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Inside Politics

Former Trump Aide, Taylor Budowich Before the Grand Jury; Federal Prosecutors Using Second Grand Jury in Trump Docs Probe; Mark Meadows Testifies to Trump Grand Jury; Pope Out of Surgery and Recovering in Rome Hospital; PGA Tour to Merge With Saudi-backed LIV Golf; Blinken Meets With MBS in Saudi Arabia; U.S. Officials See Signs Ukraine Counteroffensive is Beginning; Mitch McConnell Argues for More Defense Funding. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired June 07, 2023 - 12:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, ANCHOR OF 'INSIDE POLITICS': Appreciate that important reporting and insights. Also today, a former Trump aide testifying, or has testified before a Federal Grand Jury in Florida. Taylor Budowich is a former Trump spokesman. He is appearing as a part of that special counsel Jack Smith's probe into classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago. Budowich now runs MAGA, Inc. That is a pro-Trump super PAC that is helping his former boss in the 2024 election.

With me in studio to share the reporting and their insights, CNN's Evan Perez and the Former Prosecutor Carrie Cordero. Significant in a number of ways, number one, another member of the Trump inner circle.


KING: And number two, the Florida Federal Grand Jury, not the Washington Grand Jury, why does this matter?

PEREZ: Well, I mean, it's added -- first of all, it's added a new mystery to something that's already pretty mysterious, right, which is what is the workings of this investigation. I mean we have seen some hints here and there. We know what witnesses are going in. And then suddenly, we have a Grand Jury that's meeting in Florida that has been meeting and has been taking testimony from multiple witnesses in recent weeks and we believe additional witnesses are scheduled to go down there.

The question is why after using a Grand Jury or using Grand Juries here in Washington for several months to do this investigation again on the documents and on January 6th, why are they using one in Miami, which is the southern district of Florida, which is where Palm Beach is located. It's where Mar-a-Lago is located. Multiple explanations could occur to us, but one of them could be simply that they believe that there's a charge that they are considering to bring that may be more appropriately brought in that venue versus one here in D.C. So that, again, could be the simple explanation. KING: One of Trump's former attorneys, Tim Parlatore suggested the

same thing, that Jack Smith is looking at this. They are getting close to decision point and thinking about how might we be challenged if we brought this charge against this person, and a venue thing. Is that the most likely explanation? Or do you something else here?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, so I think that is a very plausible explanation. So they want to look at where the conduct, that would be the charge conduct, actually occurred. And so, there's arguments with respect to the classified documents investigation that that could be here because documents were packed here, sent down, but also the physical search was executed at the Mar-a-Lago residence. And so, the retention of the classified documents was to down there.

Another potential explanation that I have been thinking about is that there could be secondary cases --

PEREZ: Yeah.

CORDERO: -- as well. So in other words, this investigation with the classified documents is not just about the former president himself as an individual. There are other people who handled those documents; there are other people who have been interviewed who potentially, if they were not truthful in their interviews, could be prosecuted for 1001, false statements to investigators. And if those interviews and those secondary types of cases, more took place down in Florida, then the southern district of Florida would be the more logical place to bring those types of secondary cases.

KING: All right. I want to move on to Mark Meadows. But I just want to note for the record, Mr. Budowich issued a Tweet. "Today, in what can only be described as a bogus and deeply troubling effort to use the power of government to get Trump." He goes on and says, he testified before the Grand Jury. He goes on to say a whole bunch of things, but I don't think it was a Democrat or the deep state or anybody else who brought the documents to Mar-a-Lago. But if you want to stay in Donald Trump's good grace, that's what you have to say.

Let's move on to the significance. We have talked for months --

PEREZ: Yeah.

KING: -- about the importance of Mark Meadows. Not just in the classified documents investigation, but the broader investigation of trying to steal the election. Mark Meadows was there the entire time from election -- significantly from Election Day through January 6th and even the Biden inauguration. Now, we know he has testified before the Grand Jury. Why? And again, what is the significance?

PEREZ: Because he knows everything. And he is certainly the, I think, the most important -- arguably, the most important witness in both of these investigations because, again, as you said, he was there. He was making some of these outreach calls to people in the states to try to set -- activate this plan that they had, which was to send alternate electors and to try to find a way for the former president to remain in power despite losing the election. And of course, on the documents, we know that he was in touch with the Archives. He would know whether Trump is right, that there were some standing declassification order. There's so many questions that Mark Meadows has the best eye on to be able to answer.

KING: There's long been a conversation among Trump aides, including some Trump attorneys, about a fear that Mark Meadows has actually been cooperating for quite a long time. Any reason to believe that?

CORDERO: Well, I think his silence publicly up until this time and the fact that from a reporting standpoint, we haven't known what he was doing and what the cause of his silence for many months has been is what would feed that concern on the part of the Trump orbit folks that he was cooperating. And so now, his first appearance is in the secret Grand Jury proceeding. And so the big question I have is, he was asked a lot of questions, did he answer them? Did he answer them with respect to the January 6th investigation? Did he answer them with respect to classified documents?

PEREZ: Right. We know he took the fifth when brought before the Grand Jury in Georgia.


We don't know what he did when he went behind the closed doors here.

KING: Well, I'm sure when you find out, you'll come back. Evan, thanks for joining us today. Carrie is going to stay with us for another conversation.

Up next for us, the Saudis get star billing. Secretary of State Blinken meets with the Crown Prince tied to a murder. And the PGA Tour drops its legal battle and now agrees to work hand in hand with the Saudi LIV Golf organization.



KING: I want to bring you an important update from the Vatican. Pope Francis is out of surgery and is recovering now at a hospital in Rome. The surgery lasted three hours. Doctors say there were no complications. That's according to the Vatican which says the procedure was to fix an abdominal hernia. We certainly wish the Pope the best.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Saudi Arabia. Last night, he met with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for nearly two hours. That high-profile meeting comes amid a new strain in relations. The Saudis plan to slash oil outputs starting next month, likely leading to higher gas prices for Americans. And it comes as the Saudis are also central to blockbuster sports news. The Saudi LIV Golf organization is forging a controversial partnership with the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour in exchange is dropping its fight against LIV Golf. What it gets, a major investment of Saudi money. 9/11 families are among those voicing outrage at what they see as sports washing. A regime trying to buy legitimacy despite his history of human rights abuses and refusal to fully cooperate with September 11th investigations and lawsuits. Count Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut among the dismayed.


SEN. CHRIS MURPHY, (D) CONNECTICUT: I think it's a really serious thing to have a foreign dictatorship in charge of a major U.S. sports league. This is a watershed moment and I think we need to treat it as such.


KING: With us now to discuss the Former Deputy Director of National Intelligence, Beth saner, and our CNN Legal and National Security Analyst Carrie Cordero still with us.

Beth, let me start with the diplomacy of the national security interest. The Secretary of State meeting with the Crown Prince, this is not new, but if you go back to the last campaign, then candidate Biden called him a pariah, said he would not deal with him, said he would ostracize them. Then real politic took hold. You see the Secretary of State there. What are the big national security questions at the moment? And do you believe the Secretary of State is the person to ask the Crown Prince, please, right as we head into a presidential campaign, do not cut off oil supplies or temper back, dial back oil supplies?

BETH SANNER, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Well, you know, Biden is not the one who can make this meeting, right. He did, as you pointed out, make this relationship a very bad personal one and for good reasons in part, but here we are. Reality strikes yet again. And it shows that it's really hard to have a principled foreign policy and apply that consistently when we actually need partners like Saudi Arabia to deal with a myriad of problems.

We have Iran, for example, seizing two tankers last month and harassing another merchant ship just two days ago. We've had to surge assets to the region to deal with the Iranian threat, which is growing. Their embolden-ness is growing. And we have leaked documents showing that Iran and Russia and Syria are coordinating to go after U.S. troops there. So we have major problems in the region. And this show isn't long enough to tick them down.

But I also want to separate off the price of oil, which is of separate issue and based on Saudi domestic financial needs frankly.

KING: Financial needs, you say, frankly. And so, you have just those pictures, the Secretary of State with MBS. That gives the Saudis what they want, stature on the global stage. Now you have this golf deal, where the Saudis will now pump big money into the PGA Tour. And therefore, the PGA Tour drops its lawsuits. Among those outraged, this is Terry Strada who is the Chair of the 9/11 Families United who says simply, "Why?" (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERRY STRADA, NATIONAL CHAIR, 9/11 FAMILIES UNITED: Everyone is feeling the same way, outraged, disappointed, angry, disgusted, that Monahan could now sell the PGA to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia knowing that they are culpable in murdering our loved ones.


KING: Is this simply a case of money talks, even if it's dirty money?

CORDERO: Well, this is part of a bigger picture of allegations of sports washing, against the Saudi regime as well as some of the other Gulf States with questionable human rights records. So, the allegation is that they are using all the money that they have to participate in sports and it's not just golf. It's soccer, it's Formula One, it's horse racing, it's tennis, it's a wide range of global sports, and they are using their money to be engaged in those, promote tourism, promote the community of sports in order to wash their reputation. That includes the Khashoggi murder, that includes an extensive human rights problematic record. And from the families of the 9/11 -- the 9/11 Families, they continue to advocate for more accountability for Saudi Arabia for the attacks themselves.


KING: Beth, is that how you see it? The regime using sports and other cultural opportunities to essentially try to improve its prestige or its relationship? They would say, no, it's just capitalism. We see an opportunity to make money.

SANNER: Well, you know, I raised my kid to believe that golf was about rules, integrity and, even though it's a little old fashioned, good manners. And I think that this does show that money can buy respectability and erase memories. And that's what this is about. It's going to be the most successful sports washing example, I think, in history and I think it will work. I was joking, maybe Bin Salman should name the new league WIN for 'I win' because this is a winning strategy for the Saudis.

KING: Anyone out there who is outraged, you do have one choice. You don't have to watch. Beth Sanner, Carrie Cordero, appreciate it very much.

Up next for us, funding for the war in Ukraine driving a big wedge between House and Senate Republicans. And in Ukraine, water levels are extremely low in the southern part of the country, that after, of course, the collapse of a critical dam.



KING: Right now, in Ukraine, evacuations still under way. Look at that, after that dam collapse in the Kherson region. Ukraine and Russia blaming each other and it is still unclear exactly what happened. Meantime, U.S. and western officials say they are beginning to see early signs Ukraine's counteroffensive against Russia is beginning. Back here in Washington, the House Speaker, Kevin McCarthy, is rejecting calls from Senate Republicans to consider a separate funding package for the war-torn country.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R-CA) SPEAKER OF THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES: This is the most money we've ever spent on defense; this is the most money anyone in the world has ever spent on defense, so I don't think the first answer is to do a supplemental.


KING: That potentially sets off a clash between McCarthy and the Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell who says he believes more funding is needed or at least will be soon. Our great reporters are back at the table. This is one of those issues, if you look at the polling, the Republican base especially does not want to fund Ukraine. It doesn't. Speaker McCarthy has said as the leader, he believes it's critically important. The question with McConnell saying we're probably going to need this money, with other hawks, I'll call them that, Republican Party is saying we are probably going to need this money, what is going to happen?

LEIGH ANN CALDWELL, EARLY 202 CO-AUTHOR, THE WASHING POST: It's a great question and I think that this is also symbolic of the growing divide between the Republican Party that is manifesting right now between House Republicans and Senate Republicans. You have a lot more defense hawks in the senate. Now, let's take a step back. The White House hasn't actually asked for a Ukraine supplemental, hasn't said it will definitely be necessary. We're all just assuming it most likely will be necessary, and that's when this fight will happen.

But what's clear is that McCarthy, as we speak right now, is getting a lot of pressure from his hard right on other issues and so this internal politics is playing a lot.

KING: Right. The hard right is mad at McCarthy over the debt limit deal. They don't think he had cut enough and so then, you have Mitch McConnell who understands that is what they did in the debt limit deal. So if we want more money for Ukraine, we are going to have to get it in a separate basket. He says I think we will have to.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, (R) MINORITY LEADER OF THE UNITED STATES SENATE: As I made clear last week, the government's work to provide for the common defense remains unfinished. President Biden's request for the defense budget is simply insufficient given the major challenges that our country faces.


KING: Now, he's making that a little -- about Biden there because Biden agreed to the deal which will set in the next budget going forward a smaller defense budget than hawks would like, even some Democrats would like. But this is really a testing time for Republicans.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWSHOUR: It is and we're seeing it, as Leigh Ann said, between the House and Senate Republicans but we are also seeing it on the campaign trail between the Republicans that are running for the presidency, where some have said no more to Ukraine. DeSantis flip-flopped on that, at first saying no and then questioning the support of Ukraine, then coming back and saying, "Well, actually we need to potentially still help them."

I spoke to a British official yesterday because we're heading into this visit from the British PM with President Biden, and they said that the British PM is going to be on the Hill talking to the Senate and House Chairs and Ranking Members, really pushing them to support and get this funding for Ukraine through. Their understanding is that the support, the majority of the support is still there, even though they do see those minority voices causing a little bit of a panic.

KING: And so, part of the big question here is, what's the trigger? The trigger would be an official administration request and as Leigh Ann notes, Admiral Kirby saying yesterday, "We're not there yet." But, forgive me, a little bit of a politics guy in the prism (ph), number one, the counteroffensive is under way, is beginning now, in the weeks and months ahead. I can see a position where you get to the fall and the Biden Administration, A, says it's necessary. From a policy standpoint, Ukraine needs more money. And B, as we get closer to the election years, let's watch the Republicans fight.

ZOLAN KANNO-YOUNGS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Absolutely. That point right there is what I was thinking of too. I go back to conversations I was having with people around the White House and the White House right after the midterms asking them, "Hey, what's going to be the strategy, the political strategy here going forward?" And one thing that was mentioned among other points as well, look, at times, we may just step back and allow Republicans in Congress to continue to debate while we continue to propose either more funding in the case for Ukraine or legislation domestically.


You were talking about the contrast between Senate Republicans and House Republicans, but also we're seeing that these different factions just within -- just among House Republicans continues to present a challenge for McCarthy. And if it impacts something like aid for Ukraine, something that the White House has touted as an accomplishment for the administration, I think you can expect the White House to spotlight that moving forward.

KING: We will watch this play out in the days ahead. Thanks for your time today in 'Inside Politics.' Stay with us. Mike Pence's big announcement next hour, big Town Hall tonight. 'CNN News Central' covers Pence, after the break.