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Inside Politics

Trump Is A Target Of Special Counsel's Jan. 6 Criminal Probe; Special Counsel Jack Smith Spotted At D.C. Subway; Trump's 2024 Rivals React To His Latest Legal Troubles. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 18, 2023 - 12:30   ET




DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today is swift and predictable reaction from Capitol Hill to word that Donald Trump is a target of the special counsels 2020 election investigation. Let's go right to Capitol Hill and CNN Manu Raju. Manu, what are members telling you?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we are seeing a lot of House Republicans rushed to Donald Trump's defense even before seeing any indictment, even before seeing any allegations, but a familiar pattern. One that we saw in the last two criminal indictments as well.

House Republican leaders say defending Donald Trump saying that he is unfairly targeted by the Justice Department, even as Senate Republican leaders have so far been silent. Nothing yet from the Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, or any of his deputies. They do come back this afternoon in the Senate side. We'll see how they respond then.

But it wasn't -- it was only a matter of minutes until Speaker McCarthy went to the cameras and defended Donald Trump's actions even before seeing any evidence.


REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I think the American public is tired of this. They want to have see equal justice and the idea that they utilize this to go after those who politically disagree with him is wrong.

REP. TIM BURCHETT (R), TENNESSEE: Every time they indict him, his numbers go up.

REP. TROY NEHLS (R), TEXAS: Donald Trump's the leader of our party, and Donald Trump is going to beat Joe Biden in 2024 for a second time. Why are they doing everything they can to prevent him from being on the ballot in 2024? I'll tell you why. Because Donald Trump will win in 2024. And the left just they're scared shitless.

REP. JIM JORDAN (R), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: From the Justice Department, this is as wrong as it gets. (END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: And that last comment comes from Jim Jordan, who's the House Judiciary Committee Chairman someone who has tried to go after records from the Special Counsel himself, Jack Smith, somebody the Justice Department has not been willing to provide, because of there's an ongoing criminal investigation.

But that will be an area in which Republicans almost certainly will continue to push, try to get records, try to push to try to get any information, something that Democrats will see as blatant interference of an ongoing criminal probe. But as you can see there, Dana, Republicans in the House using their power to defend Donald Trump, even as their counterparts in the Senate GOP leadership remain silent. Dana?

BASH: Manu, thank you so much for that reporting.

Joining me now is Congressman Jason Crow of Colorado. Thank you so much for joining me, sir. I want to ask you first about this issue, just from a human personal level, because we've all seen that photo. We all remember that you were in the balcony in the House chamber, trying to protect your fellow members while the insurrectionists were also in that chamber. You were relying on your training as an Army Ranger to do so. What's your reaction to what you just heard from your GOP colleagues in Manu's report?

REP. JASON CROW (D), COLORADO: Well, Dana, this is a very unique situation, and that you have one where people are trying to revise history on one end. You have a very protected grand jury process that's going on by Jack Smith, a lifetime career prosecutor who has been nothing but an upstanding prosecutor of a person of great repute.

And then you have all of this about a process that happened publicly, right? Everybody saw what happened on January 6, right? We saw it unfold before our eyes. Speaker McCarthy who's now defending Donald Trump actually, I remember, vividly the speech that he gave on the House floor hours after the Capitol Police retook the Capitol from that insurrectionist mob.

And he called out me by name, as one of the members that helped prevent the chamber from being taken by that mob. And now they want to they want to revise history. So people aren't going to buy it. Nobody's going to buy it because we all saw what happened. The January 6 Committee actually very clearly outlined what happened in the crimes that were committed by Donald Trump and others.

BASH: And yet, you, I'm sure, agree with your colleagues that the justice system needs to work properly. We just want to be clear, we only know that the former president got a target letter. We don't know anything more than that about what potential indictment, what that indictment would look like and so forth.

From your perspective, do you believe if the former president if they have actual evidence that he was involved and that he had intent to be a part of the obstruction of democracy that led to January 6 that he should face the same charges that any other American would?


CROW: Absolutely, not only do I believe that he that he should. I think it's necessary that he should. Listen, there are above every courthouse in America, almost every courthouse in America, there's Lady Justice as holding the scales. And Lady Justice is blindfolded.

Because when our system works at its best, and it doesn't always work this way, and it's an imperfect system sometimes, but the system as designed is supposed to be blind. And the idea behind that is it doesn't matter who you are, doesn't matter what job you hold, what position you have, doesn't matter whether you're a president, whether you're an administrative assistant, we are all equal before the eyes of the law.

Now, that is the aspiration of our system. And that's the way it has to work if we're going to pursue that ideal in this case.

BASH: So there's the ideal and what should happen and then there's the political reality of where we are. This is not just a former president, this is a candidate for president again, and part of the strategy and part of the words that we've heard, not just from the former president, but from his allies in the halls where you are, is that this is helping the former president in his campaign in the short term to get the GOP nomination.

CROW: Yes.

BASH: Is there any part of you that worries about that because you too, are a politician?

CROW: Well, there's two different things. These are -- there are a false equivalencies, when we talk about the ideal of our justice system, right? If you're black or brown in America, that system doesn't always work well for you, right? There are internal biases and that system that have a legacy that go back hundreds of years in our country, that doesn't work well, for so many people in America.

What I'm concerned about in this case, and this is different, is that Donald Trump is going to try to get special treatment, he's going to try to evade justice, because he is a former president, and in a current presidential candidate. And what I'm saying is that should not happen, it should not matter.

Because think about what that would mean, if a current or former president is immune to the law and prosecution, nobody wants that system, right? That is completely untenable. We don't have kings and queens in America. We cannot have that result.

BASH: You were a manager for the first impeachment. Different issue, even though the former president was impeached by the House on this issue. But just given the experience that you had on, you know, trying the then-president, what are your thoughts on this? And are there any bits of your experience that should people -- that just the American people should know and think about? CROW: Well, Dana, I was a prosecutor in the first impeachment, as you said, which in a lot of people forget what that first impeachment was about, because it seems so long ago. But the high crime in that was actually a violation of something called the Impoundment Control Act that the president withheld funds, that Congress appropriated funds that were designated for Ukraine, actually, for Ukraine security assistance, before the most recent invasion.

So he blackmailed President Zelenskyy and withholding critical security assistance to get a political favor. That's what that impeachment was. Of course, there's been numerous criminal violations by this president because he doesn't respect the law. He thinks that he's above it. He is a sociopath.

You know, I'm not a psychologist, but it's very clear with his conduct, that he's somebody who does not believe that the rules apply to him, and that he can do whatever he wants. That's a very dangerous person to put in any position of authority to be a babysitter, let alone the president of the United States.

BASH: Congressman, Jason Crow of Colorado, appreciate your time.

CROW: Thank you.

Back to you in New York, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Dana, thanks. The breaking news today, Donald Trump reveals he's received a target letter from the Special Counsel. How are the Republicans who want to beat Trump in the race for the nomination reacting? We'll more on this special edition of Inside Politics next.



COOPER: And welcome back to our continuing special coverage. This is new video that we have just been getting to CNN. Special Counsel's Jack Smith getting lunch at Subway, spotted on this historic day coming out of the Washington, D.C. Subway.

Earlier this morning, CNN confirmed Smith's team notified he's a target of the far-reaching investigation into the plot to steal the 2020 elections. Mr. Smith did not answer questions that were asked of him as he was getting his vehicle. Already today, some very clear ripples on the campaign trail sparked by this Trump target letter.

I want to get right to CNN's Jeff Zeleny. So Trump's supposed to have an event tonight. How is this letter playing among the rivals to the former president?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, this is now part of this Republican presidential campaign. Of course, there have been a couple other chapters of this earlier in the year, but now some of his rivals are coming out, at least tepidly voicing their concern about this. Let's take a listen to a couple of them. Of course, one of his leading rivals is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who's campaigning today in South Carolina.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: I think it was shown how he was in the White House and didn't do anything while things were going on. He should have come out more forcefully, of course, that. But to try to criminalize that, that's a different issue entirely.


ZELENY: And the governor went on to say that he was just learning about the news of these potential indictments, so he would be looking into it more. And of course, he'll be sitting down with our Take Tapper later today. But also some stronger words from former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who has been really, you know, one of the more forceful candidates.


Of course, she served as a member of the Trump administration. She had this to say earlier on Fox News.


NIKKI HALEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's going to keep on going. I mean, the rest of this primary election is going to be -- in reference to Trump is going to be about lawsuits, it's going to be about legal fees, it's going be about judges. And it's just going to continue to be a further and further distraction.

And that's why I am running, is because we need a new generational leader. We can't keep dealing with this drama. We can't keep dealing with the negativity.


ZELENY: So clearly using the word drama there. This is something we have heard from her many times as she's campaigning in Iowa, in New Hampshire, in the early voting state of South Carolina as well. The question is, how do Republican voters react to this?

We do know there is a deep split inside the party whether they want to move on from Donald Trump or stick with him. But also some very strong words from former Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchison. He said that the former President Donald Trump trying to portray himself as the victim today.

He said the true victims of January 6 were the Capitol Police officers and the country's democracy. He once again called on him to drop out of this race. Anderson?

COOPER: Yes. Jeff Zeleny, thanks very much. My panel is back with me. Kaitlan, it's interesting, I mean, first of all, just kind of weird seeing Jack Smith go for a Subway sandwich in a minor point, but I guess everybody's got to eat. The rivals who are running, you know, we heard Nikki Haley, we heard Ron DeSantis. It's not exactly a full throated rejection of the former president continually.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: No. I'm curious to see if this changes the language they use at all, though, because you saw Nikki Haley, she kept talking about it being a distraction and legal fees and how it's affecting their efforts, which obviously the entire field wants to beat Donald Trump, but they also want to ultimately beat Joe Biden.

I do wonder if you'll start to see 2024 candidates using that language. But a reminder how the Republican base, which they have to obviously get a hold of them first to win the Republican primary, feels about this. It was just two weeks ago that former Vice President Mike Pence was in Iowa when a voter said that he was the reason Joe Biden was in the White House essentially blaming him.

And he corrected her and said, no, like, you've been lied to. I couldn't do what Donald Trump wanted me to do that day. But there is very much still obviously a section of the base that is with Trump when it comes to January 6. So how they handled this indictment compared to the documents, the accusations of taking national security secrets to Mar-a-Lago could be different.

But I think it's -- we haven't heard from Pence yet. I think I'm most curious to see what he says, given he obviously had the closest view to this. But he has been saying that Trump should be held accountable and that he thinks history will hold him accountable for that day. But last week when I talked to him, he made it clear he thinks that's happening at the ballot box, not necessarily from the Justice Department.

COOPER: And Van, are you surprised that the rivals who want to become president on the Republican side that they are not still going directly after the former president, other than Chris Christie and --

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think the technical term is they're scared. I think they're scared. And the reason why is that, you know, common sense would say that these are disqualifying allegations before you even get to the indictment. And the conviction that just, you know, being accused of this level of disrespect for democracy and for our -- it's disqualifying.

So you have 1 foot on common sense, but then you have a base that really does see this as they're going after our guy. And so that tribalism. This is tribalism. It's like, well, listen, even if he's wrong, he's our guy, that's wrong, and you're not going to be the one to put him right. That kind of attitude and mindset makes it very hard to run, I think, in this primary.

COOPER: Geoff Duncan, do you believe any of them can actually challenge the former president without challenging the former president? GEOFF DUNCAN (R), FORMER GEORGIA LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: Well, I think this is another golden moment to speak up and to just, with a full throated rebuke say, if he's broken the law, he should be held accountable, let the legal process play out and somebody stand their campaign up on leading through the issues. They should put the issues of the day and our Republican conservative solutions forward and run with it.

And if at the end of the day, Republicans want to be hoodwinked again and elect Donald Trump as the nominee, then so be it. That's going to happen and we'll lose again .But if the opportunity wakes up and one day, the weight of these indictments is so seven, I mean, look, I think we have to remember, we're going to have to distance ourselves, we, as in Republicans from Donald Trump as this plays out.

He was so reckless and cavalier. We watched this firsthand in Georgia. This guy was texting individual legislators and having conversations and phone records. I mean, there's witnesses and evidence that is going to make us extremely embarrassed that this guy led our party and our country.

COOPER: Let's go over back to Dana in D.C. Dana?

BASH: Thanks, Anderson.

And up next, what might the legal case against the former president look like? More CNN coverage after a very quick break. Stay with us.



BASH: Turns out even Jack Smith can't resist a $5 footlong. That's according to what we see right there. New and exclusive CNN video of the special counsel at Subway. Declining, though, to respond to reporters' questions about today's big news, a target letter sent to the former president of the United States.

CNN's Evan Perez was there trying to track down the special counsel. I won't ask you all of the less important things about what he got and --


BASH: -- how he paid and all that, but what is important is the imagery here. They clearly wanted us to see him and that image to be very different from what we saw in the former president's post, which is that he's a deranged individual.

PEREZ: Yes, I mean, look, you can -- I can count probably five or six sandwich shops between his office and that location that he was at earlier today. He stood in line just like everybody else, and I couldn't tell whether it was a footlong or said a -- or was it a 6 inches sub. But look, I mean, the -- we now are on watch for when this potential indictment is coming.


The last time, we waited about three weeks between the time of the target letter and the time that the former president was informed that he was indicted. And part of that was because of Donald Trump and his legal team's effort to delay things. You know, they asked for a meeting with the Justice Department to try to delay things.

So we don't know, Dana, right now how long it'll be before the former president gets told what happens here. It could be as soon as Thursday when we might see the grand jury return on indictment.

BASH: Yes, absolutely. And then, of course, we have going on in Florida movement on the other trial, the one that we know, where there has been an indictment --

PEREZ: Absolutely.

BASH: -- a federal indictment. And the question is about the timing of that is happening this afternoon. OK, Evan, thank you so much for that great reporting.

Much more on CNN's special coverage right after this.