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Capitol Rioter Sentenced To 8 Months In Prison; New Books Reports Trump Praised Hitler; Immigration Ruling Leaves "DREAMers" In Limbo. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 19, 2021 - 12:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Important breaking news just into CNN, the first felony sentencing for a Capitol rioter just wrapped up in Federal Court here in Washington. Paul Hodgkins, will serve eight months in prison, eight months in prison for breaching United States Senate. Let's get straight to the courthouse in our CNN justice correspondent, Jessica Schneider. Jess, tell us more.

JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, this two hour sentencing just wrapping up moments ago, and the judge here really wavering, trying to figure out what the best sentence would be because of course, this is the first Capitol riot defendant who has pleaded guilty to a felony. And the judge here, the federal judge, having to determine what is the appropriate sentence. Paul Hodgkins, 38-year-old -- 38 years old of Florida, receiving eight months of prison time followed by 24 months, two years of supervised release.

Now, the prosecution in this case, the Justice Department asking for 18 months, so this was 10 months less than prosecutors actually wanted. But of course, this was far more than what the defense attorney was asking for. They were asking for probation, or potentially even home confinement. This was a notable sentencing. The defendant, in this case, Paul Hodgkins, getting up, speaking on his own behalf for several minutes really pleading with the judge, saying that he has a full time job that he will lose, and that it should be punishment enough that he's pleaded guilty to a felony, something that will impact him for life anyway.

The judge listened to this, he spoke, the defendant here spoke for several minutes, and then the judge excusing himself for the bench for several minutes to determine what this sentence would be. But in the end, the judge making some very pointed remarks here when he issued this sentence. The judge here saying that the defendant here actively participated in this event to thwart democracy and saying that this is an event that will have reverberations for months and years to come, talking about all of the emotions and the trauma that everyone involved in this who was at the Capitol that day that had to fear for their safety, people killed. All of this will continue to reverberate. The judge also stressed that the defendant here has been remorseful. He has tried to rehabilitate himself. Paul Hodgkins has talked about the fact that he does have a job that he's been going to church that he's been volunteering at various community organizations. So the judge did take that into account. So again, this was an interesting case and important case, because this sentence could potentially be a bellwether for other defendants.

We have, of course, more than 500 defendants who have so far been charged by the Department of Justice. And this on the scale of things was maybe a relatively more or less, lesser charge than some other people are facing. This was a charge that one count that he pleaded guilty to obstructing an official proceeding, it's still significant because the maximum penalty was 20 years. But again, we're seeing defendants that are facing much stronger charges.

They're charged with assaulting police officer, damaging the Capitol grounds, damaging property within it. So this actually may be a very low sentence for what is to come here. But again, the defendant in this case, 38-year-old Paul Hodgkins, who took a bus from Tampa, Florida to the Capitol, walked inside to the Senate floor, carrying a bag with goggles and rope and carrying a Trump flag, Trump 2020. He has now been sentenced to eight months in prison with two years after that of supervised release.

And John, I will note that the hearing is just wrapped up. The defendant here not remanded. So that means he will walk out of court here before he eventually reports for his sentence. So we could potentially hear from him. Our cameras are waiting outside the court for that, John.

KING: And Jessica, I just wanted to follow up on the point you noted. This is a felony conviction, the defendant here pled guilty, which is significant. Normally, if you decide in the end, you're cooperating by that point, you're pleading guilty. You're asking a judge, I'm cooperating now, I'm not contesting this. There won't be a trial. Therefore you get some leniency. The Justice Department arguing to your point there are -- there's a long pipeline of cases behind us here.

And with this first felony plea, we want to send a message and we want to set a standard. So the Justice Department asked 18 months, they get eight months. We're going to have to watch how that's -- if that standard is applied by other judges as we go through months and months of additional prosecutions in hearings, right?

SCHNEIDER: That's exactly right. And in some sense, John, this judge had a large weight on his shoulders because the defense here really wanted him just to give the defendant probation, but this potentially was setting the standard for defendants who were accused of crimes here related to January 6th, that maybe were nonviolent but still created significant upheaval and trauma. And that's what the judge here stressed that he couldn't let this defendant walk away with just probation, maybe didn't go obviously as severe as 18 months as the Justice Department had asked for. [12:35:29]

But still significant for this defendant who talked about the fact that he will be losing his liberty, losing his job for eight months in prison followed by two years of supervised release, so a lot of weight on this judge's shoulders. And of course, future judges will be looking to this sentence to jump off of to compare it with when these other defendants, we have hundreds of them who were maybe in plea talks now or going through the process, there will be hundreds of sentences and this just the first for a felony count here. John?

KING: Jessica Schneider, appreciate your hustle outside the courthouse. It'd be interested to see if we do hear for Mr. Hodgkins and if we hear from the Justice Department prosecutors who got less than half of what they were asking for in a sentence here. Jessica Schneider, appreciate the hustle.

When we come back, why are so many of these new books about the president coming out right now, the author of this one, with us.



KING: Several well reported new books about the final days of the Trump presidency offer us stunning new details about White House dysfunction, the 2020 election big lie and the former president's obsession with trying to stay in power, even if it meant taking democracy off the rails. Of the thousands of words in these books, here are seven that tell you maybe all you need to know about the character of the man behind that anger and chaos.

Quote, Hitler did a lot of good things. Hitler did a lot of good things. Trump made those comments to John Kelly, then his chief of staff on route to Paris to commemorate 100 years since the end of the First World War, according to a new book by the Wall Street Journal's Michael Bender. The statement unsurprisingly shocked the retired four star marine general who vehemently shot back quote, you cannot ever say anything supportive of Adolf Hitler. You just can't.

Michael Bender and our panel are back to discuss. Congratulations. It's a fascinating take here. You want to read this. You want to read all the books but this is a great one right here. To me, I talk to you about this during the break that gets at the character of Trump. You report some fascinating new details about episodes and incidents, the character of the man behind all that. What did you learn doing this work?

MICHAEL BENDER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Well, John, I wrote, published 1,100 stories about Donald Trump over five years for "The Wall Street Journal." I wanted to -- I set out to write something that was different. There was a different Trump book and we all know the story of the chaotic four years of the Trump administration. What shocked me writing this book and reporting this book was not the chaos of it, but the how many people around him viewed Trump as dangerous for the country. And this is an example of a back in 2018. There are a lot of people around Trump who are worried that he'd long given this sort of wink and nod to Neo-Nazism to these far extremist parts of the party, you know, it's a through line through the book all the way to the end, when General Mark Milley in a run up to January 6th, is worried that the people Trump is bringing into the administration in those final weeks may have ties to Neo-Nazism.

KING: Right. And there's another you mentioned General Milley, there's another piece of the book again that gets at this. And the question for me, is Trump ignorant of history? Or does Trump just choose his moments in history, that he just picks this because it shapes his view? This is when the George Floyd protests were happening across the country. Milley spotted President Lincoln's portrait hanging just to the right of Trump and pointed directly at it. That guy had an insurrection, Milley said. What we have, Mr. President, is a protest. Trump started to reconsider.

The point in the reporting is that at that point, Trump is, what -- can I use the military, can I send the military into the streets at time, the country was going through a painful racial reckoning not, not an attack on the government.

JULIE PACE, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF & ASST. MANAGING EDITOR, ASSOCIATED PRESS: And this is another through line of his presidency, his constants or glance over to the military feeling like he could use the military to serve his own purposes, not as a commander-in-chief who's there to use the military to protect the United States and its interests. And we've seen over and over again, military leaders having to push back having to remind him specifically what the purpose of that military is.

And I think the takeaway, you know, from Michael's reporting and some of the other great reporting that we've seen is just how close we got in some of these instances. I think it's -- I think you sort of knew it in the moment a little bit instinctually. And now we see all these details flushed out.

BENDER: That was what they were worried about inside the room was his desperation to hold on to office. I mean, he told Milley and others he wanted to shoot Americans, peaceful -- people peacefully protesting civil rights abuses. His own Secretary of State was worried he might lean into a war to hold on to power. I mean, these are the stories that are into this book.

KING: And so again, it comes back to the question, is he delusional? Is -- does he live in an alternative reality? Put it out there. If you read the book, ask the question. Or does he deliberately twist information or ignore information that doesn't suit his purpose in a calculated way? And again, this comes to you right about the Senate, Senate balance of power, right, the president losing elections. Trump also told me, the Republicans would have lost eight more Senate seats in 2020 had it not been for his help. It was an interesting theory since most Republicans in Washington thought they would have had a two-seat majority had Trump paid more attention to the Georgia runoffs instead of the election fraud conspiracies. [12:45:11]

The Democrats control the Senate right now only by 50-50. Most Republicans believe because of Trump, the big lie what happened in Georgia, but he lives in another world.

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He creates that world in many ways by the media he consumed, by some of the people that he puts around him. He ignores facts that are not in line with what he already thinks, in many cases. So he may actually believe that the Republicans would have lost eight more seats, if he had not been involved. He has a very difficult time and sort of taking responsibility for anything that goes wrong or anything doesn't go his way.

So but based on the different kinds of media that he consumes, and the people that he puts around them, a lot of times he's able to create his own world and ignore the reality on the ground. And that's allowed in some dangerous things to take place. And one other thing I think is really interesting about these books that have come out is how many people that he has surrounded himself with that have been close to him that have flipped have basically said, you know, we do not support, you know, the President and the way that he operated.

A lot of times we're not doing that on the record, but they're doing it in very significant ways to authors to show how crazy things were inside and how close we got to the brink in many of these cases.

BENDER: John, it's a question that people around him still struggle with, does he believe these claims he's making about January 6th, about the election itself. And it's relevant now, even more relevant now, as we kind of figure out what happened on January 6th, and try to, you know, anticipate what happens with the Republican Party here in the next couple of years under Trump.

KING: That to me -- that to me is key. If he were a former president who had gone off into retirement, you might view these things differently. They're still outrageous. They still need to be recorded for history. But you might view them differently from a man who right now still controls much of the Republican Party. Still makes crystal clear he wants to come back and run in 2024, still makes crystal clear to some people he thinks he's going to somehow be reinstated next month.

We know this election campaign played out in a pandemic. This I find fascinating. Tucker Carlson, again, to your point about who does the President consult for advice. He had many good scientists at his disposal. He rejected all of their advice. This will cost you the election, Tucker Carlson told Trump. But Trump shrugged him off and said the virus wasn't as deadly as people thought.

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This was a trend throughout the pandemic. Early in the pandemic, this was something that I was talking to Republicans on Capitol Hill about because the President was making it clear at the time that he didn't think it was as dangerous as everyone on the Hill was starting to take it. I mean, this was at the point into the spring. Into the summer, Trump was still arguing that this wasn't that bad. They were going to get it under control before the election, because of course, he wanted to hold on to power that was part of his consideration here.

Republicans on the Hill were not buying it then because they knew that their elections were going to be tied to his fortunes as well. And they saw the writing on the wall that this was going to be problematic. And it was.

KING: And some people are still not getting vaccinated to this day because they listened to it. Some people are still not getting vaccinated to this day, because they still don't take the threat seriously.

BENDER: John, there's a scene in the book to this point where these are the people who are Trump is surrounding himself with. In the summer, Scott Atlas, Dr. Scott Atlas, wanders into one of his political meetings. This is before we knew Scott Atlas was part of the administration or consulting with Trump. And the President asks Atlas to tell his team what he told them earlier. And what it was, was that, Atlas said that the pandemic would be over by September, done over by September.

You know, the people around Trump is political people sat their mouths wide open that this was we know what the President was latching on to, you know, in the middle of a pandemic.

KING: Right. And here we are, here we are in July. And we have another tough September coming up, not the last one when Dr. Atlas. Let me close with the why now, part, Paul Farhi wrote about this in "The Post" yesterday, a lot of people out there probably asking, you know, did you know these things? And if you knew these things, why didn't you share them during the presidency? Obviously, he's gone. And to your point, people are looking to rehabilitate their reputations and stay involved in politics or public service in some way. Why?

BENDER: Yes, I mean, I think there's some confusion about that. I work for "The Wall Street Journal," a daily newspaper, if I had known any of these details in real time, they would have gone right into "The Journal" or my employer would have had a thing or two to say about that. Why now? I think people -- I write this in the book about white people talk to me for a bunch of different reasons. Some of its cathartic, and some of its to get some of this off their chest, but they couldn't talk to some of those people around them at the time.

And again, I mean, the -- one of -- the three lines of the book is that, you know, they thought he'd become violent and reckless, things that they were trying to act as guardrails as at the time and only now feel comfortable talking about it to reporter.

KING: Stay with us. We got more conversations to come with this, great piece of work.


Up next for us, we just heard from the President about immigration and a new ruling impacting the so called DREAMers, that's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: A new challenge today for the Biden White House, immigration policy, excuse me, a new challenge today for the Biden White House immigration policy, a major court ruling against the program designed to protect the so called DREAMers those who were children when brought illegally across the border. The President was asked earlier today about adding a pathway to citizenship and the Democrats only budget bill moments ago. Here's what he said.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we need to find pathways to citizenship. Budget bill is an appropriate way to get around the filibuster to be able to make a judgment as to whether or not they should have a pathway. That's for the parliamentarian to decide them, not for Joe Biden to decide.



KING: CNN politics and immigration reporter, Priscilla Alvarez joins our conversation. Let's start with the court ruling first, about DACA and the so called DREAMers, which just adds another complication. We've had record numbers of people coming across the border. You have the children in custody. Now you have this court case that says no and leaves, what, how many people in limbo, millions.

PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN IMMIGRATION REPORTER: It leaves millions in limbo. And they are finding themselves in situation all over again. I mean, over the Trump administration, the program was sort of ping ponging because of different court rulings. And now on Friday, they got hit again. And the reality is that, especially for those first time applicants, the people who could apply to the program for the first time, after a ruling in December, they had put in this application, in fact, more than 60,000 had and had been waiting to get that application granted.

And now, they can't get that. And so those first time applicants, in fact I spoke to one whose mom didn't pay rent, just so to get the money so they could submit the application. She's in limbo now. And she won't get that application granted. So President Biden and the Justice Department intends to appeal this decision. But there's still a process here. And in the meantime, all these DACA recipients and or at least those who were eligible for DACA are just waiting.

KING: So we're back in this courtroom to courtroom to courtroom to courtroom, which means months and months and months and months, the President said, well, this could go away like that if he supports a pathway to citizenship, some Democrats think we can do this as part of this reconciliation process, this sweeping Democrats only budget resolution. They want to put a lot in that bill. This has been a quicksand issue in American politics for more than a generation. Will they? FOX: Well, Senator Bob Menendez has been arguing behind the scenes for a while now that this needed to be a key priority. And when you talk to rank and file Democrats, even some moderates, I talked to Joe Manchin last week about this, he's not opposed to the idea of including a path to citizenship for DACA recipients for some AG workers for potentially some important workers or essential workers who are already in the country, but how broad he'll make that and whether or not it passes muster.

Because remember, everything has to have a budgetary impact, in order to do this with just 51 Democratic votes. It's unclear whether or not the parliamentarian will think that this actually has a real budgetary impact. That's the challenge here. But certainly Democrats are committed to this effort. They're going to put about $120 billion behind it to get the Judiciary Committee to a place where they might be able to write some legislation.

KING: And look, the economic numbers are better, the pandemic numbers, we'll see what happens. We're in a tough period right now. But the vaccination numbers for Biden versus Trump were off the charts good. But Republicans see political opportunity here in the use, the immigration issue against the President, the midterms. And if you look at the ABC Post poll, just last week, I think 33 percent approved, 51 percent disapprove. The President underwater on an issue that we do know from the Trump years can drive some voters.

PACE: This is a huge motivating issue for Republicans. And what's been interesting about watching how those numbers have moved, how this issue has been wielded is that it also is moving some Latino voters in the U.S. who have been in this country for a long time have, you know, gone through the process that they would say is the right way.

And so Republicans see very little disincentive to leaning into this issue. Democrats do feel like with DACA, in particular, though, if they can get this into the bill, they feel like, you know, there are very few Republicans who want to be on the wrong side of DACA. It's a bit separate from the broader immigration issue. So they feel pretty comfortable trying to jam this in, under this reconciliation and economic argument.

ALVAREZ: I just want to note to, in talking to DACA recipients over the weekend, the one thing they said is we help and we motivated voters for Biden. We need to start to see results not only for him, but for Democrats. And so that's what they're thinking about too.

KING: Right. So you say it motivates Republicans, it could motivate Democrats as well, in their disappointment. And that's been the frustration you hear from many on the left. They don't doubt what the President believes. What they want to see is more effort, they want to see more push and more aggressiveness, they find it too timid.

The President does have more of a North Star approach. We're going to do vaccines, then we're going to do the economy, then we'll do this, then we'll do that. Sometimes you don't get to pick and choose when you're president. OLORUNNIPA: Yes. And immigration activists have dealt with that over several years. And they feel like they've been left behind. They've been left at the bottom of the to do list. And for a number of them, they feel like there hasn't been legislation under the past two Democratic presidents. And they're calling for Biden to actually put some muscle behind this and not just focus on the pandemic and other things.

So he is under a lot of pressure to get something through. And this reconciliation bill is seen as kind of the last train leaving the station and you have a lot of different activists across a number of different issues trying to get their issues into this reconciliation bill. We'll have to wait and see whether the immigration folks can get their DACA plans into this. If not, it may be a long time before they can see legislation.

KING: Inside the White House, do they have a different attitude now than they did say a couple months ago when they wanted to say we'll get there, we'll get there, wait?

ALVAREZ: You know, I think in terms of migrants, the message is still don't come, we want to instill hope in your region so you don't come to the U.S. southern border. In terms of this latest DACA ruling, they are coming out and they are putting in savings that they support DACA recipients and they support this program and will fortify it but it's a lot of issues coming to a head at this particular moment, and that's going to weigh on them going forward.


KING: This is -- this week, next week, the next few weeks, just fascinating choices to be made not only by the President but by members of his party as well.

Appreciate your time today in Inside Politics amid all the breaking news. See you back here this time tomorrow. Don't go anywhere, busy day. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.