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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Ex-Trump Aide Navarro Guilty In Contempt Of Congress Trial; CNN Poll: Biden And Trump Favorability Ratings At 3 Percent; CNN Poll: Nearly Half Of Voters Say Any GOP Nominee Would Be A Better Choice Than Biden; Colorado Lawsuit Seeks To Keep Trump Off 2024 Ballot; Danny Masterson Sentenced To 30 Years To Life In Prison; Microsoft: Suspected Chinese Operatives Using A.I.-Generated Social Media To Sway U.S. Voters. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired September 07, 2023 - 17:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. We got a lot of breaking news for you this afternoon. This hour, the prison sentence for one of the stars of the hit sitcom "That 70 Show" Danny Masterson at least 30 years behind bars. How his Church of Scientology played a major role in this case, possibly slowing down the prosecution.

Plus, growing calls to disqualify Donald Trump in the race for 2024. One top state election official from a battleground state joining me says his office has been flooded with e-mails and letters and calls making a case to question Trump's eligibility.

And leading this hour, the major verdict in just moments ago for Peter Navarro, the former Trump White House trade advisor, a jury finding him guilty on two counts of contempt of Congress. Let's start there with CNN's Paula Reid.

Paula, walk us through how Peter Navarro got here.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Peter Navarro, a former senior Trump White House adviser, received a subpoena from the January 6 committee. One subpoena for documents, and then also seeking his testimony. He refused to comply, which is how today he ended up being convicted of two counts of contempt of Congress. Now, he is going to be the second Trump advisor who has been convicted of contempt of Congress.

Today, in closing arguments, the Justice Department argued that it's not that hard to follow along with a subpoena, and that Navarro here made a choice not to comply. And they insist that the government only works if people follow the rules. Now, there are, of course, some exceptions to having to comply with a subpoena. Navarro previously argued in pretrial proceedings, unsuccessfully, that he didn't have to comply because former President Trump had asserted a privilege. Now, in court, his lawyer made other arguments, including insisting that the subpoena was actually not that simple and that it did not specify where he needed to go in the Capitol complex.

They also argued that prosecutors had not established that Navarro did this intentionally and that it wasn't just an accident or a mistake. Now, again, he is the second Trump advisor to be convicted of contempt of Congress, the first, of course, being Steve Bannon. But Bannon has appealed his conviction, and it's expected that Navarro will do the same. His lawyers have signaled that they will put up other legal challenges if he was convicted.

TAPPER: All right, Paula Reid, thank you so much.

Let's bring in CNN Senior Legal Analyst Elie Honig, the former assistant U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York.

Elie, what arguments did the parties, Navarro and the prosecutors, make at trial?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Jake, so the prosecution's argument was very straightforward. We served as -- Congress, served a subpoena, Peter Navarro knew it, and he defied that subpoena. That's it. Peter Navarro's defenses here were a bit shorthanded because the judge cut him off before the trial and said, I'm not going to allow you to say the reason I defied that subpoena was because Donald Trump told me to do so. Because the judge had a whole hearing on this and said, there's just no evidence that actually happened in a specific, detailed way.

So Peter Navarro was left with this sort of hodgepodge of defenses. He said, well, the subpoena didn't specify which room I was supposed to go to within the Capitol complex, and the prosecution didn't establish that I knew of the subpoena and knowingly defied it. The jury very quickly rejected both of those defenses, and that's why we got the verdict today.

TAPPER: So Navarro gave a press conference after his conviction, and he acted as if this was landmark moment. This was, you know, a Plessy v. Ferguson. This was going to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Is that true? Is this a historic case? Are we going to see this argued before the justices?

HONIG: I would certainly not put it up there with Plessy versus Ferguson --

TAPPER: He didn't say that. I'm joking there, but he did say it was going to go to the Supreme Court.

HONIG: Yes. Well, look, he certainly has a right to appeal this to the D.C. Court of Appeals. That is, the right of any person who's been convicted of any crime in the federal system. So he will have his appeal there. He will certainly try to get it up to the U.S. Supreme Court if he loses or perhaps if the government loses at that intermediate level, they'll try to get it up to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Of course, it's up to the Supreme Court whether to take any case. They only take a very small minority of cases, usually under 5 percent. On the one hand, this does present issues of separation of powers, executive branch, legislative branch, Congress. On the other hand, this is a very straightforward case. I'm not sure there's really a lot of meat on the bone there for the Supreme Court to work with.


TAPPER: I want to make sure I understood something that you said earlier. So --


TAPPER: -- he had talked about -- Navarro talked about how Donald Trump didn't want him to comply. And you said that the judge didn't let him introduce that in the case because they'd had a previous hearing, right, an evidentiary hearing, where they looked at that to see if that evidence was good enough to be brought up in trial. Is that right?

HONIG: Exactly. So Peter Navarro made clear to the judge his defense was going to be, Donald Trump told me to invoke executive privilege. And the judge said, basically, OK, let's see if you can establish the facts that will support that. And so, the judge had an evidentiary hearing, and what came out of it is that Navarro had some sort of vague conversation with Donald Trump. They pointed to some of Donald Trump's social media posts objecting to this. But the judge said, there's really nothing here, there's no actual evidence that Donald Trump actually told you, Peter Navarro, to invoke executive privilege, and that's the way it works.

If a judge finds -- look, a defendant has a very broad right to make a defense. But if a judge finds there's zero factual basis for it, then a judge can close the door on that defense before trial. And that's what happened here.

TAPPER: Right, before trial judges often decide if evidence is good enough to be brought up before the jury. What kind of sentence is Navarro looking at?

HONIG: So I think the best guidepost here is Steve Bannon, who was very similarly situated, has been sentenced to four months in federal prison. Now, he hasn't had to serve that yet because his appeal is still pending, but Steve Bannon was sentenced to four months. Now, the two counts that Peter Navarro has been convicted on are both federal misdemeanors for contempt of Congress, meaning the maximum sentence for each of them is one year in prison. But this is also a really unusual federal misdemeanor where there's a mandatory minimum of one month on each count. Now, that minimum can be run together, but this judge, when it comes time for sentencing, usually happens a couple of months down the line, has no choice or to at least one month in federal prison, that's a mandatory minimum.

TAPPER: At least one month if it goes forward. Elie Honig, thanks so much.

HONIG: Right.

TAPPER: To the politics lead now --

HONIG: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: -- and a live look at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland right now, where President Biden and Air Force One are about to be wheels up heading to India to meet with national leaders from the 20 largest economies in the world. While Mr. Biden leaves behind a host of worries at home, one of his biggest, his son, Hunter Biden and a possible impeachment inquiry brought on by House Republicans. Brand new CNN reporting out today shows more than a dozen House Democrats and aides are confident they can defend Biden but they want guidance on how, something that the White House is not willing to give as of now.

In a new CNN poll today, the public perception they're up against 44 percent of Americans believe that Joe Biden's actions regarding the Hunter Biden investigation have been appropriate compared to 55 percent who say Joe Biden's actions regarding Hunter Biden have been inappropriate. Let's go to CNN's Kayla Tausche at the White House. And Kayla, you have some new reporting, some Democrats are frustrated with Biden. Why?

KAYLA TAUSCHE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're frustrated, Jake, because they feel like it's a missed opportunity to fill the air with their defense for why the President, in their view, acted appropriately and to try to dismiss some of those allegations. You know, it's something that a lot of Democrats have been talking about behind the scenes. And now the frustration is moving toward a fever pitch where many of them went on the record with CNN telling Annie Grayer and Lauren Fox, things like, it's a missed opportunity or it creates the possibility for a false equivalency with former President Donald Trump and some of the allegations and the indictments that he's facing on the other side of the aisle. All of that has led them to seek more coordination from the White House so that they can be singing essentially from the same hymnal, so to speak, and to try to bat down many of these concerns.

But the White House, for its part, is not willing to go there. A senior Biden aide telling me that the White House is just simply not willing to engage on anything that could be seen as impacting ongoing legal proceedings or intervention in a proceeding like that. That being said, Jake, impeachment is a totally different animal. They see that as a political maneuver by Republicans and they're preparing a playbook behind the scenes to intervene to essentially flood the zone if Republicans start to move in that direction more than just talk and if McCarthy actually conjures up the votes to move forward with a formal impeachment inquiry. All of that is still sort of an amorphous effort at this stage.

But I know that it's one that White House aides are watching closely. But it's something that Democrats are frustrated with. The White House says essentially, look, you can pick up the phone, you can call us anytime, but there are some issues that we just simply will not engage on.

[17:10:09] TAPPER: All right, Kayla Tausche at the White House for us. Thank you so much.

I want to bring in Biden campaign co-chair, Cedric Richmond. Good to see you again. The latest CNN poll shows President Biden in a dead heat with Donald Trump, 47 percent for Donald Trump, 46 percent for Joe Biden. President Biden, nearly seven in 10 Democrats say they want a candidate other than Biden to be the Democratic nominee. And then there's this, voters say Biden and Trump are both equally favorable and unfavorable.

Now the Biden campaign has argued that he is the Democrat best positioned to beat Donald Trump, in part because he beat him in 2020. Is it possible that that's just not the case anymore?

CEDRIC RICHMOND, CO-CHAIR, BIDEN RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGN: No, I wholeheartedly disagree with that argument. I also take some issue with the CNN poll, Jake, that you all have been running all day. So you're saying that President Biden and the former president are tied, you even mentioned Nikki Haley, or at least the channel did earlier. But what you're not talking about are the positions. When you talk about the fact that they want a nationwide abortion ban, that changes the number.

When you talk about the fact that the President capped the price of insulin at $35, that increases his numbers. The fact that he took on the NRA and won, the fact that he's created 13 million jobs, that's what the campaign is for. And we believe that when you tell people about those accomplishments, those numbers change tremendously.

TAPPER: But has the President not been telling the American people about those accomplishments for years now?

RICHMOND: He's been governing. He's been uniting the west so we can continue to make sure that Putin does not take Ukraine and doing all of the things that he should do as president. Now that the campaign starts, we go out and we talk about all the things that we've accomplished. You see us now with ad buys. I think an ad will run tonight during the NFL game that talks about the 13 million jobs that were created, 800,000 manufacturing jobs.

So we have a great story to tell. And we know that when we tell that story, the numbers change. We saw it in 2020 when everyone predicted a red wave, including CNN, and I think you did a show on a red wave too. We proved that it didn't happen. It's because we talked to voters about abortion ban, about freedoms, about the economy, about building the middle class from the bottom up in the middle out.

And voters chose Democrats.

TAPPER: So, one of the concerns we see when we dive into the numbers here is that 76 percent of voters are seriously concerned that President Biden's age might negatively impact his ability to serve another full term. Seventy-three percent of voters are worried about his current mental and physical competence. Now, former ambassador and governor, Nikki Haley, who is the only Republican candidate we have as of now, who actually beats Biden in the poll, who's outside the margin of error, he's basically in a dead heat with all the other Republicans. He might be up one or down one, but within the margin of error, all the others, not Nikki Haley, she beats him. Haley has argued that a vote for Biden would really end up being a vote for Vice President Kamala Harris. Do you not acknowledge that the perception of his frailty, perceived frailty, is hurting his campaign, is hurting his reelection chances?

RICHMOND: Well, first, Jake, I'm glad you started with Nikki Haley and her position on abortion, because I'll tell you that if you look at the vote in Ohio just a month ago, a swing state, they soundly rejected the extreme positions on abortion, and that's Nikki Haley.

Now, about the president's age, you're going to -- voters will see his vigor. Voters will see his accomplishments. If you just look at his schedule, he's traveling around the world over the next four and a half days to continue to show American leadership on the world stage. So, when they compare President Biden's travel to that of Republicans, even Republicans that are running for president, he's traveling almost 30 percent more than they are.

But more importantly, this is about American families. And I think American families going to look at the issues they're faced, and they're going to look at who's addressing those issues, who's talking about those issues, and who's doing something about it. And that's going to be President Biden.

TAPPER: I want you to take a listen to what some Democratic senators have taken away from President Biden's poll numbers today. Take a listen.


SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV)I think the people basically spoken loud and clear that they're not happy with the two choices and only two choices.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And so there could be a third party candidate?

MANCHIN: I think that's up to the public to decide that.

SEN. RICHARD LUMENTHAL (D-CT): The more the better in terms of pushing that message and making the American people aware of President Biden's achievements. Yes, more aggressive earlier and more widely, I think is the right way to go.

SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): Maybe we don't do a good enough job messaging about things like the infrastructure bill and the PACT Act and things like that.



TAPPER: So those are varied criticisms from, in order there, interspersed with our Manu Raju, Senator Manchin of West Virginia, Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut, and Senator Tester of Montana. Do you consider any of those criticisms accurate?

RICHMOND: Look, I respect them all, and I think that they proved the point that it's now time to go into campaign mode and talk about the President's accomplishments, because there are great accomplishments. Beating the NRA, passing infrastructure, which no other president could do, although they promised it. Those are the things that -- I believe those Senators are talking about, we need to go out and talk about. And just like the Republicans are one trick pony talking about the President's age, that's all they talk about. So, of course, the poll numbers show Republicans highly question it.

But we have to go out and talk about the accomplishments just as much as they talk about lies and misdirection and red herrings. We have to be solely focused on what not only this President and Vice President, but what this Congress has done, the Democratic Senate and the Democratic House when we had it. And I think that's going to prove to be a winning formula once again for all Democrats and for President Biden and president -- Vice President Harris.

TAPPER: All right, Cedric Richmond, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

On the right side of your screen, you see President Biden live images from Joint Base Andrews getting on Air Force One. He's about to take off and go to India for the G20 summit. We are going to get our panel's reaction to all of this, to what Cedric Richmond just said, and to the polling information and more. That's coming up after we pay some bills. Stay with us.



TAPPER: This just in, Hurricane Lee has now strengthened to a major category four storm with winds at 130 miles per house. Just 12 hours ago, it was only a category one. Hurricane Lee is expected to become a category five storm in the next 24 hours. There is increasing confidence the center of Hurricane Lee will near the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico this weekend and into early next week. We will keep an eye on it for you.

Turning back to the politics lead and the dismal poll, new numbers for President Biden, let's bring in my panel, Jason Osborne, Ashley Allison, Francesca Chambers.

Ashley, you just heard Cedric Richmond defending the President, making the case. He said, don't look at the numbers, look at what we're going to be arguing about, what President Biden has done. Do you buy it?

ASHLEY ALLISON, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think you have to look at both, actually. I think Joe Biden has a remarkable record as president and what he has accomplished. And the campaign does need to get out there and sell it directly to the American people. I also think you can't ignore how Americans are feeling right now. We're in a period in time where we are just coming off the COVID pandemic. People really don't actually understand why they're feeling the way they are feeling because we're in a new era of time. And so, while many of Joe Biden's policies are great for middle class Americans, poor people, they might not be feeling it directly right now.

And so the case is that I am fighting for you, I know things are not perfect, but keep working with me and we will improve. And I think that is a winning message. We saw it in 2020, we saw it in 2022 and I think it could get him over the finish line. But you cannot ignore the numbers. I don't think the campaign is ignoring the numbers, but I think they are proud of his record and they should be.

TAPPER: So, Jason, one of the things that I thought was most interesting is Joe Biden is basically dead even with every Republican running except for Ambassador Nikki Haley, who just far and away beats him, eating into whatever advantage Biden might have with women, with college educated voters. But how come Republican voters don't automatically see that and say, she's conservative, let's go with it.

JASON OSBORNE, FORMER SENIOR COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGIST, DR. BEN CARSON FOR PRESIDENT: Well, I think -- I mean, this whole poll, and I love the poll, actually, I was starting to read through the top lines on it, and I was just starting to get into the Nikki Haley numbers. And I'm fascinated by them for a couple of different reasons. One, I look at her debate performance where I think she did incredibly well.

TAPPER: Very strong, yes.

OSBORNE: She set herself out there as kind of a reasonable voice in the Republican Party. She didn't engage in the back and forth of, you know, let's talk about Trump, et cetera. You know, she took her hits, of course, but I think she gave a lot more than she took. And so, I think as we are moving forward in this campaign, I think you're going to start seeing more and more of Nikki Haley coming out there. It'll be interesting to see because nobody's really attacked her yet, and I don't know what those attacks would be that she hasn't faced before, right?

So, in her previous elections as governor, she had some attacks against her. I don't know what they are. I'm just assuming --


OSBORNE: -- they had some that once we start seeing, all right, well, she's the next person. And I still think DeSantis is there right there. The one person I think that was interesting in your poll was Vivek, where he was in that poll.


OSBORNE: And again, I hadn't gotten that far down, but I found that very interesting that he was at 8 percent. Now, again, the election is not tomorrow. TAPPER: Right.

OSBORNE: It's next year. So a lot's going to move in that time frame. In terms of Biden's numbers, what I'd love to see is this number that Jeff (ph) had talked about on your previous couple of hits ago that the 62 percent of the strongly, you know, getting out there and voting and then the 70 percent that are not going to vote for Biden, I wanted to see where those people that were at the 62 percent where they fit in that 70 percent. Because to your point, I think they're going to lose a lot of those folks if a Republican like Nikki Haley separates herself.

TAPPER: And Francesca, 46 percent of registered voters said they would take any Republican over Joe Biden. Any Republican. Keep in mind that includes somebody who might be a convicted felon by Election Day.

FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, USA TODAY: There's a strong partisan divide that didn't actually surprise me particularly much given what we've seen in the other polling so far. But with respect to President Biden and what the campaign has been saying, if we just take a step back for a moment, they know that they have a problem here that's why they're spending $25 million on advertising right now, running an ad during the NFL.


If you look at the polling, they're seeing trouble with black voters, a lot more trouble with Hispanic voters. They've got potential problems with young voters heading into this election, as well as working class voters as well. And they're advertising in areas where he would need to win a lot of those demographic groups over. So, regardless of what they're saying, they seem to understand that they have a problem.

As far as the polling itself and what voters care about, when it comes to the economy, yes, inflation is at 3.2 percent right now. But if you -- that is year over year. If you look like a year from ago, it was at 8 percent or 9 percent higher than the year before. So the question that voters are going to ask is, you know, are you better off now than you were four years ago? And right now, voters are saying when it comes to the economy, they don't feel like they are.

TAPPER: Well, four years ago, I don't know. But --


TAPPER: -- three years ago --

CHAMBERS: Three years ago --

TAPPER: -- in the middle of COVID.

CHAMBERS: -- I'm keeping the colloquially all four years ago.

TAPPER: Right.

CHAMBERS: But during the pandemic --

TAPPER: Right.

CHAMBERS: -- inflation is higher year over the last couple of years.

TAPPER: Right.

ALLISON: I think the question is, though, will the economy trump all other issues? And in 2022 it did not. Many voters were asked, do you like the direction the country is going in? And people said no, and folks assigned that to the Democrats. But then when people went into the polls during midterms, there was not a red wave, and that was what Cedric was talking about.


ALLISON: And so I think it is the economy in. I don't think voters look at one issue anymore. And when you have to choose between having a constitutional right as a woman or, you know, the economy teetering back and forth and not really sure what party is going to do the best, you usually go for the issue of having your constitutional rights.

TAPPER: So, Cedric took a little ding at me saying that I did a show about the red wave in 2020. I think he meant 2022. And what I recall is I did a show based on what one Democratic pollster who's sympathetic to Biden told me, which was it was going to be the headwinds against Democrats versus the head cases against Republicans, some of these odd ball candidates that they had out there. And actually, he was right that it was both, the headwinds hurt the Democrats in the House races and some of their more extreme candidates, and the head cases hurt Republicans in capturing the Senate. So we'll see if that's the same problem in this election.

OSBORNE: No, I absolutely agree. But I think to your point on the economy, it's very hard to sit there and campaign on what you've done for the economy to somebody who's impacted by the economy.

ALLISON: Absolutely.

OSBORNE: Right? And so, that's something that's kind of out of Biden's control. It's out of, you know, the Republicans control, except to the extent that they're able to go out there and say, this is what I would do with the economy. Because if you're having to defend what you've done on the economy, and that person is still sitting there saying, my mortgage rates just went up 5 percent --


OSBORNE: -- that's very hard.

CHAMBERS: And no doubt -- and no doubt that abortion rights, to your point, will be a big issue in the next election. They're absolutely counting on that. They're making an argument about democracy as well. Biden campaign has an ad out just today on democracy issues as well.

TAPPER: Yes. And this will be the first presidential election since Roe v. Wade was overturned where it's no longer just theoretical, where it's an actual thing. A lot of people didn't believe that abortion rights were on the ballot.

And anyway, we'll continue this discussion. Great panel. Thank you so much for being here.

There's been a lot of talk recently about Democrats and others trying to use the 14th Amendment to keep Donald Trump off the ballot in some states. Is that a real proposal? Can that really be done? We're going to talk to two stop -- two top state election officials to respond to these growing calls. Stay with us.


TAPPER: A new lawsuit filed in Colorado is trying to keep Donald Trump's name off the ballot. This lawsuit claims that under the 14th Amendment, anyone who has taken an oath to uphold the constitution is barred from holding future office if they engage insurrection or aid insurrectionists. This is an argument that has been made by some legal scholars, and now a growing number of organizations are calling on secretaries of state to disqualify the former president because of his efforts to overturn the 2020 election efforts.

I should note he has not been convicted in any court of having done anything illegal for, at least not as of this broadcast. I'm joined right now by two Secretaries of States, Steve Simon of Minnesota and Jocelyn Benson of Michigan. Both are Democrats. Secretary Benson, let me start with you. Is this something that the state of Michigan is looking into? I'm going to go to Secretary Simon first. Secretary Simon, is this something that your state, the state of Minnesota is looking into at all?

STEVE SIMON (D), MINNESOTA SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, in terms of our office, the Office of Secretary of State, we've been very clear this is not our call. We are not the eligibility police. Whether it's a constitutional argument or a residency argument or an age argument, that in Minnesota is left to the courts. We have a tool. We have a vehicle in law for people to make these kinds of challenges.

So if what you're asking is whether I or our office, if we are considering unilaterally acting, we are not, and we will not, our presumption is that if someone files for office in Minnesota, they are entitled to a spot on the ballot unless and until a court tells us otherwise.

TAPPER: So that certainly makes sense. You need a legal precedent, I would say. What about the politics of it? David Frum, who is a political pundit of sorts and writer, he wrote on Twitter, quote, suppose secretaries of state in one or more swing states, succeeded in keeping Trump off the ballot. Then suppose President Biden wins reelection by winning the electoral votes of states that debarred Trump. What does this country look like afterward? Chaos, unquote.


I mean, he's looking at the idea that this would be an unprecedented move, and politically, it would be very problematic. You are in a swing state. How do you think that politically this would play out?

SIMON: Well, I think it's safe to say there's risk. He's enunciated some of that risk. Arguably, there's risk the other way as well. That's why I think this should be the province and is in most states, I gather, the province of the courts and not elected officials like me or others. They should decide it based on the facts and based on the law and without regard necessarily to political considerations. I assume that's what's going to happen here.

I assume that this, one way or another, will find its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, whether by way of Colorado or any other state where there might be a pending lawsuit.

TAPPER: The U.S. Supreme Court on planet Earth would never, not this court and not on this planet, would never keep Donald Trump's name off a ballot in any state. I can't envision that ever happening. Just practically speaking, do you?

SIMON: I mean, look, it's hard to say in this sense. I mean, you're right. It seems on its surface, unlikely. But I have learned a long time ago guessing what courts are going to do is problematic. I mean, this is a legal theory that's been embraced by people on both sides of the political spectrum, conservatives as well as progressives. So I don't know. There's no telling. And who knows what way it arrives at the court, through what case, based on what findings by a court below? I just don't know.

TAPPER: Secretary Benson. Welcome back. We're having some technical issues with you. Is this idea of keeping Donald Trump's name off of the ballot in the state of Michigan because of the 14th Amendment? Is this something that you are seriously considering?

JOCELYN BENSON (D), MICHIGAN SECRETARY OF STATE: I think it's a compelling legal question, and there is an existing lawsuit in our state that was filed several weeks ago. And now we see other cases popping up around the country that will ultimately ensure the proper place for this determination is made in the courts, which it should be. So it's something we're seriously looking at.

And I've been talking with colleagues in other states as well about this as we proceed to create a process that ensures any precedent here does also not allow this to be misused in the future by officials who might want to block candidates from the ballot simply because they disagree with them politically.

Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court on a national issue like this is going to be the final arbiter. I expect that decision will come sooner rather than later, but we should also expect this as a question, as an issue, to really be a cloud throughout the entire election cycle.

TAPPER: Your counterpart, Secretary Benson in Georgia, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger wrote an op-ed in "The Wall Street Journal" about this. It's titled, I Can't Keep Trump Off the Ballot. And in it he writes, for a secretary of state to remove a candidate would only reinforce the grievances of those who see the system as rigged and corrupt. Doesn't he have a point? BENSON: Yes. There's a lot of real concerns there. And frankly, one of the biggest things that is impressing upon me in this moment isn't simply this question of, are state election officials really the proper, you know, deciders in this as unilateral decision makers? I don't think so. I think the courts are. But secondly, our job as state election officials is to ensure people can trust the system, people have faith in their vote and our democracy.

And though I will follow the law and uphold the Constitution, whatever that may be, as first and foremost a North Star for me is ensuring our democracy is one that gives people choices that respects voters and political parties opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. So all of that is tied up in this as well, and it's why we, as state election officials, really aren't the proper arbiters of this decision. It really is the courts, and that's ultimately how this is going to play out.

TAPPER: All right, Secretaries of State Steve Simon and Jocelyn Benson, thanks for your time today. Appreciate it.

SIMON: Thank you.

BENSON: Thanks for having us.


TAPPER: A major prison sentence today for actor Danny Masterson. We're going to go live to Los Angeles, next.


TAPPER: In our Law and Justice Lead, actor Danny Masterson, one of the stars from "That's '70s Show," was sentenced today to 30 years to life in prison. He was given the maximum penalty for raping two women at his home in the 2000s. This comes after Masterson was convicted in June on two of three counts of rape. CNN's Stephanie Elam has been following this story. Stephanie, what's been the reaction to Masterson's sentencing?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's definitely a very stiff sentence here for Masterson, Jake. We are looking at the fact that he's getting 15 years for both of those accounts, 15 each, and so 30 years total that will be served consecutively. And just taking a listen to how the district attorney, the Los Angeles County District Attorney Reinhold Mueller, expressed his, you know, his plea -- his pleasure with this, saying that this was the appropriate sentence for Masterson. In fact, take a little bit of a listen here to what he said.


REINHOLD MUELLER, DEPUTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I'm very happy for the victims because this is a day that they had been looking forward to and they got their justice. It's a long time coming. That's first and foremost, but also being very thankful for the jury to come to kind of see through everything and recognize what the evidence is and that this defendant needed to be held accountable.


ELAM: He also pointed to the two named individuals who came forward and spoke about what Masterson had done. These victims who also were present in court, he said that they were very helpful in this case as well. Now, on the other side, Masterson's attorney, Shawn Holley, also spoke really committed to going back to the courts on this case. Take a listen.



SHAWN HOLLEY, DANNY MASTERSON'S ATTORNEY: Mr. Masterson did not commit the crimes for which he has been convicted. And we and the appellate lawyers who are the best and the brightest in the country are confident that these convictions will be overturned.


ELAM: And the district attorney's office making it clear that third count, that was where the jury was deadlocked earlier in May when they were looking at this, they said they're not going to go back and reprosecute, that they're satisfied with these two guilty verdicts here and that he's been sentenced for these two. Jake?

TAPPER: Stephanie, Masterson is a scientologist, a member of the Church of Scientology. The Church is said to have played a role in his defense. Has the Church reacted at all to today's sentence?

ELAM: Well, it's noteworthy. CNN did reach back out to the Church of Scientology to see if they had a statement. And Masterson was originally convicted on May 31st. And so they sent us the same statement that they put out at that time, which says in part, that there is not a scintilla of evidence supporting the scandalous allegations that the Church harassed the accusers. Every single instance of supposed harassment by the Church is false and has been debunked. Jake?

TAPPER: All right, Stephanie Elam, thank you so much.

As if the American electorate is not divided enough, now artificial intelligence is being used to mimic U.S. voters to spread disinformation by a foreign country. Which one? We'll tell you which one is allegedly behind it, next.



TAPPER: Our Tech Lead, thousands of Americans logged onto social media and saw images such as this one. Look at that. A menacing Statue of Liberty with a machine gun. And if you look closely, Lady Liberty has sprouted a couple extra fingers on the left. Or this image, an evocative image of Black Lives Matter protests unwittingly reshared by a real American voter.

The problem with these images, they're fake. They were generated by artificial intelligence. Now tech giant Microsoft says Chinese operatives are likely behind the images, looking to spark flames of divisive political debate among Americans as the 2024 election years. Let's bring in CNN's Donie O'Sullivan and Sean Lyngaas. Sean, did Microsoft provide proof that these images are coming directly from the orders of the Chinese government?

SEAN LYNGAAS, CNN CYBERSECURITY REPORTER: Jake, the short answer is no. There's no smoking gun in which the Chinese government has seen ordering these accounts to post these images. However, Microsoft did tie them to previous Chinese networks that they described as affiliated with the CCP, the Chinese Communist Party and did provide some evidence that there's overlap there and that the same group was indicted by the U.S. Justice Department for allegedly pushing out propaganda on behalf of the Chinese government.

So there's some linkages and it's also, Jake, part of a broader pattern that U.S. officials and private researchers are seeing in which Chinese operatives are embracing these sort of Russian style tactics in terms of sowing division, weighing in on hot button political issues that they previously hadn't in recent years. So it's definitely a concern ahead of the 2024 election.

TAPPER: Yes. Although Donie, I have to note, I mean, America hardly needs help with political divisions. I mean we don't need the Chinese to be doing this. We're doing it to ourselves enough. Are these images mostly to sow anger among Republicans or Democrats or both? I mean, what's the purpose?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean it's difficult to speak to intent here, Jake, but it's kind of like they're testing, you know, they're kind of putting in some groundwork here to see it might be a preview of what is to come. Look, as Sean mentioned there, this is quite a change we've seen and U.S. Intelligence have seen in recent months, over the past 12 months or so in Chinese generally, Chinese influence tactics online that we see.

Previously, you know, they've been very, very focused on issues that directly relate to China, so oftentimes pushing out pro-Chinese propaganda. But what we've seen over these past 12 months, and we reported exclusively last month, is that groups that allegedly are tied to the Chinese government or to other entities within China have been trying to organize even on the ground protest in the United States, all apparently with that intent to sow division.

And you see those AI images there. I mean, one thing we all know from using social media is that images and videos can be far more compelling than pieces of text. And what AI is going to allow, you know, peddlers of myths and disinformation to do is to be able to create these kind of eye catching images in mass in a way that could, you know, really flood our social media feeds.

TAPPER: And Sean, this does sound a lot like they're just reading Russia's Playbook? LYNGAAS: Right. If you talk to senior U.S. officials and election officials like I do, this is something that they've been warning about for months, if not years, and it's not particularly ingenious or anything like that. As you mentioned, we kind of do it to ourselves domestically. But the willingness to not necessarily, as Donie said, promote Chinese interests, but just stir the pot among the U.S. electorate is really growing. And we're going to keep our eyes on that in 2024.

TAPPER: And Donie, Meta, which is the parent company of Facebook, Meta took down thousands of accounts that they thought were part of this biggest Chinese influence campaign. Just last week, one Meta executive called it, quote, the biggest single takedown of a single network we've ever conducted, which, I mean, that's something. What does this reveal about the broader efforts of the Chinese government to influence the world?


O'SULLIVAN: I got to say, it's so, so vast, Jake. You know, those thousands of accounts that Meta took down last week, not just on Meta. We're seeing this across every platform imaginable, where we are seeing these posts, a lot of them attacking, actually Chinese dissidents who are here in the United States, posting them on every blog post, creating original illustrations that are attacking these people in very homophobic, often racist ways, really all to degrade folks, so really, really, really vast campaign.

TAPPER: All right, CNN's Sean Lyngaas and Donie O'Sullivan, thanks to both of you.

The big story this evening, the courts coming down on former Trump advisor Peter Navarro, finding him guilty of defying a subpoena from the now disbanded House Committee investigating the January 6th attack. Wolf Blitzer is going to have reaction from a former member of that committee when he picks up our coverage next in "THE SITUATION ROOM".