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Untested Biden-McCarthy Relationship At Center Of Debt Talks; Democrats Heckle Santos On Capitol Steps, Call On Him To Resign; NY GOP Reps Sidestep Effort To Expel Santos After Calling For Ouster; FBI Revokes Clearances Of Agents Over Jan. 6 Issues. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 18, 2023 - 12:30   ET



LAUREN FOX, CNN HOST: In the end, cut a deal, especially if it's a deal that's hard for both sides to swallow. A little personal trust would help.

Jeremy, I want to read a little bit more from the piece. McCarthy has taken personal shots at the President, making insinuations about his age, including when he once quipped that he would bring soft food to the White House if that's what it would take to get a meeting. Administration officials say the president ignores those comments. It hasn't let it impact his relationship with McCarthy.

It's that last part that jumped out to me. Officials say the president ignores those comments. There's a lot of stubborn Irish in the president. I find it unlikely that maybe he minimizes them but ignores them, I'm not so sure.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Whether or not how he feels about them personally is one thing, but whether or not it's actually impacting his relationship directly with McCarthy or the strategy or the tactics that the White House is pursuing in this debt default situation is another matter.

And on that point, multiple officials that I've talked to have insisted that this is not going to impact it. But nonetheless, you know, sources close to the White House do feel like those comments from McCarthy were a bit below the belt and that they do feel like ultimately President Biden, while he has lumped in Kevin McCarthy with the extreme MAGA Republicans.

He hasn't taken any personal swipes at him directly. But at the same time, President Biden, you know, he's giving Kevin McCarthy and the White House really has given McCarthy a lot of leeway to be pessimistic about the deal, to do what he needs to do to keep his caucus with him. And that is really one of the driving things beyond the relationship, which is important, and we will see how much that actually impacts their ability to get to a deal.

This is also going to come down to Kevin McCarthy's ability to keep his caucus and questions over whether or not he is more interested in a deal to avoid default or hanging on to his speakership. I posed that very question to a senior administration official who didn't have an answer, whether they think he's more interested in holding onto his speakership or more interested in a deal. But the White House insists that they are trying to thread the needle to try and get both outcomes, if that's possible.

KING: All right, it's fantastic reporting. A lot of great anecdotes and stories in there. I urge everybody to go to CNN. com, read the entire piece.

Jeremy and Lauren, thanks so much for sharing it with us here.

Up next for us, the George Santos saga. Republicans block a Democratic plan to expel the Congressman by kicking the can to the Ethics Committee. Santos says he'll use this extra time wisely.


REP. GEORGE SANTOS (R-NY): I'm confident that I will fight to clear my name.

REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN (D-NY): He got to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why do you deserve another term in Congress, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) have voted today, had they --

BOWMAN: He got to go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: -- got the votes, the 60 percent to --

BOWMAN: Resign.




KING: House Republicans last night sticking together, blocking a Democratic effort to boot George Santos from Congress. Speaker Kevin McCarthy successfully leading a GOP effort to instead refer this question of what should happen to George Santos to the House Ethics Committee. The debate inside and then outside the Capitol, as you see, the outside part there was quite feisty.

Santos vows to defend himself, and he was heckled by Democrats as he did, resulting in a shouting match between two members of Congress.


SANTOS: So -- I think that this was the right decision for all of us, and I look forward to continuing to defend myself. Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you talk to Speaker McCarthy ahead of the vote?

SANTOS: No, I did not. I allowed the -- BOWMAN: Resign! Resign! Get him out! Get him out! He got to go!

SANTOS: -- process to play itself out.

BOWMAN: The party has to kick him out. He's embarrassing you all. He's embarrassing you all.

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R), GEORGIA: Biden is a criminal. Biden is embarrassing you from (INAUDIBLE).

BOWMAN: Expel him. You got to -- save the party.


KING: Our great reporters back at the table with us. That's your government at work. How much this is about George Santos and how much of -- especially what we saw at the end of -- Congressman Bowman, the Democrat, Congressman Marjorie Taylor Greene, the Republican, how much of that is just about that it's a very toxic culture here?

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION: I think it's about that. It's about, unfortunately, the theater that politics has become, especially on the national stage, but quite frankly, it's starting to trickledown to your local school board meeting.

So what we saw is someone who appears to have really misled, lied, possibly con people, and likely -- well, we know he's going to face charges, but in any other case, it would have been easy for Congress to wash its hands of someone like George Santos.

But because of the politics, because of the slim majority in the House Republican Conference, they're keeping him around for as long as they can. And then the kind of -- all the concerns with politics as usual today kind of trickles down from there.

KING: Yes. One of the things I'd love to do when politics gets a little confusing is to go to simple math, right? So we can show you six Republicans, six Republicans from the House. Kevin McCarthy is not speaker without the big wins Republicans had in New York.

Now, we could talk if we want about how New York Democrats didn't do a very good job in the midterms, but we won't. But these six have all been on record saying George Santos should resign, yet all six voted when they had a chance to expel him, voted instead to refer it to the Ethics Committee. Listen to two of them here explaining this will work in the end, I hope.


REP. ANTHONY D'ESPOSITO (R), NEW YORK: I would have absolutely voted for the expulsion. The fact is is that after the Republicans whipped it, they didn't have the votes. I look at this as the next best thing and the quickest way, as I said in my remarks, to rid the stain of George Santos from the House of Representatives. REP. MARC MOLINARO (R), NEW YORK: Whatever process gets us to George Santos no longer being a congressman as quickly as possible is the one that I embrace. This will do that.


KING: They could have voted with the Democrats and George Santos would have been expelled last night. They just would not do that because Kevin McCarthy said, you got to take one for the team here.


JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, the Ethics Committee is not known for its swift process. So if that was the -- if that was his conclusion, I don't think necessarily accurate. But, yes, this is about, as you said, even though I was promised there would be no math, this is a math thing to -- for Kevin McCarthy.

If he had had a wider majority, I think we might be into a little bit of a different space here. And if you're a Democrat, I don't know why Bowman is telling him to leave. This is great. I mean, as long as people are talking about George Santos, it's not good for Republicans.

KING: And the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, now it's going to run ads against all those Republicans without a doubt. The question is, does that issue --


KING: Yes.

WALTER: I don't know that that resonates as much because they come back and they say, oh, we referred this to the Ethics Committee. We told them to speed it up. And let's face it. By the time we hit November, George Santos will almost certainly have either left Congress not of his own volition or he will have lost a primary and will not be on the ballot in November.

KUCINICH: And we should say, I mean, the last two, House members that were expelled in recent history were already convicted. So this would be taking it to another level than has been the historical precedent and --

KING: That's an important point because even some Democrats, some publicly, most privately said, should we be in the business of kicking out a member of the other party? Because then, given the toxic environment in this town, you know, what goes around comes around.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right, right. And I think that, I mean, speaking of further precedents in the Senate, when Senator Bob Menendez faced his own criminal matters, he stepped off the committees, which obviously George Santos is doing over on the House side, and then once he was found not guilty, was put back.

And I think, I mean, this is clearly a different situation. But Republicans will say, we are just trying to follow precedent here. But you also cannot ignore the really, really narrow majority that Kevin McCarthy has to maneuver basically everything through his chamber.

KING: Yes. Five Democrats voted present, five Democrats -- seven Democrats voted present, five of them on the Ethics Committee, saying they needed to vote that way because they're about to get the case. We'll follow as it plays out.

Still ahead, some self-described FBI whistleblowers just finished testifying at a very contentious hearing up on Capitol Hill. Republicans say their testimony is proof the FBI is weaponized against conservatives. Democrats say it's the witnesses who have an agenda.



KING: Just moments ago, Republican Jim Jordan wrapping a meeting of his select subcommittee on the weaponization of government. Three witnesses today are what Chairman Jordan calls whistleblowers. Current or former FBI agents who had their clearances revoked.


GARRETT O'BOYLE, FBI SPECIAL AGENT: This smear campaign, disgusting as it is, is unsurprising. Despite our oath to uphold the Constitution, too many in the FBI aren't willing to sacrifice for the hard right over the easy wrong.

STEVE FRIEND, FORMER FBI AGENT: Working as an FBI special agent was my dream job. My whistleblowing was apolitical and in the spirit of upholding my oath. Nonetheless, the FBI cynically elected to close ranks and attack the messenger.

MARCUS ALLEN, FBI STAFF OPERATIONS SPECIALIST: I was not in Washington, D.C. on January 6, played no part in the events of January 6, and I condemn all criminal activity that occurred. Instead, it appears that I was retaliated against because I forwarded information to my superiors and others that questioned the official narrative of the events of January 6.


KING: CNN's Sara Murray is here. Walk me through. What was this about?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, Republicans have held a number of hearings on what they call the weaponization of the federal government. This one is focused on what they believe is the FBI's track record of targeting conservatives and in this case, retaliating against their own employees who will go to congressional committees and raise concerns about how the FBI is doing business.

Of course, they put forward witnesses that have some credibility issues today. You know, as you pointed out, two of the men who are featured here have had their security clearances revoked. One of them has his security clearance suspended. That's still under review. You know, Marcus Allen, who we just heard from there, who said he condemns the violence on January 6, he was sending emails to his colleagues, according to an FBI letter, exercising caution and opening investigations into people who were involved in January 6, raising the possibility that there were federal law enforcement agents who had infiltrated the crowd on January 6.

There was another man we saw featured there, Steven Friend. He is someone who objected to using a SWAT team to arrest someone who was involved in January 6. He also, according to a letter we got from the FBI, took a flash drive into the FBI, went into the FBI building, used it to download documents on an FBI computer.

So the FBI, in this letter is sort of laying out what they believe are the reasonable explanations for why these people have had their security clearances pulled.

KING: And was the FBI allowed to present that testimony at the hearing? I know I heard a portion where the Democrats were complaining that they have not been given access to all of the interviews here.

MURRAY: Right. The FBI was not featured in this hearing. We know that they have interviewed FBI officials behind closed doors. And as part of the follow up of those interviews, the FBI provided this document to the committee saying, here are the issues with some of the people you asked me about.

And the issue Democrats raised is, look, at least one of the people you are featuring here has come in. He's talked to Republicans behind closed doors. We don't have a transcript of that interview. That's not the way things should be done.

KING: And they also say that there's a whistleblower who can shed light on what they call, again, alleged to be partisan conduct in the Hunter Biden investigation. That did not come up today.

MURRAY: That was not part of this investigation day. A lot of whistleblowers going around on Capitol Hill on a lot of different investigations. We still await more information about the next whistleblower in the Hunter Biden's saga.


KING: Sara Murray, I appreciate you being here to help clear most of that up. Some of it is TBD as we go forward.

Up next, a campaign fact check. Did states wrongly bend their election rules in 2020? Or is Nikki Haley bending the truth now?



KING: Topping our political radar today, North Dakota's Republican governor considering joining the growing field of candidates vying for the GOP presidential nomination in 2024. Governor Doug Burgum telling a local newspaper there's hunger in the party, he says, for an alternative candidate. Sources tell CNN Governor Burgum will make his final decision in the next two to three weeks.

Montana now the first state to totally ban TikTok completely, banned on personal devices. The state's Republican governor says he signed that ban into law to protect Montana's personal data from the Chinese Communist Party. That ban takes effect in January, but it likely will be challenged in court.

And bent election rules versus stolen election. Nikki Haley once shot down Donald Trump's 2020 election lies. Now she's shading it a bit. Listen to this from Iowa last night.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are a few states out there that we still have problems with, and we've got to be careful. And they bent the rules and they tried to do things. And we've got to make sure that we, you know, continue to press those states to do it the right way, because integrity in the election process matters. And lot of states did it right. We know which states we have to watch going forward.


KING: Our great reporters are back at the table. Did states bend the rules? Is there any evidence that states bent the rules? States change the rules in the middle of a pandemic, so they get more people to vote. There's a legitimate debate about, you know, lawmakers weren't making, but these things were challenged in the courts.

KIM: Right.

KING: The people didn't like them. Is there any evidence that the states bent the rules, and we know who they are and we should be watching them?

KIM: Well, I mean, as Nikki Haley said, you know, integrity does matter, but truth also matters. And the truth is there was no evidence to back up those claims of election fraud. And I think this seems to me, especially for someone who was outspoken initially about what the former president was doing, it does seem to be a kind of like a wink wink nudge nudge to the base of Republican voters who we know from polls should believe this election lie.

And it's, you know, it's incumbent on public officials, the media, everyone else to tell the truth about what happened at the election. But this -- the belief of this rigged election, which we know is false, still continues to pervade through the Republican base, you know, two years later.

MITCHELL: And it seems to me kind of like away for her to say it without fully saying it, and then she can give herself cover. Like, well, I didn't say anyone broke the rules, and I didn't say there was fraud. I said they bent the rules, you know? And again, that's something that we've seen from other elected officials, even members of Congress who have said they didn't like some of the changes that states implemented during the pandemic that they believe helped Democrats win in states like Georgia.

KING: For me, the question is sometimes leaders, of course, should listen to their constituents. Any leader should listen to their constituents. Sometimes a leader has to tell the constituents, no, no, you're not exactly right about this, and try to lead them to a different position.

But here's the polling. Did Biden legitimately win enough votes to win the presidency or not? This is among Republicans and Republican leaning independents. Yes, 37 percent, 63 percent no. So among just hardcore Republicans, it's even higher. They think the election was stolen. So is this somebody who wants to win the Republican nomination, forgive me, who's pandering as opposed to saying, sorry, it didn't happen, despite what Donald Trump says.

WALTER: Right. Although at the same time, many of these versions of the election rules were bent, or Democrats kind of have a wink and a nod way to win these elections have been around for a long time. You and I remember covering New Hampshire, Republicans, anytime they lose New Hampshire, say, well, you know what they do. They bust people from Boston in.


WALTER: And you can register to vote. That has been going on for as long as I've covered politics.

KING: The accent is very different.

WALTER: I know. I don't -- I can't -- I'm not even going to try to do a Boston accent. So there is that piece which has been going on for a long time, but then there's the more dangerous piece, which is the idea that these elections are actually rigged against us and stolen from us.

At the same time, in Kentucky, very, obviously, very Republican state, in the Republican primary for Secretary of State, the incumbent Secretary of State who said the election wasn't rigged, there's no truth to this overwhelmingly won a primary against a Republican who did believe that the election was stolen from Donald Trump.

KING: Right, and --

WALTER: So you don't necessarily have to pander in order to win a primary.

KING: You don't have to. Governor Brian Kemp was reelected in Georgia. I guess you're right that this is an age old story. But after 2020 and because it is spreading so deeply in the blood of Republicans, is it not incumbent on leaders to say the election was not stolen?

KUCINICH: You think, but if you're trying to pander to the Trump base, why are you running against former President Donald Trump? I just think that would be -- I don't understand what the end game is there, if that's who you're trying to appeal to, because you do have candidates in this race that are saying that the election wasn't rigged, but who are you trying to tiptoe around?

KING: Well, I think that's the age old debate that, you know, somehow he's going to disappear. Somehow, he's going to go away finally, eventually, sooner or later. How long have we been having that conversation? And so now I'll be standing when he does. I guess that's the conversation.

Thank you all for coming in.

This quick programming note, Shimon Prokupecz returns to Uvalde, Texas, where the community is still seeking answers and families have turned to CNN for the footage the Texas authorities refused to release. A new episode of "The Whole Story with Anderson Cooper" air Sunday night, 08:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Thanks for your time today on Inside Politics. CNN News Central starts right now.