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Trump Charged With Orchestrating Plot To Overturn The Election; Trump To Appear In Court Tomorrow For Jan. 6 Indictment; Trump Charged With 4 Counts In Unprecedented Third Indictment; Death Sentence For Pittsburgh Synagogue Mass Shooter; GOP Candidates Attack Justice Dept For Trump Indictment; Pence Last Month: "Not Convinced" Trump's Actions On January 6 Were "Criminal." Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired August 02, 2023 - 12:00   ET



DANA BASH, CNN HOST, INSIDE POLITICS: Today on Inside Politics. The case, the special counsel charges Donald Trump with conspiring to shatter the American experiment. The 45-page indictment narrates a Trump plot to undermine democracy and stay in power after losing an election. And it does so with some new evidence, including real time notes from then Vice President Mike Pence, the politics.

The third Trump indictments with the Republican field into familiar camps with a headline exception. The charges will also test Joe Biden's resolve to do what is sometimes unnatural, stay quiet. The consequences how the prosecution plays out in court and on the campaign trail may determine the future of both Donald Trump and American democracy.

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

Tomorrow, a court date for the former president here in Washington. Today the country gets a line-by-line look at the plot against America and the alleged crimes of Donald Trump. Central to the indictment is the special counsel's assertion that yes, Mr. Trump knew that he lost the election and push lies to stand up its anyway.


JACK SMITH, SPECIAL COUNSEL: Described in the indictment, it was fueled by lies. Lies by the defendant, targeted at obstructing a bedrock function of the U.S. government. The nation's process of collecting, counting and certifying the results of the presidential election.


BASH: We start our coverage with CNN's Katelyn Polantz at the federal court, which is your home away from home at this point. Katelyn, what do we know about what to expect in the next 24 to 36 hours?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Dana, we do expect Donald Trump to have to come to Washington, D.C. again to face these charges for the first time. So, we expect him to be here for that initial appearance tomorrow at 4 pm, before a magistrate judge in this court, before he then goes on to have his case shepherded by federal district judge Tanya Chutkan through to trial.

It's notable to see Donald Trump arrive here back at this court tomorrow, which we are expecting, because we are not very far from the U.S. Capitol itself. These judges after the Capitol attack were in this building. Behind me they could see out their window, barricades, and militarized presence tags on the streets protecting the U.S. Capitol.

After that riot, these judges have also had to make sure they are overseeing hundreds of rioter prosecutions getting those people through the system. Looking at those prosecutions sentencing many of those convicted rioter defendants from January 6. So now they turn to this additional case against Donald Trump himself.

So, really just a notable scene that we're going to have tomorrow. And when you step back for a second and look at this, Dana, this is really a case that boils down the sweep of everything that the Justice Department had been looking into, everything that Congress had been looking into with the House Select Committee.

And now, putting it together for a case against Donald Trump a conspiracy to defraud voters, to defraud the electoral college process to certify the vote, and the conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government itself and the transfer of power.

BASH: Katelyn, thank you so much. You know, I haven't even thought about that point you made at the beginning there that where you're standing is really, almost a stone's throw from the U.S. Capitol. You walk out the door and you turn left, and you can just see it and it really is a powerful thought and an image. Appreciate it, Katelyn.

Now, a very active morning for the former president on his social media company. The indictment is fresh fodder and fuel for his stream of consciousness rants. He calls the indictment unprecedented and a wake-up call to the world.

CNN's Kristen Holmes joins us live from near the former president's club in Bedminster, New Jersey. Kristen, forgive me?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Dana. I mean, look, it is unprecedented. So, you have to give him that. This is a former president and a current candidate for the presidency in 2024. Who is being indicted as this third indictment.

We have heard much of the same playbook from the former president that we have heard in his previous indictments. They have said that this is political that this is because of the corrupt DOJ, the corrupt FBI that this is all because he appears to be poised to be the frontrunner or Republican candidate in 2024.


But what's really interesting to point out in this case is that they are trying to completely flipped the script. The current president is being charged with attacking democracy. And yet, they are saying that these attacks on him are something that would come from a dictatorship.

I want to read from the statement that they put out yesterday. It says, the lawlessness of these persecutions of President Trump and his supporters is reminiscent of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, the former Soviet Union and other authoritarian, dictatorial regime.

So, clearly here trying to flip the script. And the question is whether or not this is going to resonate with donors and of course, the big -- excuse me, voters. But the other big question here is what's going to happen tomorrow? We have not gotten confirmation from the Trump team on what their plans are, if they're going to show up in person or not to the courthouse, although we do anticipate that he will be there in person. Dana?

BASH: Flip the script is a very diplomatic way to put an allegation or an allusion to Nazi Germany, given what we have seen here. Thank you so much for that. Here to share their insights and reporting, CNN's Paula Reid, CNN's Evan Perez, and CNN's Carrie Cordero.

I just want to read a little bit again, just to kind of set the table of this conversation from the heart of the indictment at the beginning. And it reads", these claims, meaning the election claims, of course, were false, and the defendant knew they were false. In fact, the defendant was notified repeatedly his claims were untrue, often by the people on whom he relied for candid advice on important matters, and who were best positioned to know the facts and he deliberately disregarded the truth.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. This gets into the former president state of mind. It's something you're going to hear a lot from his lawyer, certainly you've heard it over the last 12 hours or so from them that, you know, how do they know that he didn't believe these -- the fraud, right.

He's continued to make the claim that there was fraud in the 2020 election. It's probably one of the best things that he has done for himself, frankly, is that he is stuck to that script. And it is a challenge. It is going to be a challenge for prosecutors. What they're going to do is what you saw in that indictment, where they describe and they literally list all of the different people that the former president has relied on, that he picked, right.

Vice President Pence, his intelligence, all the people in the intelligence community people, his former attorney general, his acting attorney general, his White House counsel, his chief of staff, everybody was telling him what was true. And he chose instead to listen to, you know, let's just say, you know, another group of people, right, who were not experts.

And so, what the prosecutors are going to make the claim or they're going to draw a picture for a future jury is that he should have known because he was being told by all of the people that he relied on for all other matters of state importance, national security importance. And then when it came to the time when he didn't like the results of the election, he decided to listen to Rudy Giuliani and some of these other people.

BASH: What, you know, you said that the former president has stuck to this script that he won the election, it still happens every single time he goes out on the campaign trail, and you know, any chance he gets. What was really noteworthy was that his attorney last night, didn't make that argument. Let's listen to a little bit about what John Lauro told our colleague Kaitlan Collins.


JOHN LAURO, TRUMP ATTORNEY: The government has had three years to investigate this. And now they want to rush this to trial in the middle of a political season. What does that tell you? Our focus is on the fact that this is an attack on free speech and political advocacy. And there's nothing that's more protected under the First Amendment than political speech.


BASH: So, it's the timing. It's free speech. And I just before I bring you in it because I'm really curious to know your take on this. Let's hear from one of the, what we believe person, we believe to be one of the unindicted coconspirators on this same topic, that's Rudy Giuliani.


RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER TRUMP ATTORNEY: Violating the rights of free speech of an American citizen, never mind whether he was president or not. He could be anybody. He could be a homeless person. You don't get to violate people's First Amendment right, Smith. No matter who the hell you are, no matter how sick you are with Trump derangement syndrome. And this isn't the first time he has acted like an unethical lawyer. It should be the last.


BASH: What is missing from all of that is a defense. That is Donald Trump won the election. They are not even going there on the election lie. What does that tell you?


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: So, these are arguments in the court of public opinion. And I mean, Rudy Giuliani is yelling about his First Amendment being infringed upon former President Trump First Amendment, while he's posting on social media, while he's appearing on TV. No one is infringing on your First Amendment.

You have multiple different platforms where you can go out and say whatever you want, including that the election was stolen, but you can't then use that as a basis to go and try to actually steal (crosstalk) and that's the difference.

BASH: I'm not saying we're not going to hear from all these, maybe not the president's lawyer, John Lauro, but others that we're not going to hear them say the election was stolen, and of course, we will. But in the immediate aftermath of this indictment coming out that was notably absent from their defense.

REID: Yes. And again, I think it's their plane to the court of public opinion. I think most people, this is an extremely dense indictment, unlike the Mar-a-Lago indictment where you see photographs of what appear to be classified documents and bathrooms, it really kind of cuts through. This is dense, there's not a lot of new information.

So, these appear to be not so much legal arguments as just arguments to the general public, right? So, when the government is attacking. They're infringing on my freedom of speech, but they address that right in the indictment. He said, look, you're absolutely entitled to claim things to lie, but you can't then go and engage in what they say is an unlawful scheme to actually then steal the election yourself.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Here's how I think the indictment is trying to navigate this First Amendment line and the allegations that it's based on First Amendment activity. So, what the indictment even says is that the former president was free to say things. He was free to say that he didn't believe the outcome of the election, whether or not that was true or not, or whether or not he believed it to be true or not, he's free to say it.

What the indictment alleges is that he's tried to corrupt the institutions of government in order to overturn the election. And then they lay out the facts for how he tried to do that. So, he tried to do that through, trying to corrupt the institution of the Justice Department, to try to get the Justice Department to take official actions that would undermine the election outcome.

Try to get state legislatures to take actual actions, use their authority as government actors to overturn the election outcome, and try to use the authority of the institution of the vice president of the United States to overturn the rightful outcome of the election. So, what they do and what they don't charge is they don't charge incitement, incitement to (crosstalk)

BASH: I'm glad you brought that up. Yes, it's various dude. Let's look at more of the sort of issues that have been out there that are notably absent, incitement is one of them. And this is part of organizing and funding of the January 6 rally, planning to seize voting machines, any alleged link between Donald Trump and the extremist groups those that attack the Capitol, and whole of that reporting and questions about that chaotic meeting at the Willard Hotel, which is right next to the White House, between a lot of the Trump -- even some of the Trump coconspirators.

REID: Yes. We know one of the key witnesses for the Willard Hotel room is coming in next week to speak with investigators, not going for the grand jury. If we're going to talk to investigators, which is one of several signals, including the special counsel saying the investigation is ongoing. But we know they continue to collect evidence. We know some of the witnesses, attorneys have even asked, OK, well, is this grand jury so active? Are you working on a possible superseding indictment, and the special counsel has signaled to them that yes, so it does appear that more charges are coming. What they will be? Who will be charged? That's unclear.

BASH: I just want to quickly ask you, Evan, about your reporting and conversations that you've had about the timing of doing this now. The conversations that went on inside the office of the special counsel. When I say now, I mean, now, because of the political calendar.

PEREZ: Right. I think, look, there's a lot of sensitivity to it. And I think they understand the criticism, including what you're hearing from some of the political figures, right, that you're interfering with an election. And I think that's one reason why you see this indictment very tight. It's very, very limited. All of those things are not included here.

And what they want is to try to get this in before -- so the voters at least have something that, you know, is completed before -- we don't know they're going to be successful but before they cast a valid. I think, look, there is an argument to be made that that they may have waited too long.

But all of those things that you just listed is why it took this long, because they wanted -- they needed to look at the financial aspects. They needed to look at whether the extremists were actually -- there was any actual direction. They needed to look at all of those things before they could bring this case and that takes a while.

BASH: Maybe this is an unanswerable, but is it possible that they had strings or threads on a lot of these but decided to keep it very narrow? I mean, you've prepared things like this before.

CORDERO: Well, I think that maybe not like this (crosstalk) but there certainly would have been all these different avenues of investigation that they would have gone down, and they would want to bring only the charges that they had confidence that they could actually win on and that's the standard that the prosecutors would have to use.


REID: The biggest question to me though is former president is the only one named on that indictment. And even if his conduct does not turn out, it's unclear if his conduct -- -

BASH: Paula, I'm sorry to interrupt you. We just have some breaking news. I'm going to get you. It literally life or death decision today from a Pittsburgh jury. The jury has now decided if the mass shooter convicted of gunning down 11 worshippers inside a synagogue will face the ultimate punishment for his crime.

So, I'm going to get straight to Danny Freeman outside the courthouse. Danny, what do we know?

DANNY FREEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dana, after a trial that spanned over nine weeks, more than hundred witnesses called and nearly five years since that deadly attack at that Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018. A jury of five men and seven women just moments ago sentenced 50-year-old Robert Bowers to death for those crimes.

Now, Dana, we look through a lot of these jury for mitigating factors and aggravating factors. And I just want to explain to you some of the things that the jury clearly did not buy when it comes to the defense that Bowers' attorneys tried to mount.

No jurors bought the alternative thesis for a motive that this was an attack about anything else other than trying to kill Jewish people. Zero jurors bought the defense that Robert Bowers suffered from schizophrenia. And they had a tremendous amount of skepticism about some of the earlier childhood difficulties that the defense tried to bring up to spare Mr. Bowers' life, including attempted suicides.

And also, the jury was skeptical when the defense said that Mr. Bowers had abnormalities in the brain. All reasons the defense tried to say should spare Mr. Bowers' life. But in the end, when the jury weighed, those mitigating factors against the aggravating factors, killing 11 Jewish worshippers in October of 2018, specifically, because they were Jewish.

Not only that but showing no remorse the prosecution argued throughout the duration of this trial. At one point, a defense witness actually testified that Robert Bowers enjoyed listening through the trial to the evidence that was presented. The jury agreed with the prosecution on that front. This is the result that we are looking at right now that sentence of death.

And Dana, I just want to put this in a bit of perspective for you. There have only been two death penalty cases or trials in this Biden administration. But the prior one, the jury came back with a verdict of life in prison. So, this is the first death penalty verdict and decision and sentence in the Biden administration so far, again for 50-year-old Robert Bowers, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter. Dana?

BASH: A very important context, as is the fact that this was the deadliest ever attack on Jewish people in the United States. And it happened amid a rise that continues in antisemitic attacks across the United States. I should also note that a lot of times with mass shootings of any kind you don't -- the people, the families and the victims don't see this kind of justice because the perpetrator ends up dying.

And that is not what happened here. This has been justice in a court of law. And this is the end of that judicial process. I really appreciate your reporting. Thank you so much, Danny. We're going to have more news ahead. Stay with us.



(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BASH: For the most part, Donald Trump's competitors for the GOP presidential nomination responded to his third indictment in such a familiar way they were probably cut and pasted from previous statements and talking points. Here is Ron DeSantis, responding for the first time on camera just moments ago.


GOV. RON DESANTIS, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: One of the reasons I'm running for president, Harris, is to re-constitutionalize the federal government. And these agencies that have become weaponized, the FBI, the DOJ, against political opponents. A D.C. jury would indict a ham sandwich and convict a ham sandwich if it was a Republican ham sandwich.


BASH: Tim Scott railed against two different tracks of justice, referring to the prosecution of President Biden's son and the Vivek Ramaswamy called the indictment un-American and said again, he'll pardon Trump if elected. And the few who have staked their campaigns on opposing the former president are also echoing familiar refrains.

Chris Christie, this disgrace falls the most on Trump, Asa Hutchinson. Trump should step away from the campaign for the good of the country. And Will Hurd, this guy only cares about himself, not our country's future.

Joining me now at the table, Margaret Talev of Axios, CNN's Jeff Zeleny, and CNN's Eva McKend. So, as I mentioned, those were maybe the more predictable statements. The one that is a bit different is from Mike Pence. And one of the main reasons is because Mike Pence is so integral to the story. We saw some new information from the indictment, from the interview that the former vice president did with the special counsel.

And here's what he said in his statement after the indictment. He said, today's indictment serves as an important reminder, anyone who puts himself over the constitution should never be president of the United States. Our country is more important than one man. Our constitution is more important than any one man's career. On January 6, former President Trump demanded that I choose between him and the constitution. I chose the constitution, and I always will.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Look, I mean, the former vice president has -- he's said that before, but he's been a bit all over the map. He knows it's an uncomfortable place in opinion in the Republican Party, but this is what he believes he lived it. We have to wonder if he was doubling down on that and speaking with a louder voice on that like, Chris Christie and Asa Hutchinson and Will Hurd.


Would he be doing a little bit better? Or is there simply not a lane for that? But he's kind of trying to -- he's been true to his position in terms of what the former president did. But he does not want to make that the centerpiece of his campaign. He's giving a speech, in fact, right now in Indiana. He's talking about Bidenomics and the credit ratings, et cetera. So, he wants to change the subject, but he's at the center of all of this.

BASH: He's in the center of all of this. And yes, this statement reads a lot like the opening statement when he opened his campaign on June 7, I believe. It is a different tune than one that he was singing when he was on with me two Sundays ago. Let's listen to that.


MIKE PENCE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: While his words were reckless. Based on what I know, I'm not yet convinced that they were criminals. I'd rather that these issues and the judgment about his conduct on January 6 be left to the American people in the upcoming primaries.


BASH: Now, what his people argue is that I said -- as I said, it's a different tune, but it's all part of the same song, which is that he believes what Donald Trump did was wrong, but he's not sure it is criminal.

MARGARET TALEV, SENIOR CONTRIBUTOR, AXIOS: Right. I mean, for months now, we've seen the former vice president kind of tried to have it both ways be critical of Trump, but then, in some cases, be critical of the system or be defensive of him. It seems to me that he's tracked toward a more critical position in recent weeks that is getting more comfortable in that space.

When you're sitting at around two or three percent. And none of it's moving the needle. It gives you a little bit of freedom to just say what you believe in what you want to say. But what he's saying publicly, May in the end actually be less important than those contemporaneous notes that he kept, that he took, that whatever information he is already shared or provided with prosecutors.

BASH: And let's just look again at the power of these indictments politically for Donald Trump. Again, it's an odd sentence to utter, but it is very powerful and helpful, and it has been for him. If you look at where he is in the polls, well as of July, he has gone up. And that is as his indictments have multiplied.

And then of course, his contributions. I mean, he's already sending out tons of asks based on this indictment for more money. And if you look back, you see there at the times that he has been indicted the two times previously, it's worked.

EVA MCKEND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It has had sort of this rallying effect. When you speak to voters, some of them say that they're even more inclined to support him now, conservative voters in the wake of these many indictments. But I think that the response that we're seeing from the field really amplifies the weakness that that they have, that they have to frame their candidacy around being as gracious as possible to the former president and that is limiting. BASH: It very much is limiting. OK. We have a lot more to talk about. Up next, the chair of the House Democratic caucus and former member of the January 6 committee will be here.