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The Lead with Jake Tapper
Federal Indictment Of Donald Trump And An Aide Unsealed In Classified Documents Probe; Indictment: Trump Stored Info Including U.S. Defense Weapons & Nuke Programs, Foreign Countries' Defense; GOP Allies Defend Trump, Slam DOJ Indictment. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired June 09, 2023 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: This afternoon, special counsel Jack Smith made his first ever remarks on the Trump indictment, plainly stating that no one, not even a former president, is above the law.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACK SMITH, SPECIAL COUNCIL: Our nation's commitment to the rule of law sets an example for the world. We have one set of laws in this country, and they apply to everyone.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Special Counsel Smith also making the point today that violations of U.S. laws when it comes to classified documents put the nation at risk. Prosecutors claim that Trump can't feign ignorance, that he knew exactly what was at stake and that he was aware of the proper procedures for handling classified documents. The evidence, his own words, the federal indictment lists five specific public comments Trump made about this subject. And here they are.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In my administration, I'm going to enforce all laws concerning the protection of classified information. No one will be above the law.
We can't have someone in the Oval Office who doesn't understand the meaning of the word confidential or classified.
One of the first things we must do is to enforce all classification rules and to enforce all laws relating to the handling of classified information.
We also need the best protection of classified information.
Service members here in North Carolina have risked their lives to acquire classified intelligence to protect our country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: CNN's Evan Perez joins me now.
Evan, what stood out to you the most in this detailed indictment?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, one of the things that I think we should focus on is, you know, something that one of his former attorneys, Mr. Parlatore, said to you last, I think, in the last hour, where he raised the question of, you know, there were hundreds of documents that the former president is accused of taking. And really, we only list there, they list 31 documents in this indictment, and 31 counts relate to specific documents that the Justice Department is prepared to pierce the classification of. They're prepared to bring into court and risk the possibility that at least some of that information is going to have to be shared with this jury. And so, that's what I'm told, is what -- is why you see this focus on these 31 documents. They could very well have members of the CIA and other the Department of Defense, other agencies that own these documents, that produce some of these documents, these very sensitive secrets, have to testify to a jury to prove that what the president did was put national security at risk.
And so, what we know is that the former president is accused of storing these things in a very cavalier fashion, a very risky fashion. They say, in this document, they say at the bottom of page two that he was storing them in Mar-a-Lago into places including a bathroom, a shower, an office space, a bedroom, and a storage room. You see some of the photographs that they've shared in this indictment showing some of the ways that the former president was storing these documents.
We also know that the former president was willing to share these documents or at least expose some of the secrets contained in them. On page three they talk about something that, you know, Paula Reid on our team has been reporting on, which is this meeting, this extraordinary meeting where biographers for Mark Meadows are told about this attack plan for the U.S. government to attack Iran and he says, as president I should have declassified it. Now I can't, you know, but this is still a secret.
Again, indication according to prosecutors that the former president knew these were classified documents. He knew that he didn't have the power anymore as a former president to declassify these documents and yet he was here showing this to people inside this room at Bedminster, his private club. They also say that he was willing to share or expose some of these documents to a member of a political action committee. Again, showing the former president putting the nation's top secrets at risk.
Jake, one of the things that really stands out is the fact that the former president's own lawyer, who apparently memorialized some of his conversations with the former president, really has some very damning things that he recorded the former president saying, talking about how, you know, if you don't want anyone looking at his boxes, I'll read you just something from page 21 where he says specifically, in response to the fact that the lawyer is asking him how to respond to the subpoena to produce some of these documents, he says, "I don't want anyone, I don't want looking through my boxes. I really don't. I don't want you looking through my boxes." And then, later on he talks about out how -- what he want this for the lawyer essentially to lie, that there are no documents to return to the federal government. He says again on page 25, "He made a funny motion, as though, well, OK, why don't you take them with you to your hotel room, and if there's anything really bad in there, like you to pluck it out. And that was the motion he made. He didn't say that."
So, again, Evan Corcoran, who is his attorney, was the one who was forced to testify to the grand jury, Jake, and he was -- essentially these are the documents -- these are the president's own words, according to Evan Corcoran, who which are now being used in this case against the former president. Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Evan Perez, thanks so much.
Let's bring in CNN's Alayna Treene, who's near Trump's Bedminster golf club, where the former president is gathered with allies.
Alayna, before the indictment came down, Trump allies told you that they were feeling jacked up. They were really excited about what was about to happen. Now that the indictment is down and we're reading it and it's stunning, and frankly, it seems awful for the former president. Are they still jacked up?
ALAYNA TREENE, CNN REPORTER: Well, I should say, Jake, that that was what the Trump team was trying to portray at least.
TREENE: But, no. I am hearing from sources familiar with the mood inside Bedminster just nearby where we are now, that the mood has changed today after the unsealing of the indictment. And I'll just start to say, this morning, Donald Trump was playing golf at his Bedminster golf club, again, very nearby to here with a Florida congressman as his allies were shoring up support for him and ensuring that people were going to continue to defend him online.
And last night, like you mentioned, his team was feeling, you know, more focused on the political impact of this, thinking that he could get a political boost from this in the short term for his reelection campaign. But I will say, now that the indictment has been unsealed, a source that I spoke with said that the mood inside Bedminster had changed. They're now more focused on, you know, what could this mean for Donald Trump legally? And they do recognize that the legal implications of this could be a big concern.
And so, it's not the same vibe that we're hearing. I'll also add that last night, again, when they were getting a lot of the support hearing from Donald Trump's allies on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, they were feeling emboldened, but -- and they were eager to share that with reporters. But today, his very talkative team has gone noticeably quiet. And so, we're still looking to see what we'll hear from Trump. We're told he's not going to be making live remarks tonight. There was a question if he would do that from his golf club in New Jersey, but he is still expected to go to North Carolina and Georgia tomorrow for his already planned campaign stops, Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Alayna Treene in New Jersey, thanks so much. Good to see you.
Joining us now to discuss classified information, former Republican Congressman Will Hurd, who served as a former undercover CIA officer. And also with us, Valerie Plame, who was an undercover CIA officer whose identity was infamously revealed by the Bush White House. Thanks to both of you for being here.
So, Valerie, let me start with you. We now know more about what information the classified documents contained. And very specifically, Jack Smith writes that, "The unauthorized disclosure of these classified documents could put at risk the national security of the United States, foreign relations, the safety of the United States military and human sources, and the continued viability of sensitive intelligence collection methods," that's a direct quote. Your response, Valerie?
VALERIE PLAME, FORMER CIA OFFICER: Good to be with you, Jake. What happened today is nothing less than a seismic event in the history of our country. Nothing like this has ever happened. And frankly, the U.S. credibility is at stake. The world is watching how we proceed with this.
The indictment that has just been unsealed and we understand more of the details inside is absolutely stunning in its detail. We knew that there were classified documents but not the specificity nuclear secrets. And what this is telling us is that Trump clearly broke the law.
I can tell you that as a CIA officer, if I had left even one piece of classified paper on my desk at the end of the day, I would have faced severe consequences. And the president. I think one way to make America great again is to make sure that no one is above the law.
TAPPER: Will Heard, former CIA officer as well, included in the indictment or photographs of the boxes clearly insecure in a bathroom, on a ballroom stage, laying around on the floor after they fell in a storage room. What was your reaction as somebody who used to help gather such information as a CIA officer?
WILL HURD, FORMER UNDERCOVER CIA OFFICER: Well, my first reaction was, if had 15 boxes in my house, I wouldn't be talking to you, number one. Number two, the thing that to me was most damning, and I read the indictment, it's the text messages between the staff, it's the communications between Trump and his staff, Donald Trump willingly took classified documents from the White House. He knew he had them. He then lied about having them, and then he tried to get his staffers to lie about them, and then he tried to lie to his lawyers about this. This is absolutely outrageous.
And what is most frustrating to me is that this is someone who is spitting in the face of the thousands of men and women who put themselves in harm's way every single day, who's away from their families every single day in order to protect our country, and he's just spitting in their face and to me, that's despicable.
TAPPER: Valerie, you know better than almost anyone how sensitive U.S. classified material can be. You and I have talked about your fears about what might have happened to people that you talked to in the field after the Bush White House revealed your identity. How few people would even have access to stuff that deals with nuclear secrets, do you think?
PLAME: Very few. I agree wholeheartedly with Will, because what's at stake here are -- is nothing less than the lives of Americans and U.S. National security. Trump has acted in an utterly reckless and cavalier fashion with these documents. We don't -- we can only speculate on why he did this. It doesn't really matter, though. The law is the law, and no one should be above it.
Sources and methods is what we protect at all cost, both, you know, our -- for our friends and our allies. And he has treated this in such a reckless, despicable fashion that I can only hope that the Department of Justice and the FBI just follow the facts and fully prosecute this.
TAPPER: Will, are you supported, you're a former Republican congressman, you supported so many of the Republican presidential candidates, with the exceptions of Asa Hutchinson and Chris Christie, but all the others are attacking the Justice Department defending Trump, and your former leader, Kevin McCarthy is out there talking about this isn't justice, et cetera.
HURD: Regardless of what DOJ does or doesn't do in other cases, it doesn't what make what Donald Trump did acceptable. And whether Donald Trump is convicted or not convicted by a jury, and yes, nobody is above the law, and you're innocent until proven guilty. The evidence that is provided in this affidavit, in this indictment letter, is proof that this guy is not -- should not be president of the United States and we shouldn't be defending him.
If the GOP is supposed to be the party of personal responsibility, then we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. And for those that haven't read that, I would tell them, go in and read it and see what happened. And it's outrageous the kind of behavior that we saw.
And here's what's also going to happen, do you think -- yes, maybe this strengthens his supporters, but do you think the six out of 10 Americans that do not want to see Donald Trump run for reelection, that are Independents and conservative Democrats, you think this is going to make them want to vote for the guy, right? Like this shouldn't be about winning elections, but this is someone who shouldn't be the standard bearer of our party.
TAPPER: So just a quick question, it's the same question for both of you, and that is the indictment alleges that Donald Trump showed at least two documents to different people, Mark Meadows autobiographers and somebody that worked for a Trump Super PAC, I believe. We also know that Mar-a-Lago is not a secure environment. We know that there have been at least two Chinese nationals that trespassed. We know about this other con woman pretending to be a Rothschild who got into Mar-a-Lago. Do you think, just as people who used to engage in this trade craft, do you think it's likely that spies got into Mar-a-Lago and saw some of this stuff, Valerie?
PLAME: Well, we know that it's a private club and that we have no real understanding of who can come and go. Clearly, it's not secured. The ballroom, the boxes of classified material in the bathroom, it's crazy making. Knowing what we know now, in addition to all the details in the indictment as this unfolds, is there any question now that Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to the United States of America? And for any American to continue to pretend otherwise is simply unrealistic.
TAPPER: Will Hurd, I know my question is speculative, but, I mean, what's your suspicion?
HURD: Sure. Look, it's hard for me to say whether they were vulnerable. Here's what I do know. If Donald Trump would have given these documents back, we wouldn't be in this situation. My read of the charging documents is he's not being charged for any of the documents that he had and he returned.
He's only being charged for the ones that he lied about having, and we found out after the fact. So, we wouldn't be having these conversations if Donald Trump wasn't being a jerk and would have just given the documents back when he was asked, similar to what Mike Pence did, right? And so we wouldn't be here if that was the case.
TAPPER: Former Congressman Will Hurd, Republican of Texas, Valerie Plain, thank you to both you for being here. Thank you to both you for serving in our clandestine services. We really appreciate it.
This is now the second indictment against Donald Trump. The first, of course, was in New York, then this new federal indictment. How much impact is it having on the 2024 presidential campaign? How are Trump rivals trying to use this to their advantage? I'm going to talk to one of those rivals next.
TAPPER: Republican candidates for president have reacted to Trump's indictment on the campaign trail. Today Nikki Haley called it, quote, "prosecutorial overreach, Ron DeSantis called it a "weaponization of federal law enforcement," Mike Pence says it invites a "divisiveness in this country," Chris Christie, on the other hand, said "no one is above the law," and former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson called the indictment a "major distraction," and he called on Trump to drop out of the race.
With me now is former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson who is running for the Republican nomination for president. Governor, you are calling on Donald Trump to end his campaign in the wake of this second indictment. Why?
ASA HUTCHINSON, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For the good of the country and for the good of the office of presidency, this is unprecedented that we have a former president criminally charged for mishandling classified information for obstruction of justice. This obviously will be an issue during the campaign, but for the sake of the country, he doesn't need this distraction, the country doesn't need this distraction as well. These are serious charges. I've looked at the indictment, you think about it, I actually prosecuted a former president while he was in office for obstruction of justice. I obviously, as a former federal prosecutor, take these charges seriously.
And he's entitled to his day in court presumption of innocence. But the campaign does not need this distraction, he doesn't need the distraction of a campaign. And so that's the reason I say it. Obviously, he's not going to do it. But to me, these are serious charges that merit serious consideration by the public.
TAPPER: This indictment shares some new details about the kinds of secret documents Trump had, including information regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the U.S. and foreign countries, the U.S. nuclear programs, potential vulnerabilities of the U.S. and its allies to military attack, plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack, all of these documents, and based on the indictment, they were just sitting around in boxes in this hotel.
HUTCHINSON: Well, the indictment is very specific, both in terms of what was exposed and not protected. And that was a question everybody had at the beginning when you had the Mar-a-Lago raid as to what level of classified information is in jeopardy here is being disclosed. And now we see that they're highly sensitive documents and secrets that we have that is not being adequately protected, according to the indictment.
But you also have the willfulness that's an issue. And on the obstruction of justice, that's laid out very clearly in the indictment as well. And my message is simply that the Republicans, the leadership in Congress and across the country should not dismiss this indictment as being simply politically motivated because it has the ring of seriousness, it has the ring of professionalism in the indictment, and it should not be lightly dismissed. And so, it's going to be an issue in the campaign as to how someone who's running for that highest office handles classified information, our nation's secrets and cooperation with law enforcement authorities --
HUTCHINSON: -- versus what you're going to see in the courtroom.
TAPPER: So the indictment outlines two specific occasions when Trump showed classified documents to other people, first, in July 2021 Trump showed, according to the indictment, and described a plan of attack on Iran we think it is prepared for him by the department of Defense. And in August or September 2021, that same year, Trump showed a representative from his political action committee, somebody who did not possess security clearance, a classified map related to a military operation. I mean, it's pretty stunning. What was your response when you read that?
HUTCHINSON: Well, my response is that that's a serious violation of the responsibility to keep classified material protected. I've had my security clearances. I understand what is required and he did not follow those rules. But just as significantly, he's showing them to people that have no need to know it. And why is he doing that? That's subject to motivation and the proof related to that, but it appears he's just showing that he can do it.
And that, once again, is somebody who believes that they're not following the same rules of the law and requirements for classified material that everyone else is expected to follow.
TAPPER: Former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, thank you so much for your time today, sir.
HUTCHINSON: Thank you, Jake.
TAPPER: And Monday night only on CNN, look out for Chris Christie's reaction in the CNN Republican presidential town hall. My colleague Anderson Cooper will moderate that one in New York. That's Monday night at 8:00 Eastern. Again, only on CNN.
In addition to the classified documents case, Special Counsel Jack Smith is also investigating Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Remember that? Next, I'm going to speak with two people who spent more than a year investigating the January 6 attack of the Capitol. What they make of where this federal investigation is headed next.
TAPPER: Quick reminder, Special Counsel Jack Smith could potentially also indict Trump for the other giant piece of his investigation into the former president trying to overturn the 2020 election. Remember that? Let's bring in two former members of the January 6 select House committee, former Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger from the great state of Illinois and current Congresswoman from California, Zoe Lofgren.
Former Congressman Kinzinger, I'm going to ask you right now, how do you feel about the GOP right now as you're watching everybody, with the exceptions of Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson and then, I guess, Alberto Gonzales come to Donald Trump's defense when this pretty detailed factual indictment when comes forward?
ADAM KINZINGER (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: It's not surprising, Jake, it's disappoint -- I mean another long line of disappointments. You know, my party has always claimed to be this party of law and order, but what you're seeing right now is really Third World. And it's not Third World, you know, DOJ. It's Third World that there's a party that is so driven by a personality that if formed around a man that will fight for this man no matter what, I mean, he literally could stand in Fifth Avenue. I mean it's -- I'm still mourning this. I've been mourning kind of the death of my party for a few years, and this is just another, I guess, cherry on top of that.
TAPPER: Well, I'm still holding out hope, congressman, you and some others. Hey, Mitt Romney is still in office. Congressman Lofgren, Jack Smith got Donald Trump's former chief of staff, Mark Meadows to testify, but he refused to testify before your January 6th Committee. DOJ obviously has a little bit more heft they can put people in jail. Meadows lawyer released this statement, quote, Mr. Meadows has maintained a commitment to tell the truth where he has a legal obligation to do so, unquote. What was your reaction when you heard Meadows testified before this grand jury, when he wouldn't do it for the Select Committee?
REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): Well, first, he should have talked to us. But, you know, Mark's in a position to know almost everything. And he gave us, before he stopped talking, a lot, you know, of records that were very damning. But he has more to say. He was burning things up. He was there when the ex-president was plotting with others. He went to Georgia to help overturn the election. I mean, really, more than anyone else, he knows everything. And if he is telling the truth, then I think that would be a very significant turn of events in that investigation.
TAPPER: If he's telling the truth, you said.
LOFGREN: Well, did I say it that way? I mean is -- I didn't mean it that way. I'm assuming if he's telling the truth, but he said if he is able to. Now, is he taking the Fifth Amendment? That I don't know. And he certainly that was what I was trying to say very poorly.
TAPPER: I don't know that I think it was poor. I mean, it was fine. It was just an interesting way of phrasing Meadows participation. I hear you. You didn't mean to impugn. I get it. I get it. Congressman Kinzinger, several Trump aligned members of Congress have accused Biden of weaponizing the DOJ. Senate leaders such as Mr. McConnell and John Thune have been notably silent, we should note. Do you expect any faction of I don't want to say moderate Republicans because Mitch McConnell and John Thune and Mitt Romney are not moderate, they're conservative.
But sane Republicans, I don't know what terms to use anymore, but non- MAGA Republicans to vocally and actively distance themselves from Trump in the coming days?
KINZINGER: So I think sane, that's what I try to use are like governing or actually, you know, country over party Republicans. No, I don't think you're going to -- I'm sure Mitt Romney, if he hasn't put out a statement, will, you know, and there's a few I think Mitch McConnell will probably stay quiet. And what you'll see, Jake, because I've lived this for as many years as Donald Trump was president, whereas a rank and file member Republican, you're sitting around, probably canceling all your events this weekend and waiting for somebody to come forward with some powerful nuanced argument that you can use, including things like, well, we now have to let the trial take place.
And so I think what you'll see best of anybody, the best we can hope for, is silence from a few people, but I really don't expect them to come out. This is really bad, though. I mean, it's possible, but just there's the cowardice, frankly, has just been, again, it continues to surprise me daily.
TAPPER: That was a word that Alberto Gonzales, the former Bush attorney general, used earlier in the show about people like people who had really harsh words for what Hillary Clinton did when it came to insecure e-mail servers and classified documents, which pales in comparison by any measure to this. Congresswoman Lofgren, in March, you said that Trump's rhetoric regarding his possible indictment by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg was more overt and blatant in his language leading up to January 6th.
We've seen some bizarre -- there was a bizarre tweet by your colleague, Congressman Clay Higgins. I can't -- I don't even know his -- yes, it sounded like he was calling for some sort of military rotation. I don't even know -- I could put it up, but I don't think anybody it's like, put against Sanskrit. But how worried are you about Trump potentially calling on his followers and inciting further violence?
LOFGREN: Well, we've already seen not only Higgins, but also Biggs engaging in sort of, you know, very questionable rhetoric. I am concerned. I mean, the former president has really shown on January 6th he will stop at nothing, including violence. So that is a big concern. And as Adam has pointed out, so many of my colleagues on the Republican side of his former colleagues are willing to support this kind of behavior, just as they did supporting January 6th and the overturning of the election. So I think there's reason for all of us who want to defend our democracy to have some concerns here about what the fringes might do and might be incented to do by some political figures.
TAPPER: Yes. I hope it doesn't happen. I hope those concerns are misplaced, but I hear you. Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California, former Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, thank you so much.
Speaker McCarthy has a strong opinion about Trump's indictment. We're going to compare his comments today to what he said about the FBI's investigation into classified material and a different public figure that's ahead.
TAPPER: In a historic first, former President of the United States and a current presidential candidate on top of that, announced his own federal indictment. Joining us now for their take on this monumental day in the history of this great republic, former Watergate Special Prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste and legendary Watergate journalist, Bob Woodward. Bob, you have interviewed the former President extensively in 2019. He told you about a nuclear weapons system where he claimed this. Let's take a listen from your interview.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have built a weapon system that nobody's ever had in this country before. We have stuff that you haven't even seen or heard about. We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: I mean that's nuts in itself. But now we know he's been charged with retaining these classified documents about U. S. nuclear capabilities. Who knows who got access to them? Who knows who he told about them? So this must not actually be surprising to you?
BOB WOODWARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE WASHINGTON POST: No. This indictment and the circumstances are a total reflection of his personality. I really think he believes democracy is enemy territory because it's about other people and he likes everything to be about him. And I think one of the offshoots of this is, this is a test and grave crisis for the Republican Party. How is the Republican Party going to deal with this?
We all know lots of Republicans, many are still law and order Republicans. And I think they're going to look at this and they're going to say, wait a minute, and this could begin that snowball going down the mountain, because it's so factual, it's so potent. And I thought Jack Smith, what he did today when he praised the FBI was so important. So the Republicans are going to have to go back to Barry Goldwater, who 50 years ago went to Nixon and said, too many lies, too many crimes.
And Nixon asked him in a private Oval Office meeting with the Republican leaders in the House and the Senate, well, I know I'm going to be impeached. How will I do in a Senate trial? Now he'd need 34 votes to stay in office. And Goldwater looked at him and said, Mr. President, I've counted and you have five votes, and one of them is not mine.
TAPPER: Right. And you don't have mine. Yes. It's such a great story. Richard, I want to get your take on something historian Doug Brinkley said today. Let's roll that tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DOUG BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I've always thought Ford was right to heal the country, pardoning Nixon. But in recent years, I realized it was probably a mistake, for the reason that it encourages the arrogance of President Trump, this feeling that he's above the law, that the Constitution doesn't matter, that you can have an authoritarian vent and do anything you want in the United States. (END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Do you agree? And I think, you know, the long view picture of what he's saying is that if actually there had been a trial of Richard Nixon and maybe he had gone to prison, as many of his conspirators did, then maybe this wouldn't have happened.
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FORMER WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Well, at least if the timing was different on the pardon, if President Ford had waited until we brought charges, and then Nixon could address the charges either by accepting a pardon or not, at least the charges would be out there, and it would be something the public could see. And I agree that this indictment really is a reflection of the former president's arrogance, his disdain for the rule of law, which is so repugnant to people who have worked in law enforcement, who have worked for the Constitution, bipartisanly over the years, to see this kind of complete disregard for the rule of law by the President in treating documents which involve the national security of the United States in this cavalier, offhanded and totally disrespectful way. I don't see how members of his political party can accept this as a leader of the party.
TAPPER: So, Bob, you were talking about you invoked Goldwater, who obviously had been the party, the Republican Party's nominee for President in '64. So he was the conservative standard bearer going to Nixon, talking to Nixon. And I'm just wondering, I mean, the modern incarnation of that would be Mitt Romney, very conservative. But Donald Trump doesn't care what Mitt Romney thinks.
WOODWARD: He wouldn't let him in.
TAPPER: Right. Is there, I mean, to be clear, he should. Mitt Romney is a wise man and very conservative. Is there a Goldwater of today that not just Donald Trump, but Kevin McCarthy would listen to?
WOODWARD: Well, we're going to have to find him, or the Republican Party is going to have come to Jesus meeting with itself and say, what are we missing? Leadership direction, moral definition, which has to be the center of any political party. If I may say, I think this situation is a test for Biden and the Democrats also. I think it's really important Biden is staying away from this and so forth. But go back 50 years, the night Nixon announced he was resigning in "The Washington Post" newsroom, Ben Bradley, the editor, was running around saying, don't gloat.
No gloating essential. And I was with Ben. We were going down to get something to eat at "The Washington Post" cafeteria, which was not much, but it was late at night, and the elevator opened and outstepped a prominent member of the Kennedy family and said, Ben, I came here to celebrate. And Ben almost tackled him, pushing him back in the elevator, and said, no. No celebration, no gloating. And it's very important that the Democrats and those of us in our business not get in any celebration mode.
TAPPER: Yes. 1974, Kennedy in Washington, I think I could figure out who that was maybe.
WOODWARD: it was Sergeant Shriver.
TAPPER: It was Sergeant Shriver.
TAPPER: I thought it was Senator Kennedy or Senator Ted Kennedy. Do you agree? And, you know, you brought the Watergate case. And do you think the Republican Party of the '70 was different from the Republican Party today in terms of --
BEN-VENISTE: Yes. All that we know about Nixon and there was a lot that he did that was wrong, mean spirited, and unconstitutional, I believe that if he had survived Watergate, wounded but survived, he was not an existential threat to our democracy. I don't believe the same thing about Donald Trump. And I think this is an important step for people to consider how he regarded our national security in the way he treated these documents. And the next thing to come is January 6th, which was a head on assault against our democracy.
TAPPER: Two investigations coming to the fore on that including one from Jack Smith.
WOODWARD: If I may, but 50 years ago, if somebody had said, do you think Richard Nixon is an existential threat to democracy? You would have said yes.
BEN-VENISTE: No, I would not.
WOODWARD: You would not, how?
BEN-VENISTE: No. I wouldn't have said an existential threat because we could have --
WOODWARD: That's too big a word.
BEN-VENISTE: We survive. And I'm using a big word when it comes to Donald Trump.
TAPPER: OK, fair enough. Fair enough. Two legends of the era and today as well. Richard Ben-Veniste and Bob Woodward, thanks so much for being here. Really appreciate it. Good to see you, sir.
I want to play. Speaker McCarthy reacting to Trump's indictment today regarding Trump's mishandling, according to the indictment of classified documents.
REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: That this judgment is wrong by this DOJ, that they treated President Trump differently than they treat others. And it didn't have to be this way. This is going to disrupt this nation because it goes to the core of equal justice for all, which is not being seen today. And we are not going to stand for it.
(END VIDEO CLIP) [17:50:12]
TAPPER: This comes just a few years after McCarthy slammed Hillary Clinton for her unsecure e-mail server, on which there were also classified documents. McCarthy said in a Senate statement in 2016, quote, the FBI found over 100 e-mails that contained classified content. Perhaps most notably, the FBI could not rule out the possibility that foreign powers or hostile actors accessed Secretary Clinton's e-mails. Secretary Clinton's fundamental lack of judgment and want and disregard for protecting and keeping information confidential raises continued questions about the exposure of our nation's diplomatic and national security secrets, unquote.
Let's bring in the other side of my table right here and Dana Bash, I mean, this is why people hate Washington honestly, just the completely two completely different standards. News media and law enforcement both took the Hillary Clinton e-mail server situation seriously, much to her chagrin. And here is a worse situation, by all accounts, and you have people defending it.
DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR & CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wouldn't it be nice for everybody to, I know this is going to be about the most Pollyanna thing I'm ever going to say.
TAPPER: I'm used to it.
BASH: But I'm going to say it. For everybody just to take a breath. I know this is political. There's no way it can't be political for the million reasons that we know. But wouldn't it be nice, particularly when you're a Constitutional, you're in a Constitutional position, to just take a breath and just let the process play out and not just jump on it? But that's not the political position that McCarthy and other top Republicans are in. It's just not.
TAPPER: But remember, John, he's not speaker of the Republicans in the House. He's not speaker of the MAGA wing of the House. He's Speaker of the House, the Democrats, too.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR & CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And it's not just what he said. When you watch the video, he has to fight in him, right? He's got the anger in his face. He's leaning forward. Look, there are no guardrails anymore. Richard and Bob were just talking about Barry Goldwater. That's when the days when the national parties meant something, where there were giants in public service who were willing to put country over party. Kevin McCarthy wants power, and he needs Trump to stay in power. And he won't even say, wow, you know, I think Donald Trump's innocent, but let's let this play out. He won't even say something like that.
He attacks it before he's deeply read it. Has he had a briefing from anybody? Has he watched the evidence play out? They've already decided there's no open mind anymore. There's no think about it. There's no thoughtfulness, and there are no structures to the point of who would go to Donald Trump. There is nobody. That is a pipe dream.
I remember when Bill Clinton was first in trouble, and it didn't happen. But the Vernon Jordans and the, you know, Bob Strausses, the big voices in the Democratic Party, came to talk to Bill Clinton. Do you think you should resign? Do you want to put the country through this impeachment? At least Bill Clinton said no, and he was always going to say no. But at least there were people of stature then that you would have a conversation. There is nobody that can get in the room with Donald Trump and say, think about your country, because, A, that person doesn't exist, and B, as Bob has detailed in his books and those recordings, he doesn't care.
TAPPER: He doesn't care.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR & SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And I'm listening to the conversation, the really fascinating conversation you just had. It really strikes me that it is true that in some ways, the lesson of the Nixon administration for many Republicans, and I think Trump is one of them, was that it was a mistake to resign. It is a mistake to back down. It is a mistake to capitulate to these types of things. And I think we are living with that part of the Republican Party really coming into power through Donald Trump himself.
That's what -- the reason Speaker McCarthy is saying what he's saying is because he knows that's the expectation from Trump and Trump remains the most powerful figure in the Republican Party.
BASH: The expectation from Trump. But it's the expectation from Trump voters and Trump loyalists who make up so many of the really red districts that he needs, never mind the very few swing districts that exist that give him that slim, slim --
TAPPER: Well, if McCarthy didn't do that, right --
TAPPER: Or even if he kept silent, I think that he would be removed as speaker, don't you? I mean, like, there is a self-preserve --
BASH: I don't know. I don't know. I mean he's in trouble for the debt ceiling no matter what he does. Potentially, he would be in trouble. But imagine a world where he just tried it.
PHILLIP: Well, he wouldn't be a speaker if it were not for Trump. He would not be speaker today if it were not for Trump making phone calls on the day of that last vote to get those last votes in for him. The Republican base definitely supports the sort of Trumpism of this, about 30 percent of them, maybe even more, actually. But this is where leadership matters. If Trump would say, I'm wrong, I need to step away, the story would be over. But he will never say that. And so the base will follow his lead.
KING: And this is why the House reaction is so different from the Senate reaction. These House Republicans, 85 percent of them or more, live in safe districts where their only threat is a primary from the right. How do you get primary from the right? You aggravate Trump. Plus, the difference between the Watergate days and now is the fracturing of our business, the fracturing and polarization of our politics. They have media, eco chamber and almost a parallel universe in which they believe things that are simply not true, like rigged elections, and they will not bend from --
TAPPER: I mean Nixon --
WOODWARD: So what's the question? I mean, take a breath is really good advice emotionally. But politically, the question that should be asked, what's in the national interest?
TAPPER: What's in the national interest?
WOODWARD: I mean isn't that the question.
TAPPER: It should be.
WOODWARD: And when Gerald -- I'm convinced when Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon, it was because he got to him. I spent hours talking to Ford about this. Ford realized he no longer, as president, had to operate in his political interest, but he was president of the United States, and he had to say and think, what's in the national interest? And he found that by getting Nixon off the front page into the history books and got his tapes and did a public service in the national interest.
TAPPER: National interest, it's a lovely thought. Thanks, one and all. Appreciate it.
Coming up, how classified documents are supposed to be handled, here from a former deputy director of intelligence who once briefed Trump when Trump was in office. Stay with us.