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GA Special Grand Jury Recommended Charges For More Trump Allies; Rep. Adam Smith (R-WA) Is Interviewed About Tough Negotiations Ahead As Funding Deadline Looms. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 08, 2023 - 11:00   ET



EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Partly because of their efforts associating themselves with the former president's claims of fraud, which turned out not to be. In the case of Perdue, he pushed for the governor to actually have a special session, something that, of course, from the former President was pushing for. Wanted to make sure that the legislature intervened to try to throw votes the election results in that state and then make way for the slate or false electors, which are also named, by the way, Kate, in this document.

The false electors were named by the grand jury. It was a much closer vote. There were only nine votes to indict them. In the end, obviously, that didn't happen. But what's interesting, obviously, is, you know, the role of these high level officials that some of which obviously played out in public view. And in the end, Fani Willis decided for whatever reason, that she was not going to bring those charges, perhaps because of the additional political implications of it and the difficulty that would present for her case. Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Interesting. Evan, thank you so much. Paul, thank you as well. They continue working their sources on this. Sara?

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, we want to talk about sort of some of the politics of this. I want to get straight to CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju, who was up on Capitol Hill. Manu, you have talked to Senator Graham about this. I mean, the biggest revelation really from this, because really what we have here is, you know, who the grand jury thought should be indicted, who wasn't indicted, and what the law is.

We don't have all the details on exactly how they got to that place and all of the evidence that was put before the grand jury in this 25 or 26 page report. But you had a conversation with Lindsey Graham about all of this, and he is obviously a sitting senator and the one that's going to make the most news, frankly, from this. What did he say and what was your takeaway, your biggest takeaway from your conversation?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, recall, this is right after the 2020 elections. There was Brad Raffensperger spoke publicly about this phone call that he had with Lindsey Graham. He believed that Lindsey Graham was essentially pressuring him or wanted to get rid of legally valid ballots. And that could, I mean Raffensperger's view, disenfranchise the voters of Georgia.

Now, that is something that Lindsey Graham flatly denied. When I asked him about that allegation, he contended that he was not even talking about the 2020 presidential race. He said he was talking about the mail-in voting system in Georgia and how the signature verification system worked and how that would work headed into a very, very critical Senate races, two Senate races in Georgia.

In January 2021, there were the two Senate races, the runoffs there that ultimately Democrats won and took back control of the majority. Lindsey Graham claimed that was in focus entirely, and he pushed back on Raffensperger's claims.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): What I'm very concerned about is that if you're going to continue to vote by mail, that we need to know what systems work and what don't. It's up to the people of Georgia. I think I have every right in the world to reach out and say, how does it work? And that's what it is really, I thought, a pretty good conversation so.

RAJU: I mean, he thinks it's an implicit threat.

GRAHAM: You know, I categorically reject that. That wasn't my intent and that wasn't the purpose of the conversation, you know, to throw out ballots. We're talking about an election we haven't even had yet, which is the Senate races. That was my focus. It's how do you verify signatures? We've got a new Senate race coming up. Is there anything we can do to make it better?

RAJU: So you were concerned about the Senate races more than --

GRAHAM: Yes, of course, the whole thing was about. I mean, they've got a process. You can't change the law retroactively, so there's just no way to do that. Whatever system was in place for the presidential election, we're going to live with. The whole conversation was about the Senate race.


RAJU: Now, it's unclear why the special grand jury, a majority of these special grand jury recommended charges, whether Graham's testimony was different in any way, whether there was additional evidence about Senator Lindsey Graham's efforts, and voted 13 in the affirmative to try to pursue charges, seven in the negative in the special grand jury. So this report does not detail any of that specifically.

We do know that Lindsey Graham did ultimately testify before the grand jury in Georgia after he fought a subpoena, did not want to testify, did not think he would believe that it was appropriate to bring a sitting senator in to testify before this panel. He took it to court. They fought it. He ultimately lost that fight and did cooperate. And then afterwards, I did talk to him about the testimony before the grand jury. He said he cooperated fully, but he refused to provide any details about that testimony. I asked him also, did he expect to be charged? He said flatly he did not expect to be charged. So it's unclear how he's going to respond to this specific recommendation at the moment.

His office has not yet commented about this, but as you can hear there from those comments back in 2020, he claims he did nothing wrong. Sara?

SIDNER: I do want to just in all fairness, I do want to play what Brad Raffensperger said back then. He talked to Wolf Blitz her about this very issue and how he felt on the other side of the line when he was speaking to Lindsey Graham. Let's listen to that.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: You described to "The Washington Post" a conversation you had with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham on Friday. You came away with the impression that he essentially wanted you to look for ways toss out mail-in ballots. What exactly did he say to you?

BRAD RAFFENSPERGER (R-GA), SECRETARY OF STATE: Well, he asked if the ballots could be matched back to the voters. And then I got the sense it implied that then you could throw those out, and he really would look at the counties with the highest frequent error of signatures. So that's the impression that I got.

BLITZER: I just want to be clear on this, Mr. Secretary. You say Senator Graham wanted you to find ways to get rid of legally cast ballots because CNN asked him about these allegations. He denied them. He says that's ridiculous. His words, that's ridiculous.

RAFFENSPERGER: Well, it's just an implication that look hard and see how many ballots you could throw out. And I think that they were looking at that as part of a court case, and one actually was subsequently filed, wasn't it?


SIDNER: All right, so you heard his words there. They are different from what Lindsey Graham is saying. How does he square that? I mean, it's on camera, he's talking about it.

RAJU: Exactly. I mean, perhaps a difference of interpretation. Perhaps the words where, you know, he said he applied to throw out the ballots. Maybe the words weren't as explicit as Raffensperger led on. It's unclear. None of us were on that call. There was two men who had different interpretations coming out of that call.

But we do know that Raffensperger did testify himself before the grand jury. He also talked to the January 6th Select Committee on Capitol Hill investigating all of this. Lindsey Graham talked to the grand jury, gave his side of events, and didn't talk to this January 6th Committee. But nevertheless, clear difference interpretation. But perhaps why -- that's why, Sara, there was not a clear consensus among the 20 -- among the major -- I mean or unanimous consensus among the special grand jury, which voted 13 to seven to pursue charges, not 20 to one, as most of these other charges were for Donald Trump on down the line.

SIDNER: Manu Raju, thank you, as always, for your reporting for today and all the other days where you're chasing people down on Capitol Hill. I want to go straight to Kristen Holmes because Kristen has some new reporting for us now. I knew you'd get it. I knew you'd get it in the next few minutes. What are you hearing from the Trump camp at this hour?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. So we have a statement from the Trump campaign spokesperson. This is what he said, Democrat partisan Fani Willis and her unlawfully constructed, politically motivated, so called special grand jury have now been completely exposed as operatives and tools of the radical Democrats that they are.

In a clearly biased on American act, a majority of the special grand jurors voted to indict dozens of innocent individuals, including former and sitting U.S. Senators, simply for raising concerns about election integrity and exercising their First Amendment rights under the Constitution.

So, again, this is really the same line that we have heard over and over again, saying that this is partisan, saying that this is political, and pointing to the fact that because there are U.S. Senators, Republican U.S. Senators, that that is why this is political. And one thing to point out here is I actually spoke to a number of Trump advisors just a few moments ago who noted that they believed that because they were thinking about discussing indicting sitting U.S. Senators, that this would actually look good for Donald Trump because it would look like they were overreaching in some way.

Now, again, this is what they are telling me, and this statement here is almost exactly what we would expect to see, which is Trump saying it's all political. As we know, one of Trump's biggest things that he likes to say is they're not coming after me, they're coming after you. I'm just standing in your way. And I do want to note one thing because I forgot to tell you this earlier, Sara, he will be speaking tonight.

He's going to South Dakota for a rally. It's the first time we've actually seen him since that arrest in Georgia. So interesting to watch that and see what he says about this then.

SIDNER: It is very interesting to hear that statement. It is not a surprise. Like you said, it's very much in line. But to be fair to Fani Willis, she says she is just doing her job and they didn't indict a sitting senator and two other former senators. So that's, you know, a circle he can't square at this point in time. She didn't go forward with the charges against them. All very interesting. We will check back with you. We'll certainly be listening to what he says in South Dakota. I'm going toss it over to John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Sara, thank you very much. And again, to reiterate the point you just made, the news here is who was not charged? Who was not charged? One sitting, U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, two former senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. With us now, CNN legal analyst and former U.S. Attorney Michael Moore back with us. And also Shan Wu, defense attorney and former federal prosecutor. Shan, we haven't had a chance to speak with you yet. I want to focus on the Lindsey Graham news or non-news.


To be clear here, he was not charged, he was not indicted. And I suppose the question is why? Was it because this special grand jury showed some reservations there only voting by a vote of 13 to seven to indict him? Is that what might have caused Fani Willis trepidation, or do you think it was the difficulty in charging the U.S. Senator or maybe the evidence?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Picking between those three, John, I'd say it's more likely the evidence since, you know, as you've been pointing out, so as Michael. We can't see the transcripts and all the evidence. We're really kind of seeing a summary here. The votes, I'm a little bit skeptical of that, but there's some distinctions to be made.

Having indicted hundreds of grand juries indictments, I can tell you that vote did not matter to us very much unless it was really, really slim, like almost a deadlock to it. But I think to Michael's point, this is a grand jury which had been very focused on this one case for a long time, and therefore the weight of those votes might have carried a lot more meaning to the prosecutor in making those.

It's also, I don't think the potential federal official defenses would have bothered this prosecutor very much. That's speculation. But it seems like she would feel she had the evidence, you know, full steam ahead. It's possible to me that they may have done a good job for themselves in the testifying before the grand jury for some of these folks. Graham, politicians sometimes come across pretty well as witnesses for the down home kind of approach talking to the grand jurors, may have influenced some of that votes.

But also the prosecutors may have looked at that and said, well, you know, he has a colorable defense here and they may have felt there was not enough evidence to overcome that. So I lean more towards she had a look at the evidence that we can't see, and that's probably the biggest factor.

BERMAN: Yes. And just to be clear, it's not specific what Lindsey Graham what this special grand jury was recommending, an indictment on. It's the broadest of all possible charges, the national effort to overturn the 2020 election, the phone call which we focused on so much, it is not enumerated here in this report. It is for Donald Trump and some others. Their phone call, Lindsey Graham's phone call is not specifically listed here. Michael, if you can teach a little bit of law school here so I can understand and our viewers can understand in a normal grand jury, in a normal grand jury if there is a vote and that grand jury does vote to indict even by a margin of one as Shan was saying, is a person charged?

MICHAEL MOORE, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, and I'm glad to be with Shan this morning, too, in a normal grand jury, unless there's a difference in the state grand jury and a federal grand jury. So in a state grand jury, which was what we're talking about here, a prosecutor in Georgia would have to basically present an indictment. You can't go into the state grand jury and say, I want you to investigate this, and then we can decide together which charges we're going to bring.

The rule is that an indictment, we call it having to be laid on the table. In other words, presented to the grand jury for their consideration. They hear from some witnesses, they hear a little bit of evidence. It can be a very little bit summary type amount of evidence, and then they take a vote. And so at that point, it's up to the grand jury.

If they vote to indict, then that indictment is, in fact, issued by the grand jury. So they are not investigating. That's the difference in what this report is about. This report is merely an investigative tool. And we don't use those, as I say in Georgia, typically, that's what makes this unique. But it gave the DA the opportunity to subpoena witnesses, to subpoena evidence, to bring a bunch of people in and have them all talk to these grand jurors over an eight month period to make a decision on how she wanted to move forward with the case.

And so their report is advisory only, and that's different than what you would have in a criminal grand jury in the state system here. Our state system does not have an advisory grand jury process for a regular criminal grand jury. They simply vote to indict or not to indict. And the prosecutor uses his or her discretion in deciding whether or not to present that indictment to the grand jury.

Here, she's using her discretion in deciding whether or not to accept the recommendations of this special purpose advisory grand jury. So they're different beasts. But the simple answer is, if you were in Georgia and an indictment was presented to a criminal grand jury, their vote is going to rule the day.

BERMAN: Right. And that's what's different here. I mean, both of these things have the words grand and jury in them, but in practical terms, they're very, very different. One is basically in an investigative panel, an investigative commission that issues recommendations, whereas a actual grand jury issues indictments, lays indictments on the table, Shan, and that is not what happened here, and I hope people do understand that.


Yes, a special grand jury recommended charges, but that doesn't mean that they were charged. That doesn't mean that a prosecutor has to then bring charges or that ultimately a grand jury has to choose to indict. So Shan what now? How will or can, is there anything in here and this is sparse, I mean, this is sparse other than the votes, how can the prosecution and defense in the cases that do exist use this information?

WU: Well, I don't think we can glean too much more from what the prosecution might do with it. I mean, obviously they know a lot more than in the sparse report. For the defense, I think, as has been discussed, there are some nuggets here. For example, people who weren't charged, if they haven't already been interviewed, which they may have already been contacted by the defense, be interesting as a defense counsel to know the sorts of questions, what theory the prosecution is pursuing.

They may also be of some value as targets for finger pointing, which is they didn't get charged. But, you know, now I can blame them because they're the real masterminds behind this, not my client. So that may come into play as well. The one other distinction I want to follow up on that you made, John, is there's a little bit of analogy here to special counsel reports or the old statute independent council reports I've been involved in.

An important difference, though, is when they write those reports, people who are mentioned have a chance to comment on them. And earlier, Tim Hayfield (ph) was making that point that one of the issues with this coming out in the grand jury form is that people who are mentioned, even recommended to have been charged, don't have the opportunity to really rebut that. And that's significant.

But in terms of how it plays out in court, hard to say. Other than those two facts, these are people you'd want to talk to as defense counsel, and these might be people that you want to blame as a defense counsel.

BERMAN: And just to read one part of a dissent from one of these grand jurors who voted against recommending indictments for Perdue and Loeffler, let me read a footnote that was part of this report. One of the dissenting jurors voting against recommending seeking indictments for Senators Perdue and Loeffler on a RICO claim believe that their statements following the November 2020 election, while pandering to their political base, do not give rise to their being guilty of a criminal conspiracy. Michael, I'll just give you 20 seconds on that. That's instructive. Why?

MOORE: Yes. That's your jury. That's exactly what the defense is going to do to play to the trial jury in this case. And you may find that Perdue and Loeffler gets subpoenaed to appear as witnesses to basically create a contrast to essentially allow the defense to ask the, why, you know, what did you do versus what's so different about what my client did? But that's your jury. Just -- they're looking for that one juror to hold out and say, look, they weren't really doing anything criminal. It may be bad, but it wasn't criminal. They were just, you know, asking questions about the elections.

BERMAN: All right, Michael Moore, Shan Wu, thank you for helping us understand all of this. Really appreciate it. Kate? BOLDUAN: People keep an eye on that. But there's also a lot of other news going on this morning that we are tracking. A Philadelphia police officer has turned himself in today following a deadly police involved shooting. The district attorney there is preparing to release police body camera footage of the incident that happened last month. Some big developments coming in here and we're moments away from a press conference on that.


Also ahead, the NFL making major strides toward players' safety in football. An inside look at what they're trying to do to protect players' health.


BERMAN: OK, just moments ago, the full special grand jury report from Fulton County was released. This is a report that explains recommendations for charges against Donald Trump and some of his allies for their efforts to overturn the 2020 election in Georgia and frankly, elsewhere. Jurors recommended charges against, no, jurors recommended charges against 39 people, 29 -- 21 of them were not charged. Let's turn to Fulton County for more on District Attorney Fani Willis's thinking here. CNN's Nick Valencia is live outside the courthouse. Nick, what are you hearing from the Fulton County DA?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, very quiet. Nothing so far from the Fulton County District Attorney's Office. Our CNN crew reached out to the DA's office and they're offering a no comment to this full report from the Special Purpose Grand jury. Look, John, we knew that Fani Willis was going to use her discretion, what she saw fit and how she saw fit that these indictments would best be digested by a grand jury, a potential grand jury moving forward. So we knew the whole time that this Special Purpose Grand jury was really just an evidence gathering mechanism that had subpoena power.

And Fani Willis needed that subpoena power in order to compel some of these witnesses to show up. There was a variety of conspiracies in this indictment that we all have read by now, and we know that one of those conspiracies was a fake elector scheme. And we know from our initial reporting that all 16 fake electors in Georgia were given target letters and told that they were targets of Fani Willis's investigation.

And it was back in May that we found out from a court filing that eight of these fake electors accepted an immunity deal from the District Attorney's Office. From the indictment, we know that several of these fake electors were listed as unnamed conspirators. We know from the official indictment that David Schaeffer and Senator Shawn Still were fake electors that were charged in this.


But again, a number of them were listed as unindicted conspirators. Bottom line right now is that were trying to get comment from the Fulton County District Attorney's Office, but they are being very tight lipped, as they have been throughout this entire process. John?

BERMAN: All right, Nick Valencia, thank you very much. Sara?

SIDNER: All right, joining me now is Washington State Democratic Congressman Adam Smith. He's also ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee. Mr. Smith, thank you so much for being here this morning. I'm going toss something at you that I know you weren't expecting, but we just got it to us, the grand jury report that was released. It's about 26 pages long.

And the panel recommended charges against the sitting U.S. Senator and two former senators. I just want to get your take on that. Obviously, the senator was GOP Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. I just want to get some sense of what you think of what happened here and the fact that Fani Willis did not actually go forward with indictments against them.

REP. ADAM SMITH (R-WA): Yes, I mean everything around this, around the election of 2020 and all of the efforts by the former President Trump to try to overturn that election, as we all know that it's incredibly serious. Now in any election, you know, if you have a close election, there may be people who legitimately say, well, I'm not sure this was right or that was right, and then there is a method for doing that. You can file lawsuits and do all manner of different things. It is very, very clear that Trump and his supporters went way beyond that and actually tried to do things that are not legal to overturn a legitimate election.

Who did precisely what? I haven't, you know, dove into it in great depth. We do have other issues that I do have some control over that I'm focusing on, but it's a very serious thing and we need to keep an eye on it and see exactly who played what role. You can't simply try to overturn an election because you didn't like the outcome. You can't go trying to pick electors for the presidential election who are not legitimate electors.

So I think there are a lot of people who got themselves in serious trouble and I'm sure that will sort itself out as this prosecution goes forward.

SIDNER: All right, we will move on to things that you do have some control on. I want to talk to you about the funding of the government. The members of the Republican Freedom Caucus are making three very big demands that they say they're going to block any more monies, any more funding of the government if these three things aren't acted upon.

One of them is to include the House passed Secure the Border Act, they say to stop illegal immigration, human trafficking and the influx of fentanyl. The second is they want diversity, education and inclusion, the DEI language and programs out of the military, and they want to address what they say is the unprecedented weaponization of the Justice Department and FBI. I'm curious if there is anything on that list that Democrats might compromise on?

SMITH: I don't think so. I mean, look, those are fairly narrow items that I'm sure are important to the Freedom Caucus but we live in a democracy. The House, the Senate and the White House have to agree in order to keep the government funded. We've got a lot of items on our wish list. I mean the President's Build Back Better agenda, most of which did not get passed to provide better child care to Americans, to give more support for families on health care.

We have a lot of issues that we would like to see passed that the Republicans don't support either, which are tangential to the issue of funding the government. We're not going to insist upon those to fund the government going forward because we know we don't have the votes. The Freedom Caucus doesn't have the votes for those issues either. If they choose to shut down the government because of that, I think that is an unfortunate choice not just by them but by Speaker McCarthy because we have the votes to pass a clean CR.

I believe we have the votes to pass a defense bill and fully funded appropriations bills. But you've got that small group of members of the Freedom Caucus who don't believe in democracy. They believe in their own opinion. So even if the votes exist they'll try to block it. And there is considerable reason for concern that Speaker McCarthy will let them and he won't allow us to have a vote on a clean CR to keep the government funded or the appropriations bills that could fund it.

So, you know, I mean it's a discussion. But those issues are non- starters for me and I think every single Democrat and we're not going to support them just because the Freedom Caucus is going to shut down the government if we don't. So we'll see how all that plays out in the next couple of months.


SIDNER: And we will certainly be watching. I do want to talk about someone else who is blocking things, Tommy Tuberville, 300 military promotions building those up. He's a single senator doing this. His battle is over another issue women's reproductive rights and whether the Pentagon is going to end up paying for.