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Biden Campaign Rallies Support After Debate Setback; Today: Justices Expected To Release Opinion On Trump Immunity; Axios: Top Aides Shielded Biden From White House Staff. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired July 01, 2024 - 05:30   ET




KASIE HUNT, CNN ANCHOR: All right, just seconds before 5:30 a.m. here in Washington. A live look at Capitol Hill on this Monday morning. Good morning, everyone. I'm Kasie Hunt. It's wonderful to have you with us.

President Biden is mapping out his next move following that disastrous performance at last week's CNN debate. Over the weekend he huddled with family and advisers at Camp David. His wife Jill and his son Hunter both encouraging him to stay in the race. The president's allies also trying to tamp down concerns over what they are calling one bad night.


SEN. JOHN FETTERMAN (D-PA): There was that same kind of a freakout after my debate and here I am right now having this conversation. So the president has done a really good job, and he deserves a second term, but I really do want to be clear it's going to be very close.


HUNT: All right, joining us now to talk about what's next, Akayla Gardner. She's White House correspondent for Bloomberg; and Tyler Pager, the White House reporter for The Washington Post. Good morning to both of you.

Tyler, I was just reading your front page Washington Post story, although I've now -- I've now jumped past the fold --

TYLER PAGER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST: Thank you for reading past the fold.

HUNT: Yes. But honestly, there's no one I'd rather talk to this morning about kind of what's going on behind the scenes with the family because they seem to be very much dug in. Is there anyone who is sending the message that he should get out? I mean, I haven't opened the editorial page of The New York Times. I guess it was yesterday's opinion section said he should step down. I mean, these calls are intense. They don't seem to be going away although the troops are obviously rallying in public. Is there anything that moves them at this point?

PAGER: Right now, no. I've had conversations with people that have been speaking with the president over the last three days and he knows that things did not go his way. But inside that bubble -- inside that family they only see we're going to continue to move forward. I've had conservations with people who remind me that Joe Biden has had much worse days in his life than a bad debate performance and this is not going to be the thing that changes the course of his political life. And he's going to continue to push forward.

Now, that being said, if -- I think we start to see some really bad polls and Democrats running for reelection or running in some of these competitive seats start to really freak out about their own electoral chances we might start to see a shift.

But as the story that we wrote today in The Washington Post says, the Biden people are quite happy that no real well-known Democrat elected official has called for him to step aside. That, in their book, is a win. They know that they have a lot of work to do. I think the path forward is how do they change course? How do they go forward?

Joe Biden is not going to turn out a masterful debate performance in September --

HUNT: Right.

PAGER: -- and so they need to figure out a way to get him in front of people that reassures them of some of their concerns. And I think that's one of the things a lot of people close to the Biden orbit are worried about is how do you do that at this point?

HUNT: Yeah. I mean, it honestly seems like an impossible task at this point.

Akayla, you wrote about the nation's governors who are, of course -- you call them the best-known governments all considered rising stars -- California's Gavin Newsom, Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, Pennsylvania's Josh Shapiro. A rising star is one way to put it. Potential replacements for Joe Biden is the other way to put it, but they are all on message that moment, yes?

AKAYLA GARDNER, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, BLOOMBERG: Exactly. They have all been pretty, over the last couple of days, rolling out messages firmly in support of the president, and I think that's exactly what the campaign wants. They want to see people sort of fall in line here.

Vice President Harris is obviously someone who would be obviously the perfect person to sort of fill in that role if Biden were no longer to be able to run. She has access to the campaign. She would be the person who has the legal right to fundraising money there.

And so, we're seeing some of the biggest names in Democratic politics. We're seeing Obama. We're seeing the Clintons come out strongly in support of Biden. I think the frenzy right now is really mostly with donors. It's with

DNC members. And the campaign is really trying to overcome that. They're fiercely on defense.

We've seen multiple memos this weekend just continuing to defend the president here. They're really saying that they have a lot of time. They feel like we have 100 days until the election. They're trying to say that there is a short-term memory of the news cycle here.

So I think to Tyler's point it really is going to come down to the September debate.

HUNT: So one place where we've seen -- I don't know if I would go so far as to call them cracks, but let's just watch. Hakeem Jeffries was on yesterday on MSNBC and we also heard a little bit from Congressman Jamie Raskin. Let's start with Jeffries and then watch Raskin.


REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES (D-NY): We're in the process of having conversations with various parts of the House Democratic Caucus. That's ongoing and that will continue.


REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): There are very honest and serious, and rigorous conversations taking place at every level of our party. One thing I can tell you is that regardless of what President Biden decides our party is going to be unified and our party also needs him at the very center of our deliberations and our campaign. And so, whether he's the candidate or someone else is the candidate, he is going to be the keynote speaker at our convention.


HUNT: I mean, that is a much more, like, straightforward acknowledgement of a reality in which Biden is not the nominee than I have heard from a lot of people.

PAGER: Yeah. I had conversations with members of the House in the immediate aftermath of the debate and there was some frustration that leader Jeffries put out a supportive statement so quickly that morning.

There was some consternation among the House Democratic Caucus that this is a real problem not just for the president and his ability to beat Trump but for us running on the ballot with him. And we had been hearing these concerns for months, Kasie. As you know, people have been worried about Biden's ability to carry the ticket.

I wrote a story with my colleague Paul Kane about this reverse coattails effect where the -- where the down-ballot members -- senators and members of Congress -- were going to lift Biden up. And they are worried about him being a drag on the ticket and not just losing the presidential race but losing the House and the Senate. And they worry about what a Trump's Washington would look like with control of both of the chambers of Congress.

HUNT: Right. Well -- and, I mean, the House -- part of why the House is so interesting is because they have seemed poised to potentially take it back, right? I mean, the Senate -- I think there's a much more acknowledgment that man, even Biden aside -- like, keeping the Senate in Democratic hands is a really tough thing. But the House is really in play.

PAGER: Absolutely. And that, I think, is the concern is that they've sort of conceded that they are going to lose the Senate and they want to make sure they have a check on a potential Trump administration, and the House is the path for that.

I think what we really need to see over the next few days is what these polls show. Obviously, it's the weekend. It's the July Fourth week so we may not have a clear picture immediately. And honestly, more time for Joe Biden's campaign where there are not Democrats out calling for him to step aside is a win in their book.

And they are continuing to have, as Akayla said, this furious backchanneling with donors and DNC members, and members of Congress. But I think it will be really interesting to see when that first head- to-head poll drops and it tells us what the path forward looks like.

HUNT: Yeah.

All right, Akayla Gardner, Tyler Pager. Thank you both for being with us this morning. I really appreciate it.

OK, now there's this story. The Supreme Court's ruling on Donald Trump's claim of absolute presidential immunity expected to be released this morning. At issue, special counsel Jack Smith's prosecution of Trump for trying to overturn the 2020 election, including Trump's actions before and during the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

Trump's main argument is that he can't be held criminally responsible for anything he did during that time period because they were "official acts" as president.

The House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries holding out hope that the court doesn't rule in Trump's favor.


JEFFRIES: America is not a monarchy. We're not an autocracy. We don't have kings or rulers, or dictators.

We are a democracy. In a democracy, one principle should be clear. No one is above the law. That includes presidents and former presidents, and it certainly includes Donald Trump.

And so, I'm hopeful that at least five justices on the Supreme Court will make the right decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HUNT: All right, joining me now to discuss, CNN legal analyst Joey Jackson. Joey, good morning to you.

So you heard Hakeem Jeffries there. There does seem to be, based on what we saw from oral arguments with the court, the presumption, I suppose -- the expectation that they will offer some immunity or that they could offer some immunity to presidents but that complete and total absolute immunity, as Donald Trump keeps claiming, is likely not on the table.

What are the scenarios -- the options for what we could see from the court this morning? And how would each affect whether or not the country is going to get a chance to see Trump prosecuted for his actions and January 6 before they have to decide whether to send him back to the Oval Office?

JOEY JACKSON, CNN LEGAL ANALYST, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY, FORMER PROSECUTOR (via Webex by Cisco): Yeah, a lot to get through there, Kasie. Good morning to you.

And so this is what I'm looking for.

The first thing I'm looking for is whether or not the court really pronounces what we call in law a bright-line rule. A bright-line rule is really a specific articulatable rule that's very easy to follow. That would be them saying immunity -- absolute -- or no immunity at all, period. And that's really the clearest example the court can say.

Then, of course, there could be something that is more nuanced. And in the nuance, which would be step two to look for, it would really be really looking and ascertaining whether or not the court is going to do something like well, for official acts, the president does have immunity. But for unofficial acts, the president doesn't have immunity.


And that could be problematic because then you have to set a standard which could be a slippery slope and how do we find that out, which leads to the third thing, Kasie, which is really what the court can do is send it back to the lower court -- more delay -- for reconsideration, really, and a fact-finding of what is official and what's not official.

It could either say look, it will be a fact-finding mission and a question of law that the court has to determine, or the Supreme Court could say that's a jury question. It's a factual determination to be made as to what's official and what's not official. And in that sense, it would be part and parcel of any trial that moved forward.

So there's a lot of various scenarios the court could come up with. The one thing that's clear is though while this immediately impacts Trump, the long-term implication of this is that it would be really for decades. It would implicate presidents and really deal with presidents moving forward. So they have to be -- the Supreme Court -- very thoughtful with regard

to what they fashion. And so, overall, I'm looking to find whether they structure a rule that's specific and clear, a rule that's not so specific and clear, or whether there's further delay as it relates to the court really making fact-finding determinations. And that would be uncertainty, it would be confusion, and we would really be no further now than we have been in terms of waiting for them to make a decision.

HUNT: Yeah, you're talking about how to make this determination. And, you know, some of what we saw during the arguments got at some of these ideas, right?

So, Elena Kagan raised the question of well, OK, what if the president orders a military coup. Let's just listen to a little of the -- of the arguments that will set up the decision that we ultimately will see today -- listen.


JUSTICE ELENA KAGAN, U.S. SUPREME COURT: How about if a president orders the military to stage a coup? Is it an official act?

JOHN SAUER, ATTORNEY FOR DONALD TRUMP: On the -- on the way you described that hypothetical, it could well be. I just don't know. You have to -- again, it's a fact-specific context -- a specific determination.

KAGAN: That answer sounds to me as though it's like, yeah, under my attest, it's an official act. But that sure sounds bad, doesn't it?

JUSTICE KENTANJI BROWN JACKSON, U.S. SUPREME COURT: It's the most powerful person in the world with the greatest amount of authority could go into office knowing that there would be no potential penalty for committing crimes. I'm trying to understand what the disincentive is from turning the Oval Office into, you know, the seat of criminal activity in this country.


HUNT: Possibly, a reasonable set of questions, it seems, to try to dig into this. I mean, how much of this -- you know, when the founding fathers pulled together the documents that, of course, created the Supreme Court and the rest of our governing system, did they imagine that we would be, someday, in this kind of a scenario where we're having to make these determinations?

JACKSON: Yeah. You know, it's really hard to imagine everything, but I think there was a consideration by the founding fathers as to criminality. And I think that determination -- there's two real things, right? The first is, of course, the Constitution provides for impeachment as it relates to behavior that's pretty bad, right? High crimes and misdemeanors.

And then I think it really does provide for -- though it's a case of first impression, it's never really been before any court which is what can the president be prosecuted for, and because we've seen a pardon as it relates to Nixon, of course, right -- he was pardoned by Ford. We saw Clinton give up his law license, et cetera.

So I think there is some contemplation for prosecution thereafter. The question is what is prosecutable, and should it be limited to this official-unofficial acts or should there just be a blanket determination that says if you commit a crime, you do the time, so to speak.

And, you know, Judge Tanya Chutkan, at the district court level, said it pretty clearly, saying the president certainly has a lot of concerns and really, intending to commit federal crime should not be one of them.

And so it really will be interesting to see how the court parses this out and whether or not they just remove the question from the table and say that everybody certainly has to act in a way that's in accordance with the law. You, as the president, have the duty to faithfully execute the laws. And so, how ironic would it be, Kasie, you have the duty to execute the laws faithfully, but you don't necessarily have to follow them.

And that's what, really, I'm looking to see whether the Supreme Court really take that seriously, grapples with that issue, and just moves us on in a country where everybody could be faithful and secure that no matter who commits the crime, ultimately, you're going to be held accountable.

HUNT: Yeah. All right. Well, 10:00 a.m. today right here we're going to learn all together exactly what's going to happen here.

Joey Jackson, always grateful to have you. Thank you so much.

JACKSON: Thank you.

HUNT: All right. Coming up next, why aides to President Biden were so badly blindsided by his debate performance. Plus, Simone Biles on the road to gold again.



HUNT: All right, welcome back.

This morning, as Democrats grapple with calls to replace Joe Biden as their nominee, the president's campaign is trying to move on from his alarming debate performance. Over the weekend, we learned Biden's condition on stage apparently surprised many of his own staffers.

New reporting from Axios revealing the president's closest aides shielded him from White House personnel. They write, "Biden's behavior stunned many in the White House in part because Biden's closest aides took steps early in this term to essentially rope off the president. Even the White House's residence staff, which serves the first family in the mansion's living quarters, has been kept at arm's length."

[05:50:07] Joining me now is the reporter who wrote that story, Axios national political correspondent, Alex Thompson. Alex, good morning to you.

Can you explain more about what you've learned that led to this report? And also, just kind of take us inside what's going on with the family right now.


So basically, I have been gathering sort of string and heard these little bit of stories about they don't really see the president that much. And these aren't just low-level staffers but mid-level and even the staffers that are very close to the top. They only see the president every once in a while. There's really only a core group of a dozen to 20 people that see him on a regular basis.

And I can tell you that there is not just shock among some of these White House staffers but real anger, too. Because, in some ways, you have the same things that the senior staff were telling reporters, and Democrats, and donors that the president is sharp. There's no acuity issue. This is a right-wing narrative. They were telling the staff, too.

And now the staff is looking and saying it's not even just about whether or not Joe Biden can still pull this off -- can still beat Donald Trump -- there's still deep concerns now about him doing the job he is running for in 2028-2029 at 85 and 86 years old.

Now, in terms of what's going on with the family, basically what you're seeing is the family take the wheel. This -- Biden's political career has always been a family endeavor. They have always been involved in his political campaigns from the very beginning. And during times of crises they often over and over sort of withdraw and hunker down, and that's what you're seeing now.

The fact that they went to Camp David was not this intervention meeting to get out of the race. Instead, it was a rallying around effect. I don't think you have a summit thinking about getting out of the race and then do an Annie Lebovitz photoshoot, which is what they were doing in Camp David yesterday.

So, basically, what you are seeing is sort of the inner circle just already pretty small getting even smaller.

HUNT: Yeah. I have to say, Alex, I was a little taken aback by the photoshoot detail. I mean, it's kind of an odd look, I guess. At what -- like, what was the thinking there?

THOMPSON: Well, they clearly weren't reading the room. And I think it also just sort of shows -- it's telling a bit about how they're perceiving the debate performance as just one bad night versus how a lot of other Democrats are seeing it as it's not just Obama not being able to -- you know, being diffident and having a bad night stylistically. I think they are not understanding some of the concerns about sort of acuitying his fitness for the job that the debate performance has done.

Now, in terms of the logistics of how this happened, the Annie Lebovitz thing had been in the works for a while. They had already done portraits of previous -- of previous presidents and his. And the president's family sort of, I think, saw this as an opportunity to sort of be embraced by the establishment, sort of. But honestly, some people very close to the Bidens that are longtime Biden defenders thought it sort of spoke to the fact that maybe some of them have fallen a little bit in love with the life.

HUNT: Very interesting.

Very quickly, Alex, do you think there's anything that will move the family into telling him he needs to step down? Could anything happen now to do that?

THOMPSON: I mean, never say never. I would say the chances are small. But I think the -- at least from my perspective, the two things that you could see happen is really terrible, terrible polling. You'd have to -- and over the next week or two, or if -- or if there's new reporting about the extent of some of these senior moments behind the scenes.

HUNT: Yeah.

All right, Axios reporter Alex Thompson. Always grateful to have you. Thank you so much.

All right, time now for sports. Simone Biles and Suni Lee will headline Team USA's Olympics women's gymnastics team.

Carolyn Manno has this morning's Bleacher Report. Carolyn, good morning.


This is the first time in Olympic history that two former all-around champs are going to compete for the same country -- Biles in 2016; Lee in 2020. And that wasn't the only history made this weekend in Minneapolis. Simone Biles is the oldest American gymnast now since the 1950s at the age of 27 and she is just as dominant as ever, winning by more than five points.

Suni Lee, meanwhile, has overcome some serious struggles of her own. She's battled two forms of kidney disease, which forced her to step away from the sport. And still, somehow, she manages to earn a spot in Paris -- just incredible.

The pair are going to be joined by fellow Tokyo vets Jordan Chiles and Jade Carey, as well as first-timer, 16-year-old Hezly Rivera -- so a great group.

At the U.S. Track and Field trials in Eugene, Oregon, NCAA recordholder Masai Russell, from the University of Kentucky, delivering a stunning performance in the women's 100-meter hurdle final earning a spot on her first Olympic team with an impressive time of 12:25. That breaks the 24-year trials record set by Gail Devers.


After sending a message with the fastest time in the world this year, emotions running high.


MASAI RUSSELL, SPRINTER, TEAM USA: Oh my gosh, I can't even talk right now. I have so many emotions because this has been the hardest season of my life. Like, people were doubting me, talking about ever since I signed with Nike, like, I've been trash. And they've just been saying all these things about me. But I just stayed true to myself. I stayed true to my work and my craft, and this is all God.


MANNO: The United States has won three straight Olympics gold medals in the women's 400-meter hurdles led by reigning Olympic champ Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, who earned a spot on her third straight Olympic team Sunday after running a world-leading time in the semifinals. McLaughlin breaking her own record for the fourth time on Sunday clocking a blistering 50:65. She now heads to Paris as one of the headliners of Team USA and a strong favorite to defend her gold, Kasie.

And it's fun to watch all of these athletes mature before our eyes. We remember them bursting on to the Olympic stage and now they have fully grown into themselves mentally and physically and they're ready to impress once again.

HUNT: It's amazing. So excited for the Olympics. I can't wait.

Carolyn Manno, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

All right, coming up next hour, the Supreme Court set to decide if a president is immune from criminal prosecution.

Plus, I'm going to sit down with the co-chair of the Biden-Harris campaign, Sen. Chris Coons. We will dig into his thoughts on the calls for the president to drop out of the race.


BILL MAHER, HOST, HBO'S "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": Did you see the debate? In case you missed it, don't worry -- so did one of the contestants.