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Hurricane Beryl Churn Towards Jamaica; Justice Department Plans to Pursue Trump Cases Even Past Election Day; Some Top Democrats Want Biden Out of the Race this Week; Admitted Fake Trump Elector Refuses to Resign. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired July 03, 2024 - 10:30   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: At this moment, Hurricane Beryl is hurtling toward Jamaica and powerful storm force winds are already hitting the eastern part of the island. So, on the right side of your screen, that's what this Cat 4 storm looks like from space. It is massive. As you can see, these two graphics do -- both that image and the graphic really show that to you. The hurricane is expected to generate a life- threatening storm surge of nine feet.

One American couple currently honeymooning on the island spoke to CNN earlier this morning about how they're preparing.


WARNER HALEY, STRANDED IN JAMAICA ON HONEYMOON: The first thing we did when we realized that we're stuck is we started investigating the entire resort that we're on to find the safest location from all windows and all direct airways to prevent any debris from following us. So, as far as we're concerned, we might have to resort to hiding in the stairwell where we've investigated earlier.


HILL: Probably not what you anticipated doing on your honeymoon is looking for the nearest stairwell. CNN's Rafael Romo joining us now from Kingston, Jamaica. I know it looks clear and a little calm behind you, Rafael, but I know that you are bracing because there is a lot headed your way to the island.

RAFAEL ROMO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. And it's the kind of conditions that confuse many people before the hurricane because you see on and off rain, you feel the wind one moment, then it dies down. The water is calm right now. But make no mistake, that hurricane is heading in our direction. And we were talking about a surge of maybe 10 feet.

And look behind me, this is the old pier here in Downtown Kingston. There are places along the wall that indeed are greater than 10 feet, but right next to where I am, it's probably no more than six, seven feet. So, if we actually get that kind of surge, there's nothing other than this wall protecting this part of the city from the surge.

On the other side of me is the street. There are hotels, many businesses that are boarded up already. And so, it gives you an idea of the kind of threat that this part of the city is going to face. Not to mention the fact that even if Beryl doesn't make direct landfall here in Jamaica, it's still going to cause torrential rains, devastating winds, and people here have great anxiety because they have seen what happened in Barbados. They have seen what happened in Grenada and they fear it may happen here, too.

Let's remember Hurricane Beryl is the first Category 5 storm recorded in the Atlantic. So, that gives you an idea of the kind of forces we're looking at here. Now, back to you.

HILL: Yes, understandable. That apprehension there. Absolutely. Rafael, appreciate it. You and your team, stay safe.


Coming up here, new reporting. The Justice Department plans to continue to push ahead with its cases against Donald Trump even after the election and even if he wins.


HILL: The Justice Department will continue to go after, move forward with criminal cases against Donald Trump, even past election day, even if the former president wins. That's according to new reporting from "The Washington Post." All of this coming, of course, just two days after the Supreme Court ruled that Trump may claim immunity from criminal prosecution for some of his actions as president. An immunity, of course, that would go for all other presidents as well.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz joining us now live from Washington, D.C. with more on this. So, this reporting is basically even if Trump wins, the DOJ is not going to stop what it's doing. For how long, Katelyn?


KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, Erica. If these two cases still exist in November, the criminal documents case in Florida, mishandling classified records, and then the case against Trump related to the 2020 election in Washington, D.C., if those are going on toward trials still in November and Trump wins the presidency, then there would be still time for the Justice Department to continue those prosecutions, basically until inauguration day in January. That's because there is a longstanding department policy about not prosecuting a sitting president. But a sitting president isn't the president-elect. It's a different thing.

And so, "The Washington Post" is reporting that the Justice Department officials that are looking over this do believe that those cases could continue until January if Trump were to win the presidency. And that only the policy on the sitting president is what would stop those cases in January. That policy is something that has been there for a long time. And ultimately, Erica, these cases are in control of the courts until the Justice Department says to stand down.

HILL: And so, in terms of that moving forward, let's say hypothetically Donald Trump does win re-election, Merrick Garland though would, of course, still be in charge of the Justice Department, at least for a little while, how long could it take for there to be a change there after the inauguration?

POLANTZ: Well, there typically is someone that comes in from the previous administration who stays on as the acting attorney general when a new administration come -- would take office. But that is a long time ahead. There's a lot of things that could happen between now and then. We just don't know how the next months will play out, let alone the election or inauguration day.

But we do know right now that Donald Trump, he is using the Supreme Court decision that was brought at the beginning of this week on presidential immunity to his advantage in a lot of different ways. And that includes having his sentencing delayed in New York until September.

HILL: Yes, absolutely. Katelyn, appreciate it. Thank you.

Also, with me this hour, Axios Senior Contributor Margaret Talev. Margaret, always good to see you. So, when we look at this, you know, Donald Trump turning to this, as Katelyn laid out, helpful in his court cases, also has been helpful in terms of a little momentum they are hoping, meaning the Supreme Court decision for Donald Trump.

This announcement from the Justice Department -- or this reporting, I should say, from the Justice Department, how do you think that lands?

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, AXIOS AND DIRECTOR, SYRACUSE UNIVESITY, INSTITUTE FOR DEMOCRACY, JOURNALISM AND CITIZENSHIP: I think it depends on which group you're trying to make it land with. But if the argument is that you believe that, you know, this prosecution is just and is not political, you know, I think you have to continue with it. Why would you not, right? But the question is going to be how is this received in different camps.

So, far, the prosecution -- the multiple cases against the former president have been helpful in energizing his base, but have created a lot of consternation for sort of Americans in the center. And the idea that the breaks that are being put on some of these cases because the Supreme Court ruling may be a way to really energize Democratic voters or former Republican voters who are looking for a home.

And you are, of course, seeing President Biden now try to lean into that, in part to sort of raise the stakes about the election and in part to take some of the conversation away from the conversation about his debate performance and the profound strategic questions that those are raising inside the Democratic Party right now.

So, I think, you know, again, I think both campaigns are going to take what is supposed to be an apolitical message and message it politically to their respective bases. But in the end, so far, all of these criminal proceedings have not made a decisive impact on the trajectory of this race. And in fact, it looks in the early days as if President Biden's problems after that last debate and the dissent has sort of sprung up since then is having a much more immediate impact on the contours of the race than all of the prosecutions against the former president.

HILL: Yes, absolutely. And as that chaos, that turmoil, those questions are playing out on the Democratic side. I was struck by some comments following the Supreme Court's ruling from Heritage Foundation President Kevin Roberts talking about that ruling and sort of moving forward, certainly into campaign season. I want to play those comments for you.


KEVIN ROBERTS, PRESIDENT, HERITAGE FOUNDATION: In spite of all this nonsense from the left, we are going to win. We're in the process of taking this country back. We are in the process of the second American revolution, which will remain bloodless, if the left allows it to be.


HILL: That last part, which will remain bloodless if the left allows it to be. It's certainly not the first time that we've heard sort of similar rhetoric. But it is interesting to in the wake of this decision and as perhaps many people, many voters are distracted by all the chaos happening and surrounding Joe Biden.


TALEV: I mean, those comments are not targeted toward the center of America. Those comments are obviously an appeal to the conservative base. And so, I think, you know, what you have are -- these two things move in tandem. I mean, the cases against the former president have raised a lot of concern among voters. And just as there are many voters who are now, you know, really concerned about whether President Biden is the right Democratic nominee to pursue another term, there also are Democrats who are saying that the contrast between whoever the Democratic nominee is and Trump is actually the more important contrast to be watching.

So, again, I think just like so many things in our politics, there's not one message for all American voters. These messages get fragmented, depending on who's delivering them and where they're trying to land. It's a big jumble right now if you're a voter trying to sort out your choice. But the question is, you know, are you concerned about -- are you more concerned about another term of Donald Trump? Are you more concerned about a continuation of the Biden administration and his policies?

HILL: There's another concern among Democrats in talking -- you know, in talking with folks and what we've heard both publicly and private conversations about the down ballot impact of Joe Biden remaining at the top of the ticket. How much is that moving to the top of the list of concerns?

TALEV: Yes. I mean, you're raising a really good point. There really are three key groups right now that are putting pressure on Team Biden. One is some Democratic elected officials, especially the front lines who are concerned about how this is going to impact their race, could Democrats potentially lose the White House and the Senate and the House. There are also Americans at large, the polls, you know. Where do Americans in polling land in the next couple weeks?

And then, the third really important group are donors. And you can bring your hands about the impact that money has in politics. But it is true that if major significant donors broke and said there needs to be a change at the top of the ticket, that that could have a real impact.

The strategic question for the -- two of those groups, the elected officials and the donors, it is, could it actually be more disruptive? Do you have an upheaval of trying to sort out a replacement nominee than just sticking with President Biden or is the aftermath of the past week such that they really need to pursue that course anyway?

I think we just don't know yet. I think it's really too soon, but I think there are two arguments, is sort of Biden versus himself and it's any Democrat versus Trump. And these are the two arguments that the Democratic Party is trying to sort out right now.

HILL: Yes, the one thing we can say, I think, is that it is messy, and there is certainly not a consensus today, that's for sure. Margaret, really appreciate it as always. Thank you.

Coming up, a fake Trump elector in Wisconsin is still overseeing elections in that state. The push to get him removed before November.



HILL: In Wisconsin, there are mounting calls for a Republican member of the state's Elections Commission to resign after he signed a false electoral college certificate for Donald Trump in 2020. Despite protests, however, Robert Spindell says he has no plans to step down. Here's CNN's Sara Murray.


CROWD: Spindell signed those election papers, a part of the conspiracy. He's one of the 10 false electors. Now known for their dishonesty.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Wisconsin Elections Commissioner Robert Spindell this is turning into a regular welcome. Although, it's the first time they've had a theme song.

REBECCA ALWIN, PROTESTER: We didn't have a song, believe it or not, specific to having a fake election. I'm shocked. But I wrote a song.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let the tellers to collect the ballots. MURRAY (voice-over): Roughly four years ago, Spindell was signing papers to serve as a Republican fake elector for Donald Trump, who lost the state by more than 20,000 votes. Those papers Spindell and other Wisconsin fake electors now admit we're part of an attempt to improperly overturn the 2020 presidential election results, something they acknowledged in a civil lawsuit settlement. But nothing in that deal blocked him from staying on the board that oversees elections in the Badger State.

SAM LIEBERT, WISCONSIN STATE DIRECTOR, ALL VOTING IS LOCAL: You know, it is a concern that someone who is an acknowledged fake elector oversees our elections.

MURRAY (voice-over): Sam Liebert is one of dozens of activists trying to keep the pressure on Spindel.

LIEBERT: Bob Spindell must resign from the Wisconsin Elections Commission, period.

MURRAY (voice-over): We caught up with Spindale heading into a commissioner's meeting.

MURRAY: I'm Sara Murray with CNN. Can we just ask you a couple --

MURRAY (voice-over): To ask if there was any chance he'd step aside.

MURRAY: Rigorous protest downstairs, calling for you to resign? Do you have any plans to do so?

ROBERT SPINDELL, WISCONSIN ELECTIONS COMMISSIONER: Well, I think they do that about every month.

MURRAY: So, you're used to it by now?

SPINDELL: Been around.

MURRAY: Do you think that they have a point after that civil settlement you signed when it came to the whole fake elector plot?

SPINDELL: No, I don't think so. That was all settled.

MURRAY (voice-over): He told us his goal this year is to ensure everyone can vote and election laws are followed.

MURRAY: What about 2020? Looking back now, I mean, you said there was fraud all over the place, all over the country.

SPINDELL: I didn't say that.

MURRAY (voice-over): He did, back in December 2020, without evidence to back it up.

SPINDELL: We have fraud all over the country in the 2020 election, especially in swing states.

MURRAY (voice-over): Now, he says -- SPINDELL: I think really nobody knows in terms of fraud, only God

knows, but I think we had a good election.

MURRAY (voice-over): Soon after, activists filed into the meeting room. From the jump, it turned contentious.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is imperative that you, Mr. Bob Spindell, resign immediately.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Commissioner Spindell has a question.


SPINDELL: The White Democrat administration placed 185 polling places to just five. So, don't talk to me, talk to your friends and white -- .

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is your question?

SPINDELL: -- Milwaukee White Democrats.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You should not be on the Wisconsin Election Commission representing any person in the State of Wisconsin. And it is imperative that you do what is right for our elections in this state and resign today.

MURRAY (voice-over): Outside, activists said they're also motivated by Spindell's previous comments, seeming to celebrate lower turnout among black and Hispanic voters in Milwaukee in the 2022 midterms, a characterization Spindell has disputed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The sense of entitlement was just real. He feels very protected.

MURRAY (voice-over): He has reason to feel secure. Wisconsin's Republican Senate majority leader, Devin LeMahieu, is the only person who has the authority to remove Spindell from the Wisconsin Elections Commission.

MURRAY: His office is right here, but he didn't want to talk to us.

MURRAY (voice-over): Speaker after speaker called on Spindell to step down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I call on him to do the ethical thing, the right thing, and to resign.

MURRAY (voice-over): Spindell's response.

MURRAY: No plans to resign? The protest --

SPINDELL: Oh, no. Of course not. You'll ask next month too.

MURRAY (voice-over): Protesters plan to keep up the fight. CROWD: Not one step back no way.


HILL: And our thanks again to Sara Murray for that report. We are following breaking news here from the Biden campaign. Stay with us. That's coming your way after the break.