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RNC Chair Ronna McDaniel To Step Down In March; RNC Resolution Would Ban Party From Paying Trump Legal Bills; KFile: Pro-Trump Lawyer Kenneth Chesebro Hid Damning Tweets About 2020 Fake Electors Plot From Michigan Prosecutors; Republicans Struggle To Message On IVF After Alabama Ruling. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 26, 2024 - 12:30   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel will officially stepped down from her position on March 8, days after Super Tuesday. Her departure comes as tension is rising between Trump and the RNC.

RNC committee member Henry Barbour joins me now. Thank you so much for being here. It's good to see you, Henry. First, let me just ask you about what your reaction is to both Ronna McDaniel leaving and Trump's endorsed candidates for RNC Chair Michael Whatley from North Carolina and co-chair, his daughter in law, Lara Trump.

HENRY BARBOUR, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, it's a bad precedent. And I say that because I think Donald Trump is jumping the gun before the primary is over to begin to influence things at the RNC. He's supposed to get a majority of the delegates wrapped up and we've only voted in four states.

And voters deserve to be able to have a vote in a say that's the process that we have in place and that we've had in place for decades. And in effect, Donald Trump is trying to change the rules in the middle of the game, but I'm not happy about Ronna leaving. But I don't think there's any question that Michael Whatley and Lara Trump will get elected at the meeting.

BASH: Are you happy that they will get elected?

BARBOUR: Well, I'm not happy that -- and this is the reason I offered this resolution dealing with neutrality. It says the RNC should stay neutral through the primary. And it should and we shouldn't have a campaign dictating to us while the primary is still going on.

Wait, there's another candidate running and Donald Trump while he has a significant lead in which I'm not blind to, the RNC has a job to be neutral. And at least until we have a presumptive nominee. Michael, I like Michael Whatley. I know him well. I don't know Lara Trump, but as I say, they're both going to get elected. I don't think there's any real question about that, Dana. BASH: Henry, you mentioned the pair of resolutions that you're pushing inside the Republican National Committee. One was pledged for neutrality, the other one would bar the RNC from paying any of Donald Trump's legal fees.

Lara Trump, who we were just talking to has not surprisingly suggested that she will be open to the committee paying her father-in-law's legal bills. How hard are you willing to fight to make sure this doesn't happen?

BARBOUR: Well, I certainly am willing, you know, to take a stand that may not be popular with some right now. The RNC has one job data, and that's to win elections. And we should spend our finite resources on political operations and actually winning elections and paying any candidates legal fees, or frankly any other outside fees or expenses, is not the RNC's job. Our job is to win elections.


And the other reason that I think I wouldn't be opposed to this is that the -- when the RNC sends out a solicitation and says, hey, do you want to take the White House back and get the country back on track? Donors send in their $28 or whatever it is, well, it's totally -- it would be totally misleading to take that money and then go and spend it with some big fat law firm, you know, legal fees for stuff that has nothing to do with winning the election this cycle.

BASH: And Henry --

BARBOUR: So I'm opposed -- yes?

BASH: Forgive me. You know that it's been a -- it happened until Trump became a candidate for president this cycle. The RNC was already paying his legal bills from -- when he was president, at least $1.6 million of those donor --


BASH: -- funds that you were talking about have already gone to those law firms, to lawyers to help his legal fees. I should say in response to your --


BASH: -- resolutions, Trump adviser Chris LaCivita, who is expected to move into the RNC released a statement saying, "The primary is over and it's the RNC's sole responsibility to defeat Joe Biden and win back the White House. Efforts to delay that assist Joe Biden in the destruction of our nation. Republicans cannot stand on the sidelines and allow this to happen." What's your response?

BARBOUR: Chris LaCivita is a good man, he's a good operative. He just happens to be wrong. The RNC has laid out the rules and the process and the primary schedule. Once a candidate gets to 1,215 delegates, then you have a majority of the delegates, and you can become the presumptive nominee and run things. They're jumping ahead of the game. We've got four states that have voted. It's just, like I say, changing the rules in the middle of the game. And I don't think it's right. But I respect LaCivita. He's very good at what he does. And a lot of the Trump campaigns very talented. So I appreciate that.

But they need to respect the rules at the RNC that number one, we have to be neutral. And number two, we should spend our resources on winning elections, and not on legal fees for candidates of any type.

BASH: And, Henry, before I let you go, I just want to ask about the mechanics. Your goal, in order to get this resolution, passed this specifically I'm talking about the one to say the RNC can't pay Donald Trump's legal fees. You need -- you told me a pair of Republican National Committee men from 10 states. Where are you in that effort?

I have six states lined up and I will say Chris LaCivita has said Trump's campaign operative that he agrees that the RNC won't pay that. So I would ask Chris, well, then why don't you encourage RNC members to go ahead and make this official, and let's pass this resolution? The other resolution will have to stand on its own with. And without LaCivita doing that, these aren't going to pass.

BASH: Interesting. Very, very interesting times inside the Republican Party. And this is just one very big aspect of it.

Henry, thank you so much for coming on today. Appreciate it.

BARBOUR: Thanks, Dana.

BASH: Coming up, a CNN exclusive why a secret Twitter account on Earth by our reporters reveals a far more aggressive election subversion strategy than we knew.



BASH: New exclusive reporting from CNN's KFile, the team uncovered a secret Twitter account from the right-wing attorney who helped devise the Trump campaigns fake electors plot. I'm talking about Kenneth Chesebro, he's the lawyer who pleaded guilty last year in the Georgia election subversion case.

He then cooperated with prosecutors in Georgia and in other states across the country to avoid more charges. But he concealed from those prosecutors the secret Twitter account that our team discovered and here's why this really matters. It shows that he was promoting a far more aggressive election subversion strategy than he led on.

CNN's Marshall Cohen has been working on this. Marshall, so she's Chesebro, I should say, hid his secret account from prosecutors in Michigan. And there are tapes too?

MARSHALL COHEN, CNN REPORTER: There are, Dana. And look, when you cooperate, you need to tell the truth. And CNN's KFile team uncovered a secret Twitter that Chesebro concealed from prosecutors in Michigan and dozens of tweets from 2020 undercut what he later told them about his role in the scheme.

We also obtained the audio of Chesebro's Michigan interview so you can hear it for yourself. When he was asked directly if he uses social media, he said no. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any social media presence? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter?

KENNETH CHESEBRO, TRUMP ATTORNEY: No, I mean, no. I, for whatever -- I mean before the --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any -- alternate IDs that you're using for that kind of stuff?

CHESEBRO: No. I mean, I don't do any tweeting.


COHEN: Yes. Maybe he had good reason to hide those tweets, Dana, because they reveal that even before the 2020 election, Chesebro promoted a far more aggressive, fake electoral strategy than he later led on.


Here's just one example when he was with the Michigan prosecutors he repeatedly said that the fake electors were purely a contingency to be used if Trump won any of his election lawsuits. Listen to what he told the prosecutors.


CHESEBRO: So Eastman, he had this idea that state legislatures could somehow be effective in overturning the courts, which I thought was ridiculous. I wanted conditional language in all the states that I suggested three times to Trump campaign on December 12th that they make it conditional on winning litigation.


COHEN: So that's what he told them. But look at this from Chesebro's anonymous Twitter account called BadgerPundit. On the day Trump lost, he wrote, quote, "Trump doesn't have to get courts to declare him the winner. He just needs to convince Republican legislatures that the election was systematically rigged." Totally dismissing the role of the courts, embracing the strategy that you just heard him call ridiculous.

And, Dana, this is just one of many examples where his tweets and his testimony don't line up.

BASH: Really remarkable. Marshall, do you -- are you hearing any reaction from the Michigan Attorney General? COHEN: We are and I want to be crystal clear that Chesebro has not been charged with any crimes in Michigan. But experts told us that this could put him in more legal jeopardy. The Michigan Attorney General already charged the fake electors in that state last year.

They have an ongoing investigation. They told us that they are interested in this new material about the Twitter and they will be, quote, "looking into the matter." We also spoke to Chesebro's attorneys, they confirm that this secret account does belong to him. And they acknowledged that there are some inconsistencies.

They have gone back to the states where he cooperated and told those investigators all about his tweets. But, Dana, they're also drawing a distinction between Ken Chesebro, the serious lawyer and BadgerPundit, the online persona.

This is what his attorney Robert Langford told us. Quote, "When he was doing volunteer work for the campaign, he was very specific and hunkered-down into being the lawyer that he is and gave specific legal advice based on things that he thought were legitimate legal challenges versus BadgerPundit, who is this other guy over there, just being a goof." Dana?

BASH: Wow. A lot to unpack there. Marshall, thank you so much for that terrific reporting and also to our colleagues at the KFile. Thanks.

Up next, Democrats hit Trump on IVF and abortion as he and other Republicans are still struggling with the message on that.



BASH: Republicans spent the weekend racing to express support for in vitro fertilization after the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that embryos have the same legal rights as children. That decision makes IVF legally questionable and possible right now in Alabama. But questionable, nationwide.

Here is Donald Trump over the weekend adding his voice to the Republican chorus.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Republican Party should always be on the side of the miracle of life, and the side of mothers and fathers and beautiful little babies have to be on that side. IVF is an important part of that. And our great Republican Party will always be with you.


BASH: My panel is back with me now. What are you hearing from your Republican sources about the political minefield that they feel that they're stepping on with this? ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Well, as I was saying before with the border being one of Joe Biden's most vulnerable issues, this is the vulnerable issue for Republicans. And I think Republicans in Congress across the state and obviously Donald Trump's campaign recognize that this is not a good issue for them, especially as people are arguing that this is a result of the overturning of Roe versus Wade.

We know that Donald Trump's campaign wants to stay far away from abortion. He wants to stay far away from this issue as well. Although a lot of people did give him credit and Republicans, I should say, for taking a clear stance on this. And it's why do I think we've seen others -- other Republicans who are struggling on how to handle this issue, rejected as well.

BASH: OK. So Republicans pretty much across the board are saying I'm pro-IVF. That's the messaging. But then there are important follow-up questions.

TREENE: Right.

BASH: One of which I asked the Texas Governor Greg Abbott yesterday.


BASH: Are you saying that families in Texas who are using IVF have extra embryos that are frozen do not need to worry?

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: Well, so you raise fat questions that are complex that I simply don't know the answer to. Let me give you a couple of examples and that is, I have no idea mathematically that the number of frozen embryos is at 1, 10, 100, 1,000. These are very complex issues where I'm not sure everybody has really thought about what all the potential problems are.


BASH: IVF has been around for like half a century.

JONAH GOLDBERG, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, but points for honesty. This is a great --

BASH: Totally.

GOLDBERG: -- example of how the pro-life movement which I've been surrounded by my entire professional life, did not know what to do once they caught the car.


And I think the Alabama law, the Alabama court strip out some of the theocratic language that no one else subscribed to got it right on the law. I actually think they got it right on the law. It just getting it right on the law, put them on the wrong side of the policy.

And so now the Alabama legislature is going to need to fix this in a hurry because pro-life voters support IVF. And this has always been among intellectual pro-lifers, there's a consistent argument about the ethical issues, but IVF. But in the practical world, the reason why this IVF thing in Alabama is a mess is because of the legal liability.

If it's a person, and through negligence, you allow this person to die, you got all sorts of problems. And so it's basically like the insurance companies will not cover IVF clinics until they fix this.


BASH: Ten seconds.

RASCOE: And if it's a person, there's also the question of whether you should be able to test to see whether you would either discard the embryo or keep the embryo in genetic in cases where there are genetic issues. So it's a very broad issue, and something that's going to be like a really political quagmire.

BASH: That is for sure. Thanks, one and all. Appreciate you.

Thank you for joining Inside Politics. CNN News Central starts after a break.