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Now: Federal Grand Jury Meeting In Washington; Sources: Trump Team Expecting New Indictment Any Moment; Trump Waiting To See If He's Indicted In Jan 6 Case; DeSantis: Don't Know If FBI Will Interfere In My Campaign; Christie: DeSantis Shouldn't "Rumor-Monger" About FBI; McCarthy Backs Effort To Expunge Trump Impeachments; Biden Visits PA for 27th Time As President; Today: Biden Sells Economic Agenda In PA. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 20, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Today on Inside Politics, the grand jury here in Washington is back at it. They confront two questions. Will they hear from Donald Trump? Or will they move straight to making the ultimate decision whether to indict the former president?

Plus, what's data got to do with it? Look at the numbers in Bidenomics is working. Look at the polls, and the president is struggling to get voters hearts, to listen to the evidence that the economy is strong. And a conspiracy peddler with a famous name gets headline billing from House Republicans.

RFK Jr. is testifying on Capitol Hill and claiming that he's a victim of far-reaching government plots to shut him up. His fellow Democrats, they're calling him out and calling him a liar.

I'm Dana Bash. Let's go behind the headlines at Inside Politics.

Up first, the calm before the storm. The country currently sits in legal limbo, waiting on the federal grand jury, the special counsel and the former president. Today that jury is back in, and Donald Trump's lawyers have to decide how or if they respond to the last chance that the president has to potentially go before the grand jury and give witnesses or evidence.

And let's get straight to CNN's Katelyn Polantz. Katelyn, you saw the jury members go in. What is the status right now?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, the grand jury here at the federal courthouse in D.C. They are at work. They have witnesses to hear from today, not likely to be Donald Trump. But we do know that there's a close aide to Trump man, William Russell who's testifying this morning. And then at least one other person, maybe even two or more who could be testifying as well today before that grand jury.

And this is a moment where we are watching, and we are waiting, and we need to be patient because this grand jury works in secret. And even if the Justice Department has decided at this point, that Donald Trump is a target of this investigation and is very likely to be indicted. And they know what that case may look like. What charges they want to bring, as they indicated to him.

Some of the statutes, it doesn't mean that we're done. There may be additional witnesses. There may be additional evidence coming in that the grand jury still needs to hear before they are asked to vote in secret on that indictment and to hand it up through the court.

Of course, anytime the grand jury is meeting, is convened behind closed doors. They could be approached by the Justice Department prosecutors and asked to approve the indictment. But we will only know when that happens once that indictment is through the court system. And we are getting it in some sort of way, either being released or being seeing some activity before a magistrate judge.

So, Dana, we are here at the court. The grand jury is still at work. Donald Trump not expected to testify. And he will also be waiting to see exactly what happens next.

BASH: Yes, we all are. Thank you so much for that update, Katelyn. And now, let's go to CNN's Kristen Holmes at Bridgewater, New Jersey, closely tracking. What is happening within the former president's inner circle? Kristen, you have some new reporting on that.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. We know that they are waiting, Dana, for this indictment. They anticipated. They believe it's coming, and they believe it's coming sooner rather than later. But right now, they are acting as though it is business as usual.

Last night at his Bedminster club, Trump held a movie screening for a controversial movie, and it's Steve Bannon attended. He actually aired his show from Bedminster all day yesterday for several hours. So, it gives you some kind of an insight here as to the fact that Trump is not isolating himself in any way during this time, or even stopping campaigning.

They had long announced this movie screening, something that a lot of conservative commentators on social media had been pushing. They really want this movie to gain attention. And here Trump is putting it forward as part of his campaign, inviting hundreds of people to watch it at his club.

And as we continue to report, Trump and his advisers do believe that this is going to if he is indicted a third time, help him, at least in the short-term, in terms of polling and fundraising. We have gotten more emails about that target letter that have gone out trying to raise money. And if his last filing is any kind of indication, he will raise more money because of this. It is something that is appealing to at least some voters.


BASH: Yes, a lot of emails. My inbox is blowing up. I think everybody's who are on that email list. We're going to actually talk about that later in the show. Thank you for that reporting. Here with me at the table, CNN's Paula Reid, former federal prosecutor Elliot Williams, and former Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe. Thank you so much one and all.

Paula you also have been talking to sources about what to expect today and maybe even in the days and weeks to come.

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The reason we're all focused on today and talking about a possible indictment is because the former president said that the target letter, he received indicated that this was the day, this was the deadline for him to tell the special counsel that he wants to go before the grand jury. We don't expect him to do that.

We also don't expect him to formally decline, which lends itself to a lot of ambiguity about when we'll get an indictment. Based on what we've seen with the special counsel before, we do expect that we'll have a right, a couple days, at least before an indictment. But in our reporting, we've also learned that the special counsel is expected to talk to multiple witnesses through late August. So that's one thing that's very hard to reconcile right now.

Sending a target letter, where you would expect that an indictment would be imminent, but also talking to witnesses that are not at the core of this case but are significant in and of themselves. Over the next four or five weeks. It's possible they could file an indictment and continue the investigation. But amidst all the speculation, I mean, this is our reporting. And it's hard to reconcile.

BASH: Can you reconcile that the idea that the former president gets a target letter? Or let's just take it to make it anybody gets a target letter. And then a grand jury who is dealing with this kind of case, is still potentially going to get hair witnesses a month later.

ANDREW MCCABE, CNN SENIOR LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: So, I think the thing to remember here is there are no hard and fast rules around the target letter process. Not every target gets a letter, the DOJ is not required to give one. They usually -- when they're used, they usually come right at the end, maybe a week or so or less before an indictment appears, but that's not a requirement.

In this case, it is entirely possible that they timed the target letter a little bit early, anticipating that it might provoke a back and forth with former president's lawyers that might delay things. They might have requested a meeting to sit with the prosecutors or maybe taken advantage of the opportunity to testify in front of a grand jury, although that's highly unlikely.

You also have a situation here where no one else has received a target letter. But we know that one of the charges in question is a conspiracy charged. So, by definition, someone else has to be a part of this indictment. And they may be firming up that side of the case.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's just interesting timing also, three days or four days prior to a hearing in another trial facing the former president. Was it intent -- putting it out, there was it intended to force the judge's hand in some way with respect to scheduling to what the judge know

BASH: You're talking about Judge Cannon?

WILLIAMS: Absolutely. There is another proceeding going on that might affect the timing of Judge Cannon's trial, who knows. But they could have issued a letter at any point. It is interesting that they put it out this week.

REID: This is because I was at that hearing in Florida and the January 6 target letter did come up, mostly from the defense attorneys arguing that like, look, we're varied, we got civil criminal, multiple jurisdictions and we got this target letter, please give us as much time as possible. So, it was a factor, but maybe if that was the intention, not how they intended it.

WILLIAMS: Who knows.

BASH: I want to read part of Section 241 of Title 18 of the U.S. Code as most people do it on television. This is the target letter includes deprivation of rights to charge and this is what this is, conspired to injure, oppress, threaten or intimidate any person in that free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him by the constitution or laws of the United States. Raise your hand if you want to put that in English.

WILLIAMS: Yes. That is -- so it's a federal civil rights charge. And it's usually used for police officers or prison wardens for individuals for violating the civil rights of somebody, conditions of confinement or someone's prison is bad, or a search and seizure. That's just gone bad. Typically, it can be used for getting in the way of anybody's ability to just live their life, go to their work and do their jobs.

So, the question is, what does that mean here? It might be, number one, the former president, by his actions impeded Congress's ability to do its work, because they're citizens of the country, too. It could be that the former President Trump got in the way of Mike Pence's ability to do his job or prevented voters from being able to cast the vote in the way of their choosing but it's an interesting chart.

MCCABE: I think that's by far the most likely interpretation. It's been used in the voting, voting rights, voting effectiveness context since the 1950s. That use has been affirmed by the Supreme Court. So, I think it's likely that it will be applied in a way that goes after the deprivation of rights, rights essentially denied to voters to have an accurate and fair tally of their votes.

BASH: A little fun fact, Congress enacted that statute during, after the civil war to provide a tool for federal agents to go after southern whites, particularly members of the KKK. All right. I'm just going to switch gears slightly in the sort of FBI DOJ space and in the 2024 space about Ron DeSantis. Governor Ron DeSantis said something yesterday and he didn't have anything to back it up. Let's listen to what he said.

[12:10:00] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They're not independent. These are agencies that report to the elected president of the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you worried that the FBI or the DOJ is going to interfere in your campaign?

GOV. DESANTIS: Look, any of that is possible, but I think at the end of the day, a leaders got to lead. I've got to speak the truth.


BASH: OK. No evidence of that. But now it's in vogue, if you're a Republican to be, at least to perceived to be on the receiving end of the DOJ. Listen to what Chris Christie his opponent in the race for the presidency said about that.


CHRIS CHRISTIE, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We don't make our country better by continuing to rumor monger things. If Ron DeSantis is concerned that there's something in his background that would lead to DOJ or the FBI to be looking at him, that's probably something you should talk to us all about.


BASH: So, there is Andrew McCabe, the notion that it sort of somehow is politically a positive to want to be looked at as somebody who is under investigation, which doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. But then there are real life consequences when it comes to the institutions.

MCCABE: Sure. This is like the worst kind of fear mongering, right? This is jumping on to a myth that apparently is politically advantageous for the candidate, for the governor. But there's actually nothing to it, right? Look back over time. Where's the FBI involvement in every campaign, every Republican campaigns just not a thing.

But propagating these myths, these baseless accusations against the institutions that we depend upon the FBI and DOJ, does we know really activate some people, some folks have extreme views that to take matters into their own hands. I mean, there's, like, you know, you don't have to look any further than the FBI field office in Cincinnati that have experienced an attack in the wake of inflammatory statements made about the execution of a lawful search warrant at Mar-a-Lago.

REID: And it's someone who's covered law enforcement from the outside. I mean, the idea that the FBI is a bastion of liberalism looking at to help (crosstalk) every turn. I mean, it just strains credulity. It's just not supported. And obviously, most of the investigations into former President Trump is, while he was in office and those are overseen by Republican appointees. BASH: That's a very, very good point. Thanks, one and all. Appreciate it. And did Kevin McCarthy promised Donald Trump that he would hold a vote to expunge both of the former presidents' impeachments and is that even a thing? We're going to have new reporting on that next.




BASH: And now new CNN reporting, tension in Trump land. Donald Trump wants House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to expunge the two impeachments against him. The idea came up in a phone call between the two men last month. That phone call came after McCarthy suggested Trump may not be the strongest candidate in 2024.

Now McCarthy said, he would try to gauge support among House Republicans. That is according to a source, but he did not make any promises. And here's a little bit more about the new reporting to help explain why he didn't make those promises.

Multiple sources tell CNN that calling a House vote to expunge the two impeachments against the former president would be a fool's errand. Even if McCarthy indicated to Trump, he would do it, it's unlikely votes would be there, likely further inflaming tensions. And we should note, House Speaker McCarthy has yet to endorse the GOP frontrunner or anybody.

Let's discuss this with Seung Min Kim of the Associated Press, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, and Margaret Talev of Axios. This is so fascinating because it's a storyline that we keep coming back to over and over again. And that storyline is the hold that Donald Trump has on the House Republicans, the House Republican leadership and in particular, the House speaker, particularly in since whatever it was January, when Trump genuinely helped Kevin McCarthy live out his dream of being speaker of the House.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Look, and now he's going to have to deliver on this. And to expunge something like an impeachment, it's very difficult, if not impossible to do. Donald Trump doesn't know or care about that. Mean for him, it's a vote that my Kevin as he calls the speaker can do and it's much, much, much more complicated in that.

But this goes back to of course, when Speaker McCarthy was doing an interview, I think with CNBC last month, and he talked about the challenges of Trump for the ballot. And in a phone call later that day, he seemed to agree to expunge this, but that's much more difficult. And he was asked about, actually Trump was asked about New Hampshire right after that.

BASH: Do you actually know exactly what I'm planning -- -

ZELENY: I can read upside down. BASH: Because that was pretty amazing. Let's listen to what Kevin McCarthy said in that CNBC interview and what the former president said on the campaign trail.


JOE KERNEN, CNBC CO-HOST, SQUAWK BOX: Can he win that election? Yes, he can.

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY, (R-CA): Yes, he can.

KERNEN: The question is, is he the strongest to win the election? I don't know that answer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If McCarthy does his job, they'll expunge both of those crappy impeachments.

DONALD TRUMP, 45TH U.S. PRESIDENT: I understand they're working on that. They better do it.


BASH: You heard it there. You see it there. He said, they better do it. OK. So now it's time for an Inside Politics reality check. And that is, I'm going to talk to you about this because we were first met running around the halls of Congress. And that is the House parliamentarian. There is no real sense from them, according to our Capitol Hill team, that this is a thing that expunging an impeachment vote, a successful impeachment vote in the House of Representatives is possible.


They can have a resolution, but it would be a non-binding resolution. And we all know what that means. It means there just saying that this is the feeling of members of Congress. It will not take away the fact that the former president was impeached not once but twice.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And the House or the Senate for that matter can pass a non-binding resolution on anything. They can pass a resolution saying that the sky is purple, but that doesn't make the sky not purple, or that doesn't make the sky purple.

You mentioned earlier that this is the constant story that we're hearing of Donald Trump's hold on the party. And I also think it's the story related to that that we're seeing constantly of Kevin McCarthy having to play this tug of war between Trump or the Trump inspired parts of his conference.

And also, his moderate members who represent, several of them represent districts, represented or one by Joe Biden in 2020. Because if this kind of vote is put on the floor, as symbolic as maybe, it's going to be a really tough political vote for a lot of those moderate members.

And that is, I mean, Kevin McCarthy, you know, on the one hand does want to protect those members from those telcos and you have two House Republicans who did actually vote to impeach Trump. So, setting those people aside, but you know, you don't have all those moderates in New York.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, AXIOS: I just (crosstalk) ones back and think, what if Donald Trump became the GOP nominee again and were elected again? What if House -- what if Republicans continue to hold the House and somehow Kevin McCarthy was still the House speaker.

You would have the next president, the next House speaker spending their time talking about stuff like this, instead of climate change, AI, economic policy. The fact that we're -- even you're talking about this, and it is eating up this much bandwidth in the middle of historic temperatures and massive economic concerns is insane to me when it has no actual meaning. And it's unclear whether it's even possible.

BASH: OK. So, let's turn to an issue that is being heavily debated and talked about on the Republican campaign trail and that is the issue of abortion. We noticed that Ron DeSantis, that Florida Governor had a bit of a different answer on the question of abortion when he was on with his wife on Fox this morning.


GOV. DESANTIS: I think that in states where you've had the ability to make improvements, and to add Pro-Life protections, I applaud states that have done that. But we have a big diverse country. I acknowledge that. And I'm not suggesting that somehow New York is necessarily going to follow, Iowa's lead on that. I think you're going to see some differences.


ZELENY: Certainly, more pragmatic politically than we've seen from him before. And this will be fascinating to see. He started out running to the right or trying to run to the right of Donald Trump on this issue, specifically, not happening anymore. Mike Pence is one of the few candidates who is campaigning aggressively on a national ban on this.

And this is going to play out in Iowa, where a new six-week abortion ban was passed, and now it's held up in the court. So, it will be very interesting to see how that plays there. But he clearly seems to be looking for, you know, a pragmatic solution to this pragmatic pivot. Those don't always work. We'll see if it does.

BASH: Yes, it's true. And if we had the head of the Susan B. Anthony group and they're trying to make the idea of a national abortion ban, a litmus test them hearing him say that it's going to be different in New York. I don't think is going to play very well there. But we'll see.

OK. Up next. The 27th time is that the charm? Or at least President Biden thinks the answer is yes. He's in Pennsylvania again to sell his economic agenda. The question is, are voters buying it. That's coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)



BASH: President Biden is going to Pennsylvania again. It's his 27th visit to the Commonwealth since taking office. He's going to try to sell his economic message to voters who narrowly helped deliver him the presidency. Biden beat Donald Trump in Pennsylvania by less than two points in 2020. CNN's Kevin Liptak is in Philadelphia. Kevin, tell us more about the president's message there.

KEVIN LIPTAK, CNN REPORTER: Well, today is really all about the intersection of President Biden's climate agenda and his jobs agenda. And we are here in the Philly Shipyard. We did just witness what's called a steel cutting ceremony for a vessel that will be used to build offshore wind farms. And the White House says this will create hundreds of jobs, but very critically, there'll be union jobs.

And so, you really couldn't imagine more of a Biden type event. You've got union workers here. They're wearing hard hats. Of course, this is all being sold under the banner of Bidenomics. And that's something that the president's advisers feel as the economy gets back to normal, as consumer sentiment ticks up, as inflation comes down, as wages go back up, that will benefit the president in the long run.

But of course, the question really is, will voters reward President Biden for these improved economic conditions? Polls right now say that they don't necessarily approve of President Biden's handling of the economy. But you know, it has been so interesting over the past month or two or so, every time President Biden's predecessor becomes in legal trouble. You see him going out trying to sell this economic message.

Of course, he views that economy is the number one issue in voters. But something that was really interesting, there was a poll last month of registered voters here in Pennsylvania. Of course, the economy was number one, preserving democracy was number two. So, still all of these issues very critical on the campaign trail for President Biden. Dana?

BASH: So interesting, Kevin. Thank you so much for that reporting.