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Inside Politics

Special Counsel Subpoenas Trump White House Staff on Firing of Former Top Election Security Official; Special Counsel Investigators Eye Episode With Surveillance Cams at Mar-a-Lago; Women Who Support Trump Cite Party, Economy Over Sexual Misconduct; GOP Chair Plans to Hold FBI Director in Contempt; Kamala Harris Talks Abortion and Book Bans at Fundraiser Co-hosted by Anna Wintour; Woman Who Accused Biden of Sexual Assault Defects to Russia. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 31, 2023 - 12:30   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: The Justice Department eventually just said, "Please, just don't come here anymore." Again, what are we looking at?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yeah, really extraordinary that the Justice Department said no on that when you consider that Barr was such a loyalist to Trump, I mean, quite willing to spin the truth on his behalf, for example, the Mueller Report. But, even for Barr and the high-level DOJ officials, this was too much. The idea of just installing these obvious sort of lackeys to come in and the effort to do that, again, goes to the intent and the state of mind of Trump that he doesn't really care what people are telling him and if they don't tell him the right thing, he'll get rid of him.

KING: We focus a lot on January 6 because of the violence and just because of the horrific memories of that day. But, some of this goes right back to after the election. So help me, as a Prosecutor, you are building a case, what is it you're building? We know that Smith, for example, has looked into fundraising. Were they raising money for people with a lie, or were they defrauding people which could be mail fraud or wire fraud because of the way it is done? Or is it part of how to show how long a conspiracy to what, defraud the United States government by trying to stay in power? Is that a piece of this? What could it be?

WU: Yeah, I think it's both, and money and power always entwine. So, perhaps the next best thing to staying in power is to make money off the fraud that you're pushing out there. So I think they are looking at both of those. And certainly, Krebs could be -- the firing of Krebs could be valuable not only to the efforts by Trump to stay in power, but also to the continued fundraising that we know is being looked at carefully too.

KING: The second track of what the Special Counsel, Mr. Smith, is looking at is Mar-a-Lago and the classified documents. The Washing Post had some very interesting new reporting there about an employee and here's what the post story says. The employee allegedly had a conversation with an IT worker at the site about how the security cameras worked and how long images remained stored in the system, the person familiar from that aspect of the investigation said. Now, again, if you want to be -- if you want to take the negative view on that, OK. So, a Mar-a-Lago employee asking the IT guy, how do these work? How long are these images stored? What are you worried about, that there are pictures of moving documents?

WU: Yeah, exactly. You don't -- you're not really concerned about retention policies unless whether it is documents, video or audio, unless you want them to go away. And so, that's what that suggests. Why would you ask about that if you are not worried about the surveillance being there, which could actually be great. It could show nobody tampered with anything.

KING: And if you look at it, we have a calendar looking at the timeline in here. It's in mid-July when this alleged conversation takes place. It was in August when the FBI showed up to serve the search warrant. Prior to mid-July was when a regular Justice Department official came to retrieve said documents. So this was clearly an issue, like what did the government know? How did the government know? And when the government asks questions and we want to answer one way, will the security footage back us up or contradict us?

WU: Exactly. And really puts to the lie one of those spins that this was the sudden draconian raid on them when they had been involved in such a long time delaying, deceiving, and now, we're beginning to get a picture of that behind the scenes. They were trying to get ready for the possibility of the government seeking more intrusive actions.

KING: Shan Wu, appreciate you being here with the insights on, again, both tracks of the Special Counsel investigation.

Up next, Donald Trump and Republican women -- even many who have giant character concerns about the former president say, he will still get their vote in 2024.



KING: Republicans hoping to deny Donald Trump the party's 2024 presidential nomination need to loosen his grip on most loyal GOP voters and Republican women are a fascinating subset. The Washington Post visited a key Pennsylvania swing county just after a New York jury found Trump liable for sexually abusing writer E. Jean Carroll. Many Republican women there did have reservations about his personal character, but most said they would vote for him again.

One put it this way, Trump's ego "put people off," but I think he did a lot of good for the country. Another called the former president "an absolute idiot," but said she would support Trump over President Biden. "Get this, I hate him as a person. I honestly do. But I'm more concerned about the economy and you can barely afford to live right now." Colby Itkowitz of the Washington Post joins us now to share this reporting.

So, you visit Northampton County, voted for Trump against Clinton. Biden won it back narrowly. It is one of those tug-o-war counties in Belagram (ph), Pennsylvania, right after the voting.


KING: You would assume there would be people say, "Oh, it's horrible," Republican women. But most were like, "I'm still for Trump."

ITKOWITZ: Yeah, I heard some mixed messages along the way. But all of them, ultimately, they would support Trump again next year. Some people said, "Oh, that's just men being men" and really kind of used the Trump defense. Others said maybe it's a Democratic plot. You heard a lot of Republican women say it's not true. E. Jean Carroll is not telling the truth. Why is this coming out now all these decades later. And then you did have others who found it revolting, who thought that Trump was not a good person, but who felt that the economy was better under Trump. There's this public perception that the economy was better when Trump was president and they are going to vote for (inaudible).

KING: An interesting thing in reading your piece, which I recommend to everybody. Find the entire piece online at the Washing Post, is the idea that like, he's running for president, the government is out to the get him.


KING: Trump has fostered this cynically for years, but it works.

ITKOWITZ: I've heard -- I heard so much of that and then there was so much anti-Biden sentiment out there too from these women. I mean, there's just a visceral anti-Biden reaction. It wasn't even a question in their mind Trump, if it came down to Trump and Biden, whether or not they would vote for Trump again.

KING: And so, I just want to show you some polling. This is from our most recent polls, support for Republican candidates among Republican women and Republican-leaning female voters.


You see Donald Trump with 49 percent support. 34 percent said they would consider. Only 16 percent said they would not. That's the same number as Ron DeSantis essentially. Striking to me, 37 percent of Republican women say they would not support Nikki Haley. What's that about?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWSHOUR: I think that the base of Republican voters have shown time and time again that they are very much with Donald Trump. And they are very much with what he has turned the party into or exposed the party's beliefs for being, and that whether it was Access Hollywood tape, whether it is the latest E. Jean Carroll trial, as well as the other potential indictments that he could face, those are not going to sway them. They are very much with him and with what he wants the party to be.

I will say though that when I was traveling the country in 2022, as well as 2020, there were a lot of women and men who were independent voters, moderate Republican voters, and they weren't voting for Trump anymore. And it had a lot to do with his character and it had a lot to do with just the way he governed and that they were done. I think in 2022, I was talking to a number of women in Pennsylvania, they were more middle-of-the-road voters, independent voters, and they were not going to go back to Republicans. So where they break in 2024 is going to be key.

KING: Right. And so, the Pennsylvania primary doesn't generally -- doesn't normally matter. But it comes so late in the process, but it's a key state in the general election. Ron DeSantis as we talk to (inaudible) is out in Iowa right now. Trump lost to Ted Cruz last time, but he wants to win it this time. Trump just wants to win, so the opponents fall by the wayside really. These are three women who were at the DeSantis event yesterday, talking about the tough choice.


JANE HAWKS, IOWA VOTER: I have not made up my mind. I want to learn more. I love Trump because I love that he did what he said he was going to do. He was not bought.

CAREY BRACKETT, IOWA VOTER: I like Trump. I voted for Trump. However, I think he has got too many legal irons in the fire. I think that this is going to really help push DeSantis to the forefront.

LINDA STUBER, IOWA VOTER: I voted for Trump on the last one and I thought he did a lot of things, but it was constant criticism, all through the whole thing, and I just feel like maybe another president in there can work across the lines.


KING: You do see there, I think and that sounds scientific and they are at a DeSantis event, so we need to be careful about it. But you do some openness there to I like Trump, but I'm going to look around a little bit. I think that's the question in the early primary states, do we see that?

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, USA TODAY: And there's an argument that the Republican presidential candidates are making right now to remind them of exactly what you were seeing, is that in the last election, his candidates lost. His recruited candidates this time could also potentially cost us the senate as well. And I think you'll start to hear more of that argument again, like you did after the midterm election.

But, one interesting position that Trump has taken with respect to abortion rights is to say that Ron DeSantis' position on this is too extreme. That his six-week abortion ban is too extreme because you have a number of women who were saying that that's going to be a deciding factor for them in this election. And when you have Democrats Joe Biden, Kamala Harris out there pushing on abortion rights, Donald Trump has kind of tried to take this middle position on the issue.

KING: Was it your experience that these women in Pennsylvania are motivated by issues? That's always been sort of the challenge. You see DeSantis now trying to get to the Trump's right on issues, whether it's COVID, whether it is spending, whether it is abortion, as Francesca noted. And yet, sometimes when you talk to Trump voters, it's about him, it's not about issues.

ITKOWITZ: This was about the economy. I heard it time and time again. Everyone is feeling it -- they are feeling the cost of inflation. Even though there are some indicators that the economy is better right now than it was under the Trump presidency, they are really, really worried about paying their bills and feeding their families. The independent women, however, the ones that might also be worried about the economy are also worried a about abortion laws going too far. I'm out there talking to voters all the time and I hear it from women who say, they don't know if they can vote for a Republican who wants to have a total abortion ban across the country.

KING: Right. But that point Colby makes, all (ph) about the economy is interesting. You know, the Biden team thinks if we get a rematch with Trump, we can beat him

again. But Biden is the incumbent president now, so it's a very different situation. You're not running in the middle of a pandemic where you can criticize Donald Trump's management of the pandemic and all of these other issues. You have to run on the inflation and again, the numbers -- Colby is right. The numbers are getting better in most fronts, but people don't feel it.

CARL HULSE, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Yeah. It's interesting that people don't feel it when you look at the unemployment numbers and all these other indicators that show it's so strong. I do think that's one reason the White House was so determined to get this deal done on the debt limit and avoid an economic calamity that I think could have really hurt Biden in this election. And as far as women voters, ask Hillary Clinton if Trump's behavior will deter women from voting for him, because she found out that was not the case.


KING: She did. Colby, thanks for coming. In Northampton County, if you want to camp out in one place, the 2024 election, that's the place to go. (inaudible) while you are there.

Up next, House Republicans threatening to hold the FBI Director in contempt of Congress.


ANNOUNCER: A CNN Republican Town Presidential Hall with Nikki Haley, Live, Sunday at 8 p.m. Eastern.

KING: A key phone call later today could determine whether Congress moves to hold the FBI Director in contempt. The Director Christopher Wray is scheduled to talk with the House Oversight Committee Chairman James Comer. Chairman Comer wants committee access to an FBI documents that a whistleblower says contains a corruption allegation against Joe Biden back when he was vice president.


And the chairman says he is prepared to hold Wray in contempt if the document is not shared ASAP. Director Wray is offering to allow Comer to come in and view the document in person. CNN's Sara Murray is here to help us sort all of this out. Director Wray says I can't give you the document, that would violate protocol. Come in and take a look at it, we'll talk. Is that a reasonable compromise? Chairman Comer doesn't think so.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think we're sort of seeing the dance ahead of the actual compromise. The contempt threat is a like a sort of shot across the bow. But it is a little toothless because it comes hours before these men were already scheduled to get on the phone and after the FBI had already sent Comer a letter saying, we are going to share information with you, we just need to talk through the process of how we ensure this information remains confidential and how we protect these confidential sources which is what this document that Comer wants memorializes.

KING: And it could be protecting confidential sources which is a critical point. It also could be an allegation that is unfounded, right? And so -- so that's sort of the question, where's the sensitivity of this. When you have House Republicans who very aggressively want to say that the president is a crook, this is a document that says somebody reported a tip about something but we don't know much more.

MURRAY: Well, right. And this is what the FBI has said over and over again in their letter, is essentially, what you are asking for is information about an unsubstantiated allegation. It doesn't tell you what happened. If the FBI looked into this and then later found out there was nothing to it, it doesn't tell you if someone else came in and provided totally contradictory information. It doesn't tell you the background of this confidential source and frankly, whether they thought they were a total wacko and they were just giving information that had no basis in fact.

So again, they're really trying to lay the groundwork of what you see in this document may not be all that you're hoping it's going to be.

KING: Different chairman, different investigation. But Chairman McCaul of the House Foreign Affairs Committee did get to go to the State Department and look at this dissent cable in the Afghanistan withdrawal. The chairman says he wishes the whole committee would see it. He is going to keep pushing for that. But that was at least a reasonable compromise and a stepping stone, and we'll where we go.

Chairman Comer at least up to this phone call, you're right. He's saying this before the phone call and says that doesn't seem like it's going to be enough for him. The FBI's decision to stiff-arm Congress and hide this information from the American people is obstructionist and unacceptable. The committee will now be taking steps to hold the FBI Director in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a lawful subpoena.

This subpoena from them is lawful. I just want to note for the record, there are five Republican representatives who rejected, ignored, refused to cooperate with subpoenas from the January 6th Committee because they didn't -- they decided they didn't like that committee. But the FBI doesn't get to decide it doesn't like his committee as well (ph).

MURRAY: No. But also, I mean, what do we know about this Congressional subpoenas. You have to go through an accommodation process and that's what the FBI has been doing. They have been talking to Comer's staff. They're putting Wray on the phone with Comer and Grassley. They are saying, we're going to give you this information in some way. It may not mean we're printing of copies with sensitive source material and handing them out to everyone on the Hill. It may mean that a select number of people and staffers on your committee get to come and get to view this.

Again, it's an accommodation process. They are going through this. This is not the FBI getting a subpoena and just saying, you know what, we're going to throw this in the trash today.

KING: That's a key point in the sense that it is sensitive information. You are trying to protect sources. You also don't want unverified allegations. Then the next committee could request another document, so on and so forth forever. The FBI, its Legislative Affairs Director saying this in a letter. The Director looks forward to discussing how to make that information available during your call, says they remain committed to cooperating.

I guess this is a test, right? These new chairmen on the Republican side, that's what they campaigned on. They said we're going to have incredibly aggressive investigations. The question is, if they don't get everything they want, do they just run to the subpoena and contempt, or are they willing to negotiate?

MURRAY: Yeah. I mean, look, I think putting the contempt threat out there is like an early sign to say, we actually do expect you to comply in some way. Maybe they'll be satisfied with just being able to see the document. But I think the fact that Comer said it, the fact that McCarthy said it, is an indication of saying we are serious about trying to move forward with these contempt proceedings if we don't get what we want. We know that Wray has been, of course, a top target for them.

KING: A top target because of what the Republican base --


KING: -- thinks of the former president, so on and so forth.


KING: I suspect you'll be back here tomorrow explaining to us just what happened. Sara, thank you.

Up next, the Vice President Kamala Harris rubbing elbows with a who's who of fashion and Hollywood in a star-studded fundraiser.



KING: Topping our Political Radar today, the Vogue Editor-in-Chief, Anna Wintour co-hosting a DNC fundraiser in New York City last night with the Vice President Kamala Harris. Harris blasting book bans and said abortion bans, without exceptions, for rape are 'immoral.' Her audience, about 60 people including a handful of celebrities. They included Padma Lakshmi, Corey Hawkins and Sheryl Lee Ralph. Tickets costing from $10,000 to $100,000.

Tara Reade, the former Senate aide who accused President Biden of sexual assault, has now defected to Russia. She said she wants Russian citizenship and she talked to Russian State Media yesterday in a news conference along with a convicted Kremlin spy Maria Butina. Reade claims she got death threats after accusing then Senator Biden of sexual harassment and assault, back when she worked in his senate office in 1990s. No Biden staffers have backed up her story and Reade has since faced a number of credibility concerns. President Biden has strongly denied her allegations.

Just a quick programming note, Sunday Night Live from Iowa, Jake tapper moderates the CNN Republican Presidential Town Hall with the former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley. The evening kicks off Sunday, 8 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN. Thanks for your time, we'll see you tomorrow. 'CNN News Central' starts right now.