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Sources: Trump Inquired About Pushing Back Against DOJ Subpoena; WAPO: Biden's Reelection Swamped By Fear Of Trump; Focus Group: Everyone "Wished" Biden, Trump Not Running Again; Rep. Comer Links His Investigation To Biden's Poll Numbers; AZ Judge Rejects Kari Lake's Final 2022 Election Lawsuit; WAPO: SC Gov.'s Office Says He Was Joking About Hunting Democrats With Dogs. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 23, 2023 - 12:30   ET



SHAN WU, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Really making these remarks not in his capacity as the president, but in his personal capacity because he doesn't consult with anybody. There's no policymaking. So I find that very intriguing aspect and may really ratchet up the pressure on Garland.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Ratchet up the pressure and grow and it's just every time you think one of these cases has gone away, it's somehow blossoms into at least one or more others.

Shan, stay with us.

We're also learning the attorney representing Trump in the Justice Department probe into the classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago took highly detailed notes about their conversations. And sources tell CNN, the notes include details about Trump's desire to push back to fight the Justice Department effort through subpoena to recover those documents. Those notes, this is the important part, now in the hands of the Special Counsel.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is here to break that down for us. Their evidentiary value, I assume, is rather large.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE Yes. So, John, you have a criminal investigation. And what is crucial in any criminal investigation is how good is your evidence. The evidence here appears to be very good. It is very detailed, to the point where members of the Trump team were surprised at how detailed these notes are.

And these are notes that speak to exactly what the Justice Department wants to do as they investigate whether or not Donald Trump himself was trying to obstruct their investigation. So in May of 2022, he and his attorney were -- received the subpoena saying you got to get back all the classified records that you have in your possession, anything marked with a classification on it. Give it back to the grand jury.

And then these notes are Evan Corcoran's defense attorney and they cover detailed conversations directly between Evan Corcoran, Donald Trump, the types of conversations that when the Justice Department sought these notes, when they went to court to fight to get access to them, they believed would show Donald Trump trying to commit a crime.

And they have these notes now, and they are quite, quite significant in the fact that they will be so detailed, and we also are getting a little snippet of what the substance of these notes are. And we can see that Donald Trump or at least we're hearing from our sources that Donald Trump was raising the possibility. Do we have to comply with this subpoena? We don't know how that fits, but it certainly does factor into this obstruction investigation.

KING: Well, Shan Wu is still with us. Help us understand where it might fit. And again, we have to be careful, but you have detailed notes from an attorney, a good attorney. And so if you're asking -- you're telling your client, the former president, we have this subpoena. The subpoena is valid. We have to comply with the subpoena. I assume that attorneys walking through this, if you get a response from the client, saying no, don't do it, what does that tell you?

WU: Well, it tells you that the client doesn't want to comply with that subpoena and maybe trying to hide something. I think the critical aspect to me here, and we don't know this yet from the details, is whether or not this is evidence that Trump was basically admitting to his attorney.

Yes, I know, I have classified documents, and I don't want to give them back. That would be a very helpful thing to the Justice Department. Now, Trump's defense to this, I'm just asking for legal advice. And I want to know, can I push back on the subpoena or not?

I will say one thing, it strikes me as a little bit unusual that Corcoran's notes are this detailed. When I was a prosecutor, the prosecutor has different styles, but sometimes you don't want to take a whole lot of notes, because you're always worried that some may try to get them to question, you know, what kind of contemporaneous thoughts were going on there.

So it's possible. Corcoran was doing this as a little bit of a safety net for himself. Knowing that this is difficult client was kind of volatile, he may have been really documenting his contemporaneous notes at a time. That level of detail reminds me more of an FBI's agents notes than it does contemporaneous notes.

POLANTZ: And also, at this moment, Corcoran is talking to his client, Donald Trump about collecting documents at Mar-a-Lago. And when he hands over an envelope in June, which is the end of these notes that the Justice Department got, he hands them an envelope. It has 38 class documents with classified markings on it, and he tells the Justice Department at this point.

We know this from court filings that he believed there was no other classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. Obviously, there were hundreds of more.

WU: Right.

POLANTZ: And so the Justice Department is trying to figure out, well, who knew about that and how did this happen if this attorney performed this search, having detailed notes about what those conversations were between Evan Corcoran and Donald Trump perhaps could answer that question or bring them closer to an answer.

KING: And Evan Corcoran, to wrap this up, has also been before the grand jury, correct?


KING: Right. So this gets interesting, fascinating, complicated.

I appreciate you both being here.

Up next for us, demolition derby car versus an old clunker. Swing state voters who switched from Trump in 2016 to Biden in 2020, see a 2024 rematch as a bad choice of used cars.



KING: Some lessons now from a Washington Post focus group involving a key subgroup of American voters. Residents of battleground states who follow along voted for Donald Trump in 2016, but then switch to Joe Biden in 2020. Eureka from Georgia in that focus group saying Trump, quote, "Was a mess. He was a clown."

Lisa from Wisconsin, though assumed Biden after beating Trump would step aside saying, quote, "I kind of felt that he was going to only be a one-term president".

All 15 Trump then Biden voters said they dread the prospect of a 2024 rematch. Still, nine of those 15 participants said they would unenthusiastically back Biden again. Three said they would support Trump. Three vowed to find a third party candidate instead.

Pobble (ph) from Philadelphia summing it up this way. "We need more choices. Fresh faces, fresh ideas, youth".


Joining our panel is Scott Clement, he's the polling director at the Washington Post. Thanks for coming in. I'm a geek and a nerd about these things, and I love them. But interesting. So here's my question. Just -- if you're Joe Biden, nine of the 15 would stick with you -- even though they're not happy you're running again -- is that glass half empty or half full, in the sense of, if you go back to 2020, you take 45,000 votes in Wisconsin, Georgia and Arizona, and move them around, and Donald Trump could have been reelected. So Biden's winning a majority of them, but is that enough of them?

SCOTT CLEMENT, POLLING DIRECTOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: It's a glass half full, but it's sort of cloudy and you're not sure what's in it, you know? These are voters that really typify, you know, a particular element of swing. They swung in the direction of the country in 2020 after swinging toward Trump. And they are not very happy with Joe Biden presidency. They're not very happy with the economy. They really reject a lot of positive things that he might be done. They can't name any accomplishments for Joe Biden, but they also know Donald Trump. And when we asked about Donald Trump, the mood did change. The views, the emotions people described were worse.

Even one voter who said they would be panicked if Biden were reelected. Said, well, whatever the level is more than panicked if Trump was reelected. And I think that was pretty much in line with what we saw.

KING: And so, Rich Thau, the president of Engagious, the group that the focus group for you, worked with you on this describes it this way. "For these voters, deciding between Trump and Biden is like being forced to choose either a demolition derby car or an old clunker for a cross country trip. With either choice, they are not particularly happy."

So you could see that and see -- well, maybe they don't participate, but these voters said they would turn out right. That has been I said this during the break. That has been one of the interesting things for me about all this polarization disaffection. Turnout has gone up in the last couple of cycles. They will vote even if they're not happy?

CLEMENT: Well, they certainly did in 2020, and that was, you know, of course, a record turnout year. And some of them were really uncomfortable when pushed who they would vote for. Some -- you mentioned Lisa coming to terms or some others coming to terms that, you know, they would go and they would make a choice, and -- but it wouldn't be a comfortable one.

And so that -- you know, that's a layer of unpredictability for these voters. If the election isn't as seen, as high stakes as 2020 was, they could be on the fringe.

KING: Focus groups are fascinating. And for those of you at home who follow polling, follow focus groups, you can't do any one thing or anyone. We got to take it over, you know, a course of six months or a year or more. But it's fascinating when you ask a focus group of important voters like this to do word association. Here was Biden, confused, concern, worry, sad, sorry, panicked.

Jeremy Diamond, you covered the Biden White House. They understand this. They know even Democrats have reservations about the president's age and performance issues.


KING: The question is, how do you deal with it?

DIAMOND: Yes. And we've talked about this before. They know that it's a challenge. They have tried to address it, and yet this seems to be an impression that is sticking. And sometimes it's very hard when a narrative has set in about a certain candidate or a certain elected official to kind of undo that work.

But I think what the White House is betting on and, you know, there's been conversations with campaign officials and folks at the White House, they are betting that the universe of Trump voters looks more like those nine out of 15 in the focus group than the other six.

And ultimately, they also believe that the more that folks see Trump again back on the campaign trail, doing his rallies, saying the kinds of outrageous things that he's known to do, that folks will be reminded of the chaos of his presidency and they'll be turned off.

KING: And even before that, we've seen some of Trump, but we're about to see more and more as we get closer. Seven months, I guess, is the Iowa caucus as we get there. The Trump word association we just did Biden, Trump, nervous, scared, shocked, sick, horrified. Those are not words that you want associated with the president.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, you know, exactly. And listen, if you flash back to when it was announced that Joe Biden was going to be the president, what did lots of people in the country do? They took to the streets and they cheered and they banged on drums and pots and pans because they were so relieved that Donald Trump wasn't going to be in the White House anymore.

So over these next many, many months, we'll see Donald Trump again. We'll see what comes out of this primary as well. And listen, I mean, if you're Ron DeSantis, you probably like that, you know, these are the words that are associated with Donald Trump. And you're going to do your best if you're Ron DeSantis to sort of remind people of the chaos that a lot of people felt during the Trump administration.

KING: And again, we're talking about this in the context of a Trump- Biden rematch. In a minute, we'll get to the point that maybe that doesn't happen, but voters seem to think it's going to happen right now.

I just want to read focus group. "Asked if there was anything that could be done by Trump to win back these voters. One said he needed to learn to take blame. Another said he needed an etiquette class. Another called him a very sloppy person who should get off social media. A fourth person said he needed to grow up."

On a scale of one to 10, the likelihood of any of that happening with Donald Trump would be what, about zero?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Probably zero or a negative 10. No, I mean, this is certainly something that the President Biden is going to be leaning into, which is, look, it's about a choice between him and Trump and whether or not the country wants to go back four more years versus, you know, trying to make sure that it's not a referendum on his presidency.


That's why you see the President lean more and more into these arguments, around abortion, around the anti-trans legislation that not just Trump supports, but also DeSantis, and around the book banning that is happening in a number of these Republican-led states. Because it's an argument that he can stretch out, the White House and Biden's reelection campaign can stretch out not to just against Trump, but also to against DeSantis and a number of the other candidates that would potentially run.

I just want to add that, like PBS, NPR and Maris also have out a poll today, and ours found that 62 percent of Americans are concerned about President Biden's mental fitness and ability. And the White House is very well aware of that, as Jeremy said. So they're trying to really lean into building back that coalition of college educated voters and of young voters, which are going to be really key to getting him back into the White House.

KING: So as you're watching this focus group, Scott, and you see people clearly unhappy if that's what they get again. But was there any grounds, well, of why are they doing this because there's x. Was there a Republican candidate or a Democratic candidate that they were all like, yes, that would be great, or is that part of the issue, is that they might not want a Trump-Biden rematch, but they're not excited, or at least not collectively excited about anybody else?

CLEMENT: Well, they'd love someone to find a new candidate that they like. And -- but that -- you know, but when we ask people, has anybody come to mind, really -- there really were not a lot. Michelle Obama was mentioned a couple of times, but there weren't any immediate people. And that poses a challenge for both parties.

But in finding an alternative, they want to or for primary voters in doing that, but also for any, you know, ideas of a third party candidacy, is that there aren't, you know, obvious options for these voters. So they -- at this moment, they could be, you know, in just a difficult place where they also were in 2020. They weren't all rousing behind Joe Biden. They were upset. They were bothered by Donald Trump.

KING: The pandemic dominated then. Is it the economy now?

CLEMENT: Yes. And the mood of the economy was pretty bad. We've seen poll numbers for a while knowing that people realize the job market numbers are low. They are not that concerned about it, but inflation has dominated.

And we asked these groups, what about the record low unemployment numbers? What do you think? They said, well, those aren't the high- paying jobs. I can see you can get a lower-paying job at $7 or $8 an hour, but they cast out on that too. So that's a sort of deep negative mood. It could take a little while, even if the economy improves a lot for that to change.

KING: Great early baseline on the voting. Swing state voters, I urge you to go to the Washington Post website. Read the entire piece.

Scott, appreciate you coming in.

Up next for us, the House Oversight Chairman James Comer says his investigations into the Biden family are working because, get this, the president's poll numbers are dropping. Some see Hillary Clinton and Benghazi deja vu all over again.



KING: House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer, listen here, saying the quiet part out loud. Chairman Comer says it is clear his investigation into Hunter Biden and Biden family finances is a success. How he makes that judgment? Listen, interesting.


REP. JAMES COMER (R), CHAIR, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: You look at the polling and right now Donald Trump is seven points ahead of Joe Biden and trending upward. Joe Biden's trending downward. And I believe that the media is looking around, scratching their head and they're realizing that the American people are keeping up with our investigation and they realize something's wrong here.


KING: CNN's Sara Murray joins us now. I will look around and scratch my head and say, I thought this was about uncovering facts about alleged wrongdoing, not about using an investigation or your power in the Congress to undermine the president's political standing.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I don't know how to break the news to you that these political investigations are political. Yes, I mean, ostensibly what James Comer set out to do here is to investigate the Biden family business dealings. He's, of course, said that Joe Biden could be implicated in, you know, some kind of shady foreign payments. He hasn't proven any of that.

And he's raised some questions about Hunter Biden's business dealings. Fine. You know, Hunter Biden wasn't the vice president, isn't the president, isn't working in the White House. But he's pretty transparent there in believing that his investigation is actually going to hurt the sitting president, who's, of course, running for president again.

And it's not the first time that we've heard this kind of stuff from Republicans. I mean, Kevin McCarthy came out amid the Benghazi investigation and basically said the same thing about Hillary Clinton's poll numbers. Take a listen.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.


MURRAY: And he also got a little bit of blowback for those comments for saying the quiet part out loud. But I think it's pretty clear that, you know, even if you do turn up something that is credible as part of your investigation, that a driving motivation for Republicans is trying to, you know, cast shade on Joe Biden when he's running for reelection.

KING: And, you know, both of those comments were, let's say, on a network that is essentially choir practice, choir practice for Republican.

Sara, glad you're here to help us share that.

Still ahead for us, was not the result she was hoping for. The latest ruling from a judge on Kari Lake's bid for Arizona governor.



KING: Topping our political radar today, an Arizona judge affirming that, yes, Democrat Katie Hobbs won the 2022 election for Arizona governor. Republican challenger Kari Lake claimed she won the election by 17,000 votes. The judge, though, disagreeing, tossing out Lake's final lawsuit decided a lack of, quote, clear and convincing evidence.

South Carolina Republican Governor Henry McMaster's office says he was just joking when he said he looks forward to the days when Democrats are so rare he can hunt them with dogs. The Washington Post reports those comments at a GOP convention sparking outrage within the state Democratic Party.

Several Democrats in South Carolina say Governor McMaster's words were, quote, racially tinged and chilling. They've called on law enforcement to open investigation into those comments.

Thanks for your time today in Inside Politics. We'll see you tomorrow. CNN NEWS CENTRAL starts right now.