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Trump In Iowa After Sources Say He's On Tape Talking About Classified Docs; Sources: Prosecutors Obtain 2021 Audio Of Trump Acknowledging He Held Onto Pentagon Document; Audio Recording An "Important" Piece Of Evidence In Possible Federal Case Against Trump, Sources Say; Senate Races To Pass Debt Bill; Biden, McCarthy Celebrate Debt Deal; Today: DeSantis In NH, First Trip As Candidate. Aired 12- 12:30p ET

Aired June 01, 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. A taped admission, right now Donald Trump gets an audience with Iowa conservatives that happens just hours after CNN exclusive reporting reveals, federal prosecutors have obtained a recording of Trump talking about keeping a classified document.

Plus, on to the Senate now for a big bipartisan breakthrough. A month plus scramble of meetings, late nights breakdowns, bartering and near rebellions leads to 314-yes in the House on a deal to steer the United States around a debt default. And from Wall Street to the White House, one of the most powerful men in corporate America, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, doesn't say no to a future in politics.

Up first for us, though, critical new CNN reporting on a special counsel investigation evidence trail that we now know includes a recording of Donald Trump admitting he kept a classified record when he left the White House. Trump right now is on the campaign trail, courting conservatives in Iowa, that a reminder of the simply unprecedented place we find ourselves.

The former president is facing criminal charges in New York, a state investigation in Georgia and two tracks of the federal special counsel investigation, and yet he is at the very same time the front runner for the 2024 Republican nomination. And he vows to carry on his campaign, no matter what prosecutors allege.

This exclusive new CNN reporting is this. Special Counsel Jack Smith now has in his possession, an audio recording in which Trump is heard saying, he held on to a classified document. That is a giant contradiction from Trump's public assertion that he never took anything classified or that he can declassify whatever he wants. The tape we're told captures the July 2021 meeting at Trump's Bedminster, New Jersey Golf Club.

Sources say the people at that meeting did not, not have high level security clearances. In the room, Mr. Trump admits to keeping a memo detailing an Iran attack plan. CNN has not listened to the tape. But sources described it to us in extensive second by second detail. And according to sources, you can even hear the sound of paper rustling and laughter, as if the former president was waving the document around to those in the room.

Legal analysis in a moment. But let's get out to CNN's Jeff Zeleny, he is live for us right now in Urbandale, Iowa. The former president following Ron DeSantis into the state still first on the Republican primary calendar, Jeff.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: There's no doubt and the former President Donald Trump is doing things a little bit different this time around, at least for today, meeting with a small group of conservative voters here at the machine shed restaurant behind me here.

He's been speaking for several minutes, talking about his record in office, but also striking a confident tone as this Republican primary field starts to grow. He is sounding like, not only the front runner, but someone who's looking ahead to being a winner early next year. Let's take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: There's no way I can lose Iowa. Let's see what happens. I don't think so. We'd have to -- we'd have to do some really bad things to lose at this point because we are, it's been amazing how far I'm so -- it's the best polls we've ever had.


ZELENY: So certainly, you can unpack that brief comment there. We'd have to do some really bad things. Well, some Republicans certainly admire some of his policy, but there are many Republicans here who question whether all these legal challenges mounting up against him, will make it difficult for him to win back the White House, will make it difficult for him to win even a Republican primary campaign.

Now his campaign is pushing back forcefully on this new reporting from our colleagues saying this. Let's take a look at this statement. It says the DOJ's continued interference in the presidential election is shameful and this meritless investigation should cease wasting the American taxpayer's money on Democrat political objectives. That's from a Trump campaign spokesman.

Of course, that does not get to the heart of the matter hear about, in this Republican primary there are many voters that we talk to, many officials who worry that these mounting challenges, these mounting investigations could indeed make it difficult for Republicans to defeat President Biden.

But John, first things first, this primary is very much engaged here. As you said, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis was just here in Iowa. He's in New Hampshire today. He's coming back here on Saturday. So, the question is not Trump supporters. He knows that those perhaps 30 percent or so people will be with him. What about the majority of Republicans that poll show are looking for an alternative? That is one of the reasons the former president is here today, trying to touch them, reach out to them. He'll be heading to an evangelical leaders' group as well, trying to make the case that he's the man who can still win. John?

KING: Jeff Zeleny, live on the ground for us in Urbandale, Iowa. Jeff, appreciate that. And we'll come back to the politics piece of that in the more crowded Republican field a bit later in the program. But let's have a legal conversation now about this new reporting. Here to join our conversation, CNN's Katelyn Polantz, CNN's Paula Reid, and the former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.


Katelyn Polantz, let me start with you, and Paula, I just want to read through some of this reporting and just walk through it carefully and slowly because of how important it is.

Prosecutors have asked witnesses about the recording and the document before a federal grand jury. The episode has generated enough interest for investigators to have questioned General Mark Milley, one of the highest ranking Trump-era national security officials about the incident. General Milley, of course, still the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

So, classified documents track, one of two things the special counsel is looking at you, one is election interference, but the classified document. The reporting is that Trump had a document, talked about it on the tape. Tell us more?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. And that he's having it with him referring to it, whether or not it was seen by the people in the room? We don't know the answer to that. But he's referring to it quite clearly. And then is quite clearly talking about how protected of a national security secret this is, that it's classified that he couldn't declassify it. How he wishes he could share it with other people but can't.

And so, when you step back, you know, we have so many conversations about these criminal investigations. What evidence do they have? What witnesses do they have? There's also a very important national security conversation to be had here.

And when you look at the law, and what the Justice Department has to do is, they have to make sure not just whether they have the evidence that someone may have broken the law that they can bring a case, but they have to make sure that they're enforcing the national security apparatus of the United States. And whenever you look at a document like this, it is something we know that Trump believed Milley was presenting to him that the Pentagon had these plans and that it is about a possible potential to strike Iran.

And there has to be a decision at some point if this is going to be a chargeable case is, is this a document that is what national security, prosecutors and intelligence people would call a goldilocks document, something that is not so secret that you can't bring it into court, that you can't talk about it with the jury and risk that information getting out. But that it is secret enough that it would be crystal clear in a criminal case that it could be harmful to the United States they got out (Ph).

KING: Right. So, I want to come back to something you said as part of this because I think, and then I want to get to Renato and how you build a case. The president said, he would like to share it, but he can't. That's knowledge that of what he has in his hands. It's also contradicts what he told our Kaitlan Collins at the CNN townhall. Listen?


TRUMP: You have the Presidential Records Act. I was there and I took what I took, and it gets declassified.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Did you ever show those classified documents to anyone?

TRUMP: Not really. I would have the right to. By the way, they were declassified after --

COLLINS: What do you mean not really?

TRUMP: Not -- not that I can think of. Let me just tell you, I have the absolute right to do whatever I want with them.


KING: Renato Mariotti, to the point that notwithstanding what the former president said at the townhall, where he was sort of bouncing all over the place. The idea that if Trump actually had a document, and said, I'd love to share this with you. If you're Jack Smith and you're trying to build a case, not just about obstruction, but about mishandling misappropriation of classified materials, put that evidence in a context.

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It's extraordinarily important, because often, the sticking point in a prosecution is proving the defendant state of mind. I used to send out FBI agents, sometimes with notices that I would provide to defendants to make sure that I could prove later that they had information about a particular legal obligation they had or something along those lines here.

You know, Trump could say, we saw what he did with Kaitlan when she was asking questions. He could try to confuse the issues, say, you know, he doesn't recall. You know, say, he had the right to do things that maybe he didn't have the right to do. But on this recording if what's reported is accurate. And I'll note the Trump campaign does not dispute its accuracy. Their response to this doesn't go to the -- to the actual substance of it.

He's saying there that he knows that he can't share this information. He knows that it's classified. He knows it's important. That's extraordinary evidence, and it's very powerful. And frankly, it really would be featured, I would think about the special counsel, and I think it makes it very difficult for Trump to take the stand and try to say something different if there actually was a trial in this case.

KING: And that's the sort of the methodical way the prosecutor needs to build it up. Paula Reid, let me read some more from this fabulous reporting. By you and other members of our team. One source says Trump refer to the document as if it is in front of him. Several sources say the recording captures the sound of paper rustling, as if Trump was waving the document around, though it's not clear if it was the actual Iran document.

Again, take us into the room. Who is there? What is his conversation? Who are the other potential witnesses, if you will? You have the audio recording, but you also have eyes on the former president as this plays out.


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: So, in the room here, this is Bedminster in New Jersey, summer 2021. He's speaking to a group of people that include his own aides and at least two people who are working on an autobiography of former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. And Meadows was not in the room, but this is significant because at the time Trump was in the habit of recording all conversations with writers, journalists, anyone working on a book. So, really that underscore, he knew he was on tape here. So that is really significant.

Now, at this point, we don't believe there are any foreign nationals in this room that were present for this conversation. But none of these people had security clearances. I think any good prosecutor is going to be looking into why you were discussing the classified document, even if that wasn't what you were waving with some visitors at your golf club.

KING: And so, help us again, we're not on the sense that justice is supposed to be blind, but there should be, I would argue anyway. A very high bar for anybody, but especially a former president. So, you're trying to make the case, OK. Does Trump just keep these things as trophies? Is he just careless? Or is it something nefarious? From everything in this reporting. Just take me inside the prosecutorial war that says, look, this is not an accident. This is not somebody just being flippant or silly. This is a crime.

MARIOTTI: Well, I think that the first thing prosecutors are going to be concerned about is a defense that Trump says, I wasn't focused on this. I'm an important person. I was the president of the United States. There's a lot of boxes, a lot of documents. I wasn't keeping track. I was relying on others. That's one reason.

By the way, John, this is very important evidence because it shows he's focused on this issue, right? He understands the issue completely. I think prosecutors are going to look to the overall weight of this. And that's why, you know, one thing we've talked about in the past is the obstruction piece of this right, the false, the alleged false statements to the Justice Department allege moving and hiding of documents. I think that goes to the significance of it.

If prosecutors were convinced that this was inadvertent, if it was an oversight, of course, it wouldn't be prosecuted. I think what, you know, what has been demonstrated by that obstruction piece is that there's something more going on here. And really, I think the focus is going to be for Special Counsel Smith.

Can you prove this case, even if there's a lot of smoke and mirrors, and a lot of, you know, very aggressive defense case. And that's where this recording comes in. Very difficult to convince a jury to ignore the words of the defendant. And that's, I think, what makes us powerful here.

KING: Right. Donald Trump, in his own words, admitting to something he has denied or tried to fudge about the facts. So, let's wrap it up with this, that you just made the point that we're recording a lot of things in this period of time. We know the surveillance video, separate issue, but a surveillance video from the video of Mar-a-Lago is a key piece of the evidence.

Were they moving things around? Were they saying things to the FBI? We're doing things contrary to that. These in terms of audio recordings, we know they were recording more. Do we know anything more about the potential evidentiary value of other recordings?

REID: Well, certainly asking our sources about it. But at this point, we're not aware of any other recordings that exists. But you can bet, Katelyn's been working phone since she got up this morning as a model. If that's a big question because it said this was his practice. At the time was recording, defensively recording all of these conversations. That's a potential goldmine for prosecutors.

KING: You actually slept last night?


KING: So, sleeps not allowed around breaking news. Thank you both for coming in. Renato, thank you as well, as we continue to track this important case. One of the things we're lucky about here is these fabulous reporters.

Up next, a win for the House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Biden. Can the Senate now fast track that debt limit bill just days before the default deadline?




KING: Right now, the Senate racing to pass a crucial debt ceiling bill. That bipartisan deal cleared the house last night that, of course after months of infighting and often bitter negotiations. The final tally though. Look at this 314 to 170, 149 Republicans and 165 Democrats voted yes in favor, 71 Republicans and 46 Democrats voted against.

Senators must follow suit by Monday, or the treasury department says America could start defaulting on some of its bills. The Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, then telling the chamber this morning, buckle up.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D-NY): Time is a luxury the Senate does not have any needless delay, or any last-minute holdups would be an unnecessary and even dangerous risk. And any change to this bill, that forces us to send it back to the House would be entirely unacceptable. It would almost guaranteed default.


KING: Here in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's Melanie Zanona, Tolu Olorunnipa of The Washington Post, and Margaret Talev of Axios. So, walk us through this, explain to America how Washington and the Senate works. Senator Schumer and Senator McConnell have an agreement. Some senators will get to propose amendments, as long as they can kill them, as long as they make sure they lose, so that they don't change the House bill and have to send it back.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Exactly. So, in the Senate, any single member can slow things down, hold it up. They need the cooperation of every single senator in order to move quickly on this. So, what leadership is doing is going to offer them amendment votes in exchange for their cooperation. These amendment votes will fail, everyone knows that because if it were to pass it would completely upset things.

This is a very delicately negotiated deal. It would have to go back to the House. But they're in the process of working that out. It is just a matter of when, not if they pass this in the Senate. We're hearing it might be sometime today, might be tomorrow, but it's going to get done hopefully over the weekend.

KING: So, they'll have the amendment. So, Tolu, you write an interesting post the Washington -- in the piece of the Washington Post say, we have Democratic president, we have Republican speaker. And yet, they negotiate a deal and they're both in some ways winners. Now there are some nicks on both of them from this process, but I want to read them the piece.

The comments reflected an embolden mood on the part of both men, an octogenarian Democrat who has faced questions about his age and ability to shepherd a vibrant diverse party, and a California Republican who has been viewed as a weak leader beholden to his conference's conservative firebrands. It is true, right? Yes, they both have some questions going forward from this, but they can both rightfully say, I win?

[12:20:00] TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF, THE WASHINGTON POST: And they are. They are -- have already started to sort of brag about this deal say, this is how Washington is supposed to work. You have to remember that President Biden has faced questions about his age, about his ability, about whether or not he should be running for reelection in this divided government period as a test of whether or not he's going to be able to carry on through the next election.

And for McCarthy, he faced challenges over whether or not he should be speaker. He's been speaker for a few months. And there's this sort of sword hanging over his head, whether or not he will be able to remain in his post because of some of the things that he's doing that are not supported by folks on the far right. Because he was able to get this deal, and there aren't any real major calls yet for his ouster. He can claim victory over this.

KING: And so, there will be some out there. And it's your job to rain on their parade. Who would say OK, well, you just did this, right? You just did this. Liberals are unhappy, conservatives aren't happy. But you just came together in the broad middle of Washington, just did something very important. So, why can't we have a conversation about immigration? Why can't we have a conversation about whether their big healthcare questions, entitlements, child tax credits, not going to happen, right?

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, AXIOS: Because the global economy is not going to collapse and tens of thousands, if not more of Americans are going to lose their jobs. The U.S. suddenly going to be permanently knocked off of its leadership posts in terms of how the rest of the world have used it, the currency as -- the primary currency is not going to be shaken by any of those other things.

The default has a singular capacity to have national and international shockwaves that will be both immediate and permanent to some degree. And Kevin McCarthy knows that, and so does most of the Republican caucus. I do think that this is a win for both men, but in different ways.

For Biden, there was nowhere to go, but down for the president, if it had been a default, it would have been a disaster for the country, but also, you know, for him, but it doesn't boost his ratings or his standing that he managed to stave it off.

I don't think for him McCarthy, this is really a window to reset both his own caucus and Americans impression of his leadership skills and what kind of a speaker he's going to be. I don't know how far he can take that with a razor thin majority that just at least temporarily got one smaller. But it is a moment for his caucus and for the political establishment and Americans to say there might be more here than we thought there was.

KING: There are some stills to McCarthy is right, who he had to fight to get their votes to be speaker, what 15 ballots back in January. There are some who are unhappy and say, they will consider using their power. That part of the deal was any one member can move to vote but vacate the chair. Listen to one of them, Ken Buck. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. KEN BUCK, (R-CO): The discussion about the motion to vacate is going to happen in the next week or two.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What would your reaction be if Democrats were to step in and save McCarthy in motion to vacate, but Vicente Gonzalez just told us he's (Inaudible)

REP. BUCK: It's like a date with a eunuch.


REP. BUCK: No. He does not have much power when he relies on Democrats to keep him as speaker.


KING: Is that real? Meaning there will be a real challenge to McCarthy's leadership. I assume he would survive it, but it would still be a dent or is that just venting?

ZANONA: We'll have to see. I mean, they have the power a single member to believe at least call the vote, it would take five Republicans to actually succeed assuming all Democrats vote against McCarthy in that scenario. Kevin McCarthy is not taking it lightly. He has to take that seriously. But he's also not sweating it.

And it's because, John, as you mentioned, he has beaten back the conservative revolt before it took them 15 ugly rounds of voting, but he eventually got there. I think what we're really determining is what members here when they go back to their districts, right?

If they are hearing conservatives who are furious back home, they might get fired up and come back and want to proceed with this. But the fact that they are not right now committing to follow through with it, I think is probably a good sign.

KING: That's an interesting point you make, by when they go home because the leading Republican candidates for president now, Trump was late to it. He waited and waited and waited, but on Iowa radio, I said, he said no. Is a safe place for -- if you're appealing to the Republican basis to be no. So, we'll see if some of that when they go home, if they come back to Washington if that happens, something to keep an eye on.

Up next for us. The growing Republican presidential field. Mike Pence and Chris Christie make it official next week. That will be nine candidates and we might not be done.




KING: Ron DeSantis is in New Hampshire today and playing the, all politics is local card.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R-FL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a lot that we can criticize President Biden for, and we will do it. But one of the things he deserves criticism for as, you know, he's trying to abandon New Hampshire as the first in the nation state and that is wrong. The Republicans are holding the line and are committed to New Hampshire.


KING: Governor DeSantis came to New Hampshire from Iowa and is using his first campaign swing as an official candidate to make the case. He is the best Donald Trump alternative. Well, the governor will soon have more competition in that lane.

The former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie due to kick off his campaign on Tuesday also in New Hampshire, followed by the former Vice President Mike Pence, he will make his announcement Wednesday in Iowa.

Our great reporters are back at the table. The field gets bigger. In a moment, we can talk about the pressure that will come later for the field to shrink and shrink quickly. But it's clear, as I said Governor DeSantis was just in Iowa. A couple days in Iowa. Now he's in New Hampshire. Donald Trump, you heard at the top of the program. He says, I don't have to worry. I have great polls. Well, here's some proof he's worried.

What part of Governor DeSantis's case against Trump is? Trump can only serve one more term if he's elected president. So, you need a conservative in there for two terms to get a lot of things done. Donald Trump says no, you know.


TRUMP: When I heard DeSantis go out and say, it took about eight years. We need eight years. You don't need eight years. You need six months. We can turn this thing around so quickly.