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Supreme Court: Presidents Have Immunity For "Official Acts"; Supreme Court: Trump Entitled To Some Immunity In Jan. 6 Case; Biden Considering High-Profile Interview To Ease Concerns. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 01, 2024 - 15:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: A contentious Supreme Court term ends with an historic decision. The majority saying former presidents could be immune from prosecution in some cases. While dissenting justices warn this turns the president into a king and puts democracy in jeopardy.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: And not backing down, President Biden's campaign insists that it can survive the aftermath of last week's disastrous debate, but reassuring words from Democratic operatives may not be enough to calm worries that the party needs a new candidate to win the White House.

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

KEILAR: We are following a blockbuster decision by the Supreme Court. Today the justices ruled that Donald Trump is entitled to some level of immunity from criminal prosecution for the actions that he took in the final days of his presidency. The decision was split 6-3 with the court's liberals dissenting.

Chief Justice John Roberts writing the majority opinion saying, quote, "The indictment's allegations that Trump attempted to pressure the Vice President to take particular acts in connection with his role at the certification proceeding thus involve official conduct, and Trump is at least presumptively immune from prosecution for such conduct. The president enjoys no immunity for his unofficial acts, and not everything the President does is official. The President is not above the law." That is the end of the quote there.

Justice Sotomayor writing a scathing dissent on behalf of the court's three liberal justices saying, quote, "Under the majority's reasoning, he now will be insulated from criminal prosecution. Orders the Navy's SEAL Team 6 to assassinate a political rival? Immune. Organizes a military coup to hold on to power? Immune. Takes a bribe in exchange for a pardon? Immune, immune, immune, immune. In every use of official power, the President is now a king above the law."

Today's decision is likely to shape not just Trump's legal and political future but also the presidency itself and it could have huge ramifications when it comes to the election in November. Joining us now is CNN Senior Supreme Court Analyst, Joan Biskupic.

And Joan, we also just got some reaction from the White House.

All right. I think - Joan, can you hear me?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN SENIOR SUPREME COURT ANALYST: Okay. As President - yes, from the White House Counsel, it says, "As President Biden has said, nobody is above the law. That is core American principle and how our system of justice works. We need leaders like President Biden who respect the justice system and don't tear it down." As I said, that's from the White House Counsel's office.

KEILAR: All right. And break this down for us.


KEILAR: I think it's going to really come down to, Joan, what is official, what is unofficial and who's going to decide here?

BISKUPIC: That's right, Brianna. And when you said at the start that this is a historic day, it certainly is. I have to say that Chief Justice John Roberts just employed a very expansive idea of the office of the presidency and the protection for the office of the presidency. And then also a very expansive idea of what official acts would actually be shielded.

And I just want to point up something that he said from the bench when he was talking about the robust nature of the presidency. He said, "The system of separated powers designed by the framers has always demanded an energetic, independent executive. The President, therefore, may not be prosecuted for exercising core constitutional powers. And he is entitled at minimum to a presumptive immunity from prosecution for all his official actions."

And I have to say that key word presumptive, that is a really heavy word here. And this is what prompted Justice Sotomayor when she then dissented from the bench to immediately talk about this kind of sea change in American law saying, "Today's decision to grant former Presidents criminal immunity reshapes the institution of the Presidency. It makes a mockery of the principle, foundational to our Constitution and system of Government, that no man is above the law."


I have to say, Brianna and Pam, just the disdain in Justice Sotomayor's voice was just so evident as - what she said was that this just really reshapes the notion of the institution of the presidency. And for generations, not just for former President Donald Trump, it will really reshape just how a president could be held accountable.

KEILAR: And what does this mean, Joan, when it comes to the timing of the federal election subversion case?

BISKUPIC: Okay. So, you know, you had mentioned that division of official acts versus unofficial acts. The majority obviously brings it down to that. So the case will go back to the trial judge here, Judge Tanya Chutkan, who at one point, Brianna, had wanted to hold a trial in March. That is not going to happen. She's eventually going to have to have a hearing and it would be a preliminary hearing before the trial to actually start separating out what of the conduct alleged by Special Counsel Jack Smith against the former president could be deemed part of his official actions or non-official.

Now, the justices themselves did not parse those categories, but they gave some indications. For example, former President Trump is accused of talking to the Department of Justice and federal officials about coming up with his various fraud allegations, his ideas that there should be a new slate of electors, just all sorts of efforts to affect what was going to go leading up to January 6th.

The majority suggested that conversations with federal officials are part of his official duties. But, however, some conversations with state government officials, remember, you know, dealing with the Georgia state officials, might possibly fall under these categories. I have to say, overall, though, they set a pretty high standard and said that a trial judge, in this case, Judge Chutkan, can't look at the president's motives at all, just try to divide the conduct and err on the side of finding official acts, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Joan Biskupic, thank you for taking us through that. We appreciate it. Pamela?

BROWN: Well, this decision marks another courtroom victory for the former president, continuing a string of successes at a pivotal moment for his campaign. CNN's Kristen Holmes is here with us now.

And, Kristen, as we say time and time again, there's the political, the public aspect of this, and there's the legal aspect of this. And once again, Trump and his camp, they're going to seize on this ruling today.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They are. And so the big thing for them is that this is a success for them because now they likely won't have to go to trial before November. I mean, remember, they didn't actually win the argument that they were making. Donald Trump has said time and time again, it's actually a core thing that he says in rallies, that he believes presidents should have blanket immunity.

They did not rule that presidents should have blanket immunity. They said for official acts, they should have immunity. And for unofficial acts, they should not. So what does this mean? Well, going forward, it means likely this case, the January 6th case, Judge Chutkan, is not going to be able to come to trial before the November election.

This was really the last piece that they were worried about in terms of Donald Trump's legal issues and seeing them in trial before the November election. Obviously, the case in Florida is moving very slowly. That's the documents case. The case in Georgia has been completely halted. And we already saw the case in New York go through trialing - trial. That sentencing is next week.

So this was the lone holdout. They know that Judge Chutkan had been really pushing this forward, that she wanted this to happen before the election. And just to give an understanding here, blanketed, of why they want this to not happen before the election, is that they believe if Donald Trump is elected, he can get rid of not only this case, but the other federal case in Florida.

So that is why they were really hoping to push this forward. It also gives them more of this narrative that Biden's, quote-unquote, "DOJ," Department of Justice, "is out to get him." And in fact, he did have immunity all of this time. And this is the political argument that he's been saying that Biden is trying to come after him.

Look, it turns out the Supreme Court ruled in his favor. And I would actually argue that politically, the stronger case for them is on Friday. And that's what we saw when they ruled that the DOJ had overstepped with some of the people who participated in January 6th. That actually helps them less legally. But politically, as they paint this big portrait that Joe Biden is in charge of all of Donald Trump's legal issues, which obviously there is no evidence of that at all, that that case goes more to that argument. But this legally helps him not have to face trial before the election.

BROWN: Right. Because as you pointed out, if he were to be reelected as president, he could either pardon himself, he could direct his DOJ to drop these cases.


BROWN: Exactly. All right, thank you so much, Kristen Holmes. Appreciate it. Brianna?

KEILAR: All right. Let's break this down now. Joining me now is former January 6th Committee investigative counsel, Marcus Childress and former Nixon White House counsel, John Dean.

Marcus, first to you, we have a reaction coming from the White House.


The counsel's office spokesman, Ian Sam, saying nobody is above the law and we need leaders like President Biden who respect the justice system and don't tear it down.

They don't mention former President Trump by name. I wonder what you make of this reaction.

MARCUS CHILDRESS, FORMER JANUARY 6TH COMMITTEE INVESTIGATIVE COUNSEL: Well, as we heard earlier, this Supreme Court decision gives expansive power to the presidency in a way that we hadn't seen before. And so with that, is that it increased responsibility to make sure that someone with integrity, someone who won't weaponize the Department of Justice is in the office. Because today the Supreme Court essentially said you are presumptively immune from official acts, including communications with the Department of Justice, in a way that there's now a lot more power and responsibility for the president to act responsibly to make sure they're taking care of the laws for the betterment of the people rather than for themselves. KEILAR: John, did this ruling by the Supreme Court surprise you at all?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It didn't surprise me because we have a radical court which established itself. It's blowing away decades old precedents from Roe, which is a 50 year precedent, to most recently Chevron, which is a 40 year precedent. They just don't care what the - was there.

And so the fact that they have - it looks like they have mauled some of the earlier decisions relating to Nixon as well and his - getting subpoenaed for his tapes. It's just not clear at this point, so the dust will have to settle. But this is a radical ruling that a president is immune, which is nowhere to be found in the Constitution or our history.

So they also are keeping themselves involved by ruling on what is official conduct. We'll have to clear that from case law, from the court.

KEILAR: Yes. I think, John, that's the thing, right, is we don't know exactly, although we do have some idea based on this ruling, some of what would be considered official. Conversations with the vice president having a presumptive quality of immunity, what did you think about that and what did you think about the communications with DOJ also having, you know, this immune - this quality of immunity?

DEAN: Well, that's directly parallel with Watergate behavior. And so as I was reading and scanning the opinion, I haven't given a line by line yet. I was struck how Nixon would get a walk. What he said is true. When a president does it, that means it's not illegal. What he - what's not addressed in the opinion and what Nixon raised is what does his staff do in carrying out his orders, are they too immune now? That isn't clear as I, so far, have gotten into the opinion.

And presidents don't typically carry these things out themselves. So there's a broader implication to this as to who can carry out illegal orders.

KEILAR: What is - what questions does that raise for you and what are the ramifications of this?

CHILDRESS: Well, it was interesting to hear John say that Nixon - that was the first thing that came to mind sitting in the courtroom today was former President Nixon wouldn't be sitting in the position that he is now had this ruling have come out back then.

I think moving forward, I think I want to think about like the Department of Justice. I think you just put on a show at this point for the evidentiary hearing. You have to because you have such a high bar presumptive immunity that the president - former president (INAUDIBLE) ...

KEILAR: Because - explain that.

CHILDRESS: Yes. KEILAR: The evidentiary hearing is going to be really illustrative of what they know. And Jack Smith can kind of go full on, right?

CHILDRESS: He has to - like he has to. The presumption is that if former President Trump was in office carrying out certain acts while he was the president, that it's basically an official act. And so if you're Jack Smith, you have to show that, for example, as Justice Barrett put in her concurring opinion, calling the Speaker of the House of Arizona or calling the Secretary of State of Georgia was a campaign or a private citizen act and not an act to faithfully make sure the laws are being executed.

And so you have to put on all the evidence you have to show that this was not an action, an official act of the presidency to make sure he's taking care of the laws, but rather for private citizen Trump or campaign candidate Trump.

KEILAR: Marcus, what about the communications with the vice president?


KEILAR: Should that also be subject to those different categories? I mean, because some of what he does is - has done is clearly political and some is official.

CHILDRESS: Well, it should be unofficial. But again, you have a high bar here. And so, for example, I would expect prosecutors to highlight for the fact that, you know, certifying the election is an exclusive vice presidential power, right? The president has no role in it. And so, therefore, it is not an official act of the presidency because it's the vice president's role.

The majority opinion highlights that the vice president is the president of the Senate and is required to carry out the president's legislative initiative, so it could be an official act and ask the lower court to determine whether in this circumstance it is an official act. So I would expect that Jack Smith would put on very similar evidence as we did in our January 6 hearing, showing how out of touch these communication with Vice President Pence were, how uncomfortable Vice President Pence was, how Vice President Pence was receiving feedback from John Eastman, not someone in the White House Counsel's office.


All of this shows private conduct rather than official conduct. And if you're Jack Smith, I mean, you kind of have to put former president or Vice President Pence on the stand to have him testify to this.


CHILDRESS: And so that's where I would go. I mean, I know we're still digesting the opinion, but it's an uphill battle at this point. And so you have to lay all the cards down to give Judge Chutkan enough information to be able to rule that these are unofficial acts and can be prosecuted. KEILAR: That'd be very interesting. John, I wonder what you think, because Chief Justice John Roberts seems to make the point that the executive branch - you don't want to neuter it from being an energetic executive branch. And that if you went too far, I think in the direction that the dissent is arguing, he's saying that there would be a danger of any president being able to prosecute their predecessor.

If we get, you know, into a place where that's where they want to do that. What did you make of that part by Chief Justice John Roberts?

DEAN: Well, my react - first reaction in reading that part was he's not calling balls and strikes. He's creating a new game. And I'm not quite sure we understand it fully at this point. So, you know, we don't have - the incumbent isn't going to assassinate his competitor in this race. Whereas Trump has indicated he sees Joe as a convicted ex-president.

So, you know, it's just - the flag is flying upside down right now over the Supreme Court as to what the hell they're doing and why they're doing it. It is not strengthening the presidency. It - what it's doing is tossing it back to the American public to make very prudent decisions about who gets that office because there are no boundaries really on their conduct. You cannot hold them accountable, which is a very new ballgame.

KEILAR: John, just one quick question before I let you both go, what would have happened with President Nixon if this ruling were in place?

DEAN: Well, there are actually two rulings in this decision. There's a 6-3 for presumptive immunity. But there's also a 5-4 on - you can't even have the evidence of official conduct come to play. This is very this to me appears to certainly influence the existing law on presidential conduct, what's available evidentiary speaking.

Amy Coney Barrett said she didn't think that it should be so restricted as the decision of the court itself was. So I think that Nixon would have survived. I think he would have walked under this ruling. And it - I'm going to - I'm sifting through all of the known evidence at the time. There's more known today. But just looking at what was in the bills of impeachment, he's not responsible. He has no criminal liability. And that was considered to be one of the elements of a high crime and misdemeanor if a president had committed a crime. Well, there are no more crimes for presidents in official conduct.

KEILAR: Very interesting. John Dean, Marcus Childress, thank you so much to both of you.

And still ahead, President Biden's family encouraging him to stay in the race after his alarming debate performance. What we're hearing now from the First Lady as the Biden family considers whether his top advisers should be shown the door.

Plus, former Trump aide, Steve Bannon, is now in prison. He says he'll be more powerful behind bars. We'll talk to a prison consultant about the life that Bannon will face inside.



KEILAR: President Biden's campaign is in quite the defensive mode following his performance at last week's debate, and they are considering a number of options trying to prove that he is indeed fit for office.

BROWN: Yes, and we are told through reporting from our wonderful reporters covering this that the options could include him sitting down for a high-profile interview to alleviate some of the concerns. CNN Chief National Affairs Correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, is here along with CNN Senior White House Correspondent, MJ Lee.

So, you know, Jeff, just for context, too, when you look at President Biden compared to past presidents, he doesn't do a lot of sit-down interviews. He doesn't put himself out there a lot to answer questions from reporters. And now we're learning from your reporting that he might put himself out there a little bit more to (INAUDIBLE) ...

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORREPONDENT: Look, that's one of the options as they're sort of going through how they get beyond that dismal debate performance. One of the options right now is that he would sit for a high-profile interview to try and show that that North Carolina rally the day after the debate was not just a one-off, that he actually can do a sit-down interview, he can do a spontaneous interview.

But the fact that we're even having this conversation, that the president can do an interview, sort of shows you where they are right now. I mean, the Biden campaign is trying to move beyond and sort of quiet the questions, but they've really struggled to do so over the last several days.

So also, he'll be campaigning more, I'm told, in the battleground states in the month of July. But again, these are the very basics of what presidents and presidential candidates do. But they're trying to show that he's not buttoned up, even though he's been at Camp David all day long, as he was yesterday. They're trying to show that they're moving forward here, even though many Democrats are suggesting they reassess.

KEILAR: Yes. I mean, because North Carolina, he's on a prompter, it's during the day, it wasn't all that long, right? So these are very different things from the debate performance. But I think, MJ, the bigger thing is, these are different things from being president and carrying out that role effectively. The Biden campaign right now, as we understand it, aides are just vehemently dismissing the possibility that he will drop out. What are you hearing?

MJ LEE, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. For right now, they are completely digging in, dismissing the idea of replacing the president on the ticket, saying that that's not even a remote possibility.

[15:25:04] Look, Brianna, I think for some of us, the debate feels like it was forever ago. But the reality is that it was actually just three and a half days ago. And I think for a lot of people within the party, they are still in the earliest stages of processing what they saw last Thursday night and really going through the motions of dealing with the political fallout from all of this.

And one Democratic congressman I was speaking to earlier said, look, there are conversations, private ones, that are happening right now among Democrats that do involve just talking about whether the president could be replaced, who could even play that role. But for now, for the most part, most elected officials, Democrats, are staying quiet because they want to see data and polling. They want to see what kind of numbers come in, what kind of research comes in that shows that the president could potentially be harmful for down-ballot races.

This congressman I spoke to said Congress is our firewall and that if data comes in that shows that he's just not going to lose the presidency, but he's going to lose the House, that's the point where the dam could really break and we might start seeing more Democrats saying, yes, it might be time for us to move on to plan B.

I think this is just a reminder that this debate performance that was such a shock to so many Democrats was not just about control of the White House, but control of government overall. And again, the space of down-ballot races is going to be a really important one to watch.

KEILAR: Jeff, are his aides endangered after this debate?

ZELENY: Certainly a good question. We know that the family, several family members have raised concerns about the aides saying that he was over-prepared in some respects. Some prominent Democratic donors also over the weekend really quite forcefully urged the President to reassess the hiring of some aides, like Anita Dunn, Bob Bauer.

Bob Bauer is his longtime attorney. He played Donald Trump. Anita Dunn is his longtime communications advisor. Ron Klain, of course, prepared him for the debates. But we are told the President has expressed support for them. And we know that President Biden, he rarely fires anyone. I cannot think of a single senior advisor in his time in the White House that he has to let go or dismiss. That's not what he does, so these are longtime aides.

So I think that, look, this is - most people I've been talking to, and there have been a lot of them, believe that this is a candidate problem, not a staff problem. Perhaps on the margins, he might have been prepared differently. But, look, this was on him, and they know that.

But as MJ was saying, this right now is all about the damage he could inflict to other Democrats on the ticket, in the House, in the Senate. That's why they're kind of waiting a bit to assess this damage here. But, again, all indications are, despite the complaints, despite the alarm, this is a presidential decision, and he is in this race.

BROWN: All right. Jeff Zeleny, MJ Lee, thanks so much. Well, the nation's highest court rules that Donald Trump is entitled to some level of immunity from prosecution as well as any future president. We're going to get reaction from Democratic congressman, Madeleine Dean, who served as an impeachment manager for the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump.