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Inside Politics

Pro-RFK Jr. Super PAC Says He's Qualified For Ballot In AZ, GA; One-On-One With Presidential Candidate Cornel West; Today: Emergency Hearing In Fani Willis Disqualification Effort After Judge Orders Key Witness Back On The Stand; Sources: Georgia Prosecutors Flooded With Harassing Calls After Phone Records Leaked; Congressional Leaders Speak After Oval Office Meeting. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired February 27, 2024 - 12:30   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: News this morning on the Robert F. Kennedy campaign, a Super PAC supporting him says they've gathered enough signatures to get him on the ballot in two pivotal battleground states, Arizona and Georgia. Those signatures still need to be validated and could face court challenges, but so far, he's only confirmed to be on the ballot in one state, Utah.

My next guest is another third-party candidate trying to get on as many ballots as he can. Professor Cornel West joins me now. Thank you so much for being here, sir. I want to start with Michigan, which is voting today. Some Democrats who are frustrated with President Biden's response to the Israel-Gaza war, they're urging residents to vote uncommitted effectively against the president.

Now, yesterday he announced progress in a deal for a temporary ceasefire in exchange for a hostage release. Should that help -- never mind what it means for the region, which is the most important, but just on the raw politics of it -- should that help the president politically?


CORNEL WEST, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, we shall see, but, I mean, part of the problem is we can't reduce what's going on in Gaza to some kind of electoral political strategy. I mean, we've seen the example of our dear brother Aaron Bushnell.

When he set himself on fire and killed himself, what was he saying? These are moral issues and moral causes. These are not just brands and strategies and tactics. And as you know, since that, Dana, so much American politics is about strategy and tactic. These are deeply moral and spiritual issues having to do with arbitrary power being used.

And when I hear sister Rashida say, well, Biden is not hearing us. No, Biden is the enabling the killing of us. That's what's taking place here. And so you can imagine it. My Arab brothers and sisters in Dearborn and other places are saying, we're not just pieces of me moved on a chessboard. These are our families. This is mama and daddy. This is grandmama and granddaddy.

It reminds me in some ways of the the rabbis who marched in the early 40s led by the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and FDR wouldn't even come out of the White House. He sent Henry Wallace and those rabbis were sitting there saying, look, massacres are taking place. War crimes are taking place.

Crimes against humanity. Genocide is taking place. What did the White House do in the early 40s? Nothing at all, hardly. Why? Because it's an electro political issue. The Jewish vote didn't mean X. The Jewish vote didn't mean Y. These are human beings and America is enabling the killing of them. So it is now in 2024.

Where is the space for truth, justice, love in a moment --

BASH: Professor West --

WEST: -- of electro politics and barbarity (ph). That's the question since, Dana.

BASH: Professor West, what about the other side of the argument, not that there's any appropriate side to the killing of innocent civilians. We should just say that flatly. But when it comes to --

WEST: Absolutely.

BASH: -- when it comes to war and retaliatory war, which is what this is for lots of reasons, the most -- the biggest is what Hamas did, the terror attack inside of Israel, but also currently the hostages who are still there. Do you think that there is, first of all, in the hostages, but second of all, just on Hamas, is there -- do you believe in the idea of eradicating a terrorist group like Hamas which did such barbaric things to innocent civilians?

WEST: Well, one, I mean, you and I know that a Jewish life has exactly the same value as a Palestinian life. A Palestinian baby has the same value as a Jewish baby. The question is, how do you get at the roots of it? Anytime you kill an innocent person, that is a crime against humanity.

Did Hamas commit war crimes? Absolutely. Murder is murder. But at the same time, you and I also know that you -- the root of what we're talking about here is an ugly occupation, is an embargo and siege and then we can call for a ceasefire. So, in calling for a ceasefire, it ought to be on the way to get at the roots of the problem, which is the ending of an occupation.

So you can then have forms of resistance that don't have to take the form of killing innocent people. Now, I believe in just war. Combatants can kill combatants. I'm not like Martin Luther King. I'm not a pacifist, but combatants must not kill. Civilians are innocent people, no matter who it is, IDF or Hamas.

But the problem is, if you're going to call Hamas a terrorist group, and the IDF is killing innocent people, they're terrorists too. If American soldiers kill innocent people, they're terrorists too. We have to be morally consistent in our language, in our deeds. And this is what I pull from Hebrew scripture. This is what I pull from following a Palestinian Jew named Jesus.

BASH: And the IDF argument, you heard Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday arguing wholeheartedly that the big difference is that Hamas went out and sought out civilians. What -- what the IDF is doing is trying to get rid of Hamas and the civilians are unfortunately getting killed in the crossfire. I'm not equating the two in terms of life as a life, but the argument is that Hamas sought out civilians and the IDF is not.

WEST: Well, I mean, the difference there would be historically over the last 75 years, we've got overwhelming evidence that the IDF has killed innocent people and it's killing innocent children right now. And each one of those children that are not a shield of a Hamas soldier.

So that the language --

BASH: Yes.

WEST: -- on the one hand goes in one direction, the action goes in another direction. But the crucial thing is, we've got to keep the moral and spiritual issues at the center. And that's part of the problem --


WEST: -- of American politics these days. It's all about money, it's all about status and spectacle. What about the human beings who are suffering? Be they mass incarcerated in ghettos, or barrios, or poor whites, or be they in Gaza, or be they frightened in other parts of the world.


BASH: Let's turn, to make a hard turn now, to politics since you mentioned it. We're talking about, you, as a candidate. You're running as an independent candidate, independent of the parties you were talking about. You're currently on the ballot in three states, Alaska, Oregon, South Carolina.

You told NBC News that your goal was to be on the ballot in 15 states by March. March starts Friday. Are you going to fall short of that goal? How close are you?

WEST: I said the ides of March. It was the ides of March. By mid- March, we should be on at least 15 states because we've got the low hanging fruit in March 1. You're absolutely right, allows us to move into the states. But I think the Aurora Party in Alaska, I think the progressive party in Oregon, I think the United Citizens Party in South Carolina.

And it's fascinating already because you imagine, you know, Alaska in many ways, it's like the National Hockey League and not as opposed to the National Basketball Association. It's a vanilla place. They come strong. Oregon, similarly so.

All Black Party in South Carolina with my brothers, the Neal (ph) Brothers, they're with the United Citizens Party. We are on the move. It is a multi-racial, multi-gendered, multi-religious --

BASH: Professor --

WEST: -- movement rooted in truth, justice, and love.

BASH: Are you going to get on the ballot in any of the crucial battleground states? Do you think you'll make it?

WEST: I think we will know --

BASH: Which one?

WEST: -- my dear sister. We're going to surprise the world. We're going to shake up the world. Michigan, Arizona, we're going to try to get on the state in Texas and California. Well, California with the Peace and Freedom Party has already been very kind. I'm part of that nominating process.

But we're shooting for the toughest ones, as you know, in New York and Texas and California. But with -- now, I applaud Brother Kennedy getting on the ballot in Arizona. We've still got more states, Brother RFK Jr. I'm telling you. And he's got the same views on Gaza as Biden does.

My God, my God. And he's supporting COINTELPRO and wiretapping Martin Luther King Jr. I say, come on, Brother Kennedy, what are you talking about here? We've got a chance to really show how our vision, our commitment to virtues, our commitment to values are distinct from not just RFK Jr., but also the two parties, Trump and Biden.

70 percent of our fellow citizens say they don't want Biden or Trump. My God, what an unprecedented moment for independent candidate.

BASH: Well, we will see. Hey, keep us posted and let us know when you get the signatures that you are seeking to get on those ballots, particularly those swing states like Michigan and Arizona.

Thanks so much for coming on, Professor West. Appreciate it.

WEST: Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Indeed. Stay strong.

BASH: Soon, a surprise hearing in Fulton County, Georgia. Will it lead to DA Fani Willis -- Fani Willis, rather, being disqualified from the Trump election subversion case? Stay with us.



BASH: Coming up today at 2:00 p.m., a little more than an hour from now, a last minute hearing in the effort to disqualify Fulton County DA Fani Willis from the Georgia election subversion case. The judge has ordered a key witness to take the stand again to tell the court what he knows about the romantic relationship between Willis and Nathan Wade, her top prosecutor in the case.

The first time around, Terrence Bradley declined to answer certain questions, citing attorney-client privilege as Wade's divorce lawyer.

CNN's Nick Valencia is in Atlanta. Nick, get us up to speed.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, hey there, Dana. The judge is making Terrence Bradley get back on the stand after he determined that some of the questions that Bradley refused to answer at a hearing just about two weeks ago were not protected by attorney-client privilege.

And they met yesterday behind closed doors to talk about those privilege issues. And that's when the judge determined that Bradley may have been misinterpreting privilege the whole time. He signaled as much during that hearing. Let's remind our viewers here.


JUDGE SCOTT MCAFEE, FULTON COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT: A factual scenario that, to my mind, I don't see how it relates to privilege at all. And so, now I'm left wondering if Mr. Bradley has been properly interpreting privilege this entire time. And I think the only way I can cure that is by having that in camera conversation with him.


VALENCIA: So defense attorneys will get another crack at Bradley. Ashleigh Merchant, the defense attorney that first leveled these allegations against Nathan Wade and Fani Willis, says that she believes Bradley can prove that Nathan Wade and Fani Willis were lying on the stand as to when their relationship began.

But if you remember last time, Bradley wasn't entirely forthcoming during the cross examination by Merchant. We'll be looking to see what limitations Judge Scott McAfee puts on any questioning, if at all, and what he will ultimately allow into evidence. Dana?

BASH: And Nick, we are learning that Willis and another top prosecutor received harassing phone calls after cell phone records were leaked. What's that about?

VALENCIA: That's right. Some illegal filing made its way to a far right social media account and the unredacted phone number of the Fulton County District Attorney was on that unredacted filing. They posted it and over the weekend, both Willis and Nathan Wade received a slew of harassing phone calls.


And it really underscores the safety issues that they've been dealing with here the whole time. Willis, you know, didn't go into any details. We did reach out to the Fulton County District Attorney's office to respond to this. They did not comment.

But as I mentioned, Dana, just really underscores this safety and the emotion surrounding the drama of this case. Dana?

BASH: A drama is an understatement. Thank you so much. Appreciate that reporting.

We'll be right back.


BASH: Let's get right to Senator Chuck Schumer, the Senate Majority Leader outside the White House after a meeting with the president.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MAJORITY LEADER: -- was this soft, fat country that lost its way and would take advantage. And so we said to the Speaker, get it done. I told him, this is one of the moments, I said, I've been around here a long time, it's maybe four or five times.



SCHUMER: -- Democrats in the Senate supported a border bill that very conservative groups, including the Border Patrol agents, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and Chamber of Commerce were for. But said to hold up Ukraine, which as he admitted was a national imperative, because you can't do something else which we all should work on, was a non-sequitur.

There was no logic. There's a logic to solving the border. We want to solve it. But we have to, but we have to do Ukraine right now because there's an await that can get done quickly because that has broad bipartisan consensus. And the border takes some more work which we'll be happy to work on to get it done. But not hold up the Ukraine bill for it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Schumer, Senator Schumer --

SCHUMER: Let me -- if I can go, please.

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D), MINORITY LEADER: Let me first just thank President Biden for convening us for this very important discussion to address important challenges that are confronting the American people. It was an intense meeting. It was an honest meeting. And, ultimately, it was a productive meeting.

We discussed three issues. First, the need to avoid a government shutdown and to fund the government so that we can address the needs of the American people in terms of their health, their safety and their economic wellbeing.

We are making real progress on the appropriations bills that are scheduled to lapse on March 1st and I'm cautiously optimistic that we can do what is necessary within the next day or so to close down these bills and avoid a government shutdown.

At the same time, it may be important to come to an agreement that's bipartisan and anchored in common sense to extend the pending expiration of the eight additional bills that are scheduled to lapse on March 8th so that good faith, tough negotiations can continue in the absence of a government shutdown.

Second, we discussed the urgent national security priorities of the American people as captured in the bipartisan, comprehensive Senate passed legislation. This is an existential moment for the free world. As it relates to being there for our democratic allies in Ukraine, in Israel, and in the Indo-Pacific.

And also at the same period of time, making sure that we provide humanitarian assistance to Palestinian civilians who are in harm's way in Gaza or in other theaters of war through no fault of their own.

Third, as Leader Schumer indicated, we had an open and honest and a candid, firm discussion about the border. We all agree that we have a broken immigration system and there is a need to address the challenges at the border in a thoughtful, bipartisan way.

As Democrats, we support a safe, a strong, a secure and a humane border. We just need our House Republican colleagues not to play politics and engage in political stunts relative to the border, but to sit down as was done in the Senate and enter into good faith discussions about fixing our broken immigration system. As Democrats, we stand ready to do just that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Schumer, what made this meeting one of the most intense you've ever had during the fight (ph)?

SCHUMER: The urgency of supporting Ukraine. And the consequences to the people of America, to America's strength if we don't do anything and don't do anything soon. I was so, so shaken by what I saw at the border. I was strengthened by the, by the strength of Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people and the Ukrainian soldiers.

But shaken that here they are, they are fighting without arms against the brutal dictator who will just do anything to kill them. And the intensity in that room was surprising to me. But because of the passion of the President, the Vice President, Leader Jeffries, Speaker -- Leader McConnell, and myself, it was.

And, you know, Johnson tried to answer and he made it clear he wants to do something on the border. But we made it clear to him, we can't tarry or the war could be lost. And second, we had to -- we wanted to do border and have a tough, secure border plan as we showed, we Democrats showed in the Senate.

But he can't say it won't do Ukraine until we get border. He's tried to do border for six months and couldn't come up with a single Democratic vote.


SCHUMER: That's enough. Next one. Next one. Yes, yes, yes. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Senator Schumer, you've discussed border here. Is this a part of discussions? Is there a legislative discussion as part of this or is this still the Republican position?

SCHUMER: We made it, look --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That it has to be done.