer is probably no. Imagine this country on the pathway that we're on with the Biden administration today. And imagine this country as to what it would be if we continue on that pathway to 2030 or beyond.


KING: Senator Manchin has not declared for reelection as of now, but says, the Justice's announcement changes nothing. Manchin says at the moment, he's quote laser focused on Senate work, like protecting Social Security, Medicare and promoting responsible spending. But the senator adding make no mistake, I will win any race I enter.

Great reporters are back at the table. That is the Republican candidate and his amazing dog, that the Republican leadership wanted. That's the Steve Daines, the head of the committee, the senator from Montana, Mitch McConnell, that's who they wanted. The governor guys won statewide. They think he's a good campaigner. They think he's right for 2024. Now what?

DEMIRJIAN: Well, I mean, now the question is, is Manchin going to stick around and try to fight it out? I mean, look, Justice is very popular in West Virginia. And it's very red state these days, and Manchin has managed to hold on, but it hasn't been easy for him. And it would be a difficult contest going forward.

But, you know, how much does he want to put himself through that? How much does he care about Democrats holding the majority in the Senate? These are all questions that are kind of going to play into his decision and play into what Democrats do to reposition themselves everyplace else, depending on what that decision is.

KING: And one of the immediate challenges is what lesson do Republicans learned from 2022 in the sense that there's a congressman, Congressman Mooney who is already running in the race, already declared, and he says Jim Justice says he's a conservative, but don't buy it.


SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL, (D-CT): Joe Manchin voted with us on all of the key measures that really forged a new era for the Democratic Party.