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Butter, Opportunity & Risk: Iowa State Fair Starts Today; NYT: Iowans Aren't "Rushing To Support" DeSantis; Republican Rivals Flock To Iowa State Fair. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 10, 2023 - 12:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: Today on Inside Politics, a retail ritual unlike any other, Republicans roll into Iowa State Fair for deep-fried Twinkies and a chance to deepen the connection with voters. It may be their only chance to see the frontrunner whose debate stage decision is still TBD.

Plus, lifestyles of the rich and connected, yachts, VIP passes, mansions, ranches, helicopters, private jets, Clarence Thomas got it all on someone else's dime. ProPublica gets receipts on who paid for what and how many times the Justice may have broken the law. And a CNN exclusive, Joe Biden's campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez joins us for her first live television interview right here in minutes. I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines and inside politics.

Up first, new reporting, a source tells me that Nikki Haley just signed the loyalty pledge, required to punch her ticket to the first debate stage. Now, Haley is the third Republican candidate to do so. More on that in a few minutes.

But, we're going to start in Iowa where candidates hope to turn the State Fair into their own field of dreams. The fair is a tradition drenched in butter and opportunity and risk. It gives candidates an unfiltered upfront chance to talk, and of course eat, with the Iowans who could fuel or finish their campaigns for the Republican nomination.

Let's get straight to CNN's Jeff Zeleny who was at the fairgrounds with the most plum assignments of the day. It looks like it's already starting and rearing up there.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Dana, this is the opening day of the Iowa State Fair, a 10-day run here. In every four years, the fair comes with a hearty side of politics, and that is true this year as well.

Every Republican presidential candidate, with the exception of Chris Christie, who is not really competing here, will be attending the fair over the coming days. This weekend, it is going to be peak fair time. Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis will be on the fairgrounds. And but before then, all of the other candidates will be as well. They'll be making their case to undecided Iowa voters. They will be, of course, going through the rites of passage of flipping pork chops on sticks, talking to supporters and taking questions at the Des Moines Register's political Soapbox.

That is also where many candidates in years gone by have fielded questions and delivered a stump speech, if you will. But, we are 158 days until the starting line of the 2024 presidential campaign right here with the Iowa caucuses. But, we're less than two weeks before that first Republican debate in Milwaukee. And that, of course, is on all of the campaign's minds. That is on the candidates' minds.

So, what I'm looking for here over the next couple of days is to watch how the candidates start drawing distinctions between one another, not necessarily against Donald Trump, the frontrunner, but against one another. And the Governor of Iowa, Kim Reynolds, she is also playing a central role here. She'll be interviewing all of the candidates on stage as well, what she is calling a fair side chat.

So this, of course, is just a rite of political passage here in Iowa, a lot of opportunity, but also the opportunity for submit steps. How do these candidates actually interact with voters? Donald Trump brought his helicopter here in 2015. I'm told that is not going to happen. He will not be giving helicopter rides, but he certainly will be here, as well all the other candidates. Exciting 10 days to come here in Iowa, Dana.

BASH: Remember that well. So, you've a minute before the candidates get there. I can't wait to see all the photos of all the amazing fried food that you're going to be eating. Thanks so much, Jeff.

And here to share their insights, minus the fried foods, CNN's Nia- Malika Henderson, Jonah Goldberg of The Dispatch, and Seung Min Kim of The Associated Press. You really does have a great assignment.


NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't know. We can all go at them. Corndogs.

BASH: Corndogs. So, he is at a place where, not the big donors, regular Iowans are going around, some who are Republican voters, who are not Republican voters. But, we thought this was a chance just to kind of take a look at small dollar donors in Iowa.

"The New York Times"had this today. "There is no flood of Iowans rushing to support Ron DeSantis. Through the end of June, just 17 Iowans had given his campaign $200 or more. Nikki Haley, who lags far behind them in the polls, had 25 such Iowa donors, while Mr. Trump had 117, Mike Pence just seven." What does that tell you?

JONAH GOLDBERG, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR, & CO-FOUNDER/EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE DISPATCH: It tells me it's really at the grassroots work in Iowa.

BASH: Yes.

GOLDBERG: And I don't know what the baseline is, or what small donors was four years ago or anything like that.


GOLDBERG: I do think, though, we're seeing time and time again that political contests are being nationalized. So, small donors in Iowa are -- they're more important as an indicator of ground -- grassroots support than anything else. But, I just also think that we're dealing with a time where there are a lot of people. There was a lot of cheering in, and self-congratulation about the rise of small donors a decade ago.

And now, small donors are actually one of the biggest problems for democracy, for the GOP, because small donor -- large donors actually have a strategic view about moderation, who can win, who can't. Small donors really are just venting their spleen --

BASH: Yes.

GOLDBERG: -- with their credit card, and they lock candidates into positions that can hurt them in the general election.

BASH: Such an important point. I want to do an entire discussion on that later, because you're right. The sort of emails that go out that are with the screaming headlines, that are the most extreme screaming headlines, they tend to be aimed right at those small donors that you're talking about.

One of the open questions, of course, is the debate, which is less than two weeks away. And Donald Trump said something to Newsmax yesterday about whether or not he would sign the pledge that is being required by the Republican National Committee. Listen to what he said.


DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: I have a problem with the debate for another reason. I wouldn't sign the pledge. Why would I sign a pledge? There is people on there that I wouldn't have. I can name three or four people that I wouldn't support for President. So, right there, there is a problem. I'm going to make a decision. I haven't, you know, totally ruled it out. I would love to do it in many ways, because I sort of enjoy that. But, will let people know next week.


BASH: I think Ronna McDaniel has like a vat of tums in her.

HENDERSON: And at some point, I think he is going to make a big announcement about whether or not he is going to come. He is sort of playing this stringing us along, for the attention of it all. Listen, he is facing a field that hasn't done so well. In terms of polling, he is far out ahead of them. It doesn't really make sense for him to go. There is really no upside for him. So, it's unlikely that he'll come. I do think his comments about the pledge, though, is part of the reason why voters liked Donald Trump, because there is a sort of honesty about him when it comes to silly things in politics, because I do think the pledge is kind of silly, and people are going to sign it.

But, they're talking trash about Donald Trump, but they're saying they would actually vote for him if he is the nominee, which makes them seem like hypocrites, and he is like saying, no, I'm not going to sign the pledge, because he probably have Chris Christie was the nominee. I don't think he would vote for Chris Christie, or Mike Pence even. There are a lot of people in that field he doesn't like. He doesn't name them, which is a little bit of a surprise. But, that's sort of honesty, and calling things as he sees them, I think is why people like him.

BASH: Well, let's look at who has signed the pledge so far. At the top of the show I mentioned Nikki Haley sent her pledge in. We already knew that Ron DeSantis and Vivek Ramaswamy have. We, of course, talked about Donald Trump, Tim Scott, Chris Christie, Doug Burgum, and Mike Pence. Tim Scott said publicly that he has, but I don't think the Republicans have gotten it.

KIM: Right. Right. And I think just the -- well, there is obviously the contrast of the people who are willing to go along with this pledge, which, let's be honest, it's non-binding. There is no real actual kind of --

BASH: Yes.

KIM: -- forcing mechanism here. But, I do think that Trump, going back to the question of whether he is going to participate in the debate or not, I'm not actually sure, because I think on all of the strategic questions, of course, he is way ahead in the polling.

There really isn't a strategic upside to him participating. But, also, this is Donald Trump. He can't avoid a show. He can't -- he relishes the fight. I don't know how much he is going to be kind of steaming when he sees some of the other candidates like DeSantis and Pence be up on the stage and leveling all of these attacks that he is sort of unable to respond in that moment.

BASH: Yes.

KIM: So, it'll be really interesting to see what he ultimately decides.

GOLDBERG: I see it little differently. First of all, I see this as, now, Trump likes to force institutions and individuals to humiliate themselves. That's what he is doing to the GOP right here, right? He is saying I'm not going to do the pledge, but I still might do the debate. I thought one of the criteria for doing the debate was signing the pledge. Right?

So, first of all, he is -- I mean, the great irony here is he is declaring to the world he is literally a rhino, right? He is a Republican in name only. He will not support the party if he is not the nominee. And he demands all his loyalty from Republicans, but he shows no reciprocal loyalty to the party. And so, like, by saying he is not going to sign the pledge, but saying I haven't made up my mind about criticism and debate, he is daring the GOP to say, well, you can't participate unless you sign this, and I don't think Ronna McDaniel has the intestinal fortitude to say that.


BASH: There is another layer, which is one of the main reasons that the pledge exists is to make sure if Donald Trump is the nominee, everybody --



BASH: -- says that they'll support him, and that's the irony here. I want to just talk more broadly beyond the debate and just kind of where the field is right now. Listen to Chris Christie who has said for a long time, you got to plow through Donald Trump in order to get the nomination. Listen to where he is right now on that.


CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE: Our momentum is going the right way. Governor DeSantis is going in the wrong direction. And so, first job is to get past Governor DeSantis here in New Hampshire. We've now caught him. Now, we need to pass him and then we're going to take on Donald Trump one-on-one.


HENDERSON: Yes. Listen. That is what I think this debate is going to be about for Chris Christie. He is kind of a master debater. We remember what happened with Marco Rubio, was pretty unpleasant for Marco Rubio. And I imagine that's the kind of a strategy he is going to take with DeSantis. DeSantis is kind of a shaky debater. I mean, if you've looked at his past performances, when he was up against Gillum and then Charlie Crist, not a great debater. So, I think this sort of matchup is going to be a real headline out of this debate.

KIM: Yes. I'm interested to see especially how DeSantis reacts under pressure when he is challenged, because we know that. When we've -- when he has been asked sort of frankly basic questions by reporters, he has kind of lost his cool at times and snapped. And that's just --

BASH: Yes.

KIM: -- reporters. These are other Republican candidates who don't want him to see that -- get the nomination. So, I think that's something that perhaps we will be watching very closely, that front (ph).

BASH: All right. Thank you so much. We're going to come back on that small donor thing, because I think that's really important.

A not guilty plea, and yet another postponement, two of Donald Trump's co-defendants in the Mar-a-Lago documents case appear in a Florida courtroom, the latest twists and turns after a quick break.




BASH: The breaking news is out of Iran. Four Americans wrongfully detained in Iran have now been released on house arrest. CNN's Christiane Amanpour broke this story, and is joining us now. What does this actually mean for the four Americans?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Well, it is a major, major step forward. However, we have to really make a caveat that this, according to their lawyer who has confirmed that the four Americans who were detained at Evin Prison, the notorious Tehran prison, and now at a hotel that is going to serve as house arrest for a period of weeks.

We at the moment do not know the full terms of any deal that's been reached between the United States and Iran. You know, of course, that U.S. and Iran do not have diplomatic relations. They have been in treaties and helped by the Government of Qatar. And we know that these four Iranian Americans have now left and are at the hotel.

We understand that they are being fitted. They are wearing, and they will be wearing ankle bracelets. They are being in the custody, not of the Americans, not of any international diplomats in Iran, but in the custody of Iran still, the IRGC, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard. That is the way it's going.

And then, we understand that once all the T's are crossed, and the I's are dotted between the United States, Iran and any intermediaries, then they will, in the next several weeks, we don't know exactly when, be actually freed, free to leave the country. So, what the lawyer Jared Genser has been saying and is saying to us and I'm going to read you, what he said is that this is an important first step. We welcome it, but we are just waiting, and we're not going to call it freedom yet. We're waiting to see how it all plays out.

But, Dana, this is a really big deal. Siamak Namazi, 51-years-old, has been held there for over seven years. He is the longest ever American hostage, they call themselves American prisoner held there, just because of being American, and the two others have been held for the last five years. There was another, a fourth, whose identity we do not know because the family has not made it public, and that person was held for about a year. But, what we do know is that today they have been at least allowed to leave the Evin Prison. Dana.

BASH: Well, Christiane, good news indeed, great news for these prisoners, hostages and of course for their families. I'm sure you'll be on throughout the day as you learn more information. Thank you so much for that, Christiane.

AMANPOUR: Thanks, Dana. BASH: And now to the special counsel's case against former President Donald Trump. Today, Carlos De Oliveira and Walt Nauta, two names now forever recorded in an indictment alongside Donald Trump's, were inside court to answer new charges. Let's go to Florida outside the federal courthouse in Fort Pierce. CNN's Randi Kaye is there. Randi, what happened?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, Donald Trump wasn't here. He waived his appearance. But, his aide Walt Nauta was here, and his property manager at Mar-a-Lago, Carlos De Oliveira, were both here.

Well, Nauta did plead not guilty to the new charges in a superseding indictment at this appearance. So, he showed up here with his two lawyers. And we were expecting the property manager De Oliveira to enter a plea as well. He was in Miami courtroom last week. He did not enter a plea because he did not officially have a Florida lawyer. He needs a Florida barred attorney in order to enter a plea. There was a Florida lawyer, Dana, in the class -- in the courtroom with him today. His name is Donnie Murrell, but he wasn't officially signed on yet. So, he told the court that he was waiting for confirmation before entering his appearance as counsel.

So, De Oliveira's D.C. Attorney John Irving told the court that they believe they've ironed out the details, but they need another day or so to make it official. So now, another day, another delay. We have De Oliveira returning here to the court, at least his attorneys will be.


KAYE: He may waive his appearance next week, August 15, to officially enter a plea in the classified documents case. And all of this comes as they are facing these charges from the special counsel, which includes false statements, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and concealing documents. Dana.

BASH: Randi, it is very hard to find an attorney in Florida. No question about it. That was sarcasm, of course.

KAYE: Yes.

BASH: Randi, thank you so much. Yes.

Now, to a different jurisdiction, Georgia. The prosecutor and the former President are trying to tilt the scales. CNN learned Wednesday that Fani Ellis plans to indict more than a dozen individuals next week in her case against Donald Trump. The Republican frontrunner is already out with an ad that Willis calls "derogatory and false". CNN's Sara Murray is here now to give me more on what's going on in Georgia. Sara.

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes, Dana. I mean, I think we're seeing some political sniping, surprise, surprise, ahead of Fani Ellis going for grand jury. We expect this to happen next week. We expect she is going to seek charges against more than a dozen individuals as part of her sprawling case. She has been looking at potential racketeering charges which would allow her to ensnare many defendants, including Donald Trump.

But, the Trump campaign is now airing an ad in the Atlanta area, where they include a number of claims against her, some of them are true, like she has been disqualified from investigating Georgia Lieutenant Governor Burt Jones in this probe because she hosted a fundraiser for his Democratic opponent, something the judge slapped her down for.

There are other claims in this ad that are more salacious and completely baseless. They allege that she had a relationship with a local rapper that she had previously defended. There is just no factual basis to back that up.

So, Fani Ellis sent a note to her staff, and I'm going to read you a part of it. She said "We have no personal feelings against those we investigate or prosecute and we should not express any. This is business, it will never be personal." She goes on to say "Your instruction for me is to ignore all the noise and keep doing your job with excellence." Obviously, you've seen Donald Trump come out pretty harsh against all of the prosecutors investigating him, but especially Fani Ellis.

BASH: This is not going to be changing anytime soon, this dynamic. Thank you so much for that reporting, Sara.

A new explosive reporting about Justice Clarence Thomas and his lux lifestyle is next.




BASH: We are learning new details about Justice Clarence Thomas's lavish lifestyle. ProPublica is now reporting that Thomas was gifted the following, 38 destination vacations, 26 private jet flights, 12 VIP passes to pro and college sporting events, Tuesdays at luxury resorts in Jamaica and Florida, and a standing invitation to play a high-end private golf club in Florida. And this was reportedly all funded by a wider circle of billionaire friends. CNN's Joan Biskupic is here with new reporting, along with Nia-Malika Henderson who is back.

So, Joan, tell us more about what we're learning from this ProPublica.

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: This is going to put even more pressure on the Supreme Court from the outside, from critics in Congress, in the Senate, and it's going to make things more fraught inside.

And I'll get to the insight in a second. But, let's just -- let me just tell you what Clarence Thomas has said in the past about this. He did not respond to ProPublica. He has not responded to our questions when -- about the latest. But, he said in the past that early in his tenure he believed that he did not have to report any kind of this personal hospitality that was given to him by friends who didn't have business before the court.

But, let me just say, Dana, I'm so glad you put that list up there, private jet travel has always been covered by the financial disclosure rules. So, some 26 trips arguably should have been covered. And in the past, back in the 90s, early on in his own tenure, he did report, and other justices have reported private jet travel. So, admittedly, there is some -- there was some fuzziness in the rules about personnel hospitality, but not a lot of it. Not a lot of it should have been disclosed.

And then, finally, if I could just say --

BASH: Yes.

BISKUPIC: -- the justices themselves, they've all left for the recess, but they have been trying to come up with a formal code to respond to all this pressure. The Chief Justice himself has been trying to spearhead that, but they are at an impasse. Some of the justices simply do not want to have something like this. They believe that they should be able to just be guided and to be trusted all along.

BASH: So, we're talking a very important reporting there, and the context, especially, Joan. The first ProPublica story talked about donor, a mega donor named Harlan Crow. This latest reporting widens that group of millionaires, I guess. There are four all together, and you see them up there, who helped to fund a lot of what we were just talking about. And if you look at how much Justices make -- they had -- since he was on the court, there -- his increase -- his and other Justices' salary has increased to $285,400 a year. Listen to what Clarence Thomas said back in 2001 about the pay.


JUSTICE CLARENCE THOMAS, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE OF THE U.S. SUPREME COURT: The job is not worth doing for they pay. It's not worth doing for the grief. But, it is worth doing for the principal.


HENDERSON: Well -- and listen, his job has gotten him access to the generosity of lots of billionaires as well, funding him a lot of trips. I mean, he is living pretty high on the hog because of other people's wealth. Listen, I mean, if you look at the standing of the Supreme Court, it is at an all-time low in terms of the public's trust in the integrity of the Supreme Court. Some of that has to do with some of the decisions and some of that is partisan. But, it also has to do with these stories that have trickled out over the last month.