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Trump, Biden to Square off in Debate Tomorrow; Details Emerge on Plea Deal that Freed Julian Assange. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired June 26, 2024 - 06:00   ET


KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: It's Wednesday, June 26. Right now on CNN THIS MORNING, one day to go. New details about the candidates' final preparations for tomorrow night's highly anticipated presidential debate.


Julian Assange, a free man, arriving minutes ago in Australia. How that plea deal that led to his release happened.

Primary results are in. One Republican incumbent -- You might recognize her -- gets to keep her job while a member of the Squad, the progressives, loses his.

And two members of Congress, one Democrat, one Republican, joining us live for their take on tomorrow's -- night's historic presidential debate.

Just after 6 a.m. here in Washington, a live look at the White House on this Wednesday morning. President Biden is not home. He is preparing for the debate at the Camp David.

Good morning, everyone. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's wonderful to have you with us.

The first 2024 presidential debate now just a day away. The rematch between President Biden and Donald Trump set for 9 p.m. Eastern Time tomorrow at CNN's world headquarters in Atlanta. It will be a night of firsts. A sitting president and a former president have never debated in modern times.

And this is the earliest, in the calendar, scheduled debate in recent memory.

But this is obviously not the first time that these two have stood opposite each other on the biggest political stage. The last time these two men faced off, you may remember, it was chaos.



DONALD TRUMP (R), FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT, 2024 PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You have a lot of Supreme Court justices --

BIDEN: The question is --

TRUMP: Radical left.

BIDEN: Will you shut up, man?

TRUMP: Listen, who is on your --

BIDEN: I'm not here to call out his lies. Everybody knows he's a liar.

TRUMP: You know, Joe, I ran because of you. I ran because of Barack Obama, because you did a poor job.

BIDEN: He's the racist. You're the worst president America has ever had.

TRUMP: We can't lock ourselves up in a basement like Joe does.

BIDEN: It's hard to get any word in with this clown.


HUNT: Oh, boy. Tomorrow night, new rules will be in place. The candidates will stand at podiums just a few feet from each other, Trump on the left, Biden on the right. There will be no audience in the studio as CNN's Jake Tapper and Dana Bash moderate the 90-minute debate.

And the candidates' microphones will only be turned on when it is their turn to speak, meaning interruptions or answers beyond time limits that the candidates agreed to might not be heard. So that will be different from last time.

Also different, the context, what's going on in the country. You may recall that just days after that contentious first showdown in 2020, then-President Trump was helicoptered to Walter Reed while deathly ill with COVID.

And that first debate also included this moment that would come back to haunt the country, when Trump failed to condemn the white nationalist Proud Boys.


TRUMP: I'm willing to do anything -- I want to see peace.


BIDEN: Say it. Do it. Say it.

TRUMP: Do you want to call them? What do you want to call them? Give me a name. Give me a name.

WALLACE: White supremacists -- white supremacists and right-wing --

BIDEN: The Proud Boys.

TRUMP: Proud Boys, stand back and stand by.


HUNT: OK. Let's bring in our panel: Evan Osnos, staff writer at "The New Yorker" and Biden biographer, basically; former Biden White House communications director Kate Bedingfield is here; and former Trump campaign adviser David Urban also joins us.

Good morning to all of you.


HUNT: Relative calm on this set this morning.


HUNT: We will see. It is early, but we're setting the stage for -- you know, we're not sure what we're going to see on stage on Thursday night from these two men.

But the 2020 debate was a very specific moment in time. Obviously, there has -- there have been some adjustments, Evan, in terms of how this is likely to play out. How do you think that the way that this is set up is going to impact how much this debate matters and how it matters?

EVAN OSNOS, STAFF WRITER, "THE NEW YORKER": The format is really important. I mean, it's really the closest analogy we have is 1960, you know, when JFK debated Richard Nixon. You had no studio audience. You have this kind of, at the time, quite orderly, atmospheric.


Today, nobody is expecting an especially quiet or sedate atmosphere, but it's just no question that having mics that can be silenced in between changes the whole nature for this thing.

Last time, Chris Wallace estimated that Trump interrupted more than 100 times. I think that one of the elements that -- that will allow Biden to emphasize is a message that he's been talking about recently, which is, as he said in a new set of ads, he said, look, this is -- Donald Trump is interested in himself. He's not interested in making changes and doing things for the middle class.

The degree to which Donald Trump talks about himself and goes on and on and on and seems to overstep the boundaries and overstep the limits, that says more about him than it does about the policies you want.

HUNT: So one of the things that Trump is out there talking about in the lead-up to the debate is the idea that there may be performance- enhancing drugs, I guess, if -- although he's not really specific. But I do think it's worth noting. We talked about these claims that Trump is making a little bit on the show yesterday, but we didn't go back and, you know, find the tape from before because, like, we've seen the movie. Let's look at kind of what Donald Trump had to say back in 2020 about

this, and actually I think even before that. I think it goes back to 2016. Just watch.


TRUMP: I think she's actually getting pumped up. So I think we should take a drug test. Anyway, I'm willing to do it.

They gave him a big fat shot in the (EXPLETIVE DELETED), and he comes out. And for two hours, he's better than ever before. You know. The problem is what happens after that? No, we're going to ask for drug tests. We are. I'd like to have a drug test. Both of us.

So a little before debate time, he gets a shot in the (EXPLETIVE DELETED). And that's -- they wanted to strengthen him up. He'll come out all jacked up. Right? All jacked up.


HUNT: Masks that say MAGA, that's a specific throwback. But David Urban, what's going on here?

URBAN: Yes. So look, I think what former President Trump does is kind of raise expectations, right? Joe Biden's not going to come out and be Sleepy Joe there. I think he's going to come out being combative.

If there's two things that need to occur for this day to be successful for both sides, Donald Trump needs be sedate, and Joe Biden needs to be animated, right? And so it's almost -- it's the reverse of what we see every day, right?

So Trump at the rally on Saturday was pretty good. You know, Evan -- Evan said if he's Grievance Donald Trump, that's problems for the Trump campaign.

Saturday night in Philadelphia, he was kind of on message about working for you, fighting for you, right? And Joe Biden has to appear dynamic. He has to appear vigorous. He has to be combative.

I think if Joe Biden comes out and is combative, people will think, whoa, who's this guy, right? I mean, that's what the Biden campaign wants to see.

The Trump campaign will just see the opposite. And so the mics being cut off, I think the format lends itself to more orderly debate. But I think both teams want to see something maybe a little bit different from their -- from their candidates.

You know, Kate's the director here. What do you say, Director?

BEDINGFIELD: Look, I broadly agree with that. I think -- I think for -- you know, for Trump, the aim here is to try to show these moderate suburban voters that he is a palatable option.

HUNT: And they shouldn't be scared. BEDINGFIELD: Yes, they shouldn't be scared of him. And, you know, we

know from that first debate in 2020, that was a bad moment for Donald Trump. I mean, on the Biden campaign in 2020, we saw his numbers fell off. We saw it in our data. I mean, that was not a good moment for him.

And I think we've seen a lot of reporting that suggests that -- and David would know better --

URBAN: That he gets it.

BEDINGFIELD: -- that he gets that, and he knows that. So I do think it's -- it's reasonable to expect that we will get a kind of more sedate version of Donald Trump.

URBAN: Second debate Donald Trump.

BEDINGFIELD: Whether we get that for 90 minutes, we'll see.

Also, don't underestimate, don't forget how much these two personally dislike each other. They really do.

And so I think, you know, the intensity of being onstage together, eight feet apart, with no audience, really just kind of mano-a-mano, you know, I think is going to add a little bit of --

URBAN: There you go.

BEDINGFIELD: -- a little bit of X-factor, shall we say?

OSNOS: It's worth remembering, you know, because Donald Trump didn't show up for the inauguration, they haven't been on stage in a very long time.

We often talk about how Donald Trump tried to steal this election. From Joe Biden's perspective, he tried to steal it from Joe Biden. There is an intense element to this.

HUNT: Yes.

OSNOS: That is going to be electricity that is right between these two.

URBAN: It's going to be like the Jake Paul, Donald Trump, that video. You see them staring each other down. That's what it's going to look like before the debate starts.

HUNT: About to pull that for some B-roll.

I mean, David, how -- how do you think that that affects Trump? I mean, you know Trump.

URBAN: I do. I agree. Listen, I think Kate's -- Kate's exactly correct. There's going to be this visceral response, right? They both personally -- there's a personal animus between each other. And so when they're standing there, when you -- from Evan to I's

distance apart, right? There's going to be, like, I want you, buddy. They may get in a fight. Who knows, right? They may throw down.

Biden said, I'll take him out back, right? I mean, Trump would take -- throw down. I mean, you may see, like the Jake Paul, Mike Tyson thing going on there, you know, Thursday night. Be -- we should have this on pay-per-view.


HUNT: We actually should dig those soundbites up, too, guys in the control room. Let's go looking for that.

All right. We've got a lot more to talk about this morning. Coming up next here, new reporting on that plea deal that led to the release of Julian Assange.

Plus, two members of Congress -- Democrat Debbie Dingell, Republican Tim Burchett -- here to preview tomorrow's presidential debate.

And then there's this. Massive wildfires triggering evacuations warnings in Fresno, California. It's one of the five things you have to see this morning.



HUNT: All right. Welcome back.

Wikileaks is preparing to weigh in this morning on the newfound freedom of its founder, Julian Assange.

Assange touched down in Australia moments ago for the first time in 12 years after formally entering a guilty plea in a U.S. court on the Northern Mariana Islands.

His attorney, using the opportunity to again frame their argument. They claim Assange had no business being locked up in the first place.


BARRY POLLACK, LAWYER FOR JULIAN ASSANGE: We firmly believe that Mr. Assange never should have been charged under the Espionage Act and engaged in exercise that journalists engage in every day.


HUNT: Assange pleaded guilty to conspiring unlawfully to obtain and disseminate classified information. It was one of the largest breaches of classified material in U.S. military history.

And now new details are coming to light about the circumstances leading up to the plea deal.

I'm joined now by CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez.

Evan, good morning to you. Wonderful to have you here.


HUNT: What are we learning about this?

PEREZ: Well, we know that, you know, over the years there was a lot of discussion between Julian Assange's lawyers and the Justice Department. Always really far apart.

But I think, you know, over the last couple of years, you've seen the Australian government become more involved. They -- there's a new left-leaning government there in the last couple of years that viewed his case as something that they wanted to champion.

You -- you saw, for instance, in October, Anthony Albanese, the prime minister, bring it up personally with -- with President Biden. We're told that -- you know, Kylie Atwood is told that, you know, pretty much over the last couple of years, every time Australian diplomats met with the U.S., they would bring up the case of Julian Assange.

And so what we see, like in April, we see that, you know, the Australian officials write to Attorney General Merrick Garland, saying we think that there's a deal possible. They also raised the possibility of a felony plea that would bring this down and resolve this.

Now, you know, some of this, I think, for Justice Department officials, they also were losing in court in England, where Assange has been holed up. He's been fighting extradition. And in May, they also lost another effort to try to get him extradited, lengthening this fight.

So I think what -- what ended up happening is you saw I think they came to terms with the idea that, you know, he's already served five years, which is probably about the maximum that he would probably have gotten if he had gotten convicted on one of these counts.

And they -- I think both sides decided that it was time.

In the case of Assange, he was insisting on a misdemeanor.

HUNT: Yes.

PEREZ: Which, of course, he didn't do. He got -- he got a felony. And he also wanted to make sure he did not come to a court in the continental United States, which is why he was in Saipan, in Northern Mariana Islands.

HUNT: Stopped -- of course, because why not?

PEREZ: Right. Because of opportunity (ph).

HUNT: Evan, what are the implications of this plea deal for press freedoms here in the U.S.? PEREZ: I think -- look, I think this one of the most fascinating parts

of this. The Obama administration looked at charging Julian Assange. Very much the same case. And they decided that there was too much of a risk of the precedent, right?

And the issue was, you know, if Wikileaks is -- is cooperating and partnering with U.S. news organizations to publish some of these stolen documents, you know, why are you going after Assange and not after "The New York Times" editor, for instance?

And so they were uncomfortable with it in their -- everything changed after the hack of the DNC documents. And Hillary Clinton targeted by Russian intelligence and passed to Wikileaks. That began changing the view of what was happening.

And in the end, what I think the government believes is that -- is Julian Assange was not a journalist. He was directing and actually encouraging people to steal stuff, which is something that -- a line that we don't cross when we're doing our work.

And so they view Julian Assange as in a totally different -- in a totally different way than, I think, certainly Barry Pollack, his lawyer, described him just now.

But you -- I mean, you're going to hear from Julian Assange today, and he is going to embrace this idea that I'm a journalist, and I was prosecuted for being a journalist. And I think the picture is a lot more complicated.

HUNT: All right. Evan Perez for us this morning. Evan, I'm so grateful to have you.

PEREZ: Thank you.

HUNT: Thank you very much.

All right. Ahead here, new CNN reporting: how President Biden and Donald Trump are gearing up in the final hours before tomorrow night's debate.

Plus, state of emergency in the Midwest after days of heavy rain. It's one of the five things you have to see this morning.



HUNT: All right, 23 minutes past the hour. Five things you have to see this morning.

Evacuation warnings near Fresno, California, as crews work to get control of two wildfires. The cause still under investigation, but it's suspected that lightning from recent thunderstorms are responsible.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MICHAEL PHELPS, FORMER U.S. OLYMPIC SWIMMER/GOLD MEDALIST: The hardest part was seeing athletes achieve seemingly impossible feats, knowing the immense effort and sacrifices required to reach these heights cleanly.

Some reforms were put into place in the World Anti-Doping Agency.


HUNT: Olympic swimming legend Michael Phelps on Capitol Hill last night, testifying before a House committee on problems with the global anti-doping system ahead of the Summer Olympics.

Ultramarathon swimmer Katie Humphrey completing an historic 24-mile swim from the Chesapeake Bay to Baltimore's Inner Harbor. That feat accomplished just as the city announces that the harbor's water is finally safe to swim in again.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Messi swung into the near post. Down the door. The rebound is in! Lautaro Martinez! Argentina finally breaks through!


HUNT: A late winner for Argentina last night in the Copa America. Superstar Lionel Messi playing in front of a sold-out crowd at New Jersey's MetLife Stadium.


New video of the devastating flooding in the Upper Midwest, where towns remain submerged. Floodwaters taking out this bridge in North Sioux City, South Dakota. Yikes. All right. Coming up next here, Representatives Debbie Dingell and Tim Burchett join me live with their analysis ahead of tomorrow's debate.

Plus, several blockbuster rulings expected from the Supreme Court at any time.