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Early Start with John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin

Trump Charged With Four Counts In January 5th Criminal Case; Special Counsel: Office Will Seek A Speedy Trial; GOP Rushes To Trump's Defense, Continues Attacks On DOJ. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired August 02, 2023 - 05:30   ET




PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN ANCHOR: It's important to point out the U.S. government is in completely uncharted waters at this moment. There is no precedent for this. We say that often and it is absolutely the case right now.

For the first time in American history, a former president is charged with plotting to subvert the will of the voters and use the leverage of power to remain in office. It's not just any former president. Trump is also the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in the heat of a campaign to return to the White House.

Joining us now is CNN presidential historian and former director of the Nixon Presidential Library, Tim Naftali. Tim, we often go to you in these moments to try and contextualize the moment. Go ahead.

TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN, FORMER DIRECTOR, NIXON PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY (via Webex by Cisco): Well, when Richard Nixon, in the weeks after he left office -- when Richard Nixon was contemplating his future he assumed he would be indicted and he asked some of his former lieutenants who had also been caught up in the Watergate scandal what it might be like to be in prison. And so, Richard Nixon understood that the founders expected that presidents would be liable for any criminal conduct that they had undertaken while they were president.


Fast-forward to today. Donald Trump is the -- is the first former president to be indicted for crimes -- alleged crimes that he committed while he was president. The documents case is about actions he did after he left the presidency. The case in New York is largely about hush money payments that he made during the 2016 election before he was president.

And so, now we are seeing playing out a scenario that the founders thought quite possible. Now, what they probably didn't think possible was that a president would seek to stay in office despite the fact that he had lost a popular plebiscite -- an election. This is probably something the founders never imagined when they had their darkest thoughts about what this republic could become. And that's what I believe makes this case very important. And although felonies are always important it makes this, the January 6th indictment, the most significant of the three indictments that the former president faces. And it's the most important because he is the single individual in our history who is being -- who had the highest office in the land and is now being tried -- or will be tried for having undermined our right to vote and undermined -- having tried to undermine our right to have our vote counted.

I cannot imagine a responsibility more central to the office of the President of the United States than making sure we have free elections. I cannot imagine a responsibility more central to the oath of office than upholding the institutions that make our republic great.

Yesterday, the former president was indicted for assaulting and leading a conspiracy to undermine those very sacred principles. This is a first in our history -- a very sad first.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Tim, for Americans waking up this morning and thinking well, if this goes to trial before the election and he's convicted, he can't be elected -- he can't serve as president -- what do you say to them?

NAFTALI: Well, Poppy, I'm not a lawyer and I -- but I suspect from having watched all of this unfold that we can expect the former president to appeal. Should this reach a jury and should a jury find him guilty he will appeal, in which case this would be under appeal.

That is a great question but I think that's a question for the -- for the conscience of each and every voter. Can you, in good faith, vote for a person who has been found guilty of undermining your right to have your vote counted? I think that's a question for each and every voter and as a result, it's something they have to decide.

MATTINGLY: Tim Naftali, we appreciate it as always. I just kind of want to listen to you talk about this stuff. I think it puts it in focus in a moment where everything seems very fast, very fluid, and people are numb to a lot of things. Appreciate it.

NAFTALI: Thank you, Phil.

MATTINGLY: Special counsel Jack Smith says he's looking for a speedy trial for Donald Trump. We're going to talk about that timing next.

HARLOW: Later, a possible fourth indictment looming in the state of Georgia. We'll hear from a witness called by Fulton County's grand jury in that probe.




JACK SMITH, SPECIAL COUNSEL: In this case, my office will seek a speedy trial so that our evidence can be tested in court and judged by a jury of citizens.

JOHN LAURO, TRUMP ATTORNEY: The government has had three years to investigate this and now they want to rush this to trial in the middle of a political season. What does that tell you?


HARLOW: That is Trump's attorney with Kaitlan last night talking about the fact he thinks it will take nine or 10 months to see this play out. We'll see.

Let's bring back our experts.

Jeremy, to you, Jack Smith's -- his statement last night -- the special counsel -- was about two minutes. He chose every word, I have no doubt, incredibly carefully. The fact that he said speedy trial, what does it tell you?

JEREMY SALAND, FORMER MANHATTAN PROSECUTOR: I think that this case sort of jumps over the other two cases. And not to disrespect the Manhattan district attorney's office -- that's a different animal -- but in terms of the confidential document espionage act case, this is so much more critical and so much -- and I think easier, too, as I briefly mentioned before. I think it happens before that May date.

HARLOW: Because -- so explain why. So you're talking Alvin Bragg here in New York and --

SALAND: Right.

HARLOW: -- has signaled -- not explicitly said but signaled a willingness --

SALAND: Right.

HARLOW: -- to be open to moving that March date.

Mar-a-Lago -- you have classified documents -- highly classified documents, so that can slow things down in terms of getting clearance. What can a jury see, what can they not? Are those the two reasons why you think this could be speedier?

SALAND: I think from a practical standpoint that is a fair statement. But I also think from a substantive standpoint this case is not about somebody who maybe selfishly and arrogantly, if that's the theory you want to go with, took these documents and kept them for himself that he could have turned over and potentially avoided prosecution.


You have someone in this particular case, meaning the current indictment -- number three -- who is challenging the foundation of our country.

I think that every American, no matter whether you're blue or red, needs to see this play out and sooner rather than later. This is not something that you want to see go extend over time.

And, in part, that is why I am sure Jack Smith said we have these co- conspirators but I'm not going to bring them into the mix. Let's just do Donald Trump and do him alone. Then wherever this goes -- if we prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt, he's guilty.

MATTINGLY: Then why not bring it first? Why bring the Mar-a-Lago documents case first?

SALAND: Because I can't say -- none of us here can say what was happening in those grand juries -- the extent of those investigations. How it took them to get up to speed. What they needed to do. So there's a lot of different reasons.

But that sort of quarterback after the fact -- armchair quarterback -- I don't want to speculate about that.

MATTINGLY: You're sitting on a panel on TV, man. That's --

SALAND: True. You know what? That's a fair statement. I need to sit somewhere else.



SALAND: But all kidding -- but all -- but all kidding aside, there's so much that's going on and this is such a heavy case -- both are heavy -- that we would be speculating so much. But this case now, currently, has to move forward in a speedy way.

HARLOW: This is a point that Scott Jennings, who worked for McConnell, said over and over last night. He was adamant about the American people cannot vote in a general election until they know the outcome of this -- whether we know if Trump is convicted or not.

The interesting thing, John, is that that's not how the law works.


HARLOW: The law works -- you bring a case when it's ready. And a judge has a lot of say here, and a defendant has more say than a prosecution on when something goes to trial. There's a deference to a defendant if they say they file motions, need more time, et cetera.

AVLON: Yes, and Trump's team has consistently showed a preference for delay because they believe that delay will be denial in that case. I mean, to some extent, Donald Trump is running to stay out of prison. Let's be honest about that. He's fundraising off this, he's delaying it. He's saying they can't possibly prosecute me because this -- we're in the middle of a political season.

And, indeed, the prospect of a possible hypothetical self-pardon should he become president, right? And all these hypotheticals because we are in this unprecedented situation. The important thing to remember that I think, in part, you're getting

at is people might not fully appreciate that someone can be elected to office from prison, including the office of the presidency.

HARLOW: That's what I was sort of trying to talk --


HARLOW: -- to Tim Naftali about. It's such uncharted territory.

AVLON: Yes, completely surreal. But there are cases -- James Michael Curley, former mayor of Boston, elected from prison for a local office there. It's very rare, as it should be because for most folks, being in prison would be a disqualifier. For most folks, I would think trying to overturn an election would be a disqualifier.

I will say again the Constitution, 14th Amendment, section 3, specifically says that if you've taken an oath to uphold the Constitution and then participate, give aid or comfort to an insurrection, you will be barred from holding federal office vis-a-vis a vote for (INAUDIBLE).

HARLOW: Do we have an extra hour to add here to debate this 14th Amendment section with John Avlon?

AVLON: I would be delighted to talk about that at length because everyone says this is so -- this is -- this is impossible, but it's in the Constitution. And if look at the debates around it, it was designed to be prospective; not just about the Civil War. But here endeth the lesson for this morning.

MATTINGLY: You're here for a lot longer. There will -- there will be more lessons.

Laura, I think one of the interesting things to me -- there is a snap assumption, I think with precedent, based on the last two indictments and the potential for a fourth, that none of this has any impact on Trump. If has an impact, it's a positive impact politically.

We saw the fundraising issues that he's having or the money issues he's having this week. We know calendar-wise this is going to suck up a lot of the primary time -- maybe even into a general election if he's the nominee.

So from a purely organizational mechanics campaign perspective, are people underappreciate the impact of the cost of this, literally, and the calendar of this over the course of the next 15 months?

LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, PBS NEWSHOUR: The cost, I think, yes. Maybe we're all underappreciating that. The impact on voters -- I'm not sure that we're actually underappreciating that because I think that Republican voters have shown time and time again and have -- when I've talked to Republican voters they are really tethered to the former president and they support him. And when they see more indictments and when they see him attacked -- or what they considered attacks by Democrats, then they just rally around him and it makes them want to support him more.

And Republicans have contributed to that by repeating that these are attacks. That this is unfair. That this is persecution. Republican lawmakers have essentially helped create this entire narrative among their base. So when we talk about them being caught between a rock and a hard place, they really created this entire environment for themselves. And they continue to do so when you see candidates like Ron DeSantis and Sen. Tim Scott say that this is a weaponization of government and sow distrust about the justice system.


MATTINGLY: Yes. Stay with us. They literally walked themselves, right? They saw a rock, they saw a hard place, and they're like let's just go stand --


MATTINGLY: -- I love it -- repeatedly.

Lawmakers in Washington are calling it a sad or dark day for America but for very different reasons. That's coming up next.



REP. ZOE LOFGREN (D-CA): This is a sad day that an ex-president would have committed such terrible things that the Department of Justice had to bring an indictment. On the other hand, the good news is we're a country of laws and no one is above the law. It's not just the foot soldiers being held to account, but the people who made the plot overturn the Constitution and the election.


MATTINGLY: Well, this morning, congressional reaction to former President Trump's historic indictment in the January 6th investigation split along, very predictively, partisan lines.


Republican leaders again rushing to Trump's defense and repeating their accusations that the Justice Department is politically weaponized against him. On the other side of the aisle, Democrats calling the indictment the most serious and most consequential thus far.

CNN's Lauren Fox joins us now. Fox, I understand -- you can tell people how these are going to land in terms of the statements from both sides. What are you hearing behind the scenes from Republicans who might privately hold very different feelings about January 6?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, Phil, this is a really familiar playbook that we have seen repeatedly on Capitol Hill. What's different about this indictment, of course, is how it personally affected members of Congress on that day -- on January 6 when they were trying to certify the election.

You do hear from Republican leaders very swift statements yesterday basically defending President Donald Trump and his actions, arguing that the Justice Department is weaponized. And you heard from some of Trump's staunchest defenders yesterday that they want to go after the office of Jack Smith in terms of funding that office.

But over the course of the last several weeks, this was a very orchestrated effort to make sure that Donald Trump had defense from Republicans on Capitol Hill. They were coordinating that response, making sure that they were in a position to defend him.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, you see a very different story playing out, Phil, and that's because we haven't heard from Mitch McConnell. We haven't heard from John Thune. And we're not going to hear from them, likely, for weeks because Republicans are on recess, which means you can't go through the halls of the Capitol getting a response in the way that you normally could because lawmakers are away for a very long recess, Phil.

So you are just seeing that split screen play out between the House and Senate Republicans once again.

MATTINGLY: All right, Lauren Fox for us in Washington. Thank you.

HARLOW: What timing that they don't have to follow Laura and Manu --

MATTINGLY: They are -- they are so lucky.

HARLOW: -- chasing them down the hall to answer questions.

MATTINGLY: And they know it, too.

HARLOW: They know it.

Donald Trump due in court in Washington, D.C. tomorrow morning. What that will look like ahead.

MATTINGLY: And Republicans decry what they call weaponization of the Justice Department. We're going to talk to a man who ran the DOJ when a Republican was in the White House.