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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Trump Indicted for Push to Overturn 2020 Election. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired August 02, 2023 - 05:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good morning, everyone. It is Wednesday, August 2nd, and it is a historic mourning in America. Lots of new developments overnight, that's why we are coming to you early this morning. Let's get right to it.

Former President Trump due in court through tomorrow after a federal grand jury indicted him on four counts related to efforts to overturn the election.

This morning, city and federal law enforcement agencies all gearing up for his appearance.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: And also, new this morning, we're getting a sense of Trump's defense. His attorney telling CNN last night that his client is protected by the First Amendment and that he was acting on the advice of his lawyer.

And, new details about the judge that will make the argument in front of. Judge Tanya Chutkan has been randomly assigned to the case, and she's ruled in litigations related to January 6 before, writing: presidents are not kings.

HARLOW: Trump's 2024 political rivals weighing in on those charges overnight. The reactions really ranging from condemning Trump and his actions, to condemning the Justice Department.

MATTINGLY: And, in Georgia, the Fulton County sheriff says that Donald Trump will not receive special treatment if he is indicted for election interference there. He says, quote, it doesn't matter your status. We will have mugshots ready for you.

CNN THIS MORNING starts right now.


HARLOW: This is the story today, dominating front pages on literally every paper across America. We are covering it from all angles, of the details of this indictment. The new defenses put forward by Trump's attorney, and where things go from here. What does it mean for America?

We have team coverage, reporters, experts with us all morning. Let's begin with our colleague, Sara Murray. She joins us now.

Sara, 45 pages and it is stunning. Walk us through it

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Poppy, I mean, this is obviously not the first indictment we've seen of former President Donald Trump, but it is historic when you think about this being the first time that prosecutors are trying to hold him accountable for what transpired in the run up and around January 6th. Prosecutors making very clear in this indictment that Donald Trump lost the 2020 election, knew he lost the 2020 election, but that did not stop him from trying to flip the results in his favor.


MURRAY (voice-over): Special counsel Jack Smith criminally charging a former President Donald Trump for his attempt to overturn the 2020 election and undermine the peaceful transfer of power.

JACK SMITH, SPECIAL COUNSEL: An indictment was unsealed, charging Donald J. Trump with conspiring to defraud the United States, conspiring to disenfranchise voters, and conspiring and attempting to obstruct an official proceeding.

MURRAY: Federal prosecutors write: the defendant spread lies that there had been outcome determinative fraud in the election and that he had actually won. These claims were false and the defendant knew that they were false.

And this morning, we are getting our first sense of Trump's defense.

JOHN LAURO, TRUMP ATTORNEY: Our defense is going to be focusing on the fact that, what we have now is an administration that has criminalized the free speech and advocacy of a prior administration during a time that there is a political election going on. That's unprecedented. We have never seen that in the United States, in the history of the United States.

MURRAY: His lawyer telling CNN that he can see the trial lasting nine months to a year. Trump also took to his Truth Social platform to blast this latest indictment, continuing to claim that its purpose is to interfere with the 2024 presidential campaign.

MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Mr. Smith and his team, experienced, principled, the career agents and prosecutors have followed the facts and the law wherever they lead.

MURRAY: Trump's six unindicted coconspirators are not named, but CNN can identify five of them based on quotes in the indictment and other context. The indictment focuses on five tactics, they, along with Trump, allegedly tried to execute in order to overturn the election results, including organizing fake slates of electors in seven swing states that Trump lost. Second, fueling claims of election fraud to try to pressure state election officials to subvert the election results. Third, trying to use the power of the Justice Department to conduct sham election crime investigations. Fourth, pressuring then Vice President Mike Pence to falsely alter results, and delay the certification of the election.

And, finally --

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT: We're going to walk down to the Capitol.

MURRAY: Stoking tensions on January 6th, fueling the Capitol riot.


SMITH: The attack on our nation's Capitol on January 6th, 2021, was an unprecedented assault on the seat of American democracy. It is described in the indictment, it was fueled by lies.

MURRAY: Investigators also obtained contemporaneous notes from Pence and documented a conversation on January 1st where Trump, quote, berated depends for opposing a lawsuit filed to try to authorize him to reject the election results. Pence told Trump it was unconstitutional. Trump responded, you're too honest.

The indictment also recounted a conversation between Trump and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, where Meadows says that Georgia election workers were, quote, conducting themselves in an exemplary fashion. One day later, Trump tweeted that the election workers were trying to cover-up fraud.


MURRAY (on camera): Now, as you noted, Donald Trump is due in court Thursday afternoon, we do not know if that is going to be an in-person appearance or a virtual one. We are beginning to hear from some of the unindicted coconspirators named in these court documents, one of them, of course, is former Trump attorney John Eastman.

His attorney put out a lengthy statement last night and it reads, in part, with respect to questions as to whether Dr. Eastman is involved in plea bargaining, the answer is no. But, if he were invited to plea bargain with either state or federal prosecutors, he would decline. The fact is, if Dr. Eastman is indicted, he will go to trial. If convicted, he will appeal. The Eastman illegal team is confident of its legal position in this matter.

And again, these are unindicted coconspirators, so at this point, Donald Trump is the only one facing charges in this matter, guys.

MATTINGLY: Yeah, Murray, as you noted, Jack Smith is being very clear that the investigation is still ongoing, as well.


MATTINGLY: Sara Murray, thank you.

Well, with us now to discuss all this, former Manhattan prosecutor Jeremy Saland, former adviser to ex-Republican House Speaker John Boehner and deputy chief of staff to former Representative Adam Kinzinger, Maura Gillespie, CNN political analyst and "PBS NewsHour" White House correspondent, Laura Barron-Lopez, and CNN senior political analyst and anchor, John Avlon.

I want to start, as the legal beagle at the table, when you look at what actually came out in the 45 pages, you know a lot, you worked on the January 6 community. You know the narrative. It's still jarring to read it. But from a legal perspective, when you look at this case, how strong do you think it is?

JEREMY SALAND, FORMER MANHATTAN PROSECUTOR: This is strong. It's very strong, and we talk about a speaking indictment, which we discussed previously with the prior indictment, this lays out a narrative that is very descriptive. It explains who and what and where, in other words, what was said to certain people.

Pardon me, Vice President Pence, he is somebody who is critical to this case. He is incredible witness for the prosecution. So, it is all laid out pretty straightforward and it is not about whether or not somebody can be admitted into evidence because there is a confidentiality issue or something like that. There is not going to be as many legal conundrums and legal issues and hurdles to overcome. It's much more straightforward and I think it's very, very strong.

HARLOW: Six coconspirators in here, unindicted, as far -- as far as we know. Why is that significant?

SALAND: This, again, it tells that narrative. But we know that those six people, and very likely I would expect would be ultimately indicted later on. They are not indicted now because we know that the government solely wants to make this confined to President Trump and not have any other sideshows and not any other distractions.

HARLOW: You're looking at them on your screen. Let's warm up again, Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, Sidney Powell, so we've got three attorneys there, Jeffrey Clark, and another and one political insult and that we don't know the name yet. Those people were so central to furthering this.

SALAND: They were not just central, they were in part of it in many places. And, the things that they said and did, and I go back to Pence again, you have this conversation with Pence in reference to -- you know, "you are too honest" I think was one of the quotes that was said. And these are damning things.

And Pence is not in trouble, but when we think of Giuliani, we think of Eastman, those folks, Sidney Powell, those folks have bigger issues and the real issues that I think will come after this indictment is --

HARLOW: The question is about cooperation, though, too, potential.

SALAND: There may be --

HARLOW: To be unindicted so far here.

SALAND: Yeah, I don't know if those folks are cooperating. I don't know if I would jump to that and assume that they are. They could be, but I don't know if it'll be like that. I wouldn't expect a superseding indictment involving them, bringing them into the picture. I think that will be separate later on. But cooperation, I'm not so sure.

MATTINGLY: Maura, the January 6 committee, the final report, what they put together was so extensive and had so much detail and a lot of detail that people have not learned beforehand.

When you look at this indictment, what stood out as new to you? Given the ground that that committee covered?

MAURA GILLESPIE, BLUESTACK STRATEGIES FOUNDER AND PRINCIPAL: The involvement of Mike Pence. I mean, truly, what he brings to this it is pretty astounding and enlightening for things that we did not get out of committee. Obviously, some of these conversations, some of these contemporaneous notes that we're talking about, these are not things that were presented to the committee and, you know, especially too with Mark Meadows, right?


He only gave us X number of things and then he stopped cooperating.

So not having a full cooperation with some of these key characters has really, I think, amplified what Jack Smith has done.

HARLOW: Can we walk through some of those people?


HARLOW: There were three about Mike Pence that stood out to me to read in the indictment. For example, a phone call, Pence calls the president on Christmas. This is after he has lost the election, to wish him a merry Christmas. And then the significance of what Trump does and says to him, jumping right into the election.

GILLESPIE: Right, that stood out to me, but also the only president was talking to Mike Pence, trying to convince him, again, which we did know that he was trying to convince him to change the results of the election as soon as he got up there.

MATTINGLY: And explicitly telling his White House counsel to stop talking to Mike Pence, because he was talking to Mike Pence alone.

GILLESPIE: And a conversation where Mike Pence says to the president, even your counsel says that this is not going to stand up. He goes: I like the other idea better. You, know that's -- to me, that's pretty damning and pretty jarring.

But I also think that, you know, his involvement, because he has to, because this is the DOJ, it really does shed new light that the January 6 committee was not able to get.

MATTINGLY: John, when you read through this, what stood out to you?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I mean, look, first of all, that "you are too honest" to Mike Pence, both a character reference and campaign slogan potentially for him. And the fact that the evidence shows that Trump began again and again was confronted with the fact that he lost. Therefore the argument that he didn't know, or believed that folks doesn't carry water, fundamentally.

I was also struck by the fact that John Eastman, went raised by the deputy White House counsel, the possibility of riots in American cities if they'd try to overthrow an election on the basis of no facts, said that is why we have the Insurrection Act, basically inviting or suggesting that the American military could be used against the American people. That is chilling stuff, with any sense of perspective.

HARLOW: Talk about the historic nature of this and the word that we used it often, this is different. Is it not, than the other indictments so far? And what may be to come, it is different.

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It is different and jack smith says it's right there, in the indictment. I mean, he says that this gets at -- this was an attack on a process that was foundational to U.S. democracy. He says that it targeted a bedrock, quote, bedrock foundation of the U.S. -- of the government function, which is not just the certification process, but, essentially, all along the way, the collection of votes, people's right to vote.

The fact that the president is also being charged under a conspiracy to violate people's rights to vote and have their vote counted, something that is rarely used statute and we know originally used against Ku Klux Klan civil rights issues. I think that all speaks to what you are talking about, Poppy, which is the really fundamental threat to democracy.

HARLOW: To Laura's point, I think it is interesting because, Jack Smith didn't have come out and speak last night. He didn't give that store short statement, but he did, and he called it unprecedented and then he wanted the heroes that day on January 6th.

I want people to listen to what Trump attorney told Kaitlan last night, presenting in defense, saying, you know, everyone has a First Amendment right. By the way, it's not an unlimited right, we should note. Here he was.


LAURO: Mr. Trump had the advice of counsel, Mr. Eastman, who is one of the most respected constitutional scholars in the United States, giving him advice and guidance.


SALAND: There is a difference between your First Amendment right that has to be controlled, I don't want to minimize, but you don't yell fire in a crowded theater. We've heard this before. This is far greater than that, maybe not in terms of the physical or immediate sense, one could argue it was, but in a much larger sense.

And it is his intent in how he's using those words and actions combined with that that makes this such a dangerous, damaging thing that he did. So, just to say that you have a First Amendment right, it's simply unfair and inaccurate. HARLOW: Everyone, stay with us. We have a lot more to get through.

Donald Trump trying to use these indictments to his political advantage, to his fundraising advantage, we'll get more on that. And also what his rivals in the GOP for 2024 said.

MATTINGLY: And how Trump's main legal cases could disrupt the political primary calendar, that's next.




VIVEK RAMASWAMY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It would be easier for me if Donald Trump were limited from competition. That is not how any of us should want to win, because that is bad for this country. That is why I think it is important for those of us competing against Trump to take a strong stand against these politicized indictments.

WILL HURD (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: this is not about the weaponization of the government. This is not about the people that serve on grand juries in Washington, D.C. This is about Donald Trump losing the election, trying to use everything possible within his power to overturn that election.


HARLOW: Political reaction pouring in after Donald Trump has been indicted in most recent time. That's from his 2024 Republican opponents. And while the former president may have three indictments under his belt, the fact is that a majority of Republican voters so believe Biden's election was illegitimate, two thirds of Republican voters.

That was taken before this indictment came out, but it is still telling. This is momentous. The question is, what will mean for Trump politically? What will it mean for fundraising?

Our experts are back with us.

John, let me just -- let me start with you. Do you think those poll numbers change significantly after?

AVLON: Perhaps not significantly. Look, I think as you know, looking through a purely political lens misses the point.


This is about history, this is about law, this is about accountability for something that we've never seen in our history, something that would've made the founders rollover in their graves.

Obviously, there's a political component. A short run Donald Trump will benefit as we had with previous indictments, with fund raising, with short term really around support. In the long run, it hurts him. It hurts him and it hurts the Republican Party if they continue --

HARLOW: Even if he gets elected?

AVLON: Well, you are jumping a couple steps there. This is about -- may help in a Republican primary, hurts in the general, why? Independent voters, moderate voters, moderate Republicans, all to see this for what it is, which is a disgrace and something that is, for many folks, disqualifying. And yet you got a lot of candidates kind of trying to toe that line they've been doing.

And I just think that's utterly insufficient to the evidence that's been presented. This is a time for choosing in a classic sense.

MATTINGLY: Laura, in the wake of the 2022 midterms, where Republicans massively over-performed, and every candidate that backed the Stop the Steal, fake electors lie got wiped out more less and states that they should have won. Republicans were upset about that, and made very clear at least behind the scenes that they never wanted to pursue that again. This is now front and center. What do Republicans do?

BARRON-LOPEZ: They're going to -- well, the majority of them are going to stand by Trump. We have seen, especially House Republicans are going to call this a weaponization of the Justice Department. I mean, time and time again when they have had a chance to say that this is it, this is the red line, we are going to separate ourselves from President Trump, former president now, they don't do it.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy in a span of -- he wasn't speaker them, but in the span of just a few weeks went from saying that Trump was responsible for the actions that took place on January 6 for the insurrection and then went down to Mar-a-Lago and pledged his loyalty.


MATTINGLY: Changed history -- I'm sorry.

BARRON-LOPEZ: When Republicans behind closed doors, they love to see the former president out of the picture, but then they don't do anything in front of cameras or publicly to ensure that that happens.

HARLOW: Peter Baker, an analysis front page of "The Times" this morning, can a sitting president spread lies about the election and try to employ the authority of the government without the consequence, he asked. The question of an unimaginable a few years ago, but Trump raises the kind of specter more familiar in countries with histories of coups and juntas and dictators.

What do you make of where we are? I mean, this is where you worked last with Adam Kinzinger. This is what he was trying to say during that committee over and over and over again. This is why it's important for Republicans like he and Liz Cheney and others to press for these answers.

GILLESPIE: It has to be from Republicans. I mean, largely with what we saw with the January 6th Committee's work was Republicans speaking truth to what happened, so trying to speak to Republicans. And what I think candidates should do, and will give them some free

advice, let's point out some of these things about the Trump lies with so many people told him about how much evidence do you need that the election was not stolen? Republicans are telling him that. So, if he's -- if he truly believes that he won, should we question this confidence? Should we not wonder about where he is mentally?

So, it's a start chipping away at him. Talk about the 40 million which is a growing, the number that he has taken from people who make $30,000, $40,000 a year. If he's taking his donations for legal beliefs, the self proclaimed millionaire billionaire, he needs the five dollar for his campaign fund or his legal fees? Start chipping away at Donald Trump by putting Republicans in their own words against him.

MATTINGLY: Jeremy, the timing of this. You know, you heard from Trump's lawyer last night bringing this up a little bit. Trump in one of his eight zillion posts on his social media platforms talking about, why didn't they bring it two and half years ago? Why did they bring it today? It's because of the campaign.

Is it because of the campaign?

SALAND: Absolutely not.

MATTINGLY: So why did it take so long?

SALAND: So, we had Congress doing their investigation and doing their job. That's not criminal, they can't prosecute. Then it was referred.

But also remember that everything is growing in part because Donald Trump is using words against you and says so much does so much as his own worst enemy. They, meaning the government, and here Jack Smith, has to do his due diligence. Here we listen to him and found him to be sort of tangible integrity, and just exude that this professionalism concern. Whether or not they prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt is separate, but he exuded that.

I think it's not about politics at all. That's about there comes a point in time where they have to take a stand and you have to follow the evidence and you have to pursue justice.

MATTINGLY: But, Maura, you guys battled -- the committee battled with the justice department, and the guys didn't say that publicly, but pretty clearly you guys were going back and forth with them and a lot of frustration on your side with how the DOJ was operating. Was there a shift, what did you guys just not know what they were working on?

GILLESPIE: My understanding is that there really was not collaboration in a lot of ways, which led to a lot of frustration.


And again, some of the witnesses would not speak to us because they're already in cooperation with DOJ. It's about some issues as well and some friction there to get any answers. HARLOW: And the DOJ that you meant to refer, DOJ that need any

referral, by the way, I should just note that.

SALAND: No, no, you are 100 percent correct, but Congress had an opportunity and if I recall, and if I'm mistaken, I apologize, but one of the defenses, if you will, from Trump and his team was, you know, this is not for Congress, it should be prosecuted, it should be prosecuted, and now we' re here. And, you know, you sort of get what you ask for and it is pursued, for the right reasons.

HARLOW: Right? Yeah, go ahead.

AVLON: I'll just say, first of all, you on the committee deserve a lot of credit for moving this forward. You know, by all accounts, ahead of the DOJ, prodding the DOJ to do --

MATTINGLY: With a lot of skepticism, by the way.

AVLON: Absolutely.

MATTINGLY: At the start of the process.

AVLON: Absolutely.

The other thing is that we saw the pushback from some of the candidates saying that this is inappropriate for a legal matter, this should be handled within the realm of politics.

Let's get some -- some consistency here. You know, in the second impeachment of Donald Trump, the argument against impeaching was that this was the proper channel was the justice system, was the legal system, as the private citizen. Now, some people were consistent and said, you know what, we should convict because this should not be played out in the courts.

But, be consistent. If he said he shouldn't he can impeach the second time, that is what you said was the right remedy.


HARLOW: -- into the courts.

MATTINGLY: Actually, do we have that sound? Of the McConnell speech in the way -- shortly after his vote against the going or convicting the president, former president, at that point? Which was -- McConnell has been quiet about this, and I think -- I don't think people would question his consistency, he just doesn't talk about it. But this is what he said and this is exactly what John is referring to.



SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he was in office, as an ordinary citizen. Unless the statute of limitations is run, he's still liable for everything he did while he was in office. Didn't get away with anything yet. Yet.

We have the criminal justice system in this country, we have civil litigation, and former presidents are not immune from being accountable by either one.


MATTINGLY: The reason, and I want you to keep going, but if you look at the statements from Republican senators who voted against conviction, by the dozens, it was impeachment is not the realm, there is constitutional question analogy related to it because he is now a former president.

McConnell backed that theory and I think it puts a pretty close call for him, underscoring that it is because there is a judicial process and that is where this should be handled, which is the opposite of what you heard everybody say yesterday.

AVLON: That's exactly right, and it is why it is essential to point out. If you say there shouldn't be handled this way, then you should have voted to convict because none of this would have occurred.

But, the folks who didn't vote to convict because they said this was the proper channel, this is what is happening right now. So, it is not too much for us to ask consistency.

MATTINGLY: McConnell has not said anything, has not put out a statement, or John Thune, the number two in Senate Republican Conference, as far as I'm aware, up until this point. The silence is not subtle, and rather intentional.

All right, guys, stay with us.

The third criminal indictment for Trump is a first for America in more ways than one. More on that, next.

HARLOW: Republicans on Capitol Hill pointed at the White House this morning, reaction to Congress ahead.