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Appeals Court Rules Trump Doesn't Have Presidential Immunity From Civil Lawsuit Over Jan. 6 Capitol Riot; George Santos Expelled From Congress; Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor Has Died. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired December 01, 2023 - 11:30   ET



PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It does not mean that he is liable for his actions on January 6. What this means is that Capitol police officers, members of Congress, and others who have tried to sue Trump related to January 6, they will get their day in court. They will get the opportunity to litigate their claims.

Now, the former president has tried to argue that these suits cannot be brought. They say that -- they're arguing that the actions he took that day, those were all part of his official duties as president. And federal officials from the president on down enjoy immunity from civil suits.

But here the court do align around his actions that day saying these were not things that you did in your official capacity. These were more like campaign activities, and therefore he does not enjoy immunity from civil suits. But the bigger question, Kate, going forward is how this could impact the criminal cases that he is facing. Of course, next March, he will go to trial here in Washington, DC for his efforts around election subversion and January 6. And it is expected that some of the same questions will arise in this case.

Now, again, this case had to do with civil suits there. That would be the question of whether he has any sort of immunity from criminal prosecution. But if this decision is any indication, that is not likely going to be a successful argument for him.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Elie, what do you think this means? What --- how significant is this?

ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, two things, Kate, both of them very important. First of all, on most direct level, this means that the lawsuits against Donald Trump -- the civil lawsuits against Donald Trump relating to January 6 brought by Capitol police officers, those lawsuits can continue. They can go on. As Paula said correctly, it doesn't mean Donald Trump loses those lawsuits, but it means those lawsuits can happen.

Secondly, and I think more importantly, this gives us an important preview into what might happen in criminal cases because Donald Trump already has argued that he should be given what we call criminal immunity. Now, the courts are going to have to answer two questions there. Number one, is there even such a thing as criminal immunity? We don't know the answer to that. The Supreme Court has said we don't know the answer to that.

But even if the courts say yes, there can be such thing as criminal immunity for a federal public official acting within his job, was Donald Trump's conduct within the scope of his job as president? And here we see the Court of Appeals saying no. What he did was not within the scope of his job as president, therefore, he can be sued. And we'll see if the courts as it works its way through the federal courts make a similar determination that no, his conduct was not within his job as president and therefore he can be indicted and criminally prosecuted. Remains to be seen but this is an important indicator.

BOLDUAN: So, if and when this now would then go to the Supreme Court, Elie, what is the question that this then centers on?


BOLDUAN: What does this mean, even beyond Donald Trump, what it means for the presidency?

HONIG: So, I think both of these cases, the civil case that was just decided, and the pending criminal claim are very likely to end up at the Supreme Court because these go to core constitutional issues, which are largely unresolved. So, on the civil case, Donald Trump surely is going to ask the Donald -- the Supreme Court to take the case. He's going to argue, yes, I was within the scope of what I was doing as president, therefore, I should be immune. We'll see if the Supreme Court takes that.

On the criminal case. I think it -- right now, we're at the district court level -- the trial court level. We don't even have a ruling yet from the trial court judge. Then, it will come up to this same court that just ruled today.

And then I think it's very likely to get up to the Supreme Court, where the Supreme Court will have to decide one, is there such thing as criminal immunity for a federal official? And two, if so, does Donald Trump fall within that? So, enormous consequences here.

BOLDUAN: Yes, absolutely enormous. And we're going to learn more about kind of the fallout and where this goes from here as you very clearly laid out. Thank you so much, Elie. Paula, thank you so much for bringing us this reporting. Sara.

SARA SIDNER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We want to go back to what happened with a historical move. George Santos, a Republican from New York. Congressman is now no longer a congressman. He was voted out by 311 members of Congress.

They only needed 290 to kick him out. He has been expelled. Only the sixth person ever in Congress in U.S. history to be expelled.

For more reaction from Capitol Hill, I'm joined by Pennsylvania Congresswoman and a ranking member of the House Ethics Committee, Susan Wild. Thank you so much for joining us. REP. SUSAN WILD (D-PA): Thank you.

SIDNER: Republican leadership has said it is worried about precedent here. But you saw that enough Republicans banded together and decided to expel Santos. He has not been convicted in a court of law, but he has been kicked out because of that ethics committee report.

What was your initial reaction when you saw this vote? And did you think that there was a possibility he may have stayed from what you were hearing?

WILD: Well, thanks for the questions. Thanks for covering this. I was very relieved to see that more than two-thirds of the members of Congress, any substantial number of Republicans obviously read the very comprehensive ethics report and saw the hard work that went into it and all of the evidence and saw fit to vote in favor of expulsion, despite recommendations to the contrary from their leadership.


That, to me, is a sign of integrity returning to the United States Congress, which is something that we absolutely need to see. The American public needs to see that they can trust Congress and that there is Ethics in government. And that is really what this report and the work that went into it was all about. And I am very, very grateful that the expulsion resolution passed.

SIDNER: You are the ranking member, a Democrat, that is on this committee. But the Ethics Committee is a bipartisan committee. When you look at what has happened here, what do you think this says about the Republican leadership that they came together and several of them, including the Speaker of the House made the unprecedented move to decide to vote and vote to keep George Santos in place? The others coming forward saying they were going to do the same, and yet their rank and file decided against it. What does that say about the leadership to you?

WILD: Well, you know, let me just address the fact that the Ethics Committee is in fact, not only bipartisan, but that the staff is nonpartisan. So, the staff that put together the report is a nonpartisan staff. But the members of Congress who served on the ethics committee are equally represented among Democrats and Republicans.

The report was voted out of committee unanimously. Meaning that it was a bipartisan unanimous vote. And so, I was disappointed this morning when I started to hear the rumblings that Republican leadership was encouraging its members to vote against this expulsion.

To me, that was an indication that they weren't placing faith in their own Republican members who sit on the ethics committee, which I think is very unfortunate. It's not generally thought of as a sought-after Committee, and the fact that they serve on it is indeed a service to the American people. And I really was, frankly, kind of shocked by that. But obviously, rank and file members, as you say, saw fit to act on in -- on their own. And I think that's a really important thing to say about them.

And it also is an indication to me that members really took the time to read this comprehensive report. I have to give a huge shout-out to the ethics staff that has just labored over this for nine months. And remember, there were calls from people in the media, from other members, that they weren't acting quickly enough. And yet, on the other side, we heard from Mr. Santos's team that they didn't feel like he had been given due process.

He was clearly given due process. They worked around the clock in order to make this report fair and complete. And so, that's obviously been reflected in this vote today.

SIDNER: I do want to ask you about Bob Menendez because his name has come up over and over again. He is a fellow Democrat, although he is in a different House. He is in the Senate.

His name has been brought up because he is facing a very serious investigation and has been charged in this investigation. Do you see parallels there? Should he be looked at in your mind as someone who needs to be removed from office?

WILD: Quite honestly, I have no interaction with the Senate Ethics Committee. I -- they may or may not be acting upon Senator Menendez as a matter at the present time. Ethics committees operate under a cloak of complete confidentiality. So, I'm not surprised that I don't know what's going on. I -- but I hope that they, you know, follow the same kind of rigorous process that we followed here.

People need to be satisfied that it was careful consideration that was given that we didn't take this lightly. Certainly, expelling a member is not a small matter. And when you're talking about Senator Menendez, it's a Senator who has served for many, many years. So, I leave it up to the Senate Ethics Committee to make that determination and to that body.

But I also want to stress that serving in Congress, whether it's a representative or a senator is a privilege. It is not a right. And that is -- and it is essential that we maintain good government and good ethics in government. So, I think both chambers of this body need to make sure that that happens.

SIDNER: Congresswoman Susan Wild, thank you so much for coming on. I know there's been a lot going on today. But again, just reiterating, you're looking at pictures next to you of George Santos leaving even before the gavel came down to officially expel him because he saw the numbers, as we all did, that he was going to be expelled by more than a two-thirds margin. I appreciate your time, Congresswoman. John.

WILD: Thank you so much.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. So, what happens to the seat now? What happens to House Speaker Mike Johnson who tried to save George Santos at the end? Who were the winners and losers here? Ahead.


BERMAN: George Santos is out. No longer a member of the U.S. Congress. Voted out moments ago. And we've gotten new information about what might have swayed some members who were on the fence at the very last minute. Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill with that. Manu.

MANU RAJU, CNN ANCHOR & CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. Congressman Max Miller who was a freshman Republican from Ohio informed his colleagues that George Santos -- he accused George Santos of essentially costing him -- stealing money from him and costing him $30,000. The allegation that Miller makes is that George Santos's campaign said he overcharged him and his mother during their campaign donations that they made.


There were certain limits that they made, but they continued to charge him more and more money on their credit card. And Max Miller told me it cost him $30,000. And -- for legal fees and the like to try to recoup that money that he said was fraudulently stolen from him by George Santos in his campaign.

And let's remember that essentially what the Ethics Committee has is accusing George Santos of, stealing donors' money and using it for his own personal benefit. That is something that George Santos himself has denied the larger allegation that a specific allegation that Miller may have made. I -- we asked his office. They have not responded to questions about that.

Also, George Santos himself won't answer any questions. He walked off this chamber. But an interesting development here as he tried to sway his colleagues, Max Miller did, about this allegation of costing him money from George Santos's actions, guys.

SIDNER: Now, that is really messed up to do that to a current member of Congress, who you're going to be working with. Back with us now is Doug Heye, Republican strategist and former RNC communications director. Also joining us is SE Cupp, CNN political commentator and columnist for New York Daily News. Thank you to you both. It has been a rock and roll and quite an exciting time.


SIDNER: But also, a very historic time. This is the first time that we have seen a Republican being expelled from the House. Not convicted but expelled for ethics violations. The numbers were not close. 311. That is more than a supermajority. Why do you think that is, even after the leadership of the Republican Party, Doug, came out and said, we are voting to keep him in place, we are not going to accept him?

HEYE: Well, I'd actually would argue that it -- that it is pretty close considering what we've seen historically. The last time we expelled a member, the vote was 420 to one. The one was Gary Condit, who some may remember from scandals when he was a member of Congress. And the speaker, Danny Hastert, not only didn't vote, but the speaker so rarely votes that they're not listed as a non-vote when you look at the roll call vote.

So, what we saw was Speaker Johnson, and then the other members of the Republican leadership minus Richard Hudson from North Carolina who voted for the expulsion was they didn't whip the vote. They said this is a vote of your conscience. But we think this is not a good idea and we think that this is precedent-setting.

So, it won in what would otherwise be described as a lopsided vote, but this was a lot closer than the last time because he wasn't convicted of a crime yet.

SIDNER: Right.

HEYE: And because of the -- certainly, the argument of precedent being set.

BOLDUAN: SE, I don't want -- I don't want to get lost in what Manu was just reporting about Max Miller and what David Joyce told you when you were speaking to him that he believed that that e-mail from Max Miller to colleagues just before they voted may have -- may have actually swayed some who, as we well know, had been on the fence.


BOLDUAN: I mean, the fact that a member of Congress says that they had a -- they personally were stolen from --

CUPP: Right.

BOLDUAN: By the -- by the -- by George Santos.

CUPP: Right.

BOLDUAN: I mean it's -- it really is something.

CUPP: I think it's interesting -- certainly interesting to us as we cover it, but I think it's worse to defraud your own constituents. And that should have been enough. I hope this breaks precedent. I want more expulsions in Congress. I don't say that flippantly, but the bar should not be you've been found guilty of a crime.

We all have ethical standards. We have to meet at our workplaces. We're not allowed to embarrass our employers. Congress should be allowed to say in this voting mechanism way that you are an embarrassment to us.

And he was -- I mean, the textbook definition of an embarrassment. He's a fraud. He's a clown. He's a liar. So, it -- this precedent should change.

And we should hold Congress to the same standards we hold everyone else. You can't lie. You can't commit ethics violations. You can't steal. This should not have been this hard.

BERMAN: And I wasn't mistaken because you guys confirmed. He drove off at a jaguar. HEYE: Yes.

CUPP: Yes.

BERMAN: Right? He walked out of the U.S. Congress having been removed down the steps gotten into the Jaguar and then --

BOLDUAN: Do you have an issue with foreign cars?

BOLDUAN: No, I just -- as you know, it just was not what I --

CUPP: I want to know who's was it. Who's Jaguar, was it? I want to know.

BOLDUAN: Do you pronounce a Jaguar or Jaguar?

BERMAN: SE, who are the -- who are the winners here?

CUPP: The constituents of George Santos is New York District. Hopefully -- look, they voted him in, but they didn't know everything at the time.


CUPP: And hopefully, you know, they've reconsidered him knowing everything that they know. But Congress doesn't need to wait for voters, either. Congress can say yes, anyone can get elected.

You elected him in, that's great. We have standards. If you want to be in our club, you got to follow the rules.

And so, I think -- I think democracy wins. I think ethics standards and integrity win. But ultimately, it's the people of his district who can benefit from someone who is not distracted by all of these violations and indictments.


And I would say the same of Senator Bob Menendez in New Jersey. Like, what a distraction in the Senate and for the people of New Jersey to have to deal with that. And for these guys to think that they are best serving their constituents by staying and remaining defiant and allowing all of this to swirl around them. It's gross.

BOLDUAN: And now, New York's Governor getting ready to set a special --

CUPP: Yes.

BOLDUAN: A date for a special election to see what happens with this seat in the near and long term.

CUPP: Right.

HEYE: And on the ground, New Jersey -- or excuse me, New York Democrats are very nervous about this special election. They feel the issues are turning against them, and Santos will be in the ash heap of history in the rearview mirror.

BOLDUAN: Doug Heye, SE Cupp, thanks, guys.

SIDNER: When we come back, more on our other breaking news, and there has been plenty this morning. The passing of former longtime Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. We're back in just a bit.



SIDNER: Now, to our other breaking news this morning. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor has died. She was a trailblazer. The first woman to sit on the highest court of the land.

The court announced that she passed due to complications related to advanced dementia. President Ronald Reagan nominated O'Connor to the bench back in 1981, where she went on to become a deciding vote in many crucial and controversial cases. She stepped down from the High Court in 2006 to take care of her husband, John, who himself was ailing from Alzheimer's.

Her work continued though. Even after leaving the court and before her own diagnosis, became an advocate for Alzheimer's disease, and launched a website dedicated to encouraging young people to learn civics as well. Sandra Day O'Connor, a trailblazer, a first, was 93 years old.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much for joining us today. This is CNN NEWS CENTRAL. "INSIDE POLITICS" is up next.