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Trump Legal Team's Talks With DOJ Focusing On Executive Privilege; 2 Dead, 2 Injured After Lightning Strike Near White House; Soon: Punitive Phase Begins In Alex Jones Defamation Trial; Indiana House Votes To Keep Rape, Incest Exceptions In Abortion Bill. Aired 9:30-10a ET
Aired August 05, 2022 - 09:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Now to our exclusive CNN reporting, former President Donald Trump's lawyers are now in direct talks with the Justice Department about its ongoing criminal investigation into the January 6 insurrection. The talks were said to be focused on whether conversations the former president had can be kept from investigators under Trump's broad claims of executive privilege.
CNN Senior Crime and Justice Reporter Katelyn Polantz joins me now. What do we know about the substance of these conversations and what position Trump and his lawyers are taking?
KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Jim, what we really know here is this is, for the first time, we're able to confirm that they're talking --
POLANTZ: -- at very least. The Justice Department and Donald Trump's defense team. And the reason that this is happening, this is coming in amid all of this grand jury activity that we're seeing in this criminal investigation being run out of D.C. In that grand jury activity, we know there are some top witnesses from the Trump White House and from Vice President Mike Pence's office who've either been into the grand jury to testify or had been subpoenaed to come in and testify. So that's two people from the Vice President's office, and then the two Pats from the White House Counsel, Cipollone and Philbin.
So when they're coming in to testify, they're sharing what they know, but we know that they are not able to share everything that they witnessed, specifically things that Trump would have said or may have been said to Trump as advice. And Donald Trump and his people, they still want to protect those statements, and so that's what this conversation is about.
Prosecutors want access to more about what Donald Trump was saying so it's his fight over executive privilege. That's where the -- that comes in. And when we asked for comment about the news of these direct talks, we went to Trump's team.
POLANTZ: A spokesperson came back to us, did not give us a direct answer. Instead, they gave us a preview of what their legal argument may be. They said, "How can any future president ever have private conversations with his attorneys, counselors and other senior advisers if any such adviser is forced, basically to reveal those privileged, confidential discussions?" Even potentially after the president see.
So that's very likely what Trump's team is saying to the Justice Department right now. And, of course, the Justice Department has history on its side here. This came up in the Nixon investigation --
POLANTZ: - Watergate. It's -- the Justice Department won, they got the tapes of Watergate released to the grand jury that ushered in Nixon's resignation --
POLANTZ: -- just a few days later.
SCIUTTO: Different Supreme Court now though.
POLANTZ: That's true.
SCIUTTO: We could end up there. Katelyn Polantz, thanks so much.
Joining me now to discuss, former U.S. Attorney Michael Moore, now partner at Moore Hall law firm in Atlanta. Michael, good to have you. I mean, to Katelyn's point, I thought this was settled post-Watergate, that the executive privilege claims cannot extended into criminal investigations in the simplest terms here. Why is this still an open argument? And how far do you and how long do you see it going?
MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY, MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA: Well, I'm glad to be with you, Jim. And you're right, under the old Supreme Court cases, the -- during the Nixon days, the rule was that you can't use executive privilege basically as a shield to protect you from a criminal case. And so here, it's a little bit different because we've had this ongoing inquiry into both political activities, as we've seen through the January 6 case, and that over the investigation on the Hill, and now into the grand jury probe.
And so, I actually agree with some of the arguments being made by Trump's attorneys. And that is, you know, executive privilege is a necessity. We want presidents. Forget about Trump, I mean, let's just take him and said that we want presidents of the future to be able to seek advice from people in a candid way, without having to worry about whether or not those people may ultimately call before a grand jury, a congressional committee or otherwise to talk about the deliberative process. The problem here is that the norms have just changed, right? We're now seeing something where we're talking about a president being in possibly indicted. We're talking about whether or not there was an effort to overthrow the government and overturn an election. These are different days.
You're right, though, that the Supreme Court is different. And you might find them as we've seen, take a very different -- and paying very little attention to (INAUDIBLE) in cases from before.
SCIUTTO: So to that point, Brett Kavanaugh, in a decision earlier this year, when the court did require the former president to turn over written records to the National Archives, he did say, quoting, from that decision, "A former president must be able to successfully invoke the presidential communications privilege for communications that occurred during his presidency, even if the current president does not support the privilege claim."
He does go on to qualify that, to some degree to say, "To be clear, to say that a former president can invoke the privilege for presidential communications to occur during his presidency does not mean that privilege is absolute, or cannot be overcome."
But I wonder as you -- you know this court pretty well. And as you hear a statement like that, and you know, by the way, there are members of this court who are to the right of Brett Kavanaugh, do you see the path here for Trump lawyers, right, to go to the court and maybe get a friendly decision?
MOORE: I wouldn't be surprised at all if they got a friendly decision, especially when we're talking about direct communications with White House Counsel. And that's what's really spurred this on, there's been this flurry of activity and the Democrats, frankly. I've just gotten very excited thinking that because White House Counsel has been subpoenaed to testify for the grand jury that they must be getting all the dirt now on Trump and that he should have been indicted.
I would say just take a step back, take a pile of them. And that's a little bit like getting a pimple and then self-diagnosing yourself as having leprosy. I mean, this is just the first thing. I mean, this has one little indicator that the investigation is moving forward. It's going to be important and these witnesses would be expected witnesses under any circumstance, because they really had a front row seat to the action, whether we're talking about Trump, whether we're talking about the other lawyers that were involved, Sidney Powell, Rudy Giuliani, Mark Meadows, whoever we're talking about --
MOORE: -- they have been in there helping develop the scheme and this plan. So these are expected witnesses. That mean, they had the silver bullet to the case. So the fact that there are these discussions going on, I think it would be malpractice for Trump's team not to do because they know that there are things that are out there that they want to protect. Now, does that mean at the end of the day, they'll be able to hide behind executive privilege? We'll see what the court says. But, again, these are different discussions when we're talking about communications between a press --
MOORE: -- and White House Counsel as opposed to necessarily just another Cabinet member and, you know, a president may be and just the Secretary of the State in a --
MOORE: -- circumstance like this. The lawyers giving them advice about what to do and what they think.
SCIUTTO: Michael Moore we'll see how it plays out. Thanks very much.
MOORE: Great to be with you, Jim. Thank you.
SCIUTTO: Coming up next, tragedy right next to the White House. CNN has just confirmed the two people killed by lightning strike at a park just across the street from the White House last night. We'll have an update coming up.
SCIUTTO: This just in to CNN, two people have died after being struck by lightning just across the street from the White House and big storms here last night. CNN's Tom Foreman joins me now. Sad to hear. I mean, I heard this as they were first reporting the emergency last night. How do we know -- what do we know about how this happened?
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we know is that the storm blew up very dramatically at the end of a very hot day here in Washington, D.C. When it blew up, the lightning was just unbelievable for a while here. It hit very fast, easy to get caught out. And that may be what had happened with James and Donna Mueller, both in their mid-70s from Wisconsin, they were visiting the town and somehow they got caught here and really what you could describe as the front lawn of the White House, Lafayette Square there.
Authorities say that that lightning strike that you're watching happen very close to the statue of Andrew Jackson right in the middle of the park.
FOREMAN: Many, many tourists as you know come to this park all the time just to see the White House and to be close to it. We don't really know their circumstances. And we know two other people were knocked down at the same time. The good part about this was that U.S. Park Police and Secret Service were right there, and they rushed over. When people started saying there are people down out here, they were getting medical attention almost immediately.
FOREMAN: And they were rushed off to hospital. But this is the power of lightning that it nonetheless did this. There were two National Guard members hit in the same park --
FOREMAN: -- a couple of years ago. They were injured but not, obviously, that seriously and that they were able to recover from it. But it really was one of the circumstances when this storm blew up at the end of yesterday, it truly happened so quickly. It's easy to see how anybody, local or visitor could be caught out. And it's also easy to see how truly you're there five minutes earlier, you're there five minutes later, this might not have happened but it did with these devastating results.
SCIUTTO: It is sad news wherever it goes to take those pictures in front of the White House.
FOREMAN: 100 percent.
SCIUTTO: Sorry for their family. Tom Foreman --
FOREMAN: Very sad news.
SCIUTTO: -- thanks for walking us through it.
Coming up next, a jury says that Alex Jones owes $4 million to two parents of children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School. But that trial is still not over. There's a second round of damages being considered, and that's today.
SCIUTTO: Coming up next hour, the jury and the Alex Jones trial will be back in court and they could decide on a second round of damages against the right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones by this afternoon. Yesterday, those jurors ordered him to pay $4 million for lying about the death of Jesse Lewis, a six-year-old murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School nearly 10 years ago. Jesse's parents were awarded that amount in compensatory damages. Today the discussion will revolve around punitive damages.
Joining me now to discuss, CNN Legal Analyst and Criminal Defense Attorney Joey Jackson. Joey, good to have you back. The parents have asked for up to $150 million, they got $4. Paul Callan made the point to me last night that the jurors are aware that other Sandy Hook parents are suing and that this may be an effort to parcel out the money in effect, leave some for them. And I wonder if that makes sense to you?
JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALSYT: Yes, Jim, good morning to you. I think my good friend Paul Callan has it right. I think that in assessing this case, right, you have to look at not only in this jurisdiction, Texas, but you have to look at what the other families are enduring. We know that there are two pending lawsuits in Connecticut.
And so certainly, Alex Jones has made claims as to the limitations of his -- the monies he has available. And in the event that you issue an award that's so excessive, we already know he's filed for bankruptcy in an effort to protect himself from further liability. What would that do? And the jury certainly could have been of mind to think about that.
Hey, if we award something that is so excessive, and he's already protecting assets, could it foreclose the parties in Connecticut that are suing him. So that certainly makes sense.
JACKSON: But we do know, notwithstanding that, Jim, that they're moving on today to decide the issue of punitive. And just very quickly, I think it's important to talk about the distinction. Compensatory damages are designed to compensate --
SCIUTTO: Op, we lost Joey Jackson there. He was making the point that there are two phases to this jury trial. The first, compensatory damages that already decided, the jury is deciding today on punitive damages, which they can impose on Alex Jones as well.
We will keep on top of that story. We'll get Joey back when we can. If you do want to learn the full backstory on how Alex Jones landed here, don't miss the CNN Special Report, Alex Jones Megaphone for Conspiracy, that airs tonight at 11:00 Eastern time.
And still ahead, a blockbuster July jobs report double what many economists had predicted. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, he will join me live.
SCIUTTO: A bill that would ban abortion at all stages of pregnancy, with some exceptions is one step closer to law in Indiana. Final House vote there is expected to happen today on a bill that only provides exceptions for rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is at risk. You will remember Indiana is the same state where a doctor came under attack recently for providing abortion services for a 10-year- old rape victim. She spoke to CNN this morning and said the bill would keep her from being able to provide the care her patients need.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. CAITLIN BERNARD, PROVIDED ABORTION TO 10-YEAR-OLD RAPE VICTIM: It's very scary for physicians to have a patient in front of you, that you know exactly what they need. You know how to save their lives. And yet you're wondering, well, who's going to -- Who do I have to check with? Who's going to second guess me? Do I call my lawyer? Do I call the county prosecutor?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SCIUTTO: Debate has already begun this morning inside the Indiana State House.
Very good Friday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy is off this week. We are keeping a close eye on several top stories this morning. We start with just a jaw dropping new jobs report, the U.S. added 528,000 jobs last month, double would many economists had forecast. Unemployment tumbles now to 3.5 percent.
Question now is, would a slower jobs market actually help reduce inflation and protect the economy? Lots of questions here but the headline number very good news.