Return to Transcripts main page

The Lead with Jake Tapper

Secretaries Of Army, Air Force, Navy Join The Lead To Demand Sen. Tuberville End His Military Holds; Elon Musk Threatens To Sue The Anti-Defamation League; CNN Poll: Trump Widens Lead Over Republican Rivals; Sources: Prosecutors Now Focusing Questions On Former Trump Lawyers Sidney Powell's Role; 22-Year Sentence For Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 05, 2023 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: This hour, an historic moment for Republican politics in Texas, holding impeachment hearings for one of their own, the states attorney general, Ken Paxton, his not guilty plea today, as the trial got underway for the firebrand Trump ally, accused of abusing his power, and bribery, and corruption.

Plus, inside the lawsuit threat by X or Twitter owner Elon Musk, his baseless claim that the Anti-Defamation League statements against hate speech is tanking revenue on his site. But should Musk turn the mirror toward himself?

But leading this hour, secretaries from three branches of the U.S. military are all here on The Lead for an exclusive in studio interview. For the first time in history, three branches of the U.S. military are operating without Senate confirmed leaders or Chiefs of Staff. Three hundred more top nominees are also on hold all because of this one lawmaker, Alabama Republican Senator Tommy Tuberville, and his objection to the Pentagon's new policy which reimburses service members or their families for travel if they have to go to another state to get an abortion.

After six months of frustrating paralysis, the secretaries of the Army and the Navy and the Air Force wrote this opinion piece in "The Washington Post," quote, "Officers and the millions of service members they lead are the foundation of America's enduring military advantage. Yet, this foundation is being actively eroded by the actions of the single U.S. senator, Tommy Tuberville. And it is putting our national security at risk."

So joining us now, the secretaries of the Air Force, Frank Kendall, of the Army, Christine Wormuth, and the Navy Carlos Del Toro for this exclusive joint interview.

Let me start with you Secretary Kendall. How is America less safe and less prepared than it was six months ago?

FRANK KENDALL, SECRETARY OF THE AIR FORCE: First of all, we are safe and we are prepared. But what Senator Tuberville is doing is doing significant damage to our national security. He is put on hold, as you said, hundreds of officers.

Each summer we move a large fraction of our general officers into new positions, we promote many of them. Right now that is all in limbo. So we have acting people basically serving in roles, in many cases doing more than one job at the same time because we can't move the person that we've nominated into that position. Having a major impact on those people hit on their families.

TAPPER: So Secretary Del Toro, the Navy is facing obviously a lot of challenges. We have digression of China in the Pacific, Iran in the Straits of Hormuz, we saw today in "The New York Times" an article about how the Navy struggling with modernizing the fleet. How are these holds keeping you from doing your job?

CARLOS DEL TORO, SECRETARY OF THE NAVY: Oh, Jake, you're absolutely right. Our nation faces serious threats throughout the globe. And I believe that we have a responsibility as government leaders to put our most experienced individuals, nominate them and have them confirmed in positions that they can actually lead our service members across the country. And I would argue that Tommy Tuberville, what he's actually doing is he's playing Russian roulette with the very lives of our service members by denying them the opportunity to actually have the most experience combat leaders in those positions to lead them in times of peace and in times of combat.

TAPPER: And Secretary Wormuth, this blanket hold obviously, in addition to affecting the national security issues that you describe. It also affects service members and their families, many of whom are in limbo needing to move, they already -- you know, their lives are -- they're constantly moving, their spouses. I want you to take a listen to this military spouse who's a member of the Secure Families Initiative.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every single time that we would move, I'd have to make sure that at our new duty station, we had water and electricity and gas and sewage and trash pickup. I'd have to enroll my kids in school, I'd have to find new doctors and orthodontists and dentists and eye doctors. I'd have to make sure that our car registration and our voter registration were updated. And the thing is, I didn't always agree with every single policy that the military had or every single action that they were engaged in. But I did it anyway, because I made a commitment to my spouse, my family and my country.


CHRISTINE WORMUTH, SECRETARY OF THE ARMY: You know, I can -- I absolutely relate to what that person is saying. And I can think of an example right now, I have a general officer who was supposed to move into a new house associated with their new position. And that service member was going to move their aging mother into that house with them so that they could care for them. Because that move isn't happening, they are paying $10,000 a month right now to keep the aging parent in an assisted living facility. That is the kind of consequences that's happening and these are service members who have literally put their lives on the line for Americans for the last 20 years.

TAPPER: And Secretary Kendall, today Pentagon spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder attempted to put the effect of these holes in terms that the public and maybe Tuberville himself, who I don't think served could understand he's a former football coach. He compared this to having an acting football coach. He didn't have real powers. Take a listen.


BRIG. GEN. PAT RYDER, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: And the shirt short term they're likely going to make things happen because that's what good leaders do. But what happens when performance on the field becomes impacted over time? How are you going to deal with the uncertainty of within the coaching staff and the locker room in terms of who's in charge? How are we going to affect performance? And then who are the fans going to hold accountable?



TAPPER: Of course, it's a lot more serious than that. It's not about who beats Alabama on Saturday, right?

KENDALL: It's much more serious. Let me give you an example of how serious it is. But people who are potential adversaries are paying attention to this. What are my journal officers from the Air Force was recently had an embassy event here in Washington where a colonel from the People's Liberation Army of China taunted him about the way our democracy was working. Our potential adversaries are paying attention to this and is affecting how they view the United States and our military capabilities and support for the military. This needs to stop.

DEL TORO: Yes, Jake, (INAUDIBLE) for someone who's born in a communist country, I would have never imagined that actually one of our own senators would actually be aiding and abetting communist and other autocratic regimes around the world. This is having a real negative impact and will continue to have a real negative impact on our combat readiness. And that's what the American people truly need to understand.

TAPPER: And Senator Tuberville released a statement that said in part, this is two weeks ago, I will continue this process of oversight, and I will announce my opposition to specific nominees in the weeks ahead. Do you know who he might be referring to?

WORMUTH: No, I don't know specifically, who is he is referring to. But we've seen some Twitter accounts or X accounts, you know, I think who are sympathetic to Senator Tuberville calling out individual general officers for their support, for example of things like equity and inclusion in the ranks. And you know, whether one agrees with that or not, it is just unprecedented to be attacking a political general officers and flag officers in this way. It is -- you know, it is taking are a political military institution. That's a core principle of our constitutional democracy and eroding its foundations.

TAPPER: You know, it's interesting because, you know, I've been a journalist in this town for a long time. And I'm just trying to imagine if during the Bush years, when a lot of Democrats really opposed the Iraq War, if Democrats had done this to the military then, which any one senator, I suppose could have the accusations of lack of patriotism that we would have heard from conservatives, but I haven't. Maybe I maybe I missed it, but I just haven't heard anything.

DEL TORO: It's exactly right, Jake. I mean I served in uniform for 26 years in the United States Navy under six different presidents, three Republicans, three Democrats, we have never seen another situation like this. And it's having a real impact on our service members who demand the trust of all the American people. Tommy Tuberville has to stop this hold on our nominees moving forward.

KENDALL: It's relatively routine for political appointees like ourselves so we put on hold pending a confirmation. It is totally unprecedented to do this to our professional military officers. You know, the hundreds of people and their families and all the others are affected by this have nothing to do with this policy. This is not going to be an effective tactic. And it's a terrible precedent for other situations.

WORMUTH: And it's not just the immediate consequences, it's all of the colonels, lieutenant colonels, even majors who are looking at how the general officers are being treated and what their families are going through. I really worry that a lot of those officers who volunteer are going to walk away and basically say, I don't want to deal with this. If this is what it takes to be a general officer, I don't want to do this.

TAPPER: Well, it's interesting because one of the bond rating agencies just downgraded the U.S. because of their analysis that the U.S. government is just so dysfunctional, in terms of like being able to solve the long term debt problems. We have this government shutdown coming down, which might affect military paychecks coming up. I wonder if this is -- and we talked about the recruiting problems that the military has, this can't help that.

DEL TORO: Well, you're absolutely right, Jake. And as you said, you know, national security is not a football game. The American people need to stand up and complain about what's going on because we need to actually turn this around as quickly as possible.

TAPPER: Final thoughts?

WORMUTH: Well, I hope, frankly, that Senator Tuberville and a lot of his peers in the Senate heard from their voters when they were out on recess. That's part of why we timed the op-ed when we did. It's Congress's coming back into recess, and I hope a lot of Americans have said enough is enough.

TAPPER: Well, I think the point that you made, sir, that this isn't about political appointees.


TAPPER: This is about generals, admirals, colonels, lieutenant colonels, majors, people who have devoted their lives --

DEL TORO: That's right.

TAPPER: -- to serving this country. They're the ones and their families, their poor Blue Star families who are being affected.

DEL TORO: And to suggest that these admirals and generals did not fight is completely wrong. These are the same individuals who for 20 years actually defended our national security in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the globe. They deserve our respect. And more importantly the current service members who serve in our services demand to have the best leadership to guide them and lead them in combat and during times of peace.


TAPPER: Secretary Christine Wormuth and Secretary Frank Kendall and Secretary Carlos Del Toro, thanks one and all for being here. We should note that we reached out to Alabama Senator Tuberville's office for an interview. He declined.

We're standing by for a prison sentence for Enrique Tarrio, the so called chairman of the Proud Boys in his role in the January 6 attack. Prosecutors are pushing for 33 years. We'll see what the judge decides.

Plus, the threat of a defamation lawsuit from Elon Musk he claims without any evidence that we've seen that statements by the Anti- Defamation League had been hurting revenue on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, but is this just an empty threat?


TAPPER: In our tech lead, Elon Musk says he's threatening to sue the Anti-Defamation League for lost revenue at X, the website formerly known as Twitter. Musk claims without any evidence that we've seen that the ADL statements about rising hate speech on the platform are the reason why there is -- has been a 60 percent decrease in advertising on X.


The ADL and other organizations have noted the increase in hate speech on the platform since Musk took over and removed much of the content moderation. A spokesman for the ADL responded to Musk's threat, quote, "The ADL is unsurprised yet undeterred that antisemites, white supremacists, conspiracy theorists and other trolls have launched a coordinated attack on organization. This type of thing is nothing new," unquote.

This is not the first time Musk has threatened to take legal action against his opponents and critics. Last month he sued the Center for countering digital hate, a nonprofit group whose research found that hate speech on X has risen dramatically under Musk's ownership. Kara Swisher, the host of the podcast "on with Kara Swisher," among others joins me now.

Kara, thanks so much for being here. So, he -- Elon Musk later said, quote, "To be super clear, I'm pro free speech, but against antisemitism of any kind." Never really good sign when you have to clarify to people --


TAPPER: -- that you're against antisemitism.

SWISHER: Right, right. Yes.

TAPPER: But it's just empirically true. And this is part of his free speech position when you take this, what he calls a purist free speech position, although it's not real. He blocks free speech he doesn't like.


TAPPER: But he allows antisemitism to flourish. And we've all seen it.

SWISHER: Right. Well, he's the first amendment is a Swiss army knife, whatever it suits him, he'll write in a way.

TAPPER: Right.

SWISHER: He'll either block people or cut people off or sue people or say he's for free speech. It's sort of it's his cloak that is everybody can see through, it's transparent. And so, you know, it's threatening to groups like ADL or a lot of these academic groups. I used to talk to all of them and they're very nervous to talk because or do reports, it's -- it has a chilling effect on these people because they're going to be subject to a lawsuit by the world's richest man, who the reason advertising is down is because it's a worst platform. That's it. And so, you know, his tactic is, and I hate to say it, it's blame the Jews, that's what he's doing right here.

And so, that's why everybody's sort of incensed about what he's doing. His tweets are very carefully calibrated to sort of dog whistle to a lot of people and at the same time go, but I'm not an antisemite.

TAPPER: Right. But he --

SWISHER: No one called him that, by the way.

TAPPER: Right. Well, I have seen some people call him that.

SWISHER: Yes, but --

TAPPER: But the ADL didn't call him that.

SWISHER: No, they didn't.

TAPPER: But he -- I mean, he blamed the ADL -- SWISHER: Yes.

TAPPER: -- said that they don't speak for Jews, right? He suggested they don't speak for Jews.


TAPPER: I mean, anyway --

SWISHER: Neither does he. But OK --

TAPPER: Right.

SWISHER: -- nobody does, but all right.

TAPPER: Is it not true, though? Like, I mean, I've been -- I'm still on X. I'm on several other sites, too.

SWISHER: You are.

TAPPER: But is it not true that he regularly engages with --

SWISHER: Yes, he does.

TAPPER: -- people who are white supremacists and antisemites --


TAPPER: -- which sends a signal to people that like he is engaging with these people. He likes these people.

SWISHER: He doesn't just engage, it's actually very jocular in a lot. He let a lot back on, people that had been thrown off, he's let them back on that Twitter had taken off because of abuses of the platform under their rules. And now he has new rules and so he's allowed them back on just like Trump, everybody else. And he engages in sort of this joking manner that does not show, hey, that might be a problem. Like today, Mark Cuban, who was sort of the polar opposite of Elon Musk in temperament and style --

TAPPER: Right.

SWISHER: -- was engaging with Stephen Miller and Matt Walsh over their obsession with woke mob, they just seem to be -- I guess, the Burning Man people set them off for something --

TAPPER: Right.

SWISHER: -- covered with mud.

TAPPER: So they were attacking some --

SWISHER: Whatever.

TAPPER: -- 29 year old woman who doesn't have kids.

SWISHER: Yes. I don't know. Whatever.


SWISHER: They have someone to attack every day.

TAPPER: Right.

SWISHER: And so, he was engaging in a really interesting way that was debating. And Elon is just going interesting. Exactly. That kind of stuff.

TAPPER: Right.

SWISHER: So, it's sort of giving people signals and that's what people think that he's doing. I think that's what he's doing.

TAPPER: So, last month, the new CEO of X, who Elon Musk --


TAPPER: -- could hired to supposedly be --


TAPPER: -- run the company --


TAPPER: -- Linda Yaccarino, is that --

SWISHER: Linda Yaccarino.

TAPPER: Yaccarino.

SWISHER: She used to worked for NBC.

TAPPER: She said that brands were going to come back to X, the company was about to break even. Did that happen? Is it profitable?

SWISHER: No idea. No idea. It wasn't not breaking before but the advertising decline rather considerably after Musk got there. He did a lot of layoffs. He insulted advertisers, he threatened them.

He then said it was their fault. It's always someone's fault in Elon's world except for Elon, and that's the problem. And Linda has her hand's full (ph), she's very professional person. But you know, some of her statements, you know, everything's great here, there's no problem here. You know, it's like being told when you're in a very dangerous city, it's totally safe to walk the streets. It's not.

TAPPER: Right. It's just a less pleasant experience.

SWISHER: Very unpleasant. Yes.

TAPPER: That's my -- all right.


TAPPER: Kara Swisher, it's great to see you.

SWISHER: Thank you.

TAPPER: Thanks for being here.

Coming up next, he's a Trump supporter, his wife is not. The contrast in one household that is emblematic across the Republican Party right now. And a new CNN poll is giving us a good idea of just how wide that divide really is.



TAPPER: Our politics lead now, our 2024 leads specifically, a new CNN poll shows that Donald Trump is increasing his lead over the rest of the Republican pack. The poll taken after less months -- last month's Republican debate shows Trump at 52 percent among Republicans and Republican leaning voters. That's 34 points ahead of Governor Ron DeSantis, who's in second place with 18 percent. The rest of the pack is in single digits. We're going to dig further into the numbers in just a minute.

But let's start in New Hampshire, the first of the nation primary state where many of the candidates and CNNs Jeff Zeleny are listening to the voters.


BOB TILTON, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: To catch up to Trump --


B. TILTON: -- it's a big decline (ph).

ZELENY (voice-over): Bob Tilton has a front row seat to the Republican presidential contest. He likes a few options but he loves former president Donald Trump. His wife Crystal does not.


CRYSTAL TILTON, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: I think he's had his time and there was enough controversy over it and it's time to move on.

ZELENY (voice-over): Their disagreement brings to life a monumental divide inside the Republican Party.

B. TILTON: They were attacking him constantly, how can anybody do a good job? I mean, he did. But he was constantly attacked, and it's all fake.

ZELENY (voice-over): Here in New Hampshire, home to the first in the nation primary, a summertime campaign has given way to a fall fight for survival in a race dominated by signs of Trump's strength. Republican Governor Chris Sununu insists the GOP contest is still competitive.

(on camera): You don't believe that this primary is effectively over?

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-N.H.): Oh god, no. My god, not even close. Not even close. Was it over when Clinton was leading Barack Obama by 20 points at this point back in 2008? No one could beat the Clinton machine, remember? No, not at all.

ZELENY (voice-over): Sununu believes Trump will be unable to win back the White House for Republicans. He points to the general election in New Hampshire where in 2016 Trump fell short to Hillary Clinton by fewer than 3,000 votes. But four years later, he lost to Joe Biden by nearly 60,000. A big reason he believes his Independent voters turned away from Trump.

SUNUNU: Here in New Hampshire, though, I think they'll play a big role. I think a lot of Independents will come out and vote in the Republican primary.

ZELENY (voice-over): At a campaign stop for former Vice President Mike Pence, Larry Rocha introduced himself as one of those Independents.

LARRY ROCHA, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: I was a Republican from the first day that I can vote. Many, many years later, I went Independent.

ZELENY (voice-over): He later told us he's looking for a candidate who can turn the page from Trump.

ROCHA: And I'm just waiting for someone to step up. So I can feel comfortable voting for someone, not against someone.

ZELENY (voice-over): Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is taking his candidacy entirely on New Hampshire.

CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And this is the state in the country that can get it rolling.

ZELENY (voice-over): His Republican challengers are also urging New Hampshire voters to keep their minds open. Today, Pence had this quip at the ready.

MIKE PENCE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, what did Indiana Jones say? Never tell me the odds.

ZELENY (voice-over): Linda Russell is sizing up the Republican field in hopes of finding a fresh face.

LINDA RUSSELL, NEW HAMPSHIRE VOTER: We like the thought of either DeSantis or Vivek, someone that's younger. We definitely need a younger --

ZELENY (on camera): Trump's not your first choice at this point?

RUSSELL: He's not. I mean, I like -- yes, I think everything was great when he was here, but there's just so much baggage with them. And people are going to vote for Biden just because they don't like Trump. And we don't need that, yes.


ZELENY: So Trump does loom large in this race. There's no doubt about that. But Jake, talking to many Republican voters, they see this as far more than a one man race at this point.

Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor, she'll be arriving here shortly. Many voters also want to hear what she has to say. Of course, she had a strong showing at that debate late last month.

Jake, a little more than five months before New Hampshire voters weigh in here, in conversations with many of them, they're still keeping their minds open. Jake.

TAPPER: All right. They're flinty and independent up there, just like we like them. Jeff Zeleny, thanks so much.

ZELENY: That's right.

TAPPER: Let's dig into the numbers now in CNN's new poll with CNN Political Director, David Chalian. So Trump's lead is big and growing.

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: It is. You put up the numbers there. Look at -- this is a snapshot, it's a national poll. We obviously do this sequentially through states to amass delegates.

But by the way, the state polls show a similar narrative here. Donald Trump is the dominant front runner in this race, you see there 52 percent to 18 percent with DeSantis, everyone else in single digits. I hear that nobody not named Trump would not want to call this a one man race, but I don't know how you look at those numbers and see at this point in time how it's anything but a one man race.

TAPPER: There does seem at least to be some shuffling around in the back of the pack.

CHALIAN: Yes, we did see some movement after that first debate. If you look at the numbers from our June poll to where folks are now, you see Trump went up five points. DeSantis went down eight percentage points. Nikki Haley up a couple. You see Vivek Ramaswamy up 5 percent from 1 percent to 6 percent.

But what are we talking about here, Jake, I mean we're talking about people that are still in single digits and Donald Trump has a majority, you can add up every other number for candidates not named Trump, you still don't get as much as what Donald Trump has.

TAPPER: And let's get -- let's look at some of the other factors in the poll. Because I want to get your reaction to -- let's bring in the rest of the panel here. I'm going to get reaction to two sets of numbers. Actually, David, before we do this, show me the impact of what the criminal cases that Trump is facing, what is our polling show on that? CHALIAN: So we -- right. in addition to looking at the state of the race, we want to get a sense of how people are responding to these criminal charges. Take a look here, we ask people whether we think that they are seriously concerned that the criminal charges might negatively impact Trump's ability to either --


CHALIAN: -- Serve a full term or govern effectively, take a look -- I think the story here, Jake, is if you look at the overall American population you see that their majorities are seriously concerned that these legal troubles could impact him negatively to serve a full term or be effective as president, 60 percent of Americans say that. That's in the bars on the left of each of those.

But if you look at those -


TAPPER: Maroon.

CHALIAN: The maroon. If you look at the small red bars, that's among Republican and Republican leaners. They just don't buy it. They do not buy that his legal troubles are going to impact his ability to serve or govern effectively. And then we asked, what about his ability to win in 2024? And look here, Republicans 56 percent of them, so a majority say, no, his legal troubles will not impact his ability to win negatively.

But 44 percent, more than four in 10 Republicans and Republican leaners do think that this will affect his ability to win. I mean, this is why you hear somebody like Nikki Haley make an electability argument or others on the campaign trail. There's some market share there for that. But again, the majority position among Republicans, Jake, is that it will not impact his ability to run.

TAPPER: All right, now let's bring in our political experts. Of course, Alice, let me start with you. I'm going to get your reaction to two sets of numbers in the polls. One, only 10 percent, only 10 percent of Republicans believed Trump is facing so many criminal charges because of his own actions. And 60 percent of Republicans say Trump faces charges because of political abuse of the justice system. How do you see those numbers? Do you think Republican voters are completely out of touch with reality? Do you think that is the reality? What's your view?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, they -- those that believe that, yes, they are completely out of touch with reality, because these indictments are valid. And these are not weaponization of the DOJ. These are not abuse of the political system, even though we're hearing a lot of the challengers saying this is criminalization of the DOJ. There are valid causes for these indictments without a doubt.

But also to your point on those questions that were asked. Clearly Republicans believe these are, he's a target of a witch hunt. But you look at the independents and the Democrats. Those are important numbers to look at when Trump faces up many criminal charges because of his own actions. Independents, half of them believe it's because of his own actions and Democrats, almost 83 percent.

But here's an interesting crosstab as well, Trump faces so many criminal charges because of abuse of the system. Independents believe that 25 percent of them believe this is weaponization of the DOJ, so even independents are buying the malarkey that this is not valid actions on the part of Trump. So those are important things to keep track of. But look, we're seeing in these reports and many others, his numbers are getting just stronger. And people, Republican voters, they're more focused on the issues and not the indictments. They're focused on how they see him as a president on the economy, crime, education and immigration. They're looking at the issues and these indictments are not swaying them anyway.

TAPPER: Senator Murphy, Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, suggested that Trump being the nominee will make it easier for Democrats to keep the White House. I don't know that these numbers make that case.

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I don't either. The thing that keeps me up at night is third and fourth party candidates who could eat into Joe Biden's majority. The path is that Democrats have averaged 51 percent in every one, that's four presidential elections. They've won the popular vote and seven out of the last eight. It's a Democratic country. OK, the majority of Americans want Democrats in the White House.

But -- and Trump will get to 45, no sweat, nationally, not just in the party. He's already 53 in the party, he'll get 45 easily. His climb from 45 to 50 is insurmountable. But he win 45. He could if Joe Biden's majority is eaten into by a Dr. Cornel West who's running as a green, maybe no labels runs as a moderate. Third or fourth party candidates could really eat into this. That's what ought to be keeping the Biden team up at night. It's not even just the threat of Trump per se. But that third and fourth party candidates can eat into the majority that does not want Trump.

TAPPER: Alice, our poll shows that former President Trump is far and away the number one choice. It's not a two man race with DeSantis. It's a one man race with a whole bunch of others trailing him. Is there any scenario you see in which Donald Trump does not just coast to the Republican nomination?

STEWART: A lot of it could depend on what happens in these criminal cases. And look to as David pointed out, Donald Trump is at 52 percent more than all the other candidates combined. And that is, you know, by all intents and purposes, at this stage of the game insurmountable. We still have four months to go. I'm interested to see what happens in these cases, specifically Georgia, if something were to happen, and this would just start before people start voting, and these are televised, that will make a big difference.

And we're seeing tomorrow supposed to be a big day in Georgia with people entering their pleas. We're seeing reports that some of these people are flipping. They're going to turn on Donald Trump and present information where they were told they were forced to do so. And look, I know a lot of these people in Fulton County that are these co- conspirators or unnamed co-conspirators. I'm from Atlanta. I know these people. They work so hard and did so much to curry favor with Donald Trump and the Republican Party. These are the kinds of people that would throw their mama in a whorehouse to get politically advanced.


Now they're looking at this is real. They're not going to the Big House or the poor house for Donald Trump. And as they speak up, that might impact Donald Trump.

BEGALA: In fact, he is entitled, the presumption of innocence and maybe a felony conviction will change it. I don't think so. And here's why, 119 days ago, a federal court in New York found him liable for sexual abuse of E. Jean Carroll. This is not a presumption of innocence anymore. This is a legal rendering where he was found liable for sexual abuse. The judge in the case said in a comment, it's not legally rape in New York, it's important to state that.

TAPPER: It was a civil court, right?

BEGALA: It was civil court. But he said in the comment, usage of the word, that's what this was. He said he could shoot a man on Fifth Avenue and not lose any votes. He was speaking figuratively. He has been found to sexually abuse a woman on Fifth Avenue in a department store. And he didn't lose a single point. That was 119 in May. They -- we've had two polls since then. He's gotten a little bit stronger even since.

So my faith in Republican primary voters to look at the justice system and believe it will hold Trump accountable or to believe the justice system when they find him liable for sexual abuse. It's pretty astonishing.

TAPPER: David, go ahead. The one thing I just wanted to ask you, when it comes to polls, when it comes to fundraising, when it comes to political teams, is there anyone you see not named Trump best positioned to give him a strong challenge?

CHALIAN: Well, obviously DeSantis has been having trouble and we have to wait and see if that can be turned around at all. He clearly has the funding with a well-funded Super PAC in his organization. Let's see if we can make hay of a well perceived debate performance. But Jake, we're talking about just different universes right now of strength of candidacy. So I can find lots of interesting things about these candidates not named Trump. And if I worked for them could find the things that they should go on T.V. and talk about that's positive for them in this poll, but it doesn't up end where we are in this race right now.

And I would just also note, Donald Trump's support is so sticky. Eighty-three percent of Trump supporters say there's no way they're changing their mind, they are with Donald Trump. Fifty-four percent of DeSantis supporters say that about him, everyone else less so. So even when we're looking at that horse race, we asked folks, even if you support now, what about, would you consider this candidate, combine them together? Donald Trump is still ahead.

So we see a third of Republicans say their mind could be changed. But even among that group, two thirds of them either support Trump or are open to supporting him. So that's the kind of dominance and commitment his supporters have for him in this race right now.

TAPPER: Are you talking about different universes? I mean, one of the things that's going on here is that there are different information universes and these first two debates are being hosted by "Fox" and "Fox Business." This is a channel that was forced to pay a $787.5 million defamation settlement because of months and months of lies that they were telling.

BEGALA: People think that Trump defies the laws of politics, he doesn't. He has mastered the new information ecosystem and he knows a lot of --

TAPPER: Misinformation.

BEGALA: -- misinformation, deception (ph). He knows the people he reached, he reaches are not reached by the truth and it's not something magical about him. It's the new information ecosystem those poor people are trapped in.

TAPPER: Thanks one and all for being here.

The Breaking News this hour the prison sentence expected any moment now for Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio. We're told the judge in this case is speaking out. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our Law and Justice Lead, as Donald Trump faces four different criminal cases, CNN has exclusive new reporting that the Special Counsel is continuing to investigate the January 6th case. According to multiple sources, prosecutors asked to recent Grand Jury witnesses about fundraising efforts off of the baseless claims of voter fraud and how those funds were used to breach voting equipment in states won by President Biden.

With me now is Timothy Heaphy. He was the top investigator for the House Select Committee investigating January 6th. And he's a former federal prosecutor. Tim, what do you make of Special Counsel Jack Smith's team honing in on Trump -- the Trump team's fundraising efforts?

TIM HEAPHY, FORMER LEAD INVESTIGATOR, JANUARY 6 COMMITTEE: Jake, it's completely predictable. The Special Counsel is using the foundation that the Select Committee laid about this fundraising and building on it. They're going further than we were able to go because some of the sort of legal tools that they have, the ability to push through some privileged assertions and get immediate rulings. But this is a real thing.

The Trump campaign and some of the Trump attorneys affirmatively misled donors trying to raise money on this false narrative that the election was stolen. And they said that the money raised was going to go to election defense efforts, when in reality, it did not. That could be fraud, and that's why the Special Counsel is interested in those facts.

TAPPER: We also know the prosecutors are focusing specifically on former Trump attorney, Sidney Powell, and her role in all this. You were the top investigator for the Select Committee on January 6th. Do you think Sidney Powell could face federal charges in this case? She's already facing, I believe, charges in Georgia.

HEAPHY: Yes, absolutely. For the same reasons that she's been charged in Georgia. I think the special counsel may very well be looking at charging additional defendants in a separate case. He wants the Trump case to go quickly, likely won't add defendants because it'll slow that down. But he may very well be looking at some of the lawyers who were charged in Georgia.

And Jake, the interesting thing about Sidney Powell is that she was very interested in potentially asking the President to sign an executive order that would authorize the U.S. military to cease voting machines. That would require are some evidence that a foreign power somehow as a national security threat impacted our election. No evidence of that whatsoever. It's Chris Krebs who is the top official responsible for cybersecurity election said, so she was prepared to take this effort not just to state election officials but to the President's desk into the U.S. military.


TAPPER: Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows today pleaded not guilty to the two charges he's facing in Georgia for violating the Georgia RICO or the racketeering laws and solicitation of violation of an oath by a public officer trying to get as a public official to violate his oath of office. This is -- we're waiting to see if Meadows case is going to be moved to federal court. His argument is he was carrying out the wishes of the President, therefore, he was carrying out federal duties. Do you think he has a strong case to move it to federal court?

HEAPHY: No, look, he's made that argument with respect to attempts to stay out of the grand jury. It's the very same argument that he made with respect to executive privilege, essentially saying since the subject matter, as part of my advice and counsel to the president, it's beyond the reach of the legal process. The judge in D.C. rejected that as the judges rejected many similar claims of privilege.

He has a very expansive view of what is -- what he was doing in his official capacity. The Georgia prosecutors response was, this is well beyond official business. This is political. And this is dealing with elections, which is a classic state function. Therefore, the judge, I think, is likely to reject Meadows claims, and this case stays in state court. TAPPER: All right, timothy Heaphy, thank you so much. Appreciate your time today.

HEAPHY: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: A not guilty plea today from the Attorney General of Texas at the start of his impeachment trial, we're going to lay out the case lawyers are making against Ken Paxton and what his defense is saying, that's next.


TAPPER: Some breaking news just into CNN, a federal judge has just sentenced former Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio. Let's get right to CNN's Evan Perez at the courthouse. Evan, no cameras in court. What happened? How much time is he going to be spending in prison?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, Enrique Tarrio has been sentenced to 22 years that is still short of what prosecutors had asked. They had asked for 33 years. Judge Timothy Kelly, who was a Trump appointee said 33 years seemed too long. That's akin to blowing up buildings, shooting troops, he said. But this case is an obvious outlier. He also said that there is no doubt that Enrique Tarrio was the ultimate leader of the conspiracy, this is a seditious conspiracy that he and three other members of the Proud Boys, three other leaders of the Proud Boys were ultimately convicted of.


Now, as you -- as we -- as we've been talking about, you know, the five members of the Proud Boys were part of this very historic trial. This is not a charge that is brought very often by the Justice Department. If you have to go back decades to see another successful case where this has been brought, but this is what we have here. Enrique Tarrio, 22 years. We have 18 year sentences for another member, Ethan Nordean and a member of the Oath Keepers Stewart Rhodes, they got 18 years.

But the judge really set aside some of the words from Enrique Tarrio. He spoke to the court saying he was sorry, he said he was sorry for what happened on January 6th. He called it a national embarrassment. He apologized to the police officers, some of them by name that were injured in the attack on the Capitol. He also apologized to the citizens of the District of Columbia and said, you know, to the judge, please give me another chance. He's only 39 years old. Give me another chance.

I have a fiance I need to -- I want to get married. I want to start a family. And the judge said -- in the end the judge said that Tarrio really didn't show any remorse because of the events of January 6th. He has done multiple interviews, Jake, in which he said that the Proud Boys did absolutely nothing wrong. So there you have 22 years, Enrique Tarrio is what -- Enrique Tarrio has been sentenced to, Jake.

TAPPER: Tell us about the emotion in the room. I know last week when some of the Proud Boys were being sentenced to double digit years in prison, some of them wept in front of the judge in the courtroom. What was it like today?

PEREZ: Well, Tarrio kept his composure for most of the proceeding. His mom and his fiancee and his sister spoke to the judge. He was in tears, sobbing when his mom was essentially begging the judge to have mercy on her son. But I will say, Jake, some of those people who expressed remorse who tearfully spoke to the judge, in one case, Dominic Pezzola, after the judge exited, he raised his fist and said, Trump won. This is something that Tarrio made a reference to today.

He said that he believes, you know, after this is all over, he's going to be away from politics. He's going to leave politics behind. And then he made a reference to that Pezzola moment. He said after you leave judge, you're not going to hear anything but that from me, clearly, the judge did not buy his plea for mercy and his plea that he has remorse for everything that happened on January 6th.

Tarrio was essentially trying to get the judge to believe that he wasn't really, you know, the leader of the conspiracy simply because he wasn't here. He had been arrested a couple of days before and he'd been banned from being inside Washington that day. So how could he be in charge of the riot when he wasn't here? The judge clearly said, Jake, that the jury did not buy that when your lawyers made that excuse. Jake?

TAPPER: Evan Perez stay with us. I want to bring back Timothy Heaphy, a former federal prosecutor and also the top investigator for the House Select Committee investigating January 6th. What's your reaction to this sentencing, former Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio, 22 years in prison?

HEAPHY: Yes, two things Jake, one not surprised at all that Tarrio has gotten the most significant sentence because the Proud Boys really were the tip of the spear for the riot. As we showed in our first summer hearing last summer, the Proud Boys picked a very vulnerable point in the perimeter of the Capitol security at the Peace Circle, pushed through barricades there, concussing Caroline Edwards, who was a very compelling witness for us.

And then very specifically, intended to use violence to breach the windows and doors of the Capitol. So they were the instigators and the first to push through a barrier and the first, I mean Pezzola himself is the first to go inside. Interesting to hear Evan's reporting about what Tarrio is now saying about remorse because it's very different than what he said right on and resticks.

He actually texted other members of the Proud Boys, we did this, referencing the riot. And he posted this chilling video of himself in a cape with this ominous music, saying, you know justice is coming. So he certainly wasn't remorseful on January 6th. He was gloating about the success. Judge Kelly understandably saw that difference and punish them severely and appropriately.

TAPPER: And the hearing, the January 6th hearings never really quite found any concrete evidence that there were any ties or direct order to the Proud Boys or the Oath Keepers, right? It was more just by implication.


HEAPHY: We found that there were people connected to the Proud Boys who were also connected to the White House. But exactly right, Jake, we could not establish that there was any coordination between any White House official and the Proud Boys.

TAPPER: Evan Perez, imagine that it's just too late for the Proud Boys to enter into any sort of plea deal or whatever, right? I mean, that ship has sailed.

PEREZ: Right. I mean, this is -- it's too late. I mean, the judge really emphasized, Jake, that what the Proud Boys did that day, they were at the front, breach after breach of the Capitol. And for that, you see what the price that they paid with these hefty sentences.

TAPPER: All right, Timothy Heaphy and Evan Perez, thank you so much.

More reaction next in the Situation Room on this major prison sentence, 22 years for Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio. Also, White House National Security Spokesman John Kirby is here to weigh in on this suspicious pending meeting between North Korea and Russia. And also Dr. Anthony Fauci is here with his take on the current state of COVID in the wake of First Lady Jill Biden's recovery. Wolf Blitzer will pick up our coverage next in the Situation Room. I'll see you tomorrow.