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Inside Politics

Mass Evacuations After Ukrainian Dam Destroyed; Ukraine Blames Russia For Critical Dam Collapse; Sources: Mar-a-Lago Worker Drained Pool, Flooded Room With Surveillance Video Logs; This Week: FL Grand Jury Expected To Hear Witness Testimony In Docs Probe; Trump Lawyers Met With Special Counsel; Today: Christie Launches 2024 Bid; Christie's Mission: Take On Trump; Trump: VP Never Helps Too Much. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired June 06, 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 major dam in Russia occupied Ukraine destroyed. There are now mass evacuations, nuclear fears and plenty of blame as Russia and Ukraine each point fingers at the other.

Plus, trouble for Trump as one lane of the special counsel investigation near its end. Jack Smith himself attended a meeting with Trump's legal team and a new plot and a bizarre plot twist. CNN has learned a decision to drain a swimming pool at Mar-a-Lago led to a flood of suspicion from prosecutors. And Chris Christie makes his 2024 entrance. The former New Jersey governor is also a Trump friend turned Trump critic who sees himself as the best Republican hope of derailing the former presidents come back bit.

We begin the hour though, with a major battlefield development in Ukraine. Russian occupied southern Ukraine to be precise where a major dam was destroyed overnight. The collapse of the Kakhovka dam on the Dnipro River, prompting evacuations and prompting fears of large-scale devastation. New video shows the surging waters leading to massive flooding and fears now of potential environmental disaster.

You can see water creeping into Harrison city, more than 800 people in the region have been forced from their home. The flooding dangerously close to Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, but official stressing there is no immediate risk in that area. The Ukrainian President Zelenskyy held an emergency meeting with top officials to address this crisis.

Let's begin with CNN's Scott McLean. Scott, Russia and Ukraine each blaming each other for this serious destruction. A new CNN analysis does though find the dam was damaged before, days before suffering what appears to be a major structural collapse. What else do we know?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, John, if you go back more than a week on May 28, you actually have satellite images of the road, the bridge that goes along the top of that bridge completely intact. Once you analyze and look at more daily pictures, some of them quite grainy, last Thursday or Friday, June 1 or second is when it seems like that section of road gave out and potentially caused the damage that we're seeing right now.

But now, we don't know why that section of road gave out. Whether it was related to the war or something else. And if it was war related, who was actually behind it. But let me just set the scene for you here.

So, this here is the Dnipro River, and it flows this way, the power plant and the dam that we're talking about is right here. This reservoir here is what creates all of the pressure for this actual dam. And so, the danger zone that we're talking about is in this area right here. The Ukrainian say that there are 16,000 people, 80 settlements that are affected right now.

And just to give you a sense of how much water we're talking about. We are talking about four cubic miles, not a unit of measurement we see very often, but this is about the same give or take as the Great Salt Lake. And so, that's why you have this huge amount of water pressure, and the Ukrainian say that it is coming so fast that it's dropping six inches per hour. And so, in this area here, in this critical zone where the 16,000 people, you're already starting to see the flooding.

You showed the images earlier. You are also having this issue of people trying to get people out of that area, people trying to evacuate, car ownership, not necessarily for everyone, in Ukraine, in fact, not so common in many areas, relying on public transportation, buses, other people to get them out. But the reality is that it is more complicated than it seems to actually get vehicles in there because roads are already starting to be flooded, roads are already starting to be washed out.

So, in terms of the blame, the Ukrainians here are blaming the Russians for this. They say that explosives were actually set on the actual dam itself. The Russians, though, are blaming the Ukrainians for two reasons in particular.

First off, there's of course the counter offensive that we have been hearing about for weeks and weeks. We don't know if it started or when it started or when it might started -- has started, but the Russian say that it started already and it is not going well. So, they say that the Russians blew up the dam essentially to prevent the Russian counter to the counterattack.

The other reason is the Russians say that it's all about water and specifically water for Crimea, because they have had issues since 2014, since they annexed this area because Ukraine essentially shut off the tap. But since the full-scale invasion, Russia has managed to gain control of a critical canal which is supplied Crimea officials in there say, that the water is going to go down.


But they say they have enough for the time being and obviously there's this nuclear power plant as well, John, which you mentioned IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency says that that reservoir supplies the cooling tanks, but they are good for the time being. There is no immediate safety threat at this point, John?

KING: At this point, we hope they can keep it that way as we try to figure out in the days and weeks ahead, if we could ever figure out who's responsible for this. Scott McLean, kicking us off. Scott, appreciate it very much. We'll bring the conversation back to Washington now and several new developments in the investigations of Donald Trump.

Now, including word, a federal grand jury in Florida will hear evidence -- hear evidence this week in the special counsel's classified documents' case. Word of the Florida grand jury comes on the heels of some fascinating new exclusive CNN reporting. We are told prosecutors turned suspicious about Mar-a-Lago flooding incidents.

Sources tell CNN at least one witness as an asked about an incident where an employee drain the resorts pool, flooding a computer server room that contain surveillance video logs, the handling of the surveillance videos, and anything Donald Trump and his employees might have done to obstruct investigations.

We know have been a special focus of the Special Counsel Jack Smith and his investigative team. Smith, we are told, interestingly, was in the room yesterday, when Trump lawyers visited the Justice Department.

Joining me now to share their insights, CNN's Paula Reid, CNN's Kristen Holmes, and the former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams. Let's start with this bizarre. You have, it's a resort. Donald Trump lives at a resort that has a swimming pool for its guests. So, the pool is drained, waters flood into this server room and prosecutors get suspicious because they've had reason to be suspicious about moving documents and the same maintenance worker who drained the pool was part of another incident.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: So, an interesting story that raises some serious questions about obstruction. Yes, you have most of the facts correct. They drain the pool. It flooded this area where surveillance footage was captured at this point. There's no indication that this was intentional, it does not appear that the surveillance footage was damage.

But this surveillance video has been a key piece of evidence in this investigation, because there have been requests subpoenas for the surveillance footage, as investigators look at questions of whether there has been efforts to move potentially even hide boxes of documents.

And we know before the grand jury witnesses, including the head of security for the Trump organization that would be in charge of monitoring the security cameras had been asked whether the investigators have all the security footage. Are there any gaps? Have there been any efforts to withhold or prevent investigators from getting all of this? So again, it's one of a series of incidents that all speak to possible obstruction.

KING: So, these things happen. I assume they have to drain the pool at a resort every now and then. And so, on the one hand, I assume the Trump people are saying, what are you talking about, right? This is routine, you drain a pool, you clean a pool, that's what happens.

On the other hand, fill, I say more on this. They have just seen before, you know, that beat with the surveillance footage, while nada is that the guy's name Trump bodies, Trump's body guy who we know is involved in moving boxes once with the same maintenance worker who drains the pool. So, is it we better look under every rock here because we're suspicious of these people? Or do they look at this incident and actually think they have something?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot of it is look under every single rock. Again, it's not just the incident standing alone, it is the overall idea that there might have been obstruction. And when you look at all of these moving pieces, and as you said, well not at the body man of Trump, who is his valet at the White House. He came to work for him after he left the White House as well as this maintenance worker were seen on surveillance tapes, moving boxes in and out of that storage room. We know that to be a fact, we've ported that extensively.

Now you're hearing another story about potentially this maintenance worker flooding this area where the surveillance footage was kept. Obviously, that's going to raise a lot of red flags. But again, the big question here is, as you said, just red flags or if they actually believe there's something more.

KING: And in the reporting of our great team Elliot, recently investigators have asked questions indicating, they're trying to determine if workers at Mar-a-Lago receives specific instruction from above, particularly from Trump himself to obstruct the investigation. Again, why is that so important? It's somewhat obvious. But walk us through when you're trying to present specific crimes.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: To be clear, there is a perfectly plausible explanation to the flooding of a room at a beachside resort anytime of the year, right? And it could be nothing. Now, what's going to matter is intended were reviewed before. What did the individuals who are being questioned here? No, prior to any of these incidents happening, what was in their head? Who do they communicate with before and when did these things happen?

In addition to the perfectly plausible explanation in the middle of an obstruction of justice investigation, where the search warrant for Mar-a-Lago was in part based on obstruction of justice, this isn't coming out of nowhere. It's entirely reasonable for prosecutors to ask what was invoked said at the time these things are happening, so maybe it turns into nothing. But again, it's just a good prosecution to at least ask the question.


KING: And so, why? If you can, is there now going to be a federal grand jury in Florida hearing evidence? We know there's been a grand jury here in Washington D.C. Is it a venue thing? Is it a strong, you know, you have a stronger case, if you charge more closer to the scene of the crime? WILLIAMS: My guess is that it is a venue thing, certain crimes can only be charged in certain jurisdictions. So, for instance, if you're investigating the retention of documents versus the taking of documents, those two things happen in different places. Obstruction of justice may have happened in different places, and you simply can't charge every crime everywhere. And there may be charges in Washington, D.C., there may be charges in Florida, there may be charges in neither. But it just depends on where the actual act took place.

REID: It's one of the big questions that we're all trying to report out now. I mean, we know clearly, they've made an intentional choice to do most of this investigation in D.C., use a grand jury in D.C., but they knew they were going to face venue challenges. Meaning that if you bring criminal charges, there has to be a connection to that crime in the area of charging.

Right now, if you want to pursue, for example, an obstruction case, you can do that in D.C., you can bring obstruction wherever you investigate. When it comes to the possible mishandling of classified documents, retention of defense secrets, then it's going to be much more difficult to bring it in D.C., because really, your only Nexus is that some of these -- most of these documents came from the White House and they were supposed to go to the archives.

So, they've always known that venue is going to be a challenge. And now what we're trying to figure out is, are they coming to the end of the investigation and realizing like, I don't really want to take these venue questions to the Supreme Court, let's take it down to Florida. But that's a much less friendly, John, for our jury (Ph) for.

WILLIAMS: And here's a quick example that. If somebody takes a document, a classified or sensitive document in Washington, D.C., brings it to another state and then rips it up. Those are two different crimes that would be charged probably differently in different places. And it's just going to depend on what the act was that the Justice Department is charging where they can (crosstalk).

HOLMES: And it's really doesn't -- it's not just us that are trying to figure it out. Team has themselves have no idea. They've all been scratching their head and trying to figure out what just happened.

KING: To that point, Trump's team was at the Justice Department yesterday, and we weren't sure who was in the meeting when it as it played out 24 hours ago, right here during this hour as they left the building. We now know that Jack Smith, the special counsel came. He also showed up when Mike Pence testified before the grand jury.

So, on the one hand, you could say, here's a guy who knows he's the leader. So, on a big day, he's going to show up. He's going to be in the room so that nobody can say his deputy messed up or anything. He's going to take the lead. Is it just that? He's a smart manager, a upfront manager. Or does the fact that he showed up on Trump's lawyers come tell you something different?

WILLIAMS: No, it's he is the manager. It's not the attorney general. They've requested a meeting with the attorney general, which is bizarre because the attorney general would never attend a meeting like this. Jack Smith is running the case. The buck stops with him. He should have been the one to be there when answering questions from defensive.

REID: It's also a parallel structure to the meeting. Similar meeting that was granted Hunter Biden's attorneys, right? You want to make this look apolitical. You have the independent Trump appointed U.S. attorney who is there and a career official here, as our team, Chris and others have reported that in the room is Jack Smith, the independent prosecutor who's looking at this and a career official.

And these were both meetings that were requested by defense attorneys. So, some people have tried to say, oh, this means charges are imminent. No, it doesn't. These meetings are requested by defense attorneys, now prosecutors.

KING: Number of fascinating and in the case of the pool bizarre developments all at once, which does seem to suggest we're getting to a crossroads moment. Thank you all for coming. Up next. Chris Christie tonight joins an already crowded 2024 field. The former New Jersey governor insists there's a path to victory, and he very much hopes he gets to share a debate stage with Donald Trump.




KING: Tonight, Chris Christie for president the sequel. The former New Jersey governor is announcing his 2024 candidacy this evening at New Hampshire, Saint Anselm College. Christie is joining a big Republican field. It will be 10 by week's end. Former President Donald Trump of course is the clear leader. The Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is the closest challenger in that pack.

Christie, you'll remember was in the crowded field back in 2016. And as you can see, he struggled. In Iowa he ran 10th, winning just shy of 2 percent of caucus goers. He finished sixth the New Hampshire with about 7 percent of the vote. Governor Christie then dropped out.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, CNN's David Chalian, Jackie Kucinich of The Boston Globe, and Tia Mitchell of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. David, The New York Times this morning puts it this way, for Christie winning would be great. Beating Trump would be a close second. He was a Trump friend, that he was a Trump critic. Now he thinks it's important to stop Trump from winning the nomination.

Is that his best hope here? Is there a Chris Christie in today's Republican Party?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It's hard to see exactly what that lane is. Though, it could be the lane you've just described, which is not a lane necessarily, at the end of the day that is going to attract the most voters, but a lane that has a role in shaping the race if indeed his attacks on Donald Trump or his pursuit and prosecution of Donald Trump is successful.

I do think there is this question. Christie has answered this when asked about it. I mean, he says, you know, you know, go wake up at the Hilton Garden Inn in Manchester for 50 days in a row if you don't actually want to be president that he's not a hired political assassin here. And yet, he is also made crystal clear. He sees his role here as the guy that he thinks is best equipped, whether on the debate stage or on the campaign trail day in and day out to take Trump down a notch.

KING: And the question is, will he get a chance? He'll certainly get attention in New Hampshire. You can go into living room. She can do your town hall as he can go across New Hampshire, interesting. He understands Iowa was a very different landscape. It's not Chris Christie territory.

So, you stay in the northeast, you stay in a place where undeclared or independent people can vote in the New Hampshire primary. The question is, does he have to do it there? Or does he ever get on a debate stage with Donald Trump? The first debate is in the late August. Trump has already said, we'll see if he changes his mind that he's not going to do it. That's number one.

If there's a second and third debate, can Christie meet the criteria? You have to be at least 1 percent in three approved polls, those can be national polls, or they can be early state polls. 40,000 unique donors from 20 or more states. You must sign a loyalty pledge that is sign a piece of paper that says you will support the Republican nominee. I guess, you could change your mind. But if you're someone who says, I cannot support Donald Trump. Do you ever get on a debate stage with Donald Trump?


JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think the 1 percent is going to be harder than his signature on this one. Because it is -- there are so many people running, maybe not in the political assassin lane. But in the -- I'm not Trump, he can't be the nominee again lane, that is very crowded.

And it's going to be hard for him to stand out, particularly, because there is polling that says voters aren't really crazy about anybody who ran in 2016, they're kind of past that point of the Republican Party. This is a rerun, it's a lot of the same people reportedly. So, that remains to be seen of whether he's going to be able to get that much interest in a president, Chris Christie.

KING: He is if you've watched. I mean he's a great communicator. He's a former prosecutor. He's energetic. He can build a case and prosecute a case. If he ever is on a debate stage with Donald Trump, though is one of the things Donald Trump could use against Chris Christie is, when Chris Christie got out of the race in 2016. He said this about the future president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) NEW JERSEY: He is rewriting the playbook. He's rewriting the playbook of American politics because he's providing strong leadership that's not dependent upon the status quo. And so, the best person to beat Hillary Clinton in November, on that stage last night is undoubtedly Donald Trump.


KING: Now, can you make the case. I was in the Trump inner circle. Therefore, I know a lot. This is why you can't do this. Or do you lack credibility because you went into the Trump world?

TIA MITCHELL, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, THE ATLANTA JOURNAL- CONSTITUTION: I would say that the Trump supporters, which we know makes up a big chunk of the Republican Party are going to say Chris Christie lacks credibility. They're going to say they don't trust him as someone who's kind of shifted his thoughts and thinking on President Trump.

But I think what Chris Christie also will have trouble with is just we know the Republican Party has shifted to the right. And so, how does he create a lane for himself speaking, just to those kinds of ultra conservative members period, whether it's about Trump or otherwise?

KUCINICH: And the wild thing is he's not alone in the, I used to work for Trump lane. There are what, Haley, Pence is coming online. Probably some others that I'm forgetting. So even that piece, there's a lot of people who are former administration people who now want to replace them.

CHALIAN: And it's clearly as a candidate, that is more, I mean, I'm not taking anything away from his smarts. But he's -- it's a more style than substance. So, and the point, he's not going to move his policies to the far right to try to attract evangelical voters in Iowa. He is going to try to carve out a space that is stylistically different than the rest of the field.

KING: And so, you mentioned Pence. You have, Chris Christie gets in tonight, tomorrow. I heard you yesterday, say how impressive this is a former vice president running in a race against his former boss, the president Mike Pence. Donald Trump, though, does not seem all that concerned about Mike Pence. Why do I say that? Listen?


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT (voiceover): I wish him a lot of luck. He's a nice person, we had a very good relationship until the very end. The vice president never really helps too much. It's all about the person at the top. It's really about the president. So, from an election standpoint, that's the way it is.


KING: He still said, he thought Mike Pence did the wrong thing on January 6. Mike Pence did the right thing for the constitution did the decent thing on January 6. But if Trump thinks you're a threat, he attacks you. He did not attack Pence there.

And then in the end, he said something that's actually true as political analysis is that, you know, there's no elections where we see people voting for the vice president per se, minimal impact there. But the point that Pence gets the soft silk Trump treatment where Ron DeSantis gets every nasty nickname under the sun, tells you everything you need to know.

KUCINICH: Right. I mean, it has everything to do with funding and but more, more the threat. He hasn't always been nice to Mike Pence. We should note that he has said some quite harsh words about him. And if Mike Pence does become a threat, you better believe that's coming back.

MITCHELL: Yes. And I think also with Mike Pence, again, there's for Trump, because he shifted, sometimes he said things that are supportive of Trump and then he goes after Trump. You know, at the Gridiron dinner where there are no cameras and then he kind of isn't as biting towards Trump afterwards.

So, I think that's part of the reason why Trump can hold his fire because quite frankly, Mike Pence at times holds his fire. Now, if Mike Pence decides to become more consistent, and like Jackie said, if he starts running up in the polls and giving Trump, you know, more -- becoming more of a threat, then I would see Trump chasing his counts.

KING: Same question. If I went through the, you know, the time machine and went back, six or eight campaigns ago, you could see a lane from Mike Pence in Iowa, Midwesterner governor of Indiana, Christian conservative, traditional farm state Republican. Does that Republican Party exist anymore?


CHALIAN: You know, when he put out his first official campaign press release yesterday, the logo that Mike Pence visited, it evokes the Reagan Bush logo in typeface and color and font. And I think, like, he is of a different time in this Republican Party. The current day Republican Party is not Ronald Reagan's Republican Party. And so, Mike Pence has to -- this is going to have to thread a needle here. The Trump association distance and the fact that the party's voters aren't quite where they were, makes this a very difficult path forward.

KING: But this is the process through which parties either define or redefine themselves that were in the beginning. So, we'll see. It'll be fun. Up next for us, two big state governors clash of a moving migrants. One, is a current Republican candidate for president. The other, is seen as a future democratic contender.