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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Biden Holds Historic Camp David Summit With Leaders Of Japan, South Korea; Southwest U.S. Braces For Significant Flooding; 111 Dead In Maui Wildfires, More Than 1,000 Still Missing; Trump's Team In Contact With D.A. About Georgia Surrender; GOP Presidential Candidates Attend Atlanta Campaign Event. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired August 18, 2023 - 16:00   ET



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And the idea we're going to sit down with the rest of the world and say -- well, that's only a European problem. There hasn't been that kind of invasion since World War II.

And so as for peace, we all want that, of course. Ukrainians want it most of all, and my team has been working very closely with President Zelenskyy's team and further peace formula, noting that nothing about Ukraine without Ukraine. But nonetheless, we're meeting with them constantly, constantly.

And your other two questions about China, I'll just say this. This summit was not about China. That was not the purpose of the meeting, but it did come -- China obviously came up.

Not to say we don't share concerns about the economic coercion or heightened tensions caused by China, but this summit was really about our relationship with each other and deepening cooperation across an entire range of issues that went well beyond just the immediate issues we raised.

It was about a more peaceful and prosperous Indo-Pacific, a region quite frankly that would benefit everyone living there and around the world if we get it right. It's not just here. It has a phenomenal impact. Think about what's -- anyway, I won't get going. It'll take too long.

But as you've seen from initiatives we're announcing here, today is just how committed we are to see this vision take place. And I think this relationship that we put together, and I think you're going to see it expand. It's not really what we did today. This is a historic meeting, but we're about to lay in place a long-term structure for a relationship that will last and have a phenomenal impact not just in Asia but around the world.

Someone once said in a different context that about healthcare provision in my country a while ago. This is a big deal. This is a big deal. Thank you.

REPORTER: President Biden, how -- BIDEN: They'd have to answer the questions.

YOON SUK YEOL, SOUTH KOREAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Yes, let me address the questions directed to me. First, as to North Korea's nuclear and missile provocations and the threats that are posed and how we plan to counter those threats together along with our three countries, let me address that question, of the cooperative frameworks among our three countries is the most -- what is most symbolic out of those is our cooperation in defense area. Any provocations or attacks against any one of our three countries will trigger a decision making process of this trilateral framework, and our solidarity would become even stronger and harder.

And at the same time missile information will be shared in a real-time basis, and systematic training and drills will be implemented in accordance with systematic annual schedules, regular schedules and regular trainings that we plan to carry out together against the DPRK's missile provocations. That will be our response.

And at the same time regarding your question concerning the water release from the Fukushima plant, as a matter of fact that issue was not addressed during our summit because it was not on the agenda. But, still, let me try to address the question. The Fukushima plant treated water if it's going to have some type of impact, it would flow through the entire Pacific Ocean, having an impact not just on our three countries but all countries around the world.

As such for the sake of safety and health of the people of our three countries and all members of the international community, that should be something that we need to place our highest priority on.

Regarding this treated water based on scientific principles, all of the processing should be carried out accordingly. And at the same time, internationally recognized and reliable IAEA's investigation results are something that we can trust. And I would like to make sure that everything is conducted and carried out in accordance with the procedures established by the IAEA together with the international community and also together with the Koreans, transparent data disclosure would be necessary in my opinion.


FUMIO KISHIDA, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Thank you.

The question to myself. As you mentioned, nuclear and missile development by North Korea or unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the East and South China Seas are ongoing, and the security environments surrounding our three countries, it has become increasingly harsh day after day.

Under this backdrop on this occasion, we agree to enhance the coordination between the U.S., Japan and U.S., ROK alliances and to bring the trilateral security cooperation to new heights. It is indeed a requirement of this era. And by the summit I am sure the trilateral cooperation will further advance regional peace and stability. In particular with regard to North Korea, we were able to put forward

concrete results such as the implementation of annual Japan-U.S. ROK multi-domain exercises and the establishment of a working group to address North Korea's cyber activity.

I also stated that the abduction issue is a humanitarian issue with time constraints. And Joe and President Yoon reiterated their strong support of resolution for this matter. We also shared our recognition that the path to dialogue with North Korea is opened. Furthermore, once again the presidents of both countries aligned with me in strongly opposing unilateral changes to the status quo through the use of force.

We will continue our efforts to further strengthen the strategic partnership among the three countries in order to defend the free, open, and international order based on the rule of law.

That is all, thank you.

BIDEN: I hope to follow up on our conversation with Bali this fall. That's my expectation. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This concludes our press conference. Please stay seated as the leaders depart, please. Please stay seated.

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

You've been listening and watching a news conference at the conclusion of President Biden's first ever trilateral summit with the prime minister of Japan and the president of South Korea. In this meeting, the leaders agreed to a commitment to conduct annual military exercises and to continue their conversations by holding a summit together every year.

Let's bring in CNN's Arlette Saenz who is live from Camp David, CNN's chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto, and CNN's Paula Hancocks reporting from Seoul, South Korea.

Jim, let's start with you. So, in addition to those agreements, they also agreed to establish a new crisis hot line and tighter economic cooperation. To quote the president, this was a big deal.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, and the president also said this is not about China. He said it's about the relationship among these three nations, but the truth is China is very much a unifying threat for the U.S., South Korea and Japan. And when you look at each of these steps here, these annual multi-domain exercises among the three nations, the enhanced ballistic missile defense and this hot line, having to consult with each other about having to respond to threats, those all relate not just to North Korea, North Korean missiles, North Korean military buildup, and North Korean threats but very much to China.

China is increasing its nuclear arsenal by an order of magnitude over the coming years. All these things are issues that those three nations agree on as a growing threat, and this president -- this U.S. president would not have been able to unite South Korea and Japan who have a long history of difficulties between the two of them without that unifying force really of China, which extends frankly beyond those three nations in Asia. There are a number of other Asian nations that are watching China's growth, its military expansion with some alarm.

The only other point I would make is this.


It's notable to hear two Asian leaders and the U.S. president speak so prominently about Ukraine, because even though Ukraine is many thousands of miles away from them, they look at that as a precedent, and they want to make clear not just to Russia but also to China that they and the world are going to unite in terms of defending and opposing that kind of territorial aggression. So, it's not just China unifying them, it's also Russia and Ukraine.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, that's important point to make, Jim, and worth noting not only did they support and continue to provide support for Ukraine, but they also increased their own defense budgets following Russia's invasion last year.

Paula, let me turn to you because this really took political courage from both leaders, South Korea and Japan, to put aside their straying paths in order to come together. President Yoon in particular help set this in motion earlier this year.

Talk about the significance of this meeting and the mixed reviews it has received thus far in Seoul.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, it's certain President Yoon did come to power saying he wanted this relationship to be improved. It's not a popular thing to say here inside South Korea, in fact similar situation in Japan. There are decades of tension and mistrust between these two nations stemming from Japan's colonial past. And there are historical grievances which have not been resolved. They are still ongoing, and there is a very deep felt and often emotional feeling here in South Korea that this should not go ahead.

When you look at public opinion polls, there is still a sizable amount of people that do not support this. They do not believe that this should be going ahead. So for both President Yoon and also Prime Minister Kishida, they have spent significant political capital in even getting to this point.

But as Jim said they do share common threats. When you look at North Korea, the increasing launches and missile tests we have seen, some of those even going over Japan's territory. So certainly, they shared these common threats. They both felt the economic and military might of the rise of China's threat as well, so this is why they are there today -- Brianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah. And, Arlette, it's worth noting this president, President Biden was able to achieve something his predecessors were not able to in bringing these two countries together and really fulfilling and following through on his pledge to pivot to Asia.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Brianna, and it really speaks to President Biden's goals and the argument he made back in 2020 and since becoming president that strong alliances are critical to the U.S. cornerstone of foreign policy here, and that is why the president has taken great steps to try to nurture these relationships with bilateral partners but also bringing them into this trilateral agreement.

The president today hailing this as a new era of cooperation between the two countries. Of course the president talked about their need to work together when it comes to addressing concerns about North Korea. He noted that they will have those intelligence sharing agreements when it comes to both missile threats as well as cyber security.

The president also noting that the summit wasn't about China, but that is the underpinning of so much of his efforts in the Indo-Pacific, as he's trying to bring allies together as there is that rising concern about China's economic and military power. I will say at the end, he did say he hopes to meet President Xi this coming fall.

GOLODRYGA: And, Arlette, the president couldn't escape, asked about domestic issues as well, specifically he was asked about Hunter Biden and the special counsel. What did he say?

SAENZ: Well, I asked President Biden at the very end how the special counsel would impact the 2024 election. He did not answer that question, but a bit earlier, he was specifically asked about the special counsel now investigating his son Hunter Biden. He said he would not comment and would defer questions to the Justice Department. That is pretty standard for the way this White House has approached these investigations, be it relating to former President Donald Trump or the president's son, Hunter Biden.

Of course, this is an issue that Republicans continuously try to bring up as they're trying to paint the Biden family as corrupt, something the White House has consistently pushed back on. But the issue of Hunter Biden is certainly going to play out as this 2024 election campaign heats up.

GOLODRYGA: All right. Arlette Saenz, Jim Sciutto, and Paula Hancocks will continue to follow this very important development. Thank you so much.

Well, coming up, Hurricane Hilary is barreling towards the Baja California peninsula and the southwestern United States, and a years- worth of rain could fall -- get this -- in just un day in some of the driest parts of the country.

Then, FEMA says its disaster fund is already running out of money before hurricane season has truly even started. And last week's wildfires in Maui could cost billions more. [16:15:00]

I'll ask a FEMA official on the ground in Lahaina about their plan.


GOLODRYGA: We are back now with our national lead. You are looking at category 4 Hurricane Hilary tearing its way through Mexico today heading north to potentially drop a years worth of rain on parts of southwestern United States in just a day or so. It's triggering the first ever tropical storm warning for California and the first ever level 4 of 4 threat in one part of the state.

We're also following, of course, the devastating aftermath of the hurricane fueled fires that turned parts of Maui to ruins. As of now, we know at least 111 people lost their lives and only about 45 percent of the impacted area has been searched as of last night.

But let's begin with an update on Hurricane Hilary. Our meteorologist Chad Myers is in the CNN Weather Center.

Chad, when will the storm reach the U.S., and what can we expect once it's here?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I think the rain probably starts tomorrow afternoon, and we hope that's the case. And I'll tell you why. Because we hope the ground is wet before the wind blows 60. Because if the wind is blowing 60 in a desert in a place that hasn't seen a lot of rain this summer at all, you could see fires before the hurricane ends and comes to put these fires out.


So these are called precursor rains. They come in before the hurricane, come on some of the outer bands. Two o'clock advisory, 145 miles per hour.

Now, there is some good news. The hurricane hunter aircraft just flew through this. It left Biloxi and a prop C130 flew all the way up to the storm but it found the pressure was not as low, and it found the winds are not as high as the satellite estimates. That's good news.

It may not even be a Cat 4 right now. We'll have another update at 5:00. A lot of times the hurricane center kind of lets it go for the entire next run to see if another plane goes in. But the first tropical storm watch ever in California from this storm.

It is going to be a very big storm where it is now or not. The storm does head up toward into much colder water, and that's the only thing going to stop this 130, 150 possible mile-per-hour hurricane from being a huge impact to southern California. Two impacts and we're still going to see winds to 60 going to bring trees down. We're also going to see the potential significant rainfall.

Right now, the storm is in middle 80s, upper 80-degree water. By the time it gets closer to California, middle 60s, that will kill it. But will it kill it in time?

So much rainfall still to come, and as you said a level 4 of 4 of significant flash flooding possible. The first time it's ever happened out here in the southwest.

GOLODRYGA: We'll take whatever good news we can get. We'll be watching this closely and coming back to you.

Chad Myers, thank you.

Also topping our national lead, searchers on Maui are still digging through the charred remains of more than 2,000 burnt homes and businesses. It's the aftermath of the deadliest wildfires in the U.S. in more than 100 years. At least 111 are dead and more than 1,000 still missing.

CNN chief climate correspondent Bill Weir is on the ground in Maui.

Bill, what are you seeing there today?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bianna, we are at a community meeting. It's just wrapping up. They just were singing after a press conference the community leaders called to make their demands for the recovery right now.

Number one, they want time to grieve. They're asking Governor Josh Green not to rush the reopening.

Number two, put community first in rebuilding this place. Fast tracking this cannot come at the expense of community involvement, they're insisting.

And number three, there's a Chapter 92 Sunshine Law in Hawaii that mandates transparency in these big decisions when it comes to building. And you've got to understand the context, not just the trauma these folks are going through right now, but generationally since Captain Cook who was the first outsider ended up trying to kidnap the king of Hawaii and a skirmish was killed in the surf.

Generation after generation of outsiders have come in here and changed this place often for the worst, plantation, sugar cane owners changed the ecology of the land around Lahaina, and that's a water fight still ongoing. They said here the water in this place is controlled 75 percent of it by private interests. There's a fight now about whether or not water rights had something to do with fire hydrants not having enough pressure as firefighters are trying to put out their own neighborhoods.

So there's that piece of it, but they're really worried that they'll be pushed out again as has been the case in so much of Hawaii's history of native lands getting the short end of the deal right now.

As for search and rescue, I spoke with some dog teams from L.A. County fire. The dogs are actually burning their paws because there's so many hot spots still in this 3 1/2 square mile area they're trying to sift through almost on a granular level. The fact they've only identified 6 of 111 tells you the forensic challenge of this and how long it will take and the missing number.

The governor last told us this many people missing at this point so many days after, and so much of the communications have been restored, you would think you get contact, you get confirmation especially those kids are alive. But they're coming to grips with the idea of who knows if some of them will ever be found -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, that's exactly what I'll be asking our next guest.

Bill Weir, thank you.

And FEMA spokesperson John Mills joins us now from Hawaii.

So, John, I don't know if you were able to hear Bill, but the death toll now standing at 111. We've seen reports more than 1,000 people still missing. As noted it's now been ten days since the fire. Most people by now have had access to some cellphone service.

Based on what you and your teams are seeing, are you bracing for what could be a profoundly unthinkable death toll?


JOHN MILLS, FEMA SPOKESPERSON: Bianna, good to be with you.

I think your correspondent Bill Weir captured the tone very well. A lot of things are taking place here, and unfortunately the FEMA urban search and rescue teams that are searching for those who are still unaccounted for don't have a lot of good news in terms of finding survivors. They're working really hard. We have doubled the number of search dogs, so now 40 or more working in that area.

But as has been reported, it's a challenging environment to work. So we're working very closely with Maui County officials and also state emergency management on this very challenging task while also at the same time prioritizing disaster survivors.

And we've already approved more than 2,000 households who have been affected by the fires for FEMA disaster assistance.

GOLODRYGA: I know you say you're working very hard, but many Maui residents are saying the government help is still lacking so many days after the fact. I want to read for you what one resident told "The Washington Post."

We hear that we have lots of provisions whether it be through FEMA or Red Cross, but everybody's on a different page. Emergency services and organizations that should be coordinated and organized in the public eyes have completely fallen through.

What is your response to that assessment?

MILLS: I was just meeting this morning with a community organization here. That cultural center which had a significant amount of damage opened up a point of distribution with food, water, clothing, and other emergency supplies right after the fires struck at the post office and they moved to another location.

The Maui County has opened a distribution center at a shopping center just across the street. FEMA is working closely with state emergency management and Maui county emergency management to make sure that those locations and shelters don't run out of supplies.

So FEMA's not in charge. The state is in charge. Maui County is executing the emergency management response, and FEMA is coordinating across the entire federal government, bringing all federal resources to bear, to help meet the needs that we care about from the state.

GOLODRYGA: Are you satisfied thus far with the state's response?

MILLS: I think that's a question for the state. FEMA is doing everything we can to support this historic event, and it is incredibly difficult. We are working across multiple lines of effort in close coordination with Maui county and the state. We're talking about emergency services, mass care, critical infrastructure, and temporary housing.

FEMA has activated a program called transitional sheltering assistance. That's a FEMA hotel program. The state also has other program.

So, right now this temporary housing is helping people move out of shelters and into hotels. This is actively happening right now, so that's a first step. But we'll also be working long-term with survivors on longer term challenges, and there are a lot of them including taking necessary steps to begin to allow people to think about rebuilding on their land.

We know that this area has incredible historic significance, and that's why we are listening to local officials and listening to local residents about cultural sensitivities and working hand in hand with Maui county embedding in their emergency operations so that we're all working together as one big team.

GOLODRYGA: Well, FEMA is also facing its own challenges. Its disaster fund is already running out of money and could be depleted by the end of this month. The agency has enough for the initial response to Maui, but long-term funding could be an issue if Congress doesn't pass the spending bill.

How would this impact the people of Maui?

MILLS: We're working closely to make sure we have all the resources necessary for people affected by the wildfires in west Maui.

GOLODRYGA: All right. Well, John Mills, thank you for taking the time. I know you're very busy there on the ground. We appreciate it.

New images show just how destructive that wildfire was in Lahaina. Just look at this. Home after home after home just gone, wiped away.

You can help survivors get back on their feet. You head to for options to donate. You can also text the word Hawaii to this number, 707070.

Well, up next, what Trump's legal team says happened when they tried to download evidence from the special counsel in the federal election interference case.



GOLODRYGA: In our law and justice lead, we're learning more about what the booking process could look like for former President Donald Trump when he turns himself into the Rice Street Jail in Fulton County, Georgia, next week for his fourth arrest.

CNN political correspondent Sara Murray joins me now.

So, Sara, we know Trump's legal team has already been in touch with the district attorney about how his surrender will work. What more are you learning about that?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Those conversations are expected to continue into next week in person so they can work out the details of bond and the details of release because you don't want to show up at this jail in Fulton County if are you the former president of the United States without a bond agreement in place.


This is a jail that has been plagued by a number of problems that is the subject of a federal civil rights investigation. And what Trump and what the Secret Service are going to want is get him in and out there essentially as quickly as possible.

Again, the sheriff there has said these defendants will be treated the same as any other defendants. That would include a mug shot. That would include a fingerprint for waiting to see if that happens. You know, normal defendants can spend hours around there waiting to be processed.

Obviously, we do not expect them to keep the former president waiting like that. I talked to other attorneys who said he could be in and out of there in 15 minutes if everyone is there to intake him.

GOLODRYGA: And, Sara, Trump also said he was going to host an event Monday to unveil a report about the 2020 Georgia election. That is no longer happening now, right?

MURRAY: No, he's called off what he was hailing as this press conference to talk about election fraud, talk about baseless allegations of election fraud in Georgia. It seems cooler heads have prevailed and convinced him this may not be the best approach not only because he has this pending case in Georgia but also he has a pending case in federal court related to election interference, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, sounds like he listened to his attorneys and advisers.

In another Trump case, this is the January 6th special counsel trial. Trump's attorneys are pressing for a trial date well after the 2020 election. We're talking years. What are they asking for specifically?

MURRAY: That's right. The government in this case, the justice department suggested January 2024 for a trial date, and the Trump team shot back how about April of 2026. There's a pretty big gap there.

Ultimately, it's going to be up to a judge to set the trial date. In this case, the Trump's team is arguing, one, he's got a lot on his plate in terms of other legal matters, which, of course, we know to be true. And, two, they're taking issue with the amount of discovery that's in this case. They say it's millions and millions of pages and it's going to take a while for them to be able to prepare a sufficient defense for the former president.

GOLODRYGA: All right. Sara Murray, thank you.

MURRAY: Thanks.

GOLODRYGA: I want to bring in Karen Friedman Agnifilo. She was the chief assistant district attorney for the Manhattan district attorney's office. This is the same office where Alvin Bragg is currently prosecuting the hush money case against Donald Trump. That was the first indictment.

Karen, good to see you.

Let's start with the Fulton County election interference case. Trump's legal team is still negotiating as we heard from Sara, the terms of jail release and bond. What do you think is an issue with these negotiations?

KAREN FRIEDMAN AGNIFILO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think they're going to be discussing exactly what will be and won't be done to the president because most people when they show up to a jail to surrender say, you wait your turn, you get searched, you get your fingerprints taken, your mug shot taken, you have to fill paperwork. And you could be there for hours, and you also have to negotiate terms of release and bond, et cetera.

So, I think they're going to want to negotiate all that ahead of time and get him in as quickly as possible. And certainly, what will the conditions of his release be. What will the bond be, what will the bail be?

GOLODRYGA: Also, sticking in Fulton County, prosecutors say it was Kenneth Chesebro who wrote memos, filling out a fake electors plan for six states. And today, new CNN KFILE video shows him at the U.S. Capitol on January 6th following around conspiracy theorist Alex Jones just as Congress was inside trying to certify the election.

What do you make of this connection here?

AGNIFILO: So one of the major defenses for Donald Trump in these cases is I was relying on my attorney, right? And that's going to be one of his defenses. It's called advice of counsel, and that requires you in good faith rely on your lawyer's advice.

And if your lawyer made a mistake and gave you bad advice by accident, then you might not be responsible if you accidently committed a crime. What this shows, I think, is this was not a good faith legal advice given to Trump. This was an activist lawyer who part of his strategy and there are e-mails that the January 6th Select Committee also had showing, an e-mail between Mr. Chesebro and Mr. Eastman, the two architects of the January 6th strategy.

And part of that was to create havoc and destruction and chaos, hoping that that would put pressure on the Supreme Court later on when this matter ultimately if they could get away with their fake elector scheme, getting that in front of the Supreme Court. So this is part of the plan, and having him there on the ground as part of that chaos and watching it, that goes beyond legal advice, and I think it puts him much more, it takes the aid of the defense away from Donald Trump significantly, and it makes him much more of a participant on the ground than just a lawyer giving advice.


GOLODRYGA: Let me turn now to the federal election interference case. Trump's legal team as you heard wants to push that trial date to April of 2026. They argue that prosecutors spent two years investigating and the evidence alone is over a million pages.

In a filing, Trump's team wrote, we began downloading the government's initial production on January -- on August 13th. Two days later, it was still downloading.

Have you ever seen a defendant propose a trial date nearly three years after indictment?

AGNIFILO: Well, certainly, if a defendant does not want to go to trial ever, yes, that's what they would do. I mean, normally, it's the other way around. It's normally the government asking for more time and the defendant in holding the government's feet to the fire and demanding a speedy trial.

This is -- but this is different. I don't think Donald Trump really wants to ever go to trial, right? He wants to try this in the court of public opinion and try to win over everybody and become president and then not be responsible for any of this, so this is part of the delay tactic he's shown in every one of his cases, right?

It's like a shell game that he goes to court and says, I can't be ready on this case because I have the other case, but then he goes to court on the other case and say, I can't be ready on this case because I have the other case. He's really using that same excuse for all of the cases.

And this one really is the most simple and straightforward. There's only one defendant, right? It's not like Mar-a-Lago where there's three defendants and three defense attorneys and three different lawyers making issue. You don't have a morass of classed documents.

There's some classified documents issue, but this is not a classified documents case, and there's only four charges, right? So it's a much easier case, one defendant, four charges.

And having that much discovery is slightly disingenuous. Yes, there is a lot of discovery but a lot of it is duplicates and e-mail headers and stuff we would call junk. It's a much smaller number of actual substantive discovery.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, Jack Smith wants this trial to begin in January of 2024. Let me get you to weigh in what we're just hearing on CNN, a CNN law enforcement official telling our Ryan Young that Donald Trump is expected to surrender to the Fulton County jail next Thursday or Friday. Remember that deadline that was set was for next Friday.

What do you -- what do you make of that news?

AGNIFILO: Well, he's certainly not rushing there, right? He's waiting until the last possible minute, and he's making the arrangements, you know, when he's going to come in and how that fits in the schedule, et cetera.

So, yeah, I heard the same thing as well it's for next Thursday or Friday, and I think he's not going to want to go in advance, right? He wants to go last or let everyone else go first, let other people go first, see what happens to them, see how it goes, and learn from there and be one of the last ones across the finish line.

GOLODRYGA: Okay. We'll wait and see.

Karen Friedman Agnifilo, thank you so. Have a great weekend.

AGNIFILO: Thank you.

GOLODRYGA: Tomorrow night, a CNN original series follows the evolution of Rudy Giuliani. It's called "GIULIANI: WHAT HAPPENED TO AMERICA'S MAYOR?" That is tomorrow night at 8:00 Eastern.

Then, on Sunday, don't miss "THE WHOLE STORY WITH ANDERSON COOPER". This week, the show breaks down the criminal indictment of Donald Trump. That is Sunday night at 8:00, right here on CNN.

Well, President Trump is expected to skip the presidential -- the Republican first presidential debate, so what does he plan to do instead? Talk more about that up next.



GOLODRYGA: In our 2024 lead, just moments ago, Nikki Haley finished speaking at the Atlanta, Georgia, event, the gathering. It comes as several other GOP presidential hopefuls spoke earlier in the day including Mike Pence, Tim Scott, and Ron DeSantis.

CNN's Eva McKend joins us now from the gathering in Atlanta.

Eva, Donald Trump did not attend this event and the moderator Erick Erickson for the most part did not ask the candidates about him. So what issues did you hear them talk about instead?


While Georgia is not as immediately consequential as Iowa or New Hampshire, it is still a battleground state. And with Trump not in the mix sucking up the oxygen, what we heard is candidate after candidate about 45 minutes each in conversation with this conservative radio host getting to talk about a wide range of issues.

Chief among them are something that came up time and time again universal here was this real push back against the bureaucracy and really them talking repeatedly about a re-imagining the federal government. Take a listen.


SEN. TIM SCOTT (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's time to fire Joe Biden. We need to clean out the entire DOJ. We need to clean out the White House staff. We need to clean out all the political appointees so that we can restore confidence and integrity.

MIKE PENCE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I'm president of the United States, we're going to get a new chairman at the Federal Reserve.


MCKEND: Now, Georgia's Republican Governor Brian Kemp also spoke today. His associated PAC, a co-host of this event. That is in part how Erick Erickson was able to put this on. We, of course, know that Governor Kemp and Trump do not have much of a relationship, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah, that's one way to put it. What did you hear from candidates about preparations for next week's debate?

MCKEND: Yeah, so after his remarks, Vice President Pence was actually the only one to stop and speak to reporters, and he got a lot of questions about Trump, but he steered the conversation to next weekend. He seemed to say he was really going to focus on kitchen table issues, on mortgage rates, on the economy and steer this conversation to how he thinks he would be the best person to go up against President Biden.


Take a listen.


PENCE: When I reach that debate stage next week, we're going to be talking about the issues the American people are focused on.

MCKEND: Is the former president's lead right now just insurmountable? What can you do to catch up at this point?

PENCE: Well, just watch and learn.


MCKEND: So watch and learn, the former vice president tells me.

Listen, another long day tomorrow with a host of speakers. Among them Vivek Ramaswamy and former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Congressman Will Hurd will speak, as well -- Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: All right. Eva McKend, thank you.

CNN senior political commentator John Avlon and CNN political analyst Margaret Hoover join me now for more on this.

It's good to see you, guys.

So, Margaret, let's start with you. Trump reportedly now plans to skip next week's debate, according to CNN's reporting. He may be turning himself in at Fulton County Thursday or Friday. Instead, though, we hear that he may be sitting down for an interview with Tucker Carlson.

Who knows if that changes by Thursday. He pulled this stunt before in a 2016 primary debate. But it didn't hurt him then.

Do you think that he will be impacted by primary voters if he skips next week's?

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, if you recall, remember the debate he skipped back in 2016 was in Iowa. And he ended up coming in second in Iowa, not winning the state. Now he is leading far and away in Iowa, but not necessarily -- I mean, Chris Christie is number two in New Hampshire.

So I do think he can afford to skip a debate. He can have a one on one with Tucker Carlson. This is long from over. It is extraordinary that the leading contender for the Republican nomination will not be -- will skip a debate, will probably benefit from it, and then turn himself in for a mugshot the next day. It's just worth hitting with that point.


GOLODRYGA: How many times can we say unprecedented?

John, skipping the debate and instead giving an interview to Tucker Carlson would be an affront to both the RNC and FOX News. Do you view this as an opportunity for the other Republican candidates debating that night to go after him finally? I'm referencing everyone other than Chris Christie.

AVLON: Yes. It is if they choose to show that they're equipped to really lead. Look, loyalty with Donald Trump is a one-way street. Everyone should know that by now, none better than Mike Pence. But campaigns are fundamentally about contrast. Those candidates are

too cowardly to draw a clear contrast with someone who's been indicted four times, 91 counts. You know, I don't know what to tell you other than you're not running for president. You're tiptoeing around something that offers the opportunity of real moral clarity.

And it's incumbent on anyone who wants to be president of the United States to stand on a debate stage, say what they think authentically and make the case to voters why they should be their party's nominee and the next president of the United States. You can't do that if you're afraid of a former president who tried to overturn an election. It's not tough. This isn't complicated, we forget that.

HOOVER: This question about skipping the debate, though, Bianna, I do think, you know, he may get away with it once, I suspect he won't be able to sustain it because even if he is in the lead, I think Donald Trump likes to have the spotlight. He wants to have the attention. Frankly, he doesn't like not being able to respond in full force to a chorus of criticism that will come after him because it's not just Chris Christie who's going to be criticizing him on that debate stage. Mike Pence will be criticizing his actions on January 6th. He showed no fear doing that.

Will Hurd has hit the 40,000 donation -- individual donors threshold, though he has not been let on the debate stage because he hasn't signed the pledge. Donald Trump hasn't signed the pledge either. So we will see how the RNC chooses to handle that. But there are -- there will be contrasts, and I think Donald Trump will have a hard time resisting returning to try to offer a knockout punch as he sees it.

AVLON: Yeah.

GOLODRYGA: So, maybe this is a onetime debate that he can afford to skip.

John, let me get you to respond to what CNN is reporting on the fallout, continued fallout from super PAC backing DeSantis, sharing debate strategy memos on line that call for DeSantis to, quote, hammer Ramaswamy and defend Donald Trump.

Let me read this, one person close to DeSantis' political operation was surprised that a person that never backed down would even write a memo or think it was appropriate to give the campaign advice a week out from the debate. The response this person received from Republican donors on Thursday was a, quote, chorus of people who think it was dumb, they said.

How bad was this for the DeSantis campaign?

AVLON: I mean, it is yet another face plant in a campaign of face plants. It's a self-inflicted wound. You got to love the irony of the PAC being called Never Back Down. The advice is we'll back down when it comes to Donald Trump. You know, try to deflect that and defend rather than, you know, speaking with authenticity.

[16:55:04] And, of course, among the many problems this is is that we're all going to have a Ron DeSantis bingo card on debate night figuring out how many times he checks the boxes according to what was recommended. So, it's just a -- it's a lose-lose, and it's tough to be in DeSantis' position, but he hasn't covered himself in glory in the process.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah. Never back down I guess except when it comes to Donald Trump, you can target everyone else.

Margaret, DeSantis' competitors, Will Hurd and Chris Christie, are criticizing the part of DeSantis's campaign memo where it called on DeSantis to defend Trump. Take a listen to what they said.


WILL HURD (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you're afraid to take on Donald Trump, then you shouldn't be on that stage, and you shouldn't be running for president.

CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People are really beginning to wonder what the hell he stands for. And if what he stands for is defending Donald Trump, then just drop out of the race and endorse him.


GOLODRYGA: What do you make of the strategy? We've seen from several Republican candidates defending their main competition, that's Donald Trump. I mean, if the theory was that the indictments alone would hurt Trump among primary voters, that hasn't happened, at least not yet.

HOOVER: Well, I mean, what you're seeing, Bianna, is how beholden the base of the Republican Party is which is they are self-identified Republican primary voters, are overwhelmingly still supportive of Donald Trump. And even if they harbor some doubts about him, they don't like the other Republicans are hitting each other inside the tent.

There is a little bit of this sort of 11th commandment Ronald Reagan hangover, thou shalt not insult another Republican. It's okay if Donald Trump does it.

AVLON: Yeah, apparently.

HOOVER: But for Republican primary voters, because there is this sort of cult-like affinity almost to Donald Trump, they just don't like when other people are beating up on somebody who has been seen as a standard bearer to the party.

Look, I -- I know that sounds crazy, but you asked what is happening, and that is why he continues to have such a pronounced lead. I do think Christie and Will Hurd are showing moral courage and clarity by standing up to him. And I do think there's a real chance that one of them could prevail in New Hampshire.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah. And -- AVLON: Look --

GOLODRYGA: Go ahead.

AVLON: Go ahead, Bianna.

GOLODRYGA: No, I want to hear what you say -- have to say.

AVLON: I was going to say, look, you know, debates in particular are about authenticity. They're about clarity and crispness and moral conviction. And that's where I think you could see an opening here.

You know, 37 percent of the Republican Party will back Donald Trump no matter what. That means a supermajority is either opposed or persuadable. And they're going to be persuaded by someone who has the courage of their convictions. That's human nature.

GOLODRYGA: If we can end on what we started with, and that is our reporting from a senior law enforcement official telling our Ryan Young that Trump is planning, as of now, to turn himself in to Fulton County jail next Thursday or Friday. Now, Fani Willis gave him a deadline of Friday.

But with the debate the night before, there had been speculation as to whether this is something that Trump would try to do to steal the thunder and attention away from either the debate on the debate night or the day after.

Margaret, what do you think of that strategy politically?

HOOVER: I mean, for Donald Trump when he's leading in the headlines, it's helping him with the base of the Republican Party. That's just the way it is. We've seen this every time an indictment has come down. The base of the party circles the wagons and gets behind Donald Trump. I am not persuaded that this is winning strategy in the long term.

AVLON: It's not. It's not.

HOOVER: Even to win the Republican nomination. But we have a pretty big system of closed partisan primaries in this country which has yielded candidates that do not appeal to the -- even the moderate -- even to the broad base of a party, let alone the broad majority of the American people.

GOLODRYGA: Let me correct myself, the debate is actually Wednesday. So if he does turn himself in Thursday I guess it could be taking away some of the thunder and the aftermath following the next day when we talk about the debate.

John, go ahead.

AVLON: Right. But it's not the same day. And I think that's what some of the speculation had been. Would we have a split screen in effect?

What this does hypothetically, if it's Thursday would suck up all the oxygen which would be very Donald Trump, bringing attention back to him rather than what happened the night before. To Margaret's point, there is no -- you could spin it any way you want, there's no universe where getting indicted a fourth time on the 91 counts helps you win the general election. That's just reality.

GOLODRYGA: Yeah. Reality check from John Avlon.

Margaret Hoover, John, good to see you both. Thank you.

AVLON: Be well.

GOLODRYGA: Well, coming up Sunday on "STATE OF THE UNION", FEMA administration Deanna Criswell, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy, former Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, and former Obama White House chief strategist and senior adviser David Axelrod. That is Sunday morning at 9:00 Eastern and again at noon right here on CNN.

If you ever miss an episode of THE LEAD, you can listen to show wherever you get your podcasts. Our coverage continues now with Alex Marquardt who is in for Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM".