Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NewsNight with Abby Phillip

Extraordinary Split Screen Of Trump Criminal, Immunity Cases; Are Presidents Above Law, Justices Hear Trump's Argument; CNN Political Analysts Discuss Presidential Immunity. Aired 10-11p ET

Aired April 25, 2024 - 22:00   ET




ABBY PHILLIP, CNN ANCHOR: Two courts, two set of facts, two cases that will reverberate across America for generations, but especially this November.

Welcome to a special edition of NEWSNIGHT. I'm Abby Phillip.

LAURA COATES, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Laura Coates in Washington, D.C.

And today the Supreme Court, winks, winks, that it might give legal kevlar to presidents of the United States, or at least make sure he doesn't have to dodge the federal case against him Matrix-style until, of course, after the 2024 election. More on that in a few moments.

But, first, we learned a lot today, Abby, from inside of a Manhattan courtroom and the lips of one David Pecker who was supposed to be the eyes and ears but the mouth is speaking, and the tabloid kingpin who did Donald Trump's bidding. Pecker will go back on the stand tomorrow, but today's testimony put an awful lot of meat on the bone about how prosecutors say Trump architected an agreement to catch and kill the Stormy Daniels story in the deciding stretch of the 2016 campaign.

PHILLIP: Now, the level of detail that Pecker provided from the stand was kind of unexpected, and the jury learned some new things about a story that most of us thought we already knew. There were thank you dinners, the White House was involved, there were fights over money and Trump trying to stiff his tabloid protector.

COATES: But maybe most critically actually was the prosecution. They got Pecker to make the link between the payments to women who allegedly had sexual encounters with Trump and the reason why Trump wanted to keep all of this from ever seeing sunlight. And it wasn't his family, Pecker told the jury. It was the election.

PHILLIP: So, here with us to discuss today's developments, we've got a great group, former Trump White House Lawyer Jim Schultz, former Federal Prosecutor Gene Rossi, Editor of the Protect Democracy Project Amanda Carpenter, and former Trump Attorney Tim Parlatore, also with us, a former assistant U.S. attorney, Kim Wehle. She is also the author of the book, Pardon Power, How the Pardon System Works and Why, that may be important in these cases as well. But let's start first with CNN's Jessica Schneider. As we're just getting these transcripts from this testimony today, Jessica, what is jumping out to you in them?

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Abby and Laura. We have all 233 pages, the verbatim of the hours of what happened inside the courtroom today. I mean, this is crucial, because while we have those reporters in the court who are giving us the real time information, this is actually it in black and white.

And the first thing I want to highlight from these pages really goes to the core of this case, the issue of not just the falsification of business records, but possible campaign finance violations.

So, the first part of this transcript here is from the prosecutor saying, were you aware that expenditures by corporations made for the purpose of influencing an election, made in coordination with or at the request of a candidate or a campaign are unlawful? David Pecker answers, yes.

Continuing, the prosecutor said, did either you or AMI ever report to the Federal Election Commission in 2016 that AMI had made a $150,000 payment to Karen McDougal? Pecker says, no, we did not. Steinglass continues, why did AMI make this purchase of Karen McDougal's story? Pecker says, we purchased the story so it wouldn't be published by any other organization. And why did you not want it to be published by any other organization, the prosecutor asked. Pecker says, we didn't want the story to embarrass Mr. Trump or embarrass or hurt the campaign.

Again, this goes to the heart of the case here, guys. The possible campaign finance violation mixed in with the false business records.

I will note that AMI, after David Pecker left, the board of AMI actually did settle with the Federal Elections Commission. They paid $180,000 fine for this exact contribution, guys.

COATES: Really important, Jessica.

Let's turn now to the panel because we're hearing so much information, Abby, tonight about what happened, the catch and kill scheme, but also this tie to the actual election.

And, Jim, let me start with you on this because when you look at this, the prosecutors, they've got to prove it's not just to benefit or hide it from his family. The key here is for the purpose of the election. Did they have any clear moments in your mind where they slam dunk that?

JIM SCHULTZ, CNN LEGAL COMMENTATOR: So, I don't think so because, first off, they're going -- cross-examination is going to bear out some other facts, right?


They're going to attack the credibility of David Pecker, the idea that he was trying to avoid liability himself here by coming in and testifying. They're going to use all of those things.

But, really, when you go back to New York statute that they're relying on, and they telegraph that nowhere in that statute doesn't reference campaign finance, right? And they're using -- they're trying to bolster this argument that the federal election law prohibits it and that states New York state law somehow applies to that. So, you're going through two levels, and now that that is going to be what, you know, makes that a felony.

That's a long way to go to that felony charge. And there's a whole lot more that needs to be shown in order to show that proof. Because, one, the former president was never charged, the campaign never paid a fine, and while AMI paid a fine and agreed to that and Michael Cohen was charged and pled guilty, they're not allowed to tie Michael Cohen's guilty plea to Trump for the judge's original order. So, they have some real work to do to get there.

COATES: And they do. He's taking issue with the premise of this even being brought as a case, right? We've heard this complaint before, but they actually have to prove, as according to it, that they had falsified business records, the intent to commit another crime as part of it. The other crime we're talking about is a campaign finance violation.

GENE ROSSI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: this may shock you but I actually agree with you. even though I'm a pro-prosecution commentator. What is going to be the -- where the rubber meets the road in this case is a jury instruction. That is vital, and it goes to your point.

If the jury instruction says that they had a conspiracy to influence an election and not a conspiracy to violate the FEC rules and regulations, then your argument may not have as much strength. But if the jury instruction says FEC has to be part of the conspiracy, the scheme, then Donald Trump may have an acquittal, most likely a hung jury.

PHILLIP: Why would the jury instructions even say that? Because that's not part of how the prosecution has presented this case.

ROSSI: The jury instructions are not written until the end of the case.

PHILLIP: But why would it specify the federal election part of this when, theoretically, it could be either the state or the federal statute?

ROSSI: Because in the charging document and the statement of facts, they reference the FEC and also New York law if the jury instruction that is given to the jury and the prosecutors already played their card that they're focusing on the state law, if they're focusing on the state law and it doesn't mention the FEC, Federal Election Commission, then that inures to Trump's benefit.

I'm not saying it's an argument that's going to win, but it's an argument if I were representing Trump, I would pound that to the ground.

COATES: Well, take a step back for a second, Kim, on this, and I wanted to see a bigger picture, although I do love a good legal nerd discussion. This is wonderful, but thinking about this, each witness has a different piece to play. Think about an overall jigsaw puzzle, right?

This one witness is not going to give you everything. They want to have the catch and kill scheme pattern established. They want to suggest that Donald Trump was aware of a catch and kill scheme for the purpose of trying to have no transparency for the election.

In moving that particular needle, what did you see today?

KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, I think they've established probably the narrative that he had an intent to influence the election, not necessarily to protect Melania or his reputation and also that the catch and kill scheme was created in order to cover up the payouts to these women.

The question, I think, is what Todd Blanche would say Said in his opening statement, which is, will the jury be persuaded that this is a crime. Well, they say to themselves, listen, this is just the rough and tumble of politics. This is just the dirty things that politicians do. And should a former president really be prosecuted for what amounts to falsification of business records? That's really the crime.

What brings it from a misdemeanor to a felony Is this intent to commit another crime or conceal. And there was a motion for a bill of particulars The judge did rule and they had FOUR different theories of these underlying crimes. Three of them, The judge said could go forward. One was the Federal Election Commission violation. One was the New York law that loops in the Federal Election Commission violation. And then one was essentially tax fraud that essentially said that when Michael Cohen was paid back, they grossed up the payment to cover up the fact that he was going to have to pay income taxes on that.

So, we haven't seen that theory, but if any of those, I think, they were able to establish, they might be able to make that link.

AMANDA CARPENTER, WRITER AND EDITOR, PROTECT DEMOCRACY: I just want to go a little bit more big picture. Because in terms of what we're seeing play out in both courtrooms for what is really important for the people, regardless of what the judges and juries do, we are seeing Donald Trump's election criminality at play both in both quarters.


We are seeing that how he allegedly broke the law to win the election in 2016, and he broke the law to stay in power in 2020.

And what we are being forced to grapple with, he's done to the Republican Party, he's done to the media, we're debating his absurd legal defenses and theories. He's in court claiming absolute immunity and we're having to sit here and listen to these arguments, oh, well, it's really about limited immunity and personal, official. No, he is saying I'm innocent. You can't come after me for any of this because I was a candidate, I was president and I want to be president again.

That is what is at stake in these courtrooms. And it is absurd, it is unconstitutional and it is a sad state of affairs that we are considering it.

PHILLIP: It is an important note that there is a through line between these two cases. And at the end of the day, Donald Trump doesn't think that they should be in court at all.

Just stand by for one second, because I do want to go back to Jessica. There are so many key moments in the testimony from today. Jessica, you've got another one, and this one involves the White House.

SCHNEIDER: Yes. You know, David Pecker didn't just talk about the scheme, you know, during the election up until the election itself, but he also talked about how this really continued on into when Trump was elected, even when he entered the White House.

In particular, there was a conversation with White House officials, March 2018, actually right after Anderson Cooper interviewed Karen McDougal, and here's how the conversation went according to Pecker.

The prosecution said, did there come a time after that, after March 2018, when you spoke with Mr. Trump and other members of his White House staff? David Pecker says, yes. When in relation to the call that you had with Mr. Trump? And then he said, did there come a time after that -- sorry, Pecker said it was right after the call I had with Mr. Trump, that there was this other call with the White House. Steinglass said, who else was part of that call besides yourself and Mr. Trump? Pecker answers, Hope Hicks and Sanders. That's Sarah Sanders.

Okay. Can you tell the jury about that call a bit? Well, on that call, what I was planning to do and I mentioned it on the previous call to Mr. Trump, that I was going to extend Karen McDougal's contract. It was for six months. The contract was up. And I felt that from the last lunch that I had with her that we had fulfilled some of the obligations that she was looking for, specifically her beauty products and media training. So, I was going to send her a new contract. He thought that was on our original conversation. He thought that that was also a bad idea.

So, when I received the second call, when I got the call back, and Hope Hicks and Huckabee, Sanders Huckabee, that's Sarah Sanders, when she was on the call, I explained to them, to the two of them, why I was going to extend the agreement. And both of them said they thought it was a good idea.

Prosecutor asks what was the reason that you gave for why you wanted to extend Karen McDougal's contract? Pecker says, I wanted to extend her contract so she would not go out, not give any further interviews, or talk to the press, or say negative comments about American Media or Mr. Trump.

Now, you said that when you had your individual conversation with Mr. Trump, he was skeptical of that. Pecker says, yes. Prosecutor says, how about when you explain the reason that you wanted to extend her contract to Mr. Trump, Ms. Hicks and Ms. Sanders, how did Mr. Trump react to the new plan or how did he react to that plan during that second conversation? Pecker answers, saying Trump said, it's your business, you do whatever you plan on doing.

So, guys, it really talks about how Pecker was still moving on this and working with Karen McDougal even after Trump took office. And having these phone calls with very high level people within the White House during the presidency, still dealing with the fallout of these catch and kill deals that they had made leading up to the election.

PHILLIP: Yes. The other thing that strikes out to me, Laura, about that is that after the election, Trump was like, whatever you want to do is just fine. Tim, what did you hear in all of that?

TIM PARLATORE, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I mean, a lot of this stuff, and I know that everybody wants to say, oh, this is all criminality, the campaigns and everything, but the reality is everything that David Pecker has talked about is -- you know, it may be unseemly, it may be immoral, but it's not a crime, okay? None of this stuff is a crime.

PHILLIP: And just to be clear, I mean, this Karen McDougal story in particular is actually not the allegation that it's supposed to be a crime. It's the part that's not --

PARLATORE: It's not charged. It's not ever been charged. It's not even been an FEC violation against the campaign. And so all of this stuff, you know, we're talking about, you know, so-called prior bad acts, but none of these are prior criminal acts.

You know, the only thing that he's charged with is the annotations made in the books of the Trump Organization related to the payments to Michael Cohen. You know, that's the only --

CARPENTER: You're talking about falsification of business record, though?

PARLATORE: That's what the statute is.


But here's the thing.

CARPENTER: It's not just the annotation. It's a lie in tax documents that are now being evaluated in court.

PARLATORE: But they're not tax documents, okay? These are the books of the corporation where they're annotating. They get an invoice from Michael Cohen. They pay the invoice. They write in the books payment to Michael Cohen legal fees. That's exactly what Michael Cohen said to them.

It doesn't make a difference for tax purposes because a confidential settlement. Remember this is pre-2018, so a confidential settlement is just as deductible as legal fees are. So, it doesn't have any tax benefit, whatsoever. These are not public records. These are not, you know, books that are going to be put into any FEC filings. So, it's not covering up any election law issues.

CARPENTER: But he is in court for falsifying business records.

PHILLIP: Just to jump in here for one second --

PARLATORE: He's in court because he's accused of something.

PHILLIP: Just to jump in here. The point of the Karen McDougal story is not to say any of it is criminal, but it's actually to establish the purpose of the whole scheme, in general, that Trump cared more before the election than he did after the election, that David Pecker knew that doing this at that particular time would be considered a campaign finance violation. So, there's some elements of this -- the whole M.O. There're some elements of this that they are trying to establish for the purpose of the jury.

ROSSI: I said this on your show. In August of 2015, allegedly, he is presumed innocent, there was a scheme. It had four legs to that stool. One leg was catch and kill. One leg was sliming Ted Cruz, Hillary, Dr. Carson. The other leg was pro-Trump articles and that fourth leg is taxes.

And I want to say this, I want to compliment Professor Kim here, the jury -- and I've done a bunch of tax cases and I've had acquittals. And every acquittal I had was the jury, in my view, conceded that they were hanky-panky with the taxes, okay, which is happening here. Those tax deductions are bogus. And a man -- it's ridiculous to say there were legal fees.

But the jury, to get to Professor Kim's point is, at the end of the day, when they go in at deliberation room, and I've had cases like this with acquittals, they get in there, we've met the elements, and then they say, to quote the immortal words of Larry David, they kind of say, okay, but is this something I want to find a former president convicted of?

And if I'm the defense attorney for Donald Trump, I would subtly, if not explicitly, try to poke that there in the jury's mind that there may be on paper a crime, and I think there is. But when they get into deliberation room, is this something you want to elevate to a felony against the former president of the United States?

WEHLE: Which could take his liberty, right? I mean, they could, in theory, put him in jail. And it's a humbling environment.

ROSSI: I want to make it clear. I think the prosecution has varsity prosecutors. They're brilliant. And I think they have the ability to connect the dots so that the final mosaic that they present to the jury is going to be clear as a bell.

But the defense attorney for President Trump, attorneys, especially the attorney who did an outstanding cross, in my view, today, they have an opening. It may not be an acquittal but they have an opening to get one or two jurors to say, Larry David, eh. COATES: Larry David says pretty, pretty good arguments.

ROSSI: I love that.

PHILLIP: Everybody stand by for us. We got more coming up next, the blockbuster case that could end up deciding Donald Trump's future and the future of the presidency, the institution of the presidency. Are presidents above the law? How his lawyers decided to argue this before the Supreme Court today. They basically claimed that presidents could assassinate political rivals and stage coups.

This is CNN's special live coverage.



PHILLIP: Today was another historic day at the United States Supreme Court. The nine justices heard arguments from former President Trump's team who argued that he had sweeping immunity from criminal prosecution, which, if true, could convey on the presidency an extraordinary amount of power and protection. In Trump's case, such immunity would bring an end to that federal election subversion case being brought by the special counsel, Jack Smith.

And joining us now is justice correspondent and columnist for The Nation Magazine, Elie Mystal. So, Elie, the incredible thing about today's hearings is that we were talking about assassinations, we were talking about military coups, we were talking about selling nuclear secrets, all hypotheticals. But the idea here is where is the line? If there is such immunity, can really the president do anything? And, actually, Trump's lawyer's answer was yes.

When the justices were questioning him about it, were you surprised then, questioning the government about this, this part of it, were you surprised then that there was actually some sympathy to the idea that there could be immunity here?

ELIE MYSTAL, JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT AND COLUMNIST, THE NATION MAGAZINE: No, because this is what Republican justices on the Supreme Court have always been about and what they've always done.

Do you remember back in the day, I'm going to take readers -- I'm going to show my age here. Remember back in the day, Richard Nixon gets on T.V., says, when the president does it, it's not illegal? You know, everybody laughs at him, and Nixon needs a pardon, and he gets to live in disgrace for the rest of his miserable life, remember that, when that happened? Well, apparently, according to at least five Republican justices on the Supreme Court, Richard Nixon was right.


And, in my opinion, we should dig him up and give him an apology for daring to question him.

Because, according to the Republican justices, a president has immunity from crimes, not things that could be crimes, from actual crimes, so long as the president claims that he was acting in his official capacity as president when he commits those crimes. So, if Trump wants to go out, and I don't know, shoot David Pecker because he doesn't like the testimony he's hearing, if Trump can say, oh, that's my official job as president to protect my administration, according to people like Sam Alito, that's going to be okay.

And it wasn't just Sam Alito. It wasn't just Clarence Thomas. It wasn't just the extremist Republicans that we've come to know and understand do this stuff all the time. This was coming from John Roberts, who fundamentally said that there might be some official acts that are criminal that Trump should be immune from anyway.

And to get into the legal nerd part of it, I know you and Laura were talking about how you like legal nerd conversations. The legal nerd part of this is that what is the court really trying to do here? Because I don't think anybody reasonable thinks, I don't think anybody on your panel is going to think that what the court ultimately wants to do is grant absolute blanket immunity to any president for any crime for the rest of the future of this country because, you know, that's a power Democratic presidents get used to. And Republican justices don't want Democratic presidents using that kind of power.

So, the game here for the Supreme Court is to do what Trump has always wanted them to do, delay, delay, delay the trial until after the election where Trump has an opportunity to win re-election and cancel the trial on his own authority, right?

And so what they're likely going to do -- and I believe it's going to be a 5-4 decision, what they're likely going to do is what's called a remand back to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals to answer the question, are there official acts that the president can commit that are crimes that he's immune from? And the DC Circuit will say no, but that will take a long time. There will have to be another hearing, another argument, another decision, and then Trump will appeal that decision and it will come all the way back to the Supreme Court.

But guess what, folks, Supreme Court goes on vacation for the summer. They don't come back until the first Monday of October. If you think they're going to hear this case before then, thus giving Jack Smith any opportunity to bring Trump to trial before the election, I would like to have some of what you're drinking because that's strong stuff.

PHILLIP: Well, you know, Elie, two things here. One, I think there were some other things. We'll get into this in a second, but there were some other things that happened, including the admission from Trump's lawyers that a lot of the things he's charged with are not, in fact, official acts.

But I want to bring in Tim Parlatore here, because, Tim, you and I have talked about this before, and you said to me weeks ago that you believe that the justices were setting up to send this back to the lower courts.


PHILLIP: Was that confirmed today?

PARLATORE: Yes, I think so. I mean, both sides came in with their extreme positions of absolute immunity versus no immunity. And the truth is going to end up somewhere in the middle. It's going to be some kind of a qualified immunity. I think that's what we kind of saw. And there may be a split as to how far that goes between the different justices but it's going to be that. And then once they do kind of figure out what the left and right limits are, that has to then go back to the district court for an evidentiary hearing to figure out what is and is not --

PHILLIP: But isn't it possible -- Elie, isn't it possible, also, that they could say, we need to deal with what's official, what's not? But if we can determine right now that some of these things are really not official, they could allow some or most of Jack Smith's case to go forward?

MYSTAL: I mean, they could do that, and if my grandmother had wheels, she could be a wagon. But they're not going to do that.

I disagree with Tim quite strongly here on this idea that the position that he gets no immunity is somehow extreme. No, no, no. It is not extreme to say that the president of the United States is just like everybody else and can be prosecuted for crime.

Remember, when we are talking about official acts versus personal acts, we are talking about official crimes. Not official acts, official crimes that the president is doing in his allegedly official capacity. It is not an official act to try to overthrow the election. It is not an official act to try to overthrow the government. Yet Trump's lawyer, D. John Sauer, literally argued that it would be an official act, that Trump would be required to have immunity for if he ordered a coup or he ordered a military assassination. He said yes to both of those questions.

Saying that Sauer is completely wrong and antithetical to the democratic process of self government is not an extreme position. It is the normal standard position that has operated in this country for over 250 years that is only being overturned now because it helps Trump and because it helps Republicans win elections.


PARLATORE: The problem here is Elie is kind of confusing what John Sauer said with what the justices said, with what -- what the ultimate ruling is going to be which obviously we don't know what the ultimate ruling is going to be. But you know some form of qualified immunity which is not any different than what we give to law enforcement officers, it's not any different than what we give to, you know, military that are doing things overseas.

Yeah, having some form of qualified immunity, whatever you call it, that says, you know, certain things you're not going to get prosecuted for. Okay, if you order a drone strike -- if you order a drone strike on an American citizen overseas, that is a crime. That is murder. But it doesn't mean that we want people prosecuted for that. If they're the President, there are things that they have to do that should be, you know, exempted from any criminal investigation and prosecution.

WEHLE: I'm with Elie on this but for different reasons. There is no -- in this moment, there is no criminal immunity for presidents. So, these are textualists. These are originalists. There's -- it's nowhere in article two of the constitution there is immunity for legislators in this under the speech and debate clause. The impeachment clause specifically says, if there -- someone can be impeached and be then criminally tried. That's in the plain language of the United States Constitution.

Richard Nixon was pardoned by Gerald Ford with the assumption that he could be prosecuted if that was not an assumption, why would there be a pardon. In addition, Mitch McConnell, after the impeachment trial stood on the senate floor and said there's -- we are, procedurally, we're not going to convict because the justice system can hold this man accountable.

The problem in this moment is if you look at Donald Trump, we've never had a president like him. We've had 240 plus years of no need for immunity for criminal immunity for presidents. The political system works. The other checks and balances work. Donald Trump mowed through every other guardrail, every other mechanism to disincentivize crimes in the White House.

It's not a speed limit that gets us to slow down when we're driving. It's the ticket in the mail when we -- when we speed. And this, in my mind, is crucial to ensure there's tickets in the mail for speeding for presidents. I mean, think about it. This is being manufactured by the court in response to January 6th. January 6th -- there should be accountability for trying to steal an election violently and now the court is going to give the President more power?

PHILLIP: And ironically --

COATES: Which is exactly the point that Ketanji Brown Jackson made.

PHILLIP: Yeah, exactly.

COATES: I mean, the idea of these two competing interests, right? On the one hand, what Donald Trump has said that there will be a chilling effect in the performance of a president if they feel as though their successor is ultimately going to be able to prosecute them. On the other hand, what does it say, Abby, if you have no criminal penalty only a political solution. And you might be increasingly emboldened. What does that do?

PHILLIP: And look, the other interesting thing is that Alito raised the prospect that if you don't give immunity, then presidents might decide to do coups to stay in power. That is quite the opposite of what -- GENE ROSSI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I want to comment on that. I think Alito would probably rule more towards Trump than the other side. But I think Alito was playing law professor on that one. No offense. And he was just, you know, tweaking Michael Dreeben. I got to say Michael Dreeben was the advocate for the prosecutors. He's a genius -- absolute genius. Had 50 arguments for the Supreme Court. Here's my prediction. Make it simple, okay? They are going reject

absolute immunity, okay? Number two, they're all going to agree that private acts are not under any immunity. What they're going to do is that middle of the sandwich, they're going to have this very broad definition of official acts.

And they're going to kick it back to Judge Chutkan to have a pre-trial hearing to go through the indictment, get rid of any surpluses that violates the test that they are going to create. And if that is the case, you're going to have a pre-trial hearing. If there's a ruling against President Trump -- Mr. Trump, it's going to go up and this trial may be held in 2030, okay? So --

AMANDA CARPENTER, PROTECT DEMOCRACY, WRITER AND EDITOR:-- invented -- he's not even asking for qualified immunity. He's making a legal argument about absolute immunity. So, if you're telling me that we're going to have to sit here and watch the Supreme Court eat up all this time and invent this new right for a president that he's not even asking for to delay it past the election, that is backdoor extra legal immunity because the American people will never get the information about what really happened on January 6th before this election in November.

PHILLIP: Hang on, just one second. Let me let Jim --


COATES: Hold on, everyone -- all of a sudden. Amanda, Amanda, hold on.

JAMES SCHULTZ, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: I don't think you'll see a result out of this court that makes the conduct of -- that makes Trump immune from the conduct that's alleged, right? So, I think when you look at the questions, when they were talking about the core powers, right? So, core power of the presidency's appointments.

The perfect example of that is you can't take a bribe in order to make the appointment, right? So, same thing. Let's -- let's look at the attorney general issue, right? So, there's an allegation that Trump tried to replace the attorney general when -- when he didn't like what he -- his answer, when he said I want you to send a letter out saying there was this widespread fraud, right?

So, the idea that that was an official act, sure. That's an official act replacing the attorney general. But when you get down to it, the crime there is the personal gain that he's getting by replacing the attorney general, kind of like the bribe. So, I think you're going to see a test that really kind of envelops all of the conduct as being criminal in this case.

But I think they're going to give you -- they're going to give the trial court a test. I do think it's going to get delayed. I think when on remand it goes back to the trial court. And what's going to happen in that in that proceeding? They're going to have a trial within the trial to determine whether there is this -- whether this conduct is official or private. And when that happens you have a trial within the trial and all of the

things that were -- that came out in the -- in the congressional hearings, all the things that we saw around January 6th are going to be right on display. I got to think that Trump campaign saying, oh no, what did I buy here?

PHILLIP: All right guys I'm going to give you -- I'm going to give you the last word here. Go ahead.

MYSTAL: We are conflating civil qualified immunity which has always been a thing with this new criminal immunity which has never been a thing and I don't know why we're pretending like it should be. Cops don't have immunity from crimes. Congress people don't have immunity from crimes and presidents up until this moment have not had immunity from crimes.

Trump is not arguing for civil immunity for his official acts. He is arguing that he has immunity to commit crimes so long as he says he committed the crime while president and that is simply not something that has ever happened before but it will happen now, thanks to the six conservative justices on the Supreme Court.

COATES: Everyone, there is so much more to talk about in this issue. We do not even know where this report is going to.

PHILLIP: We're holding back the tsunami here.

COATES: I know. I mean this is -- let it flow. It's time -- you seem to hear all your insight on these issues but the Supreme Court's going to have to weigh in. When will they do it and will it be on our timeline or let me guess, theirs. So, how are Republican lawmakers defending Donald Trump's arguments of the Supreme Court? Well, that presidents could maybe kill their rivals or stage a coup? I'm going to ask one, live, next.




COATES: More now on a very consequential moment for the American presidency. The Supreme Court giving a bit of a glimpse of a future in which presidents at least have some kind of immunity from criminal prosecution. Joining me now, Republican Congressman from Ohio Jim Jordan who, of course, chairs the House Judiciary Committee. Congressman good to see you, again. How are you this evening? JIM JORDAN (R) OHIO: I'm fine, Laura, good to be with you.

COATES: You know, it struck me by listening to the arguments today, this signature question. And I wonder what your answer is. Do you think there should be any limits on presidential immunity?

JORDAN: Well, I think the standards are real clear. Was he president at the time? The answer to that is clearly, yes. Was he engaged in official duties, official conduct? I think the answer to that question is yes. So, I think there should be immunity for that. I think -- I think all sides agreed. I thought -- I thought John Sauer did a great -- great job in making that case at the Supreme Court. So, I think that was -- that was clear.

The court has been clear in the past that they want to make sure a president, I think the words they used in the Nixon case was fearlessly and impartially be able to conduct the duties of his office. And you can't have this idea you're going to get charged with some -- some decision you make in your official capacity as president. And so I think that is clear. President Trump was President. He was engaged in his official conduct, his official duties. I think it's real clear.

COATES: Well, Congressman on that point, and I think that was raised. There's this dynamic at play on the one hand, feeling you can be free to do what you'd like to do as the President without feeling you're going to get prosecuted by your successor, and the flip side of that coin though is feeling so emboldened that you don't think there is any criminal liability ahead of you. So, you might go beyond what you're otherwise able to do.

Do you have that concern as a member of another and co-equal branch of government that a president could conceivably view the absence of prosecution as licensed to just -- to take all the power?

JORDAN: Well, I think that's a -- that's a real concern. We have separate and equal branches of government for a reason so it's the best system ever designed. But I don't think President Trump was engaged in that. I mean what is Jack Smith charging with conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding, really? He said peacefully and patriotically, make your voices heard. I mean I don't see how the President can be charged with that whatsoever but that's what -- and here's the interesting thing about today.

Alvin Bragg is charging President Trump with conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 election and Jack Smith is charging President Trump with conspiracy to interfere with the 2020 election. Seems to me that what you got going here is Alvin Bragg and Jack Smith conspiring to interfere with the 2024 election. And based on -- and based on all the headlines I see, all the headlines today are, oh this looks like it's going to go back to the Supreme Court's going to send it back to the Lower Court.

And it won't be settled before the election. Well, why the heck does that matter? Well, if we're just concerned about answering this fundamental question on what is the power, what immunity exists for the President, how that's defined, why does it matter, why does it have to happen before the election?


I think that proves the point. The real conspiracy here is Jack Smith, Alvin Bragg, and frankly, Fani Willis, all working to conspire to impact the 2024 election. That is the real concern.

COATES: Well, I hear the points you're making, although you are conflating these are separate sovereigns. Obviously, Jack Smith, Alvin Bragg, Fani Willis are separate entities entirely. And the actual crimes charged against Trump in the Manhattan case is falsification.

JORDAN: And they're all Democrats, Laura. They're all Democrats.

COATES: And I hear -- I hear about the politics and what you're making. But the real issue here, I want to refocus on the conversation about the concerns, about immunity more broadly. And one of the reasons, to answer your question, people do want the answer beforehand, I think is they want the transparency to decide who they would like to vote for based on either an absence of or an actual criminal record. But let's get back to the Supreme Court, Congressman, because I know this is a very important issue to you.

JORDAN: But Laura, but transparency, they've been after President Trump now for eight years. I mean, we know more about President Trump than probably any person in history, for goodness sake. This is as transparent as it comes. They want him in court and all four of these places before the election because they know it will help Democrats in this upcoming presidential race. Plain and simple. And I think, frankly, anyone with common sense can see that.

COATES: But hasn't he, Congressman, hasn't he --

JORDAN: Why did they wait eight years to bring --

COATES: I don't want to cut you off, but I do have common sense. And common sense does say he has actually benefited ever since he was initially charged in the Alvin Bragg Manhattan D.A.'s office. He was able to campaign, raise contributions. Remember, he infamously was talking about his mugshot, being able to market that, as well.

So he has not really been completely harmed in terms of his campaign because, as you have said in the past, he believes that it is beneficial for him to acknowledge, in his mind, that it's him against the system. But back to immunity, Congressman, and I want to refocus the conversation, please.

JORDAN: Well, because it is --

COATES: When we're talking about immunity, don't you have concerns at all from the hypotheticals that were raised? And I want to give you a chance to respond to this because there were so many hypotheticals. Some of them were this, about what a commander in chief could do.

One was, do you believe presidents should be able to bribe others? Should they be able to assassinate rivals, order a military coup? I wonder what you made of those hypotheticals. Do all of those, do you think, deserve presidential immunity?

JORDAN: Well, President Trump didn't engage in any of those. And of course, there's not immunity for actual criminal, you know, that kind of stuff, assassinating someone. You've got to be kidding me. So, of course, but President Trump didn't engage in any of that. That's the point. You can bring up those hypotheticals, the court can bring up those, but that's not what happened here. The charge from Jack Smith is the obstruction of an official proceeding, conspiracy to obstruct an official proceeding. That's just not, it just didn't happen.

I mean, if they're going to go after President Trump for that, then frankly, every Democrat who objected to, anytime a Republican's won the presidency this century, they objected on January 6, 2001. They objected on January 6, 2005, and they objected on January 6, 2017. Was that some kind of a conspiracy to obstruct an official? I mean, come on.

So, that to me is just ridiculous. President Trump didn't engage in any of those activities. And he was president and he was conducting his official duties. That's where the immunity should apply.

COATES: Do you think it's appropriate to have a lower court, not the Supreme Court, provide sort of an itemized, detailed list of what constitutes official action and what constitutes private action? I ask the question because obviously it raises concerns about the Supreme Court being in a position to dictate whatever the President is able to do, again, as the head of the co-equal branch of government. Is this a -- issue for the trial court, Congressman, or an issue for the Supreme Court to clearly state what's official and what's not?

JORDAN: Well, I think what's going to happen, and one of your guests said this earlier, I think I do think the court will establish some kind of test. It's likely that it'll get sent back to the Lower Court, Judge Chutkan, and they will have to, that court will have to go through the facts, put it all together and apply the facts to the test that the Supreme Court comes up with. I think that's likely to happen.

But again, as I pointed out, all the headlines I see from the mainstream press are, oh, we don't want that to happen because then that'll take time and we won't have the real trial of President Trump before the election like all the left wants. I mean, I think we should get the right decision. If that's what the Supreme Court thinks is the right decision, it takes time, so be it. I'm more concerned about getting this right, and I think that's exactly what the court is, well, I think that's probably what the court will do.

COATES: Let me ask you on that point, I know we have to go, but don't you want, if you believe that these are completely ridiculous litigation and prosecutions, if that's what you believe, then wouldn't you want it resolved sooner than later? Why would you want this to be dragged beyond, I mean, you say it's been eight years or four years or a period of time. Why not just have the trials, have them conducted, leave it to juries and let them decide once and for all as our system dictates?

JORDAN: I would love for the Supreme Court to decide this and say this is ridiculous, which I think it is.


And I think frankly, most Americans think that's the case. I'm not arguing for dragging this out. I'm just saying that's what appears to me likely to happen. And I'm commenting on the response from the left, which are up in arms that, oh, we can't let this drag out because we actually want the trial because they think it'll help them politically in the upcoming election. That's all I'm pointing out. I'd love for the Supreme Court to decide this.

COATES: I mean, I do wonder in the end what they will decide and of course what a jury now impaneled in Manhattan and any other case that comes along, because I know you and I agree with the idea of a speedy trial for the benefit of the defendant. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, thank you so much for joining me tonight.

JORDAN: You bet, Laura. Thank you.

COATES: Amanda, I'm wondering what you make of this. I can see you in my periphery, nodding and shaking your head. I'm curious what your thoughts are.

CARPENTER: Well, there's the idea that we shouldn't be debating hypotheticals. I sort of reject that, but we'll take Jim Jordan at his word. Let's talk about what really happened and what may come up in this. Right now in America, there are a number of Republicans being charged with crimes for serving as fake electors. That was a scene allegedly orchestrated by the President and, you know, it is his official capacity.

How can it be that he can be at the center of that conspiracy, all these other people can be charged, they can go to court, but somehow Donald Trump has this immunity bubble around him? That cannot be. And even the members of Congress who were involved in this knew there was something wrong with it because as revealed by the January 6th Committee, they asked the President for pardons from it. So, how can that be?

And then what also came up in the court today was the idea that there is complete unfettered pardon power that cannot be touched. That should be rejected outright. The pardon clause of the Constitution is 20 words. Those 20 words are not a free pass to run roughshod over the rest of the Constitution to create licenses for political violence in the way that Donald Trump dangles them for January 6th rioters. You can't use the pardon power to override First Amendment rights.

And so, the idea that like,was sort of toyed with the Supreme Court today also that this is a green light to commit all kinds of other crimes and wrap the president in another immunity bubble is just absurd and ridiculous.

COATES: I got to read Kim Wehle's new book about the pardon power I say right now. Next, there's more revelations, by the way, from Trump's hush money trial, including the other celebrities who were involved in catch and kill stories like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tiger Woods, who I bet none of them want their name in any of this right now.

PHILLIP: Nobody wants to be mentioned.


PHILLIP: More transcripts just in from Donald Trump's hush money criminal trial, including some new revelations about that catch and kill idea, those schemes. Let's go straight to CNN's Jessica Schneider. Jessica, what did we learn today about what else David Pecker and AMI were up to?


JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Abby, the latest revelations coming from the cross-examination done by Trump's legal team. This about how Pecker also worked to work with other celebrities and maybe bury or publish some of their stories. This one about Tiger Woods, Pecker saying. "We purchased a story about Tiger Woods from a source, but all the investigating photographs, all the investigative works was done internally.

Then the prosecutor saying, "And the photographs that we're talking about are photographs of a woman meeting with Tiger Woods at a parking lot in Florida, right? That's correct. And this is one of those instances where you bought the rights to a story in order to leverage it against a celebrity, correct?" Pecker saying, "Yes, to use the access that you had to this information and the exclusive rights that you had to get Tiger Woods to do something that you wanted."

Pecker again saying, "Yes. And in this instance, and this is around 2007, correct? Yes. And in that instance, what you wanted was for Mr. Woods to appear on the cover of men's health, right?" Answer, "It was Men's Fitness."

And guys, this really goes to what the defense then later picked up on about how this wasn't just about Donald Trump. Pecker used these catch and kill schemes and paying off celebrities in many different realms. And the defense will likely hear them pick up tomorrow morning using that again to kind of downplay what was done on Donald Trump's behalf.

PHILLIP: Yeah. Trying to make it sound mundane and normal. By the way, none of this is normal. This is something AMI was doing. This is not, I would not qualify this necessarily as journalism. Jessica, thanks for all of that. Stand by for us. Our coverage continues right after this.