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Biden Campaign Vowing to Continue; Supreme Court Grants Immunity For Official Presidential Acts. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired July 01, 2024 - 13:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: A critical ruling on presidential immunity by the Supreme Court, a majority finding presidents are immune from prosecution in some cases, while a dissenting justice finds the court is breaking -- quote -- "new and dangerous ground." How this impacts the cases against former President Trump.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: And not going anywhere, a defiant message from the Biden family after last week's debate on CNN, as the president's wife vows that Joe Biden's campaign for president will go on.

That will not silence his critics and his own party who want another name at the top of the ticket.

We are following these major stories and more all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

KEILAR: We begin with breaking news and a monumental decision from the Supreme Court on Donald Trump's claim of presidential immunity.

Today, the justices ruled the former president is entitled to some immunity from criminal prosecution, sending the question back to a lower court. The decision was 6-3, with the court's liberal justices dissenting as a bloc.

And in the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote this -- quote -- "The nature of presidential power requires that a former president have some immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts during his tenure in office."

But he also added this: "The president enjoys no immunity for his unofficial acts and not everything the president does is official."

Justice Sonia Sotomayor did not hold back in her dissent. She wrote in part: "Under the majority's reasoning, Trump now will be insulated from criminal prosecution in every use of official power. The president is now the king -- now a king above the law."

Today's decision will have significant implications for Trump's legal and also his political future. And it all but assures that the January 6 federal case against him will not go to trial before the election.

Let's turn now to CNN's chief legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid, who's live for us outside the Supreme Court.

Walk us through this ruling, Paula.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, the court ruling that former presidents do have some immunity from criminal prosecution and then laying out a test.

For example, they say that if a president's exercising his powers related to core constitutional authorities, immunity is absolute. They then go on to say other official actions are at least entitled to a presumption of immunity, but there is no protection for unofficial acts.

And then they kick it back down in this case to Judge Tanya Chutkan, the district court judge who's overseeing this case, to suss out which parts of this indictment would count as unofficial or official acts.

Now, in speaking with sources familiar with the Trump legal team's thinking, they're viewing this as -- quote -- "a major victory" because not only do they believe they will successfully be able to argue that certain aspects of this indictment were official acts. They believe that what is -- whatever is left of it, the unofficial acts, the prosecutors need at least some evidence related to official acts that also will get tossed out, they believe, under this opinion.

So it's unclear exactly if that's the way it's going to go. But that's their initial analysis. And what we know that -- is Trump's lawyers will be very busy here, and it seems unlikely, if not impossible, that whatever is left of this case could go forward before the November election.

KEILAR: What does this mean, Paula, for Trump's other cases?

REID: Well, in speaking with sources, we can expect that they're going to use this opinion in the other cases he is facing, for example, the other Jack Smith case related to the alleged mishandling of classified documents down at Mar-a-Lago.

They will likely try to argue that the reason Trump had these documents, right, that was part of his official duties as president. They will also use this opinion to try to undermine that case. Unclear how successful they will be.

Also, in New York, where there's already a guilty verdict, they will use this opinion appeal to try to challenge certain evidence that was introduced, specifically portions of Hope Hicks' testimony, as well as tweets that were entered in to eventually result in that guilty verdict.

Unclear how they will use it in Georgia, but lots of opportunities. It's actually a different legal team that's analyzing that state case. So we can absolutely expect that this opinion will keep Trump's lawyers very busy this summer.

[13:05:10] KEILAR: All right, Paula Reid, live for us outside the Supreme Court, where a lot of work, including some yard work, is under way. We do appreciate it. Thank you.

For more on this now, we're joined by constitutional law professor at Princeton University Deborah Pearlstein.

Professor, first, your reaction to this ruling?

DEBORAH PEARLSTEIN, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: I think I'd have to say it's stunning, stunning not so much for the particular ruling as it relates to former President Trump, but for the breadth of power it recognizes in the executive and all presidents going forward.

It certainly has consequences, as the reporter was just mentioning, we can talk about, for this case. At a minimum, it is going to make it take quite a bit longer. It's unclear how it eventually comes out on some of the key allegations against the president, the former president.

But it is clear that the court thinks, well beyond what it needed to decide to decide this case, that presidents can tell the Department of Justice what to do, and that decisions or actions by the presidents advising the Department of Justice on prosecutions to bring or not to bring are absolutely immune from suit.

So, concerns about the weaponization of the Department of Justice by a future president, for example, those just got a lot bigger.

KEILAR: It seems like you're concerned this may give Trump a road map for how he could use the DOJ for some of his already clearly stated purposes if he does win reelection. Would that be fair to say?

PEARLSTEIN: I think it's absolutely fair to say, not just a road map for this trial or this potential trial, which is certainly true, although, again, I think there are a lot of arguments that are going to need to be hashed out in this case.

But as we think about the power of the presidency going forward, the language that this court uses about the sweeping and unrivaled powers of the presidency and how much power it puts in the category of absolute presidential authority, authority that is completely immune from criminal prosecution

So, not just things like the pardon power, which we might have imagined goes in that bucket, but things like the president's power to engage in investigation and prosecution and the president's power to remove officials, despite there being legislation that says there are removal restrictions on your ability to fire people who work in the executive branch.

Those things are now called into question. Those limits on presidential power are now called into question in a way they have just never been before.

KEILAR: It seemed, on the flip side, when you listen to or read some of what Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, that there was a concern about an unforeseen side effect if the court went too far on this the other way of stymying the executive branch, but also that, if they did that, it would be a situation where, say, in the case of Trump, should he win reelection, that he could actually use power to prosecute his predecessor, who, of course, would be Joe Biden.

I mean, what did you think about that point that was made in the majority opinion?

PEARLSTEIN: Yes, absolutely.

So, instead of relying in the majority opinion on, say, the text of the Constitution or even constitutional history and tradition, which are not the bases of the majority's decision, here, the court's primary concern really seems to be what they call the cannibalization of the presidency, that every president, every former president will face prosecution by their political rivals.

And in raising that concern, the majority of the court rejects all of the safeguards that exist in our criminal justice system, from grand juries, and petit juries, and due process, and the professional prosecutorial status of prosecutors in the Department of Justice and their ethical obligations.

It discounts all of those existing checks as insufficient to prevent future Justice Departments from bringing politicized prosecutions. That's a stunning position for this court to take. It's a stunning position for any court to take, given that those checks have been the basis of our explanation of the legitimacy of the criminal justice system in the United States since its founding.

KEILAR: Yes, but just real quickly, before I let you go, do you see the possibility of in a second Trump term that those checks could be in question?

PEARLSTEIN: I think that's exactly what we should worry about coming out of this decision.

So the checks that hold a president in power, that preserve some relative independence for the Department of Justice to pursue prosecutions free from criminal influence, this makes it a lot harder, this decision, for the Justice Department to preserve that independence going forward.


KEILAR: Professor, great to have your insights. Thank you so much for being with us.

PEARLSTEIN: Thank you.


BROWN: Thanks, Brianna.

The former president is celebrating the Supreme Court's decision, calling it a big win for our Constitution and democracy.

CNN's Kristen Holmes joins us now.

So, Kristen, we should be clear here that this opinion out from the Supreme Court, it does not actually side with Trump's initial argument from his lawyers, right, that former president has blanket immunity.


BROWN: But as it pertains to whether Trump will go to trial before the election, they view this as a win.

HOLMES: Yes, this is why they're celebrating, right? They asked for blanket immunity, and even they thought going into this that they were never going to get blanket immunity.

And the fact that they're even getting this for official acts versus unofficial acts is a celebration for them. And a lot of it is political, because what they had thought is that within all of the cases and issues that Trump is legally currently facing, they thought the only case that could possibly go to trial before November still was the January 6 case and Judge Chutkan.

Judge Chutkan has been moving very quickly. She has said she wants to get this case out there. Now they don't feel like that is possible. They believe that, regardless of what happens, there's going to have to be a number of different forms of litigation. It's going to be tossed around.

Chutkan is going to have to go through and decide what are official acts, what are unofficial acts. There's obviously going to be back- and-forth over that. This is going to prolong the process past that November election.

And just a reminder of why they want this to be pushed past the November election. The hope here is that Donald Trump wins, and then, once he's in the White House, he can get rid of both of the federal lawsuits. But this is part of the reason why they are viewing this as such a win right now, because it means he doesn't have to deal with these legal issues anymore ahead of that election.

BROWN: When you're talking to your sources, if he were to win reelection, and these were going on, he would, right? I mean, is there any question of what he would do?

HOLMES: There is absolutely no question in my mind, particularly given what they have said to me time and time again, that all of this is about delaying it past the election.

Remember, in certain cases like Georgia or New York -- obviously, New York actually went to trial, but Georgia, for example -- they don't think it's possible that you could bring a sitting president to trial, that there would be so many problems with that. It's unprecedented, the hoops that would have to happen, that everyone would have to go through to get that to happen. But you're looking at the federal cases. That, Donald Trump himself,

could dismiss, and that is what we were told by sources was part of this delay process.

BROWN: All right, Kristen Holmes, as always, thank you so much. Great to see you.

I want to go now to former Trump attorney Mike -- Michael van der Veen.

The Biden campaign -- I want to ask you this -- is just coming out with this news reacting to what the Supreme Court handed down, and basically says the Supreme Court immunity decision hands Trump -- quote -- "the keys to a dictatorship."

What do you say to that?

MICHAEL VAN DER VEEN, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: I think that's a great exaggeration.

I think that today's decision from the Supreme Court is a victory for the Constitution, and I think it's a victory for the idea of a separation of powers. The court didn't give any president absolute immunity, other than for pure official acts that are found in the seven powers of the president.

What's interesting is that there is a gray area where there's a presumptive immunity, and it's quite clear from the Supreme Court's decision that nonofficial acts enjoy no immunity of any kind. So, I think it was really a decision that a purist for the Constitution would say was a good decision.

BROWN: Let me just follow up on that, because in reading through the opinion from Chief John Roberts, he actually takes on some of the allegations and the indictment.

On a couple of points, he concedes, -- sends it down to the lower court, but concedes that there's not always a clear line of official and unofficial duties, right? You have to look at the circumstances potentially in some of these cases.

So, do you see that potentially being problematic looking down the line, not just in this situation with Trump, but in future presidents, not being able to delineate between official and unofficial clearly?

VAN DER VEEN: I really don't.

Every criminal case in our courts, whether state or federal, are based on facts. They're fact-intensive. Judges have to decide the law. Juries have to decide the facts. What's interesting about this decision, though, is, it really protects President Biden. President Biden, when he is no longer the president, whenever that is, won't really be able to be prosecuted for anything that he's doing in office that's an official act.

And so it gives him level of protection in this decision today that I don't think folks are really contemplating yet, because there was a big fear that, if Trump were to win and the president was out of -- and President Biden was out of office, that there would be prosecutions of him and people with him.

And the protections afforded are also afforded to President Biden. Interesting.


BROWN: I want to go to the dissent from Justice Sotomayor.

Again, we should note this is not the law of the land, but this is a very strong dissent from Justice Sotomayor, where she says essentially this ruling today would allow a sitting president to order SEAL Team Six to assassinate a political rival.

Is that true?

VAN DER VEEN: Well, she thinks it's true.

And when I read the dissent, I actually think the dissent is pretty well-reasoned, and it's the kind of dissent that we want from our justices to look at really what the practical implications of a decision are. And she gives up three examples where there'd be immunity, and she ends with immunity, immunity, immunity, immune, immune, immune.

And it's interesting, because the dissent is strong, but it doesn't really hit the arguments, which were the underpinnings of the majority's opinion. It is along political lines, the decision, the three and the six. But I really think that it was a nonpolitical decision based on a strict interpretation of the Constitution.

BROWN: Michael van der Veen, wish we had more time. Thank you so much.

And ahead this hour on CNN NEWS CENTRAL: First lady Jill Biden says -- quote -- "We will continue to fight" after the president's shaky debate performance. New details on the advice he is getting from his family.

Plus, former Trump aide Steve Bannon is now in prison, but, before he turned himself in, he had a parting message. What he had to say.

And Hurricane Beryl making landfall as a life-threatening Category 4 storm. Where it's heading.

We will be back.



KEILAR: In the wake of President Biden's halting debate performance, his campaign is scrambling to mute the avalanche of calls for a replacement nominee. And while some donors remain on edge, a number of Democratic

operatives are already making a list of alternative candidates. In the meantime, "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution"'s ed board is joining "The New York Times" now in calling for Biden to get out of the race.

But the Biden family, who huddled over the weekend at Camp David, is really digging in, encouraging him to press on. And speaking to "Vogue" magazine, first lady Jill Biden says -- quote -- "They will not let those 90 minutes define the four years he's been president. We will continue to fight."

So let's get more now from CNN's senior White House correspondent M.J. Lee.

M.J., Biden campaign aides are vehemently dismissing the possibility that he will drop out. Of course, we don't really have that temperature check of polls to see where the American electorate is on a Biden candidacy. What are you learning today?

M.J. LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, that's absolutely right. The campaign for now is digging in.

White House officials, senior campaign aides, they're all saying that there is no world where they are currently contemplating the idea of President Biden dropping out of the 2024 race, really emphasizing that he is staying in and also the family making clear that they are fully behind the president as he runs, continues to run for reelection as well.

But it is really hard to overstate the widespread and deep panic within the Democratic Party. Biden aides, of course, they have been fielding phone calls and messages all weekend long from surrogates and donors and others within the party that were very concerned about the president's debate performance.

And I think a really important space to watch going forward, Brianna, is going to be the downballot races. I spoke with one Democratic lawmaker, who said Congress is the firewall for the Democratic Party. And what they are doing right now, Democratic lawmakers, is really waiting on research, waiting on polls, any data that could come in, in the coming days that might show that not only is the president going to lose the presidency, but he is going to lose the House.

This Democratic lawmaker was essentially making the point that if such data were to come in, then the dam could break loose and lawmakers who so far have been publicly behind the president could change their tune and say that it's time for somebody else to step in.

But the campaign for now is doing their best to try to spin the debate as much as possible. They released a new campaign ad, the first one since the debate, basically highlighting what they said were the lies that Donald Trump spewed during those 90 minutes. Take a look.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know I'm not a young man, but I know how to do this job. I know right from wrong. I know how to tell the truth. I know, like millions of Americans know, when you get knocked down, you get back up.


LEE: It really speaks volumes up, Brianna, that this ad pulls from Donald Trump and what he said during the debate, but only pulls from the president and his appearance at a rally the day after the debate and not from anything that he said during the debate.

KEILAR: Yes, certainly.

Is there any reaction, M.J., from the White House or from the campaign when it comes to the Supreme Court ruling on presidential immunity?

LEE: Yes, I mean, they're certainly seizing the news cycle to make the points that they already had been about January 6 and the issue of democracy overall, saying that this all goes to show -- and their message hasn't changed on this -- that January 6 was one, an event, where Donald Trump played a terrible role for the country and that all of this just is a reminder of the threat that Donald Trump represents.

This is what one senior adviser to the president said in a statement. They said: "Today's ruling doesn't change the fact, so let's be very clear about what happened on January 6. Donald Trump snapped after he lost the 2020 election and encouraged a mob to overthrow the results of a free and fair election."

They also said Trump is already running for president as a convicted felon for the very same reason. "He sat idly by while the mob violently attacked the Capitol. He thinks he's above the law and is willing to do anything to gain and hold on to power for himself."


Just goes on to say that Trump is worse than before, more unhinged, commenting on what he said recently about being a dictator on day one. So, basically, they're trying to make the point that, regardless of the Supreme Court ruling today, their message on this point at least is going to remain the same -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, M.J. Lee, thank you for that report -- Pam.

BROWN: Thanks, Brianna.

So for more on where the Biden campaign and the Democratic Party go next, let's discuss with Alex Thompson, national political correspondent for Axios.

Alex, hi.

So, you have reporting about top aides in the White House for Biden shielding President Biden from staff, but couldn't hide at the debate. Have Americans been duped about President Biden's fitness for office, based on his aides keeping him in a bubble? ALEX THOMPSON, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, AXIOS: Well, I can

tell you that I think a lot of Americans, including Democrats and the Democratic Party, lawmakers that have actually spent time with Joe Biden, have felt duped, have felt gaslit.

And part of the reason that I wrote this piece is because that anger, that frustration also includes people in the White House as well. The fact of the matter is that really only about 20 people regularly interact with Joe Biden on a day-to-day basis in sort of an intimate way.

A lot of the other aides, even one's just one or two clicks outside that inner circle, they will only see him every once in a while. And they have noticed little gaffes or you can call them brain farts, but they were always in ways that you could sort of rationalize them as, well, anyone could say that. And he's always been a bit loose.

So the fact is that aides in the White House were just as shocked as many other Democrats on the Hill at what they were seeing. And there was real anger, and there was sadness, because they felt like this would maybe hurt them in the election. There was, like, anger.

They felt that they had not been told the truth by their bosses. And a lot of them still feel like they are not getting clear answers as to what happened in that debate. And was this the first time that Joe Biden acts like that, that blank-face stare, the mouth agape, not being able to put sentences together?

There was this feeling that there is no way that this was the first time this happened, and there's a feeling that it's not going to be the last time it happened. So there is not just discord within the Democratic Party writ large. There's also discord within the White House, within the Biden campaign as well.

BROWN: And you're seeing the public perception of all of this playing out in the polls. There's this new CBS poll taken after the debate, and it asked the question, should Biden be the nominee?

Among Democratic registered voters, 55 percent said he should stay in the race, but 45 percent said he should step aside. And then you look at, does Biden have a mental and cognitive health to service president? In June 9 of this year, 65 percent said he did not. That's of registered voters; 72 percent now say that he does not.

And so I think that really goes to the question, right, is, how much is -- President Biden and his aides, how much are they paying attention to these polls?

I mean, are these numbers good enough for a race this close, where turnout will be so critical.

THOMPSON: I mean, it is still possible -- I want to be clear that it's still possible that Joe Biden can win this race, because there are tens of millions of people in this country that would vote for Joe Biden at 110 over Donald Trump. That is sort of the Trump polarization effect. And I feel -- still

think it is possible to win. The bigger question is whether or not he can serve adequately in the job he is running for two years from now, three years from now, four years from now.

But to your point about the polls specifically, it's going to be really critical to see how people respond once we get more polling. The CBS poll was really only what we have so far. There are polling -- polls in the field right now. We will see if we get any before the July 4 weekend.

We will almost certainly get some in the week after. Donors are looking at them very closely. Democratic lawmakers are looking at them very closely. And there could be sort of like a run-on-the-bank effect if it shows a real collapse of his support. But we don't know.

BROWN: Let me quickly ask you about his family telling him to stay in the fight. You have first lady Jill Biden telling "Vogue" magazine the family will not let those 90 minutes to find the four years he's been president and maintained: "We will continue to fight."

But how much is a family stance about Biden's legacy and remaining time in office versus the four years in office, if he were reelected? To remind everyone, if he were reelected, at the end of those four years, he would be 86.

THOMPSON: I mean, it's such an interesting question.

The Biden campaign, Biden political life, has always been a family affair. And they are now in their bunker and they are trying to rally. They sometimes feel at their strongest when they are under pressure like this. They sort of unite and link together.

The problem is that, to your point, there are some serious concerns from longtime Biden allies, Biden confidants that staying in this race could tarnish what is otherwise a pretty incredible, improbable, in some ways, legacy of political life.