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Speaker McCarthy Says They're Closer To An Agreement; Interview With Rep. Tim Burchett (R-TN); Texas Attorney General Facing Impeachment By His Own Party; Memorial Day Travel Reaches Highest Post-Pandemic Level; Four Oath Keepers Sentenced For Actions Tied To Jan. 6 Riot; WAPO: Trump Workers Moved Boxes Day Before DOJ Went To Mar-a-Lago; Trump Hopes To Appeal Directly To Garland To Close Fed Probes; States Consider New Election Worker Protections As Threats Rise. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired May 27, 2023 - 16:00   ET



JIM ACOSTA, CNN HOST: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Jim Acosta in Washington.

We are following two major stories unfolding at this hour. In Texas, an impeachment vote is underway in the statehouse of representatives. Texas attorney general Ken Paxton is accused of bribery and abuse of power. The conservative Republican says the impeachment is illegal and is being pushed for by corrupt politicians as he calls them.

Up on Capitol Hill here in Washington, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy says progress is being made in talks to avoid the nation's first ever debt default. And here's an optimistic sign, in the last hour or so, several members of McCarthy's whip team have been summoned to the speaker's suite. Republican leaders are trying to finalize a deal with the White House to raise the debt ceiling and stave off what could be an economic disaster.

Let's begin our coverage of the debt talks. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is over at the White House for us, and Manu Raju is up on Capitol Hill.

Manu, what are we learning at this hour about the negotiations? Are they heading in the right direction?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is unclear at this moment, Jim. We do know that they are close to reaching an agreement. But they have been close for some time. There have been a number of sticking points lately that they're having a difficult time resolving over a wide range of issues including spending cuts, exactly how far to go, including provisions to ease the construction of energy projects some of the Republicans have pushed, Democrats have been divided over.

And a lot of other conditions, too, such as new work requirements on social safety net programs. That have been pushed by Republicans to tie this to any increase of the national debt limit. Now Democrats have not expected to get a whole lot in return in these negotiations other than an agreement to raise the debt limit through the 2024 elections. That's been a big push among the White House. They don't want to fight this again.

But a number of conservative members are concerned that Kevin McCarthy is giving in too much to the White House on this issue. They want to fight this issue again next year, which is raising the concern among people close to McCarthy about whether they could actually get the votes, lock down the votes, and at this moment Kevin McCarthy had summoned members of his whip team to come to his office to try to figure out a strategy to eventually get the votes and get this through the House.

Now the first manner of business, though, is getting a deal itself with the White House. As negotiators have progressed all day, they've started to think about the next steps here. McCarthy talking to reporters earlier today indicated a vote could occur 72 hours after the bill text is released.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): From when we post the bill, 72 hours from then is when you could have the first vote on the bill, right? So everybody will have an opportunity, Democrats, Republicans, the American public. It would be (INAUDIBLE). I want to be able to brief our members about it as well. So if we ever come to an agreement, I will tell you we've come to an agreement and you'll get upset with me and say, well, what's all in the bill? And I will politely tell you I am going to brief all our members.


RAJU: Now McCarthy is confident that he can still deliver a majority of the House Republican conference to support this bill. But that means that he would need support from Democrats, too, of this deal that is emerging. But a number of Democrats are concerned themselves that the White House has given in far too much to the speaker in these negotiations over spending cuts, over trying to pare back some of those social safety net programs like food stamps, which is raising a lot of questions about whether they can actually get this done early next week, and then get it to the United States Senate which of course is controlled by Democrats all by that June 5th deadline, which means time is ticking and this moment critical for them to finalize this agreement -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Yes. There's a lot of moving parts at this hour. Manu Raju, thanks.

Let's go over to the White House. CNN's Priscilla Alvarez is over there for us.

Priscilla, what is the latest you're hearing from the administration? Are they confident?

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, I am told that White House officials are generally optimistic about the state of talks as both sides try to sort out these negotiations and hash out a deal. One White House official telling me that negotiations are continuing and echoing President Biden's remarks from yesterday that they were very close to a deal.

Now of course as you heard there from Manu, there are still sticking points particularly on work requirements for those social safety net programs. Now when asked about this, President Biden said he would vow to no one or to anybody. And then later a White House spokesperson going on to say that the White House is, quote, "standing against this cruel and senseless tradeoff."

So still something to work through here. And not only with Republican negotiators but also something that the White House may have to work through with House Democrats who have expressed frustration about this being included in a deal but time is of the essence here. And we heard yesterday from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen who put a firm date on when the U.S. would not be able to follow through or at least run out of funds.

And that would be June 5th. Earlier we had heard Treasury secretary put that around early June and as early as June 1st. And with that June 5th deadline, it really puts the urgency on these talks. Now officials say that's always been there. But of course as it gets closer, we are seeing them race against the clock. And it's not just the deal as you heard there from Manu, it's also the bill. It is then introduced to members of Congress to then a floor vote on the House floor to then the Senate.

So it's really a long road ahead in a short amount of time. And that's really what they're running up against here at the White House and on the Hill.

ACOSTA: All right. June 5th can come up very quickly with all the mechanics they have to go through up on Capitol Hill and over at the White House as well.

Manu Raju, Priscilla Alvarez, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Let's continue this conversation. Joining me now is Republican Congressman Tim Burchett of Tennessee.

Congressman, thanks for joining us. What is your sense of it right now? You're not up on Capitol Hill, you're in Knoxville. It's a little bit of a drive from the Capitol. How confident are you that a deal will be passed before this potential deadline of June 5th?

REP. TIM BURCHETT (R-TN): Jim, thank you so much for having me on. Of course in the Birchett administration, Jim, you know, you're always be welcomed at my White House. But, you know, I think everybody right now is just grasping at straws with rumors. I've been in contact with our leadership team and some of those folks. And I feel like they're close to a deal but they're not quite there. And I think a lot of the rumors that are going on are made to scare people.

You know, you've got people in their 20s basically in the White House who are putting things out that aren't accurate and just things that they would like to see in it. And I honestly don't think that they are very accurate at all. I think Speaker McCarthy is keeping to his word in what he said, in the things that he put in there, and that he'd like to keep in there. And I think those are still in there.

ACOSTA: And last month you were among just a handful of Republican House members to vote against the party's debt ceiling plan. From what you know of the potential deal, is there enough debt reduction to win your support? And what about this idea of kicking the can past 2024 so this doesn't come up again during an election year?

BURCHETT: The 2024 thing has been in conversations for a few days now. I think that that could pull a lot of people off of it, actually. But, I mean, just to be honest with you, Jim, since I've been in Washington, the Democrats, they hold -- they're the carrot and the stick party and they do it very well. And if the president calls, I don't see them bucking. If he cuts a deal, I think they'll phrase it and they'll use their wordsmiths enough to where they will all vote for it, the vast majority.

I mean, you might have the Squad or a few of those hold out, but that's all you'll see. And Hakeem Jeffries, you know, he's the one in the spot right now because, I mean, the Democrats are really pushing -- their side is more IRS agents. I mean, that's how we'll spin it. More IRS agents, more regulation, you know, and more spending. So I think they're -- I think Kevin McCarthy is in a very powerful position right now.

ACOSTA: Well, you talked about the Democrats. Let's talk about the Republicans. Let's play a bit of what then President Trump said on the national debt almost five years ago.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The economy, we can go a lot higher and, you know, people don't talk, we have $21 trillion in debt. When this really kicks in we'll start paying off that debt like it's water. We will start paying that debt down.


ACOSTA: You know, Congressman, former President Trump, then President Trump, promised to pay down the debt. He never did it. In fact, under President Trump it climbed from about $20 trillion to about 28 trillion, now stands at about $31 trillion. Doesn't your party and former President Trump have a credibility problem when it comes to this issue of the national debt?

BURCHETT: We're all at blame, Jim. You know, I voted against -- under Trump and I voted against the budgets, actually, under him. I have a record -- a track record of that, you know? Some people have the mentality of just paying the interest. I don't. You know, we're Tennessee, we pay our debt. We're a balanced budget state. I spent 16 years in the legislature and we balanced the budget under Democrats and under Republican. We balanced the budget every year.

And now we thought so much of it, they put it in the Constitution that you have to balance the budget. So it's a reality, though, that both parties run it up.


And they call it one thing or the other. They say, you know, the sacred cows. Of course, I don't find any sacred cows. I'd like to see some cuts at the Pentagon. And everybody it seems they say, whoa, Burchett, you can't do that. But the reality is we need to start seeing some of that, too, and when you audit the Pentagon and they fail their audits every year and lose over $1 billion, how do you lose over $1 billion? And it just goes unchecked.

And we're all to blame, Jim. There's plenty of blame to go around. But eventually somebody is going to have to be responsible and I'd like to be the one. There's four Republicans that said enough is enough. You know, the way that Washington math works is -- go ahead.

ACOSTA: Well, I was going to say, is it responsible that to vote against a deal that means a debt default? Are you willing to do that? Are you a no no matter what?

BURCHETT: I'm not willing to vote this country into more debt, as I said. I send my daughter to the store. She says, dad, I'm going to spend -- I give her $10 and she goes down there, and she decides she wants to spend $20 then she comes back and said, dad, I only spent $15. So by Washington math, she saved me $5. In reality she spent five more dollars than we have.

ACOSTA: Right.

BURCHETT: That's Washington math. We've got to (INAUDIBLE) responsible. We've got to hold it, Jim. That's all there is. Both parties need to start holding the line. If we went back to (INAUDIBLE), we would have a surplus right now if we were at that level of spending.

ACOSTA: Well, cutting spending, I mean, you can have that conversation during the budget and appropriation process, but, as you know, Congressman, the U.S. has never missed making payments on its bills before, and the last 45 years Congress has adjusted the debt ceiling over 60 times. So again, I go back to the question, is it responsible?

I understand what you're saying about your daughter and how much money she spends, but we're not talking about $15, we're talking about the U.S. economy. Is it responsible to vote and be that deciding vote that sends the country into default?

BURCHETT: I don't think we will send this country into default. We've allowed Janet Yellen to -- you know, she said we're going to default on the 7th. Now we're getting closer, and she said it's going to be on the 1st. She said it was the 6th. Nobody -- as the young people say, nobody's provided the receipts. Nobody's called her in to Washington and said show us the math on this.

Quarterly taxes are going to be paid. The country is going to be flushed with cash. We are -- if anything, it just delays the spending. People are still paying their taxes so the money's still going to be coming in. If anything, things will be delayed a little bit. All they're doing right now is scaring people. Instead of cutting programs that have no need other than just

political cronyism, we're telling our seniors, and the Democrats are using it well, and I get it. They're telling the seniors they're going to be cut, and our veterans are going to be cut, and nothing could be farther from the truth. And that's just the cruel reality of politics. Our most vulnerable to --

ACOSTA: Yes, but I'm trying to get a sense of this. Do you think that the debt ceiling is an artificial thing, that it's not real, and that a default would not have devastating consequences? Is that what you're saying?

BURCHETT: I think the debt ceiling is -- it's just a created thing to hold us into a responsible end of check. But the reality is, Jim, neither party is responsible. We've got to get back to some fiscal sanity in this country. It's just that much. We cannot keep spending at these levels. Again, if we went back to levels pre-COVID we would have a surplus now and we'd be paying down our debt.

What have we added since before COVID that is so important right now? Nothing. We need to get back to reality and stop spending money out of control. That's the bottom line. And if it takes taking a vote, I voted to shut the government down under Trump and I'd do it under Biden.

ACOSTA: And -- but this is not a government shutdown, this is a default. So you're saying no matter what happens, you'll vote for default?

BURCHETT: The reality is it's not a default, it's a delay. Just like in business, you put something off. You can't pay it off this week, we pay it off next week, and this is irresponsible for us to say anything other than that. And frankly, it's irresponsible of the president to say we don't negotiate when under President Obama he was the chief negotiator in 2011, and so I believe that we have a history of negotiating this thing and yet this White House is putting out the message that we've never done it and that, again, these 20 plus-year- old negotiators and people that have his ear in the White House that have no memory of anything that's happened prior to last year.

ACOSTA: But one quick question, one final question. If the speaker calls you and says, I know how you feel about the debt and spending and all of those other things, but, Congressman, I need your vote, are you going to tell your speaker no?


BURCHETT: I did the last time, and I -- you know, I was one of four that did. I sat in his office and, you know, I told him no multiple times. We went through the scenarios. And I told him up front. I've been telling him this for and there's nothing new.

ACOSTA: All right. Congressman Tim Burchett down in Knoxville, Tennessee, not up on Capitol Hill. So that probably tells us a vote is not going to happen today. But we'll see what happens in the days ahead. Congressman, thanks very much. We appreciate it.

BURCHETT: Thank you, Jim. We miss you in Knoxville, brother.

ACOSTA: All right. Good talking to you. Thanks so much.

Now to a showdown in Austin, Texas, where floor discussion and perhaps some voting may be underway soon in the Texas House in an historic event. GOP attorney general Ken Paxton is facing impeachment at the hands of his own party. On Thursday a Republican-led House investigative committee unanimously adopted 20 separate articles of impeachment against Paxton including bribery and abuse of public trust.

A simple majority vote in the House would refer the Paxton Articles of Impeachment to the Senate for trial. Before today's voting, Representative David Spiller expressed some of the angst at work for his fellow Republicans.


DAVID SPILLER (R), TEXAS STATE HOUSE: Members, it brings me no pleasure to be standing here today in front of you dealing with this matter. I know that it's not pleasant for you either. But we have a duty and an obligation to protect the citizens of Texas from elected officials that abuse their office and their power for personal gain.


ACOSTA: All right. Let's get the latest with CNN's Rosa Flores.

Rosa, thanks so much for updating us and our viewers on all of this. Where are we in the process? Are they into the voting yet? Are they in the -- still in the talking phase, I guess?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're still in the talking phase. And Jim, we're already hearing some bombshells. Some of the committee members said -- and said before the full House that Ken Paxton, the attorney general of Texas, had threatened some of the House members.

Now I'll get to those threats, but let me start with where we are so far because the full articles of impeachment have been read before the full Texas House of Representatives. Now some of those include dereliction of duty, abuse of power, bribery. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: While holding office as attorney general, Warren Kenneth Paxton abused the judicial process to thwart justice. After Paxton was elected attorney general Paxton was indicted by a Collin County grand jury for engaging in fraud or fraudulent practices in violation of the Securities Act Title 12 Government Code. Paxton then concealed the facts underlining his criminal charges from voters by causing protracted delay of the trial which deprived the electorate of its opportunity to make an informed decision when voting for attorney general. (END VIDEO CLIP)

FLORES: Now Paxton has maintained that all of these allegations can be disproven. He says that this impeachment process is illegal, but how did we get here in the first place? So here's the backstory. Earlier this week before a Texas House general investigating committee there were hours of testimony, and in this testimony a group of lawyers who were hired to investigate allegations of misconduct by Mr. Paxton outlaid a lot of allegations of misconduct by Ken Paxton for the past several years that included benefitting -- these allegations benefitted a donor and they were related to a settlement that Ken Paxton settled back in February, obligating the taxpayers of Texas to pay $3.3 million.

Now here's where the rubber meets the road because this is Republicans policing Republicans in the state of Texas. The Republican statehouse speaker has maintained throughout this process that the taxpayers of Texas should not be footing this $3.3 million bill. He and others have said that there should be a proper investigation before Texas taxpayers do that.

Now committee members have been going before the full House today in the first two hours of this proceeding and explaining a lot of these allegations and then they dropped a bombshell. One of the committee members, a fellow Republican, said this about Ken Paxton. Take a listen.


CHARLIE GEREN (R), TEXAS STATE HOUSE: I would like to point out to several members of this House while on the floor of this House doing the state business received telephone calls from General Paxton personally threatening them with political consequences in their next election.



FLORES: Now, Jim, I've reached out to Paxton's office and I have not heard back, but strong allegations there saying -- and that's a fellow Republican saying that Ken Paxton called them while they were on the floor of the House threatening them with political consequences -- Jim.

ACOSTA: And Rosa, do we know -- do we have any kind of a sense at this hour as to whether or not Paxton will, in fact, be impeached or is it just that close that it really is up in the air?

FLORES: You know, I talked to a political science professor here at Rice University, and he believes that the votes are there. And the math is the following. There are 149 members in the Texas House of Representatives and a simple majority is needed. So that's 75. There are 64 Democrats in the state house and there are three Republicans that were part of that general investigating committee. Now based on his math, he says that would leave about eight

Republicans that they would need after those 64 Democrats and three Republicans for this vote to pass.

Now we'll just have to see, Jim, because a lot of the Republicans here in the state of Texas have been very quiet, probably calculating their political moves because if they vote against the speaker of the House in essence for the impeachment, you know, that could impact their committee chairmanships, the future legislation that they want to pass, but if they vote for impeachment they, of course, put a target on their backs when it comes to the faction of the Republican Party here in the state of Texas that supports Paxton -- Jim.

ACOSTA: All right. Rosa Flores, thank you very much. We know you'll be watching it. We appreciate it.

Coming up, a massive surge in travel across the country in this holiday weekend. The world's busiest airport just experienced its third busiest day ever. Plus just a day before the Department of Justice showed up at Mar-a-Lago to collect classified documents, employees there allegedly moved boxes of paper. More on this reporting by the "Washington Post" and what it means for the investigation into the former president.

And later the family of this 11-year-old is demanding accountability after he was shot by a police officer responding to his 911 call for help. It's coming up.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



ACOSTA: The unofficial start of the summer travel season is here already. We are seeing record numbers as millions of Americans go on vacation this holiday weekend. The TSA reported its third busiest day ever at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport yesterday, as well as the highest number of checkpoint screenings since the COVID-19 pandemic. But it's not just busy airports. AAA says more people are hitting the roads this holiday weekend compared to last year.

And CNN's Isabel Rosales is in Atlanta, at the world's busiest airport, and Mike Valerio is keeping an eye on traffic in Los Angeles.

Isabel, let me go to you first. You've been seeing these long lines all day. Thank goodness you're not in one of them. I've been in those big long lines at Hartsfield. You can have pre-check, you can out- clear, you can have all of those things, you're still going to wait on some of those days. But how are things looking right now?

ISABEL ROSALES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jim. Yes, getting stuck in one of those long lines is absolute torture. And some people have certainly experienced that. We have kept a close eye on this main security checkpoint all day long. And there's been moments where it's been pretty much completely empty. You can get in and out under 10 minutes and then there's moments like this where you see a more compact crowd. That could take about half an hour to get through there.

But this morning it was even worse. That line even beyond this all the way off beyond camera into the atrium. So folks were certainly having to wait a while there. TSA said that on Friday, the day that they were expecting it to be the busiest for this holiday travel weekend, that they screened an estimated 2.7 million Americans nationwide. The highest volume so far this year. And here at the world's busiest airport they screened 98,000 people on Friday as well.

I want to give you an overview of what the skies are looking like right now in the U.S. bringing up FlightAware's misery map. And you can see there looking pretty good. A lot of green. Total cancellations so far in the U.S. today over 600 and delays over 1800. Now that sounds like a lot but there's thousands of flights by the day. That is just a drop in the bucket.

Now I spoke with travelers here at Hartsfield-Jackson who encountered several frustrating issues before even making it inside of the airport. Listen.


MEGAN HALLISSEY, COLUMBUS, GEORGIA RESIDENT: The reason that we weren't able to make our flight, even though we left in plenty of time, so we were here at the airport two hours in advance, was that there's no parking anywhere. I advise to plan, plan, plan. Leave early.


ROSALES: And, Jim, here's what she's talking about. Here it's showing Atlanta's 11 lots. Right now full, full, full, full, full. All of them full. So you can imagine the anxiety that people are facing trying to find a parking spot so they can make their flight -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Isabel, I've never -- I've been to Heartfield so many -- I've never seen that before. All the parking lots full there at that airport. That -- yes, that is very anxiety inducing. My goodness.

And Mike Valerio, how are the roads looking on your end? I mean, I hate to ask you because aren't they always bad in L.A.? But maybe not today. How are things looking?

MIKE VALERIO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, you know, we're in front of the 405 which isn't just the busiest freeway here in L.A., it's the busiest interstate in the country. And I think that we've been between Carmageddon light and quiescence. And it seems as though right now we're somewhere in between.

So, Jim, as we zoom in, we're looking at traffic that's going towards the beach --

[16:30:00] MIKE VALERIO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, you know, we're in front of the 405, which isn't just the busiest freeway in L.A., it's the busiest interstate in the country.

And I think that we've been between these areas. And it seems like, right now, we're somewhere in between.

Jim, ss we zoom in, we're looking at traffic that's going towards the beach, towards Santa Monica.

This to give you some perspective. If everybody in Orlando, Florida, got in a car and got on a freeway, that is the volume of traffic that this section of the 405 would see on a normal day. We're expecting to see more of that throughout the course of the weekend.

The story here is this number. AAA saying more than 37 million people are expecting to hit the roadways. The great American road trip is back.

But the numbers are slightly less than pre-pandemic levels. Just about a half million drivers underneath what we saw in 2019.

When we were talking to AAA about these numbers, they had some advice if you are embarking on your own road trip. Listen to what they told us.


DOUG SHUPE, AAA SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA: Definitely inspect that vehicle before you take that long road trip. Check your tire tread and inflation. Make sure your battery has a good charge. Make sure your fluid levels are topped off.

During this Memorial Day weekend, AAA anticipates coming to the roadside rescue of more than 460,000 stranded drivers.

VALERIO: And that is pretty astounding.

One of the reasons that we might still be beneath pre-pandemic road trip levels is because of gas prices. They are relatively high in historical terms.

They still have come down from what we saw last year. The gas price average across the nation, we're talking about $4.60 a year ago. Now it's down to $3.58.

But in places like here in California, Alaska, New Jersey, New York, prices are coming down precipitously. Certainly good news if you're one of the millions of people who are going to fill up and go on your own road trip across America -- Jim?

ACOSTA: Stay safe out there, guys. Pack plenty of patience, it sounds like.

Mike Valerio and Isabel Rosales, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it. Still ahead, 42 and a half years -- that's the combined prison

sentences for these four Oath Keepers all convicted for their actions on January 6th. What does that mean for the special counsel's investigation into Trump's actions leading up to on January 6th.

Former Nixon White House counsel, John Dean -- there he is --he's here to talk to us all about this.

You're here live on CNN NEWSROOM.



ACOSTA: More members of the Oath Keepers are dealing with the reality of prison time for their roles in the January 6th insurrection. This week, a judge handed down sentences to the group's leader and several other members who played a key role in the capitol attack.

CNN contributor, former Nixon counsel, John Dean, joins us.

John, great to see you.

The longest sentence yet, 18 years, was handed down to Stewart Rhodes, the founder and the leader of the Oath Keepers.

I'm sure you saw what the judge said in this. He said, "I've never said this to anyone I have sentences sentenced. You pose an ongoing threat and peril to our democracy and the fabric of our country."

That was really striking, was it not, John? What did you make of this case? Was it satisfying you to see finally someone really hit hard with serious prison time after January 6th?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think the judge is just laying out the way it is, the reality. These people are a threat.

While they tried to plead and put the case in front of the judge as to how much good work they did during disasters, the judge cut through all of that and looked at their real actions and put, very unusually, a terrorism enhancement on their sentencing.

That's the reason they got high. They actually could have gone higher. But he threw the book at them.

So I think this is a judge recognizing the reality of the danger in dealing with them.

ACOSTA: Let's switch topics to the Trump investigation involving the Mar-a-Lago documents.

I'm sure you saw this this week. "The Washington Post" reported that Trump employees were moving boxes of papers the day before the Department of Justice went to Mar-a-Lago to collect some of these classified documents.

Does that speak to an intent and actions, do you think? What did you make of all of that?

DEAN: You know, the first reaction I had of that breaking news is how slow news breaks as to what's really happening in an investigation.

These are events that happened quite a while ago, but they're just dribbling out now. We're actually looking at breadcrumbs and getting reactions to them.

And these are breadcrumbs, they are part of a larger case that's going to clearly show with very clear intent that Trump obstructed justice with this investigation.

ACOSTA: Speaking of that, the Trump legal team wants the Department of Justice to close all of these federal investigations into him. Apparently, they reached out directly to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

I wanted to ask you about this, John. You have insights into some of these kinds of machinations and desperation on the part of top-level executive officials.

But Team Trump says it's the right thing to do, to allow the presidential campaign to move forward without interference.

What are their chances? What did you think of that outreach?

DEAN: Well, Jim, the letter was very ham handed. A professional letter written to the attorney general would have been a straight letter. It wouldn't have been released publicly as a document referring to the Hunter Biden investigation.

So I think Donald Trump's hands are all over this. This isn't the sort of letter or request you issue publicly but, rather, privately, if you really want a meeting.

So I think that there's a lot of staging, political staging going on here. And they're trying to get -- build a case that says, well, the attorney general would never meet with the lawyers for the former president.


That isn't necessary. The first line of a meeting is typically with the prosecutors. And I don't think they've had that meeting yet. At least that's the reporting.

ACOSTA: And to try to go over the head of Jack Smith, he's the special counsel handling these investigations, and trying to go to his boss is what it sounds like they were attempting to do.

DEAN: I think that's exactly what they were intending to do. I don't think the attorney general is going to tolerate it. I would be surprised if he had a meeting. I think he would refer them rather to Jack Smith.

And while it's clear there is -- there have been no, obviously, indictments issued to date, he's getting towards the end of this investigation, so I think they're trying to be preemptive somewhat, trying to throw a little disruption into the process.

That's what Trump is good at. He's a chaos master. So that's a little bit of his actions and the sort of thing we can anticipate in this litigation and prosecution goes forward.

ACOSTA: Yes. Would you have advised him to send that letter?

DEAN: No. Absolutely, it was -- I think it's a terrible mistake. It's a -- he thinks transactionally and politically. And he thinks short term rather than long term. And this all has negative implications long term.

It's not going to win him any favors with the special counsel. It's not going to help him politically, ultimately, when the indictment comes down.

But rather it's a short-term sort of, oh, I can try to squeeze the attorney general and show him how powerful I am kind of play and that just doesn't work at the level he's played.

ACOSTA: All right. John Dean, great to talk to you as always. Thanks so much.

DEAN: Thanks, Jim.

ACOSTA: Good to see you.

Up next, lawmakers in Florida were poised to protect election workers from harassment. Then conservative activists got involved and you can probably guess what happened after that. The details of that next.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



ACOSTA: For public officials in small towns to big cities nationwide, death threats and harassment are now part of the job. That's the main finding of a new report out of Princeton. Nearly every official described hostile behavior and abuse intending to cause fear and emotional abuse.

Perhaps no group has become more of a target in recent years than election workers. As some states consider new poll worker protections, so-called election integrity activists are fighting to ensure this doesn't happen.

Joining me to talk about this is University of Florida political science professor, Michael McDonald. His most recent book is called "From Pandemic to Insurrection, Voting in the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election."

Michael, thanks so much for being with us. Lawmakers there in Florida were poised to include new election worker

protections in a broad election bill signed by Governor DeSantis that would have made it a third-degree felony to harass and threaten election workers.

But the provision was removed at the last minute, apparently, due to pressure from a conservative group called Florida Fair Elections.

What is going on with this? What's the rationale for not wanting to protect election workers?

MICHAEL MCDONALD, POLITICAL SCIENCE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA & AUTHOR: Yes, it's a bipartisan effort across the country going on. Ten states, from Colorado, Oklahoma.

So we could have red and blue states that are passing these bills that do protect election workers and provide them with additional security.

Because, look, as you said, there's harassment. There were numerous instances of poll watchers who were disrupting poll voting and in polling locations and during early voting period during the last election.

This was all just a dry run for the 2024 election. That's what these groups say. And so we know that there's going to be a step up in these activities.

Some states are taking some positive steps to help protect their election officials. But unfortunately, Florida, at the last minute, even though the supervisors of elections here in Florida were very much in favor of this bill -- again, those are elected officials, they're bipartisan. They wanted that.

But unfortunately, there's a group that said they didn't want it. The legislature listened to them. We don't get it in Florida.

But, you know, I will give some credit to states that are moving forward. And we should because election officials, before the 2020 election, it was a job that wasn't so controversial. Now it's one of the hot-seat positions to be in.

And there are lots of people who are leaving those positions because simply they don't want the harassment anymore.

ACOSTA: Right. That is something we've heard time and again, that election workers are saying they can't do it anymore. They can't put themselves or their families through this sort of thing.

And voting rights groups are suing over a separate part of the law having to do with rules around voter registration. What are the new rules there? Why do they have advocates in this area so concerned?

MCDONALD: Well, basically, what -- here in Florida, they've passed a law that says, if you make a mistake, if you register somebody who wasn't a citizen, for example, what would you do as a third party?

You're out there registering people, someone comes up and provides that information to you, you don't know if they're a citizen or not.

You should get that form over to the election officials so that they can process it, they can do the checking to see if that person is, indeed, eligible to vote.

But if they do that now, and they don't know, unknowingly they register somebody who's not eligible to vote in Florida, then they're facing a very stiff fine. And those fines can go up to over $200,000 in aggregate.


And I was part of litigation on behalf of the Florida League of Women Voters back in 2008 that looked at a very similar sort of bill. It was about these sorts of registration forms that came in late and there would be penalties that would be assessed for those.

The courts said that was too punitive to make these add up, one on top of another for every form that might be somehow mishandled or inadvertently handled. And so the court said, no, you can't do that. So here we are back again.

And I don't know what the federal courts will do with this, but I can say, back in 2008, a very similar sort of framework that was put in place back then was found to be unconstitutional.

ACOSTA: All right. Michael McDonald, it's an important issue. Election workers deserve to be protected. Not just protected but also thanked for the important work that they do.

Of course, people try to sign up folks to do it as well. They're doing great work themselves.

Michael McDonald, thanks so much. Important issue. We'll get back to you on this as well in the future. We really appreciate it.

We'll be right back.



ACOSTA: The CNN original series, "THE 2010S" is back with an all-new episode examining Donald Trump's meteoric rise to the presidency.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the second debate, Trump pulls a stunt and he invites four women who had accused Bill Clinton of different forms of sexual assault and harassment.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: What they're saying is irrelevant because it is the picture that Donald Trump and his campaign want to get out here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Most candidates would be, frankly, too ashamed to do that. Not Trump. He was fine with it. He wanted to get into her head.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Bill Clinton was abusive to women. Hillary Clinton attacked those same women.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Behind the scenes, Hillary Clinton is left in this weird position of, how do I explain this? Her aides are essentially advising her to play it cool. That is hard for her, but she does it effectively.

HILLARY CLINTON, (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE & FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: When I hear something like that, I am reminded of what my friend, Michelle Obama, advised us all: When they go low, you go high.

BASH: It was baked in that Donald Trump was a reality star who had three wives, who did all kinds of things that ended up in the tabloids. They knew that.

The fact that he took that to the next level, we were all shocked that he did that in the moment. But in retrospect, I don't know why we were shocked.


ACOSTA: An all-new episode of the CNN original series "THE 2010S" airs tomorrow at 9:00 p.m. Eastern and Pacific only on CNN.

And we'll be right back.