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Trump And Biden Prepare For CNN Debate Next Week; Raskin & AOC Answers From Chief Justice Roberts; Tropical Storm Alberto Set To Make Landfall In Mexico. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired June 20, 2024 - 05:00   ET



MANU RAJU, CNN ANCHOR: It's Thursday, June 20th.

Right now on CNN THIS MORNING:

Just seven days until President Biden and Donald Trump face off on CNN's debate stage, an exclusive new reporting on how both camps are preparing.

Plus, cleaning up the Supreme Court. The new push from Democrats who question the ethics of some of the justices.

And the first tropical storm of this season could make landfill -- landfall anytime now. But Mexico and Texas are already feeling the effects.


RAJU: It's 5:00 a.m. here in Washington. Here's a live look at New York.

Good morning, everyone. I'm Manu Raju, in for Kasie Hunt. It's great to be with you this morning.

We're just one week out from CNN, the first presidential debate, which, of course, is right here on CNN.

The two candidates gearing up to face off in Atlanta for the first time in four years. President Biden at Camp David with a tight circle of advisers, Donald Trump trying out attack lines with VP hopefuls, and he's already slinging insults and some baseless claims against President Biden ahead of the primetime showdown.


DONALD TRUMP, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT & 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Is anybody going to watch the debate?


He's going to be so pumped up. He's going to be pumped up. You know, all that stuff that was missing about a month ago from the White House, what happened? Who -- who left his -- somebody left it there.


RAJU: All right. As for Biden's debate strategy. He says, it's simple. All he has to do is let Trump do the talking.


INTERVIEWER: What do you think you need to accomplish on that debate stage?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Say what I think with him saying these things. The things he said are off the wall. I want to be a dictator on day one. I want to move in a direction where he talks about, you know, suspending the Constitution.

All I have to do is hear what he says -- remind people what he says and what I believe what he believes.


RAJU: Now, Biden is feeling a little wind at his sails this morning. A new poll by Fox shows him leading Trump by two points among registered voters. That lead is still though within the margin of error.

Now, June 27 will be an historic night, the first time a sitting president will debate a former president.

So joining me now to discuss all of this, "Axios" political reporter, Stef Kight.

Stef, good morning.


RAJU: Thanks for being here in this early morning.

KIGHT: Yeah.

RAJU: So, obviously, this is prime time for debating at this moment.

So CNN does have some new reporting which are reading this morning, but just how the two men are entering this phase. It says how each man is preparing for the debate is ultimately a microcosm of their differences as candidates and each will enter the CNN's studio with different object -- divergent objectives.

It goes on to say that Biden has been focused on ways to hold Trump accountable, mirroring the -- mirroring the broader political strategy that his White House and campaign have been deploying.

It says: Trump is aiming to assure voters he can be a steadier and more effective leader than his successor, despite all the issues, including those legal ones swirling around him.

How do you see it playing out?

KIGHT: I mean, I think it's really interesting that both campaigns have clearly bet on the fact that when they're together face-to-face, they'll remind American voters why they deserve a second term. These are known knowns, were going into this, both of them have baggage with them, have things that can point to from their own administrations and they both have one or ability is going toe-to-toe in front of a light -- in front of, you know, live audience who's watching at home.

RAJU: And if we do, we're watching at home.

KIGHT: Yeah.

RAJU: How they -- two aging men, how they perform under the spotlight.

KIGHT: Right, and in many ways, how they say what they're going to say on stage is going to matter more than what they say. People are waiting to see whether Biden will come off as energize and in control, and whether Trump will take a more measured approach than we've seen, for example, the first debate last time around when there was so much shouting that it was hard to really gain anything.

RAJU: And, hey, perfect segue into the shouting match last time around from 2020 in that debate.


BIDEN: The question is -- the question is --


BIDEN: Would you shut up, man?

TRUMP: Who is on -- listen, who's on your list, Joe? Who's on your list?

MODERATOR: All right. Gentlemen, I think we've ended this --




RAJU: So, yes, so this time, there'd be muting, the mics will be muted when they're not speaking. And who does that actually benefit? You know, I've talked to some people say maybe this actually could benefit Trump in some ways because Trump didn't look particularly good the last time around when he was trying to talk over Biden the whole time.

KIGHT: I mean, that's certainly something we hear from people in Trump's circles that they think that rule could actually help Trump and make him seem kind of prevent him from being his own worst enemy and jumping in and kinda bulldozing Biden. They are, you know, as CNN reported, they are hoping -- Trump is hoping to come across as more measured, as someone the American public can trust.

He has a lot at stake here, and of course, he -- he loves to jump in. We know that he loves to speak off the cuff, but he has a lot of stake -- lot at stake here, especially given all of his legal troubles leading up to the election. And we can -- we've seen that his campaign and Trump himself have been trying to be much more disciplined this time around.

RAJU: And just for Biden, "Axios" is reporting about a Democratic strategists in touch with the campaign, saying it's unclear to many of us watching from the outside, what are the president and his core team realize how dire the situation is right now and whether they have a plan to fix it. That is scary.

They're concerned about him, his -- well, how are you going to deal with this in this situation right now and just really the state of his campaign. Does the Biden campaign realize -- they hear all the Democratic bedwetting for lack of a better word, but oftentimes it discounted saying, you know, we will -- the people -- voters will focus on the race when it gets closer to the election.

Who's right?

KIGHT: Yeah. I mean, we certainly have heard from many Democrats and people close to Biden, people on the campaign who have been discounting some of these warning signs we have seen in the polls for the past several months.

Of course, this new Fox poll does show that Biden for the first time in a very long time is a little bit in front of Trump when you look at general polling. But its been a rough few months and there's -- there's no way around the fact that Biden's campaign is in danger and you just talked people around town, and many people are expecting Trump to win out in November at this point in time.

And, you know, the reporting clearly shows that there are people close to Biden who are concerned, who want him to take it more seriously, who want the campaign to take it more seriously. But we'll have to see whether we see another shift within the campaign or whether they just kind of stick to their guns.

RAJU: Yeah.

KIGHT: And say, let's keep touting the issues that we think matter.

RAJU: Yeah. I know, it's -- you mentioned that Fox poll. It is -- it's also notable. There was a shift on independence still in that poll from 44 to 52 Biden ahead, but there's still significant margin of error. He jumped eight points, I should say, for between May and now in that Fox News poll, among independent support. But there's the margin of error. A lot will change with the debate.

Stef Kight, thank you for waking up and joining me very early this morning and for your insight. Really appreciate it.

KIGHT: Of course. RAJU: All right. And don't forget, you can watch the first presidential debate next Thursday, right here on CNN and streaming on Max.

Jake Tapper and Dana Bash moderate live from Atlanta, beginning at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

Up next --


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): That is one of the most direct and dire threats to American democracy today.


RAJU: Democrats going after conservative Supreme Court justices.

Plus, relief from fire crews in a form of rain, but it could create an even bigger mess.

And stuck in space. Why two NASA astronauts will be stranded in orbit a little while longer.




REP. JAMIE RASKINS (D-MD): With their obscene ethical transgressions, they've completely forfeited their right to be called justice and unless I forget to do it from now on, they're just Judge Alito and Judge Thomas to me.


RAJU: All right. Fiery words there from Democratic Congressman Jamie Raskin for the Supreme Courts to most conservative members. And just a few hours, the nations highest court will meet and could issue decisions on a number of high-profile cases, including Donald Trump's -- Donald Trump's claim of immunity from criminal prosecution.

But on Capitol Hill, Democrats are continuing their push for greater oversight. In a new letter obtained first by CNN's Annie Grayer, Raskin and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are asking Chief Justice John Roberts to answer questions about what steps if any, he has taken to investigate ethics controversies involving conservative members on the court. Justice Alito and Thomas have come under increased scrutiny in recent months. Thomas for failing to disclose gifts and luxury travel he received from a conservative billionaire and Alito for flag flown outside his homes that seemed to indicate simply the for right-wing movements.

Now, Republicans have pushed back on these Democratic calls and here's what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said when I asked him earlier this month about Alito's flags.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: It seems to me they're just a nonstop attacks on the supreme court, week after week after week. We need to leave the Supreme Court alone, protect them.


RAJU: All right. And joining me now to discuss is that CNN reporter Annie Grayer who wrote the story on this Democratic effort this morning.

Good morning to you, Annie.


RAJU: Thanks for being here.

So, look, Democrats will, of course, you know, they're members of the minority, they'll send letters and they'll push for oversight. Those are easily dismissed.

But obviously, this is an issue that is animating the left right now, and, Republicans, of course, are going to ignore it.

GRAYER: Of course, I mean, this letter is really Democrats putting Roberts in the hot seat. They're saying, show us your work. What have you done as the chief justice of the Supreme Court to look into these ethics concerns?


And specifically, what is the recusal process look like? Because we've seen both Justices Alito and Thomas say that they are not going to recuse themselves from two very high-profile cases in front of the Supreme Court right now that there are concerns about and both having to do with the 2020 presidential election and the January 6 Capitol attack, those cases.

So, this letter is asking Roberts to answer written questions because Roberts has refused to meet with Democrats, Senate Democrats tried to schedule a meeting with him last month. So, this is Democrats continuing their push to try and hold the Supreme Court accountable as they see this as a really important political issue for them.

RAJU: Yeah, no question about it. And just on the question about recusal versus not, this is what the Supreme Court code of conduct for justices says about that question of justice should disqualify qualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judges impartiality might be reasonably be questioned.

Now, it's also up essentially to the justice themselves and they have decided not to do this. How do you think people will view? I mean, the immunity case could be -- could be decided today, and that is such huge implications obviously, immediately for this election, and the two federal criminal cases that Trump is facing, how are people going to view this case coming down, these numbers are going to -- you know, when they eventually rule? Democrats will immediately dismiss whatever Alito, Roberts sign onto.

GRAYER: Right. I think Democrats absolutely view this through a political lens and they are accusing the court of no longer being able to be impartial because of the accusations against an ethics concerns around Justices Alito and Thomas.

But this is -- I mean, we're dealing -- this is a long-standing issue, but we're dealing with separate branches of government here, and there really is not much that Congress can do. I mean, that's what were seeing, is this huge, this huge gap here where Congress wants to act. There's not really much they can do, and Roberts has made that clear.

So Democrats are trying to figure out how they can, how they can highlight what they view as these huge violations, especially coming up on November with these two justices sitting on the freedom corps with apparent violations.

RAJU: And obviously, there's a key political issue both for Biden and for Senate Democrats running keep control of the Senate on this issue, the question then bring it up.

I do want to ask you about some of your reporting this week about Congressman Matt Gaetz, the Florida Republican facing this ethics investigation. There is -- there was an announcement that was made by the ethics committee this week about what they were looking into regarding allegations of sexual misconduct they said, about potential illicit drug use. Now, he has denied all of this. He said this is a witch hunt, that there have been investigations after him time and again.

The challenge though for him is that yes, the Justice Department, they investigate some of the stuff, they had -- they declined to prosecute them. The ethics committees are much lower bar. It's just simply about whether or not, a member of Congress acted unbecoming of a member of Congress.

That is a much different standard and something that any member, particularly Gaetz, has to be worried -- concerned about.

GRAYER: It's a totally different ball game here. I mean, we're not looking at criminal charges. It's not what Congress does. DOJ's, as you mentioned, dismiss that, but there are serious ethics concerns that the committee continues to investigate.

And this was a really rare statement for the committee to make, which is notoriously very private about its work and really only puts out the final product. So, to give us an update and tell us what they're investigating and what they're no longer pursuing really shows kind of just how seriously they're taking this work and also just how profile it is.

I mean, Gaetz is continually attacking the ethics committee and making all sorts of claims about the investigation into him and totally undermining it in this, the ethics committee coming out and saying, we have a real investigation here. We've interviewed over half a dozen witnesses and we are continuing to pursue a number of leads. And this investigation is not going away.

RAJU: And, of course, the subtexts of all this, he, of course, led the charge to oust Kevin McCarthy as speaker? He then blamed McCarthy for initiating this investigation. McCarthy himself has denied it.

McCarthy, meantime, wants to defeat Gaetz in his primary later this summer, and we'll see this becomes an issue for him. There's a report issued before his primary, how does it affect things? Very interesting development involving a member of Congress who is denying those allegations, but we'll see what voters decide.

Annie Grayer, thank you for coming in this morning. Really appreciate it.

All right. Ahead, tropical storm Alberto set to make landfall in Mexico and already proving deadly.

Plus, Britain's prehistoric Stonehenge defaced.



RAJU: All right. Topical storm Alberto said to make landfall in Mexico this morning, bringing more heavy rain, gusty winds, and flooding to south Texas. Parts of New Mexico reeling from wildfires set to get another round of rain today. That could provide some much needed relief, after triggering flash flooding and debris flows on Wednesday, officials say at least two people have died.

Meteorologist Elisa Raffa joins us.

So, Elisa, what are you seeing?

ELISA RAFFA, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We've got still a tropical storm spinning there this morning, very close to making landfall this morning, landfall is just when that center point, you know, starts to work its way over land. But we have had the rain, the storm surge for an entire day now, winds right now, 50 miles per hour, as it continues to move west.

We also well still have a tornado watch and effect from Corpus Christi down towards Brownsville, Texas, because some of these bands kind of spin on shore. You can get some brief and weak tornadoes to spin as these bands get on land.


We've had some heavy rain, that's why the flood watches continue. You can see all the flood alerts lining the coast there, with some rain totals already, you know, two to four, even upwards of six inches across parts of south Texas. We've had in Rockport, Texas more than five inches of rain just from Alberto, which is more than the entire month of June's average.

So, again, a months worth of rain. On top of this, we've also had storm surge up to about four feet in spots and you can see some of that ocean water that has run inland. Some of the observed storm surge has been about two to three, even upwards of four feet especially around places like Galveston.

So, you can see the heavy rain starts to push into Mexico as we go through or continues, I should say, to Mexico as we go through the day today. Notice how far west these showers track. There's New Mexico. We'll find some of these tropical downpours getting into there, as we get into Friday.

Now, yesterday, we had a flash flood emergency because the problem is, yes, we need rain there, but when you get too much too fast over burn scars, I mean, there's nowhere for that water to go. So, this created some problems yesterday, so we're hoping that they get the relief that they need with the rain. But it's not too heavy all at once because we still have some of these active fires with zero containment, they need the rain. You've got extreme and exceptional drought conditions still in New Mexico -- Manu.

RAJU: Yeah, let's hope that relief comes fast and furious.

Elisa Raffa, thank you for that.

And it is 25 minutes past the hour. So here's your morning roundup.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. raising $2.6 million for his campaign in May, but the new filing also shows he burned through $6.3 million.

Prosecutors planning to paint Alec Baldwin as reckless in his upcoming "Rust" manslaughter trial in July. They claim Baldwin acted dangerously on set in the days leading up to the fatal shooting of the film's cinematographer.

Environmental protesters arrested after vandalizing Britain's Stonehenge. The 5,000-year-old landmark was sprayed with orange powder paint. That same paint later thrown on to private planes parked in a London airport where Taylor Swift's jet is thought to have landed ahead of her tour stop.

Ahead, a pivotal Republican primary in Virginia still close -- too close to call.

Plus, only pirates do this. That's how the Philippines is describing an encounter with China's coast guard.