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Supreme Court Orders Alabama to Redraw Voter Maps; DOJ Tells Trump He's Target in Classified Documents Probe. Aired 11-11:30a ET
Aired June 08, 2023 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news. The Supreme Court strikes down Alabama's congressional map and orders the state to redraw it because the map harmed the rights of black voters. We have the very latest.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: And is it a sign that the former president, Donald Trump, is about to be indicted? The Justice Department says he is the target of a classified documents probe. We are watching for any movement from two special grand juries now.
JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The dark, dangerous haze, unprecedented smoke hanging over a huge swath of the north and east. Tens of millions of people forced inside. We have the latest forecast on how long this will all last. This is CNN New Central.
Breaking and, frankly, unexpected news out of the Supreme Court this morning. The Justices have ordered officials in Alabama to redraw the state's congressional map, giving more power to minority voters. We are on this from every angle. What it means for control of Congress, what it says about the court, what it says about the law.
Let's start with CNN's Jessica Schneider to lay out the specifics of this very important case. Jessica?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, really a major win here for black voters in Alabama, and more broadly, a major win for voting rights advocates across the country. Because what the Supreme Court did today, in a 5-4 decision, they ordered the state of Alabama to redraw their congressional voting maps that actually had been in effect for the last election cycle in 2022, ordering them to redraw that, to give black voters more representation, and also upholding Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act here denies any election law -- it bars any election law that denies the vote on the basis of race. And there was deep concern that this conservative court that has previously gutted many sections of the Voting Rights Act that they would potentially gut Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Now, to take you back, this case was about the congressional voting maps that were in effect in 2022. Black voters challenged those maps, saying that they were only majorities in one out of the seven congressional districts, despite the fact that black voters make up 27 percent of the state. The voting map was kept in place for 2022, but now the Supreme Court saying, go back and redraw it.
And, John, what's really interesting here is that the state of Alabama had basically said, look, they said specifically this, they had said we're in a political system now where race no longer matters. They said that all you need to do are draw fair maps with race-neutral criteria.
The court here, led by the Chief Justice John Roberts, striking that down, saying, no, race still needs to be considered. I'll read a quote from his opinion right now. A district is not equally open, In other words, when minority voters face, unlike their majority peers, bloc voting along racial lines arising against the backdrop of substantial racial discrimination within the state, that renders a minority vote unequal to a vote by a non-minority voter.
Crucially, this opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the same justice who several years ago dismantled another crucial aspect of the Voting Rights Act, Section 5, saying that states that had history of racial discrimination, saying that they no longer had to get preclearance when it came to voting rules or voting maps.
So, John, this is a significant decision from this conservative majority court that now falling along not even party lines with Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Brett Kavanaugh and joining with the liberals deciding that this map should be redrawn and that Section 2, as they've read it in years past, should stand. John?
BERMAN: Jessica Schneider, thank you for that. To hear those words from John Roberts, credited with helping dismantle parts of the Voting Right Act in the Shelby decision is fascinating today. To that point, this was a 5-4 ruling with the chief justice of the United States, John Roberts, and Brett Kavanaugh siding with the so called three liberal justices.
Joan Biskupic, an interesting coalition, to say the least. What happened behind the scenes.
JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: John, I cannot tell you what a major turn this was for Chief Justice John Roberts and how dramatic it was in the courtroom just a few minutes ago.
First of all, just to understand John Roberts' history. Since 1980, when he was with the Ronald Reagan administration, he has been working to roll back the Voting Rights Act of 1965. He has constantly both outside the court and then once he joined the bench in 2005, has thought that voting rights protections were going too far, encroaching on state powers.
And he shepherded the 2013 Shelby County versus Holder decision and then there were decisions in 2018, in 2021, where he led a majority to, again, curtail the reach of the Voting Rights Act.
[11:05:13] So, he starts to read the opinion in the courtroom this morning. You know, all nine of them are on the bench. And I'm thinking, okay, here he is. He's going to roll back Section 2 that prevents discrimination in voting. But, no, he has this long wind up, and then, basically, he says, Alabama was pushing too far. We're not going to retrench on 40 years of jurisprudence related to the 1965 act.
He cites a 1986 case that Alabama and several of his colleagues on the right had wanted overturned, and he said, we're sticking with it. And in this case, we're not going to go to any kind of racial neutrality in the Voting Rights Act, which is what Alabama was pushing for.
And he did give a pretty full history of why the Voting Rights Act even exists in terms of providing equal opportunity for people of all color, especially for blacks who fought the hardest when the 1965 act was passed to have equal access to the polls.
Now, as he's reading John, I'm watching the justices on his left to see, are they going to write a separate -- announce a dissent or something? But, no. Justice Kagan is watching him read our newest justice, the first African-American woman on the bench, Justice Jackson, is at first just looking down, and I'm thinking, oh, she knows what's coming. But then she's also looking out of the audience. Not a single one of the liberals dissented, which is so different in these cases, John.
As I said, going back to Shelby county versus Holder, the 2013 case, that really gutted a significant portion of the law, it was the liberals so loudly dissenting, and voting rights activists being very concerned about access to the ballot. But here, it's three justices to his right who were dissenting, and no one dissented from the bench.
If you didn't know all the drama behind Chief Justice Roberts' position, you might not have known much was going on because he read it so steadily, went on for five minutes. But it has really been a major turn in the law that has gratified voting rights advocates at this point, John.
BERMAN: Joan Biskupic, thank you so much for describing the scene inside the courtroom. We had no idea how much drama there was actually taking place there, also for explaining the overarching context here and why this is such a surprise. Thank you so much.
Let's get now to Manu Raju on Capitol Hill to get some reaction from politicians. And, Manu, I don't have to remind you Democrats -- well, Republicans have a five-seat majority in the House of Representatives. So, in theory, this might mean that Democrats have a path to at least one more seat in Alabama. What are you hearing from members this morning?
MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Democrats and Republicans reacting with surprise, shocked that this happened. This was not the way that they anticipated this major ruling to go down, and it could have a significant impact on the 2024 elections. There are several other states in which there are maps from those House districts could get rewritten and could change how the ultimate votes come down there. But in Alabama, this could potentially help Democrats, and it also could help Democrats in some other states. It's possible, for instance, in Georgia, maybe Louisiana, could be states in which Democrats could benefit.
But there are also other states that could have -- their maps are being withdrawn. There are court challenges, states like North Carolina as well as Ohio that could potentially be beneficial to Republicans. So, in the outcome, we'll see if it's a wash or it could benefit one side or the other.
And then there's a general reaction on the Hill about what this says about the court. I just caught up with Senator Dick Durbin. He's the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Of course, Democrats have been sharply critical of this very conservative majority in the aftermath of the Dobbs decision and losing one case after another.
But Durbin suggested to me just moments ago, perhaps this is a sign that things are changing in the Roberts Court.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Well, perhaps they're shifting majorities. And I think Chief Justice Roberts, I really believe he understands, in history's view, this is his court and what they put together now, he's going to be held accountable for, particularly those cases he voted for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RAJU: So, Durbin went on to say that he hopes that perhaps they'll do other -- take another initiative, such as what he has been demanding, which is to impose a new code of ethics on the Supreme Court, something that the court has not done to the Democrats' liking in the aftermath of questions about Clarence Thomas and his relationship with a Republican mega donor.
But, nevertheless, that's the Democratic side.
I just also caught up with Senator John Thune. He's the number two Republican in the GOP leadership. He reacted, he said, look, I have confidence in what the court decides. He was not upset one way or the other. He said, this is the court, this is their decision. We'll have to support what the court ultimately decided here. So, that's the initial reaction here.
But no doubt about it, very surprised on both sides of the aisle and potentially with significant impacts in the battle for control of the very narrowly divided House, which could flip one way or the other come 2024. John?
BERMAN: Manu Raju in the middle of it all, real-time reports from Capitol Hill. Thank you so much, or thanks to Jessica Schneider as well, and Joan Biskupic.
And, Kate, Joan has heard hundreds of decisions read in the Supreme Court. And to hear her describe something as being dramatic and unusual and surprising, you really get a sense of what a big deal this was.
BOLDUAN: It's a great point. And that's the perspective that Joan can always bring to this.
Let's continue with getting more reaction to what really is a blockbuster and could be potentially historic, grueling decision coming from the Supreme Court.
BOLDUAN: Joining us right now on the phone is Democratic Congresswoman Terri Sewell of Alabama, the only Democrat in Alabama's congressional delegation. Congresswoman, thank you so much for jumping on the phone. Just your reaction to this ruling from the Supreme Court?
REP. TERRI SEWELL (D-AL): This is so exciting. It's really amazing. I think that this time we realize that justice delayed can also mean not justice denied. And so I just think it's really important that this is an amazing victory for black Alabama voters. It's for our democracy, for the Voting Rights Act.
I've had the great honor of representing Alabama's seventh Congressional district. It's my home district. It includes my hometown of Selma and Birmingham and Montgomery. And the legacy of this district is a legacy of ordinary Americans fighting for the equal right to vote and to have the Supreme Court surprisingly give us this huge win, it's historic.
BOLDUAN: Can you -- what does this mean for Alabama -- what does this mean for Alabama today? I mean, we could look at what this could have meant for Alabama in '22, but what does this mean for Alabama in '24, Congresswoman?
SEWELL: I think it means that we'll have a more equitable map. I mean, the reality is that African-Americans make up 27 percent of Alabama's population, and yet we only had one seat. And so I think that -- I mean, I really -- I guess I'm reeling from this decision because it is such a surprise. But I was so happy that the justices saw the truth and the fact that that represents voter dilution and it's black voter dilution.
And I think this is a huge win, not just for Alabama, since everybody's looking at the Milligan case for map redrawing in North Carolina, in Ohio. I mean, everyone is looking at this decision. And I think that it will have a ripple effect, a positive ripple effect. It means that minority dilution is not going to be tolerated by the Supreme Court or by any court in the land. And that is a huge victory.
I know that John Lewis must be smiling because we got into some good trouble, some necessary trouble, and at the end of the day, right won out. And justice, while the moral arc of the universe is long, it definitely does bend towards justice.
BOLDUAN: And, Congressman, I was just going to ask you because I jumped quickly to look for your reaction to your Twitter feed and saw that your pinned tweet is an image of you and John Lewis at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in your hometown in Selma. And I was wondering what you thought John Lewis would be -- what you think John Lewis would be thinking and saying right now.
SEWELL: You know, he always told us to never give up, never give in, that even in the darkest moments, we have to continue the fight, and he's absolutely right. And I know that there're so many stakeholders and activists and ordinary Alabama black voters who have prayed for this moment, who have marched for this moment, who literally put their lives on the line and continue to fight to make sure that we restore the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
I would have never thought, 58 years after John Lewis was bludgeoned on a bridge, that the cause for which those foot soldiers march for would be the cause that we, this generation, would have to fight for, to hold on to the progress that we've made and to try to advance it.
I cannot tell you how excited I am about this opportunity for Alabama to not have just one Democratic representative, but, hopefully, two.
BOLDUAN: How do you square this with what your impression is of the conservative majority of the Supreme Court right now? What do you take from that? If you have to read into what this could mean for the Supreme Court and the conservative majority going forward, what do you take from it?
SEWELL: Well, look, I hope that it would mean -- because I've read the case, I attended the oral arguments.
I just think that my hope is that justice rang true, that they in there --. I'm still reading and coming through their decision, but the evidence was, on its face, pretty evident that black voter dilution was taking place with respect to how the maps were drawn. And, you know, I think that for the first time, we really have a Supreme Court case that will have a ripple effect all throughout the United States.
I'm just grateful. I don't know -- I'm just grateful that Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Roberts voted with the majority of the progressives on the court to do the right thing, and that is to strike down maps that do not give the equal opportunity for minority voters to be able to choose an elected official of their choosing.
BOLDUAN: I mean, we've been on air as this news has been breaking. I, too, am looking forward to reading through this decision as well in the majority and in the dissent to hear how this all came together. Congresswoman, thank you for jumping on the phone with this breaking news that we've got coming in. Thanks so much.
SEWELL: Thank you.
BOLDUAN: Thank you.
SIDNER: All right. Coming up, ominous and dangerous smoky skies have millions of Americans across the U.S. experiencing the worst air quality in years. Where is this wildfire smoke heading now?
Also, we're keeping close watch on two federal courthouses this hour, a courthouse in Miami, Florida, and a courthouse in Washington, D.C., everyone watching for any movement from two grand juries. That's up, next.
SIDNER: We're keeping close watch on two federal courthouses this morning, a courthouse in Miami, Florida, and another, as you see behind me there, in Washington, D.C. We are watching for any movement from either of these grand juries.
The reason, CNN has learned the Justice Department has officially notified Donald Trump's legal team he is a target in an ongoing federal investigation. The federal investigation connected to Trump's handling of classified documents, his failure to turn them over, and a question of possible obstruction of justice surrounding all of it.
You'll recall, federal investigators searched his Mar-a-Lago home last August. The FBI recovered more than 100 classified documents there. Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
CNN's Katelyn Polantz and Evan Perez will have the latest for us. I'm going to start with you, Evan. You've got these two courthouses, these two grand juries. Is there a possibility that there could be an indictment in both?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: There is that possibility, a distinct possibility that prosecutors could choose to bring cases in Florida, in Miami, which of course, is the district where Mar-a-Lago is located.
That's where, of course, the FBI conducted that extraordinary search last summer, last August, where they retrieved those documents, and where, we know since then, there have been a lot of focus on the possibility of obstruction, the possibility that boxes were being moved, that there were more documents being concealed.
We've seen so much activity in recent weeks, both in that courthouse getting witness testimony as well as here in Washington, where the bulk of the testimony, bulk of evidence has been presented to a grand jury.
So, right now, we're waiting. And the fact is that the Justice Department rules allow prosecutors to notify someone, a subject of an investigation, that they've become a target. They can do it in earlier part of this investigation. They can do it in the later stages. In this case, it's clear we're in the later stages.
And it really signals, Sara, that the Justice Department is on the verge of making this momentous decision, right? We've never been here before, where a former president could be facing criminal charges. There also, of course, could be charges against people around the former president who were involved in handling these documents.
So, again, one of the things we anticipate now that the former president has been notified of this is that he has the ability to ask the Justice Department to present his own evidence, things that he believes prove that he is not guilty of any of these crimes. He could also choose to present himself before the grand jury to go and explain why he believes he should not be indicted.
We do not anticipate that Donald Trump is going to show up at any of these grand juries to make his case. Sara?
SIDNER: Evan Perez, thank you for your reporting throughout all of this.
Let's go now to Katelyn Polantz, who is in Miami, outside the federal court there. You were hearing, I think, earlier that there may be more witnesses who will testify in front of the grand jury there today. What more do you know about that?
KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: We don't know if it would be today, but we did know yesterday that there was a witness here, a spokesperson for Donald Trump and his political empire. Taylor Budowich, he testified to the grand jury here in Florida, and there was an additional witness expected after him.
The timing on when these witnesses come in and out, it's really hard to determine, because grand jury proceedings are secret. But up until this point, we have worked really hard to figure out as much as has been happening in this grand jury, what witnesses have been testifying.
And the list is expansive, Sara. We have heard of so many people, nearly everyone, who was in touch with Trump or in the room with Trump or in the room with Trump or talking to him about documents or hearing him talk about documents or handling documents on his behalf after he left the presidency, people like Mark Meadows, his chief of staff, his former defense attorney, Evan Corcoran, and aides, workers at Mar-a- Lago.
We have heard of dozens of people subpoenaed to the grand jury, whether that's in Florida or in Washington, D.C., where we had been tracking the activity for so long. There have been so many. And so it's very unclear who else the prosecutors may need to call as a witness at this time. Sara?
SIDNER: Just to sort of keep people in the loop here, can you remind us all of what was found in Mar-a-Lago? POLANTZ: Yes. So, what was found in Mar-a-Lago is not a short list either. It is many, many documents when the FBI went in there to do that search that was authorized by a court that they had to have probable cause to believe they would find evidence of crime when they did that search.
And the numbers are fairly staggering for a case like this. It was almost 50 top secret and secret, so very high levels of classification documents found in storage rooms or a storage room at Mar-a-Lago, according to some of the court record. We also know there were two dozen documents at the level of top secret and secret found in Donald Trump's office.
So, the 45 Office at Mar-a-Lago, also additional records with classification markings at the level of confidential, so every level of the classification structure. Those are the documents that were being found at Mar-a-Lago. And on top of that, there were hundreds more that Donald Trump had kept after the presidency and that were not returned to the National Archives and the federal government until a full year afterwards, January of 2022.
And just to be clear here, when these cases are looked at by the Justice Department, you don't need hundreds of documents to bring a case. You need one, and you need to be able to trace it and find intent enough to bring a charge.
SIDNER: Katelyn Polantz, thank you so much for your reporting. I know you'll be watching to see what happens next.
With us now, former Federal Prosecutor and Criminal Defense Attorney Katie Cherkasky, and former federal prosecutor and Robert Mueller's former special assistant, Michael Zeldin. Thank you both for being here.
Katie, you are in here with me. Can you give me a sense of what exactly this target letter that was sent to Donald Trump's attorneys tells us about where this investigation is?
KATIE CHERKASKY, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Sure. So, a target letter indicates that the investigation is focused in on potentially indicting an individual. Now, if there's no guarantee or promise that it has to lead to an indictment, but it's a very clear sign that that is what the thought of the DOJ is, and, again, it does give the person an opportunity to discuss the case through their counsel with the DOJ if they want to present information, which typically in a criminal defense case, there's a big decision about whether you want to speak to prosecutors prior to actually defending yourself in court.
But this is kind of a last chance to do so before a final decision is made. But, again, it doesn't guarantee an indictment is coming. But I think for all practical purposes, we know that Donald Trump's been a target of this investigation since the beginning.
SIDNER: This is just sort of the official legal letter that says, hey, we are looking at you. Talk amongst yourselves or come talk to us, basically. CHERKASKY: Exactly.
SIDNER: Okay, Michael, now to you. The indictment, as you just heard from Katie, there not necessarily going to happen, for sure. However, if it does, what are some of the things that Donald Trump could face as far as criminality, as far as crimes and the indictment?
MICHAEL ZELDIN, ROBERT MUELLER'S FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT AT DOJ: So, there are several, Sara? First, I think, is obstruction of justice and conspiracy, to obstruct justice. And that would be his failure to return those documents and perhaps even to hide them from the searching eyes of the DOJ.
The other is the Espionage Act, 793 E, which says that if you unlawfully retain a document which you're allowed to have, which has national defense implications information in it, and you also -- and or you disseminate it, that's another charge.
So, I think that the biggest charges are unlawful retention and dissemination and conspiracy to obstruct and obstruction itself. As to some of the other people in Miami, it may be straight 1,001 false testimony.
SIDNER: All right, I want you both to listen to something that Tim Parlatore, Donald Trump's former attorney, who was on this case and left the case, said, which sounds like another possible defense that they may use in this case.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM PARLATORE, FORMER ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: Simply the fact that it has a classification marking on it, if it does have a classification marking on it, doesn't make it automatically some type of contraband.
It has to be national defense information, one.