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The Lead with Jake Tapper
Report Underpinning Trump's G.A. Indictment Released; Rep. Adam Schiff, (D-CA), Is Interviewed About Trump's G.A.'s Indictment, Lindsey Graham; Panel Recommended Charging Graham, Perdue, Loeffler; Pelosi Announces Re-election Bid, Seeks 20th Term; Ramaswamy To Attend 9/11 Memorial Event In New York; Prison Guard Supervising PA Escaped Inmate Now Fired; Actor & Scientologist Danny Masterson Sentenced To Prison For Rape; Judge Rejects Meadows' Bid To Move Case To Federal Court. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired September 08, 2023 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Senator Graham implied that ballots could be tossed from Fulton County, a heavily Democratic county. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, (R) GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: He asked if the ballots could be matched back to the voters and then I got the sense it implied that then you could throw those out. And he really would look at the counties with the highest frequent error of signatures. So that's the impression that I got.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Now, about a year later, Raffensperger testified about that same call with Senator Graham with the House committee investigating the January 6 attack. Now, Raffensperger told the committee, quote, "He said that he was questioning whether signature match was done in Fulton County. But he said there's also a way that, you know, if you look at -- he mentioned about credit card companies, he says they get millions of signatures every day, and they run that through their machines," unquote. Raffensperger went on to say that call made him feel, quote, "uncomfortable because he didn't know where that call was going to lead."
Then, of course, there is Senator Graham's side of the story on that call. Here's what Mr. Graham told CNN's Manu Raju just two weeks after the 2020 election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R-SC): What I'm very concerned about is that if you're going to continue to vote by mail that we need to know what systems work and what don't, it's up to the people of Georgia. I think I have every right in the world to reach out and say, how does it work? And that's what it is, really. I thought a pretty good conversation, though. MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, he thinks it's an implicit threat. But what do you say?
GRAHAM: I categorically reject that. That wasn't my intent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Graham denies any wrongdoing. Graham tried to fight a subpoena forcing him to testify in Fulton County. He lost that. Graham says his calls were directly related to his responsibilities then as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and that his actions should have been protected by the Constitution's speech and debate clause.
Our coverage today starts with CNN's Paula Reid, who has been diving into the details in this brand new released report.
And, Paula, you just heard me walk through what we know about Senator Lindsey Graham and his involvement in all this, but there were some other big names in this report.
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. In addition to Senator Graham, I think the two biggest surprises were former Senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. We know they both helped to push election lies after the 2020 presidential race. They were both Trump allies. Loeffler tried to call on the Secretary of State to resign.
Perdue allegedly went a little further. He was pressing the governor, Governor Kemp, to call a special election to try to overturn the results and also had a lot of conversations with Georgia officials around that time that have been the subject of this investigation.
I want to read a statement, though, that Loeffler released earlier. She said, quote, "Trying to jail your party's leading political opponent ahead of the 2024 election is election interference. Speaking out in defense of election integrity is not."
Now to get some insight into why these two may have not have been charged. One of the footnotes in the grand jury report reveals that at least one of the jurors who voted against recommending charges for these two suggested that what they were doing, what they were saying was, quote, "pandering to their political base and did not give rise to being guilty of a criminal conspiracy." So if you're Fani Willis, you're absolutely going to pay attention to that. The other thing, of course, were looking for were any other big names, several Trump advisors, Mike Flynn, Boris Epshteyn, and Cleta Mitchell, all of whom, again, helped push these lies after the election. All people very close to the former president recommended for charges but were all not ultimately charged.
And that's something we're really going to be watching as this case goes on. Why not? It's clearer with the lawmakers, you see the math, there's some dissenting opinions there. But if you look at the votes for these Trump advisors, they're very similar to people who were charged. So, what did they provide potentially to prosecutors?
What was part of that decision? That's something people are now going to watch very carefully.
TAPPER: Interesting. Perdue, of course, later went on to challenge Governor Kemp in the primary. He got slaughtered. Very embarrassing.
The special grand jury recommended bringing charges against 39 people. Ultimately, District Attorney Fani Willis, the team only indicted 19. You just suggested that maybe some of the 20 that she did not indict maybe they were ultimately cooperating and that might have been part of it.
TAPPER: Do we have any specific insight?
REID: We don't. We don't really have any insight at all into why she did not pursue some beyond just looking at the vote tallies, right? If you have seven people suggesting that you don't recommend charges against someone in a grand jury, you're not going to want to bring a case against that person in a real courtroom, right, because this is a much more friendly arena for prosecutors. There's no lawyers with the witnesses, there's no defense presentation. So that must have been a factor.
But look, it's extraordinary that we can even see these votes, see these recommendations and these names. Special grand jury information is not typically made public, so CNN and other media outlets pushed to get this released. It's really extraordinary to have at least this little insight into this historic case. But we do not know why Fani Willis made the decision she did.
TAPPER: Interesting. Paula Reid, thanks so much.
I want to turn now to CNN's Capitol Hill Reporter Melanie Zanona.
Melanie, what are you hearing from senators on Capitol Hill after this special grand jury report recommended bringing charges against one of their current colleagues and two of their former colleagues, Lindsey Graham and David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler?
MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: Yes. So we did hear from Senator Lindsey Graham for the first time since this news broke today, and he is defending his actions. He said he was just essentially doing his due diligence as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, that he just had concerns about how the election system would work in Georgia. And he also noted that he did ultimately vote to certify the election results, including in Georgia, although that, of course, was after the insurrection had already occurred.
But there is this conflicting account about what occurred on this phone call between Graham and Georgia of Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Raffensperger has suggested that Graham pressured him to try toss out legal mail in ballots and that it made him very uncomfortable. But Graham has denied that accusation, said he wasn't even talking about the presidential election, that he was actually talking about this pair of critical Senate races that occurred in Georgia in January of 2021. But let's take a listen to what Graham told reporters in South Carolina earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRAHAM: This is troubling for the country. We can't criminalize senators doing their job when they have a constitutional requirement to fulfill.
So at the end of the day, nothing happened. What I did was consistent with my job as being United States senator, chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZANONA: Now, we should point out that Graham did not testify before the January 6 House Select Committee, but he did testify before the special grand jury after, of course, trying to fight that in court. He tried not to testify. He ultimately did. Afterwards, he said he fully cooperated and was not expecting to be charged. But I do think, Jake, this is a good reminder of just how many of Trump's allies, including members of Congress, were involved in this failed attempt to overturn the 2020 election.
TAPPER: Yes. Melanie Zanona on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.
Let's bring in Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California, who was a member of the January 6 committee.
Congressman, what was your reaction when you first saw this report recommended charges against 39 people? Did that number seem high to you? Did any of the names on this list surprise you?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA), FORMER MEMBER, SELECT JAN. 6 COMMITTEE: You know, what stood out to me, Jake, is the fact that the grand jury really did a diligent effort in that the vote totals for each defendant really varied. So when they considered Lindsey Graham, I think the vote was something like 13 to seven. When they looked at one of then existing Georgia senators, it was a different vote count, the other senator to get another vote count. That tells me the grand jurors took their responsibility seriously.
They weighed the evidence particular to each defendant. It wasn't like kind of a blanket decision. That's what they're supposed to do. And the fact that they recommended charging Lindsey Graham, and by the way, I think Lindsey Graham's explanation doesn't pass the laugh test. You don't, as a senator, House member, other elected official, call a secretary of state in some other state and try to get them toss out votes. That is not the least bit part of the job description, and he's lucky not to be indicted.
But here the prosecutor made a decision that their burden of proof is a different standard than the grand juror. The grand juror decides if there's probable cause, but a prosecutor's got to decide, can I prove this beyond a reasonable doubt? And you know, with the varying conflicting interpretations of that call, among other things, I think the prosecutors made a rational decision.
TAPPER: Yes, it's interesting, Senator Graham criticizing the fact that he was almost charged even though he was not. I mean, the only witness against him is a conservative Republican who endorsed Donald Trump, and the person who decided to not prosecute him is a liberal Democrat who endorsed Joe Biden. But be that as it may, I want to tick through the votes to bring charges. Go ahead.
SCHIFF: Well, in fact, I mentioned too, Jake --
SCHIFF: -- you know, Lindsey Graham is an attorney. I think he was in the -- one of the adjutants in the JAG Corps in the military. This is someone who knows the law both as a senator, as a practicing lawyer. He knows where the line is and not to cross the line. He shouldn't have been anywhere near the line.
So, as I said, I think he's gotten off lucky here. And I do think even though he's not been indicted, it will be a deterrent to other members of Congress not to meddle, not to approach the line when it comes to suggesting votes ought to be tossed out to favor your candidate.
TAPPER: I want to tick through the votes to bring charges or not bring charges against some of Trump's top allies, Michael Flynn, Boris Epshteyn, and Cleta Mitchell. The grand jury voted the same way for all three of them, 20 said to bring votes -- to bring charges, rather, 20 for Flynn, Epshteyn, and Cleta Mitchell. One for each one of them said no and zero abstained. That's nearly unanimous for all three, yet charges were not brought against any one of these individuals. What do you make of that?
SCHIFF: You know, it could be, as you were discussing earlier, that some of these people have decided to cooperate. In the case of the folks you just mentioned, that seems, though, very unlikely. These are some hardcore people. My guess is that the prosecutors just made a different judgment about what were the -- what was the availability of the legal defenses and they took a different view of things than the grand juries that is not at all uncommon. And to me, it is sound prosecutorial discretion.
They're going to have a hard enough case as it is, you know, given all the public attention around this case. And so, I think going with their strongest charges against those who have the best proof to get convictions is the right approach for prosecutors.
TAPPER: And also charges obviously, ultimately not brought against Lindsey Graham, Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. Why not, do you think? Do you think Fani Willis was worried about being perceived as being too political? Do you think it was just a matter of evidence?
SCHIFF: My guess is that it was a matter of the evidence and, you know, their assessment of what they could prove beyond a reasonable doubt. In the case of Graham, you have some ambiguity about what took place during that call. You don't have the, you know, definitive record that we did with Trump's call with. And so, I think it's a sensible judgment the fact that the grand jurors themselves were divided. If the vote for Graham, for example, was 13 to seven, that doesn't spell a lot of success when you go to the higher standard of proof in a criminal courtroom where if you could have even a single juror say no, you don't get the unanimous verdict that you need.
So I think rational judgments and this case is of such great importance because it goes to the heart of our peaceful transfer of power where, you know, as members of the January 6 Committee, we're, you know, very proud of the work we did to bring these facts before the American people to force prosecutors to confront them and make these difficult decisions. So we did accountability as much as we could. It's up to prosecutors to bring justice.
TAPPER: Yes. One other note on Lindsey Graham is that it's because Lindsey Graham denied what Raffensperger said he told him that Raffensperger recorded the call with Trump. So Donald Trump might have Lindsey Graham to thank for his Georgia indictment.
Congressman Adam Schiff, thanks so much for your time. Appreciate it.
Underscoring here, the special grand jury recommended criminal charges for a sitting senator. Lindsey Graham has three more years left in his current term. How today's revelation might play for him politically, that's next.
Plus, that manhunt for a convicted killer who escaped the Pennsylvania prison. The tower guard on watch now no longer on watch. He's been fired. More details coming in about the search. Stay with us.
TAPPER: And we're back with our politics lead and our politics panel. For the past few weeks, frankly, we've thought 19 co-defendants in that Georgia election interference case was that was a lot of defendants, 19. But today we found out that the special grand jury that sifted through all the evidence and heard from witnesses, they wanted to indict 39 people, not just 19. District attorney Fani Willis said, yes, let's just do 19, forget the other 20.
Let's discuss with our panel. Former Congressman Joe Walsh, what do you make of this? You've heard a few Democrats say on the show today, this shows how thoughtful and determined the grand jurors were and Fani Willis were to hear the evidence and to do the best possible case. And they weren't just on an indictment spree.
JOE WALSH, (R) FORMER U.S. REPRESENTATIVE: Political witch hunt, that's what the Republicans have, and that's all they've got. And I think what came out today, Jake, makes clear that Fani Willis was restrained in who she brought and ultimately who she decided to bring forth to an indictment. So I think it hurts the republicans' idiotic bogus charge of political witch hunt. TAPPER: So speaking of what Republicans are saying, Michael, one of the most prominent names on the list of unindicted is Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Take a listen to his response, in part, today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GRAHAM: This is troubling for the country. We can't criminalize senators doing their job when they have a constitutional requirement to fulfill.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Now, to be clear, he wasn't charged with anything.
MICHAEL LAROSA, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Right. But what was his job? What does the Constitution empower him to do --
TAPPER: Well, he says he was --
LAROSA: -- a senator from South Carolina?
TAPPER: He says he's chairman of the Judiciary Committee at the times. Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee looking into election laws and procedures.
LAROSA: Yes, but the elections are administered by states. He has as much jurisdiction in calling that Secretary of State as I do. I don't even think he has any jurisdiction over South Carolina elections because they're in charge of the states, because the states administer elections. So I would love to know where -- which subcommittee or which part of the committee has jurisdiction in the Senate Judiciary Committee over state elections.
TAPPER: Eva, Lindsey Graham, do you think this is going to affect him at all? I mean, I think it's -- I don't mean like in his reelection chances, it's still South Carolina. But do you think this affects him in terms of the respect he garners among his colleagues, how he's able to do his job in the U.S. Senate?
EVA MCKEND, CNN NATIONAL POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: You know, Jake, historically, this would have been a real political liability, even being implicated, though not charged, in a racketeering case. But this is Trump's Republican Party. And Senator Graham has telegraphed that he's all in with Trump. We saw after January 6, he sort of indicated that he was going to pivot. But even if it has caused him a great deal of embarrassment, it wasn't too long ago when he was in Pickens, South Carolina campaigning with Trump and he was booed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
MCKEND: He was booed.
TAPPER: For not being supportive enough. MCKEND: For not being supportive enough of Trump's supporters. So, listen, he is hitching his fortunes to the former president, and I don't see him, you know, garnering that much disrespect from his colleagues because this is really the party of Trump, and he has indicated that he's aligned with him.
LAROSA: And if you think like Donald Trump does, that's the kind of guy you want to be your attorney general, somebody who's willing to do anything, somebody who's willing to come even close to breaking the law or perhaps be indicted. That's somebody you want heading your Justice Department if you're as criminally compromised as President Trump is.
TAPPER: Well, it's interesting because he used to complain when former Senator Sessions was the attorney general, and then later, when Barr was, that he was -- he needed a Roy Cohn. He needed his Bobby Kennedy.
LAROSA: That's it.
TAPPER: Right? And like -- I mean, that's not a bad argument. Maybe Senator Graham would be that.
MCKEND: Yes, it sets him up.
WALSH: Yes. Look, Jake, trying to overturn an election right now in the Republican Party bolsters your standing in the Republican Party, sadly enough. And so everything -- Lindsey wasn't indicted, but he did everything he could to help Trump overturn it.
TAPPER: So, also today, Michael, 83-year-old Nancy Pelosi, the former House Speaker, announced that she is going to seek her 20th term in the House as a mere member of Congress.
TAPPER: What do you think?
LAROSA: I was shocked by it, but I'm excited. She is good for the Democratic Party. She raises a lot of money. I think she's -- I think her performance as speaker, she's one of the -- and she might be the only politician, I think, who was able to match Trump on television. It was very hard to win the coverage when you're a Democrat and Donald Trump is, you know, basically America's assignment editor.
She was able to really, through imagery and through sound bites and through her actions, really able to challenge him unlike he's ever been challenged before. So I have a lot of respect for her. I'm kind of excited she's sticking around.
WALSH: I agree with everything you just said about Speaker Pelosi. She's been amazing these last few years. But she's 83.
WALSH: Stop. And I think it would have meant so much. The American people, Jake, are sick of Republicans and Democrats who are so old now and stay there forever. If Pelosi had decided she's not going to run, I think that would have presented a real contrast with Mitch McConnell, Chuck Grassley, and all the others.
LAROSA: Good for Joe Biden.
MCKEND: But she has made it clear, though, she will not be pushed aside. And she thinks that there are different standards for men and women in this regard. So I'm not all that surprised that she is sticking around.
Now, Congressman Jeffries is going to continue to get needled by Republicans on this. They were already out with a statement immediately after she announced that she's running again, calling her Jeffries' babysitter.
TAPPER: Yes. And that's -- but I mean, he really is the majority --
TAPPER: -- I mean, minority leader.
MCKEND: He is.
TAPPER: I mean --
MCKEND: But Republicans will continue to sort of needle him as long as she remains in Congress.
TAPPER: One other thing, Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, he says he's going to attend the 9/11 museum and memorials annual commemoration ceremony on Monday commemorating the sad, tragic anniversary. He's been criticized for advancing conspiracy theories about the 9/11 attack. He's since, Joe, tried to attempt to walk back some of those comments. What do you make of his attendance?
WALSH: He is -- there is nothing, Jake, real or genuine about him. Everything he does is a con and he lies to Republican voters every day and it works in this Republican primary. It's a shame.
TAPPER: It is weird because there was a time when espousing even the hint of a conspiracy theory.
TAPPER: And I don't mean we need to learn more about the Saudi involvement, but I mean the actual -- because that's obviously true. But the actual conspiracy theories used to be that that was just like death for any politician, Democrat or Republican.
WALSH: Now it puts you in first, second or third place in the primary.
TAPPER: Thanks one and all.
Coming up, a Hollywood star convicted of rape and sentenced to prison for decades. Did the church of scientology play a role in delaying justice in this case? We're going to talk to former scientologist actress Leah Remini join -- she joins me next. Stay with us.
TAPPER: This just in, a brand new forecast track for Hurricane Lee. Let's get right to CNN Meteorologist Chad Myers.
Chad, where's this monster storm headed?
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Not very far. This is going to take a long time to get anywhere, Jake. It really is just a slow lumbering storm out in the middle of the Atlantic. There's Puerto Rico way over there. So this is just way out there, but it's 150 miles per hour storm.
And just about this time yesterday is when this rapid intensification really, really wound up. And we had two airplanes flying through it at that time, and they were just sending back numbers like we were just -- we're in awe, like it was 132 hours ago, then it was 170. It's like, how did that just happen? Just that rapid intensification in the very warm water.
So the last symbol you see here, there's the Bahamas, here's Puerto Rico, that's next Wednesday. That's how long this thing is going to take to get out of the Atlantic and into really, the Sargasso Sea, for that matter. And then it's going to take another few days to make its turn. We hope it turns right on time, because a turn too soon with the models will take it to Bermuda. A turn too late would take it much too close to the U.S. as likely, still, a major hurricane.
So, it's in warm water right now. It's about to get into some cooler water, but all of a sudden, we're going to watch that turn, hopefully, as we call, split the uprights, Jake, between Bermuda and the U.S. and missing Atlantic Canada altogether.
TAPPER: All right. Chad Myers, thanks so much. Appreciate it.
New information is emerging in the search for a convicted killer who escaped from a Pennsylvania prison last week in our National Lead. CNN has now learned that the Chester County prison tower guard who did not apparently see or even report the escape of the inmate that he's been fired. CNN's Danny Freeman joins us now with more on the story. Danny, the guard was an 18-year veteran of the prison. How could something like this happen with such a high level of experience?
DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, I think that's the million dollar question when it comes to this prison escape. And I think that this is also going to be one of the serious questions that come up in the prison and county's own investigation. And also remember this specific part of the investigation, the prison escape aspect. The district attorney here in Chester County, she referred this to the State Attorney General's Office and noted that this particular part, what that corrections officer, that tower guard was doing the moment that Cavalcante crab walked out of the prison, that will be part of that state attorney general investigation. And I'll mention, Jake, that I actually spoke to the State Attorney General's Office within the past few days, and they noted this is a criminal referral. So we're going to have to wait for what comes out of that. But that question of how could this have happened, an 18-year veteran still on the minds of many in this community. But again, that's perhaps why this firing happened so quickly after the fact. Jake?
TAPPER: How close do police think they might be to finding this escaped inmate?
FREEMAN: You know, Jake, I'm going to give you a similar answer to the ones that I told you. Yesterday at 4:00 p.m., police at this point, they're still projecting confidence. You know, I was at the command post earlier today, the Pennsylvania State Police, they invited us in to show us the operation, really the scope of the operation.
They feel confident after two credible sightings that they discovered yesterday, that they have a new perimeter and that Cavalcante is in there. And just to go over why those sightings are so crucial, we told you about one that a witness says he spotted Cavalcante running near Longwood Gardens yesterday. That's Thursday around the noon hour. Police thought that was decently, credible.
But then in the evening hours last night, there was a tremendous amount of police activity that we witnessed and others witnessed in the area. Well, it turns out that police received a new surveillance photo, excuse me, inside of Longwood Gardens from a trail camera that, according to Lieutenant Colonel George Bivens with Pennsylvania State Police, was definitively Cavalcante.
But here's the one rub on that, Jake. That photo was actually from Wednesday night. So there was a 24-hour delay between when that photo of Cavalcante in this perimeter was taken and then when police actually had that confirmation. And they said it's because that's a private trail camera. They can only access it when the owner of that camera looks at the footage and hands it over to police.
But listen, Jake, there's still a lot of frustration here in the community and by residents nearby that this has taken so long. I'm at a checkpoint right here, and police are still checking just about every driver's trunk. They're shining flashlights in the backseat. They're being secure. It's tedious, but again, police hoping they catch this man. Jake?
TAPPER: All right, Danny Freeman in Westchester, Pennsylvania, thanks so much.
As the NFL kicks off a big weekend, CNN looks into the question, can football ever be safe? CNN's Coy Wire, a former pro himself, will join us next with what he found.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) TAPPER: In our Law and Justice Lead, the story of an actor on a hit T.V. show, a member of the Church of Scientology, and three former church members who say he raped them. Danny Masterson, best known for his role as Steven Hyde on that 70s show, which aired on "Fox" for eight seasons ending in 2006. Now 47, Masterson was convicted in May of raping two women at his home in separate incidents between 2001 and 2003. The jury deadlocked on a rape charge involving the third woman.
On Thursday, yesterday, Masterson, who continues to deny the allegations, was sentenced to prison 30 years to life. Masterson's attorneys say he will appeal the convictions. But there is more to this story questions about the role of the Church of Scientology and whether it played any role in why justice was so long in coming in this case.
Scientology, a relatively new religion, is secretive and litigious and has regularly found its legitimacy challenged, including opposition from the medical community to its claims about mental health and e- meters, devices that supposedly monitor the body's electric flow, also called auditors ask would be members questions to discover sources of trauma.
The Scientology connection is important here because, as Rolling Stone reported, witnesses testified at the trial that Scientology has an expressly written doctrine that not only discourages, but prohibits its members from reporting one another to law enforcement.
Now, during their testimony and at the sentencing, as well as in separate civil lawsuits, Masterson's accusers said that church officials tried to silence them and cover up for Danny Masterson. During the trial, "Variety" reported that the women claimed, quote, the church dissuaded them from reporting Masterson to the police. Prosecutors argued throughout the trial that Masterson had taken advantage of his position in the church to rape women without fear of repercussion and that the church forbid women from going to the police to report sexual assault, unquote.
"The Los Angeles Times" says during closing arguments, prosecutor Ariel Anson told the jury, quote, the church tells his victims, rape isn't rape. You cause this. And above all, you can't go to law enforcement, unquote. Hours after Masterson sentencing, the Church of Scientology responded by releasing its statement from the day of his conviction in May. It says, in part, there's not a scintilla of evidence supporting the scandalous allegations that the church harassed the accusers. The church has no policy prohibiting or discouraging members from reporting criminal conduct of anyone, unquote.
Among those in the courtroom yesterday to support the women, actress and advocate Leah Remini, a former member of the Church of Scientology who's been an outspoken critic. She joins us now with Mike Rinder, a former Church of Scientology senior executive, and Remini's co-host of the podcast Fair Game. Thanks to both you for being here. Leah, let me start with you. "Variety" reports that one of the accusers, identified as Jane Doe number one, testified, quote, my understanding, from Scientology, my entire life was that you can never be a victim. Nothing ever happens to you that you didn't cause. No matter what condition you find yourself in life, no matter how horrible, you are responsible. You created that, unquote. Do you see Scientology itself on trial here in any way?
LEAH REMINI, FORMER MEMBER, CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY: Well, it should be on trial. They should have been a co-defendant in this case. Yes, Scientology policy should be looked at. Unfortunately, they have tax exemption. But however, this is absolutely true. It's absolutely law. It's absolutely policy of Scientology. I was a Scientologist most of my life, and Mike the former head of the Office of Special Affairs, and that is not her understanding. That is the law of Scientology. We are not allowed to report crimes to the authorities. We're not allowed to sue each other. So that's the absolute law.
TAPPER: And when you watched the trial, Leah, what was that experience like?
REMINI: It was heartbreaking. I've been involved supporting the Jane Doe's as well, Mike, for seven years. I've had my own experiences with it. This is one story out of thousands. If not, I mean, I don't want anybody to think I'm being, you know, I'm exaggerating for any reason, but to tell the truth.
However, this is just one of many cases that Scientology has been involved in attempting to obstruct justice. And Mike could also speak to that. But it's the absolute policy of Scientology. And I think they should be held accountable, which is part of the basis of my lawsuit, so that people can come forward, victims can come forward. People are allowed to report crimes concerning Scientologists, Sea Org members as well as, you know, civilian Scientologists.
People should not be in fear of retaliation for a multibillion dollar organization calling itself a church for fear of what they do to people when they do. And that very much came out in this trial. And it is not the first time. Scientology has a history of doing this as part of their policy, as part of their practices. And I think Mike could speak more to this because he was a former senior executive of David Miscavige's organization.
TAPPER: And Mike, as we saw the church, issued a statement denying that it harassed the Jane Doe's and says it has no policy prohibiting or discouraging members from reporting criminal activity. Is that true?
MIKE RINDER, FORMER SENIOR EXECUTIVE, CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY: Not at all. That's just a blatant lie, Jake. The policy is very clear, and I have put it on my blog. We talked about it in the aftermath. We've shown the policy. It is written by L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. All Scientologists are bound to follow that policy. And in fact, it is deemed in Scientology a high crime to report to civil authorities the activities of a Scientologist. Everything is supposed to be handled internally so that there is no, quote, PR flap. And Scientologists live by these rules religiously, to use an appropriate term for a non-religious organization. But this is exactly what happens in Scientology. And the information that came out in the criminal trial is really just the tip of the iceberg as far as covering up, protecting and keeping out of the hands of law enforcement the activities that go on internally within Scientology. And as Leah said --
TAPPER: Mike, did you say it was not a religious organization. Tell us what you mean by that, because obviously, they call themselves the Church of Scientology and they went war with the U.S. government to get tax exempt status.
RINDER: Right. And I don't believe that Scientology operates within the IRS code at this point. There was a lot of effort done back when that proceeding was going forward with the IRS to corral and control and make it appear that Scientology fulfilled the criteria of the IRS for a religious organization.
It no longer has any oversight from any government agency, and they are running willy-nilly free to do whatever they want, and they are in constant violation of the IRS code. The problem is getting the IRS to revisit that decision because they don't want to go back and make themselves look bad by changing their view.
But, Jake, yesterday or the day before, there was a decision in the United Kingdom where Scientology has been fighting for 25 or more years to try and get tax exempt status. And they require you prove that you are providing a public benefit, which I wish that law existed in the United States.
Scientology has been unable to prove it and finally got struck down on appeal. The final time they're done, they cannot ever prove that they provide a public benefit.
TAPPER: Leah, last month, as you noted, you filed suit against the Church of Scientology claiming you've suffered years of harassment, intimidation, defamation as part of an organized campaign of retaliation for your public criticism of the church since leaving it a decade ago. It sounds like you have really experienced a hellish time.
TAPPER: Yes. But the lawsuit is really -- it is -- it -- I have filed the lawsuit. However, what I hope to achieve is that this procedure of fair game, which is under thousands of policies under this banner of fair game, it's not just one policy. And these are the activities that Scientologists, you know, civilian Scientologists, as well as employees of Scientology, are to take against people who speak out against the abuse that they've received, if they've been raped, if they've been molested, if they've been beaten.
If those people go and report, if journalists report on Scientology, if comics make jokes about Scientology, if journalists do their jobs, if detectives investigate Scientology, if a mother wants to file a welfare check on her daughter this is all considered attacks on Scientology for which you will receive a campaign, an operation that is instructing parishioners and the organization the Church of Scientology to destroy the person's life in any way possible. And the policy says to destroy utterly.
And so it's not just about me. People have a right. We live here in America. We have rights. We should be able to report crimes. We should be able to report stories, do welfare checks without fear that a multibillion dollar organization is going to use all of its resources to destroy your life.
TAPPER: So tell us more about this Danny Masterson case. So you believe, and it seems like the court did too, that because he was a prized member of this church, he was shielded, and because his victims were members of this church, they were discouraged, not just discouraged told if they went to the police, they would basically be excommunicated and their lives would be made a living hell if they reported his crimes. Now, the church, we should note, they deny that you both say they're lying.
REMINI: Well, we're not saying, Jake, we're not saying that they're lying. We have provided -- the press is very well aware of it. We have, like Mike said, these -- all of these policies of Scientology, the laws of Scientology, as Mike spoke about, are written.
TAPPER: Sure. Sure.
REMINI: It's not something that we're saying, it's not our opinion. This is the laws of Scientology. They are considered high crime. So it's not that they said it or they believed it. It's actual law that you are not allowed to go to law enforcement. You're not allowed to cooperate with an investigation into Scientology. Their own confessionals state it that, you know, you will -- no Scientologist will ever bear witness against you in a court of law.
They claim they're not moralists, so they don't securely care what you're doing, just that you're willing to get it off to a Scientology auditor. But it is law. Like I said, I was a Scientologist most of my life so was Mike. He was part of the organization that goes after people for doing these types of things, like reporting to law enforcement. And so, yes, that is the policy. It's standard practice. It's operating procedure.
TAPPER: So my question is, do you think, with this Danny Masterson verdict and these two rape survivors coming forward, that there is a crack here? That maybe more victims will be able to come forward and maybe law enforcement will be taking more of a critical look at what might be going on, that this is the beginning of justice and accountability?
REMINI: Well, Jake, we sure pray that it is. And we hope that victims, not just of Scientology, but victims in general, you know, feel that these brave, courageous women have been fighting this not only for seven years. They reported the crimes to their church 20 years ago when it happened.
TAPPER: Right. Right.
REMINI: And, you know, he continued to do what he was doing, and Scientology was well aware of it. So, yes, I do hope that this is the beginning. I hope that the IRS will look into their exemption, revoke it or open up an investigation. I hope that people will call their members of Congress and ask that they --
REMINI: Mike, what do you think? Do you think this gives hope?
RINDER: Absolutely, I do, Leah. And I think that the upcoming civil case that those victims have is going to expose a lot more information to the world about what really goes on inside Scientology.
TAPPER: All right, Leah Remini and Mike Rinder, thanks to both of you. Really appreciate it. And I highly recommend their podcast also. Thanks for joining us today. Hope you come back to talk more about this very important and rather undercovered story. But we have some breaking news right now to bring you in Georgia's election subversion case.
A judge has made a decision on whether former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows will face trial in Fulton County, Georgia, or in federal court, which might prove to be friendlier terrain. Let's go straight to CNN Paula Reid. Paula, what's the decision?
PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, Mark Meadows has lost his fight to try to move his state, Georgia state criminal case to federal court. This is significant not only for Meadows, but for the other defendants, including former President Trump, who wanted to try this as well.
Now, Meadows lawyers had argued that this case should be removed to federal court because everything they say that Meadows did connected to the 2020 election was part of his job as White House Chief of Staff. They wanted to try to get this removed to federal court, where there are laws that offer immunity to certain federal officials from being sued for things that they did in connection to their official position.
Now, he has not been successful, and this will have repercussions for other defendants. I've spoken with lawyers for other defendants who have told me, look, we're not even going to file on behalf of our client because we want to see what happens with Meadows. They believe that Mark Meadows had the best chance of any of the defendants, besides the former president, of successfully getting his case removed to federal court.
And they've told me, look, if it doesn't work out for him, we may not even file for our client. So the fact that he has lost here, he can still appeal this. But there's a lot of significant impact on this case. The former president has also signaled that he, too, is going to try to remove his case to federal court. There'll be a slightly different situation, but again, not good news for Meadows and really not good news for a lot of defendants who hope that if they could get this removed to federal court, that they would have a better chance of getting it dismissed.
So here a loss for Meadows, though, we do expect, Jake, he will likely appeal. And it's unclear how long that appeal will take, because any appeal would potentially have an impact on other trials. We know that there is consideration of possibly breaking this case up into smaller subgroups. The judge overseeing this, Judge McAfee, has expressed skepticism about whether the district attorney can try all 19 people at once.
And in a hearing earlier this week, he even pointed to the Meadows case, saying, look, another reason that we may need to break this up into subgroups is because we're waiting for appeals like this.
TAPPER: Yes, we really can't understate even though it just seems like one judge in one courtroom really can't understate how significant this is. Mark Meadows and as you know, Donald Trump, ultimately hoping for the opposite decision that the judge handed down today. And, yes, Mark Meadows gets to appeal. But had hoped that the judge would allow him to try this in federal court, where he had hoped he could get the whole case dismissed, and if not, he hoped that it at least would be friendlier terrain before a jury reject it. That's a pretty momentous, Paula.
REID: It is momentous. This is one of the biggest things we've been waiting for in this case for the reasons you just laid out, arguably one of the most significant decisions since the indictments came down.
TAPPER: Paula Reid, thanks so much for the breaking news.
Coming up on Sunday morning on State of the Union, we're going to have Secretary of State Antony Blinken, 2024 Republican presidential hopeful, ambassador and Governor Nikki Haley and House Foreign Affairs Chairman Mike McCaul. That's all Sunday morning at 9:00 Eastern and again at noon.
Wolf Blitzer is going to pick up all the breaking news coming up next in "THE SITUATION ROOM". I will see you Sunday morning. Thanks so much.