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Inside Politics

NH Gov Sununu Will Not Run For Presidential In 2024; 2024 GOP Field Takes Shape As Sununu Is Out, Christie & Pence Getting In; Trump Lawyers Met With DOJ Officials After Complaints About Special Counsel Probe; Trump Lawyers Met With Justice Dept Officials As Special Counsel's Classified Docs Probe Nears End. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 05, 2023 - 12:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Hello, and welcome to Inside Politics. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you for sharing your day with us. A 2024 announcement coming right here in just moments, standby for a CNN exclusive.

Plus, President Trump's lawyers meeting with the Justice Department right now, as the special counsel's probe appears to be nearing its final stages. We'll walk through what those lawyers are asking for, and just what this could mean. And another CNN exclusive, Ukraine cultivating a network of agents inside Russia to carry out attacks of sabotage, and U.S. officials believe they were behind that brazen Kremlin drone strike just last month.

We begin the hour, though, with a CNN exclusive.

We know the Republican presidential field will grow by three this week. Mike Pence, Chris Christie, and Doug Burgum all have announcements teed up. That will get us to 10 declared GOP candidates. Will that be it, or will there be more?

Chris Sununu has been a maybe for months, a Donald Trump critic who is also the popular governor of the state with the first primary on the Republican nominating calendar.

Well, today, Governor Sununu is ready to share his decision right here.

CNN's Dana Bash live in New Hampshire with this exclusive interview -- Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: John, thank you.

And, Governor, thank you so much for inviting us here to the Granite State.

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): Absolutely.

BASH: Your decision?

SUNUNU: Yes, so we have taken the last six months to really kind of look at things, where everything is, and I have made the decision not to run for president on the Republican ticket in 2024.

Obviously, a lot goes into that decision, but it's been quite an adventure, but not the end of the adventure, by any means.

BASH: Why? Why won't you run?

SUNUNU: Well, you -- when you look at what's happening out there, you obviously have a very large field. I think the former President Trump is doing much better in the polls than folks thought.

And when I looked at where my voice can be, how we make the Republican Party bigger, the responsibility that I think I have, in terms of focusing on the Republican Party and ultimately focusing on the opportunities for the country, and having a little more of a candid, a little more unleashed voice, and getting folks to not just worry about, well, is it a vote for Chris Sununu, I'm not worried about that.

I want more independents on the Republican Party team. I want more young voters on the Republican Party team. I am tired of losing U.S. Senate races and governor's races. And, clearly, I -- I talk a bit candidly, I think, as folks appreciate.

I think more folks within the Republican Party have to have that kind of voice, that kind of emphasis of message, and making sure that this is about the Republican Party, not just about the former president.

BASH: But part of your decision is about the former president, right? Is it...

SUNUNU: Oh, sure.

BASH: It's about the size of the field?

There are 12 -- by the end of the week, there will be 12 candidates for the Republican nomination.


BASH: And you're not going to be one of them, but you think that's too big.

SUNUNU: Well, it's -- look, I don't mind who gets into the field, but, given where the polls are right now, every candidate needs to understand the responsibility of getting out, and getting out quickly, if it's not working.

And I can be more candid about that as the governor of the first-in- the-nation primary, calling candidate out -- candidates out, saying, look, you gave it a try, you're still in low single digits, you got to get out of the race.

And I'm not -- and I'm not...

BASH: By when? By when? What's the deadline? SUNUNU: Christmas at the latest. If we do what we did in 2016, you're going to have somebody win this nomination with 35 percent of the Republican support.

That's not where we should be as a party. That's not where anybody wants to be.

BASH: But it's not just somebody, for you. It's Donald Trump.

SUNUNU: Well, it is.

But, again, it's -- it's somebody who is in the past. He served the country. Thank you for your service. We have to be a party and a country that goes forward. And if we're only talking about Donald Trump, then we're only talking about relitigating elections or January 6. We're only talking about yesterday.

But this is the United States of America. As a candidate, you got to be what you're going to bring to the table, how you're going to change things, what you're going to do. And that's what gets people excited.

BASH: Governor, you wrote an op-ed for "The Washington Post," and, in it, you said a few things that I'm going to ask you about.

But one, just on this issue of the big field, you said: "Candidates should not get into this race to further a vanity campaign, sell books, or audition to serve as Donald Trump's vice president."

Do you think that's what some of their...

SUNUNU: Absolutely.

BASH: Who?

SUNUNU: Oh, it's very fair.

Look, I don't want to -- I don't want to be overly critical until we see them on the debate stage. Let's see who can take a punch, who can give a punch. But the message is very clear.

If you're not talking in resonance against the candidate who's right now winning by 20 or 30 points, then you're just potentially auditioning to be on his team. So, let's get them on the -- these candidates on the debate stage. Let's see who has the fire to talk about the future of America and doesn't back down, who can actually, like I say, give a punch and take a punch, knows how to debate, knows how to show strength.

And we will see who those folks really are. But, clearly, there's 12 people in the race. I don't think all 12 of them firmly believe that they can be president. I think a lot of them just want to, yes, effectively, audition to be in the Cabinet or vice president.

And, at this time, there's no place for that. There's absolutely no place for that.


BASH: Well, you also -- on this subject, you say that -- again, that: "Too many candidates have entered this race. They're simply running to be Donald Trump's vice president. That's not leadership. That's weak."

SUNUNU: It is weak.

BASH: But...

SUNUNU: You want to be -- you're running...

BASH: ... you're not -- you're talking in generalities here.

But there are, again, at the end of the week, 12 candidates. You have to be thinking about somebody or more than one candidate.

SUNUNU: Oh, sure.

Look, I will let everyone make their own judgment today, but I will be very verbal about that.

BASH: But you have...


SUNUNU: Oh, I have a suspicion. Let's be fair. Let's let the process take place. We're still a couple of months away from the debates, so I don't want to be overly critical on any individual.

But, believe you me, I will be very vocal for folks that are just afraid to take on the former president, afraid to understand that the party is bigger than ourselves. This job of running is bigger than yourself. It's not just about the vanity of it. It's not just to get on the stage and sell books or whatever it's going to be.

It has to be about the party. It has to be about making sure that the ticket up and down is strong. And, right now, Donald Trump costs us. From the U.S. Senate to governorships to school board seats, his message costs the Republican Party dearly across the country.

BASH: So, if he is the nominee, will the Democrats win?

SUNUNU: Oh, yes. He can't win in November of '24. Oh, the math has shown Donald Trump has no chance of winning in November of '24. He won't even win Georgia.

If you're a Republican that can't win Georgia of November '24, you have no shot. And he's proven that. So -- and not only has he proven it, but the candidates he gets behind in a good conservative state like Georgia lose the race.

His messaging doesn't translate. It does well with a hard-core 30, 35 percent base, but he loses everybody beyond there. And no one is undecided about the former president. There's no -- there's no one out there going, well, maybe I might consider voting. No, you know where you are. He's a known commodity. And so the math doesn't add up. So, if Republicans nominate him, then we're saying a vote for him in the primary is effectively a vote for Joe Biden. I mean, that's ultimately how the math will play out.

BASH: And you -- of course, we're in New Hampshire. You are the governor of the first-in-the-nation primary state.

Will you endorse a candidate?

SUNUNU: I suspect I might, yes. I don't -- I couldn't tell you who right now. I mean, like I said, I think everyone has to see when they go to those 99 counties in Iowa, when they sit in a living room like this here in New Hampshire and earn those votes.

We have seen in the past, the fall, you see candidates rise and fall. Some go. Some come. Who can hold their own? How do the debates turn out? Lots to play out.

BASH: Well, who do you like now?

SUNUNU: Well, look, they're all friends. I mean, they really are. They're all good friends.

And I hope they all stand up and do the right thing, campaign the right way, talk about America's opportunity in the future tense, and not just capitulate to the past.

BASH: And let's talk about -- a little bit more about your decision not to run.


BASH: Because you said the path -- again, in this "Washington Post" op-ed: "The path to winning was clear, but I believe I can have a greater impact influencing the future of the Republican Party and the nominating process."

The beginning of that sentence, "The path to winning was clear."


BASH: If the path to winning was so clear, why aren't you on that path?

SUNUNU: Well, so a couple reasons.

When you start in as a candidate, you -- again, it's vote for Chris Sununu, get on my team, my team, my team. And so I think there's a responsibility to think a little bigger than that. It wouldn't have been easy, but, boy, when we polled in a place like Iowa, where you look at, what, 80 percent of Republicans, something like that, don't even participate in the caucus, you got to invite them to the table.

They want to have a voice. They want a candidate that inspires them and gets them excited. So, when we did all those numbers, while the math was really there, not easy, but a little unconventional, but definitely a path, and one I encourage all the other candidates to really look at.

But I'm more concerned about the party as a whole. Look, I'm young. Maybe I could run in the future or something like that. But when I see what's happening in all these other states, state legislatures, U.S. senators, governors, former President Trump and his message, his style, his brand have cost us dearly.

And he doesn't represent the Republican Party.

BASH: Well...

SUNUNU: He doesn't represent that limited government, local control, individual liberty stuff that we all talk about. He's -- he's about himself.

And I just want Republicans to be about the Republican values that have made us successful.

BASH: Before I let you go, I want to push back on that.


BASH: Because, if you look at the electorate, if you look at the candidates and what they're running on now, most of them, not all of them, they are running on issues that are different from what you just described.

One could argue that you're the one out of step with the Republican Party, not the candidates running.

SUNUNU: Oh, no.

Look, Utah...

BASH: The current Republican Party.

SUNUNU: Well, maybe the base, right? Maybe the base.

BASH: The base is -- they're the ones who elect the nominee.

SUNUNU: That's right. And that's the frustration.

So, I want to make the base bigger. I want to get more independents into the base. I want more young people that have been disenfranchised, used to be part of the base, but we want to get them back in. You know, Gen Z's and millennials will be a bigger part of the voting bloc than ever before in '24.

If Republicans just cede that, we're losing it. So it's not just the Chris Sununu voice that has to bring the -- I think, make the party bigger. I want more Republicans to stand up with this attitude of how do we get the team bigger, better, and stronger, so that base that you're talking about isn't just stuck in a narrow version of yesterday.


It really has to be about the bigger opportunity of tomorrow, fiscal discipline. I mean, former President Trump added $8 trillion to the deficit. I mean, talk about, where -- where did the Republicans go with fiscal discipline?

Or the opportunities on homelessness and the environment, conservative solutions to those things. We capitulate and hand it over to the Democrats to give kind of socialist Green New Deal-type solutions that have failed miserably, whereas we can bring real -- real, I think, opportunity to the table. And that gets people excited.

BASH: Governor, thank you so much for your time.

SUNUNU: Thank you.

BASH: We appreciate it. We're going to talk a little bit more for later this evening.

But, for now, John, I'm going to toss it back to you.

KING: Dana, I appreciate the conversation.

Thanks to the governor for picking INSIDE POLITICS and your interview to make this big announcement in the state of New Hampshire. Enjoy the rest of the conversation with him. I look forward to hearing about it.

Let's bring the conversation now in the room. Let's talk about this with CNN's Jeff Zeleny, CNN's Nia-Malika Henderson, and Dan Balz, the chief correspondent at The Washington Post. Dan, let me start with you.

Normally, somebody who doesn't run, it's like, OK, boom, not much of an impact on the race. He is the popular Republican governor of the state of New Hampshire. He said, he might endorse. What does this mean for the race going forward?

DAN BALZ, CHIEF CORRESPONDENT, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, I think it means a couple of things. One, it does open up New Hampshire to much more of a free for all. Now, Donald Trump wanted handedly in 2016. But nonetheless, without him in the race, it means everybody now has a clean shot and trying to win in New Hampshire, coming out of whatever happens in Iowa. So that's the first thing.

I think the second is, the Governor Sununu is somebody who has, as we could see there, and as we've seen up to the run up to this moment is willing to speak his mind. And he seems determined to continue to do that. And if he endorses somebody that might have an impact. But I think the other point that he made, which is that he's going to be tougher on people who are hanging around and not making any progress to get out of the race. And I think that's a voice that may be well needed in this primary.

KING: Well, so let's show the field of candidates as they now stand. And we're going to show you 10 on the screen right now. There are some other people running, but it is a 10. We'll call them credible candidates, threshold candidates for president. The three to the right of your screen will make the official announcement this week.

Mike Pence, the former vice president actually filed the paperwork with the Federal Election Commission today. So, by law, he is considered a candidate today, even though he makes his official announcement later in the week. You look at that group right there. And the governor said, he didn't want to name names yet because they're all his friends. But he also said he considers some of them, not his word, my word pretenders.

People who are running for attention to sell books, or maybe for the possibility of being in the Trump cabinet or being Trump's vice- presidential running mate. The question is, he said, get out by Christmas time. That's before anybody votes.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. In some ways, is that sort of too late, right? I mean, to be getting out, if you're hanging around at six percent. If you're not really making any progress on the debate stage, if you're not really attacking Donald Trump, he is really going to be a voice out there. A needling folks who might not even be able to win their own home states, right?

I mean, you think about somebody like Nikki Haley, which I think we'll talk about at some point, and Tim Scott, are they even going to be able to win their own home state of South Carolina? Or is Donald Trump just too strong? The other question about him, I think was he probably got out or decided not to run? Because I don't know if he went his own home state as a sitting governor in New Hampshire.

So, I think he's going to be clearly out there. Maybe put his thumb on the scale going into New Hampshire? Who does that benefit? Does it benefit somebody like Ron DeSantis, who looks pretty strong as a number two. But at the same time, Donald Trump is still a pretty formidable number one.

KING: And yet, Governor Sununu in the past, not at that conversation. He's been critical of Governor DeSantis for his role saying, that conservatives don't put their thumb on Disney, don't use the power of government to punish people in the free market. That's only one thing and he could come around it. DeSantis say, we disagree on this but we agree on that.

The question is, A, can he be a kingmaker, or at least an influential player? And B, you just heard him talk about, you know, where Republicans on the environment? Where Republicans on homeless? This. I don't hear other candidates talking about that. So, in some ways, yes, he's loud. He's scrappy, as Dan knows, he has the prospect of an endorsement. But do you diminish your voice? Or do you grow your voice by stepping out?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a really great question. I mean, it'll be interesting to see. Once he said the endorsing there to Dana, I thought that's interesting. I wonder if he's going to change his tune at all on Governor DeSantis. Obviously, at this moment in the race, and things can change dramatically. But at this moment in the race, he is the second leading candidate, at least by several metrics.

And the Governor Sununu has been quite critical of him. We will see if that continues or not. But we, you know, it is still a wide-open contest, I think. I just got back from several days in Iowa. And I was struck via degree to which, if you like Trump, of course, you're with Trump. But if you're in that looking for someone else lane, there are people who have very open minds, and they are actually looking for someone else. And they're waiting to see this campaign develop.

So yes, he will have a role in playing this, but I'm not so sure that he can be a kingmaker even in New Hampshire. As Chris Christie gets in, having a big voice there. Obviously, Trump is very popular. I think his most influential day might have been yesterday or tomorrow, but we'll see.

KING: We will see. And he says, they're all his friends. Now that they know he's definitely not running. I suspect all his friends will be reaching out. Just to say, yes, you're right. I'm your friend. How about an endorsement?


To that note, we mentioned Mike Pence. Dana Bash moderating another CNN Republican presidential town hall. This one one-on-one with the former Vice President Mike Pence. That's on his big announcement, Wednesday at 9pm eastern only here on CNN.

More politics ahead, but when we come back, lawyers for former President Donald Trump just left a meeting with officials at the Justice Department. What that could mean for the special counsel investigation into the former president. That's next?


KING: Very important news, just into CNN. Lawyers representing the former President Donald Trump in that classified documents' investigation, leaving a meeting. You see the pictures there. Leaving a meeting with officials at the Justice Department this morning. That meeting comes amid signs that slice, the classified documents slice at the special counsels' work could be in its final stages.

Joining me now CNN's Evan Perez at the Justice Department, and the former federal prosecutor Elie Honig. Evan to you first. What do we know about the meeting? Who was there? And do we know about the subjects discussed?


EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, they declined the comment as they exited the building. They were here for about 90 minutes. As you remember the two lawyers Jim Trusty and John Rowley wrote a letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland. Who they requested a meeting with Attorney General Merrick Garland. We know for sure that he did not meet with them. That was not in the cards today. Instead, they went to one floor below the attorney general's office and met with most likely some career officials there. Again, part of the reason for this bifurcation, so to speak, of responsibilities is that the attorney general is trying to keep out of anything having to do with a special counsel. That's what he promised to do when he appointed Jack Smith to oversee this investigation and the investigation is ongoing into January 6.

And so, they did not want any interference with what the -- with the special counsel is doing. You'll remember though, in that letter that Rowley and Jim Trusty, and you definitely see in that those pictures. I believe the other one is Rowley. They said this in their letter, they said that no president of the United States has ever in the history of our country, been baselessly investigated in such an outrageous and an unlawful fashion.

And they were saying that they believe that there is prosecutorial misconduct that's been ongoing in this investigation. Again, we don't know, in the end who they met with, John. We do know that again, they were here for about 90 minutes.

And as you pointed out, you know, the grand jury is expected back. We know of at least one more witness who is expected to come before this grand jury, which hasn't met since this time last month. So, that could be an indication that we may be near a decision point for the special counsel where there could be charges that could be in the offing.

KING: So, Evan, standby for us. Elie Honig committed a conversation. Again, we need to be careful, you know, we know they requested a meeting. They sent that letter. Evan just detailed it, outlining what they view as complaints, you know about the process. But Donald Trump as this meeting was breaking up posts on Truth Social this. How can DOJ possibly charge me who did nothing wrong when no other presidents here were charged, when Joe Biden won't be charged for anything? And he goes on and on and on.

But the first set inside of Donald Trump, how can DOJ possibly charge me? Is it your sense that this was a meeting on the letter that was complaining about the special counsels' conduct war, sometimes when especially -- when any investigation is wrapping up. The lawyers get a chance to come in and the Justice Department essentially says, here's your chance, talk us out of this?

ELIE HONIG, FORMER ASSIST, U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: Well, John, for Donald Trump's sake, I would hope it's the latter. Now, it's perfectly normal and common for defense lawyers to request and be given meetings with prosecutors, especially in the sort of closing moments of an investigation, defense lawyers come in. They'll argue to prosecutors. Here's why your case is weak. Here's some of the reasons you should not bring this case. Here's reasons why it would be unfair to bring this case.

Now those types of pitches from defense lawyers, sometimes rarely, but sometimes can convince prosecutors either not to charge or perhaps to charge less severe crimes. But if Trump's team thinks they're just going to go in there and sort of vent, unfair, political, that kind of thing. That's just going to be a waste of time, that's not going to have any impact on prosecutors at all.

KING: Evan, help me understand this. Merrick Garland has said essentially, you know, this is Jack Smith, this is the special counsels doing, yes. If the special counsel wants to present charges, there's a process where they have to put it before the attorney general.

But Garland essentially said, yes, I'm washing my hands of this until I have something I have to deal with. Do we even know are the attorneys meeting with special counsel employees? Or are they meeting with Merrick Garland's deputies, who might not have full eyes on the investigation?

PEREZ: Yes, that's actually a great question, John. I think we don't know whether the special counsel team who basically, you know, who worked from a building across town. They don't even work in this building. So, they could have come in to DOJ to be to participate in this meeting or to listen in.

But again, you know, it certainly doesn't seem like they got what they wanted, which is a meeting with the attorney general, they instead got with somebody who, you know, could at least hear their complaints. And as Elie points out, if they're trying to make one final presentation, this could have been the opportunity to do that as well.

KING: And Elie, walk us through the process there. I mean, who can they meet with? And is it possible to sitting at a table with people who, yes, have Merrick Garland's ear? But again, have been closed out. They haven't seen the Jack Smith file yet because that's the way it works. Special counsel does his business and only comes to the top when he's ready.

HONIG: So, there's a really interesting question here about division of labor within the Justice Department, who would just the Justice Department send to or make available at this meeting. The way the law works is that the Special Counsel Jack Smith and his team are in charge of the day-to-day operations of this investigation.


Now, ultimately, when Jack Smith believes he's done and makes a recommendation to indict or not indict, that has to go over to the attorney general for approval. The attorney general does have to refer in favor of whatever the special counsel recommends, but he doesn't have to automatically go with it. So, I think it's going to be fascinating to learn that exact issue. Who was at this meeting? Was it special counsel members? Was it other people from DOJ or some mixture of the two? That'll tell us a lot.

KING: Evan, come back to us if we learn more about that in the hour ahead. Evan Perez, Elie Honig, appreciate your time and perspective thing. Again, we'll get more reporting on this as the day unfolds. Up next for us. A closer look at one of the Republicans trying to break through. Nikki Haley draws sharp contrast with Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis. And she does have one lane to herself despite a very crowded Republican field.


NIKKI HALEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm a big fan of women. We ballots. We prioritize. We know how to get things done. I mean, honestly, we've let guys do it for a while. It might be time for a woman to get it done.