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Inside Politics

Sources: Conservative Matt Schlapp Agrees To $480,000 Sexual Assault Settlement; GOP Tries To Push Early And Mail Voting Despite Trump's Attacks; WH Adviser: Heavy Lift Crane Vessel Coming To Port Of Baltimore Today; Remembering Former Senator Joe Lieberman. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 28, 2024 - 12:30   ET



DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: You have done some reporting on this as well to why it's happened in the first place, about the allegations, the text messages and other evidence that I know that you just like you have as well --


BASH: -- reported in the past.

ISAAC ARNSDORF, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Well, not only this allegation being exceptionally well documented in --

BASH: Which is -- can you explain what the allegation is?

ARNSDORF: That it was a campaign staffer for the Walker Senate campaign in 2022, who said that when he was assigned to drive Matt Schlapp to a campaign event, they went out drinking that night, and that Matt Schlapp groped him against without his consent, which is something that Schlapp denies. But that was corroborated by text messages between them at the time. And the staffers accounts to a handful of people on that day, all of whom confirmed it.

Not only that we found out in the course of litigation, if this case had gone to trial, there were depositions taken of previous accusations that the CPAC board and officers were aware of that were reported to them. Two previous instances where Schlapp allegedly made unwanted sexual advantages -- unwanted sexual advances.

BASH: Jamie?

GANGEL: So one of the important things that Isaac is raised is the contemporaneous witnesses. There were already a lot of depositions taken in this case. And there were some upcoming depositions that I am told, could have been very damaging and embarrassing for Matt Schlapp.

One of the things Carlton Huffman, who was making the allegations, he reported this in real time, to the campaign manager for Herschel Walker, who we interviewed at the time of the allegations spoke to him again, recently, they thought the allegations were credible. They also pointed out that Matt Schlapp, who they knew, never called them and push back on any of it.

BASH: I mean, extraordinary reporting, and that is a lot of money.

I want to make a turn staying with Republican politics, to a story that you have today. And I'm just going to get your views on it. And that is the very intense push by Republicans to try to catch up with the notion of their voters getting out to organize for early and mail voting.

They're trying to do that despite pushback from, once again, the guy at the top of the ticket, or will be Donald Trump. I'm going to read from his piece in -- Isaac's piece. "Republican officials privately say whether Republican voters adapt to early in-person and male voting could swing the 2024 election in closely contested states. But those efforts are main intention with the fraud claims that animate Trump and the grass-roots movement."

It's not just, if I may, the tension and fraud claims that are coming from within. It's what Donald Trump is still saying on the stump. Let's listen to that.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Mail-in voting is totally corrupt. Get that through your head. It has to be. The votes-- I mean, it has to be.

If you have mail-in voting, you automatically have fraud. If you have --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, well, there's mail-in voting in Florida and you want new.

TRUMP: That's right. If you have it, you're going to have Florida.


TRUMP: It used to be one day, now it's 40 days and 45 days and 48 days.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the mass mail-out ballots, yeah.

TRUMP: The ballots are a disaster mess. Anytime you have mail-in ballots -- anytime you have mail-out or mail-in the column different names. Anytime the mail is involved, you're going to have cheating.


BASH: How are Republican voters going to square that circle?

RAMESH PONNURU, EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: Well, I think they're going to listen to Donald Trump. That has been historically what they've been doing since he became the leader of the Republican Party. The saboteur of the Trump campaigns get out the vote efforts is the candidate, Donald Trump himself, because if he gives up on the idea that mail-in balloting is inherently fraudulent, it's something you can't police or take care of, that means he has to give up the central point that he makes about the 2020 campaign, that it was stolen from him because of this.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: And his entire campaign, his entire -- since he launched, it has been about the fact that 2020 was stolen, that false claim. You know, mail-in voting has been so key prior to Donald Trump to successful Republicans. I mean, not just in states like Florida, states like Arizona, Utah, you name it.

And it's something that I've talked to, you know, Republican strategist and some of those swing states like Arizona who are just frustrated because they feel as though, you know, they wouldn't be able to get more voters to come out and vote if the leader of their party weren't attacking this very democratic mechanism for voters to cast their ballot.

BASH: Which is the crux of your piece?


ARNSDORF: Right, exactly. The party line, meaning, the RNC is that we can believe two things at the same time. We can believe that we don't like mail-in ballots. And when we get back in power, we're going to take them away because we don't trust them.

But until we get there, and as long as we have that system, we have to play by those rules. They think that -- they say that Republicans can believe both things at the same time. When you talk to voters, I don't know that they do. And you talk to Republican canvassers who are going door to door asking Republicans to mail in their ballots and saying, I don't trust the mail in.

GANGEL: This is the chaos and the ego of Donald Trump here. A GOP source said to me, I read your piece this morning and I call the strategist and he said earth one to Donald Trump, reality check. Those votes can help when.

BASH: it's pretty good. All right, thank you so much to all of you.

Up next, we have new video into CNN of the final moments before that catastrophic cargo ship crash into Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge. And later, Senator Susan Collins remembers the late Senator Joe Lieberman as a true moderate who worked fairly across the political aisle.



BASH: New this afternoon, the White House says a heavy lift crane vessel will arrive at the Port of Baltimore later today as part of the bridge collapse search and recovery process there. CNN's Gabe Cohen is in Baltimore as he has been for the last few days. Gabe, tell us what the latest is right now. GABE COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, this is a significant development in the salvage operation with those four construction workers still missing. Officials have said it's just not safe for divers to go back down into the water given all of the wreckage and debris down there.

And so this heavy lift crane vessel is really the first piece of major equipment that we're expecting to arrive later today and in the coming days. And it could take several days for them to clear all of that wreckage out after that. Officials say divers are going back down into the water. They want to recover those four remaining men and offer closure to their families.

But, look, Dana, another obstacle in this could be the hazardous material that's been discovered around the ship. More than 50 containers, more than 700 tons of flammables, corrosives, lithium batteries. Officials have said it's just not safe around the bow of the ship right now where that bridge actually came down. So they're still working on clearing that.

And investigators as well are having a very busy day talking to those pilots again of the ship still trying to piece together what caused this power outage, this total blackout that led to the pilot losing all power, all ability to steer the vessel and ultimately led to the crash into the bridge and the collapse, Dana.

BASH: Gabe, thank you so much for that reporting. We appreciate it.

And up next, Senator Susan Collins remembers her dear friend, former Senator Joe Lieberman, whom she called one of the best human beings.



BASH: As fine an American as they come. That's how former President George W. Bush is remembering Joe Lieberman, a man who defeated as Al Gore's running mate in the 2000 election. In fact, Lieberman was only 537 votes away from becoming the first Jewish vice president, making history as the first Jewish-American on the ticket of a major party is just one way the world is remembering.

The former senator passed away yesterday at the age of 82 after suffering complications from a fall. He became well known during his near quarter century in the Senate on many issues, including national security. He spearheaded the idea of a new Department of Homeland Security for better government communication after the 9/11 terror attacks.

His hawkish views earned him a Democratic primary challenge in 2006, which he lost, but then won reelection as an independent. Lieberman was an observant Jew. He didn't work on the Sabbath. In the rare case that he had to, he walked miles to get to the Capitol. He walked the walk every day in every way, a mensch (ph) with a wicked sense of humor. Joining me now, Republican senator from Maine, Susan Collins, who was a close friend of Senator Joe Lieberman. Thank you so much for being here. I am so sorry for your loss. And, of course, the country in the world is mourning the senator.

Just yesterday, you were at a town hall in your home state of Maine, you were speaking to students, you were asked to name your favorite person you've ever worked with. I want to play for our viewers your answer.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I have been fortunate to work with an awful lot of people that I really liked. But if I had to pick one person, it would be former Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. He was a Democrat, is now an independent. And we came from different states, Connecticut and Maine. We had -- we're different parties, but we work together as a team.


BASH: What made Joe Lieberman so great to work with?

COLLINS: Joe was very principled, but he was also very pragmatic. He wanted to get legislation across the finish line. He was devoted to his country. He was -- and I've worked with him, particularly in the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11/01. We were both leaders of the Homeland Security Committee, and we passed several bills to strengthen our nation.

In every case, we work together as a team. He was a terrific senator, and most of all, he was such a dear friend.


BASH: You were, of course, very close to not only him but to John McCain and Lindsey Graham. They were known. They call themselves the three amigos. I remember them calling you an amiga. You traveled a lot with them around the world. In those trips, I know you get to know each other very well. What, about those trips abroad, do you remember specifically about Joe Lieberman?

COLLINS: I've learned so much about Joe on those trips. He had a wonderful sense of humor, and enormous understanding, a knowledge of history that was really unsurpassed. He was a great counter to John McCain in a lot of ways, because Joe was always calm and reasonable and John would get pretty fired up at times.

And I remember we'd went to Afghanistan together right after Hamid Karzai, the leader, had been smuggled back into the country, and our meeting in a patched army tent with them. I learned so much from Joe.

One of the best stories that I can tell you is we once had this long discussion about guilt. And he, of course, was about Jew, I am like Catholic, and we finally agreed that, or in his words, that his people invented it, my people perfected it. That was typical, philosophical, and yet funny conversations that we would have.

BASH: Yes. That does very much sound like Senator Lieberman. I'm sure you know that John McCain seriously considered Joe Lieberman to be his running mate in 2008. I want you to listen to what Lieberman recounted to me. He recounted a conversation that the two of them had about it, starting with Lieberman's very raw and funny reaction.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D), CONNECTICUT: Are you serious? He said, I am. I said, you don't have to do that. I mean, I'm -- I don't know how you can do it, as a matter of fact.

BASH: You're not a Republican.

LIEBERMAN: I'm not a Republican. John was smart enough, smarter than I was, to realize that if he was going to have a chance to win, he had to do something different. And what would be more different than to have a genuinely bipartisan ticket.

And, you know, he clung to it a long time, even after people in the party were telling him that there would be a walkout of like a third of the Republican delegates.


BASH: That was back in 2018. I wonder if you can reflect on what might have been.

COLLINS: Boy, that would have been a wonderful team for our country, to have -- to end Joe Lieberman as vice president. It's hard for me to think of a team of more patriotic Americans who would work together to achieve consensus and get a great deal done.

So I think America really missed an opportunity there. They were dear friends of mine, and with one another. And you could see by that exchange, that Joe was concerned about what the impact would be on John, rather than the fact that this was another great opportunity for him.

BASH: Yes, given the fact that he was already a running mate on the Democratic ticket, and he did tell me that he was actually vetted for McCain's second -- to be second on the ticket. I also want you to listen to -- you mentioned Senator Lieberman's humor, another one of his good friends, former Ambassador Mark Wallace said the following in his statement.

"Whenever I had the privilege of introducing him, I'd always conclude with an inside joke between us calling him the national treasure, Senator Joseph Lieberman. He'd humorously respond, Mark, you got to save that for my funeral. Assuredly, today, he would quip to me, Mark, couldn't you have waited a little longer to use that, like 10 years? It's all in an effort to bring a smile and laughter to the most difficult moment." Senator?

COLLINS: It is a really difficult moment. I personally am having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that he's gone in that we've exchanged the emails just last week. Joe was great about keeping in touch even after he left the Senate, and he was someone whose advice I always treasured.


He worked very hard for the centrist group, No Labels. And he was very concerned about the direction the country was headed in because we were so polarized, we are so divided. And that was the antithesis of Joe Lieberman. He was a person who -- and that's why he was such a productive and successful senator.

He knew how to work with people on both sides of the aisle of different theologies. And he just wanted to get the job done and serve his country.

BASH: Well, as we say, may his memory be a blessing. Thank you so much for coming on, Senator, and contributing to the world knowing much more about the person, the public servant, and the mensch that we both knew.

Senator, thank you.

COLLINS: Thank you.

BASH: And thank you for joining INSIDE POLITICS. "CNN NEWS CENTRAL" starts after a break.