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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Trump Says Supreme Court Should Intervene In His Cases; Victim Publicly Identified 27 Years After Disappearing; Ukrainian Sea Drone Targets Russian Warship; Putin Critic Navalny Sentenced To 19 More Years; Defense Secretary Outlines New Plan To Mitigate Sen. Tuberville's Hold On Military Confirmations; White Ex-Officers Plead Guilty To Torturing 2 Black Men. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired August 04, 2023 - 16:00   ET



ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Yeah, you kind -- you need your battle buddy in this and I think that's key here. Ben and Erin, I think this is wonderful. I think it's going to resonate with a lot of parents who are looking for an alternative. Thank you so much for being with us today.

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And THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER starts right now.


BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: Calling on the Supreme Court.

THE LEAD starts right now.

Former President Donald Trump is asking the Supreme Court to help fight his legal battles. He claims the cases against him are quote, election interference, the same thing he's accused of in his third indictment.

Then, police identify another murder victim 27 years later in the Gilgo police -- beach killings. So why wasn't the serial killer charged in connection with her death.

Plus, back on the mat. Simone Biles returns to gymnastics for the first time since the Tokyo Olympics. Could she be eyeing a comeback at next year's Olympic Games in Paris?


GOLODRYGA: Welcome to THE LEAD, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga in for Jake Tapper.

We start today with our law and justice lead, and the aftershocks of Donald Trump's third arraignment. Today, the former president who is facing charges for his attempts to overturn the 2020 election called on the Supreme Court to get involved in the case. It is not clear exactly what Mr. Trump is asking the high court to do. But the former president claims that the charges against him are, quote, election interference.

Trump pleaded not guilty yesterday inside a Washington, D.C. courtroom. And his next hearing is scheduled for August 28th.

Let's get straight to CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider with more on this.

So, Jessica, let's start with this new Trump request. Is this something that the Supreme Court could even get involved in?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Bianna, at this point, it just does appear to be political bluster from Trump, because we haven't seen any court filings, certainly nothing before the Supreme Court. However, in the future here, it's possible and quite likely that will we will eventually see challenges in either of these cases. The 2020 election case from yesterday or the classified documents case down in Florida. Challenges to those could make their way to the Supreme Court.

Also, of note here is the fact that Trump's track record at the Supreme Court when it comes to the 2020 election cases in general, it's not good. The Supreme Court has either rejected or refused to even consider every election challenge that he or his allies brought around the 2020 election. And all of that, Bianna, despite the fact that three of the nine justices are, in fact, Trump nominees. So, not a good track record for the former president.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, that's right. For now, you say just bluster. We know the next hearing is set for August 28th, but what else do you know about how quickly the actual trial could start.

SCHNEIDER: So, we saw in court yesterday, the special counsel's team really pushing for a quick trial. And we got an order from the judge, Judge Tanya Chutkan, she had that order today, prosecutors have to submit their recommendations for a trial start date by next week, August 10th. After that Trump's legal team will have seven days to respond.

Now Trump's team, they're already talking about the enormity of the evidence in this case and how they're really going to resist doing anything quickly. In court yesterday, we saw Trump's lawyer John Lauro putting it this way to the judge, saying, obviously, the United States has had three and a half years to investigate this matter and also there are a number of agents and lawyers assisting the government in this proceeding, and all that we would ask your honor is the time to fairly defend our client.

What's interesting, Bianna, is the speedy trial act, it does say that trial should happen 70 days after a defendant first appears in court. That 70-day clock started yesterday. But, of course, we're expecting Trump's attorneys can motion to push that trial date out farther. They're going to follow their playbook of delay, delay, delay likely.

GOLODRYGA: All right. Jessica, thank you.

Well, federal courts do not let cameras into the courtroom but congressional Democrats are asking for Trump's trial to be televised. Tell us more about that.

SCHNEIDER: Yeah. You know, Bianna, more than three dozen Democrats, they've sent this letter to the administrator of federal courts and they're asking that an exception to this rule of no cameras be made. They want cameras in the court for any trial of Donald Trump.

So Democrats in this letter, they're citing the historic nature of both of these cases and they're saying this -- they're saying if the public is to fully accept the outcome, it will be vitally important for it to be witnessed as directly as possible, how the trials are conducted, the strength of the evidence adduced and the credibility of the witnesses.

But I will note, Bianna, for years, people have been arguing to have cameras in both federal court all the way up to the Supreme Court. They've never been successful. So it's unlikely we'll see cameras in the court. But at least Democrats are trying.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, even if it involved a former president which is just unprecedented.

Jessica Schneider, thank you.

Well, we just discussed the potential timing for Trump's trial in the January 6th investigation.


But his current presidential bid is looming large over multiple criminal investigations into his political activities and business. Trump's legal team is pushing to delay his trials as long as possible which ultimately will impact what you know or don't know before casting a vote for president. So we want to walk you through where each case stands right now and what comes next.

The special counsel is leading another federal investigation into Trump. This one related to his handling of sensitive government documents he took with him to Mar-a-Lago when he left office. Now a federal grand jury in Miami charged Trump with 37 criminal counts in June including obstruction. On July 27th, three new charges were announced against Trump.

The judge in this case had previously set a trial date for May 20th of 2024. That is after most states have held their Republican primaries and two months before the Republican national convention where Trump is likely to be the party's front-runner.

Then there is the Manhattan criminal case related to hush money payments to cover up a sex scandal during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump in April was charged about 34 counts of falsifying Trump business records related to reimbursing his lawyer for pages made to Stormy Daniels, an adult film producer and actress. A judge scheduled the trial to begin in New York state court on March

25th, 2024. That is in the midst of the Republican primaries.

And then don't forget Georgia, where Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is expected to bring charges this month in her investigation into Trump's efforts to over turn the 2020 election in that state.

Now, that we've gone through that. Let's discuss the latest indictment right now with former Trump White House lawyer Jim Schultz, and Tom Dupree, the former principal attorney general under President George W. Bush.

Gentlemen, thank you both for joining me today.

So, Tom, let's begin with you. It is clear that Trump's legal team is testing multiple strategies here, including pushing for a later trial. Trump's lawyer John Lauro references what he says is a massive amount of discovery in the case and said, quote, we are going to have to go through information in order for us to properly address when a trial date should be set.

So how does the judge weigh the need for Trump's team to prepare with the prosecution's desire for a speedy trial?

TOM DUPREE, FORMER PRINCIPAL DEPUTY ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, G.W. BUSH ADMINISTRATION: Yeah, it is a difficult question. You have to balance those two interests and then you also have to take into account the rapidly approaching election date. So there is a whole multiplicity of considerations the judge will have to weigh and consider.

And, look, I think the Trump team, I mean, in fairness, I think they have a decent argument that they do need time to prepare for this case. It's going to be a very complicated case and the Justice Department has been conducting this investigation for several years and, of course, the president or former president is also going to be defending concurrently multiple other criminal trials as well as a host of civil trials.

So under all of those circumstances, I think he's going to have decent arguments that this trial needs to be delayed. Whether he could persuade this judge, though, to push the trial beyond the election I think is a difficult question and I think it's going to be a pretty close one for this judge to resolve.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, Tom, just sticking with that, most legal experts that I've heard say that the likelihood that something happens the trial begins in the next 70 days is slim to none. That having been said, you do hear from Trump's team saying they've had three and a half years to put this together and to work on this investigation.

But when you look at timing, Jack Smith was just appointed by the attorney general last November. So, that's necessarily the case. They didn't have three and a half years here. DUPREE: Jack Smith is a new comer. But I think certainly the special

counsel's office benefitted from the investigation that the January 6 Select Committee carried out. So I think from the defense's perspective, they've been under investigation for a very long time.

The other thing I note, Bianna, is that Jack Smith did a good job in doing this best to try to streamline this complaint to get it on kind of a rocket docket, to get this thing tried sooner rather than later. He did that by charging only president, not charging the other alleged co-conspirators and doing his best to slim down what I think is going to be a very complicated case. But he's at least giving it, try to slim it down and get this thing on a fast track.

GOLODRYGA: Jim, the federal judge who will preside over the case, Judge Tanya Chutkan intends to set a trial date we know for the first hearing on August 28th. What do you expect the Trump team to do if that date is set before the election or even hypothetically before the Republican convention?

JIM SCHULTZ, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE ATTORNEY: I think it is likely that it does get set before the Republican convention. That being said, that doesn't mean that it is going to be tried before the Republican convention.

She's going to set a discovery schedule. And she's going to set a discovery schedule where documents from the government have to be turned over, the defense is going to probably want to subpoena a lot of the January 6 Commission information to see if there's anything exculpatory there. They're probably going to want to look at the grand jury testimony, which is something that doesn't happen but in this case because of the unique charges, they might want to check -- might want to look into whether it was charged appropriately.


So there's a number of discovery requests that are going to happen. That's going to take several months to get through. And then she's going to set a motion schedule that will also include pretrial motions, motions to dismiss, motions for discovery, motions to change venue -- all of those things are kind of coming into play. That's where you'll see some of the -- if you see a First Amendment challenge, you'll see it there.

And I think this judge is going to want to be thoughtful and right on some of these issues because they are unique charges that haven't really been tested. So she's going to want to write a bit on those. So that could take some time as well.

So I think you're looking at the spring. I do think there's maybe a better chance that this case gets done before the documents case because you don't have the classified documents issues in motions like that.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, I've heard others say it may happen before the documents case, too. Tom, last, quickly to you, there is the issue of jury selection.

Trump's team is saying he can't get a fair trial in D.C. and arguing it should be moved to West Virginia. I'm not going to ask you about the likelihood of that happening.

But what is the likelihood that you have a jury in Washington, D.C., that is somehow unaware of everything that transpired at that -- on that day and would that make them bias in some point?

DUPREE: Well, I think the likelihood of finding people who are just completely unaware of what transpired on January 6 is probably remote to zero. That said, the test really is whether or not people notwithstanding whatever knowledge they have of January 6, could nonetheless remain impartial. And I think that's an easier bar to clear.

I think both sides, particularly the defense side is going to want to focus heavily on examining jurors and the process where you have a chance before the jury is selected to question potential jurors, to really suss out if they can be independent, if they can approach these facts neutrally. That's where I think the defense is going to have to focus its efforts rather than trying to get this case transferred.

GOLODRYGA: All right. Tom, Jim, we'll have to leave it there. Thank you so much for joining me. Have a great weekend.

DUPREE: Thank you.

SCHULTZ: Thank you.

GOLODRYGA: Well, coming up, new revelations in the mystery of the many murder victims found at Gilgo Beach. Police now identifying a new victim, but no new charges yet. We'll tell you why.

Plus, the moment a Ukrainian drone carrying 1,000 pounds of TNT hits a Russian warship. We'll explain the startling moment in the Black Sea, up next.



GOLODRYGA: In our law and justice lead, Karen Vergata, that is the name of a Gilgo Beach murder victim who had previously gone nameless. But justice remains elusive as police announced no new charges in her death. Vergata was a 34-year-old New York City resident when she disappeared in 1996. She was one of the 11 victims whose remains were found scattered across Long Island's south shore between 2010 and 2011.

Let's go to CNN's Miguel Marquez with more on this.

So, Miguel, 59-year-old Rex Heuermann was charged last week with murder in connection to three Gilgo Beach victims. But as of now, police are not linking him to the killing of Karen Vergata? MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are not. But

they're not ruling him out either. They held a very short press conference out in Long Island today to say that they have identified this woman. They identified her sometime ago. Ms. Vergata went missing on Valentine's Day, back in 1996.

Later that month, part of her body, her legs and her feet specifically washed up in Fire Island, not too far from Gilgo Beach. But it wasn't until 2011 that they found part of a skull on Gilgo Beach, and through forensics and DNA, they were able to map the two sets of remains and they figured out who she was about a year ago, but did not release that information because at the time they were investigating Rex Heuermann.

This leaves open some possibilities. That perhaps Mr. Heuermann will eventually be charged in this crime. Remember, the investigators went meticulously through his house out on Long Island for about 12 days, become two weeks using ground penetrating radar, digging into his backyard and just taking out reams and reams of evidence from his home there.

And it is possible that they will charge him, or that there is another killer or killers out there. Because, remember, in all, there were 11 sets of remains out there. There have been charged in three of them and Mr. Heuermann is the lead suspect in a fourth. But these others are still a mystery -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Still notable that this victim, Karen Vergata, has finally been identified.

As we noted, Miguel, it's been more than a decade since the discovery of these 11 victims. There are still three that are still unidentified and an arrest in connection with three others was only made last month.

So why did it take so long to see any sort of movement in this case?

MARQUEZ: This is a big question. And everybody on Long Island has an idea of it. It wasn't until they established a new D.A. and new authorities in Suffolk County specifically that came in and opened this and started using DNA evidence and started relooking at the case and it was -- it was information that was in that case file to begin with that allowed them to get to where they are.

So they hope they'll be able to find the killers of all of the others -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: All right. Miguel Marquez, thank you.

MARQUEZ: You got it.

GOLODRYGA: Well, ahead, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny defiant today in court, facing a new prison sentence. Navalny says he's willing to pay the price. We'll tell you just how high that price is.



GOLODRYGA: Topping our world lead, you're looking at a Russian battleship taking on water near its port in the Black Sea after Ukrainian sea drones attacked the ship hundreds of miles from their territory. While Ukraine hasn't official taking responsibility, we can show you the exact moment of the strike with a video from a Ukrainian drone. Ukrainian source telling CNN almost 1,000 pounds of explosives were on that drone right at the moment of impact and then the feed is cut out.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in Zaporizhzhia.

And, Nick, despite seeing that video, Russia still claims that it repealed the attack. I'm curious, how are they countering what we all see with our own eyes in this video?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I mean, to be honest, after a while now, the Russian military denials are things that evidently occurred have carry less weight. Indeed, even Russian bloggers have said clearly of Olenogorsky Gornyak ship appeared to have been fully flooded. Another Russian analyst has referred to this attack as being a quantum leap in the conflict, essentially suggesting that Russia is going to find an entirely new way of taking Ukraine on if they're able to launch attacks this far.

Now, it's important to recognize where this is, Bianna. Startling to see satellite images of a ship apparently listing all the way on Novorossiysk on the Black Sea, part of Russia, frankly, that must have felt just a matter of weeks ago entirely impregnable.


And so, now, Ukraine using this ingenuity, using clearly a drone here, able to pass back what seems to be live but simultaneously fed as it approached video stream of this attack to provide some kind of evidence for it, using drones that are able to carry half a metric ton, a thousand pounds of explosive. Startling this that kind of damage could be inflicted so deep into Russian territory and in places that say they must have felt were impregnable.

After the attack, not claimed by Ukraine but likely by Ukraine on the Kremlin domes a few weeks ago, and then a attack on Moscow skyscrapers in the city and then the attack by another Ukraine drone on the Kerch bridge between Crimea and the Russian mainland, utterly startling that this level of attacks are indeed occurring, perhaps a bit by Ukraine to show some sort of military impetuous even though the southern counter offensive is going slower than they would like. Be all in all, Bianna, absolutely not what Vladimir Putin thought would be happening in this war of choice that he started nearly 18 months ago.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, stunning to see the ship in the video listing there. Nick Paton Walsh in Zaporizhzhia, thank you as always for your reporting. Well, even as 2024 Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie

made a surprise trip to Ukraine to meet with president Volodymyr Zelenskyy and reaffirm U.S. support today, for the first time since Putin's illegal and brutal war began, a new CNN poll shows that a majority of Americans don't want Congress to send more money to the war-torn country. Fifty-five percent of Americans say Congress should not authorize additional funding to support Ukraine. While 45 percent think aid should keep flowing.

Steve Anderson, a retired U.S. Army general tells CNN that the White House could be doing more. Listen.


BRIG. GEN. STEVE ANDERSON, U.S. ARMY (RET.): When I see polls like that, it disappointed me greatly and I believe it is because the Biden administration simply hasn't sold the war to the American people like they absolutely need to do.


GOLODRYGA: Also today in Russia, two decades of additional prison time for resolute Putin critic Alexey Navalny. The malnourished opposition leader says the extremism sentence is not intended to intimidate him but rather any Russian dissenters. The hearing unfolded behind closed doors with broadcast with poor audio quality and it was being held abnormally within the high security prison rather than in a Moscow courtroom.

CNN's Nic Robertson looks at the astronomical price of challenging Putin and why Navalny seems to willing to pay it.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR (voice-over): Entering a courtroom that looks as flimsy as the legal case against him, Alexey Navalny and his legal team line up to hear his almost predictable sentencing, 19 years.

The judge's words utterly unintelligible in the press room next door, convicting Putin's harshest and persistent critic of creating extremist communities. Charges Navalny denied. He was neither bowed nor cowed, even shared a joke with his lawyer.

After sentencing, using his Telegram channel to tell his supporters, 19 years in a special regime colony, the number doesn't matter. The verdict is not for me, it's for you. They want to frighten you.

Not for the first time has Navalny been made an object lesson at the cost of challenging Putin. Poisoned and almost killed with the deadly nerve agent Novichok almost three years ago, an attack he blames on Putin, which the Kremlin denies. He barely survived, recovered in Germany, then returned to Moscow six months later, despite the certainty of what awaited him.

He was arrested and charged with fraud and other offenses he said are bogus. And he's currently serving nine years. In jail, he says he's been denied sleep, kept in isolation, intentionally made sick, and almost completely cut off from his family and lawyers. Putin's brutality has taken its toll. Navalny has lost weight.

DARIA NAVALNAYA, ALEXEY NAVALNY'S DAUGHTER: There are no calls, no visits, no human conditions. He's allowed to write 35 minutes per day with a pen and paper and have two books. These are an open strategy to destroy my father's physical health and maybe mental, too. There are absolutely no way that the colony would take these drastic measures without having a nudge from the Moscow government.

ROBERTSON: Putin, it appears, intends to silence not just Navalny supporters but the man himself. The new sentence expected to be served in one of Russia's harshest and remote penal colonies will cut him off from the outside world. It is a price he said at his trial, he would be willing to pay.


ROBERTSON (on camera): And he really seems to be in a test of wills with Putin. Right now, Putin has the upper hand but it seems that Navalny is essentially betting his life that that is not going to last forever. In fact, he said in that Telegram channel statement, he said very clearly that this is life, it's a life sentence. But life is as long as I live, or as long as this regime survives -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, as you noted, he looked so gaunt and thin and yet you can't help but see him smile. It's his message to the Kremlin, you may break my body but not my spirit.

Nic Robertson, thank you.

Well, coming up, new reporting on former President Barack Obama's concerns about the 2024 campaign, and the warning he gave to President Biden behind closed doors.



GOLODRYGA: Undermining both our military readiness and our national security. That is how Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is describing the impact on U.S. forces from Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville's months-long blockade of all military confirmations in a new memo. Austin also described the extraordinary step the department could take such as assigning lower level officers to lead critical organizations in an acting capacity amid the continuing hold.

CNN's Oren Lieberman is following this from the Pentagon.

So, Oren, what other steps is the defense secretary outlining for you?

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Bianna, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called the holes unprecedented in a memo outlining how DOD would handle this situation. Another step they would have to take, three and four star generals and admirals would of to remain in their positions but may also be called upon to do the next job above them in line at the same time, as the military figures out how to handle this.

Here's what Austin said earlier about the effect it's having not only on the senior officers but also cascading down through the military.


LLOYD AUSTIN, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The failure to confirm our superbly qualified leaders undermines our military readiness. It undermines our retention of some of our very best officers, and it is upending the lives of far too many of their spouses, children, and loved ones.


LIEBERMANN: And as an example of a not as senior officer having to do a job above them, a defense official said a one-star official is now leading the missile defense agency which is in charge of the U.S.'s layered ballistic missile defense and that should be a three-star position. So, there's a big difference necessary for a critical role in the military there, and that's just one example.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, that is very notable there. Meantime, the army has joined the Marine Corps as another branch without a Senate confirmed leader due to Senator Tuberville's blockade. What are defense officials saying about that?

LIEBERMANN: So, take a look after this picture. This is on the wall of the Pentagon here, this is the picture of the joint chiefs staff. At the top there, when this picture comes up, you could see the chairman and the vice chairman. But now, there's a black portrait with the bottom left there. That was where the picture of General James McConville, the chief of the staff of the Army was until he retired earlier today. That is the second member of the joint chiefs now to have a vacant position that hasn't happened for the Army in 20 years.

That other empty photo, is the Marine Corps, which is functioning without a confirmed commandant for a first time in more than a century. Here's secretary of the army, Christine Wormuth, on how critical it is that these blocked essentially end.


CHRISTINE WORMUTH, SECRETARY OF THE ARMY: We need the Senate to act not only on his nomination, but also on the over 300 other general and flag officers across the armed services whose careers and lives are now in limbo because of this unprecedented hold. We need these leaders to -- in place to ensure the readiness of our force and we need to end all of this uncertainty for our military families.


LIEBERMANN: And yet Tuberville has given no indication, Bianna, that he's willing to compromise or give any ground in this debate or position which is clearly having an effect on the military as you just heard from the defense secretary and the secretary of the army. GOLODRYGA: He is dug in. Oren Liebermann, thank you.

Let's discuss with Democratic strategist Alencia Johnson, along with former Republican Congressman Joe Walsh of Illinois.

Welcome both of you.

So, Alencia, if you could weigh in from a non-Republican perspective, in what world is blocking this confirmation of top military leadership something that Republicans can view as a winning political strategy? Never mind that the defense secretary is warning there that it's impacting our own national security.

ALENCIA JOHNSON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I mean, look, you could continue to see the Republicans using the things that we need to do in order to just keep our government running to protect our nation. Using this for political fodder, trying to make sure that they are belaboring the same point that they continue to make all over Fox News, and that they don't trust the way that President Biden is running the country as you mentioned the defense secretary is urging the confirmation of those because our national security, of course, is the top priority.

And this is coming from a party that talks about security and talks about a strong military, but will not cooperate and push this confirmation through. I think the American people will remember this when it comes time for the ballot box next year.

GOLODRYGA: Joe, do you want to weigh into this? Is there any rhyme or reason for what is happening?


JOE WALSH (R), FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: No. Bianna, no, not at all. They're playing to their base. They're playing to their party. This is my former party putting party above country. Quite literally putting their -- they're so focused on these culture war issues to appeal to their base. In this case, the issue of abortion, that they're willing to -- they're willing to use that to jeopardize our national security.

It's party over country. And it is ought to bite him in the butt politically.

GOLODRYGA: Let me turn to another issue and that is a college board, Joe, is accusing the Florida board of education of effectively banning AP psychology in the state. This after the department told school districts that lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity could not be taught in Florida. This comes after the state adapted standards for teaching Black history, which claims that some slaves benefited from the practice.

I mean, are these controversies surrounding education actually beneficial to DeSantis and the Republican primary here?

WALSH: Well, he sure thinks they are, Bianna, because this is all he's been running on. Again, this is all the culture war B.S. that Ron DeSantis and sadly too many people in my former party think the American people -- it is the only thing that the American people care about.

I will say that a good chunk of the Republican Party base cares about this stuff, to the point where literally banning books and banning speech plays sadly with much too much of the Republican Party base.

GOLODRYGA: And, Alencia, DeSantis is doubling down on this. He clearly has intelligent advisers around him who are sensible enough to see that this isn't helping him in polling thus far in the primaries. What do you make of the fact that he continues to promote these policies?

JOHNSON: Well, it's clear that Ron DeSantis is going to do exactly what he believes he should be doing. To the point that Joe is making, this is actually what sadly excites some of the Republican Party base, these culture wars, versus the actual issues that folks should be focused on, around the economy, around health care, and around climate. So much issues that majority of voters want to -- a future president to think about.

But Ron DeSantis is in a race to the bottom and he's not necessarily listening to his advisers because for whatever reason he likes to get the air time on Fox News, he likes to have this sensational headlines about his extreme policies but they're going to hurt him and continue to hurt him in the long run.

GOLODRYGA: Joe, I want to get you to weigh on this "Washington Post" report that former President Barack Obama warned President Biden earlier this summer about Donald Trump's political strength. Obama reportedly expressed to Biden this, I'm going to quote from him, and he's concerned. There is worry that Trump could be a more formidable candidate than many Democrats realize.

What do you make this? Because I always go back to when Donald Trump was running initially in 2016. It seems at least early on, I remember an interview that President Obama gave to NBC News where he adamantly said he's not going to be the candidate.

So what do you think he's learned from that to sense this level of alarm now to President Biden?

WALSH: Well, I think he's right, Bianna. I think what Barack Obama warning Joe Biden and hopefully warning the Democrats that there is this notion, right, especially today, Bianna, Donald Trump has been accused of committing crimes to overturn an American election. And most of us think, oh, my God, then there is no way -- because it is so terrible, there's no way he could ever get elected.

Well, there is a way. And I think Obama is right in trying to wake up the rest of the country to the fact that this whole thing of the deep state going after Trump really energizes Republican voters. Republican turnout will be through the roof next year. I think that's what Obama is really concerned about.

GOLODRYGA: We'll see what role he plays on campaign trail supporting President Biden.

Joe and Alencia, thank you so much.

Well, a group of white police officers once called themselves the goon squad. Now they're pleading guilty to a harrowing crime. The latest from Mississippi, we'll bring it to you up next.



GOLODRYGA: In our national lead, six white former law enforcement officers have pleaded guilty to charges related to the torture of two black men.

CNN's Ryan Young reports on the unthinkable violence that unfolded just this year in Mississippi. And a warning, this story contains graphic content.


DARREN LAMARCA, U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI: They became the criminals they swore to protect us from.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They allegedly call themselves the goon squad, a group of white former law enforcement officers giving themselves that moniker because of their alleged willingness to use excessive force and not report.

Now, they pled guilty to federal charges related to an assault that according to a charging document included nearly two hours of torture, physical, racist and sexual abuse of two Black men after a white neighbor complained. Several Black males had been staying at the property and the neighbor had observed suspicious behavior. The officer who received the complaint directed an investigator to take care of it.

On January 24th, six law enforcement officers entered victims Eddie Parker and Michael Jenkins' home without a warrant.

KRISTEN CLARKE, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR CIVIL RIGHTS: Handcuffing the victims behind their back and using racial slurs and derogatory language and yelling at the victims. Discharging a firearm in order to scare and intimidate the victims. Holding them down and pouring cooking oil, milk, alcohol, and chocolate syrup on their faces and into their mouths. Forcing them to painfully and involuntarily ingest those liquids. Striking one of the victims with objects including a metal sword, a piece of wood, and a wooden kitchen implement. Kicking one of the victims in the ribs, tasing the victims dozens times with department-issued Tasers and stealing personal belongings from the house.

YOUNG: It ended with Jenkins getting shot in the mouth, the bullet lacerating his tongue, breaking his jaw and exiting out of his neck. For months, there was doubt about the official account of what took place. The Mississippi Department of Public Safety releasing a statement the day after the incident saying only that the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations is investigating an officer-involved shooting. But that didn't encapsulate the horror.

In July, I spoke to Parker, Jenkins and Jenkins' mother and toured the home where the crimes occurred.

EDDIE PARKER, VICTIM OF RANKIN COUNTY POLICE ASSAULT: They started beating many he here, and tasing me, and you can see, you know, blood spots and all. My blood spots there.

YOUNG: Jenkins' injuries make it difficult for him to speak.


YOUNG: Has anyone from the department reached out to you and apologized or ever asked for anything at all?

Franklin County Sheriff Bryan Bailey spoke at a press conference about the incident in late June.

BRYAN BAILEY, FRANKLIN COUNTY SHERIFF: I believe in my heart that this department is one of the best in the state and I'm committed to do everything in my power to keep this department on a correct path moving forward.

YOUNG: Yesterday, he issued an apology and said he didn't fully understand the gravity of the crimes until recently. Federal authorities begin their review in February, they along with the state of the Mississippi, were able to secure guilty pleas of all accused.

LAMARCA: Not only did they brazenly commit these acts but firing a shot through one of victim's mouths. They left him lying in a pool of blood. Gathered on the porch of the house to discuss how to cover it up. What indifference. What disregard for life.

YOUNG: A life that will never be the same for either of these two men.

PARKER: It's hard to stay right here, knowing what happened right here. Justice is what it all boils down to. I'm just like them. You know, whether they're in uniform or not.


YOUNG (on camera): Very tough to listen to. The officers pleaded guilty to multiple federal charges including conspiracy against rights and deprivation of rights under the color of law. And we sat there and talked to the two men, you understood how frustrated they were. They were trying to get anyone to listen to them and for a while. No one was listening. In fact, media coverage was small at one point.

And then the idea that now they have this moment, they have a moment of truth and you hear about this, the torture that they endured, it's almost impossible to understand, talking to law enforcement officials across country, they can't believe this happened and wondering whether or not there'll be a larger review of that entire sheriff's department in coming weeks -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: It's horrible to hear the victim say he feels embarrassed. Brian Young, I know you'll stay on top of story for us. Thank you.

And some of the victims in this case will be joining Laura Coates on "CNN TONIGHT". Make sure to watch.

Well, in lighter news, Simone Biles returning to gymnastics for the first time since the Tokyo Games. Could Paris be next for her?

But, first, here is CNN's Wolf Blitzer with what's next in "THE SITUATION ROOM".

Hi, Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: Hi, Bianna. Thank you very much.

The former Trump national security adviser, Ambassador John Bolton, joins me live right here in "THE SITUATION ROOM" tonight. We'll get his thoughts on the historic third indictment of the former president, as well as Trump's not guilty plea today in new charges in the Mar-a- Lago classified documents investigation in Florida.

I'll also get reaction from one of Donald Trump's rivals from the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, Asa Hutchinson will join me live. All of that and much more coming up at the top of the hour here in "THE SITUATION ROOM".



GOLODRYGA: In our sports lead, the GOAT is back. Seven-time Olympic champion Simone Biles is scheduled to compete to qualify for the national championships tomorrow. This could be one step towards the Olympics next year. She hasn't competed since the 2021 Tokyo Olympics where she stepped down from several events.

This is my favorite story of the day. No matter your taste in music, this next story will rock you.


GOLODRYGA: According to "The Guardian" newspaper, which calls it a killer queen sale, Sotheby's is getting ready to auction Freddie Mercury's belongings. He left them to one of his best friends when he died of AIDS in 1991. All sorts of crazy little things are going on the auction block from clothes, lyrics and art, even to his tiffany silver mustache comb and the piano where he composed hits like "Bohemian Rhapsody".


GOLODRYGA: In all, about 30,000 objects are expected to go for upwards of $14 million. What a cool story. And be sure to tune into "STATE OF THE UNION" on Sunday morning. CNN's

Dana Bash will be talking to 2024 Republican presidential candidates Mike Pence and Chris Christie. Plus, Donald Trump's lawyer John Lauro. It is 9:00 a.m. on Sunday at noon and 9:00 a.m.

And our coverage begins now with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM".