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Supreme Court: Presidents Have Immunity For "Official Acts"; Biden Family Urges President Joe Biden To Stay In The Race; House Judiciary Sues Merrick Garland For Joe Biden Audio Tapes. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired July 01, 2024 - 14:00   ET




PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: A ruling on immunity the conservative majority on the Supreme Court says president should be shielded from prosecution in some cases. The minority says those justices are turning the president into a king. We're going to look at what it all means for the legal cases against the president.

And the new opinion highlights the stakes for November's election as President Biden weighs whether to stay on the ticket after last week's debate. His wife insists he is in it to win it, other Democrats are not sold and maybe looking at their options.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: And the major deal for Boeing as the company tries to fix its safety issues while a lawyer says the government is letting Boeing off the hook with a sweetheart plea deal. We're following these major developing stories and many more all coming in right here to CNN NEWS CENTRAL.

Hello, I'm Brianna Keilar alongside Pamela Brown today.

BROWN: Good to be back.

KEILAR: Great to have you. And we're following breaking news, a major decision from the Supreme Court that is likely to impact former President Trump's legal and political future and reshape the limits of presidential power moving forward.

Today, the justices ruling the former president is entitled to some immunity from criminal prosecution for official acts. And that sends the question back to a lower court.

BROWN: The court ruled 6-3 with the liberal justices dissenting and the majority opinion Chief Justice John Roberts rejected Trump's claim of absolute immunity. Saying not everything the president does is official.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor did not hold back in her dissent, writing in part, the President of the United States is the most powerful person in the country, and possibly the world. When he uses his official powers in any way under the majority's reasoning, he now will be insulated from criminal prosecution.

Orders the Navy SEAL Team Six to assassinate a political rival, immune. Organizes a military coup to hold on to power, immune. Take a bribe in exchange for a pardon, immune, immune, immune, immune.

KEILAR: Now, today's decision will likely further delay former President Trump's federal trial that has to do with the plot to overturn the 2020 election and we are covering this story from all angles.

Joining us now is CNN's Chief Legal Affairs Correspondent Paula Reid. We also have CNN legal analyst Steve Vladeck with us to walk us through this. Paula, first to you, take us through the court's reasoning here.

PAULA REID, CNN CHIEF LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: So, here the justices say that former presidents have immunity if we're talking about acts connected to a president's core constitutional power. So, these are things at the heart of their job when they are president.

When it comes to other official acts, there's also the presumption of immunity, but they're saying there is no immunity for unofficial acts.

Now, they did not delve into what exactly that translates to when it comes to the Trump case. That is a job that will now fall to the district court judge, Judge Tanya Chutkan.

But sussing out what's what in the Trump case after this opinion will take some time. And this opinion makes it unlikely if not impossible that this case could go to trial before November.

Now, a source familiar with the Trump legal team thinking tells me they view this as a major victory because they believe not only will this opinion allow them to get some of the charges here tossed. But they will also be able to get some of the key evidence in this case tossed, evidence that they believe Jack Smith would have to have in order to prove whatever remains of his case.

BROWN: So, Steve, I want to bring you in here because this was kicked down to the lower courts to sort out unofficial versus official acts. But how clear will that make it, given all the different circumstances that can arise blurring the lines between the two, not just in this case with Donald Trump but in potential future cases?

STEVE VLADECK, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, Pamela, that's the right question and I think Paula really hit on something really important when she talked about the evidence. One thing that Chief Justice John Roberts opinion does that have surprised a lot of us is say that if the evidence that's trying to be admitted is itself related to immunized conduct, that evidence can't be used.

So, you know, with regard to drawing a line going forward, I actually think courts will be able, Pamela, to draw the line between official and unofficial acts.

The problem is, if you're, you know, special counsel Jack Smith, how do you prove that the president actually committed unofficial acts that give rise to criminal liability if you can't use official acts, which the Supreme Court says are immunized as evidence?

That's the real challenge now, it's why I think you know, Paula is right that the Trump team is, you know, calm, it was a huge victory for him. And I think that's the biggest reason why the January 6th prosecution is now in serious trouble.

BROWN: And Paula, I want to bring you in. Looking ahead, you know, what happens in Trump's other cases, you have the classified documents case, which of course was after he was president, but you have this case in Georgia having to do with election subversion. You have the felony, right, the felony conviction in New York, what happens there?


REID: Well, Pamela, and speaking with my sources, we can expect the Trump team will use this opinion to challenge all of those cases.

Let's start with the other federal case, the classified documents case, we can expect that they will use this opinion to challenge that case to arguing that Trump came into possession of his classified materials as part of his official duties as president.

Now, in New York, as you noted, we already have a conviction there that is expected to be appealed. And we can expect the Trump team I'm told will particularly try to challenge key pieces of evidence that they believe were entered in during this trial but are also covered by this opinion, including key portions of Hope Hicks's testimony, and tweets that were entered in. You can also expect they're going to try to use this down in Georgia.

Now, it's unclear, right, the impact that this opinion will have on those other non-January 6th cases. But you know, Trump's lawyers, they will now be very busy throughout the summer and potentially the fall.

KEILAR: Steve, I wanted to ask you about something that Roberts said in his opinion, which was where he made the point that the dissent overlooks basically a situation where, "each successive president is free to prosecute his predecessors, yet unable to boldly and fearlessly carry out his duties for fear that he may be next."

What did you think about that point that Roberts made there?

VLADECK: Yes, Brianna, it's a striking thing to hear from the Chief Justice of the United States that we don't want presidents to be worried that if they break the law, they might face consequences.

And I think what's really striking to me about all of this, is that yes, you have Chief Justice Roberts on one side, you have justices Kagan, Sotomayor, Jasckson on the other. But you also have in the middle Justice Amy Coney Barrett, who is actually quite critical in her concurring opinion of just how far the majority opinion goes. She insists in various places in her concurrence that this case can and should go forward. And I think there's a real tension there. And a real hard question

that the chief justice never answers, which is, if the president's not supposed to be worried about facing criminal liability for his misconduct, and if our political reality is that a president shouldn't really be worried about being impeached and removed from office for criminal misconduct, what is going to stop a president, whether it's this one, the next one, 20 years from now from actually doing something that's in his political interests, but that's in flagrant violation of the law? That is the scary question, that John Roberts opinion today raises and I think has not satisfactorily answered.

KEILAR: And Steve, talk to us a little bit about the optics of a major ruling like this, where you have justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, I think -- I don't want to say the roles of their wives in it. That would probably be more of a statement for Clarence Thomas's wife because she was involved, certainly, in sort of the machinations of trying to put some pressure on people in certain states. We just know that Samuel Alito's wife was flying flags, and there appeared to be some marital acrimony over that. But what do you think about the optics of all that?

VLADECK: Yes, you know, I think the optics of the court just are generally bad here. And just beyond the specifics of Justice Thomas participated in this case of Justice Alito, you know, I think we should step back for a second and say, in general, how bad does it look at that this court at this moment in American history, divided right down its ideological line, 6-3 in this ruling.

If you look at the history of the court, the most celebrated political rulings, whether it's the Watergate tapes case in 1974, Clinton versus Jones in 1997, Brown versus Board of Education, in 1954, the civil rights movement.

One of the things that all those rulings have in common is that the court spoke with one voice, you had justices from across the ideological spectrum, just as across the political spectrum, joining together to send one message to the American people.

The only message I think the court has sent today is that this issue has divided them into the same partisan camps that they've been in historically. And I think that's really, to me, far more troubling from an optical perspective, even in the participation of, you know, justices whose own behavior could be called into question.

What it reinforces, Brianna, is that I think the court looks back much more political, in a case in which it would have really behoove the court to look like it was above the politics of the moment.

BROWN: All right, Steve Vladeck, Paula Reid, thank you all.

So, for more perspective on all of this, we're joined now by the former Washington D.C. chief of Homeland Security and Intelligence Donell Harvin.

First, as someone who was involved in law enforcement on January 6th, what is your reaction to this ruling from the High Court today? DONELL HARVIN, FORMER WASHINGTON D.C. CHIEF OF HOMELAND SECURITY AND INTELLIGENCE: It's a little disappointing, when you look at the totality of the decision today, and as well as Friday, it paints a picture that A, those that participated on the ground, the boots on the ground on January 6th were being overly prosecuted. And it falls into the narrative that many of the Republicans, including the former president has been spouting that they are political prisoners.


And then when you look at today's decision, you know, we land in a place where we never thought we would be in which Donald Trump can say he didn't do anything wrong on January 6th.

My concern and this has been my concern since January 7th, is that those who are responsible for organizing the attacks behind the scenes, those who are responsible for sending that crowd to the Capitol will not be held accountable. And this kind of puts us a few steps beyond that, as well.

BROWN: And of course, Merrick Garland in relation to what was happening on Friday with that Supreme Court opinion, he made clear that the majority of the January 6th rioters, they will still be prosecuted under different laws and so forth.

You know, but when it comes to this, you have said that a Trump win in November could normalize political violence. How does this decision today add fuel to that fire in your view?

HARVIN: Well, this is the march we've been on since January 6th, right? So, we've had Republican lawmakers falling over themselves telling us that everything we saw on January 6th was not what we saw, right? We went from it was Antifa, and BLM, not Trump supporters, to now their political prisoners, and they're overly prosecuted.

And so, we've been on the steady march of acceptance, a normalization of political violence. Now, it's almost codified, if you -- you know, political violence is perfectly legal if you win.

My concern is that if you believe the polls, Donald Trump may very well be our next president. And if he is, he's made it very clear that not only is he going to exact retribution that people like me and Andrew McCabe who've been speaking out about his actions, but he's also going to free those individuals that attacked the Capitol on January 6th.

And once again, that's the codification, the almost the legalization of political violence. And that's the place that we're in right now that we wouldn't have never thought 3-1/2 years ago we would be in.

BROWN: I want to ask you about, you know, the conservative majority, and with what it argued today in this case, basically saying that by not ruling this way, by not providing immunity for official acts, it could lead to the executive office to essentially cannibalize itself with prosecution. Do you see that point from the conservative majority that, hey, we have to put some guardrails here and some, you know, boundaries with official versus unofficials. Otherwise, you're just going to see perpetual prosecution.

HARVIN: Listen, from everything I've been reading, consuming and watching on air, this is a very complex decision. What I will tell you that the normal American doesn't see it this way. They see this as a victory for Donald Trump. And it sustains the narrative that he has had.

He told us in 2016, we should not take this for granted that he can go on Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any supporters.

Well, now it looks like he can go on Fifth Avenue shoot someone and if it's in an official capacity, not go to jail as well.

BROWN: Today's decision all but assures that the January 6th federal case against him will not go to trial before the November election.

In your view, you know, there's the political perception of this, right, the public perception, but how much of a victory is this for Trump from that standpoint, as well?

HARVIN: Well, you know, this is victory the entire -- the entire time that he's been prosecuted for the acts of January 6th, it's been delay, delay, delay and stall.

And so, while he's -- while he's doing that, he's also getting a lot of support. And this is kind of my area, the Homeland Security support online from a lot of these violent right-wing individuals saying that he is -- he is not only being persecuted, but he's actually the one that's standing up for their rights.

And so, the longer we can he can keep himself away from being prosecuted or even being, you know, pulled in front of a jury for these actions, the more it really substantiates all the claims he and his other report -- his other supporters in the Republican Party have been saying that January 6th was not violent, and that no one should be prosecuted for this.

Once again, follow the tea leaves, political violence is here and it's here to stay if this continues.

BROWN: Donell Harvin, thank you for coming on and offering your perspective.

And just ahead this hour on CNN NEWS CENTRAL, much more reaction on the presidential immunity ruling from the Supreme Court.

Plus, while congressional Democrats are still standing by President Joe Biden publicly after his debate performance, a lawmaker tells CNN, there's at least one thing that would have the party calling for him to step down. We're going to tell you what that is.

And Boeing agrees to a multi-billion dollar plan that it says will make its planes safer.



KEILAR: Members of a frantic Democratic Party are working overtime to calm concerns about President Biden's performance in last week's debate. But while some operatives are quietly compiling a list of alternative candidates to potentially replace him, the Biden family is urging the president to stay in the race.

First Lady Jill Biden told Vogue magazine that President Biden, "will always do what's best for the country." Adding, they will not let those 90 minutes define the four years he's been president. We will continue the fight.

But one Democratic lawmaker warning this if polls show that the debate is going to cost Dems the White House, the dam of support for Biden will break.

Nicholas Kristof is a New York Times opinion columnist, he penned an op-ed shortly after the debate that said President Biden, I've seen enough where he's calling on Biden to withdraw from the race.


Nicholas, thanks so much for being with us. And I just wonder with what you've seen since the debate, we saw that appearance obviously from North Carolina the day after, designed to show strength from President Biden, I wonder if there's anything you've seen that would make you think otherwise that he should not step aside.

NICHOLAS KRISTOF, OPINION COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: So, the North Carolina appearance truly was encouraging, Brianna. I mean, he was vigorous, he was coherent. He was everything that he had not been during the debate.

But, you know, he was with a teleprompter, in front of a very friendly crowd. And you don't want a president -- I don't think you persuade the public that you're likely to win if you, you know, make periodic appearances that are very successful, you need to do them consistently.

And so, you know, I think that helped. But I don't think it has resolved the doubts. I think a lot is probably going to come down to how the opinion polls suggest the impact has been, and they're beginning to come out. But there'll be better ones in the coming days.

And I think if they suggest there was not much impact, then I think it's more likely that President Biden will remain on the ticket. I think if they show that he was badly hit, and that he will hurt the chances of the Senate and House going democratic, I think then, you know, there'll be a broader push as you -- as you just suggested, to remove him from the top of the ticket.

But he's obviously got to decide that himself. Nobody's exactly going to push him out. But they may encourage him.

KEILAR: Yes, I mean, regardless of what the polls show, I wonder what you think the right move is and specifically, a response to what we're hearing from Jill Biden, which is she's saying, not to let those 90 minutes define him.

But I wonder if you think this is a situation where a bad performance like that should define a president. Is this a situation in a unique way where a president should be defined by the worst moment, if that was their worst moment or not?

KRISTOF: So, I'm not sure I would quite say defined. But look, I think it really mattered immensely. And I think it mattered immensely partly because the campaign had been very -- and the White House has been very, very protective of President Biden. They hadn't brought him out for the Super Bowl interview, for interviews with mainstream media organizations. They hadn't subjected him to that kind of grilling, in a way (AUDIO GAP) people that they weren't entirely confident of how he would do.

And so, that debate performance played into this narrative that he is struggling. And I think that is why it has been so devastating.

And, you know, in a way that was not true of Obama in 2012, in his first debate, and, you know, I think this is also something that just resonates with the public. So many of us have had parents and we've had had these difficult conversations about taking away the car keys.

We remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg and you know, she made a -- and I think, you know, a lot of us have had an enormous respect for her as we do for Joe Biden. But she made a gamble and she lost. And as a result, the country lost as well. And we don't want that to happen again.

KEILAR: Do you think President Biden is getting the best advice from those around him?

KRISTOF: Look, I just don't know. I mean, I must say I did find it a little dispiriting when you began to have anonymous people criticizing his aides and trying to blame his aides. I mean, really? I mean, he's the president, he chooses those aides, the idea that they were over prepping him for the debate just seemed insulting not only to them, but also to the president himself.

So, I hope that those people around him and I think his family is obviously particularly influential, particularly Jill. I hope that they are thinking not only about his interests, but about the nation's interest. I hope they're also thinking about what kind of a legacy he would leave, how he would be remembered.

If he did remain on the ticket and did indeed lose to Trump and all the fears that we have of a Trump second presidency came to pass, I hope they're working through that calculus as well.

KEILAR: Nic, which Democrat would be better positioned do you think to take Trump on? And do you think that it's a Hail Mary to switch candidates at this point in time?


KRISTOF: So, I think there are risks of switching a candidate. And, you know, we don't know exactly what will come out, of course.

But I think there are real risks of remaining with a -- with Biden, when, you know, president polls show him probably losing to Donald Trump.

In terms of which candidates, I -- you know, I think there are a bunch of people I really admire who I think would do a fine job. But I think Gretchen Whitmer is particularly well placed partly because Democrats really pretty much have to win Michigan. She's very handily won Michigan twice in her races for governor, I think she would likely do well in some of the surrounding, or nearby states, like Pennsylvania or Wisconsin.

I think her, you know, pragmatic focus, you know, the fix the damn roads, that that probably plays well with centrist voters around the country.

And, you know, we've seen also, Brianna, a real tide of anti- establishment feeling, anti-elitist feeling, not just in the U.S. but also -- I mean, that was the message of the French elections that just came out. That's, I think, you know why the British government is about to get creamed in their elections.

This is really a global forest. And I think somebody, a governor from a place like Michigan is better placed to ride that anti-Washington sentiment than -- you know, than various other people, including the vice president.

KEILAR: Nicholas Kristof, it's great to get your thoughts. Thank you so much for being with us.

KRISTOF: Good to be with you, Brianna.

KEILAR: Pamela?

BROWN: Thanks, Brianna. So, we want to turn now to some new developments on Capitol Hill, the House Judiciary Committee today sued Attorney General Merrick Garland. This is the latest attempt to force him to hand over audio recordings from President Biden's interview with the former special counsel in his classified documents case.

I want to bring in my colleague CNN's Sunlen Serfaty here with more on this. What are the details someone?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, House Republicans, Pamela, are certainly intensifying this battle today moving forward with this suit in D.C. District Court to sue the attorney general.

Now, the attorney general he has refused to release the audio recordings of Biden's interviews with the former Special Counsel Robert Hur, those interviews as you noted relating to his handling of this classified documents case.

Now, the transcripts have been released, House members have those transcripts but they're fighting over specifically the audio recordings and the House Republicans in this suit today, they argue in their filing they say is about nonverbal context around this.

And notably, they note that Hur in his conclusions, he called Biden an elderly man with a poor memory, that's why they are pushing to get the audio of these interviews. And they say in their court filing "Transcripts do not and cannot capture emphasis, inflection, intonation, nuance, pace, pauses, pitch, rhythm, tone and other verbal and nonverbal cues and induce frequencies that convey meaning to a listener."

And they go on in this filing to add a witness communicates even when he or she hesitates, pauses or remain silent and they say that they need insight into the witness's credibility and mental state.

The attorney general has refused to release this (INAUDIBLE), excuse me, executive privilege. The House obviously held him in contempt last month, fight continues over this, Pam.

BROWN: It certainly does. Sunlen Serfaty, thanks for bringing us the latest on that front.

Up next, Donald Trump's campaign is in victory mode after the Supreme Court rules he is entitled to immunity for some of his actions on January 6th.

We're going to talk to a former Trump official who was fired in the waning days of Trump's presidency in part because he told him no.