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Republicans Defend Trump; Douglas Brinkley is Interviewed about the Trump Indictment; Sarah Matthews is Interviewed about the Trump Indictment; Bridget Brink is Interviewed about the War in Ukraine. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired June 09, 2023 - 09:30   ET



LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Time in defending the former president, Donald Trump. You heard immediately from people like Elise Stefanik, who's in Republican leadership, Steve Scalise, the majority leader, and the House speaker himself, who tweeted, quote, today is indeed a dark day for the United States of America. It is unconscionable for a president to indict the leading candidate opposing him. Joe Biden kept classified documents for decades. I, and every American who believe in the rule of law, stand with President Trump against this grave injustice. House Republicans will hold this brazen weaponization of power accountable.

Now, he didn't specify specifically how the House of Representatives is going to respond, but Jim Jordan, a Republican and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, also came out yesterday on Twitter defending the former president. Obviously keep all eyes on his committee as to whether or not they take any actions, whether that's to defund the FBI or Justice Department in upcoming weeks.

The other thing to keep an important eye on is this split that we are seeing between Republican leaders in the House of Representatives, who quickly came out to defend Trump, and those in the U.S. Senate. We have not heard from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. We have not heard from the Republican whip, John Thune.

And it's important to note that during the last indictment, John, we really never got an answer from McConnell on what his view was. Instead, just responding to our colleague Manu Raju at the time when he returned from the Senate after falling that he might have hit his head but he had not hit it that hard. In other words, dodging the question all together, John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, dodging the question. I'm very curious to see, Lauren, as we move forward, what the defense will be of this transcript where Donald Trump seems to be showing others secret, classified national security documents.

Keep us posted as to what you hear. Lauren Fox up on Capitol Hill.


SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: John, we just got this in. Former Vice President Mike Pence has called the U.S. attorney general, Merrick Garland, and demanded that he unseal the federal indictment that we have been hearing about. He has called Merrick Garland's office and made this demand, saying that he thinks the Justice Department should release this before the sun sets today.

And I just want to clarify, he called on Merrick Garland. He didn't talk to him on the phone. He called on Merrick Garland to unseal the documents. That the public should be able to see and make a judgment for themselves what these charges are and whether they believe in all of the facts.

We are witnessing a truly extraordinary moment in American history. The enormity of it cannot be overstated. Donald Trump is the first former president in the nearly 250-year history of the United States to face federal charges.

To help us put all of this in perspective, presidential historian Douglas Brinkley joins us now. He is a professor of history at Rice University.

Can you just begin with the enormity of this and the history of our country. This has never happened.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Yes, I mean, violating the Espionage Act is not Stormy Daniels. This is gigantic. It is as close to a smoking gun that Donald Trump has ever faced. This transcript of his is on fire. I mean he's showing and illegally showing secret documents to people in a willy-nilly braggadocios fashion. And one just has to be -- sit back and be staggered that the GOP doesn't -- meaning leaders in the Republican Party -- don't immediately turn on Donald Trump with this release.

It's been an odd week. We've had three Republicans, you know, GOPers joining the presidential campaign for 2024. Donald Trump is going to overshadow this. But I'm really alarmed by the transcript that CNN has produced.

SIDNER: I do want to speak to the history of all of this and the most notable case that a lot of people cite when they look at what's happening now and what has happened in the past is the case of President Richard Nixon and Watergate. But there is a key difference, which you just mentioned now, which is that back then Republicans turned on their president because of the enormity of all of the evidence that was coming out about Nixon. That is not happening today. What's the difference? Why?

BRINKLEY: At least not at this moment. I was encouraged, Sara, by your comment that Mitch McConnell and some in the Senate are kind of holding back on fire. We just don't have moderate Republicans like Howard Baker of Tennessee or conservatives like Barry Goldwater of Arizona. Back then, the fact that Nixon broke the law was enough to make them realize that wasn't the Republican Party. Donald Trump has been able to hijack the Republican Party.

[09:35:04] And, you know, I usually -- it's a big debate in history, was Gerald Ford right to pardon Nixon? I've always thought Ford was right to heal the country pardoning Nixon, but in recent years I realized it was probably a mistake for the reason that it encourages the arrogance of President Trump. This feeling that he's above the law, that the Constitution doesn't matter. That you can have an authoritarian vent and do anything you want in the United States. So, I find it encouraging that the Justice Department, with all the noise going on now, is focusing on this and telling Donald Trump he's not above the law.

And it's going to be a spring/summer of indictments, but we are in a strange political atmosphere right now because some Republicans will claim that Joe Biden, the president, is trying to put his chief GOP rival in jail.

SIDNER: I mean basically that's happened by the speaker, McCarthy.

I thank you so much for your comments giving us the historic vision of this and what it looks like to the country now as opposed to in our whole 250-year history. I appreciate you coming on, Douglas (ph).

Douglas Brinkley, the -- giving us the lowdown on what this means.

And now I'm going to go to Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, coming up on CNN NEWS CENTRAL, we just heard Mike Pence now speaking out about his now rival and the indictment, calling on the Justice Department to unseal the indictment by the time the sun sets today. There's a lot of Republican reaction coming in.

But we also have coming up reaction from someone who worked within the Trump administration, one of the deputy press secretary for Donald Trump. What she sees in this news and that transcript that CNN has reported on exclusively from Donald Trump.

We'll be right back.



BOLDUAN: From allies to current political opponents, Republicans are largely coming to Donald Trump's defense this morning. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, for one, calling it a dark day for the United States, saying on Twitter - releasing a statement saying that he stands with Donald Trump against what McCarthy calls a grave injustice, and also promising, quote, House Republicans will hold this brazen weaponization of power accountable.

Now, campaign rival, Ron DeSantis, he said something very similar, tweeting this, the weaponization of federal law enforcement represents a mortal threat to a free society.

Joining me now for some more reaction to all of this and the new reporting this morning, former Trump White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Matthews.

Sarah, thank you so much for coming in.

And we just got in more reaction and a statement from an interview of Mike Pence, as we were just reporting on, Sara was just talking about in the last block. I think we have a bit of this interview that he gave with Hugh Hewitt talking about what he wants to see now, calling on the attorney general to unseal the indictment.

Let's listen to this.


MIKE PENCE (R), FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT AND 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Justice department, I think before the sun sets today, the attorney general of the United States should be standing in front of the American people, should unseal this indictment, should provide the American people with all the facts and information here. And the American people be able to judge for themselves whether this is just the latest incident of weaponization and politicization of the Justice Department or if it's something different.


BOLDUAN: Or if it's something different. What do you think of what Pence is saying there?

SARAH MATTHEWS, FORMER DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY IN TRUMP WHITE HOUSE: I do think he's correct that given the political sensitivities of this case transparency is going to be of the utmost importance for the court of public opinion because the people need to know what is in this indictment in order to make a judgment. And that's why I think that the Republicans, like Kevin McCarthy, or some of the other 2024 rivals for Trump that have rushed to his defense are doing it a little prematurely because we don't know what's in the indictment right now and it could be really bad for Donald Trump or it could be a nothing burger. But if I had to guess, my money is on that this is a rock solid case. I don't think that the special counsel would have taken it to the point of an indictment if it weren't.

BOLDUAN: Look, and speaking about potential premature reaction to this indictment, just this morning Paula Reid and the team have reported this transcript -- quotes from a transcript of a conversation that Donald Trump was having back in 2021 where he says, among other things, he's got this document in hand, we talked about it so much, that he could have classified it, but now I can't, acknowledging that he still had this secret military document, military information and saying, see, see, look at this. When you hear that, Sarah, what do you think?

MATTHEWS: I think it completely undercuts all of his excuses that him and his team have been putting out there. They've kind of tried to use everything under the sun. They have said things like, well, he declassified them in his mind before he left. That's why he took them. This just goes to show in this transcript that he took these things, that he did not declassify. He knew he could have while he was president. And then he showed them to people who didn't have the proper clearance.

BOLDUAN: Do you - and maybe it's two different questions. Do you think with -- do you think this type of information, this significant transcript, audio they have of the president in his own words, do you think that changes the reaction we could be hearing from Republicans publicly going forward? Do you see that as a game changer? Do you see every Republican, especially elected, have many calculations that they're making in what they say publicly?

MATTHEWS: I do think that there are going to be his staunch supporters who this isn't going to change anything for them, they're going to point to the fact that Mike Pence took classified information, that Joe Biden took classified information.


The difference, though, between those two things, we can't conflate them, Mike Pence and Joe Biden voluntarily turned the classified documents back when they discovered it.

BOLDUAN: The Justice Department investigated Mike Pence and just cleared him of -- just cleared him last week.

MATTHEWS: Exactly. And with Donald Trump it's clear that they asked him to return the documents. He didn't. Then he turned over a couple and then said that he turned everything back in, and then after the raid it was discovered that he still had over 100 documents in his possession.

BOLDUAN: So, in terms of Republican reaction, Sarah, I mean we're already seeing, as many - some Republicans accusing the Justice Department of weaponizing this indictment. Mike Pence kind of threading the needle here saying let's see -- release it and let's see if it is that. Saying this is an executive branch -- I've heard some Republicans saying this is an executive branch trying to take out President Biden's number one political opponent in the coming election. What do you say to them, Sara, as someone who has been with Donald Trump through many crises during your time at the White House?

MATTHEWS: I would say that people saying that Joe Biden is indicting Donald Trump are acting irresponsibly because the rule of law matters here and it was a grand jury that chose to indict Donald Trump. A grand jury made up of regular Americans like you and me. And so anyone saying that this is politically motivated is just doing so to try to defend Trump, but we need to let the facts play out and see what's actually in this indictment before rushing to make a judgment.

BOLDUAN: Just one quick question on this reporting from Paula Reid about this - about this transcript and what Donald Trump said in his own words. Look, you left the White House. You separated yourself from the president over January 6th. You've testified. We've talked to you so many times since then. Does it surprise you the president would, from what you know of the president does it surprise you hearing that he said these words on tape to people who do not have clearance with a secret document in his hand, showing it to them and then saying off the record. Does that - does that surprise you? MATTHEWS: Honestly, it doesn't just from what I witnessed during my

time, you know, being in the Oval Office with him or things like that. He was not your typical president, didn't always follow normal procedures. And so to hear him kind of being reckless and showing classified information to folks who didn't have the proper security clearances doesn't surprise me.

BOLDUAN: Sarah Matthews, thanks for coming in.

MATTHEWS: Thank you.


BERMAN: So, that stunning new reporting, the details from a transcript of that conversation Donald Trump had about secret documents. This as we await word whether the historic indictment against Donald Trump will be unsealed this morning.

Also, we could hear from President Biden at any moment.

Also new reporting coming out of Ukraine. The latest news on the possible counteroffensive.



BERMAN: This morning, Russian state media is describing fierce fighting in southern Ukraine, near Zaporizhzhia. And Russian military bloggers say there's a great deal of activity happening around these Russian-occupied towns in the south.

In the east the Ukrainian military says it's making progress around the city of Bakhmut. You'll remember Bakhmut fell to the Russians several weeks ago. Meanwhile, in central Ukraine, two Russian missiles struck this city near Cherkasy right here. Obviously, civilians in the crosshairs very much. Eight people injured in that attack.

Joining us now is the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, from Kyiv.

Ambassador, thank you so much for being with us this morning. It is an honor to have you.

I don't want you to reveal any secret information, obviously, but what's your understanding now of the state of Ukrainian offensive operations? To what extent has this counter offensive begun?

BRIDGET BRINK, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO UKRAINE: Well, John, thanks so much for having me on. It's a great privilege to be here.

I just want to say, I need to leave it to the Ukrainian military to characterize the counter offensive. But as President Biden said yesterday, we're optimistic. We, of course, are following the situation very closely, and we are doing everything we can in support of Ukrainian success on the battlefield. BERMAN: Is that optimism based on what you are seeing? Are you seeing

signs of success?

BRINK: We're very optimistic based on what we've seen the Ukrainians do so far. They have already been able to take back significant swathes of territory and counter offensives from last fall to include in the Kharkiv in the eastern part of the countries, as well as in the southern part of the country. And we also know that we have helped to both equip and to train the troops that are a part of the counter offensive, together with 50 partner countries. And so we're optimistic because we know what they are capable of, and we're also optimistic because we know what we have been able to help supply them with.

BERMAN: How important is it for Ukraine to retake this ground militarily in order for there to be an ultimate peaceful outcome -- I guess we're beyond peaceful outcomes - an ultimate optimal outcome for the Ukrainian people in this conflict?

BRINK: Well, I think as President Biden has said, our objective is to help Ukraine defend itself and deter from future Russian attack. And we see the goal as -- Ukraine's goal is to get the Russians out of Ukraine. Our effort in equipping Ukraine, and training Ukraine, to fight to defend themselves and to defend their territory is something that we are doing so that when it is comes time to negotiate, that they'll be in the best possible position.

BERMAN: We have pictures from a few days ago, the flooding around Kherson after the destruction of the dam on the Dnipro River. The devastation is just profound and upsetting, I think, to so many people. Do you have any new information about who was responsible for the destruction of that dam?


BRINK: I would just say that the destruction of the Kakhovka Dam is another horrific example of the devastation that Russia's full scale invasion has had on Ukraine. There is an incredible human devastation with thousands of people affected, but also an ecological devastation that is going to last for probably many years to come.

So, the bottom line is that it is Russia that invaded Ukraine, it is Russia that has occupied significant parts of Ukrainian territory, and it is Russia that seized control of the Kakhovka Dam last year and had control when this destruction took place.

BERMAN: What's the most immediate need that you see for the Ukrainian people as we head towards the summer?

BRINK: Well, right now, obviously, we, the United States, is working very closely with partners and also with the Ukrainian government to do everything possible in response to the latest crisis that has been engendered by this - Russia's invasion in terms of the south and the Kakhovka Dam.

So, we are working with the U.N. and partners to do things such as supply water, food, help people get to shelter, and do everything possible to help them with immediate needs. And there are going to be additional, longer term needs because the destruction of the dam also puts at risk all of the water supply to the entirety of the southern part of Ukraine. So this potentially affects thousands upon thousands of people, in addition to ecological and other dangers because the Russians had mined the river banks there, and it -- mines are now floating and depositing themselves in different places. And so it's a very dangerous situation on multiple levels. And that is an immediate crisis that we are trying very hard to help the Ukrainians respond to as effective as possible.

BERMAN: Ambassador Bridget Brink, thank you so much for being on CNN NEWS CENTRAL. Please, come back.


SIDNER: Coming up on CNN NEWS CENTRAL, we're following the unprecedented breaking news, former President Donald Trump has been indicted, and now we know some of what was caught on tape, his own voice. We'll bring you what is now in the hands of prosecutors, next.