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DeSantis Jabs Trump In Series Of Attacks; DeSantis Attacks Trump While Trying To Avoid Alienating Trump Voters; Poll: 85 Percent Of GOP-Leaning Voters Say They Would Consider DeSantis; No Deal On Debt As Negotiators Scramble To Avoid Default; Freedom Caucus To McCarthy: "Hold The Line" On Debt Talks; Work Requirements Remain Key Sticking Point In Debt Talks; GOP-Led Texas Panel: Impeach AG Ken Paxton For Bribery, Abusing Public's Trust; WAPO: Trump Workers Moved Boxes Day Before FBI Came For Docs. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 26, 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. Ron DeSantis shifts from the employee to the obvious. The Florida governor directly and repeatedly attacks Donald Trump, while floating things like firing the FBI director and pardoning January 6 criminals in an effort to stay in sync with Trump voters, even as he takes aim at their hero.

Plus, just moments ago, the House speaker sounding positive as the outlines of a debt deal emerge. It looks a lot like traditional Washington given take. Liberals though, are not happy with President Biden, and rumblings on the right do raise the question of whether Speaker McCarthy can make a deal and keep his job.

And some new and critical reporting about the special counsel's classified documents investigation. Among the revelations in The Washington Post today, Trump employees move boxes of papers one day before FBI investigators arrived at Mar-a-Lago and that Trump himself produced a dress rehearsal of moving sensitive materials out of sight.

Up first rush though, Ron DeSantis gets pointed and personal, criticizing Donald Trump on a wide array of issues while trying to sell himself at the same time to Trump voters as better than the original. It is an understatement to call this new strategy risky.

But the Florida governor is all in, issuing a statement this morning with links to 11 different Thursday interviews, all of them in the conservative echo chamber, in which he airs a long list of complaints about the former president a big spender. He says, not tough enough at the border. He says friend of Fauci to damage to win the White House again.

There is more as Governor DeSantis looks to use his first days as an official candidate to reset both his campaign and to reset the broader contours of Republican race. The right now is being run on Trump's turf. It is a tightrope. No Republican has managed to walk before. Take on Trump without earning the ire of his loyal base. This is how Governor DeSantis right here hopes to keep his ballots, with Trump like promises to purge the deep state and to look even at giving clean slates to insurrectionists.


CLAY TRAVIS, RADIO HOST (voiceover): Do you think the January 6 defendants deserve to have their cases examined by a Republican president?

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL) (voiceover): On day one, I will have folks that will get together and look at all these cases, who people are victims of weaponization or political targeting, and we will be aggressive at issuing pardons.


KING: Let's get straight to Miami, CNN's Steve Contorno is there. Steve, that is an interesting and a risky strategy.

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN REPORTER: That's right, John. I've been covering Governor DeSantis for the better part of the last decade. I have heard him speak probably more than a hundred times. I have never heard him go after the former president in such direct terms. And keep in mind, he was in Congress for two years while Trump was a president. He was a closely aligned governor with Trump for two years as well.

And during that stretch, he never really publicly raised any sort of criticisms with the Trump presidency. He instead, in fact, he often shared it on, and he sought and ran on President Trump's endorsement when he ran for governor in 2018. But this change in strategy is clearly designed to try to urge some Republicans to get behind them into caste Trump years is not as great as maybe some people remember it. That's a risky bet.

As you said, there are still a lot of Republicans who look back on those past four years finally, even though they might be open to a potential alternative in 2024. The question is, is DeSantis pushing those people off the fence toward him or pushing them away from him because he is being so critical of someone they still really, really like.

But DeSantis has got a lot of money behind him. He has raised over $8 million in the first 24 hours since he was made -- since he jumped into the race. And he is going to put that money behind this message, get out in front of as many voters as possible and continue to make his case to conservative media, that he is the best person to lead this fight and to take and go into the White House and use the presidency in a way that Republicans have been too scared to use it before. John?

KKING: That's fascinating beginning of the official DeSantis campaign. Steve Contorno for us in Miami. Steve, thank you for getting us started. Let's bring the conversation in the room. With me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Lauren Fox, Zolan Kanno- Youngs of The New York Times, and Jackie Kucinich of The Boston Globe. I call it a tight rope. The question is, is it different? Is it different now that Trump has been president than it was in 2016 when Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Rand Paul, and so on and so forth, said Donald Trump is not a real conservative. Donald Trump is not a good person. Ron DeSantis, saying he's not a committed conservative, he's damaged goods. I can win, he can't.

Can you sell that? Can you go that aggressively after Donald Trump and keep enough of the Trump voters to win the Republican nomination?

JACKIE KUCINICH, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, THE BOSTON GLOBE: That's what Ron DeSantis is banking on whether he'll be successful is something else entirely. I mean, Trump has, and Trump is doing the same thing he did during that race. He's mocking him. He's coming right at him. They, you know, they took advantage of the fact that his initial launch was less than desired, put it that way.


So, and he also -- DeSantis also has a lot of competition for that lane. And so, it really, it's kind of seems like we're watching the same movie, honestly, where you're having, you know, all these other people pulling the people who don't want Trump back. But DeSantis hasn't really -- he's above them, but he hasn't really, you know, proved he can surmount Trump yet.

KING: Right. That is the challenge. And again, you know, how do -- the DeSantis calculation is Trump's going to get 30 percent of the vote in most states? Maybe he'll get 35 percent here. Can you peel away enough of that in a crowded field? Listen to the one of the things he's trying to say because he knows he has to be careful. Donald Trump, essentially, he says was great, not anymore.


DESANTIS (voiceover): I don't know what happened to Donald Trump. This is a different guy today than when he was running in 2015 and 2016. And I think the direction that he's going with his campaign is the wrong direction.


KING: You know, again, trying to convince Trump voters, come to me, I will be trumpy, but I don't have the baggage. I don't have the grievances. I don't have the negativity, maybe I can win independence.

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES & CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: This is a difficult balancing act here. You know, he's not criticizing the values, the policies of the former president, but trying to criticize the candidate. And I thought my former colleague Jonathan Martin made a good point in his column today, basically saying that there is this sort of risk here when you criticize the former president, particularly as since he has such a grip on the party right now.

Do you come off as being not a member of the GOP, not one that is supportive of Trump in the party, but more so the other side, somebody that actually is giving in to Democrats and actually helping out President Biden when you criticize Donald Trump?

It's interesting to see him continuing -- DeSantis continuing to make these comments, trying to have a distinction between the policies that Trump supported, and saying he no longer is the best candidate to continue to support them, pointed to things such as the border, such as COVID. But wow, DeSantis continues to use language that is so similar to that of before.

KING: And so, you mentioned the Jonathan Martin column in Politico. Let me read a piece from it because it's a smart call. But he quotes, David Kochel, a very veteran Iowa Republican strategist. The conservative media ecosystem has built a giant wall of inoculation around everything Trump. All our voters have ever known about Trump is he's constantly under attack. So, he's got these antibodies build up.

So, Lauren Fox, that's the question. Can somebody like Ron DeSantis? You know, when Chris Christie says this or John Kasich says this, or Jeb Bush says this, Trump has already preprogrammed his base to not listen to those people. He's disqualified them. Don't listen. Ron DeSantis is one of them. Or at least he wants them to believe he's one of them. Can a trumpy take on Trump, I guess?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, I think one of the biggest questions is will Ron DeSantis be successful at something that everyone else who has been circling getting into the presidential race or has already gotten into the presidential race has decided not to do. He is really the first one who is taking on Donald Trump in such a direct way. And then in some ways he had no other choice, right?

If Donald Trump is going to come after you in the way that Donald Trump came after him right after announcing, perhaps he feels like this is the moment to try. But you raise such a good point, which is that Donald Trump and his supporters, anyone who comes after them, they're just not conservative.

KING: Well, Trump himself has been going after DeSantis constantly. And again, if we could just show the picture of the Republican presidential field, you see on the left side of the screen, the candidates are already in the race. You see on the right side of your screen, candidates who are considering the race.

Donald Trump has said good things about Tim Scott. He has said some nice things about Vivek Ramaswamy, for example. He is attacking Ron DeSantis constantly, several times a day. He goes after him. He calls him a bad nickname Ron DeSanctimonious. We'll see if that sticks. But Ron DeSantis, yesterday asking those conservative interviews, why do you think he's coming after you? And Ron DeSantis says, it's pretty obvious.


DESANTIS (voiceover): He understands that I've got a good chance to beat him because he doesn't criticize anybody else now. It's only me. They know that I'm more likely to win the election. I mean, for him to say that, that we're not winning in Florida, no one has taken a state from being a swing state four and a half years ago, to now being a red state in such a dramatic fashion.


KING: It is interesting to watch him, and again, he's speaking in the conservative echo chamber. He speaking to people, many of whom are inclined to support Donald Trump. They essentially flipped a switch, a switch as Steve was noting, you know, up until then, he was gentle in his criticism of Trump. They decided we're in now. This is the only way. As Chris Christie says, the only way to beat Trump is to go through Trump.

KUCINICH: Yep. Yep. And it is he's being attacked because he is a threat. I mean, that is very, very clear that I think the former president's people have been pretty clear about that. But the DeSantis is going to have to figure out a way to make himself distinctive and not just be Trump light as Nikki Haley said during one of her stops.


KING: And if you look at our poll, I just want to show right now Republican voters do keep Trump and DeSantis at the top of the pack. Who you open to voting for? Would supporter consider supporting? Trump 84 percent, DeSantis 85 percent. You see the others who are there at six and 10 or less there.

Here's the question. If DeSantis is going to daily now, repeatedly attack Trump in the conservative ecosphere, watch that number. Does that number stay constant? Or does it go down? If it goes down, it's not working. If it stays constant, maybe there's an opening. We will see as it plays out.

Up next for us, President Biden says there's progress in the debt limit negotiations, this as the default deadline faster approaches. Plus, fascinating story in Texas. The Republican led panel in Texas now recommending that the state's Republican attorney general be impeached.


KING: Debt ceiling negotiators are back at it today and the House speaker is upbeat as we hit what he calls crunch time.



REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I thought we made progress last night. We got to make more progress now. I'm going to work as hard as we can to try to get this done, get more progress today and finish the job. I'm a total optimist.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: There are loud complaints both from the left and the right. And that's proof negotiators are indeed finding some middle ground. There's tentative agreement on raising the debt ceiling for two years through the 2024 election. In exchange for some new spending limits. Still, the details of the spending restraints are not final and work requirements for federal benefits and permitting reform also remain sticking points in these conversations.

Our great reporters are back to the table. I will start with you. You could see you in the photo there, trying to question the speaker. He is upbeat. His negotiators seem upbeat. They are making tradeoffs that are traditional, right? The House Republicans won the election. They have one chamber in commerce. This seems to be like a normal, this is your piece of the power deal, we're making. Can they sell it though, to the more conservative members?

FOX: Well, they may not be able to sell it to the more conservative members. They may not be able to sell this deal if it comes together to trip ROI, right. But the question becomes, do you need all of those conservatives? And the reality is, you don't, there is two questions on the table.

KING: Well, let me jump in on that point. Let me just stop you for one sec. Because you mentioned that again, that's traditional too. The Democrats and Republicans cut a deal. Liberals don't like it, conservatives don't like it, but you have enough votes in the middle.

What's different about this negotiation is you get another letter when they see the progress coming from the conservative House Freedom Caucus. As a result of your skilled leadership, listen to this, they butter him up, it's great. As a result of your skilled leadership since your consequential election in January, congressional Republicans have not been so united in decades.

As you navigate the debt limit debate, you are the steward of this unity and will determine whether it continues to strengthen or evaporate. So can Kevin -- in a traditional deal, Kevin McCarthy loses 30 votes over here. The Democrats lose 30 votes over there, they pass it in the middle. But now, will he keep his speakership if he does that?

FOX: Well, only Kevin McCarthy is going to decide whether to put this deal on the floor of the House. And I think there are two questions. One of the questions is are you going to lose conservatives? The likely answer is, yes. And any bipartisan deal. The other question is, does it outrage them so much, that they bring forward some kind of motion to vacate where they do try to remove the speaker from his job?

And I think those are two separate questions. And we just aren't at a place yet where we can answer the second one, even though we can probably predict the first is going to be he's losing some conservatives. And we should know, Democrats are going to lose some progressives. If there is really a deal that has the kind of bipartisan support the nucleus of those bipartisan lawmakers that they're going to need. KING: And so, McCarthy's team is well aware of the pressures, and this is one of his top negotiators. Congressman Patrick McHenry this morning saying, we're getting there, but it's tough.


REP. PATRICK MCHENRY (R-NC): We can close it out, we can meet the deadline and the obligations we have to the American public and to the close.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think we close out tonight?

MCHENRY: The pressure is more. The consequences are greater. We recognize that. We know this and the White House should recognize that.


KING: But he is on board, McHenry, a lot of conservatives say, push the limits, don't believe Janet Yellen. Go past June 1 and see what happens. He's on board saying no, that's the deadline, and we're going to try to meet it.

KUCINICH: Well, I mean, he's also a financial services chair, like he understands and he's hearing from bankers. He's hearing from the folks that are really truly hand wringing and saying this has got to get done. So, but again, the question is, how mad does this make conservatives, who are never going to sign on? And can they thread that needle? And to, I mean, he's little shrug there that that is exactly, you know, that's where we're at.

KING: Right. And the other side of the coin is then what is the disappointment among Democrats. This is one leading Democrat Rosa DeLauro. Who says number one, I keep hearing that the president has work requirements, at least open to negotiating some work requirement, federal data, but she says a nonstarter. And listen to what else she says.


REP. ROSA DELAURO (D-CT): I've regarded work requirements as an issue in this effort as a nonstarter. It would be good if they were to leave the negotiation in the hands of the four women who are the appropriators. We know how to do it.


KING: I'll swipe there at the end. It is the, you know, President's Budget Director Shalanda Young obviously, is there his legislative director is a woman. But if the president, the speaker, Rosa DeLauro, saying get out of the way, guys.

KANNO-YOUNGS: Right. And look, I mean, this level of frustration as well about one of the policies that you mentioned there one of the proposals that remains a sticking point. As you noted, that being the work requirements. Those frustrations were made clear as well, earlier this week, last week when the president did indicate that he was open to an agreement along those lines, pointing to some of the support that he had for a version of those work requirements when he was a senator as well.


So, as you were saying, John, when you're getting close to an agreement here, one sign can be the frustration from the different flanks in each party. But it will be interesting to look at this framework and see just, if they can continue to actually address some of those sticking points. You do have Republicans that at this point or at least Kevin McCarthy at this point could come away saying, look I mean, we did cut spending, it's going to be below fiscal 2023 proposals.

The White House is seems to be expressing some enthusiasm by moving money away from the IRS, which they say would offset some of those spending. I know there will that remains an open question as well. So, it'll be interesting to see if they can get through and address some of the remaining sticking points here.

KING: Well, he could, Congressman McHenry thinks possibly later today or tonight or into the weekend we go, we'll keep an eye on it. Up next for us, some new details in the Mar-a-Lago classified documents investigation. A new report simply stunning says, the former president showed documents to visitors and the Trump aides loot boxes, just one day before the FBI showed up.




KING: Ken Paxton, crossing a line with his own party that just might cost him his job. Paxton is the Texas Attorney General, a Republican and a long running source of controversy and whispers about corruption. Thursday, a committee in the Republican controlled Texas House voted five to zero to impeach Paxton. 20 articles of impeachment include accusations of bribery and abusing the public trust.

CNN's Rosa Flores is in Houston, tracking this story for us. Rosa, long a subject of controversy but this is a huge step by the legislature.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Huge step by a legislature that has Republican leadership, and of course, the Texas attorney general is a Republican. So, let's start from the top these 20 articles of impeachment include, constitutional bribery, disregard of official duty, misapplication of public resources, constitutional bribery, obstruction of justice, false statements and official records. It goes on and on and on. But here is the backstory.

These were adopted one day after an explosive open hearing at a Texas investigative committee made up of three Republicans and two Democrats. And testimony during this three-hour hearing described allegations of misconduct by Attorney General Ken Paxton, to benefit a donor in relation to a whistleblower case that Ken Paxton settled in February for $3.3 million, obligating the Texas taxpayer to pay those $3.3 million.

Now, here's the crux of this, and this is why we're here. The Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan has maintained throughout this that the Texas taxpayer should not pay for these $3.3 million of this settlement without a proper investigation. That's why this investigation happened. And as the results of the investigation is the articles of impeachment.

Now, just to give you a taste of some of those revelations, in this three-hour hearing. Take a listen?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Paxton did not register with the state securities board, actually acknowledged that, paid a fine and then turned around and proceeded to continue with the same pattern of behavior of not registering and interacting in those transactions for personal gain?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I would -- one qualifier. There's evidence that he did this in 2004 and 2005, was put on notice of the violation in 2009 because of a lawsuit and did it again in 2012.


FLORES: Now, Paxton firing back saying that all those allegations can be disproven that that this adoption of articles of impeachment is illegal. Issuing a statement saying in part, "four liberal lawyers put forward a report to the House General Investigating Committee based on hearsay and gossip, parroting long disproven claims, it goes on to say this process provided no opportunity for rebuttal or due process. They even refused to allow a senior attorney from my office to provide the facts."

Now these articles of impeachment are technically House resolution 2377. They have to go before the full House. As simple majority, John, will take this over to the Senate and that of course is where impeachment court happens. John?

KING: Keep watching it as it plays out for us, big drama in Texas. Rosa Flores, appreciate the details. They're back to Washington now, and a very important new Washington Post report that has some stunning details of the investigation of the classified records Donald Trump took to Mar-a-Lago when he left office.

The Post says, investigators have learned Mar-a-Lago workers move boxes containing sensitive documents the day before the FBI came for them. Trump also is alleged to have kept some classified documents out in the open in his office, sometimes showing them the visitors. These details could help the special counsel prosecutors to prove the former president understood the gravity of the situation and demonstrated intent to obstruct government efforts to retrieve those records. Let's get some insights from our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, and the CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig, also a former federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York. Evan, let's just start with you. And I just -- first let's show the calendar.

Number one, the FBI served a search warrant. We all know that the president calls it a raid. They started illegally issued and obtained search warrant. And the Washington Post says, that was the very day before that a couple of Trump aides were moving some documents in there. Here's something else in here.

Prosecutors separately been told by more than one witness that Trump at times kept classified documents out in the open in his Florida office, where others could see them. People familiar with the matter said and sometimes showed them to people including, aides and visitors.