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Trump Team's Meeting With Special Counsel Has Ended; Sources: Trump Lawyers Prepared To Discuss Indictment Logistics; Sources: Trump's Team Gets No Guidance About Indictment Timing; Source: Jack Smith Attended Meeting With Trump Lawyers. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 27, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Welcome to Inside Politics. I'm Dana Bash in Washington. This hour a secret meeting sets off alarms across the political and legal world. The players Donald Trump's lawyers and the special counsel. That meeting just wrapped up moments ago.

CNN's Katelyn Polantz is outside the federal courthouse here in Washington. Katelyn, what are we learning?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Dana. There is a lot of activity happening today. This meeting that there was a question of whether something like this would happen after Donald Trump received that target letter informing him and his lawyers that he was very likely to be indicted, related to the 2020 election and his behavior leading up to an on January 6.

And so, this is the sort of meeting that would often be an opportunity for the defense counsel before an indictment would be presented to a grand jury. And so, we don't have a full readout, at least here at the courthouse get of exactly what's going to emerge there to affect what's going on here. But we have seen activity here too, Dana, at the courthouse.

Prosecutors have been arriving throughout the morning. From the special counsel's office, we've counted at least four. That's a fairly large amount of prosecutors to come over here to be working with the grand jury. And the grand jury, they have not been in on their regular day on Tuesday after hearing from several witnesses, last week in this investigation after months and months of taking in testimony and evidence.

And now, the grand jury convened this morning, pretty sharply around nine. And then they took a very early lunch break, and we're apparently waiting through the lunch hour that around 11 and now they've reconvened. And so, we just need to wait and see what happens.

But there's a lot of a typical patterns that are arising today over here at the federal courthouse and also clearly with the special counsel's team. And so now, it is just a matter of time waiting to see exactly what happens next and what happened at that meeting as well between the special counsel's office and Donald Trump's defense lawyers. BASH: Thank you so much for that reporting, Katelyn. And we have other members of our incredible legal team here at the table. We have former assistant U.S. attorney and senior CNN legal analyst, Elie Honig. He's actually in New York. But we have here CNN's Paula Reid, CNN's Laura Coates, and he is also a former federal prosecutor and CNN's Evan Perez.

Evan, in addition to what Katelyn was just reporting about what happened in that meeting, you're getting additional information.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, we know now that the meeting has ended. And the Trump team met with Jack Smith's team, and they got no assurances that there would not be an indictment. They were not told that there is going to be an indictment.

So, the feeling certainly from the Trump team was at this meeting, likely changed nothing. And so, they went in, obviously, with a couple of expectations, or at least some, some hopes, they were hoping that, you know, they might persuade the special counsel to consider a few more things before making a final decision, perhaps delay an indictment from today, perhaps maybe by the former president a few more weeks.

Of course, as you know, his strategy, both legal and political has been delay, delay, delay. It's worked for him in the past. And so, certainly, if you were to delay this a few more weeks, certainly puts the justice department in this sort of uncomfortable position, right, where they're trying to prosecute the former president, you know, as the Republican primary is really getting into full swing.

We have a debate coming up, certainly within the next month. We know, certainly that if you do an indictment, now we're talking about a trial, you can try to delay that as much as you can. And then you're putting, you know, the justice department in a position where they're prosecuting former president, sorry, President Biden's chief rival at the same time that voters are having their say.

BASH: Fascinating. Paula, what are you picking up?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Evan makes a good point. Look, it appears right now the former president is likely to be indicted. We know that because he has received a target letter. He has also received an invitation, which he declined to go before the grand jury. And now his attorneys are having meeting with the special counsel.

Oh, the other people who've been under scrutiny in this case, you know, at that level, people like Rudy Giuliani, they're not seeing those same kinds of invitations. And what we will have to do is wait for any possible charges to see how complicated this case is. We know that the Trump team has suggested there were at least three statutes in that letter, because that will impact how well they're going to be able to execute the strategy of delay, delay, delay.

[12:05:00] The Mar-a-Lago documents case is complicated and that it involves classified materials. But so far, the potential charges we've seen it's possible that they might be able to do this before the 2024 election. So, it could, depending on what the possible charges are, be harder to implement this strategy. So, we'll be watching.

LAURA COATES, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR & CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, it's funny I have on my desk, people who love meetings, never been in-charged with anything and I stand through that. Prosecutors don't like meetings. Meetings are in the form of testimony. Meetings are not in the civil litigation world the same as they would be in a criminal prosecution.

In the civil world, you have two parties trying to negotiate to common ground, trying to have their goals met. They're enticed by the thought of having conversations because you can maybe massage the contours of the agreement, you can decide what the penalty will be. It'll be monetary and criminal prosecution.

How do you convince prosecutors who have evidence before them. Given to the grand jury subpoena power, who've asked her grand jury potentially to return an indictment. That's not really the same meeting we have in the so-called business world.

And so, the idea of a delay tactic of counsel who might be more accustomed to civil litigation world, really seems to be part of this. But if you're Jack Smith, if you're the prosecutors in this case, who are not beholden to a monetary penalty in the long run, but instead, the views of a grand jury, you don't have to give them an opportunity to try to convince you otherwise. The evidence ought to speak for itself.

BASH: Elie Honig, let's bring you in here. Read the tea leaves as you see them right now.

ELIE HONIG, FORMER ASST. U.S. ATTORNEY, SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NY: Well, Dana, these meetings are often requested by defense lawyers and often granted by prosecutors. They're typically seen as sort of a last gasp effort to try to either slow down and indictment or convince prosecutors not to bring it at all.

What's really telling to me though, is the timing here because ordinarily, as a prosecutor, if you get a call from a defense lawyer on, let's say, a Thursday saying we'd like to come in for one of these meetings. Your responses, sure, you want to come in what tomorrow, Monday, Tuesday. The fact that they've already done this meeting, and it's 12:06 pm today, tells me that these prosecutors feel like they are on a very short timeframe and that the next action here is imminent.

PEREZ: And certainly, I mean, the idea that they got this target letter, they were told that he had the opportunity to present himself to the grand jury last week and he did not avail himself advice. And then suddenly, you know, asked for this meeting, you know, certainly our sources, you know, Kristen Holmes and I, and Alayna Treene, have all heard that this was a request made by the Trump team. They asked for this and were granted a meeting at the last minute.

BASH: Let's go now to Kristen Holmes, who has some new reporting from her sources about what is happening inside the former president's legal team. Kristen?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, yes. I'm talking to everyone close to Donald Trump, both the lawyers and the advisers who say that they're not really sure that the dial has moved at all. As Evan was just saying, we heard that they called this meeting, and I'm told that it was to clear up some questions.

Now, we still don't have any indication of what exact questions that they had going into this meeting. But now the meeting is over, and nothing has really changed. I'm hearing from a number of sources who say, they're still unclear that the team was not given any notification that they were getting an indictment that Trump would be indicted, or that he wouldn't be indicted.

And right now, they are just continuing business as usual. Trump himself has several campaign events. They are focusing on that they say there is absolutely no changes to anything Trump is doing in terms of this third presidential bid. He'll be in Iowa tomorrow. If this indictment comes down, or if it doesn't, he'll also be in Pennsylvania on Saturday.

But they are just waiting, holding tight, essentially, like we all are trying to read these tea leaves, trying to look at different reports, watching who's going in and out of the courthouse, trying to get an understanding of whether or not this is in fact coming today. And I will tell you, you know, I have talk to these people every -- -

BASH: We just lost Kristen shot there. We'll get back to her as soon as we can. We're talking about the idea that this meeting happened, but we shouldn't lose sight of the fact that the grand jury is there. They're on a lunch break, but they are there today.

REID: All the key players are there today. And Katelyn described it well. She said there's some unusual patterns that we're seeing. And we've been watching this grand jury very closely, looking for these exact patterns. But one of the things I'm really looking for is if he is charged, Evan and I've talked about it for a long time, I think we have to is, we've been skeptical for a long time that he would be charged, and how they would have the evidence to support.

BASH: Until the target letter.

REID: Yes, before the target letter. And then we're like, what are these charges? Because we weren't sure how they prove this beyond a reasonable doubt. We were skeptical in Mar-a-Lago until we heard there was a recording. So, if there were charges, what I'm going to be looking for is the evidence. How they're going to support this? What are the charges? And how will they prove this beyond a reasonable doubt?

BASH: And Laura, how conclusive must the evidence be in a case like this to show intent? COATES: Well, in an average case, that's not under the microscope. But a case like this would be, the prosecutors must be able to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. They want the jury to or the grand jury, remember different from the actual trial jury.


We're talking about probable cause. Probable cause that a crime has occurred, and this person is does it. But in reality it's beyond a reasonable doubt in the sense that can I really be successful in the courtroom with this. The vote that's returned whether it's a majority, whether it's a slim majority, whether it's unanimous, will be very, very telling.

Remember, there's a reason why the lawyers for Trump want to talk to Jack Smith and prosecutors, as opposed to Donald Trump himself. In a grand jury climate, it is the defendant alone or the witness alone who can go into the room. If they have a question for the lawyers, they got to go outside. And the grand jurors can ask questions.

And so, by the lawyers trying to have the meeting, it's likely to suggest, listen, we want to make sure that if this person would go before the grand jury and chosen not to that they are protected in some way. That's for every single defendant, every single witness as well.

PEREZ: I just want one real quick thing to mention here. I think, you know, one of the things that I find interesting is that, you know, the Trump team, certainly, I think, really believes that this is coming, right? And one reason they want indication of that is, you know, until they've already had conversations about how an arraignment or how presentment might happen.

If it were to happen. If they were to get an indictment, they already have discussed the logistics of, OK, does can it be done remotely, kind of this court does allow remote presentments, for instance so.

COATES: They've had dry runs to a real practice (crosstalk) as well. So, they know how to do it.

PEREZ: He's had some practice.


PEREZ: But that's interesting, right? Because it tells you that certainly the body language they're getting, they're not being told for sure that there's an indictment. Certainly, they got a target letter tells them a lot. But the fact that they're having those conversations really does tell you, why they're in that position.

BASH: Systems are almost dead go by, I mean, that's. Elie, as you are waiting like the rest of us are. Just like Laura, you have experience on the prosecution side of federal cases. I don't think you've prosecuted a former president. You can correct me if I'm wrong. But meaning that this is a very -- this isn't a class of its own. But take us inside the conversations that could be happening right now. HONIG: Yes. No former president on my docket, Dana. So as a prosecutor, first things first. If you intend to ask a grand jury for an indictment, what you're getting ready to do right now at this moment is present a draft indictment to the grand jury. You have your charges written out. And you have to instruct the grand jury. Here are the elements of each of the crimes and you better get that letter perfect, because if you don't, that will be challenged down the line.

The other thing that you need to start thinking about and our reporters there at the table have talked about this is potential logistics, because you have to think about, if we walk out of this grand jury room with a signed indictment, the first thing you're going to do is file it under seal with the judge, meaning only the judge and you prosecutors can see it.

At what point do we send it over to Donald Trump's team? At what time -- at what point, do we unseal it and make it available to the American public? If you remember the Mar-a-Lago indictment back in June, there was a 24 hour or so lad, when Donald Trump's team knew they were indicted. We knew there was an indictment, but it remained sealed.

And then the next day, Jack Smith held the press conference and unsealed that indictment. Then a couple days after that was the arraignment that Evan is talking about. If I'm Jack Smith, I want all of this happening simultaneously.

If I had a time in mind, four o'clock, I'm making that up. I would say, press conference at four o'clock. I would send it over email and over to Donald Trump's team at four o'clock and I would unseal it at four o'clock, put everyone on equal footing.

BASH: Or at the very least if no press conference released the indictment, so that people can read and see it because presumably it would be what you lawyers call a talking indictment, a speaking indictment. So, we would see a kind of a narrative behind the charges.

Thank you so much. Everybody standby because we're going to talk more on the other side of the break about what we're learning about the secret huddle that just wrapped up between Trump lawyers and the special counsels. Stay with us.




BASH: Indictment entry here in Washington. Moments ago, the special counsel and lawyers for the former president concluded a secret meeting. What we know so far, federal prosecutors did not give the Trump team a heads-up about when an indictment might come down.

I want to get straight back to CNN's Kristen Holmes. So, Kristen, what are you hearing from the Trump team, both on the legal and political side? HOLMES: Yes. So, what I'm hearing from both of these advisers, as well as these lawyers is that this meeting was about an hour long that Jack Smith was there. And I am told that it was called to answer some kinds of questions that the legal team wanted to pose a to the special counsel's office.

Now I'm not sure exactly what those questions were that hadn't been made clear to me just yet. But we should keep in mind that they were never told in this meeting, whether or not they were going to be indicted. They weren't given any kind of indication and a notification that an indictment was coming.

Now, the team does expect an indictment to come down. Of course, as we've been reporting, Trump received this target letter. He's expecting to be indicted as part of why they scheduled this meeting in the first place. But we are still do not have any indication from the team.

What they are doing right now is kind of sitting and waiting back, trying to read those tea leaves, trying to get an understanding if this is in fact coming imminently, but they do believe that an indictment is likely to come in this case.

Now something that for months, I was told they didn't think he was going to be charged or they thought he might be an unindicted co- conspirator. But they have pretty much turned the page on that to assume that an indictment is coming now.

BASH: Kristen, thank you so much for that reporting. We'll get back to you as you learn more, as you usually do. Appreciate it. CNN here at the table, CNN political director, David Chalian, CNN Capitol Hill reporter Melanie Zanona, and Laura Coates is still with us.

I want to talk about the political the way that the politics and the legal dovetail. And we've talked about this as we have seen the other indictments. (crosstalk). Yes, I know, I know. Indictments plural. And David, you are very good on keeping us all on track on the notion that the two cannot be separated that and not just in the eyes of public opinion, but in the way that the former president decided to run and it's continuing his campaign.


DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Yes. I mean, part of -- you have to remember when he announced this third bid for the White House, the legal swirl was already around him. So, the strategy and decision making about how to, when to launch this campaign last November. How to proceed with this campaign has always been in combination with what is happening legally for the former president.

But, you know, I was joking when I said, say that sentence again, Dana. But I do think it is, as with all things Donald Trump, like the craziest things get normalized in our politics, and now being criminally charged is part of a normalization of the 2024 presidential campaign for the Republican frontrunner. And we know how this is going to go. If indeed this indictment comes down. We've seen the playbook a couple times down. We know he's going to be able to rally forces, perhaps juices donations. We don't see any evidence of why this would immediately in the short-term threaten his standing as the dominant figure.

BASH: Well, let's put some data around the important points that you just made. Let's start with just the support that Donald Trump has among Republican primary and caucus voters. If you look at the latest Quinnipiac University poll, just look at the trend as it goes from February until July. I mean, he has only gained ground.

Now, is it only that he is indicted that it is contributing to the fact that he is doing so well in the polls? Of course not. But the fact that the indictments didn't make them go down and plumb it, says everything about the point that you were just trying.

MELANIE ZANONA, CNN CAPITOL HILL REPORTER: And look, it might be a different story, likely will be a different story in the general election, but at least (crosstalk), right? In the short-term, it has helped him. And one of the things that Donald Trump has done is really backed his Republican political opponents into a corner. And he is framed this as if you attack me over any of my legal issues, you are now siding with the weaponized Biden justice department.

And that is a place that no Republican wants to be. These candidates have not shown an appetite to take on Trump, despite there being a clear willingness, at least among some Republicans to move on from Donald Trump. And so, they are stuck in a position where they feel like their hands are tied behind their back and Trump is punching full steam ahead.

COATES: You know, you can think about it. Although, it's a political context, he's been on trial twice before, that was the impeachment proceedings. And for many of the American people who may have not have or had jury duty, or certainly seen inside of the legal courtroom, they envision the presentation of evidence and somebody defending a person as similar to a trial.

But in fact, it could have two ramifications, either one a numbing effect that you allude to that people can be desensitized to it and not realize the gravitas. On the other hand, it could make them say, well, they're itching now for accountability, having not had the results of the impeachment in removal of the presidency.

And so, if you're a prosecutor, looking at these cases, you are understanding, of course, that you have a very informed and educated jury about a track record of this person, about sort of the legal baggage that others would not necessarily have.

But you're also concerned about how you're going to find a jury pool that will be able to be distinct from the court of public opinion and be able to cross that threshold of saying and not only serving but being judged as truly these objective arbiters of the truth. And that's a very difficult hurdle right now. CHALIAN: There's no -- yes, sorry. The idea of objective arbiters of the truth, it doesn't exist in American politics anymore. It just it doesn't exist. And so, the fact that the legal process is so intertwined with the political, it seems to me, unfortunately, that's going to be a tall order.

ZANONA: I was just going to say, I do think it's important to talk about the substance of these indictments. Yes, I expect Republicans are going to be rallying around the president, like we saw with the past two indictments, but this is a much trickier issue for Republicans.

A lot of them condemned the former president for his behavior on January 6, at least at the time, this was a really ugly chapter in the GOP history. No Republican wants to be reliving it. They are not going to be forced to do so. Again, I'm not expecting to not defend the president, but it is not a place where they want (crosstalk)

BASH: Melanie, that is such an important point that this is assuming that he is indicted different from the rest because it is about the fundamentals of democracy. That when he was president of the United States, he tried to use -- allegedly use his power to effectively stage a coup and overturn a free and fair election.


That's A and B, a lot of the Republican members you talked to on Capitol Hill were understandably cowering under their desks or they're hiding out because of the ramifications of that. OK, everybody standby. Up next, a high-profile plea deal collapses. Now, the son of a sitting president faces a potential criminal trial.


BASH: The breaking news today asked and answered. Donald Trump's lawyers met with special counsel prosecutors, and it included the special counsel himself, Jack Smith. The Trump teams ask was to delay an indictment against their client as long as possible.