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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Hunter Biden Testifies Behind Closed Doors In House GOP Probe; Rep. Robert Garcia, (D-CA), Is Interviewed About Hunter Biden; U.S. Supreme Court To Decide Trump Immunity Claim, Further Delaying Election Subversion Trial. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired February 28, 2024 - 17:00   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to The Lead. I'm Jake Tapper. This hour, the uproar in Alabama that protests today at the state Capitol building demanding new laws on the books after that controversial ruling by the Alabama Supreme Court classifying frozen embryos as children.

Plus, a must see special report, the disturbing discovery after CNN spent weeks combing through video of damage in Gaza, comparing that with satellite imagery and to accounts of those who survived strikes in the war ravaged region.

And leading this hour, the moment House Republicans have been trying to score for months in their impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden, the president. Today's star witness, the president's son, Hunter Biden, finally giving closed door testimony as Republicans try to connect Hunter's sketchy business dealings to his father. With us now to discuss Democratic Congressman Robert Garcia. He's a member of the House Oversight Committee. He was in the room for Hunter Biden's testimony today.

Congressman, thanks for joining us. So Hunter Biden in his opening statement today we're told, said, quote, "I did not involve my father in my business," unquote. Now we know he has talked to his dad on speakerphone while meeting with business partners. His dad might have dropped down and dropped by a meeting or two or a dinner or two. Beyond that which we've known, did Republicans, have Republicans presented any evidence today that might go beyond that?

REP. ROBERT GARCIA (D-CA): I mean, not a shred of evidence. There has been zero evidence presented by anyone that links, of course, the president to any of Hunter Biden's business dealings. What we learned today essentially was that Hunter loves his father a lot. He admits to his own wrongdoings in the past. He is obviously recovering from addiction himself.

And he laid out all the information that was asked of him. I was there for three plus hours and question after question, zero evidence was produced that links the president to anything. As far as we're concerned, this impeachment sham is over. There is nothing else to do. James Comer has presented witnesses that end up being spies, Russian intelligence conspiracy theorists.

And Hunter Biden had nothing else to add today. So, we're trying to move on, to be quite honest.

TAPPER: All right, Congressman Robert Garcia, thank you so much. I have to leave it there because we have some major breaking news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Breaking news just in to CNN. The U.S. Supreme Court has weighed in one of the cases about former President Donald Trump. So let's go straight to CNN's Paula Reid.

Paula, what is the news from the U.S. Supreme Court? What did they decide on the immunity case?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: This is a massive development, Jake. The Supreme Court has agreed to take up the issue of whether former President Trump has immunity from the federal election subversion case that he is facing. Now, a unanimous appeals court several weeks ago issued a scathing opinion, a unanimous opinion saying that he did not have immunity that would shield him from the federal election subversion case brought by special counsel Jack Smith. So he asked the Supreme Court to pause that lower court decision with the possibility that they would take up this issue. And now we have learned that the Supreme Court will take up this issue. This means that they will hear -- they will hear arguments.

Now, it was just a few weeks ago, of course, that the Supreme Court took up another appeal from former President Trump, that one having to do with whether he could appear on state ballots, whether states had the authority to remove him from their ballots. Now, that argument, Jake, of course, you remember it went pretty well former President Trump. He is expected to prevail. But on this question of whether former President Trump has immunity, that would shield him from the January 6 case bought by the special counsel, many legal experts and even sources I've spoken with in and around former President Trump's legal team did not expect, do not expect that he would prevail on the merits of this. But now the Supreme Court has agreed to take up this case.

Now, the immediate impact, before we even know what they decide, is that this will likely further delay that trial. And we know that Trump's strategy has been to try to delay both federal cases until after the 2024 election, because if Trump is reelected, he could likely make both of those go away. So this is a very significant development, somewhat unexpected, that the Supreme Court has decided to take up Trump's immunity appeal.

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

CNN Senior Supreme Court Analyst Joan Biskupic joins us now.

Joan, explain the significance of the move, because I think I've heard some court watchers say they thought that it was possible that the court was just going to defer to the appeals court ruling that Trump is not immune. But that's not what they're doing, they're going to weigh in, explain.


JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Absolutely not, Jake. And I think the reason some people were suspecting that, some people thought that in the beginning, but I always thought there would be a 50-50 chance. But as the days wore on, we thought, why haven't they -- if they're going to hear it, why don't they tell us they want to hear it and begin the process? And as they delayed for these last two weeks, it seemed like, well, maybe they're going to summarily affirm what the D.C. circuit had done, a very sound opinion, rejecting the immunity claim, or maybe they were going to deny it and that some of the justices were writing dissents from that denial. But what they've done is actually not too surprising. It's just the timing of it that's surprising.

I thought that these justices might think that they need to have the last word on a question of such consequence of the power of, in this case, a former president rather than a president. But what they've done now, Jake, just to cut through everything that's procedural here, is they have effectively ensured that we will not have a verdict on President Trump's election subversion allegations before summer, because they're not even going to hear this case until the week of April 22. And this is a complicated issue. It will probably take them a couple of weeks to get the opinion out. I mean, at best likely it would come by the end of June, when they typically recess for the session.

But then we're already in summer. We're just -- we're right upon the Republican convention time. And I just do not see now any kind of chance of a trial as had originally been scheduled for first week in March, Jake.

What I think could have happened just to try to explain this timing, is possibly there had been an effort behind the scenes to try to do something that would have left in place the D.C. circuit opinion and to see if the chief might have tried, Chief Justice John Roberts, might have tried to get some sort of majority around that. But the fact that they delayed even this order, this order that basically just says we're going to take it up, that they delayed it for two weeks, suggests that they certainly did not embrace the urgency that special counsel Jack Smith tried to impose upon them way back in December, when Jack Smith went to the Supreme Court and said, justices, please take up this case now so that we can get a clear answer. This is yours to answer. And then, you know, once the D.C. circuit -- once the Supreme Court said, no, we're not coming in, and the D.C. circuit ruled, you know, that was another several weeks.

So, President Trump's -- former President Trump's effort to run the clock has a partner in the Supreme Court at this point, even though, Jake, probably in the end, the justices will agree with the D.C. circuit and say -- and reject president -- former President Donald Trump's claim of absolute immunity. But what good will that do for any kind of trial before we're really into the heat of this next presidential election?

TAPPER: So just to recap, Joan, the U.S. Supreme Court is not going to just defer to the appeals court.


TAPPER: They are going to hear the argument about --

BISKUPIC: Exactly.

TAPPER: -- whether or not Donald Trump has immunity, can say that what he did as president is -- he's immune from prosecution because he was president at the time. Do we have any sort of timeline? So the court's going to take up --


TAPPER: -- the case. When are there going to be arguments?

BISKUPIC: Right. So, they've set a time schedule for briefs to come in, written filings from the two side, from special counsel Jack Smith, who is representing the United States government here, trying to bring this case against Donald Trump for what happened at the end of the 2020 election cycle before the 2024 election cycle. So there'll be filings from Jack Smith, there'll be filings from former President Donald Trump. I'm sure we'll have, you know, cast of amicus briefs coming in trying to argue on both sides. And then the week of April 22, which is toward the end of their current oral argument, sitting for this annual session, they will actually hold oral arguments.

All of our viewers will be able to hear those oral arguments when they're held. But I'm telling you, Jake, you know, it's going to take several weeks after that to get a ruling just because the nature of this case, now that they've decided themselves to take it up.

TAPPER: OK. So the April 22 is the week of oral arguments.

BISKUPIC: Correct.

TAPPER: And until then, there will be all sorts of arguments that they submit --


TAPPER: -- amicus brief, et cetera. When do you think there will be any sort of decision, potentially from the U.S. Supreme Court after April 22?

BISKUPIC: You know, if I were betting just within minutes of having received this order, I would say the last week in June. I'd say the last week in June. I mean, it could come sooner. It could come sooner only because, you know, like it would be great if it did come sooner, because so many folks on both sides would like an answer to this, but the fact that they have delayed even taking up the case from the moment when they could have, you know, they were asked to take it up back in December. They were asked to take it up with some sort of urgency even earlier this month, and they didn't.

[17:10:15] They waited a couple weeks to even say they were going to come in. And so, as I say, I don't think they feel the sense of urgency that the Department of Justice and Jack Smith have articulated here. So I'm thinking end of June only, Jake, because that's when their session typically ends for this -- you know, when most of their cases are resolved by the end of June. But then, you know, look at where we are end of June and if -- let's just go back to the trial judge who had wanted to actually hold a trial, she would have to engage in, you know, jury selection and then get that started. And, you know, that process takes several weeks.

And we're right into the thick of the presidential election, so who knows what will happen at that point. But I think the bottom line here is that the justices' action today really ensures that we will not have a verdict on whether former President Donald Trump is guilty or even a judge not guilty of the election subversion claims that -- and there are four counts of election subversion. You know, there's conspiracy and obstruction, everything that kind of culminated with the January 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol, we will not have answer to that anytime soon. That's what this ensures, Jake.

TAPPER: And just to reiterate, so nine justices are going to hear this if Chief Justice Roberts, I don't, maybe you know, but do we have any idea the dynamics behind the scenes here as to who? Because I can't imagine that the three Democratic appointed justices, Sotomayor and Kagan and Jackson, I can't imagine that they would agree with this. How many people need to hold the position of no, let's just delay, delay, delay for that to happen?

BISKUPIC: OK. Under normal circumstances, it takes just four justices to grant a case, but it also takes five to kind of adhere to any motion. And there was a motion, of course, to, you know, block the effect of the lower court judgment here. And a lower court judgment that I just want to stress again, was unanimous by a panel of the D.C. circuit that included, you know, an appointee of the late President George H. W. Bush and two appointees of President Biden. It was a very robust decision against the former president because the former president was really, really pushing in an extreme argument about absolute immunity once he left office.

But -- so, you're right, there were probably justices on the left and maybe in the middle of the court who might not have thought that they needed to weigh in on this. But you know, at least five thought that this was the way to go to stop all the proceedings and wait for the justices to hear it. And again, I think there was a good argument that the justices should have the final word in this. It's just that they were given that opportunity several months ago to have the final word in it. But they've waited to this point and the week of April 22 to even hear the arguments on that.

TAPPER: All right, Joan Biskupic, our Supreme Court expert, thank you so much.


TAPPER: Let's bring in CNN's Evan Perez, who covers the Justice Department for us.

Evan, walk us through what this means for the trial. Special counsel Jack Smith wants to try former president Trump for trying to steal the election.


TAPPER: Now, we won't know, probably, according to Joan, maybe not even until the end of June whether or not he can claim immunity. What does that mean for the scheduling of this trial, assuming that they don't find that he can claim immunity for everything?

PEREZ: Right. Well, Jake, what this means is that whenever the Supreme Court comes back and renders a ruling on this, it means then that -- let's say they do decide that Donald Trump does not have immunity as the appeals court had ruled, then this goes back to Tanya Chutkan, the judge who is overseeing this case, and she's made very clear that she wants to move as quickly as possible. But still, Jake, that means you're looking at probably another eight weeks before -- seven or eight weeks before you can get the trial. It pushes the calendar, it pushes us deep into August.

And the possibility, of course, for the Justice Department that you're going to be putting the former president of the United States, the leading candidate, the presumptive Republican nominee on trial during the period where traditionally the Justice Department tries to make sure that there is nothing being done to interfere with the election, to appear to be interfering with the election. Of course, that only -- Jake, that only has to do with things that are initiated by the Justice Department. This case was initiated last year. And of course, Donald Trump's appeals and his delay tactics have brought us to this point.


So, really, it is not of their own doing that we're going to be smack in the middle of this. But it really does put the Justice Department in a tough place. And you can bet Donald Trump is going to keep making that point, Jake, in the next few months, which is that the Justice Department is trying to put him on trial in the middle of his campaign. And then, of course, we're talking about after he has presumptively will have become the nominee.

Just to go back to what Joan was pointing out, Jake, we're also looking at another part of the very crowded calendar for Donald Trump. These briefs are due -- the deadlines that the Supreme Court has set is March 19 for some of these filings, the initial filings and the final filings have to be brought in by April 15. Of course, that's in the middle of Donald Trump's other criminal trial, the one that's supposed to start at the end of March in New York, right, in Manhattan, where that case is supposed to get going on the hush money allegations. And so, Donald Trump is going to be dealing with that case. Presumably, that case will not be done by the time the Supreme Court will have these oral arguments in the week, what they say here is a week of April 22. A very crowded calendar for the leading republican nominee for president and, of course, for the justice system, which is trying to hold him accountable for these alleged crimes that they say he committed.

So, it's not clear how this is going to turn out, but you can see how much more crowded the Supreme Court has made that calendar over the next few months, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Evan, help me here because I want to help our viewers at home --


TAPPER: -- understand, because it's difficult to keep all these Trump legal problems straight. We should be giving out like baseball cards or something --


TAPPER: -- for them. All right, so today, right now, we're talking about Donald Trump being prosecuted by the federal government --

PEREZ: Right.

TAPPER: -- by the Jack Smith --

PEREZ: Right.

TAPPER: -- for his role in the attack on the Capitol.

PEREZ: Right.

TAPPER: And he's claimed immunity. And the U.S. Supreme Court says we're going to hear the case about whether or not he has immunity. Oral arguments will be in April. Joan, our Supreme Court expert says, Joan Biskupic says that means there probably won't be a decision until the end of June. You're saying that jury selection and everything will take two months after that, am I right?

PEREZ: Right. The way the calendar had set up, the judge, Tanya Chutkan had set up the calendar, Jake, was to give the team, the two sides, about seven to eight weeks --


PEREZ: -- of pretrial preparation. And so, we would assume that whenever this comes down, and if Donald Trump loses --

TAPPER: Right.

PEREZ: -- that calendar restarts. And that's -- we're talking about another seven or eight weeks.

TAPPER: So, yes. So just so -- I mean, obviously, if the Supreme Court says Donald Trump has immunity --

PEREZ: Then it's over.

TAPPER: -- then that's the end of that case. PEREZ: Right.

TAPPER: But if they say no, he doesn't, that's end of June, theoretically, that means end of July, end of August. End of August, the trial could start. But then there is this rule, I don't know if it's an official rule or a tradition, but that the U.S. Justice Department is not supposed to be doing prosecutions that close to an election. Although I think it's, what is it, like 100 days or something?

PEREZ: Right. Generally the clock starts running somewhere. People interpret it in different ways, Jake.

TAPPER: Labor Day-ish.

PEREZ: Yes, Labor Day-ish.


PEREZ: And again, the -- you know, I asked the attorney general, Merrick Garland, just that very question just a few weeks ago when were in Texas and Uvalde and I asked him that question and he pointed out that the Justice Department initiated this prosecution. Jack Smith brought this case last year. And the only reason why we're here is because Donald Trump has succeeded --

TAPPER: Right.

PEREZ:-- in his efforts to delay things.

TAPPER: Right.

PEREZ: So, you know, everything is turning up roses for the former president, really.

TAPPER: Right. And it's obviously going to be quite disingenuous when he says delay, delay, delay, delay.

PEREZ: Right.

TAPPER: Oh, my God, it's Labor Day-ish. We can't have a trial now when --

PEREZ: Right.

TAPPER: -- he's the one -- he's the reason. But that doesn't matter. That's still a legal technique and his lawyers are doing it --

PEREZ: Right.

TAPPER: -- effectively. OK, so that's one trial.

PEREZ: That's one trial.

TAPPER: That's one trial. The one in Atlanta we've been covering separately. I don't want to get into that. That has to do with -- PEREZ: Yes.

TAPPER: -- Fani Willis and TMI.

PEREZ: We don't have a trial date yet --


PEREZ: -- on that one, Jake. But you know, she has been trying to push for --


PEREZ: -- some kind of trial sometime this year.

TAPPER: OK. Then there is the one that's going to take place in New York with the district attorney, Alvin Bragg. That's about hush money payments to Stormy Daniels --

PEREZ: Right.

TAPPER: -- and whether Donald Trump was not honest in the tax code. It's a lot of legal experts consider this the weakest of all of them. This is -- OK. Then there is also --


PEREZ: That one --


PEREZ: That one, Jake, starts in the next month. It starts at the end of March. And so, that's when -- you know, that's the first, really the first criminal trial, that is supposed to get started with Donald Trump as a defendant.

TAPPER: And that one would have a financial penalty, if anything. That's not --

PEREZ: Right.

TAPPER: Nobody's alleging -- asserting that jail time. OK. Then there is this other trial that Jack Smith is bringing forward and this other case, and that involves him for activities after his presidency.

PEREZ: Right.

TAPPER: This is the classified documents case.

PEREZ: Right.

TAPPER: Now, for that one, that's in Florida, because that's where this mishandling allegedly took place. And Trump has a Trump appointee judge who has been making rulings that the Trump lawyers have liked. What is the status of that one? PEREZ: Well, that one is right now scheduled to go to start in May, but no one believes that that's going to happen. I think, as a matter of fact, on Friday, when we have a very important court hearing in Fort Pierce with Judge Aileen Cannon, I think we might get a little bit of clarity on that because it's clear the Trump team wants that delayed. But they only want it delayed a certain amount of time. Katelyn Polantz reported just a few days ago that the strategy there is to move the date just a little bit in order to make it difficult for the D.C. case, the case that is overseen by Judge Chutkan, for that to even get on the calendar.

And so, the idea, Jake, is that on Friday, we'll see how amenable this judge is to moving the calendar date for that trial date, classified documents case for that to be moved perhaps a few weeks or a couple of months. And again, right now, that is supposed to start in May, but just based on the classified documents and the complexities of those documents and all the issues that are presented there, it's clear that that case will not start in May.

TAPPER: All right. Very, very complicated stuff. But today we're focused on the --

PEREZ: It's more complicated than your kids' school calendar, Jake. I mean --

TAPPER: Well, I don't know about that. But it is very complicated.


TAPPER: And it does also illustrate that when people talk about how there's two tier system of justice in this country, they're not wrong. Now, it's not political, per se. It's, if you are wealthy enough --

PEREZ: Right.

TAPPER: -- to be able to afford lawyers who can pull off these gymnastics --


TAPPER: -- and delay techniques and all the things that Trumps lawyers who are, in this case, very able, this is what they are able to do as opposed to, you know, Ma and Pa Smith watching at home --

PEREZ: Right. Or you and me, right?

And here's the issue, Jake.


PEREZ: Look, I mean, we've -- in this country, we've always for -- certainly for a couple of centuries claimed that no one is above the law. And I got to tell you, like right now, you have to ask that question, right? Because the fact that he is a former president gets him a lot of deference. It is getting him a lot of deference within our system. And people would argue that it should, right. Because you are a former president, you should get at least to be heard on this very important constitutional question. But what it does mean for practical reasons is that you can delay things in a way that anybody else would not be able to.

TAPPER: Yes. All right. Fascinating stuff. Evan Perez, thanks so much. We'll come back to you when you got more to report. Let's bring in CNN's Kaitlan Collins now. She's the anchor of -- what's the name of the show?


TAPPER: No. I want you to say it on T.V. with your big smiling face.

COLLINS: The Source.

TAPPER: "The Source" at 09:00 p.m. Eastern.

Kaitlan, the Trump team, how are they reacting to this news? They got to be pretty psyched, I would think?

COLLINS: Well, I mean, speaking of the name of the show, I mean, we're texting them right now and talking to them. They were just as on edge waiting to see what was going to happen here. Obviously, worst case scenario for them would have been if the Supreme Court denied this and then that case would have been able to proceed.

TAPPER: They said, you know, the U.S. supreme -- the appeals court got it right.

COLLINS: Yes, it would have been a disaster. And after that unanimous ruling came out from the appeals court, they were not sure what the Supreme Court was going to decide here because it was well argued, it was unanimous and it kind of put the Trump team on their back foot in the sense of what was going to happen here. You can't really predict, but they feel that this is at least a win for now.


COLLINS: That's what we're hearing from them.

TAPPER: Definitely.

COLLINS: Of course, it remains to be seen what this looks like with the expedited basis, but this is exactly to their game plan, to what Evan was saying there from Katelyn Polantz. What we have been hearing is that what they would like to do, obviously, delay, delay, delay has been their entire legal strategy, but is to get that documents case in Florida pushed just enough to where if they lose on the merits here and they fully expect that they will lose on the merits --

TAPPER: Right.

COLLINS: -- in the sense of this, they make no bones about that. But it doesn't matter because if they lose on the merits but win, when it comes to the timing in delaying this, that's a win in their books. TAPPER: Sure. And I mean, I don't mean to be cynic, but the fact that they are the ones delaying and delaying and delaying and delaying, pushing this case to the point that if the Supreme Court ultimately rules the way we think they will, which is, no, you don't have immunity for anything you do as president.


And then the case goes forward on the schedule that Joan and Evan have posited, which is oral arguments in April, final decision ruling in June, and then two months or so before the trial starts, even though the reason it would start so late is because of Trump's legal maneuvering. We do expect, right, that they will then say, hey, this is really late. You can't have a trial now, we're in the middle of the presidential campaign.

COLLINS: Yes, that's exactly --

TAPPER: Right.

COLLINS: -- what they plan to argue. And they are not cynical when they make very clear that that is what their strategy is here and what they're going to try to do. I think it also just speaks to the entire strategy here of what they've looked to do, how they've tried to rely on the Supreme Court with this. And it is notable, though, that they think that they'll lose on the merits of this argument. I mean, I think --

TAPPER: What's a ridiculous argument? You can't -- like you can't -- I mean, literally, they were saying that a president could, and this is not -- I did not make this up, this was actually in the trial, that a president could order the assassination of a political opponent using SEAL Team Six, and he would not face any legal repercussions unless he were impeached and convicted first, which is preposterous.

COLLINS: And it's also a question that we've never seen the Supreme Court answer. What is the president's level of immunity? And this brief order seems to say that they'll get into the extent to which they believe that goes to and what that looks like. And so we'll ultimately see what they decide here on the merits.

TAPPER: So you heard Joan Biskupic suggest that she would guess that after April oral arguments and the attitude of the U.S. Supreme Court, which is not to take this case up with any urgency, that she anticipates ruling will probably come down into June, which is when the court usually issues its rulings and then breaks for the summer. And that's only a few weeks away from the Republican National Convention in July.

COLLINS: Yes, and Judge Chutkan has said she -- that they -- when this trial was still moving on case, it was about two months of discovery. So not only that, there could be other delays as well. I mean, they've sought to take other measures here. By that time, obviously, Donald Trump now we're approaching Super Tuesday, and is all but the nominee. Obviously, Nikki Haley is still in this race, but we're seeing, you know, how that's actually playing out for her. I don't think it's an understatement or an overstatement to say that what the Supreme Court has decided here today with this decision, just to hear this could be a seminal moment in this election of what this actually looks like, that Jack Smith's case could not go to trial before the election, or it could be so close to it that the full case would not actually be able to be heard and tried by the time voters are casting their ballots in November. And it could be ultimately a major deciding point in what happens come November.

TAPPER: Yes. No, I mean, it just happened. So we don't have any historical perspective on it, but it is certainly possible that in a year, you and I will be looking back at this exact conversation and saying --


TAPPER: -- that was the day that everything changed.

COLLINS: Yes. And I think that's what's important because there are so many legal cases, and obviously we stay on top of them. We're reporting them out. We talk about them at length. Regular people aren't.

And I think if you're looking at this and you're wondering, you know, what does this moment mean? It's a huge moment for what Trump's legal troubles could actually look like, whether they fuel him into the White House yet again or whether or not they play a major obstacle in that. And obviously, Jack Smith has not said the word election in his filings, but they've made clear they're trying to move with urgency.

He asked the Supreme Court to move with urgency here. It still went to this appeals court first, who flatly rejected Trump's argument. But the idea that now the Supreme Court is going to hear this, but it could, in the end, still hurt him by not letting his case actually go to trial is a remarkable moment.

TAPPER: And then, of course, if he wins, he'll have it dismissed because he will be the president.

COLLINS: Or he could lose. I mean, we don't know. But that is obviously what they are aiming for.

TAPPER: No, I mean, if he wins the presidency.

COLLINS: Right. I was saying he could lose the presidency.

TAPPER: And they haven't tried him.


TAPPER: Then, you know, if they've delay it, if they ultimately decide --

COLLINS: Then the case is gone.

TAPPER: -- not to go forward with the case, then the case is gone. Both that and the classified documents and people at home were talking about the concept earlier with Evan about like, no man is above the law, no person is above law. That's supposed to be the ethos of the United States. Those watching this show earlier saw senator -- an old clip of Mitch McConnell from January 2021 talking about how Donald Trump was culpable. He was responsible for what happened on January 6, but he was not going to vote to impeach him, not to convict him, it would be left up to the courts.

Now we see the courts and the system to observers out there might seem a little gamed. It might seem a little like, oh, so there's no accountability for some people.

COLLINS: But also how notable, and that's a great point, how notable this is coming the day that Senator Mitch McConnell announced he's stepping down from Republican leadership because the reason three of those justices are on the Supreme Court that Trump picked were because of Mitch McConnell and the way helped shepherd them and also, you know, stopped the attorney general now from becoming a Supreme Court justice potentially. I mean, it's just a remarkable holistic moment when you step back and look at how all of the different puzzle pieces have shaped what is happening right now.

TAPPER: Right. And just for folks out there to remember, the seat that Donald Trump first filled was vacated when Ruth Bader Ginsburg died during the Barack Obama presidency. And Mitch McConnell, then the Republican leader of the Senate, said, we're not going to have hearings. We're not going to fill that seat. And the Supreme Court did not have nine justices for a long period of time. He said he was just going to wait for the next president to be elected. This was a new rule that he invented.

And then at the end of the Trump presidency --

COLLINS: When RBG died, yes.

TAPPER: Yes. At the end of the Trump presidency, though, he then went back and changed the rules to fill it with Amy Coney Barrett. So two of those justices are under these circumstances, two of the three Trump justices.

COLLINS: Yes. It's remarkable to look at that picture and also to see Mitch McConnell and Trump's relationship and how it went from that symbiosis of putting a Supreme Court justice there and having the hearings and to now when he's stepping down from GOP leadership. He's completely out of touch with the Trump wing, which is obviously the majority wing of his party now.

TAPPER: RBG died during Trump, I'm sorry.

COLLINS: Yes. She was the one who Amy Coney Barrett replaced.

TAPPER: Yes, yes. I'm sorry. But what was -- then what was the one -- it was the Merrick Garlands in, Scalia died.

COLLINS: Scalia died.

TAPPER: I'm sorry. I'm confusing my justices who died. At the end of Obama, Scalia died and they wanted to fill it anyway --

COLLINS: With Merrick Garland.

TAPPER: With Merrick Garland. And he didn't get it. My point being, I apologize, I'm doing this all live here. My point being that Mitch McConnell really helped Donald Trump fill at least one, if not two of those seats under circumstances the Democrats really hated. Democrats really hated.

COLLINS: He also helped with Kavanaugh, too, though, when his nomination was on the brink. I mean, they helped hold it and make sure that he did not withdraw his nomination. And he, you know, obviously, in the moments were having special coverage. Anyway, it's just remarkable to look at the big picture of Mitch McConnell, the day of that he's leaving.

TAPPER: Yes, no, I take your point. My point is that instead of disparaging Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump should be sending him a muffin basket.

COLLINS: And I don't even think he's commented on the fact that he's stepping down from Republican.

TAPPER: No. But I mean, the Supreme Court, which has been shaped by Mitch McConnell, just did Donald Trump a huge favor that I don't know they would have done had Merrick Garland been on that court as Democrats think he should have been in any case. Kaitlin Collins of The Source, 9:00 p.m. Eastern always great to see you.

The breaking news, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments over Donald Trump's claim of presidential immunity the week of April 22nd. That's about seven weeks. This is in the federal election subversion case brought on by Special Counsel Jack Smith. We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back.



TAPPER: And we're back with our breaking news. The U.S. Supreme Court has decided they will hear arguments on Donald Trump's claim of immunity. He claims he cannot be prosecuted in the 2020 election subversion case, because everything he did during that period. He was president for, therefore, he is immune from prosecution. Let's bring back CNN's Paula Reid. Paula, do we have a response now from the Special Counsel Jack Smith, who wanted this trial expedited, wanted the U.S. Supreme Court to hear it early and now is finding that President Trump, former President Trump's delay, delay, delay strategy is working.

REID: We do not have an official response yet, Jake. And that could be because they're furious and need to collect their thoughts and then put something on paper. Now this is the second time the Supreme Court has rejected Jack Smith request for the Supreme Court to just step in and decide this question of immunity once and for all so that he could move forward with this prosecution. He asked them months ago to weigh in on this issue not to wait for this to go through the appeals process so that he could bring this case to trial swiftly saying that it was in the public interest for this case to be tried and decided soon.

The Supreme Court declined to do that. Of course the case went to the appeals court where they rendered a unanimous scathing decision rejecting Trump's argument that he had absolute presidential immunity. Then after the Supreme Court received a request to pause that decision, they took two weeks before releasing the fact that they are going to hear arguments in late April, which means we probably won't get a decision until late June. And we would need at least two months before that trial starts.

So Jake, this makes it unlikely though not impossible that Jack Smith will be able to bring that case. And while this has been a bad day, it could be a bad week for Jack Smith. Because on Friday I'll be down in Florida, where judge overseeing the other federal prosecution the Mar- a-Lago classified documents case which is penciled in for late May. She is expected to weigh in on scheduling and it is widely expected that that case will also be delayed. Again, unclear if he'll be able to bring either one of these cases before the election.

TAPPER: All right, Paula, thanks so much.

Let's turn now to former Trump Attorney Tim Parlatore. Tim, good to see you as always. What is your reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court announcing that they will hear the Trump immunity case, oral arguments the week of April 22nd?

TIM PARLATORE, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: You know, it's interesting to me. I mean, it certainly tracks, you know, what the Supreme Court will want to do for an issue like this. You know, there was a decision back in the late 90s, where Ruth Justice Ginsburg said, when it comes to issues of presidential immunity and privileges, that's something that should be decided by the Supreme Court and not by the circuit.

And so it does make sense that they are tracking that exact same reasoning to bring this case up there. Now whether they will actually change the ruling is different story they very well may, you know, go through it and then reach a very similar conclusion to the circuit.

TAPPER: So assuming that this schedule, the timeline looks like this, arguments April 22nd, decision end of June, seven to eight weeks for the court case to begin assuming that the U.S. Supreme Court decides that Donald Trump does not have immunity which I think a lot of people expect will be their ultimate decision. So that puts it end of August for that trial to begin. Do you think that the Trump team will successfully argue, hey, you can't try us, it's Labor Day we got a presidential race going on here? Or do you think that the Justice Department is going to ultimately rule, you're the one that's been delaying it for a year, we wanted to do this in 2023?


PARLATORE: Well, remember the right to a speedy trial is something that is for the defendant, not the government. And so I do think that this does push it out to the stage and, you know, the timeline that you just laid out. That's if everything goes according to plan. That's if there's no other delays. And so I think that it could go out a little bit further than that. And ultimately, the closer you get to the election itself, the more does tend to look like and support the notion that it's an election interference tactic. So I do -- I personally believe that this decision takes the January 6th trial off the board, as far as doing it before the election.

TAPPER: Really? You think that that's it like it's not going to happen before the election, the only way it will go forward is, let's be honest, if Donald Trump loses the election, and then and then the court case continues in your view?

PARLATORE: I think so. I mean, you got to remember, if you look at the time, when a normal federal criminal case would come to trial, especially one with a similar amount of discovery. The only reason that this case would ever be tried in under two years is because of the election, you know, a case of this magnitude would normally not have a trial until at least two years after the initial arrest.

And so I think when you push things out, you know, to this extent through the Supreme Court decision, and it's also interesting, you know, looking at the order the way that they kind of limited the question for them to argue, I think that it could end up being something where they could, you know, issue a decision, and remanded down potentially even for a pre-trial evidentiary hearing to determine which parts of the case, you know, would fall under potential immunity and which one wouldn't.

TAPPER: And that would add how much time to the timeline here?

PARLATORE: That could end, you know, a few months, a few months.

TAPPER: What about just the on its face disingenuousness about the idea like that the Trump's strategy, and I'm not saying that any lawyer wouldn't do it, nor that I wouldn't want them to do it for me where I in this circumstance, but it is on its face, disingenuous to try to delay, delay, delay, and then when the trial actually goes forward to then say you can't have the trial right now. This is horrible timing. I'm, you know, the presidential elections in three months. I mean, it could have taken place in 2023.

PARLATORE: It could have. But like I said, a case, election and politics aside, a case of this magnitude never gets tried that quickly. I mean, the idea of them pushing to try it within a year of the indictment coming down, is just completely unheard of. So it -- that's a strategy, it only gets heard that quickly, when the defense essentially waves motions and wants to go forward very quickly invokes the defendants right to speedy trial, because they know that they're going to go straight for a straight acquittal.

So I don't really see that being something that's, you know, really, you know, going to do much. Here, they're going to push it out. And at the end of the day, they have so much other stuff on the calendar at that time, that I just don't see it being something that, you know, that for this case to have any, you know, legitimacy. You know, we'll be able to be tried during that timeline.

TAPPER: But how would that be delayed? I mean, who would make the decision to delay it? Because Attorney General Garland has said, we put in for the motion in 2023 to have this be speedier than it is. It's President Trump's attorneys who are pushing this delay strategy. Who would be the final arbiter to say, you know, we're not going to have this trial in August, September, because of the presidential election?

PARLATORE: Well, it's -- if they solely go in there and say we don't want to have it because the election, then it could go forward. If they're smart, what they're going to do is say, we have the election, we have all these other scheduling things. Plus, the case has been on hold for all this time. We haven't been going through the discovery. We haven't been filing motions, there's still other things to be done. And election aside, you know, if you just say to the judge, given the volume of discovery, we cannot be ready to try this case on that time. And, you know, the defendant has a right to be able to be prepared for trial that's something that's going to be very difficult to say no to Tim.


TAPPER: Tim Parlatore always good to have you on. Thank you sir. Appreciate your time.

PARLATORE: Thank you.

TAPPER: More of the big breaking news as major decision from the US Supreme Court taking up Trump's immunity case. We'll be right back.


TAPPER: And we're back with our big breaking news. The U.S. Supreme Court has announced that they will hear arguments over Donald Trump's claim that he is immune from prosecution in the 2020 election subversion case against him because he was president at the time. Let's bring in Steve Vladeck. He is CNN legal analyst and professor at the University of Texas law school. Steve, what's your reaction to the announcement?


STEVE VLADECK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, you know, Jake when we talked about this a couple of weeks ago, we had always thought that this was one of the possibilities that would come out of the Supreme Court that they would take up the case on an accelerated basis. What I think is striking about the order is that it took this long to get only this. And it really suggests that there was probably a real debate inside the court over the last two weeks about some effort to reach some kind of more definitive conclusion, perhaps a, you know, a summary decision and forwarded on the D.C. Circuit, and that that effort fell apart.

And what that really suggests is that there are at least a couple of justices in the middle, whether it's a justice Brett Kavanaugh, or a Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who might be very, very unsympathetic to former President Trump's immunity claim on the merits, but who also wanted the court to give it due consideration, and that that's why we're seeing the court take this step today.

TAPPER: This is obviously not the only case involving Trump that the U.S. Supreme Court is weighing this also the decision about whether or not to keep Trump off ballots because states have decided that Trump's ineligible for office because of the fourth and 14th Amendments ban on insurrectionists. What's the latest on that? And why haven't they made an announcement on that today as well?

VLADECK: Yes, I mean, what's striking about that ruling of JFK is how fast the court moved to hold argument in that case. I mean, it really was about five weeks from when the court took that case up to what it heard argument versus in this case, in the immunity case, really closer to seven or eight weeks. And yet, even though it's now been, gosh, three weeks tomorrow, since there are arguments still no decision. Jake, what that suggests to me, is that the court really doesn't feel like it's in a hurry.

You know, President Trump is going to be on the ballot on Tuesday in Colorado. I don't think the justices as we talked about during the oral argument right after it are inclined to change that status quo. And so it might be that this is now, you know, some version of the compromise that we've been talking about, where the court is looking at a way of handing down decisions in these two cases that end up giving Trump one win and one loss.

And then, Jake, the problem is this is going to feel to a lot of folks watching at home, like the court is by and former President Trump another seven, eight weeks, gosh, maybe even three months, when you factor in how long it will take the court to rule of delay in the January 6th prosecution, even in a context in which I still think it's likely that Trump is going to lose. And I think this gets to the broader problem, which is, as these cases get backed up against the time of the election year, every little delay on the courts part looks like it is nefarious, looks like it's substantive and bodes at least in the short term well for former President Trump.

TAPPER: Alright, Steve Vladeck, good to see you. Thank you so much. We'll be right back.



TAPPER: The week of April 22nd, that's when the U.S. Supreme Court is now set to hear oral arguments in the federal election subversion case against Donald Trump, CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig has been patiently standing by. And just to be clear, Elie, what -- they're not going to be hearing arguments in the case itself. They're going to be hearing arguments about whether or not Donald Trump has immunity from prosecution. And then there would be the trial, presumably months after that. What's your reaction to this decision?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Jake, I think this is clearly a big win for Donald Trump and a major setback for Jack Smith, in terms of what I think is the big question on people's mind. Is there any chance now that this case gets tried before the election? I think my answer there is the slightest sliver of a chance but no more than that. And here's why. If we do our calendar math here, let's say that we get a ruling in this case around June 1, which is what Joan Biskupic and other Supreme Court experts have said is a reasonable approximation.

The trial judge can't then just say, OK, now we're going to start trial two weeks from now, June 15th. Because at the moment this case was stayed or paused in the trial court, they were three months out, I think it's 88 days out from trial. And so that's all the time that the parties need for discovery for preparation, for motion. So let's say we get a ruling June 1st, the earliest they can realistically even try to start this trial would be mid to late August. And now you're looking at a trial. And again, with the general election happening, that will be happening August, September, October, even perhaps right up to the Election Day, that is a very fraught possibility, I think for all parties.

TAPPER: But how would it happen, that it wouldn't go forward because let's assume the schedule that you just said, and the trial can begin around Labor Day, who is going to say, call it off?

HONIG: So there's going to be one main relevant party here, and that's the judge. Judge Chutkan when she gets this case back, if Donald Trump loses the immunity argument, it will be up to her whether to set a trial date. Now Donald Trump is going to argue for sure. You can't try me in September, October, November of an election year. That's unfair to me that violates DOJ policy that you try not to influence elections. DOJ may agree with that, or DOJ may say sorry, tough luck. Let's try this thing now. But that decision is going to come down to the district judge, Judge Chutkan, how close is she willing to go to the election itself.

TAPPER: Does Trump have any chance you think to actually win this immunity argument?

HONIG: I don't think so. And I haven't heard from any serious observer that does think so. But it's important that people realize this is an argument that we don't know the answer to. I mean, the Supreme Court has recognized a form of civil immunity for certain federal officials, including the President going back 40 or so years, so long as they're acting within the scope of their federal job. What we don't know is, A, is there any form of criminal immunity. Supreme Court's ever -- never actually ruled on that. And if so, was Donald Trump acting within the scope of his job?

I don't think there's a good argument here that Trump was within the scope of his job. But this is an unknown question and unknown issue. And I think that's exactly why the Supreme Court decided that they needed to take this. Remember by the way, two months ago Jack Smith said to the Supreme Court, only you can decide this case, you, the Supreme Court, and you alone have to resolve this.

[18:00:17] TAPPER: All right, Elie Honig, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Much more reaction to this big breaking news ahead in the next hour. Our coverage continues now in the Situation Room with one Wolf Blitzer. I'll see you soon.