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Inside Politics

Proud Boys Found Guilty Of Seditious Conspiracy; Russia Baselessly Blames U.S. For Kremlin Drone Attack; WH: Russia's Drone Strike Allegations Against U.S. Are "Ridiculous"; Intense Russian Strikes After Kyiv Denies Assassination Attempt Claim; Special Counsel Probing Trump Org's Handling Of Mar-a-Lago Footage. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 04, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Very consequential news day. Thank you for your time. Guilty, the jury convicts five members of the far-right Proud Boys for their actions back on January 6. Four of the five are guilty of seditious conspiracy for violently, trying to help Donald Trump ignore the election and stay in power. All five defendants now face significant prison time.

Plus, the fog of war or propaganda. Russia points to the United States and says, Washington is somehow behind that brazen drone attack on the Kremlin. The White House calls this claim. Yes.


JOHN KIRBY, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL COORDINATOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS: There's a word that comes to mind that I'm obviously not appropriate to using on national TV. I would just tell you Mr. Peskov is lying. I mean, as obviously it's a ludicrous claim. The United States had nothing to do with this.


KING: And the special counsel puts the Trump Organization in his cites. Sources telling CNN, Jack Smith's prosecutors now zeroing in on how longtime Trump employees handled surveillance footage from the former president's Mar-a-Lago compound.

But up first for us, major breaking news right here in Washington D.C. A major victory for the Justice Department effort to prosecute leaders of the January 6 insurrection. Five leaders of the militant pro Trump Proud Boys were convicted of various felony charges just a short time ago. Four of them, including the national Proud Boys' leader were convicted of the most serious charge, that charge being seditious conspiracy.

Trial testimony detailed. How the Proud Boys organized after Trump's call for supporters to flood Washington on the day the election was to be certified. And the evidence included not only those harrowing videos of violence at the Capitol, but also text messages in which the Proud Boys' leaders discussed coming to D.C. armed and coming with the goal of keeping Trump in power. The jury is still deliberating on several unresolved counsels.

Let's get straight to the courthouse to CNN's Katelyn Polantz. Katelyn, what do we know?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: John, it's quite a significant day for the Justice Department to have secured this verdict. This verdict of guilty for leaders of the Proud Boys, the jury does agree that they are guilty of seditious conspiracy for coming together, working together planning to essentially overthrow the U.S. government or try to at least, and then on January 6, working together to try and create a situation like a war.

Basically, the prosecutors were showing many, many, many exhibits over several months to this jury and the jury is agreeing that these men were speaking to one another about coming together as a group and making sure that the riot stayed a riot that the Trump supporters on the Capitol grounds on January 6, were moving forward into the building and war can be convicted of both seditious conspiracy as well as other conspiracy charges.

Now, we're not done yet, though, John. The jury hasn't reached a verdict on a couple of counts. And a couple of counts related to one person in particular, his name is Dominic Pezzola. He's a man that you probably have seen in photos in that he had a riot shield. He was breaking into the Capitol.

He has been convicted by this jury on some of those assault and property damage type of charges here in this case. But the jury has not yet decided whether he too in this case can be found guilty of seditious conspiracy. So, they've went back and they're still deliberating on that. But even with this verdict being returned, it was quite the scene.

I'm told in the courtroom, producer Holmes Lybrand (Ph) and he was there today. He is telling me that many of these men, the five men they were very stoic whenever the verdict was read. One of them convicted of seditious conspiracy today. He was shaking his head, as it happened as the jury was announcing what they had unanimously agreed to.

And since then, the attorneys for the Proud Boys, they are still livid. They are inside the courthouse. One has already filed something, asking for a mistrial, saying it wasn't fair for the verdict to be heard when there wasn't something yet on Pezzola. And so, we still are waiting to see if there will be verdicts, more verdicts to come in today. John?

KING: Some major verdicts in and now some questions as the jury can choose to build great (Ph). Katelyn, stay with us. We're going to expand the conversation. Now with me to share their insights, our CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero, and also CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem. Carrie, let me start with you. Seditious conspiracy is the most serious charges leveled against any of the January 6 defendants. You have four of these five convicted of seditious conspiracy, including Tarrio, the leader of the Proud Boys who was not even physically at the Capitol. He was in a Baltimore hotel, but the government alleges he was in communications and coordination, and he did all the planning beforehand. What is the significance?


CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think, you know, John, I try not to be over the top in my analysis, and I think this case is going to go down as one of the most important that Justice Department has ever brought. In terms of the significance, the national significance, the national security significance of this case, it was not a light matter for the Justice Department to bring seditious conspiracy charges in this case.

It's a complicated case and involved the political environment. They haven't successfully brought a case under these charges in decades. They had a case about 13 years ago that fell apart. And so, it was a big deal for them to bring these charges. It's been a really long trial that has taken place. And it provides both accountability for what these individuals did in preparation for January 6.

And I think importantly, it provides a deterrent, you know, 2020 to the election, a lot of us were worried about potential violence around that set of elections and there wasn't any. And I think part of the reason is because this case was brought similar case against the oath keepers were brought. And now the Justice Department, at least in some of the verdicts that we've heard about so far, has been successful.

KING: Juliette Kayyem comment on that point. You have spent years warning about the radicalization of some of these groups, the militancy of these groups. Does this send a message that will hurt recruitment? Or is the opposite in effect, that if what leadership is being wiped out, that there'll be next generation steps forward?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: It's going to hurt. There will be noise that it helps. You'll hear analysts who don't know much about this say, well, you know, if you go after them, they're going to get more support. It is not true in the history of terrorism and terrorism recruitment, which this organization is. They have lost big time. I am with Carrie that this is a significant case, not just for the Department of Justice, not just for the elements against Donald Trump.

Remember, this is a case that went to the -- the sedition part is about the legitimacy of the state. And a jury said that this group of people were organized to undermine the United States legitimacy. So, terror groups, they succeed with the aura of the wind, this is how they do it. They recruit people, they get money by convincing people that they are on the winning team.

And so, what we need to do to counter violence in our politics is to make them lose, and that is what happened today. Recruitment will be harder, fundraising will be harder, the aura of the win will be harder. And that is good, not for just for the Department of Justice, but for the United States and our democracy.

KING: And so, we're talking about today, five leaders of the Proud Boys, four of those five convicted of seditious conspiracy, I believe that's 10 years in prison there, plus this 10-counts in all. So, they're convicted, most of them convicted of several felonies here. If you do it overall, though, now, look at January 6. More than thousand people, 1,020 had been charged, more than 590 have been convicted so far, still waiting number of trials, 235 sentence.

To the people out there. I was telling you before we came on camera. There's another network that by the time I walked upstairs, even though it's been over 40 minutes had not shown this to the American people just yet and their audience, their audience. What is the message of that for the Justice Department --accumulative riot (Ph)?

CORDERO: It shows that the events of January 6, were not about First Amendment free speech, that there were individuals who were there to use violence to prevent the functioning of our democracy, the proper transfer of power under the constitution and the respect for the electoral process. And it showed that when individuals engage in violence to prevent the execution of those laws, that's the definition of seditious conspiracy.

The Justice Department has a role to make sure that those individuals are held criminally accountable. And that's what all these January 6 related cases are about. And we have it cases brought from individuals who were at a low level. They were participating in the violence that day in the attack on the Capitol, all the way now up to individuals who were involved in planning those events.

KING: And Juliette Kayyem, you say this will hurt. One of the fascinating elements of these January 6 prosecutions is the intersection between political leadership and these radical groups around the country. One of the -- I don't know what to call it, I was about to use a term, I didn't want to use because some people think it's a positive term.

I wanted to know what were the terms that came up during the last presidential campaign was from the now Republican front runner Donald Trump when at a debate, he said this.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: What do you want to call them? Give me a name, give me (crosstalk) Proud Boys stand back and stand by. But I'll tell you what, I'll tell you what, somebody's got do something about Antifa and the left.


KING: Where are we in that? Again, as I know, Mr. Trump, who says January 6 is being blown out of proportion. He says they were mostly good people and all of that happens to be the front runner. It has this connection between political leadership and these radical groups has it been severed or is it still in parallel?


KAYYEM: I think, there is parts of it that will be in parallel. I mean obviously, Donald Trump has owned this element of our democracy, which is basically that the use of violence, the nurturing of it the come here. They're all the language that we've been monitoring for years is in his mind a legitimate aspect of our democracy when he loses.

So, this the -- I should remind people that when he said this in the debate, the Proud Boys were able to raise money off of it, and their recruitment went up because they were being nurtured by the political leadership. So that's not happening now, to the extent that Donald Trump is no longer president.

But there's this other group, right, which is GOP members who are unwilling to condemn it. They are now going to be faced with the question of, was this a legitimate or not legitimate jury verdict? And where do we go in terms of violence?

I have long thought that after January 6, McConnell held the ability for the GOP to move past Donald Trump when he condemned the violence on January 6. He then stopped not, and if they can come back to condemning the violence, there might be a path forward but otherwise they own this. They own this part of it.

KING: Right. This was an attempt to steal the country, steal the election. I'd be interested to hear more condemnation. You're right. Juliette Kayyem, Carrie Cordero and Katelyn Polantz at the courthouse as well. Katelyn, come back to us, anything happens throughout the hour. Here still ahead for us though other big news. The Kremlin now placing blame on the United States for what it claims was that assassination attempt on Vladimir Putin.




KING: An international mystery now this hour, still no definitive answer to who engineered a dramatic drone strike inside the heart of Moscow, but there is plenty of finger pointing from the Russian state. Today Vladimir Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying, the United States is quote, undoubtedly behind this assault on the Kremlin. Peskov painting the White House essentially as puppet masters.

Here's the quote. "We are well aware that decisions on such actions and such terrorist attacks are not made in Kyiv, but in Washington. And Kyiv is already executing what it is told to do." Peskov, however neglected to provide any actual evidence of that, no video, no photos, no forensic evidence, no evidence at all to backup that bold new claim that accusation the White House immediately dismissed as baseless.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live for us now on the ground in Ukraine. Nick, as after the attack yesterday, the question was, how would Russia respond? It was a dramatic knife from a military standpoint, across Ukraine, right?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Roughly, yes. I mean, we've had a pretty awful three or four days here, John, to be honest, in which there have been attempts to get through Ukraine's air defenses with missiles and drones every night, last night bad certainly. But Kyiv spared by the air defense system took most of the drones there out. Odessa also to hit by multiple drones, nearly all of those taken out as well.

But that's no confidence at all for those in there, some region, the city there were 24 people died before the Kremlin even made this statement. And I think it's that climate of indiscriminate bombing over the past few days that made so many Ukrainians here deeply nervous when they heard Dmitry Peskov the Kremlin spokespersons statement about an attempted assassination evidence free, as it was initially accusing Ukraine of being behind this and then escalating the escalation today to say that Washington in fact ordered it.

It's important to understand, John, this is kind of fitting into the Russian narrative. Now they've been losing the war more or less for over a year, trying to suggest to their population who've given their fathers and sons to the mobilization for the conflict lost so many here, trying to suggest to the population that they're actually not just facing their tiny neighbor, Ukraine, militarily tiny neighbor, they're actually facing all of NATO. And essentially, Washington has been calling the shots from the start.

So, it is unclear quite what the Kremlin's next move will be. There are fears that this might be being used to justify some kind of military escalation. They've got limited tools left in their conventional kit for that. But there are many Ukrainians worried about that too, and many potentially suggesting inside Russia. This might be about shoring up so poor portraying Putin, you started all this as some kind of brave victim. We'll have to see what the next day is bring. John?

KING: Grateful you're there to help report on it. Nick Paton Walsh, thank you so much, live for us in Ukraine. Let's get some more insights now from the former Deputy Director of National Intelligence, Beth Sanner.

Beth, let me just start with the simple question. Is it within the realm of possibility that the United States in consultation with Kyiv would say, launch a drone attack on the Kremlin and try to take off Vladimir Putin?

BETH SANNER, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: No. You probably want me to say more than that.

KING: You don't have to? You don't have to say no. If the answer is no. And so, when the Russians point back and say, you know, Washington essentially is Geppetto and Zelenskyy is Pinocchio, and Washington is orchestrating all of this. What do you see in that strategy? The propaganda out of the Kremlin, what are they trying to do?

SANNER: Yes. I think Nick got it exactly right. I mean, this is about framing Russia as being under threat. That is the only way that Putin can try to mobilize his population. I mean, we know I hate to mention leaked documents, because as a former intel official, we really don't like to talk about those.

But, you know, the leaked documents make a couple of things clear is, they're having Putin's worried about putting out a full mobilization order because he doesn't know whether the population will be behind him or not. And by the way, those leaked documents also point out that the United States has tried to restrain Ukraine from attacking Russia proper because we're worried about escalation.


KING: And so, no. And so, when you hear a key Putin ally, the former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, say this. After today's terrorist attack, there are no options left except for the physical elimination of Zelenskyy and his cabal. What does that tell you?

SANNER: Well, Medvedev has been, you know, the attack dog of Putin for some time now. He's always saying the most extreme things. And there are other people in the government saying that. I think that, you know, they'd love to take out President Zelenskyy. But that's probably not possible. I mean, we all have to worry about that sort of thing.

But one thing I would point out is that last night, which should have been a big retaliation for this drone strike, or whatever it was, over the Kremlin, they were only able to deploy I think, only drones, now drones incredibly destructive. And they were shot down, but they weren't able to send two dozen cruise missiles like they did last week, because they probably expended that little, you know, rationing of missiles. And now they have to build some more.

KING: So that's a fascinating point, if you want to connect the dots, and the Putin is trying to rally support back home, they have the Victory Day parade coming. We know there's been some dissent in Russia. But if, you know, this war was supposed to be over a long time ago from the Kremlin perspective, and yet it is not, and we are seeing the Ukrainians preparing for a counter offensive.

If the weather beginning to change. And to your point, you believe the Russian military, both from a manpower standpoint and a missile standpoint, and other armament standpoint, is not ready. Does not have the back supplies to really fight.

SANNER: Yes and no. So, you know, I am probably on the more cautious, less optimistic end of how successful this counter offensive might be. I hope that I am very, very wrong about that. But I look at the defensive preparations that Russia has made digging miles and miles and miles.

I mean, you can see it from Maxar overhead imagery of defenses. And that is going to cause problems for the Ukrainians to move forward and take large, large swaths of land. I think they will be successful, but it may not be as much as we all hoped for.

KING: Help us a little drone strike CSI, if you're building the suspects list right, in the intelligence community. And saying, OK, now let's go back and look at communications, look back at, you know, anything we can trace air traffic or anything like this. Who would be on your list if it's not the United States telling Ukraine to do it, who is on the list?

SANNER: Well, I think that your three tops two suspects are some partisans, anti-Russian, pro Ukrainian, perhaps people inside of Russia doing this. It doesn't take much. You know, one or two people could have done this. We had a German teenager in the 80s fly a Cessna and landed in Red Square. So, this can happen.

The Ukrainians themselves, you can never take off the list. Even those Zelenskyy has been very clear in a way that he never was before about previous strikes inside of Russia. He has come out very strongly. That said, given the leaks that have happened in the United States, I do not think that the Ukrainians would or less the last of course, Russia. And they have a lot of interest in not doing this because it makes them look embarrassingly bad.

KING: Beth Sanner, as always, thank you.

SANNER: Thanks.

KING: Up next, a story first, right here on CNN. The special counsel investigating classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago, is now looking into possible mishandling of the resort's surveillance video.



KING: I want to bring you a CNN exclusive now on one of the simmering legal problems for Donald Trump. Today two longtime Trump Organization executives Matthew Calamari Sr. and his son Matthew Calamari Jr. are due before the grand jury investigating possible mishandling of classified documents brought to Mar-a-Lago.

The Special Counsel Jack Smith is probing the organization's handling of surveillance footage from the former president's Florida resort. And sources telling CNN quote, "the handling of the footage and how employees within the Trump Organization responded to the Justice Department's demand for it, have prompted a new round of grand jury subpoenas to top Trump employees in the last few weeks."

CNN's Paula Reid is here. She's part of the team behind this reporting. Also, with us our senior justice correspondent Evan Perez. Carrie Cordero is still at the table. Miss potentially mishandling the footage. What do we mean by that? Editing the footage being slow to provide the footage something else?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: We don't know exactly. But what we know is originally they were interested in the footage because they wanted to know what exactly happened to these classified materials once they were sent down to Florida. Among the things they've already seen on this footage, for example, is a junior Trump aide while not moving some boxes out of a closet along with another employee, while it's been asked about what exactly happened there.

Remember, they're not just investigating possible mishandling of classified documents. They're also looking into whether anyone has tried to obstruct this probe. And now they have sent off this new round of subpoenas to ask people what exactly happened after they subpoenaed this footage. And did anyone try to withhold it or tamper with this critical evidence?

KING: In an interview with Sean Hannity, Trump himself brought up the video footage and he said, I'm the good guy here.


TRUMP: They rated Mar-a-Lago, viciously rated Mar-a-Lago. I have tape and I gave them tapes. You know, I gave them tapes of storage areas. I gave it to them. I could have held that back. I wasn't holding anything back that I cared about. I gave them tape.