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Trump Facing 7 Counts In Classified Docs Probe; Trump-Appointed Federal Judge To Hear Criminal Case Against The Former President; McCarthy: Trump Indictment "Unconscionable"; Romney Defends DOJ Amid GOP Attacks. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired June 09, 2023 - 12:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: President Biden is on the road today to talk about job training for the new economy. Don't expect much, if anything, on the indictment of once and perhaps future rival Donald Trump.

With me now to share his insights, our CNN Senior Political Commentator, David Axelrod, who, of course, was the architect of the two Obama winning presidential campaigns.

David, thank you for your time. None of us have been here. There's nothing in your Rolodex, that's an old dinosaur term but there is no expert on, how do you deal with a campaign where the former president of the United States is facing a federal indictment and he also happens to be the front runner for the other party's nomination.

If Joe Biden picked you up and said, David, how do I handle this, what would you say?

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I'd say, dude, exactly what he did today. Do nothing. Say nothing. Do not answer questions about this. Do not involve yourself. That's exactly what Donald Trump and the president's opponents want. You can see on their postings on social media where they're going.

I mean, the president himself is sort of describing this as a hit job directed by President Biden to take out his number one opponent. Not true, but that's their storyline and all of his supporters are following in line with that, the weaponization of government directed by the president. So don't get involved in that would be my advice. And I think that's clearly what he's thinking himself.

And if that is the strategy led by the President of the United States, it would extend to all of his senior advisers in the White House. You worked as a senior adviser in the White House after that first campaign, the Justice Department has been silent. Their philosophy is we let our documents speak in court, but Trump has controlled the narrative for the first 12 hours or so of this story. If you were in the White House knowing that maybe you'd be reaching for the phone, but knowing you can't touch it, you can't call the Justice Department, would you be wincing or do you get that?

AXELROD: Yes. You know, that's a really good question. I might be wincing a little, but I think I would be thinking, you know, eventually the facts are going to catch up with this story and that eventuality may be as late as Tuesday, it would be -- I'd be -- it'd be great from a political standpoint for them to unseal this.

You can see Mike Pence inviting them to do it, perhaps looking for a life raft here that he can land on if the chargers are really, really serious. But I would not pick up that phone. I remember when I was in the White House, so one of the first things that we were told is you do not talk to the Justice Department. You do not talk to the FBI.

You know, the White House Council will be the interface with those agencies. And that was a hardened fast rule and it's particularly important in this case.

KING: And so, and yet, and yet you know this very well, your political reporter turned political strategist. You look at your opponent and you think, what are the weaknesses? What can we exploit? This is an indictment about Donald Trump's handling or mishandling of classified information.

Let's go back in time a little bit and listen to Donald Trump. He's taken an interest in this subject before.



DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In my administration, I'm going to enforce all laws concerning the protection of classified information. No one will be above the law.

One of the first things we must do is to enforce all classification rules and to enforce all laws relating to the handling of classified information.

We also need the best protection of classified information. Hillary's private email scandal, which put our classified information in the reach of our enemies, disqualifies her from the presidency, totally.


KING: Correct me if I'm wrong, but that's kind of T-ball. That's like the ball is sitting right there waiting for somebody to hit it. But if the president can't do it, can his campaign do it? Does he have to hope some Super PAC does it? Or even that, can you spin it back as, look at the Democrats doing that?

AXELROD: It will be done, John, but that doesn't -- it doesn't necessarily have to be done in the next three days. This issue isn't going away for sure. That tape will live. You know, he thinks consistency is the hobgoblin of small mines, but that is really damning tape.

So I think that there is time, but not that much time because he really does have a genius for controlling the narrative. And you can see it in how the Republicans are reacting. He has fitted into this narrative of a deep state out to get him, and by extension get them and that is provocative for his base.


Hey, John, I don't want to -- I know, I don't know when you're going to gong me here, so I have to do one thing here. I know this is your last show behind the desk and as an old print reporter, I so admire you as the old AP political reporter you are because you bring those sensibilities to this desk every day into everything that you do, and that's why you're really the very best that there is. And I can't wait to see what you do in the field.

This is going to be one hell of a year. And CNN's going to be smarter for having you out in the field covering it.

KING: I appreciate that very much. And I'm already mad at myself. I didn't bring the gong. But we'll get to that. I appreciate it. I'll see you again, my friend. I'm not going. Just changing seats, not going anywhere.

AXELROD: Understood. Understood. I'm happy.

KING: Thank you. Thank you, David. Good to see you.

A live look right here at the Miami Federal Courthouse. That is where the former President Trump says he will appear next week. Will there be fingerprints, a booking photo, and security? And when will we get to see the actual indictment? That's next.



KING: We learned a short time ago that the Federal District Judge Aileen Cannon, has been assigned to oversee the federal criminal case against Donald Trump. Multiple sources tell CNN the Trump appointee is on this case that after another judge will handle Trump's initial court appearance on Tuesday. You may remember Judge Cannon from her work handling the FBI's Mar-a-Lago search. That work raised eyebrows even among conservative judges and across the legal field.

Let's get more. CNN's Katelyn Polantz is live outside the courthouse in Miami. Elliot Williams, the former federal prosecutor back with us. Katelyn, tell us more about this judge and about what we expect to unfold Tuesday in that building behind you.

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, on Tuesday, we are expecting Donald Trump to come here to this campus in downtown Miami where there is the federal courthouse, a whole complex actually. So there's the building behind me, but there are other buildings here too that would allow for Donald Trump to have quite a secure entrance to the point where we might not even see him physically walk in and out of the building like you see others throughout the day.

That's because he could be brought in to another building or underground through a parking garage. And then once he's inside a federal court building, there are no pictures whatsoever, no video and no photographs at all, John.

So that is something that is a little bit different than Trump's last appearance in his other criminal case in New York State where there were cameras allowed. That will not be the case here. And there will be quite a bit of eyes on the judge in that courtroom. How the judge is handling this. At first, it will be Judge Bruce Reinhart. We believe he is the magistrate judge, so a judge that handles more of the procedural steps in a case like this.

He would be taking Donald Trump's not guilty plea and discussing with him the terms of his release pending trial. But then everything will go to Judge Aileen Cannon. That is because she is listed on that summons in this case that he received yesterday telling him to appear in court.

She would be the federal judge that will oversee this criminal case. And much of the question there will be how long it takes? Because Judge Cannon, she will have a lot of latitude on how long it takes her to decide legal issues that arise, how long it takes her to decide evidentiary issues. And she'll get to set a trial date too.

So, with that timing question, does this take so long that it would be something that could happen in the middle of the election next year? That's a huge question for the Justice Department and for Donald Trump.

KING: So Elliot Williams come in on that point. I heard you say last night you were a clerk in that federal courthouse at one point earlier in your career. A Trump appointed judge whose work was frankly panned by the conservative court above her and by many legal experts. Does that make a difference or is it just, let's keep an open mind, watch it play out? What are your biggest questions about this judge handling this case?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Sure. And the difference is, John, is it -- was it just a bad opinion that a judge got reversed on because judges got reversed all the time? Or does the -- has the judge indicated that her objectivity is so in question as to require reassignment by the court. And that's a legal question that can be decided.

And there is -- and I'll be candid, there is some authority on this in the 11th Circuit which is the appeals court down there that a judge whose objectivity is called into question can be removed from a case. So a number of things could happen. One, the court could simply remove her. Two, the judge could decide to step down and not be a part of the matter. Or three, the Justice Department could themself move to have the judge transferred or reassigned. I want to be clear though, when it's just a question of disagreement with a decision that a judge put in place, you know, look, I wrote opinions for judges that got overturned. The judges I worked for got overturned, it happens. And so the question is, was this a policy dispute or a legal dispute, or is the judge just so tainted that she can't fairly hear this case? And we'll just see how that gets resolved over the coming weeks.

KING: Another one of the fascinating and sort of open-ended. We don't know the answer to questions and wrinkles in this case.

Katelyn, Elliot, appreciate that important reporting and insights.

Coming up for us, Trump Republican allies in the House are rushing to his defense. So far, silence from the top Senate Republican leadership. How the president's mounting legal former presidents. Mounting legal troubles now create a rift within his own party.



KING: Donald Trump's allies in Congress racing now to defend the 2024 Republican front runner, Kevin McCarthy leading that pack. The Republican House Speaker tweeting, quote, "It is unconscionable for a president to indict the leading candidate opposing him. Joe Biden kept classified documents for decades. I and every American who believes in the rule of law stand with President Trump".

Our great reporters are back at the table. I guess it is predictable in the polarized time we live in. But Speaker McCarthy is a constitutional officer of the United States. He is third in line to the presidency after the president and the vice president. He has not seen this indictment, and yet he knows it's horrible. Where are we?


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the tell was the line in that statement that you highlighted, calling him not just the former president, but the leading candidate --

KING: Right.

BASH: -- for president in the Republican Party. And that is where they are hanging in their hats. And that is sort of the political frame through which they're looking at it and it certainly feeds into the idea that, sure. I mean, does Donald Trump want to be president again? Of course.

KING: It also --

BASH: But --

KING: -- it accepts Trump's argument that Joe Biden did this. The president of the United States --

BASH: Well, there's that.

KING: -- whether it was Donald Trump or Joe Biden --

BASH: There's a lot.

KING: -- they don't indict people.


BASH: Well, there's a lot to unpack there, but just on the politics of this, and trying to frame it as not as a former president allegedly doing something wrong, but as a candidate for president now, and that is -- I don't know. I think it's a bit dangerous.

KING: Dangerous. And it's -- that's the Speaker of the House. Jim Jordan is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, a long time Trump ally. But it's a sad day for America. God blessed President Trump. Again, they've been looking at this Biden document where a source makes an allegation against former Biden when he was vice president.

Bill Barr looked into it. The Justice Department looked into it. They could not corroborate it. And they say Biden's a 100 percent guilty.


KING: They have not even seen an indictment about Donald Trump, and they say he's 100 percent innocent.


KING: There's the intellectual consistency. There's a little lacking.

There is no intellectual consistency. It's hypocritical. I mean, that's what it is. I mean, I have seen -- I think if we take from the midterms, there's been a march from the Republican Party from once having an openness to kind of other outsiders, but then kind of coming back around. And I remember being at the Dana Point, California for the RNC meeting in January at CPAC.

You've seen this kind of march to them being able to defend him, partially because I think there was an assumption from of the other candidates, maybe some of Republican leadership, that this Georgia indictment would come first. That was the most politically clear one to be able to make a case against Donald Trump and that then he will kind of -- voters will fall off maybe from that.

But none of that has gone how they have assumed. That indictment has not come first. There's been now two others before that, and Republican voters have rallied around him. And so for me, it is an interesting to see that they're still kind of holding on to the idea that maybe the next one will be something different when there has been so many instances.

Over the years that have built us to this point where they have rallied around Trump over and over again. It is not clear to me that that ground has been tiled enough that when the next thing happens, Republican voters would just fall off. But that assumption continues to permeate every level of department.

KING: It does. And Manu Raju, you can see the headline of his story he wrote here, where the House Republican leader, Speaker, or majority leader come to Trump's defense. The top two Senate Republicans being quite quiet about this. But another Trump critic among Senate Republicans, Mitt Romney of Utah, putting out this statement today.

"By all appearances, the Justice Department and special counsel have exercise due care, affording Mr. Trump the time and opportunity to avoid charges that would not generally have been afforded to others. So you do see, again, we see it on policy all the time.


KING: Now we see it on politics this Senate split, Senate Republicans cringing, they want Trump to go House Republicans saying he's our guy.

KIM: Right, right. And I have a suspicion that Senator Romney will be a lonely voice on that front, even among Senate Republicans for the next several days, at least because Senate Republicans just fundamentally do not want to touch this issue. There is a reason why McConnell's being quiet right now. There's a reason why Thune, who actually has endorsed Tim Scott for the presidency is also being quiet in the race.

And even before all the indictment news came out, you saw Senate Republicans this week start to get a little jittery just because the field was just getting to be so big. A lot of them do not want Trump to be the nominee. And that's why you're seeing they're quiet and just -- they're kind of just bearing their heads in the sand hoping he goes away. But he's not going away anytime soon.

KING: He's not going away anytime soon. Thank you all for coming in on this day. You ready for Monday?

BASH: I'm ready.


BASH: Are you ready for Monday?

KING: You are ready. You are ready. More on that when we come back.



KING: Topping our political radar today, a thank you from me. I'm moving on to a new project and a new challenge right here at CNN. And before I do, I want to say thank you to the people who have made the past seven years on Inside Politics happen. There's a tiny show staff down that hall in the control room. I am forever in your debt.

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