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Special Counsel Defends Handling Of Mar-a-Lago Documents; Today: Rep. Bowman's Democratic Primary Election; Panthers Win First Stanley Cup In Team History. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired June 25, 2024 - 05:30   ET



KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back. Seconds before 5:30 a.m. here in Washington. A live look at the White House on this Tuesday. Good morning, everyone. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's wonderful to have you with us.

New this morning, special counsel Jack Smith's office defending his investigators' handling of the classified documents that were found at Mar-a-Lago.

In a scathing late-night filing that included never-before-seen evidence photos, the special counsel's office claims investigators found boxes with their contents spilled on the floor, insisting "Nothing has been lost, much less destroyed, and there has been no bad faith. The court should see Trump's newly invented explanations, and his motion for what they are -- his latest unfounded accusations against law enforcement professionals doing their jobs."

Let's bring in Deborah Pearlstein. She's a constitutional law professor at Princeton University. Deborah, good morning to you.

Things seem to be getting pretty contentious here for the Jack Smith team to kind of put these photos out there in response to accusations from the Trump team.

What do you make of kind of the tone, tenor, and level of tension that we seem be seeing here?


It is extraordinary and there are a number of things that have become extraordinary about the case as it has gone on and really stretched out in these pretrial proceedings over a period of months. Even though both parties -- both sides of the case agreed some months back that they would be prepared to go to trial over the summer, the judge, extraordinarily, has not yet set a trial date.

And most recently, in the last few days, beginning last Friday, there have been a series of hearings in the case involving the former president's challenge to the legality of the special counsel's authority altogether. These are authorities and laws that have been upheld by the Supreme Court for 50 years and, indeed, have been used since the 19th century in the country.

So as trial -- or as trial should be getting closer and it's yet not, the judge's really sort of extraordinary behavior in this case is becoming I think increasingly contentious and is driving the growing tension in the case in general.

HUNT: Deborah, I also want to kind of dig into with you what else -- the other major case that is going on with Donald Trump and Jack Smith, which is the immunity question -- or I should say it's the January 6 prosecution.

What we are waiting for is an answer to the question of immunity that the Supreme Court is expected to weigh in on basically any day. Starting Wednesday, they announced that Thursday and Friday are also going to be days when they hand down decisions. And we know that the court typically waits until the very last day of their term. Usually, it's in June, but we could be pushing July this time around.

What do expect from the court? What do you make of their announcement that they were adding these two additional days, and what are you looking for?

PEARLSTEIN: So the court, by its own practice and its own decision, usually tries very hard to finish issuing all of the decisions of the term by the end of June or at the latest, early July. The justices like to be able to leave for the summer and do other things. So that's what's driving the current -- the current sort of race to the end.

Just yesterday, the court, as you said, adding three more decision days that haven't previously been on the calendar, meaning that they will be issuing opinions Wednesday, Thursday, Friday this week. They may yet -- although they have at least a dozen cases yet to hand down before the end the term, they may yet get them all done before July.

And one of those cases, of course, is related to the January 6 attack. In fact, two of them. One, as you mentioned, the Trump immunity decision that the court granted review on some months back now and has not yet issued an opinion. This is a decision about whether or not the president is immune from any criminal prosecution for official acts while in office.

The lower courts have said categorically, no. And the vast majority of law professors and legal authorities agree there's simply no reason, sort of, in the history of the Constitution or the history of the country to believe that the president is completely immune from criminal prosecution.

So the fact that the court has taken this long to decide the case and the hours it has spent in oral argument in which a number of the justices raised questions about the scope of what immunity might exist, has raised concerns and speculation about the nature of the decision the court might issue.

What I expect, ultimately, in the next few days here -- probably the end of the week at the earliest -- is that the court will say no, the president doesn't have absolute immunity from criminal prosecution. But at least through some concurring opinions may raise questions about certain circumstances in which the president is immune and send --


HUNT: Right.

PEARLSTEIN: -- the case back down to the lower court, which would push trial even further past the fall.

HUNT: Right -- of course, denying the public a chance to see any of this happen or be decided before they have to decide whether or not to send Donald Trump back to the Oval Office.

Briefly, Professor, Samuel Alito was not present for arguments late -- or for decisions late last week, which was highly unusual. What was up with that?

PEARLSTEIN: I wish I had a good answer to that question. The court hasn't released any. It is unusual. I's possible Justice Alito is ill. It's possible something else is going on. We really don't know.

And that's part of the concerns -- growing concerns about the court's lack of transparency not only with when its decisions will come down -- something that it has never been particularly transparent about -- but increasingly in response to the growing ethical concerns surrounding some of the justices on the court.

HUNT: Right.

All right, Professor Deborah Pearlstein. Thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate it.

All right, let's now go to politics. Democratic Congressman Jamaal Bowman's political future in New York is going to be decided at the ballot box. It's been a historically expensive primary election and it's basically a battle between the progressive win, on the one hand, and establishment Democrats on the other.

Bowman is running against George Latimer. Latimer has gotten support from people like Hillary Clinton, and his bid is being propelled by pro-Israel groups.


REP. JAMAAL BOWMAN (D-NY): We are going to show (bleep) AIPAC the power of the (bleep) South Bronx.


HUNT: OK. Joining me to discuss is Mychael Schnell. She's a congressional reporter for The Hill. Mychael, good morning. Always wonderful to have you on the show.


HUNT: I mean, the tenor of what you saw there and the tone I think says a lot about the emotions that are running in this race.

What do you think this is going to tell us?

SCHNELL: Yeah, this is one of the most explosive, if not the most explosive House Democratic primary this cycle. The most expensive but the most charged -- emotionally charged, politically charged.

I think that there are going to be two things here.

A) it's going to tell us how the issue of the Israel-Hamas War is really playing within the Democratic circles -- not in Washington, but at home among votes. The issue that has emerged as most important in this race in New York's 16th Congressional District is that Israel- Hamas war.

You have someone like Jamaal Bowman, a pro-Palestinian progressive who is up in arms about the mounting humanitarian deaths in the Gaza Strip up against George Latimer, who is a local -- a local politician but somebody who has shown his pro-Israel bona fide. So we're seeing that Democratic split play out in full focus right now.

It's going to be a big question of where Democratic voters at home -- you know, on the ground -- where they fall in this debate.

And then the second thing it's going to tell with -- and it's within that first thought, is the strength of the progressive movement. If Bowman is picked off here in this primary, he would be a very large voice in the so-called Progressive Squad to lose his seat in this primary. It's going to test the potency of the progressive movement on the floor -- on the ground with voters on this extremely emotionally charged issue of the Israel-Hamas war.

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was -- has been backing Bowman here. Let's just play a little bit more. This is her, but also Bowman, on Saturday, campaigning in this race -- let's watch.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): Jamaal Bowman dared to speak up for Palestinians. AIPAC doesn't give a damn about us. AIPAC doesn't give a damn about the Bronx.

BOWMAN: So we going to roll up our sleeves and we doing to let the guns out. We going to show them who the (bleep) we are. AIPAC is scared to death.


HUNT: So, of course, they're talking about the American Israel Political Action Committee, which has -- they historically support many conservative --

SCHNELL: Um-hum.

HUNT: -- candidates, but fundamentally, they support Israel. And they have been very involved in this race. Let's take a little bit -- let's take a look at a little bit of how they are framing things -- watch.

SCHNELL: Um-hum.


POLITICAL AD, UNITED DEMOCRACY PROJECT: Jamaal Bowman keeps attacking President Biden. Jamaal Bowman has his own agenda and he's hurting New York.

ELISHA WIESEL, BUSINESSMAN, HEDGE FUND MANAGER: Will you make your voice heard? Will you confront Jamaal Bowman's lies and conspiracy theories, or will you sit by silently?


HUNT: And, of course, Bowman is using the word "genocide" to say what his opponent supports here.

What do you see -- and there's a lot there?

SCHNELL: Yeah. I mean, first off, it's the money game, right? AIPAC has spent roughly $14 million for ads in -- you know, against Jamaal Bowman and in support of George Latimer. That's one of the reasons why this is the most expensive House primary in history.


I believe there's about $24 million that has been spent in this race -- around that figure. Fourteen million coming from AIPAC. It's why we've been hearing a lot about AIPAC from progressive groups. The money game here is huge.

But the second thing is it gets back to that original point that typically, when you see these Democratic primaries -- where you see a centrist candidate up against a more progressive candidate, you see more kitchen table issues being the key focus and how close the progressive -- the centrist is to President Biden. Seeing -- it's sort of a look at President Biden's record -- the incumbent's record and how they're fairing. That has nothing to do with this primary. The main focus here has been the Israel-Hamas War.

And look, Jamal Bowman was one of the first early lawmakers to call for a ceasefire. He has been accused of his comments teetering into the areas of antisemitism. It's why this has been such a polarizing primary not just at home in New York's 16th, but also up on Capitol Hill.

Yesterday, we saw the first sitting lawmaker endorse against the incumbent. Congressman Josh Gottheimer --

HUNT: Very rare, we should note.

SCHNELL: -- very rare.

HUNT: Yeah.

SCHNELL: Josh Gottheimer, a very pro-Israel Jewish Democrat up on Capitol Hill coming out and saying I'm supporting George Latimer in this race. And there could be more. Ritchie Torres has sort of hinted that he may end up endorsing in this race against Jamaal Bowman.

So it shows a) how polarizing this --

HUNT: He better do it fast if he's going to do it.

SCHNELL: I know. He -- he's running out of time. But he's been sort of teasing and hinting at it.

HUNT: Yeah.

SCHNELL: But again, even that is sort of unprecedented in the sense of an incumbent potentially endorsing against another incumbent in an election year cycle where control of the House is truly up for grabs.

So it shows a) how polarizing this issue of the Israel-Hamas War is within the Democratic Party and we've seen that since October 7. But it's really coming to terms now as voters are heading to the ballot box.

And b) again, the potency of the progressive movement. Will it be able to make it through this current question --

HUNT: Um-hum.

SCHNELL: -- about the direction of the Democratic Party or is the Democratic Party just saying at this point and at this fissure, when you talk about the Israel-Hamas War, we're siding with the pro-Israel Democrats. Big questions that will likely be answered today.

HUNT: Really interesting.

All right, Mychael Schnell. Thanks very much.

SCHNELL: Thanks, Kasie.

HUNT: Always appreciate you being here.

All right. Coming up next, the scenarios both sides hear most in Thursday night's CNN presidential debate. Plus, a Stanley Cup champion finally crowned. The Bleacher Report is ahead.



HUNT: All right, welcome back.

Two days and counting until the historic first presidential debate of 2024 right here on CNN. While teams Biden and Trump are fine tuning their strategies for Thursday night's faceoff, there's one scenario both sides are dreading, and the night may boil down to just a single question.

CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein joins us now with more from his new piece. Ron, good morning. Always wonderful to have you.

So let me just --


HUNT: -- tell everyone here how you frame this. You say that "A halting or tentative performance from Biden could harden the doubts of voters who consider him too old or weak for the job. In turn, a hectoring or volatile performance from Trump, like the one he delivered in 2020's first debate between the two men, would reinforce voter concerns that returning the former president to the Oval Office risks perpetual chaos and conflict."

So, Ron, before you start, I just -- I want to give everyone a little taste -- a reminder, shall we say, of what that chaos looked like back in 2020. There were -- there was -- there was a lot interrupting shall we say. Take a look.



JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want to make sure that --

TRUMP: Joe, you're the liar.

BIDEN: I want to make sure --

TRUMP: You graduated last in your class; not first in your class.

BIDEN: I -- God. I want to make sure --

CHRIS WALLACE, DEBATE MODERATOR: Mr. President, can you let him finish, sir?


HUNT: So there we have it.

Ron, what do you -- what do you expect?

BROWNSTEIN: Well look, I mean, the -- I think the history of presidential debates is when they matter, and they haven't always mattered. When they have mattered, it's because they reveal something to the voters about the personal qualities of the candidates -- their character and confidence -- more than they matter because one side -- one candidate has definitively won a policy argument against the other.

And I think that dynamic is likely to be especially true this time because you have two candidates who are facing such pointed questions about whether they are fit for the job.

For Biden, the questions do revolve around competence. Whether he is still up to the job now, much less for another four years.

And for Trump, even though the retrospective job approval on his presidency has been going up because people are focusing on contrasted inflation, there are still enormous doubts about his volatility, his divisiveness, his fundamental commitment to democracy and the rule of law.

So I think the -- you know, what they say may not be even as important as how they say it and the judgments voters take about their personal fitness to do this job over the next four years.

HUNT: Ron, what does it say to you that the Trump folks are so aggressively trying to raise expectations for --


HUNT: -- President Biden, basically?

BROWNSTEIN: Yeah. I mean, I -- they kind of overshot the mark when they were originally downplaying this, which, I mean, I actually don't think what they do matters that much. I mean, you know, voters are making their judgments about Biden based on watching him and what they see.


I mean, certainly, he has a lot of claims that he has been a surprisingly effective president in the -- in the aspects of the presidency that unfold outside of public view. I mean, the way he kind of stage managed those legislative wins in his first two years, and the way he's handled international diplomacy in Ukraine is real -- you know, it's been kind of more difficult story.

But I think part of the presidency is the power to persuade, as Richard Neustadt said. I mean, the ability to project strength and to deliver a message in a way that mobilizes support is a big part of the job. And the public has, I think, had because of the way Biden presents himself in public, that has fed these doubts about whether he's too old to do -- you know, to keep doing this. And this is just -- and (INAUDIBLE).

Kasie, I think the range of outcomes for Biden is much wider than for Trump at this debate. It could either go very well and take him a long way toward resolving some of those doubts, or it could confirm them or reaffirm them and put Democrats in a difficult position.

HUNT: Who do you think, very briefly, is more at risk of losing their cool on stage on Thursday?

BROWNSTEIN: I think they're both at risk of losing their cool -- and as I say, in different ways.

I mean, for Biden, the risk is that it will come across as disjointed and kind of unable to maintain a coherent argument, which would reinforce those doubts.

And for Trump -- look, for all of the -- you know, Trump leads by 10, 12, 15 points on who you trust to handle the economy. And the race is a one-point or so race. That is a reflection of the fact that there are millions of Americans who think that Trump will be better for their bottom line but are still unwilling to vote for him because of everything else he brings to the presidency.

And his job isn't so much to make the case to fire Biden. That's 60 percent of Americans or 58, or whatever disapprove of his job performance. His job is to make it clear -- I mean, convince America that he's an acceptable alternative. In that way, it's a lot like Reagan in '80 or Clinton in '92. He more has to kind of reassure voters who are ready to make a change that he's an acceptable change. He just faces bigger hurdles than either Reagan or Clinton because so much more opinion about him is solidified than they face going into their debates.

HUNT: Yeah, for sure.

All right, Ron Brownstein for us this morning. Ron, always grateful to have you. Thank you so much for coming on.

All right, time now for sport. For the first time in team history, the Florida Panthers are Stanley Cup champions.

Coy Wire has more on this game-seven thriller. It's the Bleacher Report. Coy, good morning.

COY WIRE, CNN SPORTS ANCHOR: Top of the morning to you, Kasie.

Win or lose, this was going to be a historic game for the Panthers. They won the first three games of the series against the Oilers, looking like a sweep. Then they lost the next three and needed a win last night to avoid becoming the first team since 1942 to lose a 3-0 series lead in the final.

And it those Panthers from Florida striking first. Carter Verhaeghe sending the home fans into a frenzy off that redirect from Evan Rodrigues. He scores his 11th playoff goal, tying the team record for the most in a single postseason.

The lead was short-lived though. Edmonton's Mattias Janmark strikes oil with a breakaway goal just over two minutes later. We're tied at one. The Oilers nearly take the lead in the second period when Warren Foegele's shot gets passed Sergei Bobrovsky and the net. But look at Dmitry Klokov diving into the net to make the save.

And that opened the way for Sam Reinhart. He skates to the other end of the ice and buries the rister (PH) from the right circle.

The Panthers win 2-1. This was either going to be the worst day in the franchise history or the best.

And many great storylines here, like Matthew Tkachuk doing something his dad, 5-time All-Star Keith Tkachuk could not -- hoisting that Stanley Cup in victory.


MATHEW TKACHUK, FORWARD, FLORIDA PANTHERS: It's not a dream anymore. It's not a dream -- it's reality. I can't believe it. I can't believe it. I can't believe how good these two years have been.

I'm so thankful for this group of guys. It's the best -- it's the best place, best guys. It's something really special here with what we have.


WIRE: Oilers' superstar Connor McDavid is your Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff's MVP -- just the sixth player from the losing team to win it. But it's heartbreak for him and Edmonton, one win shy of winning Canada its first title in more than 30 years.

From the kings of the ice to the dukes of the diamond men's College World Series. Tennessee taking on Texas A&M in the winner-take-all game three. Bottom of the seventh, Vols already up 5-1. And watch this. Is this the greatest slide you've ever seen? Tennessee's Hunter Ensley, the seemingly impossible path to home plate, navigated beautifully. He avoided the tag to score.

The Aggies fought back but it's Tennessee winning 6-5. It's their first baseball title in school history.


All right. LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers officially have a new head coach, former player JJ Redick, and analyst at ESPN was introduced yesterday. He takes over the team with his only coaching experience coming with his kid's youth team. Do you think he cares? Uh-uh. Listen to this.


JJ REDICK, HEAD COACH, LOS ANGELES LAKERS: I really don't give a (bleep) -- like, honestly. I want to coach the Lakers. I want to coach the team. I don't want to dispel anything -- I don't. I want to become a great coach in the NBA, and I want to win championships. And I want my players to maximize their careers. That's all I (bleep) care about.


WIRE: Kasie, he's also LeBron James podcast partner. They started a podcast together. And now he's also his coach. And many people very curious to see how this is going to go.

HUNT: I'm curious, too, but I've got to say if that's the attitude, I'm here for it.

WIRE: Hey.

HUNT: I am absolutely here for it. Coy, thank you so much.

WIRE: You got it.

HUNT: All right. Coming up next here, the Supreme Court adding two more opinion days this week. The high-stakes cases still pending.

Plus, Joe Biden and Donald Trump getting ready for their first debate of 2024. One candidate hopes that those preparations include drug testing.


MARTIN SHORT, ACTOR, COMEDIAN: He says he wants them both to submit to a drug test before the debate. Do you have any idea how long it takes to get a urine sample from men who are close to 80?