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Inside Politics

2024 U.S. Elections; As Opposed to Trump's $10.9M in February, Biden Campaign Raised $21.3M; As Trump's Legal Bills Mount, Biden's Financial Advantage Grows; Allies Trump Pardoned are Helping His Campaign; With $454M Deadline Approaching, Trump at A Loss; Regarding Bankruptcy Filings, Trump is Against All Options. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 21, 2024 - 12:00   ET




DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT AND CNN ANCHOR, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on "Inside Politics", show me the money. New fundraising numbers are out and Joe Biden is dominating Donald Trump in the race for campaign cash as the former president asked his voters to cough up donations for the half a billion dollars he needs by Monday. His pitch, "Keep your filthy hands-off Trump Tower."

Plus, the perks of pardon power. We have new reporting this hour about how more than a dozen people pardoned by Donald Trump are now helping his push to get back in the White House. Stay tuned for our exclusive story.

And Benjamin Netanyahu may be heading to Washington. Speaker Mike Johnson says, he'll make the invitation official hours after the Israeli Prime Minister spoke privately with House Republicans. Netanyahu tells the U.S. to stay out of his country's politics, so why does he seem to be wading into America's?

I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines and inside politics.

First up, in a race between the oldest presidential candidates ever, it's all about keeping up. And Joe Biden hopes his campaign schedule sends a message to voters that he has the strength and the stamina to spend four more years as president. He's been to eight states since Super Tuesday, including the six biggest battlegrounds. Donald Trump has campaigned in just two states, Georgia and Ohio, perhaps in an effort to keep costs low as he struggles to keep pace in the money race.

CNN's Alayna Treene is covering this story. Alayna, what are your sources inside Trump world telling you about his anemic campaign schedule?

ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Right. Well, there's a reason that Joe Biden is out there, far more frequently than Donald Trump and why Trump is choosing to stay off the trail since securing the Republican nomination, and that's largely because Donald Trump needs to raise money. We know that over the past -- a few weeks, ever since Donald Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination, he's been hosting fundraisers, attending fundraisers at his Mar-a-Lago home, as well being -- meeting with donors and trying to court donors to help him with the campaign's money problem.

And I'm just going to read for you, Dan, and walk you through some of the numbers that we got from the latest FEC filing. So, in February, the Biden campaign raised $21.3 million and they entered March with $71 million cash on hand. That's compared to the Trump campaign having brought in $10.9 million and $33.5 million, having that as cash on hand.

And so, Donald Trump is very much trailing Joe Biden significantly in the money game. Now, part of that, of course, is that Joe Biden is the incumbent. He has been in the incumbent, and he hasn't had to fend off primary challengers the way that Donald Trump has. And when I talked to the Trump campaign, they tell me that they are hopeful. His numbers this month or in February were better than the money that he raised in January. And they do believe that now that he is officially the Republican nominee, and does not have any other primary challengers that they can continue to raise money.

But again, I mean, they are having to preserve resources, cut costs, do what they can to try and save money to help his campaign keep up with Joe Biden's.

BASH: There's the, help his campaign keep up with Joe Biden, and help Donald Trump, the man, keep up with his legal fees, and they are very much intertwined right now since the RNC is allowing the money that's flowing in to go for his attorneys for all of these fronts that he's fighting on in the court.

TREENE: Yes, the legal issues and the amount of money, the -- his legal expenses are massive. And it's not just the legal expenses that he's already been paying, that he's going to have to pay as his trials. You know, he has one trial date. He's looking ahead to many other trials. But it's also the judgments and this bond judgment and everything that's going on with the $454 million judgment that he has to pay by Monday is just part of it. There's a lot of money that is needing to be siphoned away from what would originally be going to his campaign to these legal costs.


And here's some of the latest that we learned about Save America, Donald Trump's leading -- or leadership pack, I should say. They spent nearly $5.6 million on legal bills in February, and that far exceeded that spending the PAC's total receipts.

And so, really an issue there. I mean, we saw the Save America spend more than $55 million last year because of Donald Trump's mounting legal bill. So, this is definitely another key concern for the former president and his team, Dana.

BASH: Wow. That really -- in a pretty stunning way, summed up the issues -- one of the major issues that he's facing when it comes to money. Thank you so much for that reporting, Alayna.

Let's talk more about this and so much more with CNN's Gloria Borger, Jeff Zeleny, and Priscilla Alvarez. Hello everybody. Jeff, let me just start with you. You've been on the campaign trail a lot. Obviously, talking to voters and talking to campaign operatives. What is your sense about why it has been hard for Donald Trump? The real deal about why it's been hard for him and the Republican Party to raise the money that they need to raise?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF U.S. NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Look -- I mean, a lot of it is what Alayna laid out there. I mean, he has used a lot of the money. The RNC over the years before he was a candidate again spent a lot of money on legal fees. Some donors are, quite frankly, wary of contributing to his legal fund where they, you know, would prefer the money go elsewhere. Some of it is the fact that his operation is not nearly robust and a traditional, as other campaigns have been.

But I think the -- the biggest thing is he's like feeding two mouths here. He's a criminal defendant, which is very expensive in multiple jurisdictions. One would be expensive and never mind all the jurisdictions. And he's running for president. So, as you said, they are linked, in some respect. He's linked them. I mean, that's why he jumped in so early in the first place, but that's the biggest reason.

But I think the -- at the end of the day, I mean, the money is coming back. He's having meeting with the fundraisers. Any Republicans who, kind of, rolled their eyes and didn't really want him to be the nominee, they're on board, basically. They've opened up their checkbooks.

So, I'm not sure if it's the money as much as, you know, what they're doing with it. And deep questions at the RNC because they, you know, said they wouldn't spend money on legal fees. But that was the old RNC. This is his RNC and they're going to.

BASH: Yes.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Lara Trump has said, they should.


BORGER: She said it publicly, so.

BASH: Yes. And Henry Barbour, who's a national committeeman with a famous Republican name, he tried to, at the last Republican meeting, to put forward a resolution saying that the party wouldn't pay --

BORGER: And it failed.

BASH: -- and it failed.


BASH: And it failed. And I just -- as you, I bring you in here, Gloria, I just want to put back on the screen what we saw from Alayna about the Biden cash situation versus the Trump cash situation as it stands right now. So, you see it, how much more Biden has raised and how much more he has on hand. I mean, double.

BORGER: Yes. I -- look, part of it, as Jeff was saying is the power of incumbency. But he's hosting a lot of big fundraisers. He --

BASH: Biden.

BORGER: Biden is. He's out there doing that while Donald Trump is having lunch with people at Mar-a-Lago, trying to raise some money for his legal issues and his campaign. And so, you know, Biden is out there doing the fundraising he's got to do and it shows.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And I should say, by -- the fundraising has been a bright spot for the Biden campaign. Month after month, they've seen an increase in their fundraising numbers. And they always point to the grassroots donations too, that's their counterargument to the polls that we're seeing in the low approval ratings that the president has is that every month they've also broken records when it comes to those donations that are less than $200. In fact, that made up the majority of some of this fundraising for them.

And so, this -- yes, the president is on the road. He was at a fundraiser yesterday. Mark Cuban was at that fundraiser in Texas, so he is getting the attention and the money. But they also are trying to point to the enthusiasm or what they say is the enthusiasm with the grassroots.

BASH: I want to go back to one of the things that we mentioned as we opened the show, which is some great new reporting from Isaac Dovere and Kristen Holmes, and Jeff Zeleny.

ZELENY: Mm-hmm.

BASH: About the pace of Joe Biden's campaign schedule. I'll just read an excerpt from your great reporting. Joe Biden has been to every top battleground state, but one since super Tuesday primaries. He's also been on unannounced calls, pushing negotiators toward a Gaza ceasefire. Donald Trump has held one rally in a battleground state in those two and a half weeks and shifted another to Ohio in part to save costs. He has also played in two golf tournaments at his Palm Beach Golf Club, among other activities at his club.

ZELENY: Boy, I mean, the last two weeks have been very stark. Donald Trump has been doing interviews on television, but he's not been in the battleground states. He's not been to Wisconsin, a key battleground state since 2022.

BASH: You -- we have the map up next to you.


ZELENY: And Republicans there are wondering where he is. So, what this is going to tell us at the end of November is if traditional campaigning still matters. We don't know that. It doesn't matter in the way that it did, but it matters to a big degree for local news coverage and other things.

And if this was the reverse, if President Biden had only been to one state and Donald Trump had been to 10 states, basically, there would be a five-alarm fire. Is the up to the task? So, I think we should be a judicious in, sort of, you know, treating these the same. So, that's why it's important to point this out.

BASH: Yes.

ZELENY: So -- but President Biden has a burden here to show --

BASH: Exactly.

ZELENY: -- that he is up to the task.

BASH: Right.

ZELENY: And his first, sort of, lap around battleground states, he's almost done. He hits North Carolina next week. That's the final of the term is to bring Democrats back on board to show that, yes, I want to be out here. I'm energetic. I can still do that.

BASH: And that's the key. And that's the key. This isn't four years ago when the rap on him was, oh, you're just in the basement. And that was a different rap. This is -- he -- they understand full well in Wilmington that this is something that he has to prove.

ALVAREZ: Well -- and there are fractures within the Democratic Party, to your point. And so, getting him out there to talk and engage with the voters is important. I was talking to Latino organizers who met with him and the vice president in Nevada. And for them -- Latinos are split, even among their own families. Some are leaning toward Republicans. Some are leaning towards Democrats. And so, for them, it's important to have that conversation directly with the president to talk about these issues.

BASH: OK. But --

BORGER: But he's like the Energizer bunny these days. I mean, he's just got pep in his step and he's showing it on purpose. And Donald Trump is out winning golf tournaments, I gather, and raising money. It's a really stark contrast.

And don't forget, Donald Trump also did this during the primaries. I mean, he wasn't out there --

BASH: That's a good point.

BORGER: -- meeting with voters at town halls, answering questions. He did a rally. He shook some hands and he flew back, you know.

BASH: But that is -- that has kind of been his M.O.s --

BORGER: Yes. BASH: -- from the jump. He's not -- I mean, not that he hasn't done retail campaigning. He's mister, you know, big rally, entertain the folks and then leave.

I just want to get to some new reporting that you have Priscilla, which is a brand-new digital ad from the Biden campaign that we're showing here for the first time. And the question is going to sound familiar to all of us, especially you and me, Gloria. The question about, are you better off than you were four years ago?


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT AND U.S. REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And then I see the disinfectant and is there a way we can do something like that? By injection. We're doing, I think, really, really well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'll tell you what, how? A thousand Americans are dying a day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are dying, that's true. And you have -- it is what it is.


BASH: I mean, Donald Trump just, kind of, put it on a platter for the Biden campaign --

ALVAREZ: This is the --

BASH: -- by asking that question.

ALVAREZ: -- classiest example of two candidates sparring in real time, and they are going for it. They're -- they've done it on other issues like January 6th on the border, and this is yet another one where they are answering the question of, are you better four years ago? And this is something that President Biden teased himself at a fundraiser last night. He used this and less than 24 hours later, we're seeing that ad.

You know, it's tricky because I think in talking to voters, they think of the Trump administration is 2019. They, sort of, forget the 2020 aspect of it.

BASH: Which is why they're putting this ad out.

ALVAREZ: Which is why they're doing this ad to remind them of what happened and what the former president's response was to that.

ZELENY: And there's no doubt. I mean, on unemployment, the markets, other things, things are better. But inflation is higher. So, it's a bit of a mixed bag. But I mean, this, of course, goes back to 1980. The final question that -- to Ronald Reagan asked --

BASH: Exactly. ZELENY: -- Jimmy Carter in the debate in Cleveland, are you better off than you were four years ago? So, that's why the history of this is important. But we'll see how long they continue this, because it's a mixed bag in terms of how people feel about the economy.

BORGER: Yes, you know -- I mean, the irony of this is, of course, that Donald Trump could take credit for the vaccine, which was so important.

BASH: Don't expect that any time soon.

BORGER: But he's not going to do it because half his base is against it.

BASH: We're going to take a quick break.

Up next, repaying a favor. Brand new CNN reporting about some of the wealthy and powerful men who Donald Trump pardoned before leaving office. They're now helping him get back to the White House.



BASH: Now, a reminder of that old adage, there's no such thing as a free lunch. CNN has new reporting that the Trump campaign is getting a boost from multiple people the former president pardoned before leaving the White House.

CNN's Steve Contorno is following this story. Steve, what have you learned?

STEVE CONTORNO, CNN REPORTER: Well, Dana, earlier this week, we found out that Paul Manafort is in line for a potential role at the Republican National Convention. He, of course, is Trump's former campaign manager who served prison time for tax evasion and who Trump pardoned in his final days in office.

Well, it turns out Manafort is not alone. There are more than a dozen individuals whose sentences Trump commuted or who Trump pardoned, who are now somehow engaged in helping Trump get back to the White House. This list includes some of his closest long-term advisors, individuals like Roger Stone, Steve Bannon, Michael Flynn, his former national security advisor. All these individuals continue to go around the country, not in a paid role for the campaign, but in an informal role, sort of, boosting the former president. And certainly, selling some of the election lies around the 2020 election.

And then you have other individuals who are helping raise money for the campaign or donating to the political committees that are supporting him. That includes Charles Kushner. He is, of course, the father of his son in law, Jared Kushner. Charles Kushner made a $1 million contribution to MAGA Inc., that is one of the Super PAC supporting Trump's campaign. One of the largest single donations to that Super PAC.


And then you have individuals who are more -- celebrities, and they're using their large following to support Trump. That includes Kodak Black, the rapper whose Trump sentence -- commuted -- or Trump commuted his sentence.

And then there's one other individual I want to mention, that's John Tate. He is someone who is a long-time political operative. He works on the Ron Paul campaign. Was later convicted of bribery -- or convicted in a bribery scheme related to his work on that campaign. He is now advising Trump's campaign as a consultant, and he has made more than $70,000 in that role so far.

BASH: Incredible reporting. Of course, you can see more of it on And, Steve, before I let you go, you spoke to a clemency expert who called this situation a perfect storm. Meaning what?

CONTORNO: Well, there's just so many highly unusual circumstances here. You have the fact that we have this former president who has been nominated by his party to run for his former job. That itself is remarkable. But you also have the way that Trump treated the pardoning process that was ahistorical as well. There are all these people who were celebrities and former advisors, supporters, donors, people close to his political operation and his administration, who he pardoned, most of them in their final days.

And there's also this, sort of, interesting dynamic I want to mention as well, where you have these individuals who may very well be spending this election cycle, serving a federal sentence. They are now free because of Trump, and they are helping Trump get back to the White House, Dana.

BASH: Steve, wow. Again, terrific reporting. Thank you so much.

Gloria, you spent a lot of time in the four years of the Trump White House -- BORGER: Yes.

BASH: -- covering a lot of the back and forth with some of these individuals who Steve is reporting --

BORGER: Paul Manafort --

BASH: -- are back in the mix.

BORGER: Yes. Well, Paul Manafort -- I mean, I remember he ran the convention --

BASH: Yes.

BORGER: -- for Donald Trump. It was very important. And then it was discovered that he was talking to the Russians, right? Giving them campaign information, poll information.

BASH: And then he got a pardon. BORGER: And then of course he got a pardon. Look, this is a nice way to say thank you from -- for a lot of these people. I mean, what more could Donald Trump have done for them than pardon them and get them out of jail? And I think Paul Manafort would jump at the chance to become relevant again in this way.

BASH: Yes. And then the question is, if he does win, how active will people like that be in the administration of Donald Trump?

BORGER: That would be very active.

BASH: That's getting way out ahead of ourselves. But we do want to switch gears to something that Trump is doing right now, which is he's scrambling. He only has four days left to find nearly half a billion dollars to post bond in his civil fraud case. If not, the state of New York could begin seizing his assets. Trump is fundraising off of that possibility. Sending a text to supporters yesterday, reading, Keep your filthy hands off Trump Tower.

So, what he is doing, and I just want to be clear, he's not asking his supporters to pay his bond. He's asking his supporters to give money to his campaign which also contributes to legal fees.

ZELENY: Exactly. And you can double dip in a sense because, I mean, there is a limit for contributing to a political campaign. There's not the same limit for a legal defense fund.

BASH: And if I may, he's also -- I mean, this is what he does. And --

ZELENY: Right.

BASH: -- everybody in politics does this now. He's trying to rile his potential donors --

ZELENY: Right.

BASH: -- to get angry to send money.

ZELENY: And one thing that is clear that we've seen really for now more than a year is whenever he is in legal trouble, it has helped him politically.

BASH: Yes.

ZELENY: So, imagine this scenario. I heard, one of our legal experts saying on our air this morning that, you know, the visual of Trump tower being padlocked or something, and you know, them seizing property. Imagine how that would help the former president politically. Imagine how those images would, sort of, build onto this.

So, even though legally and financially it's not good for him, we do not necessarily know that politically this is not good for him in the moment. It's just one more part of what a lot of voters see as a pile on effect for him. So, you know, this drumbeat to the Monday deadline also keeps Trump consuming all the oxygen in this race. BASH: Yes, that's right. And that is such an important note of caution because every single time, I can't think of one example right now, I'm sure there is.

ZELENY: Yes, there's none.

BASH: Where, sort of, the conventional thinking in a conventional campaign about a conventional politician was --

ZELENY: From the mugshot to other things --

BASH: -- this is going to hurt him.

ZELENY: -- down the line.

BASH: Yes.

BORGER: Right.

BASH: And it's -- I mean, going even back to when he would -- was trashing John McCain, didn't hurt him.

Catherine Rempel wrote an op ed in "The Washington Post" about this. Saying, he, meaning Trump, treats every bill, every signed contract, as merely an opening offer. Imagine you lend Trump a few million dollars and then he gets elected president again.


It would become virtually impossible to collect. If you did try to collect, Trump would likely have a few qualms about siccing the Justice or Treasury department on you.

ALVAREZ: This is the difficult and delicate thing for the White House and for the Biden campaign, right? Because they can't -- we just played that ad. They responded very quickly to COVID. They're staying very far away from all of this because they don't want to play into the narrative of big bad government. And the government's getting involved and they're the, you know, the DOJ is working for Biden.

So, all of that makes this very sensitive for the White House and for the Biden campaign to weigh in on, which even though the narrative exists and is out there, and former -- the former president uses it to his advantage -- and uses it to his advantage. I mean, I think the -- immediately, the mugshot came to mind when, with all of this that's going on with the bond because it was something he was using to his political advantage.

BASH: And then there is the question we talked a little bit about on the show yesterday with Bill Cohan. How was he going to do this? And one of the options is for him to file personal bankruptcy. Part of our colleague, Kaitlan Collins, reporting was that that is not something he wants to do. I mean, talk about a personal blow. She said, he has privately expressed opposition to any path concerning filing for bankruptcy, and it remains the least likely for now. BORGER: Well, he's filed for bankruptcy before. He's been bankrupt in the '90s, if you'll recall. And that wasn't a great time for him. And I think he doesn't want it to happen again because don't forget, he ran on the fact -- and we've run clips, that I'm very rich. I've got a lot of money. He testified in a deposition. He had about $400 million in cash on hand, which we haven't seen.

And so, I think there's, you know, there's a real reluctance here because his whole aura is, I'm this rich guy. And when he was declared bankruptcy the first time, you know, he was monitored by banks. He had things taken away. I mean, I recall in doing some reporting on this that they asked, you know, how much did Marla's engagement ring cost? So, I don't think he wants to go through that again.

BASH: Yes. And -- that's very, very true. And that was all before --

BORGER: Right.

BASH: -- he was a candidate or a former president wanting to be president again to be precise.

BORGER: Exactly.

BASH: Thank you all very much. Up next, Benjamin Netanyahu wants American politicians to stay out of Israeli politics. He may not be practicing what he preaches.

And later, the Bracketologist-in-chief -- say that three times fast. We'll ask a tournament pro to break down President Biden's March Madness picks.