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Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees
Special Counsel Wants Trump Election Subversion Case To Begin On January 2, 2024; Maui Officials: Wildfires Death Toll Rises To At Least 53; Maui Officials: At Least 53 Killed In "Catastrophic" Wildfires; DeSantis Suspends Democratically-Elected Florida State Attorney Amid Flagging Presidential Campaign; Trump Says He "Wouldn't Sign" Debate Pledge; ProPublica: Justice Clarence Thomas Took Dozens Of Luxury Trips Bankrolled By Wealthy Friends; 5 Americans Detained In Iran Released On House Arrest. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired August 10, 2023 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: But the Americans have been imprisoned for years and declared wrongfully detained by the State Department. A source familiar with the negotiations tell CNN the move is an encouraging step, but is obviously not a done deal.
It is notable that the negotiations here are being conducted primarily through intermediaries -- Qatar, Oman and Switzerland among them -- because the United States does not have diplomatic relations with Iran.
Thanks so much for joining us. Anderson starts now.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST: Tonight on 360: Trying times, fast and slow today with Jack Smith pitching an aggressively quick election interference trial, and we get more evidence of defense foot dragging in the Mar-a-Lago documents case.
Also tonight, we are on the scene of the enormous destruction in Maui where some of the wildfires are thankfully being contained, but the proportions of this tragedy including now dozens of lives lost, it just keeps growing.
Later, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis adds a new adversary to the Disney, school librarians, and the woke, this time local prosecutors. He is firing them, only he never hired them, the voters did. We will speak to the latest elected official to get the ax.
Good evening, John Berman here in for Anderson.
And Special Counsel Jack Smith trying for swift justice in what could become the most significant criminal trial ever in this country. If not unprecedented in its speed, then pretty nearly so.
The defense in one way or another in this federal case and the other today saying, not so fast. Today, the special counsel's team asked for a January 2nd trial date in the election subversion case, which it said could take as little as four weeks.
The former president who is expected to challenge that took the first step tonight on his social network quoting now, but leaving out some of the personal attacks on Smith and President Biden: "Only an out of touch lunatic would ask for such a date one day into the New Year, and maximum election interference with Iowa."
Now whatever you make of that, in particular, the proposed date is yet another entry on what is already a very crowded calendar.
Take a look, surrounding that date are the Trump Organization civil fraud trial this October, the E. Jean Carroll defamation trial, January 15, that is the same day as the Iowa caucuses. Super Tuesday, March 5th is just 10 days before March 15th, Manhattan hush money trial. And the Mar-a-Lago documents trial is scheduled for May 20th.
Today, in that case, Trump co-defendants, Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira, they were in court. More on that and what appear to be delaying tactics there in a second, but first, CNN's Paula Reid on the special counsel's need, the need for speed.
Paula, what exactly is the government requesting? And how likely is the judge to grant the date?
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, they have this need for speed, they say to serve what they described as the public interest in having a speedy resolution to this case, but they're asking the judge to start this trial immediately after the New Year.
They say, the last four to six weeks, and these are, of course, the first two months of a presidential election year, and right at the start of when primary voting would start for Republicans, this would mean that candidate Trump would be spending most of his weekdays in a courtroom. So it's unclear if the judge is going to go for this schedule.
The special counsel also revealed a new detail today and that is the fact that at least some of the evidence in this case is classified, John, that could potentially complicate some of the pre-trial hearings here, but the special counsel insists, even with that classified material, they will still be ready to go in early January.
BERMAN: So has the former president and his team, have they responded yet?
REID: Well, as you noted in the intro, the former president has responded but officially, his legal team has another week to weigh in with legal arguments about when they think this case should go.
Now, if the Florida prosecution is any indication, we expect they will likely try to advocate for this trial to be pushed until after the 2024 election. Now, after they submit their suggestions to the judge, this will all be hashed out at a hearing in late August, on August 28th, the judge has said then she'll hear these arguments and decide on a trial date. BERMAN: And there is a hearing in this case tomorrow before Judge Chutkan, what is expected to happen there?
REID: That's right, John. The 28th hearing was supposed to be a big deal because that was going to be the first hearing before Judge Tanya Chutkan, the woman who will oversee this case, too, what is expected to be a trial.
But she's had to schedule a hearing tomorrow because the two sides cannot agree on the rules for handling sensitive evidence in this case.
So I'll be in the courtroom. We expect both sides will go before this judge and it's their first appearance before her in this case, and they will make arguments for how they think they should handle sensitive evidence.
The special counsel is advocating for broad protections, citing concerns that the former president may learn something. There has been evidence that has been gathered by prosecutors and share it, potentially impacting the investigation, but defense attorneys, they want something more limited.
They're arguing for something that's more similar to other January 6 cases, and John, it'll ultimately be up to the judge, her first test in this case.
BERMAN: You will be in the courtroom. We look forward to nearly real time updates. Paula Reid, thank you very much.
As we said a moment ago, the former president's co-defendants in the documents case, they were in court today. Well, once again, procedural matters appear to be slowing things down.
Randi Kaye is outside the courthouse and joins us now. So what did happen in court today -- Randi.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, Donald Trump waived his appearance to appear in court today, but he did enter a not guilty plea on the new charges in the superseding indictment through his attorney. His aide, Walt Nauta also was here in court and did enter a not guilty plea.
We were expecting the property manager for Mar-a-Lago, Carlos De Oliveira to be in court which he was and to enter a plea. You may recall last week he was in Miami with a Washington, DC based lawyer so he couldn't enter a plea because he needs a Florida lawyer to enter a plea here in the state of Florida.
He had a Florida lawyer in the courtroom with him, but apparently he hadn't finished up all the paperwork, hadn't officially signed on. So once again, Carlos De Oliveira's arraignment was postponed, and he will now appear back in court here on Tuesday, August 15th or he possibly could waive his appearance, but we did learn earlier this evening that his Florida lawyer did now officially sign on hours after that scheduled arraignment and he will now officially represent him here in the state, so we do expect that he will enter a plea.
But John, just you know, in terms of the charges that they are facing. Now, we're looking at false statements, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and concealing documents. And we've seen this play out before. It's just another day and another delay.
As you recall, Walt Nauta, the aid for his original arraignment, he first couldn't find a Florida lawyer, apparently that's very difficult here and then he had issues with his flight from New York. He was delayed, he was stuck on a plane. So we've seen this movie before -- John.
BERMAN: Does it look like these delays and the ones that may be coming next time there's a hearing could impact the actual start of the trial?
KAYE: It is possible. I mean, Jack Smith said that the superseding indictment and the new charges in them shouldn't impact the timeline for the trial, but it certainly looks possible given what we're seeing.
And now, we're seeing a new court filing from Walt Nauta and his team requesting that he be able to view classified documents in the Mar-a- Lago documents case. They say that he needs to do that in order to properly prepare for his defense, but prosecutors say that he just doesn't have the security clearance for something like that.
Also, they say that he was not part of the willful retention of the documents. He was part -- he is being charged with obstruction. So he should not be able to see those documents -- John.
BERMAN: And what is next in the process for these two men?
KAYE: Well, come August, the prosecutors have a deadline of Monday, August 14th in order to respond to this latest filing from Walt Nauta and his objection.
And then Judge Aileen Cannon has also set a hearing date for August 25th to deal with those matters if needed.
She also wants to make sure we're told that all of the pleas and all of the arrangements and all of those smaller matters are dealt with before the August 25th hearing if that does indeed take place.
And also John, I should point out that because of this, you know, this could potentially delay Donald Trump's trial, which is scheduled for May, as we said in this classified documents case. If all of these hearings continue, and all of these delays and filings continue, it could very well get pushed for May possibly even past the presidential election -- John.
BERMAN: And that may be part of the point. Randi Kaye, thank you very much. With us now, former Trump attorney Tim Parlatore, who currently represents another 2020 figure, Bernie Kerik; also with us, CNN senior legal analyst, Elie Honig, who has prosecuted his fair share of federal cases, and CNN political analyst, "New York Times" senior political correspondent and Trump biographer, Maggie Haberman.
Elie, I want to start with you.
The proposed trial date of January 2nd, realistic or is this like an opening bid?
ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's an opening bid. This is a remarkably aggressive opening big, I think sort of wishful thinking on the prosecution's part.
I mean, if they start this case in January, that would mean according to the prosecutor's request, jury selection would start in mid- December. That means Donald Trump's team would have four-and-a-half months or so to get ready for a trial that is close to unheard of in the federal system.
This is a broad conspiracy. This charges Donald Trump and at least six other co-conspirators involved, it covers seven states, over two to three months, and just to understand why it's such a short timeframe, think of what Donald Trump's legal team has to do in four-and-a-half months to make this happen?
They have to review all the discovery. There is going to be hundreds of thousands of pages in discovery. There's going to be hours and hours of surveillance video. They're going to have to prepare their own defense. They get to do their own investigation.
So Trump is entitled to some due process here. I think four-and-a-half months is really pushing it. But as you say, John, I do think that's an opening gambit.
BERMAN: And very quickly, there was the implication, it wasn't explicit, but the implication in this filing was that, look, it's important to do this quickly, because there is an important date looming.
HONIG: Yes, they are studiously avoiding saying because the election, but they are saying the first part, we have to do this quickly. It's inappropriate, I think, for prosecutors to even acknowledge the election, never mind to argue to a court you should schedule with the election in mind. That's mixing politics right into the case.
BERMAN: Okay. It wasn't explicit, I shouldn't say that, but it does seem to hang over.
The flip side of that, Mr. Parlatore, is Donald Trump complaining that January 2nd, a trial date would be very close to the Iowa caucuses. Why should that matter? Why should a nominating process matter to judicial proceeding?
TIM PARLATORE, ATTORNEY FOR BERNARD KERIK: Well, you know, you need to have a client who is available, who is able to assist in his own defense, so certainly looking at other scheduling concerns like that is something that should be taken into consideration.
But at the same time, I think that the strongest arguments that the defense should raise are exactly what Ellie just said, you know that this is way too fast. And, you know, really, one thing I noticed in their filing is that they avoided also saying how much discovery there is, because I think that if they put that volume in there, you'd see that it's probably even more discovery than they have in Florida. I mean, this is going to have everything from the January 6 Committee, you know, all of those -- you know, the documents, each witness has been subpoenaed, has submitted thousands of pages of documents. And we're talking probably over a million pages of documents, and they're expecting to get ready that quickly.
So I think that you know, for what is going to most impact the judge, leading with, you know, this is something that we cannot possibly be ready to go in that period of time and if you force us to pick a jury on that date, we will not be ready, and this is a gift-wrapped appeal. That's a stronger argument than to just rely upon, you know, the Iowa caucus state.
BERMAN: Yes, to put a finer point on that. Look, most people charged with crimes, they have jobs. Right now, Donald Trump's job is running for president, why should that inherently delay a trial, correct?
PARLATORE: Well, it is something that we bring up oftentimes is you know, what the different things are with, you know, the defendant's schedule, what the defense attorney's schedules are, other trials, vacations.
I mean, you push trials out, you know, a month even because, you know, somebody has a vacation schedule. I've seen trials pushed out, because, you know, the defense attorney has maternity leave scheduled, things like that.
So it is relevant to consider because ultimately, the speedy trial is the right of the defendant and so as long as he is willing to push it out, it should go.
BERMAN: Maggie, I know better, we've known each other a long time, I don't need to ask you, what's Donald Trump thinking? What is in his head?
So I'll ask you what he's doing about what he's doing, because we are seeing him lash out on his social media network, in campaign speeches. He's talking about the special counsel, he's talking about the judge. He's talking about the proposed trial date. He is talking about Mike Pence.
How much of this is a strategy? And what does he think he is getting out of this? HABERMAN: I don't think a strategy is ever a great thing to affix to how Donald Trump comports himself on social media or in a lot of his public remarks, but if there is a strategy, it is essentially to tarnish all the prosecutors who are involved, which is what we've seen him do over and over again. He's a man of very few moves, and he uses them repeatedly. He is very, very angry about these indictments. That's clear.
The main thing he's doing, John, and I don't think this gets stressed enough is putting aside all of the arguments against prosecutors, and he is airing an ad that's attacking the prosecutors as well, but he is trying to reinforce for everyone, I'm the frontrunner for the Republican nomination. I'm the frontrunner, I'm the frontrunner, don't even bother trying to compete against me.
Now, there is no question in polls, he is far and away running ahead of everybody else, but he is doing what he often does, which is try to make it such an inevitability that nobody should even try, and that is something of a shield against what you're seeing in the courts.
I mean, his appeal is to the public. We have seen him do this as a populist over and over and over again and his voters become his support and his shield.
BERMAN: Is this something that his lawyers have an opinion on?
HABERMAN: His lawyers would rather that he not speak as much as he does.
John Lauro, one of his lawyers who is handling the J6 case and he was brought on in the last couple of weeks, months, I should say. But John Lauro gave a podcast interview where he was very clear that he does not agree with some of what the former president is saying on social media. Among them, the former president was insisting we're going to file a motion asking for recusal of Judge Chutkan and Lauro made clear no, we actually have not made a decision on that at all.
He also repeatedly talks about how you can't control some clients. This is not something that any of them want and so they all work around it and we've seen that over and over, but Trump is going to find out or not, whether this is a problem for him, that's going to be up to judges.
BERMAN: You know what, it does occur to me, I have a guy who did work as Donald Trump's lawyer and we should ask him about what Maggie just said there.
BERMAN: Mr. Parlatore, what do you think about what Maggie just said there and how the lawyers view Trump's outbursts?
PARLATORE: You know, and without talking about him, specifically, representing a client like this is very complicated, especially when they also have a comms team and a campaign and a whole bunch of people that want to put out public statements.
It is something that is preferable for me to have, you know, just me the client, and I tell the client, you know, shut up, I'll do all the speaking for you. But when they're running for president and a former president, it gets complicated.
BERMAN: Complicated, a loaded word.
Elie, the delay that we saw from Randi Kaye, we were on TV as it happened here. Every time something like this, how much of advantage is this for the Trump team?
HONIG: My mind was boggled today by that because I understand if it's a day or two out from the indictment, you haven't got your legal team in place. We're two weeks out from this indictment. How does this lawyer show up in court without even having filled in the paperwork? It leads you to believe it has to be part of a strategy, but it all matters.
You know, Al Pacino, right, football is a game of inches, "Any Given Sunday."
BERMAN: "Any Given Sunday."
HONIG: I mean, the same goes for trial, especially when you're so close to an election. Every day, every week, you can push it back, it gives you a better chance to push this out beyond the trial.
BERMAN: Is that on the judge to try to not let them get away with this?
HONIG: Yes, judges have to control -- the courtrooms judges have to control their calendars, and soon, I think we'll see these judges running out of patience.
BERMAN: Elie Honig, Maggie Haberman, Tim Parlatore, thank you all for being with us this evening.
Next, we have breaking news from the fires on Maui where the deaths toll grew sharply today and the destruction in places is just total. We have a live report from the island.
And later, can a state governor fire elected officials? Ron DeSantis, he is doing it, and he says it passes muster under Florida's Constitution. We're going to speak with the prosecutor he fired most recently who disagrees with this.
BERMAN: Breaking news tonight on the wildfires in Maui. Island authorities have just raised the death toll to 53.
And while touring the devastated city of Lahaina, Hawaii Governor Josh Green told CNN's Wolf Blitzer, he expects it to exceed the 61 people killed in the state's deadliest natural disaster, that was a tsunami in 1960.
Our Bill Weir just arrived in Maui and is among the first reporters to make it into Lahaina. He is trying to set up a live shot. Communications are really tough, but we have bill on the phone right now, while we have you, Bill, walk us through what you're seeing.
BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Well, John, I came here bracing for the worst. We had seen those helicopter aerials in the last couple of days and heard some tales of folks who have gotten out of here, but it's worse than I had imagined.
It looks like a bomb went off in Lahaina town. All the iconic buildings are either flattened or just, you know, scorched skeletons of their former selves from Fleetwood's, popular spot, Mick Fleetwood, the drummer of Fleetwood Mac, his place is gone, the library, the school, it is just everywhere, I'm just doing a 180 pan of one street.
Anybody who's been here to this tourist mecca, it is one of the most charming little places in the world, and it is just a gorgeous setting. But I'm hearing from people that the flames came so fast, entire structures went up in a matter of minutes, and boat captains who are in the harbor would say, oh, it looks like that house survived and there might be a little bit of brush fire next to it, and it would be gone five minutes later.
Right now, I'm walking over towards this giant banyan tree. It's sort of the signature heart and soul of this town, 150 years old, it's scorched everywhere, there's still leaves on it. So if this thing survives, it would be such a sort of a boost amid so much utter destruction.
It reminds me of Paradise, California, John, the deadliest wildfire in similar circumstances in which the blaze came so fast, and people were trapped in a mountain town with only a few ways out. Same here, they got trapped between this mountain of fire and the Pacific Ocean, while winds were hitting 80 miles an hour. So even if they could get to the harbor to get on their boat to try to get away, it is just a hopeless situation.
BERMAN: I spoke to the Coast Guard today who told us that they had a hundred reports of people jumping into the water because the water was the only place they could go for safety.
Bill, the scale, I think is hard for some of us to perceive. So as you look around and you know, doing your 180 or 360s here, I mean, how far does this go? How much of this part of the island has been burned?
WEIR: So this is a town of, I guess, roughly 9,000 people that swells to many times that when the tourists are here. It's right up -- it winds along the coast, so it is contained.
There are hills -- there are houses up on the hillside that I can see might have escaped, and we came in from the south where some homes had survived. But anything in the town center here is just completely devastated. I mean, just -- you can see -- this reminds me of paradise. You walk by a car, and there are these aluminum sculptures from the melted rims of cars. The fire was so hot it burned everything all the way to the ground.
Here, oh my goodness. I'm just making it to the Front Street now and there are signs of life, a few cleanup crews, a few search and rescue folks sort of walking through. But just lifeless, smoky and city devastation where Lahaina town used to be.
BERMAN: You said you see a few people there picking up. Can you get a sense of the recovery efforts, if any, that are happening?
WEIR: Not really. I mean, there are helicopters flying, I know the National Guard has an effort here, but not really. It is pretty lifeless as of right now. But it's early to tell.
I just met a gentleman here, Captain Bill, a 35-year resident who just said I became homeless on Tuesday night. His house burned, he took shelter in sort of an alcove out of a mall here and has been living there ever since and it's just sort of you can see, he is going through the five stages of wrestling with this.
It's unthinkable. And these are folks who are very used to hurricane warnings, tsunami warnings, on the Big Island when the volcanoes are going, you know how to work around lava. No one could ever have imagined that one of the deadliest wildfires would happen in the middle of the South Pacific like this.
BERMAN: Bill Weir, we are going to give you a chance, you and your team to try to get your video signal up. Let us know if we can connect. It's important to have you there. We appreciate the work you're doing. Hopefully, we'll talk to you again very soon.
BERMAN: All right, CNN's Veronica Miracle is also on the island and joins us now, and from where you are, Veronica, what is the latest as far as people being able to get back to Lahaina?
VERONICA MIRACLE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we are standing on the road, the one road in and out of Lahaina and it remains closed. People can come out, they just cannot go back in.
And earlier today there was a line of cars for miles, but police have now asked people not to wait here, not to stay and they actually brought in a tow truck threatening people that they will tow them if they continue to remain on this side of the highway. So all of those people have scattered down the road, but they're still waiting, hoping that the moment this road opens up, they can go in and see their house, their community or what's left of it.
We heard from Bill, just the absolute devastation as well as the governor of Hawaii today saying that he estimates about 80 percent of Lahaina has been decimated -- John. BERMAN: All right, Veronica Miracle, again, watching people get out, people can't get in. Keep us posted, Veronica, thank you.
And just put a number on the enormous physical damage these fires have caused in addition to the horrifying loss of life, Hawaii's governor doe say as many 1,700 buildings had been destroyed, including the shop that Tiffany Winn owns in Lahaina.
Tiffany, your store, the Whalers Locker was on Front Street in Lahaina, and the video you took is just horrifying.
What did you find when you got back to the store yesterday by boat?
TIFFANY WINN, OWNER, WHALERS LOCKER: Nothing, just total destruction. It really looked like a warzone.
BERMAN: It looked like a warzone. Nothing remaining?
WINN: Nothing remaining. Everything is burnt to the ground. The business is -- that's a shot of it right there. There's cars burned up in the roadway. Just shells of buildings remaining, car frames.
And you know, I was speaking about earlier with somebody that when you watch the news, you see short clips of destruction and they always focus in on that one clip that's really bad, but there aren't any good clips in Lahaina right now. Everything is that bad. It's not just what you're seeing on the news right now.
BERMAN: Can you describe for our audience the historical significance of Front Street and Lahaina to Hawaii and why it's so important to rebuild?
WINN: Yes, absolutely. Lahaina has such an amazing history, all the way back through the Hawaiian Kingdom and being the capital, through whaling days of being a big whaling port. A lot of ships came here for shore leave, not for whaling, but they always knew they could get their crew back if they came to Maui, because nobody could go anywhere.
So we had 700 whaling ships come through on our busiest year during that time. Since then, it's just become an amazing place and a National Historic District, a registered Historic District.
So, there's been fires on Front Street before, a long time ago, and it's been rebuilt. This is so devastating. But I do think that Lahaina, in all of Hawaii has a really special place in everybody's hearts.
BERMAN: The people I've spoken with from Lahaina the last 24 hours, first of all, they're overwhelmed with the scope of the destruction. Second, I think there's a sense of frustration that maybe the rest of the world doesn't truly understand what happened there. So what does everyone need to know?
WINN: I think like, I said before, what you see in the cameras is the entire town like what you see in the footage of the fires is everything. Right now, they say 36 casualties. I would imagine from what I've seen, there's going to be quite a few more because it happened so quickly.
So many families lost all their homes and all of their belongings and so many loved ones and are just in total shock right now. It's all of Lahaina from the minute you drive in until you get almost to kind Kaanapali, which is a huge swath of homes and businesses and local families.
BERMAN: What do you need most on the island right now?
WINN: I would say, mostly what people need is shelter. So many people lost their homes. Shelter for them, shelter for their pets. Clothing, you know, food, fuel -- things like, that have been really cut off.
A lot of people have been making efforts to get supplies up to Lahaina. There's no cell service yet. So it's really limited on communication so far, unless you're with a first responder, but you know, and lots of support.
BERMAN: Look, I think we all look forward to a time where we can visit you and your store when Lahaina is fully back. And I know with your heart and your spirit it's going to get there. We are thinking about you.
Thanks so much for being with us tonight.
WINN: Thank you. I appreciate you taking the time to really get a look of what's going on in Lahaina right now.
BERMAN: One final and terribly important note how to help. You can find out all the information in one place at cnn.com/impact. Again, that is cnn.com/impact.
Just ahead, Governor Ron DeSantis overturns the will of the people a second time and turns it into a line in his stump speech. We will speak with Monique Worrell, the second Democratic State attorney he has removed. That's next.
BERMAN: So a day after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis fired his second Democratic and democratically elected Florida prosecutor, the struggling presidential candidate used that act as an applause line during a stump speech in Iowa.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We had a prosecutor in Orlando. She wouldn't prosecute cases. She's putting people out back on the street. And this one guy shot two police officers because he should have been in jail, and he's out there. So I removed her from her post. I'm not going to just sit there and take that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: DeSantis fired state Attorney Monique Worrell Wednesday, saying in an executive order that the Orlando area prosecutor did not pursue mandatory sentences for gun crimes and drug trafficking. He also said she was, quote, derelict in prosecuting serious crimes by juvenile offenders.
In his order, he said that showed, quote, "neglect of duty and incompetence". Now, Florida's constitution allows governors to remove elected officials for a number of reasons, but no previous Florida executive has interpreted that power nearly as broadly.
Last year, DeSantis removed another Democratic state attorney who had promised to not prosecute those who seek or perform abortions, as well as those who provide gender affirming treatments, a clear challenge to DeSantis and laws that he has backed.
Now, Monique Worrell joins me tonight to respond to the governor's accusations. Ms. Worrell, thanks so much for being with us tonight. Just to be clear, you won, what, like, 66 percent of the vote in 2020? So what's your reaction to all of this?
MONIQUE WORRELL, FLORIDA STATE ATTORNEY SUSPENDED BY GOV. DESANTIS: Yes, that's correct. I won by an overwhelming margin, and my reaction is that we are losing our democracy right by right, vote by vote, and no one is coming to save us.
BERMAN: In his announcement yesterday, Governor DeSantis accused you of being lax on crime and declining to prosecute certain charges. And he cited three cases, two of which involved suspects with prior records who went on to commit violent crimes. Do you stand by all your past prosecutions from your office?
WORRELL: I absolutely do. The governor and local law enforcement have been really good about pushing false narratives about my role in the system. But it's really important to be clear. The criminal legal system is a collaborative system. It doesn't only rest on the shoulders of the state attorney.
There is a judiciary, there is law enforcement, there's a defense bar, and these are the components of the criminal legal system. Any decisions that have been made by attorneys in my office have been ratified by the judiciary. However, no one's talking about decisions made by the judiciary. Furthermore, crime is down in central Florida, so obviously there haven't been decisions that I have made that have impacted an increase in crime in any way.
BERMAN: The Florida state constitution does allow a governor in that state to remove an elected official for, quote, "malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, habitual, drunkenness, incompetence, or permanent ability to perform official duties".
WORRELL: This has been used previously for people who were ill, who were hurt, who were addicted, who were arrested and convicted. That's what this has been used for before. This governor is weaponizing the constitution in a way that it has never before been used. And it certainly wasn't intended for the governor to use this overreach to subvert the will of the voters.
BERMAN: So why is he doing it? You know, he did it once last year as well.
WORRELL: Well, he's done it before, you know, with two prosecutors now, but he's done it with school board officials. He's done it with other elected officials. And the common theme here is that these elected officials are in Democratic counties. The common theme here is that he is a weak authoritarian and that he is using his power to retaliate against areas in this state that did not support him in the election.
We've seen it with what he's doing with Disney, and we're seeing it with where he goes and chooses to suspend or remove duly elected officials. And this is the worst attack on democracy that this country has seen, and something's got to be done to stop it.
BERMAN: Do you think he would be doing it if he were not having some troubles on the campaign trail for president?
WORRELL: Well, there is no question about it. This has been used as an alley-oop for his failing presidential campaign. This is something to get him back into the headlines and give him, you know fodder for maybe taking over, you know, some of Trump's voters in the face of his indictment.
However, it's not working. The more outrageous he becomes, the lower he falls in the presidential polls, and it's really pretty sad and pathetic.
BERMAN: What is next for you? Do you think there's any possibility that the state Senate reinstates you?
WORRELL: So my legal team is currently reviewing my legal options, and they'll make a determination and advise me on what our next steps are in that regard. But I have filed for reelection, and I plan to continue to run and re-win my seat by the will of the voters, the way democracy works in this country, and be the duly elected state attorney once again.
BERMAN: Monique Worrell, we appreciate your time tonight. Thank you so much for being with us.
WORRELL: Thank you so much. And for anyone who wants to support me, you can find out more at moniqueforstateattorney.com. Thank you for having me.
BERMAN: And just ahead, the one pledge Trump can't break because he now says he won't sign it. We're talking about the loyalty pledge all the candidates are being asked to sign, saying they would support any eventual nominee. Former Republican South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford joins us to discuss the latest drama over the former president and the upcoming Republican presidential debate. That's next.
BERMAN: The former president is keeping Republican Party officials and candidates in suspense over whether he will participate in the party's first presidential debate. That's 13 days from now. One major hang up is he won't sign the RNC pledge.
Party officials say that anyone who meets the qualifications to participate in the debate, they must sign a pledge that says, among other things, that they will support the eventual nominee and not run as a third party candidate.
Ron DeSantis and Nikki Haley have signed it. A source says, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, they have signed it as well and that more are expected to sign this week. But not the former president, who said in an interview that aired last night, he won't.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wouldn't sign the pledge. Why would I sign a pledge of people on there that I wouldn't have? I wouldn't have certain people as, you know, somebody that I'd endorse. So they want you to sign a pledge, but I can name three or four people that I wouldn't support for president. So right there, there's a problem, OK?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: I'm joined now by former Republican South Carolina Governor and Congressman Mark Sanford. Nice to see you tonight, governor.
MARK SANFORD (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE, SOUTH CAROLINA: Pleasure.
BERMAN: So, look, what is the statement from the former president, the fact that he refuses to sign this pledge? What does it actually say about the power balance between Donald Trump and the RNC?
SANFORD: It says absolutely nothing. It says the RNC has a document that they're going to try and get a bunch of folks to sign, and at the end he's not going to sign it. So, I mean, it says he's the giant horse in this particular parade. He's going to do what he wants to do.
But that's no surprise because Donald Trump does exactly what he wants to do, and it's always about him. It's not about party idea or party ideals.
BERMAN: Does the Republican Party, the structure of the party, have any power over him, right now?
SANFORD: None. None. BERMAN: None at all. So, listen, we said that many candidates have said they're going to sign. Former Governor Chris Christie has yet to sign it, though, he says he's going to do whatever it takes to get on the stage. And this is what he had to say to Anderson the other night on this. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'll take it every bit as seriously as Donald Trump took it in 2016. We all signed the pledge in 2016 also, you may recall. And at the next debate, after we all signed the pledge, one of the questioners said, you know, you all signed this pledge, would you reaffirm it tonight by raising your hand? And nine of us raised our hands, including me, and Donald Trump didn't.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: So does Christie have a point there, that the pledge in and of itself is basically meaningless?
SANFORD: Yes. I mean, he does. I think that this sort of highlights, in essence, two things. I mean, one, just how -- I mean, this is part of the pure genius of Donald Trump. I mean, they're fake documents. I mean, I've been to -- don't know how many unity dinners over the years where after the election, everybody says the most horrible things about one another, and then the day after, they're supposedly blood brothers, we're going to advance together.
So it says, you know, his fans will say, you know, this is what I love about Donald Trump. He's telling the truth rather than being one of these fake politicians that loves the guy the day after, when, in fact, he really doesn't love that other him or her as a candidate. I think it says that. So it resonates with his base as being a, quote, "truthful politician".
And the other thing it says is, again, how sort of worthless these documents are. I mean, the fact is, Christie is saying, I'm going to sign it, but then I'll ignore it after I sign it. I mean, they have little value.
BERMAN: It's almost the Republican National Committee saying, you have to do this or it hurt you, and Donald Trump's saying, no, it won't, it's going to help me.
SANFORD: It will help him because it's yet another excuse for him not to go to the debate roughly in two weeks, which he didn't want to go to anyway. I mean, his ego may pull him there at the end of the day, but all of his advisers would be saying, don't go. There's only downside in this thing. Don't go.
BERMAN: So, you were South Carolina governor. Before that, you served in the House for a brief time with then Member of Congress from California, Kevin McCarthy, who's now the House Speaker. I want you to listen to what he said after Trump was indicted the most recent time, and he sort of created a false comparison to what Trump is going through to what Al Gore and Hillary Clinton did. Listen. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: And I could say the same thing that Hillary Clinton says about her election that she lost. I can say the same thing about the DNC who said it about the 2016 race. I can say the same thing about those in the Democratic Party, from the leadership on down, about George Bush not winning, that Al Gore did.
But were any of them prosecuted? Were any of them put in jail? Were any of them held with no response to be able to get out? The answer is no. You shouldn't be prosecuted for your thoughts. And the difference here is, when Hillary Clinton said it, nothing happened to her. When they said it in Georgia's election, nothing happened to them either.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BERMAN: Al Gore and Hillary Clinton both conceded there. But why do you think Kevin McCarthy is talking like this?
SANFORD: Because he wants to stay relevant in politics. I mean, that is the theater of politics. You saw the, quote, elevated or, you know, supposed elevated emotion that he just showed. Pure theater. I mean, that's an absurd argument.
At the end of the day, to your point, they both conceded those elections. And to compare that somehow with folks storming the Capitol, breaking into a building where I work for 12 years of my life, is an absurd comparison.
But it shows the danger of Donald Trump in my mind, because what it says is somebody as highly elected as Kevin McCarthy will twist himself in knots to stay relevant with the Trump base. And to me, that's frightening for the way that it undermines the very tenets of open and free elections.
BERMAN: Former Governor Mark Sanford, nice to see you in person. Thanks for coming in tonight.
SANFORD: Yes, sir.
BERMAN: New reporting on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, his luxurious lifestyle and who was funding it. What ProPublica says it uncovered, that's ahead.
BERMAN: So a stunning new report from ProPublica reveals new details in the lavish lifestyle of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas over the last three decades, all bankrolled by wealthy friends and more extensive than previously known, and most of it never disclosed by Justice Thomas.
Details now from CNN's Tom Foreman.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The most complete accounting yet of the highlife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas shows much, much more than previously known. More private jets, more fancy vacations, more sporting events, all gifts from mega rich businessmen and documented through public and private records, plus interviews by ProPublica.
BRETT MURPHY, REPORTER, PROPUBLICA: Justice Thomas has been living a life of extreme luxury for 30 years, underwritten by at least four different ultra-wealthy benefactors.
FOREMAN (voice-over): Earlier reports have revealed lavish gifts to Thomas, including a house for his mother and this nine-day vacation in Indonesia from conservative billionaire Harlan Crow.
JUSTICE CLARENCE THOMAS, SUPREME COURT: I've come from regular stock.
FOREMAN (voice-over): Waltzo (ph) underwrote a film about Thomas's humble taste.
THOMAS: I prefer the RV parks.
FOREMAN (voice-over): Now, the list of benefactors includes three more names, according to ProPublica, David Sokol, Wayne Huizenga, and Tony Novelly. The report says the four moguls collectively treated Thomas to 38 destination vacations, including a previously unreported voyage on a yacht around the Bahamas.
26 private jet flights, plus an additional eight by helicopter, a dozen VIP passes to professional and college sporting events, two stays at luxury resorts in Florida and Jamaica, and one standing invitation to an Uber-exclusive golf club.
The dollar value likely in the millions, little of which appeared in required financial disclosures, according to ProPublica. Thomas has previously said he didn't feel the need to disclose some gifts, and that worries Jeremy Fogel, an expert on judicial ethics and a former judge.
JEREMY FOGEL, BERKELEY JUDICIAL INSTITUTE: I simply couldn't have done this. And even if the people involved didn't have interest before the court, it's just the idea that you are receiving gifts of this magnitude.
FOREMAN (voice-over): Associate justices make about $285,000 a year. In 2001, when they made about $100,000 less, Thomas spoke up.
THOMAS: The job is not worth doing for what they pay. It's not worth doing for the grief, but it is worth doing for the principal.
FOREMAN (voice-over): Now he bristles at questions about his principles. He calls Crow merely a friend. Crow says they never talk about Thomas's work. And the new report found none of these wealthy pals seem to have had cases before the Court. Still --
MURPHY: Each one of these new benefactors, just like Harlan Crow, came into his life after he was appointed to the Supreme Court. That's why it's so problematic from an ethic standpoint.
FOREMAN: There is no evidence that these rich friends broke any rules or laws with these extravagant gifts. Nor is there any proof that technically Clarence Thomas did anything wrong by accepting. So some defenders are calling this a smear job.
Nonetheless, earlier revelations spurred an outcry for more strict, transparent rules about what Supreme Court justices can accept. And this will only increase that drumbeat. John?
BERMAN: Tom Foreman, thank you very much.
Next, the encouraging step made by Iran today that may lead to freedom for five Americans.
BERMAN: Tonight, the White House confirms that five Americans held by Iran are a key step closer to freedom. Four were moved out of an Iranian prison today joining the fifth already under house arrest. Three have been held for years. The White House calls the ongoing negotiations for their release delicate and says they never should have been detained in the first place.
Now, this is just the first step and would include the U.S. unfreezing $6 billion in Iranian funds for food and medicine. A source says a prisoner swap is also expected.
The news continues. So "THE SOURCE" with Kaitlan Collins starts now.